Friday, July 12, 2013

New Blog, same pop fitness bashing.

If you haven't already, check out my new blog over on wordpress!  I've got a few new posts up already, including:

Bashing new forms of media, like Pinterest!
A twitter feed where you can watch me fail miserably at figuring out why Twitter exists!
MORE weight-loss experiments, this time with more failing and less success.

Hope to see you over there!

New Blog ==>

Monday, January 14, 2013

Women's Health - The 8-hour Diet


You would think that an article that directly contradicts everything that every health and fitness magazine has ever written about the best way to eat in the past probably 20 or 30 years would deserve more than a mere 3 pages and probably less than 1500 words.

But I digress.  I should be happy.  Finally, a health magazine has given validation to the world of Intermittent Fasting, the method of eating I roughly used during my weight loss.  Now that a popular magazine has bestowed its favor onto fasting, maybe the next time I mention that I don't eat breakfast to someone, an immediate freak-out won't occur.  (Who am I kidding)

The gist of the article is this:  give yourself only an 8 hour window to eat in during the day, and spend the rest of the time abstaining from putting food in your mouth.

And why do such a thing?  While I've written about this in the past, let's go over it again.  Your body takes fuel when it needs it from 2 places when you're fasted - either your stored glycogen (sugar) or from fat.  Your body is never in "100% fat-burning" or "100% glycogen-burning" mode, but generally at rest you will be more likely to use some fat.  Considering most of us are at rest at all points of the day, why isn't every office worker a super model?  Well when you eat, your body is given a quick energy source that it prefers to use over fat.  In fact, when your insulin is raised, which occurs when you eat (especially carbohydrates), fat is blocked from being used as an energy source until blood-glucose is back down.  How then, that the idea of eating 5-6 small meals a day was optimal got around, I have no idea.

It probably has something to do with that 'starvation mode' myth that has been going around for a while.  Don't eat for 3 hours and your metabolism crashes?  Don't have breakfast and you're screwed for the rest of the day?  Factually incorrect, and I'm glad to see that a popular source of health and fitness information has finally picked up on it!

How to Implement the 8-Hour Diet

No need to watch what you eat!  Except for the part where we tell you to watch what food you eat below!  It's almost like a direct contradiction.  Weird.

Well, you could follow the extremely silly guide given in the article:
Duration: Eight hours a day during which you can eat whenever you want 
Days / Week: Up to you! 
Meals: As many as you want  
Foods: At each meal or snack, try to get 2 of the 8 Powerfoods: 1 Fat Buster and 1 Health Booster. 
Foods to Emphasize: Lean protein, fiber, healthy fats, brightly colored fruits and vegetables 
Foods to Limit: Refined carbs, saturated and trans fats, HFCS 
The carb rule: Always include 2 Powerfoods in any carb-heavy snack or meal 
Beverages: Dramatically reduce your calorie intake by drinking more water.  Limit alcohol to 2 or 3 drinks per week. 
Messing up: Totally allowed. 
The Fat Busters - Turkey, eggs, leans meats / Walnuts and other nuts / Yogurt and other dairy / Beans, peanuts, other legumes. 
The Health Boosters - Raspberries and other berries / Oranges, apples and other fruits / Spinach and other green vegetables / Whole-grain breads, cereals, and oatmeal.
The inclusion of so-called "fat busters" and "health boosters" seems to just lend more confusion about food and what to eat.  The real "fat buster," as this article points out, is to just not eat.  The best foods to lose weight are: none!  I hope that makes sense, and I hope that doesn't get blown out of proportion.  I'm certainly not advocating anorexia or anything of the sort.  Stay within your calorie range and then stop eating - that's the real fat buster.

As far as the "health boosters" go, yes, raspberries will be more beneficial to your health than say a ranch-covered McDonald's salad.  But why wouldn't some grass-fed beef or salmon also be included as a health booster?  What in the world makes whole grain breads and cereal a health booster?  Did you know that Lucky Charms and other General Mill's sugary cereals are also technically whole grain?  The idea of categorizing food in this manner seems disingenuous.

As well, the 8-Hour Diet is based around the idea of burning out your liver glycogen so that your body can burn fat instead. (Not a necessary thing to do.  Again you're never 100% in fat or glycogen burning mode)  If this were the case, it seems to me they should also be advocating a no-carb ever diet.  I mean, that would burn out all of your liver glycogen super quickly!  Gotta get in that fat-burning mode!

Seriously though, the idea is quite simple - made entirely too complicated with this "Powerfood" junk.  Just eat your calorie limit in 8 hours.  Try to make sure they are quality, nutritious calories.  Then stop till the next day.  Try that on for size and you'll do just fine.

Of course, what kind of diet plan would this be if they also didn't have an "8-hour Diet" exercise plan?!
"Now, what if you could torch all that glycogen early in the day and program your body to start burning fat instead?  That's what the 8-Hour Diet does.  With the most moderate bit of exercise before your first meal - a mere eight minutes! - you'll begin to burn through those glycogen stores and spend more of your day in fat-burning mode."
This seems to go on the age-old bodybuilding tactic of going on a walk after drinking coffee before breakfast while you're fasted.  However, the key is that going for a walk is low-intensity (not straining yourself, or your muscles).  The workouts given here (which I'm guessing are 8-minutes long because, haha, it's the 8-Hour Diet, KEEPING IT IN THEME!) are a bit high-intensity.  Again, for what they're saying (burn all of your glycogen asap), it makes sense.  But how much sense does it make when they then say to eat your first meal afterwards?
"By exercising before your first meal, you'll boost your metabolism and maximize the amount of time your body is burning fat."
Well, yes you'll raise your metabolism for a bit, and I'm all for having a post-workout meal (although 8-minutes doesn't really seem to warrant much, and it's really not the end of the world if you don't have your post-workout meal within that magical 2-hour window), but if the stated goal is to deplete your glycogen stores, why eat right after they've been used, especially since your "Powerfoods" include some high-carb stuff?  It just doesn't seem to make much sense.   Also a nice excerpt:
"These two exercises use your own body weight to target hard-to-tone areas like the butt, thighs, arms, and shoulders"


I'm so so glad to see a magazine finally admitting that it is safe to not eat for extended periods of time.  However if this way of eating has perked your interest, I highly recommend using an alternative source other than Women's Health to structure your plan.  It simply doesn't seem to be getting everything straight - as though it is trying to add some extra flair in there to separate it from other fasting plans that have been around for much longer.

If you want to try out this kind of eating plan - take it for what it is.  Don't worry about "burning liver glycogen" or moving yourself into the "fat burning zone."  Fasting is a means to an end - the end being eating within your caloric limit.  Are you like me and you hate small little snacks, preferring to eat huge feasts?  Well good news, Women's Health says it's okay now, so you're golden.  Perform some kind of strength training, stay within your caloric limit whenever you choose to eat, and you'll probably lose weight.

Take it from Martin Berkhan of Leangains, probably the most popular Intermittent Fasting site out there:
"But to cling to intermittent fasting, or to hop on the  fasting bandwagon and fast for 16+ hours with the naive expectation of a magic trick - to willingly fast for fasting in itself, even if it's not really for you - is very foolish.
Remember. That's what people did in the mid-2000's - what we all did. We subjected us to rules that proved to be incompatible with long-term success, balance in life, and peace of mind. The role I played was in opening up your eyes to the alternative - to give you more options, and improve your decision making skills on dietary aspects that are of critical importance (i.e. the choice of meal frequency). 
Back then, we ate every 2-3rd hour for the sake of eating every 2-3rd hours, we ate breakfast for the sake of eating breakfast, and we didn't eat much in the evening. But now, I see this might be happening again - in reverse.
See, now everyone's riding the fasting bandwagon. Perhaps best exemplified by the "The 8-Hour Diet", this the result of a marketing engine fueled by false promises, bullshittery and the disingenous make believe-science that impresses the lay man, pleases the crowds, and disgusts the one who sees right through it. 
This is what corrodes this industry. This is what keeps people confused. This is what obfuscates success, and makes you forget the critical importance of personal preferences - not slavery under rules that doesn't really make sense for you."
Well then.

If you're looking for more information about fasting in general, I have linked in the post several sources, but I'll post them again here:

1) A good place to start is looking at studies on Ramadan - most people don't consider the fact that plenty of people throughout the world annually participate in fasting during Ramadan without gaining massive amounts of weight from crashing metabolisms.

2) Eat Stop Eat is a FANTASTIC book by Brad Pilon written about the effects of fasting on the human body.  If you ever had a question about what going for prolonged periods without eating would do for you, this is the place to go.  It's a very quick read because there is no fluff, no weird diet plan or exercise routine.  Just straight up information.  I rarely buy, well, anything, but I purchased this.

3) Leangains - a website with a wealth of information about fasting.  I've linked to this site before, but if you're at all curious about fasting and the biggest popularizer 8 hour eating window guy, this is the place to go.

4) The Warrior Diet - it's kind of like the 8 hour diet, but it's the 4 hour diet.

5) Precision Nutrition - John Berardi did a great, thorough write-up on his experiments with Intermittent Fasting.

Well there you have it!  One of my many, many goals for the New Year is to write at least 1 blog post a month - so here's to trying to keep up with that!  Let me know your thoughts in comments below.

P.S. - For bonus fun, turn 1 page behind the article on the 8-Hour Diet in Women's Health this month.  There is an article titled "Your Flat-Belly Day" which advocates that you have 5 small meals.  I want to laugh, but also to sigh.

For bonus BONUS fun, turn to page 77, under the question "Why am I always chilly when everyone around me is fine?", read: "Also, fasting - not that we recommend it! - can force your body to conserve energy and give off less warmth."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How to Pick a Gym

School has started back up, routines are getting set.  The countdown to getting your 'best summer body' has reset again.  Many people pick up where they left off in their training regimen around August or September - or maybe you're deciding it's a good time to just get started at all.  Either way, you've decided to join a gym.

I wrote an article last year about how to pick a personal trainer, but if your first priority is a great facility, starting with this article might be a good idea.  With so many facilities to choose from, and so many different styles, it's hard to know where to start.  Here's how to narrow down your list:

1) Decide what your goals are

If you want to run a marathon, you'd do well to pick a gym that has treadmills available.  If you go to the gym at the popular hours (before 10 AM and after 4-5PM), you'll want to make sure you pick one with a lot of available treadmills, as they are one of the most popular pieces of equipment.

The same applies if you want to get stronger - pick a gym with more than one squat rack, multiple barbells, plenty of plates and dumbbells that go over 45 pounds.  Just looking to improve your health?  A gym with a solid combination of free weights and different forms of available cardio or conditioning equipment (sleds, prowlers, jump ropes, treadmills, bikes, floor space to make your own circuit, etc) would be a good fit.

So. Many. Treadmills.

2) Know what kind of activities you like to do

There are several fitness facilities with specialties, such as LA Boxing, Crossfit affiliates, dojos, yoga studios, etc.  Some will have open hours, others are by class or by appointment only.  Some have a mix of traditional equipment (treadmills, weights) with their speciality equipment while others will only do their specific activity.

If you feel you'd be best motivated by mixing in group classes with your traditional workouts, pick a commercial gym with an expansive group fitness program.  If you want to learn some fighting techniques and feel that would best motivate you to get moving, pick a dojo or boxing gym.

Regardless of what I, or anyone else tell you is "best" to get in good health, the best program is the one you'll do.  If that means sticking with group exercise classes, more power to you for finding something you enjoy!

Did you know: It is near impossible to find a picture of a girl in a sports bra doing any kind of physical activity who doesn't have a 6-pack?

3) What features do you require?

I put this point last for a reason - some features that people think they 'need' can be pretty frivolous.  Depending on how serious you are about changing your body composition or getting stronger, faster, whatever, certain facilities are just plain going to be better at getting the job done that may not mesh well with your job/kids/schedule/etc.  Here are some factors that many take into consideration when picking a facility:

  • Shower Availability - if you work during your lunchbreak or before work, for some this can be necessary.  Most commercial gyms have these and some studios.
  • Childcare - Many big, commercial gyms will have this, but I've never seen it in smaller or private facilities.  
  • Hours - While gyms usually have an array of hours (typically 5:30AM till 8 or 9PM), if you work odd shifts, there are some 24 hour fitness facilities such as Snap Fitness around.  
  • Price - Crossfit is expensive.

Local Area Gyms - The Triangle

If you're a local reader, here are a few of my favorite facilities.  It's a good mixture of commercial, private, and semi-private.  Take a look at these examples to get a feel for the different types of facilities out there, and if you're in the area, consider them for your back-to-school fitness plans!


Empower Personal Training - Private Studio
You know I gotta talk about my own place of work!  Empower is a private personal training studio - one of a few in the area.  If you see a facility with 'studio,' chances are they work by appointment only.  

Empower offers a clean facility with a wide variety of equipment to train populations ranging from 8 to 90+ years of age; ultra-marathon runners, powerlifters, young athletes and everyday people will find the experience and equipment they need.  On top of that, with a small, family-like atmosphere, Empower can help even the most unmotivated of exercisers find the push they need to get to the gym - and find others in the same boat!  Frequent events, promotions and a dedicated staff of personal trainers always available to answer questions or help make Empower a facility to keep coming back to.

RTP Fitness - Commercial
Although recently under new ownership, RTP is a fantastic facility for the amateur or serious weightlifter.  Not only does it provide a wide variety of free weights and strength training equipment, but several serious lifters have been working out here for years.  Never underestimate the power of a good atmosphere on your motivation and progress!  

Reasonable rates with the typical commercial gym accommodations AND one of the best free-weight areas in the city?  Definitely high on my recommendation list for anyone wanting to get in serious shape.

Raleigh Area

Capital Strength & Conditioning - Private and Semi-Private Training focused, select memberships

2422 Atlantic Ave, Raleigh, NC, 27604

Though a relatively new facility in the Raleigh area, Capital Strength & Conditioning already houses quite a bit of square footage filled with all the equipment any serious trainee could want - bands, chains, bumper plates, turf, dynamax balls, kettlebells - the list goes on!  Take 5 minutes to talk to the owner, Matt, and you'll know your body and fitness goals are in good hands.  A great atmosphere with other committed trainees, excellent high-quality equipment, and an owner who is always willing to spot or offer advice, and you've got all you need for success.

Typically the staff works in private one-on-one sessions or small group/semi-private sessions, but they do offer some boot-camp style classes and select memberships.  With extremely reasonable rates for such a high-quality facility, if you live around the capital, it's a good value and definitely worth your time.

Cary / Morrisville

Iron Pit Gym - Group and Semi-Private Training focused, select memberships
Owned and operated by one of the nicest powerlifters I know, Iron Pit Gym is definitely a go-to facility to improve athletic performance, get stronger, and get your head straight.  If I had to make a wish-list of equipment to have in a gym, Iron Pit has every single piece on it, plus a few extras.  The facility boasts an extremely impressive staff - those who have trained under Louie Simmons of powerlifting fame, former strength and conditioning coaches for a variety of professional and college football teams, not to mention they've all walked the walk and can probably out-lift you.  

Iron Pit typically works in group sessions of athletes, though there are some private and semi-private sessions as well.  If you're an experienced lifter, they offer membership rates, though typically they'll test you out first to make sure you know what you're doing!  With great staff, atmosphere and ridiculously reasonable rates, it's definitely worth checking out.

If all else fails, many facilities will offer either free tours or even a couple of free passes for you to get the full effect for yourself!

Have any questions?  Let me know below, and happy gym shopping!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Fat Loss, Minus the Cardio: Month 6 - Far from the end

The not-really ending of a long journey.  Well half a year seems like pretty sufficient time to make my point - which I hope I've accomplished.  Doesn't seem like it's even been that long!  But now is a good time to review this process and what the results were:

Cardiovascular exercise (such as running, swimming, biking, walking, any kind of continuous motion for and extended period of time) is not necessary to lose body fat or weight.  Diet and following a resistance training program are much more important.  

Diet - I used a combination of the following techniques:

  • Intermittent Fasting - Typically I have a minimum 'fast' of 16 hours every day, but sometimes I didn't follow this.  I think I only ate breakfast three or four times during this entire 6-month span. Sometimes my 'fasts' were only 12 hours, sometimes they were over 24 hours.  Just depended on how I felt.
  • Carb Manipulation - Basically I try to keep my carbohydrates to majority post-workout.  Of course, I didn't always follow this. (See: The weekend)
  • Not eating so damn much - pretty self-explanatory.
Exercise - I performed a resistance-training routine 2 to 4 times per week, 3 times per week on average. Sometimes I would throw in a <10 minute high-intensity complex or circuit, but that wasn't very often.  I went on a couple of hikes and threw around the frisbee quite a bit, but other than that I didn't do anything else.  I didn't step on a piece of cardio equipment. (Except when I was cleaning them at work)

Weight (9/2/12): 154lbs

One week ago, I was 152lbs.  Between that day and now, I did a good amount of celebrating my boyfriend's birthday weekend as well as just general over-eating during the week.  I'm a little disappointed, mostly because it doesn't make for a very exciting ending!

Pictures (Taken 9/2/12):

Back (Relaxed)

Back (Flexed)

Well, you can help me with this one.  The number on the scale most certainly went down.  I lost 21 pounds over 6 months, or a little less than 1lb per week, which is pretty on-track for most weight-loss efforts. (if slightly below what most people would want to see)

Not only that, but I did this without a super restrictive diet.  I frequently enjoyed things like fried egg bacon cheeseburgers, quesadillas, desserts, occasional alcohol, and more bacon. Some might say that going ~16 hours without eating everyday is restrictive, though I personally found it more convenient.

It just comes down to personal preference.  I would prefer to have 1 or 2 big meals a day than 5 or 6 low-calorie ones.  Do you prefer the latter?  That's fine too.  You don't have to eat the way that I did.

But I think there are some things to take away from it:
  • I lost a good amount of weight on a good timeline without eating breakfast.  You don't have to eat breakfast.  It does not 'jumpstart' your metabolism.  You do not have to eat breakfast.  You do not have to eat breakfast.
  • Quite a bit of my diet was fat.  Peanut butter, cheese, red meat, dairy, you name it, I ate a lot of it.  I still lost fat.  (Next time I go to the doctor I'll do some blood tests and post my results here when I get them.)
  • Sometimes I went 24 hours or more without eating, if I didn't really feel hungry.  I didn't die.  I still lost fat.
  • I still kept my calories within the 1200-1800 range, depending on the activity I did that day.  I may have eaten fried-egg bacon cheeseburgers, but if one of them was 1400 calories, that was all I ate that day.  
I attribute the majority of my weight loss to these dietary changes.  However, resistance training was a required component as well, and not just because I'm a powerlifter.  If you don't weight train, chances are your body will take the energy it needs from not just your fat stores, but your muscle as well.  Muscle takes calories to maintain and if your body doesn't perceive a reason to keep it around (such as regular lifting of heavy objects), then it will get rid of it.  You don't have to squat for heavy singles or doubles like me, but resistance training in one of its many forms must be present to see good changes in body composition - not just a lower number on the scale.

Overall I found the process pretty exciting and not hard to follow most of the time.  There were a few days where all I wanted to do was eat, but anytime I had a craving for something, all I had to do was have a little patience.  If I was craving a Reese's Cup and I had already eaten all I was going to eat that day, well, Reese's Cups will still exist tomorrow.  I'm fitting into clothes I haven't been able to wear since about my sophomore year of college, but kept around, ya know, just in case.  Incidences of me looking in the mirror and thinking "damn you look good," have increased exponentially.  Hard not to see the process as worth it for those 2 reasons alone.

Because 'everyday' pictures sometimes give a different perspective than my above before and afters:

Not a huge difference but I think my face lost a pound.

So you tell me - did I do a good job presenting this information?  Did I prove my points?  What would you have wanted to see done differently?  Are there any questions you feel were left unanswered, or do you think I made a mistake somewhere?  Let me know.  

And thanks for coming on this journey with me!

Weight Loss

3/18/12 - 175
3/29/12 - 171 (-4)
4/13/12 - 167 (-4)
4/29/12 - 164 (-3, )
5/14/12 - 161.3 (-2.7)
5/27/12 - 160lbs (-1.3)
6/24/12: 158 (-2)
8/1/12: 155 (-3)
9/1/12: 154 (-1, -21 total)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Fat Loss, Minus the Cardio - Month 5 and Why You SHOULD do Cardio!

It's almost the end of August - the rough 'finish line' I set for my little experiment I've been documenting here.  It will be good to take the time to review what I've done, and to look back at where I started!

Today's topic to go along with the post will be about why you SHOULD do some cardio!  I know that this seems pretty counter-intuitive to the whole point of my journey here, but I would never say that cardio is detrimental to weight loss efforts unless done to excess.  The reasons I did this weight-loss adventure without the help of cardio again are:
  • To demonstrate that despite cardio being commonly thought of as the way to lose fat, and strength training being the way to gain muscle, it is not in any way necessary for your body recomposition efforts.  
  • Strength training and diet changes are sufficient for building a leaner physique.  
The fact that I despise cardiovascular training of almost any kind certainly didn't hurt to make this a more pleasant experience for me.  So if I've been experiencing success doing things I enjoy, it might be a little confusing to readers to see me start hitting the pavement at the end of August.

What is your Cardiovascular System?

There are 3 different kinds of energy systems that your body uses to fuel your activities.  Which energy system is dominant depends on the type of exercise:

  1. Anaerobic Alactic (ATP-CP): Your ATP provides enough energy to fuel about 10 seconds of very intense effort, such as sprinting or weightlifting.
  2. Anaerobic Lactic (Glycolytic): Provides enough energy for about 2 minutes of intense effort, such as a 200m butterfly swim or middle-distance races.  Over time, a waste product called 'lactic acid' builds up in the muscles, causing that familiar burning sensation that causes you to have to slow down.  
  3. Aerobic (Cardiovascular): Provides energy for 2 or more minutes and takes much longer to fatigue.  
Woah we're getting a little intense here.  It's just your lungs and heart delivering oxygenated blood to the rest of your body.

Anaerobic energy pathways get their name because they don't utilize oxygen to provide energy, this is also why they don't last you very long.  Generally high-intensity exercise requires so much fuel so quickly that oxygen doesn't  even have the time to reach your tissues!  Aerobic exercise, however, being much less intense, allows sufficient time for oxygen to provide the energy needed in your muscles.  

Why Train the Cardiovascular System?

Weightlifting - especially Powerlifting and Olympic Lifting - are decisively Anaerobic and utilize ATP as their main fuel.  (Unless of course you're like me and sometimes take 12 seconds to finish a deadlift.)  So why in the world would it matter for me, or anyone else who doesn't care for 5k training, to train the cardiovascular system?

Well, the entire system itself does a lot more than just provide energy.  Your blood carries in it not only oxygen, but essential nutrients needed to help repair and replace tissues in your body.  As well the aerobic system is what clears out your anaerobic waste and byproducts, such as lactic acid.  If you're looking to avoid overtraining and want to be able to perform intense workouts on a regular basis, it would be wise to train your cardiovascular system a bit.  

How about during training?  If you're getting through a 1 or 2 hour workout, how well you recover in-between sets and reps can be integral in how well you keep up the intensity throughout the whole training session.  Energy systems are more complicated than "after exactly 2 minutes you switch from 100% anaerobic to 100% aerobic energy."  If you're going for a heavy set of 10 reps on squats, that can take upwards of 90 seconds depending on the difficulty - and although your Alactic and Lactic energy systems will provide quite a bit of your energy, your aerobic systems can provide up to 50% of your energy during only a minute of effort!  

Even if you do nothing else...

If you're a sedentary person, if you're trying to research different workout plans and which will give you the most benefit, if you have a hard time keeping consistent with a training regimen, if you do nothing else, the BEST thing you can do for your health is to go for a walk 30 minutes a day.  The benefits you'll get from doing this consistently are astounding - not only physically but mentally as well.

My Cardiovascular Health Plan

I think I've expressed my dislike of cardiovascular training sufficiently on here - so what's a person like me to do to keep up some level of cardiovascular fitness?

Well, one activity I certainly don't mind is walking!  At this point as well, I'm probably in such poor shape cardio-wise that it will keep my heart rate up.  But that's not my only option - plus after a few months of training walking will probably lose its appreciable training effect.

Have one of these?  Then you should be walking anyway!

Jump rope and rowing are also activities I don't mind - although at the moment both are pretty difficult! Another option is to do circuit training, or alternating various lifts at moderate weights for about 30 minutes with minimal rest.  The key is that with any activity, I plan on keeping my heart rate at around 120 bpm - this can be done with any activity I choose - and the same applies to you!  Walking, boxing, rowing, swimming, weight training, frisbee golf, playing with your kids, mowing your lawn - anything that gets you in your appropriate heart rate range can be considered cardiovascular training.  

At first I'll just be shooting for 3 days per week of cardiovascular training on days where I'm not strength training, with hopefully 1 day of High Intensity Interval Training as well.  

Month 5 - Pictures and Updates

Weight loss did pick up a little bit this month!  In fact, I reached my arbitrary goal of 20 pounds lost this past week!  What's better is that I'm actually starting to see changes in myself when I look in the mirror, which I think is the hardest thing for anyone going through a body composition change.

Physically, I'm still trying to work myself back up to where I was before I re-injured my back.  My deadlift seems to have suffered the most, which makes sense as it is the most back-intensive exercise that I do.  But my bench press has actually progressed quite a bit, which surprised me.  I hit 115 at my powerlifting competition in March, and in July I did 125lbs for 2 reps!  

Weight (8/1/12): 155lbs - Officially down 20 pounds!

And for the pictures (taken 8/5/12):



Back (Relaxed)

Back (Flexed)

Finally!  A flexed picture where I look like I know what I'm doing!

Weight Loss

3/18/12 - 175
3/29/12 - 171 (-4)
4/13/12 - 167 (-4)
4/29/12 - 164 (-3, )
5/14/12 - 161.3 (-2.7)
5/27/12 - 160lbs (-1.3)
6/24/12: 158 (-2)
7/1/12: 155 (-3, -20 TOTAL!)

Let's see what I can do with the rest of this month!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Fat Loss, Minus the Cardio - Month 4 & the longest post on carbohydrates ever.

Well, I know that I've mentioned before that this isn't a nutrition blog - but it's pretty hard to always separate fitness and health from nutrition.  Basically impossible when talking about weight loss, at that!  So I thought I'd explain in long, grueling, excruciating detail why I avoid eating a lot of carbohydrates.  This won't fully explain my diet choices - for example why I consume so much protein and fat (though a good bit of it is that if I'm not eating carbs, those are the 2 macronutrients left to choose from!), but it will go a good ways of explaining it.  

I'll preface this by saying I'm by no means some super nutrition expert.  Hell, I might be flat-out wrong.  Present me with contrary evidence to what I'm posting below and I'll gladly change my mind - I've been known to do that once in a while.  But without further we go!


The main function of carboyhdrates in the body is as a fuel source, especially during high-intensity exercise.  When we take in a source of carbohydrates, our body will generally do one of 3 things with it:
  • Convert it into glycogen that is then stored in the liver or your muscles.  (Your liver can hold about 100g of glycogen, and how much your muscles can store depends on your muscle mass)
  • If these stores are filled, it will convert into fat for future energy needs.
  • Can be used as an immediate energy source. (which is why during long endurance events such as an ultramarathon or Ironman triathalon it is necessary for athletes to periodically take in carbohydrates - also why you don't need that gatorade during a 5 or 10k, your body is providing enough fuel through already-stored glycogen and fat to suffice for such a short distance.)
What it looks like when your body completely runs out of fuel.  THESE people needed some more carbohydrates.  You probably don't.

All carbohydrates are eventually broken down into simple SUGARS - either glucose, fructose or galactose.  These are the simplest forms of carbohydrates.

Forms of Carbohydrates

Which of these it is broken down to and in what amounts depends on what you're eating.  Let's take a look at each:
  • Glucose - blood sugar, immediate source of energy, seen on food labels often as dextrose.
  • Fructose - thought of as "fruit sugar," so obviously found in high quantities in various fruits, though it is present in other sources as well.
  • Galactose - found most often in milk and dairy products, though other vegetables such as leeks and broccoli or fruits like plums contain high quantities as well. 

 You can combine some of these 3 building blocks together to get more complex forms, for example:
  • glucose + fructose = Sucrose (basic table sugar, generally what we think of when we hear the word "sugar," and what is indicated by the "sugar" part of the nutrition label - well that, or high fructose corn syrup.)
  • fructose + galactose = Lactose (found mostly in dairy, lactose-intolerant people can't digest this properly, hence why they can't consume dairy!)
  • glucose + glucose = Maltose (best known in BEER!)

And more complicated chains form even more complex carbohydrates:
  • Starches - formed by long chains of glucose.  Commonly associated with potatos and other root plants, cereals, noodles, pastas and beans.
  • Cellulose, AKA Fiber - the biggest component of a plant's cell wall, so it makes sense that fruits and vegetables are high in fiber.  Also formed with lots of glucose. 
So why does all of this matter?  What does all of this stuff have in common? 
  1. They come from foods that contain carbohydrates.
  2. They are all, in the end, SUGAR.
You know, that thing that everyone avoids when they're on a diet or trying to lose weight?

About this time, a little confusion is understandable.  But you need carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar levels up!  What about whole-grains?  Aren't they better with the fiber and whatnot?  You can't seriously be saying that my Shredded Wheat cereal is comparable to a Snickers!

I am.  (We'll talk about GI later)

And let's be real, you're eating 2 cups of that.  With milk.

Well let's first think about why most people decide that they are going to avoid high-sugar products when on a diet:
  • Causes your blood sugar to spike
If I asked you honestly why it is bad when your blood sugar spikes, would you be able to answer past "because then it crashes back down"? (and why is that bad?)  We'll go over this later.
  • It's high in calories and leaves you craving more not even 30 seconds later. (Related to point 1)
  • Bad for your teeth!
  • It's...bad...for you...?
One phrase that you should try to eliminate from your speech is "<such and such> is good / bad for you."  With only 1 exception that I can think of off the top of my head (trans-fats), most foods can have an occassion to be eaten and be eaten with a good purpose - even these carbohydrates/sugars that I'm going to proceed to talk poorly of. 

Complex Carbohydrates

Let's start with the most complex of the carbohydrates - the ones that are so very often touted as being "healthy whole grains."  What does that even mean?  What is a whole grain?  What is the difference between whole grain and whole wheat?  If you're going to be buying bread from your grocery store, you should know what exactly your money is going towards.  

First, take a look at a real, whole, intact grain:

This is essentially the anatomy of corn kernels as well, and why they are grains, not vegetables.

There are 3 parts - the bran or husk, the endosperm and the germ.  
  • Bran - what makes a whole grain "whole."  This is the layer that contains most of the fiber and other assorted nutrients you get from your grain product of choice.  
  • Endosperm - the real "meat" of a grain, contains most of the starch.  This is what you're looking at when you see white rice.  
  • Germ - Provides some more nutrients, a little fat and protein.  
Here are some examples of the different types of bread and grains you'll see at your grocery store - let's spend a little time talking about the differences:

Click for larger image to see the full list of ingredients and nutrition info more clearly.

So when it comes to breads and grains, in general we have: 
  • White Bread / Processed Grains - Snack cakes, donuts, white bread, corn flakes, cereal in general; they've all gotten the same treatment: the grain has been stripped of its bran and germ, where most of the nutrients and fiber are.  You're left with essentially empty, starchy calories that are quickly digested and raise blood-glucose (and therefore insulin levels) quite quickly.  No surprises here for most people.
  • Multi-Grain - Simply means that there is more than 1 type of grain present.  Whether or not those grains are whole is up to the manufacturer.  Sounds healthy, could also be no better than white bread with some brown coloring.  
  • Whole Wheat - Indicates that flour for the bread was made from a whole, unprocessed grain of wheat.  More nutritious than white flour because it retained the bran and germ.  Don't get confused with the ingredient "Whole White Wheat Flour," which is whole wheat, but just from a white wheat.  This is different from white, processed flour. 
  • Whole Grain - When talking about bread, interchangeable with "whole wheat."  As by definition, it uses the whole grain - bran, endosperm and germ.  Brown rice is a whole grain, as is corn, oats, etc. 
So Whole Grain and Whole Wheat breads are sources of the complex carbohydrates - fiber and starch.  Of course, the overwhelming majority of the grain is the endosperm, which contains the starch - the energy content of your bread.  Look at the nutrition labels above for the total carbohydrate to fiber ratio: 5:1 on the most natural of them!  


Let's talk a little bit more in-depth about starch, our primary complex carbohydrate.  There are 2 different kinds:

  • Amylose - a long string of glucose, like a chain of pearls.  Breaks down slowly due to a small number of places for enzymes to attach to in order to degrade the molecule.
  • Amylopectin - A more branched structure, think like a tumbleweed or dust bunny.  Many enzyme attachment sites for quick degredation.  
Varying whole-grains, fruits and vegetables have varying ratios of amylose to amylopectin, however the general ranges are ~20-25% : 75-80%, though they can differ from these ranges as well.  This is why some kinds of plants have a higher Glycemic Index than others, such as white potatoes vs. sweet potatoes - one of the reasons why sweet potatoes are popularly considered 'healthier' than white potatoes despite similar nutritional content.  

"In a 100-gram portion, the white potato has 92 calories, 21 grams of carbs, 2.3 grams of dietary fiber, 2.3 g of protein and 17% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. The same amount of sweet potato, on the other hand, has 90 calories, 21 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 35% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C and 380% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A." (From

So those who avoid eating white potatoes due to the starch content should also turn a wary eye to ALL grains, tubers and legumes - Popcorn, Corn Flakes, whole-grain Lucky Charms and Pop-Tarts, Shredded Wheat, Oatmeal, beans, potatoes, you get the idea.  Obviously, some of these have a higher / lower GI's than others, differing fiber contents, differing minerals and nutrients, but I will shortly show you why none of this matters if you're trying to lose weight.  

Fiber / Cellulose

I feel that fiber deserves a slightly more elaborate explanation - most people know that fiber aids in digestion but let's break it down a little bit more:

Fiber is not actually able to be digested by humans - it instead absorbs water as it passes through the digestive track, causing fecal matter to become more solid and pass more easily.  So since fiber ISN'T digested, your body does not use it for fuel.  But before you go and try to calculate out how many less calories your fiber-enriched Lucky Charms are, remember: in the United States it is legal for manufacturers to go ahead and remove the calories from fiber on the nutrition label. 

Go ahead and do the math.  1g carb/protein = 4 calories.  1g fat = 9 calories.  So, (1x9) + (25x4) + (2x4) = 117 calories.  But the label says 60!  Well, 14g of fiber, so: 117-(14x4) = 61.  Pretty cool.  They should consider making this cereal in a shape that does not look like a million tiny worms though.  Appetizing.

Fiber is also a great aid for the dieter for a couple of other reasons: it slows the rate of intestinal carbohydrate absorption (along with fat and protein), decreasing the response of insulin as well as increasing the transit speed of consumed foods through the digestive track, inducing satiety more quickly when eating.  

Simple Carbohydrates

Next, let's take a more in-depth look at the most popular simple sugars: sucrose (which is interchangeable with high-fructose corn syrup), fructose and glucose.  

When it comes down to it, remind yourself of the 3 main functions of carbohydrates: 
  • Provide quick, immediate energy.
  • Replenish glycogen stores when they are low.
  • Become stored as fat for future energy needs. 
Some types of foods provide quicker energy than others - a way to measure how quickly is by using what is called the Glycemic Index.
"The glycemic index (GI) is a ranking of carbohydrates on a scale from 0 to 100 according to the extent to which they raise blood sugar levels after eating. Foods with a high GI are those which are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in marked fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low-GI foods, by virtue of their slow digestion and absorption, produce gradual rises in blood sugar and insulin levels" (From
Pure glucose has a GI of 100 and is what all other food's rating is based off of.  Remember that blood sugar = blood glucose, the form of energy used by all living things and all cells in your body.  So take the example of the Snickers Bar vs. Shredded Wheat Cereal:

One would think that Shredded Wheat Cereal, with its ONE ingredient of a source of complex carbohydrates, Whole Grain Wheat, would have a low GI compared to a Snickers Bar that has a heap of simple sugar.  To figure out WHY Shredded Wheat has a GI of 75 (Corn Flakes is even higher), yet candy has a GI of 55, let's think about the things that decrease a food's GI:
  • Form of the carbohydrate (is it refined?  What is ratio of amylopectin to amylose?)
  • Preparation (Cooked foods tend to have higher GI's because heat helps to break down compounds before it reaches our mouth)
  • Fiber content (Remember fiber slows digestion)
  • Presence of protein and/or fat (these also slow the digestion process) 
So while Shredded Wheat has only 1 ingredient, it DID have to be processed and cooked in order to go from a grain of wheat into a nice rectangular, shredded shape.  Though it does have more fiber than the Snickers, the ratio still isn't great.  While I'm not certain on exactly why the GI is so much higher, if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that it is the lack of fat content.

Well, that has a whole range of implications on a multitude of supermarket products and on why the low-fat craze has had disastrous effects.  But first, let's talk about why a high GI and blood sugar spike is a bad thing.    


First off, insulin is stimulated by glucose, and by extension by sucrose (glucose + fructose).  If you'd like to learn more about why fructose and sucrose are so exceptionally terrible, I'm going to defer to someone much smarter and much more qualified than me to talk about that exact subject for about an hour and a half.  

Even if you don't have the time now, this is a very thought-provoking lecture, if nothing else.  I recommend taking some time to watch the whole thing.

A few key points to take away from that lecture, however, is: 
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup is no worse than sugar, but it is also no better.  Both are equally awful.  HFCS just has the added benefit of being incredibly cheap and easily added into a myriad of products from soda to fruit juice to bread to mustard.  Go the the grocery store and TRY to find packaged non-meat products without it.
  • Sugar promotes the creation of "Small Dense LDL's," (Not to be confused with harmless Large Buoyant LDL's) that promote heart disease and high blood pressure.
  • Fructose does not suppress ghrelin, the hunger-stimulating hormone.
  • Fructose does not stimulate leptin, which in turn will not send the signal to the brain that it has eaten.  (Why drinking soda has at best no effect on hunger, and at worst making you hungrier.) 
  • While fruit does contain fructose, it is also packed with fiber, vitamins and minerals in much higher quantities than grains.  
Your blood glucose has a set level it likes to stay at: about 1 teaspoon of glucose in your entire body.

Just 1 teaspoon.

So what happens when you consume more than 1tsp of sugar (glucose)? (For reference, a 12oz coke has almost 10 tsp of  just sucrose)  Well, your body wants to bring that level down quickly.  To do this, it recruits insulin to take the glucose and perform one of the 3 main functions: 
  • Provide quick, immediate energy.
  • Replenish glycogen stores when they are low.
  • Become stored as fat for future energy needs. 
So in something with a high GI, such as shredded wheat, insulin needs to act quickly.  So instead of a small rise in your insulin levels, your pancreas creates a much higher amount to escort the glucose off to do one of those 3 functions.  While insulin is around, your body will not take energy from your fat stores.  Insulin blocks the hormones responsible for transporting energy from fat cells to the rest of your body.  So once your insulin levels are sky-high, your blood-glucose levels tend to be low.  When this happens, your body resorts to making you do one of 2 options:
  • GET MORE ENERGY (SUGAR) NOW.  (Repeat cycle)
  • Get sleepy until your body can restore your blood-glucose balance.
Now, contrary to popular belief, not eating or not consuming glucose will not cause these blood-glucose levels to drop and crash your metabolism.  Typically when you are not performing vigorous exercise, your prime source of energy actually does come from fat (see a previous post about differing intensity exercises and fat/carb use here) - provided you didn't just eat some Shredded Wheat. If you work out in a fasted state, your muscle glycogen stores are more than enough to get you through with good performance - provided you aren't running a marathon or lifting weights for 3 hours or something equally ridiculous and you have adapted to working out under these conditions.

If you're sitting around and not consuming any carbohydrates and your cells are slowly using up present glucose, your body can create more from either protein or fat stores via gluconeogenesis.  If you participate in some sort of strength training (which you should be!), your body will tend to pass over protein in favor of fat.

As we all know, chronically high levels of insulin - which are stimulated by carbohydrates of all kinds - leads to a very tired pancreas, which leads to less insulin being able to be produced, which leads to high blood-glucose levels, which leads to a fully exhausted pancreas, which leads to Type II Diabetes.  

A very straight-forward and helpful video on insulin.

A clip from the movie "Fat Head" about insulin.  I disagree with many points in this movie, but it is certainly thought-provoking and a good watch- if you can stand the narrator's smug voice anyway.

So clearly, having elevated blood-sugar levels and needing insulin aren't exactly ideal things for the person who wants to lose weight or the person with diabetes.  Wouldn't the logical conclusion then be to simply...not take in carbohydrates?

But wait!  Fruits and vegetables have carbohydrates, don't they?









There are, of course, starchier vegetables such as carrots and potatoes, and fruits with more sugar and starch such as apples.  However, these still have higher vitamin and mineral content than breads, cereals, rices and pastas, and chances are a lower GI.  


So why does all of this matter?

It means that by removing the fat from Oreos, snack crackers, donuts, etc. they are even worse than they were before - even if they have less calories, because the fat lowered their GI and made them taste good - now to be palatable they have to have even more carbohydrates in the form of sucrose.  

It means that if you aren't working out, you don't need extra carbohydrates

It means commercials like this REALLY PISS ME OFF.


It means that if you're taking in carbohydrates when you don't need them, they only have one place to go: fat cells.

It means that you still need to eat your fruits and vegetables - but these come packed with fiber and essential vitamins and minerals at a lower carbohydrate cost than breads and other grains.  

So for someone like me, ideally, my eating plan would consist of low-carbohydrates when I'm not working out, and higher-carbohydrates when I am.

Remember when I said most all foods can have their place under the right circumstances?  If I just finished a hard workout and depleted a lot of my glycogen stores, a Reese's Cup suddenly goes from fattening to restorative.  Is it the ideal?  Of course not - a potato would work just as well and provide me with some fiber and nutrients to boot.  But if I'm going to eat a fried-egg bacon cheeseburger with fries (which goodness knows I do), I'm going to do it post-workout when I need the carbohydrates and protein and calories to recover in time for my next workout.

If I was going to play a 3-day frisbee tournament, you bet I'd be eating pasta and bread like crazy.

If I was going to sit on my butt for 3 days, you bet I'd be sticking to protein and low-starch vegetables.  

Now, many low-carb enthusiasts will scream all day "A CALORIE IS NOT A CALORIE!!"  While I certainly agree with this (as if you couldn't tell based upon this post) your calories still matter.  If you only burn through 2000 calories a day and you eat 2500 calories of eggs (About 35 1/2 eggs, good luck), protein taken in is extremely capable of being turned into fat.  It's just a little bit harder to take in more calories than you need when all you're eating is steak and broccoli - you'll get full quick, whereas I'm pretty sure I could eat 3000 calories of cheesecake without even thinking about it.

Carbohydrates are only part of the equation, and there are several other reasons I eat so much fat and protein, but I think this post is quite long enough already.  

tl;dr : carbs are energy.  If you're not doing tasks that require energy, you don't need them.

Here are a lot more resources (some concise, some more random) on the subject from much smarter people than myself if this has sparked your interest at all:

Damn Dirty Carbohydrates - Justin Stoneman 

Mark Sisson's Grain Series: 
There are a million more things I could link here, but I'll refrain.

Month 4 - Pictures and Updates

Well it's been an eventful month for me in physical performance, but not so much on the weight-loss side of things.

I've heard that I still look like I'm losing weight - and we're always notoriously bad at seeing changes ourselves!  I'll leave it for you to judge from the pictures.  

Weight (6/24/12): 158lbs

So only 2lbs over a month, which is a little disappointing.  But, we'll see what I can do with July!  

On the plus side, I accomplished a MAJOR goal this month!  I've wanted to do a bodyweight pull-up since I was probably 14 or 15 years old.  Over the years I've done my fair share of back-strengthening exercises, but I never seriously worked towards the pull-up until about December or January.  I made it a New Year's resolution at that!  Well, June 14th I FINALLY did one (I actually ended up doing 3 that day)!  Very, very slowly, but I felt like I was flying.  I hadn't gotten such an adrenaline rush since I first hit a 225lb deadlift!

Unfortunately I'm not tech saavy enough to know how to get a facebook video I don't own onto here.  I do have a link to the facebook video, but presumably you'd have to "like" my work place's facebook page to see it.

So onto the pictures!

Taken 6/24

I was making a stupid face again.

Back (Relaxed)
Back (Flexed)
I'm really gonna look up how to properly back flex for the next month.  Also would have been nice if my photographer told me my sports bra was uneven!!

Weight Loss

3/18/12 - 175
3/29/12 - 171 (-4)
4/13/12 - 167 (-4)
4/29/12 - 164 (-3, )
5/14/12 - 161.3 (-2.7)
5/27/12 - 160lbs (-1.3)
Weight (6/24/12): 158 (-2, -17 total)

Going to exclude the exercise log because this post is long enough and nothing exciting happened besides that pull-up anyway.  The gist is that I've been trying to slowly come back in to squats and deadlifts - light box squats and deadlifts for few reps and a lot of sets.  

This month however I'll be steadily increasing the weights and seeing how my back does!  

Thanks for reading, and if you made it this far and actually read this whole post...I'm impressed!