Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
21 Apr

Did Humans Evolve to Be Long-Distance Runners?

Thanks to the several readers who have pointed out this recent article in SEED Magazine which once again dredges up the tired argument that humans evolved to be long-distance runners. Most of you know by now that I totally disagree with that theory. I say humans evolved to be excellent slow movers (walk, jog, migrate, forage, crawl, scramble, etc) burning mostly fat. We also developed into pretty decent short sprinters, but we did NOT evolve to run long distances. Sure, early humans were all-around fit enough and capable of the occasional long easy jaunt after an animal, but to think that natural selection redesigned our simian shapes to run the Boston Marathon is, in my opinion, ludicrous.

We’ve hashed this out a bunch in the past when a Men’s Health magazine article a few years ago quoted Dr. Daniel Lieberman, a leading proponent of the “ER” (endurance running) hypothesis as suggesting that early humans would run an animal to death by chasing it for for 5 or 10 miles until it died of heat stroke. They call it persistence hunting. I find the idea – that this behavior led to some specialized human evolution as distance runners – to be preposterous on several levels. First, much of the fossil record suggests early humans were scavengers and lived pretty well off road kill until they started employing weapons a few hundred thousand years ago. No real need to run long distances when you can walk, hide, climb, sprint and crawl to scavenge. Secondly, it’s one thing to track and stalk an animal (using your superior intelligence) with walking, occasional jogging and a few sprints here and there. That’s a primarily fat-burning pursuit and it’s probably how our ancestors actually hunted. But once you have to shift into glucose/glycogen mode to run aggressively for long distances, it’s a whole different ballgame and you encounter a big problem. Run out of glycogen chasing a beast too long in the heat and you become exhausted yourself. If you are lucky enough to bag the beast, at least you get to eat now (albeit mostly protein and fats which won’t completely restore your glycogen reserves). But fail in your mission and your sorry, fatigued, glycogen-depleted butt is now vulnerable to becoming some other beast’s dinner. ER makes no sense to me from an evolutionary perspective.

So now comes Lieberman again in this latest study in The Journal of Experimental Biology (abstract) that compared the mechanical forces in the feet and the metabolic costs of generating these forces to arrive at the following conclusion: “The increased mechanical cost associated with long toes in running suggests that modern human forefoot proportions might have been selected for in the context of the evolution of endurance running.” He basically argues that humans evolved to have shorter toes than our simian relatives because longer-toed relatives were selected out. That same theory would therefore imply that longer-toed ancestors died off at a greater rate as a result of needing an average of a tiny bit more fuel to run after prey for long distances? Hmmm. I’m not buying it and I’m surprised that the JEB bought it. Since the study concluded that there is no difference in cost between long toes and short toes when walking, I could even use that data to shore up my theory that we evolved to be efficient walkers who could sprint when required and who were fit enough to run after the occasional mastodon if it made sense. And then there’s this: If men did most of the hunting, how is it that women are better suited to ultra running than men (compared to shorter running events) and a modern female like Ann Trason can beat most men today straight up in every ultra running event she enters? (Granted, she could be an outlier.)

Of course, the ER proponents typically cite the Tarahumara as current examples of the human genetic propensity to run long distances. This tribe of indigenous Mexican people are known for their prowess in running great distances (often 50-80 miles in a day) and for their participation in occasional persistence hunting, where they literally chase down deer until it is so exhausted they can walk up to it and kill it. But other scientists suggest that the Tarahumara’s endurance is based more on a cultural adaptation (no cars, no phones, no mail service), training, diet and conditioning than it is on heredity. Some 80% of their diet is complex carbs from grains and beans. That goes back to my primary argument as to why we did NOT evolve to be distance runners. Until we had a ready source of reliable high-carb fuel, made available through agriculture, any sort of regular distance running (chronic cardio) was a natural selection killer. Eating grains every day at every meal certainly replenishes the glycogen stores, so you can go out and do it again tomorrow. But why?

Most anthropologists would agree we didn’t evolve to swim. We learned how to make our way through water without drowning and we do it pretty effectively for a land mammal. That doesn’t make it natural or adaptive. Similarly, I say we learned to run marathons when we had the luxury of unlimited carbohydrates. That doesn’t make it adaptive or natural.

One final point I’ll address is the claim that the large size of the human gluteus maximus is further evidence in favor of the ER theory. I would argue that the move to bipedalism makes the default resting position the squat (as I touched on in this video) and that the range of motion and strength required for this position necessitates strong and well-developed gluteus maximus and hamstring muscles. Look no further than your local gym to see how people train these muscles – squats, lunges, deadlifts etc.

Further Reading:

Bloggers and Strength Coaches Name Their 3 Favorite Exercises

Washboard Abs on a High-Fat Diet, No Ab Workouts and No Cardio?

Vibram FiveFingers

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Even as an endurance athlete, I completely agree with you on this.

    Ryan Denner wrote on April 21st, 2009
  2. Not that this is scientific evidence… BUT, every long distance runner/endurance athlete I know, which is quite a few, gets sick ALL THE TIME. They constantly have sinus infections, respiratory infections, colds/flus, you name it. I can’t imagine that would increase the survival rate.

    Joe wrote on April 21st, 2009
    • No males on my distance team (including myself) are frequently sick. 8 hours of sleep and good meals to go along with hard training = good health.

      Harry wrote on August 16th, 2009
    • Agreed! My ex did over 30 marathons over his lifetime and i was always concerned how often he would get sick… I seldom get sick myself and don’t run nearly as much- not my preferred form of exercise. Mmm, maybe a coincidence?

      Kelly wrote on April 22nd, 2010
      • As an elite marathon kayaker training for major events, I often got sick, which resulted in the loss of valuable training time. I think the psychological aspect of knowing that your body is constantly on the verge of illness adds to the likelihood as well. Bit of a vicious circle really. It was generally upper respiratory infections, colds and sinus problems. Since I’ve stopped training in that way and have adopted a more primal way of training I am very rarely sick. Anecdotal evidence but pretty clear in my mind.

        Jay wrote on April 23rd, 2013
    • Limited personal experience is a poor substitute for scientific data. I run a lot. My wife doesn’t. She gets sick much more often than I do. I’m not about to say that proves endurance athletes get sick less.

      Re: “Tarahumara’s endurance is based more on a cultural adaptation (no cars, no phones, no mail service), training, diet and conditioning than it is on heredity.”

      Right… so before we all had cars, phones, hunting rifles, etc., wouldn’t that make all humans culturally adapted?

      Matt wrote on July 28th, 2010
      • This is what I was thinking too but then I read about the fact that the Tarahumaras diet is in fact about 80% corn and beans. That is a shit load of carbs which helps then run long distances.

        I just finished reading Born to Run which motivated me to go out and run more. I won’t be running in ultras but I now see myself completing a marathon at least once in my lifetime.

        I LOVE 5K’s however :)

        Primal Toad wrote on February 7th, 2011
      • I agree Matt. I think this article is bogus. It’s like people forget that before we created all of these electronic gadgets that we actually had to walk or run to get our food instead of sit at our desks all day which has caused us to become “scared” of any exercise over 30 minutes. It’s not normal. We weren’t designed to sit in chairs for 8-9 hours a day, walk for 30 minutes only and then sit back down in front of a TV all night. I have run over 20 marathons in a 2 and 1/2 year period and am a physician at the hospital. Haven’t been sick once over that period of time.

        josh c wrote on June 14th, 2012
    • I don’t:) I’m a competitive distance runner….on the primal blue print diet….I’ve found a way to make it work for me:) Lots of miles and healthy body!! (I run around 120+ km a week) Thanks for all the great nutrition info it’s helped my performance tremendously ….but I believe some of us are certainly made to run…..

      mell wrote on April 23rd, 2011
      • Mell,

        What do you use for nutrition during your long runs? Gu has been my staple for running marathons. Pasta loading has been another. These things have kept me from trying the Paleo diet. I’m one that wants to bench press 245 lbs and run a marathon in under 4 hours. Seemed like a good balance to me at the age of 41.

        Paul wrote on July 6th, 2011
        • Paul,
          I was paleo first, distance runner later. You don’t need pasta to carb-load. You’re body is most likely to utilize carbs for glycogen after you exercise, so do any kind of exercise and then eat tons of paleo friendly or paleo acceptable carbs – sweet potato, buckwheat, etc – right afterwards.

          On the runs I have been using gu’s just because I haven’t had the time to experiment, but I’ve heard LOTS of ideas from runners for alternative fuel – bananas, nuts, my favorite idea was dates stuffed with salt & coconut oil.

          Lital wrote on March 3rd, 2014
  3. If I told how many times I have gone down this – logical- road with some people and gotten verbally beaten up for it you’d laugh, or you’d probably know the reaction more than I would. I gave up trying, as I continue to watch many still doing it with knee braces, back aches, joint and foot issues and so on – so I just do my thing, sprint like a ferret in heat for 30 minutes and go home.

    koko wrote on April 21st, 2009
  4. It’s hard to go “toe-to-toe” with the running industry given it is so entrenched in our modern culture — what (slightly overweight) average American doesn’t assume that marathoners are the pinnacle of health? And you have an industry built up around the products used by runners — even those that seem to do more harm than good.

    Which brings me to an article in the Daily Mail the other day that (like the NY Mag article “You Walk Wrong”) tackles the problems of modern sneakers vs. our foot’s biological engineering. It’s a fairly exhaustive read, so I summarized some of the key points in a brief write-up over at a new site I’ve founded called (linked via my signature here). It’s basically a fan site for FiveFingers, and a sort of backdoor (a sort of Trojan horse idea) into applying the evolutionary model to diet, exercise and modern life.

    Justin Owings wrote on April 21st, 2009
  5. First of all I love your articles Mark, very well written.

    On this topic though I need to understand something.

    I always thought a ketogenic diet or one close to it would be the ultimate/ideal long-distance runners diet. On ridiculous long @$$ treks like these wouldn’t you be burning primarily FAT(and possibly some muscle protein depending upon a thousand other variables) after say 20 min (or possibly close to an hour depending upon your speed) even if you were eating a carb-based diet?

    This is assuming of course you aren’t running with a 12-pack of Gatorade or w/e long-distance runners consume nowadays.

    To my knowledge Mark, SPRINTING and WEIGHT LIFTING are two primarily glycogen dependent exercises – very ANAEROBIC. Nearly all of the low carb advocates I’ve read up on advocate either carbs around training or doing a carb load every week or every fourth day.

    See Bodyopus by Dan Duchaine/ many books by Lyle McDonald (esp. UD2), Tom Venuto, Rob Faigin etc.

    Even on your podcast with Jimmy Moore you even said YOURSELF, you eat maybe 150ish grams daily which is not Keto (albeit from low carb sources).

    For anyone who has been hunting or watches any type of hunter you know this – IF you are running around like a chicken with your head cut off, you aren’t going to catch squat! I have yet to met or hear of a human who could outrun a deer or rabbit. And a bear or a snake, well, if you want to go after a bear or a snake with your bare hands (no pun intended) be my guest.

    Heck go look at the guys that use spears to catch fish (ie salmon/trout/tuna) or even fisherman. No hours of cardio there HAH!

    I have read though that old peoples used to drive wolly mammonths up off clifts – they wanted their hunt to end ASAP!

    Even pick out peoples who lived in tropical areas – you don’t usually need to run miles to find a orange or banana. Just need to know how to climb a tree, or shake it hard enough. 😉

    Let me know what ya think Mark!

    Oh btw do you still work with P90X? I never saw you with Tony in the Plus. :(

    David wrote on April 21st, 2009
  6. From the outset, I’ll state that I am a trail ultramarathon runner.

    That we evolved to “to run the Boston Marathon is, in my opinion, ludicrous.” I agree. A road 5k to marathon is typically a high-intensity exercise that quickly depletes glycogen stores, not to mention the runner being near a high anaerobic threshold and often pounding their legs in a hard, artificial surface. Contrast to the run I did on Sunday a distance of 50 miles with 26,000 feet combined gain/loss, intense heat and all of it on trails. I was walking for perhaps 50% of the time, over rocks, roots, up and down the hills and conserving my energy since I knew I had a long day ahead of me. Despite the long distance, I never really felt fatigued throughout the day and could have quite happily kept running/jogging/walking in to the night after having “run” for 13.5 hours in daylight.

    “We also developed into pretty decent short sprinters, but we did NOT evolve to run long distances” I disagee slightly. As straight-out sprinters we are pretty useless in the animal kingdom. However, at the end of a long sustained period of moving, (a combination of a walk/jog/run) I think we can put in a VERY decent sprint compared to most of our likely prey species (likely large ungulates). The timing of the sprint is important.

    In short, I agree we evolved to MOVE long distances – efficiently. I believe some of this movement did involve running – but this is NOTHING like you’d see at a marathon or shorter race. Most of this movement was more like you’d find at a trail ultra. run. Slowly, steadily moving forward, running, jogging and walking.

    FWIW, nutritionally, I have run the marathon-distance on trails several times on nothing but water. Just give me some eggs and nuts/seeds in the morning plus a couple of bananas and I am good to go. I have friends who can easily run the same distance during a intermittent fasting period. We are a nightmare scenario for marketers of sugared sports drinks and gels.

    Cheers, Paul Charteris

    P.S. Joe, I have not been sick in the last three years. Not even a sniffle.

    Paul Charteris wrote on April 21st, 2009
    • Running long distances like that over long periods of time really can kill you. Not only do you burn fat and carbs, but you also exhaust your immune system. When this happens, you are at higher risk of cancers and many other diseases. Your body will think it’s in a survival situation and mask any signs of any illness until it’s too late. Excersize should only be done in moderation; much like over-eating, eating junk food and drinking alcohol.

      John wrote on September 19th, 2010
      • you’re an idiot John.

        jim wrote on August 31st, 2012
    • you are so cool and eloquent.

      I feel that also, in this article the author forgets the scientific arrow that points to the question of, “But seriously, how did we humans take over this place?”

      Was it by walking long distances and conserving resources? But how did we protect ourselves? I know typically animals deal in a language of dominance, I wonder what we used to show ours..

      Nur wrote on April 11th, 2016
  7. Heartily agree with you Mark.
    There are numerous reasons and good evidence as to why we were and are ambushers, stealthy stalkers and tool users.
    First and foremost among these is the development of our brains, it was our ability to plan, forsee events and construct strategies for possible outcomes which allowed us to become the pre eminent hunter. It is far easier, more energy efficient and less physically risky to stalk and or ambush prey than it is to run it down, the development of tool use further heighted this process to the point where we developed ranged weapons, allowing us to extend our reach considerably, no marathons required. The San bushmen, the Hadza etc would think it insane were we to suggest that they ran down their game untill it dropped from exhaustion.

    We are a compromise and perhaps one of natures finest, we dont run the fastest, we dont run the furthest, rather instead we use our brains and our ability to be ok at both to succesfully hunt down our game. Unfortunately we became so good at this that we developed farming replacing the need to hunt altogether and we all know where that has led us!


    ps thanks for the sheer volume of great info and links you have here

    as an aside, it was almost certainly our ability to catch/scavenge energy rich meat and fat that allowed our brains to develop beyond those of our primate cousins in the first place

    Chris wrote on April 21st, 2009
    • “First and foremost among these is the development of our brains”

      One of the ideas Lieberman states is that the steady meat supply running enabled provided the protein necessary to allow for the sudden development of the human brain. It is well-documented that the human brain had a dramatic size increase. There’s just never been a good explanation for why that development happened.

      Matt wrote on July 28th, 2010
  8. I agree with Paul. Running at anaerobic threshold may be a silly thing to do for long periods of time, since it will leave you exhausted (for a short while at least) and vulnerable to predators or enemies, but jogging/aerobic work (i.e., mostly fat burning as opposed to lactate contributed by fast twitch muscle with subsequent glycogen depletion) is much more sustainable. I do agree with you that the current racing and training emphasis is on carb replacement (~700g/day) and that seems really excessive and unnecessary to me, and would not have been possible before agriculture. I wish someone would do studies on low carb adapted athletes so we could see what biochemical pathways kick in under those conditions that might obviate the need for so much carb replacement. My husband runs ultras using only coconut milk and whey protein and does great. Is that because his liver gluconeogenesis is upregulated, or because he never goes appreciably anaerobic?

    On the other hand, in my earlier marathoning experiences, I never used anything during the events other than water or worried about carbing up or sports drinks. I wasn’t fast like you, but I could do 3:30’s just fine.

    Regarding illnesses, that has not been an issue either since going paleo/low carb and supplementing with vitamin D. I thought for sure I’d catch the flu or colds when my boys came home from college sick, but nothing, despite all this running.

    I think if people eat mostly paleo and don’t train excessively hard, their health will be great. If they want to see how long and fast they can run occasionally, let them enjoy it!

    Cynthia wrote on April 21st, 2009
    • One thing I had thought about is that there is a natural inefficiency when you swap from a walking gait to a running gait. I once read a study where a group of guys walked a mile in about 19 minutes and burned roughly 50 calories. They then jogged the mile in about 9 or 10 minutes and burned 100 calories covering the same distance. In a primitive world where food was scarce, it seems like jogging just wouldn’t be a smart tactic given it requires double the energy for the same mileage.

      James wrote on October 21st, 2011
  9. Recent article:

    “Thrust enhancers, roll bars, microchips…the $20 billion running – shoe industry wants us to believe that the latest technologies will cushion every stride. Yet in this extract from his controversial new book, Christopher McDougall claims that injury rates for runners are actually on the rise, that everything we’ve been told about running shoes is wrong – and that it might even be better to go barefoot…”

    Gasp! Who knew? 😉

    Geoff wrote on April 21st, 2009
  10. Chris I know what you mean about the effects of agriculture, but its advent is not “unfortunate” by any reasonable standard. Agriculture is what allows people to work on things other than find their next meal, and the freedom to do those things is what enables us all to provide all these services to each other. Agriculture is also critical to people’s ability to eat like hunter gatherers without having to live like them. No fair calling the development of farming “unfortunate”.

    Kevin wrote on April 21st, 2009
    • Actually, if you look at the Masai or any of the other hunter/gatherer societies(both current or historically) they put in a lot LESS work than any agricultural society. I believe the average time spent working was 15 hours per week… Because of the excess leisure, they had very well developped social systems and systems of play/recreation.

      James wrote on March 13th, 2013
  11. Dr. Daniel Lieberman’s position is not so anti-primal as it may appear at first look. If you read his articles and others on the topic you will see that the type of running he envisions is relatively low intensity and totally unlike what one does during a marathon race. A fit, fat adapted individual running at these lower intensities would not consume large amounts of glycogen and would be similar in metabolic effect to a fast walk for most of us.

    Paulie wrote on April 21st, 2009
  12. Kevin,
    I agree completely, my remark was meant as a tounge in cheek quip. I enjoy immensly the life that agriculture and the domestication of animals has afforded me, however that same process has afforded us the ability to do some realy stupid stuff as a species

    Chris wrote on April 21st, 2009
  13. See, this is one good thing about being a hockey player: no need to argue whether the sport is natural or unnatural, the answer is obvious to everybody. 😉

    Between scavenging and living at the beach (i.e., strategies heavy on the gathering), I wonder if we can even assume that hunting was a large enough pressure long enough to make a difference to our evolution. If you think about it, it’s a bit weird that we’re flexible enough that almost any individual can be a fairly anaerobic-glycolysis-loving sprinter/power athlete (like us hockey players) or a fairly fat-adapted distance athlete, as he or she chooses.

    Kim wrote on April 21st, 2009
  14. Our gluteous muscles aren’t large—just flabby (not yours, Mark!). The natural way to train the gluteous muscles is to simply squat more—not go to a gym and load up the spine. Also, we should activate them when walking (see Esther Gokhale) as in the third world. And the Erwan le Corre video shows a natural walking squat when passing under obstructions.
    When walking, simply begin contracting the gluteous muscles when the forward foot is planted in front of the pelvis. Also, add calf muscle contractions for added pushoff with a little psoas muscle action to advance the leg, and you have a natural workout.

    will wrote on April 21st, 2009
  15. I think the difference lies in how you define “running long distances.” If you define running over long distances as 30-miles at a 4-minute/mile pace, then I would agree. Humans can’t out-sprint large prey. We would burn through our glycogen stores in a matter of moments.

    But from a hunters perspective, the one thing humans do very efficiently is endurance. Think 10-15 minute mile pace, which is easily attainable over long distances with a combination of walking and jogging. Humans can manage that pace all day long. Couple prehistoric trackers with weapons such as an atladl or bow, and they would have been very capable of separating weaker prey from a herd and pushing it to exhaustion.

    Greg at Live Fit wrote on April 21st, 2009
    • +1

      mm wrote on August 4th, 2010
  16. I am an endurance athlete (bike marathons) and I know many other endurance athletes. Neither myself or my comrades in mileage are ever sick and are rather very healthy.

    I think it is irrelevant whether or not humans have evolved for endurance. We do it.

    If we switch the time frame to Groks period, I am sure some of his club swinginging buddies where questioning if they had evolved to walk and not just stay in the water swimming or slivering on the ground.

    As with many, some people are genetically, physiologically and bio-mechanically for endurance sports. My body and physiology is well suited for biking. Find the sport which is best for your body, and you´ll be fine.

    drpierredebs wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  17. I think the human organism is very highly adaptable.
    Some people are natural born runners, some are sprinters/jumpers, some are large and stocky and seem to be built for moving large amounts of weight.
    If you look at modern day hunter/gathers, most seem to stalk their pray and shoot at it with a poisoned arrows from fairly long distances, however their is the exception in the Kalahari Bushmen, whose traditional hunting method is persistence hunting.
    However their bows are unable to travel long distances(cultural adaption, as you said).

    They also walk very long distances(to us sedentary folk) every day, due to their nomadic lifestyle.
    In fact they walk so much it leads to infanticide, because when a Bushmen women gives birth to twins, she suffocates one to avoid the extra burden.

    In the sprinting department, humans are very weak.
    If you look at other bipedal animals like for instance the ostrich, which has been recorded at 45 mph for short bursts.
    Compared to this, the humans fail miserably.
    Look at Usain Bolt’s max speed during the 100m world record 27.3 mph.(And he is blessed with good genetics, and strict training)

    Marcus wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  18. The only problem I have with this is that I think what tends to happen is kind of what the HIT people did: say since this protocol is good/right we should do no other training. Do I think the argument that overdistance type training is unhealthy is correct? Yes, but I don’t think that means we can never go out and run more than a sprint or we can’t go mountain biking, etc. I think that is sometimes the message that is getting sent by these arguments.

    Xtremum wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  19. I’d have to agree with you on this!

    Take a look at the children at the playground – they can sprint easily but to get them to do an ER needs “training” – something which isn’t the most “natural” of actions I’d feel. Especially after how you mentioned the living conditions of ancient man.

    Fitness Fabulous wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  20. Wow. Quite a rebuttal, Mark. Your logic is based in your knowledge of physiology, ancestral diet, cultural adaptation and, empirically, on your own unique experience as former endurance athlete.

    Rick Strong wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  21. We’re making assumptions based on theories, speculations and conjecture. I have no idea if long distance running is better than sprints or vice versa, I’ve seen studies that suggest either way, but I do know that doing either is much better than sitting on the couch.

    For me, I enjoy 40 minutes of jogging more than 40 minutes of sprints, so that’s what I do. If intervals and sprints work for you, by all means, enjoy. :)


    60 in 3 - Health and Fitness wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  22. Also, there is research demonstrating that chronic endurance training lowers testosterone temporarily- as does resistance training-leading one to the conlusion that working out everyday may not be a pathway to optimum health.

    Rick Strong wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  23. Mark,

    You mentioned that humans didn’t evolve to swim and swimming is not natural or adaptive. Do you think swimming is a good exercise?

    Steve wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  24. Gal

    1) 40min jogging DOES NOT = 40min sprints

    2) Who SPRINTS for 40 minutes?

    David wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  25. With regard to study: Education, technology, and the institutionalism of their speculative findings are lesser substitutes for cultivating one’s self, by and for one’s self, out of sheer curiosity, need, and/or desire.

    Shed yourselves of agenda, all. Do. Be. Naked. Truth. Explore. Care. Reach. Grow.

    emergefit wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  26. Lieberman is not describing a marathon running gait in his article. A jog or slow run is all that is required, and would be quite glycogen sparing. It is possible for people to train their ability to oxidize fat better and better, and the likelihood of a group of humans that only ate fats and proteins, and dealt with physical activity all day were quite adept at burning fat more efficiently to power them.

    Also, the idea of humans chasing down faster animals over long distances is not absurd, it is something the aboriginals still practice today. It is quite effective. For an animal to pick up it’s speed to significant outpace a human, it usually must transition to a different gait. Most animals that pant to expel heat can only pant in a walk or a trot, and don’t expel heat well at high speeds. Humans are very adept at expelling heat through their hairless bodies and numerous sweat glands, and can deal with overheating surprisingly well. I certainly am not totally dismissive of the idea, but as I stated, there are still examples of primitive tribes that practice persistent hunting. You don’t need to chase something 26, or even 13 miles to exhaust it. Fossil records don’t support much behind the idea of only scavenging either, as that is very difficult to ascertain from a fossil.

    I am a weightlifter, not a runner, so I am not trying to justify some kind of inherited reason for running. Some of it makes sense though.

    Russ wrote on April 22nd, 2009
    • I totally agree with this. The question of are we persistent joggers-hunters or exclusively printers is still unknown

      mm wrote on August 4th, 2010
  27. Also, you do not need to eat carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores. In the absence of carbohydrates, the human body can, and does quite often, make glucose from carbohydrates through a process called gluconeogenesis, and this glucose will be used to replenish muscular and liver glycogen, as well as power most brain tissues, as many brain areas run much better off of glucose than the ketone bodies that are releases when fat is metabolized. Besides, at a slow run pace, glycogen is largely going to be spared, as it’s fast energy turnover won’t be needed for the energy requirements of the run. Again, we are not talking about competitive marathoning here.

    And some would argue we did evolve to swim. The purposed aquatic ape theory is derived on much shakier ground however, and does not withstand scrutiny very well.

    Russ wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  28. Sorry for the third post, but I meant to say the body makes glucose from protein, not carbohydrates. Of course the body can make glucose from carbs. Duh.

    Russ wrote on April 22nd, 2009
  29. @David,
    I realize they’re not the same. While I do respect Mark’s opinions a great deal and frequently link to his articles from my own blog, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have to agree with everything he says. So, since I have not yet seen very convincing evidence one way or another to show me one is clearly better, I’m going to assume that sprints are about the same as jogging.

    However, I’m know for a fact that doing either (or doing sprints for however long you want) is MUCH better than doing nothing. So pick the workout that you like, even if it’s slightly less than ideal. First because we’re not quite sure what the “ideal” is and second because the workout you like is the one you’re likely to stick with rather than give up on.

    That was my point. :)


    60 in 3 - Health and Fitness wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  30. doing both are probably better for fat loss – IF you don’t overdo it

    I agree with most of your second paragraph, but as I stated earlier NO ONE sprints for 40 min.

    Maybe you meant HIIT, but even for that its hard to find experts advising over 20min of intervals. 5-15 is usually the norm I’ve seen.

    I personally do both. Neither is a lot of fun for different reasons. LISS (esp. when done on a treadmill) can be mind-numbingly boring. I mean really boring. HIIT – if your doing it right is HARD. REALLY HARD.

    Still it is pretty obvious to me that sprints are better for retention of muscle mass. They are MUCH MORE TAXING, even when done for half the time.

    If people like to spend an hour doing LISS vs. 20 min sprints with a warm up and cool down be my guest.

    David wrote on April 23rd, 2009
  31. Mark, I like your site, but like so many evolutionary arguments/controversies, this is really a contest of “just so” stories.

    For me, the evidence is really compelling in some aspects. Take sweat glands — long distance running is pretty much the only real use for them.

    Tomasz T. wrote on April 26th, 2009
    • ….not really @Tomasz T., nice try though. Sweat glands are used anytime the body needs to cool itself off. It’s a survival tool and long distance running is definitely not the only time they are useful to human health.

      Em wrote on November 25th, 2012
  32. “All the best athletes are black” is a truism.

    However I have read some compleeing evidence that *specific* East African populations are genetically loaded to produce more slow twitch muscle fibres (I think I got that the right way round) hence those skinny distance runners who go on and on.

    *Specific* West African populations have genes which predispose to more fast twitch fibres, hence the sprinters with their big round muscles (Merlene Ottey I still love you!)

    (*Specific* Australian populations have hugely increased visual acuity and eidetic recall.)

    It’s all coincidence that they are black, probably since they evolved way back when we were *all* black, and for some reason (probably environmental) these factors have persisted in these populations while the rest of us became more generalised.

    What would be really interesting would be to compare the physiologies and fuel usage from one of those Kenyan distance runners and a Jamaican sprinter as two ends of the genetic spectrum. I suspect the aerobic/anaerobic balance would be quite different.

    Just been for a long slow walk along by the river. Apart from coffee I have had nothing since breakfast. I just stuffed an oatcake slathered in peanut butter and am about to hit up the garden for some vigorous weed pulling. After that some chicken stir fried with coloured peppers and garlic etc. I’ve probably had less than 20g carbs all day so far. Meanwhile a cousin just ran the London Marathon, I shudder to think what she ate.

    Trinkwasser wrote on April 26th, 2009
  33. @ LisaR

    If you’re arguing that you’ll eat back your calories due to sprints, then WHY WOULD YOU ARGUE FOR A GREATER CALORIE BURN DUE TO LISS? Totally dismisses your first two points.

    Lyle McDonald is also known for advocating 2-3 HIIT sessions/week. He is against EVERYDAY HIIT WITH NO RECOVERY. You misinterpreted him.

    Sprints don’t give you poor results. That makes no sense at all. Unless you aren’t really doing them hard.
    And if somehow you were doing sprints, if they weren’t giving you results why in gods name would you continue to do them for ELEVEN years?

    Remember for most people their goal is to lose fat WHILE WHILE WHILE retaining muscle! Sprints are superior to that. Also they don’t hurt when trying to increase speed for a sport – usually another goal of many, myself being no different.

    How can you site a mainstream researcher who is anon. ?

    Most sane people again believe that moderation is usually the best answer when it comes to fitness or NEARLY anything else. Putting yourself firmly in one camp (LISS) and saying the other(HIIT) is basically useless is foolish and/or ignorant in my opinion.

    Both should be utilized. Personally I prefer HIIT and weight training but I do all three for their synergistic benifits.

    Oh and intensity is def. something you want. Hell you can correlate fat loss with just diet and not much else. Most of the fat loss generally is generated by either diet (or drugs if you look at nonnaturals). Go starve yourself, you’ll lose fat damn fast ask the the AUSCHWITZ SURVIVORS.

    David wrote on April 30th, 2009
  34. @LisaR

    Did you even read what I wrote?! Please go back and reread. Maybe even twice. And name calling/altering is usually the sign of someone who is a sore “loser”.

    I never said I advocated HIIT or LISS. I DO BOTH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please reread what I read and respond to each point if you are able and inspired. Maybe your someone who can’t discuss this and has their mind made up. You sound like someone who is inflexible and acting immature.

    I never claimed to be a scientist, but at least I don’t make absurd claims.

    I seemed to have made you very angry. If this somehow angers you more and you respond similar to the previous manner, I will admit that you are NOT worth my time. You will get no more response from me.

    Please act like an adult and tell me SPECIFICALLY (POINT BY POINT) WHAT I SAID THAT WAS WRONG.


    David wrote on May 3rd, 2009
  35. In the previous comment it should say “Please reread what I wrote and respond…..”


    David wrote on May 3rd, 2009
  36. Let the record show that David has given up on Liza. He has realized that two-way communication with it, is a forlorn endeavor.

    David wrote on May 4th, 2009
  37. Sprints don’t directly burn fat, but exercises which use the fast-twitch muscle fibers, like sprinting, jumping, and climbing, promote fat loss by increasing cellular mitochondria numbers by as much as a factor of five; and mitochondria burn fat even when you’re not exercising. Now, Tabata, which uses short rests, does seem extreme–like flirting with a heart attack (a personal concern as I’m 66). Actually, the ideal for maximum fat loss is doing one sprint every hour. But I just go once a week for a 40 minute walk along an asphalt creek trail and do a group of sprints with 2 to 2 ½ minute rests. Or, at the beach I include a lot of sprinting and jumping. And an all-out sprint can be exciting!

    I don’t consider a lot of jogging natural, but I do a little, about one minute each week or so and enjoy it. On the savannah, the movement and noise of jogging would only attract predators, and would reduce your ability to detect danger. An avid woman trail runner was killed a few years ago by a mountain lion on a river canyon trail where I walk only. She was attacked from behind, and her neck was probably broken before she could be aware.

    I’ve been influenced lately by Edwan le Corre toward more natural forms of intense exercise. Sprint up to a tree, jump up high, grab a limb, and do pull-ups. Or do a series of short sprints and long jumps. Gyms, for bad weather use, could be made more natural. Get rid of the steel bars. It’s not natural to load the spine with hundreds of pounds easily grasped by the hands—and instead, provide difficult, bulky shapes for lifting like boulders and logs. And include climbing walls and jumping pits. Or toss and catch 6-foot wooden poles while running—alone or with a partner—maybe at the beach.

    In our high stress society, most forms of exercise actually reduce the destructive effects of cortisol—especially on the brain. Daily exercise provides the missing “fight or flight”.

    will wrote on May 4th, 2009

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