Thursday, June 14, 2018

Calorie Cycling For Fat Loss

I must admit I was a little hesitant to release a post like this because this is a relatively advanced fat loss technique and it can do more damage than good if someone does not already have a healthy metabolism and relationship to food.  If you haven't already prioritized food, sleep, exercise & stress please just don't read any further and work on those pillars of health first.  If you are already under eating (women I'm looking at you), yo yo dieting, then this could do more damage than good.  You need to have a healthy metabolism going in.  If you have any hpa axis dysfunction or are overly stressed then this is also not for you.  Running a calorie deficit is a stress on the body.  If you're still with me then read on.

Summer is here and the inevitable is going to happen.  You are going to have to get into a swimsuit.  I think its fair to say the vast majority of people work out and diet because they want to look good in a swimsuit or dare I say it, naked.  Although I'm getting up in age and my priorities have shifted to more of a longevity approach to fitness, I definitely still have a strong desire to look good without a shirt on.  From a fitness side I think resistance training is by far the most effective approach not only to build muscle but also from a fat loss perspective, but that will be a topic for another post.  Here I'm going to discuss how to shed fat by using a caloric deficit but still maintain muscle mass and not tank your metabolism.

So you want to lose fat?  What do most people do?  They restrict calories and do a bunch of cardio because that's the message "eat less move more".  In the short term this works and honestly if you have one week until you hit the beach this is the best approach but in the long run it inevitably fails.  There is a reason why there is no reunion show for "The Biggest Loser", they nearly all gain the weight back.  Why?  The body is incredibly adaptable and when you consistently restrict calories and do excessive cardio to burn even more calories the body will adapt to this new normal.  Then when you inevitably start to eat more calories again, because well you are staving yourself, you will gain the weight back extremely quickly because your metabolism is in the toilet.  If you restrict calories long enough you can also do lasting damage and effect your hormones as your body will think it is not a good time to reproduce.  For women it can go as far as losing your period (Amenorrhea).  Undoing this damage can take months, even years, and you can forget about fat loss while you're fixing yourself.

So how do we intelligently restrict calories and not let the body adapt while also targeting fat loss and not muscle loss.  We can do that by what I call Calorie Cycling.  I got this from the Mind pump guys so full credit to them first.  If you're into fitness and not listening to these guys you are doing yourself a disservice. They call it undulating calories and they have a great video explaining the concept.

The idea is that instead of simply restricting calories every day you change your calorie intake each day so you have a mixture of calorie deficits, maintenance and even surplus calories.  But the total caloric intake for the week is below your maintenance.  Also you only stay in a deficit for a few weeks or so then you go back to maintenance or perhaps even a surplus (if you want to build muscle).  They refer to this as a "mini cut" and it helps stop the body from adapting and also not allow the body to prioritize muscle loss.

The first step is to figure out what your daily requirement is for calories to maintain your current weight.  This is something I had never truly gotten a handle on and now that I've done all the numbers it was clear I was consistently over eating.  Which is not surprising as I always tended to default to eating more as I was more afraid of under eating with the amount of exercise I was doing.

Here are some resources to get a baseline staring point of your caloric need for a day

If you want a really quick calculation do 12-15 times your body weight.

I settled on 2050 Daily calories for me.  I'm a male 143 lbs, lift weights 3 times a week and get over 10K steps a day.  This is just a starting point.  I might tweek this number depending on how I feel, if I still gain or lose weight in maintenance.  I also will adjust based on my activity level.

Here is a direct link to my spreadsheet that has my daily calorie goals depending what phase I'm in.

So my maintenance goal is 14,350 calories a week.  I'm targeting a 15% deficit in calories for my mini cuts.  Again this is a starting point, if I lose weight too fast or too slow I'll adjust up or down.  Incidentally 1 lb of fat = 3,500 cals.  So in theory I should lose about 0.6 lbs of fat in a cut week assuming I don't lose any muscle.  Do not think more is better, there is a point of diminishing returns and you don't want to over do it.  Just become some is good does not mean more is better, American logic.

Daily MaintWeekly MaintPct DecreaseDaily Weekly

Here is what each potential day looks like depending on the phase.  I keep my meals at work very consistent and then allow 800 cals for dinner to keep it simple.  Doing this for a while I have a pretty good sense of how many calories are in different items.  No snacks unless my activity level is really high.

Lunch and DinnerLunch and Dinner, patoto and pate for breakfastJust dinner3 meals, medium potato, 3 eggsLunch and Dinner, Avocado for Lunch3 meals, medium potato, no olive oilLunch and Dinner
Lunch and Dinner3 meals, medium potato, 2 eggsLunch and Dinner, Avocado for Lunch3 meals, medium potato, 2 eggs, double pate3 meals, Avocado, 2 eggs3 meals, medium potato, 2 eggsLunch and Dinner
Lunch and Dinner3 meals, medium potato, 3 eggsLunch and Dinner, Avocado for Lunch3 meals, medium potato, 3 eggs3 meals, Avocado, 2 eggs3 meals, medium potato, 3 eggsBreakfast,Lunch and Dinner

Here is a sample meal broken down by calories, this is a typical lunch for me at work.

FoodCntMeasurementCalTotal Cal
Olive Oil1Tbsp119119
Bals Vin1Tbsp1414
1 Med Potato1163163

Now the easiest way to change the calorie counts for me is with fasting.  In my cutting week I have 3 days where I intermittent fast (skip breakfast) and one 24 hour fast (skip breakfast and lunch).  I do schedule these on non workout days.  Now I know what you're thinking, surely you're starving, I could never do this!  Well I admit if your eating the standard american diet full of processed carbs that are nutrient deficient like soda, potato chips and pizza, yes you're going to struggle.  You probably already experience huge energy dips and hangry!  However if you have your diet in better shape and are eating whole high nutrient foods with plenty of fat and protein you will find it is not nearly as difficult as you might think.  You will become more metabolically flexible and be able to switch easily between burning fat or glucose for fuel.  We are evolved as hunter gathers to be able to go long periods without eating, its in our nature.  You also get the benefits of fasting and I find it much simpler than just eating different sized meals.  I also do time my carb intake a bit as I eat more potatoes on workout days.  In particular post workout when my muscles are in the best state to replenish gylocgen stores that has been depleted from the workout.

Now I readily admit that all this looks a bit daunting but simply tracking your calories for a week can give you some great insight into where you really are.  Plus you might notice that cashew nut snack habit you have is adding 1000 calories a week.  Without doing that first you really are just guessing.  I would start with that first, and then to make a cut week simple maybe just skip breakfast 2 days a week.  And then go back to putting the breakfast back in.  For a bulk week maybe add a snack in.  The full calorie cycling is really like the black belt of food tracking especially once you can do it intuitively.  There are a couple of food tracking sites in the links for this post below, I personally use Paleo Track to get a break down of some of my most common meals.

The results: I couldn't quite bring myself to post a shirtless before and after pic but I definitely leaned out some and I've had multiple people comment on my body.  My wife also noticed (I didn't tell her I was doing anything). Here is how weight progressed along with each phase.

M=Maintenance, C=Cut, B=Bulk

Week of PhaseOverall Cut RateRunning TotalWeight

Weight is not the greatest measurable as I could quite easily fluctuate a few pounds just depending on the day.  However as I said before I can tell the difference and so can other people.  Going forward I'm basically in maintenance at the moment and will stay there and probably a slight calorie surplus for quite a while.  I want to put on some more muscle and I'll need calories to do that.  Also I don't want to dip too far into the cutting well because my body will adapt and that would be a disaster.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

My Spartan Race Training Plan

In my last post I talked about overtraining and how I had to take 5 weeks off from doing any serious exercise.  So what does any sane person do once they are ready to go back to the gym?  Well they plan every workout from now until July obviously.  No I'm serious I have every workout planned until I do the Indiana Spartan Sprint again in July.  You can checkout my whole plan here.

Obstacle course racing (OCR) has some unique challenges in that you have to train all sorts of different systems.  You need to be a good runner but you also need power, strength, mobility, a soul crushing grip and ability to flush lactate.  Its a lot to try and manage and I wanted to get a little more serious and come up with a concrete plan of attack.  I also wanted to periodize my training plan instead of trying to throw the kitchen sink at me every week.  Basically I would concentrate on different things at different times of the year instead of trying to train everything at once and getting no where except maybe back into an overtrained state.  Unfortunately my aerobic base training didn't go quite as planned.  I stopped lifting weights and doing any intervals on 5/31/2017 and then I got about 2 and 1/2 months of just aerobic base training in before I had to take that 5 weeks off.

In that 2 1/2 months my MAF pace didn't really improve much which was a little disappointing.  If you don't remember what MAF is read my post on aerobic training but essentially this was my pace at a target HR of 136 (180-age).  Below are all my 4 mile MAF tests to track my progress.

Date1M2M3M4MTarget HR4 Mile Total TimeAvg PaceOutside Temp

The more I learn about Aerobic base building the more I discover that it takes a long time.  The last recommendation I heard was 30-38 weeks of base building, this was directed at a strict endurance athlete (so just running).  To muddy the data a bit there seems to be a strong correlation to outside temperature and my pace so I'm not entirely sure if I achieved much.  You do need patience in this kind of training but I've ran out it and what little muscle I had was disappearing fast.  By the time September rolled around I was ready to get back on the weights and put in some off season strength training.  So I have a strength block planned from here until Xmas.

For this block I'm using the MAPS Performance program by the Mind Pump guys.

If you are into resistance training I really like the programming of these guys.  They also have a really good podcast and I like that they are trying to dispel many of the common myths around training and the supplement industry.  So I'm going to do their MAPS Performance program for the first 3 months.  There are 4 phases to the plan, Raw Strength, Reactive Strength, Explosive Strength & Durability.  So during this strength phase I'll be changing programming every 3 weeks.  I will be modifying the program in that I will only lift twice a week instead of 3 days.  I don't want to overdo it plus I'll still be doing MAF running in between to maintain the little aerobic training I've gained.

10/1/201710/7/2017MAF Run 35 minsMAF Run 30 minsMAPS Phase I Fd 1Optional Active Recovery/GripMAF Run 30 minsMAPS Phase I Fd 2Rest DayStrength Phase I Raw Strength
10/8/201710/14/2017MAF Run 40 minsMAF Run 30 minsMAPS Phase I Fd 1Optional Active Recovery/GripMAF Run 35 minsMAPS Phase I Fd 2Rest DayStrength Phase I Raw Strength
10/15/201710/21/2017MAF Run 45 minsMAF Run 30 minsMAPS Phase I Fd 1Optional Active Recovery/GripMAF Run 35 minsMAPS Phase I Fd 2Rest DayStrength Phase I Raw Strength

This will take me to Xmas break where I'll take a week off.

After Xmas I will move to more OCR focused workouts.  The running workouts will ramp up and will include lots of different running workouts not just MAF.  This training plan is taken directly from the book "The Essentials of Obstacle Course Racing"  by David Magida.  This is the only decent Obstacle Course specific training book I have found so far.  It is also a good starting spot for somebody who is just starting in OCR.

The training plan from the book is 3 months, with 3 phases.  Foundation, Endurance and Power.  I'll have 6 months from Jan to Jun so I haven't quite decided how I'm going to extend the training plan yet but I'll make that decision at the end of this year.

12/31/20171/6/2018MAF Run 65 minsMAF Run 30 mins, Strength Workout ARunning Workout AOptional Active RecoveryMAF Run 30 mins, Strength Workout BRunning Workout BRest DayOCR Training Phase I Foundataion
1/7/20181/13/2018MAF Run 65 minsMAF Run 30 mins, Strength Workout CRunning Workout COptional Active RecoveryMAF Run 30 mins, Strength Workout DRunning Workout DRest DayOCR Training Phase I Foundataion
1/14/20181/20/2018MAF Run 70 minsMAF Run 30 mins, Strength Workout ARunning Workout AOptional Active RecoveryMAF Run 30 mins, Strength Workout BRunning Workout BRest DayOCR Training Phase I Foundataion
1/21/20181/27/2018MAF Run 70 minsMAF Run 30 mins, Strength Workout CRunning Workout COptional Active RecoveryMAF Run 30 mins, Strength Workout DRunning Workout DRest DayOCR Training Phase I Foundataion

Obviously nothing is set in stone and its very important for me to modify or adjust workouts to my schedule and more importantly on how my body feels and even take an unplanned rest day if necessary.  I'm a bit type A in that respect and I need to get better at listening to my body.  I also have to face the fact I am getting up in age and I just don't recover as well anymore.  The first week was a perfect example.  I did my first weight session on 9/26/2017 and it had been almost 3 months since I had touched a weight.  The results were predictable, I did the full workout and I was very sore for 3 to 4 days.  I did however cancel the weight workout on 9/29/2017 and replaced it with an easy swim (more like a 5 min dip) and a sauna session instead, so progress I guess.

Finally there are no real mobility sessions in my plan but I will continue to do my gymnastic stretching program in the evenings along with plenty of foam rolling of sore spots.

If you want to get serious about your results in whatever event you are competing in it is essential to have a good plan.  Even if you're not competing and just trying to stay healthy and active I think we all still want to improve and make the most of our time.  Have you plateaued in your workouts?  It might be time for a change.  When time available is such a big factor you want every minute you do have to be used wisely.  I think its also essential to document every training session to judge progress.  Honestly if you're really serious I think a coach is probably worth it.  However you're looking at probably $200-$300 a month for a decent coach who is going to do custom programming for you.  Also if you have access to a good trainer that can pay dividends also.  On the other hand finding a good one can be a bit of crap shoot.  If you're in Indianapolis I can recommend this guy.  Finally you can pay for a training site, here are some well respected OCR sites.

Yancy Camp

Leader Board Fit

I know coming up with my own training plan is not optimal but I enjoy the process and lets be honest I'm not winning anything.  We'll see where it gets me in July.


My Training Plan

Book - The Essentials of Obstacle Course Racing

Mind Pump Podcast

MAPS Performance

Nerd Fitness - How to hire a good personal trainer

Sam Woodworth - Indianapolis Trainer

Gymnastic Bodies - Stretching Program

Spartan Race - 2018 Indiana Sprint

OCR Training Site - Yancy Camp

OCR Training Site - Leader Board Fit