Yesterday I went for a 20 mile urban hike through Seattle. The city was covered with snow and the winds got pretty intense at a few points. But I made it and I still had enough energy to spend an hour cooking my dinner once I got home. How I accomplished this hike with relative ease flies in the face of conventional wisdom in the fitness field. In this post, I’m going to take on 3 different fitness myths.
Myth #1 – Eat Breakfast Before Engaging in Endurance Events
On the majority of my urban hikes, I consume zero calories before I take my first step. I fast. The body is fully capable of using stored body fat for fuel. Intermittent Fasting will not “eat up” your muscle, nor will eating breakfast jack your metabolism more than the calories consumed. From the post Intermittent Fasting – Fears and Motivation:
When you fast your insulin levels drop big time. Your Growth Hormone (GH) levels increase. Exercise, especially interval and weight training, also elevate GH levels. GH is protein/muscle sparing and GH helps the body mobilize fat for fuel. Not eating for long periods of time (starvation) is catabolic, short periods of fasting aren’t.
When I wake up in the morning my body is in a fat burning mode. Why would I want to interrupt that process with a smoothie or Cliff Bar? I can eat when I get back home. My energy levels are much more constant in a fasted state than when I used to ride the carbohydrate roller coaster. Yesterday, my “breakfast” consisted of a few ounces of kimchi and one tablespoon of coconut oil. If that seems odd, read the post Intermittent Fasting – The No Hunger Method. It describes a wonderful hack that I tested from The Perfect Health Diet.
Myth #2 – Endurance Events Require Endurance Training
Back in 2008 and 2009, I used to do a lot of urban hiking throughout the hills of Seattle. However, in the last few years it has really slowed down. In fact, the last long hike I did prior to yesterday’s 20 miler was in June 2010. I consider a long hike to be more than 10 miles and without multi-hour breaks. The only exercise I do these days, other than neighborhood walks, is a 7-10 minute High Intensity Training workout that happens just once a week. How is this possible?
How did I perform an endurance event, not only without doing any endurance training, but without doing any cardio? Most fitness professionals fail to understand exactly what creates endurance. Renaissance Exercise has an FAQ written by Greg Anderson called Why Not Aerobics? (PDF) that explains that the three components of endurance are genetics, skill and muscular strength. Genetics we can’t do much about. I could train “the skill” of endurance, which the article says are things like stride length and efficiency. A better plan is to just work on getting a lot stronger and then letting those benefits spill over to other activities.
Muscular strength is the single most trainable factor in endurance performance. It is the muscles that actually perform work. When strength increases, the relative intensity of any given task decreases.
I’m someone who has done it both ways. When I was in college, I ran two marathons and didn’t work on muscular strength. I focused on the skill components of endurance. These days, I just focus on muscular strength. Let me say that life is much sweeter now. My energy levels are higher, I no longer get aches and pains from over use injuries and my immune system is much stronger. When I trained as a marathon runner, my “skill” didn’t carry over into cycling or other endurance activities. It was localized.
Earlier this week I reviewed HillFit by Chris Highcock. His message is the same as mine. The most efficient and safest way to get to the top of mountain or whatever your endurance goal happens to be, is to increase your strength.
Myth #3 – Make Sure You Get the Right Gear For Your Event
Seattle is the home to REI (Recreation Equipment Incorporated). They sell any piece of outdoor fitness equipment you could possibly imagine. Hiking shoes and socks for every season. They offer a jacket or coat for every possible micro-climate condition. Bring your credit card, because this stuff isn’t cheap. And in my opinion, it isn’t necessary. Most of the customers who go these sporting gear stores are not climbing K2. They might be doing a 2 hour hike. That shouldn’t require hundreds of dollars in gear. Don’t fall for the “must get gear” mentality. The best gear you can bring with you to any event are stronger muscles.
For my 20 mile hike through the snowstorm, I wore a sweatshirt with a rain jacket. I didn’t have water proof pants, gloves or hat. Oh well. I didn’t run out to REI to save me from the elements. Yes I was cold, but my body adapted and I made it home OK.
The sledder on the left is using a piece of cardboard for a sled. No trip to REI for her!
You’ll Be Fine
You don’t need breakfast, skills and special gear to take on the world. Focus on getting stronger and you’ll be fine.