I could barely sleep the night before. I was so excited … and nervous. I had dreamt about this moment for what felt like a lifetime. Countless hours perfecting my moves and thousands of shots. Running dekes in my head against imaginary defenders. I had practiced and I had prepared and the time was now. I woke up before the sun that day and tried my best to eat, but couldn’t stomach much.
Inigo San Millan has good news and bad news for those determined to make this the year they get healthy and shed some pounds: carbs are not the enemy, but you and your well-worn couch need some time apart.
The physiologist and University of Colorado director of the Sports Performance Program's research found success in weight loss and fending off cardio-metabolic diseases lies in metabolic flexibility.
"Metabolic flexibility is the ability for your body to quickly switch back and forth between fat and carbs, efficiently using whatever fuel sources you throw at it," San Millan said.
This kind of flexibility doesn't hinge on an ability to touch your toes, but on the state of your mitochondria. A flashback to high school biology should recall mitochondria as the powerhouse of the cell, responsible for burning through fat, carbohydrates and lactate.
"As we become sedentary and physically inactive, our mitochondria become atrophied or dysfunctional, and they start losing the ability to burn glucose and fat," San Millan said. "That's when we become metabolically inflexible."
General symptoms of metabolic inflexibility include: sluggishness, trouble losing weight regardless of dietary changes and increased blood sugar levels.
For a more accurate diagnosis, San Millan developed a non-invasive method of assessing the mitochondria's performance he initially used to gauge the metabolic flexibility of athletes. The physiologist now uses a streamlined version of the test — "metabolic rehabilitation" — for the general public involving a brisk treadmill walk or stationary bike ride while wearing a mask that measures how efficiently the subject utilizes fat and carbohydrates.
By 2018, San Millan said the test will be covered by some insurance companies.
"We want to bring this to the masses," San Millan said. "The ultimate goal is to have a more science-based diagnosis across many clinical settings of the methodology I use that is not just utilized as a diagnosis but also used for a prescription of exercise."
The exercise is key, San Millan said.
"There's a misconception out there that people believe the only way to exercise is high intensity," San Millan said. "We know that's totally wrong. It's not sustainable. The main thing in an exercise program is to create sustainability."
San Millan suggests low-intensity aerobic activity, endorsing something as simple as walking for one hour a day, four to five days a week.
"Our society has become more and more sedentary in the last 20 years or so," San Millan said. "The food isn't the problem. It's the lack of physical activity. Sixty minutes of activity used to be nothing when we were kids. You were lazy if you only moved for an hour a day. Now, that's a major goal."
Liz Wolfert is a believer.
The 34-year-old Denver resident found out she was pre-diabetic and discovered San Millan and his metabolic rehabilitation in 2016 through the urging of her mother.
Wolfert and her mother signed themselves up for the test.
"Her metabolism was in the range of a good, healthy metabolism, and mine was not," Wolfert said. "That was a huge shock."
Wolfert was no stranger to exercise. She'd climbed fourteeners, cycled, swam and done Kung-Fu, but her regimen wasn't consistent.
San Millan prescribed walking for about one hour a day. When Wolfert returned a year later to get tested again, she did not have any indicators of early diabetes.
"It's so interesting," Wolfert said. "I had climbed fourteeners before, but I remember how hard it was. After I started walking more, I climbed another one, and it was so much easier. It was like my body was working so much more efficiently. I started to run, and it wasn't an excruciating process. My body has just been better primed."
Wolfert said she spreads the news of a low-intensity aerobic workout to her friends.
"The beautiful heart of the advice is that it doesn't have to be this big, complicated thing," Wolfert said. "Yes, it would be great if you could run 5K's and do fourteeners, but you will get much healthier and potentially avoid diabetes just by walking. Just walking!"
As an Endurance athlete who races in some rather extreme environments –goal settling is the only way to succeed and overcome adversity. This summer I competed in my first ever Ultra-Distance Triathlon. The Ultraman distance is rather intimidating to anyone who hears about it. The third day of racing is an 84.4 km run, on a backroad that has some nasty hills and difficult footing. This experience was ultimately a success, but not due to lack of adversity.
I have raced multiple Ironman events- but have never run more than 50 km. With some good training in my legs I felt prepared. Using that day as an example- here is a look at my thoughts on how to be successful.
1. Aim High, but know what you are capable of. Set goals that are within reason, but that doesn’t mean they have to be small. I looked at the previous course records on that run and set myself a goal to finish in 7.5 hours. This would not be a record, but was something I felt was obtainable.
2. Scare yourself. If it isn’t a bit scary- it isn’t really a challenge! Don’t take unnecessary risks, but you will rise to a new level when you enter the “unknown.” In fact, experts in the art of “State of Flow” (Similar in part to the runner high” attribute this to being necessary to get the best out
3. Step- by-step. Looking at the “long run” (pun intended” can be daunting to say the least. I got through the first 50 km of the race by changing the story in my head. I routinely run 800’s on the track when I train, and its distance I am very familiar with. So instead of looking at the whole distance, I kept track of how many 840m “sets” I accomplished. This meant every time I checked my pace, I saw how many “One percent’s” I was had done. Just few minutes into the run I had done 3% and it felt like nothing- and my confidence grew and grew…until…..
4. Things go south. Expect it. Sorry, but it isn’t going to be all easy sailing just because you have put in the training. At 60 km I had under estimated my nutrition needs a couple hours earlier, some very hot temperatures. I began getting some pretty bad blisters. In this case, there is only one thing left to do.
5. Readjust your priorities. This doesn’t mean you lower your expectations, but it does me you do your best to stay positive, deal with situations as they come along and address them- in real time- in the best way you are capable! During the race I started to really struggle at the 60km. In order to get to the finish line I had to do something very counter intuitive. I had to stop. In fact I stopped every 3 kilometers for the rest of the run. This allowed for my body heat to drop, gave me the chance to take on valuable nutrients, and left me with new goals. Run 8x 3 km as smooth and strong as possible.
6. Accept Help. These times can get ugly! I know it did for me. In fact my own mom got out of the car during the race and helped pace me for 800 meters at a time. I didn’t want help. I wanted to go it alone. I got grumpy! But in the end the extra help is what kept me in first place! Don’t go it alone if you don’t have to! Feed off of the energy of others!
7. Follow through. When I finally got to the finish line, I didn’t hit my overall run-time goal, but I did win the race and also had a truly exhilarating experience I was proud of! The only thing left to do- was recover and then start with Step 1 all over again.
-Jordan Bryden @jordanbryden