Podcast #116 from http://www.bengreenfieldfitness.com/2010/10/episode-
Introduction: In this podcast: getting rid of a stubborn gut, combining
strength with endurance training and how to lose over 220
Ben: Hey folks, Ben Greenfield here and I am actually on my way
down to Montego Bay, Jamaica to compete in the Rose Hall
triathlon down there. Among other things, while we are
down there my wife and I are going to be bringing you
another Inner Circle podcast which you can expect later on
this week or early next week. So be ready for that. We have
some exciting stuff to go over with you. We’re always looking
at the topics you suggest for us to go over in the Inner Circle
podcast which is really designed to be more of a podcast that
shows you how to make your home a healthier home that
supports fitness, nutrition and performance. We also have
questions today and an interview with a gentleman who
happens to be a podcast listener named Mike, who lost over
200 lbs. As a matter of fact, close to 220 lbs. and still going
down. So we have an interview with Mike and incidentally a
couple of questions from a couple other listeners named
Mike. So lots of Mikes show up in today’s podcast. A few
special announcements and then we’re going to move
forward into the Q and A.
Remember, if you have a question, you can call to
8772099439. You can Skype to username pacificfit or you
can email firstname.lastname@example.org. This week that this
podcast comes out, I’m actually going to send a free Ben
Greenfield Fitness t-shirt along with a bunch of goodies to
the best question that I receive via audio. So remember to
ask your audio question. You can call 8772099439 or if
you’re international, you can just Skype to username
pacificfit. Ask your audio question. The best audio question
this week will get a free Ben Greenfield Fitness t-shirt, and of
course I’ll throw a bunch of goodies in as well. The first
question is from Listener Mike.
Mike asks: I gave up smoking almost 17 months ago. Then within one
month of stopping ballooned out to 93kgs predominantly in
my gut, still skinny legs and arms. The whole time I had been
going to the gym four to five a times week. The weight didn´t
move. Neither did my 7 month pregnant gut. How do I get
rid of this last weight from my gut and will I have to keep
doing gym for the rest of my life like crazy to be at my former
weight and body shape when I was a smoker.
Ben answers: Well smoking, which we’ve talked about before on this
podcast actually can bump up your metabolism. It can bump
up your metabolism by over 200 calories a day and in
addition to that, it is an appetite suppressant. Nicotine is a
stimulant and it can interfere with the release of insulin and
insulin controls the glucose levels in the blood. So what
happens when insulin is being blocked from being released,
you can get hyperglycemic – have high glucose levels in your
blood – and so your body and your brain kind of slows down
the release of hormones and other signals that trigger your
feelings of hunger because it feels like you have those
constantly high levels of circulating energy. Now in addition,
smoking can cause a dopamine release in your brain, again
due to that nicotine that really simulates the same kind of
dopamine release you’d get if you were snacking or eating
food or even exercising. And so you again get that appetite
suppressing effect and you also get the propensity to be less
prone to snack on sugar or anything else that causes that
dopamine release. So while smoking is great for weight loss,
it of course has a lot of other health risks that go along with it.
And when you quit smoking, it tends to be a pretty big issue
in terms of you having to reset your metabolism. And we’ve
talked about this on the podcast before. But the metabolism
will eventually reset when you quit smoking, but weight gain
is fairly common and in your case, Mike, even though you’re
exercising I have a hunch… you haven’t said this, but I have a
hunch that you’re probably not doing everything that you
could nutritionally. If you were smoking, it is highly likely
that you’ve found other things, specifically food sources that
are replacing that dopamine release that you were getting
from the nicotine. So it’s very common among ex-smokers to
be hitting up sugar, Oreos or other types of cookies, candy…
sometimes savory or salty foods. Typically sweeter foods
because you get a bigger dopamine release from those or
fatty/sugary foods, fried foods, things of that nature. So, if
you are consuming those types of foods, what’s going to
happen is there’s a two-fold effect. The first is that there’s an
inflammatory reaction and when the nerves in your gut are
inflamed, those are some of the same nerves that enervate
the muscles that are responsible for supporting and giving
you a flat stomach. And so folks who eat a higher sugar diet
just tend to have less control to be able to have that muscular
tone in the stomach that gives you the flat stomach
appearance. Or your gut looks like it hangs out a little bit
when you have a higher sugar diet or a diet that’s higher in
inflammatory foods. And then the other issue of course is
that you get the extra fat conversion in the liver from the
glucose, from that high sugar getting converted into
triglycerides and getting sent out and deposited as adipose
tissue. One of the best things that you could do is begin to
write down the foods that you’re consuming and try and
identify anything that would be considered as a…well begin
with processed sugars and grains – two of the most
inflammatory foods when it comes to giving guys and girls
that kind of gut, even though you have skinny arms and
skinny legs. I’ve had people that I’ve worked with before in
the gym and it seems like it’s more common with men who
have this little bit of fat kind of left around the mid-section.
They’ve tried everything, they can’t get rid of it. And we
finally pulled the trigger and say ok, no alcohol, no sugar for
four to six weeks. We’re going to see what happens. And in
almost every case, that last little bit of fat disappears. Now
that’s a very good strategy for taking a guy who wants to have
a 6-pack from 10% down to 7% or 8%, but it’s also a very
good strategy for making a huge dent in that “beer belly” or
pregnant gut that you have. So that would be my strategy.
Really look at this from a nutritional standpoint. If you do,
then no, you won’t have to beat yourself up quite as hard in
the gym. Really, you shouldn’t have to do that. If you’re
physically active, you lead a healthy lifestyle and you eat
foods that are not causing that propensity towards weight
gain. There’s no reason that you have to go crazy in the gym.
Anybody should be able to maintain a thin and slim
appearance with anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes a day,
right around five to six days a week in the gym. So totally
doable if your nutrition is spot on. Incidentally, most
triathletes who scoff at that and say “I got to work out two
hours or three hours a day to maintain my appearance”…
folks, I’ve looked at the nutrition logs from a lot of triathletes.
They’re some of the worse on the planet. A lot of endurance
athletes, both marathoners and triathletes exercise so they
can eat and when eating is under control, it’s very possible to
exercise a lot less and get better results. So, next question is
from Listener Mike.
Mike asks: My question concerns the timing of weight workouts relative
to endurance workouts. What is the correct time for hitting
the weights if on the same day as a swim, bike or run
workout? Should a strength session fall immediately after a
ride or swim or with a few hours between? It seems that
introducing a couple of sessions a week on top of a full
endurance schedule would put one in a constant state of
tearing down muscle fibers with little time between to
rebuild and recover.
Ben answers: Well this is a great question. I’m in the process of writing a
book right now. I’m actually contracted with a publisher to
finish this book towards the end of 2010. It’s called The
Ultimate Weight Training Guide for Triathlon. And in that
book, I discuss a little bit of this concept of when to time
your weight training workouts in relation to swimming,
cycling and running. And there’s two different strategies or
two different thoughts that you need to bear in mind. The
first is that for a triathlete or an endurance athlete… really,
swimming, biking and running are paramount. I don’t want
to give you the impression that weight training is as
important or nearly as important as those if your ultimate
goal is to do well in a triathlon. Weight training is the icing
on the cake. It gives you a very good advantage, especially if
you’re aging for injury prevention and motor unit
recruitment. But it’s not going to get you anywhere near the
results of actually doing sport specific swim, bike and run
workouts. And for that reason, those workouts should be
prioritized on most days. Meaning that if you have a bike
ride and a weight training session to do, the bike ride goes
before the weight training session. Now the other advantage
to that is that whenever you do cardio before weights, you
tend to tear down the muscle just a little bit less because
you’re not tearing it down with a weight workout and then
going and starving your body with a cardio workout. You’re
more using the cardio workout as a warm-up for the weight
training workout. And research has shown that when you do
cardio before weights, your metabolic rate after the workout
tends to be higher. So it’s almost always a good idea to do
cardio before weights and especially if you’re a triathlete, to
prioritize your swimming, your cycling or your running
workouts before your weight training workouts because the
weight training workouts will prematurely tear down and
fatigue the muscle and also affect your biomechanics and
your economy of movement during the swimming, cycling
and the running. The one caveat to that is when you’re trying
to train yourself to be tougher and this is definitely a skill or
a mental mindset that you can train and this is something
that I’ll occasionally do. If I have a run workout planned,
that’s usually under an hour – for example a 30 minute
tempo run – I will occasionally throw that in after a weight
training workout when I am fatigued so I have to practice
running when my body really does not feel like running. Now
running is sport that I most often do this with. I find that if I
do a swim session after a weight training session, sometimes
the shoulders tend to be a little bit tired and you can set
yourself up for injury. Swimming is so skill based so that it’s
very tough to do it correctly after weight training. And
sometimes it can turn into a junk session. I’ll occasionally do
it with biking after a squat or lunge based workout. But a lot
of times I’ll throw in a quick tempo run to teach myself how
to run when I’m fatigued after a weight training workout.
And as long as the run or the cardio workout isn’t a highly
depleting, multi-run kind of workout that you’re doing after
a weight training session, that’s ok to do. Finally as far as the
nutrition component is concerned, whenever you’re doing
that cardio plus weight training or even weight training plus
cardio, it is a good idea to make sure that you’re not doing
the second session with low blood sugar. So for example, if
I’m going to do that weight training workout and then do a
quick run, I’ll have just a little bit of sugar like half a banana
or an energy gel before I head out for the run and vice versa
if I’m doing a bike ride and then heading to the gym to do a
weight training session, I’ll make sure that I refuel in
between. Same goes if you’re going to do a two a day. If
you’re going to do a cardio workout in the morning and then
a weight training workout in the afternoon, make sure that
you refuel after that cardio workout – that your weight
training workout in the afternoon is more productive. And
really, as I’ve talked about a couple of times before on this
podcast and on other podcasts, for post-workout nutrition –
especially for people who are doing two a day workouts –
post-workout nutrition becomes fairly paramount and
important. For people who are only working out once a day,
it’s not that important to eat right after a workout. For
people who are working out twice a day, especially after that
first workout… it’s pretty important. So I hope that answers
your question Mike.
And then finally, the last question – I’m not going to read…
but I posted it on the Shownotes to episode number 116. It’s
a question from another guy named Mike. These are three
different Mikes by the way. But anyways, this last question is
one that I’ve answered before in a podcast. This was written
to me by a guy named Mike. I answered the question and
Mike wrote back and started to tell me his story and I was
fascinated. This guy used to be over 400 lbs. and he’s been
listening to the podcast. He’s been incorporating triathlon
training. He’s been eating right. He’s been doing a lot of
things that we’re going to talk about later on. But he’s now
down around 178 lbs. from over 400 lbs. And so what I did
was I got him on an interview to talk to him in detail about
how he lost that weight and how he’s coped with going from
being an obese individual to being basically what he is now –
a skinny triathlete. You’ll want to see the photos that I put up
on the Shownotes to episode 116. They’re absolutely amazing.
The before and after photo. I put the before photo at the top
of the Shownotes. The after photo at the bottom of the
Shownotes. Check those out. Simply amazing. So we are
actually going to move on to the interview with Mike and
listen in. I think you’re really going to get a lot out of it.
Ben: Hey folks, this is Ben Greenfield and I’m here with Mike.
And Mike, how do you pronounce your last name?
Mike Bernico: It’s Bernico.
Ben: With Mike Bernico. And Mike actually used to be about 400
lbs. He is now at… what are you at? About 175?
Mike Bernico: 178.
Ben: 178. Ok, I’m off three pounds. So Mike went from 400 to 178
lbs. and for those of you folks who listen to this show who are
trying to control your weight, trying to perhaps lose some
body fat, perhaps trying to maintain weight, I thought it
would be good for you to see how the average guy goes out
and drops from 400 down to 178, because a lot of the things
that he did to get there are probably the same type of things
that could help you. And you didn’t actually do surgery to get
down to this weight, right Mike?
Mike Bernico: Oh, absolutely not.
Ben: So let’s go ahead and start with probably one of the questions
that will help people quite a bit – how did you actually get up
to being 400 lbs?
Mike Bernico: Well it didn’t happen overnight. I’ve always had a problem
with my weight. I was never a super active kid. I never really
did sports or anything like that. Grew up kind of eating the
standard American diet – hotdogs, burgers, pizza, instant
pasta out of a box, stuff like that. Things just got kind of
worse. I was always big but then in high school I started
working at a fast food restaurant at night after school and I
would eat that food. Then I got a job professionally after
college. I traveled a lot, I ate on the road and I just really got
addicted to highly processed, really calorie dense food. And
then things… it just got completely out of hand. In about
2005, I was not moving. I was completely inactive and I
would eat an entire pizza on a Friday night.
Ben: Wow. So were you physically active during the time? Did you
try out exercise programs? Were you yo-yo dieting or for you
was it just a case of just eating?
Mike Bernico: You know there was of course a lot of yo-yo dieting. I
definitely did not want to be that weight. So I would try and
lose weight. I tried many, many times to lose weight and I
tried just about every fad that was out there. But my thing
was always eating. I ate too much and I did not have nearly
enough activity in my life.
Ben: Ok, so you got up to 400 lbs and how old were you when that
Mike Bernico: I was about 27 years old.
Ben: Wow. So what triggered the realization for you that you
didn’t want to weigh that much and you wanted to actually
Mike Bernico: Well, you know there wasn’t necessarily one thing. I don’t
know that I necessarily had an “a-ha” moment, I guess. But
there were a couple of things that really made me come to
the realization that where I was going was not the right path.
About seven years ago, I fell on the ice and when I did, it
should have been no big deal. But I was so heavy, that it
actually tore all the tendons away from my kneecap and it
required surgery. In fact, I was so big that I remember being
on the operating table in the surgery room and they’re
wondering if I was going to exceed the weight limit on the
table they’re going to operate on.
Ben: You could hear them talking about this?
Mike Bernico: Yeah, exactly. I could hear the surgeons talking about it. And
you know I would wake up at night and I would just be
gasping for air. I’d have terrible acid reflux all the time. Even
just sitting at work sometimes, my heart would race. I’d start
sweating and shaking. I was in bad shape. I was going to die.
Ben: And that’s what triggered it for you – just this entire range of
symptoms that you were experiencing as a result of your
Mike Bernico: Exactly.
Ben: So before we talk about the strategies that you used to drop
from 400 down to 178 lbs., how long did it actually take you
to lose that weight?
Mike Bernico: It actually took me something around three years.
Ben: Ok, so it took you how many years to put on that amount of
Mike Bernico: Well I would say that I was always overweight, but I was
probably a little overweight in high school. I was probably
about 200 lbs. at 5’10. I probably hit 400 when I was 26, 27.
Something like that.
Ben: Ok, so it definitely wasn’t one of those deals where you put it
on in three years and took it off in three years. You spent a
much longer time putting it on than it took for you to get it
Mike Bernico: Yeah, I would say so.
Ben: Yeah, which I think is good for people to hear. I know a lot of
people who feel like it’s just going to be a never ending battle.
But ultimately three years compared to how long it took you
to put on the weight is not an incredibly long period of time.
Mike Bernico: No absolutely not.
Ben: So let’s start with fitness strategies before we talk about
dietary strategies. But what fitness strategies did you use in
your journey from going from 400 to 178?
Mike Bernico: Well it was definitely both diet and exercise. As far as the
exercise part, you know when I started off I couldn’t do a
whole lot. I mean I would be out of breath walking the block.
So I really started doing a little bit of very light strength
training and I did as much cardio as I could and a lot of
times that involved walking, walking short distances and
then walking longer. Eventually I had gotten a recumbent
bike – a stationary recumbent bike. I thought that might
have been easier on my bad knee and I started using that
about three times a week for about 30 minutes. And then as
the weight got down I was able to do more. I got a real bike
and started riding outdoors. A road bike. I worked up to a 20
mile ride and then a 30 mile charity ride and actually in the
fall of 2007, I did a 66 mile metric century.
Ben: So you didn’t do a lot of running. You did a lot of non-weight
bearing type of things?
Mike Bernico: Absolutely.
Ben: So a combination of cycling and weight training? Anything
Mike Bernico: Yeah, that was really it. I didn’t actually start swimming.
That would have been a great idea, but I didn’t start
swimming until I had decided to do triathlon in about 2007.
I was down to about 240 lbs. when I started swimming and
Ben: Gotcha. So, as far as the exercise goes were you kind of
sticking to the same program the entire time or did you
change up your program quite a bit as you went through
those three years?
Mike Bernico: Well I would definitely say that it evolved. Because at first I
just couldn’t do a whole lot but then I would add on more
and more. Eventually as I started cycling more seriously, I
would add in long rides and hard rides and things like that.
So I didn’t necessarily train to any specific set pattern. I did
long stuff, short stuff, strength training, cycling. That kind of
Ben: So, how about diet? Did you follow any specific diet or use
any specific nutritional tools or strategies?
Mike Bernico: Well yeah I would say so. Let’s see, pretty much my diet is all
based around – again it was I guess an evolution. I started
off just eating less. That was enough, and I saw really big
gains or I guess losses just by eating less and then as I got
thinner and lost weight I would have to do a little bit more, a
little bit more and so my diet evolved to be more and more
healthy. And I got away from processed food and I ate more
vegetables and I ate things that we know we’re supposed to
Ben: Did you feel like there was some kind of addiction there in
terms of sugar, fat? Did it take you a while before you quit
craving the types of foods that you were eating?
Mike Bernico: Oh yeah absolutely. It seems like the more of those
unprocessed foods and the sugar and the refined carbs and
stuff like that – the more I would eat it, the less I would be
satisfied, the more I would want and it was just a vicious
cycle. And so there was a time – I’d like to say that no food is
off limits for me, I do believe that, but there was a time when
it was just easier to avoid the really bad stuff. Nowadays I
don’t even want it. What I crave is the food I’m used to which
is minimally processed food – vegetables, whole grains.
Things like that.
Ben: Now how about mentally? What kind of goal setting tools did
you use or what type of motivational techniques did you use
when I’m sure it seemed like you had an insurmountable
amount of weight to lose?
Mike Bernico: Yeah. Definitely. When I started off, I didn’t really start off
with the intention to get to any specific weight. If you would
have asked me then if I could have weight under 200 lbs., I’d
say no way. I wouldn’t have believed it. In fact I don’t think
I’d been under 200 since eighth grade. I’ve always been a big
person. So really I just tried to take a really… I like to say
(inaudible) approach to it, and I just really focused on
making the very next food choice or the very next healthy
living choice that I could. So I tried to make in the moment,
the next choice I had to make, I tried to make a good one.
And let the long-term goal just kind of take care of itself.
Ben: So basically you weren’t necessarily looking at the finish line
as much as you were just looking at the next meal or the next
Mike Bernico: That’s exactly it. And sometimes I’d screw up and sometimes
I wouldn’t do the right thing and I think it’s important to
again look at the next meal and not look at the last meal.
That’s done, you can’t change it. So, next.
Ben: Ok, so in terms of some of the things that people are afraid of
or maybe already struggle with when it comes to losing the
amount of weight that you lost, especially when it comes to
things like loose skin or easily gaining the weight back, yo-
yoing, those types of things – have you had to deal with some
Mike Bernico: Yeah definitely all those things. The extra skin thing is a real
– it’s a real bummer for me. I’m carrying a lot of extra skin
around. I don’t like it. So I was measured recently at about 8%
body fat but I definitely don’t look it. I don’t have that 6 pack
that someone with low body fat would probably have. And
the extra skin is getting better with time, but it’s just
something you have to deal with when you lose that much
weight. And you could probably address it with surgery. I’m
probably not going to do that because it would take away
from my training time which is what I really like to do. And I
just try and remind myself hey, it’s a battle scar. As far as
gaining weight which was the other question – yeah, I have a
huge fear of that. And it’s really easy for me to put on weight.
My resting metabolic rate is not very high. It’s just kind of
the way it is. I’ve even occasionally gained weight back, like
anyone else has. I’ve occasionally gained weight and I’ve
even done it during really big training blocks. Maintenance
can be tricky and I’m just probably always going to have to
be real careful and mindful of my eating.
Ben: Gotcha. So as far as your activity now, you mentioned that
you’re swimming, you’re cycling, you’re running… so are you
doing triathlons now?
Mike Bernico: Yes, absolutely. So, I just finished in yeah I guess the end of
August, I finished a 70.3 half Ironman – half Ironman
Steelhead. In 2007, I was cycling and I did a metric century.
I did my first 5k I guess that December in about 45 minutes.
In 2009, I worked up to completing the Chicago triathlon
which is an Olympic distance triathlon. This summer I did
the half Ironman and next year I will be competing in
Ben: Gotcha, now when you first started into triathlon where you
Mike Bernico: Yeah, I was about 230 lbs. when I did my first triathlon.
Ben: Was that embarrassing for you or did you feel that you were
still accepted in the triathlon community?
Mike Bernico: Well you know I personally was embarrassed. One of the
hardest things for me when I started triathlon was going to
the pool and having to be there without a shirt on. It was like
“whoo.” Triathlon is a really open sport and people of all
shapes and sizes compete and do it. So, I think that they were
more accepting of me than I was accepting of myself.
Ben: Gotcha. So do you have any other resources that you use or
any other types of encouraging words you’d like to give to the
Mike Bernico: Yeah, absolutely. I guess when it comes to triathlon or it
comes to fitness or it comes to weight loss, really what I say
is it’s not about being faster or being better than the next guy.
It’s just all about being better than who you previously were.
That’s I guess my message if I had to sum it up – small
positive changes over time can make a big difference.
Ben: Gotcha. Well Mike, I think that’s going to be really helpful for
people who are listening to the show who may be overweight
or have someone in their life who they want to help out. If
you’re listening in and you have a friend you’d like to forward
this interview to, I would encourage you to do so because I
think a few of the things that Mike shared, in my opinion as a
personal trainer, were really helpful. Specifically, the bit
about doing non-weight bearing exercise. I think that’s a
good non-painful way to get into physical activity. And also
from both a diet and exercise standpoint, setting short-term
rather than long-term goals. That will allow you to stick with
it and not become discouraged in reaching a goal that may
seem very far away. So, Mike. Thanks for coming on the call.
And you’re located in Chicago right?
Mike Bernico: Yeah, I’m a couple of hours from Chicago actually, to the
South. Bloomington, Illinois. And yeah, thanks for having me
Ben. I’m a big fan of your podcast. I really appreciate what
you’re doing and thanks a lot.
Ben: Well fantastic. Thanks for your time today Mike. Until next
time this is Ben Greenfield and Mike signing out from
For personal nutrition, fitness or triathlon consulting, supplements, books or DVD’s
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