Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

Podcast #113 from 113-a-peak-into-the-world-of-professional-cycling/ Introduction: In this episode: a peek into the world of professional cycling, ketogenesis during workouts, phenylalanine and aspartic acid on ingredient labels, insomnia and nutrition deficiencies, compression socks, building leg muscles effectively and the benefits of rowing machines. Ben: Hello folks. I am traveling once again and this week I’m at Inter-bike in Las Vegas, on Wednesday, the day this podcast comes out and Thursday as well as Friday. For those of you who don’t know what Inter-bike is, it’s really one of the world’s biggest bike expos where endurance athletes, cyclists, triathletes and anyone in any of those industries comes together and basically shows what’s coming in the industry over the next year in terms of gear, nutrition and new products. It’ll be an exciting show and I’ll be releasing videos from that show over at a website for which I do some journalism work at . So go to to see some of the latest and greatest cycling type of products, and I’ll also be doing some reviews of some of the health and fitness products that I see there, right here at . Now I’ll be headed down to Sacramento on Friday to teach a fat loss and human performance seminar. So if you’re in the Sacramento or El Dorado Hills area, just email [email protected] and I’ll fill you in on where to go and how to access that seminar. And then finally I’ll be headed down to San Francisco on Monday for a top secret meeting down there that I’ll bring you more information about later on. Now the only thing I wanted to announce before we get on to the special announcements is I know that many of you have enjoyed the articles that I write for Triathlete magazine. I’ve also been doing writing for several other publications and many websites. However I received a memo from Triathlete magazine last week that freelance writers who submit articles to that magazine are no longer allowed to actually write for any other publications. So, unfortunately I’m going to have to move on from Triathlete magazine because I simply cannot commit to only releasing articles for one single magazine. For any of you writers out


Listen to this podcast

Transcript of Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

Page 1: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

Podcast #113 from


Introduction: In this episode: a peek into the world of professional

cycling, ketogenesis during workouts, phenylalanine and

aspartic acid on ingredient labels, insomnia and nutrition

deficiencies, compression socks, building leg muscles

effectively and the benefits of rowing machines.

Ben: Hello folks. I am traveling once again and this week I’m at

Inter-bike in Las Vegas, on Wednesday, the day this podcast

comes out and Thursday as well as Friday. For those of you

who don’t know what Inter-bike is, it’s really one of the

world’s biggest bike expos where endurance athletes, cyclists,

triathletes and anyone in any of those industries comes

together and basically shows what’s coming in the industry

over the next year in terms of gear, nutrition and new

products. It’ll be an exciting show and I’ll be releasing videos

from that show over at a website for which I do some

journalism work at So go to to see some of the latest and greatest

cycling type of products, and I’ll also be doing some reviews

of some of the health and fitness products that I see there,

right here at Now I’ll be

headed down to Sacramento on Friday to teach a fat loss and

human performance seminar. So if you’re in the Sacramento

or El Dorado Hills area, just email

[email protected] and I’ll fill you in on where to

go and how to access that seminar. And then finally I’ll be

headed down to San Francisco on Monday for a top secret

meeting down there that I’ll bring you more information

about later on. Now the only thing I wanted to announce

before we get on to the special announcements is I know that

many of you have enjoyed the articles that I write for

Triathlete magazine. I’ve also been doing writing for several

other publications and many websites. However I received a

memo from Triathlete magazine last week that freelance

writers who submit articles to that magazine are no longer

allowed to actually write for any other publications. So,

unfortunately I’m going to have to move on from Triathlete

magazine because I simply cannot commit to only releasing

articles for one single magazine. For any of you writers out

Page 2: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

there, you know that that would be career suicide and when

somebody like me who relies on writing as part of the way

that I pay the bills, is required to write for only one magazine,

that’s a pretty tough rule to follow. So I won’t be writing for

Triathlete magazine anymore. My apologies to those of you

who enjoyed seeing my articles there and if that’s something

that upsets you or it’s something that you don’t like, then

write an email to the email address that I’ll put in the

Shownotes for the editor of Triathlete magazine. So if you go

to the Shownotes for podcast number 113, I’ll put the email

right there and you can let Triathlete magazine what you

think about me not writing for them anymore. So ending on

that high note, let’s go ahead and move on to this week’s

special announcements.

Remember, if you have a question for the Ben Greenfield

Fitness podcast, you can email

[email protected]. You can call toll free to

8772099439. We had a lot of call in questions this week. Or

you can Skype if you’re international to user name pacificfit

using the free Voice Over IP call service from

And the first question this week comes from Ian who asks…

Ian asks: Why sometimes after a training session do I have an

ammonia like smell in my nostrils by the time I get to the

shower? Is it something I’m not doing right with nutrition? I

can’t figure it out.

Ben answers: Well, this is something that actually happens to more people

than you’d think and it’s basically almost like an acidic

ammonia like smell that you get in your nostrils and you can

sometimes taste it a little bit in your mouth or even smell like

a nail polish removal on your breath when this is happening

to you. Now basically this comes down to the concept or

ketones. So I’m going to explain this to you. Ketones are

basically a normal fuel that the body uses for energy and

they’re produced from the liver actually breaking down body

fat or breaking down fatty acids when it doesn’t have access

to a lot of carbohydrates or glucose. Now there is absolutely

no rule that you have to break down carbohydrate or glucose

to make energy. The body very efficiently breaks down fats

Page 3: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

and fatty acids to make energy and these ketones are a

byproduct of that breakdown of fatty acid. Now when your

body is producing these ketones or using ketones for fuel, it’s

called ketosis. Any diet that restricts calories underneath

what you’re actually using during the day from exercise and

physical activity or any diet that severely restricts

carbohydrates is going to put you into a state of ketosis.

Because basically your body is going to start relying on fat for

fuel, so the liver is going to convert these fats into energy and

ketones. Now some people in the medical profession will tell

you that burning these ketones for energy can be dangerous,

or that high levels of ketones in the body can be dangerous.

But the main reason for that is because there is a condition

that diabetics can get called ketoacidosis. It’s very dangerous

for diabetics because what happens is the blood PH becomes

very acidic due to high blood sugar levels. And that’s because

diabetics don’t produce insulin so a lot of blood sugar ends

up being in the body and ketones are produced by the body

to provide fuel since the cells aren’t able, in the diabetic

who’s in the state of ketoacidosis, to be able to use the blood

sugar. So you get this combination of high blood sugar and

an acidic condition combined with high levels of ketones.

Now, the high levels of ketones aren’t the bad thing. The very

acidic PH is the bad thing. The high blood sugar and the high

levels of sugar circulating in the bloodstream – that’s the

problem, not the ketones. So ketones really are fine to burn.

Producing energy from fatty acids is something that more of

us could do more of the time. The brain actually really likes

to use ketones for energy. That’s why some people who do

intermittent fasting or people who go on severe caloric

restriction or go on a diet for a certain period of time, they

get very focused mentally because the brain learns how to

very efficiently use those ketones – its natural source of fuel

for energy. Now on the flip side, if you are training for

performance, if you are not trying to lose weight and if you

are struggling with energy levels then being in a state of

ketosis may not be where you want to be, especially during

your workout. That’s why for a lot of folks, I really do

encourage a higher fat, higher protein diet. But before that

workout you should be attempting to – if you’re going after

performance or doing a hard workout to get a pre-workout

Page 4: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

meal consisting of carbohydrates so you’re not burning so

many ketones for energy during your workout. Now, there’s a

very easy way to tell if you’re in a state of ketosis. You can

just get PH strips that are urine PH strips and when you use

those PH strips, if they’re showing up purple or dark purple,

that’s usually indicating that there are actual ketones that are

at a high level in the bloodstream. I’m again not saying that’s

a bad thing but that would affirm what I’m suspecting here,

that that ammonia like smell on your breath is due to the

burning of ketones. If you feel great, if your energy levels are

fine, if you’re not having performance deficits then take a

breath mint and get on with your life. But if you are having

low energy levels, if your performance isn’t where you need it

to be, then consider amping up your carbohydrate levels a

little bit especially pre-workout or even during the workout

so you can burn some of the fast burning kindling for fuel –

the carbohydrates. And then put that slow burning log on the

fire, those ketones, and basically use those fatty acids for

energy the rest of the time. So I hope that helps. It’s a great

question. A lot of people actually struggle with that and I’ve

smelled it on clients before as a personal trainer and

sometimes it’s a real hint as to what’s going on in the diet.

Sara asks: I am taking a lot of supplements for performance and other

health benefits. I’m taking an amino acid supplement that

contains aspartic acid and phenylalanine. I’ve seen foods that

contain phenylalanine and have a warning on their label for

that purpose. I’ve also done research on both of these and see

that they’re part of the sugar substitute aspartame. Do these

amino acids have health benefits or should I stop taking this

supplement because it isn’t healthy?

Ben answers: First of all, when you see a warning for phenylalanine on the

label of a nutrition product – when it says it contains a

source of phenylalanine or contains phenylalanine, that is

because there is a portion of the population that are born

with this rare genetic disorder. It’s called phenylketonuria

and basically it’s an inability to properly metabolize

phenylalanine and this can lead to some health problems

that we don’t need to get into, but basically lots of foods

contain phenylalanine. Both packaged foods as well as meat,

fish, dairy, eggs and of course anything that has aspartame in

Page 5: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

it. So these people who are phenylketonuric, they have to be

very careful with their phenylalanine intake because they can

only process so much of it. You will know if you have this

condition. You will have known since birth or your parents

will have known most likely and so unless you have this

condition, the phenylalanine is really something that you

have to worry about too much. It’s actually an essential

amino acid, meaning your body can’t make it. It’s a building

block for protein. It’s not a dangerous chemical. Because it is

able to be combined with some other chemicals to produce a

sweet taste, it is however used in Nutrisweet and products

with aspartame. So that’s where you have to be kind of

careful, if you’re getting phenylalanine from a product just

because it has an essential amino acid in it, that’s not a big

deal. If you’re getting phenylalanine in a product because

you’re consuming an artificial sweetener, that’s something

you do need to be careful with especially when you consider

that many artificial sweeteners contain what are called

excitotoxins, and aspartic acid which you also mentioned is

among those excitotoxins, and what excitotoxin is, it’s a

chemical that can actually damage nerve cells and essentially

what it does is an excitotoxin will bind to certain receptors in

your brain and cause a lot of calcium ions or calcium to be

able to enter into the brain and that can activate a lot of

different enzymes that potentially can destroy cell structures

and components of your cell membrane. They can mess up

the DNA a little bit, they can mess up the cytoskeleton of the

cell a little bit and excitotoxins have been associated with

some neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis,

Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, alcoholism, things of that

nature. And the thing with aspartic acid is aspartic acid is

also an amino acid but it’s not an essential amino acid. So

consuming foods that are very, very high in aspartic acid

could be an issue. It kind of depends. Technically from a

chemical standpoint, it really needs to be what’s called the

base of aspartic acid which is also known as aspartate. So if

you see aspartate on the label which you’ll see in something

like aspartame or some other artificial sweeteners, that’s

where you want to be careful. Aspartic acid as part of like an

amino acid compound or protein powder is not a big deal.

Page 6: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

Just be careful with aspartate and don’t worry too much

about the phenylalanine. So, good question.

We’re going to move on next to a call in question.

Geoffrey asks: Hi Ben, I have a question for you concerning my teenage

daughter. She has a problem that’s getting worse with falling

asleep and more importantly when she does get to sleep, she

wakes up around 2 or 3o’clock in the morning and can’t get

back to sleep. That seems to be the worst problem. She’s a

vegetarian so if I’m wondering if she might be missing

something in her diet. Just wondered if you had any ideas as

to what food or supplement she might want to look at to help

her sleep better. Again my name is Geoffrey.

Ben answers: Alright, well first of all nothing I say here is to be

misconstrued as medical advice to control a medical

condition or medical diagnosis or prescription. However,

there are definitely nutritional deficiencies that could be

contributing to insomnia especially in a vegetarian diet. I’m

not necessarily saying that vegetarianism is the culprit here,

but it could be likely. You take for example the B vitamins. B

vitamins really help your body cope with stress, with tension

and both of those are common causes of insomnia. Vitamin

B12 specifically is something that vegetarians really need to

be careful to supplement with or get in high amounts in their

diets. You find vitamin B in things like Brewer’s yeast and

nuts and seeds, molasses and eggs. Whole grains have them.

But vegetarians are notoriously deficient in B vitamins.

Tryptophan is an amino acid and amino acids are always

found in higher contents in meats and dairy products and to

a limited extent in nuts. But tryptophan is a substance in the

body that is converted into serotonin which is a compound

that’s crucial for sleep and so if she’s low on the amino acid

tryptophan, which you could get that tested by a company

like – for example Bioletics does amino acid testing. That’s

one company you could ask about looking into her

tryptophan levels. That’s something that could be a culprit as

well. Vegetarians are notorious carbovores and a high sugar

diet, because of high blood sugar levels, can basically cause

you to wake up at night once those blood sugar levels drop

off because essentially you get an insulin response to the

Page 7: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

hypoglycemia and then your blood sugar levels drop off and

you wake up in the middle of the night. So if your daughter

has erratic blood sugar levels because she’s eating lots of

grains and sugars and processed carbohydrates because she

is a vegetarian, is either not managing her protein intake well

or just avoiding meat and eggs in favor of carbohydrates,

then that could be an issue. And the trick there is going to be

really increase the vegetarian based fats and proteins if she

wants to remain a vegetarian. So getting lots of avocadoes

and olive oils and olives and lots of seeds and nuts and seed

and nut based oils that are cold pressed and not produced in

a factory or exposed to high amounts of pressure or

temperature – so we’re talking about a cold pressed olive oil

or flax seed oil or one of the Udo’s oils that I actually take

now. The Udo 3-6-9 oil. I shared last week that when I’m

consuming these fats with my meals, it actually really

stabilizes my blood sugar levels. You would expect them to

increase after a meal, but those fats in fact decreased my

blood sugar following a meal. Those would all be things to

consider. Selenium is another compound that could actually

be tied to insomnia. People with low levels of selenium often

higher levels of blood pressure which can contribute to

insomnia so that’s something that I’d look into as well, and

along with selenium, I would look into the mineral

magnesium. And Dr. Caroline Dean is someone who I

interviewed on the show. I’d highly recommend that you go

to and you do a search for the

“Magnesium Miracle.” And in this interview with Carolyn

Dean, she talks quite a bit about the link between

magnesium and insomnia, and you could for example just try

something like using a Peter Gilham’s Natural Calm Powder

mixed into a little bit of water before bed at night or a topical

magnesium spray. And then if you really want to get down

and dirty and get into the testing, you could use a company

like Unikey Health Systems. That’s one of the companies that

I recommend to my clients for tissue mineral analysis, but

also food allergy and food intolerance testing. I use their

expanded GI panel and their tissue mineral analysis. So I’ll

put a link to Unikey Healthy Systems in the Shownotes. I’d

also look into Bioletics. You can look into magnesium testing

with them as well as the amino acid testing from them. And

Page 8: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

finally I’ll put a link to the two magnesium products that I

would recommend in terms of like a pre-bed intake. I’ll put

all that as a link in the Shownotes.

Alright, the next question is from an interesting Twitter

handle. Chunkybearcub.

Chunkybearcub asks: Is there a particular brand of compression socks you’d

recommend? I’m looking to wear a pair for a 50 mile ultra.

Ben answers: Well for those of you who aren’t familiar with compression

socks or what they are, you’ll see a lot of people wearing

them in marathons, cycling events and triathlons these days.

They’re usually socks that go up just a little bit above the calf

or even all the way up to the knee and essentially they’re

designed to improve circulation, prevent blood pooling in the

feet during long periods of time spent in physical activity and

to also stabilize the muscles from jiggling so to speak. From

some of the damage that could occur during a long day of

impact. Now the type of compression socks used in sports

are quite different than some of the medical hosiery that

you’ll see used as compression socks. A lot of the medical

stuff is just designed to eliminate some of the excessive

swelling that can happen during long periods of sitting or

activity and those can help you a little bit if you’re just sitting

on an airplane or something like that. But the types of socks

that are actually designed for sports performance are called

graduated or gradient compression socks and those are the

type that you want to get and most of the top manufacturers

– Skins is one example, Beaker Concepts is another – they’re

going to use the graduated compression socks. Now I

personally own a pair of compression tights and I wear those

typically the night before I do a race to really help flush my

legs. Sometimes I’ll even use them a few days leading up to a

triathlon. And although I don’t – or have not yet used

compression socks during a race, I will be using kind of like a

modified shorter version of the Beaker Concepts

compression sock prior to or during Ironman Hawaii this

year and I’m also using a sock called the recovery sock that is

a little bit higher in the compression types of fibers though a

little bit harder to put on. That’s not designed for activity per

se but for recovery. Now, as far as a certain brand, it doesn’t

Page 9: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

really matter too much on the brand as much as the fact that

you’re getting a sock that was designed for activity, not

recovery and also make sure that it’s a graduated

compression sock and that will help out quite a bit. And yes,

there has been research done on compression socks.

Research goes back and forth in terms of performance

benefits, but definitely points to a significant benefit when it

comes to recovery. And in my opinion, while you are running,

something like an ultra-marathon, recovery is paramount

because when you’re running miles 23 through 50 you are

trying to recover from miles 1 through 25 and so that’s the

same reason you would want to do something like take in a

protein carbohydrate blend rather than just carbohydrate

during an event like that, just because you need to be

thinking of recovery during the event, not just after the event.

Now if you want to ask a question via Twitter, just go to Click “follow” and ask your

question. So, next we have a call in question from Listener


Sarah asks: Hi Ben, my question is geared toward muscle building. I

have two questions, one of which is for someone who is

wanting to put a good amount on and specifically in the legs,

how much cardio would you recommend? I’m trying to put

on a good amount of muscle. I get mixed reviews about the

cardio because I’m a woman and I’ve talked to a couple of

figure competitors that have said that on non-training days

it’s okay to do upwards of 45 minutes to an hour worth of

cardio. I don’t know if that’s too much cardio especially if

you have a tendency to tear down a lot of muscle in the legs.

I’ve heard also that just 20 minute of interval training is

sufficient enough. I’m currently doing three to four sessions

of cardio a week. On the days that I train, sometimes I’ll do

30 minutes and that’s it. On the days that I don’t train, I have

taken their advice and a couple of times done upwards of 45

minutes. But I don’t want to tear down muscle. I’m trying to

build it, so I was curious as to what your recommendations

would be.

My second question is about carbs. I’m doing the

recommendations that Darin said. He was on your podcast

Page 10: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

several months ago, about eating carbs on the days that you

train and very little carbs on the days that you don’t train.

But I train at night. So my 3rd and 4th meal are carbs, but my

last meal would be my post-workout meal and by the time I

come home, I’m tired from lifting heavy. I do take my protein

and of course a good amount of protein, I don’t take in a lot

of carbs for my post because I go right to bed. What are your

recommendations on how much carbs I should take post-

workout? That would be my last workout and it would be

prior to bed.

Ben answers: Alright, well let’s first address the first part of your question.

For a female figure competitor who’s trying to build muscle,

the first thing you want to consider when it comes to cardio

is you don’t want to do exercises that are considered very

catabolic or exercises that are more prone to tear down your

leg musculature. And in this case that would be running. I

would stay away from doing much treadmill, high impact

running and instead I would do incline walking or cycling.

Either of those activities will allow you to maintain your leg

musculature, even build leg musculature especially in the

hips, thighs and butt where female figure competitors can

actually get an advantage and not break down your muscle.

Now in terms of general figures, you’re going to see most

figure competitors kind of in the offseason, prior to those

four to eight weeks building up to a figure event doing

anywhere in the range of about three to six hours of cardio

during the week in addition to their lifting. And as you get

closer and closer to the event, you’re looking at needing

closer to four to eight hours of cardio. And remember, I’m

not recommending this for the general population, I’m

recommending this for the female figure competitor who

needs to achieve a very low body fat. Now you’re going to

want to split this up between cardio intervals and long-slow

fat burning cardio sessions because you don’t want to train

your body to simply rely on those high intensity intervals and

the carbo-based fuel but you also want to include a few slow

steady fat burning sessions as well. If time permits you could

do for example two interval sessions on the bike during the

week and then also do two long slow uphill walks on the

treadmill of anywhere from one to two hours as well during

Page 11: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

the week. Again we’re talking about a female figure

competitor. I’m not making this general recommendation for

the general population. But that’s what I would do. Go with

non-weight bearing cardio. Focus on lower amounts, right

around that four hour range as you’re not within eight weeks

of your competition, then bump that up to four to eight

hours as you get within range of your competition. And you

don’t have to worry about breaking down muscle as long as

you’re eating proper calories and protein.

And speaking of calories, the second part of your question as

far as your post-workout carbohydrate intake… what

happens is when you consume pre-workout carbohydrates, a

lot of times your insulin levels and your blood sugar levels

are still going up or stabilizing even after you’re done with

the workout, unless you’re doing some monster two to three

hour workout. And so the need for post-workout

carbohydrate and even post-workout protein intake really is

not something that you need to prioritize too much. I

recently wrote an article about this over at the Rock Star

Triathlete Academy. If you go to,

you can read that article on post-workout nutrition. But

essentially what it comes down to is that if anybody, not just

a female figure competitor, but anybody is working out late

at night and you’ve eaten a carbohydrate and protein based

meal prior to that workout, there’s no need to do anything

but have a very small snack after that workout before you go

to bed. And the advantage to that is you’re not raising your

insulin levels very high. You’re not going to get that

hypoglycemic drop which can interfere with sleep and also

interfere with growth hormone release and muscle repair,

and so you’re really doing yourself a favor by prioritizing

your pre-workout nutrition if you’re a late night exerciser.

And then after the workout you could do something, for

example, like have a little bit of protein powder mixed in

with some coconut milk and go to bed. So the post-workout

carbohydrate is not something you need to worry about too

much if you’re taking in a pre-workout meal. If you’ve

skipped your pre-workout meal, then at that point the body

is basically going to be bulletproof against fat gain after the

workout. If you haven’t eaten your pre-workout meal and

Page 12: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

you’re actually a little bit glycogen depleted. So you don’t

have to worry too much about the type of carbohydrate or

overdoing it on the carbohydrates, within reason. The

general recommendation though is about 0.5 grams of

carbohydrate per pound of body weight. 0.5 grams per

pound. So if you’re 150 lbs. you’d be looking right around 75

grams of carbohydrate which is going to be about 300

calories or so. So hope that helps and great questions.

And then finally we have one more call in question.

Daniel asks: Hi Ben, love your podcast. My name is Daniel, I’m from

Israel. I’d like to ask a question for your next podcast about

the difference between rowing, running and swimming in

intensity, calorie burning and interval training. Is there a

benefit for rowing instead of running or rowing instead of

swimming? And if you row and do not run, can you achieve

the same goals of body image and condition? Thanks a lot.


Ben answers: So the deal with rowing machines Daniel, is that when you

compare them with swimming, you actually end up burning

more calories with the rowing machine if you’re using it

properly. What I mean by that is if you’re pulling with your

thighs, your stomach, your hips, your torso, your calves and

your arms as you’re supposed to on a rowing machine and

making it a full body motion, you’re going to get up getting

just about as many calories burned as if you were running at

a pretty intense pace on a treadmill. You will see a lot of

people sit down on a rowing machine at a gym and just kind

of do some ginger pulling with their arms or push with their

legs and not do much pulling with their arms. Those people

really aren’t using the rowing machine effectively. But when

used effectively, you get a ton of benefits especially in your

upper arms, your upper back and your shoulders and also in

your glutes from that push off with the rowing machine. Now

I’m not a huge fan of doing long bouts of training on the

rowing machine. I’ve actually had that damage the low back

of some of my clients before when they’re trying anywhere

from a 20 to a 45 minute bout on the rowing machine. So

what we go for instead is to use the rowing machine as an

interval as part of a workout. So for example, if you’re doing

Page 13: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

an upper body workout or even just a full body weightlifting

type of workout after you finish each circuit of exercises that

you’re doing – let’s say you’re doing five or six exercises, you

pause, you go over to the rowing machine, you row hard for

500 meters or for 1000 meters or four two minutes or for

four minutes and then you get off and continue your routine

and that gives you a great cardio burst in the middle of your

routine. Rowing machines – because of the type of muscles

that they use in a similar way a swimmer, you will notice that

you’ll gain just a little bit of mass, especially in your chest

and your forearms and your shoulders when you use a

rowing machine. So it can be good for those esthetic

purposes as well. I personally will hop on a rowing machine

about once a week because it is something that my body isn’t

used to, because I’m not doing it as much as I’m doing, say,

swimming, bicycling or running. So it’s a great way for me to

burn a lot of calories very quickly. Because I’m not an

efficient rower. And because I don’t do rowing very much,

I’m not very efficient at it, it’s something that I make it a

point to throw in just to help out a little bit with my calorie

burning and my conditioning. So make sure that you row

with proper form. If you do, you’re going to burn more

calories than swimming, as many as running and it’s also

going to be really beneficial for strength building and

physical experience. So, great question.

And we’re going to have a special message and then move on

to this week’s interview with Robbie Ventura.

Ben: Hey folks, this is Ben Greenfield and I’m here today with a

guy who was a professional cyclist for 12 years and actually

spent his last four years as a member of the US Postal Service

cycling team which you may recall was the same team that

Lance Armstrong rode with and this guy was a competitive

racer when he was riding on the dirt, road, and track since

the age of seven years old. Over that time, he had over 70

victories during his professional career. He was a member of

the US World Team. He rode the Track World

Championships and he is now a cycling coach, serves as

director of Cycle Ops Training. He owns Vision Quest

Training and he is also someone you may recognize from TV,

because he’s now with Versus Television and is a

Page 14: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

commentator on all of the Tour de France coverage for

Versus. Robbie Ventura is on the call today and Robbie, how

are you doing?

Robbie Ventura: Doing great. Doing super. We got a great day here in Chicago

and just driving my bike to the airport and want to talk


Ben: Awesome. Well Robbie knows a lot about training. So Robbie,

I guess my first question for you is you’ve done a lot of

professional cycling, we have a lot of cyclists and triathletes

who listen to the show and I’m personally curious as well –

what exactly does a typical training protocol look like in

those build weeks? In the crunch time leading up to the Tour

de France? What type of workouts are you guys doing?

Robbie Ventura: For the Tour de France athletes, it’s significantly different

than the recreational athlete. Even the very, very serious

recreational athlete. I consider myself a pretty serious

recreational athlete. Now I train between 8 and 12 hours a

week which is a lot of training time. We even have 15 hours…

and it’s nowhere near the amount of volume that the Tour de

France athletes train, and the reason that they can absorb

that volume is because really it’s all they do. They eat, sleep

and recover pretty much the rest of the day so they can

handle training 5, 6 hours a day, day after day. Whereas even

if we had the time as recreational athletes, because we have

families and kids and jobs and yard work and other things to

do, we just can’t afford ourselves the recovery necessary to be

able to handle those loads. So leading up to the Tour de

France, a lot of times these riders will do between 25 and 30

hours, maybe a month out. And the neat thing about the

preparation for the Tour de France is a lot of times they do it

on the exact course they’re going to race. Just like (Eddie

Nelson) trains for an Ironman or trains for a 40k time trial,

being as specific as they can be is really important those last

two months before the Tour de France. So much so that they

even race the (unintelligible) a lot of times, which is similar

road, similar courses, similar times as the Tour de France to

kind of give them that last minute sharpening of the blade so

to say. Oftentimes the first week of the Tour de France

creates that last two weeks of training. The first week of the

Page 15: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

Tour de France is easy and these riders can recover. They’re

going to want to train all the way to the Tour de France with

very, very little recovery week. Because they use the first

week of the tour to recover. Because they… this is a GT rider.

A sprinter will take a different approach because they’re

sprinting in that first week of the Tour de France so they’re

going to take a rough week and a little bit of a taper the week

before. So this year, Tour de France is different. They race

hard from the gun. Therefore the riders rest significantly

more than they usually do leading to the tour.

Ben: Gotcha. Now what would a workout look like? Like an

average workout? Can you give me an idea in terms of like an

interval training session or something like that of what a

cyclist would be doing?

Robbie Ventura: For the Tour de France, it’s not what you think. They don’t

do a lot of intervals per se leading up to the Tour de France.

They actually go ride the climbs pretty much at race space

and that’s kind of their interval. Sometimes that climb may

be 30 minutes. Sometimes that climb may be an hour but

they try to ride that climb at the same pace or same watts per

kilo as they would in a race. Sometimes they finish it off with

an attack or something like that kind of predicting what the

race might shape out. A lot of the interval training is actually

done significantly earlier in the year when they’re really

focusing on those original energy systems like the VO2, that

short term energy system or some of the longer steady state

stuff. But a lot of the professional athletes allow the terrain to

create their interval. So they’ll go out and say hey, I’m going

to go climb up Mustang Canyon four times today. Not so

much worried about the exact time of the interval, but they

really want to stimulate the energy system that they’re

focusing on. Because if you train as much as these guys do

(unintelligible) and doing that kind of stuff… they do far less

than that than let’s just say a recreational athlete with

limited time. Because when you have limited time, you want

to really make sure the workouts are concise and measurable

and repeatable. Therefore the interval work for a 90 minute

training session is much more specific than these guys going

out for six hours and getting, let’s just say, 1 to 10 minute

efforts in throughout the six hours.

Page 16: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

Ben: That makes sense. Now you had mentioned recovery, and

we’ll talk about recovery a little bit later. For those of you

who want to know how these guys recover from a workout

like that. But before we do, I got a couple of questions for you.

In terms of strength training or resistance training, whatever

you want to call it or something like say plyometrics –do you

in your experience see a lot of professional cyclists using

something like that?

Robbie Ventura: You know, a lot of cyclists use weight training as almost a

break, mentally, and to keep themselves just strong and

resistant to injury. They don’t necessarily build a lot of

strength because that’s going to make them faster in a road

race or a time trial. A lot of times the strength training that

they do is really to get their heart rates up. They do some

stuff where it’s a lot of high efforts extended over a minute so

it’s a great way to keep their heart rate up and to keep their

intensity up without using their bicycle. And also they want

to create a lot of durability so they do a lot of functional

movements. They do squats. They do sometimes plyo work.

Some explosiveness. The track sprinters and the short

distance riders tend to lift a little bit more weight thinking it

might help but there’s not a lot of research on actual pure

strength and how it affects athletes’ ability to produce power

– steady state power. And there’s not a lot of correlation

between people who can lift more weight and do more power

in a time trial. There’s a slight correlation with a sprinter,

like a track sprinter or a Keirin rider being able to lift a lot

more weight. It might give them a little more advantage on

the high efforts and their ability to tolerate more lactate,

their ability to tolerate more high intensity and muscle

damage. Because for a time trial or a Tour de France rider,

there’s not a huge correlation with being stronger and being

faster on the bike. But there is a correlation between athletes

who are functionally fit, well balanced, strong and being able

to not get injured as often. So I think a lot of athletes do it a,

as a break mentally and to get some high work in and

become stronger but they also do it because they really want

to do everything they can to eliminate lower back problems,

knee injuries, hip injuries and things like that that

sometimes plague cyclists and triathletes for that matter.

Page 17: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

Ben: Did you do much weight training when you were riding


Robbie Ventura: As a youngster I did a lot of it, because I didn’t know any

better and I did a lot of squats and I did a lot of plyometrics

work. I even did some speed skating stuff. And I actually

believe it helped my strength a little bit and I also believe it

made me really strong and really (unintelligible). I didn’t get

injured much at all in my career and I attribute it to a lot of

the weight work I did when I was 17 to 25 years of age. But

after the age of about 25, I switched completely from (audio

cut) single legged squats using a weight vest, doing some

lunges, doing lateral lunges, doing some balance work on the

ball, doing a lot more core stability work and my power – my

explosive power and my sprints – didn’t go down at all. But I

was able to train more volume on the bike in the wintertime

with less damage to my muscles. So I ended up kind of

morphing my strength training into more functional training

later in my career and I think it was a good move.

Ben: Interesting. Interesting. So, in terms of actual nutrition – to

move on here and talk about something a little bit different,

obviously during the tour, people are needing to restore their

carbohydrate levels, restore their glycogen levels post-

workout – now when you’re looking at somebody who has

gone through a typical day of the tour, what are you typically

seeing in terms of how much fuel and the type of fuel

consumed during a typical tour stage and also after. In terms

of both calories, carbohydrates, things of that nature. Are

there any specific volumes that are pretty standard across the


Robbie Ventura: Well since you’re saying… even when I’m talking about

weight training, the elite professional cyclist – as far as… just

the amount of focus and specificity that it takes to be a cyclist,

I’m not recommending that recreational athletes, people

doing Ironman and people just training less than 15 hours a

week – I do believe that strength training plays a huge role in

making them better athletes and creating – maintaining that

muscle mass we lose as we get older. So I think there’s a

place for weight training for cyclists and triathletes. When

you think about cyclists, when you think about triathletes, 98%

Page 18: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

of them – some of the things that we’re talking about don’t

apply because these professional cyclists –the Tour de

France rider – that’s all they do. And they don’t want to be

necessarily great athletes. They want to be great cyclists. And

I think there’s… sometimes when people hear what the

professionals do, they go out and they try to mimic that or

they hear that that works for Levi Leipheimer and it really

doesn’t work for a lot of people outside of Levi Leipheimer

that normally just want to get fit or be better bikers. So as far

as calorie consumption, a lot of the guys in the Tour de

France, they don’t focus so much on how many

carbohydrates versus how many protein, sugar or fat and all

those different things. They really want to get the volumes in

that they need and they’re just incredible processors of fuel.

They can process a Payday or a Twix bar probably just as

efficiently as they can process a Cliff bar. I know there are

going to be nutrition people that argue that until the cows

come home, but for me and professionals… and if you look at

some of these (cut bags) in the Tour de France, there are

candy bars, there’s Coke, there’s little pastries, there’s cream

cheese pastries. There are turkey sandwiches, there’s all sorts

of food because when you’re intaking that much volume of

food – they’re probably taking in 400 calories an hour on

average from the start of the race and the first hour of riding,

they’re staying between five and seven hours – so they’re

taking between 300 and 400 calories an hour. That’s

absolutely all they can process when they’re working as hard

as they are, so they don’t want to take in more than that

because it’s a waste of energy. It’s the amount of calories

they’re trying to consume is more important to them than

the actual makeup of those calories I believe. Especially kind

of later in the day when they want sugar, they want some

caffeine, they want something that tastes good that they

really want to crave… because after 21 days of racing six or

seven hours a day, eating something that’s really nutritious

but doesn’t taste that well they’re going to choose not to eat

and that’s the worst thing that can happen. It’s better for

them to eat something, even though it’s absolutely not ideal

because it tastes good than nothing at all because they just

can’t get down a power bar after 21 days of racing. So I think

400 calories is kind of that magic number these guys try to

Page 19: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

hit and they try to hit at least two bottles an hour, and if it’s

really, really hot they sometimes go up to (inaudible) bottles

an hour.

Ben: Do you really see much of a focus on say like liquids versus

solids or is it just kind of whatever you can get your hands on?

Robbie Ventura: Well the higher the intensity, the more liquids they try to get

their calories from. If the intensity is low, they’d much rather

eat their calories because it’s more satisfying and they don’t

need the… they can give up a little bit of the energy that it

takes to digest a Cliff bar. But if the intensity is high, they

don’t want to waste the energy in digesting something that’s

solid and they’ll choose liquid calories more often times.

Ben: Gotcha. Now obviously related to nutrition and I really don’t

want to touch on the doping scandal because that’s a horse

that gets kicked to death, but in terms of just sports

performance supplement in general – everything from

creatine to nitric oxide to alanine to all these things that are

kind of generally recognized as safe when it comes to doping

at least or illegal performance enhancing supplements – are

there nutritional supplements that are real popular among

cyclists that are also considered safe, that you’re familiar


Robbie Ventura: I think that getting enough vitamin D, getting enough

vitamins and trace elements and minerals I think is the big

push for endurance athletes right now. Getting your branch

chain aminos, getting enough glutamine when you’re really

working hard and tearing up muscle and things like that…

but to be honest, earlier in my career, I was trying to figure

out what vitamins I needed, what supplements made the

most sense, what worked, what made me feel better. And I

would say later in my career I ended up taking just a

multivitamin. Actually a liquid multivitamin called Isogenics.

That was pretty much all I took later in my career. And I

really tried to keep things as simple as possible, because part

of it was just… when you start to take too many supplements

and you’re trying something like – what’s the popular one?

Optagen. It’s just one more thing you have to do. And then

you feel like you have to do that. It does make a difference.

Page 20: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

You really don’t know if it’s your training or the supplement.

So I was actually told way back, does this stuff work? I’m

sure it’s something that might work for some people, not

others. And if you have something that’s legal and safe and it

works well for you… whether it’s a placebo effect or whether

it works, it’s good to try. You just can’t rely or get too many

of those thing that you’re taking because it becomes difficult,

especially if you’re traveling or out on the road or if you don’t

have it, you feel like you need it, and different things like that.

So later in my career I really stripped myself of all

supplements or all ergogenic aids or anything like that. And

to be honest my life got a whole lot easier and I could focus

more on my training and I was much more consistent.

Ben: Gotcha. Okay. In terms of recovery techniques, obviously in a

multi-stage race like the Tour and also in the training leading

up to the Tour, you’ve already explained that the level of

training is over and above what the average recreational

exerciser or even the serious age grouper is going to do. But

do you have recovery techniques that kind of go beyond the

whole rest, ice, compression, elevation or the occasional ice

bath the average person is doing? In other words, are there

fringe techniques that you find to be more useful for recovery?

Robbie Ventura: Well I think the thing that you mentioned actually are the

things that work the best. Truly the things that work the best.

I think the one thing you didn’t mention was when I recover,

I really make 100% focus on my sleep. I think people try to

figure out hey I’m going to wear these compression stockings

and I’m going to go lay on a grounded mattress. The

grounding technique. All those things are great. I think

they’re helpers. But the number one key element in terms of

success is good sleep. It doesn’t just mean sleeping a long

time. It means getting good quality sleep, good REM, good

deep sleep, uninterrupted sleep in a room that’s cool and

dark. Trying to create an environment in which you can

really sleep well. That is the real true best way to recover, to

allow yourself to sleep great. And sometimes when you’re

really fatigued and your muscles are really broken down…

chart sleeping well is the hardest thing to do. So you have to

train yourself, it’s just like cycling. You got to become a good

sleeper and I think if you can do that, whether you’re doing

Page 21: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

the Tour de France, doing an Ironman or you’re doing

Olympic triathlon, being able to sleep well in different

circumstances… because when you travel to different races

and go to hotels, you have to have a routine at a hotel as well

when you don’t have all the things you have at your house

that allow you to sleep well. I think sleep is number one.

Obviously compression is great. We use NormaTech in

Vision Quest all the time. NormaTech is a big sponsor of

Vision Quest coaching and in all of our facilities we try to

have some recovery booths… those compression booths that

you saw me demonstrating at the Tour de France. I’m a big

proponent of lots of hydration and a good recovery drink if

you have it, or a good meal after a hard ride to start that

repairing quickly and then just trying to relax your brain a

little bit. Relax your mind and focus, a massage. A lot of

people hear that a massage is good and it’s like ok, I just did

a really hard ride I’m going to get my massage. Massage is

another thing we have to get used to. It’s another process

that your body – if not prepared for it, might reject a little bit.

You may actually have damage from a deep massage if you’re

not careful. So again, learning what your body responds to

well, working with a massage therapist, understanding what

your body needs and how deep you want your massage to be

and really getting the recovery routine is probably your best

bet especially when the volumes and the intensity get way up

there months before a big competition.

Ben: Yeah. It’s a really interesting point because I personally

coach many triathletes and many times I’ll get an email the

week before a race or a phone call a few days before a race

asking some of these questions about how can I sleep better?

Do you have any tips for me to get to sleep because I’m

nervous. Do you have any tips on a good massage therapist I

could work with and these are things people need to be

thinking about during the training to really get optimum


Robbie Ventura: Absolutely and I think people wait too long. They wait until

they’re cracked before they start working on their recovery

and a lot of times they’re not cracked… so a month before the

competition after they’ve had their biggest volume or their

biggest week of training, and by that time those habits need

Page 22: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

to have been made by then. It’s almost a little bit too late and

by that time, you don’t want to start experimenting, right?

You want to almost say ok, I’ve learned this from last time.

I’m going to try to sleep well because that’s also something I

have to get in, if I do get a massage, I’m going to get a really

light one just to make sure that it works. And if I’m going to

do compression and stuff like that, I’m not going to go crazy,

I’m going to start soft or start easy and gradually ramp up

the pressure or ramp up the time and make sure what I’m

doing is actually working and I’m not trying to crash

everything at once.

Ben: Right. Folks, by the way if you have questions about the

things we’ve discussed so far in terms of nutrition, training,

strength training, interval training, any of that – be sure to

leave it as a comment on the post that will go along in the

Shownotes to this interview with Robby. Robby I have kind

of a final question for you. Maybe a fun question. But what

I’m wondering is if you have some examples of extreme

cycling workouts or extreme feats of human performance

during a training session or a race that you’ve observed in

the time you’ve spent among professional cyclists… we hear

things like stories about swimmers going out and doing a

10X1000 swimming set or runners going out to a track and

throwing down a 25X800 workout. Do you have any

examples of extreme workouts that you’ve observed in the

time you’ve spent in professional cycling?

Robbie Ventura: Well I think what’s amazing about some of the training… and

I never did the Tour de France… I never put in the volume

that some of these guys do, but the thing I find interesting

about professional cyclists and some of the things they can

handle is… not necessarily one specific training day… but

guys, you hear stories about them doing back to back to back

to back 5000 to 6000 kilojoules days and just to do one

5000 kilojoules day is very, very difficult. But to do that day

after day after day for four or five days in very, very hot

conditions – because when you throw heat into a workout, it

really kind of takes the workout off by 10 to 15% depending

on how hot it actually is. And to do 5000 and 6000 kilojoules

a day in the heat I think is something that… I have never

been able to do and that’s always been a limiter of mine. Just

Page 23: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

one big day and then I need a couple of days to recover

whereas these guys like (inaudible) and Leipheimer and

Armstrong, they can do 5000 and 6000 kj days one after the

other. I just can’t believe they can recover and do those

things. It’s really amazing and it’s a testament to not only

their ability to train but how much they have trained because

to be able to do that stuff, you have to have years and years

and years of aerobic based training and aerobic driving

under your belt and I get a kick out of athletes that have a lot

of time to train and they try to do these huge volume based

and they can do one of them and sometimes they can do two

of them. But unless you have that base, no matter how

talented you are, you’re just not going to be able to actually

grow from those types of workouts and nothing in particular,

but just the fascination with the amount of volume, the

amount of work these guys can put in and actually go from

(unintelligible) like most athletes would do under those types

of stress.

Ben: Interesting. And it seems like a lot of the things that you’ve

talked about today in terms of proper sleep, proper fueling

during and after a workout, proper recovery protocols as well

as possibly a little bit of strength training or body balance

training to allow for injury prevention and then

consistency… a lot of that is really what it takes to do these

day after day hard training sessions, is the impression I’m

getting from you.

Robbie Ventura: And it takes time. I think people that want to be good aerobic

athletes, you can’t rush the process. And that’s the biggest

mistake I find with Vision Quest, some of our Ironman

triathletes. Even our Kona qualifiers and our high level

Ironman athletes, is it takes four or five years for your body

really to become aerobically fit and then it takes another five

years after that to really maximize that. I rode my bicycle for

probably 35 years, almost 35 years. I turn 40 soon… maybe

closer to 30 years and I grew my aerobic system for 20 some

of those years and I trained hard and I trained long and it

took that long before I felt I was maxed out. So I think for

aerobic athletes, they need to be patient. They need to be

really patient and they need to over-train a little bit. I think

there’s some benefits to overtraining to kind of understand

Page 24: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

what those limits are and then realize when you pass the

overtraining mark and then back it off. I think you need to

over-train a few times to understand what those limits are

and to push those limits, but once you understand where

they’re at you run up to them and you just try to gradually

push those out. You don’t try to make a 20% volume increase

in two weeks or three weeks or four weeks. It’s small

increments over time that win the race.

Ben: Right. Well Robbie, this has been great advice. Where can

people find out more about you and what you do?

Robbie Ventura: We have a great team of

athletes that we work with. We have a bunch of facilities in

the Chicago area. We also have one at David’s World Cycle in

Orlando, Florida. They do a great job down there. We have

camps in Santa Rosa in the spring, they’re a lot of fun. We

actually try to mimic those high volumes that the pros do and

we take care of all their needs from their laundry to exactly

everything… just like a professional. And these athletes are

surprised at how much volume they can withstand when we

basically do all the work for them. So all they have to focus

on is riding their bicycle, recovering through massage or

massage therapy and we always have great guests that come

to our camp who do talks. And if you want to grow your

aerobic engine, you want to become a better cyclist, you want

to become a better triathlete… I can’t emphasize enough how

those camps or how those blocks of training really make the

big differences. I think it’s better they kind of do a couple of

camps – there are a few camps in the spring rather than try

to train every 3rd day long in your house which is a struggle

and get more of a 5 or a 6 day big block where you don’t have

anything to focus on but recovery for if you really wanted to

develop aerobically as well as basically immersing yourself in

a culture where you’re learning bike handling, you’re

learning pacing, you’re learning power based training, you’re

learning everything there is need to know about run, bike

and swim and you’re basically getting this (unintelligible) for

six days, you come out a better person and you really reset

your gauges in terms of aerobically as well as your knowledge

of cycling when you do stuff like that.

Page 25: Ben Greenfield Podcast 113

Ben: Yeah I agree, I’m also a big fan of camps. If you can find one

to go to, it’s well worth it. So, Robbie… what’s that?

Robbie Ventura: I said our camps are great. We’re actually doing one in Las

Vegas with Gordo Bern in October and then our next camp is

in the spring in Santa Rosa. So check out our website We’d love to help anybody

out who wants to be into aerobic training. That’s all.

Ben: Alright, well Robbie thanks for coming on the call today. I

appreciate the time.

Robbie Ventura: Thank you very much, and hopefully everyone will train

smart, have fun and remember it’s a process that’s the good

stuff. It’s not the results.

Ben: Awesome. That’s good advice. Alright, have a good one.

For personal nutrition, fitness or triathlon consulting, supplements, books or DVD’s

from Ben Greenfield, please visit Pacific Elite Fitness at