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Endurance Essentials and 9 Other Big Questions

Important questions on VO2 max, supplements to take, the four pillars of cardiovascular health, and more—answered by physiologist Brady Holmer.

Endurance Essentials and 9 Other Big Questions


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Remember our end-of-year 2% poll? You all wanted me to flow in more outside experts.

I think it’s a great idea. But I don’t take it lightly. I’m not bringing in someone nonsensical just because the person, say, has a giant audience.

We’re only pulling in people I trust.

So how’s this for trusting today’s expert? I asked today’s guest expert, Brady Holmer, to scientifically review chapter 8 of my book Scarcity Brain (the food and heart health chapter).

Brady Holmer is a physiologist and researcher for He also writes Physiologically Speaking, which is a great Substack for those who want to go down the scientific rabbit hole of health and training (it’s one of three Substacks I recommend).

He also has a killer Twitter feed (side note: Brady is one of the few smart health minds with a sense of humor).

Brady and I agreed to swap Q&As. This means you can find my answers to Brady’s questions over at his Substack today.

Today, we’re covering Brady’s thoughts on:

  • Whether supplements are worthwhile.
  • An exercise prescription for someone who has 5 hours a week to exercise.
  • How to run a faster timed race (Brady has a background in competitive distance running).
  • How to improve your VO2 Max.
  • The top three myths in the health and fitness world.
  • The four pillars of cardiovascular health.
  • How Brady maintains killer endurance despite having a toddler and hectic research schedule (he just ran a 1:09:34 half marathon in Houston).

Let’s roll …

1. You do a lot of work for, an evidence-based supplement review site. How has that shaped your view of supplements, and what supplements (if any) do you take and why?

Since beginning work at Examine, my view of supplements has become much less enthusiastic. When you get down to reading the randomized controlled studies that test these supplements, you notice that a lot of the studies aren’t high-quality. You can find a study or two to support any supplement, but the overwhelming evidence for most supplements is weak.

What tends to be useful are the basics and of course, supplementing when you’re deficient is always a good idea. But if you’re looking for the latest supplement to hack your health or performance, it’s not likely to be found at your local GNC.

I currently take:

  • CoQ10 and fish oil (EPA/DHA) for cardiovascular health
  • Vitamin D + K2 for bone health
  • Magnesium at night for sleep (and magnesium in general)
  • Creatine for exercise performance and brain health

2. If you were to “prescribe” an exercise routine for someone who had the goal of general health and longevity, what would that routine look like? Assume the person can dedicate 5 hours a week to exercise.

Two of those hours should consist of whole-body resistance training sessions including compound movements, upper and lower body lifts, and some core exercises.

Another two hours I’d set aside for lower-intensity aerobic exercise (“zone 2 training”). This could be walking (rucking), cycling, running, rowing, swimming, etc.

The last hour I would dedicate to high-intensity aerobic exercise or high-intensity interval training. Something that elevates your heart rate more than those low-intensity days. Make it hurt.

(Michael’s note: This is why we Burn the Ships once a week).

3. What is a health/fitness/nutrition topic you've recently changed your mind on? Why?

I’ve changed my belief that you need to accumulate your cardio/aerobic exercise all at once.

For instance, if your goal is to achieve 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise, my initial bias was that doing 2 to 3 sessions of 1 hour each is the best way to do it. I no longer think that’s the case.

Breaking up exercise into 15–20 minute bouts can also be effective at improving health. Some studies have even shown that people can improve their VO2 max by doing shorter “exercise snacks” throughout the day.

Of course, completing a longer duration exercise session (60–90 minutes) once per week is important.

4. What is the single most effective thing a person can do to run a faster timed race?

Run more.

Most people have lots of room to improve in terms of the volume they’re doing per week, and just adding some mileage/time on feet can have big effects, even if you’re not running those miles faster.

I’d suggest people “go long” once per week. Run or run/walk for 90 minutes or more, even if the majority of the time is spent walking. Build your aerobic base!

In terms of race-specific strategies, learning how to pace is big. All of the current world records in track and field and the marathon were run with a negative split—meaning the last half of the race was run faster than the first half.

When I started racing like this, my times significantly improved. It’s also much more fun to finish a race faster instead of crawl to the finish line.

Go out a bit slower than feels comfortable and try to speed up as the race progresses.

5. Why should people care about their VO2 max?

I think VO2 max is both incredibly important (I wrote a book on the subject) and a bit “overhyped” now due to all of the attention it’s being given on podcasts and social media.

But there’s no doubt a high VO2 max is correlated with longevity — the fitter you are, the longer you’ll live. We’ve always known that VO2 max is important for endurance performance, but the newer focus on longevity suggests that building your aerobic fitness as high as possible into middle age is important too.

VO2 max starts to decline around age 40 or 50 in men and women. People should make an effort to start with the highest baseline possible before the “inevitable” decline sets in — think of it as building a “fitness retirement account.”

There is a certain threshold of aerobic fitness below which doing normal activities of daily living becomes compromised.

Think of the older person who can’t climb stairs or has trouble getting around the house. They might have a VO2 max below 15 which makes them unable to do these seemingly easy activities. Of course, maintaining strength and muscle mass is important for this too, but you also have to have a strong heart and lungs.

6. What are some top-level practices a person can do to improve their VO2 max?

The short answer: exercise more. There’s no supplement or hack (other than using performance-enhancing drugs) that’ll improve VO2 max.

A lot of people will say that zone 2 training is the secret, but I think there's overwhelming evidence that high-intensity interval training is more effective for improving VO2 max.

Everyone should be doing some high-intensity interval training (HIIT) at least once per week. Specifically, intervals in the 2–4 minute range seem to be particularly effective for improving VO2 max.

Some research suggests combining aerobic exercise training with the sauna can enhance VO2 max (more than exercise alone) — so that’s potentially a useful tool that everyone can use if they have access to a sauna, the use of which is also associated with better healthspan and longevity.

7. What do you see as the top three myths in the world of health and wellness today?

First: That you need to supplement.

The world of supplements has proliferated with social media influencers, and there seems to be a “fear of missing out” around supplements — everyone’s taking them so I should be too.

I think that with a well-planned diet, most people don’t need any supplements other than a daily multivitamin. There’s probably no harm to supplementing (other than cost), but I think we’re being led to believe that optimal wellness requires spending hundreds of dollars per month on supplements. Most of it is just fancy advertising.

Second: That low-carb, fasting, or time-restricted eating are somehow better than a “normal” balanced diet for weight loss.

I’ve read dozens of studies on different diets and fasting protocols, and when it comes down to it, there doesn’t seem to be any magic of intermittent fasting or low-carb/ketogenic diets — it’s about energy in and energy out.

Of course, everyone will respond differently to certain types of diets and might find low carb, for example, easier to stick to. So this diet might be best for them. But the laws of thermodynamics apply whether you’re eating carnivore, vegan, or keto.

Third: The intense fear around seed oils.

By no means do I think that processed seed oils are the best thing for our health—and we should probably limit our consumption of them.

But within the health and wellness communities on social media, seed oils are a scapegoat: they’re blamed for obesity and other global disease epidemics. There’s a correlation with our seed oil consumption and many of these diseases, but I don’t think they’re as bad as some would like us to believe.

8. What do you see as the pillars of cardiovascular health?

  • VO2 max/aerobic fitness: in my opinion, this is the most important, evidenced by the recent studies associating this measure with health and longevity. I think that people should make a VO2 max test part of a yearly checkup and track it over time.
  • Resting heart rate: resting heart rate can also be used as an indicator of fitness (along with VO2 max). Lower is generally better. Your heart rate also reflects the health of your autonomic nervous system. There’s no recommendation for what a heart rate “should” be, but aiming for 50 beats per minute or lower at rest would be a good goal for most. Lower heart rates are associated with better health and longevity.
  • Blood pressure: keeping a normal or low blood pressure is one of the most important things people can do to prevent cardiovascular disease. High blood pressure is very damaging to the brain, kidneys, and other organs. You should have a blood pressure below 120 over 80, and the good thing is that this measure is part of every routine checkup. People can even measure their blood pressure at home with a commercially available device.
  • Blood lipids: I’m not completely up to date here, but people should know what their apolipoprotein B (ApoB) levels are — this is emerging as an important cardiovascular risk factor in addition to one’s standard blood lipid/cholesterol panel. I’d refer people to Dr. Peter Attia who talks a lot about this biomarker.

9. You have a baby/toddler—but also just ran a blazing fast half marathon (1:09:34). How do you balance training time with all of your other demands?

Having a child has been one of the toughest challenges of my life thus far, but in a way it’s provided me with more structure.

Setting aside time for training is always at the top of my list of priorities. It’s less about balance and more about structure — the morning hours from 5:30 to 7:30 are dedicated training time no matter what.

My wife gets the baby up and ready for the day before she leaves for work. During this time, I workout and then take over — it’s really a team effort.

But I’m flexible as well. Sometimes if I miss a morning, I’ll workout during my son’s naptime or at the end of the day after my wife gets home. That gives me 3 potential points during the day when I can train that don’t conflict with the demands of my job. I think everyone can find at least 1 or 2 of these “protected” time periods.

I also find ways to integrate “training” when caring for the baby: put him in the stroller or in a Baby Bjorn to go out on a 30–60 minute walk, for example.

Of course, having a supportive wife who knows training is important to me helps too—so I can’t forget to mention that part.

I’ve also made sure to prioritize good nutrition and sleep habits even more — my body has to be fueled to train and meet the additional demands of being a dad — they all count toward “training stress”.

I try to think about my exercise and training routines holistically now. I’m not a pro athlete, but I want to try and perform like one, so I need to give my body the best food/rest it needs so I can train and also have the energy outside training to be a kick-ass dad and husband.


Thanks to Brady and thanks for reading.

Have fun, don’t die, build some endurance.


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