Still Alive…and Thriving

I’ve been meaning to write up a new post for so long, not because I feel the need to express myself on the topic of low-carb, LCHF, Paleo, or fitness anymore, but because I just went to update this site and saw that my last posts were mainly negative in terms of progress, and I didn’t want to give readers the impression that I had given up or that this wacky diet of mine doesn’t work : )

As you may have seen over the past year or so, there has been more and more research supporting lowered carbohydrate intake for health and weight loss. It seems that the message is finally out. When I started this “journey” five years ago, and particularly when I started writing this blog, I made a couple of mistakes. One of which was the tone I used in the writing. One reader wrote me to tell me to “quit mansplaining!” When I saw that I was quite ashamed and embarrassed, as I did not intend to come off as a know-it-all. But I did, so forgive my tone in many of the early posts. But, in my defense, think back just a few years ago and we were still faced with the following myths being considered conventional wisdom:

  • Butter is bad for you
  • Salt is bad for you
  • You have to drink 8+ glasses of water per day
  • Low carb diets or too much protein cause liver problems

Since that time, saturated fat has been the topic of hot debate as to whether it is healthy or not, with the research being pretty clear that it is health, or at least not unhealthy. The vegans/vegetarians are slowly losing their grip on the diet and fitness policies (yes, even fitness – they have successfully boondoggled most of America into thinking that slowly jogging around a track for X minutes a day is the ideal fitness routine….why? Because it requires no protein.). Anyways, you know where I stand on it.

Over these five years I spent the first two or three arguing with people who would, as I felt at the time, “have the gall” to question my diet when I clearly was losing weight and getting into the best health and shape of my life. Couldn’t they see/feel what I did? Hence my tone in those posts. After the first few years I stopped debating with people about diet completely. Not worth the time or frustration. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that debating diet and fitness with currently obese and/or unfit individuals is like debating the importance of going clean to a drug addict. They’ll argue you tooth and nail over it. With regards to diet and fitness, I’ve specifically found that overweight men over the age of 30 will insist they know what they’re talking about when it comes to diet and fitness. They will argue until they run out of breath (and they often do) that their approach is the best. Of course, they’re not actually following “their” approach but they apparently think about it. Nowadays, I simply avoid the subject. If I am really annoyed and don’t care for the person, then I’ll just look them up and down slowly and then reply, “How’s that diet working out for you?” Enough said.

My Current Status

Simply, I’m doing really well. I struggled for a long time with fitness – trying to dial in the right fitness program for me has been a constant and evolving struggle and will continue to be tweaked, but over the past year or so I’ve found what works and what doesn’t for me. More importantly, my weight is just about perfect. I am at 189lbs, which sounds a bit high to a lanky jogger type but I was blessed with a muscular, athletic build (large thighs, v-shaped upper body). Hypertrophy training (i.e., “bodybuilding”) is now my primary “workout” though I do sports as well, such as squash a couple of times per week, some basketball, and soon some soccer. I’m in the best shape of my life. And guess what? I eat a lot of carbs these days. My typical routine is to eat < 100g of carbs during the weekdays. Often less than that. One night per week, although I don’t plan on it, if I feel I need more carbs to fuel a more intensive workout, then I’ll indulge in something sweet or starchy. The weekends? I eat very low-carb during the day and pretty much whatever I want at night. Keep in mind that I don’t ever want bread or pasta, though I would give it a go if I desired it. But I enjoy beer and fried foods often on weekends. I’m able to do this now because I feel my body is working properly, and the weightlifting and squash really allow for this.

I’ll be turning 44 in a week. I started this way of eating back when I was 39. I somehow have been able to not only keep the ~80lbs off but continue to get in better shape. Not sure how I’ve accomplished it but I have. And I have learned a number of things through continual self-experimentation. Some quick thoughts:

  • Hypertrophy training is best for me. The “lift heavy” thing didn’t result in worthwhile change to me. What does “worthwhile” mean to me? Not adding more plates to the bar. It’s like when I talked about my now disdain for crossfit in an earlier post – I didn’t join a CrossFit box to increase my “Fran” time. I did it to lose weight and get in better shape. Neither happened as a result. So while I certainly do not regret doing CrossFit for 6 months, or my 2 years doing a heavy lifting (i.e., Starting Strength and/or StrongLifts) type routine, the bottom line is that after doing those protocols for long enough they did not result in worthwhile, positive change for me. Going to a 8-12 rep, higher-volume weight routine, coupled with some HIIT (in the form of squash primarily) has been the key for me.
  • I no longer buy into the bullshit that carbs are completely unnecessary. This is simply not the case for me. When I was obese and needed to lose weight, cutting out all carbs from non-vegetable sources was absolutely the best way to go. But once I lost the bulk of the excess weight and turned my attention to fitness goals, I unfortunately found out the hard way that our bodies were simply not meant to lift heavy things or run around at fast paces for extended periods of time without the extra fuel that carbohydrates provide. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT LOW CARB IS BAD. What I am saying is that, for me, low carb is the ideal weight loss approach. It is not the ideal diet for an athlete. If you are overweight, then I suggest you ditch your athletic goals and go on a very low carb diet until you lose the excess weight, then scale up your carb intake to fuel your athletic goals. There I go mansplaining again : ( …. but really, that’s what’s worked for me. And I learned this stuff the hard way. Believe me, I spent a year trying to do heavy lifting on low carb. Didn’t work.

So that’s it for now and probably for a while. I just wanted to give a quick update on my status. I’m alive, well, and thriving. I wish you all the same.

Carb BackLoading and CarbNite – Two Weeks In

Wanted to post a quick update on this new carb cycling approach that I posted about a couple of weeks ago.

CarbNite vs Carb BackLoading

A little background before I reveal my progress so far.

So from what I’ve gathered (I admittedly have NOT purchased or read the books), CarbNite is basically just picking one night per week and eating a boatload of high glycemic sugar bombs. And I’m not talking about simply indulging in a piece of pie or ice cream. I’m talking about eating until you’re FULL of the junk, and then waiting an hour and eating even more. I’m not kidding.

Carb BackLoading is similar but not as crazy. With Carb BackLoading, on the nights you lift heavy (assuming 3x per week), you wait an hour or two and then eat a high glycemic meal. When I posted originally I was thinking that approach would be what I would take, but after thinking about it more I was just not going to risk putting on bodyfat by eating sugar meals 3 nights per week, so I went with the once-per-week ‘CarbNite’ approach. Keep in mind, as I mentioned in my last post, I have some experience with this carb-cycling approach – I indirectly used it quite successfully to lose a lot of weight a few years ago. I didn’t call it ‘CarbNite’ or anything at the time, other than feeling bad that I over-indulged (i.e., the infamous “cheat meal”). It just so happened that it would happen every one or two weeks, typically on a Saturday night, with no ill effects regarding bodyfat.

With both of these approaches, the author, DH Keifer, also recommends a Leucene spiked specific post-workout protein shake. I have not followed his specific shake recommendations. Protein powders/supplements are damned expensive and I think suspect, so I just stick with the $20 a container stuff I get at my local supermarket. It’s ~10g of carbs per serving and tastes phenomenal.

How It’s Gone After One CarbNite

So I’ve been doing this since then, a little less than 2 weeks ago. I started at about 197.6lbs.

Keifer recommends going ultra-low carb for 10 days prior to your first carb backload/nite. I did 5 days, since I am fully keto-adapted (I typically never have more than 100g of carbs per day anyway). Last Saturday night was my first ‘CarbNite’ and I have to admit – I was not looking forward to it. Contrary to the members of Weight Watchers, a diet doesn’t have to be starvation and/or neglected cravings. I don’t crave carbs. If I did, I’d eat them. I don’t crave a plate of pasta or bread anymore. I don’t crave sandwiches, etc. I just use food as a tool/fuel nowadays, and have been for a couple of years now. So please don’t misinterpret this as a “I had a cheat day and I’m so glad!” type of post. I’m simply posting the limited results so far.

Back to the story….I told my wife a couple of days in advance my plan for that Saturday night. It happened to work out nicely because we had our niece and nephew over for a sleepover with my kids that night, so of course it has to be pizza night. Here’s how it went:

My First CarbNite (weighed in that morning at 196.6lbs)

4:30 – 6pm Typical weightlifting session; I went heavy, as I always do

(note – I planned to but did not have a PWO shake – I had to run to the grocery store and pick up the pizza right after the gym)

7pm – Ate 4 slices of pizza

8pm Ate a pint, yes a full pint, of Ben & Jerry’s Everything But The… ice cream

9pm Ate one more slice of pizza

I distinctly remember eating some other sugar bomb that night but I forget what it was.

By 8pm I was dead tired – Keifer warns of this. When I have a high GI food I either get a racing heart (i.e., sugar rush) or just tired. I was honestly waiting for my heart to jump out of my chest that night, but it never got too high. It was slightly faster but probably similar to when I ate a Standard American Diet meal (i.e., a sugar/wheat-laden high carb one).  But I did get tired. I forced myself to stay up until later though.

The Aftermath

Sunday: The next morning I felt sluggish, a little tired, and just not great. Not horrible though.

Monday: Felt bloated/fat. Noticed marked increase in belly fat but could have just been mental. Weighed myself: 197.6. So about a pound gained.

Tuesday: Felt back to normal, in terms of bodyfat. Of course, I’m going by “Feel” – no measuring. But I have a pretty good “feel” for my own bodyfat. At this point I was pretty convinced that this was going to be a “one week and done” experiment as I did not think it was going to work.

Wednesday: Started feeling like I was leaning out. Weighed in at 196.0.

Thursday: Definite feeling of increased “leaning out” over the prior day. Did not weigh myself.

Friday: Feel as lean as I’ve felt in a long time. Weighed in at 194.6. Haven’t been this low since before I started lifting weights/building mass a year ago.

So far I am pleasantly surprised with the results. I am going to continue doing this for at least a couple more weeks and see how it goes. Will try to blog next week with an update.

 

 

 

Update – January 2014 – Happy New Year!

I guess I should start off by apologizing for not posting since October of last year, but my blog is no different than 99% of the other personal blogs out there: every post starts off with an apology for why they haven’t posted in forever, followed by a promise to post more often. : )

Regardless, let me update you on the important stuff.

My Diet

First off, let me be clear that I am using the term “diet” in the literal sense: a description of my day-to-day food consumption. I do not mean it in terms of a “Paleo” or “Atkins” or “Vegetarian” or any other type of “diet.”

I still eat a low-carb, high-fat, moderate protein diet. But the reality is, I do not track the fat or protein intake. And I only vaguely keep a mental note of the daily carb intake. I have a ‘no limit’ approach to healthy fats and protein. The latter, protein, can get overweight people in trouble as any excess is converted to glucose in the body, so I do not suggest that approach if you are trying to lose weight. Eat the protein you need, and no more. As for me, I am still weightlifting and have added one or two HIIT sessions per week using kettlebells/bodyweight exercises, so there’s no real restrictions for me regarding protein intake. I even drink a ‘protein’ shake every couple of days for fun.

I have relaxed my diet quite a bit, especially over the holiday season. With my favorite sports team having a fabulous season and 3 prime time games in a row, I treated myself to hot wings, beer, and a dessert of some sort on those nights. It was fun, I don’t regret it. The days of ‘regret’, and ‘guilt’, etc. in relation to food have been long gone for me. Food is and has been both a tool (to fuel my day) and a pleasure for me, and will likely continue to be based on my goals at any given time.

For breakfast, I often skip it these days. When I was trying to lose weight, especially in the beginning, I was eating a very large breakfast (3 or 4 eggs + bacon or sausage). Nowadays I usually am not hungry in the morning, so I don’t eat breakfast.

For lunch, most days, I eat a Big Ass Salad that is packed with tons of vegetables, along with a can of tuna. I load it with olive oil and some balsamic vinegar as well. These salads are huge – I prepare them in a big mixing bowl and am pretty stuffed after eating them!

For dinner, I make a meat and usually pair it with a vegetable but not always. I grill a lot, so throwing a package of chicken wings/thighs or a grass-fed steak on the grill is usually what I try to do, but with the recent winter freeze that isn’t as often an option lately. Also, the past couple of weekends I’ve spent Sunday afternoons preparing a mostly homemade tomato sauce/cacciatore (sp?) concoction. It is loaded with vegetables and spices, and then I pair that with either grass-fed beef meatballs or even just plain old sausages, etc. (While I try to eat the better quality meats I am not a stickler for it).

One probably bad habit of mine is nighttime snacking. I’d probably have a six-pack (abs!) if it weren’t for the nightly snack or some nuts, aged cheese, etc. Most nights I indulge in a glass of red wine as well.

My Weight

My weight has held steady for, really, the last year and a half. I’ve been between 185 and 195lbs. I’m 5’10 so that sounds heavy, but my measurements are excellent, and I have naturally large/muscular thighs (think football running back). The weightlifting has really helped in that regard. Prior to the weightlifting, I was ~188lbs and soft in the middle – kind of ‘skinny fat’ like you see on a lot of runners, with little muscle definition. Now I have pretty good definition in my upper body, and I have a “V-Shape” upper body now, where my lats/upper back/chest are wider than my waist, which is cool. I’m at 195lbs now and I estimate that I’ve put on about 5 to 7lbs of muscle in the past 6 months.

My Workouts

If you’ve read over this blog then you’ll see that when it’s come to exercise, I have struggled. Not in doing it – I have no problem with motivation. The problem is in the prescription. Like diet, I’ve found there are lots of inefficient or bad ways to achieve my goal: leaning out while building strength. Review google hits or ask 10 different personal trainers (and I estimate I have about that many over the past couple of years) and everyone has a different opinion.

I think a big problem with diet and exercise is that everyone naturally falls back to what worked for them when they were 25 (or younger). But those prescriptions did not work for me in my 40’s. Getting on a treadmill and running daily might result in 10 or 15lbs of weight loss, but won’t result in any muscle growth, and it doesn’t seem to work for long-term/large amount of weight loss. Just ask all of the fat people running marathons. The emaciated are up at the front of the pack, followed by a bunch of overweight people. Odd scene.

This past month I consulted with an excellent personal trainer who is very strength focused. He evaluated my progress with regards to my mobility, squat, etc. He basically recommended that I back off of the barbell squats and focus on kettlebell squats. So I started doing a 2 or 3x per week HIIT session that looks like this:

Repeat 5x (no rest/stopping in-between movements):

  • 15 two-handed kettlebell swings
  • 10 push-ups
  • 10 single-arm kettlebell swings (total of 20)
  • 10 kettlebell goblet squats
  • 2 minutes rest

The first two sets are fine but the remaining ones are killer : )

Doing this routine has really helped with my weightlifting. I do weightlifting routine once or twice per week now. I’ll try to post more about my thoughts on why later. I also walk daily.

So that’s it. 2013 was a good year but a horrible year in terms of injuries. I battled an achilles injury twice (I have a separate blog about that). And I was diagnosed with hearing loss in my one ear at the 4khz range. I’m told it is permanent. And I am pretty certain that it is due to listening to headphones/loud music over the years, especially the last two while walking. I’ve been warned to discontinue the headphone use or the hearing loss will get worse. Sucks.

Aside from that, all is good.

 

Bodybuilding vs Starting Strength or Stronglifts

So I imagine the title of this post may cause some uproar from many in the Paleo/Primal community, but I don’t care.

If you look through the archives of this blog, you’ll see numerous posts from me regarding my attempts at following a 5×5 strength program, such as Starting Strength or Stronglifts. In the end, although I put on a positive attitude during them, they never really worked for me. Before I give the wrong impression, let me make it clear that I am certain these are great programs. I spent a number of months working these programs off and on over the past couple of years. If your goal is pure strength, as measured by the amount of weight you can lift, then by all means, these are probably the way to go.

But me? I’m apparently too vain for that. Or I have a unique body that just didn’t respond well to those programs.

Success?

Did I see success while following these programs? Yes and no. It depends on how you measure success. If you measure it Crossfit-style, where success equals increases in analytics (i.e., numbers on a whiteboard), then yes – I went from a 110lb back squat to a 215lb back squat in just a couple of months. But apparently I’m weird, as I don’t give a shit what a whiteboard says or how many plates I’m pulling or pushing. All I care about is how my workouts impact the following:

  1. My overall health, as determined by how I feel (tired, energized, lazy, etc.)
  2. My body – am I looking better or not?

I’m sorry to say that I’ve given up on pure strength routines. I made the stupid assumption, and bought into the hype, that increasing raw strength would magically equate to success as determined by my criteria above. But the reality is that I didn’t feel all that great while doing these programs, and aside from some *very* slight improvement in my physique that was barely noticeable after a few months of doing Starting Strength, I didn’t see any benefit.

Bodybuilding

Not sure if I’m using the terms correctly or not, but about 5 weeks ago I decided to try a more traditional bodybuilding routine. By “bodybuilding” I’m talking about adding in isolation exercises like bicep curls, tricep pressdowns, etc. These types of movements are universally bashed by the Paleo crowd. In addition, I lowered the weight and increased the reps. This is the key thing, I think. I’m still lifting heavy, but not killing myself by adding weight every single workout as prescribed by the 5×5 programs. The routine I’ve followed over the past 5 weeks, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, looks like this:

  1. Warm-up cardio for 7 or 8 minutes, typically on an elliptical machine
  2. Mobility – a series of stretches on my hamstrings, calves, quads, followed by foam-rolling to further loosen my calves and then focus on thoracic extension
  3. Goblet Squat 3×12 – using a heavy kettlebell; sometimes I’ll do barbell squats but I’m finding the goblet works better for me
  4. Dumbbell Rows 3×12
  5. Barbell Chest Press 3×10 – for the first 4 weeks I used dumbbells but just switched to barbell
  6. Standing Dumbbell Press 3×10
  7. Dumbbell Bicep Curls 3×10
  8. Dips 3×12 – on a bench, straight-legged
  9. Tricep Pressdowns 2×10 (typically with the rope)
  10. Weighted Eccentric Heel Drops 2×15 (I do these as a healing protocol for my chronic insertional achilles tendonosis)
  11. Plank

I’ve found this routine is working way better than the 5×5 routines I was doing on the other programs. In the 5 weeks I’ve been doing the above routine, I have dropped a couple of inches off of my waist, and have seen very noticeable increases in my muscle definition around my lats, back, shoulders, chest, and arms. With the 5×5-like programs I didn’t see any definition except slight increase in quad definition. Not to mention my appetite increased substantially, I believe due to always shooting for a *very* heavy weight with each workout. But, again, I’m still lifting heavy. But I’m shooting for 80% of my max for the last set of 12 (usually falling short of reaching 12 on that last set), versus 90-100% max like before.

Perhaps most importantly – I’m actually enjoying this program. And I have no doubt that that is adding to my success with it. When I did the other routines, I hated them. Never enjoyed them. After each workout I felt spent and not energized. With this routine I’m feeling great. While I don’t think I’ll ever enjoy lifting weights or working out, I enjoy this program. And it’s nice to finally be able to see some muscle increase in my arms : )

So, the next time you’re on the marksdailyapple.com Fitness Forum or listening to a Paleo podcast and all you hear is snarky comments about the guys in the gym doing bicep curls, feel free to think of me. On paper, a 5×5-like program that focused exclusively on compound movements for very heavy weight should work to bring the smaller muscles along too. But for me they didn’t.

New Weightlifting Routine

A few weeks ago I got the green light from my physical therapist and sports medicine doctor to resume full physical activity. If you’ve been following my posts, you’re aware of my 5 month fight with insertional achilles tendonosis. Basically, I had (may still have) a very small ‘hole’ in my achilles tendon, right at the insertion point. This happened the first week in January and for close to a month I could barely walk without a lot of pain. After x-ray, failed physical therapy (most PT’s (and especially runners) think all achilles issues are the same and must be treated the same – with heavy duty stretching and eccentric heel raises….they’re correct to a point, but for insertional you must not go below parallel with the ‘dip’ part of the heel raises until it’s mostly healed!), and plain old rest, I finally found a great sports doctor and he referred me to an awesome physical therapist who got me going. I’m now happy to report that I am pain free and have been for a while now.

Regardless, from January through May I tried to be active as I could but the one thing I stopped doing was the Starting Strength routine that I was doing leading up to the injury. A couple of weeks ago I started back on a different program, and so far the results have been great and I am progressing well:

Warm-Up

  • 5 minute warm-up (usually either on an elliptical, or lately skipping altogether because the foam rolling and stretching warms me up)
  • Stretching – primarily hamstring/gastroc stretch and some others
  • Foam Rolling – I started doing this last week and, as painful as it is at first, it is *awesome* and has made my squats much better

Routine

  • Barbell Squats
    • Same old barbell squats but I don’t count sets – I basically keep track of my max (the amount of weight I can squat for 3 reps) and work up to it. I typically start with a bar + 20 pounds on it, do 5 reps, then jump to 50 pounds for 5, then 75, etc. My current max is 190 lbs. All in all, I probably do between 6 and 8 sets, each for either 3 reps (if it’s heavy) or the goal of 5 reps. I am certain I could lift quite a bit more for a 1RM but my flexibility is still an issue in my shoulders, and so ‘bailing out’ is something I am not comfortable doing and my gym is not exactly the type of place where I can practice that without raising eyebrows. But that’s something I’m going to work on next.
  • Dumbbell Chest Press
    • I had surgery in my hand when I was in my late teens – a metal pin was inserted into the back of my hand, at a hospital in Hong Kong by a Harvard trained surgeon (long story as to how I wound up in that position…). Because of that, barbell chest presses never quite felt right. The angle of the bar in relation to my wrist has always been an issue – one wrist felt weaker. So I switched to dumbbells for it and am *loving* them. I start out at 35lb bells and then move up 5 pounds each set. My current max is 50, but yesterday I’m doing 7 or 8 reps with those pretty easily so it’s time to jump up again. So glad I switched to dumbbells. I struggled with the bar and was always held back by my wrist.
  • Pullups
    • I would rather do chin-ups but there is only one true chin-up bar at my gym – the rest are pull-up bars attached to weight machines (so they’re not ‘bars’ but just grips to jump up and grab onto with each hand). I can do 3 or 4 unassisted pull-ups max (and then have to rest for quite a bit), but have been doing 3 sets of 5 assisted pull-ups.
  • Deadlift
    • Once per week I also have added the deadlift. But it’s only if the opportunity arises, because there usually isn’t a proper or socially acceptable space to do them at my gym’s weight room. When I do do them I start at about 100 lbs for 3 reps, then jump up to 160 or so, etc., to my max. Currently it’s 225 but I should be able to get back to my SS max, which was around 260, pretty quickly, particularly if I stop dicking around and treat this as a prime lift. I treat this as a ‘nice but not necessary’ lift right now, as by the time I get to it I’m pretty spent from all the squats that have had time to sore up my legs, but I know the deadlift is just as important and soon I hope to focus on it more.
  • Tricep pulldowns
    • I know what you’re likely thinking. I did too. This isn’t a compound movement and, as a dreaded ‘isolation’ exercise, it is inefficient. I think it probably is, but at the same time the LeanGains.com guy recommended it and it does seem to finish off the full body routine nicely.

I am going to keep with this routine for a couple of more weeks and then, if I continue to progress and am up to it, then I want to start mixing in and focusing on a single oly lift at the end for fun, with a focus on form – power cleans, push presses, snatch, etc.

Foam Rolling

I mentioned earlier that foam rolling is awesome. I urge you to try it if you have flexibility issues. Caution: it is painful. It can be really painful the first few times you do it. For me, my quadriceps are really tender. The first two times I tried it I used the standard black/gray high-density 36″ foam roller that is common. I could tolerate it fine everywhere but my quads and my lats. So I returned it after two tries and ordered what I thought was a slightly softer version (shown in the image below – note, I bought the green textured one), but I immediately regretted it:

The thing is, the first couple of times I foam rolled it was really hurting, but then my body got the ‘kinks worked out’ I guess everywhere but my quads. So for my quads, this new green roller is great. But everywhere else it is too soft. I’ll likely go back to buying one of the true high density ones, like this one:

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