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.

 

Bodybuilding vs Starting Strength or Stronglifts

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

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

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

Success?

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

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

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

Bodybuilding

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

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

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

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

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

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