Misha Sakharoff
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Riding 160 km on water only. Combining fitness and health for cycling athletes.

Amateur cycling athlete testimonial

My name is Sean, I live in Devon in England, and I have been on Misha’s 50-week programme for sports performance for 4 months now. So, the programme is reasonably developed and has been a very fascinating procedure so far. I’m a keen amateur cyclist and am very interested in health, very interested in diet, and my wife, Julia, actually is a Buteyko Breathing practitioner. So I came across Misha’s work because he was, as we saw it, at the cutting edge. He is working with Buteyko Breathing, but also looking at diet and overall lifestyle. Many Buteyko practitioners don’t do that – they are very single-focused. So for us, it is very interesting seeing Misha’s work and we actually interviewed Misha for our podcast –  the “Cycle Systems Academy” podcast. And I was so interested in his work in terms of ketogenic diet, Buteyko breathing for cycling, etc., I thought I’d sign up and give it a go – “What have I got to lose, right?”
 

 

Connecting fitness with health – for high performance

I am 42, and obviously as we get older, we do start to feel the effects of that – it is not like being 22 anymore and Misha’s programme attracted me because it is based in health and well-being and also offering advantages for sports performance. Because I’m not a professional athlete. I am not even an elite amateur athlete – I’m an enthusiast and ultimately I don’t get paid to ride my bike fast. So I was really keen to work on the well-being side and we always like to go faster on the bike, so that was an advantage, too.

So, I started off with the ketogenic diet and the Buteyko breathing and it was really, really interesting ‘cos like most people engaged in sport, especially cycling, I was sold into the modern sports science way of fuelling. You know, since the mid eighties, people have talked about how to fuel on carbs, on sugars – carb drinks, carb gels, carb loading, you know, protein after-exercise and it worked – to a degree. Although I didn’t feel that comfortable with it – you’re drinking these bright blue drinks, you’re shovelling these chemical gels into you, and I would do, literally, two or three gels an hour on a big, hard, event, you know, when you are really racing hard on a bike, you can’t eat a pie, you can’t eat a cake, you know!

So the gels and the carb drinks worked for me. I was getting reasonably high performance, but  it’s funny – I remember talking to a clubmate on the way back from a training ride once, “You know, I’m not getting any faster. I think this is it – I think this is as good as I’m going to get”. I didn’t feel particularly good about that because I felt that I used to be a lot faster, I used to be a lot fitter and there was a plateau I was hitting.

 

Ketogenic diet is easy

So, to move on to the Ketogenic diet I thought would be a challenge. I’m the one – double chips, double potatoes, extra bread – and I really thought, “This is going to be hard!” But, you know, when I did it, it was incredibly easy, and I think that’s with the ketogenic’s focus on fat that’s the primary focus, right,  – to use fat as the fuel and it is very satisfying and it does make you feel satisfied for longer. Like most people, I had to adapt – it took a week or two, but the keto flew, but I was used to that kind of thing, so I knew what I was getting in for.


Buteyko breathing for cycling – nose breathing on hardest climbs

Now the Buteyko breathing was fascinating because, as a cyclist, especially, you notice when you are out of breath. You notice when you lose control of your breathing – on hills especially. So, when I started to do the Buteyko, I started to feel less breathless. I started to feel that I could nose breathe, even on the hardest climbs. After a few weeks what was fascinating is  I felt stronger – as if I’d been up the gym, as if I’d been literally doing strength work. And that, I believe, is due to the more oxygen actually getting into my blood (Sean does actually mean “oxygen to the cells”) due to the higher CO2 levels, you know, in my lungs, as you can tell by the Control Pause.
 
So it was really fascinating and certainly a good test for all of this work was after two months of the programme, I did the “Ride London Sportive”, which is the 100-mile sportive over the 2012 Olympic road-race route and last year I did it in 5 hours and 4 minutes, and that was with no Buteyko breathing, with no mental focus, you know, that Misha works on the one-point focus. All sorts of ways which tie these things together and of course, just put gels and energy drinks.
And this year I thought, “Well, I’m just going to try and do it keto – yeah, I going to do it all nose breathing and I’m going to use that Samurai one-point focus that Misha teaches, to be completely focused on the moment  and what I’m doing in that minute, and it would be great to go under 5 hours” – and I came in in 4 hours 46 minutes – so I was 18 minutes faster! After one year. Which is remarkable – there is no way I thought I could get anywhere near that level that quickly, and what was really interesting is I  didn’t eat anything during that ride.
 

Breathing for cycling made difference

So, 4 hours and 46 minutes of hard, fast riding. It wasn’t a nice ride in the countryside – the final hours was, “Oh God! When is the pain going to stop!”, yeah, and it was all very concentrated. In the first hour, ‘cos we start off in waves from the London Olympic Stadium, you might be in a peloton (main group or pack of riders in a road bicycle race, saving energy by riding close) of two, three hundred, people, and you go 25 miles an hour – you go 40 kilometres an hour, right next to someone else’s elbow, someone else’s bum, and you’ve got to be completely focused and concentrated, so the work we’ve done on that one point of attention, single point of attention, relaxation – you know, Misha’s work is fascinating because he talks about the synergy between different elements of well-being, whether it’s your mental state, your breathing, your diet – and I was able to bring it together in that event, which was quite a big challenge, you know, the way I went about it, I challenged myself tremendously.
 
So that’s been a success and it’s on-going – it doesn’t turn a donkey into a racehorse, but I think I’m becoming quite a fast donkey and I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying eating healthily. I think like many programmes that involve dietary input you can’t just be lazy and eat junk food, so I am already eating far more vegetables and far more whole foods, pre-focusing on this and that in itself is very positive, but I may well fast for the morning, eat lunch and then, by say, 6 o’clock after work,  I’m like, “Oh, I’d better eat”. It’s very different from this “fuel-crash, fuel crash, fuel crash” that I tended to have when I was fuelling on carbs and sugars, and also I find I am not as reliant on caffeine, you know,  for energy, it’s there more slow burn.

Overall impression

So overall it’s been a fascinating programme. It continues to be very, very illustrative, It’s something I’ve fitted into a very busy lifestyle – running a company, having a family and I’ll admit that I’m probably not Misha’s ‘A’-grade student – I don’t weigh my food, I don’t watch every video, I  don’t listen to many of the audio things – and  I haven’t got time. We have video conferencing – I don’t turn up to every one BUT the amount I’ve been able to use it for has been transformative on a day-to-day level, and, hoping in the long term, health level, and also for my sports performance.

 

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About the Author Misha Sakharoff

My burning interest in human physiology is rooted in far-different areas of expertise such as martial arts, music and long professional career. My core competency lies in the combination of physiological knowledge regarding stress mechanisms and their close relationship with respiration, muscular tension and body balance.

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