Dr. Phil Maffetone: Maintaining Healthy Hormones for Athletes, Plus: Is A Slow MAF Pace Causing Aches and Pains and Getting you ‘Nowhere’? We Chime In.

July 25, 2016
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We are back with the godfather or health and wellness for endurance athletes, Dr. Phil Maffetone. Today we dive into the tricky subject of how to achieve a healthy hormonal status while still training for your sport. That is, how we can participate in sport–even at highly competitive levels–and save our hormones from tanking or fix them if we’re in a bad place. Plus: Q&A on common MAF Method follows.

Can you get to that high end of performance and still be healthy?

  • The “gray area”–things change every day, and we MUST monitor athletes closely.
  • Always assess and reassess athletes to see how much we can push. (A good coach should do this, but self-coached athletes should do it too.)
  • Low hormone levels in endurance athletes usually due to HPA axis dysfunction.
  • The HPA Axis dysfunction leads to a reduction in health over time in the pursuit of fitness, and eventually performance.
  • Common issues: low/no progesterone/estrogen in females, low T in males, or some combo.
  • Adrenal issues, and Phil’s take on “adrenal fatigue.”
  • The role of stress. We need stress in order to adapt, but we need to manage stress to not go overboard into unhealthy territory.
  • How do we manage? Monitor all the clues, red flags, symptoms, etc, that the body exhibits. Monitor often.
  • Sharing brilliance from Dr. Tami Meraglia on Bulletproof Radio: The top 3 questions to ask your doctor. 
    • What effect does nutrition have on my health?
    • hat do you think about the difference between normal lab ranges, and optimal lab ranges?
    • What do you do if what I’m telling you (signs, symptoms), doesn’t match the lab results?
  • Some examples of random but important symptoms: frequent urination (especially at night), salt cravings, low blood pressure and getting lightheaded often.
  • Phil chimes in on the often-sketchy nature of blood chemistry at not telling the whole story
    • Calcium ranges in blood labs
  • Saving your hormones the all-natural way for your own well-being and also follows rules of sport’s governing bodies, WADA, etc!
  • So, should we just supplement with testosterone if our T is low? No! Instead, figure out why it’s low and fix naturally.
  • Phil talks on the risks and harms of supplementing with testosterone for non-competing athletes, non-athletes, or athletes who choose to supplement regardless of rules.
  • For women: temporary supplementation with progesterone cream when it’s needed is legal, and safe, and it may work.
    • Tawnee shares her experience on using progesterone cream with success to help the body re-learn to produce and use this hormone–then weaning off.

Is ‘Slow’ MAF causing pain or injury and getting you ‘nowhere’?

  • If you have to slow down upon starting MAF to hold target HR and you’re significantly slower than before, ongoing, as such some report that these slower paces cause more aches and pains and sometimes injury (more pounding, harder on the body to run slow, etc), so what’s the remedy?
    • When starting MAF you have to start a full program to address all variables and be proactive: fix muscle imbalances, wear the right shoes and/or practice barefoot, adopt healthy nutrition, and so on, to avoid these issues from taking place.
  • Can you be “so slow” at MAF (i.e. walking or really slow jog at target HR) that it has no benefit as it relates to increasing run speed/fitness?

Comments (3)

  • Julberg says:

    I have been enjoying the podcasts here for quite some time and always enjoy learning more from Tawnee and Phil! I am a 51 year old female ultrarunner, typically running a few 100s each year, multiple 50 milers and 50Ks as training runs. I have been training using MAF since February. Tracy Hoeg is coaching me. My MAF test (I do 10 miles on the track each month) began at 13 minute mile, it has now whittled down to 941. I couldn't be happier. I began adding fats/lower carb a few months ago. I first began MAF training because higher mileage, speed, etc, was beating me up. 5 years ago I had a total radical hysterectomy and nothing has been the same since. I hadn't any injuries prior to hysterectomy BUT I realize I am of course, older than I was prior to surgery, too. Duh. I have to think diving straight into menopause has to have an effect on the injury side of things. I've had herniated discs, fractured ankle, broken ankle, neuroma surgery and a neuroma in my 'non surgery' foot since hysterectomy. It seems that recovery from 50 milers and 100 milers is now taking longer than the training itself! Each time I am injured I tell myself that I will no longer cross the line between running for joy, pushing a little bit and crossing into body abuse and injury.

    On Saturday I was running the Voyageur 50 Miler. I was doing great until mile 35 when I noticed a twinge in my ankle/leg. I was no longer able to flex off of my foot. I noticed that my calf was a bit swollen, a bit red, I assumed it was a case of shin splints or tendonitis, nothing too serious. At 45 miles I was a hurting unit, dragging my foot behind me wondering what in the heck had happened? Two days later the swelling, pain and redness alarmed me so much that I thought I broke a bone! I went to the clinic and was diagnosed with cellulitis. What? Crazy. I have no wound that I can see or cut or scratch. A week later and I am still swollen, although the redness is gone, the pain persists.

    I have a 100 miler, Superior Sawtooth, again, in a month. I am having real doubts about this. I am afraid, really afraid, that I will cross from joy and fun to body abuse and injury. I finished Superior for the 3rd time last year, but recovery resulted in neuroma surgery. I just don't know. I'm having trouble struggling with the mental aspect of letting the long endurance runs go. Tawnee, I know that you had to come to terms with this at one point.

    I LOVE running. I LOVE training, I LOVE my daily run but I am beginning to think the 100s are not worth the recovery and the time off from my daily joyful running. Any input is welcomed.

    Thank you for doing such a great job with these podcasts, I learn so much and enjoy each one.


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