Understanding My Bias Against Cardio

One of my favorite podcasts is Masters In Business from Bloomberg by Barry Ritholtz. The show is a collection of interviews with some of the brightest and most successful people in finance. (side note: Ritholtz actually left a comment on this blog way back in 2006)

One of the lessons I’ve learned from the show is about discovering your own biases when it comes to investing. Not just cheerleading the times you were right, but digging into the reasons on those time when you were wrong. There are learning opportunities available when you get something wrong, but you need to face them.

Which brings me to cardio.

This blog has been dismissive of the role of cardio training for a decade. My view on the topic has been it is completely unnecessary. Just build your muscles and go for walks. The strength gains you make in the gym will make any form of cardiovascular training easier. This is true, but that isn’t the full picture.

My belief that cardio isn’t needed for health just got rattled really hard this week. That will be a topic that I will explore in more detail later, but first I need to examine how I became so certain on something that appears to be wrong.

Here are the reasons I came up with.

#1 Tribal

During college and shortly afterward, I was a runner. I completed two marathons (both under 4 hours) and a few triathlons. I loved running. I loved cardio. But I could never go long periods without being in pain or injured. I’d recover and then work to get back in shape. It felt like I wasn’t progressing.

I discovered lifting weights and made those initial gains and I was hooked. Now I was a lifter. Not a runner. My tribe has muscles and hates running. I didn’t want to go back to being a stick-boy.

Instead of using a more moderate approach to running to compliment weight training, I ditched it. I was not only more muscular, but I was also leaner from lifting than running, which validated my choice.

#2 Fat Loss and Appetite

In the 2012 post How Exercise Indirectly Kept Me Fatter, I discussed how I never got the fat loss benefits from cardio.

Although in the short term, it appeared at times that exercise helped me get leaner when looked at over a longer time frame it didn’t. Exercise increased my appetite and as long as I kept exercising my weight was in check. However, whenever volume increased past my body’s ability to recover, I was sidelined. During the periods of being sidelined, my appetite always exceeded activity and fat gain occurred.

I still believe this to be true, but maybe had I approached cardio work in a less extreme manner and solved for winter those fluctuations in appetite would have been smaller.

Today, I know tricks to reduce appetite without experiencing hunger (higher protein and higher volume foods such as the potato). Back then I was less skilled in the art of controlling calories.

#3 Paleo

By the time Paleo hit, I was ready to accept their narrative that Grok would never be so foolish as to run around wasting energy doing cardio. Grok would use strength and quick movements to survive.

Good enough for Grok, good enough for me.

I never dug into the truth on what Grok actually did – even if we know – because I liked the story. It told me what I wanted to hear. Plus, eating like Grok was leaning me out, so it must be true.

During this time period, every time a marathoner would drop dead from a heart attack, those news items would be shared, thus shaping my view that cardio was not only unnecessary and ineffective but potentially dangerous

#4 Accepted by HIT community

In 2011, I posted The Myth of Cardiovascular Training. Because of that one blog post, I was invited by Greg Anderson to do a HIT workout at his Seattle gym. Greg Anderson was the guy that trained Dr. Doug McGuff, author of Body by Science. I become a HIT convert and disciple. He also wrote a similar more detailed article on the same topic years before.

The view that cardio is a myth is popular in the HIT community. They loved my HIT posts and I loved their anti-cardio message.

I was using HIT exercises such as a SuperSlow Leg Press very effectively. I still recall walking up a long steep hill with a friend that did hours of Zumba every week for many years. She was winded and I wasn’t. And I did zero cardio and was proud of the fact that I never broke a sweat exercising. That was my confirmation that cardio was nonsense.

Now I can see that I made the same error the cardio-junkies made, just the flipside. Cardio warriors train their heart to be stronger but do little to strengthen the muscles to support their heart. Meanwhile, I was building my muscles to take the load off my heart, but doing nothing to directly target the cardiovascular system.

Common Thread

The common thread on how my view of cardio was formed and validated is that I had a narrow and incomplete view of what health is. I also didn’t challenge my assumptions, which is something I did frequently with nutrition. I

If I get a knee pain running, that doesn’t mean cardio is bad. That form of cardio might be bad for that knee, but not for the heart. Leanness and strength are important components of health, but having a tighter midsection and more muscles are not a free pass to avoiding cardiovascular training.

It all comes down to one question. Does cardiovascular training provide unique health benefits that can not be achieved except through cardiovascular training? I used to be certain the answer was no. Now that belief has been rattled. I’ll share what I discovered in the next post.

running

Photo by Bruno Nascimento

An Offal Vegetarian

Recently, I have been thinking about the ethical side of a vegetarian diet. I have several thoughts on the topic and they will likely spill over to other blog posts, but in this one, I want to revisit a thought experiment I had years ago and extend that discussion.

Four years ago I posted Proposal: Vegetarian/Vegan Offset Credits. I wanted to take an economic concept and apply it to nutrition.

The short version is that a vegetarian or vegan would most likely nutritional benefit from having an occasional animal-based meal to shore up any nutritional deficiencies. And that a typical meat-eater would benefit from taking a break from the meat and having a nutritious vegetarian meal.

An ethical vegan would be able to eat animal protein for a day and still be within their moral guidelines provided they were able to convince a fast food eater to eat vegetarian/vegan for a day. They might even prepare the meals to assure that the fast food eater stays away from animal protein.

My conclusion was:

The impact to the planet is neutral, yet both parties should be nutritionally better off. Actually, I am guessing the vegan would consume grass pastured or more humane forms of animal protein, so the ecological effect would be a net positive.

I liked the idea, but it was just a thought experiment and I’m guessing the vast majority of vegetarians and especially vegans would never entertain my credit idea because they don’t want to personally be connected with any additional animal suffering.

Then I got an offal idea.

People that are into nutrition – such as the readers of this blog – know that some of the most nutritious parts of an animal are the parts that most Americans do not eat. Organ meats and bone broth. The offal parts.

Because Americans (and I’m assuming most 1st-world Western countries) do not eat the liver, the kidney, the heart, or use the bones for soup, a lot of this food gets wasted. Some of it is traded to Asian countries, but a lot is thrown away.

If a vegetarian consumed offal, they would not be adding to the animal death count, as those animals would already be bred and killed for muscle meat. Would those calories be ethical?

Then I considered that a vegetarian diet is not a diet without animal suffering. Small animals are killed during the farming of grains and legumes – which are staples of non-meat eaters. That number is likely small, but it is not zero. So if a vegetarian could displace some of those calories with offal, would it actually result in fewer animals deaths?

Even if the idea of an offal vegetarian is awful, it would still seem more ethical for meat eaters to replace a few of their muscle-meat meals for those nutritious parts that were destined to be thrown away.

I could be wrong.

UPDATE: About an hour after posting, I wondered how much offal ends up in pet food. And once pet food and exports to Asia are tallied, how much waste is left? A lot, a little?

cow

Photo credit

Stomach Woes Update

This is a follow up to the post Stomach Woes Have Snuck Up On Me, which I put up almost 2 months ago. Rather than just tell you my story, I want to cover how I approached the problem, so if there is any wisdom here, others might benefit.

This is not medical advice. I tend to be anti-doctor until I’ve given up hope or a problem is too intense for me to ignore. My approach to this problem was to see if I could solve it myself. If I could make things better on my own, then I knew I was on the right path. If not, I would surrender and visit a doctor.

What Was the Cause?

My research led me to two candidates that seemed more likely than others as the cause of my stomach woes. First was slow digestion. The second was SIBO. If I had slow digestion, how could I get it back up to speed? If I had SIBO, could I take care of it on my own?

3-Pronged Approach

I took a 3-pronged approach to my hypothesis.

  1. What foods should I remove?
  2. What supplements should I try?
  3. What behaviors could I adjust?

Foods

If you go down the rabbit hole of Internet research, you will find someone that got better or worse with just about every food out there. I decided to simplify the problem by removing the foods that I consumed far more than the average person.

Those being potatoes, carbonated water, and ice cream. There was one other food, but I’ll save that part of the story for the end.

Potatoes? Yep. I’ve been preaching the Potato Hack Diet for a long time now. Could eating 10+ pounds of cold boiled potatoes every week for 2 years cause an issue? Resistant starch is supposed to be good for the gut, but could it be feeding SIBO? The article Resistant Starch – Friend, Foe or Lover? was a detailed dive into the topic that left me uncertain. The only way I would know is if I took a break from potatoes.

I also removed those cans of lemon-lime flavored water, which I was knocking back about 3 times a day. I also ended my end-of-the-day ice cream treat. The only other dairy I eat regularly is cottage cheese. If removing the ice cream made things better, I could remove other dairy items, but I seriously doubt I would suddenly develop a dairy issue after thriving on dairy since birth.

Supplements

I got digestive enzymes and ginger root capsules to help with digestion. In the event, it was SIBO I started taking oil of oregano drops.

Behaviors

I eat a late dinner. It helps me sleep better. I decided to follow the standard advice of eating hours before bed. I also started adding walks after meals, based upon the article Really? The Claim: Taking a Walk After a Meal Aids Digestion.

One Month Results

After one month, I couldn’t tell if the ideas above were helping as I would be fine for a few days and then have a relapse. There was a tiny voice in the back of my head whispering a word that I didn’t want to hear, but at the start of the 2nd month, I listened.

That word was…

Coffee

In my initial post on this topic, I mentioned that my stomach starts gurgling loudly when I drink black coffee first thing in the morning without food. Half & half helped a little.

Later I started drinking a mix of marshmallow root and slippery elm to coat my stomach before my morning coffee. When I went back to the herb store where I got the mix to buy more, I told the owner how the mix was working, because it let me drink coffee first thing in the morning with fewer stomach issues. She then said that maybe the coffee was trying to tell me something and that masking the symptoms might not be the best strategy.

She was probably right, but I didn’t want to hear the message.

A few weeks ago, I cut my coffee intake in half and I feel a lot better. Instead of 3 coffees a day, I started brewing three 1/2 cups of coffee with my Aeropress. Each time with food.

I wish it were ice cream or carbonated water or even potatoes, but it appears to be coffee. The good thing is a 50% reduction has solved 90% of the problem. My guess is reducing further would help more, but I’ll need to find that sweet spot.

So I doubt it was SIBO. It was likely all a stomach acid issue that was being aggravated by decades of high coffee intake that finally caught up with me.

The good news is I’ll be adding back potatoes next week.

I won’t be drinking big cups of coffee like this anytime soon. More like 4 or 5 ounces cups for me.