Overload Principle: Training with Purpose

This article by Nate Martins was originally published on HVMN, adapted for use here on Lorieb.

How do you know you’ve hit a plateau?

Have you trained for countless hours with sparse results? Strict dieting with little to show for it? Strength training without the ability to increase weight? When was the last time you hit a PR, anyway?

Plateauing happens to athletes at all levels. It’s good for training regimens to become a way of life, but doing those sessions over and over again can become like mindlessly checking a box. Inputs remain the same–which can be detrimental to increasing performance outputs.

Incorporating overload principle into training may be one of the steps you need to get off that plateau.

Building Muscle–How it Actually Works

Overload principle states that in order for muscle to increase in size, strength and endurance, it must be regularly challenged to produce an output that is as near as possible to maximum capacity. The technique pushes the body past its limits, further breaking it down to force adaptations that lead to performance gains.

Skeletal muscle is composed of fibers that contract when our muscles are put to work. During high intensity, challenging exercise, muscle fibers are broken down. These small breakdowns are called “microtrauma,” and cause the muscle to rebuild stronger, overcompensating to protect itself from other breakdowns with new muscle-building protein.

The rebuilt fibers increase in thickness and number, resulting in muscle growth. To support this, we need enough dietary protein to ensure the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown; this is how our muscles grow.

The same process happens in all of the muscles of our body. The heart muscle also gets bigger with training, enabling more oxygen to be used by other muscles. An exercise-induced release of vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) stimulates the formation of blood vessels, leading to the capillarization of the muscle, allowing increased blood flow, oxygen, and nutrient delivery (which is a critical factor in muscle growth).1 More enzymes are also produced that are utilized in energy production.

A woman squatting in the weight room using overload training, which says that muscle fibers and broken down during exercise, then muscle growth is a result of the fibers increasing in thickness and number

Interestingly, when it comes to muscular hypertrophy (the building of muscle), the exact mechanisms aren’t totally understood; there are likely many factors at play. Current hypotheses include some combination of mechanical tension, metabolic fatigue and muscular damage.

But with training adaptations like overload principle, there can be results like slower utilization of muscle glycogen, greater reliance on fat oxidation, less lactate production during exercise, and adaptations to skeletal muscle.2 To produce muscle growth, athletes must apply a load of stress greater than what those muscles have previously adapted to.3

The idea of overload principle is rooted in how muscles grow–and it begins immediately after exercise, but can take weeks or months to actually manifest.

Practice Before Overloading

Before introducing heavier weight or adding more miles to an exercise program, it’s essential to have the correct technique for those exercises cemented. Muscle memory and the repetition of techniques with proper form are crucial for executing an exercise flawlessly.

But once introduced on top of a good skill base, overload principle can be a powerful tool to reducing the overall risk of injury (as it did with this study on junior elite soccer players).4

Implementing Overload Principle

Without overload principle, fitness level is less likely to increase; training programs might not yield strength gains because the body adapts to static repetition.

There are two basic components of overload principle: the overloading, and the progression. Overloading is what we’ve discussed above, the adding of stress, weight, etc. to achieve greater fitness.

Progression is the way in which the overloading should be added to training. This can be achieved through an increase in frequency, intensity, time of exercise, or a combination of these. Workout smarter

Are You FITT?

The FITT principle is a way to approach overload training strategically and safely, by overloading these different aspects of exercise.

Frequency: How often physical activity is performed, which is normally about three to five times per week.

Intensity: How hard a person exercises during physical activity, which can be measured in different ways and is different for everyone. Heart rate is one way to monitor intensity during endurance, while weight can illustrate intensity of strength training; however, neither of these measures something like flexibility.

Time: The length of physical activity. Again, time varies depending on the person and fitness goal. Stretch-training for flexibility may take 15 minutes, but the minimum for aerobic activity is about 20 minutes of continuous exercise.

Type: The specific physical exercise one is training to improve. Someone trying to improve strength might overload weight and reps; a runner looking to improve endurance might overload distance and time.

By using the FITT principle to understand overloading, this may also help with burnout. Often, we seek performance gains, increasing intensity wildly in the hopes of achieving our goals. This can lead to overly-fatigued muscle and even injury.

Compartmentalizing overload training, and already knowing the movements on which you’ll overload, can help reduce some of the dangers of pushing your body past its limits.

How to Overload

You probably already have a training plan. It has days with long runs and short runs, rest days and strength training days.

A note: if you’re serious, it may be worth getting help from a coach. You can’t keep overloading the same thing over and over–that defeats the purpose of overload training in the first place. Always increasing the same element, like volume, may lead to another plateau. It’s important to mix it up, looking at your training plan like a journey: there will be peaks and troughs to keep the body guessing.

A runner using overload principle, which stats that runners should increase distance, increase intensity and increase speed

When Running

Running with overload principle in mind applies the same techniques as strength and resistance training: increase difficulty (in some way) systematically.

Adding intensity to your workouts is a good place to start. Speed workouts and hill training can help improve muscle strength, overall speed and eventually, race day performance. These intense workouts should come twice per week, incorporating things like interval training, tempo runs, hill workouts or lactate threshold training (which could serve a dual purpose as being both a difficult workout and help you improve your lactate threshold).

Adding duration to runs is also an essential way to overload. One long run per week should be added to a training plan. Many runners prefer to conduct these long runs on weekends (specifically Sunday), because Monday is a popular rest day. You can even add mileage to this run over the course of several weeks.

There are also tools that can help overload training. A weight vest can be added while running or walking to increase lower-body strength and endurance. And running with a training mask on can make your respiratory muscles work harder, which increases respiratory compensation threshold (RCT) and can improve endurance performance.5

Ample recovery time is also important; muscles need time to recover. Work in a rest day after a day of overload training. Since you’ve just pushed yourself further than you’re used to going, recovery will help encourage those gains. If resting isn’t an option, try alternating hard training days with easy training days.

When Weight Training

You probably already strength train or cross-train between regular workouts–these strengthen muscles and joints, decreasing the risk of injury.

The type of strength training varies by athlete depending on their goals. Many employ circuit training, weightlifting or plyometrics training. In general, overloading would include increasing the number of sets or increasing weight used in this training.

The safest way to overload is first to increase reps or sets, getting as comfortable as possible with the exercise, then increase weight. For example: let’s say you’re doing three sets of eight reps of bicep curls with 10lb dumbbells. When overloading the following week, jumping to 15lb dumbbells would be a 50% jump in weight–which is too much to overload. Instead, overload by increasing the number of reps or sets. Try for three sets of ten reps or four sets of eight reps before increasing weight.

On the flip side, someone pushing 100lbs on a bench press would likely be able to increase weight to 105lbs–that’s only a 5% jump in weight. For exercises with larger muscles, the overload increment can also be larger. Still, it’s best to focus on increased reps or sets before jumping up in weight.

To approach overloading systematically, make sure you keep a training log to track each increase in weight for all your exercises.

Overloading Outside of Exercise

Even though overloading happens in the gym, building muscle happens outside of it. All that overloading might be for naught if you don’t recover properly.

BCAAs: These branched-chain amino acids provide the body with building blocks to maintain lean muscle mass.6 The body breaks down protein into these amino acids, which then are sent throughout the body to be used again in protein building–and thus, muscle building. One study even showcased they alleviated skeletal muscle damage.7

HVMN Ketone: Can be used before, during and after workouts. HVMN Ketone has been shown to increase the efficiency of working muscle by 28%,8 and in testing, athletes went ~2% further in a 30-minute time trial.9 For recovery, HVMN Ketone decreases the breakdown of intramuscular glycogen and protein when compared to carbs alone,9 while also expediting the resynthesis of glycogen by 60% and protein by 2x.10,11

Protein: Whey, casein and soy protein are the most popular choices here, and all should be taken post-workout. Whey is a great source of BCAA, and is absorbed the fastest by the body. It’s largely considered the most effective protein for building muscle.12 Casein protein is slower to absorb, so it can be taken before bed. One study showcased consuming it before bed led to a 34% reduction in whole body protein breakdown.13

Overloading to Measurable Gains

Overloading may be the best way to break the body out of its routine and spur the growth you’ve been looking for. By pushing the body past its limits, even for a set or an extra mile, your body will adapt to be able to handle that stress during the next training session.

It’s important not to over-overload. This can lead to injury and be detrimental for your overall training goals by putting you on the sidelines for a few weeks. Measured overloading is the best approach, tracking the increases to understand how they’re helping work toward your goals.

Take it one step at a time. Before you know it, you’ll be off that plateau and on your way to climbing a whole new mountain. You train, you work hard, you put in the hours–you should be seeing results.

Scientific Citations:

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Running Motivation: tips for runners at every level

Originally published on HVMN by Nate Martins, adapted for use here on Lorieb

You can’t buy motivation. Most runners probably wish they could.

We hit walls. Life can seem to get in the way of running–so having a playbook of motivational techniques is important for runners at every level who are fighting the same battle to log miles.

Running motivation can come in different forms when the finish line isn’t in sight–new running shoes, a new training plan, or even joining a running club. But at its purest, motivation is the human desire to do something; unlocking that desire may be even more difficult than the task itself.

Joshua Sommers finds it within himself–the hedge fund VP is also a triathlete who has competed in over 100 races. When asked what motivates him, he keeps it simple.

“The pursuit of excellence and self-improvement.”

Joshua Sommers

We aren’t all like Joshua, but we can learn from him. In this piece, we’ll explore what types of motivational tools different runners can use, and how they can impact your training–and your life outside of running.

Motivation for Beginner Runners  


As a new runner, it can be daunting to look at the miles ahead and know the only way to get there is with your own two feet.

Set a Goal

Begin at the end. Setting a goal provides something a runner can work toward. It can be a number of different things: maybe it’s weight loss, or picking a 5k race, or a certain number of miles a week, or even a half marathon. Whatever that goal is, keep it in mind each time you lace up those sneakers for a jog.

This will also help track progress. Write the goal down and place it somewhere you’ll see it every day, keeping markers of the steps taken to achieve it. After a few weeks, look back at the work accomplished and you’ll be able to see it actualized. See yourself achieving those goals and surpassing them.

Get Social While Holding Yourself Accountable

Incorporating a training partner into your new life as a runner has layered benefits. Finding a running partner will provide an immediate desire to run, even if simply knowing that person is counting on you.

Executing on a training program together, with a shared goal, can increase the level of accountability. Joining a running club or finding a running partner removes the element of choice, the ability to reason with yourself and find ways not to run. Excuses are ever-present, and a good running partner won’t take “no” for an answer.

Even though running is an individual pursuit, clubs and teams are everywhere. Besides the motivational aspect, things like networking and safety and developing a sense of community are all extended benefits of making running social.

Make it Routine
A morning run can ripple positively into the rest of your day. Acute aerobic exercise activates the prefrontal and occipital cortices in the brain, increasing “executive control.” This can help improve cognitive ability and can help control emotion.1 Morning runs can have effects that last into the night, like improving sleep quality.2 And it doesn’t stop there; studies suggest running can have overall health and cognitive benefits, especially later in life.3

Besides the mental and physical benefits, there are less social obligations in the morning. You won’t get stuck at work or be tempted by a happy hour at 6am. Even if you’re not a morning person, you can likely train to become one. Pack all your running gear the night before. Set an alarm and place it across the room, forcing you to skip the snooze button.

Developing a morning running routine provides a nice reset of the body’s clock; it can feel like adding hours to the day. Another benefit? A solid training schedule can positively impact your regular schedule.

Ted Bross is a newly-graduated medical student starting his residency. He has participated in almost 30 ultra marathons, and developing a running habit helped him with medical school.  

“Part of what helps me get through several of the mental stressors of medical school is pushing my body physically and relieving that stress. It makes me more of a disciplined athlete and is something that has given me a lot in my life.”

Ted Bross

Develop a Training Plan

Checking boxes on a training plan can feel really good. It also answers some of the mental questions runners ask themselves before setting out: Where should I go? How long should I run? What pace am I aiming for? Just look at the running program, where it’s all outlined. Remember to develop your training plan in alignment with those goals you’ve set. And try to incorporate one long run per week.

A comprehensive training plan should incorporate all aspects of your routine. Account for extra pre-run warm-ups and post-run stretches. Add in weekly or monthly goals. Budget some days off. Your training plan doesn’t have to be a bible, but should be a document frequently returned to, and one around which other aspects of life can be considered.

“I train on average for about ten sessions a week, for a total of ten hours a week,” Sommers said. “I’m spending all this time on it, so I want to get the most out of my workouts.”

Motivation for Experienced Runners

There’s a fine line between getting into a groove and finding yourself in a rut.

Buy Some New Gear

Sometimes you need to pick low-hanging fruit. Purchasing some new running clothes, like a new pair of running shoes or running shorts, can provide motivation to run and test all that new gear. Depending on what you buy, it may also improve your training (like a fitness tracker).

New gear can also serve as a reward; small goals can be treated as important steps to accomplishing larger goals.

There’s also the “gear guilt.” Shiny new toys should be used instead of sitting in the back of a closet. Some may think using money as a type of running motivation is shallow, but there are few drivers in life like cold hard cash.

Introduce Supplements

So much of success when running comes before (and after) feet hit the pavement. Nutrition should be looked at holistically, because supplements can provide a boost during the run and also help with recovery.

“Especially in the longer races, figuring out nutrition is something most people don’t spend enough time on.”

Ted Bross

Pre-run supplements include caffeine for energy, calcium for bone health and even creatine to reduce muscle inflammation. Post-run, focus on protein for muscle recovery and fish oil to reduce muscle soreness.

HVMN Ketone, a ketone ester drink, can be used both as a pre-run supplement and a recovery mechanism. By elevating ketone levels in the blood, HVMN Ketone unlocks a fuel source the body produces naturally, one fundamentally different from carbohydrates or fats. Post-workout, taking HVMN Ketone can expedite the resynthesis of glycogen (by 60%) and protein (by 2x), which enable faster recovery.4,5

Cross Train

Varying training can provide easy motivation to try a new sport–one you know can improve your running–and it’ll also keep you active on days you’re not running. It can also supplement during rehabilitation periods from physical injury, and improve overall physical performance.6

Specifically, cross training can improve VO2 Max capacity (the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen utilized during intense exercise).6 Swimming and cycling are great choices, but things like yoga can also increase flexibility and balance.7

By introducing strength workouts or cross training into your regimen, motivation can be found in presenting new challenges and accomplishing new goals.

Switch Up Locations

Don’t become a running rodent. Running on a treadmill can feel like a hamster on a wheel, just like running the same path multiple times a week can feel Groundhog Day-esque. The essence of running harkens back to being outside, and in a more spiritual sense, connecting with the space in which you’re traversing.

It’s easy to feel invigorated by discovering a new place or hitting a new distance, so trail running or cross country running are always good motivators for the simple fact that they place you out of your element. The simple feeling of dirt under the feet and soaking up the essence of the trail provides an immediate lift and motivation.

We’ve also heard from runners that there’s something special about running in the rain (even if it’s the last thing you want to do). It presents a new challenge, and almost a primal sense of motivation; you’re miles away from home, and the only way to return is to run back. Your heart is pounding, you smell the rain, each wet step is experienced in a totally new way–it’s an hour that can feel different than all the other hours in the day.

Motivation for Advanced Runners

Advanced runners can have the most difficult time finding motivation because running is such a part of their life that it becomes an unquestioned obligation.

Remember (and Embrace) the Pain and Vulnerability

Stop and ask yourself: Why do I run? If running has become numbly intrinsic, this question can serve as a reinvigorating reminder to look within and remember why you fell in love with running in the first place.

Because running is hard; it hurts; it requires time; it takes mental fortitude. Some might think this is admitting defeat–but reminding yourself that you’re accomplishing something difficult can inspire you to keep going.

In a physical sense, powerful running comes from your core. So, in essence, you’re running from the gut. There’s something vulnerable about exposing yourself in that way, and showcasing the ability to be broken down (and thus built back up).

It can all come to a head at the end of a race. Ted Bross has been there.

“You share some really special moments. You’re pretty raw emotionally, when you get broken down physically there’s less barrier to connect with people.”

Ted Bross

Ditch the Tech (This Includes Music)

Technological tools have forever changed running, giving anyone the opportunity to track pace and miles and calories burned. These also changed training by providing actionable targets to hit and measure performance.

Select one day to run untethered by technology. It can serve as a great way to reconnect with the simple joy of running, ditching the gadgets to escape the metrics. Sometimes you have to operate on feel, and it can be motivating to find that energy within yourself instead of hitting a number on your wrist. Some of your best runs aren’t necessarily your fastest.

Many of us train with music, but that can act as a barrier between you and the world in which you’re running. If you’re participating in a race that doesn’t allow music, it’s especially beneficial to train without tunes and run to the beat of your own pace.

Improve Your Diet

Seeing results provides motivation to continue working. The results garnered from eating healthy show themselves in training. While carb-loading has been a staple of many runners’ race day routines, growing evidence suggests that a periodized approach to nutrition is optimal, especially for long distance races. For example, a marathon runner might undertake periods of training with a low carb, high fat diet to boost fat burning followed by maximizing carb fueling for a race.

Exercise after an overnight fast can also increase fat oxidation, which can help with weight loss and, when the body gets better at burning fat, it can also help increase endurance.

“My diet isn’t as good as I would like it to be,” admitted Sommers. “But that’s more a function of time and other stress factors, like if I’m traveling or if I don’t have time to cook what I want.”

Even the most elite triathletes struggle to incorporate diet into life.

Trying a new diet can have results both in training and recovery, and noticing the difference provides a motivation to continue pushing your personal best with newfound fuel. But that happens on an even smaller level. Incorporate a new fruit or vegetable into your diet.

Haven’t had Brussel sprouts since your grandma served them boiled? Give them another try (and maybe try roasting them) and fold in more vegetables over the course of your training.

Even for those unwilling to make extreme dietary changes, there are incremental benefits to be had by cutting back on refined sugars, avoiding seed oils and getting plenty of omega 3s.

Enjoy the Small Wins

Advanced runners arrive at a point where they can only improve so much. It’s a point of fear for many–that they’ll plateau, and eventually decline.

So the small wins are important to celebrate. Seconds off your mile pace, or increased weight while strength training or even a feeling of energy after a run–individually these are small, but together they can make a big impact. The world’s elite athletes understand the power in recognizing small successes.

Accomplishing small wins while training provides a motivation to keep achieving them, and the confidence they’ll translate to race day.

Motivation is an Endless Cycle

Remember: motivation comes and goes. But recognizing when you’ve lost motivation is almost as important as getting it back.

The struggle challenges all different levels–from beginner to expert runners. On the running journey, goals will be accomplished, routines will become stale, good habits will wane. This is all part of the process.

Finding the ability to motivate yourself won’t just improve your running. It’ll improve your life overall, and some of these strategies should translate to life off the running road.

Go forth. Run. And maybe find a bit of yourself in the process.

Scientific Citations

Cross Training, add it to your workouts

Originally posted on HVMN by Nate Martins, this article on cross training was adapted for use here on Lorieb.

Dedicated training is something to be admired. Many athletes strive for the ability to get up and get out every single day whether it’s for a specific race or event or even, simply driven by a goal. Often that can mean adhering to a training plan based on both repetition and incrementally increased difficulty–monotony and overuse be damned.

But you may get hurt. Or plateau. Or experience a disruption in your training schedule. These can all be detrimental to accomplishing a goal. Then there’s also that inevitable boredom of doing the same training day in and day out. You swear that footprint on the trail was yours from yesterday.

Enter cross training, an exercise program usually employed outside of these intense training blocks to add some variance (physically and mentally) to workouts. It keeps the body guessing, and has many athletes reap the benefits for their main sport: decreased injury potential, and added strength to the most-used muscles.

Here, we’ll detail the science behind cross training, how to work it into your schedule, and some new exercises to try. Your main sport will thank us.

This is Your Body on Cross Training

Simply put, cross training is training in another discipline in improve your main sport. The options are almost limitless–runners can strength train, swimmers can paddle board, cyclists can do yoga. The goal is to supplement your main sport with training that’s beneficial for certain muscles, movements, or even, your brain and mood.

For most athletes, the inclusion of cross training into a workout plan is triggered by an injury sidelining them from regular training. I was no different–hours of basketball and running led to knee pain (from patellar tendonitis, known as “runner’s knee” or “jumper’s knee”) . But I was stubborn. When I should have stopped the joint-pounding activities, I continued to beat them like a drum. It got to a point where the pain wasn’t worth the workout; but I couldn’t give up working out all together. So I started swimming and incorporating yoga into my routine, which delivered positive and painless results.

Turns out, I’m not alone. Up to 56% of recreational runners experience injuries, with most of those relating to the knee.1 Supplements can help (like glucosamine, which promotes the development of cartilage), but up to 75% of those are overuse injuries.1

Since a majority of injuries happen due to time dedicated to a single sport, cross training can help prevent injuries for the simple fact that it forces athletes to spend less time training singularly. Cross training doesn’t just maintain activity by reducing the risk for injury–it also can increase performance.

A study of 27 male runners were assigned one of three different resistance training regimens (in addition to their normal endurance training): heavy resistance, explosive resistance or muscle endurance training. In all three groups, running endurance performance increased.2 The heavy-lifting group in particular saw improvements to high-intensity running characteristics, like sprinting at the end of the race.2

The benefits of cross training aren’t just physical; there’s also a potential mental benefit of switching it up. Mental fatigue can impact physical workouts–you may be less likely to workout knowing that you’re facing the exact same exercise every day. Especially if an athlete is in-season or training for a specific event, cross-training can provide an exciting challenge. It’s easy to be training heads-down; cross training can help you see the forest between the trees.

Implementing Cross Training

Divorce yourself from the idea that cross training takes away from your regular training schedule. While you’ll inevitably be spending time away from your sweetheart sport, absence makes the muscles grow stronger.

There are three main groups of cross training for endurance athletes: strength training, aerobic low-impact work and aerobic impact work, and each can be part of a cross training program.

Strength Training

Touching upon all major muscle groups is important for effective strength training.

Incorporating strength training into an endurance regimen can enhance physical fitness, as it did in this meta-analysis of distance runners.3 Even just 30 minutes per week, once or twice a week, can suffice. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be done in a gym; you can take the at-home approach to incorporating plyometrics or things like push ups.

Regardless of where you strength train, a full body workout will maximize the time you spend training. Consider hitting all the major muscle groups such as arms, chest, shoulders, back, core and legs (more on this later).

Aerobic Low-Impact Work

Probably the reason many athletes experiment with cross training: take stress off those weary joints and reduce injury risk.

Low-impact activities or no-impact workouts can be done two or three times as week. It’s easily implemented, as it can replace an active recovery day or even a harder workout day depending on the exercise; so for those who think they’re losing gains because of cross training, you may actually find yourself enjoying the cross training more than your main exercise.

Cycling, swimming and rowing are some of the most popular low-impact workouts. For flexibility and core exercises, yoga and pilates are go-tos. And you may even be able to workout longer and more frequently using these types of workouts due to the lack of stress they cause the body (swimmers can work out every day, and they’re hitting all the major muscle groups). For example, if you planned on running 45 minutes, you could easily spend 70 minutes cycling.

Aerobic Impact Work

Maybe the reason you’re reading this article is because of too much aerobic impact work.

If you’re training, the amount of aerobic impact work will likely be higher (and may be your only focus during that training block). But in the off-season, or times when you’d like to give your body a break, aerobic impact work should be done once or twice a week. As a general rule, cross-training is meant to limit the impact on the body.

Typically, cross training is meant to offer your body a break from the impact it faces during regular training. You can play team games, train run, circuit train or do CrossFit as a cross training method, as the impact is likely different from your normal routine. But be mindful: any impact work still puts strain on the body.

The Importance of Rest

Before getting into the specific exercises to try, remember the need for rest. Your muscles are asking for it.

The goal of every training session is to break down muscle and without recovery, a portion of that work might be wasted. During recovery, the body begins the process of rebuilding what has been broken down.

Muscle protein synthesis can increase by as much as 50% in the hours after a workout, helping encourage muscle growth.4 Concurrently, muscle fibers are rebuilt. These processes are a normal part of exercise, and recovery allows the muscles to become stronger. Fluid restoration is also key, as it helps deliver nutrients to organs and muscles through the bloodstream. And acids (via that hydrogen proton associated with lactate) accumulate during workouts–so recovery provides time for the body to restore intramuscular pH and blood flow for oxygen delivery.

In-season, professional triathlete, Kelsey Withrow, is laser-focused on training. When she’s not training, it’s all about recovery.

As a professional triathlete, I focus all my time on swimming, running and biking. The rest of the time is for recovery.

Kelsey Withrow, professional triathlete

Even though cross training is meant to give the body a break from regular training, it’s still is a source of stress and requires recovery time (or you might burnout). For most athletes, it’s difficult to slow down. Many of us are goal-oriented, hardworking and ultimately–a bit stubborn. Budgeting recovery time is essential, as is providing your body with the necessary fuel to recover properly.

Doing the same exercise can be mentally exhausting, leading to a mental fatigue that wears down on your desire to even do the workout. Research has shown that the mind is usually a good gauge of the body,7 with a mental strain reported by a questionnaire being closely related to stress signals in the hormones of the body. By switching it up with cross training, and also ensuring rest days, the mind will get a chance to recharge too.

Cross Training Exercises

Now is the time to incorporate cross training workouts. The exercises below touch on several different areas of exercise, from strength training to both low-impact and impact aerobic activities.

You can begin by folding in some additional exercises to your existing workouts. Runners may try hills or cyclists may try 30 second sprints–this isn’t cross training exactly, it’s just extra training. The benefits of cross training come with learning something new and focusing on different areas of the body that regular training can neglect.

Try working some of these exercises into your routine. It’s important to pick which is best for your personal needs.

Swimming

A great whole body workout, swimming is one of the low-impact exercises most often used for recovery or cross training. Interestingly, reports show many people enjoy water-based exercise more than land-based exercise.8

Swimming works the whole body; it increases heart rate without the joint-pounding stress of running, it builds endurance and can also build and tone muscle. Because of these benefits, it’s a great option for recovery–a study showed that patients with osteoarthritis showed reduced stiffness, joint pain and overall less physical limitation.9

It also torches calories. Swimming has shown improved body weight and body fat distribution when compared to walking.10 An average person can burn almost 450 calories when swimming at a low or moderate pace for one hour. At increased pase, that could go north of 700 calories. For comparison, running for one hour at a leisurely pace burns about 400 calories.

Outside of the aerobic benefits, swimming (and water training, like deep-water running) has shown to improve cardiovascular health and lung capacity.11,12,13

To incorporate swimming into your cross training routine, first find a place to swim. Then gather the necessary tools (like goggles, swim cap, fins, etc.), and brush up on form before jumping in the pool. Try it one to three times a week for 30 minutes to start.

A cyclist riding through the city with the benefits, concerns and ways to try cycling beneath him.

Cycling

Another low impact workout, cycling is a great way to reduce stress on those joint while still clocking in the aerobic hours.

Similar to swimming, cycling burns calories at an impressive clip, anywhere from 400 – 1,000 per hour depending on the intensity of the ride. And since cycling is also a resistance exercise, it’s not just burning fat–it also builds muscle.

A systematic review analyzed the benefits of cycling, showcasing a myriad of results. There was a positive relationship between cycling and cardiorespiratory fitness, cardiovascular fitness and general fitness.14 Whether on the road, the track, or in the gym on a stationary bike, the benefits of cycling as a cross training mechanism stem from the fact it’s a low impact, muscle building, aerobic workout. It can help athletes train if they have experienced an injury.

There are several ways to train on a bicycle. You can ride hills to build muscle and strength, or do shorter sprints to build speed. There’s also an option for endurance, with riders cycling hundreds or thousands of miles over the course of a long session. For beginners, get a feel for the workout on a stationary bike. As you advance, visit a local bike shop to get your bike properly fitted.

Strength Training

Many endurance athletes don’t consider strength training as part of their workout routine, but it can help prevent injury while improving strength for your main sport. For runners, maybe that’s improved core strength for economy. For cyclists, maybe the outcome is a higher power output. Regardless of your sport, strength training is imperative to improving endurance for runners15 and cyclists.

In a study of postmenopausal women, high-intensity strength training exercises showed preserved bone density while improving muscle mass, strength and balance.16 It can also help prevent injury. In a study of soccer players who strength trained in the offseason, hamstring strains were lower (and that group also saw increases in strength and speed).17

You spend so much time beating your body down in-season, but I find that I’m healthier and stronger when I lift. With long distance, being strong helps. I try to put on a lot of muscle during a short period of time.”

Kelsey Withrow, professional triathlete

The mental benefits of resistance training have also been documented; studies have shown it improves anxiety and depression.18,19

A good strength training regimen will focus separately on different muscle groups. There are several options for lifters of all different levels, but starting with some simple bodyweight exercises (like push-ups or pull-ups) can allow you to build toward free weight training, weight machines, or rubber tubing. A meta analysis of periodized training–varying your strength training workouts–has shown results for greater changes in strength, motor performance and lean body mass.20 So don’t get stuck doing the same routine over and over again. A good way to push yourself is to incorporate overload training into some of that strength work.

If you’re strapped for time, a full-body workout once or twice a week (with dedicated recovery time) should suffice. Make sure to also spend some time nailing down form in the weight room, as improper form and too much weight can lead to injury.

Yoga

An ancient practice designed to create a union between the body and mind, many athletes seek out yoga for its ability to increase strength and flexibility while also promoting mental health benefits.

Yoga can improve performance by targeting specific aspects of flexibility and balance–one study, which took place over the course of 10 weeks in male collegiate athletes, saw improvements in both balance and flexibility.21 In older adults, studies have shown improved balance and mobility.22 Strength is also a target of many yoga programs, especially in the core. Even a study in which a specific pose (sun salutation) was used six days per week for 24 weeks, participants saw increased upper body strength, weight loss and endurance.23

But with yoga, the body is only half the game. It has been shown to decrease cortisol levels (the stress hormone),24 along with the ability to lower levels of depression, stress and anxiety.25 There have even been studies which showed overall quality of life improvements in seniors.26 Maybe part of these mental benefits are linked to better sleep quality. One study illustrated that a group participating in yoga fell asleep faster, slept longer and felt more well-rested in the morning.27

Yoga isn’t an aerobic workout, but it stretches muscles, builds strength and has been shown to improve mood. Because it’s low-impact, yoga can be done every day. Typically gyms or studios have beginner classes, and they will typically last between 60 and 90 minutes. Athletes can use yoga as recovery days, so between one and three sessions per week would be perfect.

Remember: listen to your body. Athletes always want to push the limit, and many may scoff that yoga is difficult (compared, say, to running). But extending a stretch too far, or practicing yoga without learning form, can lead to injury.

Other Exercises

There are different activities that may be considered cross training, outside of the usual suspects we detailed above.

Hiking, for example, is a great way to build strength and get outside during a recovery day. Same goes with exercises like kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding28–these can help build upper body strength while encouraging an athlete to get out of their comfort zone (literally, and figuratively).

“I spend a lot of time training indoors, so getting outside is a lot of fun. I’ll do one long run per week outside, and I’ll bring my dog. It’s a reset for me.”

Kelsey Withrow, professional triathlete

We wouldn’t recommend team sports because there’s a risk of injury. But tennis might be an exception. While there are of course injury concerns with every sport and exercise, tennis has shown to improve aerobic fitness, lower body fat percentage, reduce risk for developing cardiovascular disease and improve bone health.29

For more passive cross training, think about everyday things you can do to improve strength and balance. Even investing in a standing desk, or sitting on a medicine ball at work can encourage better posture and more movement overall.

Cross Training for Athletes

During peak training season, athletes feel the grind. You’re putting in the hours with a race or event or goal in mind, laboring over the same path, the same laps, the same routine, with little variance.

Cross training is meant to serve as a break, but one that’s productive. It can be a break from your normal routine, both physically and mentally. But it can also invigorate the mind, providing it with a new task to learn, a new challenge to face. And of course, the physical benefits of testing the body in new ways are evident.

To incorporate cross training, try one or more of these exercises a couple times a week. See how you feel. You’ll likely find one you enjoy more than others, one that maybe provides better results than the rest. It’ll take some time to find a balance.

Scientific Citations

Muscle Recovery: Essential to Your Next Workout

This article about muscle recovery was written by Nate Martins on November 9, 2018. Originally published on HVMN, adapted for use here on Lorieb

The moment every athlete wants to avoid.

POP!

A muscle gives at the gym or on the track, leading to weeks of rehab. Sometimes it’s not even a single moment, but rather, countless hours of overuse that leads a muscle to strain or tear.

To avoid rehab, athletes need to be thinking about pre-hab. Get ahead of an injury before it happens.

Muscle recovery should be part of every training plan (specifically post-workout). But there are multiple strategies athletes can employ that lead to muscle health–even things like diet can impact how your muscles recover. Knowing what to do, and when to do it, can help avoid the injuries that’ll set you back weeks.

Why is Recovery Important?

An important goal of every training session is to break down muscle. Without recovery, a significant portion of that work might be a waste of time. So, what exactly happens during recovery? That’ll depend on the person and activity, but generally, four different things are happening while you’re resting.

Synthesis of protein: This is what leads to muscle growth. During recovery is when most muscle is built, because muscle protein synthesis increases by 50% four hours after a workout (like resistance training).1

Rebuilding of muscle fibers: Microtears in muscle fibers are a normal part of exercise, happening when we put strain on our muscles. Recovery allows these fibers to heal and become stronger during that process.

Fluid restoration: We sweat (and lose a lot of fluid through exhaled air).2 Hydrating before, during and after a workout is important, because these fluids help deliver nutrients to organs and muscle through the bloodstream.

Removal of metabolic waste products: Acids (via that pesky little proton associated with lactate) accumulate during a workout, and recovery gives the body time to restore intramuscular pH and reestablish intramuscular blood flow for oxygen delivery (among other things).

While you’re resting, your muscles kick into overdrive.

Recovery can be attacked several ways–some may be surprising, because they don’t directly target the muscles themselves. By approaching recovery through a few different avenues, it can be optimized.Results-driven training guides

Consuming Your Way to Recovery

It may not seem obvious, but a combination of hydration, diet, and supplements can do wonders for the muscles.

  Hydration, before and after exercise

Drinking fluids is a mantra repeated by coaches everywhere for good reason: muscles are 75% water.

Before and during exercise, hydration is key to maintaining fluid balance and can even improve endurance (it’s equally important to not over-consume water as well).3,4 But post-workout, consuming enough water is vital to helping digest essential nutrients and repairing damaged muscle.

The sought after protein resynthesis requires muscles be well-hydrated. And coupled with post-workout eating, saliva–which is comprised mostly of water–is necessary to help break down food, digest, and absorb all the nutrients you’re hoping to receive. In one study, adequate hydration after a 90-minute run on a treadmill showed significantly faster heart rate recovery;5 this illustrates that hydrated bodies recover from exercise-induced stress faster.

Don’t rely on the age-old test of urine to determine if you’re hydrated; that has been debunked.6

A good rule of thumb is to weigh yourself before and after a workout, drinking 1.5x the amount of weight lost.

  Diet: Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat All Work Together

Nailing the right nutrition strategy post-workout can encourage quicker recovery, reduce soreness, build muscle, improve immunity and replenish glycogen.

Your next workout starts within the hour your last workout ended.

Since exercise triggers the breakdown of muscle protein,7 it’s beneficial to consume an adequate amount of protein after a workout. Protein provides the body with necessary amino acids needed to repair and rebuild, while also promoting the development of new muscle tissue.8

Good sources of protein include: whey protein, whole eggs, cheese and smoked salmon.

Carbohydrates have a similarly important effect–they replenish glycogen stores. The type of exercise will depend on how much carbohydrate is needed. Consuming about 0.5 – 0.7 grams of carbohydrate per pound of bodyweight within 30 minutes of training can result in adequate glycogen resynthesis.7 Insulin secretion promotes glycogen synthesis, and is more stimulated when carbs and protein are consumed simultaneously.9

Carb sources are everywhere; but look to slow-release sources such as sweet potatoes, fruit, pasta and rice.

Fat shouldn’t be the main focus of an after workout meal, but should be part of it. Good fat sources include avocados and nuts. Milk is also a popular choice; one study found whole milk was more effective at promoting muscle growth than skim milk.10

  Supplements: Protein, BCAAs and Omega-3s Build Muscle and Reduce Inflammation

While most athletes think protein is best left to bodybuilders, protein can repair the muscle damage that occurs during a workout, reduce the response from the “stress hormone” cortisol, and speed up glycogen replacement. Protein also accelerates the resolution of muscle inflammation.11,12

Whey, casein and soy are some of the most popular proteins. Whey is absorbed the fastest by the body, and is largely considered the most effective protein for muscle protein synthesis.13 Casein protein is geared more toward long-term recovery because it takes hours to absorb. Try introducing whey immediately post-workout, while using casein protein before bed; protein ingestion before sleep has been shown to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.14

Serious athletes should be taking about one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.

If someone doesn’t consume enough protein, branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) can be a useful supplement.

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. During exercise, the body breaks down protein into amino acids; those are absorbed and transported through the body to create new proteins that encourage building muscle. BCAAs help enhance muscle protein recovery by introducing more amino acids into the body. They preserve muscle glycogen stores, which fuel the muscles and minimize protein breakdown. Studies show BCAAs as effective for muscle recovery (as well as immune system regulation).15

Omega-3s, found in fish oils, have anti-inflammatory properties that help sore muscles.16 Astaxanthin oil (a powerful antioxidant) fights against the buildup of free radicals, and Vitamins K and D to protect bone health.17,18,19

Resting Your Way to Recovery

Rest should be accounted for in any training program. On its face, sleep should be the easiest way to recover. One study found that lack of sleep can lead to muscle degradation.23 But many find it difficult to get the ideal seven-to-nine hours per night.

Sleep improves other facets of health that tangentially affect muscle recovery; the central nervous system (CNS) also recuperates during sleep, which is important for muscles, because the CNS triggers muscle contractions and reaction time. Hormones like cortisol and testosterone, which produce protein synthesis, are also working while we sleep.

To help optimize sleep, it’s important to set a routine.

Our screens can negatively impact sleep,24 so 60 – 90 minutes of screenless time before bed can do wonders. The blue light emitted from our devices tricks the brain into thinking it’s daytime and we need to be awake, decreasing our natural melatonin.

It’s also important to create an optimal environment for sleep. Things like blackout curtains, a cooler temperature setting in the bedroom, or a quality mattress can all encourage better, more restful sleep.

Rest Days: Muscles Don’t Take Breaks, But You Should

On a much smaller scale, what’s happening during sleep is also happening on rest days. Work rest days into your training program because they give the body time to repair tissues that have been broken down.25

Depleted muscle energy stores, micro-tears, fluid loss–all the things that happen during a workout need time to recuperate and grow stronger.Recovery time depends on your specific routine. Runners can have an especially difficult time doing this. For highly active runners who log miles six days per week, they should also incorporate recovery runs. About half of these runs should be at recovery pace, a slower less-strenuous pace that allows the body to recycle lactate as it’s produced. By increasing blood flow, recovery runs may actually accelerate the recovery process.

Also try to avoid intense workouts or hard runs on back-to-back days. Complete rest days vary by person, but a good goal is one or two rest days every week or ten days. Injury-prone athletes may increase the number of complete rest days during this period.

Techniques & Exercises for Recovery

Let’s get into the specifics of what you can do to help the body recover faster. By using exercises targeted at certain muscles, not only will those muscles recover faster–they’ll also get stronger in the process.

Active Recovery: Getting Stronger and Building Muscle

This type of recovery focuses on exercise intensity at low-to-moderate levels. Studies have shown that it’s best for the performance of endurance athletes.26 Active recovery is successful mostly due to its ability to more rapidly remove blood lactate, facilitating blood flow and giving the body the ability to process excess lactate produced during periods of intense exercise.27

Cross training is also a great way to engage in active recovery while enhancing aerobic fitness without putting the body through the same stress as your normal workouts. Try:

  • Cycling: The motion is similar to running without the joint impact. Ride at an easy pace in the low-intensity zone (around 120 – 140 heart rate)
  • Yoga: A beginner’s class should do just fine. Practicing basic yoga through online videos is sufficient, using poses such as sun salutation (to boost circulation and release tightness) and warriors one and two (to activate thigh and calf muscles while helping stretch hips)
  • Plyometrics: Even 15 – 30 minutes of bodyweight exercises can help boost circulation while stretching muscles. They’ve even been shown to increase sprint performance.28 Try exercises like planks, calf raises and lunges

Ice Baths: Taking the Plunge

Some athletes and coaches swear by ice baths, with trainers mandating post-practice cold water immersion (CWI). They consider ice baths essential to helping tired muscles, and feeling better for the next intense training sessions.

The idea here is that cold therapy constricts blood vessels and decreases metabolic activity, reducing swelling and tissue breakdown, flushing metabolic debris from the muscle.

But one study showcased that the “hypothesized physiological benefits surrounding CWI are at least partly placebo related.”29 This suggests that if you think ice baths help, then they may have a beneficial impact on recovery and subsequent training.

If you’d like to try an ice bath, fill a tub or large container with water, enough to submerge your hips. Add enough ice so the temperature of the water drops to about 55 degrees. Then sit in the bath for about 15 minutes.

Stretching & Foam Rolling: Increase Range of Motion

Stretching is important both before and after a workout because exercise can shorten muscles, decreasing mobility. Stretching helps flexibility, allowing muscles and joints to work in their full range of motion.30 One study found that hamstring flexibility led to increased muscle performance.31

Post-workout stretches are often forgotten by athletes in a rush, but it’s essential to account for these stretches in a training schedule. Generally, it’s best to hold stretches for about 30 seconds and repeat each once or twice. Target these muscles, which usually take a beating from a variety of workouts:

  • Piriformis
  • Chest and Anterior Deltoids
  • Hamstrings
  • Lats
  • Quads
  • Lower Back

Complementary to stretching, foam rollers help sore muscles,32 and they can be used on almost every muscle in the body.

Our muscles go through a constant state of breakdown, then repair. Fascia, the connective tissue surrounding our muscles, gets thick and short over time because the body is attempting to protect itself from more damage. Sometimes, trigger points form–sore spots, caused by fascia contraction, need release.

Ultimately, this affects range of movement and causes soreness.

Foam rolling (called myofascial release) can help release those muscular trigger points, and as one study found, can lead to overall improvement in athletic performance.33 The result is decreased muscle and joint pain, and increased mobility.

Selecting a foam roller depends on your needs; a larger roller can allow you fuller sessions (meaning, if it’s large enough, you can lie on the foam roller and do some great shoulder / upper back workouts). A denser roller will also mean a more intense massage.

Target these often overused areas: glutes, iliotibial band (IT band), lower back, shoulders and sides.

Technology: All the Data You Need

While technology and wearables can’t directly help with recovery, they’re able to gather important data that may inform recovery techniques. Being able to track aspects of training, sleep, heart rate and hydration can provide insight into how the best tackle specificities of recovery.

  • Hydration: Wearables help monitor hydration through different means, but mostly through sensors. Watches can be mounted to the wrist or calf, and other sensors
  • placed in a urinal or toilet to monitor hydration through urine. However, many of these types of devices haven’t been independently validated for accuracy.
  • Training: It seems there are countless devices to measure training. Most use motion data to track training. Similar to hydration wearables though, there isn’t clinical validation for this technology.
  • Heart Rate and Breathing: A smart t-shirt with electrocardiogram (ECG) and breathing sensors, along with an accelerometer is also available. This measures heart rate, heart rate variability, breathing rate, steps, etc.
  • Sleep: Many training devices also can monitor sleep. These devices can illuminate what we don’t know happens during our sleep, and can also showcase our sleeping patterns to help us understand why we may be waking up so tired. Some are especially responsive to monitoring sleep, and have been validated through a third-party study.34

Understanding our inputs with data provides us with a way to maximize our outputs and reach peak performance–even in recovery.

Recovery is the First Step to Better Training

Recovery takes time and dedication; it often gets overlooked in workout schedules because it isn’t accounted for.

Active recovery, sleep, diet, and supplements can be used to kickstart the recovery process and make training more effective.

The best training starts with mindful recovery to help muscles rebuild for the next training session. This, ultimately, can improve training by putting your body in the best position to perform. The process of muscle breakdown happens during exercise; immediately after, the process of muscle restoration and strengthening begins–you could be compromising gainful training by skipping these all-important techniques to help the body rebuild.

Scientific Citations

VO2 Max: Training to Use Oxygen Efficiently

Written by Nate Martins • January 3, 2019. Originally posted on HVMN, adapted for use here on Lorieb.

VO2 max (V=volume, O2= oxygen) is the measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen utilized while exercising. It may seem simple and inherent: you breathe in, you breathe out, you keep the workout going.

The importance of maximal oxygen consumption for exercise and the idea of the VO2 max was brought to into the fold by AV Hill, a Nobel Prize winner from Cambridge, in the 1920s. It wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s however, that methodological studies were conducted to gather the accurate physiological elements required for VO2 max measurement of an individual.

Tools to measure VO2 max were created by Henry Taylor and his colleagues over the course of 12+ years at the University of Minnesota lab. Studies were conducted on military draftees who were conscientious objectors. These subjects were essentially at Taylor’s disposal. Over a 12-month timeframe they exercised for one hour a day, six days a week. Data was obtained using methods that were groundbreaking at the time, but are still used today.

Currently hundreds of labs all over the world can conduct a VO2 max test. It used to be only elite athletes that had access to these tests but they’ve since become a prevalent benchmark in endurance sport for those at all levels looking to improve their athletic performance.

Why consider testing VO2 max as part of your training? It’s possibly the barometer for aerobic fitness.1

Why Muscles Need Oxygen to Function

Muscles (and all cells) require energy production to function. Energy inside cells comes in the form of ATP. Most of our ATP is created through the breakdown of metabolic substrates (food) using oxygen, resulting in CO2 and water. This means oxygen is really important. As you exercise energy requirements go up, so you need more oxygen.

Oxygen is absorbed into the blood by the lungs. It binds to a special protein called hemoglobin inside red blood cells. It then travels in the blood, and is pumped by the heart to the rest of the body, getting released in the tissues (including muscle) where it is used to breakdown our food to release energy.

The harder we exercise, the more we breathe and the more our heart pumps. This pumping helps to deliver more oxygen. These are some of the critical factors that influence an individual’s VO2 max.

However, muscles can make energy without oxygen in a process called anaerobic respiration. The only fuel that can be burned anaerobically is carbohydrate, being converted into a substance called pyurvate through glycolysis and then into lactate via anaerobic metabolism.

Build up of lactic acid happens when production occurs faster than our ability to clear it out. The blood becomes more acidic, which in turn can compromise muscle function.

Clearly, fuel source is an important factor relating to the amount of oxygen consumed. At higher intensities of exercise, muscles burn mainly carbs and at lower intensities, they burn more fat.2 Burning fat uses more oxygen than burning carbs, but we have more energy stored as fat, so you can keep going for longer when burning without running out of energy. Muscles are like engines that need gas (oxygen and fuel) to function.

What’s Behind a VO2 Max Number?

The maximal rate at which an individual can process oxygen is usually expressed in milliliters of oxygen per minute per kilogram of bodyweight. This is the relative number most often considered a VO2 max. An average, untrained male age 20-29 has a VO2 max of 35 – 40ml/kg. The average, untrained female of the same age has a VO2 max of 27 – 30ml/kg.

You’d imagine endurance athletes, who need to make energy during long periods of aerobic exercise typically have the highest maximal oxygen uptake. Masters of endurance performance, like cyclists and runners, are usually near the top, with more explosive athletes, like weightlifters, near the bottom.4

Elite male runners can have VO2 max values of 85ml/kg; elite female runners can have values of 77ml/kg. Miguel Indurain, who won the Tour de France five times, reported to have had a VO2 max of 88 at his prime, with Lance Armstrong at an 85.

Which athletes are at the peak of VO2 Mountain? That’s cross-country skiers. Bjørn Dæhlie, a Norwegian cross-country skier, recorded a VO2 max of 96ml/kg. The result came out of season for Dæhlie, and his physiologist claimed he could have gone over 100ml/kg. He had the record for years but in 2012 was dethroned by another Norwegian, an 18 year-old cyclist named Oskar Svendsen, who reportedly logged a 97.5ml/kg. Remember, these scores don’t appear in peer-reviewed literature, so questions always arise about their accuracy.

Animals have also been tested. Thoroughbred horses have been measured to have a VO2 max score of 180ml/kg, while Siberian huskies who ran the Iditarod notched a whopping 240ml/kg.

How to Find Your VO2 Max

Do you know how many milliliters of oxygen per minute per kilogram of oxygen your body can consume at all-out effort? Probably not. Professional labs (and sometimes training facilities) with exercise physiologists can provide these tests, which are typically conducted by breathing into an oxygen mask while walking on a treadmill for a certain amount of time at a specific pace. The only downside: it’s expensive.

During lab tests, a facemask is placed on subjects to measure the volume and gas concentrations of inhaled and exhaled air. Similar to lactate testing in a sports lab, athletes run on a treadmill (or sometimes use a stationary bike or rowing machine, depending on sport) and the exercise intensity increases every few minutes until exhaustion (read: you start having tunnel vision, hit the red stop button and collapse into a sweaty heap). The test is designed this way to achieve maximal exercise effort from the subject.

Usually, heart rate is measured through the test so you get data on your resting heart rate all the way up to maximal heart rate. Athletes will receive their ideal heart rate zones for warm-up, aerobic, anaerobic and uber-tough intervals.

The most valuable of this group might be the heart rate between aerobic and anaerobic exercise: the anaerobic threshold. Training will be geared toward improving this point, at which the body begins to accumulate lactate in the blood.

Similar tests can be replicated outside of labs with less accuracy.

Simple Heart Rate Test

Another way to roughly estimate VO2 max also makes use of heart rate measurement. First, find your resting heart rate. Most fitness trackers can provide this number, but if you don’t have a fitness tracker, you can go old school. Find your pulse and set a timer for 60 seconds, counting the number of beats in a minute.

Then, find your maximum heart rate. This formula might oversimplify things, but it’s effective for the purposes of a loose VO2 max calculation. To find your max heart rate, subtract your age from 220. So, if you’re 30 years old, your maximum heart rate is 190 beats per minute (bpm).

Use this formula to find your simple VO2 max: 15 x (max heart rate / resting heart rate).

For example, if your maximum heart rate is 190 and resting heart rate is 80:

VO2 = 15 x (190/80)

VO2 = 15 x 2.4

VO2 = 36.6

This isn’t the most accurate formula, but it can provide a good starting point for training to improve VO2.

The Rockport Fitness Walking Test (RFWT)

This walking test can also calculate a VO2 max, and studies have proven its accuracy. First, stretch and warm up. Then, find a track or mostly flat surface on which to walk a mile as fast as possible. It’s important to walk, and not to cross over into jogging territory. After walking exactly one mile, note exactly how long it took and your heart rate at the end of the mile. Using those numbers, you’ll be able to find an estimated VO2 max using this formula:

VO2 max = 132.853 – (0.0769 x W) – (0.3877 x A) + (6.315 x G) – (3.2649 x T) – (0.1565 x H)

W = weight (in pounds)

A = age

G = gender (1 for men, 0 for women)

T = time to complete the mile (in minutes)

H= heart rate

VO2 Max for Cyclists

Power is the golden egg of data for cyclists. It’s the gift that keeps on giving, as it provides some insight into finding a VO2 max, when combined with some field testing. Pedal for 20 minutes at a maximum, yet sustainable, effort. Cyclists should monitor their power meters, maintaining consistent intensity while incrementally increasing wattage the first three minutes until finding a power output that can be maintained for the rest of the test. This should be a wattage similar to high-intensity rides or races. Use this formula to find your VO2 max:

VO2 max = [(10.8 x W) / K] + 7

W = average wattage

K = weight in kilogramsStill searching for that PR?

Improving Your VO2 Max

Two major factors contribute to a high VO2 max: the amount of oxygen you can transport and your muscle physiology. Oxygen transportation includes a strong heart pumping blood through the body, with hemoglobin-dense blood, a high blood volume and high capillary density in the muscles. Better oxygen transport leads to higher VO2 max. Muscle physiology means how many muscle fibers you have, how big they are, how many mitochondria there are, and how strongly you can activate them during exercise. More aerobic, oxygen guzzling muscles equals a higher VO2 max.

Similar to lactate training, a training program can be implemented to improve VO2 max and help increase physical fitness, improving the way your body utilizes oxygen. Training is designed to have you spend as much time as possible at 95% – 100% of your current VO2 max.

Limiting factors like gender, genetic makeup, and age all have an impact on an individual VO2 max, but training can always improve this number. Because lactate threshold and VO2 max are linked, check out our blog for additional ways to train with lactate in mind.

A note: since body weight is a factor in VO2 max, less body mass will inherently improve your score.5

Interval training often results in the most improvement of VO2 max.6

High-Intensity Training: Long Intervals

If you are good at pacing yourself, sessions made up of long (4 minutes or so) intervals at your hardest sustainable effort are a good way to increase VO2 max. Between each interval, you should keep moving; active recovery will keep VO2 elevated during the process. Plan to do 4-6 sets.

The 4×4 minute workout is a classic in all sports: running, cycling and rowing research has proven its efficacy.7 First, always remember to warm up properly for at least ten minutes. Then conduct four maximal 1,000 meter runs (or sprint four minutes) at 85% – 95% of your maximum effort with two to three minutes of recovery between each run. For cycling, find a section of road or a climb offering a challenging grade that you can work for 4 minutes. To mix it up you could try alternating between standing and seated efforts each minute

The idea is to save enough energy so that your last set is the hardest intensity. If you are running on a track or watching your power on the bike, ensure you’ll be able to go your hardest on the last set. Pace this right and you should be dreading the last interval. By holding a pace that’s at the upper limit of your ability, you overload your heart, lungs and muscles, forcing them to adapt to deliver and take up more oxygen.

In one research study, athletes who did a similar workout improved their VO2 maxes by 10%.7 Time to exhaustion, blood volume, vein and artery function all improved after the training period.

High-Intensity Training: Short Intervals

If you can’t bring yourself to suffer four minutes of near-max intensity, you can go for shorter intervals–but they have to be an even higher intensity to provide a benefit. Short interval sprints of under one minute can also improve VO2 max as long as they’re conducted at almost maximal effort level.

The exercise test here is 8-10 sets of 1 minute sprints. Again, make sure you are properly warmed up–these workouts carry a risk of injury because of the amount of power produced. You have to give it your all during each interval without holding anything back.

From the same study mentioned above, those doing ten sets of one-minute high-intensity sprints on a treadmill at maximum rate (with a 1 minute rest in between each interval) increased VO2 max by 3%.7

Time to exhaustion, plasma volume and hemoglobin mass increased with this routine. However, results demonstrated that long interval training garnered the most dramatic results.

VO2 Max: Training Your Body to Use Oxygen

Being able to use a high volume of oxygen with a high degree of efficiency is one of the best indicators of endurance fitness there out there. Many factors contribute to this measurement, but what it comes down to is training–athletes must train to increase VO2 max.8

Some athletes are better equipped for high VO2 maxes. Runners, cyclists and rowers sit near the top of the totem pole, but cross-country skiers have typically reigned supreme. Regardless of your sport, a high VO2 can be a great gutcheck for your fitness level at a physiological level.

Because oxygen is so vital to our muscle function, we should be adept at using it efficiently. Training, backed by science

Scientific Citations

Keto Diet Fundamentals

Authored by Dr. Brianna Stubbs and Nate Martins • January 2, 2019. Adapted for posting on Lorieb

You’ve heard of the keto diet. Everyone from Lebron James to the Kardashians has used the low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet for reasons like performance and weight loss.

The goal of the keto diet is to get the body producing ketones– a fundamentally different energy source than the carbohydrates and fats your cells typically use for energy. It can take several days of ketogenic eating before the body starts to produce ketones. And the time it takes to get into ketosis varies between individuals. “Keto” comes from the word “ketogenic.” This is a nuanced term meaning that the body is producing ketones from fat.1 When blood ketone levels exceed 0.5mM, the body has achieved ketosis. So ketosis can be achieved either through diet or fasting (meaning the body is producing its own ketones to be ketogenic), or also by consuming products that raise blood ketone levels.

Limiting carb intake and protein intake encourages the body to burn fat–and thus produce ketones. Importantly, restricting proteins as well as carbohydrates limits the amount of substrate available for gluconeogenesis. This is the process of making glucose from non-glucose molecules such as lactate, glycerol, or protein.

Because the ketogenic diet is low-carbohydrate, it often gets confused with other low-carb diets out there. Just because a diet is low carb doesn’t mean it’s keto. It’s subtle differences in the macronutrients provided in the diet determine if the diet is ‘ketogenic.’

A macronutrient is something humans consume in large quantities to provide the bulk of energy to the body. The primary macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. For a diet to be ketogenic, it must be high in fat, low-moderate in protein, and very low in carbohydrates.

Here are some helpful definitions of diets with an element of reduced carbohydrate intake:

Ketogenic Diet

  • The aim is to trigger the production of ketones in the body
  • High fat, low/moderate protein, and low carbohydrate

Low-Calorie Ketogenic Diet

  • The aim is to severely restrict calories to a level below the basic metabolic needs (i.e., <800 kCal)
  • Even if this diet is relatively high in carbohydrates, the calorie deficit created can still lead to a state of ketosis
  • Not sustainable long-term

Low-Carbohydrate Diet

  • Defined in medical literature as a diet with < 30% energy from carbohydrates2
  • May not lead to ketosis as the carbohydrate and protein intake could be too high

Atkins Diet

  • This diet has several phases
  • Initially, the aim is to restrict the carbohydrate intake to less than 20g per day. This degree of restriction is likely to lead to ketosis, although this is not an explicit aim
  • Subsequently, the diet reintroduces carbohydrates to a level “the body can tolerate”3
  • Less restriction on protein compared to a ‘true ketogenic diet–high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate.

Paleo Diet

  • The aim is to limit the diet to foods that would have been available to Paleolithic man4
  • Wide variability in interpretations
  • Foods allowed include vegetables, fruits, nuts, roots, and meat
  • Foods excluded include dairy, grains, sugar, legumes, processed oils, alcohol, and coffee
  • No structured macronutrient target; however, following a Paleo diet results in higher protein and fat consumption than an average diet

Now you have a grasp of what makes the ketogenic diet unique–but where’d it start?

Fasting and Early Pioneers of the Ketogenic Diet

The concept of fasting (taking in zero calories) predates the ketogenic diet as we now understand it. Many of the benefits of fasting are likely due to the presence of ketones in the body.

Since the earliest days of man, fasting has been used as a tool to physically and spiritually cleansing.

The Bible describes fasting as a treatment for convulsions. The ancient Greek philosopher Hippocrates said, “To eat when you are sick is to fuel your sickness.”

Early advocates of fasting were obviously unaware of ketosis as a crucial factor in the anticonvulsant effect of fasting. In the early 1900s, physicians at the Mayo Clinic observed a link between a low-carb diet and fasting. They discovered that severely restricting dietary carbohydrates and increasing fat intake could decrease seizures in the same way as fasting.5 It was not until the mid-1900s, when scientists could measure ketones, that we understood fasting led to the presence of ketones in the body.

Epilepsy was not the only disease historically treated with a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet. Low-carbohydrate diets were also advocated for patients with diabetes and obesity. Before the discovery of insulin in 1921, diabetes was managed through carbohydrate restriction. William Banting, an obese British mortician, popularized the weight loss benefits of a diet “stripped of starchy foods” in a pamphlet called “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public.”

The Dark Ages for the Ketogenic Diet

To many, a low-carbohydrate and high-fat diet is a counter-intuitive approach to support health. There is a widespread fear dietary fat is linked to obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and other associated health complications.

In 1953 Ancel Keys, an American biochemist published an epidemiological study that introduced the “diet-heart” hypothesis. The study claimed dietary fat was a key risk factor in developing heart disease. The “diet-heart” hypothesis proposed blood LDL and cholesterol derived from dietary fat accelerates the development of atherosclerotic plaques.6This led to radical changes in global food policy and public practice. In 1977, the USDA Dietary Goals for Americans recommended a decrease in dietary fat intake, and a diet based on grains and cereals.7

At the time, there was still no clinical evidence supporting Keys’ “diet-heart” hypothesis. Subsequent large trials, including the Framingham Study and Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial, failed to illustrate decreasing dietary fat lowered the risk of heart disease.8,9

Obesity rose following the adoption of the USDA guidelines. Some investigators hypothesized that increased dietary carbohydrates were responsible for the developing health crisis. John Yudkin, a British physiologist and nutritionist, described this phenomenon in his book “Pure, White and Deadly”10–the widespread fear of dietary fats caused scientists and nutritionists to overlook the role of sugar and starch.

Resurgence of ‘Low-Carbohydrate’ Diets

‘Low-fat’ dieting was widespread in the late 1900s. During this time, Dr. Robert Atkins became an infamous spokesperson for the keto diet. Dr. Atkins brought his version of the ketogenic diet to the masses in his 1972 book “Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution.” In his 40 years of practice, Dr. Atkins treated an estimated 60,000 patients for obesity and related conditions. At that time, there were no clinical studies to validate the benefits of the diet. Many patients reported side effects while starting the diet, including fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headache, and nausea. This uncomfortable induction phase was labeled the ‘Atkins Flu.’

After Atkins’ death in 2003, others started to promote the ketogenic diet for health. The Atkins Foundation recently funded a group of scientists to study the effects of the Atkins diet formally. This group of scientists includes Jeff Volek, Stephen Phinney, and Dr. Eric Westman. They discovered that the Atkins diet outperformed a diet based on the 1977 USDA guidelines with respect to measured coronary risk factors, including decreased low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol and total blood saturated FFA alongside increased high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.11 This outcome may be due to the decrease in carbohydrate and concomitant changes in the hormonal milieu, or due to effects of ketone bodies on substrate metabolism.

The pendulum of public perception begun to swing in favor of diets higher in fat, thanks to the emergence of influential writers and speakers such as Gary Taubes, Robert Lustig, and Nina Teicholtz, and clinicians and scientists such as Professor Tim Noakes, Dr. Jason Fung, and Professor Thomas Seyfried. The work of these individuals exposed flaws in the ‘diet-heart hypothesis.’

These influencers helped expose corruption in the political decisions that resulted in the last decades of vilification of dietary fat. Evidence illustrating the role of high dietary carbohydrate intake in the development of obesity and diabetes has started to grow. Much of the recent research suggests that low-fat diets may be harmful to health. This culminated with a recent meta-analysis of data from 18 countries, which linked increases in carbohydrate intake with increases in mortality.12 

The fear of fat has continued to reverse. Over the last few years, the ketogenic diet has grown in popularity. Popular culture is starting to recognize and adopt the keto diet, and online searches have grown. More and more doctors now encourage and prescribe the ketogenic diet to treat metabolic disorders and obesity. Large online communites bring thousands of people together to discuss research, share keto diet before and after photos, and encourage each other. 

Keto Diet for Weight Loss

The ketogenic diet can be used to help with weight loss and also to treat some diseases (discussed in detail elsewhere). Recently, the number of positive keto diet reviews has increased. The rising popularity of the diet has led to a demand for further randomized control trials to study its long-term efficacy. A key reason why the ketogenic diet helps weight loss is that it decreases hunger. This makes it easier to maintain a calorie deficit. It is important to stress that the overconsumption of calories will prevent weight loss regardless of the macronutrient composition. You may be doing keto wrong.

There’s a ton of misinformation out there about the keto diet. We’re on top of the scientific literature. Be the first to read our commentary on the research by subscribing to HVMN.

Macronutrient Composition of a Keto Diet

Macronutrients are food groups that humans consume in large quantities. They provide the bulk of the energy to the body. The primary macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The macronutrient composition of a diet can be described using the mass of each macronutrient, the ratio of macronutrients in the diet, or the percentage of each macronutrient in the diet. The variety of descriptions can make things a little confusing! 

For example:

  • A ketogenic diet contains about 5% of energy as carbohydrates. 
  • A ketogenic diet has a ratio of 2-4g of fat to every 1g of carbohydrates plus proteins.
  • A classical ketogenic diet contains 20-30g of carbohydrate per day

Examples of food rich in:

  1. Carbohydrates: bread, pasta, potatoes, cereals, sugary food (sweets). 
  2. Fat: oils (olive oil, coconut oil), butter, fatty cuts of meat, brazil nuts, macadamia nuts, avocado.
  3. Protein: beef, chicken, pork, fish, milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs.

Carbohydrates

The main function of dietary carbohydrates (‘carbs’) is to be a source of energy. Some say that dietary carbohydrates are not ‘essential’ as they can be made from dietary protein and fat.13 

Carbohydrates are biological molecules that contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen, usually with a 2:1 ratio of hydrogen:oxygen. Carbohydrates occur as a collection of single units (monosaccharides, e.g. glucose), two molecules joined (disaccharides, e.g. sucrose), and chains of molecules (oligosaccharides and polysaccharides).

When following a ketogenic diet, the carbohydrate intake should be very low. This contrasts with the modern western diet, where most dietary calories come from carbohydrates. Consuming carbohydrates causes insulin release, which inhibits ketone production in the liver and thus ketosis. Therefore, monitoring and modulating your carbohydrate intake is an important part of following the ketogenic diet.

When you’re following the ketogenic diet, key concepts are the total amount of carbohydrates, the ‘net’ amount of carbohydrates (accounting for the accompanying fiber), and the speed with which carbohydrates raise blood glucose (glycemic index).

With a standard ketogenic diet, it’s recommended to keep the total amount of carbohydrates limited to less than 5% of energy intake.15 See the table above for a calculation of the advised carbohydrate intake grams for a 2000 kCal per day 4:1 ketogenic diet.

Dietary fiber is carbohydrate-based material from plants that is not entirely broken down by the small intestine. Instead, it passes to the large intestine, and either undergoes fermentation (which supports the growth of beneficial bacteria),16 or excretion. 

Fiber is a significant part of a well-formulated ketogenic diet. It helps to maintain gut health, and also increases food bulk and helps with the feeling of ‘fullness.’ Green and cruciferous vegetables are rich in fiber and are helpful to include in a ketogenic diet. Digestion-resistant fiber does not contribute to calorie intake, as it is not broken down.

Net carbs refer to the mass of total carbohydrates, minus the total fiber, which could be a better metric to judge carbohydrate intake because:

  • Fiber is mostly digestion-resistant and so should not increase blood glucose.16
  • Studies have shown an increase in fiber does not affect blood ketone levels.17

Proteins 

Proteins are large molecules composed of chains of amino acids. The functions of dietary protein are:

  • Building structural and functional components of cells
  • Conversion to glucose via gluconeogenesis
  • Top up intermediates in other metabolic pathways, such as the Krebs Cycle

While it is possible for a protein to be used as a fuel, this isn’t its primary function.

When following a ketogenic diet, there must be a balance of sufficient protein to maintain muscle mass. If dietary protein exceeds 20-25% of calories, gluconeogenesis from protein can stop the ketone production. Initially, target a protein intake of 0.8-1.2g per kilogram of body weight. This target balances the need for protein against the chance of excess gluconeogenesis.18

Some individuals (such as strength or endurance athletes) may have higher protein requirements. They might require a modified ketogenic macronutrient ratio of 2:1 fat:non-fat (where 65% of energy is fat, 30% is protein, and 5% carbohydrate) and can still be effective for therapeutic ketosis.

Fats

Fat gets a bad rap. In nutrition, fat is the dietary macronutrient made up of triglyceride molecules. The main functions of fats in the diet are to provide increased energy levels and makeup key functional and structural parts of the human system.

But we often misuse the word “fat.” There’s a difference between fat in cells and different types of fat molecules:

  • Adipose tissue: the tissue that stores energy as fats/lipid droplets inside adipocytes (fat cells). This is body fat
  • Adipocytes: individual cells that store fats/lipids
  • Lipids: the most general term for insoluble and polar biological fat molecules. The lipid class of molecules includes mono-, di- and triglycerols, cholesterols, and phospholipids
  • Triglycerides: a lipid molecule made up of glycerol (that acts as a backbone) joined to three fatty acid molecules
  • Fatty acids: a molecule composed of a chain of carbon atoms bonded to one another with a carboxylic acid at one end

To be specific, our diet includes many sources of lipids. Lipids are digested and travel in the blood as triglycerides and fatty acids before being used as a fuel, or stored by adipocytes in adipose tissue. Dietary lipids undergo many tightly regulated metabolic steps before storage in adipose tissue. Dietary fat does not equal stored body fat.

Triglycerides are the most important source of energy in a ketogenic diet. They account for > 70% of dietary calories. For those following a ketogenic diet, it’s helpful to understand how the lipid source in the diet is processed in the body.

Fatty acids can be saturated (no double bonds between carbons), or unsaturated (one or more double bonds between carbons). Saturated fats are relatively stable and tend to be solid at room temperature (i.e. lard, butter, coconut oil). Historical guidelines recommended limited the intake of dietary saturated fats because fat consumption was thought to be associated with heart disease and high blood pressure. However, emerging research has shown saturated fat can have beneficial effects on blood biomarkers (i.e. increase ‘healthy’ HDL levels).12

Unsaturated fatty acids can be further divided into monounsaturated fats (only one double bond between carbons) and polyunsaturated fats (multiple double bonds between carbons). The number of double bonds is important as it determines how the fatty acid behaves both inside and outside of the body. They tend to be liquid at room temperature (i.e. vegetable-based fats such as olive oil). Unsaturated fats are thought of as healthier than saturated fats (also known as “healthy fats”). Increased consumption of mono- and polyunsaturated fats have been linked to improved blood biomarkers (i.e. lower blood triglycerides).19 Eating enough unsaturated fats is important when following a ketogenic diet.

Increased fat consumption is not associated with cardiovascular disease.20Eating a moderate amount of saturated fat is unlikely to be as harmful as previously believed, and saturated fat consumption as part of a ketogenic diet is unlikely to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Trans-fats are produced artificially when hydrogen is added to unsaturated fatty acids in order to solidify it and make it last longer. Because of associations with poor health outcomes, these artificial fats had their generally regarded as safe (GRAS) status removed in 2015 by the FDA. 21 Avoid high levels of trans-fat consumption by eating a diet based around whole foods.

Essential fatty acids are important to include in the diet because the body cannot naturally produce them. This group includes poly-unsaturated omega 3, omega 6, and omega 9 fatty acids. It’s believed the anti-inflammatory effects of essential fatty acids may have broad benefits for health and performance. Oily fish, such as sardines and mackerel, and seeds (i.e. flax) are good dietary sources of essential fatty acids.

The number of carbons in the fatty acid chain also has an important effect on its metabolism. The carbon chain of fatty acids can be up to 28 carbons atoms long. If there are > 13 carbons in the fatty acid, it is called a long-chain fatty acid, between 8-12 is a medium-chain fatty acid, and under 5 carbons is a short-chain fatty acid.

The body metabolizes fats differently according to chain length. Long-chain fatty acids are absorbed and go from the gut into the lymphatic drainage system and from there are released directly into the blood. By comparison, medium- and short-chain fatty acids do not go into the lymphatic system. They travel in the blood from the gut directly to the liver.22 If a large amount of these short- and medium-chain fats are delivered to the liver at once, this can trigger the liver to convert them into ketones, even without dietary carbohydrate restriction.

Medium-chain fatty acids are highly ketogenic. They can be found in natural sources such as coconut oil or in an artificially purified form. However, for many people, consuming a high amount of medium-chain fatty acids can cause an upset stomach. This limits their use to raise ketones artificially.

When integrating these concepts into a ketogenic diet: target the majority of dietary calories as fat. Aim to include a variety of fats from different animal and plant sources (i.e. red meat, poultry, fish, dairy, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts, and avocados).

Conversely, micronutrients must be obtained in the diet in small quantities, but are essential to health. Vitamins and minerals are examples of micronutrients.

Micronutrients in a Ketogenic Diet

When following a ketogenic diet, it is important to be mindful of micronutrient intake because:

  • Reducing carbohydrate intake can lower consumption of micronutrient-rich foods (i.e. fruits and vegetables)
  • In the initial 28 days of following a ketogenic diet, the balance of some micronutrients (such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) can become disturbed due to an increase in their excretion.23 The body resolves this issue naturally after adapting to the diet

Sodium is the principal cation in extracellular fluid. Its functions are related to blood volume maintenance, water balance, and cell membrane potential. Sodium is also essential for acid-base balance and nerve conduction.

The level of sodium can fall at the start of a ketogenic diet. Adding extra sodium to meals (like adding salt or consuming bouillon/ bone broth) can reduce the chances of feeling the common side effects associated with low sodium (like cramps).

Potassium is the principal cation in the intracellular fluid. Its primary functions are related to maintaining cell membrane potential and electrical activity in cells such as neurons and cardiomyocytes. As with sodium, levels of potassium fall at the initiation of a ketogenic diet due to increased excretion. When starting a ketogenic diet, include sources of potassium like nuts, dark green vegetables, and avocados.

Magnesium is an essential element in biological systems, especially for nerve, muscle, and immune function. Levels of magnesium also fall at the initiation of a ketogenic diet due to increased excretion. When starting a ketogenic diet, include sources of magnesium like oily fish, dark green vegetables, and seeds.

Calcium has a role in muscle contraction and is important for cardiovascular and bone health. Calcium deficiency is less common during a ketogenic diet, as staples of the diet such as fish, cheese, and leafy greens are rich sources of the mineral.

Now that an understanding of the biology of the ketogenic diet has been reached, we’ve arrived at the fun part: how to start the keto diet.

Keto Diet for Weight Loss

There’s a growing consensus that the keto diet can help with weight loss. The rising popularity of the diet has led to a demand for further randomized control trials to study its long-term efficacy. The ketogenic diet helps weight loss because it decreases hunger. This makes it easier to maintain a calorie deficit. It is important to stress that the over consumption of calories will prevent weight loss, regardless of the macronutrient composition.

How to Start a Ketogenic Diet

Don’t try to start the diet gradually. If carbohydrate intake is moderately-low, blood sugar levels may not be enough to fuel the brain, and the presence of carbohydrate in the diet might still be enough to stop the body from making ketones.

The main objectives when starting the ketogenic diet are to:

  • Restrict carbohydrates to 20 digestible grams per day or less – a strict low-carb diet
  • Consume plenty of fiber
  • Restrict protein to moderate levels. If possible, stay at or below 0.45 grams of protein per day, per lb of body weight (1g/kg). So about 70 grams of protein per day if you weigh ~155 lbs (~70kg). If your goal is to lose weight, aim for 1 gram of protein per kg of your target weight
  • Consume fat until you are satiated

Tips for Starting the Ketogenic Diet

  • Make a keto diet menu. It’s a good idea to keto meal plan before starting the diet. Make a shopping trip to stock up on a range of foods that are low in carbohydrates and high in fat
  • Use an app to track macronutrient intake. Apps such as My Fitness Pal are great to get an idea of the macronutrients in common foods. There is also a range of special online keto diet calculators
  • Search for a few keto recipes to adapt cooking methods. Due to the high-fat consumption required to get into ketosis, it may be beneficial to change daily staples or cooking methods. Keep an eye out for coconut oil, heavy cream, and lots of cheese
  • Make an approved list of keto foods and eliminate carbohydrate-rich foods. It will be easier to follow the diet by throwing out any foods to avoid. It’s recommended to check the labels for hidden added sugars
  • Consider starting the ketogenic diet within a short period (16-36 hours) of fasting (consuming zero calories). Fasting depletes carbohydrate stores and can accelerate ketone production.
  • Gentle cardio exercise (~30 minutes) or some short high-intensity intervals (10-second sprints) can deplete carbohydrate stores and speed up ketone production

Cyclical Ketogenic Dieting and ‘Cheating’

At the moment, there is not a clear answer as to whether the benefits of the ketogenic diet can be achieved by cycling on and off the diet. It’s best to stick to the diet for 1-2 months minimum to see benefits. It can take several days to get into ketosis1 and 3-6 weeks to become “fat adapted.”18

Some research indicates ~40 days on the ketogenic diet interspersed with periods of healthy eating with more carbohydrates (Mediterranean diet) could maintain weight loss.24

“Cheating,” and consuming high-carbohydrate food, quickly stops ketone production by the liver. It can then take a considerable amount of time for the body to get back into ketosis. Time taken to get back into ketosis will depend on many factors. These include the amount of carbohydrates consumed, how adapted the body is to produce ketones, activity level, etc.

However, cyclical ketogenic diets are a promising area of scientific investigation. Recently, scientists studied the effect of long-term cycling of the ketogenic diet (one week on, one week off the diet) compared to a normal diet in mice. Cyclical keto dieting reduced mid-life mortality and increased healthspan.25

Optimal Range of Ketosis

As with all processes in metabolism, the state of ketosis is a spectrum. Past a threshold (which varies from person to person), even a small increase in dietary carbohydrate intake can trigger enough insulin release to take the body out of ketosis.

The level of ketosis required for different physiological benefits is unknown. For endurance sports, a higher level of ketosis (~4 mM) appears to be superior to lower levels.26,27 This is possible because ketones fuel athletes. However, some other benefits of ketosis, such as reduced appetite may be seen at much lower levels (0.5 mM).28 The best way to know if you are in ketosis is to measure the levels of ketones (BHB) in your blood or urine.

Physiological Ketosis

The typical methods used to generate physiological levels of ketosis are fasting, the ketogenic diet, and consuming exogenous ketones.

After an overnight fast, a low amount of ketones (0.1-0.2 mM) can often be detected in the blood. As the time spent fasting increases, blood ketone levels slowly rise until a plateau at 8-10 mM of BHB has been reached after many days. Scientist Hans Krebs described this plateau as “physiological ketosis.”29

Fasting long-term is unsustainable, so following a strict ketogenic diet can be used to maintain a low level of continuous ketosis. Research suggests blood BHB levels between 0.4-1mM can be achieved while following a ketogenic diet.18 Anecdotal evidence suggests it’s sometimes possible to reach higher levels.

Using exogenous ketones can raise blood ketones to a physiological level without the ketogenic diet or fasting. The level of ketosis reached depends on the exogenous ketone supplement used. Reported levels range from 0.6 mM with a ketone salt or a medium-chain triglyceride supplement26,30 and up to 6 mM with HVMN Ketone.27

Pathological Ketosis

Sometimes, the body starts producing ketones as a result of a disease (pathology). This can lead to dangerous levels of ketones in the body, though these high levels are very uncommon in healthy people following the ketogenic diet.

Alcoholic ketoacidosis (AKA) is a result of chronic alcohol consumption usually accompanied by malnutrition. AKA is characterized by increased ketone production (levels > 15 mM) via liver alcohol metabolism, in conjunction with a mild elevation in blood glucose levels. Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, fatigue, altered breathing, and abdominal pain.31

Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs most frequently in patients with type 1 diabetes. DKA is the simultaneous occurrence of high blood ketones (> 20 mM), high blood glucose, and acidification of the blood.31 It develops when insulin is absent, or insulin signaling is no longer functional.

This means the physiological state of starvation is triggered, even in the presence of high blood glucose. As during starvation, lipolysis (fat release) increases. This causes the liver to produce a high amount of ketones and blood pH to fall (as ketones are an organic acid).

As glucose levels are very high, the excess is excreted in the urine. This draws water and electrolytes out of the body, causing dangerous dehydration. Symptoms of DKA include nausea, vomiting, altered breathing, abdominal pain, and unconsciousness. The rapid onset and alarming nature of DKA is a reason why ketosis has a bad stigma in the medical community.

Who Should Avoid a Ketogenic Diet?

Following a ketogenic diet may not be suggested for people with the following medical considerations:

  • Pregnancy
  • Kidney failure
  • Impaired liver function
  • Impaired fat digestion (gallbladder disease, gastric bypass, pancreatitis)

Genetic defects in metabolism (CPTI/II deficiency, beta-oxidation defects, fatty acyl dehydrogenase deficiency)

Potential Side Effects of the Ketogenic Diet

When starting a ketogenic diet there can be a period of 2-3 days where blood glucose levels are low, but ketone production has not reached a sufficient rate to provide enough fuel for the brain. This can result in a series of symptoms known as the keto flu which include:

  • Headache
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue 
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

Exogenous ketone supplements can be used to reduce symptoms of keto flu. They provide the brain with a source of energy without carbohydrate consumption. These supplements increase the levels of ketones in the blood artificially. Exogenous ketones do not increase the body’s ketone production (called endogenous ketones) and can inhibit32 the release of fatty acids from adipocytes.

It can be initially tricky to adjust food intake to ensure adequate nutrition when following a ketogenic diet. Also, some people find the diet isn’t sustainable due to individual differences in metabolic state or lifestyle. If the diet does not provide the correct balance of macro and micronutrients, some individuals develop other symptoms beyond the keto flu after the adaptation period. These include:

  • Constipation
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty in maintaining physical performance
  • Hair loss
  • Gallstones
  • Elevated blood triglycerides or cholesterol

To treat these symptoms, ensure the diet provides enough calories and micronutrients. Many people reduce fruit and vegetable consumption on a ketogenic diet (due to carbohydrate content). This means it is easy to become deficient in vitamins and to under-consume fiber.

The ketogenic diet can alter the way that the kidneys excrete electrolytes (such as sodium), so electrolyte supplementation can reduce the side effects of an electrolyte imbalance.

Possible Clinical Applications of the Ketogenic Diet and Ketosis

Some of the earliest reports of the ketogenic diet describe its use in a clinical setting.

In the early 20th century, ketogenic diets helped treat drug-resistant epilepsy. Doctors also prescribed ketogenic diets to treat type 1 diabetes before the invention of insulin.

As analytical techniques progressed, scientists learned that ketones themselves might be a crucial part of the success of the ketogenic diet to treat disease. From this finding stemmed a field of research to examine the potential benefits of ketosis in a range of disease states:

  • Weight loss
  • Diabetes and metabolic syndrome
  • Neurological disease: epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, migraine, concussive disease, and traumatic brain injury
  • Cancer
  • Inflammatory diseases

While the ketogenic diet is not yet a first-line treatment recommended by doctors for any of these diseases, it’s a relatively easy and tolerable step that patients with these conditions can take to improve their health. Emerging research suggests there may be beneficial effects of ketosis for some people, and further studies are required to confirm how best to use the diet in these clinical settings.Not seeing results from the keto diet?

You’re not alone. Many think they’re in ketosis but aren’t–the newness of the diet leads to misinformation online. HVMN provides the latest science around meal-timing, supplements and macronutrient composition. Subscribe to HVMN and be first to know the newest techniques for keto diet results.

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