Cormet de Roselend – Maffetone Review

Cormet de Roselend was the choice for training today. It’s not a hard climb being only 19 kilometres – but it has three tough sections of 8% average. 
I’m specifically training to build Aerobic Function at the moment – following the advice of Dr Phil Maffetone. This is experimental of course but there is little to lose and potentially a lot to gain. Maffetone is the only training advice I’ve so far encountered that appears to fit correctly with a ketogenic diet – making it potentially a very significant long term health boost. It just so happens that some of the best athletes in history made their success by following the advice of the man – so he’s probably worth giving a chance!

Dr Maffetone’s book is called “The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing” – published in 2010 – so it’s quite current. I’m about half way through it and have to say that I’ve found a lot of problems with it – but nothing that really contradicts the overall premise – that of training the aerobic system in a very specific way – avoiding anaerobic stimulation and providing excellent nutrition. 
I’m going to list here a selection of notes I’m collecting regarding criticism of his book. This is mainly for reference and to be elaborated on in the future:

Error 1- Brain runs exclusively on glucose!

He makes a notable error however in stating that the brain functions exclusively on glucose. When he recommends foods however his list is spot on – identical to how I currently eat. Then unfortunately he takes the Atkins approach by reintroducing carbohydrates to find the limits of “carbohydrate tolerance”. If he had not made the blatant error (about the brain) earlier on then he might have been believable but those errors are very revealing. I’ll stick to ketosis!

Resting Heart Rate

This one he seems to get right! My resting heart rate is close to 60 now. Either I have a problem now or I had a problem when it was at 36 bpm! I think Maffetone is right on this one though. I’d rather see my heart rate low based on a having a fully developed aerobic system than due to my adrenal system being hammered. It appears that a very low heart rate can be due to the parasympathetic autonomous nervous system suppressing the adrenal system due to over-training.

Error 2 – Max Heart Rate changes with age.

So far Maffetone has been wrong in his assertion that heart rate lowers with age (hence his “180-age” aerobic max formula) and he is wrong about the brain functioning only on glucose – but those are standard mainstream assertions. He published the book in 2010 so he may have moved on since. 

Error 3 – Failure to acknowledge the major role of ketones in endurance metabolism.

I did see somewhere on his website that he recommends a ketogenic diet. There’s also the issue that some people do function well on carbohydrates – so there are grounds for a certain amount of tolerance here. The problem for me however is that there is a direct failure to explore the benefits and potential of ketosis. If he had done that and decided it wasn’t helpful then that would be interesting – but he hasn’t!

He recommends Heart Rate Variability as a way of monitoring stress

I found the “CardioMood” Android app for about €1. This syncs with my Mio Fuse laser heart rate monitor easily.
I’ve just recorded 18 minutes with CardioMood and my average pulse was 59 with average stress at 81 – down from 187 on the 14th!!!!!

18th… Hr 59, AS 81, HRV 57.4, VLF/HF 71.05, LF/HF 7.62
14th… Hr 64, AS 187, HRV 46.4, VLF/HF 5.93, LF/HF 4.06
AS being average stress means lower is better.
HRV is heart rate variability – higher is better.
VLF and LF are sympathetic nervous system and HF parasympathetic. High ratios are better.
There is however a serious shortage of information on the subject here so I will have to investigate it all.

Sensing “aerobic threshold” – instead of using his daft formula!

One interesting thing that is happening when training is that I’m not only sensitive to physiological issues – such as breathing and skill – but by forcing myself to remain aerobic I’m now becoming aware of psychological issues that were hidden. For example, when I don’t concentrate then I speed up and get the audio message that my heart rate is too high. My brain automatically goes into “attack” mode if I let it. I can feel the “tug” in this direction all the time – like an addiction to the stimulus, the adrenaline or endorphins. It’s another signal to watch for that tells me where the aerobic limit is. In fact perhaps it’s more of an adrenal limit.
There seems to be a “cusp” where things flip over when exercising. It’s a bit like walking on a tightrope. My breathing indicates a heart rate of 136 (when warmed up) and this seems to be confirmed by the adrenal aspect. However it’s nigh on impossible to stay on the 136. It either drops too low – or flips too high – with the slightest inattention. This is probably also another good indicator – it’s an unstable area. In chaos theory this is what would happen when a system flips from one island of stability (dynamic equilibrium) to another. It’s good to be starting to recognize all those elements. I feel like I could go out either running or cycling now and pretty much stay accurate without the HR monitor. The key is also to err on the low side – using a range from 126 to 136 bpm.
I’m not going to defer to Maffetone’s “formula” because anything based on linear mathematics – especially when related to complex systems – is basically junk. It’s better to learn to listen to your body.
One thing Maffetone observed with his clients is that the closer the trained to “aerobic max” or “aerobic threshold” if you want to call it that – then the more rapidly they improved their aerobic base. If this wasn’t the case then I’d happily sit more comfortably at a more stable lower level like 130 bpm.
To be honest Maffetone’s book is not very well written – it is not referenced to a bibliography and is not very deep in any respect. It has however the merit of being simple, clear, insightful and largely correct.

Error 4 – we need to train “pure aerobic”!

What interests me however is the interaction of anaerobic and aerobic systems and the role of ketones. Maffetone gets all of that wrong when it comes to any depth of understanding – so there is a lot out there to be explored. We can’t escape the fact that all the carbs normally used in the aerobic system come from the anaerobic system. The question is really though – how much energy does the aerobic system apportion to each of fat, ketone, protein and pyruvate (carbs)? How can training and diet modify this and to what degree? Which of the fuels gives the most power and energy? To be honest, it looks like ketones wins. If the heart is 28% more efficient on ketones then that’s saying a lot. The brain runs better on ketones too. Keto adapted muscles do well also.
There’s also the fact that lactic acid/lactate is the “transport mode” for pyruvate. Lactate is also preferred by the brain and heart. Nobody discusses how we can actually eat this (lactofermented foods – and natural in some foods too) and so supply the aerobic metabolism directly with carbs (pyruvate). Nobody mentions how lactate in the cells causes a genetic expression cascade – prompting the creation of more mitochondria. Now this raises an apparent contradiction with Maffetone. Maffetone wants us to suppress the anaerobic system to allow more mitochondria to develop – because he says that inflammation from cytokines and inflammation generated along with lactic acid prevents mitochondria being created. However we need the lactic acid. This could be another reason why lactofermented foods are so good for us – we get the lactic acid without the inflammation! Otherwise it seems we get the right balance at the aerobic threshold. Maffetone is wrong to state that this is “pure aerobic” exercise – that does not exist! Even when sleeping we generate lactic acid through the anaerobic system.

Error 5 – we should choose carbohydrates in accordance with glycemic index.

He unfortunately advocates the “glycemic index” view of dealing with carbohydrates – and so considers sweet fruit and honey healthy due to high fructose content (low glycemic). Further on when he discusses heart disease (oxidised LDL cholesterol) it is obvious that he is not aware of the link between this and fructose induced triglycerides. He knows that for some people fructose will cause a triglyceride elevation – but he has not linked this all the way through. He also does not know the link between fructose and Insulin Resistance (overproduction and insensitivity to insulin)! He assumes incorrectly that only high glycemic carbs are involved in promoting insulin resistance. All of this contributes to his belief that carbs are fine up to the level that the individual does not feel negative symptoms. So until you feel Alzheimer’s starting I guess this should work!
He is also unaware that whole grain products actually have a higher glycemic index than refined ones! (Bread for example).
He is not aware that the “glycemic index” guide (mainly for diabetics) was superseded by the “glycemic load” approach due to the many problems with it. In reality even the basic concept is heavily disputed – with it not being speed of absorption – but quantity of absorption of sugar. Fat, fibre etc just prevent the sugar getting through the intestines. Glycemic load is the Glycemic index multiplied by grams – but this does not account for the effects of other macronutrients as mentioned above. 
Basically all of that mess is avoided just by avoiding all sweet or starchy foods. It’s really that simple!

Error 6 – more fibre and hydration cures constipation!

Another problem with Maffetone is that he thinks fibre and good hydration are necessary to avoid constipation. Those things have nothing to do with it. They only work when you are already addicted to fibre! Constipation – when not due to withdrawal from a high fibre diet – is due to an unhealthy intestinal microbiome.
Yikes, I’m not even half way though the book yet. But if he successfully trained legendary 6 time Ironman winner Mark Allen – then he’s got something right!

Error 7 – Cholesterol is a fat!

Cholesterol is an alcohol. Molecular formula C27H45OH.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *