My Summer of Biohacking

How Fasting, Time Restricted Eating, and Carnivore Helped me Lose 20 Pounds on Accident

Summer weight of 158 poundsFirst of all, did I miss any buzzwords?

I’m always testing my body. I use different workout methodologies about every 8 weeks. I add and remove things from my diet regularly to see how they affect how I feel, think, or look. This summer, however, I was on a bit of a quest to fix a problem. If you’ve read many posts here, you know that I’ve had some stomach issues for the past year. This may be TMI, but symptoms were bloating, incredible gas, irritable bowl, frequent – and often surprising – bowl movements, which then led to (again, TMI) some horrible hemorrhoids (just being honest, folks!).

In a last ditch effort to fix the problem before heading off to the doctor to get a ton of embarrassing and expensive tests performed, I started the summer culling items from my diet to see if there was one – or more – items that were causing the distress.

Fasting

The first phase of my new regiment was fasting. Not intermittent fasting, not time-restricted feeding, but fasting. I kicked off my summer attempting a 36 hour fast. I did more wrong than right in my first fasting experiment (you can read the details in this post), but I did notice a difference in how my body felt during the time I was fasting.  And of course it stands to reason that if you aren’t eating, you aren’t pooping, so for a couple of days my poor colon got some relief.

Time Restricted Eating

As I left my fast, I tried to ease back into eating my normal diet. For the first few days I concentrated on eating mostly meat, few grains, and I didn’t just pound the food from the time of waking up until the time I went to bed. I waited an hour or two before taking in food. Then, surprisingly,  I found it easier and easier to wait even longer until I made the conscious decision to block out a time of eating and fasting each day. No food after 8:30 pm. No food before 11:30. I wanted to try for a 14-16 hour fasting window each day. Adding a little more time each day to my fasting window made this doable until today I easily accommodate 9pm to 12pm. (9pm because I want one last shot of protein before settling in for bed.  The late protein shot is good for muscle protein synthesis, especially for us old guys).

Elimination

Through the summer I started eliminating the foods people commonly have issues with, or foods that I already knew didn’t work for me. For instance legumes (beans, lentils, peanuts, etc.)  simple do not work for me.  They blow me up and blow me out. As much as love my wife’s ham and lentil soup,  I just can’t eat it. Ditto chili with beans, black beans, refried beans, etc.

I decided grains had to go, which is terrible because I love chocolate croissants from the farmer’s market every Saturday morning. And summer is full of birthdays at our house, so no more birthday cake for Dave. And have I mentioned that my kids make home-made, from scratch, chocolate chip cookies at the drop of a hat? And beer! I’m a huge craft-beer fan, and  Memphis has some great local breweries. Fortunately, gluten-free wine is easy to come by, but no more jaunts to Casual Pint or Bosco’s brewery. Sad face.

Then there’s dairy; lots of people have trouble with dairy, so I decided that ought to go, too.

Leafy greens went out the window, too. I decided anything with even a modest amount of fiber had to go.  My bowels just couldn’t handle the trauma. I’m a huge salad fan, so – yet again – this was tough on my meal routine.

Carnivore

No grains, no greens, no beans, no dairy. What did that leave me but some starchy tubers, a little fruit, and…meat. I’m guarded with anything sugary, even naturally so because of my family’s history with diabetes, so my diet at the end of the summer became primarily a carnivore diet. I’ve become one of those “meal preppers”;  every Sunday I go to Costco and buy a big slab of cheap roast, sirloin, ribeye, flank, etc. and drop it in the Instant Pot overnight. Monday morning I have a week’s worth of lunches cooked up ready to go.

It would be more honest to call this “meat-based”, as opposed to true Carnivore or “plant based”. As I’ve fine-tuned my diet, a typical break-fast around 12 is something like this:

  • Several ounces of pre-cooked beef, with juice and fat included
  • A serving of some kind of aged cheese, like sharp cheddar or Parmesan
  • A boiled egg

My dairy exclusion has gone through a couple of iterations and has landed on aged or fermented dairy like hard cheeses or full-fat Greek yogurt, along with an occasional glass of goat’s milk, which I’m experimenting with, since it’s easier on most people’s digestion.

Dinner is usually the meat portion of whatever the family is eating (chicken, pork, beef, fish, etc.) supplemented, again, with perhaps some hard cheese, and maybe some big, fat, olives and/or avocados.  Both are great fat sources, and the olives help pack in some sodium as well.

What About  Exercise?

The one thing that did not change during the summer was my activity level. I kept the same workout routine throughout; Mon/Wed/Fri resistance training, Tuesday HIIT, Thursday aerobic. That means that my weight loss wasn’t tied to a change in activity level, but a change in caloric intake somewhere.

My Results?

Weight

I have no blood test numbers to give you; the only objective result I can report is that I dropped from 174 to 158 (now 154 on 9/11) pounds. Three comments:

  • I’m not a big guy at all. I never would have believed that I had 20 pounds to lose.
  • I wasn’t trying to lose weight.  It was purely accidental
  • My strength numbers are still good, and even though I’ve dropped a couple of waist sizes in my pants, my clothes still fit tightly around my thighs, shoulders and chest.  Without measuring beforehand, all I can report is that subjectively my lean muscle mass has stayed constant.

Digestion

  • No more bloat.  My stomach feels and looks flat.
  • No more gas. No joke: I hardly fart.
  • Decreased bowl movements.  Most people think that 1) You MUST have fiber in your diet or you’ll be hopelessly constipated. Nope. I’ve gone from 2-5 BM’s a day to one, most days, maybe one every other day.
  • Hemorrhoids are almost gone. For all practical purposes they are. I’ve gone from chronic hemorrhoids for the last 6-8 months to very small flareups every couple of weeks. That’s a huge relief!
  • I was diagnosed with a hiatel hernia twenty years ago. I always travel with a tums in my pocket. Not any more. Reflux free!

Other

A few more benefits:

  • My brain is clear.
  • My energy level is super high. In fact, I’ve gone from a heavy coffee drinker to drinking one cup a day.  That’s from habit and enjoyment, not necessity. If I have more than one, I’m jittery and over-caffeinated. This is one of the weirdest changes to me.

Conclusion

I’m trying to decide where to go from here. I didn’t take a very scientific approach and mixed too many variables to be able to point to just one thing and say “That’s the culprit!”. Is the improvement dairy? Grains? Legumes? Leafy vegetables?  Increased meat? And, frankly, I’m terrified to change anything! When you feel this good, you don’t want to go back to feeling bad. If I add grains back in, will I have to go back to square one and detox again? What if I close that fasting window and start eating breakfast at 7 am?  Maybe what’s helped is giving my digestion the long break every day instead of eating and snacking all the time. Who knows???

I’ll probably keep this up for another 30 days until I feel that I’m in a solid place of wellness and then add back some variables. Or…I may just stick with what works!

2019 Mid Year Reset

Calendar July 2019Most folks have New Year’s resolutions, but I’m using the last half of 2019 – and  specifically July and August – to institute some new habits. If it takes 66 days  to train a new habit, then I’m hoping that  I can have some new behaviors in place by September. These habits specifically have to do with some relationship and productivity goals I set for myself after my Mid Life Reset retreat.

They are:

  1. Remove electronics from the bedroom. When we filled out our Spouse Survey (https://www.viewfromthetop.com/spousesurvey) in preparation for my retreat, my wife and I both said that we were spending too much time on social media, and not enough time being intimate in the bedroom. And that’s not necessarily sexually intimate, it’s wrapping up our day together, praying together, even falling to sleep together. Part of that has to do with each of us  bringing our phones to bed and checking social media from the time we hit the bed until the lights go out. In addition, I hate that – since my phone is my alarm clock – the first thing I reach for in the morning is my phone. As soon as my feet hit the floor, I swipe off “Airplane Mode” and start the deluge of email, news and podcasts. I’m most mentally focused in the morning, and would rather spend that  mental energy on important stuff, like personal and spiritual development. So I’m back to a real alarm clock as of July 1. My phone and my wife’s phone are both sleeping in the kitchen at night instead of the bedroom.
  2. No eating after 8:30. I’m a snacker. It’s easy for me to eat all the way until my head hits the pillow. And even though my snacks have morphed over the years from ice cream to almonds, going to bed with a belly full of food has lots of implications for sleep quality. I am a chronically bad sleeper,  so I want to do as much as I can to get high quality rest and recovery. In addition, I’m trying to widen my fasting window to 14 hours or so. I’ve been fairly successful with a 9am to 9pm feeding window, but I’d rather extend that to a 10am to 8:00pm window. Hopefully drawing this line in the sand will help.  I can tell you it was tough turning down my son’s home-made blackberry cobbler last night at 9pm, though.
  3. In bed by 10. Again, this is related to intimacy (see #1, above). My wife crashes pretty early, but it’s easy for me to sit in front of the computer until 11 or 12. My wife specifically asked that I come to bed early in her Spouse Survey. If this is a priority to me (which it is), I should do whatever I can to help make this a reality.
  4. No Alcohol. Last year I took a “Dry July” for a number of reasons (“On The Wagon“), and decided to do it again this year. I really like good wine and good beer (I don’t really care for spirits much). But in truth, there really isn’t any good physical reason for ingesting alcohol. Taking a break is good for my sleep, my budget, my stomach, testosterone levels and my attitude.

I know you’re not supposed to take on more than one habit at a time. However, I see these as all being related to my night-time routine. Success with my night-time routine will set me up for increased intimacy in my marriage and for success in my health and morning  productivity.  It’s worth trying!

Hold me accountable! Ping me on the socials (Twitter) (Instagram) and ask me how I’m doing.

Got any mid-year goals? Post below.

Living Forward, A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want

Living Forward Book
My Ragged Copy of Living Forward

I recently took a retreat weekend for a “mid-life reset”. (You can read about my fasting experience during my retreat at http://davidscotts.blog/fitness-over-50/hiit-and-run). I took several tools with me for the weekend, including the book “Living Forward” by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. I’ve been planning this retreat for a long time. Case in point: I scheduled the weekend for May 29-June 2, 2019. I bought this book March 4, 2016. I guess you could say I don’t do anything on a whim.

Even though it took me two years to get to it, Living Forward didn’t disappoint. It was an invaluable tool for my Reset Weekend, and will be even more valuable if I continue in the plan it helped me create.

The book’s purpose is “ten chapters that take you on a journey through realizing your need for a Life Plan, the process of creating one, and the encouragement to make it happen. It’s all about equipping you to fill your days with the decisions that enable you to live a more intentional life.” (p. 22)

The Life Plan

Hyatt and Harkavy take you step-by-step through the Life Planning process with lots of examples. In fact, there’s an appendices that’s packed with examples. What you find is that although there is a defined process, it can be customized for your own preferences and life situation.

You start in classic Covey fashion (Stephen Covey, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”) by beginning with the end in mind. You literally write your own eulogy from the perspective of the people who know you best. Imagine walking through the crowd at your own funeral, eavesdropping on the conversations. What would you want to hear? Once you define how you want to be remembered, you begin working backward, planning to make that happen.

The next steps involve defining “Life Accounts”, the key relationships and activities that are a priority for you, and putting together concrete purpose statements and action steps to nurture those relationships into the the picture you defined in Step 1 (your eulogy). I won’t bore you with all of mine, but I’ll share with you a few that were important for me:

My Life Accounts

Wife / Marriage

Purpose Statement

As Stacey’s husband, my job is to know that she is loved in the same way that Christ loves the church. I encourage her, build her up, provide for her, serve her and lead her. Together our marriage is an insight into God’s love for our children and the people who come into our lives.

Envisioned Future

Stacey and I love to be around each other. Our weekly dates are full of fun and intimacy, both emotionally and physically. Because we’ve conquered our demons, we are able to help our kids conquer theirs. Our finances are in order, our careers are where we want them to be, and we have time to travel and serve others.

Bible Verse

“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”, Eph. 5:25

Short Term Goals / Specific Commitments

  • Regular (weekly) text messages and affirming notes
  • Purposeful weekly dates
  • Tackle “to do” list of house problems

Finances

Purpose Statement

I will be debt-free by 55 and have a savings/investment plan in place to secure our future and allow us to help others.

Envisioned Future

Because I have worked in a career that excites me and pays me well, my income has doubled over the past three years. Stacey and I have been diligent and disciplined and used the increased income to pay off all our consumer debt and our house. We have begun investing in a VTSAX IRA and have put aside a full six-month emergency fund.

Short Term Goals / Specific Commitments

  • Quit going to coffee shops and use my office instead
  • Schedule  Tuesday night finance meeting with Stacey
  • Put our budget in a prominent location
  • Focus on additional income, either within current job, or new job
  • Finish taxes by July 15

My full list of accounts, in order of priority are: Self, Marriage, Kids, Career, Finances, Other Family and Church Family. Your accounts may be different, and your priorities may be different. They should be. And they will probably change over time. Your Life Plan is a living, breathing document that changes as the stages of your life changes.

A Vision for your Life

More than anything, Living Forward helped me envision a future for my life. A key step in the plan is defining an “envisioned future”. These words, spoken in present tense, open your eyes to possibilities. My finances are not where I want them to be. They’re pretty screwed up. Although I’m fairly successful in my career, it’s not my ultimate professional destination. Creating my Life Plan helped me see the future clearly, and put me in the direction to get there. As Andy Stanley says, “Direction – not intention – determines destination.” A lot of us walk around with a vague idea of where we want to end up. My Life Plan has helped me set the course to get there.

Final Thoughts

My life is 2/3 over. I’m plotting out the last 25 years of my life and I want to make it count. But you don’t have to wait until you’re 50 for this to be valuable. It’s like compounded interest; the younger you start this process, the more valuable it becomes. Young men, young couples, could make such a huge impact in their lives, their marriages, their families, their communities by creating and regularly revising their Life Plans. I’m a fan.

You can purchase “Living Forward” using my affiliate link here. It won’t cost you any more, but will provide a little income for the blog.

HIIT and Run

Cones on field

My Weekly HIIT Workout

Supplies

  • 4 Sport Cones
  • A 50×100 open space

Workout Description

I love this little workout. It takes 20 minutes, works your tail off, and takes a minimum of setup and supplies.

Find a flat, open, space like a soccer, rugby, or football field (or just an open field at your local neighborhood park). Mark the field at each corner with a sports cone. Your field should be 50 meters wide by 100 meters long.

The TLDR is that you’ll set a timer for 20 minutes, then jog the 100 meter length, and  sprint the 50 meter width.  When the timer expires, you’re done.

Get Creative

There are a couple of ways you can add variety to this workout:

  • For the first two /  three weeks, you may want to set the timer for 10 minutes, and then restart the timer for another 10 minutes.  When I come out of my winter hibernation, I’m not in good enough shape to go 20 minutes straight. After the first 10 minute timer expires, I walk for 2 minutes to recover. Then I resume the workout for the final 8 minutes.
  • Once your body gets used to the workout, swap up and sprint the 100 meter length, and walk the 50 meter width (it’s brutal!)
  • And once you get acclimated to that workout, add 2 additional cones at the 50 meter mark of the long sides. With this version of the workout, you’ll now have cones marked at 50 meters along each side of the field. Alternate sprinting/jogging each 50 meters. Again, keep it  up for 20 minutes.

Conclusion

I literally drive around with my gym bag and a stack of cones in my car so that whenever I want to grab a quick workout, I can stop at the nearest park or field and churn it out for 20 minutes. There are no weights required or special equipment or exercises to keep up with. But I promise this little routine will work you hard for 20 minutes, especially as you progress through the levels of difficulty. Give it a try and let me know how you like it!

I’m A Fasting Failure

I’m a fasting failure.

I took a four day retreat a couple of weeks ago (I’ll document that in another blog post) and as a part of that, planned a 48 hour fast. Why fast? A couple of reasons:

  • To help me focus. In many religions, including my own, fasting is  a way of prioritizing the task at hand, giving it the serious consideration it deserves.
  • For digestive reasons. I have some chronic digestive issues. I was hoping a 48 our fast would help me reset my digestion. I would then re-introduce foods slowly, hopefully identifying some of the sensitive foods.
  • Plain ‘ole discipline. I hear guys talk about 3 day, 4 day, 5 day fasts and wanted to see if I had the discipline to at least complete a 2 day fast.

Nope.

I did make it 40 hours, though, just 8 hours short of my target, and far longer than I’ve ever gone without food before.

Notes From My Fast Washout

I took notes during my fast: how I was feeling, if I was hungry, bowel habits, what I did consume, how I broke my fast. Here are a few things I tracked while fasting:

Day 1

  • Preparation – I prepared a couple of days in advance by trying to transition to primarily fat as an energy source. I cut my carbs back in favor of bulletproof coffee, avocados, fatty meats, and nuts. I also decreased fiber and decreased caffeine.
  • NOTE – after 3 days of prep, I found that I had lost about 5 pounds.
  • My last meal was 9 pm the night before. First day of the fast I started with a cup of water with a multivitamin, then one cup of coffee.
  • I can’t tell you how many bottles of water I drank, but next time I’ll just insert a catheter.
  • I lifted weights (chest / shoulder / triceps) for one hour. I backed off my normal weight a bit, but not much. Had plenty of energy for the workout.
  • Around noon my stomach was screaming, but an hour or so later I was fine.
  • I took a very long walk late in the afternoon.
  • The only time I really wanted food was when I cleaned out my backpack for my hike and found a dark chocolate bar in a pocket. Once I knew it was present, it was hard to get it out of my mind.

Day 2

  • I heard that Peter Attia sleeps amazingly well when he fasts. I did not. I had a horrible night’s sleep. Some of it was due to noise in the campground where I was staying, but mainly it was because I had to get up to pee so many times. Yep. Gonna get a catheter next time.
  • Absolutely starving in the morning.
  • Really tired (did I say that already?)
  • Started the day with green tea instead of coffee, then back to water, water and more water.
  • Very difficult to concentrate. Super foggy.
  • Tried my usual 20 minute HIIT workout. Had to settle for 10 minutes. Just didn’t have the stamina.
  • Again, lots of pee, but no bowl movement since the day before I started the fast (it would be more than 3 days before I had a BM again).
  • Broke my fast at 1 pm, 8 hours shy of my target.

My Break-Fast

I broke my fast with…beef brisket, which I know is weird for lots of reasons, but mainly because I live in Memphis and pork BBQ is king.

I ordered a pound of beef brisket with no sauce, and ate only a few strips. First of all, I wanted to introduce as little fiber into my belly as possible. I also wanted to keep running on fat as fuel, and brisket is a pretty fatty meat. I like lean meat, and would normally trim the fat, but not this time; I gobbled it all down. My second meal was at 6:30 pm and it was…beef brisket. Just a few more pieces. My breakfast on day 3? More brisket.

Finally had a BM at 10 am.

That night I had an amazing dinner with my wife of steak, lobster, asparagus and a zucchini/squash medley with a bloody Cabernet to drink.

Pros of Fasting

Reading through my notes, it all sounds negative. But there was at least one positive. Although I’ve blown it since, my digestive system really felt on point coming out of the fast. I generally have a lot of gas along with frequent BMs throughout the day. Though hungry, not having a rolling supply of gas in my belly and the irritation of my colon blowing up was a welcome change. The problem has been introducing too much, too soon. I’m currently trying to trim back some of the variety in my diet and simplify my choices, without a full-on fast. Another couple of days should get me where I want to be.

Next Time

I’m sure I’ll attempt this again. There are a couple of things I’ll do differently, however. First, I won’t pair an attempt at fasting with a reflective retreat. I had to give in to hunger because it was taking my focus away from the very serious work I had to do. Next time I’ll simply pick a couple of days – maybe Friday and Saturday – and dedicate them to not eating. But I definitely won’t pair them with another serious mental and emotional task.

Second, I’ll cut back on the friggin’ water. I really couldn’t stop peeing. I’m sure I was flushing plenty of electrolytes as well, which probably helped contribute to the fogginess.

Third, I’ll provide a better sleep environment. I was camping during the fast, in early Memphis summer. It’s hot, it’s noisy, and it’s full of bugs. Between the camping environment and the frequent urination, I couldn’t get any rest. Getting better sleep would probably help my mental function and energy level.

I’ll probably try another fast in the fall. Stay tuned for updates. In the mean time, have you tried an extended fast? If so, how long? Would you consider it a success? Why or why not? Chime in below, in the comments.

Workout Recovery

Workout

TLDR

Your workout routine should take into account recovery time. This is especially true as you age (since it takes more time to recover). Scroll to “Training for recovery” to see my current workout routine for maximizing recovery.

The Importance of Recovery

Some guys, myself included, go balls to the wall in their workouts. We go all out during the workout, and we try to cram in as many gains as possible during the week. When I was in college I was at the gym twice each day, six days a week (only because the gym was closed on Sunday). I made incredible gains during that time.

The problem with gains made through intense and frequent workouts, however,  is that rarely can they be sustained. As muscle or endurance builds up, so does fatigue. Eventually physical and psychological burnout and / or injury show up, and your gains are actually reversed. Like the engine in your car, you can only rev at top speed for a while before the engine blows and you’re forced to pull over to the side of the road while everyone else passes you by. Slow and steady wins the race. Adequate recovery lets you make small incremental gains over time without burnout or injury. I’ve experienced it firsthand.

Sports Hernia

Three years ago I decided I wanted a starting position on my rugby team. Being 48 at the time, playing with guys less than half my age,  this was a big goal. Throughout the summer off-season I trained as heavy as I could, as often as I could. On my off days I sprinted in the 100 degree Memphis heat. We began the fall season with fitness assessments and at the end of the beep test I was one of the last five guys (out of a field of about 25 guys). During the other fitness drills, I killed it. At the bar after practice the young guys were giving me high-fives for my performance.

Unknown to them, I had been experiencing a nagging pain in my crotch. During the fireman carry at practice that night, it had become almost unbearable but I pushed through anyway. Over the next couple of weeks, I started losing speed because the effort of pulling my knee to my pelvis was excruciatingly painful. The day of our first scrimmage I awoke in terrible pain. I finally got up, stretched a bit, took some ibuprofen, and headed to the field.  I actually got a starting position (first time ever) and…declined. I didn’t feel I would be effective on the field and thought someone should take my place. My coach pushed me to take the position anyway, and I ended up playing about 60 minutes of the match.

The next morning, I literally could not get out of bed; I had no strength in my abdomen to pick my legs up. The diagnosis was a sports hernia. In my case, it was due to overuse. After several weeks of dry needling, chiropractic work, a stretching regimen, I wasn’t getting better. All the while, I was still going to the gym, still attempting to jog, trying to keep from getting out of starting shape.

It took a full year of recovery to get me back on the field. No gym work for two months. No running for close to six months. When I finally made it back to the gym, I had to start from scratch; nothing but bar. Also nothing targeting the core until close to eight months, and even then it was touch and go because of pain. All the gains I had made in the 3 summer months of training had been wiped out – and more – because I had over trained.

Training for Recovery

There’s a lot more to recovery besides your workout routine; sleep and nutrition play a huge role. But here’s how I’ve arranged my weekly workouts so that I get as much training time in as possible, but also as much recovery time as well. Notice that I try to alternate activities each day, along with alternating body parts and goals (gym vs. aerobic vs. HIIT, legs vs. upper body vs. total body lifts vs. complimentary lifts, etc.):

  • Monday – Gym day with an emphasis on legs (mainly deadlift and squat) along with a small amount of chest work (to increase weekly volume).
  • Tuesday – Aerobic running. Easy jog of 30-40 minutes.
  • Wednesday – Gym day focusing on upper body (mainly chest/shoulders).
  • Thursday – 20 minute sprint session. Notice that I’ve had two full days of recovery since my heavy leg day on Monday.
  • Friday – Gym day focusing on back, with light legs as well (stiff-legged deadlifts or lunges).
  • Saturday – Game day (during season) or general “fun day” staying active.
  • Sunday – Rest. Full stop.

Notice that everything gets covered; lots of full-body lifts, aerobic work, also HIIT training. But everything gets adequately rested in between sessions.

Also, during gym sessions each set gets 2.5-3 minutes rest between sets. This is so that each muscle group gets adequate recovery to attack each set with maximum intensity. Most guys will rest a minute or so in between, but this causes you to lose form, increase your risk of injury, and keeps the muscle group from being able to express itself to its fullness.

Diet includes extra zinc and magnesium for recovery, along with extra protein intake, over and above what most non-athletic folks would generally take in. Then sleep. As much sleep as possible (for a glance at my nightly routine, check out this blog post)

Conclusion

Your workout needs will be different from mine. But let me encourage you to step back and examine your workout for built-in recovery. Think about how you feel from Monday to Friday. I’ve had routines where I’d start on Monday full of piss and vinegar, but by Friday dreaded going to the gym. That’s burnout. Or maybe you keep experiencing small injuries: a pulled groin, a painful shoulder, a tight calf-muscle. Often these are signs that your muscles are fatigued. Restructure your workouts so that recovery is built-in. It’ll help you make far more gains over the long-haul.

The New Midlife Crisis?

This morning I stumbled on this article by Paul Flannery titled “Extreme Athleticism Is the New Midlife Crisis” (https://medium.com/s/greatescape/extreme-athleticism-is-the-new-midlife-crisis-d87199a18bed). I love a good midlife crisis, and I agreed with most of what the article had to say. It was a shame that the title had a negative sound to it. Rather than a midlife “crisis”, extreme athleticism here is described as a way to protect us from the ravages of old age.

When I turned 46 I decided to play rugby for the first time. My kids had played for years, and at 46, although I wasn’t “in shape”, I wasn’t overweight, I felt pretty good, and had kept pretty active while raising my five teenaged sons. The first day I stepped on the field to play a pickup game of touch rugby, I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I discovered just how out of shape I was on a hot, 98 degree suffocatingly humid summer day in Memphis. But I had a blast and couldn’t wait to get back out on the field. More than that, I started looking for a team I could join.

That day six years ago I wasn’t thinking about my midlife crisis, trying to go back to the “glory days” of my youth (I was never an athlete), or trying to prove something. I wanted to have fun. And as my kids were growing up and becoming more independent, I suddenly had more time to explore hobbies that had interested me but didn’t have time to engage with because – kids.

This is something Paul misses in his article. At 46, or now at 52, I want to have fun. I want to take advantage of the season I’ve found myself in. For the first time in over 20 years of raising kids, I have leisure time. Yes, my body isn’t what it used to be, but I wake up every day with the realization that I’ll never be as young as I am today. I’m going to take advantage of what my body can do today. This goes for play, work, sex; tomorrow I’ll be older, and more than likely my performance won’t match what it is today. Carpe diem.

I won’t pretend that it isn’t fun to step on a rugby field with guys half my age and amaze, not because I’m a great player, but because I can still sprint, I can still tackle, I can still hold my own physically. I won’t pretend that there are days when I feel like I have something to prove because of my age, that I’m not in the midst of a midlife crisis (which, in proving the former, confirms the latter). And yes, everyday I lift, I run, I sprint to protect and prepare for the years to come.

But most of all, boys just want to have fun.

Winter Workout 2018

Barbell on floor

TLDR

Try this 8 week hypertrophy (muscle-building) workout. Download the Excel spreadsheet here: Winter 2018 Hypertrophy Workout

Hypertrophy Basics

I alternate between different types of workouts during the year. Some of the year is about building strength (how much I can lift). Some of the year is dedicated to power (how much I can lift as quickly as possible). This winter I’ve chosen to concentrate on hypertrophy (muscle size).

 

There are at least 3 components to building muscle in the gym:

  • Volume. Specifically, the number of sets per muscle group per week creates a more dramatic result. However, there seems to be a relationship to more sets/reps throughout the week, rather than blowing your wad all in one day. Repeatedly hitting a muscle group through the week, without exceeding the minimum effective dose, seems to be better.
  • Muscle fiber recruitment. The more muscle fibers you recruit, the better. This is especially true for building muscle (rather than strength training). Done right, increased volume and training to failure or near failure recruits more muscle fibers. Rest and good form are the keys to muscle fiber recruitment.
  • Rest. This is hugely important. Often you’ll see guys rep to failure to get that “pump” in the gym, then quickly turn around and do it again. You’ll also see their volume decreases as each set is attempted (remember: increased volume recruits more muscle fibers). What they fail to realize is that the “pump” is actually their body’s response to the trash that’s built up in their muscles during a set. The body floods the area with blood to flush the lactic acid build up. If you don’t give your body enough time to flush the waste products from the muscle, it can’t perform to its maximal potential. To get the biggest bang for your buck, take as much rest time as you need so that you can perform each set to the full rep target. For me, it’s almost always 3 minutes.

The Workout

My workout achieves four goals for me:

  1. It’s fairly balanced across muscle groups.
  2. It places a high value on leg work. Hip and leg strength are important for me; you may want to place emphasis on a different priority.
  3. It includes aerobic as well as high intensity work.
  4. Even though it’s a five day workout, it’s structured so that recovery is built-in.

Personally, I’m loving this. Since I started in November 2018 (It’s January 2019 as I write this) I’ve added 7 pounds of non-Christmas weight to my frame. I’m not experiencing burn out. And although I’m pretty sore after most workout days, the recovery period allows me to hit it hard each time I enter the gym. I’m a fan of this one!

You can download the workout here: Winter 2018 Hypertrophy Workout. If you have any suggestions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments, below.

Ask Better Questions

Ask better questions

Things that make me want to scream:

  • Bending my fingernail backwards
  • Having a customer ask me for advice, then attempt to tell me how I should fix the problem.

This week, yet again, I had a customer ask me to look at a technical problem. She’s paying my hourly consulting fee, mind you, because I’m on site for a consult. She explains the problem and the proceeds to Google for an answer (using the very worst Google syntax ever), with the onsite tech guy sitting next to her pointing at results. I lean against the credenza in her office, meanwhile, waiting for them to give up and ask the expert they’re paying.

There are two parts of the problem: 1) Email has gotten mangled coming into her inbox and needs to be restored. 2) We need to keep this from happening in the future. We quickly discover the solution to #2 and fix it. The fix for #1 is a longer, more tedious procedure. We’ve exhausted the rabbit hole of Google results, and yet they just. keep. searching. In desperation and confusion I ask the question that seems obvious, but no one has asked yet:

What is the best possible outcome you could have?

She looks at me as if I have a third eye, or a horn sticking out of my forehead. After a minute it’s obvious she doesn’t have an answer to my question. Does she want the email restored? Does she want to step through the tedious procedure to fix the mangled emails? Does she want to skip it altogether, because it’s only a handful of emails? She’s had her head buried so deeply in the situation that she’s never stopped to consider what she wants to happen.

What is the Best Possible Outcome?

This is one of those questions as a consultant and troubleshooter that I have to ask over and over, because many people don’t really know what they want, or have lost sight of what they want, or keep changing their minds. They keep encountering the same situations over and over because they haven’t identified where they want to go.

Obviously, the question extends to the personal:

  • What is the best possible outcome of this relationship?
  • What is the best possible outcome of buying this car?
  • What is the best possible outcome of this conflict with my kid?
  • What is the best possible outcome of taking this job?

Take, for example, “What is the best possible outcome of this relationship?” Because you don’t know what you want, you can’t identify what the result of being in a life-long relationship with someone will be. Do you want to have kids?  What kind of values do you want those kids to have? Is your wife going to demand a certain standard of living? Will she remain faithful? Will you remain faithful to her? Once you identify what you want you know where to start looking for a wife. And, just as important, you know when to cut and run. This question will keep you from wasting time on people or things that aren’t taking you in the direction you want to go.

“What is the best possible outcome of this conflict with my kid?” It may be that you and your son or daughter won’t see eye to eye, but that the best possible outcome is that you model disagreeing well, and model grace in accepting a different opinion. Not knowing the best possible outcome will see you on the defensive, insisting on your way, even when it really doesn’t matter. The result being a broken, resentful relationship with your son.

  • What is the best possible outcome of talking to my ex on Snapchat?
  • What is the best possible outcome of tutoring a kid?
  • What is the best possible outcome of eating healthier?

Conclusion

This question, along with “What is the wise thing for me to do?“, can help you weed out the helpful from the destructive. The wise from the foolish. The wasteful from the resourceful. Take some time to sit down and identify some areas in your life that are vague right now. Are you looking at a major financial decision? Are you in a relationship that doesn’t have an end-game. What will your career look like 20 years from now? Have you set any longevity goals? Pick one and ask the question, “What is the best possible outcome?” and begin to shape your decision(s) based on what you see.

 

 

 

Supplements After 50: Zinc

Oysters are a great source of zinc

This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. You can view other posts in the series here: creatine, fish oil, vitamin D, magnesium, leucine, and protein.

Why Zinc?

Zinc is a micronutrient that is essential for your health. Zinc has been linked to a host of conditions (1) but for us middle-aged guys there are some specific reasons to supplement, like age-related vision loss, colon and rectal tumors, depression, muscle cramps, protein synthesis, and testosterone production(2).

As an athlete and middle-aged man with steadily decreasing testosterone and sarcopenia (age-related muscle shrinkage), the protein synthesis and testosterone production benefits are enough for me.

Sources of Zinc

Zinc is not something that is made in, or stored by, your body, so you’ve got to get it from an external source, either from food or by supplements. Food sources of zinc include oysters (super high in zinc) and beef, then in lower amounts in legumes, chicken and pork.(3)

When it comes to supplements, there are (at least) two things to take into consideration:

  1. Zinc as a gluconate has a couple of advantages over other zinc supplements. First, apparently many zinc supplements frequently contain cadmium as well because they two are “chemically similar and found together in nature”. When zinc is processed as zinc gluconate it contains lower levels of cadmium(1). Second, gluconates are often absorbed by the body easier than other methods, like zinc oxide.(4) (That’s why I also take magnesium as a gluconate as well).
  2. ZMA (zinc, magnesium aspartate, and B6) is a combination that has a controversial past. In 2000 the Journal of Exercise Physiology published a study(5) that showed that when a group of NCAA football players took a formulation of ZMA their free testosterone increased 30% (wow!) along with increases in growth hormone. However, the company who made the ZMA supplement also sponsored the study (conflict of interest), and subsequent studies haven’t been able to replicate the findings.

Final Thoughts on Zinc

It’s important to note that while doing the research on zinc supplementation I found several studies and statements across sites that said that most Americans and Europeans weren’t deficient in zinc. You can (and probably should) be tested for zinc levels during your annual checkup.

With that said, here is how and why I supplement: Since zinc is not produced or stored by the body, it’s essential that we get it from outside sources. Our bodies also use more zinc or flush zinc depending on our activity level. For instance,  zinc loss happens as we sweat and our need for zinc increases if our body is under certain stresses. As an athlete I beat my body up five days a week. I sweat buckets and damage my body through heavy resistance and interval training, and occasional rugby games and practices. With that in mind, I supplement primarily on days when I’ve had a physically grueling workout. It’s typical for me to supplement with 50mg before bed on Monday/Wednesday/Friday because they’re heavy lifting days, or after a rugby match. Otherwise, on running or interval training days or weekend recovery days, I won’t supplement.

Finally, I’ve been waiting for my magnesium and zinc supplements to run low so that I can do a round of ZMA supplementation. If I’m already taking these two minerals, then I don’t see the harm in replacing my current regimen with ZMA to see if I notice a difference. (Of course, it will be subjective since I won’t be getting blood work done during the trial).

Do you take a zinc supplement? If so, what kind and why?  Share in the comments below.

References

[1] https://www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-982/zinc
[2] “Zinc status and serum testosterone levels of healthy adults.”, Nutrition, 1996, May 12, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8875519?dopt=Abstract&holding=npg
[3] https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Zinc-HealthProfessional/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3901420/
[5] “Effects of a Novel Zinc-Magnesium Formulation on Hormones and Strength”, Journal of Exercise Physiology online, Volume 3 Number 4 October 2000, https://www.asep.org/asep/asep/BrillaV2.PDF