The Rich Roll Podcast – Alex Hutchinson on Redefining the Limits of Human Performance

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intro
  • Are the limits you put on your life truth, or are they illusions you accept as facts?
  • Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience) has a new book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance
    • The mind, not the body, is the new frontier of endurance
  • Endurance – the struggle to continue against amounting desire to stop
  • There are techniques and strategies we can use to facilitate our abilities to reach higher, and do more
Endure – “The physical limits we experience, are often mediated by the brain”
  • How do you define your limits, and know if you’ve come close to them?
  • Once we accomplish something once – for Alex, it was running a 4 minute mile – we find it much easier to do that certain thing again
    • In a sense, you never really know your own physical limits, and the limits we have, are illusions
  • “The brain, rather than the body, is the ultimate decision maker about limits”
  • Check out the book  Thinking Fast. Thinking Slow
    • There are unconscious biases that distort the way we think
The Limits imposed by our brain
  • The body has certain capabilities, but those capabilities exceed what the mind will allow it to do
    • We’re genetically wired to have our brains shut us down before we overdo it physically
    • When our brain senses danger (very low fuel stores, or a very high heart rate), it down regulates the amount of muscle it’s recruiting – so you’re trying just as hard, but your muscles are getting a weaker signal to contract
  • Changing the unconscious, through conscious strategies
    • One study had cyclists pedaling to exhaustion with either smiling or frowning faces flashed on a wall in front of them (the images only appeared for about 16ms – too quick to register consciously), riders were 12% faster when smiling faces were flashed compared to frowning faces
      • What can we do with this information? – Maybe you can smile in the midst of pain from some form of endurance, and that can achieve some of the same effects
pain
  • Experiments have been done giving fentanyl to cyclists
    • Fentanyl doesn’t block the signals traveling from the brain to your muscles, but it blocks the signals from your muscles to your brain
    • It inhibits the ability to pace yourself – users don’t have the feedback that tells them how close they are to their muscular limits
  • Our physical limits exist to protect us, to protect us from harm
    • “If you unleashed a bunch of lions at mile 20 of a marathon, you’d see everyone run a little faster. What’s not holding them back is muscular limits.”
  • Pain isn’t what limits you if you’re a well trained athlete
    • Effort is really the limiting factor
      • If you are telling yourself “this is really hard”, it won’t change your pain, but it will change your effort in willing to proceed/go faster
  • Once a record is broken, it’s that much easier to “break” again
  • In terms of breaking our limits, we may be overcomplicating it, we don’t need better training, we need more control over our brains
  • Pain tolerance
    • Data show athletes and non-athletes feel pain in the same ways
    • Data shows athletes are, however, able to tolerate higher levels of pain
    • Pan tolerance for athletes tends to vary by season – in the off season, they’l have a much lower pain tolerance
  • “Pain exists to allow us to pace ourselves, so we can gauge where our limits are. You don’t need to give up because it’s painful”
    • Training allows us to become more tolerable of the pain
  • Research shows that people who come from more difficult backgrounds, have a higher tolerance for pain
Endurance – the struggle to continue against overwhelming desire to stop
  • “The key to being successful in endurance sports is slowing down the least” –  You can apply this to all areas of life
  • “The longer the event, the more mental it becomes”
    • Alex puts the line at 2 minutes – the dividing line between predominantly physical and getting more predominantly mental
    • You don’t see a finishing kick in 800m races, but you do in mile long races
  • Usain Bolt is very good, and one of the reasons for this is he can maintain his top speed longer than his competitors
  • “We are capable more than we allow ourselves to believe”
Strategies for realizing we have more potential than we think
  • “Limits, in most cases, are elastic”
  • In physical sports – when you feel an overwhelming desire to stop, know it’s a product of your brain and not a statement that your legs can’t continue
    • In a running race, every step you take is a micro decision
    • “When you think you’ve hit your limits, you haven’t”
  • The number one thing you can do – practice motivational self talk, become aware of what you’re telling yourself
    • Be honest with yourself – is the voice in your head right or wrong?
    • Replace negative thought patterns with one that are encouraging/motivating – you need to actually believe what you’re saying
  • “Everyone in the world has some degree of imposter syndrome, and has some doubt that they are good at the things that other people think they are. Acknowledge this, but know that you DO belong.”
  • “People who have long sustainable careers, really love what they do”
Diet and Nutrition
  • “No matter what you write about diet, someone’s going to have a negative opinion”
  • The ketogenic diet has caught on in the endurance world
    • 10 years ago, Alex would have said “You need carbohydrates to have good endurance results”
    • Nowadays, the paradigm has shifted
    • It really matters what sort of endurance you are talking about
      • With low intensity endurance (like hiking) a ketogenc diet may be okay
      • For something like marathon running – Alex doesn’t see how it would work
  • You can become fat adapted 2 ways
    • Eating lots of fat – your body will learn to burn it
    • Do lots of aerobic exercise – eventually your body will learn to switch to burning fat when glycogen stores are depleted
    • Burning fat is important, but it doesn’t necessarily make you skinnier – does it really matter how much fat you burn if it doesn’t increase performance?
  • The problem with a ketogenic diet
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