Sunday, March 27, 2011

Training Goals

This blog might expand from just food porn with occasional recipes to include workout and fitness posts as well. I've hinted at it earlier, and now it seems that I want to document my progress and iterations through experiments.

Let me make that clear also; this is not definitive and by no means applicable to everyone. These are my experiments with my body, and I will do things both right and wrong. Follow in my footsteps at your own peril :) Use it as jumping off points for your own research.

The past few months

I've always been a lean guy. This past beginning of December my 5'11" frame tipped the scale at a paltry 157lbs and I decided that I looked emaciated. My self-conception of my "fatness" was always around my belly: if I had a paunch, I thought I was fat, even if the rest of me was scrawny. 157 was the smallest I've been in a few years and I decided that I was going to lift some weights and improve my physique. Fat belly be damned – I was going to lift, eat, and get some muscle on my frame.

That was the beginning of December 2010. I recently left my travel-heavy consulting job for a work-from-home new business venture and decided that, with a better ability than ever to control my workouts and diet, it was time to get serious. I picked up a great weightlifting book: Tiki Barber's Pure Hard Workout. I guess this dude is a famous football player, and he is strong as hell. The book espouses a simple and un-revolutionary philosophy: lift big, lift heavy. Duh. But it's prescriptive with specific workout routines, which I needed in order to be disciplined. Squats, deadlifts, bench press and military press form the foundation. If you're not doing these lifts, you're wasting your time. My workout routine was 1.5 to 1.75hr workouts, 4 times a week. Hard shit.

By the beginning of February I was hovering in the 177 to 179 window. My squats went from 155lbs (4x3) to 235. Deadlifts from 175 to 235. Bench from 120 to 155. Solid strength gains, and with it quite a bit of muscle. I was eating like a hungry hungry hippo: spaghetti dinners filled my diet, and I was regularly clocking 2,700 to 3,000 calorie days. I had put on the muscle I wanted and—fat belly be damned—I had put on a good deal of fat. Time to lean up.

Diet experiments

I don't believe in "going on diets," because the implication of a strict adherence to a set of rules also implies a short-term contract with yourself. And so in an acknowledgement of this, I embarked on a few diet experiments that, if successful and sustainable, would become eating lifestyle choices. The experiments included the Slow-Carb diet and the broader paleo or primal diets. In summary: eat like a hunter-gatherer from 200,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens became a species—you know, eat like we evolved to eat. Meat, animal fat, marrow; seeds, roots, fruit when it was rarely found; and lots of leafy greens. (Remember: agriculture is 10,000 years old, so selectively-bred foods like wheat and corn did not exist when we became a species.) Slow-carb includes legumes as a source of carbs. They agree on: no grains, no sugars, nothing processed; just simple, whole foods. Legumes are nice for fitness because they fill up your muscles with glycogen, the fuel that allows muscles to work, without spiking blood sugar.

This is a good time for a brief sidebar on the metabolism of carbs. As carbohydrates are digested, they enter the bloodstream. The body releases insulin to buffer these sugars. Insulin shuttles carbs away to fat storage or, if your muscles are in need of repair post-workout, to the damaged muscles. The rate at which various carbohydrates are absorbed into the blood stream is measured with the glycemic index, or GI. Glucose is theoretically the fastest to be absorbed and has a score of 100. Everything else is a ratio from there. The important takeaway is that the slower the carbohydrates are absorbed (the lower the food's GI), the smaller the insulin spike, the less likely that those carbs will go to fat storage. This is why legumes are part of the foundation of "slow-carb" diets, because they are "slowly" digested. If you must eat carbs, eat low-GI carbs, which put another way, never eat carbs without fiber. Whole fruit is okay in moderation (remember our evolutionary roots: we gathered fruit when it was in season, which meant we gorged on it when we found it—this is why we have sweet tooths). But fruit juice is bad (all the sugar, none of the fiber).

Armed with this new (to me) knowledge, I quickly shed fat and water weight. That 177 fell to 167 in about four weeks. Now my (still not very big) muscles are visible. Yeah, I'm no Tiki Barber, but at least I have a shape, a physique.

Intermittent Fasting

I also discovered Martin Berkhan during this time, and his intermittent fasting program. I'm not going to re-explain his ideas in full, but the summary is that you only eat in an eight-hour window. Say, noon to 8pm. You eat a full day's worth of calories in that window, and, in body-building speak, you have a bulking and cutting phase every day. Intriguing, and is very easy to implement.


Here I am, and my weight's been steady for two weeks. I still have maybe two pounds of fat in the love-handle region that I would like to shed before an upcoming trip to a place with beaches, which means that it's time for another experiment.

I would like to eliminate the remaining carbs from my diet (the beans, and the occasional sweet potato immediately after a workout). But the problem I've battled is a lack of energy. My current workouts are about 1.5 to 1.75hrs, three times a week. This is brutal when I eliminate carbs: I last about 30 or 45 minutes, and then I get blurry-eyed and feel completely devoid of energy. Thus, beans and eggs have been my 2pm breakfast, and by the time I lift at 7pm I have enough fuel that I can make it through the whole routine.

The plan:

  • Instead of three long workouts, split them into six short workouts.
  • Eliminate non-green-veggie carbohydrates (beans and sweet potatoes these days)
  • Work out before my first meal instead of before my last meal.
  • Eliminate or reduce alcohol consumption for the next two weeks

The hope:

  • Shorter workouts will be sustainable with a lower-carb diet. It was always the second half that killed me, so maybe this will work.
  • Working out earlier will mean I'm not eating my biggest meal right before bed; the food will have all afternoon to digest.
  • Workouts won't leave me so tired that all I can do after is eat and go to bed (in other words, I'll still be productive at work in the afternoon)
  • The last bit of fat I want to lose will finally be consumed by my body for energy
  • Alcohol is just surplus sugar; reducing it should reduce fat.

Okay! Hope you enjoyed a fitness post in addition to food and cooking. I'll report back in 2 weeks on this experiment, and will hopefully be super lean before the beach vacation.

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