#151 - Alex Hutchinson, Ph.D.: Translating the science of endurance and extreme human performance

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By Peter Attia, MD, Peter Attia, and MD. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

Alex Hutchinson is a sports science journalist, author of the book Endure—which explores the science of endurance and the real limits of human performance—and former competitive runner for the Canadian national team. In this episode, Alex tells the story of his “aha moment” during a meaningless track meet that catapulted his running career and seeded his interest in the power of the mind. He then explains the science behind VO2 max, the difference between maximum aerobic capacity and efficiency, and extracts insights from examples of extreme human performance, such as the recent attempts to break the 2-hour mark in the marathon. Finally, he brings it back to what this all means for the everyday person: optimal exercise volume for maintaining health, how to avoid acute and chronic injuries, how to diversify your exercise portfolio, HIIT protocols, and much more.

We discuss:

  • Alex’s background and passion for running (3:00);
  • The power of the mind: Alex’s “aha moment” that catapulted his running career (9:00);
  • Pursuing a Ph.D. in physics while prioritizing his running career, and doing the hardest thing possible (19:00);
  • Career transition to journalism, tips for improving your writing, and insights from the best writers (26:00);
  • Breaking down VO2 max: Definition, history, why it plateaus, and whether it really matters (38:15);
  • The case study of Oskar Svensson: Why a higher VO2 Max isn’t always better, and the difference between maximum aerobic capacity and efficiency (49:15);
  • The sub 2-hour marathon: The amazing feat by Kipchoge, and what will it take to “officially” run a 2-hour marathon (1:01:00);
  • Comparing the greatest mile runners from the 1950s to today (1:14:45);
  • How the brain influences the limits of endurance (1:20:15);
  • Relationship between exercise volume and health: Minimum dose, optimal dose, and whether too much exercise can shorten lifespan (1:23:45);
  • Age-associated decline in aerobic capacity and muscle mass, and the quick decline with extreme inactivity (1:40:45);
  • Strength or muscle mass—which is more important? (1:47:00);
  • Avoiding acute and chronic injuries from exercise (1:48:45);
  • High intensity interval training: Evolution of the Tabata protocol, pros and cons of HIIT training, and how it fits into a healthy exercise program (1:54:15);
  • The importance of understanding why you are engaging in exercise (2:03:00);
  • How we can encourage better science journalism and reduce the number of sensationalized headlines (2:05:45); and
  • More.

Learn more: https://peterattiamd.com/ Show notes page for this episode: https://peterattiamd.com/AlexHutchinson Subscribe to receive exclusive subscriber-only content: https://peterattiamd.com/subscribe/ Sign up to receive Peter's email newsletter: https://peterattiamd.com/newsletter/ Connect with Peter on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram.

194 episodes