Creatine is a chemical that is found in your body, in both muscle and brain tissue. It’s one of the most studied performance-enhancing supplements on the market. Creatine is used during energy production for activities that are short, explosive, powerful movements like short sprints and powerlifting that last 10-15 seconds. When plenty of creatine exists in your body, you’re able to refuel that energy system quicker and more often after those explosive bouts of exercise.
Why Take A Creatine Supplement?
I’ve already hinted at the answer to this question, but it lies in your body’s ability to refuel after exercise. Your body’s natural store of creatine will only last so long: adding creatine to your diet will allow you to repeat those sprints or lifts more often, and with shorter recovery times between reps.
In contrast to the other supplements in the “Supplements After 50” series, I would categorize this supplement as an option for athletes, especially power athletes. Creatine supplementation won’t do much for a distance athlete, since long-term aerobic exercise system doesn’t rely on the ATP-PC (adenosine triphosphate – phosphocreatine) energy system.
You can supplement your creatine naturally through high protein foods like red meat, wild game, and fish such as salmon and tuna.
Creatine supplements are available as Creatine Monohydrate or “micronized” Creatine Monohydrate, with a smaller particle size for quicker uptake. Most supplement suppliers have some form of creatine supplement available, either as a powder or capsule. Personally, I buy mine from BulkSupplements on Amazon (Affiliate link). Several creatine supplement powders I’ve purchased in the past recommend a “loading” phase. Personally, I skip the loading phase and use a straight dose. I add it to my morning shake daily, and will cycle off for a couple of weeks after I finish a bag.
Again, this is an optional supplement for athletes. As a lifter and a rugby player, I’m engaging in some kind of explosive exercise almost every day. Maximizing every edge, especially at my age, is important. That’s why I add creatine to my diet. You may skip this altogether, depending on your exercise needs.
This post is going to document my experience with MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil, specifically Bulletproof™ Brain Octane Oil.
I’ve tried “bulletproof” coffee quite a bit over the last several years using a tablespoon of organic coconut oil with a tablespoon of Kerrygold® butter in a standard 6 oz cup of coffee. After some recent study I’ve learned there is a chemical difference between coconut oil and true MCT oil that causes MCT to be absorbed more readily (for a description from the Bulletproof guys, check out this link). I decided to give it a try.
Why Bulletproof Coffee?
The first question I should answer is why upgrade my coffee? I typically drink one cup of coffee right after my feet hit the floor. The only things I do before i drink my coffee is pee and drink a glass of water. And I drink my coffee black. I buy a lot of locally (Memphis) roasted specialty coffees and I don’t want to ruin them with cream and sugar. So why would I add oil and butter?
Bulletproof is a “bio-hack”, a way to upgrade your body’s performance in some way. And even though there are purported benefits like weight loss and appetite suppression, there is only one hack that I want: brain function. MCT, broken down into ketones, is supposedly a quick, ideal energy source to get your brain going in the morning. That’s what I’m after. I’d argue that that is the same reason why most of us drink coffee in the first place. If I can amp up the caffeine boost and get a sustained benefit, then count me in.
Day 1 (Saturday)
Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil arrived on Friday. Saturday morning I was excited to give it a try. I brewed a pour over of French Truck Coffee’s “Big River Blend” for my wife and I. As it turned out, we were out of Kerrygold butter. Huge buzz kill.
I mixed 2 tablespoons of MCT oil in 14 oz of coffee (Bulletproof’s recommended serving size is 1 Tbsp, but since I’m making two cups of coffee, I’m using 2) and used my mixer wand to blend it together. (You must do this, or you’ll have a cup of coffee with an oil slick on top). My wife and I sipped on the coffee, as usual, until it was gone. It had the same kind of “oily” feel on my lips as my coconut oil coffee, but didn’t have the coconut taste.
Results – First of all, take note that “disaster pants” is real. Within an hour of finishing my coffee, it was time to go! Don’t mean to gross you out, but had a pretty loose stool. Not long after, my wife (perhaps not making the connection) told me her stomach wasn’t feeling well. (I hadn’t told her about this possible side effect and still haven’t. Shh…) I was a little crampy as well, but this faded within a couple of hours.
Second, I would say that yes, my brain was high functioning, but I was also to the point of being over-stimulated. This could be related to the coffee; “Big River” is a light roast and gives me a bigger caffeine jolt than my typical dark roast blend. I ended up with two cups of coffee Saturday morning (one light, one dark) and I could have been over-caffeinated. But I was edgy and super irritable, to the point of being a jerk. I’ve got to nail this down. If this is what bio-hacking my brain is going to do, then I’ll pass.
Day 2 (Monday)
Over the weekend I did some research on disaster pants. I found two things I could try to keep this from being so bad: 1) Take MCT oil in smaller dosages. 2) Get used to it. Most people adjust to the MCT oil and the very unpleasant side effects subside over time. Good news.
This morning I brewed a dark roast Rwandan through my drip coffee maker. I managed to get my hands on some Kerrygold butter this weekend, so I’m prepared for the full experience (well…except for disaster pants). I mixed 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tsp MCT (instead of 1 Tbsp to lower the dose) and 6 oz. coffee. Sipped as usual while I got to work.
Results – It’s 12:45 pm and I’ve had a second cup of coffee now. My brain is in pretty high gear, and has been all morning. No, I don’t feel jittery like I did on day 1. Yes, I still had a pretty good BM about an hour after my first cup of coffee, but no cramps. Here’s hoping this gets even better. NOTE: I did not give my wife any MCT oil this morning. I’d feel really bad if she had an attack at work…
11 pm, no afternoon crash. Usually by 2 pm I need a hit of sugar and another cup of coffee or I’ll fall asleep on my keyboard. I’m actually afraid I won’t sleep tonight because my brain is still so sharp. Pretty remarkable for me.
Day 3 (Tuesday)
Today’s dosing was the same as yesterday’s: 1 Tsp Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil and 1 Tbsp butter in 6 oz coffee at around 6:30 AM. In addition to my first cup of coffee, I had a wonderful pour over of Dr. Bean‘s Burundi brewed by my favorite barista, @ethan,makes.coffee around 11 AM.
Results – Still had a loose BM about an hour after my first cup, but no stomach cramps. One thing I altered this morning was my breakfast. Today I decided to go to rugby practice, and – knowing what my carb needs would be – I scarfed down a baked sweet potato and had a sardine on toast for breakfast instead of my usual morning shake. Deep down I was hoping that having a solid meal rather than a shake would firm things up. Not so, unfortunately. But I’m only 3 days in, so I’m sure my body still has a bit to go.
Once again, my mind is still very clear as I write this at 10:59 pm after dragging in an hour ago from rugby practice and a two mile run. I had a bit of a crash at about 2 pm today, but part of that is due to a poor night’s sleep (I woke up in the MIDDLE of a REM cycle this morning, and it killed me) and part of it was because I was chained to an office chair all day in a warm server room. But again, it seems Brain Octane Oil has really cut through my brain fog.
[UPDATE Wednesday Morning] It appears I lied. Or, in political speak “mis-spoke”. I didn’t sleep at all last night, and as I lay on my pillow cursing Brain Oil, I realized that I had thrown off my experiment Tuesday. Looking at the prospect of two hours of high-intensity rugby practice from 6:30-8:30 pm, I stopped by my favorite coffee shop around 5:30 pm and grabbed a shot of espresso. Stupid, stupid move. I’m pretty caffeine sensitive and generally won’t drink coffee after 2 pm. Now I remember why. But that means that my clear, energized mind of 11 pm Tuesday night could actually be attributed to late afternoon espresso, NOT MCT oil.
Day 4 (Thursday)
I took the day off, at least from Bulletproof Coffee. I wanted to see if I could tell a difference in my energy level, clarity, and digestive tract. Let’s start with that last one, first. I couldn’t tell much difference because we grabbed a dozen doughnuts for my son’s “birthday breakfast”. As it turns out, the fat from the fried doughnuts had essentially the same effect as the fat from the MCT oil. One and 1/2 doughnuts and I’m headed to the toilet. My body is just sensitive to fats. As far as my brain’s clarity, I could tell a difference. MCT keeps me just at the edge of “too much”. I mentioned in Day 1’s post that I was downright irritable, overly caffeinated. Although I haven’t been at that level since, I feel like I’m right at the edge of the cliff. And I stay there throughout the entire day. Thursday I didn’t have that feeling.
Friday (Day 5)
I’m back on MCT this morning. 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tsp Brain Octane Oil in 6 oz of coffee. I added my second cup of coffee (no MCT) around 11 AM.
Results – 1/2 hour after my first cup I was off to the bathroom. I’m beginning to think that this isn’t going away and I’m going to have to choose between a morning run to the toilet and a day’s worth of brain clarity. Or maybe I just accept it as the price of doing business.
But my brain’s buzzing today.
One more thing: I do notice a difference in appetite on MCT days. I’ve been continuing my morning breakfast routine for the most part: coffee at 6:30 AM, breakfast (protein shake, sardine on toast, a handful of walnuts, and a couple of avocado slices) around 9:30 or 10 AM. This week, however, I feel so dang full after breakfast that I don’t feel like eating for several hours afterward.
Monday (Day 6)
First of all, What happened to Saturday and Sunday?, you may be asking. Saturday and Sunday I took a short vacation with my wife to celebrate 29 years of marriage. There was plenty of coffee to be had, but no MCT. There was no guarantee that a blender would be available at our AirBnB, and frankly, the thought of two days of potential diarrhea over a romantic weekend wasn’t appealing to me.
So here we are on Monday afternoon. I had my customary first cup around 6:30 AM with 1 Tsp Brain Octane Oil and 1 Tbsp grass-fed butter. As I write, it’s 12:15 PM and I’m drinking my second, and last, cup of coffee for the day.
Results – At this point I’m glad to report no digestive distress. Perhaps taking the weekend off helped my stomach get back in shape. There’s still time in the day to lose my bowels, but right now they’re hanging in. Beyond that, I don’t have that “over caffeinated” feeling, but I’m well alert and motivated. Even though I wasn’t terribly hungry, I ate lunch (it’s a workout day, so I need carbs!). We’ll see how long my energy level keeps going.
I have now finished my first bottle of Bulletproof Brain Oil. Last week I ordered, and received, my second bottle. I’m pretty cheap, so that means I see value in it.
Here are a few final, most likely subjective, observations:
My mind is definitely sharper. This is probably the most subjective finding I’ll report, but I feel clearer. My morning work goes by faster. I don’t feel “foggy” in the morning. My ability to communicate verbally is easier (less grasping for words).
Stomach issues have gotten better. In fact, my overall digestive system feels better. I’ve been nursing some stomach issues for a couple of months now, easing foods in/out of my diet to see if I could pinpoint the source. I can’t definitively say that MCT oil has been the fix; I’ve been tinkering with lots of things in my diet. But I’m definitely better off.
I could live on one cup of coffee/day. That hasn’t been true in the past. I love coffee, and often need it to keep going. Usually by 2 pm in the afternoon, I simply must have a second cup. I’m now drinking a second cup, usually around 11 am, just because I like it. However, I don’t need it in the afternoon now; I’m still mentally sharp.
I am less hungry. I still keep my same eating routines, because I know my what my body needs nutritionally. But I often eat my breakfast and lunch begrudgingly because I’m just not hungry.
One final note: I’m still not taking the full recommended dose of Brain Octane Oil. I’m taking a teaspoon per 6 oz cup, instead of a tablespoon. I believe in a minimum effective dose, so if this is working, I’ll probably stay at this dose rather than move up.
Give Bulletproof Brain Octane Oil a try and let me know your results in the comments, below.
If you want to support the blog, grab it from my Amazon Associate link here.
I use this blog to track all the funky food, nutrition and workout experiments I’m trying. I’m a firm believer in both consistency and variation in my workouts; consistency meaning it’s hard to get a feel for the success of a given method unless it’s been tried over a long-enough period of time. Variation in that muscle adapts to a given stimulus and so variation must be introduced to keep the muscle growing. So my usual workout routines last from 6-8 weeks, and then I change depending on what I think my strengths/weaknesses are in a given area, or what is going on during a given season (if I’m playing rugby).
Summer 2018 Workout
I’ve integrated the 5×5 workout into my yearly cycles for a couple of years now. Last year I tried the 1×20 workout for a cycle (you can get a copy of that here). At different times I’ve added a small amount of running or treadmill time into my workouts, but only 10-15 minutes at a time. During my 1×20 cycle I also integrated some HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) on days I wasn’t in the gym.
I’m planning on playing rugby in the fall, so over the summer I’ve been training to be prepared for the physical demands of the game. It’s a huge target: increased strength, explosive power, size (hypertrophy) and aerobic capacity.
All over the place, right?
To that end, I’ve combined the best of everything, my “Greatest Hits” so to speak. They’re available in this spreadsheet, “Current_Workout_2018-07-15.xlsx“.
The spreadsheet contains 3 tabs:
Weights – A daily chart of what happens each day. Monday and Friday are “strength” days, using 5×5 as the skeleton for the workouts. Once the big lifts are out of the way, select a few accessory lifts from the “1×20” worksheet to supplement your lifts.
1×20 – Wednesday is a “light” day. Choose a broad spectrum of lifts from the 1×20 sheet for a thorough full-body workout.
Aerobic – HIIT – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday are for aerobic and anaerobic systems. As an athlete in a sport with a heavy demand on my aerobic system, my goal this summer is to build my aerobic capacity. To that end, I’m running or biking two days / week, increasing my time by 5 minutes each week. I’m at almost an hour. It’s incredibly boring, but Amazon Prime and my Kindle Fire makes it doable. Thursdays are for explosive anaerobic work. Sprints are an easy way to get this work in, but often I use a combination of assault bike+weights for interval training. I’ll do 1 minute assault bike, straight into hang-cleans x 10 with as much weight as I can handle, then 1 minute of rest in between sets. Usually 6 or 7 sets kills me. Google “hiit options” or “bodyweight metcons” for more creative stuff you can do easily, at home.
Notes – The first sheet contains some basic notes to get you started.
Finally, make sure you take a day of full recovery. There’s a lot going on here, and it’s easy to over-train. In my schedule, recovery day is Sunday, but you can adjust the schedule however you want. But you must take a day off.
Give this a try. I’m super-pleased with my improvement over the summer. I haven’t gained any weight, which was a goal, but my other numbers have improved, and I don’t have a lot of fatigue, a problem I seem to run into when training heavy (like pure 5×5).
I’ve never been a heavy drinker (well, other than my freshman year in college) but over the last couple of years, drinking a couple of glasses of wine or a couple of beers at night has become a more regular occurrence. I don’t drink to get drunk but there are times that I certainly drink past the point of simple relaxation.
For a variety of reasons, some practical, some for the cause of science, I’ve decided to climb on the wagon for the month of July.
File this under both practical and science. Practically (and the primary driver for this), something has been causing me stomach discomfort over the past few months: bloating, gas, etc. I’ve been trimming gluten and dairy from my diet, and although I feel better overall, it is still occurring. However, in times when I’ve taken a week or two without a drink, my digestive issues have been relieved. So I’m conducting a science experiment to decide whether alcohol is the culprit.
Essentially everything you read on the Internet (which, of course, is true) points to alcohol’s ability to disrupt sleep patterns. More specifically, a 2013 review of scientific studies on alcohol and its effect on sleep concluded “At all dosages, alcohol causes a reduction in sleep onset latency, a more consolidated first half sleep, and an increase in sleep disruption in the second half of sleep”. My own experience is that I have no problem falling asleep, but have an incredibly hard time staying asleep. By 3 or 4 am, I’m awake, wishing I wasn’t.
Sleep is huge to me (and should be, to you). It affects testosterone levels, fat buildup, and repair and recovery after strenuous exercise. I want as much quality sleep as I can get. If avoiding alcohol helps, then I’m on board.
Frankly, I’m cranky when I drink. It’s probably related to the loss of quality sleep. But on more than one occasion I’ve found myself low on patience with my wife and kids and I feel like it’s attributable to drinking the night before. Nothing is more valuable than those relationships. If anything is impairing my relationships with those I love most, then it should go!
This is less of a factor, but there are indications that high alcohol use impairs testosterone production. Again, I don’t drink excessively, but if there’s any chance that drinking a few beers is cutting into my T-levels, then count me out. Add to this the effect on sleep mentioned above, which also affects T-levels, and I’d rather do without the booze.
I’ve written before (here) about the importance of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) and the importance of adequate protein intake as we age because of sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting). There is research showing that drinking inhibits muscle protein synthesis after exercise (at least in rats).
If there is anywhere my life is out of control, it’s my finances. Raising five boys (three of whom are in college) takes a toll on your budget. Cutting expenses is one way to help bring things back into line. Eliminating booze is easy money. Sure, a $10 six-pack or bottle of Cabernet doesn’t seem huge. But when it’s a six-pack per week, across 52 weeks a year, that’s a couple of utility bills, a few new tires, or a handful of college textbooks. Much better uses of funds.
I’m writing this on July 2, day two of my experiment. I’ll keep you posted.
Anyone want to join me? Chime in in the comments, below. I’m sure this would be easier with some company.
 “Alcohol impairs skeletal muscle protein synthesis and mTOR signaling in a time-dependent manner following electrically stimulated muscle contraction.” Journal of Applied Physiology, November 15, 2014.; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25257868
Jocko Willink says “Discipline equals freedom”. It’s the idea that in order to get what you want out of life, you have to have the discipline to make it happen. Do you want more free time? Quit wasting time surfing YouTube. Do you want financial freedom? Then practice discipline in your spending and saving habits.
Discipline equals freedom.
I’ve also come to a place where I believe that routine equals freedom. This is nothing new, but I’ve discovered that the more regularly practiced routines I put in place, the more it frees my mind and my time to spend energy on more important things.
Meal prep is a perfect example. I’m the first person in my house to get up in the morning, so I get a front row seat to observe everyone else’s morning habits. As each kid walks through the kitchen, the first thing I hear is, “what do we have for breakfast?”. I outline the available choices and watch them wrestle with the options. We replay this scene at lunch and dinner.
Every day. EVERY DAY. Every day I eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch.
Breakfast – Breakfast begins with a shake: A handful of spinach, half cup blueberries, half cup strawberries, half a banana, half cup yogurt, half cup water, half cup Kroger Carbmaster chocolate milk, plus supplements. Next, I eat a half an avocado, a handful of walnuts, and a sardine spread across a half piece of toast, buttered with Kerrygold butter.
Lunch – Lunch is just as eclectic. A handful of almonds, a boiled egg, a handful of Parmesan cheese snacks (from Costco, ), a piece of fruit (apple or orange), and on workout days, a couple of Banana-Rama Figgy Pops from Made In Nature (for needed carbs).
The Value of Routine
Having two major meals planned frees me from the time and stress of wondering what to eat. It frees me from the expense of going out because I don’t have what I need on hand. It frees me from the worry of eating healthy because I’ve made sure that my meals have all my bases covered as far as protein, carbs and fats. It frees my body from the discomfort that comes from eating something impulsively that will make me feel bad later.
My routine gives me freedom in the same way that having the discipline to stick to the routine gives me freedom.
The Freedom to Break Routine
It might sound boring, but it doesn’t have to be. I like my routine, but I’m not a slave to my routine. After all, slavery does not equal freedom (duh!). If I want to have breakfast with one of my kids, then I do. If I want to go out to eat lunch at a funky restaurant with my wife on Saturday, I do. My weekly routine of healthy eating gives me the bandwidth – the freedom – to go off track when the occasion calls for it.
There are a couple of areas in my life I want to add routines, but haven’t quite yet:
Clothing – Steve Jobs famously wore the same black shirt and blue jeans every day. I’m sure it was because eliminating the decision streamlined his day. I would love to buy a closet full of the same blue jeans and t-shirts (same brand and type, but perhaps different colors) to wear every day. The difficulty is the initial financial outlay of replacing my wardrobe at one time. But this will happen.
Workplace – I’m a virtual worker. Supposedly technology allows me to work from anywhere, but this isn’t true. The comings and goings in my busy household offer too many distractions to be truly productive. I have a list of favorite coffee shops, but because I don’t have control over the environment, actual “work” is hit or miss. Example: yesterday I visited a shop only to find that their grinder was broken and the WiFi was out after I had already completely unpacked my bag and plugged in all my equipment. I had to pack everything up and head to another shop. I again unpacked my gear and opened my laptop, when a friend walked in, saw me, and plopped himself down next to me and began talking. ZERO productivity. Knowing exactly where I’ll be working every day would eliminate a huge amount of decision making from my day.
Leucine is an essential amino acid that directly influences, among other things, muscle protein synthesis (MPS). If you’ve been following this series and read the post on protein supplementation, you’ll remember that MPS is a big deal for guys as they get older. As we age, we begin losing muscle (a process known as sarcopenia). But if we’re physically active and keep our protein intake up, we can slow the process. Some studies have shown that increasing our protein intake is even more beneficial as we age. 
Because leucine assists in MPS, increasing your plasma leucine level assists in metabolizing protein and therefore building – and maintaining – muscle tissue.
Sources of Leucine
Lean meat like beef, pork or chicken is high in leucine. Dairy products, especially cheese and Greek yogurt, are generally high in leucine as well. In fact, a serving of Greek yogurt has about as much leucine as four eggs. Finally, legumes, which are also high in protein, also contain a significant amount of leucine.
You can purchase(affiliate link) a leucine supplement by itself or as a part of a BCAA (branched chain amino acid) supplement. Or, many protein powders contain some sort of added leucine / BCAA cocktail as well.
When To Take Leucine
Research has shown that leucine can have an affect both pre and post-workout. Because leucine seems to impede muscle breakdown during workouts, many folks take some kind of supplement either before or during workouts. And because leucine helps kick protein synthesis into high gear, often it can be taken with a protein supplement post-workout to make the most out of the anabolic response to your workout. (If you’re sucking down a protein shake post-workout, you may already be getting the leucine you need, because many protein powders contain added leucine.)
There has been some speculation that taking leucine before bedtime is helpful as well. But even though protein ingestion before bed has been proven to boost MPS, research seems to indicate that adding a leucine supplement at bedtime has no effect.  Why waste it?
If you’re looking to build and/or maintain muscle mass and strength after 50, you have to make the most of every opportunity to increase muscle protein synthesis. Resistance exercise kicks MPS into gear, added protein provides the raw materials, and leucine seems to provide the pathway. Add a leucine supplement to your pre or post-workout shake to build even more muscle.
 Matthew Stark, Judith Lukaszuk, Aimee Prawitz, and Amanda Salacinski, “Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training”. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3529694/
I post a lot about workout routines I’m doing, supplements I take, routines I establish to try to stay strong, healthy and active.
This is why.
Last weekend we made a 10 hour trek to Savannah, GA to watch my 18 year old son play on a select-side college rugby team in a two-day tournament. However, when we arrived, he got sick and was essentially bed ridden for the entire time. So when you’ve driven 10 hours, and you’re stranded at a rugby tournament, what do you do?
You play rugby, of course!
I had a pair of shorts and cleats with me, so I searched around and found a couple of teams who needed players. One was an “old boys” team, the other was a combined college / men’s team. So while my son slept off his sickness, I had a great weekend playing rugby in Savannah.
When you’re healthy, when you’re strong, even at 51, you can do what you want to do, even walk-on to a rugby team.
In December I wrapped up a workout block I called the “EMOM Workout” (you can see the details here). In the spirit of experimentation, I’ve started something completely new (for me) a 1 x 20 workout.
1 x 20 Explained
1 x 20 is an established – if not well known – workout methodology made popular by Dr. Michael Yessis.* I heard about it on the Rugby Strength Coach Podcast with Chris McCormack, Director of Athletic Performance at Gardner Webb University in North Carolina. I followed up with the podcast host, Keir Wenham-Flatt about how it might work with my high-school rugby players. He recommended 1 x 20 for them, so I decided it was time to time to do some research!
In very simple terms, 1 x 20 describes a workout program where you perform 1 set of 20 repetitions of as many as 15-20 exercises that cover all the major muscle and joint groups. You perform the exercises with strict form, with weight that allows you to hit those last few reps with strict form, but difficulty nonetheless. Increase weight as the load becomes easier, if not daily. Workout as often as your body allows (I’ve seen some S & C coaches recommend 2-3 times/wk, and others as much as 5 times/week).
As you progress – which can take years – the program becomes what I would consider a more traditional strength workout: lower reps, higher weight, fewer sets.
Benefits of 1×20
Time. A couple of benefits touted by Yessis and others include the time it takes to complete a workout: fairly quick, since it’s pretty simple. Personally, I’m usually out of the gym between 45 to 60 minutes (my 3x/wk workout contains about 19 sets). Even at an hour, the 1×20 is a much more efficient use of gym time than other workouts I’ve used. Some 1×20 schemes I’ve seen include between 12-15 sets, and clock in at about 30 minutes. (Note: I often increase my recovery time between sets, which, in turn, increases my overall workout time. By moving quickly from set-to-set, you can decrease your gym time).
Connective Tissue. It’s also easier on your joints and ligaments than traditional strength workouts. Ligaments and connective tissue, because they don’t have access to a large blood flow (like muscle tissue) don’t adapt as quickly under stress. Often injury happens when you progress too quickly in weight before your connective tissue has a chance to adapt. 1×20 limits the stress placed on your connective tissue in any one movement. I can tell you from personal experience that this has been a huge benefit to me. I’ve worked with some fairly heavy loads in workouts like 5×5 (300+ lb deadlifts, 250+ lb bench press, 250 lb+ squats), and my knees, hips, back and shoulders seemed to be in a constant state of ache. Since switching to the 1×20, I’m often amazed at how pain-free I am walking up stairs, running, or jumping in every day activities.
Gainz. Although the increments are generally small, even as an experienced lifter, I have seen slow but tangible gains. There’s nothing wrong with small and incremental; if you’re looking at your health from a long-term perspective, small and incremental gains in strength, athleticism, and connective tissue health add up to big gains over time. And if you aren’t backing off because of injury or time constraints, those increases will snowball.
Drawbacks of 1×20
Effectiveness. The 1×20 system is geared toward young and inexperienced athletes. If you’re already an experienced lifter who finds gains hard to come by, 1×20 probably isn’t for you.
Pump. This may sound odd, but hear me out. I love the “pump” and soreness I get the day after a good workout. It makes me feel like I’ve done something big (although whether you’re sore the day after a workout doesn’t correlate to whether it was any more effective than a workout that doesn’t make you sore). One thing I like about 1×20 is that I’m not terribly sore after a workout, which makes it easier for me to go back to the gym the next day. But I don’t have the “pump”. My youngest son has struggled with 1×20 because he isn’t sore after a workout. He feels like it isn’t working for him, even though his numbers are consistently increasing.
Pride. Starting the 1×20 is embarrassing, or at least it was for me. Since I’ve been working at a rate of 5-8 reps for so long, hitting those last five reps between 15 and 20 was incredibly difficult when I first started. I had to drop my weight down to teeny-tiny dumbbells in many cases. I went from being a fairly remarkable gym personality to being less than average. Granted, after 8 weeks, my numbers in most sets have increased dramatically. But it takes several weeks for your body to adapt. Swallow your pride for the sake of the long-term view.
Who is 1×20 For?
I began this circuit because it was recommended for young and inexperienced athletes/lifters. I’m a high-school rugby coach, and many of my athletes have little to no gym experience. I wanted to be able to recommend a regimen for them that would allow them to make substantial gains, but not beat them up; rugby is hard enough, I don’t need my kids getting beat up in the gym. Before I made a recommendation to my kids, I wanted to try it for myself. That being said, even though I’m not a “young and inexperienced athlete”, I’ve still seen substantial strength and endurance gains over the past 8 weeks. I’ll most likely continue for another 6 weeks or so to see if I hit a limit.
If you’re an experienced lifter and find yourself over-trained or recovering from injury, I’d recommend 1×20 to get you back into training.
If you’re an in-season athlete and insist on lifting during season, 1×20 is a good way to train without overdoing it.
As a 51 year-old, I’d say 1×20 is great for older lifters who want to stay in shape, but aren’t trying to compete in any kind of master’s level power-lifting competition. It’s easy on your joints and easy to recover from.
I like 1×20. It’ll probably work its way into my training cycle once/twice a year or so. I’ve had a good response to it, and so have many S&C (strength and conditioning) coaches, especially in high-school / college athletes. If it helps, here is my own, personal 1×20 routine (1×20-Workout.xlsx) (updated12/10/2018). Use it at your own risk or for your own benefit. Let me know how it works for you!
Back in September I started a workout block that was built on an upper-body / lower-body EMOM split (you can see the full workout here). The base of the workout was 3 reps of fairly heavy deadlifts, every minute, on the minute, for 10 minutes. After four minutes of rest, I then launched into 10 more minutes of heavy bench presses, 3-5 reps. I did this routine twice a week, Monday and Friday. Around this were several auxiliary movements, depending on the day. Tuesday / Thursday were aerobic or sprint days, Wednesday was a general pickup day to hit missing muscle groups, with Saturday and Sunday allotted for rest and recovery.
I’m always trying to mix up my workout routines. Your body gets in a rut when you perform the same workout day after day, week after week. Your body doesn’t need to adapt to the stress once the “routine” sets in, so mixing it up every couple of months keeps your body guessing.
I also have many different goals for my body, and different workouts target those different goals. Some workout blocks are for strength. Some are for hypertrophy (muscle size). Some are for flexibility. Some for stamina. I try to design workouts that will address my goals.
The EMOM workout was designed primarily for stamina and strength. Moving quickly, repeatedly, through a series of fairly heavy lifts elevated my heart rate and challenged me to recover in time to attack the next set each minute. Moving up in weight every week or two ensured that my body was challenged to adapt to new loads in both strength and endurance / recovery.
What Were The Results?
I kept this routine up for 8 weeks.
At the beginning of the cycle, I was energized. I felt great at the end of each workout. I’m defining “great” here as winded, tired, and “pumped”. My numbers were increasing, and in addition to my goals of strength and endurance, I could tell I was gaining some size, especially across my chest, hips and thighs.
My the end of the first month, however, I was slowing down. I wasn’t terribly motivated to get to the gym. My body was so very fatigued. Obviously I had blown my central nervous system. I dropped my Wednesday workout and used it for recovery, which helped, but there were days where I could only make it through the core workout with no auxiliary work. Increases in weight on the bar was harder to come by. By the end of 8 weeks I was done: tired, restless, fatigued. I took a full week off of lifting (but not running) to recover at the end of the cycle.
So it was a failure, right? Wrong.
How To Use This Workout
The EMOM block has earned a spot in my workout rotation. I know that it’s a block that works as a short-term program. In fact, for variation, I threw it into my workout last week. I walked away feeling absolutely invigorated (but was sore for four days).
Most likely I’ll throw this workout into my rotation at the end of a couple of other cycles, with these changes:
A maximum of 4 weeks in the block
Wednesdays off for recovery
A possible variation that doesn’t include an increase in weight through the cycle
An occasional EMOM workout in the midst of other less demanding workout cycles.
I encourage you to give it a try for a couple of weeks with the tweaks listed above. See how it works for you, then add your observations, below.
This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. You can view the first 3 posts here, here, and here.
There are lots of reasons to take supplements. I take a bunch. Because of our diet, lifestyle, and the natural aging process, middle-aged guys like me sometimes need to fill in the gaps with supplements. Hopefully this series will help you think about the gaps you might have.
Why Take Fish Oil?
The benefits of fish oil have been studied for decades. In the ’70’s researchers noticed that Inuit people, who have a history of eating fatty meat and fish, didn’t seem to have the same coronary heart disease as would be expected. It was theorized that the fish oil in their diet protected them from heart disease. Even though that theory has largely been debunked, the research surrounding it has given us reason to continue to pursue a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, found in fish oil.
Fish oil, or, more specifically omega-3 fatty acids, have been shown to reduce inflammation, reduce sudden cardiac mortality (by 45%!!!) and all-cause mortality by 20%. In addition – and this is the big one for me – omega-3 fatty acids can reduce triglyceride levels by up to 30-50%.
I’ve been plagued with high cholesterol / triglycerides since I was in my 20’s. My grandfather had a terrible time with his cholesterol, leading to a series of debilitating strokes which eventually led to his institutionalization and death by age 66. Not me.
And, finally, fish oil works as a pain reliever. In an amazing series of studies, fish oil was found to be as effective as prescription NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) medications, like ibuprofen. In one study of 250 participants, “[f]ifty-nine percent discontinued to take their prescription NSAID medications for pain. Sixty percent stated that their overall pain was improved, and 60% stated that their joint pain had improved. Eighty percent stated they were satisfied with their improvement, and 88% stated they would continue to take the fish oil.” I get beat up a lot, both on the rugby field and in the gym. If I were to scarf down a handful of ibuprofen or Tylenol every time I was beat up, my stomach would look like Swiss cheese.
Sources of Omega-3
I’ve used fish oil and omega-3 almost interchangeably so far in this post, but there really is a difference. There are lots of different places to get omega-3’s, and fish oil is just one of them.
There are different types of omega-3’s as well. ALA, DHA and EPA are all forms you’ve probably seen on foods and supplements. DHA and EPA are easier for your body to work with. It’s harder for your body to work with ALA, especially plant-based. 
Fish are a great source of omega-3’s, thus the explosion of fish oil supplements. It’s always great to get what you need from your diet, rather than supplements, so if you’re a pescatarian, you’re in luck: tuna, salmon, sardines, you name it; they’re good sources of omega-3. In fact, I’ve heard Tim Ferriss tout Wild Planet Canned Sardines in Olive Oil (which itself has omega-3’s) for breakfast. Personally, I buy the multi-packs of tuna at Costco and eat them straight out of the can. And, I eat sardines with breakfast each morning.
Many nuts are high in omega-3’s. Walnuts, flaxseed, hemp seeds and cashews all contain AHA (which, again, isn’t very efficient, but helpful nonetheless). I buy large containers of cashews at Costco, and bags of walnuts at Kroger. A handful of walnuts are a part of my breakfast each morning, and I carry a handful of cashews with me during the day to snack on.
A lot of dairy products either come with omega-3 fatty acids naturally, or have it added during packaging / production. Eggs, milk and yogurt often contain modest amount of omega-3’s.
Also, leafy vegetables in the brassica family such as spinach, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and broccoli contain omega-3’s.
Finally, if your diet isn’t providing what you want you can take a supplement. There’s a lot of “snake oil” fish oil supplements out there, so be careful what you buy. One concern is the mercury level found in fish, and its concentration in fish oil supplements. Labdoor has a nice comparison chart over at https://labdoor.com/rankings/fish-oil . Bodynutrition.org has another chart available at https://bodynutrition.org/fish-oil/.
Personally, due to affordability and accessibility, I use the Costco 1200 mg “One Per Day” fish oil (Amazon affiliate link http://amzn.to/2BW77EE). I take two per day, however.
First of all, this is the part where I tell you I’m not a nutritionist or dietician; I’m just telling you what I do for my health. Your mileage may vary.
Second, it’s been a while since I’ve had any blood work done, so it’s hard for me to give you any kind of before / after comparison after I started taking fish oil.
I can tell you that I don’t take ibuprofen any more for pain. I can also tell you that I’m confident that I’m doing what I can to keep my triglycerides in check, outside of taking a statin drug. The next time I have a checkup (hopefully first quarter of 2018) I’ll let you know.
Are you taking any kind of omega-3 supplement? If so, what?