So, as I’ve mentioned a number of times in prior posts/comments, the primary problem with eating low-carb for me has been that I cannot workout ‘hard’ – particularly weight training – consistently. I assure you it’s not a motivational issue. It’s a sustained energy issue. Up until now, it’s not been a big problem. For obese people like I used to be, the focus needs to be on fat loss and worrying about the other stuff (‘toning up’, ‘building muscle mass’, ‘eating clean’, etc.) later.
So, I’ve been thinking about my progress over the past ~16 months now and I’m looking at it in phases. As much as the ‘phase’ approach is overused in the diet book industry, it makes sense. For me, the phases have been:
Phase One: Fat Loss
This took me from November 2010 through October 2011. The focus here was to lose weight. I started at 258 pounds and got down to 198 pounds. For most men, 198 pounds is still way fat, but I have a wierd body type – large thighs and calves. So 198 works well for me. I am not delusional though – I could stand to use another 10 to 20 pounds of fat, particularly in my gut as I have some flab there for sure. But, in clothes, I am right where I need to be. Naked is another story. And let’s face it, everyone wants to look good naked.
The pillars of what I did to be successful on my Phase 1:
- Primary macronutrient breakdown: majority of calories from fat (particularly saturated fat), medium protein, very low carbohydrate
- No grains whatsoever (breads, corn, oats, etc.)
- Little in terms of starch – occasional carrots, etc.
- Lots of green vegetables
- Lots of fatty meats (steak, beef, bacon)
- Lots of eggs
- Moderate cheese, nuts, dairy
I did not exercise at all during the first half of this phase, during which I lost about 40 of the 60 total pounds lost during phase one. It got to a point though where I had so much excess energy that I joined a gym and started working out, aerobically, like crazy. I found that I immediately stopped losing weight as quickly as I had been, and my appetite increased dramatically. I then tried lifting weights, which we all know (or should) is the best way to build muscle, and I almost immediately hit a wall. I now recognize this as the depletion of my glycogen reserves. At the time I had no idea and was concerned. I basically stopped lifting weights because of it. Kept up with some cardio but not more than a couple of times a week. Keep in mind that I still was active – I don’t watch much TV, sit at the computer for hours on end wasting time, sleeping all day, etc. I’m always looking for things to do to keep physically active, and with two young kids, I have plenty of opportunities in that area. Once I hit my goal weight of 200lb, I moved to ‘Phase Two: Maintenance’.
Phase Two: Maintain Fat Loss
Once I achieved my weight loss goal, a fear/letdown came over me. I was really scared that I would gain the weight back if I let up even a little. In hindsight, that fear was not necessary, but at the time it was my reality. Along with the goal of simply staying under 200lb, I also started thinking about increasing my fitness level, especially pure muscle gain. This process/phase started in October 2011. For the first few months I just did some cardio here or there, not chronically though. Tried weight lifting off and on with always the same result – would quickly feel drained either during or for days after the lifting. So, as before, I quickly gave it up. My rationale was (and is) – better to maintain not being fat than to be a weightlifter.So I did an experiment: I stopped working out, for the most part, to see if I could maintain the weight loss for a while and see if working out had any effect. So I stopped doing the cardio completely, aside from a once every few weeks trek to the gym.
I not only maintained, but I lost another 5 pounds, down to 194 pounds.
In January, with the new year arriving and resolutions in mind, I decided 2012 would be the year to ‘get buff’. So far, it’s been a total fail.
I started off with good intentions, tried weight lifting at the beginning of the year, and ran into the same ‘energy wall’ as before. So I stopped. Continued to maintain the weight loss, really quite easily. In fact, I upped the frequency of ‘cheats’ (I hate calling them that because I don’t have any food deprivations at all – honestly – I don’t secretly wish I could eat toast, etc. If I did, I would indulge once in a while. I do with pizza, for example. And ice cream now.). A ‘cheat’ to me is never planned but simply an indulgence here or there.
Phase Three: Fitness/Muscle
So now it’s time to move past “Maintenance” and go to what I’m calling Phase Three. The focus of this phase is to get back to the fitness and, in particular, weight lifting, in order to build muscle and start working towards some sporting goals I have in mind. I do it now with the knowledge that I am certain I know how fat is accumulated and ‘burned’ from my body, having lost the weight and successfully kept it off with ease. If my approach fails (and I am unsure whether it will or not), I am confident that I can lose the weight again.
Why would it fail? Because, after a lot more research, I am convinced that I need to ‘carb up’ after these weightlifting sessions. After so much focus, the primary focus of this blog, being on how nasty carbs are for many of us, myself included, it is somewhat scary to start eating them again. But, now that I’m metabolically healed and no longer insulin resistant, it’s time to start moving forward with adding back carbs to aid with recovery from weightlifting.
Let me be very clear: I would not be eating carbohydrate (aside from the carbs I get from leafy green vegetables, etc.) if not for the fitness/muscular goals. They’re not necessary.
So, for this phase, there are numerous approaches to this: LeanGains, etc., but that seems like it takes way too much analysis/effort to follow. And I’ve been successful in fat loss by taking a very simple approach of eating high-fat, low-carb, not measuring food portions or any of that stuff. So, with that principle in mind, during Phase Three I am going to follow this basic approach:
On non-lifting days I will:
- Continue eating as I do now: very low carb, high fat, moderate protein
- For fitness I will do as I usually do: play with the kids (I’m talking *real* play – running, jumping, biking, sports, etc. Not playing checkers. And add back the cardio if I feel like it
On weightlifting days I will:
- Take a reverse course and eat a very low-fat, high protein, medium carb intake from non-processed carbs to restore glycogen reserves and help with recovery:
- sweet potatoes
I think at first I am going to try to stick to just eating a high-carb meal right after working out (within an hour), and eating more fruit throughout the weightlifting days.
So, that’s the plan for now. I will post my progress. I will allow for an initial 5 pound weight gain due to the addition of carbs back into the diet, but will expect to start ‘leaning out’ soon after and of course, build muscle mass.
One of the biggest problems I’ve run into lately has been that, with our hectic/busy lives, preparing meals at home has been difficult for my family. We’ve been eating out way too much, and with me being the only one in my family that cares about eating healthy, it can be difficult at times to eat right when you’re going to restaurants all the time. So, I’ve been meaning to start grocery shopping for myself and cooking my own meals for some time. It’s time to get to it. To that end, I’m in the process of putting together a shopping list in a Google Spreadsheet.I’ve made it publicly available here, if interested. I welcome any feedback on it, particularly as I continue to look for ‘safe starches’ for my post-workout meals.
Adding back the carbs, aside from weight/fat gain, has me concerned for another reason: will my HDLs drop? Will my triglycerides rise? My lipid profile, blood pressure, etc. are top-notch now. It will be interesting to see, in a month or two when I go to the doc for a physical and surely another lipid test, to see how the results compare to my previous tests.
Wish me luck. This is new, uncharted territory for me.