Jun 15 2016

Paper: Prolific Scientists in Ultramarathon Sport and their Contributions to Running: Dr Philip Maffetone & Dr. Tim Noakes

ExerciseScienceProlific Scientists

Prolific Scientists in Ultramarathon Sport and their Contributions to Running: Dr Philip Maffetone & Dr. Tim Noakes

Israel Archuletta


This paper explores the contributions of two scientists who have made contributions to the sport of running and how they have changed the culture, training, and performance outcomes of many individuals in the running or ultrarunning community towards living a healthier lifestyle and extending completive time in athletes for longevity.  This paper begins with exploring the work of Dr. Tim Noakes and his decades of work taking on the sports drink industry by using studies to show that the common education by industry and governments to athletes to consume large quantities of drinks during exercise is wrong.  Dr. Noakes detailed own studies in water’s role in thermoregulation, electrolyte balances, and his theory of the brain’s central governor ability to control an athlete and prevent death show that most athletes consume too much liquid during exercise, and many contract exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH). The second scientist this paper will look at is Dr. Philip Maffetone and his work to show that an overall balanced lifestyle for athletes should include: reduced stress, large volume of training at a low intensity aerobic lower heart rate training than conventional though, complete elimination of non-processed food in diet, and eating a higher fat low carbohydrate diet.  Dr. Maffetone’s simple formula called Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) for athletes to train at a heart rate of 180 beats per minute minus their age has been proven over decades in athletes to produce a highly efficient performances at reduced heart rate. Athletes’ hearts are conditioned to increase capacity to deliver oxygen to muscles, and combined with eating a high fat diet muscles can utilize fat stores for fuel for metabolism at a more efficient rate than relying on carbohydrates alone. Both Dr. Noakes and Maffetone have contributed to running by showing how processed foods and high sugar content in western diets are detrimental to athletes, and that athletes and ultramarathon runners in particular should train aerobically and eat nutritionally.

Prolific Scientists in Ultramarathon Sport and their Contributions to Running: Dr Philip Maffetone & Dr. Tim Noakes

Two prolific scientists who have contributed to the field of exercises science in running and ultrarunning are Dr. Tim Noakes of South Africa and Dr. Philip Maffetone from the USA.  Both experts have used extensive data and studies to cause a paradigm shift for endurance athletes to use training with a low carbohydrate diet and low aerobic intensity while reducing liquid intake that was previously taught will produce faster running by athletes in competition.  Traditional thought in racing marathons or further distances from the 1970s through early 2010s by amateur athletes expected runners to eat a high carbohydrate diet and train at high intensities consuming large amounts of liquid to for optimum performance.  But both Dr. Noakes and Dr. Maffetone have shown that this thought process was flawed based on incorrect assumptions in early studies sponsored by sports drink companies, and misinterpreting causation and correlation in previous studies.  This paper will show that these scientists have found that running at a lower aerobic heart rate while eating a low carbohydrate diet and consuming only enough liquid the body requires through thirst mechanisms can cause athletes to run and race at a higher competitive level without damage to their bodies.

Dr. Tim Noakes has contributed to endurance sports for over 40 years through publishing more than 750 books and articles, most notably The Lore of Running (Human Kinetics 2003) and Waterlogged (Human Kinetics, 2012) both of which the running community has come to rely on as authoritative works of literature for human performance.   Athletes from around the world use his publications for knowledge and practical purposes in training and race competitions, but Dr. Noakes is most appreciated for his publishing and citing of thousands of studies done on athletes that have collectively changed the way athletes train and compete.  Recently Dr Noakes has been on a quest to show how a high fat low carbohydrate (HFCL) diet can change western health and obesity problems as opposed to traditional high carbohydrate diet promoted in education and government circles for 40 years.  But this paper will focus on Dr. Noakes work on hydration in athletes during competition and how he has shown that humans do not need to drink as much as is marketed in media and through government advisory guidelines, and need to only rely on the body’s thirst mechanism for hydration.  He has also shown that there is no direct evidence linking dehydration with athletes collapsing in completion, nor dehydration causing heat stroke in competition.

In Waterlogged Noakes (2012) states:

There is an overwhelming body of evidence showing that humans alter their behaviors to ensure that body temperature is homeostatically regulated regardless of the stresses , either internal (e.g., the level of dehydrations) or external (e.g., the environmental temperature) experienced. (p. 12-13)

The body has natural mechanisms to first cause the body to slow down to a lower aerobic heartrate, with the brain acting in anticipation of catastrophe if the body continued in a state that would cause it to die.  The brain will not allow the body to die, and will instead slow it down when in an exercise state, and produce a desire of thirst if the brain senses water is needed for hydrations.  He states (2012) “The only symptom of dehydration is thirst” (p. 58) and if a runner is thirsty then they should drink, otherwise there is no need to drink based on any other factors like outside temperature, or suggested guidelines of a a organization, government, or sports drink company.  The American College of Sports Medicine stance in 1996 suggests that at the risk of dehydration or hyperthermia, during exercise persons should drink fluid before, during and after exercise at regular intervals sufficient to replace all the water loss through sweat, and to consume the maximum amount tolerated.  This philosophy has permeated throughout every sport imaginable, but Dr. Noakes has used his own research to show that linking dehydration with heatstroke is a myth and there is no scientific evidence to support this hypothesis. Rather, heatstroke is caused by other underlying factors like muscle disorder, abnormalities in other organs that already had a predisposition to illness or disease. (Noakes, 2012, p, 167). Conventional thought that marathon or ultramarathon athletes are at the greatest risk for heatstroke or dehydration during exercises simply is not true; marathon runners prior to the 1970s rarely consumed water or drink during competition.  In fact, in elite marathon competition, the runner who has lost the most body weight over the course of competition – upwards of 9% – usually wins the race, and has not consumed drink for hydration at all (Noakes, 2012, p. 61).  Dr. Noakes has also shown that runners to not need to consume sodium or electrolytes during completion, even in intense exercise competitions lasting over 24 hours, 72 hours, or weeks of continues exercise.

The second scientist this paper studies in their contributions to exercise science and sport physiology is Dr. Philip Maffetone and his theory of promoting a high fat low carbohydrate (HFLC) and nutritious diet in conjunction with training at a low aerobic heartrate can produce healthier athletes who can perform at high levels of competition.  Dr. Maffetone has developed a holistic approach to training and exercise, and has shown that healthy training for optimum performance also occurs when not doing physical exercise but also while reducing stress and eating nutritionally by eliminating processed foods.

In his book Health and Fitness (Maffetone, 2012), Dr. Maffetone shows that nutritional content of food must be considered in training to ensure the body is not depleted in critical nutrients needed by athletes.  He focuses on the problem with sugar and how its consumption causes the brain to release the neurotransmitter dopamine that causes the feeling of pleasure that ultimately leads to addition to that dopamine release in the same way cocaine, nicotine and alcohol do (Maffetone, 2012, p. 48).  Physiological changes in the brain occur that continuously rely on this and other hormones to be released continually that eventually lead to weight gain, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. However if the person can on a high fat low carbohydrate diet can cause the body to start burning fat for energy instead of glucose/glycogen – the process of fat metabolism is beyond the scope of this paper.

Dr. Maffetone has contributed significantly to exercises science is his work in understanding that training at a low aerobic rate to cause the body to burn fat – triglycerides and free fatty acids – instead of glucose can produce an athlete over time who can exercise for extraordinary lengths of time.

According to Maffeton (2012): “As one’s level of exercise intensity increases, the heart rate also rises, with a faster beating heart comes less fat burning and more sugar burning. Overall the higher intensity workouts require quick energy which comes from sugar” (p. 242).  But if one can exercise at a heart rate that maximizes fat burning, the heart aerobically eventually begins to adapt and over time that same exercises at a specific heart rate can leader to more efficiency in oxygen delivery to the muscles but a a quicker pace.  For example if one’s best aerobic heart rate to exercise for fat burning (before anaerobic metabolism occurs) is 140 beats per minute and the rate one runs at that heartrate is 9 minutes per mile, the person trains at that heart rate for several months will find that the pace increases to 8 or 7 or even less minutes per mile and they are still training at an aerobic pace.  Dr Maffetone has found that the approximate metabolic rate – or Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) – of this phenomenon is about 180 beats per minute minus one’s age.  It is this contribution to exercises science that Dr. Maffetone is most credited with. 

Dr. Maffetone has taken thousands of athletes who were competing at substandard performances, and introduced his aerobic training method to them, combined with eating a high fat diet, and produced athletes who are efficient fat burning metabolizers and when competing at a seemingly low aerobic heart rate, their bodies are moving at the same speeds as those athletes who are burning glucose but run out of energy.  The intensity of Dr. Maffetone’s athletes seem low, by measuring heart rate, but they are able to perform at the same or higher intensity as regular athletes, and for much longer because of utilizing the body’s fat stores for metabolism.  Dr. Maffetone took struggling triathlete Mark Allen, and over the course of a year brought Mark’s speed at a MAF in the beginning was 9 minutes a mile, but after a year was down to 5:50 per mile.  Mark Allen was able to run 5:50 per mile at a low aerobic heart rate, for 26 miles in the marathon, and this easy speed and efficiency allowed him to win 6 Ironman championships. Like this example, Dr. Maffetone has contributed to countless runners and helped them get faster in running while living healthier lifestyles through balanced nutrition and reducing sugar or non-processed foods.

Both Dr. Maffetone and Dr. Noakes continue their work in exercise science and have a positive future outlook to continue help athletes, runners, and the general public switch to healthier lifestyle this riding populations of obesity and dangerous health issues associated with high sugar diets. Both have gone against traditional thought of corporations or their institutes’ by using data produced in studies to show how the body performs with what one ingests and how it is trained.  Athletes, runners and the general populations have benefited from the knowledge both of these individuals have produced in the field of exercise science.


Convertino V., Armstrong L., Coyle E., Mack G., Sawka M., Senay L. Jr., & Sherman W., American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 1996 Jan;28(1): i-vii. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9303999

Maffetone, Philip. (2016). MAF Exercise Heart Rate: How it can help improve health and sports performance. Maff Fitness Pty Ltd. https://36iusc2tb88y2g492si2bqd1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/MAF-WP-Heart-Rate-v1.5.pdf

Maffetone, Philip. (2012). Health and Fitness: A Practical Guide to Diet, exercise, Healthy Aging, Illness Prevention and Sexual Well-Being. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing.

Noakes, T. (2003). Lore of Running. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Noakes, T. (2012). Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports: Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.








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