Slow Burn = slow read

[slow burn cover photo]

Slow Burn - a slow read

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.

The good

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.

The bad

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.



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  1. hmmm- I’m skipping this one. I’m not a big reader so the topic writer really has to drive me through a book. Not to mention I’m a HUGE fruit fan. Not eating much fruit? Already against it 😉
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Aurorae Yoga Mat Giveaway & Roasted Fruit and Veggies =-.

    • This is one of the best books i have read. In particular the concept of using fat as the main source of fuel not relying on high glycemic index foods such as fries, sodas, and fat free crap! Yes there are plenty of veggies and fruits to eat from this low carb Diet. This book is worth every penny and then some….
      The Proof I have now ran several marathons. The great thing is that my recovery time keeps improving for longer runs. For example the soreness is not much.

  2. Read your Running Shorts post- very entertaining piece, thanks for your candor.
    I tend to agree with Stu concerning “the wall” and am definitely on the bandwagon concerning training the body to burn fat. I just don’t think that complete deprivation is ever the right answer.
    Thanks for sharing and educating!

  3. You might like my book The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution. A shameless plug I know but if you’re looking to really burn fat and get fit with science based information and what to eat, try it.

  4. Oh – and I hate to say it but if you stay off all meat for too long your health and lean mass will suffer. I say this because even without knowing you, I care. But if you’re eating fish and eggs you’ll be ok. Not optimal, but ok.

  5. Love your Running Shorts post! I can’t believe they consider the “muscle testing” science….if only that was the kinda stuff they covered in my physiology class….
    .-= rungirlrunn´s last blog ..The Girl Effect =-.

  6. Thanks so much for your review!! It’s so easy for me to see a book in the running section and want to gobble it up, but some just aren’t worth the read!
    .-= Katherine´s last blog ..A Tuesday in Photos =-.

  7. I picture Stu Mittleman as Tom Cruise:
    “You want the food? YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE FOOD!”

    Is that just me?
    .-= Allie Katie´s last blog ..Happy Thanksgiving!! =-.

  8. My brother in-law mentioned “muscle testing” to me a few years ago and I thought it was weird. And ridiculous. Thanks for the review — I will be skipping this one
    .-= Whitney @ Lettuce Love´s last blog ..A Weird, Random Lunch =-.

  9. Is it terrible that I want to try this “muscle testing” stuff?

    I’m going to hold a box of Girl Scout cookies (Samoas!) and see if my husband can push my arm down.

    Regardless, I’m going to eat the damn cookies. 🙂
    .-= Charm City Kim´s last blog ..Petie – Male Model =-.

  10. Great post, thanks!

    Just in relation to muscle testing, it’s probably best to see a professional kinesiologist rather than doing it yourself at home. It is actually a very effective way of finding out what your body is lacking or what doesn’t agree with it.

    It all sounds pretty weird, I know. But it’s a nice alternative to having doctors poking and prodding you!

    Love your blog, keep up the great posts!

  11. Oh man this was great, love your honest review. I’m a big believer in treating books that dish out advice like a buffet: take what you like and leave the rest. I loved the Raw Food Detox Diet but could have totally done without the chapter on enemas.

    At least now I’ve got a way to figure out if I want to eat hummus or left over lentils for lunch today. And to think I couldn’t decide! Gonna put the lentils in my right hand though.
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Secret Goals =-.

  12. The muscle testing is one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard of. I’m gonna call bullshit on that one 😉

    I don’t think I’m going to pick this one up. Thanks for the honest review!
    .-= Betsy´s last blog ..Alexandria Turkey Trot Race Report =-.

  13. I agree with this WHOLE HEARTEDLY…. I actually have not finished it yet but have shelved it… it was just so mundane and for all the reading I was doing I didn’t feel like I was really getting any tangible information…the idea is a good one and I do believe that it can be done (burning fat instead of sugar) although I am not sure HOW to do that… should have saved my $14
    live and learn…

    • Bernadette, yeah I guess we don’t have too many good notes to compare, huh? Oh well. I do like the nutrition section, even if it’s not too specific. And it served to reinforce the ideas about alkaline foods and that wheat isn’t a great thing. So I guess it wasn’t a total waste.

  14. Yes, I am not sure about the whole muscle testing thing. Thanks for the review. I read so many nutrition books (working on my bachelors in holistic nutrition) that every book contradicts the last.

    Test it, see how it works for you then keep it or toss it. Simple.
    .-= Hethir´s last blog ..In Love… with a new trail =-.

  15. Wow.. that muscle testing is interesting?!? haha.. I’ve heard about that type of thing before to do with food allergies, if you hold something in your hand, and try to push down, if it is pushed down easily, you may have an allergy to that food… WEIRD!!
    .-= Jessica @ Dairy Free Betty´s last blog ..Holy Amazing Grass! =-.

  16. Thanks for the great review of Stu Mittleman’s book. I was waiting to see what you thought before I ordered it. I am happy I waited. I always enjoy blog – thanks!
    .-= Laura´s last blog ..Help from Hal =-.

  17. I haven’t reaad the book (yet), but that muscle test actually sounds like the “O-ring test” used by acupuncturists practicing chinese medicine as part of a diagnosis for food allergies. You are supposed to test for the strongest resistance between the thumb and each of the 4 fingers. First you test without the patient holding anything, then retest the strength of the strongest link while the patient holds whatever food etc. is suspect of being allergic. If the link between the 2 fingers wekens after the patient is holding the object in their other hand, you probably have an allergy to the pertaining food/object and would be better off without it. It is, therefore, more than muscle testing really. It’s testing to see if your body overall has an aversion to whatever. BTW, in case your wondering where I get my info from, I just graduated with my masters of science in acupuncture last December. This is a common, reliable test performed on a regular basis in clinic and taught as a regular part of our curiculum in class. Try it-it works!

    • Thanks Adrienne. It’s interesting to me that a few people are saying that this really works; I thought it was very obscure but it seems lots of people know about it and believe it works. I’m going to have to follow up and try it somehow. Thanks!

  18. Isn’t the “slow burn” idea pretty to the one adumbrated by John L. Parker in “Heart Monitor Training for the Compleat Idiot” ?
    Run at less than 70% of your max heart rate to train for long distance fat burning ?
    .-= Xavier Lewis´s last blog ..Sport’s science blog =-.

    • Hey Xavier, it’s funny that you mention that book; I think it was the first book about running that I ever read. And come to think of it; it is very similar to the exercise portion of the Slow Burn program, with half the runs being done at such a slow pace. I don’t remember Heart Monitor Training emphasizing that the slow running would help with training the body to burn fat as much as it claimed it would help avoid injury, so the Slow Burn idea seemed new in that sense to me. But the end result is the same.

  19. I’m a little late on this thread, but I wanted to throw out my 2 cents regarding Stu Mittleman’s Slow Burn. I read his book back in early 2007, put his techniques into practice, and found exceptional results.

    A little background on me- I’m in the Army and run, not only because it’s part of my job every morning, but mainly because I love it. I do not have any background in Track or Cross Country, but I found Stu’s book insightful and very helpful. I implemented his diet and training plan to within 80% of his guidance and lowered my two-mile run time to 00:11:54 (from 13:30), shaved over five minutes off my Sprint Triathlon time, and lost a solid 5-7 pounds. I felt great, my running time/performance felt more consistent (considering a deployment to Afghanistan) over time, and I felt I had more energy. Of course, everyone’s body is different and reacts differently to diet and exercise, but I have found that it works.

    Bottom line- I recommend this book to any novice runner. Considering the paradigm shift towards burning fat instead of sugar, experienced runners may get something out of it as well.

    Additionally, to comment on “The (Very) Ugly,” I couldn’t disagree with the above post more. While the technique is definitely unique compared to Western (particularly American) standards, it does work if applied correctly. I think the problem lies in applying it correctly. It did not do anything for me until a close friend of mine (who happens to be well-versed in acupuncture) assisted me.

    Always Forward,

  20. stu's student says:

    First the so called ugly.

    Holding foods next to you and go through the test will allow you to know which foods will make you stronger.

    with a little practice you will see what he says is the the truth. why would you want to run with foods in you that make you weaker?

    any doubt– try the test holding a food and then holding some prescription medication.

    1. hold up arm and with other arm hold pills next to you heart- let a friend push down on your arm and resist (resist- not force) – you won’t be able to resist- will not happen.

    hold fruit to your chest… you will be able to resist.
    different foods will allow you to resist with more strength or less.

    Go on his site and look for Qlink the device is amazing… and it works the same way- read up on it.

    as far as comments about not eating meat etc. one- he is the champion and you must realize he has a team of experts that are basing information on him achieving an ultramarathon and then passing it on to his students.

    I used to like meat as well… i know i have to alkalize my body to counter-effect the acidic foods by 20/1 ratio….(20 parts alkaline to 1 part acid) problem with steak is that it is loaded with acid in the first place – urea… another words cow pee. if you like pee in your mouth eat all you want.

    fish makes up for the proteins and essential nutrients. Stu is healthy—

  21. Stu’s student –

    The concept of applied kinesiology to determine anything WRT what the human body needs or does not need to function optimally is poorly documented.

    In fact, it’s quite easy to debunk and I have done so on numerous occasions with these folks including the magnet folks.

    Tell a kinesiologist after she has pressed your arm down holding a product or food to turn around and close her eyes this time. Switch the bottles or the food around to one that didn’t allow her to press the arm down keeping her eyes closed (or use a blindfold). Do this several times and you will trick her 50% of the time.

    If it were true that some products or foods were harmful or detrimental and AK could determine such, even a blind kinesiologist would get the exact same result every time.

    Try it and you’ll see that the concept is flawed. Be nice if it were true but its not.

  22. Stu’s student –

    I forgot – fish pee too.

  23. i just completed my first 10k trail run and want to keep running that distance (trails and not) and maybe up to a half-marathon. are these distances too short for this concept? if not, i too would love more clarification on the nutrition – i.e. what does he mean by sugar (no candy, no fruit, no refined carbs – check; what about sweet vegetables? nonglutenous whole grains?) and are the restrictions all the time or within a certain window around a run? very curious.

  24. bullshit…when Stu was killin those races he was takin in 80 percent carbs..and that is a fact..what he recommends NOW…well….that is a different story..the greatest runners in the world be it Kenyans americans or those nutty Tahamuhara sorry if I spelled this wrong take in 80 to 90 percent carbs!!!! fruits corn rice potatoes sugar sugar sugar…..jeeeez

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