Summer 2018 Current Workout

Summer Workout GraphicConsistency and Variation

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“.

Workout Breakdown

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.

Try It!

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).

Let me know what you think!

On The Wagon 2018

I’m going on the wagon.

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.

Stomach Discomfort

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.

Sleep

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”.[1] 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.

Attitude

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!

Testosterone

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.

Muscle Building

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[2] (at least in rats).

Money

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.

Conclusion

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.

[1] Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. “Reviewing alcohol’s effects on normal sleep.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2013.; http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130122162236.htm;
[2] “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

The 1×20 Workout

1x20 WorkoutIn 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.

Conclusion

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) (updated 6/26/2018). Use it at your own risk or for your own benefit. Let me know how it works for you!

 

Supplements After 50: Magnesium

Almonds contain magnesium

This article is part of a series called “Supplements After 50”. The first two posts are here and here.

Magnesium is a recent addition to my supplement regimen. If you’re like me, you mindlessly take a daily multi-vitamin, expecting that your “recommended daily allowances” are in that horse pill. Just like we discovered with vitamin D, if you’re over 50, you may not be getting all the magnesium you need, even in one of those “Silver” multi-vitamins.

Why Take Magnesium?

I had heard lots of folks online talk about magnesium (and you know everything you read on the Internet is true!). But it wasn’t until my chiropractor suggested I take it that I took it seriously. At the time I was recovering from a particularly nasty shoulder injury after a tough week of rugby. My muscles were in knots, and we were trying to get them to release some of the tension they were holding. That’s when he suggested I take a supplement. As it turns out, magnesium plays a major role in muscle function, including its ability to contract and relax. Theoretically, then, supplementing an deficient athlete’s magnesium intake could affect performance and recovery.

Magnesium plays a role in plenty of bodily functions, but here are some reasons why I take it:

  • Exercise recovery – A 2006 study[1] stated “Magnesium supplementation or increased dietary intake of magnesium will have beneficial effects on exercise performance in magnesium-deficient individuals”. See comments, above.
  • Better sleep – I struggle with sleep quality, and have for years. Although the reasons aren’t entirely known, magnesium improves several indicators of good sleep. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study (the gold standard) in 2012 by the Faculty of Nutrition and Food Technology, Tehran, Iran [2] concluded that supplementation improved “sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, early morning awakening, and likewise, insomnia objective measures such as concentration of serum renin, melatonin, and serum cortisol, in elderly people”.
  • Increased testosterone – I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, but testosterone production decreases in men as they age. Yet it’s one of those elements that makes men – well – men! Although many of my peers have decided to start hormone therapy, I’m holding off as long as possible. Magnesium seems to affect testosterone levels. A 2010 study “show[ed] that supplementation with magnesium increases free and total testosterone values in sedentary and in athletes”[3]. Add that to my regimen!
  • Insulin sensitivity – Again, I’ve written about this before. In a family where both sides are passing me an inclination towards diabetes, I’ll try anything to stave it off as long as I can. A randomized double-blind study by the Medical Research Unit in Clinical Epidemiology in Mexico determined that insulin sensitivity was improved with oral magnesium supplementation.[4]
  • Other – Other conditions magnesium is known for improving include inflammation (in adults older than 51), depression (especially in younger adults), and bone health (by increasing the efficiency of calcium uptake).

Update (September 21, 2018) The journal Open Heart published a very long and detailed report on hypomagnesemia (low magnesium) in its January 13, 2018 issue. It goes far beyond what I can cover. Download the PDF here.

Natural Sources of Magnesium

First of all, let me say that before trying to supplement with magnesium that you should consult your doctor. As always in life, too much of a good thing can turn out to be bad.

The US RDA for magnesium is 420 mg/day for men 31 years old and up.

Natural sources of magnesium include green, leafy vegetables (like spinach or chard), nuts (a cup of sliced almonds has around 250 mg), yogurt or kefir, and black beans.

My Experience

If you go the oral supplementation route, you have several choices, but let me share my experience in hunting down the best I could find and afford.

Off the shelf at your local grocery or pharmacy you’ll find two main magnesium supplements available: magnesium citrate and magnesium oxide. I had a terrible time tolerating these. If you don’t recognize it, magnesium citrate is the stuff you get before having a colonoscopy. It induces explosive diarrhea. Most people don’t want that.

Magnesium oxide is better absorbed by your body than magnesium citrate, but it’s still not an incredibly efficient source of magnesium. In addition, I still had considerable stomach issues taking it. It’s probably the cheapest magnesium supplement on the shelf, however, so some people may opt for this based on price.

I finally landed on magnesium glycinate. Because of the way the magnesium is combined with the amino acid glycinate, it is easily absorbed and also gentle on the stomach. However, it’s also the most expensive formulation I found. My first batch was from Metagenics ($25.95 for 120 100 mg tablets). I am now testing Doctor’s Best High Absorption Magnesium (Amazon affiliate link). It’s a little different formulation, but is still easy on my stomach at this point, and it’s a bit less expensive than the Metagenics ($14.60 for 240 200 mg tablets).

Are you taking a magnesium supplement? Why? Which one? Chime in below and let us know.

References

[1] “Update on the relationship between magnesium and exercise”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17172008
[2] “The effect of magnesium supplementation on primary insomnia in elderly: A double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial”, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23853635
[3] “Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Testosterone Levels of Athletes and Sedentary Subjects at Rest and after Exhaustion”, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12011-010-8676-3
[4] “Oral Magnesium Supplementation Improves Insulin Sensitivity and Metabolic Control in Type 2 Diabetic Subjects”, http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/4/1147.short

Strength Training at 50

Dumbbells

My dad and I did a lot of projects together when I was young, like yard work, DIY, and especially automotive repair. We were lower middle-class and couldn’t afford to send our cars to the shop when they broke down. And they broke down a lot.

I remember when my dad would start handing over the big projects to me: dig a post hole, pick up an engine, loosen a lug nut. It was kind of a badge of honor. I was strong enough to do manly tasks, tasks that my father had formerly done.

What I realized later is that my dad wasn’t just being lazy or taking advantage of me; he was losing his strength. I came to know that dad couldn’t loosen the lug nut any more. He couldn’t pick up that heavy box or dig that hole.

The Importance of Strength

When I was a teenager, and even into my early 20’s I lifted because I wanted to both be strong, and have the appearance of strength. Honestly, it mostly for the appearance.

I stopped lifting because it was inconvenient (life happens, business happens, kids happen) and because it wasn’t necessary; I wasn’t competing in sports and I wasn’t competing for a mate. Why else spend the time in the gym?

Now I know there are a lot of benefits to strength / resistance training beyond being a young hotshot. The older we get, the more we need to stay strong.

Strength training helps you stay independent

I don’t want to go to a nursing home. Like most men, I’d rather “burn out, than fade away”. Being able to pick something heavy off the ground, pull things toward you, lift a box overhead, or push a piece of furniture across the room; these are normal activities of independent life that we risk losing as we age if we don’t keep our strength up. You can’t call your adult children or neighbors every time you need to empty the dishwasher and place a plate in an overhead cabinet, or pick up a full clothes basket off the floor.

Let’s face it; the more you ask for help, the faster they’ll put you in a home. Stay strong, stay independent.

Strength training helps you stay vibrant

I want to live life to the fullest as long as possible. Strength training helps me do that.

  • Resistance training integrating the largest number of muscle groups helps raise testosterone levels, albeit briefly, for young and older men alike. T levels affect protein synthesis, increased muscle and bone mass, and…sexiness.
  • Resistance training has health benefits beyond what is available through aerobic exercise alone.  A combination of aerobic training and strength training helps increase blood flow and reduce arterial stiffness (both indicators of cardiac health).
  • Finally, one study linked overall muscle strength to increased cognitive function. Be strong, think strong!

Strength training contributes to skeletal health

We’ve all heard the story of how grandpa fell at home, broke a hip, and is now living in a nursing home, incapacitated. What you may not know is that hip fractures are more deadly for elderly men than for elderly women1.

Studies have shown that strength training increases bone density from 1-3% in the hip, lumbar spine, and neck. That’s fairly significant, given that we are both halting bone loss due to aging and actually building new bone.

Need more reasons?

As a middle-aged guy, these are 3 big reasons why I lift. But if you need more reasons, this handy little infographic from Positive HealthWellness gives you even more reasons to start strength training.

19 Reasons to Start Strength Training

Conclusion

There are lots of reasons to continue – or even begin – strength training into your 50’s: it keeps you independent, it keeps you vibrant, it protects your skeletal health. Bottom line, it allows you to do more of what you enjoy doing longer.

You may think that 50 is too old to get in the gym to start lifting again. Personally, I walked back into the gym when I was 44. My friend Tina is a CrossFit dynamo at 52. My friend Gus starting lifting again around 50, even after suffering a heart attack. This year (2017) he competed in the national CrossFit games as a masters competitor. Then there’s this amazing woman who started training again at 46 and is now a masters competitor at 52.

It’s never too late.

Current Workout, September 2017

Kettlebells

Workout Philosophy

I cycle through workouts every 6 weeks or so. They often change based on what my goals are, especially related to the rugby season.

At the beginning of the off season, I concentrate on putting on muscle (hypertrophy). These workouts are generally medium-high reps (8-12) over 4 sets or so, with medium weight.

Following 6 weeks of hypertrophy training, leading up to the start of the next season, I begin strength training. For strength training I essentially follow the 5×5 method (details here), modified slightly for my needs. In between gym days I’m typically running one day for distance, and one day sprinting.

During season I try not to gain muscle or strength since rugby generally beats you up pretty bad, and expecting your body to make gains while repairing damage is just plain cruel and inhuman punishment. At my age it just can’t be done.

As this season began, I started looking for a workout to help me sustain gains made over the summer, without wiping out my recovery or my central nervous system (CNS). It also had to take into account a couple of small injuries I’ve been nursing for a while now. I tweaked my back over the summer in such a way that squats have been pretty painful. For the time being, they’re out. In addition, I have a perpetual shoulder issue that’s built up over a lifetime of poor bench press technique, and now the pounding of rugby shoulder tackles.  In fact, I’ve been at the chiropractor this week for dry needling because I couldn’t raise my arm after a particularly brutal tackling session last week.

The EMOM Workout

Now that the back story and rationale is in place, here’s the workout. Note the details, following.

Monday

Exercise Sets/Reps
Deadlifts 3 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
Incline DB Press 5 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
Leg Press 4×8-10
Decline DB Press 4×8-10
Core*

Wednesday

Exercise Sets/Reps
Power cleans 4×8
Shoulders** 4×8-10
Back***
Curls 4×8-10
Calf-raises 4×8-10

Friday

Exercise Sets/Reps
Deadlifts 3 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
Decline DB Press 5 reps EMOM x 10 minutes
DB Pull-overs 4×8-10
Core**

Notes

  • If you don’t know, EMOM means “Every Minute On the Minute”. I set a countdown timer on my phone for 10 minutes, and at the top of each minute I perform the reps for that set. Your rest period  is whatever’s left over in that minute.
  • *(core) – I do different core exercises, depending on how I feel. I may do situps / crunches, planks, leg lifts, whatever. As long as I’m doing something.
  • ** (shoulders) – Same here. I often swap between barbell overhead press, dumbbell overhead press, or upright rows.
  • *** (back) – I generally swap between either heavy dumbbell bent-over rows, or pull-ups. I’d do barbell bent-over rows, but, again, right now my back just won’t tolerate it.
  • Friday’s workout is shown as a stripped-down version of Monday’s, but that isn’t necessarily true. I have 3 options for Friday:
    1. Most likely my CNS is blown after a week of gym time and rugby practice, so less is more for recovery’s sake. In this case, I’ll do the stripped-down workout.
    2. However, if I feel good, I may just repeat Monday’s workout, only swapping the bench press from incline to decline.
    3. I won’t work out at all on Friday if I have a game on Saturday. In that case, Friday is strictly a rest, recovery, and fuel day.
  • Recommended weight for each exercise isn’t listed. That’s up to you. You should be able to do the recommended sets/reps with strict form. You should be tired at the end of each movement. But I don’t advocate killing yourself, or even going to failure with each set. However, once you’re comfortable at a given weight, it’s time to increase. I try to increase my weight in a movement 5 lbs / week.
  • Finally, I use dumbbell bench press work rather than barbell because of my injured shoulder. The position your hands are forced into using a barbell is not terribly natural, and can cause shoulder problems at the bottom of the lift. Dumbbells allow me to turn my hand position ever-so-slightly at the bottom, allowing me to get the same pump, without the discomfort. It’s a bit of a blow to the ego not to be able to do a big barbell bench press any more, but it’s stupid to keep reinjuring myself for my ego’s sake. Kudos to Anthony Balduzzi over at the Fit Father Project for convincing me to make the switch.

Results

I’ve chosen to share this with you because I’ve been so amazed at the results it’s given me in such a short time. After about 3 weeks I can tell a difference in how I look and how I feel. My weight on the bar goes up each week, I look forward to getting in the gym and I can see the difference in the mirror. My three goals for a workout are: get strong, feel good, look good naked. This one takes me closer in each category. Give it a try and see how it works for you.

Supplements After 50: Vitamin D

Sun and milk

This is the second in a series called “Supplements After 50”. The first post is here.

You – like me – know of vitamin D because it builds “healthy bones and teeth”. Since the 1920’s, vitamin D has been added to milk because of its ability to help the body absorb calcium. In the 1920’s a lot of kids had rickets (a condition where bones are weak and soft). Lots of people drank milk, so adding vitamin D to the milk was a way to blanket the population.

But there’s more to vitamin D than bones.

What is vitamin D good for?

Besides calcium absorption, there are a couple of other important benefits to adequate vitamin D absorption.

  • Testosterone levels: Since our T levels drop as we become older, anything that will help me keep my testosterone at a decent level is good. At least one study pointed toward an increase in testosterone when a group of men 20-49 supplemented with vitamin D.
  • Increased insulin sensitivity: I’ve spoken about this before, but type 2 diabetes is on the rise. It’s estimated that over 29 million people in the United States alone have some kind of diabetes. My family has a history of diabetes, and I don’t want to be another statistic. Increases in vitamin D increase your level of insulin sensitivity.
  • Brain function: It seems vitamin D receptors are scattered all through brain tissue. Some studies have shown that vitamin D helps increase cognitive function. This includes clearing the plaques that are precursors to Alzheimer’s disease.

Where does vitamin D come from?

There are two, main, natural sources for vitamin D. Food and the sun. Unfortunately, there are few food sources that contain significant levels of vitamin D. According to the National Institutes of Health, fatty fish such as tuna and salmon qualify, as does liver, eggs, and cheese, along with mushrooms. That’s about it.

The second source is the sun. But we’re in bad shape there, too. Most of us have indoor jobs that keep us out of the sun. And even when we do get outside, we lather ourselves in SPF 4000 sunscreen that blocks our skin’s ability to absorb the light our bodies need to produce vitamin D.

Add to that the fact that as we age, we are more likely to be deficient, and it becomes almost impossible to get enough vitamin D from natural sources.

Guidelines for taking vitamin D

It’s been estimated that virtually everyone living in the U.S. is deficient in vitamin D. That doesn’t mean you should rush out and start taking a supplement. Because there are some negative consequences to taking too much vitamin D, you should have your levels checked as part of your regular physical’s blood work.

Complications from too much vitamin D include kidney stones, kidney failure, excess bone loss, and calcification of arteries and soft tissues.

My experience

I started taking 2000 IU of D3 about six months ago. I may be abnormal, but I quickly noticed a difference in my mental clarity. I haven’t had my T-levels taken in quite a while, so I’m not sure how/if that has changed at all. But it was as if a cloud lifted off my brain. I can think quicker and recall details faster. Whether it was tied to some mild depression or something else, clearing the junk away has given me a better overall sense of well-being. I’m so glad I started taking it.

Of course, your mileage may vary.

The Secret To A Good Night’s Sleep – My Evening Routine

Guy sleeping on park bench

You Need Sleep

I really don’t need to tell you that. You know from experience. When you don’t sleep well you feel bad and you’re a jerk. At least I am. But there are other reasons why sleep is a priority, and they become more important as we get older. Here are a few reasons why I prioritize a good night’s sleep:

  • Weight gain / loss. One recent study showed that sleeping less than 5 hours a night (or more than 9 hours, you lazy bum) increases the likelihood of gaining weight. Middle-aged guys don’t need any help putting on extra weight.
  • Sleep and testosterone levels. As we age (guys) our testosterone levels naturally drop. This leads to all kind of changes in our “masculine” makeup that frankly, I’m not ready to make yet. I’m on a quest to keep my testosterone level as high as naturally possible. Several studies have shown that the more you sleep, the higher your testosterone levels are.
  • Sleep and insulin levels. My family has a history of Type-2 diabetes. My dad has been fighting this beast for 20 years. I don’t want to go through what he has. Believe it or not, sleep deprivation leads to decreased insulin sensitivity. If my long term goal is to avoid diabetes, then I need my insulin sensitivity to be as high as possible.
  • Sleep aids in recovery. As an athlete, I need even more sleep than the average office jockey to recover from the physical stress I put on my body during gym sessions and rugby training. My body does a lot of repair work when I’m sleeping.

Set Yourself Up To Win

Just like any goal or sport, “winning” at sleep takes planning and practice. It begins long before “bed time” rolls around. Through trial and error,  I have a series of practices I follow that help me relax, so that by the time my head hits the pillow, I’m ready for a good night’s sleep.

This schedule assumes a couple of things: first, I want to hit the pillow at 11 pm. Second, I want to get up, refreshed and ready for the day, around 6 am. That’s only 7 hours sleep (not really enough), but if I aim for 11 and get there earlier – which I often do – then I feel like I’ve been successful.

My “Sleep” Schedule

2 pm – No more caffeinated beverages. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more sensitive to caffeine. For most folks the half-life of caffeine is 5-6 hours. Remember “half-life” is the time it takes for half of the caffeine to exit your system. If I quit drinking at 2 pm, I still have half of the caffeine coursing through my system at 8 pm that night.

8 pm – I start cutting back on my fluids. We all know how it goes, right guys?  You have to pee more frequently when you get old. I don’t want to wake up at 3 am to pee. My history is that I used to wake up frequently between 3 and 4 am, and once up, could never get back to sleep.

9:30 pm – Devices are off. I quit looking at my phone. I’m definitely not on the computer by 9:30, and I prefer to be finished watching whatever Netflix episode I’m on by then. I even have an alert set in my phone that goes off at 9:30 to remind me to shut everything down. This is really important. The light spectrum that your phone gives off interrupts your melatonin production, which is what makes you sleepy. Our bodies are naturally made to go to sleep when it’s dark, and wake up when it’s light. If you’re constantly staring at a lighted screen, your body never gets the proper signaling that it’s time for bed.

10 pm – I know this sounds odd, based on my 8pm schedule, but I do get one more drink before heading to bed. I’m a protein junky, and research has shown that a guy my age should take in around 40g of protein before bed to maximize muscle protein synthesis (MPS) (for more on my protein philosophy, check out this post). Right before heading to bed I make a protein smoothie with a cup of protein powder and a half-cup of plain yogurt (whey+casein protein for a longer boost of MPS) mixed with 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of water. I also use this time to take any supplements I might be using, like fish oil, Vitamin D3, and melatonin.

10:30 pm – I’m in bed with a piece of fiction. No non-fiction before bed! I forgot where I got this tip, but it’s super useful. I used to read a lot of non-fiction, self-help, business books before bed.  But then my mind would start racing about how I could put principles into action in my life/business and I couldn’t get to sleep. Fiction slows my mind down and within 30 minutes, I usually can’t keep my eyes open.

That’s my schedule. Here are a couple of other random tips:

  • Keep it cool. I have to run a fan in the summer, along with A/C, and a cover sheet.
  • Keep it dark. Hide your phone, hide any little red glowing lights, and if possible, get blackout curtains. We got some about 2 years ago, and it’s made a huge difference in my sleep quality.
  • If you need it, try a melatonin supplement. Also about 2 years ago I went on a quest for a supplement that would help me get to sleep and melatonin was the answer. However, I would get to sleep quickly, but I would still wake up between 3 and 4 o’clock in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep. I finally found some time-released melatonin (I use this brand) and even if I do wake up, I quickly go back to sleep.
  • Another supplement that helps with sleep is magnesium.  I tried this for a while, but, frankly, it gave me diarrhea. The original dosage was Magnesium Oxide 500mg and it blew me up in the morning. I cut it down to 250mg hoping it would help, but no. You may have a different experience.
  • Cut down on alcohol. Research shows that although alcohol may help you get to sleep, it interrupts your REM cycle, which is where all the heavy lifting occurs. If I’m keeping to my goal of no liquids after 8pm, that certainly applies to booze. But even by 8 I can over do it, so I consciously try to limit my alcohol.

Conclusion

Sleep is something we often take for granted. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead!” we tell ourselves. But sleeping can keep you from being dead. I want to be strong. I want to be healthy. I don’t want to be a jerk because I’m tired. I want some sleep! Hopefully, these tips will help you get a better night’s sleep. Do you have any tips for the rest of us?  Let us know what works for you in the comments, below.

Supplements After 50: Whey Protein

SteakAt 50 years old, I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. That’s actually a good thing. Most guys my age are trying to trim down, lose the “spare tire”, beer gut, whatever you want to call it. I’m on a quest to gain weight, particularly muscle.

When I was 46, I took up the sport of rugby. I know that sounds crazy, but that’s a story for another time. I had been back in the gym for about a year, and weighed close to 170 lbs. I thought I was fit, but after a couple of weeks of running my guts out in 90 degree weather, I dropped down to 160. That first season I got the crap kicked out of me. Not only was I the oldest guy on the team (by far), I was also the smallest. I needed more muscle to cushion the blows I was taking on the field.

Muscle Building at 50

The problem is that somewhere in your 30’s, your body quits building muscle and actually starts losing it. It’s a natural part of aging called sarcopenia. Of course, with that loss of muscle mass, you also lose strength. I have too many things that require a fair amount of strength; I still play rugby, I work on cars, and because I also have 5 other guys living with me, we get constant calls to help move or lift whatever needs to be moved or lifted.

And hey: I still want to look good naked. And clothed, I guess.

Protein Supplementation

If losing muscle is a fact of life, can we slow the process down? I’m on a quest to do just that, and at this point I’d say “yes”. It wasn’t until I discovered that there’s a magic protein formula that I started gaining weight and packing the muscle back on. Now I’m up from 160 lbs to 175 lbs.

There’s a lot of discussion about this on the interwebs, but the “magic formula” seems to be about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight in order to gain muscle weight. So at my current weight, I should aim for about 175 grams  of protein a day.

To give you an idea of what you’d have to eat to get that much protein, check out these numbers:

  • 1 lb chicken breast = 16 g
  • 1 lb ribeye steak = 108 g
  • Hard boiled egg = 6 g
  • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt = 8 g

Depending on what’s available in a given day, 175 g of protein would be hard to do. I certainly can’t afford steak every day. So I supplement with 2 protein shakes per day. Each shake contains about 27 g of protein. Along with my regular meals, this puts me in the ball park of my target.

Types of Protein Supplements

There are lots of options when it comes to protein supplements, but the big 3 are whey protein, casein protein, and some kind of vegetable protein. Let me say that as a high school kid I took protein shakes and they were awful. They never mixed well and they tasted terrible. My experience these days is that the whey and casein shakes generally taste pretty good and mix well. Not so with the vegetable protein powders. The ones I’ve tried are pretty terrible, so I’m not even going to mention them in this article.

So what’s the difference between whey and casein, and which one should you choose? It mainly boils down to how quickly the body metabolizes or synthesizes the protein. Whey protein causes your muscle protein synthesis to spike pretty high, but it’s short lived. Casein, on the other hand, takes much longer to work it’s way through your system, so your body is in synthesis mode for a longer period of time, giving you a bigger boost. Casein also has more amino acids that your body needs, especially if you’re really active.

Both casein and whey are derived from milk products, but extracted differently. Whey comes from the liquid portion of milk (mostly it’s a byproduct of yogurt production) whereas casein comes from milk solids. A whey supplement is usually cheaper than casein (because, again, it’s a byproduct of another process) so when pricing protein the cheaper option is probably a whey supplement. But high-quality protein powders will have some combination of the two. Also, you can be picky and buy an all-whey or all-casein supplement.

My Protein Supplement Strategy

Based on my budget, my goals and the application of some recent studies and articles I’ve read, here is how I approach my protein supplementation:

  • One whey protein shake in the morning about 9 am (or 12-14 hours after my last food intake the day before). This is my all-around breakfast shake, so it has more than just protein powder: it has milk, spinach, yogurt, berries, and banana as well.
  • On workout days, I drink another whey protein shake right after workouts. The quick spike in protein synthesis seems to be helpful after my body has shifted into high gear after a heavy workout.
  • On non-workout days I have a simple whey protein shake about  an hour to hour and 1/2 before bed time (which is 10 or 11 pm).
  • Every night I try to eat 150 g serving of Greek yogurt about an hour before bed. Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and other cheeses are good sources of casein protein. Rather than purchase another protein supplement, I get a shot of yogurt to give me that slow-release protein overnight.

Conclusion

This strategy has worked for me. 15 pounds over the course of last year, while dropping a waist size from 32 to 30. For now, 175 lbs seems to be my magic weight; I haven’t gained any additional weight in the last 3-6 months. But I’m at least holding steady, and my strength numbers are increasing in the gym.

Scott Rugby
175 lbs August 2017 Rugby Tournament

If you want some more geeky reading, here are a couple of articles that make sense of muscle protein synthesis, protein timing, etc.

 

Functional Fitness at Fifty

Corban, Stacey and I
A great day – playing on the same rugby team as my son

It’s Monday, and it’s my first day back after an 8-day summer trip. It wasn’t a vacation; far from it. Nine teenagers and three adults spent the week working at a summer camp for kids with special needs. It was a challenging, enriching, emotional experience. And in the midst of the trip,  I found myself grateful for the fact that at 50 I’m fit enough to participate 100% in a journey like this.

What Is Functional Fitness?

“Functional Fitness” is a term you hear a lot if you spend much time reading fitness articles or listening to fitness podcasts. It’s the idea that you should be able to perform the physical acts your body is required to do.  It might be something as simple as reaching up to take a book off a shelf, or as difficult as picking up a heavy box off the floor where you work.

Obviously, athletes or people who perform physically demanding jobs have higher fitness requirements. A smart athlete is going to train regularly in a way that keeps him fit. A worker with a demanding job is going to stay fit by regularly performing the actions required by his job.

As we get older, our fitness requirements seem to get lower and lower, and we succumb to the lie that says that guys “our age” can’t perform at a certain level. Or, we’re stupid enough to think that we’re still “functionally fit” enough to perform, when we haven’t put in the work. Then we get hurt. A couple of years ago I went on one of these trips with a guy in his mid-30’s. We were working at an orphanage in Mexico, painting, cutting trees, laying cement. He pulled a muscle in his back the first day and was out of order for the rest of the week.

What You Miss When You’re Not Fit at 50

Life’s not over at 50. When you settle and believe the lie, you miss out on a rich life. Here’s what I got to do last week:

  • I was able to maneuver kids to/from wheelchairs who couldn’t give me any help.
  • I played kickball, basketball and touch-rugby with my teen-aged sons and their friends after a long day of working at camp.
  • I held a paralyzed pre-teen girl in my arms for nearly 30 minutes allowing her to jump at a trampoline park. Note: I’m not sure I’ve ever been as physically tired, but her excitement made every minute worth it.
  • I spent an afternoon swimming with my kids at a local river. We swam across the (admittedly small) river several times together, enjoying a great summer day.
  • I white water rafted for a day at the Ocoee River.

I was pleasantly tired at the end of each day, even a little sore, since I don’t go rafting or jump on trampolines often. But I was able to participate fully. I returned home intact, with no back injuries or hamstring pulls. I was useful to the staff and kids at the special needs camp. And I had a great time with my kids.

Start by Dreaming

Instead of settling for “I’m too old”, set some goals. Dream of what you’d like to do, or what you miss doing. Start with asking yourself these questions:

  • What do you want to do with your kids? Play a game of pickup after work? Go canoeing?
  • What would you like to do with your wife? Take a hiking trip? Maybe go on long walks at night, without getting winded? Have better sex? (Hey, we’re guys here, right?)
  • What do you miss? Would you like to play on a softball team again? Would it be fun to build something outside, or work on your car? Maybe you were a runner in high school, and you’d like to do it again?

You don’t have to miss out. Set a goal to be functionally fit, to perform at the level that allows you to enjoy the life you dream of. List one of your goals, below, or tell us why you’re happy that you’re already functionally fit at fifty.