For an entire year while I was training for Ironman France I spent upwards of 20 hours per week in a pool, on a bike, or running around the city. On days when I had to do a bike ride that was longer than 3 hours, I would get up at 4 am, and 10 minutes later hop on the trainer in my office while I watched any and every random documentary I could find on Netflix. It worked because I achieved my goal of a sub 14 hour Ironman but wasn't particularly pleasant and I felt there had to be a better use of my time. Unfortunately, if you are training for an Ironman, you have to put the time in, if nothing else you need to mentally train yourself for the agony of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running a marathon. For everyone else, I'm here to tell you that you can get away with significantly less training. Keep in mind that when I say optimize, I'm talking about getting the maximum benefit for the least amount of energy and time, remember 80/20?
This applies to anyone who wants to lose weight, get healthier, and even train for an event of a distance up to and including a half marathon or adventure race. Now if you are looking to qualify for the Boston Marathon or compete in an Ironman, the plan does need to change but that is the exception not the rule.
My three part formula for perfect fitness is as follows:
1 Part High Intensity Interval Training - I recommend a Crossfit WOD, Crossfit Endurance WOD (involving Swimming, Biking or Running), Insanity, or any workout involving short bursts of effort at maximal effort followed by active rest. You could even try a great free app called Sworkit.
You can do these over the course of three days (as I do) or you can combine them all into one super session each week. Each segment can be around 30 minutes each. You can certainly make them longer if you have the time and enjoy it (as I do) but it's not necessary. In fact, a recent study showed that those that worked out too much actually lost less weight than those that worked out a moderate amount, the hypothesis being that too much exercise increases appetite disproportionately with the amount of calories burned through exercise. So get yourself a Fitbit and set appropriate goals.
So what does a typical week of fitness look like for me?
Tuesday - HIIT Swim 300m x 4 with a 2:00 minutes rest in between and trying to hold the inteverals within 7 seconds of each other.
Thursday - SKILL 3 x 3 Back Squat (so 3 times 3 reps of a Back Squat) and 3 Rep Max Weighted Pull Up
Sunday - Mobility - 30 Minute Yoga session with the Pocket Yoga App on my iPhone
Now here's the catch...
This formula will work for the majority of people, but it will only work perfectly if you're diet and sleep are under control. There is a triad relationship between Sleep, Diet and Fitness and there is usually a finite amount of energy you can allocate among the three, meaning that if you change one area, you have to change another to compensate. Sleep is the element that determines the amounts you have for the others.
As I explain in my fundamental post on wellness, your diet should provide fuel for your life as well as avoid and protect you from toxic elements in our environment. That means very simply eating foods that are not processed, that you can identify (even sugar is better than aspartame), and ideally, that you make yourself at home. With very few
exceptions, anything you make at home should be healthier than you get out of a box or at a restaurant. One of my favorite guidelines for foods that keep you healthy is The Bulletproof Executive. Dave Asprey presents a sliding scale of foods from good to ok to bad so you can basically decide how "bulletproof" you want to be. The truth is that if you eat a perfect diet and sleep a lot, you don't ever have to technically workout to maintain a good looking, responsive body...as long as you make a conscious effort to move on a daily basis, such as standing at your desk, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and walking most places. If you really want to dial in your diet, get a blood test from Inside Tracker and see where you're lacking, my guess is you need more Vitamin D and more good fats like Coconut Oil, MCT Oil, Avocado, Grass Fed Butter, Grass Fed Beef, Egg Yolks, and Olive Oil, but that's just a guess of course.
Sleep is the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle and the main determining factor in the aforementioned triad. It's important to recognize that it's really about quality, not quantity with sleep. There are tons of ways to effect your sleep, diet and exercise happen to be among the easiest to control. As far as diet, eating good fats as part of a balanced diet help your body maintain balanced levels of hormones. Eating too late at night will disrupt sleep quality and eating too soon or too late after your wake up will affect your day. Getting energy from fats instead of carbs means you'll have steadier, more focused fuel throughout the day. Proper exercise helps you burn unneeded energy, reset mentally, and re-engage your bodies resources. When you don't sleep well you're body produces a hormone called Ghrelin which increases hunger, causing you to eat more. It also causes levels of Leptin to drop, a hormone that helps suppress appetite and regulate metabolism. Basically, if you don't sleep be prepared for a major willpower battle that you will probably lose (avoid watching Man vs. Food). So to improve sleep I can recommend two things. First, take some Vitamin D with your breakfast and avoid any blue light emitting devices (ipads, TV's, LED lighting) at least 1 hour before bed since they will disrupt your ability to produce Melatonin. If you can't avoid them and you don't mind looking like a serial killer, you can wear blue blocking glasses. If you want to take things to the next level, you can always get a ZEO sleep coach and totally optimize your sleep patterns. You can also play around with very basic concept of sleep timing. To wind down at the end of the night and get the benefits of meditation in just five minutes, check out the Azumio Stress Doctor app to start optimizing your heart rate variability.
In the middle of the triad we find supplements as the glue that binds them all together, improves and optimizes each one, and generally supports a healthy lifestyle. There are of course thousands of supplements from vitamins to minerals to herbs and for specific goals or deficiencies. I would generally like to say that you should get essential elements from the diet you eat but there are certain ones that you really can't get effectively from your diet. There are three supplements that I generally recommend to people. Krill Oil comes from tiny shrimp in the North Atlantic and provides a variety of benefits from reduced inflammation to lower cholesterol and even better insulin response management, plus it is significantly more effective than fish oil. The second one is Probiotics, beneficial bacteria which keep your digestive system balanced, your immune response in order, and inflammation at bay. The last one is Vitamin D. most people who work indoors, wear clothes, and don't get enough fat in their diets are deficient in Vitamin D. It an essential resource your body needs for your immune system, inflammation and even sleep.
So there you have it, eat more, workout more, workout more, sleep more. Eat less, workout less, sleep less. Sleep less, workout less, eat less. Workout more, sleep more, eat more, and so on and so forth. If it isn't clear yet, sleep is the big one, so if you decide that you want to train for a marathon you're going to have to sleep more and you may not be ready to give up hours in the day for sleep. It's a choice you'll have to make. I have a nine month old son, if we have a bad night and I don't get to sleep well, I can not go workout the next day because it will only be to my detriment. Good luck finding your optimal balance!