A couple weeks of milestones

24 09 2010

The last couple of weeks have seen some significant milestones.

On September 13th, my kids moved to Italy with their mother. Perhaps “moved” isn’t the best word for it, because it’s a temporary thing; they’ll be back in 3 months. I’m excited for them to experience this adventure, but I miss them. Their internet access is sporadic, so I can’t talk to them very often. I AM going to see them in a few days, so that will be good.

September 16th marked a year since my first date with Amy. I still remember it vividly, especially the nervous excitement I felt. I already knew I liked her from the conversations we’d had, and the first time I met her in person, there was an immediate attraction. We spent several days together, going to a Weezer/Blink 182 concert, the Wild Animal Park, SeaWorld, the beach. I was so unhappy when she had to return to Utah, not knowing what the future would hold due to the distance, but I knew that I wanted to spend more time with her. Since then, it has been an amazing ride. I still feel the same nervous excitement when I’m about to see her, and the same sadness when it’s time to part. She made the last year the best in my life so far, and I’m excited to see what the future holds for us.

The 20th marked the date that my divorce from Melissa became official. There was no particular sadness associated with it. We first decided to get divorced nearly a year and a half ago, and I moved out more than a year ago, so I had processed it, and we’ve both moved on (obviously). We chatted briefly when she was at my place with the kids, and we both acknowledged regret at the things that went wrong, but we’re both happy now and wish the best for each other. Looking back, I was definitely unhappy, but the good times stick with me more than the bad. I’m especially thankful for the 5 fabulous kids we had together, and my only significant regret in all of this is that I don’t get to see them as much as I’d like now.

Finally, today, after what seems like ages, I broke the 200 pound barrier. I don’t remember for sure the last time I weighed less than 200 pounds, but the most recent it could have possibly been was in 1994, which was my first year of marriage. I had initially hoped to break this barrier on September 1st, and I got within a couple of pounds of that, but a trip to Seattle and 10 days with my kids derailed me a little bit.

So what’s next? I knew that at 200 pounds I’d still have a little fat around my middle, and I do. My best guess is that to get as lean as I’d like to be, I’ve got another 10-15 pounds to go. Possibly more. Part of me wants to focus on building muscle for a little while, but I’m pretty sure that if I do that right now, I’ll gain a lot of fat at the same. So for now, I think I’m going to continue to focus on losing fat, but a bit less aggressively than what I’ve been doing. I’m going to just continue to eat healthy, be active, and weight train without a specific goal until the beginning of November. Then I’ll see where I’m at and set my next goal. Ideally, I’d like to finish losing before the holidays, so I can use them to start my bulking cycle 🙂

Weight: 199.5
BF%: 22

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31





Gymtards #1

1 09 2010

This is a post that I’ve been wanting to write for a long time, but I kept getting hung up on wanting to make it as comprehensive as possible. Then it occurred to me that I can just make this a recurring theme, so here’s the first.

I’ve been working out on and off (more on, lately) since I was about 12. I’ve done a lot of different things, lost (and then regained) a lot of weight, and I like to think I’ve learned quite a bit, especially over the past 5-6 years as the Internet has made access to reliable training and nutritional information readily available.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of other people, especially at commercial gyms, that I tend to think of as “gymtards.” This term is probably a little harsh, but it does drive the point home: many, and perhaps most, people working out these days are making major mistakes. This may just mean that they’re not progressing as well as they could, but it could mean that they are doing things that are entirely contrary to their goals. I probably wouldn’t care if they didn’t frequently prevent me from using equipment I want to use.

I’m not claiming to be any kind of authority on training, but I have spent a lot of time reading information and research from leading trainers and coaches, and applying those things to myself, so I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. My intention here is to draw attention to many of the common mistakes that people make, and in so doing hopefully encourage some of them to better educate themselves.

So with that introduction out of the way, I want to get to what inspired me to finally get this posted: the leg press.

The leg press is not a useless exercise. The biggest problem with it is that people use it instead of squatting and deadlifting, rather than as a support exercise, which is what it should be. What’s worse is that many of the people I see doing it aren’t even doing it properly. Lately, I’ve witnessed a number of people who load the leg press up with as many plates as possible, and then move it through a tiny range of motion, as illustrated in this video I captured last night:

If this guy were to actually attempt to go though a full range of motion, the ridiculous amount of weight that he’s using would drive his knees through his chest and into the pad behind him. He may feel like he’s accomplishing something, but the truth is, he’s probably getting more out of loading the weight onto the leg press machine than he is out of the tiny movements he’s doing.

There is a time and place for using a partial range of motion, but this is an advanced technique, used by people who are legitimately moving massive amounts of weight and trying to overcome weak points. Most people should be using a full range of motion, and if you can’t do that with the weight you’re using, check your ego at the door and reduce the weight. You’ll benefit more in the long run.





My Fat Loss Philosophy, Part 3

30 08 2010

Okay, this has taken longer than I initially intended, but here’s what I believe will be my last post for now regarding my fat loss philosophy. In this installment, I’ll deal with what to eat.

Foods

As much as possible, I try to eat whole, real foods, and avoid anything processed. These are the things that I eat freely:

  • Beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb, fish, etc.
  • Eggs, including the yolks
  • Vegetables, especially green leafy ones like broccoli and spinach, but not corn (which is a grain) or legumes. Most of the time I avoid starchy vegetables (like potatoes).
  • Fruit, especially berries
  • Nuts, except for peanuts
  • Limited dairy (yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese)
  • Green tea and water, with the occasional diet soda
  • Coconut and olive oil, butter

The things I avoid:

  • Everything grain-based, including breads and pastas
  • Anything sugary
  • Most vegetable oils
  • Legumes
  • Processed foods
  • Almost everything soy-based

I don’t shy away from saturated fat or cholesterol at all, because the science shows that they are actually good for you, contrary to conventional wisdom.

All of this means that my diet is high in protein, high in fat, and (relatively) low in carbs. I don’t pay a ton of attention to calories. As you’ll recall from my first post on this, if you’re trying to lose fat, it’s essential that you eat fewer calories that you use. But I’ve found that eating this way, that just kind of happens naturally. I have tracked calories occasionally just to get an idea, and I am careful with fruit, limiting it mostly to training days, but that’s about it.

This works very well for me personally. I think that some people might do just fine with grains and legumes (and if you eat them, it’s probably going to require paying closer attention to calories), but for me, it’s easier to attain my goals if I avoid them as much as possible.

Supplements

In an ideal world, I’d be able to get ample supplies of all of my nutrients directly from food. But because of convenience and cost factors, I use some supplements as well:

  • Protein powder: I try to get at least 150 g of protein a day, and this is much easier to do if I throw in a protein shake or two. There are a LOT of good protein powders on the market now, many of them quite tasty. I recommend something using whey or casein protein. Avoid soy.
  • Multivitamin: I take one because I have a couple of huge bottles that I haven’t used up yet. Studies seem to show that our bodies don’t really absorb the nutrients in a multivitamin, though, so I’ll probably stop using them once my supply runs out.
  • Vitamin D3: There is a lot of research lately showing the importance of Vitamin D, and most people are lacking. I try to spend some time outside every day to get some from the sun, but just to be safe, I also take 5000 IUs every day.
  • Probiotic: I just started doing this. The idea is that antibiotics and the effects of the typical American diet have caused most people to be lacking in the healthy bacteria that make up our intestinal tract. Probiotics and fermented foods can help correct this.
  • Fish oil: The benefits of fish oil cannot be overstated due to the fact that most of us are sorely lacking in Omega-3s. I typically pop 5-6 capsules a day.

Weight: 202
BF%: 23

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31





The HCG Diet

23 08 2010

Recently, I was on Amazon and noticed in their discussion forums a question about the HCG diet. I only became aware of this diet a few months ago, after someone on Facebook mentioned it.

If you’re unfamiliar with the diet, it is based on the work of a Dr. ATW Simeons, published in his book Pounds and Inches more than 50 years ago. The diet is based on eating 500 calories a day for several weeks, accompanied by daily shots of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), which he claimed would help mobilize stores of “abnormal” fat that is not normally available for your body’s energy needs. After several weeks, people on the diet transition to normal caloric intake with a diet based mostly on whole food (meats, fruits, vegetables, etc.). The cycle is repeated as many times as necessary to attain the desired weight loss.

Interest in the diet was revitalized in 2007 with the publication of informercial king Kevin Trudeau’s The Weight Loss Cure They Don’t Want You to Know About.

Now, anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I am more than happy to deviate from the mainstream and embrace ideas that at first seem totally whacky, as long as there is solid reasoning and evidence to support the idea. So although I was skeptical when I first heard about this diet, I tried to keep an open mind when researching it. After reading from a lot of different sources, I came to the following conclusions:

  1. If you limit yourself to 500 calories a day, you’re going to lose fat pretty quickly, but doing so can be dangerous, and if you’re not smart about it, you’re going to lose muscle too.
  2. If you adopt a diet based on whole, natural foods, you’re probably going to have an easy time maintaining any fat loss, and may even be able to slowly lose weight.
  3. Numerous independent studies have shown that HCG is no more effective than a placebo when used in conjunction with this diet’s eating plan. Injecting HCG also has some potentially very serious side effects, and of course, it’s not free.

In other words, any successes of the HCG diet can be attributed to the first two points, and there are many other diets that use these principles, especially the second (and if you want to go with a very-low calorie diet for rapid fat loss, there are alternatives that are much more attractive). But because this diet includes injecting something that is not only unnecessary, but potentially dangerous, I’d steer clear of it.

Sifting Through the Garbage

In researching this diet, I noticed a couple of disturbing things.

The first is that, no matter what combination of search terms I used in conjunction with HCG, Google’s first several pages of results were dominated by sites that are owned and operated by companies or individuals selling HCG. To me, that suggests that there is a lot of money being made selling HCG to people who are desperate to lose weight, and the people making that money have a vested interest in people believing that HCG is an essential part of the process. In order to find more objective information on HCG, I had to go directly to sources like WebMD, Pubmed, Wikipedia, and the personal websites of weight-loss professionals that I trust.

The second is that any time I found any information critical of the HCG diet, the comments section would be inundated with people attacking the article, generally not by rebutting the facts but by sharing their own testimonials, usually along the lines of “I’ve been on this diet for 4 days and I’ve already lost 10 pounds.” This happened to me when I posted on Amazon, which caused me to want to write this blog. These people display almost cult-like characteristics, a phenomenon that has been commented on at a few of the fitness forums I visit. My theory is that these people are either being paid by companies that sell HCG, or they are people who have genuinely lost weight on the diet but suffer from confirmation bias preventing them from recognizing that the HCG itself has nothing to do with their success.

Further Reading

If you or someone you know is seriously considering the HCG diet, I strongly recommend that you thoroughly read some of the following articles and come to your own conclusions:





Fitness log, 8/8/10

8 08 2010

Lately, other than brief interruptions when I travel (and even on my trip to China, I made mostly responsible food choices and hit the gym a couple of times), I’ve been very consistent with both my diet and exercise. About a month ago, I started Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 program, and I’ve been very pleased with the results so far. In addition to that, I’ve increased my overall activity level: taking the (7 flights of) stairs at work, walking more (a half hour each way to the gym yesterday), with the occasional bike ride, jumping rope, and sprinting. My weight is dropping consistently, and I think I’m on track to hit 200 by the end of August.

I noticed something disturbing today. According to my Tanita scale, I currently weigh 207.5 with 27% body fat. I’ve said before that I think that’s considerably higher than what I’m really at, but taken at face value, that means I have about 150 pounds of lean body mass. Back in January when I first started this, I was 232.5 at 31% body fat. That’s a bit over 160 pounds of lean body mass. So assuming that the scale is at least relatively accurate, that means I’ve lost 10 pounds of muscle and 15 pounds of fat.

I’d like to write off the muscle loss as inaccuracy of the scale, but the truth is, my training logs show that I AM moving less weight than I used to at the gym, and my muscles seem to be a bit smaller. Really, this is no surprise. I went through a period where I was horribly inconsistent with my weight training, and then in April, I suspended it completely to focus on preparing for Ragnar. As I said a few posts ago, I think that running is terrible for fat loss precisely because it does nothing to preserve muscle, and my experience seems to confirm this.

Based on my current numbers, to get to my ultimate goal of 10% body fat, assuming that I can hold onto the lean body mass I have now, I’ll have to drop down to under 170 pounds. Ugh. However, I estimate that my scale reports at least 5% higher than what it really is, and if I stay on track I’ll probably be adding some muscle back on, so it may be more like 180-190. That’s not so far off.

Weight: 207.5
BF%: 27

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31





My Fat Loss Philosophy, Part 2

20 07 2010

If you missed the first part of this, check it out here.

In this installment, I’m going to focus on exercise.

Weight training

I firmly believe that weight training should be a part of your exercise program no matter what your fitness goals are, and that it is the most important thing you can do for fat loss. Let me explain why.

First of all, obviously, weight training burns calories. But not only does it burn them while you’re working out, intense weight training will temporarily boost your metabolism so that you keep burning calories at an elevated level long after you’re done.

Second of all, your body requires more calories to maintain muscle tissue than it does fat tissue. What this means is that the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns even when you’re not doing anything! The actual additional amount of calories burned is disputed, and this article provides an excellent analysis, but it’s clear that additional muscle helps in the long-term battle against fat.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, weight training is important to help keep the muscle that you already have. Because muscle is metabolically expensive, when you’re in a caloric deficit, your body is going to want to break it down and use it for energy, so you’ll end up losing both fat and muscle. Because of the second point above, you definitely don’t want this to happen because it’ll make maintaining your fat loss that much more difficult. By weight training, especially with heavy weights, you’re sending the message to your body that it needs its muscle. Doing this, combined with a protein-rich diet, will help minimize muscle loss.

There are other benefits of weight training, but hopefully these are enough to convince you.

As for how to weight train, that’s a topic for multiple posts itself, but here’s a few important points:

  • Focus on big, multi-joint movements, like squats, deadlifts, military presses, dips, chinups, rows, etc.
  • Do full body workouts, or upper/lower splits
  • For fat-loss purposes, keep your workouts short (30-60 minutes) and intense (short rest intervals between sets)

A common objection people have to weight training – especially women – is that they don’t want to get bulky like the people on the cover of muscle magazines. Something you need to understand is that those people are genetically gifted, eat and train at insane levels, and (importantly) take boatloads of steroids. Trust me, you’re not going to get that big and bulky by accident, and it’s not going to happen overnight.

“Cardio”

The quotes are there because I’m using this to refer to everything besides weight training. As mentioned above, I believe weight training to be of utmost importance, and it should always take priority, but if you have time to do additional exercise, it’ll help you burn additional calories, as well as conveying other benefits.

I prefer to do things that are intense for short periods, rather than low- to moderate-intensity endurance types of exercise, since I find the former much more effective (and way less boring) over the long haul. For me this typically means:

  • HIIT, including Tabata
  • Sprints
  • Jumping rope
  • Barbell complexes

Once a week, I’ll go for a run or a bike ride. In general, I think that endurance-oriented activities like running suck for long-term fat-loss (that’s a post for another day), but doing it occasionally is fine.

Staying healthy

I’m 38, and over the years, I’ve been stupid about the way I exercise, so I’ve had my share of injuries. To help avoid this, every day I try to spend some time doing mobility and soft tissue work.

Mobility work consists of dynamic stretching and various exercises to improve the range of motion of my joints and muscles. I try to do this as often as I can, because I’ve managed to become rather inflexible over the years.

Soft tissue work consists of using a foam roller and tennis ball to essentially give myself deep tissue massages. This helps break down and clear scar tissue, and although it hurts initially, it has made a huge difference in keeping me pain and injury free.

Moving more

In addition to the formal exercise listed above, I’ve made an effort to simply move more. This includes getting up from my desk periodically to just walk around the office, walking rather than driving to nearby stores, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and so on.

Starting out

If you’re in a position where you’re just starting to try to lose fat, all of this may seem a little overwhelming. My advise would be to just start doing something. It really doesn’t matter what it is, and if you’re going from a relatively sedentary life now, you’ll most likely see huge improvements almost immediately. It’s best to try to do something you enjoy, because let’s face it, motivation is a huge factor for most people.

Weight: 212.5
BF%: 28

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31





My Fat Loss Philosophy, Part 1

14 07 2010

I’ve been actively trying to either lose fat or gain muscle most of my life. While I’m no expert, I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Especially over the past 5 years, when I haven’t gotten the results I’ve wanted, it hasn’t been because I didn’t know what to do, but simply because I didn’t do it. My knowledge is based on reading hundreds if not thousands of articles by some of the world’s leading experts in strength and conditioning and fatloss, who in turn base their work on research and extensive personal experience.

Of course, all of that knowledge would be useless if I hadn’t applied it to myself to see what works for me. At my best, I’ve lost more than 70 pounds of fat and made significant gains in the weightroom. After having gone through this process several times, I’ve developed a certain philosophy to fat loss and training. I don’t think there’s anything particularly unique about my approach, but I thought I’d share it for those who are interested. At the moment, I’m going to focus on fat loss since that’s what I’m working on right now. After working on this post for a bit, I realized that it’s much more likely to get finished if I break it up into parts. In this first part, I’ll cover some general principles. In part two, I’ll cover exercise, and I’ll wrap up with part three on diet and nutrition. Throughout, if anyone wants me to expand on anything, let me know.

For the record, in the past, I’ve been rather dogmatic about my approach to these things, but recently I’ve become much more flexible. What I’m about to say works for me, but there are many ways to skin a cat.

Overview

Ultimately, losing fat is simply a matter of creating a caloric deficit (i.e. eating fewer calories than your body uses in a given day). Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is probably trying to sell you something. However, there is some disagreement over how to go about creating a caloric deficit.

Some people recommend calculating your caloric needs, and then logging everything you eat to ensure that you’re eating less than what your body requires. Other people recommend just eating healthy foods, and just trying to eat a little less if you’re not losing weight. Personally, I tend toward the latter, but part of the reason I’m able to do that is because I’ve done the former so I have a pretty good idea of the nutritional content of most of the foods I eat. For someone just starting out, I’d probably recommend just trying to eat clean (I’ll talk more about what I mean when I get to diet), but to try the log if you get stuck.

You CAN lose weight just by dieting, but I wouldn’t recommend it. When doing so, you tend to lose muscle as well as fat, which in the long run will decrease your metabolism and make it harder to maintain your fat loss. In addition to helping to create a caloric deficit, there are also many other healthful benefits of exercise, so I consider it essential to any fat loss program.

A Calorie is not Exactly a Calorie

Let’s say you’re taking a more structured approach to creating a caloric deficit, and you budget around 400 calories a meal. There are many ways you could fill those calories. For example, you could eat 1 or 2 donuts depending on the type, or you could eat 50 cups of raw spinach. Either way, you meet your deficit requirements. But the spinach would definitely leave you full (you wouldn’t even come close to being able to finish it!) and is packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. The donuts, not so much. So clearly, how you get your calories matters. I’ll save specific recommendations for the diet post.

Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss

Note that I’m making a distinction between losing fat and losing weight. Just losing weight can also involve losing muscle (which you want to avoid) and losing water (which is mostly temporary and is largely to blame for sudden swings). Measuring fat loss is more involved than just tracking weight loss, but if you follow my recommendations and ignore fluctuations due to water, then generally if your scale weight is going down over a span of weeks and months, then you’re losing fat.

Settling in for the Long Haul

A common mistake in fat loss is not taking a long term view. If you’re severely overweight, you can lose a ton of weight initially, but eventually – and probably long before you reach your ideal weight – you’ll reach the point where a pound or two a week is the most you can safely and realistically lose. You’ll also have periods where your fat loss will stall, and you’ll want to take a short break to refeed. You need to be patient, and you need to look at your diet and exercise changes not as temporary modifications to lose fat, but as permanent lifestyle changes. For this reason, you need to do your best to find ways to eat and exercise that you enjoy, and be sure that you really want to do this for you.

Weight: 214.0
BF%: 28

Jan 1st starting weight: 232.5
Starting BF%: 31