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October 24, 2008

Good, Bad, Carbs, Fat, Cardio

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

* Dennis Mangan finds Gary Taubes' "Good Calories, Bad Calories" not just impressive but persuasive. I found the book a paradigm-shifter too. (Link thanks to Dave Lull.)

* Of the many good low-carb, unafraid-of-fat advice-givers, one of my favorites is the Englishman Barry Groves, who has an affable and low-key style that I find irresistible. I warmly recommend this book of Groves', and am glad to see that he has recently published a new one too. Groves is profiled in the Telegraph, and is interviewed by Jimmy Moore.

* At the other end of the spectrum from Groves' genial and mild ways is the pugnacity and fire of Anthony Colpo, the bad boy of the low-carb world and a current fascination of mine. I haven't read Colpo's magnum opus yet, but as a big fan of all kinds of self-publishing I'm thrilled that he pulled it together and published it himself.

* Dr. John Briffa can't see many reasons why otherwise-healthy women should ever take statins. Since I like Briffa's style and find him a sensible and modest eating-and-exercise guru, I'm hoping that his latest book will arrive in the U.S. soon.

* Healthcare Episetemocrat manages to draw connections between paleolithic eating and MBlowhard favorite, the localist "reactionary radical" Bill Kauffman. (Another Dave Lull webfind.)

* Yet another reason not to shun fat. Besides, as good cooks like to say, "Fat is flavor."

* Arthur DeVany lists 10 reasons not to run a marathon. Mark Sisson wants you to be wary of extreme aerobic training generally. (Hey, I knew Mark back in high school. He was an awesome distance runner.) Intermittent Fasting says that 35-40 minutes of cardio should be more than enough.



posted by Michael at October 24, 2008


It's important not to let the truths of what Sisson et al are saying make anti-aerobic people get greedy and end up making fools of themselves.

I sing the praises of high-intensity low-volume work, both cardio and muscle-building. I've avoided injury and kept improving athletically using that approach in both areas. Concept II rower: I'm in the top half of my age group in the 500, 1000, and 2000. And those distances are all I ever row. I just go in, get going, have fun!

Weight training - a stripped-down minimalist strength program called Starting Strength by Rippetoe and Kilgore. As we age, we lose strength especially, and it's the loss of strength that so attenuates our ability to live as we get older. SS takes care of that: short workouts, simplicity itself, and for me, only twice a week. Typical week: squats, bench, deadlift one day, squats, press, power clean the other. A few sets, small reps, heavy weights (for me: bench 248, deadlift 245). I'm stronger now than I've ever been.

But...the idea that anybody in gyms who's putting in hard efforts of 45 minutes to an hour on cardio machines is fat is just so much bullshit. Look at the fatties on the machines, they're not working at all. Look at the ones putting the pedal to the metal, they're ALL lean, every one. Cardio does get rid of fat. Lazy, plodding unfocused cardio doesn't. But the images of people running 8-10 miles a day and being fat...there are some, but not many.

Same with weights. You'll see heavy powerlifter types, but the people putting real effort into their weighttraining are never fat or weak-skinny. They're usually lean, often muscular, and they nearly always look good...and healthy.

Cardio in excess causes injury. Repeated over decades, it ages the athlete prematurely. Kenneth Cooper of Aerobics and Arnold of Pumping Iron (his breakthrough into public awareness) have established a paradigm for fitness that is just plain wrong: long slow cardio and high-volume multi-sets-per-body-part weight training routines that are a) time-consuming; b) effective only for dedicated athletes who put the WHOLE PACKAGE into effect; and c) don't work for anybody else. Plus injuries and BOREDOM.

So I'm with Sisson et al. But deVany's full of it with his cherry-picked anecdotes (I lurve you Michael, I really really do, but you're wrong about anecdotes as valuable data for making big statements about things like exericise...everybody's got their success story! We need the numbers!). deVany just picks these stories of some poor cardio schmuck buying the farm at a marathon without context, without numbers and without reason.

Serious risk analysis is needed desperately in sports and fitness. deVany isn't providing it.

Posted by: PatrickH on October 25, 2008 1:28 AM

Remember Carlos Lopes? Blossomed as a distance-runner at 29, started to peak at 37 when he won the Olympic marathon in stinking heat. Next year, at age 38, it was the world record in Rotterdam. Carlos didn't like training, but loved competing. He looked good.

Here's an interesting anecdote. He was observed by Australia's Rob de Castella and others tucking into a steak before a marathon. This simple action caused amazement. Back in those heady days of carb-loading, that was the equivalent of Galileo joining the local Flat Earth Society. Or Jeremy Clarkson joining the Prius Club.

My point? Enjoy your sport, especially if you're not being paid. Don't overtrain. Give your tummy what it likes. And wait fifteen years for every single theory on diet to be reversed. (If your really liked a debunked theory, just wait another fifteen years and it will come back...along with Big Hair, Global Cooling and "The Locomotion".)

Posted by: Robert Townshend on October 25, 2008 4:07 AM

Art DeVany makes out a pretty good case against marathons. One note of caution, however: to the extent he's assuming that most marathon runners do so for the health benefits, he may be barking up the wrong tree. I've known a number of people who've run or tried to run in marathons, and have known of many others, and as best I can tell few if any of them were motivated primarily by health concerns. Instead, they viewed running a marathon as a personal challenge, as much mental and physical, and quite likely were willing to accept health risks. Marathon runners are mainly a smart, well-educated bunch, not the sort of people likely to be misinformed about the health aspects of their sport.

PatrickH -

You are so right about people who go to gyms and expend very little effort. Most of the times I'm at the gym I'll see people plodding along on the treadmill at a slow walking pace, or using the stationary cycle or elliptical with the indicator screen showing the lowest resistance level (both machine types offer almost no exercise value at that level) and moving very slowly. You wonder why the bother paying $50 a month in the first place.

Are your bench and deadlift numbers correct? People can almost always deadlift substantially more than they can bench.

Posted by: Peter on October 25, 2008 12:38 PM

Peter, they are correct, but perhaps not ultimately revealing. I've begun Starting Strength, a program that focuses on dls sqs and bench press and press. You establish a five rep max, back off to begin the program, go at it with sets of 5, ADD WEIGHT EVERY WORKOUT, and when that stops working, you move to intermediate training methods.

My bench numbers are exaggerated for two reasons: I'm using the Hammer Bench machine because I don't have access to a spotter. My guess is that on a regular flat bench with a barbell I'd be pushing around 200-225 (the latter a very high estimate). Second, and just as important, I've been benching for years, like most giving far too much focus to a good but not great exercise. My deadift--a truly great exercise, sadly neglected today--I have almost totally neglected until recently.

My 245 in the deadlift is my 3rd effort since starting the program. I already feel as if I can go higher. Furthermore, the increment I use on my dead is 20 lbs, which means next workout I go to 265. My bench increment is 10, and soon it will be 5 (in SS you keep dropping your increment to keep increasing weight every you approach your limit with the method, even the smallest increments don't let you move the new weight, you're stuck but good...time to move on!).

My estimated deadlift by the end of the program is going to be well over 300 lbs, maybe quite a bit over. My estimated bench by the end will be high-ish 200s. This will put me in much more like the normal ratio between the lifts.

Oh, one last point: I have short arms, and that makes me a better natural bencher than deadlifter, so maybe my bench will always be a bit high compared to my dead.

What's your ratio?

Posted by: PatrickH on October 25, 2008 6:35 PM

PatrickH -

My deadlift maximum is about 1.4 times my bench maximum. That might be somewhat misleading because I set the deadlift record some years ago when I weighed about 35 to 40 pounds more than I do today (the bench record is much more recent). It would be nice to say that all of the lost weight was fat, and none of it was muscle, but of course that isn't true. Today I'd probably struggle to deadlift 1.3 times my bench maximum. I also have proportionately short limbs for my height, so deadlifting is somewhat difficult.

You are correct that lifting a specific weight on a Hammer Strength machine is easier than doing the same weight with free weights. As a *very* general rule, doing X pounds on a Hammer Strength machine is equivalent to doing between 2/3rds and 3/4s of that weight with free weights.

Posted by: Peter on October 25, 2008 10:47 PM

Peter, sounds about right to me. I find moving the 248 easy once I get past the sticking point on the Hammer Bench, which is of course getting the weight up in the first place. I've done 185 x 10 on the flat a while ago, and I'm somewhat stronger since, so maybe 200 x 5 on a good day.

Any diet hints about how you lost that poundage? After all, this is a series of post M has done on fitness, health and weight. You into low carb? I can't go too far that way because I just don't have the oomph to work out at ultra-low carbs, though I have found those regimes effective for weight loss (you don't want weight loss on SS; you need to gain weight to keep getting stronger).

Posted by: PatrickH on October 26, 2008 8:26 AM

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