Episode 23: How To Build Endurance In Your Brain & Body | Huberman Lab

Key Takeaways

  • Endurance exercise enhances the ability of the brain and body to work for longer periods of time
  • High intensity and long duration endurance training improves brain function by oxygenating the brain and delivering more nutrients to neurons
  • “The reason we quit is rarely because our body quits; our mind quits.” – Dr. Andrew Huberman
  • Five main drivers of effort in the body: neurons, muscle, heart, blood, and lungs
  • The source of energy in the body depends on the duration of activity – if you hit a wall, try increasing the pace to tap into other fuel sources
  • Endurance training seems to improve brain function more than strength or hypertrophy training
  • Muscular endurance training protocol: 3-5 sets of 12-100 repetitions (but 12-25 is reasonable for most people) with a rest period between 30-180 seconds
  • For muscular endurance, try isometric holds, compound exercise, kettlebell swings – but no eccentric loading
  • Long duration endurance training protocol: one set of anything longer than 12 minutes
  • Anaerobic HIIT endurance protocol: 3-12 sets with a ratio of work to rest at 3:1 (e.g., 30 seconds work: 10 seconds rest) – or – a ratio of 1:5 (e.g., 20 seconds hard work: 100 seconds rest)
  • Aerobic HIIT endurance protocol: 3-12 sets with 3:1 ratio (e.g., 30 seconds work: 10 seconds rest) – or 1:1 ratio (e.g., 30 seconds work: 30 seconds rest)

Introduction

Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab focuses on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance.

In this episode of Huberman Lab, Dr. Huberman reviews the different types of endurance, using interval training to enhance our brain and body, fueling the body, increasing oxygen utilization – and as always – much more!

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Biology Of Endurance & Energy In Brain And Body

  • To maintain or increase muscle: perform 5 sets of resistance training per muscle, per week
  • Endurance: ability to engage in continuous bouts of exercise, movement, or effort
  • Endurance involves biological crossover relating to how our body and brain use fuels, and which fuels our body and the brain uses
  • We convert almost anything to ATP (energy for the body) within cells
  • You need energy and oxygen to endure brain (e.g., studying or cognitive function) and body (e.g., exercise)
  • Body and brain function better if we have good energy utilization

What Allows Us To Engage In Effort?

  • Five main drivers of effort: (1) neurons/nerves; (2) muscle; (3) blood; (4) heart; (5) lungs
  • Quitting is mental, not physical – there’s a class of neurons that release excess epinephrine (readiness signal) until glia shuts the system down
  • Quitting is 100% neural
  • Unless you are completely ketogenic and fat-adapted, neurons need glucose and electrolytes for energy and fuel
  • Sources of energy in the body in the presence of oxygen:
    • Short bursts: Phosphocreatine (found in the body)
    • Mid-range: Glucose (carbohydrate in the blood)
    • Long-range: Glycogen (stored fuel from the liver)
    • Fats stored in adipose tissue release fatty acids for energy converted to ATP
  • The heart moves blood and oxygen for fuel of muscles and the brain

Endurance Type 1: Muscular Endurance

  • Muscular endurance: refers to the ability of muscles to perform work overtime; failure to continue is due to muscular fatigue (e.g., performing pushups or plank until can no longer continue)
    • Muscular endurance training protocol: 3-5 sets of 12-100 repetitions (but 12-25 is reasonable for most people) with a rest period between 30-180 seconds
  • Muscular endurance relies on nerves and muscles (not blood, heart, lungs)
  • Being able to perform the same movement repeatedly will enhance performance
  • A major component of muscular endurance: no eccentric loading (want eccentric to be light and fast)
  • Movements for muscular endurance: isometric holds, compound exercises, kettlebell swings – don’t use Olympic lifts to build muscular endurance
  • Benefits of muscular endurance: increasing muscular endurance builds the ability of mitochondria to use oxygen to generate energy
  • Can be combined with strict hypertrophy or strength training but be mindful that most people need 1-2 full days of rest

Endurance Type 2: Long Duration Endurance

  • Long duration endurance: long run, swim, bike ride lasting 12 minutes – 8-9 hours
  • Less than 100% of maximum oxygen intake (VO2 max)
  • Builds on fuel utilization in muscles, the activity of neurons in the brain to engage in regular motion
    • Long duration endurance training protocol: one set of anything longer than 12 minutes (not counting steps, pulls on the rower, etc.)
  • Relies on regular repeated effort and ability to maintain the efficiency of movement
  • The goal of training is to build mitochondrial density to be able to repeat while burning less fuel and becoming more efficient
  • Strike a balance between the generation of muscular requirement and fuel utilization
  • Uses glycogen for slow-twitch muscles to contract
  • Causes of failure: mental stamina (i.e., you are dreading the run and burning energy just ruminating) or improper fueling
  • Benefits of long duration endurance: build capillary beds within the muscle, increases mitochondria, increases the delivery of oxygen to muscles

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) For Endurance: Anaerobic

  • Anaerobic HIIT endurance protocol: 3-12 sets with a ratio of work to rest at 3:1 (e.g., 30 seconds work: 10 seconds rest) – or – a ratio of 1:5 (e.g., 20 seconds hard work: 100 seconds rest)
    • Work: rest ratio depends on the desired quality of movement – for example, you can go all out a bike safer so can work longer and rest shorter; if using a barbell or kettlebells you can perform more quality reps overtime working shorter and resting longer
  • Muscles generate a high output of work in the short term  
  • Takes breathing and system beyond 100% of VO2 max
  • Build up the number of sets overtime to increase anaerobic endurance
  • Reps performed at any speed with good, safe form
  • Causes of failure in anaerobic endurance: fatigue of oxygen utilization systems
  • Benefits of anaerobic endurance: increase capillary beds, increase the ability of neurons to access more energy, build capacity to engage short bursts of intense work

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) For Endurance: Aerobic

  • Aerobic HIIT endurance protocol: 3-12 sets with a 3:1 ratio (e.g., 30 seconds work: 10 seconds rest) – or 1:1 ratio (e.g., 30 seconds work: 30 seconds rest)
    • Work periods should be 8-12 minutes and done 2-3 times per week
  • 1:1 ratio improves most of the energy systems (nerve, muscle, blood, heart, lungs)
  • Benefits of aerobic endurance: builds up energy utilization systems, improves ATP and mitochondrial function, improves oxygen utilization of muscles and brain, enhances lung capacity

Improvements In Brain Function

  • Brain and heart are the most important systems to take care of
  • Breathing hard with high heart rate: blood circulates faster, oxygen utilization in muscles go up, capillary beds expand, the blood returned to the heart causes eccentric loading of cardiac muscle (improving stroke volume and work capacity)
  • An increase in the vasculature that comes from endurance training improves brain function in better ways than strength and hypertrophy training

Breathing

  • Breathe to bring oxygen into our system and remove carbon dioxide
  • The ability to deliver oxygen to working muscles and brain is important to generate muscular effort and think
  • Two main sources of air for the body: (1) nasal breathing and (2) mouth breathing
  • In general, nasal breathing is more efficient and better for us and scrubs the air of bacteria and viruses
  • For long-duration work try all nasal breathing; as you increase intensity you will need to incorporate mouth
  • Mouth breathing is less efficient and makes us more prone to infection – but it can be helpful to exhale through the mouth with an all-out effort
  • Other sources of respiration: (1) ribs and (2) diaphragm
  • Warm-up intercostal muscles (breathe deeply, expanding chest) before exercise can help breathe deeper and deliver more oxygen, increasing efficiency
  • Side ache that happens during exercise sometimes can be relieved by doing a few rounds of double inhale-exhale: two quick breaths in and longer exhale

Tips & Tools

  • When you hit the wall: increase speed to shift muscles to access different fuel source – note, this won’t work if you are completely depleted of glycogen and stores
  • Remember, neurons need water and electrolytes to fire
  • We lose 1-5 pounds of water per hour which can impact mental capacity and physical performance
  • Start exercise hydrated (with electrolytes, not just water)
  • The formula for hydration: bodyweight (in pounds) /30 = ounces of fluid you should drink every 15 minutes
  • An ice bath can improve mitochondrial density and respiration
  • Wait 6-24 hours between workouts, rest 1-2 full days
  • Optimize sleep for performance and recovery
  • Take 5-10 minutes after exercise to focus on breathing or lie down and mellow out after training to assist in recovery
  • Where you place vision allows you to generate more effort
  • You can intermittently focus attention on landmark you want to run (bike, swim, etc.) to – but use wisely – if you do this mile after mile, you will be more mentally fatigued
  • Caffeine & stimulants will improve energy and power output
  • Magnesium malate can reduce soreness
  • Beet powder and juices increase vasodilation

For more information, Dr. Huberman suggests checking out: Human Performance Education by Dr. Andy Galpin

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