#190 – Is physical fitness enough for overall health? | Cole Sager & Josh Clemente
It’s possible to be athletic and physically fit but metabolically unhealthy. Listen as Cole Sager, eight-time CrossFit Games athlete, and Josh Clemente, Co-Founder at Levels, discuss the distinction between physical fitness and holistic metabolic health, and Cole’s realization that his health wasn’t in great shape according to his bloodwork. Cole shares his experience as a sports enthusiast, Spirit of the Games awardee, and Levels member and his journey toward metabolic health. Cole and Josh talk about determination, consistency, and advocacy for a metabolically healthy future while keeping athletic performance at the forefront.
3:21 – Cole’s college football experience and how it helped him transition to CrossFit
Cole’s athletic background spans his entire life, starting from childhood. He has always been an active kid and has played almost every sport. When he was on his university football team, he started diving into his nutritional health. Looking back, he considers the nutritional principles he learned from this time as an essential puzzle piece that made him transition into CrossFit easily and successfully.
In college athletics, I started to really dive into my health. Not necessarily my metabolic health. I was a little naive and ignorant to that at the time, but it was more so, ‘Hey, who am I gonna look to? Well, the body-building community looks really healthy, I’ll look to them for a lot of advice. They have great physiques, so they must be healthy.’ And so in college, I spent some time really focusing on my nutrition and also my metabolic conditioning, which was something that I didn’t realize that I was doing at the time, but I was like, ‘Hey, this seems appropriate for how I wanna perform on the field, I should train like this.’ And I that training and some of those nutritional principles that I started to gather when I was in college made for an easy transition into CrossFit. […] And so now I’ve been doing that for the last 10, going on 11 years or so. And it’s great, man. It went fast. It went so fast, it’s wild. But all of that from being an active kid—I rode bikes, I rollerbladed, I tried skateboarding, I snowboarded, and I played every sport under the sun, every team sport under the sun it seemed like, and then played football and all of my training background. I think all of that built a really good platform to have really great body awareness as an athlete, to be able to transition to the sport that I’m in now, and to compete well in CrossFit. And that’s been an amazing journey. I’ve learned so many things about health, metabolic health, fitness, and the longevity of an athlete and longevity of life that I’m excited to continue to use for the next hopefully 70 years or so.
My mentality was—this goes back to the competitive side of what you were referring to—it was more so about wanting to have an impact on a community, wanting to be a positive force for something good in a community. That was really the competitive driver for me. So it wasn’t so much about satisfying a competitive physical nature as much as a drive to have a resounding impact in a positive way in a community and in people’s lives, and using the platform of sport, athletics, and CrossFit specifically in order to do that.
11:51 – The distinction between acute physical fitness and holistic metabolic fitness
Cole shares how he discovered that he wasn’t at optimal metabolic health while being physically fit six years ago. He believes that both physical and metabolic fitness should be the parameters for a holistic approach to health.
You can have acute physical fitness, but then there is metabolic fitness and I think that is very different. I’ve had this in my journey. I’ve had this checked many times where, six years ago I had plenty good fitness. I was competing at CrossFit games. I took fifth and then I had blood work done and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh. Well, that’s eye-opening. My blood glucose was a little bit higher than I would like to see. My cholesterol’s a little bit higher than I’d like to see.’ My biomarkers were just a little off and I was like, ‘Huh? Like, what is that?’ I thought I had great fitness and I thought I’m healthy, but I wasn’t—in that acute moment, I wasn’t healthy. I was able to do a lot of work quickly. I had good physical fitness, but I didn’t have good health at the same time. And I believe now, fast forwarding another six or seven years, I believe fitness should be looked at more holistically, ‘I do have good physical fitness and I do have good metabolic health and fitness.’
16:13 – The reality of the discomfort it takes to be physically fit
Intensity is the key if you want to perform at the level of athletes like Cole. However, Cole also points out that this strictly applies to people like him who want to perform their best at specific sports and cautions against over-training for people who wish to achieve optimal metabolic health in the long run.
[The discomfort] needs to be your best friend, if you wanna perform at the level that I want to obtain, or any of the other athletes [like] cyclists […] wanna obtain. The suffering side of it, the physical breakdown of your body has to be something that you’ve become friends with and that you desire to see—and that’s what I mean by a friend because you desire to see your friend. If you will, suffering in misery that your body goes through is kind of the pathway in which we force the body to adapt. Intensity is the key when it comes down to it—intensity and the right doses, […] which takes me back to one of the things that I’m starting to say: I teeter with over-training all of the time. I’m playing with a nice edge constantly. And especially in our sport being so young, there isn’t a great definition and there isn’t a lot of good quality literature and research around how to best optimally train for CrossFit. […] So, you know, I can’t look to quality research that shows how the best way to gain muscle hypertrophy and strength and the best way to improve your aerobic capacity or anaerobic capacity on the bike. But I’m mixing all of those modalities in one week, sometimes in one training session. And in order to maximize those, you exhaust the body. [On] some days, we exhaust every energy system that there is to exhaust. And that is something that you just have to become friends with and learn to enjoy. Otherwise, I [honestly] think you won’t see the returns.
I want to perform at the peak levels of my sport. That doesn’t necessarily mean that people taking themselves [through] over-training all of the time is the appropriate thing to do. I wanna make that very clear. So I don’t wanna lead people into thinking like, ‘Oh, I just need to suffer every single day and just crush myself.’ That is not the right way. And I believe, and maybe we’ll lead to this later in the conversation, that [it] leads to poor metabolic health if you do that. So I just wanna make that very, very clear.
24:18 – Cole’s secrets behind athletic determination and consistency
Cole shares how he keeps himself motivated to be the best at what he does. He takes a two-pronged approach to this: Maintaining a strong sense of purpose behind his efforts and dosing himself with discomfort to build confidence in his capabilities.
Having a really good mental, emotional, and psychological reasoning and understanding of who I am and why I want to do this, I think, is extremely important. I think many people would just define that as having a really strong why and purpose behind what’s driving you forward. So I think from a little bit of motivational perspective, I’d lean on that heavily. And then, the other side of the thing that I think is the most simplistic way to answer is I dose myself that regularly. That discomfort and that pain that you’re talking about, that I have to take myself to, I visit it [frequently] enough that I know things are gonna be okay. One of the things that we talk about in my training, me and my coach, is building confidence in movements or building confidence in workouts. And really all that means is getting to that place where, you know, and you’re confident. You can hold these wattages, you can hold this pace, You can suffer for 20 minutes at this pace. It hurts, it’s miserable, but guess what? You can do it. So just do it and then it’s over and we move on. And so it’s that concept of introducing yourself or dosing that into your life on a regular basis that gives you the confidence like, ‘Hey, I can do this, I can do this.’ And over time your body’s gonna adapt and you can go a little bit harder and you can go a little bit harder. And you track that. You follow that. You expose yourself to it and six months down the road, you’re fitter and healthier for it.
26:45 – How Cole applies the principles of CrossFit in marriage, fatherhood, and life
Cole outlines how he uses athletic principles and concepts to guide him through fatherhood and life. Notably, he shares how CrossFit has helped him see the importance of showing up every day and being confident that you can make it through life’s toughest challenges.
As an athlete, I’ve started to see that a lot of the principles that I have to lean on as an athlete ring true in a lot of other areas of my life. And one of the things I often tell people is, I see sport as being in life in fast forward, you know, you get to see like glimpses of life and principles of life that you have to work through as an athlete. And sometimes, you see a handful of principles in a year, in a training month, and sometimes even a day that some people will never see in their lifetime. But you’re forced to, […] if you wanna maximize this portion of your life, you have to be applying these principles and these concepts.
We choose to put ourselves through challenges on a very regular basis. That is just training grounds for us, for life, to be able to know that we have the strength to carry through the challenges that life is gonna give us, no matter what it is, no matter what the workout is. I don’t get to control what the workouts are in the competitions. I have no idea. So sometimes we even literally are going on the floor and we don’t even know what the workout is, you know, and it’s like, I don’t know the challenge that’s going to be presented to me. But what I do know is that I have prepared myself, whether it be physically or in this case internally, to face the challenges that life is going to present or my sport is gonna present to me. And having [that] confidence moving forward, to be able to stand there and be like, ‘Hey, I can handle whatever is thrown at me and I will just give my best foot forward to that,’ is something that can carry you through a lot of challenges.
30:38 – Winning The Spirit of the Games Award
Cole puts a lot of importance on building his character alongside his health and fitness. He believes that his connection and engagement with other people matter more than any accolades he might receive throughout his career.
You know, if I was to describe myself, it’d be inappropriate to me and untruthful if I left out the fact that at the core of who I am, I’m a faith-filled man. [One] of the basic principles that come out of that is I believe that the most important thing on earth is really just the souls of people. And I think this is one of the things that, whenever I look at my day and my circumstances, I want to get beyond myself because I’m passionate about caring about people, about people’s souls. Because of all the things that I’m being faced [with] in the day, if the souls of people are the most valuable thing before me, it doesn’t matter what the accolades are, what the accomplishments are, what things I can get, and life circumstances I can have. They don’t trump the fact that there is somebody who is right in front of me that is very valuable. So I think at the core of who I am, that is something that is really resounding in my life.
34:50 – Cole’s mission to help people achieve better health and fitness
Cole shares how he built his platform to help people take charge of their health and get from zero to one in terms of fitness.
I got into the sport to build a platform, quote-unquote, to be able to help people. And I think one of the things that I’ve gained [over time] is a pretty solid knowledge base and foundation in what it takes to gain fitness or health and take people from zero to one. And it has helped people in that aspect of life. It’s like you can have a great platform, but if you’re not using it, what good is it [for]? So it’s actually been a really convicting thing for me. It’s something that I would love to do a better job at, whether it be through social media or different means which I’ve explored in the past. […] I think up until this point it’s been a little bit more of just the presence of trying to be a good example of it and maybe that could drive people or inspire people to make a change in their lives. I’ve gotten to the point where I was like, ‘Hey, maybe I could do a better job of sharing that and verbalizing that and helping people [get their] questions [answered] through different mediums.’
39:18 – Food bridges the gap between acute physical fitness and overall metabolic health
Changing his relationship with food took Cole from being acutely physically fit to taking a more holistic approach toward his overall health and wellness. He tells his experience as a Levels member and how using a CGM gave him better insight into his fitness goals.
I have a very structured routine and it was interesting to see. And I could almost like tell you what times of the day I have dips in energy, and how I feel throughout the day when I bunk in the afternoon. All these, you know, how long I can get into my training session before I just run outta energy or I need to go eat something without having a good understanding of what was going on internally. And then to see my graph with Levels was a little bit eye-opening. And like I said, frustrating. Cause I didn’t realize how often I was spiking my blood glucose, how certain foods actually impacted me versus [how they should] conceptually or theoretically impact me. That allowed me to tweak and make even better nutritional gains. I’m even improving it more, looking into some better concepts of metabolic health and how that can be utilized throughout the types of training that I do as opposed to just for aerobic athletes. That I’m really excited to explore. And I think that Levels have given me a great ability to see inside, to see a picture inside of the body of what is going on so that I can make objective decisions.
45:25 – How high-intensity training triggers big glucose spikes
Cole and Josh discuss the “Dinosaur Back,” which represents the big glucose spikes triggered by high-intensity training sessions. While this might sound alarming, high-intensity training sessions actually help improve insulin sensitivity and recovery in the long run. This, coupled with fasted cardio sessions, are some of Cole’s efforts to train his body to become more metabolically efficient.
I’ve been working with somebody at Levels kind of tracking this and it’s fascinating. I call it the Dinosaur Back. ‘Cause if you look at it, [in the] morning I’m pretty good at keeping my levels nice and low. And then as soon as I start training and obviously my training looks different, my training window looks much different than the average person. So it’s not so much a spike, but a very elevated period of time where my blood glucose has spiked a bunch. Gone back up, gone back down, gone back up, gone back down until I finished training. I have my last meal and I start to recover for the day and then it kind of flattens, tapers back down, and levels back up. I’ve noticed with high-intensity training, I obviously get the most spikes, high-intensity being maybe heavy loads with weight training, hard aerobic efforts, and bouts. But then [what] I’ve actually noticed [that produce] the highest spikes are very potent, high-intensity CrossFit metabolic conditioning sessions.
I kind of alluded to it earlier with the concept of metabolic efficiency, where I would like to train my body to use fuel more efficiently. You know, I do fasted cardio. I try to teach my body to use a little bit more fasted fuel when sugars aren’t plentiful. The body [goes] to fat stores rather than needing to rely on doses of sugars to be able to put better carbohydrates in my body and my body uses it more efficiently rather than having to eat the pop tart that so many people claim that you need. I don’t necessarily believe that. I believe that you can train the body to use the food that you give it to become better [at using] it in a more metabolically efficient and beneficial way.
56:14 – How the CrossFit community approaches the metabolic theory of health and wellness
Cole shares how the CrossFit community has historically approached the concept of eating for training. He’s excited and driven to promote a better way of eating for metabolic health moving forward.
I’m excited [to see] athletes start to become a little bit more aware and there becomes more data through companies like Levels that start to show, ‘Hey, there is a better way to eat and to train and to eat for training.’ That will bring people back to the concept of eating for better metabolic health, and that you can have good sports performance as well. And I think that if we can have more athletes doing that, it’s gonna help drive the community towards that. And I think that’s the whole goal, it’s the whole purpose. It’s why CrossFit has been so beautiful; the sport and the community have worked so cohesively and I don’t wanna see those separating. I wanna see those come back together and work as one organism. I think that is where the future is headed.
Cole Sager (00:00:06):
I think you should be at least three times a week, walking, running, biking, doing some aerobic fitness three times a week for 30 minutes. If you could do 60 minutes, maybe that’s better. And then just watching what you’re eating. And I think that that is the one thing if you had to choose any of them, is starting with your food. That is actually the one thing that has moved the needle the most in my life is changes in quality of food. I had great physical health, but I didn’t have great metabolic health, or at least to the point that it was equal with my physical fitness. And in order to move the needle, I needed to change some of the ways that I was eating. And reducing the amount of sugar that I ate, watching what my blood glucose spikes using CGMs to get some information and insight, getting metabolic panels done, that was one of the things that helped move the needle the most.
Ben Grynol (00:01:04):
I’m Ben Grynol, part of the early startup team here at LEVELS. We’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health. And this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is A Whole New Level.
We’ve done these episodes before around this idea of mindset. A lot of times it comes down to, not the way that you do things, but the way that you think about them. How much mental effort, how much mental aptitude, you have to put towards any task, whether it has to do with health and wellness, physical activity, or even work performance. Everyone is going to have their own approach and their own mindset to making things happen. Well, this is very true for Cole Sager. Cole is a LEVELS member, and he was raised in a small town. He played division one football at the University of Washington, and he eventually got into CrossFit. And fast forward, Cole is now an eight times CrossFit games athlete. In 2019, he was ranked six overall in the world. And really what he wanted to do when he grew up was he wanted to play in the NFL. Not because it was professional sports, but to build a platform.
He had this idea if he could put his mental aptitude, his effort, his mindset, into practice and he could influence others through it, well, that would be a pretty special thing to do. And so he continued on having this mindset, even though football wasn’t his eventual path, he did pursue the same mindset in CrossFit. In 2017 at the CrossFit games he was awarded the Spirit of the Games Award. And in his words, it was one of the most special moments as a professional athlete. That is what he set out to do. He’s on a mission to motivate others to be the kindest, hardest working versions of themselves. So Cole and Josh Clemente, founder of LEVELS, they sat down and they talked through Cole’s story as both a member, CrossFit athlete, something that they both share in common, and this idea of mindset, what it takes to put your mind to anything you do. Anyway, no need to wait. Here’s where they kick things off.
Josh Clemente (00:03:21):
Well, just to T things up, I’d love to just get into your background. There’s a ton of amazing stuff that you’ve done in your career, but I’d love to figure out where it originates from. So tell me about growing up.
Cole Sager (00:03:33):
I’ve been an athlete my whole life. I think that’s one of the big markers of me as an individual, from a really early age I was just an active kid. And I think one of the easiest things to do with an active kid is put him in some sort of physical activity. And so it was pretty quick and pretty obvious that was an easy direction for my parents to go. So they put me in sports at a young age. I explored so many different sports and ultimately ended up falling in love with football. That became my sport love. And followed that and really devoted a lot of time as a young kid to putting a lot of effort and energy into that. Ended up getting an invitation as a preferred walk-on at the University of Washington where I earned a scholarship for my four years that I was there.
Started on special teams, all the special teams throughout my career there. And that was an amazing time. That was just awesome. And I think that just spending a lot of time in athletic, so we’re not growing up is, and then playing football, is what also allowed me to transition so easily to CrossFit. And that transitional period, obviously throughout my college time, and we could dive into that story a little bit if wanted, but in my college time, in college athletics, I started to really dive into my health. And not necessarily my metabolic health. I was a little naive and ignorant to that at the time, but it was more so, who am I going to look to? Well, the body building community looks really healthy. I’ll look to them for a lot of advice. They have great physiques, so they must be healthy.
And so in college I spent some time really focusing on my nutrition and then also my metabolic conditioning. Which was something that I didn’t realize that I was doing at the time, but I was like, “Hey, this seems appropriate for how I want to perform on the field. I should train like this.” And that training, and I think some of those nutrition principles that I started to gather when I was in college, made for an easy transition into CrossFit. Though I think also in college it did kind of form a little bit of unhealthy relationship with food, but also it was a good foundation for me to build upon once I got out of college football and exposed me to some things that I could learn from and grow in. Especially considering my senior year, I had to gain 35 ish pounds, move positions from running back to fallback, gained a bunch of weight in a span of five months.
And so anyways, with all that knowledge, took that into transitioning to CrossFit. And so now I’ve been doing that for the last 10 going on 11 years or so.
Josh Clemente (00:06:29):
Cole Sager (00:06:29):
Josh Clemente (00:06:33):
Man, it went fast. It went so fast.
Cole Sager (00:06:34):
It’s wild. But all of that from being an active kid, rode bikes, I rollerbladed, I tried skateboarding, snowboarded, and then I played every team sport under the sun, it seemed like, and then played football. And all of my training background and that, I think all of that built a really good platform to really have really great body awareness as an athlete to be able to transition to the sport that I’m in now and compete well in CrossFit. And that’s been an amazing journey. One that I’ve learned so many things about health, about metabolic health, about fitness health, and the longevity of an athlete and longevity of life that I’m excited to continue to use for the next, hopefully, 70 years or so. That would be wonderful. So it’s been a really fascinating journey.
Josh Clemente (00:07:29):
Yeah, it’s really interesting to hear the journey just described because if I were to guess, I would guess that the element that gravitationally attracted you from traditional all-American sports into CrossFit is the competition element, I would assume. And I’d love to hear more about how competition shows up in your life. And then I have a follow-up question on that.
Cole Sager (00:07:52):
That’s interesting. It’s so interesting. There’s a very common storyline that you would hear on a lot of people who are introduced to CrossFit. And it’s, a friend introduced me to CrossFit, I took a CrossFit class where I did a CrossFit workout, it kicked my butt, I fell in love. That’s the general template, if you will. Beautiful. I love the concept and I love watching that transpire. I love being part of that and taking somebody through a workout and you just see their eyes open like, oh, this is amazing. I loved this feeling. And a lot of that is a little bit of an internal competition of I didn’t realize that I could pull that, I don’t know, being inside of me, I didn’t know I could pull that out. And they’re really impressed with it. That I love.
Mine was actually a little bit different. I had a friend sit me down in Chipotle, almost 11 years ago, 10 years ago, and he was like, “Hey, look, you’re going to give up this dream of playing football. It’s tired. Let’s do something else. You’re going to start doing CrossFit and you’re going to go compete at the CrossFit games.” I laughed hysterically in his face. I just saw it as just like, man, this is the most foolish thing I’ve ever heard. I play football, we’re tough, we bench, we squat, we don’t do pushups and pulls, that’s for CrossFitters, no way. Totally arrogant about it. And go check out this video. And he actually sent me a video about Rich Froning and Dan Bailey, two figures in our community who are legends, who are just some of the OGs in our sport that many people look up to, wonderful human beings.
They were just talking about their impact on the community that they wanted to have. They weren’t doing a workout, there was not any cool B-roll or footage of them doing awesome things. It was a small interview, maybe three minutes or something like that, and they were talking about the impact they wanted have on the community. I was like, that is really cool, and if there are people leading the community like that, that’s the kind of community that I want to be a part of. And I’d gotten a little frustrated with the football community at that time in my career. It’s just like, that’s awesome. I’m interested. I will look at more videos. So my friend sent me some more videos and then it was some really cool games footage and he was just like, he hooked me and then he just slammed me. I was like, oh my gosh, this footage is so cool. I’m in, what do I got to do?
So then I was hooked. At that time I was like, okay, I want to do this, let’s compete and I’m going to go to the CrossFit games. Fast forward maybe a week and we just got home, we played our final senior year college football ball game. And when we got back from that, that evening when we got off the bus I went to the IMA intermural athletic club on campus. I grabbed a barbell, put some plates on it, and I did great, so that was my first CrossFit workout. Kicked my butt just like it would anybody else. But it was really cool. My mentality was, and then this goes back to the competitive side of what you were referring to is, it was more so about wanting to have an impact on a community, wanting to be a positive force for something good in a community.
That was really the competitive driver for me. So wasn’t so much about satisfying a competitive physical nature as much as a drive to have a resounding impact in a positive way in a community and in people’s lives and using the platform of sport, of athletics and CrossFit specifically, in order to do that.
Josh Clemente (00:11:36):
Yeah, I love that. I want to pull that thread further, but first I want to take a step back. And you mentioned something in your journey, which is really interesting and it’s something that I resonate a lot with, and that was as you were working through the performance elements of fitness, you started to also pay attention to some of the more nuances around health. And I’m really curious, do you make a distinction between fitness, and health and wellness? And if so, what is that distinction? Where do you draw that line?
Cole Sager (00:12:06):
Yeah, totally. So I think there’s a beautiful, pretty simplistic definition that CrossFit uses for health, and that is, essentially, fitness over time. I think when looked at and analyzed, it covers a lot of bases. I don’t think it covers everything, but I think it covers a lot of bases. And the reason why is because if you are going to have good quality metabolic fitness, aerobic fitness and health over time, that’s going to produce a lot of good things in your life and will help carry… And if you’re carrying your fitness over time, it’s going to help produce a healthy lifestyle, probably more than likely a healthy body. But I do differentiate the two. I think that they are very different because I can have acute fitness, if you will, which most people would define as a good physique, ability to run a six or seven minute mile. There’s a plethora of different markers. In CrossFit ours is work capacity across broad time and mobile domains. So just ability to do work in short durations of time or quickly. I exercise quickly.
And so if you will, you can have acute physical fitness, but then there is metabolic fitness and I think that is very different. That is an internal amount. And in my journey I’ve had this checked many times where six years ago I had plenty good fitness, I was completed at the CrossFit games, I took fifth and then I had blood work done and I was like, “Oh my God. Well, that’s eye opening.”
My blood glucose was a little bit higher than I would like to see. My cholesterol was a little bit higher than I’d like to see, just my biomarkers were just a little off. And I was like, huh, what is that? I thought I had great fitness and I thought I’m healthy. But in that acute moment, I wasn’t healthy. I was able to do a lot of work quickly. I had good physical fitness. I didn’t have good health at the same time. And I believe now, fast forwarding another six or seven years, I believe fitness should be looked at more holistically of I do have good physical fitness and I do have good metabolic health and fitness.
Josh Clemente (00:14:36):
It’s so interesting to start to hear that distinction emerge. So it sounds like we share a lot of similar themes in our lines, you’re much more athletically accomplished than I am by far. But I grew up playing sports and when I got into college, my intention was to become super fit. And so that’s when I found CrossFit. And then my goal again, all orienting around fitness, was to find the people who look the fittest and they’re clearly the healthiest and copy what they’re doing. And this is at the time I’m watching a bunch of body building videos and learning about macros and about reverse dieting and all this stuff. And the thing was, I was a calorie as a calorie absolutist because they were. Pop-tarts were a perfectly good way to replenish glycogen. So I would eat anything.
And eventually through school and getting out into the real world, I started CrossFit myself just because it was the fittest people on earth. That’s the tagline.
Cole Sager (00:15:36):
Josh Clemente (00:15:38):
So I got an L2 cert over time and was just getting my competitive juices flowing by doing that. And the pivotal moment for my life was when I realized that fitness and health are different things and I’ve been tracking the wrong metric. And this actually is when I got a CGM. But there’s a lot of dialogue going on and it’s various modalities. You’ve got Peter Attia talking with Inigo San-Millan’s, a really great episode that they dive into this on The Drive. But Peter go so far is to say that he thinks peak performance and peak health may be orthogonal. Meaning once you get to a certain threshold, getting a better PR in the Tour De France, for example, might come at the expense of some help in a sense because you might be deteriorating your body or something like that. So I’m really curious about that question in your mind. You’re at the tip of this year for performance and athletics. How do you think about that trait? Does it feel like a trait or… I’d just love to hear your thinking on it.
Cole Sager (00:16:34):
Yeah, so it’s really interesting because I’m coming to the point in my career now, I’m 32 years old, there’s not many people who have competed in CrossFit at that age for an extended period of time, or when you start to get around this age, for an extended period of time. And so now I’m starting to look at my career from the stance of longevity as well. And that forces me to think about a lot of the things that you’re referring to right now and how can I approach training to allow for longevity in my sport because I know that the way that I used to train or that I still train for the most part is beating my body down to the extent that it could be the very thing that is keeping me form having more longevity in my sport.
But I see that that is just a small snippet of what that is also doing, the overarching theme of my overall health as an individual because I do. I teeter with, and I think all of us games athletes and anybody at the pinnacle of sport, the cycling community especially, the suffering that they have to take themselves through when you’re a cyclist who’s absolutely incredible, marathon runners and triathletes as well.
Josh Clemente (00:17:51):
I would love to just dive in there because there is that element of extreme discomfort and I wanted to T that up as well. What you do, competing in the CrossFit games, it’s torturous to some people. People can’t imagine the amount of discomfort and pain involved. And I just wanted to hear your thinking on what is the role of discomfort and pain in your life? And just take it away right around that vector.
Cole Sager (00:18:15):
I love the question, what is the role of it in your life? It is without your choice, it needs to be your best friend. If you want to perform at the level that I want to obtain or any of the other athletes or like I said, the cyclist and other people in those communities want to obtain, the suffering side of it, the physical breakdown of your body has to be something that you’ve become friends with and that you desire to see. And that’s what I mean by a friend, because you desire to see your friend. That, if you will, suffering and misery that your body goes through is the pathway in which we force the body to adapt. Intensity is the key when it comes down to it, intensity and the right doses is the key.
Which takes me back to one of the things that I was starting to say is I teeter with over-training all of the time. I’m playing with a knife’s edge constantly. And especially in our sport being so young, there isn’t a great definition and there isn’t a lot of good quality literature and research around how to best optimally train for CrossFit other than people who have done CrossFit and are, in and of their own, a case study for it, which I have 10 years of experience, I feel like I can speak to that, but there’s still, there’s not great literature research behind it that supports that.
So I can look to quality research that shows how the best way to gain muscle hypertrophy and strength and the best way to improve your aerobic capacity or anaerobic capacity on the bike. But I’m mixing all of those modalities in one week, sometimes in one training session. And in order to maximize those, you exhaust the body, and some days we exhaust every energy system that there is to exhaust and that is something that you just have to become friends with and learn to enjoy. And honestly, otherwise you won’t see the returns. I have gone through seasons where I tried to stay away from that too much and pulled back like, oh, if I never overtrain, if I never touch that line, maybe that will be my best response. And every year it’s been my works performances.
Josh Clemente (00:20:37):
Interesting. Yeah, the discomfort thing, it’s such an interesting rabbit hole because I think there is an assumption that as you get more fit, as people get more adapted and more capable, that the discomfort goes away. But the reality is when relative effort scales… And so tell us about either the most uncomfortable experience when it comes to fitness you’ve had. Does it scale with performance? Is it the 2019 games where you took six overall? What’s the most uncomfortable physical fitness experience you’ve had?
Cole Sager (00:21:18):
The most painful one that I probably ever experienced was me just making a massive mistake. And that was at the Rogue Invitational last year in 2021 they had this event called the Echo Burner and it was 20 thrusters at 115. If there was a movement in CrossFit that I’m the most confident in, it’s thrusters. So I was like, oh, awesome, especially a 115 bar, that’s heavy for some guys, that’s light for me. You can select with it quickly. This is going to be wonderful. I’ll be off that in 35 seconds. Then it was a 40 calorie echo bike and then after the echo bike you did another 20 thrusters. And so I’m also a bigger male and so my confidence level on the echo bike is a little bit higher. Relatively, my output is a little bit easier to get certain wattages than some other guys.
I’m at the highest, but I’m in the middle to upper range there. It’s like, oh, this is going to be a great event. I came out guns blazing. I did the first thrust was really fast. That was okay, that was okay of me to do. It was the bike. I went way too hard on the bike way too early. My metabolic conditioning or my anaerobic thresholds and aerobic thresholds probably weren’t peaked enough at that point in the season to be able to hold the wattages that I was holding. But I had the ability to. So I was doing it tanked hardcore, but then you have another 20 thrusters. And it was some of the most physical pain I have ever… I was numb from toe to ear. And honestly, it felt like the top of my skull was radiating. I was like, oh, what is happening? Your vision starts to close in. And for probably 20 minutes afterwards, just a mess. That was a brutal workout. So probably the most physical pain that I felt in a workout.
Josh Clemente (00:23:15):
What was that total duration of the event?
Cole Sager (00:23:20):
That took us two minutes and 45 seconds to do.
Josh Clemente (00:23:22):
And that’s the amazing thing. It’s like, time contracts. And the most painful experience of that you’re describing here is two minutes, 45 seconds. At first bluff people can think, oh, I can do anything for two minutes. But the reality is the will to make it through, what are the tools you use to grind? How do you build the determination to grind through that kind of struggle, whether it’s short duration or longer training cycles?
Cole Sager (00:23:50):
So there’s two parts to that question which I really think is interesting. And actually really quickly before we go, there’s something I do want to back up that I felt like I was leading people into this suffering concept and the physical pain that we’re talking about. I want to perform at the peak levels of my sport. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people taking themselves and over-training all of the time is the appropriate thing to do. And I want to make that very clear. I don’t want to lead people into thinking like, oh, I just need to suffer every single day and just crush myself. That is not the right way. And I believe, and maybe we will lead to this later in the conversation, but I believe that leads to poor metabolic health if you do that.
So I just want to make that very, very clear.
Josh Clemente (00:24:35):
I appreciate you for making that distinction.
Cole Sager (00:24:38):
Yeah, this is my physical choice as an athlete to do this, that this is a place that I need to take myself to. And which goes back to your question that you just asked is it’s like, how do I have the determination to do that? And I think it’s a two part answer. And first and foremost, there is a really particular reason as to why I’m doing this in the first place. Why am I an athlete? Why do I gear up every year to want to win the CrossFit games, to go through this when it’s not getting easier? Athletes are just getting better. That means that my training is just getting harder. I’m getting better, but none of this is getting easier. If anything, it has gotten harder, year over year, to stay competitive, which means in order to win it’s twofold, threefold harder than it was four years ago.
And so having a really good mental, emotional, psychological reasoning and understanding of who I am and why I want to do this, I think, is extremely important. I think, me and many people would just define that as having a really strong why and purpose behind what’s driving you forward. So I think from a little bit of motivational perspective, I’d lean on that heavily. And then the other side of it saying, that I think is the most simplistic way to answer is, I dose myself that regularly. That discomfort and that pain that you’re talking about that I have to take myself to, I visit it frequent enough that I know things are going to be okay. And one of the things that we talk about in my training, me and my coach, we talk about is building confidence of movements or building confidence of workouts. And really all’s that means is get into that place where you know and you’re confident you can hold these wattages, you can hold this pace, you can suffer for 20 minutes at this pace.
It hurts, it’s miserable. But guess what? You can do it. So just do it and then it’s over and we move on. And so it’s that concept of introducing yourself or dosing that into your life on a regular basis that gives you the confidence like hey, I can do this, I can do this. And over time your body’s going to adapt and you can go a little bit harder and you can go a little bit harder. And you track that, you follow that and.
Josh Clemente (00:27:00):
Getting that foot down the road.
Cole Sager (00:27:02):
Yeah, you expose yourself to it. And six months down the road, you’re fitter and healthier for it.
Josh Clemente (00:27:06):
That particular capacity, which I think is the best way to describe it, you’re building physical capacity to move weight over broad time and functional domains, but also it’s such a mental capacity, that confidence. We’re using a lot of emotion terms really, understanding what you are capable of is a process as well. And I’d love to hear from someone so far into the physical side of this, where else do those tools show up in your life? Where building that capability, building the understanding of what you’re capable of and the ability to suffer for time periods, how else does that show up in life?
Cole Sager (00:27:42):
Yeah, that’s really funny. You’re getting into some deep topics here. I love it. I love that. So that’s actually has been one of my fascinations with CrossFit over the years is when I started to do it, I started to realize, wow, this has a lot of carryovers and is really just a great analogy for so many aspects of life that can carry you through different challenges and whatnot. And as an athlete, I’ve started to see that a lot of the principles that I have to lean on as an athlete ring true in a lot of other areas of my life. And one of the things I often tell people is I see sport as just being in life in fast forward. You get to see glimpses of life and principles of life that you have to work through as an athlete.
And sometimes you see a handful of principles in a year in a training month, and sometimes even a day, that some people will never see in their lifetime. But you’re forced to in this acute season of my life as an athlete, if you want to maximize this portion of your life, you have to be applying these principles and these concepts. And going on the challenge of competing, the challenge of CrossFit side, showing up every day and then just doing what you can that day to the best of your ability. My wife and I actually experienced that and in a very specific way when our son was born really prematurely. And it was just some of those foundational concepts of just who we choose to be and who we choose to be consistently every day in the gym started to transpire as individuals when we were faced with that. He was born with an emergency C-Section very close to losing him within a couple of hours.
He was born at one pound, 12 ounces and then stayed in the NICU for three months. And throughout that it was like, hey, we choose to put ourselves through challenges on a very regular basis, that is just training grounds for us for life to be able to know that we have the strength to carry through the challenges that life is going to give us, no matter what it is, no matter what the workout is. I don’t get to control what the workout at competitions, I have no idea. Now sometimes we even, literally, are going on the floor, we don’t even know what the workout is. And I don’t know the challenge that’s going to be presented to me. But what I do know is that I have prepared myself, whether it be physically or, in this case, internally, to face the challenges that life is going to present or my sport is going to present to me.
And having the confidence of that moving forward to be able to stand there, be like, “Hey, I can handle whatever is or not me and I will just give my best foot forward to that,” is something that can carry you through a lot of challenges.
Josh Clemente (00:30:44):
I absolutely love the element of individual readiness and empowerment and just preparing for the uncertainties of life. All of us are operating in an uncertain world to some extent. Totally.
Cole Sager (00:30:57):
Josh Clemente (00:30:59):
I really appreciate you sharing that background. And I think it comes down to some themes that I’m wanting to get at with you because, so in 2017 you won the Spirit of the Games Award, and most people probably don’t know much about the award. But essentially it’s not just someone who shows up in the games, an athlete who’s elite in their category, but also has an extraordinary character who inspires, motivates, lives a little bit differently, goes out of their way to show grace and kindness and resilience. And it’s this whole package award and it’s really an important one. So first of all, congrats on winning that. And secondly, I just want to hear more about your value system. It takes a lot to show up on at the games and put effort in and just get there. And a lot of people can go tunnel vision and they block everyone else out. What do you do in your life? What is it about you and what you value that causes you to go out of your way in this way?
Cole Sager (00:31:57):
Yeah, thank you. I think that if I was to describe myself, it would be inappropriate for me and untruthful if I left out the fact that I think, one, at the core of who I am, I’m a faith filled man. And in that, some of the basic principles that come out of that is I believe that the most important thing on earth is really just the souls of people. And I think this is one of the things that whenever I look at my day and my circumstances is I want to get beyond myself because I’m passionate about caring about people, about people’s souls because of all the things that I’m being faced with in the day. If the souls of people are the most valuable thing before me, it doesn’t matter what the accolades are, what the accomplishments are, what things I can get and circumstances I can have, they don’t trump the fact that there is somebody who is right in front of me that is very valuable.
And so I think at the core of who I am, that is something that resonates or is really resounding in my life. And so that’s not to say that I don’t have responsibilities, obviously when I’m at the games I can’t just sit there and high five and shake hands all the time to every single person that comes my way. But I can carry myself with a smile, hopefully with a level of grace about who I am and be open and kind to the interactions that I do have. And sometimes the kindest thing I can do is just say, “Hey, thank you so much. I wish I could have a little bit more time. I’ve got to get going because I have that coming up,” and people are going to be understanding of that for the most part. But I think it’s very much about that and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.
I’ve been asked the question of like, “Hey, would you rather win the games or win the Spirit of the Games Award again?” And now that I’ve been this long in my career, I honestly would, say Spirit of the Games again because you’re winning an award for character. And not that I want to be awarded for my character, but it speaks to maybe some of the things that I’m putting some focus on and wanting to be a good person, wanting to care about other people, wanting to show and resonate loves in my life towards individuals. So not that winning a CrossFit games wouldn’t be amazing. I think that also shows a lot of great character and takes a lot of great discipline. But I think that building really great character also takes a lot this upon.
Josh Clemente (00:34:42):
Taking that direction of other people further, I think one of the interesting things about CrossFit, which I’ve grappled a little bit with, and I had the opportunity to spend some time at CrossFit HQ a few years back and really hear about the CrossFit health movement and MDL One movement and a lot of these efforts that CrossFit was bringing up that were related to bringing on more people. CrossFit Games is amazing and it’s a show of some of the fittest people on Earth doing extremely impressive things.
But at the end of the day, I think CrossFit has a deeper value system, which is helping people move from zero to one, getting from a position where maybe they’ve never exercised consistently before or they’ve struggled or they’re injured or they have an existing circumstance or condition, getting them active. So I’d love to just based on all of the data that’s out there, exercise is one of the most, if not, the most powerful health intervention out there. Obviously it can be taken to a limit we talked about earlier that might go a little too far. But in general, if there was a pill that did what exercise did, everyone would take it. So what you know, the degree of fitness that you’ve achieved, how do you share that with people? Besides being a kind person and living your values, but what do you do to help share what you know about fitness with people who otherwise look at it sideways or wouldn’t consider it?
Cole Sager (00:36:03):
Yeah, so actually I love this question because it’s been a really convicting thing in my life as of recent because I do feel at this point I got into the support to “build a platform”, to be able to help people. And I think one of the things that in that time is I’ve gained a pretty solid knowledge base and foundation in what it takes to gain fitness or health and take people from zero to one. And just help people in that aspect of life. And you can have a great platform, but if you’re not using it, what good is it? So it’s actually been a really convicting thing for me and something that I would love to do a better job at, whether it be through social media or different means, which I’ve explored in the past.
We tried doing YouTube for a bit to just show a little bit more of the day to day into our lives and maybe give people ideas of what that could look like and how that could maybe move the needle and inspire them in some areas of their life. I think up until this point it’s been a little bit more of just the presence of just trying to be a good example of it and maybe that could drive people or inspire people to make a change in their lives. But even now to this point, I’ve gotten to the point where I was like, “Hey, maybe I could do a better job of sharing that and verbalizing that and helping people, answering questions through different mediums.”
Josh Clemente (00:37:28):
Well it’s really interesting because I think what we’ve learned at LEVELS is just so much of behavior change is competence and consistency really. And you mentioned it earlier, it’s not that everyone has to just be suffering every day in order to get any value from fitness. If anything, it’s actually probably the opposite where it’s the consistent small thing that you do that just gets some movement, gets your blood flowing, tells your body that you’re alive and keeps you growing that I think people discount now because we have such a culture of extreme fitness and elite athleticism that it feels like if I’m not like that, then what’s the point? So do you have any tactical tips for people who are feeling that way, who don’t think of themselves by any stretch as athletes, how to engage with their bodies more?
Cole Sager (00:38:23):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And I love that question because there’s just… So and going back to your previous question, even the way that I do that currently and share that information, I talked with plenty of friends, my family members, acquaintances. I have those conversations all the time. And people in my life who maybe have direct contact with me, they obviously look at me like, oh, hey, you must be the pinnacle of health and fitness because you’re doing this on an athletic endeavor. Well, thank you, possibly, also possibly some of the downsides of what we were talking about a little bit ago. And we even see this in my sport today, many athletes are still using a If It Fits Your Macros, having cheat day, eating plenty of fried foods. And honestly if you take a look into their metabolic health through blood biomarkers or something like that, they may very well may show that they’re not the healthiest that they could be.
But going back to your current question, one of the things that people can do is, just a few couple things is, that I think that it’s important to do a little bit of resistance training. I think you should be at least three times a week, walking, running, biking, doing some aerobic fitness three times a week for 30 minutes. If you could do 60 minutes, maybe that’s better. And then just watching what you’re eating, I think. And I think that that is the one thing if you had to choose any of them, is starting with your food and just being more mindful that choosing healthier… That is actually the one thing that has made the moved the needle the most in my life is changes in quality of food. And I alluded to that earlier in the conversation. I had great physical health, but I didn’t have great metabolic health, or at least to the point that it was equal with my physical fitness.
And in order to move the needle, I needed to change some of the ways that I was eating. Reducing the amount of sugar that I ate, watching what my blood glucose spikes, using CGMs to get some information and insight of what that do is getting metabolic panels done. And that was one of the things that helped move the needle the most. And I think one of the biggest things that was helpful for me at least, was getting that insight, gaining that insight. And so for a lot of people it might start like, hey, get a little bit of knowledge. Where are you currently? Test yourselves, whether it be through blood markers, do a CGM, do some physical tests, and then set some goals of where you would like for those to be.
And then wake up and do those physical activities, do a little bit of weight training, hit your aerobic capacity, stretch four to five times a week, and you do those types of things and you’re going to be so much better off for it. And then we can get into the plethora of things like sleep and recovery and that’s a whole nother topic that you can get into. Obviously sleep being a very paramount importance into my training and I think to everybody’s overall health and longevity. But I think those are some of the key aspects.
Josh Clemente (00:41:41):
Yeah, it’s great advice. I think that for people listening, just realizing that knowing that 30 minutes of resistance training doesn’t mean necessarily hitting a skier or jumping on a bike or something. It could be walking up hills for 30 minutes in the neighborhood, that sort of thing. And I think it’s really empowering to hear that and I think it’s definitely a great tool. And it’s so interesting because these things are so tightly connected. Exercise cascades out of, maybe the confidence that comes from sticking to a new way of eating that’s more intentional and that’s more health focused. And that might lead to, in my case, I was doing none of these things except exercise. I would exercise and that was my thing. I’m fit, therefore I’m healthy. And my realization was that nutrition was causing this chaos in my body that I was feeling as energy loss, just fatigue episodes and irritability and mental cloudiness.
And I never knew that my food could have such an effect. But that was leading to poor sleep. And that poor sleep was leading to less motivation to get up and exercise early. So instead I would do it after work when it was late and then I would sleep poorly and that vicious cycle. And so the access point for me was nutrition, it was CGM and seeing that my food was driving these blood sugar variability episodes that I felt in so many different ways. And so I think that’s true for many people. Some people find sports first and then nutrition later, and for others it’s the other way around. I’d love to hear about your experience with LEVELS, what it was like when you first came across it and how you’ve used that information.
Cole Sager (00:43:18):
It was first frustrating is what it was. Because I had spent a lot of time in getting and focusing on blood panels, metabolic panels for blood work and whatnot. And those showed a lot of markers that could definitely be improved. My fastened blood glucose definitely be in one of those. And so I started to eat the foods that were recommended and make some of the lifestyle changes that were recommended and some of the supplements and whatnot. And I started to see some improvement in those, but it wasn’t quite moving the needle to the aspect that I wanted to. And then I was introduced to LEVELS and did a CGM and that was like watching… And I tracked my macros for probably 12 to 13 years. I’ve been tracking macros since college. And all throughout my CrossFit career, that’s just personally what I find the best prescription for myself and give myself the most mental piece to be able to focus.
And I like hard data, it’s just who I am. So that has worked really well for me for a long period of time and almost become second nature. And so watching that and knowing exactly how I eat, I have a very structured routine and it was interesting to see and I could almost tell you what times of the days I have dips in energy, how I feel throughout the day when I bonk in the afternoon, how long I can get into my training session before I just run out of energy or I need to go eat something without having a good understanding of what was going on internally.
And then to see my graph with LEVELS was a little bit eye opening and like I said, frustrating because I didn’t realize how often I was spiking my blood glucose, how certain foods actually impacted me versus conceptually or theoretically should impact me. And that allowed me to make and tweak even better and make even better nutritional gains I thought. And I’m even improving it more, even looking into some better concepts of metabolic efficiency and how that can be utilized throughout the types of training that I do as opposed to just for aerobic athletes. And that I’m really excited explore. And I think that LEVELS has given me a great ability to see inside or to see a picture inside of the body of what is going on so that I can make objectives decisions.
Josh Clemente (00:46:03):
Back to what we talked about earlier, related to building up confidence in your physical abilities, I think it’s similar in the sense that having exposure to the data can start to build confidence in the decisions you’re making. And it might be counterintuitive in some cases. It certainly was for me, but then it’s counterintuitive, oh, this other thing wasn’t working, but then you can build confidence in a direction that is working. This is a specific question to your athleticism, but I’m curious if you’ve seen exercise related blood sugar fluctuations and what kinds have you seen, elevations related to your efforts?
Cole Sager (00:46:44):
During exercise, you’re saying?
Josh Clemente (00:46:46):
Cole Sager (00:46:48):
This is fascinating, actually I’ve been working with somebody at LEVELS tracking this and it’s fascinating. I call it the dinosaur back is what I call it because if you look at it, I have my morning and I’m pretty good at keeping my levels nice and low. And then as soon as I start training and obviously my training looks different, my training window looks much different than the average person, so it’s not so much a spike, but a very elevated period of time where my blood glucose has spiked a bunch, gone back up, gone back down, gone back up, gone back down. Until I’ve finished training, I have my last meal, and I start to recover for the day and then it tapers back down and levels back out. And I’ve noticed with high intensity training, I obviously get the most spikes, high intensity being maybe heavy loads with weight training, hard aerobic efforts and bouts.
But then the things that I’ve actually noticed the highest spikes with are very potent high intensity CrossFit metabolic conditioning sessions. So that workout that I talked about with Echo Burner, I actually did an iteration of that a month ago, and that was the highest blood glucose spike that I have seen ever with LEVELS. And it was that one, it was thrusters and echo bikes. I did intervals of, it only lasted eight minutes. So I worked for I think a minute 30, took a minute 30 off. I did that for three to four rounds or something. That’s nine minutes so three rounds. And biggest spike I got. It was really fascinating. So I’m excited to learn more about that. I haven’t been able to find a lot of great information of what to do about that or with that, but we’re exploring that and we’re excited to see. But that is where I’ve seen some really big spikes.
Josh Clemente (00:48:47):
It’s so fascinating because these sorts of things, as of three years ago, there was literally no information about this. It was considered a non-existent phenomenon. And we now have increasing insight into some of these likely natural and potentially even hormetic responses where we know that the outcome’s, longer term, of high intensity exercise include insulin sensitivity improving. And so to see these huge elevations, certainly in regions that we would not want to be seeing from food, we would definitely guide away from that. And understanding that it’s fundamentally a different thing physiologically to give your body a huge kick of sugar versus your liver adapting to your constraints, your circumstances, and producing fuel for you. Really fascinating stuff.
Cole Sager (00:49:38):
And now mind you, when I have those spikes, I think that’s something that’s really important to note is, they have the spike up and the recover down, almost are identical. If not, the coming back down is even quicker. And I think that that is an important thing to note, just a good sign of the ability to recover your blood glucose levels, insulin sensitivity and have you… So just something to note there because it’s like I said, there’s spikes all throughout the day. But again, my training is a lot of high intensity bouts throughout the day. So I get a spike and it recovers and I get another spike because I do another high intensity beast, and it recovers. And overall throughout my graph, my day looks elevated in the center, but those are spikes and they come back down. It’s not just one big stay up there and come down afterwards.
Josh Clemente (00:50:31):
Sustained elevation, which it would indicate probably some more cortisol or stress related, sustained stress or something like that. I’ve seen a lot of these myself. It’s interesting because there are definitely people in the dataset who don’t seem to respond as aggressively to super high intensity exercise. So I’m very curious about the phenotype, the personal physiology that drives this. And whether or not it’s an adaptive response, are these people able to outperform or sustain longer effort because they’ve got more energy available in the bloodstream? Really fascinating. And frankly we just don’t know enough just yet.
Cole Sager (00:51:07):
Well, so I’m actually really excited to see this because there’s a concept, and I alluded to it earlier with the concept of metabolic efficiency, where I would like to train my body to use fuel more efficiently. I do fasted cardio. I’m trying to teach my body to use a little bit more fat as fuel. When sugars aren’t plentiful, the body go to fat stores rather than needing to rely on doses of sugars, to be able to put better carbohydrates in my body and my body use it more efficiently rather than having to eat the pop-tart that so many people claim that you need. I don’t necessarily believe that. I believe that you can train the body to use the food that you give it to use it in a more better bodily efficient and beneficial way. And so I’m really curious because obviously, this is what I’ve had over the term with LEVELS to date, but as this has probably been about two months or so that I’ve started to look and try to change my diet.
Now I’ve also gone through an extended time of competitive season over the last two months with the CrossFit Games and [inaudible 00:52:18] and whatnot. So I haven’t really been able to extend that long enough to, what I feel like I get, the change that I want. But I’m excited to see what you’re talking about. Could those spikes be a little bit less as I teach my body how to use and become more metabolically efficient and use different energy sources at different times in a more beneficial way. So I guess to be continued there, but I’m excited to see.
Josh Clemente (00:52:44):
Yeah, it’s the relation to hear you talk about metabolic flexibility or we call it metabolic fitness, but the ability to adapt to the fuel source that’s readily available, and even above that, the fuel source that is preferred. In this case, a lot of people think about CrossFit or high intensity sprint type workout as being anaerobic, you need sugar to do it, so you’re not going to be burning fat. And that’s definitely not the case. We’re actually, in general, burning fat at all times. There’s only the very, very highest effort where we’re there burning glucose. I’m curious about your thoughts on that. How much do you bring fasted training into your exercise routine? Do you generally do that for the longer efforts? Do you also do fasted higher intensity stuff? And what have you seen there in terms of improvements? Has there been a performance impact?
Cole Sager (00:53:36):
So to directly answer your question, I first and foremost started doing that with longer cardio belts in the morning, doing those fasted, using those as the way to try to train my body in that. But up until this point in the last couple months, I’ve almost been afraid to do my CrossFit workouts fasted or without a dose of more easily absorbable sugars right before the session because, well, what if I don’t have the same output in the gym and I don’t get the same output, then I’m not getting the same training and stress response. And I’ve had a lot of those concerns up until this point. But now I’m looking at it like, “Hey, I think that I can train my body a little bit more and be more metabolically flexible,” like you’re talking about, “And use different energy sources.”
And so I haven’t to this point gone that far. Again, I’ve had a lot of these thoughts, but with the competitive season, it’s not something that I wanted to mess around with in-competition because there’s just that principle, hey, don’t do something new in a competition. You know?
Josh Clemente (00:54:56):
Cole Sager (00:54:57):
In reparation for competition. So I’ve stuck to what I’ve done in the past because what I’ve done in the past has works to what I know it to be working as. But I would like to see this, and actually, these last two competitions in this last competition season is what has really been driving me to move forward in this. Because at the CrossFit games this year, I was eating an ungodly amount of food and needing to consume just ridiculous amounts of food in order to feel like I’m staying energized. Then I have bonks between events. If the bonks come at the wrong time, you have a bonk during your event. And there’s this feeling of, we call it a veil has been pulled over my eyes and I’m just exhausted and I can’t get my body back up for the event.
And I’m now coming to believe a little bit more after using LEVELS and looking at my blood glucose for an extended period of time of maybe that’s a little bit more of a glucose drop, if you will, or metabolic fatigue. I don’t how better way to put that. That could be transpiring and there’s something more internal that’s going on rather than just like, “Hey, I’m just tired for the event,” because it’s a weird phenomenon that has made me look at those events specifically and everything that I’ve done leading up to that event. And I should have felt better. I slept fine, I ate fine, I had energy. What is actually going on there? And so that’s really what drove me to want to explore a little bit more of the metabolic flexibility that we’re talking about. And so that my body isn’t so dependent on the precise grams of sugar right before an event, was in the right specific window. It’s like, hey, the body is more efficient than that and can be more flexible than that. And so let’s find that and explore that.
Josh Clemente (00:57:02):
For people listening, the reason to train fasted or the rationale is that you’re forcing your body to use the most energy dense stores, which happen to be body fat. We’ve got nine calories per gram of fat of energy available, and only four calories per gram of storage sugar, glycogen, or sugar that we introduced. So it is a very high energy density space. A lot of people have somewhere close to 80,000 calories of fat energy on their bodies, even if you’re not overweight. So being able to train the body to tap into that rather than into the pop-tart that you just ate for the energy to fuel the workout. So I’m really fascinated by it. And my last question on this topic is, how is the larger community approaching the nutrition rethink that you’re diving into with CGM and really taking a more quality and maybe even an altogether outside the box approach to fueling? Is this something that you’re seeing at a wider scale or is this just the one offs and relatively early?
Cole Sager (00:58:09):
So this is actually something that I’m really excited about for the future of the CrossFit community and the fitness community at large. I believe that we’re currently going through a phase or a trend in our community and the fitness community at large where the concept of a calorie is a calorie and If It Fits Your Macros is still a little bit too prevalent. And early CrossFit, some of the OGs, and we go back 13, 14 years, even 10 years ago when I got into it, things like the paleo diet and the zone diet, essentially diets that were cleaner and had cleaner sources of food that I think that the body would use in a better way, were a little bit more popular. And then some of the traditional body building or fitness community, sports science started to bleed into the community where now we’ve started to see more athletes utilizing that type of thinking.
And obviously athletes being an aspect of the community that people look to for advice or get inspiration from and motivation from. Well, on a lot of athletes’ Instagram’s you’re seeing pictures of cookies and treats and people begin to think that, oh, well, if they can eat that and perform that way, then it might be okay. And If It Fits Your Macros became very popular, definitely five years ago it was booming, still lingers a little bit. And so I’m excited as athletes start to become a little bit more aware and there becomes more data through companies like LEVELS that start to show, hey, there is a better way to eat and to train and to eat for training, that will bring people back to the concept of eating for better metabolic health. And that you can have good sports performance as well.
And I think that if you can have more athletes doing that, it’s going to help drive the community towards that. And I think that’s the whole goal. I think that’s the whole purpose and it’s why CrossFit has been so beautiful is because the sport and the community have worked so cohesively and I don’t want to see those separating. I want to see those come back together and work as one organism. And I think that is where the future is headed.
Josh Clemente (01:00:42):
It’s just, I think, dead on. And so I think it’s so exciting to see the technology and honestly the standing concepts, they are extremely beneficial and synergistic. It doesn’t have to be a clash.
Cole Sager (01:01:01):
Josh Clemente (01:01:02):
I think the thing that I’ve really loved about CrossFit for a long time is they’ve been forward thinking about things like sugar. Added sugar has not been something that CrossFit really pumps in the way that other sports and performance leagues, so to speak, do.
Cole Sager (01:01:16):
Josh Clemente (01:01:17):
It is the substrate from most energy. So I’d love it. Very excited to watch this continue to percolate and continue to see the experiments that you’re bringing and follow your journey. There’s just a ton of exciting stuff ahead. Cole, I appreciate you taking the time, man. This has been such a good conversation. Is there, from all the experiences you’ve had from your perspective, anything else that you’d like to share with the audience or would like them to follow along on?
Cole Sager (01:01:42):
Man, I think if anything is just, I would encourage people to experiment. The best thing you do would be to start with something. Pick something that sounds like, hey, these people are seeing results for it.
Try it. Experiment with things. It’s one of the best things that I’ve done with my own career and my own life is just experimented with things, trying new things, always looking to be a little bit better in a different area. And assuming that I don’t know and that I can gain more information and gain the insight is extremely helpful. It’s been the most valuable thing for me is just gaining the insight, taking the time to look inside the body to get hard data on workouts or my physical health and my metabolic health. And so I would definitely encourage that to people. When they have time and the resources, do that. I think it’s extremely valuable.