Regular exercise equals good health. We have all heard it at one point or another. In fact, it doesn’t matter which type of expert you go to see, be it for weight loss, growing muscle, longevity, or even overcoming fatigue, they will all say the same. “In order to be healthy and fit, you need to exercise.”
But there are so many different types of exercise — cardio, weight lifting, bodyweight training, high-intensity interval training, orange theory, Crossfit, circuit training, etc. — and lots of competing claims for which type of exercise is best.
Things get further complicated for people with chronic fatigue, where symptoms can often be made worse by exercising. As a result ,many people end up thinking that they need to rest and avoid exercise in order to recover, which ends up being highly counterproductive in the long run, because the human body (and especially mitochondria — the crux of your energy levels) need ample movement to function optimally, and they actually degenerate without that stimulus. In short, exercise done in the wrong way can certainly be counterproductive, but laying in bed resting all day long is not going to help you overcome fatigue either.
So what is the answer? How can we change your view on exercise? How can you start training from where you are at your current exercise level? And how can you overcome exercise fatigue?
And what is the optimal way to exercise for energy, for longevity, for gaining muscle and for losing fat?
This week, I talk with Alex Viada. Alex is probably one of the fittest people in the world. He has designed a hybrid training method that trains your body for health, strength, and longevity. The amazing thing about this particular method is that it can be applied to ANYONE regardless of their individual fitness level. In this episode, we will discuss exercise, why most people are exercising in ways that aren’t optimal for health, and how to train for weight loss, longevity, and energy (and overcome exercise intolerance.) You get an 1.5 hour tour-de-force summary of all the scientific literature around exercise as it relates to the different contexts of disease prevention and longevity, energy levels, and rapid body transformation. If you care at all about your health or your body composition, this episode is a MUST-LISTEN.
- The Best Way To Exercise For Energy, Weight Loss, And Longevity │Why Most People Are Exercising In Ways That Are Not Optimal For Health (And How To Overcome Exercise Intolerance) With Alex Viada – Transcript
- Why modern-day bodybuilders are unhealthy
- The different adaptations that are stimulated with cardio, HIIT, and resistance training
- Why scientific research on performance is inaccurate and cannot be taken as a standard for everyone
- How exercise plays into disease prevention and longevity
- How to exercise to lose fat as fast as humanly possible
- How to exercise for rapid muscle growth
- Fasted exercise how to do it and why it is good for your metabolic health
- What the research says on carb rich vs ketogenic diets
- How people with CFS/ME and fatigue should exercise for recovery
- The power of monitoring your HRV
- Why the claim ”cardio is useless for weight loss” is inaccurate
- What to do when you have a tendency to reward yourself with food after exercise
- Alex’s top tips for exercising
- The Best Way To Exercise For Energy, Weight Loss, And Longevity │Why Most People Are Exercising In Ways That Are Not Optimal For Health (And How To Overcome Exercise Intolerance) With Alex Viada – Show Notes
In this podcast, we’ll cover
- Alex’s wake up call that led him to develop his unique system of exercise (and why a good physical appearance doesn’t necessarily mean you are healthy)
- The optimal way of training for disease prevention and longevity
- How people with chronic fatigue can start to build up the capacity to exercise again
- The difference between Cardiovascular (cardio), High-Intensity Interval training (HIIT), and strength (resistance) training
- Why it can be difficult for most people to exercise while on a diet (and how to optimize your training for fat loss)
- How most people train in ways that aren’t optimal for health
- How to train for rapid muscle growth
- How the ketogenic diet affects your health and exercise (when to eat it and when not to)
- What does the science say about the keto diet and athletic performance (Does it make you a fat burning machine with super endurance and athletic abilities?)
- How things like fasting and the keto diet can be used intelligently (and how many people are NOT using them smartly)
- How modern-day bodybuilders and powerlifters are some of the most unhealthy people on the planet
- Why most people aren’t actually doing HIIT even though they think they are (and how to really do it)
- Why you should incorporate cardio, HIIT, AND resistance training into your weekly exercise routine
- How to overcome exercise intolerance without ending up bed bound for days
- Why scientific research on exercise and performance is limited (and how we can make an educated guess about what is optimal)
- How to get the fat loss benefits of cardio and avoid being one of the people who spins their wheels without results
- How to build strength and muscle without feeling pain after
- Should I just push through the pain and stress? Why recovery is as crucial to health as activity
- Doing cardio after resistance training can stop the muscle growth (how to plan your workouts so you can do cardio and resistance on the same day without losing the benefits)
- How exercise plays into disease prevention and longevity
- Why measuring your HRV daily (and adjust your day accordingly) is very smart
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The Best Way To Exercise For Energy, Weight Loss, And Longevity │Why Most People Are Exercising In Ways That Are Not Optimal For Health (And How To Overcome Exercise Intolerance) With Alex Viada – Transcript
Ari Whitten: Hey guys, this is Ari Whitten and welcome back to the Energy Blueprint Podcast. Today I have with me a very special, very unique guest named Alex Viada, who is probably one of the fittest people on the planet. He is a freak of nature in terms of his fitness and he’s participated and competed in nearly every sport imaginable with some with greater success than others since being dragged his first swim meet when he was four years old. He’s coached over 300 athletes of all ages and levels in sports ranging from bodybuilding to ultra running, to triathlon, to cycling, to powerlifting. He’s also prepared close to 40 individuals for ranger school. SFAS BUDS and other selective military programs. His hybrid training method is simple. It consists of breaking down the demands and unique stressors of every type of straining of every type of training an athlete require and programming to target specific demands, not labels, rather like strength training or conditioning or endurance training, etc.
The result is a style of programming that has produced a significant number of powerlifting, triathletes, and 300 plus pound runners. Many athletes working with Complete Human Performance, which is the company that Alex works with, find themselves setting personal records and strength, speed and distance at the same time, something that was traditionally seen as impossible. So welcome to the show, A lex. It’s such a pleasure to finally connect with you and have you on.
Alex Viada: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. Really appreciate the opportunity to speak with you.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Yeah. So, first of all, I’d love for you to just talk a bit about your background. You’re doing something very, very unique here that is not traditional and, and i’ll put that in context for people in the sense that most of the time we see either strength athletes or endurance athletes. People who are involved in running marathons or long distance cycling or swimming or things like that, or people who are into lifting heavy weights and powerlifting and bodybuilding and those types of things. You don’t generally see people who are really, really into doing both of them and who are exceptional at doing both of them. So how did you become the freak of nature that you are, that you’re elite at, at both of these things?
Alex Viada: Well, it’s funny because I think the, the, the, the process of getting there, it was based a little bit on the, personal, personal interest meets a, a bit of a wake-up call. And when I, when I first started, when I, when I was in high school and I played multiple different sports, like football or ice hockey, I did track, it was very active person and I, I went to college and like a lot of other people, I wasn’t quite at the level of a division one school, so I dropped more or less everything. And what was difficult for me was what I loved about sport was the team aspect was the external motivation was going out and having fun. And I lost that. So I, after a couple of years of being unhealthy and college, I gained a lot of weight, quite a bit of weight.
Very quickly decided I had to lose it and discovered strength training and discovered I was pretty good at it and enjoyed the gym culture, enjoyed powerlifting and getting stronger. And I’m right about that time, as, as I was getting out of college, my grandparents actually started having a lot of health issues, uh, talking to them. My grandfather, he had had quintuple bypass surgery at one point and he was having heart issues. He was having diabetes issues. Same thing with my grandmother on my dad’s side and I was young. I wasn’t thinking too much of it. I was just lifting heavy, getting really strong and between one thing and another I decided I, I got challenged to a five k to go run a five k. And in the process of starting training for this, I realized that I could run more than, oh gosh, 200 yards without getting winded.
And not only was that humbling. But it scared me a little bit and looking at my family, looking at my family history and realizing that even though I looked healthy, I looked in shape. I should be capable of doing everything. I realized that there was something really not good happening, kind of kind of underneath, underneath the appearance. And that was, that was, that was a little sobering for me, I think, and I talk to a lot of my friends, a lot of whom were bodybuilders, a lot of whom were powerlifters. There was almost this willful, willful ignorance of the fact that you can be in good shape. You can look like you’re in good shape, you can be very strong, you can be very fit, but blood markers aren’t good. Health markers aren’t good, it’s, you have people who are prediabetics who look like eight percent body fat and absolutely muscular and you think, how can these two reconcile? So the whole hybrid athlete concept was, was both out of a little vanity and I didn’t like being terrible at running. I don’t like being terrible than anything, but there was also some necessity to it. I’m saying, this is, this is great. It’s great to be in shape. It’s great to look like you’re in shape, but if you’re not actually in shape, then what’s the purpose?
Why modern-day bodybuilders are unhealthy
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. And it’s interesting to look at modern-day bodybuilding and powerlifting, which kind of originated with the original strong man and kind of these displays of, of, of fitness, of a physical fitness that was originally intended to be. They were part of a health culture and they were intended to kind of display how healthy you are…
Alex Viada: Exactly
Ari Whitten: And it’s interesting to see how things have progressed and when you look at modern day bodybuilding and powerlifting and realize how unhealthy a lot of these people actually are.
Alex Viada: Yeah, and it’s, I think that that’s part of the conceit in the culture that I think is, is very difficult to kind of wrap your head around. If you want to get stronger, you want to get muscular and you’re following the tips and advice from somebody who’s thrown all caution to the wind and it’s gone so far down one rabbit hole. You look at a pro bodybuilder when they walk on stage, they’re near death quite literally in every health metric and you think is that, is that the person that I want to be giving me advice on how to be a healthier, stronger person? I mean, you look at the other end of the spectrum and obligate endurance athletes who have their own cardiac issues.
The different adaptations that are stimulated with cardio, HIIT, and resistance training
Ari Whitten: I was actually hoping to talk to you about that in this in this presentation because it’s kind of ironic in that sense too. You can, you can exercise to an extreme doing cardio where you end up damaging your heart. I think we’ll get, we’ll get into that one later because that’s more of a digression at this point, but let’s, let’s talk I think more broadly about the proposed health benefits were like the traditional thinking around kind of the benefits of weight training versus cardio and you can also introduce high-intensity interval training if you’d like, but I think it would be good to get into some discussion around what actually are the adaptations that are being stimulated in our body with these different types of exercise. How do they make our body adapt differently? And I, I wanted to give a little bit more context here. Obviously cardio, it got that name because it was, it was like “hey, you do that type of training, endurance training and that’s supposed to build up your cardiovascular system uniquely as compared with, let’s say, weight training or interval training”. But I know that there’s been some debate back and forth and kind of, mixed claims around this. So what’s your general take on what kinds of adaptations are being stimulated with each type of exercise?
Alex Viada: Yeah, because it, it does, it absolutely runs the spectrum from pure strength training on one side of the pure low intensity on the other low-intensity steady state cardio. And you kind of start to go down the spectrum. You start out with pure maximum strength training and then that goes to hypertrophy training. And that goes to, metabolic conditioning and then to high-intensity interval and then two more traditional cardio. And I think, for me critically important is to hit every part of that spectrum. Realizing that there are absolutely some adaptations on the pure strength side. You have the, the, the type of. First of all, let’s talk about bi system. You have bone density of course, which just absolutely major, finding any kind of osteoporosis or degenerative bone, bone issues as you get older. I’m obviously strength training by exerting force on muscle, on muscles, pulling on bone, extra load on the back, and everything else.
You start to get, build up the bone tissue that stays for quite a while. The bone matrix stays for quite a while. You obviously you get benefits to connective tissue, you get stronger ligaments, you get stronger attendance, obviously you get more muscle size. And of course, what’s interesting about building muscle as you get younger is the number of nuclei actually in muscle tissue may linger for significantly longer than the muscle mass itself. Which means that as you get older, even if you start to lose some of that muscle mass, you’ll have an easier time retaining it in somebody who’s trying to build it for the first time. So with a lot of these things, the investment you place into it when you’re younger carries over to when you’re older, I guess that nuclear proliferation and bone in bone size … Ligaments especially if you look at a growth of ligaments and strengthening of ligaments overtime, it takes a long time to develop and it takes a long time to lose as well.
So as you get older, the benefits, they’re, they’ll, they’ll linger for years and years and years. People talk jokingly about things like old man strength and how you, you’ll never take a, you take a 70-year-old retired powerlifter, you still probably don’t want to challenge them to any kind of strength contest because that, that strength to a certain extent maintains those fundamental things. So that’s all kind of on that side of things. And strength does have some benefits to the heart as well. Obviously anytime you are bracing under any kind of load, anytime you exerting maximum force, you’re increasing your heart rate, you’re increasing your stroke volume, you get some of that left ventricular hypertrophy, you’d make a stronger heart, and there are definitely benefits there as well. But it’s not whole heart health, it’s only one part of it, part one part of the stroke.
So as you move from pure strength, you start to move towards more of the high-intensity interval training. You get further heart benefits, but you lose some of the maximum strength benefits. Heart benefits start to go up all around. You actually start to get some of that peripheral increasing mitochondrial density increase in the certain enzymes involved in lipid metabolism and you start to get some of the positive benefits, even more of the positive benefits towards glucose disposal. The nutrient partitioning increase or decrease in insulin resistance or increasing insulin sensitivity as you start to get more whole heart benefits with the interval training. Uh, certainly more so than pure strength training, but still not the full spectrum. Where that kind of falls in the realm of things is you can actually have dramatic improvements in certain measures of heart health through strictly high-intensity interval training.
The difficult things about that of course are true. High-intensity interval training is so challenging that I would bet maybe two percent of people who have tried to do it are actually doing high intensity.
Ari Whitten: Oh really?
Alex Viada: Yeah, we can definitely touch on that.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. And you choose whether to digress into that point now or to finish to wrap up this whole kind of spectrum of, of adaptations with the different type of exercise.
Alex Viada: Let me finish off the adaptations, throwing it back to that because I think that’s a really, really key point because I think that’s something a lot of people discuss. So you go from that. Now the, when you finally want to really improve things, like again, it really maximizes lipid metabolism and everything else. You really, you really do need to move towards that more aerobic side of the spectrum. And what does that mean?
What is aerobic? What is anaerobic? What does anything else? When I talk about aerobic training or low intensity, what I, what I typically say is no peripheral vascular occlusion and what that is just a way of saying is effectively your muscles should not be contracting so hard that your temporarily cutting off blood flow to the muscle tissue and the reason that is critical is your heart rate and your heart just responds to whatever the body is telling you. If you’re lifting a heavy weight and you’re squeezing everything tightly, your heart rate will increase, but that’s because your heart is trying to pump blood against closed off blood vessels. Your muscles, including the muscles are closing it so your heart rate is going to increase. All the hormones that are responsible for getting your heart rate up are going to start going crazy.
All the sort of epinephrine and everything else is going to release to manage the load and you’re gonna think, oh, I’m getting a cardiovascular benefit. My pulses at 150 from heavy sets of squats, but it’s not at 150 because of an actual need for more oxygen. IT can be at 150 because your heart is still. It’s not only trying to perfuse those legs that are working, it’s keeping blood flow to the brain. You’re trying to keep blood flowing around so it’s a little bit like. It’s just pushing against more resistance, so that’s how you get that left ventricular hypertrophy, but you’re not necessarily getting more blood flow back into the heart. When you reduce that Intensity, when you bring it down and you do easy jogging or easy rowing or easy swimming or anything like that, your muscles are not occluding that they’re…
They’re not. They’re not compressing those peripheral vessels, and what’s happening is as your heart rate increases, you’re improving circulation even back to the heart. And what that does is the inflow of blood into the heart, into the right atrium into the right ventricle is actually east centric hypertrophy, which is hugely important for elasticity of blood vessels, less density of the heart. The vascular support network of the heart itself grows significantly from center hypertrophy as opposed to just the concentric trying to pump blood out…
Ari Whitten: And that’s the blood vessels that are delivering oxygen to the heart muscle cells?
Alex Viada: In the heart itself. Absolutely and elasticity of those of us was as important as well because most people know, you get myocardial infarction, a heart attack, and you actually get some of those blood vessels in the heart itself closing off. The greater that vascular network, the more elastic those blood vessels are, the less likely you are to experience critical myocardial infarction.
So low-intensity work, more blood vessels around the heart, more clear blood vessels around the heart, greater elasticity and then greater lipid metabolism and everything along those lines you need that low-intensity work or that nonocclusive work to get that. So I tell everybody, you meet everything along the spectrum and that’s. That’s kind of the challenging thing sometimes because I think there’s very much a tendency to say, okay, well I don’t have time for all of this, or I don’t want to do the super heavy lifting, or I don’t want to do the super long distance working. Well. A lot of what we do with concurrent training basically says, “Okay, let’s, let’s try to get all of this in with the minimum time possible.” Because whether you’re working with elite athletes who are trying to do eight different sports or somebody who just has limited time and quite frankly very little interest in working out all week. It’s kind of the same thing. You say, okay, what’s critical to do what’s the most bang for your buck? And let’s start there.
Why scientific research on performance is inaccurate and cannot be taken as a standard for everyone
Ari Whitten: Yeah, So it’s interesting you’re getting at. There are some claims out there that are like, skip cardio, cardio’s ineffective, when viewed in that sort of bang for the buck, the most benefit per time and there’s a lot of people over the last five, 10 years that have made the claim that you can get essentially all the same benefits by doing high-intensity interval training in, in, maybe five or 10 minutes or maybe a 15 minute workout that you might take an hour to do via traditional aerobic endurance exercise cardio. But based on what you were just saying, it sounds like there are some unique adaptations from cardio that you’re not going to get from high-intensity interval training. First of all, Is that accurate? And then second of all, is there, is it also true that there are unique adaptive benefits of high-intensity interval training compared to cardio?
Alex Viada: Sure, yeah. There’s, there’s both are actually accurate. So when you just do the high-intensity work, I think one of the biggest issues that a lot of the research is people are looking at imperfect endpoints. They say, “well, if you just do high-intensity interval training, we see athletes who VO2 max increases”, the maximum amount of oxygen that their body can utilize increases. Well of course it does. A VO2 max represents, because I’m sure you’ve probably seen that data as well, where they say, well, you put these cyclists on high-intensity interval training and their VO2 max shoots up more than it does from steady state or just as much. And of course that makes sense because VO2 max is a combination of the most oxygen you can use at high intensity. It’s, it involves a certain amount.
If you’ve ever seen, we’re taking a VO2 max test involves a certain amount of pain tolerance because you’re pushing it as hard as he can. So if you’re training involves pushing it as hard as you can, of course you’re going to get better at that. So the fact that there’s a subjective component to a lot of VO2 max tests as well, means that high-intensity interval training specifically prepares athletes to excel at VO2 max tests. So you see a lot of data out there where they say, well, it’s just as good as improving cardiovascular health and endurance. Well, some of that is because of the end they’re using. The other thing is when we talk about that elasticity, that vascular elasticity, the starling mechanism, the preload, those things are definitively not increased by high-intensity interval training. Now there’s been no longitudinal study that’s ever said, okay, we’re going to compare these people who do nothing but high-intensity intervals and these people who do nothing but low intensity in a reasonable amount for 30 years. And let’s see, heart health after a while. Yeah, because everything you see is on extremes or short term.
Ari Whitten: And the data’s yeah, usually a four-week study and an 8-week study, a 12-week study.
Alex Viada: That’s. Yep. So what you’ve got is you’ve got essentially what is the essence of evidence-based. You get applicable research which is slim and tangential and you get best practices, which is let’s do both. And you get basically anecdotes and you combine all that with what we know the science and you say, well, it currently still makes sense that there was no other way to duplicate greater cardiac preload, which we know is a benefit to the heart with just high-intensity interval training. Until we can solve that, if there could be any proof that you can increase, you can see eccentric hypertrophy in the right atrium and right ventricle through high-intensity work. Then we might turn this whole thing on its head, but until we see that I am still a firm believer that we need work that specifically addresses that known factor of heart health.
Ari Whitten: Okay, so there’s some limitations in the research on the difference…longterm studies of weight training versus high-intensity interval training versus cardio health outcomes, disease outcomes. A lot of that. That research doesn’t exist yet. So to some extent, we’re kind of piecing things together based on the existing evidence and then based on the mechanisms that we know of, about the adaptations the body makes with these different types of activities and what is likely to lead to the best outcome. Now I want to get a little bit more specific here because the way that I look at this is that there are a few different contexts that we can talk about the benefits of these different types of exercise. One is a disease prevention and longevity context. Another is a fat loss context and a body composition optimization context. Another is maybe, you work with a lot of athletes in specific sports, so there could be a sport specific context as well.
My audience, my brand is the Energy Blueprint. My audience is very interested in overcoming fatigue and energy levels. So there’s also a niche of research around the effects of different types of exercise on mood and energy levels, energy levels as well. And i’ve done quite a deep dive into that as well, and it’s quite interesting to look at things in these different contexts.
How exercise plays into disease prevention and longevity
One observation on the mood and energy enhancement perspective is that there does seem to be some unique benefits of cardio and endurance exercise there that you don’t necessarily get with weight training or high-intensity interval training. But, but let’s, let’s maybe like context specific here and talk about, let’s say the longevity and disease prevention context first say you think the optimal sort of regimen of, of exercise looks like you’re given that you said you think all of these types of exercise are important. How would you kind of structure that in, in the disease prevention, longevity context?
Alex Viada: So generally speaking, so the nice thing about a lot of low-intensity cardio is it doesn’t have to be, in most cases, formal gym exercise. You don’t have to stand on a treadmill, you don’t have to do any of that. Because when I said low intensity, I’m talking about 65, 70, 72 percent of max heart rate, which is low enough that you can get that by walking up the hill with the dog. And the nice thing about low-intensity cardio is that the buildup to it, since you’re not talking about a significant increase in heart rate, there’s not a significant warm up to it. So the cumulative component of low-intensity work, rather than saying, I have to go out there for 30 minutes to get a benefit, you can start getting a benefit in anywhere from two to five minutes from the start of exercise, which means that if you do 15 minutes of low-intensity cardio twice a day, which can include just going for a brisk walk.
Already, you’re saying, well that’s 20 minutes a day of actual work getting done. So that’s 140 minutes a week. So already when you start to break this down, that component becomes more manageable. So what I typically recommend for people just operating on the full spectrum is I usually use kind of a weekly fluctuation plan where I say, okay, we need to get into strength training and we need to get in high-intensity work and we need to get in some higher volume work and the high-intensity work we know takes a lot of energy. It’s kind of mentally need some focus. If you’re going to go lift weights or you know kettlebells or bands or whatever. There’s a certain skill and focus component to it. So I tell people, okay, when during the week are you the freshest is about a Monday, is it on a Sunday morning when you’ve had a couple good nights of sleep?
Start make that the start of your week and start your week with one to two to maybe three days of your high-intensity work. That is either a full body strength training day or an upper lower strength training day and on one of those days do some high-intensity interval type work. That’s it for that side of things. At the other end of the week when your actual mental fatigue is the highest, do some of your volume work and that is one day of full body training, which is much higher repetition, uh, higher volume, lower intensity. We’re talking about hypertrophy type work, use that as the to work on muscle, weak points to work on injuries to work on anything else like that, do rehabilitation work, do your physical therapist work anything like that. And then say, make a dedicated effort to do some low-intensity steady state on that day, even if it’s just getting on the stair stepper for awhile or taking the dogs for a long walk or throwing a pack on your back and going for a hike.
Ari Whitten: Okay. So this is like general health and fitness?
Alex Viada: General health fitness, yeah.
Ari Whitten: Which kind of, which overlaps with longevity.
Alex Viada: Absolutely.
Because that’s, that’s running the gamut from, you know. And that’s why the whole combination is so important because you want to, you want to make sure that you’re getting the benefits to bone density from both the kind of overall structural bone density of strength training. But also the specific bone density and the lower extremities time on your feet and you want to get the benefits of, both muscle strength and coordination and nuclear proliferation of the true strength training and then a little bit of the additional muscular size and strength endurance of hypertrophy-type training and you get the short-term benefits to glucose disposal of high-intensity interval and the longterm benefits of cardiovascular health from the low-intensity steady state. So you’re kind of hitting all your bases there with as few as four discrete workouts per week, which is just a long walk.
How to exercise to lose fat as fast as humanly possible
Ari Whitten: That’s very efficient. I like how you put that together. So how does this differ from the way you would do things in a fat loss specific context or a body composition? Maybe you want to treat those as two different things. Whether somebody has a fat loss focus or a muscle build, but let’s say first someone wants to lose fat as fast as humanly possible. What is the optimal workout routine look like?
Alex Viada: Interestingly enough the workout doesn’t change that much. We typically will put in a little bit more hypertrophy type work. We don’t usually ramp up the cardio. I think cardio is very important for fat loss. I know there are people who say cardio is useless for fat loss. All it does is help create a deficit and everything else. I still think it’s critically important though. When I have athletes continue to include some level of cardiovascular activity, even if that reduces their basal metabolic rate a little bit because people worry about that. They say, if I’m already dieting and I do too much cardio I’m a zombie for the rest of the day. If you’re trying to lose fat as quickly as possible, you’re going to be a zombie the rest of the day anyway.
Ari Whitten: Just accept it.
Alex Viada: Your general background level of activity is going to be roughly sloth-like. So by putting in some level of general conditioning training, you’re ensuring a certain minimal level of expenditure and you do, you get a little bit as long as you don’t overdo it and you get a little bit of positive stress, positive hormonal release from cardiovascular activity, you get up, you get moving, it’s engaging, it keeps you active and there are also some benefits I think to nutrient turnover and everything else along those lines. So I still keep all of that pretty much static, but I will put in rather than one single hypertrophy day at the end of the week, I will make that two to three. And the volume won’t be tremendously high. What i’ll do is i’ll actually make them shorter individual workouts broken out over more days. As you’re in a deficit, your ability to sustain intensity during weight training, routine decreases.
When you’re fully fed, you can train for two hours and you’ll feel fine. As you diet, you may find your effort level, flagging fatiguing after 35 minutes. So i’ll say, okay, you’re going to break up your muscle building work at the end of the week into 30 minutes of arms on Thursday, 35 to 40 minutes of legs on Friday and chest and back for another 30 minutes on Saturday, that’s all you’re going to have the actual energy for. So if somebody, especially as doing like know protein sparing modified fast or anything where the, you know the calorie is a calorie level is 50 percent or lower maintenance, that’s what I usually find works the best. And you still keep strength training in there, you still keep a date pure strength work just to maintain that. You still keep, just to maintain that kind of intramuscular coordination.
Alex Viada: Everything else, you still keep a day of high-intensity interval training. In fact, sometimes we see those numbers shooting way up as body weight decreases and as body fat decreases.
Ari Whitten: Which numbers?
Alex Viada: Things like VO2 max, things like threshold.
Ari Whitten: That’s interesting.
Alex Viada: And what’s interesting about that is one of the issues we typically find when people are losing a large amount of weight is there’s often frustration at a perceived absolute lack of progress. On the physical side, I’m getting weaker, I’m getting smaller, I’m getting tired all the time. You say, well, when you can show that there are some numbers that actually still continue to increase psychologically, it’s a tremendous boost to say, well, hey, I’m absolutely getting better at something still, so it’s. We find that a lot of people, they still like to have some level of performance target or objective metric that shows that even though they’re just losing weight, it’s not like they’re just getting leaner. They’re also getting better at something.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, it’s so tough. I, I just a quick personal experience, i’ll mention, I just did a five-day fasting mimicking diet based on Valter Longo’s research. It actually a little bit more extreme version of it where I was having about 400 calories a day for five days, mainly from greens and a few nuts and I did several workouts. I did a couple of surfing sessions, there was some I didn’t intend to, but we happen to get some really good waves here in San Diego during that time and I also did a couple of weight training sessions during that period and man, to do the exercise literally felt twice as difficult as it normally does. I mean I literally felt like I had to exert 200 percent more effort to do the same thing that I would normally. So the thought of getting a performance increase during a span where I’m calorically restricted is hard to imagine.
Alex Viada: Yeah, it is. It’s hard to imagine and of course it has to be done judiciously because your warmups have to shorten the time because you have such a narrow window of productive work capacity and you get such an unfavorable shift in catabolic and anabolic hormones anyway. When you’re training that, the, you always say with, with training, you improve fitness and fitness and fatigue are kind of always fighting each other and that’s a very unfavorable balance as you’re dieting. So it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be quick. It’s got to be very targeted and I’m getting a performance increases is challenging, but the fact that you still can say, all right, I’m not totally destroying myself here.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, Absolutely.
Alex Viada: And I’m a big fan of, more sometimes more rapid diet so that the jobs with it pretty well.
How to exercise for rapid muscle growth
Ari Whitten: So what about in the context of hypertrophy and for people, I know we’ve mentioned this word a few times before, but some people may not be familiar with it, but it basically just means muscle growth, but let’s say somebody is interested in growing as much muscle as humanly possible or maybe while losing some fat, but they really have a muscle building focus and strength focus. How would your routine differ there? Would you start doing less cardio or fewer intervals and more of the weight training or how do things shift there?
Alex Viada: I do reduce the number of intervals. To me, intervals that there was a significant amount of overlap between the stress of doing intervals and the stress of doing heavy weight training. And there’s certainly interference there. And if you’re doing multiple heavy weight training sessions per week and you’re really doing everything you can to maximize the mechanical tension on your muscles, which is the primary driver of muscle growth, that’s you’re going to limit your ability to do that if you’re fatigued from doing Tabata bike sprints.
New Speaker: So that is what we reduced. We still do keep the low-intensity steady state work though. And I think a lot of people will say, well that’s counterproductive, isn’t it? But there is provided the steady state is kept to a relative minimum. You can compensate for it calorically because.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, sorry, I, I think this is an important point because there’s been talk and several studies actually on this topic in the last, I don’t know, five, maybe 10 years of these sort of opposing adaptations that are stimulated with weight training as opposed to cardio. And the basic idea of which is that some research has pointed in the direction of like, let’s say you go do a weight training workout and then you do, you go for a jog right after it. The jog is actually going to interfere with your strength and muscle gains rather than be additive and helping you get results faster, it might actually detract from it. So what, what’s your take on that literature and how best structure one’s weight training sessions and cardio sessions so that you don’t have any interference of the adaptation,
Alex Viada: So the interference effect which you’re talking about is something that has been postulated. It has been shown to mechanistically to be true. But speaking with several of my friends who’ve done actual original research, there is very little impact of the interference effect in actually reducing muscle size or preventing muscles size gains when we’re talking about in reasonable amounts. So basically what, what the, after weight training session you start to get that whole enzymatic series of adaptations responsible for muscle growth, new protein growth and everything else. You go in, you lift, you get that mechanical stress. We start getting that cascade of hormones and enzymes that are responsible for putting on more muscle. When you do any kind of cardiovascular or endurance adaptation, it’s a different pathway. You activate. That actually cuts off the other pathway, stops it cold and switches to another one, and people say, well, that’s exactly the opposite effect that you want, you started this whole growth cascade and now you’re cutting it off.
Well, the biggest thing on that first of all is that the trunk aiding that growth cascade only lasts a few hours. That growth cascade after you weight train can be 48 to 72 hours worth of growth because a lot of them, a lot of the adaptive processes, the pro-inflammatory processes of, you, you get these macrophages, they’re and the inflammatory compounds that get rid of damaged muscle tissue and then convert and bring in satellite cells and grow new muscle tissue. That is a longterm process. When you go out and you run right afterward, you’re more efficient than anything else. Just delaying that process two to three hours. Is that ideal? No. You don’t want to delay it at all. Ideally, there’s entire supplement industry is built on making that process happen as quickly as possible. So why did you want to delay it`?
New Speaker: The post-workout anabolic window.
Alex Viada: Yep. So the, the two critical components of that is first of all, tell people, well, if you’re really concerned about that, you’re looking to absolutely maximize muscle growth to every possible extreme. Do your cardio first thing in the morning, do your low intensity, steady state first thing in the morning, that particular pathway’s, those adaptations that, that pathway that stops the muscle growth pathways after about six hours or so, it’s run its course and it no longer shows any mechanistic interference with muscle growth. So you do that at eight in the morning and then you go in at four in the afternoon, you do a weight training session, zero interference even according to the mechanics of it. So that’s, that’s the most critical thing that i’ve found.
Ari Whitten: Great. So you don’t even, you don’t even need to put them on separate days. You can do the same day just as long as they’re spaced apart in the way you described.
Alex Viada: Yup. And critical for that low-intensity work is keep the intensity low. People are really bad at that I think. Okay. If I’m going to go for a run, if i’m, if I can breathe through my nose, I might even running maybe not a lot of people, low intensity may mean a fast walk. So it’s, it’s, it’s important to keep that down because a lot of people will try to incorporate this and say, well, I’m just not feeling recovered. My legs are sore from running this morning. I felt like my squat was weaker or my leg presses weaker or I can only get through half the volume. And you say, well, how hard were you going in the morning? Chances are they Were pushing it way harder than they were supposed to. So that’s why any sort of heart rate monitor they can get, whether it’s a Fitbit or anything else, just track that 70 to 75 percent of heart rate and stay under that. And that usually resolves most problems.
Fasted exercise how to do it and why it is good for your metabolic health
Ari Whitten: Okay. Next question I have for you fasted exercise to do and, and I guess there are a few contexts here of whether we’re talking about intervals or cardio most typically. Do you think there is any context in which there may be some unique benefits of this? And i’ll mention a couple things here too, to provide some context. One is, I know there seems to be some research which has tested the idea around fat loss and haven’t found any fat loss benefits. There’s also some research that I’m aware of with interval training in a fasted state as opposed to offense date that looked at mitochondrial adaptations in particular and showed benefits. They’re only in the fasted state. So what, what’s your take on that literature?
Alex Viada: So that’s, that’s actually very interesting, because that in many ways actually overlaps with a lot of what I have been looking at and playing with with with kind of ketogenic diets. And you talk about basically anytime that know fatty acid levels are elevated in the body, you actually, you actually upgrade the upregulate the expression of certain receptors that PPAR receptors. And what’s interesting about a lot of these, a lot of these adaptations that your upregulating, whether it’s in a, a quote-unquote ketogenic diet or basically anything when you’re low circulating glucose levels, there are potential anti-inflammatory effects, because these receptors that are responsible for fatty acid metabolism also have the, they basically exert an antiinflammatory effect by reducing the expression of pro inflammatory compounds. So if done in a fasted state, you potentially get anti inflammatory effects or at least get less possible inflammation from the exercise, which would be very important for high intensity work and high intensity interval work because that is when people would say that’s a very pro inflammatory process.
You also get, when we talk about mitochondrial adaptations in a fasted state, you are, the people who have done this even with, again, ketogenic diets. In the absence of glucose, what you actually get is massive upregulation certainly in, in mice and rats studies. Where can you extrapolate them? I don’t know, but it seems promising. You get massive upregulation in mitochondrial enzymes, mitochondrial profiles, which is the whole spectrum of mitochondrial energy, energy turnover. So basically it seems that the more time you would spend in a fasted state doing some of this interval work, that involves a low levels of circulating glucose and potentially even tapping into some of those, borderline ketogenic systems, it would seem to be both possibly antiinflammatory and increasing mitochondrial health, mitochondrial density, mitochondrial fat oxidation.
To me, that seems promising enough to say, well, is it worth potentially incorporating some interval work in the morning and even, rather it’s interval work or steady state in the morning before you eat anything. If you can do it, I would say, absolutely.
Ari Whitten: At least sometimes.
Alex Viada: At least sometimes. Absolutely. Is there a compelling fat loss reason? Possibly not. But does that mean it’s devoid of any potential benefits? In my view, all else being equal. If something promising shows potential benefits to health, to longevity, to anything else, I say, if I can do it, I’m going to do it
Ari Whitten: right on. I love that. Also, I think metabolic flexibility. I’m wondering if you have any thoughts on that, but my, my general take on this, and this is a subject where we don’t have a whole lot of research to go off of, but it makes sense to me that doing workouts stumps at least sometimes, occasionally in a fasted state and occasionally in a fed state, may influence the ability of your cells to, to more fluidly transition between burning carbs and burning more fat or ketones for fuel.
Alex Viada: Yeah, absolutely. And uh, to me that makes perfect sense. I’ve been actually working how to consult. Are you familiar with Zack Bitter?
Ari Whitten: No, I’m not.
Alex Viada: Zach Bitter? He just ran western states. He’s an ultra runner. Uh, he has done, I think he currently holds the hundred mile record on track the fastest. It was 12 hours and 30 minutes to run 100 miles on the track.
Ari Whitten: Man, that sounds masochistic.
Alex Viada: It’s, it’s, I, I can’t even. I mean, can you imagine 400 laps and loneliness?
Ari Whitten: I mean, at least if you’re doing it outdoors and you’re going, let’s say 100 miles up the California coast or something like that, at least you have something good to look at, but around a track…
Alex Viada: There’s actually an interesting point that on pain tolerance I want to touch on in a minute. But his, his whole concept is he, he goes borderline ketogenic, but he’s not training, but effectively just he, he’ll take in carbs to fuel his training. He takes a normal card. He always focuses on whole foods, you’ll sweet potatoes, rice, things like that which keeps them relatively low carbohydrate. And for him, metabolic flexibility is the goal. And the great thing about that is he has almost no issues with bonking during racist. He gets none of the crazy carbohydrate craving, blood sugar fluctuations, or anything else. And if you think about it, there are certain metabolic adaptations, even if it’s a reduction, again, in insulin resistance, little things like that should be able to improve your body’s response to a low sugar environment, which is everything. Because If your blood sugar gets low and if you’re a low sugar environment, you know the symptoms of that are altered mental status, you get foggy, your head gets Into cloud, you start to get cravings, you can get weak, physically weak, and you get mood swings and everything else.
Whatever you can do to diminish that is to me, absolutely. Again, one of those things where if you can do it, absolutely. Why not?
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. One thing I do want to mention is, just to thank you for having such a nuanced perspective on this, because so much of what I see in the evidence-based fitness industry, I see so many people just kind of going like, “hey, this study showed no benefits, no fat loss, benefits to fasted exercise, fasted cardio in the morning. Therefore doing fasted cardio is just a waste of time. And it’s stupid. And there are no benefits to it.” And it’s just not a very nuanced perspective that is, is, is really looked at all the literature. So I, I really appreciate your perspective.
Alex Viada: No, I really have to hand it to a lot of other people out there who have just, people I respect, intelligent people I respect that are saying, what, don’t have any biases with these things and always assume that you can, you can get some quality out of something. You look at the research on BCAA’s is and everyone says they’re useless, but there are certain circumstances when they’re not. So find those times when there’s actually a potential benefit to them and have it be a tool in your toolbox, but there’s no reason to absolutely throw, throw it out the window just because there’s no effect on that one area you’re looking in. Because again, this is coming from somebody who was at eight percent body fat and could deadlift 700 pounds and, looked great.
If I do say so myself, and was the most unhealthy person, the most unhealthy I’d ever been in years. Had gone from 160 pounds in high school to 235 pounds, thanks to Chinese food and beer. Terrible. Look terrible. Felt terrible. And here I was at 235 lean pounds and wasn’t much healthier. Wow. And I think that was, that very much said, okay, I can’t be myopic about these things. There’s so much more to this than just fat loss and muscle gain and the select health markers I want to be looking at.
What the research says on carb rich vs ketogenic diets
Ari Whitten: Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned keto briefly and I know that, from our talks off the air that you had mentioned that you’re doing some experimentation around this. Can you talk a bit about the research as it relates to carbohydrate-rich diets versus low carb or ketogenic diets as or as it pertains to exercise performance. And I know this is kind of again, kind of a context-specific thing, whether we’re talking about cardio or, or high-intensity stuff or, or strength or, or whatever, but break that down as, as you wish.
Alex Viada: Yeah. And I, I think my main thing, without getting too much in the weeds and a lot of this is depending on who you ask and what endpoints we’re looking at, the data is dramatically different. You look at those studies that, you look at the faster study and other ones and some show dramatic increases or at least noninferiority of the ketogenetic diet for endurance performance for vo two max and everything else. And others show that there’s the only noninferiority up to a 72 percent effort. And after that, the ketogenic performance just drops precipitously. And then, there’s some that show that the actual sustained Intervals, short-term Is the same key to genic or non. And I think, my, my perspective on this is that the performance data still supports the use of carbohydrates in athletics across the board. The biggest value for ketogenic diets to me are selective utilization in certain training phases. Again, for the anti-inflammatory effects, we, we’re potentially talking about, the pro or I’m going to send a, a little bit of a, what we say, the metabolic flexibility, decreasing insulin resistance, so selective usage of low carbohydrate and ketogenetic diets can be very useful both to the average person and to the athlete as kind of a primer in an offseason or in the low volume phase or anything else to reap some of those benefits which will then allow them to maximize their performance phases later.
Ari Whitten: I love how you phrase that. A few things that i’ll introduce. I’m, I’m not as much of an expert on this particular topic as you are, but I have read the, I think almost all of the literature, one claim that’s out there that we see from a lot of ketogenic advocates is this idea that you, once you’re a fat burner or a fat burning machine, quote-unquote, you have like superhuman endurance and, and athletic potential. And there’s a common idea that it turns you into a super athlete. I just want to be clear with people that the literature does not support that.
There seems to be a few Isolated incidents like the old study with I think with Phinney and Volek or maybe just where they showed that a few individuals of the overall group had this kind of skyrocketing of performance, but then it was balanced out by a bunch of others that had decreased performance. And then my overall take on the overall body of literature that in the context of endurance exercise at best it seems to be equal to a higher carbohydrate diet and at worst inferior. And then, and then in the higher intensity stuff, it’s almost always inferior or maybe occasionally a study shows that it’s equal.
Alex Viada: Absolutely. And that’s why I always say it’s very much selective. I would never advocate somebody to go full quite your route or anything like that, even talking to a guy like Zach Bitter. I don’t want to say he makes his money on keto, but the whole idea of adaptation or optimizing fat metabolism, like that’s his bread and butter, bread and butter, well that’s a really bad expression, but that’s, that’s his area. And he fully admits in any high intensity or even in any race, you will regularly consume at least 20 to 30 percent carbohydrates. And that’s, that’s pretty indicative. You’ve got somebody here who are engaged in what you can argue with some of the most long-distance endurance biased activity there is. And he admits to the crucial role of carbohydrates in that. And he’s not even a sprinter.
He’s 100-mile racer. So from my perspective, when the people engaged in the activity that state that would benefit the most or suffer the least from ketogenic diets still admit to the role of the carbohydrates and says that makes a pretty compelling case.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Absolutely.
Alex Viada: And yeah, it’s like I said, from my view, this is all, then, the usage of ketogenic or faster training or anything else. It’s like, it is like the nutritional equivalent to a specific type of off-season training. It’s every type of training has its place. Every type of diet may have its place. It’s, it’s using it when you can and not saying, well this is the answer. I’ve seen zero super athletes on ketogenic diets so far.
Ari Whitten: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. But, but there’s this, as you’re alluding to there, there is this unique research and maybe some just lines of, of logic based on understanding the adaptations and the mechanisms around. I think there was one recent one that I read about athletes sleeping low, not low altitude, but sleeping below low glycogen states after training, intentionally not refueling our carbohydrates and then sleeping in the carbohydrate depleted state increased some adaptations over time.
Alex Viada: what’s so interesting. Yeah, absolutely. And that looks promising. That looks very promising. And it’s funny because I think back to when I first started learning about ketogenic diets, I mean you’re talking years and years ago. There was the regular ketogenic diet. There was tkd, CKD targeted ketogenic diet, cyclical ketogenic diets. This is nothing new.
Ari Whitten: I was, I was doing it when I was 17 years old, almost 20 years ago with manna. Forget that Australian guy’s name he wrote, it was a cyclical ketogenic diet. I mean I was coming home after weight training and, and literally chugging creams like protein and cream and eating like zero carbohydrates. I was doing this 20 years ago.
Alex Viada: Body Opus was one of the books.
Ari Whitten: Yes, yes, exactly. Rob Ragan I think was the guy’s name. So yeah, I mean it’s, it’s interesting how these things come in waves and ads and then they go away for awhile and they come back.
Alex Viada: Yeah. They come back with a vengeance. And what I appreciate about this time around is that there is of course a lot more people interested in research and kind of the latest thing. But of course, science and research with great power comes great responsibility and uh, people are just as good and making it fit their own biases or anything else.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. I listened to an interview with Chad Macias the other day, but he, he was talking about some really big misrepresentations of some of the literature on the ketogenic diet and cancer. So yeah, like you said, with great power comes great responsibility. I think that that stuff needs to be very. I wish people were more careful with stuff like that because of a lot of people who stand to be harmed if there’s that evidence on that.
Alex Viada: Absolutely. There was one more thing I know I touched on. I’m just talking about being able to run 100 miles around the track and it’s kind of a diversion from the diet, but something I really wanted to mention. The very interesting link between endurance action, endurance sports, endurance activities, endurance training and pain tolerance. So one of the things we talked about and especially using endurance training as an intervention for people potentially suffering from any kind of pain. This has even been done in double-blind studies or what started that double-blind studies, controlled studies where you will have two cohorts, one group of individuals who over eight weeks has no intervention. The other group of individuals who has a cycling training intervention and using, usually as the the ice water test when you take warm hands up, put them in a bath of ice water and hold it as long as possible and self report the pain 20 to 30 percent improvement in time to reporting the same pain score.
In other words, in the duration they can hold their hands and the group that does endurance activities, so no change in pain threshold, they can still. They still know that there’s a painful stimulus, but the self-reported pain is lower and less long and longer before it becomes a basically debilitating or interferes with, basically conscious activity. They’ve also done studies on people who have done things like trans European foot races, 2,500 miles over a month and they look at that population compared to a control population control population. Self-reports pain 10 out of 10 after 30 seconds on average, the transit, European Footrace people or pain of six out of 10 after 90 seconds, at which point they cut the test off because the water’s starting to warm up. So what’s interesting is that endurance activity is positively correlated, if not potentially causal to lower self-reported pain scores.
If you think about individuals who are going through any kind of rehabilitation or dealing with chronic pain and they can find an endurance activity that is noninterference doesn’t exacerbate their symptoms. If you can possibly say, okay, we’re going to take your background pain of five out of 10 on a daily basis or six out of 10 on a daily basis, and improve your ability to manage that pain and to go about your daily activity with that pain and self reported as a three or four just by doing cardiovascular activity two to three times a week. Yeah, that can make all the difference in the world from lifestyle, non-pharmaceutical, nonmedical almost most. One of the most healthy interventions you could possibly find, of course, critically important is finding that modality that doesn’t worsen these issues.
How people with CFS/ME and fatigue should exercise for recovery
Ari Whitten: So part of my audience are people with chronic fatigue and oftentimes severe, oftentimes debilitating, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia that that’s been going on for years or decades. A lot of these people have had really bad experiences with exercise, with something called post-exertional malaise where they try and do some exercise and then they’re just incapacitated for days afterward. A lot of these people have then learned to fear exercise, uh, and say exercise is bad for me because every time I do it, it leads to this result. One of my big things is, is teaching people that you need exercise. I mean the body just, it needs movement. It needs physical activity to function properly. And I get that you’ve had bad experiences, but we need to find a way to get your body to the point where it can tolerate at least some small amount of movement and activity. Do you have any experience or tips about working with those kinds people? And what would you say to somebody listening to this who is, is currently doing no exercise because they’re afraid of exercise because they’re afraid it’s going to make them worse. Where should they start and what kind of activity and how should it be kind of design?
Alex Viada: Well. So I know there’s a lot of sayings around there that like, well, exercise doesn’t have to hurt. It doesn’t have to be hard to get better. But even according to all the literature, that is absolutely true. If you want to look at muscle growth, you know we’re talking about drivers of muscle growth. Muscle growth can just be a proxy for overall strength and size and everything else. It’s looking more and more like you don’t even need to push to the point of muscular fatigue. You don’t need to push to muscular damage, which can be a major driver of inflammation and major driver fatigue. All you need is to exert a level of mechanical tension on the muscle that is sufficient to cause the body to adapt. That doesn’t even mean that you need to do reps until you feel a burn. All that that means is you need to do enough. The goal here is to improve fitness without increasing fatigue. So when I, when I talk to individuals who have these, these, these kinds of circumstances, you say, just do enough to overload your body. The bare minimum.
Ari Whitten: And when, and maybe clarify that word overload because you don’t necessarily mean overload, like do a whole bunch of activity that completely overwhelms you create a mechanical stimulus.
Alex Viada: Exactly.
Ari Whitten: That stimulates an adaptation.
Alex Viada: And all it has to be is a little bit heavier than say the heaviest thing you lift on a daily basis, which doesn’t have to be much and that we talk about progressive overload. We may say, okay, that may mean all you need to do is take a PVC pipe and push it above your head or first, take a PVC pipe with a couple of washers on either side and push it above your head and every time you progressively do that, you may feel no fatigue from it whatsoever. You might say, I am I actually doing anything, but as long as you progressively increased that mechanical tension, you may not feel any fatigue. You may not cause them damage. You may not be increasing any of those pro-inflammatory markers or anything else, but you’re still getting that mechanical tension that will build muscle.
And it’s the same thing on the cardiovascular side of things. You said we want to keep the intensity low enough because once you start pushing that heart rate up, once you start increasing that level of fatigue, once you start getting that sympathetic drive, heart rate goes up. You know general systemic fatigue starts to increase. You get stress hormone released, which use the heart rate higher. If you can avoid that process and simply elevates your heart rate to 65 percent of its maxim which may be 110 beats per minute, you’re still getting that discreet benefit.
Ari Whitten: And they could potentially do that for even just two minutes or five minutes?
Alex Viada: Exactly. And all you need is progressive overload there. Do it for two minutes in the morning, do it for three minutes in the afternoon, the next day. Do it for two minutes and 10 seconds in the morning and three minutes and 10 seconds in the afternoon and it can be small or whatever it is, and the goal is to not feel fatigued or exhausted at the end of each one. Simply say, “Okay, I did that. You know what. I didn’t even feel that.” And it’ll start out with two minutes of you not feeling it and after three months it may be 15 to 20 to 30 minutes of not even feeling it and you’re getting those benefits, but you’re keeping all of those systemic stress responses to an absolute minimum.
The power of monitoring your HRV
Ari Whitten: Great. And do you have any particular methods or strategies that you favor for biofeedback and kind of monitoring? How far do you should push on any given day you? Are you a fan of heart rate variability monitoring or.
Alex Viada: Yeah, that’s. I mean that’s, that is a huge, huge, wide open field right now too. And there are so many people who just outstripped my knowledge on a tremendously, I’m a huge fan of it. If you have the proper tools for it, some, some hrv measures are better than others. Some equipment is better than others, chest strap versus wrist strap versus anything else. But what I liked those as, even if they’re not absolutely perfect they’re at least good proxies for overall stress and overall readiness, because i’ve noticed even the most simple differences like background level of psychological stress, sleep patterns, all of those other things really will give you enough of a variability there that you can say, okay, I need to dial back on a few things right now. That’s one of the biggest, basically between resting heart rates and any sort of gross HRV measurement is enough for most people who aren’t, you’re not trying to optimize performance to the point where you say, okay, I want to go ride the Tour de France and meet every incremental benefit signal.
Alex Viada: I just want to feel better than those are two of the main things that I track in almost all my athletes who have access to it.
Ari Whitten: Okay. One of the reasons I bring that up is, talking about this, this population of people with chronic fatigue, oftentimes these are personalities. And this has actually been. There are some data showing this. These are oftentimes people who have a tendency to push themselves through stress and fatigue, meaning they will burn themselves out and then there are the type to be like, no, I can’t just rest, I need to go, go, go, go, go and push, push harder and harder, and then they drive themselves obviously to a point where it’s counterproductive and they, they tend not to be very good about reading these subtle subjective cues about when to rest and when to push hard and when to take it easy. So I, I personally have found heart rate variability monitoring to be just invaluable to have this objective measure to say to some. Okay, like your heart rate variability is low today, so just take it easy today. Either take a rest day or do a very light day, but that, that undulation of pushing a little bit and then maybe resting a day or two or, or lighter days and then pushing again and kind of getting in synchrony with that I think is really important for, for these people.
Alex Viada: Yeah. And it’s, it’s one of these things where I basically say that everybody should train like an elite athlete and not that they should do the trading of an elite athlete, but you pay attention to those markers and you focus as hard on your recovery as you do on your training and an elite athlete can afford to get kind of behind the curve when it comes to recovery. If their markets are trending down and they get overtrained and they’ve lost an entire season which can cause some of their entire careers. Because if they have to take six months off, six months when they’re losing fitness and their competition is gaining fitness and they were a year behind and they’re done.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Absolutely.
Alex Viada: Any people who are dealing with issues like their busy lives and fatigue and anything else where the threshold, that line is so thin.
You say you have to be just as proactive and just as aggressive with your recovery. I know that sounds totally wrong. Be aggressively, be aggressive with your relaxation, but for, for a lot of people, active relaxation is a good thing, you, you prescribe it, I have a couple of, uh, especially for some of my more ambitious athletes, I actually have workouts that are literally a 20 minute guided meditation and they start their watch and they do it and they’re the most type an about their 20 minutes of relaxation and you simply say, we got to direct this because what you’re putting in the bank now as far as recovery is what’s going to let you push harder later. There was no sense and digging yourself further and further down. It’s like, it’s like trying to, put a, put a screw or washer into something and realizing that you’ve got threads crossed, you can keep driving it in. All you’re going to do is make it worse. Reset back it out. Reset.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. So on that point of recovery, do you have any, any, any little tips and tricks as far as recovery methods, favor recovery tools, massage tools, foam rollers, or whatever that, cold therapy devices, what have you found to be the best as far as promoting recovery?
Alex Viada: for, for anti-inflammatory purposes, I’m always a big fan of kind of localized compression and elevation over any kind of ice bath or anything else. Something that, passively reduces inflammation versus actual vasoconstriction. My whole goal with any sort of, anti-inflammatory process or intervention is to allow the body to keep circulating, keep all of those growth factors and repair factors going into that area, but just reduce that swelling a little bit to kind of maintain function. So a lot of people, wear knee sleeves after their workouts. I’ll have them elevate, i’ll have them do quick contrast baths and then elevate compression socks, little things like that. Nothing, nothing. Super aggressive, no aggressive foam rolling, no aggressive massage, no nothing that’s going to cause any damage of zone potentially. If, if somebody is experiencing extreme muscle tightness or guarding or anything else and they need a massage or local Intervention to kind of release that muscle and let them move it and work it properly.
Great. But on a regular basis i’ll just keep it as passive and low key as possible because the last thing I want people to do with the recovery methods is to do things that stress them out further. So when I see people jumping in ice-cold baths and getting somebody driving point pressure under the shoulder blades and I’m thinking your recovery scares me more than your workout psychologically that that’s quite a load of stress in and of itself, you know. So I said I generally try to keep it low key and that focus really a lot on psychological recovery and mental recovery and being able to self-regulate your level of mental intensity.
Ari Whitten: Gotcha. Do you, do you have any thoughts on stretching? Does that something that you have found valuable in any way or not so much?
Alex Viada: I do actually. I know, I know static, dynamic stretching is somewhat vilified, but at the end of the day it does, it does work if nothing else, there’s a temporary disinhibition of muscle tension. Uh, and also there are actually some benefits we’re talking about muscle growth and mechanical loading. Stretching can actually elicit some of the same adaptations that causes muscle growth. So the only thing I tell people about stretching is first of all, don’t overdo it. And second of all, once you have stretched a muscle, you have to be very careful to only work it within your comfortable range of motion. In other words, if you, you, your shoulders are limited and then you do some, back stretches and everything else, and then you open up this range of motion, start flinging dumbbells all over the place. You’re gonna hurt yourself. So stretch them slowly and gradually build strength through that new range of motion every time. You don’t just stretch for the sake of stretching, stretch, and then work the muscle. You just stretched, been working lately.
Why the claim ”cardio is useless for weight loss” is inaccurate
Ari Whitten: Great. I have one question that switching gears a little bit and then, and then my final question to you after that. So switching gears back to fat loss and cardio, I’m remembering something I wanted to ask you previously. There’s some research showing things like, the subject people especially, I think this has been shown in women in particular subject them to a cardio intervention where they have them do jogging, let’s say, or riding a stationary bike for whatever, four weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks, and look at weight loss outcomes and uh, and some of these studies have shown no weight loss or, and there are even some individuals in some cases where that have actually gained weight during some of these interventions. Can you talk a bit off, and, and this has led some people to make the claim cardio’s useless for fat loss. And I know that some of this revolve around the kind of like the post-exercise reward sort of behaviors, but what’s, what’s going on there? Can you explain that phenomenon and how does one avoid that outcome and how does one actually get a fat loss?
Alex Viada: So that’s, that’s actually very interesting. And part of it as a postdoctoral size reward, like you said, oh, well i’ve just gone for a run. I should go eat that cheesecake. But the second thing is, they kind of will be called this constrained model of energy expenditure and they’ve, again, this has been shown in humans, but it’s also been shown in rats, for example, very carefully controlled conditions up to a certain extent. You’ve got your caloric burn here and if you basically, this is how much energy you’re burning. If you start doing a more cardiovascular activity, energy expenditure outside of exercise reduces to compensate for that. And one of the most interesting ways i’ll see for checking this is i’ll tell people, have a steps tracker on your watch. Take that steps tracker off when you exercise. Now compare your number of steps per hour on your exercise days to your non-exercise days.
And that can be very, very interesting because i’ve seen people who are very heavy intensity exercise cycles who get 4,000 steps a day outside of exercise when they’re exercising. More likely they get 10 thousand steps a day, they fidget more, they move more, they walk more, they take the stairs more they don’t try to park as close as possible. And even just like I said, little things like fidgeting, like, how-how animated you are, your posture, all these little things that burn calories, those decrease as you exercise. Your body has this constrained output where it says, okay, this is what you’re actively burning. We’re going to passively reduce that output. That is a difficult thing to combat. Now, two things about that. First of all, you can easily overwhelm that. You can do an Ironman every single day and you will more than overwhelm your body’s ability to compensate.
But the other thing, then the other side of it will be the flip side of the car. Don’t overdo it. In other words, on any day you’re going to do exercise, either do enough to overwhelm that which means burning up to 20 percent or more of your daily calories just through exercise, which it sounds daunting, but if you say, well, that might mean just going for an hour and a half hike or an hour and a half walk with the dogs or an hour and a half of walking through the park or anything like that. That’s not actually that overwhelming and that is enough to overwhelm that kind of reduction in activity outside or you keep the exercise relatively short and you keep it at about five percent or less of daily expenditure and that is not necessarily enough to downregulate that activity level and in tandem
Ari Whitten: with that you’d focus on really being very active with non exercise activity, thermogenesis, gender throughout the day.
Alex Viada: Yup. Exactly, and that’s normally I don’t set goals for people. I think people focus more on the stuff than anything else. A lot of people say, well, I didn’t want to go ride the stationary bike because I didn’t give me any more steps, but I think that it’s important if someone is really serious about weight loss and wants to use cardiovascular activity as a, as a way to enhance that, I think it’s critically important that they’re very cognizant of the reduction in activity and take active steps to compensate for that. All those tips that people do kind of unconsciously when they’re active, like I said, like getting up more often, things like that. Staying more animated. You have to do that activity as you incorporate more cardio because there are benefits to cardio for weight loss. I go outside and just the calories burned like we’re talking about. Like we said, you know like metabolic flexibility, upregulation of fat burning processes, insulin sensitivity, all those things which are great for long-term fat loss but not great for short term fat loss. So it’s important when you incorporate it that you realize, okay, I’m burning 500 calories a day of cardio. That’s not necessarily going to give me an extra pound a week deficit. It’s going to cross. We give me less, but I have to take extra steps to make sure that my activity level outside of the cardio isn’t bottoming out.
What to do when you have a tendency to reward yourself with food after exercise
Ari Whitten: Do you have any tips for people who have that tendency to reward themselves with, extra food or extra delicious food as a reward for doing this exercise which was painful and the suffering that they didn’t really want to do. What do you say to someone who’s doing that or maybe even doing it unconsciously and doesn’t even realize that they are…
Alex Viada: Those are people where I find fasted cardio is very, very useful because immediately after that, if you do something like you go into your cardio with only a little bit of say, branched chain amino acids or whatever. I know those are not in favor now but or coffee and anything else and you go into it. You’re going to feel the same level of hunger after that as you ordinarily would in the morning to begin with. And the first thing you do is you sit down and you have your first plan Meal of the day, you’re consolidating that morning hunger and that exercise hunger into a single bolus and you can account for it. You’re going to address that hunger issue immediately. You have the caffeine in your system since you’re already at a relatively low circulating blood sugar level, you’re not going to get that precipitous crash.
So it kind of consolidates that hunger sensation to first thing in the morning and that’s why a lot of people you look at pre-contest bodybuilders, that’s why they swear by morning cardio. It has a much easier time in my experience, combating their cravings when they do morning cardio versus when they do it in the evening and then they get back and they have evening fatigue plus cardiovascular fatigue and they’re looking at rice cakes and piece of chicken for dinner and they’re like, this isn’t gonna. Cut it ravenous after they do cardio. In that case, do it in the morning. Do it in a fasted state. You’re going to be hungry afterward. Have that filling breakfast that you’d normally have, oats or something. The highest satiating potential would take advantage of the fact that your blood sugar levels already low. It’s not going to get any lower. And I find that that’s very, very effective. People are also a little bit less likely to do things like have a slice of cheesecake first thing in the morning on the way to work for a lot of people psychologically. That’s more of an evening grazing thing.
Alex’s top tips for exercising
Ari Whitten: Right? Yeah. That’s great. So finally, what are your top three tips or strategies or just pieces of advice when it comes to exercise that you want to leave people with? Again, kind of understanding. A lot of my audience is not your typical super athlete like you’re working with a lot of the time, but oftentimes people who are maybe just starting to do some activity or not doing anything or maybe just have, don’t really know anything about exercise, but maybe do a little bit of [inaudible] are a little bit of yoga or dabble in, some, some group training classes at the gym. What are your top three tips?
Alex Viada: First one knows the purpose, and what I mean by that is if you are doing low-intensity work for your heart, do low-intensity work through your heart. Don’t, don’t start getting excited by this and then the other know why you’re doing it. That’ll stop you from overdoing it. That’ll stop you from underdoing it. If you’re lifting weights, know that the purpose is to increase mechanical tension. It’s not to throw more weight around. You know if you, if you do a strict lift with proper mechanical tension, that’s more mechanical tension than throwing the weight up. So if you know the purpose, if you know the specific reason why you do something before you do it, you’re going to do it right and you’re not going to overdo it. That is by far the number one. Number two is kind of related to that. Keep the high-intensity work high intensity and keep the low-intensity work and low-intensity people tend to combine the two a little bit too much and they’ll say, okay, you know I’m supposed to do a nice easy walk out. I’m going to go sprint up that hill or yeah, if I can do these stairs slowly, I’m going to do them faster. If you’re doing your low-intensity work, increased distance rather than increasing intensity.
Ari Whitten: Let me interrupt you on this point because I just realized that we forgot something that we said we were going to come back to what you mentioned earlier about people who try are trying to do high-intensity interval training or getting to that point. Do you have any quick tip on how people can make sure that they’re actually doing it properly?
Alex Viada: High-intensity interval training is all the positive data on this from things like Tabata sprints on a, on a bicycle. The thing about that is they are noncyclical. I know cycle non-sequitur doesn’t sense, but for example, doing something like a kettlebell swing, you can’t get the high intensity because you’re not under constant tension enough. Think about it on a bike. You are under constant high intensity, high tension and you’re operating at your maximum level of intensity. That is very, very difficult to do for untrained people in anything other than a bike. So when I say do high intensity interval training, I’m saying that even rowing maybe tough, but it’ll has to be something that you can buckle down and do at a eyes bleeding level of intensity and for a lot of people that’s very challenging and if you’re not getting to that super high level of intensity, which is I think defined as 170 percent of your vo two max, which is just 170 percent of your lactate threshold, which is just sky high, then don’t do it because all you’re doing at that point is kind of living in that zone between low intensity and high intensity and increasing fatigue but not really getting the benefit of either.
So unless you can go pedal to the metal, 100 percent, you’re not really doing high-intensity interval training. Okay. So that was the thought on that. But yeah, I mean and that, that actually goes along perfectly well with this point. If you’re going to do high-intensity work, make sure it’s high intensity. No, don’t, don’t compromise intensity. If you’re tired and you can’t maintain that level of intensity, don’t do it,
Ari Whitten: and at one point I should clarify for people who are maybe not familiar with high-intensity interval training and haven’t tried it before, is that the intensity is relative to the individual like this abs, like you don’t have to meet some objective measure of you have. You have to operate at the same level of intensity that I do or that Alex does. It’s whatever 100 percent intensity is for you.
Alex Viada: Yup. In fact, I’m one individual who I actually. We did this at a seminar, his high intensity, this was a 430 pounds individual, relatively sedentary. His high intensity was a five percent on a treadmill is a high capacity treadmill, five percent on the treadmill at a 22 minute per mile pace. That was as high-intensity rate and that got him up to the proper level of intensity to get the benefits of high-intensity interval training.
Ari Whitten: So just to put that in simple non-exercise terms for people that this is like the equivalent of a relatively slow or moderate pace walk that put this person at a 100 percent intensity level. Yup.
Alex Viada: It was the equivalent of a moderate pace, walk up a slight hill which got him up to that level and that was sufficient. And what would have been discouraging to him in the past is he thought he would have to get on this bike and get the super high level, get them, get the wheels spinning and everything else. But he didn’t need that attempting to go for that arbitrary level of intensity or what he thought was this one-inch number. There’s power up on the bike and not be able to hit. It was frustrating for him. So we thought that he had ruled that out, but it wasn’t, it was significantly lower than that.
Ari Whitten: No, that’s a perfect way of explaining my point. Thank you. So what about tip number three?
Alex Viada: Tip number three. Gosh, there’s so many to choose from this point. I would say the probably most important thing with exercises is find something you love and I know that sounds so canned and so cheesy and everything else, but everybody i’ve worked with from the most basic to the highest level, they’re going to be pointed in, no matter what exercise you’re doing, what activity you’re doing that you’re going to hate it. I don’t know of a single champion, cyclist or ultra runner or a powerlifter that doesn’t occasion to go in and go, oh my gosh, I don’t want to do this. This is the worst thing ever, but overall, they love it. They’re passionate about it. If you’re not finding a level of passion about your chosen activity, when you get to those dark points, when you get to that early morning in the winter and you don’t want to go do it, or you get to that point where you just been training and you’re making progress, but you’re frustrated and you’re hitting a wall or you’re at the end of a long workout and don’t want to do that last set.
That thing that keeps you going, which is your love of the process, isn’t going to be there. You got a look. The goal, you got to want the goal, whether It’s found loss, whether it’s energy, whether it’s even just staving off, then the inevitable slight decline in strength than everything else that we all see. You have to love the process as well, so if that means that you want to do kettlebells, you want to do is you want to do hot yoga, you want to do powerlifting, you want to do anything else, keep searching until you find something that you get excited about and even if that changes every month, finding something you’re excited about, every month and every month, trying something new and doing that for the next 10 years, you may not make the same progress and strength that a dedicated powerlifter will, but there are actually benefits, psychological, neurological benefits for longevity and anti-aging to learning new skills. That’s actually a very good thing if you want to program hawk, by all means.
Ari Whitten: Actually, on that point I was just listening to, scientists the other day talk about neurological benefits of is specifically doing new physical tasks, earning new physical tasks so you could arguably make the case that although inferior for strength gains or I purchased the gains or maybe fat loss, it may be superior for your brain.
Alex Viada: Absolutely. Which I mean, at the end of the day, why are we doing this? And I think just to kind of bring things full circle when I was very strong and very lean and everything else, I think why was I doing this? I was doing this originally because I wanted to be healthier. I want to look good. Yeah. But I wanted to be healthier and healthier isn’t just physique healthier. Is your heart healthier? Is your brain healthier, is your mood healthier, is everything else? And if any one of those starts to compromise and you think that what you’re doing in the goal of being healthier is making you less healthy than you’re doing it wrong.
Ari Whitten: Yeah. Well said. Well, this has been a beautiful interview. I’ve really enjoyed this personally and I have to say, I often talk with people on other experts in the field and, and people on this podcast and a lot of the time I’m just noticing, oh, this person is not familiar with this body of literature or this body of literature or they have a very black and white tape on this thing and I just have to say that I really appreciated how well read you are, how knowledgeable you are, how sophisticated and nuanced your perspective on all these issues are. And this is just been an absolute pleasure and i’m, I’m a fan of your work.
Alex Viada: Oh no. Thanks already so much and I appreciate the openness of the questions and just being able to talk about all these different issues in the kind of the goal of finding, finding more of the truth and you’re more than nuanced levels of truth. I give full credit to all the people I’ve spoken to over the years who sometimes i’ve been kicking and screaming and resisting what they have to say, but over time they’ve just. I’ve been lucky enough to have people have just been patient and i’ve said, you know what kid, just keep your mouth shut and listen more. And those have been. Those have been great influences on my life, so i’ve been very fortunate.
Ari Whitten: Well, on top of it, you’re, you’re very humble, which I appreciate that as well. Maybe too humble given your level of knowledge, but this has been an absolute pleasure. Alex. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast and, where can people find your work? And I know that you have an online presence, you also have a book, at least one book, maybe some products, but I know you have the hybrid athlete. Is there anything else?
Alex Viada: You go to www.completehumanperformance.com that’s got links to the book which is hosted on a separate side of ours. It’s got links to articles. We’ve done a couple podcasts. We do, we do kind of the gamut of stuff. I’ve got training templates out there, a lot of just other resources for people to kind of learn a bit more about the approach, the philosophy and uh, kind of digging as deep or as shallow as they want.
Ari Whitten: Okay. So hybrid athlete is a book that you’ve written. Talk a bit about that and, who should get that,
Alex Viada: The hybrid athlete. So the hybrid athlete was basically a culmination of a lot of the stuff i’ve learned and when I wrote it, the whole idea was that a person with very little knowledge in biomechanics and biology could read it, understand it and benefit from it. But a scientist could read it and not feel insulted by it. So it’s, it’s, it’s my attempt to talk a bit about concurrent training, about physiological adaptations to training to give people an idea of how to put programs together. And I tried to convey it in a social way that 90 percent of people who pick it up should be able to apply it and learn from it. And even if you do have a background in those areas, It’ll still confirm a lot of what you know and then layer on top of it. So, we had a lot of fun writing it and possibly going to do a second edition at some point, but it’s basically a brain dump of the stuff I learned in my first six years of doing this and it’s been about six years of concurrent training. It’s been four years since then and some things have changed, but the core material is pretty much the same.
Ari Whitten: Excellent. And do you have any solutions or offerings? Like let’s say somebody’s listening to this and they’re just like, I don’t want to read a bunch of theory, just give me a template of the optimal way to work out using your principals. Do you have something like that?
Alex Viada: We do. We have actually a whole series of templates, on our site that you can find, even if you just go to templates.completehumanperformance.com. And it’s every combination you can think of, there’s a strength in 10 k, which even if you don’t want to run a 10 k is just a good mid-distance training program. We’ve got ones for strength training and triathlons and strength training and five k running and ultra marathons and we price most of them at about 30 bucks. So. And they’re fully interactive. People enter in the numbers and it just spits it back and we, we try to make them as affordable enough that people can say, hey, i’m, yeah, it might be interested in doing that one day. I’m just gonna pick that up and see how it looks. And even if they’ve got a scale, everything there, so scalable that if you have an 80-pound max bench and it takes you an hour to walk a five k, you can plug those numbers in and it’ll give you a training program based on that. Excellent.
Ari Whitten: Terrific. Well thanks so much Alex. This is, like I said, this has been an absolute pleasure and hopefully I get to have you on again one of these days. I get the sense that we’re only scratching the surface of your knowledge, so I think maybe a podcast part two is in order. I. It sounds good to me. Absolutely. Awesome man. Well thanks again and take care.
Alex Viada: Thanks a lot. You too.
The Best Way To Exercise For Energy, Weight Loss, And Longevity │Why Most People Are Exercising In Ways That Are Not Optimal For Health (And How To Overcome Exercise Intolerance) With Alex Viada – Show Notes
Why modern-day bodybuilders are unhealthy (5:22)
The different adaptations that are stimulated with cardio, HIIT, and resistance training (6:32)
Why scientific research on performance is inaccurate and cannot be taken as a standard for everyone (15:44)
How exercise plays into disease prevention and longevity (20:49)
How to exercise to lose fat as fast as humanly possible (25:17)
How to exercise for rapid muscle growth (30:42)
Fasted exercise how to do it and why it is good for your metabolic health (36:26)
What the research says on carb rich vs ketogenic diets (44:17)
How people with CFS/ME and fatigue should exercise for recovery (54:29)
The power of monitoring your HRV (59:02)
Why the claim “cardio is useless for weight loss” is inaccurate (1:06:35)
What to do when you have a tendency to reward yourself with food after exercise (1:11:44)
Alex’s top tips for exercising (1:14:02)
To learn more or work with Alex, go here
If you want to try out the hybrid training program, Alex has some great workout templates.