Well, I finally finished Stu Mittleman‘s book, Slow Burn. I say “finally” because it became a bit of a chore. It’s not that Stu’s message isn’t interesting — the idea that we can train our bodies to burn fat rather than sugar in order to run far longer than most of us realize is possible is certainly worth some exploration. The problem is that the “how” can be summed up in just a few sentences, not an entire book.
Stu’s message: we have a lot more energy available in the form of stored fat than we do in the form of sugar. Fat-burning takes place when we exercise slowly and aerobically; sugar-burning happens when we’re exercising hard. By doing most of our training at a very slow pace (heart rate less than about 75% of max) and consuming almost no sugar, especially not while running, we can train our bodies to burn fat longer and run farther. (And Stu ran 1,000 miles in less than 12 days, so he should know!)
There are a few other positives, mostly the form of motivation. For example, Stu contends that “the wall” is simply a construct invented by people trying to sell us sugary sports nutrition products, and if we don’t focus on it, we won’t hit it.
Stu did a great job of getting me pumped up to change my diet and training regimen to reach levels of endurance I’ve never dreamed of. The problem: I’m still not sure what to do differently to achieve said endurance. While a training plan is outlined, it’s pretty standard. Lots of slow miles, a little bit of tempo running, and an interval workout here and there, all done with a heart monitor. The diet is a little different in that there’s almost no sugar in it, not even much fruit. But I was left wondering what to eat, if not sugar, during long runs. The book is all running without sugar; is it crazy to expect that the guy might tell me what to eat (and how much, and how often) while I’m running?
The (very) ugly
There’s a weird, out-of-place section near the beginning of the book, about a harmlessly-named topic called “muscle testing.” Some type of stretching or diagnostic test to determine fitness level, right? Nope, far stupider. It’s about holding a food in one hand while your friend presses down on your other arm and you try to resist their pushing. If your muscles stay strong and you resist, congratulations — your body “wants” the food; eat up! If your muscle weakens, it’s your body’s way of telling you through some weird telepathic powers that the food you’re holding is bad for you.
I’m trying to think of something funny to write about this, but I can’t. I’m too pissed off at it. To read about other angry people debunking it with statistics and this weird new thing called “science,” just Google “applied kinesiology muscle testing.”
So all in all, not a great book. The ideas are intriguing, and I’ll certainly try to incorporate the fat-burning thing by weaning myself off sugar during and before runs. But just read my post about when I saw Stu Mittleman speak, and you’ll get the gist of it. Better yet, you’ll save 12 bucks, a few hours, and the embarrassment of having your spouse muscle-test you while you hold a biscotti and an avocado. Sorry, Erin; it won’t happen again.
Last thing: I wrote more about Slow Burn on Running Shorts today; check that out if you’re interested.