Exercise and Longevity

There’s a couple of recent studies out that look at the effects of exercise using telomere length as a surrogate for longevity. Our telomeres shorten as we age.

The first study is (Beate Ø Osthus, Ida & Sgura, Antonella & Berardinelli, Francesco & Alsnes, Ingvild & Brønstad, Eivind & Rehn, Tommy & Kristian Støbakk, Per & Hatle, Håvard & Wisløff, Ulrik & Nauman, Javaid. (2012). Telomere Length and Long-Term Endurance Exercise: Does Exercise Training Affect Biological Age? A Pilot Study. PloS one. 7. e52769. 10.1371/journal.pone.0052769). The study:

Older endurance trained athletes had longer telomere length compared with older people with medium activity levels (T/S ratio 1.12±0.1 vs. 0.92±0.2, p = 0.04). Telomere length of young endurance trained athletes was not different than young non-athletes (1.47±0.2 vs. 1.33±0.1, p = 0.12).

A second study looked at the effects of the specific mode of exercise (Christian M Werner, Anne Hecksteden, Arne Morsch, Joachim Zundler, Melissa Wegmann, Jürgen Kratzsch, Joachim Thiery, Mathias Hohl, Jörg Thomas Bittenbring, Frank Neumann, Michael Böhm, Tim Meyer, Ulrich Laufs; Differential effects of endurance, interval, and resistance training on telomerase activity and telomere length in a randomized, controlled study , European Heart Journal, ehy585).

The results were interesting.

This randomized, controlled, and prospective training study shows that specific training protocols lead to differential effects on cellular aging. Aerobic endurance and high-intensive interval training, but not resistance training, increases telomerase activity and telomere length in blood mononuclear cells.

This study was fairly impressively powered with 124 subjects.

One hundred and twenty-four healthy previously inactive individuals completed the 6 months study. Participants were randomized to three different interventions or the control condition (no change in lifestyle): aerobic endurance training (AET, continuous running), high-intensive IT (4 × 4 method), or RT (circle training on 8 devices), each intervention consisting of three 45 min training sessions per week.

The specific results were statistically significant.

Telomerase activity in blood mononuclear cells was up-regulated by two- to three-fold in both endurance exercise groups (AET, IT), but not with RT. In parallel, lymphocyte, granulocyte, and leucocyte TL increased in the endurance-trained groups but not in the RT group. Magnet-activated cell sorting with telomerase repeat-ampliflication protocol (MACS-TRAP) assays revealed that a single bout of endurance training—but not RT—acutely increased telomerase activity in CD14+ and in CD34+ leucocytes.

Things to note is that this is an older (~49 years on average), untrained group of people who were at healthy BMI (~24).


The mechanism is interesting.

MAF Training And Metabolic Syndrome

There’s an interesting study which looked at two months of training at FATmax to see what the effects on Metabolic Syndrome (Dumortier M, Brandou F, Perez-Martin A, Fedou C, Mercier J, Brun JF. Low intensity endurance exercise targeted for lipid oxidation improves body composition and insulin sensitivity in patients with the metabolic syndrome. Diabetes Metab. 2003 Nov;29(5):509-18). The study showed good improvements from MAF level of training intensity.

The patients exhibited a significant reduction in body weight (- 2.6 +/- 0.7 kg; P=0.002), fat mass (- 1.55 +/- 0.5 kg; P=0.009), waist (- 3.53 +/- 1.3 cm; P<0.05) and hip (- 2.21 +/- 0.9 cm; P<0.05) circumferences, and improved the ability to oxidize lipids at exercise (crossover point: + 31.7 +/- 5.8 W; P<0.0001; LIPOX(max): + 23.5 +/- 5.6 W; P<0.0001; lipid oxidation: + 68.5 +/- 15.4 mg.min(-1); P=0.0001). No clear improvement in either lipid parameters or fibrinogen were observed.

There were significant improvements in the markers of Metabolic Syndrome.

The surrogates of insulin sensitivity evidenced a decrease in insulin resistance: HOMA%S (software): + 72.93 +/- 32.64; p<0.05; HOMA-IR (simplified formula): – 2.42 +/- 1.07; P<0.05; QUICKI: + 0.02 +/- 0.004; P<0.01; SI=40/I: + 3.28 +/- 1.5; P<0.05. Significant correlations were found between changes in body weight and HOMA-IR and between changes in LIPOX(max) and QUICKI.

Here’s a longer term study which shows positive results over a longer time period (Drapier E (2018) Long term (3 years) weight loss after low intensity endurance training targeted at the level of maximal muscular lipid oxidation. Integr Obesity Diabetes 4).

Average weight loss was -2.95 ± 0.37 kg after 3 months, -4.56 ± 0.68 kg after 1 year, -5.31 ± 1.26 kg at 2 years and -8.49 ± 2.39 kg at 3 years.

The beauty of this study was that it compared low intensity exercise to a low fat diet.

This study shows that this low intensity exercise training maintains its weight-reducing effect 3 years while diet is no longer efficient, and that this effect is initially related to muscular ability to oxidize lipids but that metabolic and behavioral adaptations have been further developed and contribute to a long lasting effect.

The results are powerful.

Here’s a third related study (J. O. Holloszy and E. F. Coyle. Adaptations of skeletal muscle to endurance exercise and their metabolic consequences. Journal of Applied Physiology 1984 56:4, 831-838).

The major metabolic consequences of the adaptations of muscle to endurance exercise are a slower utilization of muscle glycogen and blood glucose, a greater reliance on fat oxidation, and less lactate production during exercise of a given intensity.

These adaptations play an important role in the large increase in the ability to perform prolonged strenuous exercise that occurs in response to endurance exercise training.

From the results:

…Probably the most important of these is an increase in mitochondria with an increase in respiratory capacity. One consequence of the adaptations induced in muscle by endurance exercise is that the same work rate requires a smaller percentage of the muscles’ maximum respiratory capacity and therefore results in less disturbance in homeostasis.

A second consequence is increased utilization of fat, with a proportional decrease in carbohydrate utilization, during submaximal exercise.


CrossFit Injury Rate Study

Interesting study of CrossFit injury rates (Hak PT, Hodzovic E, Hickey B. The nature and prevalence of injury during CrossFit training. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Nov 22.). The study reported on an on-line survey so it was probably quite slanted in the results.

An online questionnaire was distributed amongst international CrossFit online forums. Data collected included general demographics, training programs, injury profiles and supplement use. A total of 132 responses were collected with 97 (73.5%) having sustained an injury during CrossFit training. A total of 186 injuries were reported with 9 (7.0%) requiring surgical intervention. An injury rate of 3.1 per 1000 hours trained was calculated.




Fat Burning – Running vs Cycling

In a previous post I took at look at the exercise intensity which produced the maximum fat oxidation rates (Maximal Fat Oxidation Rates in an Athletic Population). A study took a look at the fat oxidation rates which happen when exercise is performed at the FATmax rate with cycling and running.

There was a significant difference in the rate of fat oxidation between the two (Juul Achten, Michelle C Venables, Asker E Jeukendrup. Fat oxidation rates are higher during running compared with cycling over a wide range of intensities. Metabolism, Volume 52, Issue 6, June 2003, Pages 747-752.).

Maximal fat oxidation was 28% higher when walking [ed: did they mean running?] compared with cycling, but the intensity, which elicits maximal fat oxidation, is not different between these 2 exercise modes.

These are interesting results. Although both exercises were done at the same intensity level (as measured by heart rate) they resulted in different amounts of total fat oxidation.

This leads me to conclude that although cycling and running can be both done at the MAF heart rate they are not equal for fat oxidation rates.

What About Rowing?

It would be interesting to see what the fat oxidation rate at FATmax is for rowing (ROW) and other modes. Turns out there’s a study for that too. (Egan B, Ashley DT, Kennedy E, O’Connor PL, O’Gorman DJ. Higher rate of fat oxidation during rowing compared with cycling ergometer exercise across a range of exercise intensities. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2016 Jun;26(6):630-7. The study found that:

…FATox is higher during ROW compared with CYC exercise across a range of exercise intensities matched for energy expenditure…

The details show:

Despite similar oxygen consumption, rates of fat oxidation (FATox ) were ∼45% higher during ROW compared with CYC (P < 0.05) across a range of power output increments.

The crossover point for substrate utilization occurred at a higher relative exercise intensity for ROW than CYC (57.8 ± 2.1 vs 42.1 ± 3.6%VO2peak , P < 0.05).

Putting the Pieces Together

  • Rowing is ~45% better than cycling.
  • Running is ~28% better than cycling.
  • Rowing should be ~17% better than running.

Mechanism to Explain Differences

The degree to which an exercise engages muscles determines the maximum fat oxidation. Rowing has more muscle involvement than running which has more muscle involvement than cycling.




FATmax Training Results

In principle, training at FATmax (Maximal Fat Oxidation Rates in an Athletic Population) should result in significant loss of body fat and the resulting improvement in body composition. However, it is something of a surprise just how few studies have been performed to determine the effectiveness of this type of training. A meta-analysis (A. J. Romain, et.al. Physical Activity Targeted at Maximal Lipid Oxidation: A Meta-Analysis. (J Nutr Metab. 2012; 2012: 285395.) took a look and only found 15 total studies of this subject which fit their criteria. These studies were relatively small but the results were encouraging.

This meta-analysis confirms the conclusions of the individual studies, that are very low intensity training targeted at the level of maximal fat oxidation significantly decreases body weight, fat mass, waist circumference and total cholesterol. On the average, the effects of this variety of training are thus well confirmed, and their average magnitude is more precisely described.

Study Limitations

Only 5 studies include a control (nonexercising) group. There were also no longer term studies.

Volume of Training

Interestingly, some studies demonstrated an important average weight loss (8 kg over two months) with a protocol based on 90 min/day exercise at the level of maximal lipid oxidation. This could suggest that large weekly volumes of exercise training may be much more efficient than those used usually (i.e, 3 × 45 min/week).

Loss of Visceral Fat

The study called out a reference paper (Ohkawara K, et.al. A dose-response relation between aerobic exercise and visceral fat reduction: systematic review of clinical trials. Int J Obes (Lond). 2007 Dec;31(12):1786-97. ) which indicated that there is a dose response between aerobic exercise and loss of visceral fat.

… at least 10 METs x h/w in aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, light jogging or stationary ergometer usage, is required for visceral fat reduction, and that there is a dose-response relationship between aerobic exercise and visceral fat reduction in obese subjects without metabolic-related disorders.


Running Slow

I’ve taken my MAF training to a certain point where I am running a lot more than I was before but still not for very long. I’d like to be able to run the whole time – except perhaps on really steep hills like the Lincoln Brick hill.

I think the problem is that when I start running I am going too fast and my heart rate climbs too quickly. I need to work on running slower. I probably need to do this work on a track to avoid hills (I live in SW PA where it is very hilly nearly everywhere).

Here’s a video of the Niko Niko method which is very similar (Niko Niko uses a low intensity steady state training at a heart rate just below the bottom of the MAF range).

The key points in this video are:

  1. Be conscious about small steps and pitch. The woman in the video is taking steps where her shoes don’t go past the other shoe.
  2. Keep your back straight. Don’t lean forward into the run.
  3. Relax your shoulders. Your arms should move naturally.
  4. Breathe naturally.
  5. Slightly raise your chin and look far ahead of you.
  6. Be conscious about forefoot landing. Don’t land on your heels.
  7. Do not kick the ground.

There is a MAF video by Sherpa Herb along similar lines.

I am going to start working on this. I’ve been doing about three days a week with an hour or more each time so I feel like my consistency has held up.

Low Carb High Intensity Interval Training Performance

Here’s a new study that looked at the Low Carb diet and High Intensity Interval Training performance (Lukas Cipryan, Daniel J. Plews, Alessandro Ferretti, Phil B. Maffetone, and Paul B. Laursen. Effects of a 4-Week Very Low-Carbohydrate Diet on High-Intensity Interval Training Responses. J Sports Sci Med. 2018 Jun; 17(2): 259–268.).

The purpose of the study was to examine the effects of altering from habitual mixed Western-based (HD) to a very low-carbohydrate high-fat (VLCHF) diet over a 4-week timecourse on performance and physiological responses during high-intensity interval training (HIIT).

Eighteen moderately trained males (age 23.8 ± 2.1 years) consuming their HD (48 ± 13% carbohydrate, 17 ± 3% protein, 35 ± 9% fat) were assigned to 2 groups. One group was asked to remain on their HD, while the other was asked to switch to a non-standardized VLCHF diet (8 ± 3% carbohydrate, 29 ± 15% protein, 63 ± 13% fat) for 4 weeks.

Participants performed graded exercise tests (GXT) before and after the experiment, and an HIIT session (5x3min, work/rest 2:1, passive recovery, total time 34min) before, and after 2 and 4 weeks. Heart rate (HR), oxygen uptake (V̇O2), respiratory exchange ratio (RER), maximal fat oxidation rates (Fatmax) and blood lactate were measured. Total time to exhaustion (TTE) and maximal V̇O2 (V̇O2max) in the GXT increased in both groups, but between-group changes were trivial (ES ± 90% CI: -0.1 ± 0.3) and small (0.57 ± 0.5), respectively.

Between-group difference in Fatmax change (VLCHF: 0.8 ± 0.3 to 1.1 ± 0.2 g/min; HD: 0.7 ± 0.2 to 0.8 ± 0.2 g/min) was large (1.2±0.9), revealing greater increases in the VLCHF versus HD group. Between-group comparisons of mean changes in V̇O2 and HR during the HIIT sessions were trivial to small, whereas mean RER decreased more in the VLCHF group (-1.5 ± 0.1). Lactate changes between groups were unclear.

Adoption of a VLCHF diet over 4 weeks increased Fatmax and did not adversely affect TTE during the GXT or cardiorespiratory responses to HIIT compared with the HD.

I have a lot of respect for Phil Maffetone and Paul Larson. Both are long time advocates of Low Carb Athletics. Phil Maffetone coached Mark Allen to multiple wins at Kona Ironman (Mark Allen Interview: A look back at working with Phil Maffetone and what it means for today’s triathlete).



MCT Oil and Athletic Performance

I read a post by a guy in a Facebook group who claims MCT oil increases his athletic performance. I questioned him and he wrote:

However, when the body fat percentage gets low, you need the fats for energy to fuel your workouts. You have to reach steady state of fat in and fat/ketones out. I don’t think I could do my noon workout without my two cups of BPC in the morning. That’s my fuel…

When I asked if it was the MCT oil or the caffeine he replied:

… it’s the fat. Caffeine does not give you the ketones that allow me to lift heavy and do 30-45 mins of elliptical. Although, when I was very fat, my body provided the fat ketones. So in a sense I’m agreeing with you. There comes a time when you need that MCT fat that the liver turns into ketones as a priority.

Unfortunately the science doesn’t back up the claims.

Study #1

Miriam E. Clegg. (2010). Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 61:7,653-679.

Results indicate that MCT feeding is ineffective in improving exercise performance and future work should focus on the health benefits and applications of MCT.

Study #2

Damien J. Angus, Mark Hargreaves, Jane Dancey, and Mark A. Febbraio. Effect of carbohydrate or carbohydrate plus medium-chain triglyceride ingestion on cycling time trial performance. Journal of Applied Physiology. Volume 88 Issue 1. January 2000. Pages 113-119 .

These data demonstrate that carbohydrate ingestion during exercise improves 100-km TT performance compared with a sweet placebo, but the addition of MCT does not provide any further performance enhancement.

Study #3

A E Jeukendrup, J J Thielen, A J Wagenmakers, F Brouns, W H Saris; Effect of medium-chain triacylglycerol and carbohydrate ingestion during exercise on substrate utilization and subsequent cycling performance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 67, Issue 3, 1 March 1998, Pages 397–404.

…ingestion of MCT had a negative effect on performance…

compared with placebo ingestion, MCT ingestion had no effect on total rates of fat or carbohydrate oxidation, nor did it affect exogenous or endogenous carbohydrate utilization. The negative effect of MCT ingestion was associated with increased gastrointestinal complaints (ie, intestinal cramping). These data suggest that large amounts of MCTs (85 g) ingested during prolonged submaximal exercise may provoke gastrointestinal problems leading to decreased exercise performance.

Study #4

Jeukendrup, A. E., A. J. M. Wagenmakers, F. Brouns, D. Halliday and W. H. M. Saris. Effects of carbohydrate (CHO) and fat supplementation on CHO metabolism during prolonged exercise. Metabolism 45(7): 915-921: 1996.

It is concluded that 29 g MCT co-ingested with CHO during 180 minutes of exercise does not influence CHO utilization or glycogen breakdown.

Other Studies

Another study found that MCT Oil increased liver size by adding fat to the liver (MCT Oil and Liver Size).

Ketogenic Ironmen

Nice short study on Keto and Ironman ultra-endurance events (Maunder E, Kilding AE, Plews DJ. Substrate Metabolism During Ironman Triathlon: Different Horses on the Same Courses. Sports Med. 2018 May 18. doi: 10.1007/s40279-018-0938-9.).

Given the finite human capacity for endogenous carbohydrate storage, minimising the endogenous carbohydrate cost associated with performing exercise at competitive intensities should be a goal of Ironman preparation. A range of strategies exist that may help to achieve this goal, including, but not limited to, adoption of a low-carbohydrate diet, exogenous carbohydrate supplementation and periodised training with low carbohydrate availability.

Given the diverse metabolic stimuli evoked by Ironman triathlons at different performance levels, it is proposed that the performance level of the Ironman triathlete is considered when adopting metabolic strategies to minimise the endogenous carbohydrate cost associated with exercise at competitive intensities. Specifically, periodised training with low carbohydrate availability combined with exogenous carbohydrate supplementation during competition might be most appropriate for elite and top-amateur Ironman triathletes who elicit very high rates of energy expenditure.

Conversely, the adoption of a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet might be appropriate for some lower performance amateurs (> 12 h), in whom associated high rates of fat oxidation may be almost completely sufficient to match the energy demands required.

Nicely put.


BCAAs – Second Experiment

I did a second experiment with BCAAs today. The last one was at a Crossfit competition (CrossFit Competition – Festivus Games). There was so much going on that day that I didn’t get a chance to compare the BCAA effects. I was also using Ketone Supplements that day so I could not isolate any effects.

This morning, before my MAF walk, I decided to try the second serving of BCAAs. They were given to me by athlete Van Wilder. I took them with Creatine in water before leaving the house around 5:30 AM. The product is Optimum Nutrition Essential AmiN.O. Energy. Here’s a picture of the product.

Here is the nutrition label.

These have as much caffeine as a cup of coffee but they are taken in much more quickly than coffee. I definitely noticed a buzz from the caffeine. I also had some strange data from my heart rate monitors. I also had some soreness/pain in my left knee so I took it a bit easier as documented here(Measuring Heart Rate).

I can’t say whether there was an effect beyond the caffeine effect.

In the meanwhile I ordered another product as recommended by Ben Greenfield (Everything You Need To Know About How To Use Amino Acids For Muscle Gain, Appetite Control, Injury Repair, Ketosis And More.) Ben provides some compelling arguments for why BCAAs (Kion Aminos) may be a good choice for fasted workouts with ketogenic athletes.  There are quite a few studies referenced on Ben’s page.

The Other Side

On the other side, Menno Hensellmen has some arguments against BCAAs and refers to this study for his position (Robert R. Wolfe. Branched-chain amino acids and muscle protein synthesis in humans: myth or reality?
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2017 14:30).

An extensive search of the literature has revealed no studies in human subjects in which the response of muscle protein synthesis to orally-ingested BCAAs alone was quantified, and only two studies in which the effect of intravenously infused BCAAs alone was assessed. Both of these intravenous infusion studies found that BCAAs decreased muscle protein synthesis as well as protein breakdown, meaning a decrease in muscle protein turnover. The catabolic state in which the rate of muscle protein breakdown exceeded the rate of muscle protein synthesis persisted during BCAA infusion. We conclude that the claim that consumption of dietary BCAAs stimulates muscle protein synthesis or produces an anabolic response in human subjects is unwarranted.

I will report on the BCAAs.