Thursday, December 29, 2011

Last post: Goals accomplished

I have blogged for about 7 months about my freakishly successful experience on a Paleo diet and a high-intensity training (H.I.T.) protocol. There are a few dozen posts in here. My intention has been to be succinct, clear, honest.

And so, summing up,...

Soon after I turned 40, my doctor offered me "metabolic syndrome" literature. There was a visible amount of hopelessness in his demeanor. I was, after all, just one more patient with a long list of incipient maladies (e.g., fatty liver).

I myself did not know what I wanted. The honest truth is that I could not even formulate it properly. I simply felt aged, slow, fragile, heavy, unhealthy.

For these and other reasons, I finally decided to start learning about nutrition and fitness. And so, during two and a half years, I ate a Japanese-style pescetarian diet and labored on high-volume low-intensity fitness routine. It didn't work. Medical exams showed my health continued to worsen while, adding insult to injury, I was getting fatter more consistently than ever before.

The problem was not that I did not "try hard enough".

The problem was that I was still ignorant.

Earlier this year, my research got me around to evolutionary anthropology. I made the necessary changes and, in a matter of days, I was feeling better. Within a few months, I was actually fit. Consider this. Not only I am able to run again for the first time in decades. Nowadays, I can sprint.

This journey, as most worthwhile journeys do, quickly surpassed and superseded original expectations. Today, I think about how trim I want to remain and how strong I want to become. The transformation still shocks me. Results from this year's medical exam could well be those of an altogether different person, a younger person, a fitter person, a healthier person.

That's it. Blog over.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Measurements IV

Results from the annual medical exam arrived last week. I wanted to make sure anything and everything showed up so I requested additional blood work. My doctor and I went over the information a few days ago.

According to the data, my health has become impossibly good. I asked the doctor if I needed to do anything (exercise, supplements, diet, etc) and the answer was: "Nothing. Keep doing whatever you are doing. You've never been healthier since we have records of you and there were times in the past when your numbers had us worried." OK, can do.

More than two months have passed since my previous measurement. I wanted to have the exam results before posting because this will be the last time I do so.

Height 181 cm
12-12-11 9-30-11 Diff.
Weight 78.2 kg 80.3 kg -2.1 kg
Chest 103.5 cm 103 cm +0.5 cm
Arm 34 cm 33 cm +1 cm
Waist 84 cm 86 cm -2 cm
Hips 93 cm 94 cm -1 cm
Thigh 58.5 cm 59 cm -0.5 cm

All measurements have been made at the widest point (where it applies) of cold, relaxed muscles. It should be said that, in my opinion, these measurements can be deceiving. They do show that a substantial change has taken place, of course. This is easy to see.

However, the very specifics can be misleading. For instance, my thigh muscles have developed the most yet the data in the tables show a continue drop in size. This is because I was packing a large amount of fat in that area. Strangely, this was never apparent. My now-gone gut attracted all the attention.

It still surprises me that the weight continues to drop. I do have a little of fat left, but very, very little. I think I could lose perhaps two more kilos (approx. 5 pounds) but this would start to become a bit extreme. I could be 3.5 kilos from paper thin skin. If one factors in that I am putting on weight in the form of muscle, the transformation is even more striking.

Height 181 cm
12-12-11 5-31-11 Diff.
Weight 78.2 kg 86.9 kg -8.7 kg
Chest 103.5 cm 100 cm +3.5 cm
Arm 34 cm 32 cm +2 cm
Waist 84 cm 91 cm -7 cm
Hips 93 cm 102 cm -9 cm
Thigh 58.5 cm 64 cm -5.5 cm

Progress over the last half a year is shown in the table above. It is a remarkable achievement. At my age, I would have never expected to be able to change my physique to this extent and in this short period of time. I weigh less today than I did at 18 years of age while appearing (and being) stronger.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Notes on the Paleo diet

A quick glance over the entries on this blog should provide anyone with sufficient evidence to unequivocally prove that, one, I am following a Paleo diet and, two, I am very satisfied with the results.

It is from this biased position that I will attempt to write a brief review of this diet.

- First, then, a Paleo diet is... what exactly?

It is important to be clear on this because there are as many definitions as there practitioners. It should be noted that this is not necessarily a problem.

To me, anything that is edible in its natural state is Paleo. If it needs boiling, baking, etc, in order to become edible, it is not Paleo. Processed foods are also excluded because, although they could be Paleo, it is impossible (for me) to determine exactly what is in them and whether the manner in which they were processed was questionable.

My exceptions are yogurt, butter, and cocoa powder. All are processed even if the first two derive from milk, which is edible in its natural state. Cocoa seeds are not edible raw, as far as I know.

That said...

- It is a healthy diet.

It cannot be any other way, really. Fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, must be good for human health. It is either this or a denial of the theory of evolution. Foods from other sources, including those that are indigestible/toxic until cooked, could (and may) be questionable. However, the very essentials must be found among those plant and animal products that are edible in their natural state and that were available to our human and primate ancestors.

Although this is "just" a logical common-sense argument, self-experimentation has led me to the same conclusion. I have never been particularly prone to illness but, nonetheless, would be under the weather with minor aches once or twice a month (digestion issues, mild migraines, colds/congestion, muscle/joint soreness, etc). Since I started this diet, my health has become near-bullet proof.

In terms of results, a Paleo diet is remarkably convincing.

- It helps the metabolism to regulate itself.

When I first started this diet, I was keen on losing weight. I no longer worry. The fat seems to disappear almost as a side-effect. The template menu, in all its incarnations, is posted on this blog. I don't eat sparingly. In fact, I eat more than I did last year when I put on 15 kilos.

The most immediate observation I can make based on my experience is that this diet allows the metabolism to address its own concerns without imposing undue stress that would, otherwise, divert its efforts to damage-control. In other words, my metabolism is given sufficient breathing room to get the job done. Since, for example, I have extra weight on, this means that the fat must go and my metabolism processes it away.

Interestingly, my metabolism caters to muscle growth simultaneously. I had been told many times not to expect muscle gains while losing fat. Well, it appears this is not a problem I have. My metabolism is able to handle all its tasks adequately.

- It is forgiving regarding quantities.

Let me first say that, in principle, the "calories in, calories out" paradigm is valid. It must. After all, if there were no relation between the energy our bodies use and the energy food provides our bodies, why eat at all? Where does the energy come from? Well, people, it comes from the food we eat and that is the reason why we eat. Anyone that claims otherwise is, unfortunately, delusional.

It is a fact, however, that not all calories are alike.

Eating too much (or too little) does not seem to be a problem while on a Paleo diet. My metabolism keeps a neat balancing act regardless of the amounts of food I eat, whether a lot or little, provided that it is Paleo. Energy levels are surprisingly constant too. Moderation remains important but I do not even need to pay conscious attention to amounts or servings. It seems to work itself out.

In contrast, when I followed a near-vegan Japanese style diet, any rise above my "recommended" calorie intake quickly led to weight gain (shedding fat was never nearly as easy, though). In order to gain weight, all I had to do was indulge, no matter how little. In order to lose weight, I had to make a deliberate and substantial effort and, then, go hungry for what seemed like an eternity.

- It simplifies and clarifies the relation we have with the sources of nutrition.

Since I did away with processed foods, I see everything I eat. What I mean is that my brain no longer identifies boxes and bags as food. Instead, when I think of food nowadays, mental images of actual carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, pineapples, etc, pop up.

It might seem a trivial change but it is not. Being able to identify your food (and that what you consider to be food actually corresponds to real food) is something that needs to be experienced.

- Beware of Paleo utopia.

Myth: "It is the healthiest diet ever conceived." The truth is that no diet is. If such a thing were ever to exist, it would first need to be customized to the genetic makeup of each specific individual. Then, it would need to be tailored to the needs of that individual for each specific moment of his/her life, come high, come low, and taking into consideration stress, exertion, illness, menstruation, etc. At this point in time, this is science-fiction. Diet wars are absurd.

Myth: "It will cure any and all diseases." Sure, there are anecdotal claims that a Paleo diet will cure from acne to cancer, from cavities to diabetes. Well, I should not need to say this but it is not the case that such a diet exists, Paleo or not. Food cannot take the place of medication any more than medication can take the place of food. Each has a role and a function. No sane person will recommend you feed yourself with drugs. The same applies to food as medicine.

Myth: "It is impossible to gain weight on this diet." Again, it is claimed that, no matter how much you eat, if it is Paleo, you will not put on a pound. This is absurd. Sustained overeating eventually leads to fat accumulation. This is, in fact, healthy. If your metabolism were not able to use its adipose tissue, the only way to avert death from the toxicity brought about by nutrient/energy saturation would be through waste disposal, that is, by overtaxing the organs (just as bad in the long run). Besides, I have put on a few kilos of muscle over the last few months. There is no doubt in my mind that I will also be able to put on fat when and if I want to.

Myth: "It is impossible to lose weight if you eat a non-Paleo diet or foods." Clearly false. Eat nothing but a slice of bread a day and you will wither away, fat and muscle gone, eventually dying. As with the previous myth, the difference (to me) is the ease with which one gains or loses weight. That is it. Non-paleo foods, specially from grain sources, deliver too much energy too quickly. If you are riding the Tour of France, do have your 6,000 calories of pasta a day. Nothing else will do, really. It is either carbs or intravenous feeding (which coaches prefer for health reasons but is not legal). If you are a regular person with a normal level of activity, however, it is irrational to systematically spike your glucose level into toxicity due poor food choices.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Template menu 0.6

There is more food on the menu that I can eat. I am getting rid off the omelet for dinner.

In case there are any doubts, this is what I have been eating, day in day out, for months now. It accounts for 95% of my diet.

  • Homemade bone and vegetable broth with an egg-drop.
  • ~200 grams of plain yogurt with a spoon of cocoa powder.

  • ~200 grams of beef or pork.
  • Salad: Lettuce, 1 carrot, 1 cucumber, 1 onion (sautéed with a tablespoon of butter), and 3 tablespoons of homemade mayonnaise as dressing.

  • Homemade vegetable purée (from pumpkin to exotic mushrooms and every wild thing in between).
  • ~200 grams of fish (pan-fried butter).

The remainder 5% is not posted because I am not regular about it. For instance, I have 1-2 servings of fruit per week, a serving being a pineapple or two large pears or half a dozen kiwis. I also eat 3-4 handfuls of walnuts weekly. And there is coffee, although this is even more infrequent, having from none to at most three cups a month.

Despite efforts to free myself from this kind of commitments, approximately once a week, I have to attend a social event that involves a non-paleo meal. A lunch or dinner, these could include grains/beans/tubers, breads/cake/sweets, and essentially all sorts of food that I would not otherwise eat. I go along and that is that. Ill effects from these meals are generally mild and sort-lived provided they do not occur too frequently.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

X H.I.T. report

I am coming to the end of what I consider to be a sufficiently representative experimental window and it is therefore time to start wrapping up the blog. This is likely to be the last H.I.T. report.

The following are a few of the things that I have done and learned.

Adequate perspective and persistence, among other things, allow us to develop proper exercise performance. This, in turn, makes it possible for us to discover our personal limits regarding the amount of weight we can lift, neither a trivial nor a simple thing to do. It takes time to learn how to deploy our strength properly and fully.

Once we are pushing against our limits, however, we also find that we have hit a brick wall.

Let there be no mistake about this. Just take a look at the stack of weights on exercise machines. If, for instance, your limit on the shoulder press were 54 kilos, it would be near impossible for you to add an additional plate and lift 62 kilos. The difference of 8 kilos (nearly 20 pounds) is a massive ~15% increase. You would only be able to move the larger stack briefly, haltingly, and sacrificing proper form. In other words, you would be gaining nothing while inviting injury.

It is understandable that, once limits are reached, most gym tourists either quit or fall into a rut. Progress appears to be hopelessly out of reach.

After the honeymoon period of the quick early gains has passed, it is natural to ask: What do I need to do in order to move beyond these limits and keep on lifting heavier and heavier? Is my training protocol still appropriate? And, if so, am I implementing it correctly?

I have successfully addressed these concerns as follows:

  1. Protocol: Infrequent, abbreviated, high intensity workouts.

    • Weekly sessions means plenty of time for rest and recovery, that is, time for muscle growth.
    • No more than 5 or 6 well-chosen, large-muscle, compound exercises.
    • A warm-up set (at ~50%, 6 reps) followed by a set to failure (60-90 secs, 6-8 reps) per exercise.

  2. Implementation: Perfectionism.

    • Develop the correct form and stick to it. Change little and only for the better.
    • Always add more weight or reps, not necessarily every workout but relentlessly.
    • Stop immediately if you feel pain or are about to. It makes no sense to injure yourself.

Progression at one's limit is slow and gradual. It would be ideal if it were possible to increase the weight on the stack with plates of half a kilo (or less). Unfortunately, exercise machines are not designed like this. It is one of the reasons why serious trainees eventually move on to free weights. There is no other way to have advanced/sophisticated control over lift loads.

Whatever the equipment, work on perfecting your form patiently and carry on training hard until additional muscle develops. The extra musculature and improved form will make it possible for you to increase your maximum lifts, no matter how slowly.

It is also important to keep a healthy and realistic perspective. If one were able to lift 1 extra kilo a month, that would mean a gain of 12 kilos a year, and a gain of 120 kilos (~270 pounds) in ten years. For an average person, this is would be huge achievement. In reality, this is beyond the capacity for work and dedication of most people.

As of the date of this post, I have followed a H.I.T. protocol for about 6 months. It has been during the last 3 months at the gym when I have progressed the most. Looking at my workout sheet, I have doubled (in some exercises, tripled) the amount of weight I can lift. The "awakening" of existing muscle and the improvement of performance skill probably account for 80-90% of the gains. Muscle growth accounts for the rest.

Let that sink in. I am today 2-3 times stronger than I was when I started.

The effectiveness of this protocol is far superior to anything I have ever done before. My plan is to continue with it and push on.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Affection or fondness is a "disposition or rare state of mind or body"

As the winter months approach and the cold gradually settles, it is difficult to stay put without my cat trying to sit on me.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Broth and purée recipes

Cooking is not among my hobbies and, as anyone can see from the template menu, I strive for simplicity in the kitchen whenever possible. Here are two recipes that are as straightforward as they come and whose cooking help give each other flavor.

The reason why I am posting these recipes is because I have come across a sort of culinary quandary. The recipes for broth that I find online claim that bones must be boiled for 24~48 hours or even longer. Yet, everyone I have asked about this, from grannies to professional chefs, have told me that they have never heard of a broth recipe (or come across one in a cookbook) that requires such long cooking times. Aromas, I am told, are lost quickly and, in general, the reason to prolong cooking is to reduce the water content.

So, just to be clear, it is not my intention to settle a feud and, even less so, to start a discussion among connoisseurs. I have experimented for a few weeks and this is what I have come up with. It works for me; it might work for you.

Cooking time: ~3 1/2 hours.
Time in the kitchen: 1 hour tops.

Place in a tall pot a pig foot, a few chicken wings, a celery stick or two, some laurel leaves (also called bay leaves), salt to taste, and sufficient water to cover everything. My choice of these specific animal products is determined by what is easily available. If I had other choices (e.g. beef bones, etc), I would probably choose differently. Nonetheless, pig feet are quite gelatinous and the resulting broth is tasty.

Bring to boil, skim the surface a couple of times, and add additional (warm) water if the level drops too much. I leave the pot on the stove for 2 or 3 hours, depending on how convenient it is. If there is a substantial difference in flavor, it is lost on me.

Once boiled to satisfaction, throw away the bones and other solids, then strain the stock through a coffee/oil filter. A friend tells me she uses a paper towel as filter but when I tried, it ripped (my fault, I guess I am clumsy). The broth is not finished yet, though. We are going to get some flavor out of the vegetables for the purée.

Place in a tall pot a variety of mushrooms (maitake, shiitake, etc), pumpkin, spinach, cauliflower, onion, garlic, carrot, and the still-warm bone stock you had just made. Choose the amount of each that suits your fancy. The list of ingredients is also at your mercy. I buy what looks good and throw it in. Sometimes I also add zucchini, cabbage, eggplant, or whatever. In truth, I take advantage of the ingredient mêlée to sneak in some vegetables that I would not eat otherwise.

Boil for about 30 minutes or whatever time it takes for all vegetables to become soft. All paleo foodstuffs can be eaten raw, in any case. If you are in a hurry, cut into smaller pieces in order to speed up the cooking. Limiting the amount of boiling is the best way to preserve nutrients.

Once boiled to satisfaction, put the vegetables aside and strain the stock through a coffee/oil filter one more time. The broth is now finished. Use a blender to purée the vegetables until creamed. Add some broth to smooth the mix if you feel it is too thick.

All done. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.

I make batches that last me for 4 to 6 days, a serving of each (broth and purée) a day. I like to do a quick reboil of a cup broth and then drop an egg in it for breakfast. The purée works best with a pat of butter and simply warmed in a microwave.

Hope it helps.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sprinting IV

It has been over three months since I have written a post on sprinting. This, however, does not imply that I have stopped doing sprints. On the contrary. I have continued to enjoy the activity and I have made significant improvements in form, strength, and speed.

Originally, I did sprints once a week (on a few occasions twice) in a set of about a dozen runs. A couple of months back, I decided to increase the amount of walking and to combine it with a sprinting component. The integration of walking and sprinting into one session is a time saver and amounts to a more well-rounded activity.

This is how it has worked out.

I go for a one-hour nature walk at least 3 or 4 times a week and never more than 6 times (weather permitting). As I posted previously (Kicking a ball ~ sprinting), I walk while kicking a ball ahead of me. In addition to being quite enjoyable, the innocent activity of playing with a ball has strengthened my ankles and lower trunk. An unexpected freebie.

My routine, then, is as follows. I warm up by walking for 30 minutes. The sprints consist of 40~50 strides each: 15~20 strides picking up speed, 15-20 strides running all out, and 5~10 strides slowing down to a stop. I walk slowly back. I do this 3 or 4 times depending on how exuberant I feel. Last, I cool off by walking another 30 minutes.

That said, here is a heads-up on strong kicks. This was an extremely fun experience that, I found, was better to give up. As I mentioned before (Kicking a ball ~ sprinting), delivering powerful kicks seems to stimulate muscle fatigue similar to that of sprinting. However, it is an explosive movement that demands a certain sophistication of skill. It is more complex that one would think (which, in turn, makes it quite an interesting exercise). And so, kicking the ball slightly off or throwing your leg carelessly is sufficient to hurt yourself. In my case, the "injuries" had not involved more than pulling a thigh muscle. Nonetheless, once "injured", sprinting was out of the question for a few days. Eventually I came to the decision to give up strong kicks and concentrate on sprinting.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

IX H.I.T. report

It has been, perhaps, 6 or 7 weeks since my last H.I.T. report. I have done a workout a week except in one occasion when I did two. The recovery window remains appropriate and I don't think I should exercise more frequently than weekly.

One of my goals has been to find out my true limits poundage-wise in the "big 5" exercises. This should have taken me about a month but it ended up taking twice as long because the gym went through a complete reform recently. I was somewhat shocked to find out that the new machines, while seemingly identical, threw my numbers out of whack. For instance, I was forced to reduce my leg press weight to 60% and build back from there. All other exercises required tuning although not as much.

As an aside, I have a nagging feeling that the manufacturer of this equipment has cut corners and that the new machines are of inferior quality (comparatively speaking). I am not pleased with the change.

A second goal has been to work on injury-preventing form. I believe that this is coming along well. I am more self-aware and quicker to correct my posture. The intensity of the effort required still blinds me somewhat. I am learning, though, and that is progress.

My intention now is to do a small cycle. I plan on dropping a plate or two on each exercise and work from injure-preventing form to productive form. This means that I want to learn how to deliver more strength. In the process, I also want to further my practical understanding of biomechanics. Lowering the amount of weight will result in an increase in TUL's across the board. I am now doing 6-8 reps per exercise except the leg press where I can go +10 before positive failure. I am expecting to increase these numbers to the 14-20 rep range. Again, the objective is to free effort in order to concentrate on posture, motion, speed, extension, turn around, etc.

Actively engaging the torso while working out has yielded fantastic results in terms of overall strength. Visually, my appearance shows musculature that just two months ago was not there.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Template menu 0.5

Summer has come to an end and temperatures are slowly dropping. It is time to include some warm dishes in the template menu.

Oops, I have just noticed a small error. It has been months since I substituted the tomato in my lunch salad for a carrot.

  • Homemade bone and vegetable broth with an egg-drop.
  • ~200 grams of plain yogurt with a spoon of cocoa powder.

  • ~200 grams of beef or pork.
  • Salad: Lettuce, 1 carrot, 1 cucumber, 1 onion (sautéed with a tablespoon of butter), and 3 tablespoons of homemade mayonnaise as dressing.

  • Homemade vegetable purée (from pumpkin to exotic mushrooms and every wild thing in between).
  • 1 egg omelet.
  • ~200 grams of fish (pan-fried butter).

I mentioned a while back that I was going to do a "liquid diet" of sorts (read below for details, if interested). My intention was to drink nothing but juice once a week for three consecutive weeks. This was not possible due to unrelated circumstances. There were a couple of weeks when I could not get around to it and had to postpone to the following week. In all, it took 5 weeks, I think, to fit in the three juice days.

My liquid diet involved three meals a day. Each meal consisted of a liter of vegetable/fruit juice and a cup of walnuts. It worked better than I had expected and I was not hungry at all. This is interesting and might be related to the 36 hour fast. Also, I lost a little bit of weight and this was surprising considering the amount of fructose involved and high calorie content of walnuts.

So, there. I finished all the juice stored in the pantry and I don't think I will be doing this kind of thing again.