He is the Director of Performance and a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where he conducts clinical research in cellular metabolism, particularly in diabetes, cardiometabolic illness, and cancer.
San Millán learned his way around a sports medicine lab at a young age as a professional cyclist growing up in Spain’s Basque Country. With a population of under 3 million people, he believes coaches must make the most of the few athletes available to compete on the international stage. They employ science to do this.
San Millán arrived at Colorado State University in 1992 to study exercise physiology, raced professionally for a few years, went home to get a Ph.D., and spent a decade coaching pro-tour cycling teams and Tour de France cyclists from across the world. When he returned to Colorado in 2008 to teach at the School of Medicine, he was shocked by the paucity of science-based coaching among American athletes.
But, he claims, that what happens inside those muscles is considerably more essential. How soon can the body rid itself of lactate, which binds muscles and slows the athlete down? How quickly do the mitochondria in those muscles burn fat and carbohydrates? How does the body react to brief, high-intensity bursts of energy, such as riding a bike up a hill, vs prolonged, lower-intensity exercises, such as running a 10k?San Millán proposes appropriate objectives based on such data, assuming good training. Then he sets out a strategy that includes food suggestions as well as target heart-rate zones meant to improve various energy systems.
Inspiring Talks by Iñigo San Millán
- “I never got to be at the top level of any sports, so I find myself as a frustrated and truncated professional athlete.
- “The way that elite athletes work and train is at a completely different extreme than how recreational athletes train.”
- “Carbohydrates haven’t been sent ten years ago by aliens to exterminate humankind.”
- “People work 50 hours per week, they don’t know how to recover, how to sleep well, and how to eat. Then they restrict nutrition — particularly carbohydrates. It’s the perfect storm.”
- “Exercise is medicine – the only thing that can improve mitochondrial function is exercise.”
- “There’s not one body of research that shows that carbohydrates are bad for performance.”
- “At the end of the day, when it comes to energy purposes, if you have a Coke or a sports drink, your body will utilize what it needs.”
- “The most powerful [cause of] epigenetics is exercise. It is at least as efficient as medications for the treatment of metabolic diseases.”
- “The immense majority of type 2 diabetes is acquired. People who exercise regularly should be protected.”
- “Twenty to eighty percent of cancer and fifty percent of Alzheimer’s can be prevented with regular exercise.”
- “The key element is to individualize exercise programs for each individual.”
- “The societies who live the longest and have the lowest incidence of heart disease, cancer, and early death are the Mediterranean cultures and the Japanese. They eat well, and they eat carbohydrates…. They also move. They walk to work, and they walk to the train station.”