This book is an athlete’s bible.
As the title says, this book goes beyond training as it is, filled with outdated fitness industry norms and inaccurate presumptions that lack valid clinical evidence. Both of these shape the lifestyle and training choices of too many modern athletes. Instead, ‘Beyond Training’ dives deeper into not just your training but also lifestyle and health to unearth the real truths of how we should be living and, more importantly, why.
Ben Greenfield, whom we have talked about before, is an obstacle racing athlete, a coach and an authority in the fitness industry. He himself started out in this same industry as a super carnivorous bodybuilder with damaged gut lining and limiting training. He then goes on to describe his journey of becoming a triathlete and, following that, an Ironman finisher. Each part of his journey, he approaches with interesting storytelling, but also extremely useful tips and tricks to help the reader become a better version of their athletic self, just like Ben did become. By the end, the book becomes a powerful guide to optimising your life instantly.
The book is presented in a way that’s not too different from 8 Weeks to Sealfit by Mark Divine, which we also reviewed recently, and where Mark presents his multi-step framework for personal development. In Beyond Training you are presented with a range of simple all-encompassing steps to becoming an ancestral athlete:
- 1. Change Your Lens
- 2. Be Uncomfortable
- 3. Be Comfortable
- 4. Work
- 5. Optimize Fertility
- 6. Eat the Earth
- 7. Empty the Trash
- 8. Use Science
- 9. Keep a Clear Head
- 10. Don’t Fret
These ten steps present a summary of what you can expect to go through while reading this book. The chapter names however don’t give away the incredible depth of information you can expect to learn.
For example, ‘Eat the Earth’, describes how sports nutrition, in particular its energy gels packed with unpronounceable ingredients and sugar can be replaced with clean and healthier alternatives such as high-fat, sustainable food sources. None of this is presented in a biased way or based on just personal claims. Rather, Ben backs everything up with scientific evidence and his own experiences training various athletes.
Needless to say this book is chock-full of golden nuggets. When it comes to the biggest takeaways, I was either prompted to change my training and lifestyle, or at least reassured that I’m already on the right track. These are the things I found most useful about ‘Beyond Training’ and my biggest takeaways:
- Extensive breakdowns of nutrition, in particular fat-fuelled training and racing for performance and for a healthy gut. As we’ve written before, training in ketosis is a very different, yet optimal way to improve performance and to also feel better on a daily basis. I personally used to go in and out of keto a couple of times a year purely for aesthetic reasons, i.e. in order to drop some extra weight, but I’ve found it’s beneficial for my running performance too. However after reading other material on PubMed and learning about Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof diet, I decided to get rid of my gut issues once and for all with the intention of also improving my obstacle racing performance. Now I’m a big advocate of this fat-fuelled training and I’ve suggested it to many people. I’m yet to hear complaints from anyone on how good it feels, how well they can still perform or how sharp their mind suddenly is.
- Brain and mental game optimisation. Ben goes into detail on how the brain works and how we can make the best of brain games. He again discusses the fat-rich diet as the fix for the brain fog, commonly induced by consuming gluten and sugars. It does this by introducing ketones into your system, and in fact, the brain and heart seem to prefer these over other commonly emphasised glucose sources. Many people seem to be sceptical and very afraid of their central governor (as Ben describes the brain) to simply shut off or try consuming very few carbs, however this book does disperse some myths around the need for carbs. You’ll be presented with exact breakdowns and numbers of how much of different sources your brain really needs to perform well or even better than before.
- Pre-race and post-race nutrition, which of course can apply to training too. This is described in a detailed way: how to perform well in keto by introducing some carbs and SuperStarch; what sources are the best depending on your lifestyle and goals; which foods should make your go-to meals and snacks; and more. All in all this is a hybrid of keto, paleo, bulletproof and vegetarian diets – a simply kickass way to keep your body fuelled day-to-day.
- Ways to avoid inflammation and what causes it. Aside from the list of well-knwon triggers and factors of common inflammation, what I found extremely interesting about this section of the book was learning that sugar binds to protein creating a by-product in the form of plaque, which then tends to settle in our bloodstream. This causes a majority of deadly conditions and diseases.
- The minimum effective training doses. This section is essential for athletes who have big responsibilities such as family or a busy career. For some people it’s impossible to train 20 hours/week for a triathlon and here, Ben gives you an extensive guide for squeezing quality exercise into your busy life. Hint: it includes plenty of HIIT.
There’s so many other useful topics covered in depth! Honourable mentions include yoga, foam rolling, interesting biohacking tips (on grounding, how to minimise EMF exposure, domestic improvements and replacing common household items with all-natural sources). Most importantly, everything is backed by data from validated studies, interviews with expert doctors and other authorities in the respective fields.
The hardback version of this book is big and fat so I ended up also buying the Kindle version for nerding out on-the-go. This has been by far the most detailed and useful set of material on training that I’ve ever come across. Although it might seem technical, the book is hard to put down, because every other page gives you something new to consider and perhaps implement into your daily regime to optimise your performance. After all, who wouldn’t want to do that?