If you’ve not checked out part 1 of this Aerobic System conversation, I’d highly encourage you to take a look at that because this conversation will have a lot more context. The link to part 1 is here - The Aerobic System Part 1
In part 2, Michael wanted to hit on how oxygen actually gets to the muscle tissues so that you can actually become aerobic.
The structure of this conversation will go this way:
- How your red blood cells work and why you should care
- Why hemoglobin matters
- How nutrients play into your aerobic system
Michael quickly mentioned a story that he just encountered on a consult with an athlete. That athlete was working with a macros coach who was just saying “hit these macros and you’re good.” However, the coach wasn’t mentioning the micronutrients within that conversation. Michael noted that the macro nutrients are like the bricks of a house whereas the micronutrients are really the mortar that makes the bricks stay together.
You must have both macros and micros in order to perform. You may be able to get away with it if you’re stagnant, but not if you want to compete and win
Why do micros matter in this context? Well, specifically per this conversation, if you don’t have the proper micronutrients, you will really struggle to be aerobic. Things such as B12, folate, and zinc are so often deficient in CrossFit athletes.
CrossFit is so hard on your body because of how much workout volume you have to do and how intensely you need to compete on game day, you must realize that you are in fight or flight mode (sympathetic nervous system) more often than “normal” people. That means you are more stressed. If you do not create an environment to get into a parasympathetic state, you can shoot your nervous system to shreds over time.
Do you believe that stress is mainly caused by training or is it other things?
Michael looks at stress in more general terms. If you have stress, anywhere, you have stress. No more complicated than that. However, if you have stress that you like, you can likely hang on to resiliency longer than if you are highly stressed by things that you do not enjoy.
I asked Michael to clarify that stress levels and micro nutrients are among the very important components of giving yourself the environment to build a better aerobic system.
In relation to nutrients, Michael said something beautiful
You are what you eat, absorb, and then do not get rid of
That statement, in the context of building the aerobic system, “discusses” why smaller things such as relaxing while you eat lunch, create a less stressful environment which allows you to get into a parasympathetic state (shutting off the sympathetic state) which allows you to absorb nutrients which gives your body the micronutrients (assuming the food is legit haha) to allow oxygen to get to the muscles more effectively which will make you more aerobic!
Michael noted that just working on stress and nutrients has helped his athletes PR numerous breathing work and aerobic tests in the gym. Powerful stuff!
Something interesting to think about, particularly if you’re in the high intense military or CrossFit mindset...sometimes Michael drops training in order to secure the nervous system (less stress), helps clean up foods along with that stress to get better nutrients in, and then sees sizable PR’s. It’s never just about training!
How does inflammation play into the aerobic system?
Inflammation (too much and the wrong kind) can harm your ability to make red blood cells which can hurt your ability to use oxygen as fuel….making you less aerobic!
Michael likened inflammation to a fire. Acute inflammation in certain cases is like a controlled burn to prevent larger forrest fires. It’s when the inflammation gets out of control, akin to a forrest fire, that it becomes problematic.
Doing bicep curls effectively creates some acute inflammation, which is all good because it creates the adaptation and “the gun show” as Michael said with a straight face!
When you are stressed, have gut issues, aren’t sleeping, etc...and then you tack on a workout that puts you just a bit over the line, you can set that forrest fire of inflammation off. When that inflammation goes, it harms your ability to create red blood cells, but it also harms your ability to absorb the micronutrients that help you be more oxidative (aerobic).
How does gut health factor into performance of the aerobic system?
While gut issues are a very complex topic because there isn’t conclusive research on gut health, Michael has worked with athletes and doctors to see people fix gut issues and go on to perform astronomically higher. He noted that if you have bowel movements that take more than 5 wipes, are runny/not well formed, or consistent, that is a sign that something isn’t right in the gut.
Michael discussed that the gut has its own nervous system - as does the brain - so when the gut is inflamed/off, it signals your brain which can dampen your nervous system (dampening is like a light bulb of power, when it’s dampened, the bulb is less bright). If you have a dampened nervous system, you will struggle to put out your max capability of power, and you will also struggle to get oxygen to the muscles for aerobic purposes.
Perhaps a quick bullet point on what inflammation can lead to, in 1 example, would be helpful:
- Inflammation issues can lower testosterone
- Testosterone deficiencies lower your ability to make red blood cells
- Fewer red blood cells reduce your ability get oxygen to the muscles
- Less oxygen to the muscles makes you less aerobic
Michael went on to say - “You need to be healthy enough to exercise”
He said this in the context of making sure you or your clients are not so beat up or deficient in certain hormones, micronutrients, parasympathetic tone, etc that by simply training you could set off that inflammation forest first which would then harm performance even more.
How does insulin sensitivity affect the aerobic system?
Michael isn’t talking about a diabetic example of insulin sensitivity, although it would play in for those folks with diabetes, he’s talking about how the cell accepts fuel or not to make energy.
Side note, Michael has seen people present with insulin resistance in these categories (ie all):
- High carb diet
- Low carb diet
- 35% body fat
- 5% body fat
If that’s annoying, we agree. Michael simply notes that there isn’t one answer to these questions, he looks at a number of factors together to determine his best course of action with his clients.
Insulin sensitivity can come from inflammation, sex hormone problems, if your toxic, liver congestion, hyper lipidemia, etc...and if you are insulin sensitive it can absolutely lead to aerobic system deficiencies.
Summing it all up with resiliency...
One last great note to blow your mind
The best thing to do to get more mobile (as in mobility), get more aerobic. That aerobic system improvement leads to parasympathetic “de-stressing” which brings with it more mobility. A higher aerobic level allows for a better and bigger foundation for your body to put more things on top of it.
Michael noted that when he fixes the primary, secondary, and tertiary elements, everything begins to improve as does performance. If you want to dive a lot more deeply into that, check out this article from a resiliency conversation Michael and I had - here (link to resiliency blog)
- Insulin sensitivity - aka glucose tolerance - the ability to push fuel into the cell
- Ability to deliver oxygen to the muscles
- Gut health - any types of parasites etc
- Circadian rhythm - are you going to bed on time, do you have good lifestyle practices day by day, etc…
- For ex, if you’re making great choices but you still can’t sleep, why?
- Hormones - however, often times a lot of the fixes above will help to rectify the hormones
Everything is connected folks. Think about the overall system and fix the big rocks as best as you can without simply assuming that lifting harder will solve your performance problems.
Thanks for reading! See you next time