The #1 Thing I Got Right As A New Athlete

I was very fortunate Scott Molina took an interest when I moved to New Zealand.
Not that he had much of a choice, I turned up at his garage (ready to ride) most mornings.
Scott has studied, and applied, what works for his entire life.

One of my favorite follows (Elias Lohtonen) was writing about the differences between Beginners and Elites. The context was metabolic fitness, as determined in his lab.

This got me thinking about my journey as a new athlete.

When I started out, I disliked intense training:

  • It crushed me
  • It hurt
  • I wasn’t very good at it

However, I thought I “needed it.”

Turns out I was lucky I didn’t bother with it for many years.

We now have a better idea why.

I’ll take you back 25 years.


Lactate As A Fuel Source, Not Waste Product

When I learned exercise physiology in the 1990s, lactic acid was presented as the athlete’s enemy – causing pain and slowing us down.

Difficult, searing training was believed necessary to teach our bodies to buffer and tolerate this acidic compound.

We used to think lactate would form crystals in our muscles, causing post-exercise muscle soreness. Hours, and days, later we would “flush the legs” to remove these waste products. We’d get massages to “break up the lactate.”

Turns out we were wrong.

Lactate is essential, and extremely useful, once we’ve trained our bodies to use it.

Roll forward to the present…

From an article written by Iñigo San Millán (Twitter Bio).

Lactate is also a key regulator of intermediary metabolism, regulating substrate utilization. It decreases and inhibits the breakdown of fat for energy purposes (lipolysis), as well as the rate of glucose utilization by cells (glucolysis).

The bold part is mine.

What does this mean for you?

Athletes who start fast, and perform “intense” endurance training impair their ability to burn fat

Every human I’ve ever met (!) wanted to burn more fat.

What are the implications for your training?

  • Slow your endurance sessions down.
  • Endurance training needs to feel light (link is to an article on “aerobic threshold feel”).
  • Endurance adaptations favor duration.

We all share a bias towards thinking that “more intense is better.”

Intensity is not better, it is different…

…and a key difference is you are burning less fat.


Additional resources:

1// Read the first article I linked : focus on training your slow twitch muscle fibers.

You already have plenty of capacity to generate lactate. If you want to improve performance (and burn more fat) then you need to focus primarily on the low-end.

2// Next up, Dr. San Millán’s paper on Metabolic Flexibility is a fascinating read on the differences between three groups: elite athletes, recreational athletes and individuals with metabolic syndrome.


From the article linked above

3// Overcoming our shared bias towards intensity : One of the way’s to retrain your mind is to focus on submax performance. At 53, I’m very interested in my paces, and powers, at 130 bpm. This is ~35 beats below max (the “top of”cap” in the table below, approximately).

4// How do you know what’s “intense enough?”

From Last Week’s Thread on Training Zones
The table is a good starting point, you can dial in more accurately using the resources in the thread

5// Finally, this thread contains my favorite lactate resources.


Have questions?

  • Go to Twitter
  • Search @feelthebyrn1 ‘your topic’
  • Reply into my thread on the topic
  • I’ll answer with my experience, or point you towards someone who knows better than me