What Exactly Is The Maffetone Method?
Dr. Phil Maffetone
On almost a daily basis, I will receive an email from someone asking why, after closely reading one of my new books twice, there was no workout schedule to follow. Or, the person will ask, where was the structured diet plan, you know, the kind with calorie charts that is a staple of most weight-loss books.
I can understand their frustration. We live in a quick-fix society. Everyone is looking for that single, magical diet or miracle workout plan that will change their lives overnight. But this a fiction, and one that all the health and fitness magazines love promising their readers.
But the only way to make long-lasting changes with one's health and fitness is to think in terms of the individual. Meaning you.
After close to 40 years of working with individuals of all ages, levels of athleticism, and persons with the widest possible spectrum of illnesses and personal goals, I’ve yet to find the best diet for all to follow, or the ideal training program. That’s because neither program exists, despite new books coming out each year that offer the long sought-after answer.
And that is why I created the Maffetone Method while I was in private practice. It basically says that we’re all different and unique in every one of our needs.
The Maffetone Method is simple yet vast because that’s the nature of humans; it’s a holistic approach to help the individual figure out what makes him or her tick.
By taking this journey you also grasp the responsible of your own destiny: the reward is that you can be healthier than you’ve ever been, fit enough to reach your athletic goals, and live a life whose quality is high.
But what exactly is the Maffetone Method? It has certainly stood the test of time. It's going on 30 years.
Often times, the simplest things are the ones most difficult to explain. The Maffetone Method helps you take charge of your own health and fitness—and succeed. Every animal on earth knows how to be optimally healthy, but humans have gone astray; getting back your instincts and intuition is one of the benefits of this process.
In a sense, a better name might be The Maffetone Non-Method, or Dr. Phil’s Approach. But over time, my style of working with athletes and non-competitive persons alike came to be known as The Maffetone Method.
Most diet fads or treatments for various ailments address the end-result signs or symptoms, leaving the cause of the problem ignored. While this is the hallmark of our healthcare system and society—drug and health stores alike are full of products that offer people a way to treat their symptoms—it obviously doesn’t correct the cause of the problem.
The Maffetone Method’s approach encourages you to find the reasons for poor health and fitness: Why can’t you lose weight? What is the cause of your pain? What’s needed to reach your athletic potential? I can’t tell you the answers to these vital questions, but I can help you figure it out. Almost everyone is capable of succeeding, but it requires a different way of thinking, and giving up the endless search for that magic pill, the perfect diet or other one-size-fits-all ideas.
Even without a clear and concrete definition, I could easily describe how my so-called “method” evolved and was fine-tuned so that anyone could adapt it. And that’s what it is, an evolution of ideas for all to use. Knowing that individual assessment and treatment was a key to developing a successful practice, along with helping patients understand the importance of self-health care, it became obvious that certain patterns existed in those individuals who were not perfectly balanced (essentially everyone, including myself). These were physical, biochemical and mental-emotional imbalances—complete with various signs and symptoms. These patterns provided vital information, which helped lead to quicker and more accurate evaluations, and faster therapeutic outcomes.
This process lead to asking specific questions about how the body was responding to, say, pain. In particular how and when it started, what makes it better or worse, how long it lasts, and other information that makes it easier to find the cause of the pain, and eliminate it.
These questions are a vital part of my style, and important tools anyone can use to find and fix physical ailments, metabolic imbalances and other problems.
In addition to questions about body function, self-tests are very important. By testing the body by adding or avoiding certain foods or specific workouts, for example, one can obtain valuable information to begin piecing together the details of an individualized program.
There are many different facets of health and fitness that also must work together to create optimum human potential—like you felt when you were younger and full of vigor. This approach is a way for an individual to more objectively look at his or her whole life, and address any and all factors that are not working most advantageous for optimal health and fitness. These factors include ones diet or nutritional status, exercise routine, and how physical, chemical and mental stresses are best regulated.
Let’s look at some specific topics that make this unique system so distinctive.
Burning Body Fat
One specific goal of the Maffetone Method is to increase the burning of body fat to provide high levels of physical and mental energy, and prevent the accumulation of excess stored fat and weight. Most of the body’s energy for daily living comes from the conversion of both sugar (glucose) and fat to energy (in the form of ATP). Some people rely on larger amounts of fat, with the result of high physical and mental vigor, improved health, and better all-around performance. Those less able to burn sufficient fat must rely more on sugar, resulting in less fat burning each day—a problem associated with reduced health, including low energy, increased body fat and weight, less endurance for daily living, and lower physical fitness.
Balanced Physical Activity
The most important way to instruct the body’s natural fat-burning capabilities is to train the aerobic system. By stimulating the full spectrum of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which rely on fat for fuel, improvements in the heart and lungs, increased circulation, and better brain function, also occurs. This also helps the joints, bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles prevent injuries, avoiding chronic pain conditions in areas like the low back, knee, shoulder, wrist and neck.
Without specifically training the fat-burning system, one could actually become aerobically deficient, a common syndrome associated with fatigue, increased weight and body fat (especially in those who regularly work out), reduced immune function (since the aerobic muscle fibers are key site of antioxidant activity), physical disability, and hormonal imbalance.
Controlling Chronic Inflammation
Another important aspect of the Maffetone Method is addressing a key chemical condition that leads to serious illness. Most diseases begin in a seemingly benign way, without symptoms or signs, as chronic inflammation. The chemical imbalances that trigger this problem are easy to control with diet and lifestyle. Specifically, by balancing ones dietary fat intake and consuming certain foods—based on a person’s individual needs—avoiding chronic inflammation is easy to accomplish. In doing so, many of the physical and mental problems seen in aging can be avoided, including cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, weak bones and muscles, and Alzheimer’s.
Secrets to Stress Management
A unique feature of my method is learning how to avoid the ravages of physical, chemical and mental stress. Finding the ideal diet, maintaining optimal nutrition, regular aerobic workouts and other lifestyle factors that would normally lead to optimal health and fitness won’t work if stress interferes. Since the human body and brain has a unique system that manages stress perfectly well, learning how to enlist these natural activities are vital—they include the brain’s hypothalamus and pituitary, and the body’s adrenal glands.
One of the most common causes of chemical stress, reductions in aerobic function and fat burning, and chronic inflammation is the consumption of sugar and other refined carbohydrates. These foods have become a staple in the diets of millions of people—but addiction prevents their elimination. More than any other food they directly interfere with ones ability to be healthy and fit. In fact, one meal or snack of sugar or refined carbohydrate not only can turn off fat burning and significantly disturb hormones, but also switch on genes that cause disease.
How can the Maffetone Method offer a personalized, truly individual approach for all people? By doing what I’ve done throughout my career—begin by assessment. Through self-evaluation with the help of questionnaires and self-testing, and learn about the inner workings of the body, individuals are guided through the simple process of determining their particular needs in all key areas of health and fitness, from diet and nutrition, to exercise and the regulation of stress. The end result is improved human performance—including better brain function, increased endurance, avoidance of illness and disease, unlimited energy, and for athletes, continuous competitive improvements without injury. It begins with you deciding a change is needed: it’s up to you to take the first step in your journey.
Note: The best and newest books that detail the Maffetone Method are "The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing," and "The Big Book of Health and Fitness." All others, including "The Maffetone Method," "Fix Your Feet," and "Training for Endurance," are outdated.