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.

Danced with the Devil and I Got Burned

It’s supposed to be simple. Eat more calories than you “burn” and you gain weight. Eat less and you won’t. We’ve been told this so often that, no matter the evidence to the contrary, we refuse to question it. It’s like religion or politics. People mostly believe what they were raised to believe, and that’s that. Most people simply don’t question core beliefs.

You’d think I would know better. I’ve done self-experiments for years now – from caloric restriction, to high-fat/low-carb, to high-protein, etc. No exercise with diet, exercise with/without diet, 8+ hours sleep per night vs 6 hours, etc. I’ve done it. You’d think I’d know better. It pains me greatly to write that I have fucked up big time and went, in just about a month or two, from noticeably toned to a gut and flab all over. How did I do it? By falling back into the flawed approach of “I can have that small piece of cake, or that light beer with dinner, because I’ll still be eating less than X calories per day.”

2″ more of waistline and just flabzilla all over now as a result. It snuck up on me. Literally.

How It Happened

All this year I’ve been playing around with things like Carb Backloading, CarbNite, etc. Those types of carb refeeds/cycling can work for some people. I’m convinced of that. And I do see a value in a CarbNite like approach for me because I do lift heavy weights and especially now that I’m playing squash a couple of times per week.  I am pretty certain I should do a carb refeed once a week. But it can be a slipper slope. Here’s what happens, in chonological order:

1. Eat a junk food(s) or attend a happy hour and have a few beers, etc.

2. Wake up next day and notice a little extra energy. Feel more energized. Brain says, “Maybe I needed those extra calories. I workout so hard that I must not be eating enough to support it, and so this is my body telling me I need to treat myself more!”

3. Within a couple of days I add some more carbs into my diet, always replacing fat/protein calories with the carb calories, because everyone knows that it’s all about the calories! (bullshit!) Because I worked out extra hard the day before, I fall into the trap of thinking I can get away with it by ‘burning it off.’

4. After a couple of days of it I check the scale and mirror and don’t feel any fatter or weigh any more. I figure, “I got this! I can have my cake and eat it too!”

5. A week or so later I wake up to feel bloated, and notice that seemingly overnight my muscle tone is gone. Gone. I don’t feel as energetic.

That’s how it went. But this time it lasted over the course of a couple of months. Starting yesterday I went back to a pretty strict primal diet approach, limiting carbs to under 50g at least for a few days. I am more active now than ever before as I’ve started playing squash multiple times per week. That’s part of what caused the backslide – I figured I was playing such a grueling sport (and it is quite energy-intensive, trust me), that I could/should eat more to compensate. Maybe so but I now know my body and whether it’s a Snickers bar or too big of a sweet potato its the same effect – fat gain.

Next Steps

I’m on day two of a ‘detox’ (hate that word but you get the idea) from sugar/carbs. I’ll play squash twice per week, walk every day, and continue my fullbody weightlifting routine 2 or 3 times per week. I’ll be back to being pretty toned within a few weeks from now, so it’s not a big deal – it’s just so annoying.

So, as of yesterday, I weigh 198 pounds. I should be about 7 pounds less but even in my lean/toned days I wasn’t under 194. I’ll post back how I do over the next week or two.

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.

 

 

 

Carb Back-Loading

My training regimen has been going pretty well for a while now. This past month I’ve done a kettlebell-focused workout 2 or 3 times per week, and it has done wonders for my muscular endurance. By “muscular endurance” I mean the ability to exert force for longer, and with less stress. In even simpler terms, it means I can lift heavier while at the same time I am not huffing and puffing while doing it.

But I’m repeatedly running into the age-old problem: I can’t cut fat while also building muscle. Forgive my ignorance but apparently the bodybuilders have known this for a long time, and it make sense since the majority of powerlifters I see at the gym or on Youtube are overweight. No offense, but my goal is not directly the amount of weight I can lift. It is looking and feeling better.

Recently on the Fat Burning Man podcast, this guy John Keifer was interviewed. He’s a physicist and also happens to be a trainer. And unlike most of the trainers at the gym I belong to, he’s actually physically fit. The podcast is well worth a listen and is very intriguing to me. It’s one of those “too good to be true” approaches to diet but I am intrigued for one reason: when I think back to the time where I lost the most weight in the shortest period of time (approximately 6 months, when I lost about 40 of my 75lbs total), I often partook in a night of drinking or eating desserts. Typically on a Saturday night, I would go all out and grab a 6-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade (those things are sugar bombs), or go out to dinner with my family and eat a big ass dessert after a typical low-carb meal. I usually always did this after working out hard earlier that evening/day. And guess what? The next morning I would feel leaner. And since I had a lot of bodyfat at the time, I would often lose weight on the scale too.

But I ignored it and kept on. And eventually successfully lost all of the excess weight. Back in those days I wasn’t *really* lifting weights heavy. I was cycling between doing all sorts of inefficient/not effective for my goal workouts, like Crossfit, or cardio, etc. When I was got to a good weight is when I really started focusing on weighlifting, as the research is pretty clear that it is the best path towards overall fitness. But try lifting heavy consistently on a low-carb diet and you will likely bonk like I have. By “bonk” I mean either run into performance limits, or just overall not feel that great.

The smart 42 year old guy would just not lift weights. But I’m an idiot trying to make up for lost time/health in my life, so I trudge on searching…

Back to the podcast I mentioned above – so now this guy is saying that his approach results in both cutting fat AND building muscle mass at the same time. Too good to be true? Probably, but I’m gonna try it. I have a feeling, based on my experience, that there’s something to it.

What is Carb Back-Loading?

In a nutshell, it is this:

  • Non-lifting days: eat low carb, < 30g of carbohydrate (it just so happens that 30g was my ‘sweet spot’ for consistent weight loss back when that was my primary goal)
  • Lifting days*: no breakfast, very low carb lunch, lift weights between 3-5pm (approximately), follow with a protein shake and then eat lots of high-glycemic carbs* that evening

* Notes:

1. By “lifting” it is assumed you are busting your ass with real weightlifting, meaning lifting heavy weight.
2. The interesting part and probably most controversial is the focus on high GI carbs. Specifically junk food/sugar bombs. Donuts, ice cream, etc. Of course, this also includes white rice/potatoes. “Slow” carbs like sweet potatoes are not a good fit because they dull (but lengthen) the insulin spike longer than what Keifer wants. To simplify (and I may have this wrong, so be forewarned) – the goal is to burn fat via the low carb intake throughout the night/day, then workout heavy and then afterwards while your insulin sensitivity is increased (due to the weightlifting), you shunt glucose directly into your muscles and therefore replenish the energy lost during the weightlifting. And, get ready….because of the timing of this high-GI spike, the excess glucose is alleged to not get stored as fat.

Keifer has the details on his site and discusses it some on the podcast. Anyone that’s been following the diet/fitness pundits for any length of time knows not to trust “science” because for every guy these days, especially the Paleo-centric ones, that says, “here’s the science!” or “it’s based on science” or “let the other guy show me the science!” etc., I can find another guy with “science” that will refute it. I have long since learned to not believe in the “diet science” that is out there and just self-experiment. So time to self-experiment some with this program.

But, to start, I’m going to stick to just one night per week or a high-glycemic carb load and see where it takes me. If I start putting on fat then I’ll know.

I started this program on Sunday and did my typical full-body weightlifting routine yesterday. And I gotta say, I did quite well. But afterwards I avoided any carbs. I’ll see how I feel during tomorrow’s workout (which may be another full-body lifting session or may be the kettlebell routine which I plan on doing once per week going forward) and see. If I feel like I need the carbs, I’ll do a refeed after.

If you’ve tried carb back-loading or any type of carb cycling/refeeding approach, I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a comment below.

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.

 

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