Happy New Year, and welcome to my new page! I thought I would take a few minutes to introduce myself and share some of my goals for 2016.
To put things into perspective first, I have made drastic changes to my diet and lifestyle since spring of 2015. Since taking my health into my own hands and reading countless books on wellness and nutrition, my diet has undergone several important phases of evolution, including an ephemeral borderline-vegan phase (oy vey… once was blind, but now I see…) This self-elected process of ongoing research, dietary tinkering, and biohacking has given me the vehement belief that there simply is no one diet or macronutrient ratio that is right for everyone. Truth be told, this is not just a personal opinion, but a scientific fact supported by millions of years of evolution and countless indigenous cultures that subsist on vastly different diets while experiencing extremely low rates of chronic disease. However, before I digress too much, the point I am trying to make is a very straightforward one–for better or worse, YOU must take complete control of YOUR education and diet if you ever wish to attain nutritional contentment and optimal well-being. There is no one book or one person who can tell you definitively what your body’s optimal diet is, including your doctor. Each person’s journey and level of commitment will naturally vary, but I feel anyone desiring better health must approach the topic with a student mentality, and LEAVE THE DOGMA AT THE DOOR!
Anyway, without further adieu and in no particular order, here are my top health goals looking forward to the new year:
Eliminate most or all supplements: I really haven’t been heavily into supplements in the past because I see them as a potential enabler for a poorer diet, and the only real reason to take a supplement is because your body is deficient in something, or you have a specific condition. Moreover, the human body evolved to thrive on real, unprocessed food, not little pills. Now, I will be the first to admit that achieving and maintaining good health can be quite a challenge in today’s toxic, soil-depleted world, in which case whole-food, minimally processed supplements are best. However, I feel a much better plan for most people is to seek sound health through a more nutritionally-dense and diverse whole-food diet. As part of my perpetual effort to perfect my diet, I have recently replaced my probiotic supplement with homemade kefir (whether you get good bacteria into your gut through a capsule or fermented foods, this is unequivocally one of the most vital things you can do for your health), bid farewell to my multi-vitamin/mineral in favor of nutritionally-dense foods like offal, eggs, and bone stocks, and cut out my fish oil by… eating more fish… (who knew?! [by the way, do your research on fish oils and most plant-based oils, as they are HIGHLY prone to rancidity and oxidation, especially when refined, heated, and processed, which strips them of their natural antioxidants]) The one supplement I’m still taking is my Green Pasture fermented cod liver oil/butter oil blend. This is such a high-quality product and excellent source of commonly deficient and essential vitamins and fatty acids that I haven’t been able to cut this one out for myself OR my dogs… yet…
Increase muscle mass: I suppose this one may come as a “duh!” statement, but I have prioritized this particular fitness goal because I unfortunately lost some lean mass as a result of some dietary missteps and experimentation with fasting last summer. Fortunately, I have rectified this situation with continued biohacking and research (read on). I’m not ashamed to admit that I just figured out how to build muscle a few months ago. My recent increase in muscle tone, definition, and mass, while perhaps not drastic, is certainly measurable, and attributable primarily to a few basic practices and principles:
- Intermittent fasting. Working out in a fasted state increases your body’s natural ability to recycle amino acids. In addition, your muscle cells are at peak insulin sensitivity when fasted. By temporarily depriving your muscles of protein, you increase insulin’s ability to deliver both protein and glycogen to your muscles (glycogen is a stable form of glucose stored in the liver and muscles, but what can’t be delivered by insulin due to excess or cellular insensitivity is converted to triglycerides and stored in fat cells). In other words, hitting your body with a high quality, fast-assimilating complete protein directly after a fasted-state workout will greatly magnify results, all else being equal. Additional tip: Your body can only utilize 20-30 grams of protein at a time. Anything in excess of this will be converted into glucose, glycogen, and fat. However, by spacing out your protein consumption post-workout, you can potentially benefit from 2 or even 3 recovery meals.
- Diet. Even with the best strength-training regimen in the world, muscle gain will be severely hampered or non-existent if your diet sucks. Why put your body through all that work, then give it a bunch of sugar or incomplete protein? Follow up your workouts with a high-quality protein like eggs, cheese, beef, chicken, etc.
- HIIT it, then quit it! (exercise intensely for short periods, then recover and relax!) Diet is, of course, critical to body composition, but the proper type of exercise must be paired with it for maximum results. High Intensity Interval Training is extremely adaptable, remarkably efficient, and increases muscle-building hormones while decreasing fat-storing hormones. In other words, it turns you into a lean, mean, fat-burning machine! HIIT routines focus on intense exertion for very short periods, interspersed with short recovery periods. If there is one gem to take away from this bullet point, it’s this–your endocrine system dictates whether you put on muscle or fat, but YOU dictate how your endocrine system functions by (among other things) what you put in your body, when you put it in your body, and of course how you exercise! Chronic, low-intensity cardio like jogging or biking requires massive amounts of energy. Fat, being the most energy-dense bodily component, is heavily-prized by the body for these types of exercises, so you end up telling your endocrine system that you need lots of fat to keep this crap up. The dutiful endocrine system responds by producing stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, forcing your body to store and hold onto body fat. As if this weren’t bad enough, chronic cardio trains your body to get more energy out of each calorie of fat, slowing your metabolism, increases gluconeogenesis (conversion of glycogen and protein into glucose), and decreases production of muscle-building hormones HGH and testosterone. Bummer… To put the final nail in the coffin, chronic cardio is terrible for your cardiovascular system! Marathoners don’t want to hear this, but consider the following for a moment: Exercising in a steady state for extended periods works your heart, but it only requires it to work so hard! Translation–steady, extended cardio tells your heart that this is as strong as it ever has to be. Slow and steady may win a 5k, but a 500 meter dash on the other hand may just extend your life’s finish line… Short bursts of intense exertion tells that endocrine system of yours we need to be strong and lean for this type of work, so it secretes stress hormones acutely during the workout, which is a very good thing, as acute stress increases your mitochondria’s production of glutathione (your body’s ultimate antioxidant, much more powerful than anything you can get through diet), preserves or even extends telomere length (telomeres hold your DNA together and are shortened slowly throughout life through natural processes such as cellular division and free-radical damage; preservation of telomeres is widely regarded as one of the keys to increasing longevity), and increases production of HGH and testosterone! You’re also strengthening your heart! Bingo! It really is as simple as using your body the way Mother Nature designed it. My preferred method of high-intensity training is the kettlebell, which is amazingly versatile and efficient, and will leave you clutching your knees and cursing at yourself in a few short minutes. Just be sure not to overdo it! That’s a very common mistake with HIIT; overtraining can sabotage your results and lead to adrenal fatigue. No more than a few days a week! Respect your recovery days!
Lose flab, increase definition: This one goes hand-in-hand with the previous goal, of course. At 6’2″ and about 170 lbs., I’m currently at the leanest I’ve ever been (I was in the low-mid 190s last year). While my weight is irrelevant, I do want to lose that last… little… bit of abdominal fat that, much like Rose from Titanic, “won’t let go…” A ketogenic, nearly zero-carb diet, along with intermittent fasting and HIIT routines have gotten me to this homeostatic point where my body says, “that’s it! I’m not burning any more body fat for you! What if there’s a famine, you moron?!” While I do appreciate my endocrine system trying to save my life from a famine that will most likely never come, I have other plans. In order to get the natural, proportionally muscular and lean physique I’m going for, it’s going to take some additional tweaking, and I’m highly confident in the protocol I’ve laid out for myself:
- Increase muscle mass (no crap!). This is the most critical component of advanced fat-burning. Building muscle and strength-training creates an anabolic/fat-burning state. More anabolic hormones = more muscle = less fat. An elementary point, but one that can’t be overstated.
- Continue with daily feast/famine eating pattern (a form of intermittent fasting in which I eat nothing during the day, and eat freely in the evening within a 4-5 hour window), but take small amounts of fat throughout the day to keep my fat-burning ability at maximum efficiency. Total fasts during the day have the potential to produce stress hormones that tell your body to hang onto fat, but giving your body just enough gives it permission to keep the fires burning at maximum efficiency. While I don’t believe this has been an issue with my feast/famine feeding pattern in the past, a bit of additional fat certainly won’t hamper my results. Plus, it keeps energy levels from waning throughout the day and is excellent at suppressing ghrelin, the hunger hormone.
- Caloric restriction 2-3 days a week. This is an additional measure I recently added to my regimen that I feel may help bring me to a tipping point for advanced fat loss. On non-workout days a few times a week, I still sip on my fat during the day (typically in the form of coconut milk, coconut oil, butter, and sugar-free chocolate), but instead of feasting in the evening, I have a single light protein meal strictly for muscle maintenance and to help keep my body in a lipostatic (fat metabolizing) state.
Anyway, that’s what I’m up to. How about you? What are your goals/resolutions for 2016? Whatever they are, here’s hoping we all have a healthy, happy new year!