Matt Fitzgerald is an endurance coach and the author of many books, including his most recent book entitled Diet Cults. In his book, he doesn’t bash the popular fad diets, but instead makes a point that there are many different ways people can eat healthy and choose what’s right for them. He talks to Jason on the Paleo diet, interval training, and the 80/20 method to endurance training.

Key Takeaways:

[1:50] This year Jason started on a lightweight version of the Paleo diet.

[4:50] There is no single ideal diet for humans.

[8:10] There are positive affects to eating diary products and whole grains.

[12:40] What should people expect in Matt’s Diet Cults book?

[14:50] You could say a particular diet fad is more about the community aspect than it is about the actual diet.

[19:55] Vegan and vegetarian athletes can develop muscle tone just fine.

[23:25] What does Matt think about interval training?

[28:35] Matt talks about the 80/20 method applied to endurance sports.

Mentioned In This Episode:

Diet for A New America by John Robbins

MattFitzgerald.org

Tweetables:

I think that most of the more popular fad diets or popular diets are or at least, can be perfectly healthy.

I tried being a vegetarian for about six years. I do not think that was good at all.

To achieve maximum fitness for endurance sports, do 80% of your training at low intensity and 20% at high intensity.

Transcript

Jason Hartman:

It’s my pleasure to welcome Matt Fitzgerald. He is a specialist in training intelligence for PEAR Sports and a featured coach on Active.com. He is author of the new book entitled Diet Cults: The Surprising Fallacy at the Core of Nutrition Fads and a Guide to Healthy Eating for the Rest of Us and we’ll talk about some of his other books as well. Matt, welcome, how are you?

Matt Fitzgerald:

I’m doing well, thanks for having me on your show.

Jason:

Good. Well, the pleasure is all mine. Just go give our listeners a sense of geography, where are you located?

Matt:

I am in Northern California in the central valley smack dab between San Francisco and Yosemite National Park.

Jason:

Got it. Good stuff. It’s always nice to know, you know, we’ve got people all over the globe listening and also as guests on the show. There’s still an importance to geography a little bit. Gives a perspective, definitely does. Gosh, I mean, how many diets have we all been exposed to, you know? By diet I don’t necessarily mean, you know, something to lose weight, but just an eating philosophy. Of course, when New Years hits every year, everybody trying something new. A lot of times they’re doing it throughout the year and I must admit, Matt, this is year on January 1st I started a very lightweight not very strict version of the Paleo diet, which to me means something as simple as just cutting down on carbs, that’s really, you know, but I don’t know that I am Paleo expert, but what do you think of all this? What do you make of all these diet fads?

Matt:

Well, you know, this is a very human phenomenon with an ancient pedigree. We’ve been making diets really that center around separate cultures for as far back as history goes. If you think of something like the kosher dietary laws that ancient Hebrews. Every culture had a way of eating that it came up with and sort of identified with. Way back then there’s really one way of eating per culture and things have changed a lot. Now, you can live in Alaska and eat a Mediterranean diet or what have. So, there’s a lot of freedom. There’s also this competitive market place of help based diets that have emerged. So, the situation has changed, but it’s still sort of a new twist on an ancient phenomenon, but it has lead to certainty a greater proliferation of brand name diets with more coming all the time.

Jason:

Let’s use the Paleo diet as an example. Do you know who’s behind that brand? Does someone have a trade mark on that? Are they actually making money every time someone talks about it or writes about it? Is that just something that’s in common use, which I kind of wonder.

Matt:

Well, it’s certainty copyrighted. There’s a book that came out in 2002 originally authored by a gentleman named Loren Cordain called the Paleo diet. So, goes it back to him. Although the concept actually goes back to the 70s. There was a gastroenterologist named Walter Voegtlin and he came up. I think he wrote something called The Stone Age Diet, same concept, he just gave it a different name.

Jason:

Yeah, Paleo I think sounds a little more sexy and, I don’t know, interesting than Stone Age Diet.

Matt:

Yeah, yeah. Marketing matters.

Jason:

It does matter, it does matter. So, I just looked it up while you were talking and there are a couple of trademarks. There’s actually six of them. Paleo Diet Boot Camp. The Paleo Diet, there’s four of those. Those are probably in different classes, and then there’s the Quantum Paleo 21 Day for Corporate Team Building. So, there you go, yeah. So, humans have sort of had this sort of big thing about, you know, the way they eat. Of course, eating is a social experience a lot of times and certainty throughout history. Do any of them work? Does one work better than the other? Does it all depend on our unique body chemistry and our unique DNA? What’s the answer to all of this stuff?

Matt:

Well, if nutrition science has proven anything, it has really demonstrated that there is no single ideal diet for humans. I mean, that’s really want as, metabolically, it’s what makes it distinct from pretty much any other species is that we are natures ultimate omnivorous. If you go back and look at our deep history. It really is a story of constant experimentation with our diet and that’s one of the reasons I considered the Paleo doctrine as false is that the Paleo diet doctrine is based on the idea that it takes forever to adapt to changes in diet, but humans have been doing that for so long that we actually have built in adaptability and there’s pretty good research showing that humans can adapt to drastic changes in diet not only in less than millennia, but literally from one day to the next, because of that built in adaptability.

Jason:

That’s interesting. So, the way the Paleo diet was kind of sold to me, if you will, is I went for one of these one day executive health screenings, you know, the deal where you – I never did that before and, you know, I did it right after Christmas, you know, it was a full day seeing like different specialists and fitness people and doctor, you know, meeting with the doctor for a couple of hours. $4,500 dollars.

I was always kind of curious about this stuff and so I did it and, you know, he said pretty much the same thing you just said is that, you know, people really over the millennia haven’t really changed that much as far as their biology and that sort of strikes accord with me as kind of a logical thing and a lot of the dietary problems arose when agriculture came around and we weren’t just eating vegetables and meat and that’s when all the bread and wheat, you know, all this kind of stuff started and that was the problem and I got to tell you, I still love cereal, albeit high-end cereal that’s really expensive, but I still, I absolutely love it and I really do feel like it’s good for me. That’s the thing I haven’t given up.

You know, and I’m not very strict about anything really, but so I’ll eat some bread and stuff once in a while, but it kind of makes sense that rational and it kind of make sense at least to me that, you know, bread and starches and stuff, they turn into sugar and, you know, sugar isn’t good for us, really. I don’t know, what are your thoughts? Am I wrong?

Matt:

Well, it’s no accident that the Stone Age diet, the first iteration of this concept came about in the 1970s, really what happened then was people started to realize that we had lost our way with our diet. So, the thing is we really lost our way then in the 70s, not at the agricultural revolution.

At that point, we started cultivating grains. It doesn’t happen as abruptly as some people imagined, but whole grains are healthy, but pretty much anything that was introduced or given a bigger place in the human diet back then, about 12,000 years ago, when it’s researched to day, when the effects of diary consumer or whole grain consumer are, the effects of health are looked up, it’s all positive.

Like, whole grains, the people who eat them the most whole grains today in 2014 have the lower risk of diabetes, they have lower body fat percentage. They have lower risk of developing heart disease, they live longer, the list goes on.

Jason:

So, intuitively think that grains are kind of good for me, you know, they feel like they’re good for me for some reason. I just have that sense about it, but you know, I mean, do they turn into sugar, right? I mean, doesn’t that increase your chances of diabetes, isn’t that bad?

Matt:

No. You know, it’s one of those things there is – one of the features of this diet cult mentality is a tendency to think in very absolutist, black and white term about food and nutrients, so sugar has been branded bad. Well, guess what, our nervous system runs on sugar.

Jason:

Yeah, our brain especially runs on sugar. Our brains really need it. Yeah, that’s the fuel.

Matt:

And also, one of the reasons that sugar – let’s be clear. We eat too much refined sugar today, but one of the reasons we do is because we have a built in sweet tooth and we came about that sweet tooth through evolution. It was a survival advantage back in our early pre-history to actually having a sweet tooth, because most of the sugar came from fruit in our diet back then and fruit was the most energy dense food that was available to us back that and that was a good thing. When starvation was the biggest problem with our problem, having a taste for high energy foods was good. So, sugar is not bad, it’s just something we eat too much of.

Jason:

Okay, let me ask you a question about that, because one of my ex-girlfriend. I always tease her and I say, you know, you have orthorexia. Have you heard of that one, by the way?

Matt:

Yeah, I talk about it a little bit in the book.

Jason:

Okay, yeah. I love that. So, orthorexia basically, unlike anorexic, orthorexia is, you know, that’s just someone who is orthorexic, I guess is what you say, is really, you know, picky about food and they’re into organic everything and all that kind of stuff, right. So, she’s just a nut about this stuff and so I said to her, you know, we had this discussion about sugar once and she explained to me and this seem logical too – you know, the problem is all these things seem kind of logical, you know? She said look, the reason that fruit, you know, fruit has a lot of sugar, we all know that, but fruit, when you eat whole fruit, like it was put out for us in nature, it also has a lot of fiber, which slows the absorption of the sugar.

If you eat a candy bar, you know, that’s just awful, because it’s just massive sugar with nothing to slow down the absorption of it and it just goes right into your blood stream and you become fat and diabetic and you die. She said why pasta is bad is the same thing. There’s really no fiber in it, but if you eat wheat pasta, okay, which also degrades into sugar, it degrades more slowly. I don’t know if degrading is the right word, but it absorbs more slowly and at a more steady pace like the fruit. That makes sense too.

Matt:

Yes, yep. You can go down a prim rose path. Anytime you pick up the microscope and look deep inside what’s in food, you know, I prefer to keep my focus on the big picture. So, the food itself being close to its natural state, because what happens is – Michael Pollan claimed the term, you’re probably familiar with this one. Nutritionism and it’s where we, basically losing the forest for the trees. The mistake that you might make if you focus too much on what makes a food good in terms of the nutrients that’s inside it is that you can still engine foods that have the good things in it, but guess what, the sum is usually greater than – the whole is greater than the sum of the parts with food.

So, when we try, you know, look at the good things that are in food, engine them, even take most vitamins and supplements, for example, they don’t do any good, even though they contain only the good stuff in food. So, again, I like to focus on the foods themselves, the big picture, and not get too caught up in what they’re made of, because that’s sort of atomistic perspective tends to lead us astray.

Jason:

Okay, alright. Good. So, tell us more. I mean, what should people know?

Matt:

Well, one thing I think that people expect when they pick up my book and look at the title is they expect me to be bashing all of the diet cults, as I call them, and exposing them as unhealthy when, you know, they claim to be healthy. That’s actually not the case I make at all. Quite the opposite. I think that most of the more popular fad diets or popular diets are or at least, can be perfectly healthy and that’s actually the first indicate that there is no single best way to eat, right, because they all work more work or at least they all can work and I’m sort of more interested in the phenomenon itself.

Like, what makes people attach themselves and invest their identities so much in one, you know, kind of rule bound way of eating and, you know, you see some of the ugliness, the tribalism that comes out of this. Like, the current ongoing wars between the low-fat crowd and the low-carb crowd. The vegan crowd. The meeting-loving crowd. It’s pretty interesting stuff.

So, that’s kind of what the book focuses on more because I really think the rules of healthy eating are pretty simple and we, you know, people try to get too clever by half with some of the doctrines and rules that they come up with, but it’s really a book that’s not so much on, ‘this is how I think you should eat’ versus ‘here is this phenomenon out there that it’s good to recognize’. All these traps we fall into where we start thinking non-rationally about food, so that you can just be clear headed and make sort of open-eyed choices for yourself as an eater.

Jason:

Okay, so what are some of those rules? You said it was pretty simple.

Matt:

So, if the question is what do we really know about how people should eat, you know, it’s terribly sexy and that’s why. The government has their ‘my plate’ guidelines that sort of the new version of the old pyramid. Well, do you know anyone who is on the ‘my plate’ diet.

Jason:

No, not at all.

Matt:

No! Because it doesn’t really have that community, it doesn’t have all those mechanism that the diet cult have to get people to really get excited about a particular way of eating, but the rule it’s based on make perfect sense. So, the idea is you should be eating more fruits and vegetables than any other type of food, things like sweets, refined grains, and fried foods should be kept at a minimum. Whole grains should be eaten in preference to refined gains, just stuff like that is – I think a lot of fourth graders in this day and age really understand that much and there are plenty of examples of people who decide to clean up their diet knowing no more than that about healthy eating and they get terrific results when they do.

Jason:

Okay, so one of the things you said, you know, you said fried foods, for example, should be kept to a minimum. I mean, you know, granted they taste good and we’re all probably going to eat them at one time or another, but I mean, kept to a minimum? Should we just ideally not eat them at all? There’s like no redeeming value in fried food, right?

Matt:

Well, from a health perspective no, but health is not the only reason we eat. So, I don’t think there is any expert out there would say that if you eat fried food one time in your life, you shorten your life. I don’t think anyone believes that. So, then the question comes, well, why not? If it tastes good and it’s part of our culture, why not? You just trying to find that threshold where the harms starts to occur. There’s nothing that is considered food in the current American diet that you can’t eat in small amounts without paying zero price for your health.

So, I don’t believe in that kind of. I mean, if you just have no interest in fried foods, more power to you, but if you do, there’s no reason for draconian, absolute, you know, forbidding any particular kind of food whether it’s apple pie or fried chicken.

Jason.

You want to talk a little bit about the exercise side of the equation and the training? Your other book, what is it entitled, Brain Training?

Matt:

Brain Training for Runners. Yeah, so, that’s really. I am a sports nutritionist and an endurance sports coach. So, I coach triathletes and runners. So, I’m big on exercise, but there are actually a couple of chapters in the Diet Cult book that also handles, address the exercise side of the equation. There’s a chapter in there called Eat Bad, Look Good, which is really about just how much more you can get away with in your diet if you have, you know, sort of intensive exercise habits and the answer to that question in terms of what science tell us is quite a lot.

In fact, no matter how health your diet is, you can not really be a very healthy person if you sitting in your recliner all day, everyday, there’s that expression, you are what you eat, but I think what you are what your body does with what you eat and the same diet will have very, very different effects on your body if you exercise versus if you do not exercise. So, you can’t be as healthy as you can be without a good exercise regiment, but also if you do have that regiment, it really does give you a little bit more room to have the occasional bucket of fried chicken.

Jason:

On the exercise side, it’s interesting you’re an endurance coach. You’re talking about half-marathons, triathlons, probably marathons, maybe even Iron mans, I don’t know. Let me just tell you about one of the other things that the doctor told me when he sold me on the Paleo idea. You know, it’s kind of funny. I should mention to the listeners that when I was in my 20s, I tried being a vegetarian, you know. Again, not a super strict one, but I did it about six years. I do not think that was good at all. I really, you know, at the time I felt, I must admit, kind of self-righteous about it.

The same girlfriend I just mentioned to you gave me the book Diet for A New America by John Robbins, which you read and ate it up, if you will. All the information seemed  really good and the connections seemed good, but I just did not feel good. I think we are meant to be omnivores. I just don’t, you know, it’s funny because over the years I’ve watched people who are vegan, vegetarian, I have yet to see one that really has good muscle tone. They do not look that great to me. I mean, you can do it for a while and sure, but like over a long period of time it just, you know, I kind of think we need animal proteins. You know. That’s not exactly what I was going to talk about, but thoughts on that?

Matt:

Yeah, I do exist in a different sphere where most of the vegetarians and vegans I know are in fact endurance athletes and my personal experience says they certainty have muscle tone, not only that, some of them are professional athletes, world beaters and some of them have been for years and years and years. So, you certainty can be. I think you just found what works for you and what doesn’t work and there is individuality. I think there are some people for whom a lot of grains don’t work, you know, I personally, that’s not my experience. I seem to be able to eat grains as long as they are mostly whole grains without consequence, but I will say that if you put a well constructed vegetarian diet together with exercise, in my experience, it seems to work more often than not. I would recognize that it doesn’t work for some people.

Jason:

Actually, that’ll dove-tail into the other point I was going to make. When the doctor sold me on the Paleo diet, he also sold me on the idea of interval training, because just before we talked about this. I was on the bike, the exercise bike where they put the mask on you and they look at your breathing and how efficiently you use oxygen and all this kind of stuff. I had never done that before.

That was a first time and they talked about the importance of interval training and told me what my range was, you know, they said the whole point of exercise should basically be, you know, you take your heart rate up to, you know, this number and then as soon as you hit that number, then you slow down and you let it drop down to this number and then as soon as it gets to that number, which for me is like 125 per minute, then ram it back up to the other number, which is like 165 and just keep doing that. Do it maybe five times or so and you’re done. That’s all you need. Interval train like that every day and you’ll be awesome.

The way he sold that to me was two-fold. He went back to the whole argument of, you know, what did we do when we were caveman and if we had an animal that we needed to hunt and chase and capture for food, we had to run really fast and chase it and we didn’t have to run 26.2 miles and if a predatory was running after us. We didn’t have to run 26.2 miles to out run them. We had to run really fast for a short time and that’s how we’re built and then he also said, I’ll just tell you the next thing he did, so you can come back at me, then he pulls up on his computer, he pulls up a slide and it’s got a picture of a marathon runner, you’ve probably seen this, a marathon runner and a sprinter and he said, who looks better? I said, well, the sprinter looks much better to me.

The marathon runner looks emaciated, the sprinter looks fit and good and I want to be the sprinter. He said, well, you know, that’s another reason that interval training, sprinting, doing the 100 yard dash a few times a day makes a lot more sense than going out and running a marathon. Now, this is going to be interesting saying that to you, because you are an endurance coach. So, blow that augment away. Feel free.

Matt:

You knows what’s interesting is that, if you take, if you find someone who is into the Paleo diet, nine times out of ten you already know his philosophy of exercise and you also know his philosophy on barefoot running. So, either people tend to be when they’re right about one thing, they’re right about everything or it’s really not about being right or wrong at all, but it’s an matter of group sync that forms around particular cultures.

Jason:

yeah, just to be fair. He didn’t say anything about barefoot running, we didn’t even discuss that.

Matt:

Right, but I’m telling you, I could tell you what his philosophy is, you see what I’m saying?

Jason:

I’m going to ask him now that you mentioned that, yeah, okay.

Matt:

It all fits together and that’s not just the Paleo thing, that’s with all diets. I was interviewed by a Paleo runner guy recently and I swear I could have written his interview questions for him. I knew what they all were going to be, because they have the same set of memes that they’re just fed a doctrine wholesale and just accept it all, so all that stuff you told me, I’ve heard it a million times before and it’s just interesting how – rather than blow it out of the water, I’ll just say that. All these things tend to come together as a package deals in all of the diet cult.

Jason:

Talk if you would about the point of endurance training. I mean, you know, what’s so great about it? My friends that run marathons and half-marathons and triathlons, let me tell ya, I have a massive amount of respect for them, because you know, I’m not trying to do that. In fact, when I run a 5k, I think that’s a major accomplishment. Running just for long distances just kind of bores me. I just don’t know. I think it’s a great willpower achievement to be able to do that. I’m not one of those people. So, I’ll say that, but you know, a lot of these people that run these long distances. I mean, you know, you fast forward 10-20 years and they’ve got joint problems, knee problems, you know, all this kind of stuff or not, you know, tell me what you think.

Matt:

Yeah, well, long distance running is one of the most popular fitness activities and one of the most popular participatory sports. Why do you think that is? I would say it’s because running is the oldest form of exercise and just something very natural, very human, and also highly enjoyable for a lot of people. Not everyone, for sure, but that’s how I started running. My dad was a marathon running back in the 80s. I got into it through him and I happen to be good at it and every kid’s a sucker for what they’re good at, but I just enjoyed it.

So, fast forward 30+ years and I’m still at it and I’ve had every overuse injury you can name, some of them more than once. I’ve had surgery on both of my knees, but I still love it and that’s why I do it. Every now and then someone, you know, comes up with a study showing that, you know, running marathons damages the heart muscle. I just don’t care. I’m 43 years old. I still get asked for my ID when I buy alcohol. I’m an exceptionally healthy person at 43. Now, it may all catch up with me when I am 85 and boohoo, I won’t live to a 120, but my personally philosophy is that I would rather add life to my years than add years to my life and I just feel fantastic. That’s what..

Jason:

Well, you get the runner’s high. That’s a legitimate thing. Those endorphins just pumping in and, you know, it’s kind of like you’re just coasting when you’re in the grove, right, when you’re in the zone.

Matt:

Yes, but it also lasts all day, everyday. I have tons of energy just getting through a long day of work and chores, doing laundry, cooking, plus my workouts, all that, it’s absolutely no sweat, because I’m so healthy, because I do so much aerobic exercise.

Jason:

But doing the interval way wouldn’t do that for you? I mean, when I get up in the morning and I do, you know, like I have an app on my phone called the seven minute workout. You know, I’ve worked out for an hour and a half at a time. I’ve done, you know, tons of hot yoga, you know, weight lifting and things like that, but when I do that seven minute workout, that’s pretty good. I feel pretty great, you know? Would you feel just as good if you did the short, quick interval type thing?

Matt:

Well, I wouldn’t perform as well competitively. That’s funny that we’ve gone down this road. My next book as a matter of fact, which will come out in the fall is one called 80/20 running and the 80/20 stance for the concept that – to achieve maximum fitness for endurance sports, you should do 80% of your training at low intensity and 20% at high intensity.

This is in fact what elite athletes in all the endurance sports from rowing to cross country skiing to cycling to triathlon to running, all of them, they all do this and they all evolved that formula unconsciously. That’s how evolution works when it has found the ideal solution to a problem. It’s the blind watchman theory.

You would not see that kind of absolute uniformity unless – it’s like the eye, the camera eyes biologists called it. It evolved independently in multiple species because it simply is the best solution to a problem and now that the 80/20 ratio has been identified, scientists are now proactively testing it where they’ll take a group of athletes, put them on an all interval plan and take another and have them do 80% of their training at low intensity and in every single instance, the people who do most of their training at low intensity, they still do intervals, but they choose their spots for them, they end up getting much fitter, much faster than people who either go slow all the time or go fast all the time.

Jason:

What is the camera eye?

Matt:

The camera eye is the eyes in your head. It’s the biologists formal name for the particular structure of what retina and lens and all that stuff. So, if you go down millions and millions of years back, it evolved independently in multiple different species.

Jason:

Okay, but you say that as though like all these athletes sort of discovered this 80/20 in common and then you said that was the camera eye.

Matt:

I’m drawing an analogy. The term for it is convergent evolution.

Jason:

Oh, okay. Okay. Yeah. Okay, good. That’s very interesting, Matt, what else would you like people to know as we wrap up and please give out your website, tell people where they can find you.

Matt:

Sure, one thing I didn’t get to mention is that aside from kind of exposing the —

Jason:

And ‘explosing’! That’s a good way, we just coined a new term. Let’s go trademark.

Matt:

Yeah, I like it. Leave it there. There’s this concept in the book called agnostic healthy eating, so I don’t just pick apart the doctrines of various diet cults. I also offer an alternative for maybe people who want to eat healthy, but are sort of turned off by the sanctimoniousness of the vegans and the arbitrary restrictions of the Paleo people or what have you. I consider it the least restrictive way to obtain the highest level of health through diet, agnostic healthy eating. You can find out more about Diet Cult and all of my books at my website, which is MattFitzgerald.org

Jason:

Okay, great. Well, Matt Fitzgerald, thank you so much for joining us today!

Matt:

I really enjoyed talking to you.

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This show is produced by the Hartman Media Company, all rights reserved. For distribution or publication rights and media interviews, please visit www.hartmanmedia.com or email [email protected] Nothing on this show should be considered specific personal or professional advice. Please consult an appropriate tax, legal, real estate or business professional for individualized advice. Opinions of guests are their own and the host is acting on behalf of Platinum Properties Investor Network Inc. exclusively.

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