Pallavi Aga is a marathoner, Doctor, Nutritionist, a Lifestyle Management Consultant and the Founder of Mind-Body Wellness Clinic, discussing her experience with the MAF method.
At present, I am pursuing preventive health in the form of nutritional counselling for sports as well as lifestyle diseases. I strongly believe that we should focus on the right nutrition as opposed to dieting fads.
I always considered myself a tad invincible (given that I am a doctor and all) but ever since I crossed 40, I have had a few health scares.
Initially, it was weight issues that bogged me down and then I became borderline diabetic and hypertensive. I obviously did not want to live a life dependent on medications so I took up running in 2015 to get healthy and stay fit.
As time went on, running no longer was just a means to stay fit but it became a passion and started participating in a lot of races. Though my pace had improved, I had low energy levels, injuries started creeping up on me and my weight-loss plan reached a plateau.
Combining my training with medical knowledge
I started reading a lot of research articles in order to see where I went wrong and that was when I came across the Maffetone method. Dr Phil Maffetone recommended a unique method of training in which the aerobic base has to be increased using the formula “180-age”. The more I read about it, the more I was convinced about the integrity of the method. I decided to give it a shot and see if it helped me reach my goal.
The MAF method documents that the major part of your running should be in the MAF heart rate zone and as the body gets adapted, the pace will go up at the same heart rate. As running at this zone utilizes fats as fuel hence the need for carbohydrates will reduce and the muscles will work more efficiently. This method requires a lot of patience as results take time but I used the slowing of the pace to lay the emphasis on posture and cadence.
Implementing the MAF method
I decided to go with this method 2 years ago and assumed it to be easy. I was so wrong. I realized that my heart rate was reaching levels of 160 and above as opposed to 135 (my recommended Maffetone Heart Rate).
I had to make a few changes like incorporating walk breaks into my run, training on fasting, reduction in my intake of carbohydrates, grains, dairy products and adding good fats in the form of seeds and nuts to my nutrition plan.
It wasn’t easy getting used to this method. I had to run alone with no music so that I could focus on my cadence and correct my stance into a mid-foot strike. My earlier heel strike led to disturbed posterior chain kinetics which had resulted in a bad hamstring sprain.
Despite not many people believing in this strategy and asking me to run faster and add the pre-run carbs back, I never gave in and carried on with the plan. My biggest challenge was ‘fasted running’ as it made me very giddy and nauseous. During the summer, I worked on this area and trained harder keeping my electrolyte balance and hydration in check.
The effects of the MAF method
This method really worked well for me and I saw an increase in my energy levels. My weight dropped and I felt fitter and full of life. The feeling of totally being drained out went away and I started really enjoying my runs. It was exhilarating to feel free and one with nature. Gradually my pace picked up and I was back to my previous pace with the heart rate under control. My MAF pace is 6:15 now. I hope to improve it further with more dedication.
A couple of months before my ADHM event, I wanted to increase my pace. So, I did an experiment of training at a higher pace and adding pre-run carbs before interval, tempo and long runs.
I realized that in less than a month, my immunity levels dropped, I felt bloated and I was tired all the time. My pace went up temporarily but I started falling sick, took me longer to recover and my old hamstring injury started acting up again. Ultimately, I suffered a total set back in my running and lost out on the fun of my runs.
I decided to change back to the MAF method and all was good again. I completed the ADHM with a time of 1hr52mins which was 3mins shy of my PB (1hr49mins) last year. I was able to manage this because I moved back to my low heart rate training 15 days prior. I did a day of pre-marathon carb loading and managed to finish the race comfortably despite my health issues.
The current status
Currently, I do all my training runs at a MAF pace and always keep my heart rate in check. Also, I do all my runs including the long runs (2+ hours) while fasting and I don’t really feel the need to eat immediately. I ensure I stock up on complex carbs and most of my calories come from protein and fat. With my energy levels up, I feel like it’s reversed my ageing.
I don’t participate in a lot of events because for me running is my meditation and I like to do only a few events as the competitive nature stresses me out.
In conclusion, I feel the Maffetone method has been a blessing in my life and has helped me reclaim my health. With the knowledge, I have of this method I am confident that I will run injury free for a long time.
My mantra to life was always “Say No to Medicines”!!
Learn more about the Maffetone Method here.