- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - About two years ago, Richmond doctor Mark Hom decided he wanted to write about the science behind proper fitness.

The plan was to create a book, accessible to all readers, that did not rely on gimmicks but addressed “the fundamental science behind fitness, diet and exercise.”

The book he envisioned would show how to improve physical performance by maximizing one’s mitochondria, “the tiny powerplants inside each of our cells that convert food and body fat into energy.”

So Hom, an avid cyclist, set aside time after work and on weekends and wrote.

Earlier this year, “The Science of Fitness: Power, Performance and Endurance” was published.

Along the journey from idea to completed work, Hom enlisted the help of a co-author.

That co-author happens to be one of his sporting heroes and legendary American cyclist Greg LeMond.

As Hom worked on the early stages of the book, he remembered the role mitochondria played in LeMond’s career.

Mitochondria, Hom said, multiply in response to intense exercise, allowing people expending physical energy to generate more energy in the future. The analogy, he said, is that the cell is a like a city and when energy demand is high and residents need more power, the city builds more power plants.

The best exercise, Hom said, is not a steady effort at high mileage, but rather intense bursts followed by recovery.

It’s not all about creating energy, though.

Hom says mitochondria needs to be supported through nutrition and by avoiding toxicity.

“My analogy is that since mitochondria are inside your body and inside your cells, it is up to you to be a good shepherd to your mitochondrial flock by feeding them, making them strong and protecting them,” he said.

Hom attributes LeMond’s success - two world championships and three Tour de France wins - to the power generated by the mitochondria which, he said, were strong due to genetics and proper training.

But it was also what forced him into retirement. LeMond came down with mitochondrial myopathy after a near-fatal shooting in 1987.

The shooting, a hunting accident, cost LeMond two years of racing, and the shotgun pellets eventually leaked lead into his body, causing the mitochondrial myopathy.

It was discovered after the former champion began having problems with endurance and with muscle weakness.

LeMond writes in “The Science of Fitness” that doctors told him the disease led to “muscle weakness, breathing difficulties and an inability to endure long stretches of physical activity.”

“I had the misfortune of being exposed to a poisonous toxic stimulus that was now all throughout my system and permanently damaging my energy metabolism,” he writes. “No wonder this was affecting my ability to race!”

LeMond, who now lives in Minnesota, designs bicycles and is an analyst on a sports network in Europe, retired from cycling in 1994.

Knowing LeMond’s history, Hom decided to reach out to the cyclist.

When he’d finished writing a few chapters, Hom sent the manuscript to a contact address on LeMond’s website.

It was a shot in the dark, Hom says, comparing it to someone writing a book about basketball trying to sign Michael Jordan.

Much to his surprise, his work connected with LeMond, who responded with a 4,000-word email.

LeMond writes that Hom’s writings helped answer questions he’d dealt with in his career - the highs and lows - and brought back some powerful memories.

He was intrigued and, eventually, decided to co-author the book with Hom.

“Mainstream fitness publishing was saturated with trendy, superficial fitness books that barely scratched the surface of the science behind performance,” LeMond wrote.

“The science behind my initial meteoric rise, devastating injury, inspiring comeback story and puzzling decline will definitely help anyone, veteran trainer or novice athlete, understand mitochondrial biology, the most significant factor in exercise, fitness, diet and health.”

Hom’s original idea for the book came from his own desire to get in better shape, along with his wife, Mary, around their 50th birthday.

The pair, he said, made a pact “not to slip into mediocrity by getting out of shape like most people do as they get older.”

They have both become serious cyclists, riding thousands of miles per year.

Hom, an interventional radiologist and Johns Hopkins University-trained biologist, cycles to work from the couple’s home near the University of Richmond to his office on Broad Rock Boulevard.

Mary, an architect, could barely cycle 3 miles when they began. She rode 4,000 miles last year.

“As a doctor,” Hom said, “I tried to find a book that would guide us to getting in shape in the most efficient way possible. But there were really no books that answered all of my questions.”

So, Hom says, he decided to write one.

___

Information from: Richmond Times-Dispatch, https://www.timesdispatch.com

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