Today, Brian Mackenzie and I discuss stress and your most powerful tool for living with it. Brian Mackenzie is a pioneer in the development and application of custom protocols to optimize human health and performance. His work harnesses and integrates respiratory, movement, strength, conditioning and endurance-based training approaches to elicit unprecedented positive results. His protocols have been used to accelerate and raise both mental and physical performance in world-class Olympic and professional athletes, top executives, and elite military operators, as well as to improve the health for people suffering from various chronic and pathological issues.
Mike: I have Brian Mackenzie. Here he is, say a performance geek across the board. Uh, shit man. Uh, we've hung out quite a bit and I've interviewed you quite a bit and I just want to remind everybody, man, I've been following Brian since 2008. So stoked to have you on. And, and I, I'm also really excited to be able to interview you during this progression.
CO2 as a Metabolic Stress Mesenger
Brian: People right now, are like wanting to learn how they want to go. It's like learning to dead lift and just wanting to pull 400 pounds off the ground. Immediately. And people don't understand that's not how this works. And you know, unfortunately in the fitness industry we've created quite the illusion, um, of what health is and health is interrelated with performance and that's not necessarily true.
A lot of the work I've done in the last six or seven years has seeing even at the highest-level world champions, um, very, uh, w we've seen fairly CO2 intolerant. And when I say that, I don't mean will just confuse, everybody was saying that, but when I say CO2 intolerant, that means they're not metabolically efficient. CO2 is a metabolic stress messenger and it works with our breathing.
This is theory, but based on everything I've looked at and nobody's really been able to co, you know, figure out what yawning really is for. And the fact is, it's cause you're fucking tired. People like, like, it's like we need all this information. Your body is literally telling you you are tired and yes, it's a contagious thing that you see somebody else do it. But most by and large, most people don't recognize when they're actually tired. And so what they do is they caffeinate or they blow through it and go work out or they go and they just ignore that response versus just like chilling out.
Breathing is about understanding the relationship between carbon dioxide and oxygen. Everything in this system that we have that's called a human being depends on oxygen. So our physiology is completely dependent upon oxygen because aerobic metabolism or cellular respiration is the vehicle for how we move energy. The only way we get to move that oxygen, that energy is if we have a good relationship with carbon dioxide because hemoglobin prefers to have a relation, a tighter relationship to carbon dioxide. So hemoglobin is what sits inside the red blood cell.
It's part of the Hemi group. It attracts oxygen into the red blood cell and transports it. But it also transports carbon dioxide. And by and large, most people are over breathers or because of our kind of stress lifestyles that we lead and, and our, lack of movement lifestyles, we've become very inefficient at these things. There was a divergence situation that happened with civilization, um, largely and that was convenience. That was comfort, that was not doing as much. And that came with a lot of things in the pipeline, including how we eat, what we eat because our jobs have changed, which changed our sinus structures, which you'll never see a single. You can go back and records as far as you want. And if anybody's record what they've seen with indigenous culture and breathing, you will see a mouth wide shut society. You will see a society that does not talk a whole lot. They have intention with what they speak. A lot of words have dual meanings like pranayama, like esoteric words, energy, breath control.
Organized Breathing Pattern
Mike: What is the, what is this breathing, breathing pattern, organize breathing pattern you're talking about?
Brian: I'm intentionally inhaling on key parts. I'm intentionally controlling my exhale as well. And I know that if I take a full inhale, I'm also like, and this is just through observation, but then also when you look at research and you start to study things, you start to see things. Like a full inhale is going to elicit a parasympathetic response at the top end because I'm actually filling the end ranges of my lungs.And I'm only going to achieve that if nasal breathing, meaning I don't do that. If I'm right, it's almost impossible.
You just move more air with your mouth. And this is one of the big things with why nasal breathing is so important, is that you actually just the most important thing I think is that it actually slows respiration rate. I take an athlete and I'm like, Hey, you got three, four weeks of nasal only breathing with your training.
And they're like, what? And I'm like, just do that. That's all we need to do right now. Trust me. You can go as hard as you want, as long as you keep your trap shot, then we can learn to gear up and use specific patterns after that. But that tells me right there, we've just restructured how they, how they use their aerobic system.
CO2 as a Metabolic Stress Messenger (Continued)
Mike: Let's rewind a bit. You were talking about carbon dioxide tolerance and all of this. Why is that important?
Brian: So CO2 is a metabolic stress messenger in the body. And our psycho metabolic reactivity is how we react to carbon dioxide. . We have respirate I'll start with the brain. All right. So we have our respiration centers are set up in the brainstem. The brainstem is the oldest part of the body, all oldest part of the brain called the reptilian brain. And it's there for a reason.
It sends out autonomic processes, right? It's the end result of emotions and thinking and sending out directives. Autonomic refers to auto pilot, right? The entire goal of our nervous system is to be autonomous. This is very important to understand.
But you cannot learn anything in an autonomous state. So if I'm, if I'm in this autonomous motion, I'm not going to learn in anything. If I'm just, if, so when I'm brushing my teeth or I'm driving my car and having a conversation, like I'm not going to be learning much. Like I'm, a lot of the things are going on autopilot.
Mike: Is it accurate to say if you're in a stress state, they are more likely to be in the, uh, to be autonomous
Brian: bingo, right. Going back to the respiration centers are set up in that brainstem and they pick up on the carotid artery and the aortic artery, that's what the detection systems are in. So now the detection systems now tell us they're in the ER, they're going outwards. So it's a predictive system.
Because of the lifestyles that we lead and we're not out side being chased by wolves.
The predictive system runs haywire because of our thinking and our emotions. So we get emotional responses to things and the panics, which is there for a reason, we're told to take a breath based on where we think the carbon dioxide is going to be at.
The interesting part here is that there is an actual panic switch when we have, when we hold our breath or when CO2 rises and you don't need an amygdala or a fear center in order for this to go off. So people who actually have suppressed amygdalas, or have none, right.
So my inhale is sympathetic in nature. My exhale is a suppression of sympathetic activity. So it's like when people go jump in ice tubs and they can't control their breath, it's not that they can't control their breath, they can't control the exhale,It can't control it because it's a sympathetic high up-regulation at first.
That's stutter is your sympathetic nervous system going, yo, we still need to be on right? So we have played around with this enough to integrate places and it turns out that if you actually just do, I don't know, five or 10 breaths like this. And your blow off little carbon dioxide, you can then control your exhale.
Then resume to controlled nasal breathing and try and slow and control your exhale. You can double-time your exhale off of your inhale. You will for sure be parasympathetic dominant. What?
What Are You Trying To Achieve?
Mike: Is there a benefit to meet regulating myself during that run? If I'm going some distance or what do I want to stay relaxed? How does this work?
Brian: What do you want? What are you trying to achieve? Higher performance. Like, look, there's a time and a place for mouth breathing if you don't understand that it's time to do some work towards that. And this is what we're offering up. This is why I look baseline fundamental. Here's the basics of breathwork. Understand the difference between nose and mouth breathing. What does one do?
What does the other, when is it necessary to mouth breathe? Okay, let's work through that. If I'm doing high intensity work, I'm going to have to mouth breathe at some point because the metabolic demand is saying I need more oxygen in the environment. Right. In order to, it's like an Olympic weightlifter. Like if I do something explosive, there's just not enough oxygen in that environment. In order for it to work, glycogen is not even there.
So we have to go creatine phosphate agent, right. So it's just because it's like I'm trying to generate power through that. So people who don't, who are like aerobic or endurance athletes struggle really hard with high explosive work like that because that system has is so oxygen rich. It's so tight.
Right. There's not a stimulus. Exactly. Not enough stimulus. Right. And so it's, if I'm going to go on a run, if I like, what's my goal for the run, I want to go for a long run. Well that's a, that's a pretty aerobic effort. But if I want to do some serious training in that run, maybe I want to throw in a couple of like five or six high effort repeats. Right. The idea is how what am I trying to achieve with that? The objective is better oxygen transportation, right?
So if I'm going to go into a high effort, when does the transition happen? From nose to mouth, when do I need to do that and how quickly can I get back to my nose? That tells me exactly when I'm actually aerobic again, it's okay if it's not immediately. That just means we've got work to do and we've got an opportunity to do more work. The objective is to close that window on how quickly I can actually get back to a highly aerobic state because that's the goal. The goal of all training is to make a better decision, right?
It just so happens that making a better decision is parasympathetic and tone and making and being parasympathetic and tone is more rabidly efficient. So the physiology works with the neurobiology in that it doesn't matter if I'm working out hard or if I'm carrying a conversation with you right now and I'm talking, I'm offloading carbon dioxide is I taught, therefore I'm removing the variable carbon dioxide from a lot of the environment.
So if I don't have enough oxygen available because there's not enough carbon dioxide available, the system is, is so intelligent that it just starts leaning more sympathetically and using up more glucose from that anaerobic side. And then eventually, the more you're talking, the more more anaerobic you're going. You got it, brother. The more you are using up of the glucose in terms of those anaerobic processes, it look, we've put on metabolic carts and done this, gone out for a walk, shut my mouth, gone out, stock came back, gone out for a walk, open my mouth, kept my mouth open and breathe through my mouth.
Two entirely different energy systems are being used.
Mike: Interesting. How do we know? You're saying high level athletes and you know, it's, it's the whole spectrum of human beings. If you're, if you're a high level athlete, your breathing may not be in shape. You may not your COC tolerance maybe.
Brian: You're more than likely. Better off than most. But does it mean that you are aerobically efficient? Right. And, and, and this is like, look, I just can't, I'm not saying this is everybody, but the fact is is I have seen enough to where like, look man, we are suffer culture, especially in sports and athletes in particular in working sports are all about how hard I can work. Not how efficiently I can work.