Body Experimentation and Weight Training

Julie and I have been doing quite a bit of diet experimentation over the past 4 months. After spending last summer at Keuka Lake followed by 6 weeks in Ireland, we learned that ignoring what we eat and drink could have long term consequences. This goes beyond weight gain – we were drinking too much alcohol (Ireland, Guiness, and Jameson inspire that somehow) and started to get concerned about tangential effects and even body fat composition.

Independently we both decided that going paleo or something close to that might be a good idea. It came to my attention as I was mixing up my strength training routine by exploring Nerd Fitness. I think Julie landed on the idea after a discussion with our (very fit) close friend Karen.

I had already been losing my Ireland weight gain, dropping from about 185 to 175 from November to February. I did this the same way I've been doing it over the years: calorie counting combined with plenty of running. If I limit to 2,000 calories a day and workout routinely, I'll gradually lose weight at the rate of about 1-2 pounds a week.

The paleo idea intrigued me for two reasons:

  • It doesn't rely on calorie counting.
  • It involves eating foods I generally already like to eat. A typical meal for Julie and me, now empty nesters, is to cook some meat and eat it alongside a salad or roasted / sautéed veggies.

I'd have to give up breakfast cereal, bread, sweet desserts, dairy, beans and legumes. And alcohol.

We went paleo for about a month, and limited alcohol to the occasional glass of red wine or a light beer. I continued to lose weight and landed at about 173. We were understandably concerned about compliance. The harsh limits on alcohol, no beans, and other constraints seemed like it might be too much for us to stick to in the long run. And this is a key point: we weren't trying to diet to lose weight at this point. By March Julie and I were easily within our target weight range. What we were looking for was a lifestyle diet habit that we could sustain easily, even with all of our travel.

Julie and I both regularly listen to the Tim Ferriss podcast, so we were at least partially aware of his slow carb diet approach. This changes up the paleo diet a bit (worth noting there are plenty of critics of slow carb), in ways that Julie and I think will be easier to comply with. It allows beans. It has a weekly cheat day (or cheat meal if you prefer). As of mid March or so, this has been our diet approach. We allow fruit (mainly bananas, apples, some strawberries) and it doesn't seem to hurt us.

My Experiment

Around mid March I decided to try something just a bit crazy. I haven't been thrilled with my body fat composition (I'm likely about 17-18%) and have wanted to try putting on more muscle mass for a while. A target of 15% body fat seems achievable and beneficial. Enter another Tim Ferriss program: Occam's Protocol. There are plenty of naysayers out there, but I didn't really care. I was at a good weight and had the time to experiment. So I spent six weeks consuming about 5,000 calories a day, drinking protein shakes, mac & cheese with turkey chili, and a small cocktail of supplements (ALA, Creatine, L-Glutamine).

I got very tired of eating. But I loved the workouts. They were short but intense, and got me thinking more about how I train and being more well rounded in my weight training.

Six weeks later I added about 13 points, most of it muscle mass. I very slightly decreased my body fat composition, but that was marginal and probably within the error band of my Withings scale. Visibly, I think much of the muscle gain was in my legs. That seems to be how I roll – I have a much harder time putting on upper body muscle mass. Or maybe I just need to hire a personal trainer.

As of early May and back on slow carb, and mixing in my running routine alternating days of weight workouts. I'm at Keuka Lake at the summer, so my weight training will consist of:

  • push ups
  • pull ups (at least I hope this becomes plural within a few weeks)
  • kettle bell work. Jacob and I are learning technique from Pavel's Kettlebell Simple & Sinister.
  • Jefferson curls and related stretching-type exercises

The hardest habit to change out here at the lake is the association of spending a day working (computer work and manual labor) with the end-of-day reward of a beer or three. The alcohol can undo all of the other benefits. I'll keep working on this.