It’s winter in the northern hemisphere. The days have gotten shorter, the weather colder, and our first races are a few months away. This is when athletes and coaches focus on the base season. It’s named this because it’s supposed to build our foundation or “base” for the upcoming season. But what does that mean?
In this episode, we explore the physiology behind what’s happening in our bodies during this training—the energy systems we’re developing, the attributes we develop, and the effective training that will get us there.
Our featured guest today is Dr. Iñigo San Millán, director of training at UAE-Team Emirates, and the coach who guided Tadej Pogacar to two Tour de France titles. We talked with Dr. San Millán about the physiology of the race season back in Episode 165, so this week’s show expands on that.
Joining Dr. San Millán are retired professional cyclists Brent Bookwalter, Dr. Bradley Petek, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and three-time National Cyclocross champion Stephen Hyde.
So, put your bike in the small chainring, and let’s make you fast!
Introduction to Today’s Episode
Rob Pickels 00:04
Hello and welcome to Fast Talk, your source for the science of endurance performance. I’m your host Rob Pickels here with Coach Trevor Connor. It’s winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the days have gotten shorter, the weather colder and our first races are a few months away. This is when athletes and coaches focus on the base season. It’s named this because it’s supposed to build our foundation or base for the upcoming season, but what does that mean? In this episode, we explore the physiology behind what’s happening in our bodies during this training: the energy systems were developing, the attributes we’re creating and the effective training that will get us there. Our featured guest today is Dr. Inigo San Millan, Director of Training at UAE Team Emirates and the coach who guided Tadej Pogačar to two Tour de France titles. We talked with Dr. San Millan about the physiology of the race season back in episode 165 and today we’re going to bring a similar conversation. Joining Dr. San Millan, our retired professional cyclist Brent Bookwalter, Dr. Bradley Petek, a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and three time national cyclocross champion, Steven Hyde. So, put your bike in the small chain ring and let’s make you fast.
Rob Pickels 01:20
Now that 2023 is here, many of us are thinking about our personal and professional goals. When it comes to goal setting what works and what doesn’t? Well, we have some guides that may help in our new Craft of Coaching Module. Joe Friel share stories of three athletes and important lessons they’ve learned about setting goals. Get this season off to the right start. Check out more at fasttalklabs.com.
Trevor Connor 01:46
Welcome, everybody to another episode of Fast Talk. This is an exciting episode because we’re always really happy to have Dr. San Millan here with us. So Dr. San Millan, welcome again to the show.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 01:58
Hello Trevor and Rob, thank you so much for having me again. It’s always a pleasure. So yes, thank you very much for the invitation.
Trevor Connor 02:05
It’s always exciting for us. I mean, the feedback in your episodes have been great. You always bring up something that, Rob and I do a ton of research getting ready for these episodes and then you go somewhere or like, we never knew that. That’s pretty cool. So we’re excited to see what you would you bring up today. I am going to mention this is kind of a part two or maybe a part one. We did an episode a while ago with you, that was episode 165, where we talked about the physiology of the race season. So we felt it was important to do this second episode with you where we talk about the physiology of the base season and that’s what today is about.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 02:42
Excellent. Yeah, very excited about it.
Rob Pickels 02:44
Yeah Trevor, this was a hard episode for me to prepare for because in the beginning, I should prepare for everything, there’s so much that we can talk about and then it got really easy because I realized that Dr. San Millan, you can just take it away yourself and that I don’t really need to add much to this one, so thanks for making this an easy episode with Trevor and I.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 03:03
Thank you very much and always great to be here with you guys who have a lot to contribute and a lot of knowledge and experience as well. So yeah, it’s always fun talking to you guys.
Trevor Connor 03:14
We’re just trying to keep up with you and I’ll start this by saying and I know you’re gonna bring this up, so I’m gonna be very vague about what advice you gave me, but I went in to be tested by you back in 2010 and you took me through my test results and gave me some recommendations about how to approach the base season.
Rob Pickels 03:33
I thought those were to quit the sport.
Trevor Connor 03:35
Well, everybody gives me that recommendation, but when I refused, they didn’t give me advice.
Rob Pickels 03:40
That’s what it was. That’s what it was.
Trevor Connor 03:41
So you gave me some advice that was absolutely life changing. I mean, I thought I really had my training figured out and I applied that a little bit in 2010, but I was tested by you in June, so I couldn’t apply too much in 2010, but 2011 ended up being one of my best seasons ever and it was because of the advice that you gave me on how to approach the base. I’m really excited to hear you give that I’m hoping similar advice to our listeners, but let’s dive into the first question that I have for you is an athlete, they finish their season, they take a bit of time off. They’re just about to start their base season. What should they look like? How should they feel coming into the base season?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 04:26
Well and in my opinion, I think it’s first is important to make sure that you have a good rest, both mental and physical. Organize your goals. I think it’s important to debrief with yourself or with your coach, what has gone well, what has gone wrong or what can be improved and where are the goals? Where are the attainable goals in the short term, in the long term because obviously it is not also what is going to be next season right so of course where you want to be today or where you want to be next season and in four or five seasons and what is the path to get there because we don’t want to improve tremendously in one year and it’s feasible to improve, obviously a lot, but definitely you want to move on to other years. So I think this is a great time, the offseason to really recalibrate your direction and set up your goals with your coach or with yourself.
Rob Pickels 05:24
Dr. San Millan, we recorded an episode with the other Indigo, Indigo Malika, Episode 243 and it was about what happens when we stopped training and I’m interested to hear from you. How much detraining do you expect an athlete to have when they come into the new season? Do you hope that they lose a little bit, say off of their FTP or are you trying to maintain fitness from the previous season so that you’re able to build through the base?
The Importance of Taking Time Off in the Offseason
Dr. Inigo San Millan 05:49
Well, the thing from my point of view, the important thing is the assimilation of what you’ve done the entire year. So many times and especially we’re talking, when you have like a long calendar and a lot of races. When you don’t have the chance to have a big solid stop of, let’s say, three weeks and this is something that we still don’t know, but there’s got to be a lot of first like recovery, like a full recovery at the biological, physiological metabolic level, on top of the recovery at the mental level and this is the mechanisms that would another so in a simulation and supercompensation. That’s where we see that for me, I’ve been seeing for almost three years that when a highly competitive athlete or not even the highly competitive athlete takes the time off and then just restarts rebuilding, there’s an improvement compared to last year. Whereas if would have been a continuum, that athelete doesn’t stop. Maybe we will not seen that super compensation and I don’t know the answers of why this is happening because I don’t think nobody knows because we’re not the mechanisms behind a simulation and super compensation, but that’s what I’ve seen that step, like a next step to the next level. It’s accomplished year by year and that winter time around those three weeks off, are crucial because otherwise, I don’t see that change over a continium without taking some time off.
How Long Should the Resting Off-Season Last?
Trevor Connor 07:21
So that’s interesting because there were some recent studies by, I’m sure you’ve read these by Dr. Ronnestad, who looked at having athletes do some hit work during that time off between their season and their base build and he really drew the conclusion that you should be doing some high intensity even during that time because that brings you into the season better. What’s your feeling about that? When you say three weeks off, should it just be three weeks off?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 07:49
Yeah, well, the thing is also what kind of athletes are done in these studies, is a different concept and I’m not judging those results, but it’s a different concept to do this with maybe college students or recreational athletes or medium level, other than doing this for world class athletes and the main thing is that world class athletes they go through a lot of stress, a lot of responsibility and they really need to disconnect. So I guarantee you, if you ask most, not all, but most athletes to start doing high intensity training in the offseason, by the beginning of the season, they’re going to be burned out mentally. What they really want is to go to a lost island, sitting the beach like a chameleon and it’s going to the beach and have fun. That’s what they want and that’s what’s good for them mentally, but again, if you ask them to do high intensity intervals, it’s going to be a very tough task mentally. The thing too is that that time off to me mentally and physically, it’s quite important and also I’m sorry, I should have said that we are always free to do some activities, but it’s not three weeks sitting at the beach. I will recommend also to, if you like racquetball, go for racquetball. If you like hiking, go for a hike. If you like to play soccer, go and play carefull that not going to get injured and this is why many people do, they do activities. I got skiing, that’s another thing too. So it’s more for for the mind.
Trevor Connor 09:22
That’s fair. So you talked a little bit about you work with World Tour athletes, a lot of our listeners are much more recreational. So the next big question I have for you is and let’s just talk at a high level here, does the base season look different for a world tour rider compared to what it should look like for a more amateur rider, for a more recreational rider?
Difference between a Pro Athlete’s Base Season to an Amateur
Dr. Inigo San Millan 09:47
That’s a great question. So in my opinion, more of the amateur athlete or recreational athlete who don’t have either as much competition or might not even compete, in my opinion, they should not take three weeks off because they’re going to have a big training that will have such a massive load of exercise and races with such a huge stimulus to improve at all levels. So in my opinion, it should be more then, should be more continium, where you should continue with very similar concepts like what you were doing before. That’s where I would not change a lot, but maybe would be a reset button and it depends on that on the athlete. Some athletes they enter the season and they might not have as many races as a world class tour cyclist in this case, but still they might have like 20 races a year and basist period is maybe the summer into the fall also. So that might be a good time also to take it easy, maybe a week off or two weeks easier and then rebuild again because maybe they haven’t trained those energy systems for months, as much as they did the previous preseason and in the winter, in the first part of the spring, like we see here. In a state like Colorado, many areas in the US season starts back in March and at the peak of the season starts being more like tourists like June, July, August, right as we have the most races in September and this is where you race more and you don’t train as much. So that means that by the time you hit October, November, you haven’t trained a lot or your last time of really serious block of like bass training, if you will, it was maybe March, the last one you finished it. So maybe it’s time to revisit that again.
Trevor Connor 11:44
My experience has been when they’re in the actual base season, when you have a elite athlete, they don’t need as long. They’ve done a lot of that work over the years, where when you have a newer, more recreational cyclists, to me, let’s make the base season as long as we can possibly make it and get that volume. Is that tend to be your approach or do you see it differently?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 12:06
No, I totally agree. I totally agree and this is something that is not happening just in cycling, but in other sports that the offseason starts shorter and shorter and shorter. So cycling still, we have some leeway to make sure that the cyclists have a good three months to work until because they have November, December, January, to have good three months where they can put at least, I like them to have two solid blocks. Two macrocycles. That is two months, pretty much of solid blocks before starting the season. Sometimes even three because some riders start like a D in February. Some some others are already too downunder.
Trevor Connor 12:50
Which is in middle of January.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 12:52
Exactly. Yeah, but some riders may start at the end of February. So they may have three, almost four months in last season. So that’s why we have in any other sports, like comes to me right away soccer, they only have maybe 15 days off in between season because they have tournaments and they have to go to other continents and do more and they pay a toll. Not going to name teams, but I know a team that didn’t have a preseason this year, where you take time off and then you build towards the season and they went directly almost to two different tournaments are there in Asia, where they pay a lot of money and there’s extra TV right, etcetera and they now just started their season with about eight players injured within the first 15 days and that’s a product. They didn’t have a good base and possibility to build the season, which is key. It’s happening more and more in other sports.
Trevor Connor 13:52
Let’s hear from retired pro cyclist, Brent Bookwalter with his thoughts on how the base season should differ between recreational cyclists and pros.
Trevor Connor 14:00
During your years of focus training, what were the things that you really focused on during the base season?
The Value of the Base Season
Brent Bookwalter 14:06
It’s a good question. I’d say the base season sort of varied a little bit throughout my career and I think looking back on it now, I think that was that’s also wise. I think as we grow, we age and we mature and we evolve, like most facets of our training and they need to adapt. So this ‘base stuff’ that I was doing when I was a junior collegiate cyclist was definitely different than I was doing at the end of my career. I was a different creature and a different machine and a different person too. Yeah, so the thing that sort of sticks out in my mind about base is it’s sort of a cliched word. It’s kind of like in vogue to yeah, through the winter months, talk about base training and base season. One of the things that always annoyed me is I felt like for a lot of people, they saw it as a license just to like noodle around and ride easy and as a professional, there’s some long slow miles, if you will and I think there’s some value to sitting on a bike and there’s some metabolic happenings that are taking place even at a low intensity that have value, but that’s speaking for the rare portion of the population that is tasked with only riding their bike and we can do it as much as we want and for the masses, I think that do have some time constraint. I personally don’t think there’s as much value as just enrolling around. Yeah, licensed a noodle, I think it’s still, the base season is it’s foundational. It’s some structure that you build upon. It’s a transitioning from the prior season through, hopefully some off time and then back into the bike, but it’s definitely not a license just to noodle around for 30 hours a week.
Rob Pickels 15:41
We’re discussing the base season and implying that it’s sort of a defined time, say from January to March. There’s not much competition, it’s a good time to focus on the volume, but I question that and Dr. San Millan, I’m interested to see, I tend to think about base as more blocks of training with a function of increased volume in the training adaptation that comes from that, but I have also in my training, put those blocks of training, those base blocks throughout my year and throughout my season and even if I was competing, I would still be training in that manner and maybe I wouldn’t be as sharp as possible for those competitions. How do you see the two different ways of thinking about it play out both with pros and amateurs? Do your pro athletes go back into a base season partway through to revamp their volume or is it a very defined early season thing for you?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 16:37
That’s a great question. That’s absolutely a great question and this is something I’ve been also trying to preach for years because back in the days, cyclists they used to raise 80, 90, 100 days per year. So they didn’t train much. It was competition and competition competition and in our world said, cyclists at the high level, they need to train more and compete less and in fact, that’s what’s happening. Now you see that the best cyclists in the world, they do 45 to 55, 60 maximum or so days a year and they have a few key times during the season where they might have a whole month or a month and a half to prepare for a major goal, whether it’s the Giro or is the Tour or is the Vuelta. So this is happening also, for amateur or recreational athletes, I agree with you that, you should continue with a similar pattern. That’s why I will say that it’s a continuum over the years because first, many people don’t have the time to train as a professional athlete. So they’re not going to get the benefits as much of the hours, it’s just a matter of hours. It’s like in any job. If you work 40 hours a week or if you work 10 hours a week, you’re not going to get the same things done. So it may take you longer, if you work 10 hours a week, it might take you longer than if you work 30 hours a week to accomplish similar goals. So that’s why amateur recreational athletes, they should continue and continue building through the year like that. That should not change, many of the concepts should not change, whether its with professional athletes, they have this window of two or three months, which is key and then they’re gonna have a depends on the calendar. That’s why we put a lot of effort in working on the calendar of the riders and then that’s where you might have a very condensed spring or first part of the year where there’s not much room for training, it’s competition competition and recover competition recover, they do a stop, where you will take time off, will take four or five, seven days off completely and then you might in this case, for example, you might prepare for the Giro or for the Tour, it depends and that’s where you can have a month and a half to really fully train towards a main goal. So it’s very individual and then you might have another stop and then you might prepare for the last part of the year. So we have a few windows throughout the year as well where we can revisit this structures of training, which otherwise during the season is difficult if you just race and race and race all the time.
The Importance of Taking Time Off
Trevor Connor 19:15
I’m glad you brought that taking time off and my experience is when I work with a high level like a pro level athlete, in the middle of the season you tell them to take a week off. They’re like ‘yes, sign me up. I want to go sit on the beach. I’m feeling pretty beat up’, but the people who struggle with that are the masters, so the recreational athletes I work with because they go ‘oh if I take time off, if I took a week off, I’m gonna lose all my fitness’ and I love the fact that and this is probably happened 40 times now. I have a masters athlete who’s going to take a vacation with their family. They’re gonna go sit on the beach and leading into it, they’re just so stressed. They’re like ‘that week I’m lose all my fitness’ and then they come back and the first interval session I have to do they’re a little rusty that that kinda hurts, but then they do their next interval session, their putting out better numbers than they did before they went away and they’re like, what’s going on. It’s like, you got some rest, your body likes rest.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 20:12
Exactly and this is kind of what we were mentioning earlier by a simulation in supercompensation that we still don’t fully understand the mechanisms involved with that, but this assumption that I agree totally that it’s mentally, physically, its both, but yeah, they come back from vacation. They’re like, ‘woah’. They’re ready to go again and they are as you said, maybe at first week their a little rusty, but then wow. Yeah, I agree. 100% because I see that both in amateurs, masters and obviously even at a professional level. It’s kind of almost like our requirement nowadays. I remember 20 something years ago, just even presenting this possibility of an athlete in the middle of decision taking five days off or a week of going to the beach with the family and it was like, unthinkable, obviously they would throw tomatoes at me. It’s something that is it’s a requirement and the athletes they they do it all the time. Yeah. In fact, the first year, when Ty when he’s first of the France, he was so fit in May that I had to tell you today, ‘your way too fit’. You’re going to be able to do the Tour de France, we have a long time for the Tour de France. That was the COVID year and so everything was postponed, so the Tour de France was later and by May, he was really, really fit, I said hey, just take one week off or his girlfriend, go to a picnic or go to the mountains. Have fun, this could never work because you just you really need to take time off because the Tour is far away and I don’t think you’re gonna get in top form if you continue like that and yeah, he took a whole week off to tune to their bikes and they’re just for fun, but mainly they were they were campaigning, going out there and swimming in the rivers in December, etc.
Trevor Connor 21:59
Trevor Connor 22:00
Before we dive into the physiology, let’s hear from cardiologist Dr. Bradley Petek about some of the health factors to consider when planning your base season.
What does a Successful Base Season Consist of?
Dr. Bradley Petek 22:07
This is a great question. I think this is one that to me falls, to be honest, more in the realm of coaching than in medicine and that I think we don’t have a great understanding of whether is it really kind of this zone one, zone two kind of real level training, which to what extent that sparks these adaptations versus higher levels of intensity, I think there are very clear data and there’s a very clear understanding that there are some elements of this which are intensity dependent. I think the suggestion to athletes in general and would be in the base level of training would be really just would be really getting in the volume at this point and that I think the adaptations that are intensity dependent will be layered upon that process, understanding that there’s sort of a time and a place for each of those things, but the degree to which the things are unique to intensity is one of the things that kind of, I’d say is an active area of study, but it’s not something that we’ve been able to sort of to parse out with great specificity of saying that this adaptation is purely comes purely at the low levels, but we do see even, we do see remodeling even with people’s sort of daily physical activity at varying levels of that. So I think putting in the volume will undoubtably kind of get the basal level of heart adaptation going so to speak and then I think the higher intensity stuff will layer on top of that, in the future.
Trevor Connor 23:34
I did see that in some of the research at the favorable forms of cardiac remodeling did seem to correlate fairly well with the amount of volume how, basically how many hours per week athletes were training, I think it was, you saw the highest correlation in athletes who are training 10 plus hours per week.
Dr. Bradley Petek 23:51
That’s definitely one of the things that’s I think that’s been pretty consistent across many studies is that when we look at the degree of adaptation, we see probably the strongest correlation with volume. What that doesn’t get into is how much intensity is commingled with that volume, but I think it’s a good argument for the role of, particularly in the base part, some of the base part of someone’s training, the role of volume there and then where does interval work? Where does all that fit in because that’s the part that gets a little more complicated, but I think it’s certainly the each I think our takeaway and what we talked about with patients is that each element kind of confers unique physiologic adaptation and so they each play a role and and adapting them is kind of a both a personal and sport specific thing.
Trevor Connor 24:35
So let’s shift gears here a little bit and before we get into the sort of work you should be doing in the base season. The question I’ve been really fascinated to ask you is, let’s talk about the physiology. What energy systems, what physiologically should be going on in your body in a successful base season? What are the changes we want to see? What are the changes that you don’t want to see in January or February?
Human Physiology during a Base Season
Dr. Inigo San Millan 25:00
This is my opinion. I don’t have all the answers and as we all get older each year, we learn more and that both from experience and from research and from others, obviously. So that’s my opinion. So I think that, yeah, it’s important to keep improving that oxidative capacity, which is the ability to utilize, especially fats for fuel, as well as oxidize glucose very well in mitochondria. So everything comes down to the bio energetics of mitochondria, which are quite important, quite robust. So we want to improve that fat oxidation capacity. So they when the competition comes, you can travel through the race, utilizing more fat, then glycogen and therefore you can spare glycogen storages for the last part of the race. You’re more economical, but at the same time, you can improve that lactate clearance capacity. So both fat and lactate are utilized in mitochondria. Therefore, it’s important to really focus on that energy system in that first part of the year and mainly is because this takes months. I mean, this is what I’ve learned at least from my experience that improving that it takes months and even years. That’s what we’re saying by masters increase it might not have 30 hours a week, but they only have 10 hours a week or eight hours a week, so it’s going to take way longer, but it’s a process. Whereas then as the season gets closer and closer, you need to start stimulating the glycolytic systems, the pathways, the turbo, which is the intensity you’re going to deploy in the competition, but that’s an adaptation that takes weeks. So it’s not so preminent to do that when you’re three months out, I think. Whereas, yeah, that oxidative capacity, it’s something’s going to take months or you cannot start doing that in March or so. You can’t do that. That’s why the window of the preseason, it’s excellent for that.
Trevor Connor 27:05
Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up about the timing. Also, like that you said, this is just opinion. Rob and I both went through all the old research we have and we certainly find studies showing pro athletes and what they were doing in the base season and what they were doing in the race season, but I couldn’t find a single study that analyzed what physiologically is going on in athletes. So I think at this point, it’s all opinion, but I did find a couple that had some hints and certainly, there were a couple that talked about the fact that the sort of these aerobic adaptations that you’re talking about, they often don’t show up in the research because these can take months to years to see these sorts of adaptations and most studies tend to be six to 10 weeks at the longest. One that I found really interesting, so this was a study by Quentel Lee, I’m sure I mispronounced that and I apologize. So this is an older study from 2009. That talked about some of these differences between amateurs and well trained and really brought up what you’re talking about, which is this much better oxidative contribution. They basically said when they’re going at the these harder intensities, you’re seeing the more elite athletes with this better base fitness, better able to handle pH better able to do the work aerobicly with fat oxidization, where you’re probably seeing in the less trained, they’re relying a lot more on anaerobic metabolism and I saw that in a couple studies. So one other thing to point out in this study, they said they actually didn’t see much of a difference in in economy, but what they said was that even though there wasn’t that much of a difference, you saw the contributions being different in the elite athletes, it was much more reliant on on the aerobic systems where in the more amature you’re seeing a greater reliance on an anaerobic metabolism. So they just couldn’t last as long.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 29:01
Yeah, exactly and I agree and this is also the typical thing. I mean, when I started doing this, I was like, wow, but now it’s like, Sure, one more. It’s that many cyclists, they have never done this before. For example, they do a lot of high intensity from the beginning of the preseason or do a lot of intervals already and now they do more like that base, if you will, with a lot of Zone Two in the preseason. The first interval of the year comes and even the first race of the year comes and they do their PR and they’re way stronger and like to say like, this is impossible. So I haven’t done intervals nearly as much as I did other years and PRM I do my first intro of the year and I’m doing a PR or Strava KON in my local area, like what’s going on. So this is also what to me reinforces more of that idea of improved that oxidative capacity and mitochondrial function in these months because it’s key to clear lactate in to improve fat oxidation. So when you deploy the turbo, which is the glycolytic capacity, you have very well robust mitochondria to clear the lactate and use it for fuel as well.
Trevor Connor 30:20
One really important thing I want to mention here, you brought up lactate. For our listeners who are less familiar with the physiology of this, we often think of lactate or particularly they think about lactic acid as this bad thing, if you’re producing it. If your blood levels are going up, that means that you’re going to heart and you’re not going to last too much longer, but lactate metabolism is a lot more complex than that and what you were you were talking about Dr. San Millan, is the fact that actually lactate is pulled into our mitochondria. So we think of our mitochondria as that’s where aerobic metabolism happens, but that first step in aerobic metabolism, is to take the lactate, which is then converted to pyruvate and that starts the whole aerobic metabolism process going and that’s where fat is used as fuel, but if you don’t first have that lactate or pyruvate, the process can’t get going. So actually having lactate, having your cells have access to some lactate is really important for aerobic metabolism and we shouldn’t just think of it as this end product of when we’re going really hard when we’re working anaerobically. We asked national champions, Stephen Hyde, his thoughts on base season training. He gave an interesting answer about the importance of execution versus thinking long term. Let’s hear what he had to say.
How does Good Quality Trading Help us Physiologically?
Stephen Hyde 31:42
One thing that really helped me raise my level was, I think understanding that good training, good quality training takes a really long time to work. Accepting the process for what it is, which is just getting in there and chipping away at it. Early on in my career, I really pushed hard on myself to be better and better and better every workout and see bigger numbers and I wanted to see even much bigger numbers and I see it reflected in athletes that I coach now is they want to see improvement every time we go out there on the bike, but that’s not the case, it’s it’s long term development takes a long time and it doesn’t come in a week and through the increasing loads of a training block on top of that, you’re just kind of setting yourself up for failure and I did that a lot. I expected things out of myself that I shouldn’t have. I wanted greatness when what I really needed was just acceptable for the time, once I kind of realized that and started looking at training as the job that I needed to do in order to get to the race because in reality, no one pays you to bike race, they pay you to train well when you’re a professional and that shouldn’t be lost on people. Even on the amateur level. I think that getting to the bike race is obviously the goal, but during the work between and setting yourself up for positive results rather than failure by constantly looking for extreme gains is really the key.
Rob Pickels 33:15
Something that we’ve been implying through this conversation is ultimately what I’ll say now and that’s the hallmark of base training might not be the only training, but the hallmark of base training is relatively large volumes of low intensity riding or running depending on your sport and Dr. San Millan, I’m interested to hear from you. How does that and we can get into the weeds on this one. That’s okay. How does that large volume of low intensity training improve mitochondrial oxidative function, lactate transport? What’s actually happening inside the body to cause those changes and then how are those structures changing to accommodate the improved performance?
Correlation between Fat and Lactate
Dr. Inigo San Millan 33:56
Well again, this is what I’ve seen over the years and this is my opinion, my experience. We don’t have solid research to show this. I admit it right. So that’s why again, it’s my opinion, but what we have is a lot of data, which implies that there’s a big improvement at the mitochondrial level and this data that I see is in the laboratory, the methodology been using for years to indirectly assess mitochondrial function is looking at fat oxidation and lactate clearance capacity. So I started doing the substrate utilization fat oxidation in the winter 2005 and ever since then, I was like, wow, this is the fat oxidation and lactic cleanse capacity, they’re so tightly integrated and again, its fat can only be oxidizing mitochondria, and lactate in mitochondria as well. So they’re both mitochondrial substrates. So when you measure in the laboratory, fat oxidation in an athlete and lactate cleans capacity over time and then you correlate that with the different training methodologies that have been done, you can get to see which trainings are improving mitochondrial function the most. So this is what I’m seeing in those ones who do this volume for months, right at that zone two, if you will and then some intensities here and there, but mainly, the zone two, that’s are the ones that come back three, four or five months later and they have the highest improvement in in fat oxidation, as well as lactate cleanse capacity, as opposed to when I see athletes just doing high intensity, I don’t see an improvement of fat oxidation and lactate cleanse capacity or see very small improvements, meaning that that mitochondrial function hasn’t improved much. I wish that we can do this research more or understand this more with multiple mechanisms at the mechanistic level, what’s going on at the mitochondrial level, what’s going on at the transporters levels, what’s going on at different receptors metabolomics? I don’t have the funds to do that, but if someone else has it, we will be great, but we have pieces of multiple studies done of how different in the stimulation energy systems, might improve all these transporters and parameters that I was mentioned.
Rob Pickels 36:21
Listeners something that I think that is important that everybody knows, as Dr. San Millan said, both fat oxidation and lactate clearance are associated with the mitochondria and the lab tests that he’s talking about is actually utilizing two different ways to measure that right because when we assess carbohydrate and fat oxidation, we’re doing that through breath by breath looking at the ratio of oxygen and carbon dioxide, but the lactate data is coming from a totally different measure and that’s coming from capillary in the blood. So it’s really interesting to see how both of these data taken from two totally different parts of the body correlate so strongly because that mitochondria is the link between the two.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 36:59
We published this, my colleague, George Brooks from Berkeley and I will publish this in 2017. Looking at that interaction, between fat oxidation and lactate, both in world class athletes, moderately active individuals and people with metabolic syndrome and the correlations are in the 90s, that ours, it’s like zero point 90 something and the p values were like 0.001 so very high correlation meaning that definitely fat and lactate are highly correlated and we know that lactate, one of the things that it does too when there’s high lactate levels in the blood, they bind to a receptor that is called a GPR 81 that is on the surface of the adipocytes. It inhibits lipolysis. On the other hand, we published also this past year, an article showing that shows like the endocrine capabilities of properties of lactate, but then we have also show the autocrine capabilities of lactate and we have shown that it decreases CPT one and CPT two, mainly CPT two, which are key for fatty acid transport across mitochondria. So, we see that high lactate, whether it’s in the blood or whether it’s at the local cellular level, is going to be a main regulator of what’s called the intermediary metabolism, in this case, affecting fat oxidation and this is why we see in our curves that fat and lactate are inversely related very tightly.
Rob Pickels 38:35
So Dr. San Millan, I think that a lot of our listeners are familiar with lactate from the lactate testing and the first and the second lactate turn point. What changes would we expect to see in a lactate graph? If we’re pricking fingers? If you’re me or pricking earlobes, if we’re you? How does this actually show up in results that our listeners can understand by going through this larger volume, this base training?
How to Interpret Lactate
Dr. Inigo San Millan 39:00
Yeah, that’s a great question and when it comes to lactate, there is so many ways to interpret lactate and so many protocols and depending on the protocols you have, you can look at different lactate levels. So it’s a tricky one to look at, but and also how we interpret even LT one or LT two. I interpret LT one for example, as when you start accumulating lactate, meaning that your glycolytic flux utilization of glycolysis increases and the mandatory byproduct of glycolysis is lactate. So if you don’t have a good lactate cleanse capacity in mitochondria for fuel, lactate fuel, the lactate is going to be start building up because lactate is producing fast twitch muscle fibers and it is preferably oxidized or cleared in mitochondria of slow twitch muscle fibers. So in the moment you get to an exercise intensity where you start deploying more the fast twitch muscle fibers, we know very well that must which muscle fibers, they prefer to use glucose and fat. So the glycolysis, it’s increased and therefore lactate production. So we have a very robust mitochondria and fast in slow twitch muscle fibers. That’s what we achieved with zone two also, that’s where you’re going to be able to clear lactate better. If don’t, then lactate has no other way to go. So it goes to the blood and from the blood is the preferred fuel for so many cells in the body, it’s utilized by the heart by the kidneys, by the brain, by the liver and it’s also can be reutilized by to glucose through gluconeogenesis in the current cycle, but the important thing is that if the person’s have LT one other other people might call it the aerobic threshold. I’m not sure about that methodology because everything is aerobic all the way through the VO2 Max. So I don’t, I don’t quite understand myself what aerobic threshold means in the first place, especially when you have anaerobic threshold. So anyways, but thats what I’m saying is depends on how you interpret it, but the adaptations that you should see is that, let’s say that your LT one that this is just that inflection point where you start accumulating more lactate, let’s say this is 200 Watts now and then you want to see that three months later or so it’s going to be 225 or 230 Watts. That means that the glycolytic flux that glycolysis, it’s even increased because you’re doing more higher power output, so it requires more glucose and therefore you’re going to be producing more lactate, but your lactic cleanse capacity has improved very well and therefore, you don’t produce nearly as much lactate at 200 Watts as you produce before. Again, meaning that you’re having a good adaptation at LT one. At LT two, we can observe the same thing. That is another way of interpreted, some people call it anaerobic threshold. Some people call it blackk threshold, some people call it a maximal lactate steady state. This is where there’s no unification of criteria, when it comes to this and in furthermore, as I would say that lactate two, if you want to call it lactate threshold, for example or maximal lactate steady state, I don’t like anaerobic threshold because that term doesn’t exist. Technically, from bioenergetic standpoint, in your lactate threshold, which kind of in our minds is called, like 15, 20 minutes or FTP, you’re past that point, you still are in fully aerobic conditions and then that’s the other thing like people think that when you produce a lot of lactate, you’re anaerobic. Absolutely not. My colleague, George Brooks has shown this already 30 years ago, more than 30 years ago, you can produce lactate under fully aerobic conditions. Dr. Otto Warburg, who discovered the first, 100 years ago, now the first transformation of a normal cell into a cancer cell. He observed that cancer cells, they utilize a lot of glucose and therefore they produce a lot of lactate under fully aerobic conditions, showing that there was no anaerobic conditions for cancer cells to produce lactate. That’s what we see in skeletal muscle, as well. So it’s important to understand this concept to justify that you see in blood for five millimoles, for example, that doesn’t mean you’re anaerobic by no means, you can see like in someone who’s not very well trained, that are at low intensity, that person is at four millimoles is fully fully aerobic because you look at his or her face and their breathing normally also. So important to know that, but that’s going to the LT two whatever you want to describe it, you should see the same thing that maybe the LT two is that’s where like a woof, it goes wild. You cannot sustain it and it’s a very high intensity, and another inflection point and again, it might be 350 now, but maybe two months, it’s 375 or 400 watts and that’s another sign that again, you’re producing a lot of glucose at that point, the fat oxidation is probably none, non existent or minimal and it’s all fully glycolytic effort, right? So the amount of lactate you produce is huge and this is where that’s the deal breaker in competition because this is where you win the races at that intensity. You don’t win races at zone two. You win races at high intensity and this is where you shuttle lactate from fast twitch muscle fibers to mitochondria and slow twitch muscle fibers and if you have that lactic cleanse capacity, you still going to produce tons of lactate because again, it’s very high intensity, but now you produce four millimoles whereas before you were at six or seven millimoles. So now it’s a sign of like a huge improvement in your economy at the metabolic and mitochondrial level and you can sustain the effort longer.
Trevor Connor 45:00
Yeah, I think you raised a really important point. I actually just wrote an article about this, that we think as your intensity increases you’re completely aerobic, completely aerobic, completely aerobic, then you hit this point and then you’re completely anaerobic. It’s not the way it works at all. You are always using a mix of aerobic and anaerobic metabolism. What changes is just the ratio.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 45:23
Yeah and the predominant is always aerobic, all the way until there be too much and sprinting, but I agree.
The Paleo Diet Team 45:32
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What Happens to Lactate when we Shift Intensity Zones?
Trevor Connor 45:53
So going back to the base phase, I’m going to share what you showed me back in 2010 and you were just talking about this. You look at that lactate curve. So what you were describing, if we had you on a treadmill or on a stationary bike and we’re increasing your wattage, say every five minutes or every 10 minutes, what you would see is at lower intensities, your lactate would just be a horizontal line, it wouldn’t be going up at all. As you said at a certain point, at a certain intensity that your LT one, you’re going to start seeing that lactate slowly creep up and then it’s right around four millimoles, where you hit that LT two and as you said, pass that your lactate are going to shoot up and you’re not going to last very long. Would you said to me in 2010, which is probably the most important thing to be doing in the base season, is you want to push that curve further to the right. You want that point where lactate start to rise to be at higher and higher wattage is and I loved you actually showed me, you did all this work on athletes of different levels and if you take a recreational rider and you have them going at, say 230 Watts, they might be at three millimoles. You take a top pro and have them go into 230 Watts and lactates haven’t even started to rise.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 47:19
Yeah and this is what is fascinating to see this and how everybody’s individual and this is why lactate gives us tremendous amount of information that other parameters don’t give us. Historically we’ve been doing or people have been doing these tests, looking more at the cardio respiratory adaptations. The VO2 was your domain as a representative because of the cardio respiratory is riding for the whole long and cardiovascular adaptations to exercise and VO2 is the maximum representative, but we know very well and you have seen it all the time is that the day to day, that you can see two athletes with the same VO2 Max. One is sort of okay athlete and the other one is much better, but they have the same VO2 and so how can you discern or discriminate both and this is where you go at the cellular adaptations at the cellular level and that’s what you see that, in fact, the one who’s better and let’s say at 300 Watts, he said, one millimole of lactate and the other one has four millimoles of lactate. So that shows that at the mitochondrial level that adaptations are completely different, even though the VO2 Max shows that they’re the same and then you start partitioning also the fuel, the substrates and you see that at a given same relative exercise intensity, one athlete is maybe fully glycolytic already, there’s no fat oxidation, whereas the other ones do oxidizing it considerable amounts of fat. So you know that those athletes are metabolically different, although their cardio respiratory responses are identical. So this is what more and more when it comes to working with athletes. We’re getting into the metabolism, the cellular level, which truly discriminates between one athlete and the other and helps us to understand also what kind of training methodologies or stimulus we need to improve, rather than a percentage of VO2 Max and all that which in my opinion, it’s something that it’s becoming obsolete and it can be quite erroneous.
Trevor Connor 49:31
I have an athlete that I’m working with, he’s in his 50s and hired me. So he actually hired me when he was in his late 40s and I saw that he was hitting LT1 at extremely low wattages and we’re just doing the Saturday group ride and was struggling to hang on. So we did a ton of base work, a lot of what you had recommended to me having him do that zone two work and now what’s happening is if I took him in and tested him and he his LT1 is right around 230, 240 Watts, he can hold 240 Watts all day long and now he goes out to the group ride and he’s like, I just sit there and right at 240 and everybody else falls apart.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 50:11
Yeah, that’s so typical. That’s what I was mentioning earlier too, that lactate cleanse capacity and he’s very metabolically efficient. He’s really remarkable 230, 240 Watts is really good. That’s an effort, also the better you are, the more you have to push. This is another thing, I would just like to point out that reference misconception or what but there’s the idea that aerobic part, you just you only use fat, when you do that zone two for example, they use a lot of glucose also. So you can use somewhere between two and three grams per minute of glucose and when it comes to point that you have to push 250, 280, 300 Watts, you don’t have to be there all day, whether you know the level you are, it’s a tremendous amount of mechanical work that you need to put in for to move 300 watts or 280 Watts. You need to use a lot of glucose as well. So you definitely are deploying a lot of glucose, you also been utilizing a lot of fat and usually it tends to coincide with that fat max, that’s maximal fat oxidation, also, but at the same time, you have a significant amount of glucose and this is what we see in our world class athletes that when they first started doing this kind of trainings, they bulk, many of them and like after two hours, like oh my god, what the hell happened, they have to stop at a gas station or something like that and pile up on Mars or Snickers or Coke or whatever because they’re like, Oh, my God, I’m blanking the time and this is then you start revisiting nutrition, which is very important to is another area that it’s a whole different animal, but yeah, you can use two to three grams per minute at that intensity of glucose, therefore, you produce a lot of lactate too.
Rob Pickels 52:02
To translate that into calories and again, this is we’re talking about high level athletes that are able to oxidize this much glucose, but three grams a minute is about 700 calories an hour from glucose being oxidized aerobically not anaerobically, as people would assume.
Trevor Connor 52:19
This is why when I have athletes go out and do these, what they consider long slow rides and like eat, eat a lot on that ride, because you’re going to be surprised how quickly you’re going to deplete.
Nutrition and Mitochondria in the Base Season
Dr. Inigo San Millan 52:30
Absolutely and this is what we learned in the laboratory, that I use a lot of glucose and this is what back in the days of 15, 16 years ago, I started to look at the cramps per minute of oxidation of carbohydrates and remember back in the days, the guidelines for carbohydrates in terms of grams per hour, were about 30 to 55 grams per hour that was needed for efforts over three hours and looking into this. So like that doesn’t, that doesn’t make much sense. I think that we need to do at least 80 to 100 grams an hour and when I started this concept, poof, there was like people were laughing at me, this is absolutely impossible and the top top nutrition is, I’m not going to name because he was absolutely impossible for athletes to use at 200 grams an hour. Now it’s what everybody does and many of these nutrition is now there are given talks around the world, getting paid for that to say that the recommendations are exactly 90 grams per hour. So I’m just saying that these concepts are 15 years old already, but are coming from those tests in the laboratory where we see fat and carbohydrate oxidation rates, which again, it gives us tremendous amount of information, not only about the metabolic adaptations of an athlete, but also the nutritional requirements of that athlete. We can get to personalize their athletes, they oxidize a lot of glucose, carbohydrates at different intensities, whether it’s a marathon pace or whether it’s a triathlon in the different sports or whether it’s cycling and that’s where we can dial into that nutrition for that specific athletic event.
Trevor Connor 54:16
The last question, I know this is all opinion, as we said, I couldn’t find any studies on exactly what’s physiologically happening in the base season, but do you think there’s anything going on with muscle fibers in an effective base season? Is there any sort of fiber conversion? Is there any improvement in efficiency or?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 54:33
Yeah, from what I see from all the parameters that we see in the laboratory, indirectly without doing muscle biopsies is that, yeah, there’s an improvement in the efficiency, especially if type one muscle fibers. That’s where you have the highest mitochondrial number and it’s not just about the number of mitochondria and the synthesis of mitochondria, but about the function. People talk a lot about mitochondria precursors. Mitochondria via synthesis right or biogenesis, but it’s the main thing is the function. So I think that like stimulating mitochondrial function is going to be specifically in those type two, type one muscle fibers and you can see it probably an increase in mitochondrial size number. This is what we see in studies that have done at Toledo. That was Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh back in the late 1999 or 2001 or something like that about over 20 years ago, looking into patients with diabetes or prediabetes and how after a few months of aerobic exercise, blown supervisor over exercise with different types of sessions a week, they tripled the number and the size of mitochondria and also their glucose tolerance improves significantly. So we know that there are a few reports showing there, especially with with the training and also some populations with chronic diseases, that mitochondrial function increases tremendously and therefore also with athletes as well. So that’s where you want to isolate that energy system and focus on improving your mitochondria and the function as well. Another thing that is important are the different elements, so one of the things that you prove is the transporters for lactate. So we have MCT1’s. You have also the CPT1 and CPT2. MCT1 transport lactate into mitochondria and then CPT1s and CPT2s transport fatty acids. So it’s different multiple elements that you improve, during that time. Then at the glycolytic level, you also improve when you do intensity, you pull those MCT4s. Besides all the whole glycolysis right and all the enzymes involved glycolysis the turbo, it acts much faster, you can only improve also the capacity to improve MCT4s, which are the transporter that export lactate out of that fiber into the slow twitch muscle fibers. So you overexpress those transporters by isolating that training energy system as well. So and this is well studied already in different settings and especially, again, my colleague, George Brooks has done a tremendous amount of work for 50 years about all of this. So it’s great that we can translate this into now working with athletes.
Trevor Connor 57:34
I’ve certainly seen the effect when you have athletes who do all high intensity and they don’t do that that sort of base work. I remember one masters who I worked with, he went in and got tested and just riding at a steady, easy tempo, his lactates were up at 4,5,6 millimoles and he could hold that forever. He’s going, ‘this isn’t that hard’ and our explanation was he was doing so much high intensity work. He had overbuilt those MCT4 transporters, which were pumping the lactate out, but hadn’t done the work that built the MCT1s to take it in. So even though he wasn’t going all that hard. He was building up a ton of lactate and had nowhere to go.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 58:15
Exactly and it probably, the power up. It was very low.
Should athletes do high-intensity interval work in the base season
Trevor Connor 58:19
Yeah. He was riding steady at like 190 Watts and his threshold was up around 300. So let’s shift gears, we talked a lot about the physiology. Now let’s talk about what sort of work you should be doing in the base season and I’m going to start with a big question for you have should athletes be doing high intensity interval work in the offseason or in the base season and does that depend on the level of the athlete?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 58:49
Yeah, that’s the question and the way I address that is is like, it depends on the goals for next season. Are you going to start racing earlier or later. So in a month, up and down, makes a big difference. So I like to start doing some intensity here and there. Maybe not for the first month, but I like to start throwing intensities because it’s important to make sure that you keep stimulating that glycolytic pathway, those types of muscle fibers and although again, like glycolytic pathway because like everything else deteriorates over time. So I like to keep stimulated, knowing though that it takes weeks to improve that bioenergetics so and then we have plenty of time if the season is let’s say two or three months out, but I personally like to after three or four weeks start to throw in some intensity efforts for sure. I like that.
Trevor Connor 59:44
What sort of intensity do you have your athletes do? Is it short very high intensity or is it more longer threshold?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 59:51
Yeah, I like more longer than shorter, but I’ve been said to depends on the correct sort of cyclists and their, if it’s like a punchy rider, ride that let’s say a criterium rider or a rider that is more like a typical classic rider that they need to like very short efforts. You might want to tailor those to four or five minutes, three to five minutes efforts, as opposed to someone who’s a pure climber, but it doesn’t mean that it’s only one and do the other one, but I like to mix both and depends on their goals and capabilities of the athletes or some athletes are very good, for example, at long efforts or 15, 20 minutes at competition pace, but they’re not very good at those changes of gears, in that zone five, those three to five minutes are really high intensity and that’s where like, okay, we focus more on that aspect, so that’s where those were some of the things that I like to individualize them, according to the necessities of the of the athlete.
Trevor Connor 1:00:53
Let’s check back with Brent Bookwalter, in his description of the sort of work he’d do on the base season.
Training During the Off-Season
Brent Bookwalter 1:00:58
You know, throughout my career, the race season, I think continuously got longer and the offseason got shorter and the amount of things we needed to work on, got more and we had more science at our fingertips, more technical stuff to work on. So there really wasn’t, yeah, the past five or 10 years of my career, there wasn’t much time to just ride around a lot. In general, I would say the brief picture is, a little bit of time off the bike, a little bit of time of unstructured riding and then when I clicked back into sort of training on the road bike, there would probably be a period, but it was quite short, we’re talking a couple of weeks where I would just do entirely unstructured riding and then after that because we’re looking at the calendar and the clock thinking like races are coming, the structure came back pretty quick. So yeah, initially, we weren’t doing super high intensity, anaerobic work, but there was metered, a lot of meter work, a lot of lower middle and upper aerobic work. Yeah, kind of like zone three stuff or medio, if you’re Italian. Lots of lots of media on the climbs, medio on the flats, I’d say like on the bike strength work would be part of that. Off the bike strength work, I would say would also be part of that. Yeah and just trying to build that framework, it’s really, I always viewed like the base season or that foundational period as like training to train to do the more heavy high intensity stuff that was really going to lift you and push you into race mode.
Trevor Connor 1:02:24
So what would be a couple of quick examples of some structured work you do during that period of time.
Brent Bookwalter 1:02:30
Yeah, a lot of the rides during that time, I would focus on accumulating basically, like progressing accumulation of time spent in that middle aerobic zone, like that tempo ish zone. So I would start at the beginning and try to just spend 30 minutes I’ve arrived there, do three times 10 minutes and then I would stretch it out to 40 or 50 and make those blocks of time longer, kind of the classic like muscle tension or strength work. Definitely some forced seated and standing work. I think the tendency out of the offseason or the D training period is to, my tendency was always like stand up more, get out of the saddle more, stretch around, but it was important to force myself to sit and sit on the flats and sit on the climbs and also with that just do other like postural training on the bike as well. Not just only be riding around on the flat roads, on my tops with my head and then when chatting, but during that this sort of like tempo time actually spend some time in the drop, spend some time on the hoods, spend some time in those positions that I was going to want to access once I do the higher intensity and when I start racing, so it’s not like a completely different position.
Trevor Connor 1:03:40
So what do you focus on in terms of the training that you have your athlete to do in the base season?
Weight Training and Training Schedule
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:03:46
So I focus on that, so to mainly and so it’s important than to do a lactate test or physiological tests before to calibrate those intensities and then, since those evolve and change, what I asked my athletes is just to have a lactate meter with them and even take him out there and I teach them how to poke themselves into lactate testing. So they give me the feedback because those things are going to be changing over time and I can see their improvement over time and I can also adjust their intensities and that also way that the athlete gets more engaged with the training, they understand the better, the why are we doing this and not just the how, but the why and it gets it gets quite engaged and that being said, that’s where like the basis as we always been traditionally call it right. It’s important where I particularly like to really work that too. That hopefully it’s not becoming a cult thing, the whole zoom to concept, but I started doing that like perform was 30 years ago and it was like a weird concept, but now it’s so popular that It’s a little bit scary because it seems like is the silver bullet for absolutely everything including diseases, which is not right, but it’s just part of the equation. So but it to me is an important part. So that’s what I like to really simulate, you know that bioenergetics, which is I’ve seen is what improves fat oxidation, mitochondrial function like decrements capacity and sets up a very good base to then introduce high intensity workouts as the season gets closer and then I like to do some weight training also, especially for those ones who might need to improve that power capacitor strength and improve the neuromuscular adaptations to high intensities. I like to do weight training and since there are some transfer from weight, right after training. I will do a session I just like to do so in two sessions several days a week. Again, this is my experience right in impure experience, but I don’t see any research on that. They say that they should maybe try some transfer of power from doing a weightlifting session and go right away to biking to see that might work for the first month or two, the preseason. It’s not sustainable to do that, throughout the season. I’m not very fond of doing weight training during the season, especially in more endurance athletes because it’s going to be an artifact, especially when you throw competition or so you might have some blocks, as I mentioned earlier, where a month and a half or two where you can throw some if you feel that that athlete might be a sprinter, especially for sprinters, which are a whole different breed of athletes, but not a big fan of doing these in more endurance type athletes during the season, but in the off the season. I like to do it also. So to weightlifting. I like to do that.
Rob Pickels 1:06:52
Dr. San Millan, something that I’m interested in from you is, during this base training phase, are you altering the weekly calendar of somebody? Are you say, purposefully doing double workouts or back to back workouts? How does that look specifically for this time?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:07:08
Yeah, that’s a great question and I would say in my beginning, coaching athletes, I would do some double sessions. I saw that over time, they don’t see, again, my opinion didn’t seem to have much of a benefit, except for the view to like, let’s say weights and you want to do later on, like cycling, but I like to do it together, as I mentioned earlier, but I think that doing that in one session, to me, it’s it’s enough because physiologically and mentally might be too much to two trainings in one day and eventually I that’s when I started to look at blood analysis and further testing with lactate and that’s what I saw that well, people could could get to deteriorate. So it’s a gain or an area that I don’t want to enter in and take risks further or deterioration of this athletes or that farther into the season, mentally, they’re already burnt out from doing double sessions at this time of the season. So one session to me is enough.
Trevor Connor 1:08:08
So the other interesting thing I want to ask about in terms of the week, this is something I’ve always believed in. When you get into the season and you’re doing races, you’re doing training races, you’re doing really high intensity interval work, a single workout can really beat you up and you might need a day or two to recover from that. My personal experience is the work that you do in the base season, no one day is really going to beat you up enough to give you that that big training stimulus. So I’ve always been a big believer in the base season of building blocks of days. So you have three days where maybe you do some some threshold work one day and then you have two longer days and it’s the accumulation of the three days of builds of fatigue and then you take a day or two easy and then you have another two or three day block. What’s your feeling on that? Is that how you approach with your athletes or do you think that doesn’t make as big a difference?
Recovery While Training
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:09:00
No, exactly. So yeah, I like to do some recovery days, but I like to have, as you said three days in a row, for example. Where you can build some fatigue and then take a recovery day and just to rule over again. So like to be like one or two easy days, but also yeah, it’s just like if you throw like a proper session or zone two and you have like longer hours and then you have the next day some a lactate threshold or throw like a threshold session or interval within our concern today. Yeah, like over time that causes fatigue. So you need to step back and recovery and this is part of that monitoring also that we do with athletes as well. I personally really like to see how they’re and this is the elite level every month we do more analysis because I look at different parameters and I can see how well and athletes are simulating training and when you have competition, how they’re simulating competition as well. So you can tweak training program you know so that’s an important part of the monitoring because if you didn’t do the monitoring, sometimes you might see that an athlete is maybe not assimilating that block of training very well and is getting fatigued or trained and if you miss that, that performance might be decreasing and it’s going to be difficult to get that athlete out of that hole, whereas if you see that with monitoring, you can get that athlete immediately after that. Then on a day to day, for example, through training peaks we see a lot of data there. Or coaches see and you can see a lot of parameters like how was it heart rate. I also listen to your heart rate. You see that they may have difficulties to get their heart rate up and that’s a sign of fatigue also. So right away, you’re on top of that rider or you see that, let’s say they’re doing whatever watts per kilogram for that day, I don’t know, let’s say three or 3.3 and in today, they only did 2.3 or 2.4. So you can’t tell the rider right away what happened today, you really have much lower power output and then like, that’s what the feedback is very important. That the daily feedback with the athlete. How you doing today and like, yeah, you’re right, I couldn’t push the pedals today, okay. Then tomorrow, we have a longer day or in a longer day with an interval. So let’s do a recovery day tomorrow. Okay and let’s push it again. Another thing that happens here and it’s happening now, in this time is like you have all these respiratory infections. Whether is the influenza or flu or worries is like upper respiratory infection, that is going to take out that rider for a whole week or five days, right. So that’s a time to be careful about it and not as they get nervous at it and obviously upset that they have to take a week off or have several days off, but it is the way it is and sooner or later, everybody’s going to get or most people are going to get one of these infections. So that’s what can derail the entire block. So it is what it is and then you have to be patient, but then when you go back to train again, you need to make sure that you do a transition period until the athlete has good sensations again. So that’s what I like to focus in these aspects.
Trevor Connor 1:12:15
Something I always tell my athletes after they’re sick because they want to get back to the original training plan as basically say you have to throw it everything that we had before and figure out what’s the best plan moving forward now and it’s gonna be different from the previous plan.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:12:31
Yeah exactly, you might take a step back to continue. As suppose to take two steps forward and like, it’s probably not gonna work very well in the long term.
Trevor Connor 1:12:41
So something I always tell my athletes in the base season is I want them feeling like a tank, meaning if they go out and do that zone to steady ride, they could do that all day long, but they’re out the budyy and the buddy suddenly says, Hey, let’s sprint for that town line sign that kind of go, that’s not really on the legs right now and what I say is, we want you to be a tank during the base season and then that transition to the race season is where we convert you from a tank to a sports car because as you said that top end comes around really quickly. Interesting, your response to that, though, do you think that that’s how an athlete should feel on the base season or should they feel a little more like a racer?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:13:23
Oh, that’s a great analogy. I never thought about that before, but yeah, it’s a great analogy, Trevor. So I think along the same lines and I think that it’s important that to be patient and to be focused in this part of the year to really isolate every, specifically this energy system. That being said, if an athlete it’s has that lion or a sports car mentality and like, oh, I cannot be three months without doing the sprint or doing the high interval. Sure, why not? Absolutely. To me, there’s no problem, give that athlete happy, but still, within like the context of like, this is where we will focus on this part of the season and then yeah, we’ll become a sports car is very well said.
Do Training Camps have any Value?
Trevor Connor 1:14:09
So last thing I want to ask you about. I know this is a pro to a lot of coaches take. I know, this is an approach that a lot of World Tour teams take of maybe few times during that base season, have a big training camp where you spend anywhere from three days to seven days, doing a basically a fatigue block something that’s beyond your normal training that you’re going to be pretty tired from by the end of it. What’s your feeling on these training camps or fatigue blocks and the base season?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:14:38
Well, that’s a good point and I think, yeah this is to me, I try not to do those and especially, I mean, one thing that I have for training camps, obviously, there’s a lot of things that happened in the training camp. So training camp, this is where cyclists, they get their equipment. They need to do medical tests, physilogical tests, biomechanical tests. Try the new equipment and to have it’s absolutely key to have meetings with sports directors. There’s days for sponsors, for media. So in these training camps, there’s a lot of things going on. There a lot of activities. So you have to always respect every activity, which is very important. I have put just like from my physiologies and Coach hat, I like to the training part of it and in the training part of it, I’m not as comfortable anymore with this training camps, the way they’re structured and this where would try to negotiate right in a way with everything that is going on because nowadays, we can monitor perfectly any athlete from around the world, not perfectly. Perfection doesn’t really exist, but almost perfectly or very well, on a daily base and what they feel is that when these athletes come to these training camps and the ride in groups, many of them they complain, they say, man, this is derailing my training. They feel anxious, they feel like, oh, I don’t need this training, canceled training and you’re always telling, okay, I could, I could agree with that, but you need to meet with the directors to try the new equipment. This is where you get the clothes, where you get the bikes, you need biomechanical testing to make sure that the new bike this year will have. So it’s absolutely deserved to be there, but isn’t the negotiation where at least I see, okay, let’s try to individualize these trainings as much as possible to a smallest groups as possible because if you have one athlete, that they have to do five hours and they’re like in the back with a group of 15 or 20, actually they’re only going to be training out of the five hours they actually training is going to be one hour or less.
Trevor Connor 1:16:43
So what about the recreational rider who doesn’t have to deal with all that, but just says, once or twice in the winter, I’m gonna take four days and really ramp up my volume, not necessarily intensity, but really ramp up the volume and get myself to a bit of a fatigue, do you feel there’s a value in that,
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:17:00
I don’t see much of that value. Honestly, I think that they should continue with the same structure, that the thing of the winter and this is why we do these training camps when there’s good weather, right. So for example, in Colorado we would be having one of the worst winters I’ve ever remember, cannot go outside any day. It’s cold, icy, whatever, if I am a recreational athlete and they have the resources and the money, I would go to Arizona, for example and in the same week that I should do here, now that I can’t because I cannot go outside and I’m, I’m sick of doing trainers indoors. I would just grab a bike and go for a week or 10 days to Arizona and do the same log that I would do here and this is where I will get a very good quality training. Whereas others here in Colorado, for example or other colder climates, they have to deal with this and are stuck. So I think this is the value in my humble opinion to move out of a cold area and go to the warm area. Like for example, someone put out posts on Twitter or in social media about how many teams, world tour teams, we’re in the same area, when did our training camp in December and this is the area of Alicante, Valencia in the Mediterranean, which is very mild weather year around, you’re in your 50s 60s, even 70s. Your in this time of year is perfect for training and we were like about 80% of entire World Tour teams were in a 20, 30 kilometer radius, but if we’re recreational athletes, I would try to move away you can to a colder climate. If not, I would try to continue with your program.
Trevor Connor 1:18:39
Well, Dr. San Millan, thank you. It’s been a great conversation. We certainly covered base training, but I think we, as we always do with you, went a lot of really interesting places with the physiology. So you know how this works, we always finish out with a take home the most important message you want our listeners to leave with. So let’s start with you. What do you think is your message for this episode?
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:19:03
I think in my opinion, the message of base training is to do that to focus on that base training and to understand what is going on there. For example, in as we have discussed been discussing is to try to target those bioenergetics of that mitochondrial function and oxidative phosphorylation, which is the energy system and I don’t want to get off topic now, but I think we know a lot about this at the scientific level and I think it’s time to translate it at the coaching level with proper terminology. We can also interfere back and forth with base training, aerobic training, if you will, but I think that yeah, just whatever you want to call it aerobic base or oxidative training, it’s important to understand what we’re doing and what we’re targeting at the cellular level.
Rob Pickels 1:19:48
To build on that. For me what’s important to point out is, this doesn’t necessarily have to be one time of year in a very linear fashion. It’s not like you just focus on this for a short moment, then you move onto the next thing, then you move on to competition, then you move on to the recovery after the season and I do think that some, popular online training things almost make it seem like it ought to be that way with how their annual plan builder goes. This depending on the athlete and depending on the needs of their events, the needs of their physiology, this training, this type of training is something that you can do multiple times throughout as you prepare throughout the season. So the training concepts that we talked about today are hugely, hugely important. Don’t be afraid to apply those at multiple times throughout your training season.
Trevor Connor 1:20:35
I think my take home is going back to a story I had in that article I just wrote. I remember a bunch of years ago, there was this weekly training race, there was a Masters, bunch of us would get together and go through this loop and on this loop, there was this one minute climb, that really was the race, everybody would hit that really hard and one time, a world tour athlete who’s ridden the Tour de France a bunch of times showed up and everybody was shocked when we hit that one minute climb, he didn’t really drop anybody and they’re like, oh, he was holding back and I was doing explain to them. No, he really wasn’t. What they didn’t notice was after the climb, he rode away from the whole group at over 300 watts and the point that I made in my article, which I think is is my argument for why base is so important is you will be surprised, even as a recreational Master’s athlete, how close your one minute and five minute power can get to and what you’d see in a world tour athlete. Everybody focuses on those short endurance wattages, but you actually hit a pretty high level pretty quickly. What differentiates that World Tour athlete from the rest of us is they can sit there 300 watts for four hours and go, no problem where most people 300 Watts, that’s threshold or above and they’re not going to hang on at that that kind of steady pace that the world heard athletes doing. That’s what differentiates the best athletes and that’s what you build in the base season.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:22:05
I agree. 100%. Yeah, very great example.
Trevor Connor 1:22:08
Well, Dr. San Millan, thank you so much. Always a pleasure having you on the show.
Dr. Inigo San Millan 1:22:12
Well, thank you so much. It’s always fun and great. Thank you very much.
Rob Pickels 1:22:16
That was another episode of Fast Talk. Subscribe to Fast Talk wherever you prefer to find your favorite podcast. Be sure to leave us a rating and a review. The thoughts and opinions expressed on Fast Talk are those of the individual. As always, we love your feedback. Join the conversation at forums at fastalklabs.com to discuss each and every episode. Become a member of Fast Talk Laboratories at fasttalklabs.com/join to become part of our education and coaching community. For Dr. Inigo San Millan, Brent Bookwalter, Dr. Bradley Petek, Stephen Hyde, and Trevor Connor. I’m Rob Pickels. Thanks for listening!