What you eat is 70% of the effort. In nutrition you need to separate energy consumption (aka calories) and nutritional value. Bones + Muscles + Fat is what we are made off. To affect muscle mass and size you have to workout, to affect the fat layer you have to watch your nutrition.
Disclaimer: Please do not follow advice given in this post blindly. Consult a physician, monitor yourself and your health and act responsibly.
When you hit a certain age you grow more aware of your body and how it changes. Some years ago I started thinking about the way I treat my body. As an engineer I started wondering why I don’t handle myself with the same drive for optimisation as I handle my projects. During the last 2 years I have experimented with changes in both my nutrition and lifestyle while trying to measure results along the way. Thinking back I wanted to point out some major takeaways I had that might help someone trying the same for him/herself.
Slow Carbs and restrictive dieting
Two years ago I discovered the so called slow carbs approach to dieting. A restrictive diet with impressive results. Based on the glycemic index of the food you avoid high glycemic index foods in favour of so called slow carbs which basically release their energy slower into the body thus avoiding an insulin spike. (REF) The slow carb approach surely did deliver since I lost around 10kg during the first months, but restrictive diets are hard to maintain over time, simply because diversity of food is something we all crave for, but also because modern working hours and office life make it hard to restrict yourself to a very specific group of foods.
Food pyramids and what a body needs
We are all raised by our parents based on some basic food principles they learned during their childhood and their parents during theirs etc, etc… This means that some of these principles are based on conditions that simply do not apply any more. These conditions could be scarcity or plentitude of nutritional value/whole foods or simply wrong believes. Have a look at the two below food pyramids as they were taught in 1992 and 2005 respectively (Harvard Healthy Eating Plate)
After diving into the slow carb diet some of the basic principles like legumes and high protein food did stick, but quality of raw materials and completeness of my nutrition was lacking. During the winter months I started taking supplements in a pretty uncontrolled manner. I bought some multivitamins during the first cold months in order to shield my body, then some folic acid in order to help with my anaemia, then some magnesium for recovery after sports, then some vitamin C during the first days of the flu. Looking at my order history the sight was pretty disturbing. I was substituting bad food decisions with supplements in a pretty random manner. Parallel the World Health Organisation characterised processed meat the same way they characterise tobacco, red meat was considered bad, while eggs became innocent, milk was considered harmful. The food pyramid I grew up with and the beliefs associated with it changed drastically. I started researching more into the nutritional value of food and grew more sensitive about what I was eating throughout the day.
Energy and nutritional value
Food is needed for two reasons. Energy and building blocks. You need to run the factory but also repair and extend it. The problem with most modern food is that is is high energy low nutritional value food. High demand for specific food groups has deteriorated the basic micronutrient, and now our soil is low on everything and the same goes for the cows that eat the grass, their milk, etc etc…. In parallel we added high sugar food substitutes into our diet, skyrocketing the energy surplus to our bodies. We spike on energy while we starve on basic nutrition.
Basic whole food
Given the above realisation I started shifting my diet more and more into unprocessed food. Whole wheat where needed in the beginning but gradually lowering the carb consumption again to a minimum level, while adding more and more raw materials into my everyday diet. Nuts, berries, eggs, greenery, unprocessed meat… you get the point. Sugar and salt were basically banned from my diet, which wasn’t too hard on me since I never really have been a sugar addict.
Bones, muscles and fat. Thats pretty much all we are. In order to sculpt your body and since we don’t want to dive into restructuring surgery we can alter the two remaining parts.
The base layer
When I started playing basketball again after a good 10 years, I immediately injured my Achilles tendons. “Too much , too early”. So in the summer of 2017 right after my birthday I completed my first Ergometric test in order to establish my base line. In parallel I started working on and off court with the mighty @john.sour. The goal was to develop the supporting muscular system in parallel with bball exercises. This worked out really well and I think I can summarise the key factors into the following:
- Workout first thing in the morning. On an empty stomach. Drink a glass of Electrolytes and a glass of water and a protein shake after the workout. With a last meal around 20.00 and a workout from 07.00 - 9.30 you will be getting your first meal practically in a fastened state. Also early in the morning the chances that outside events will interrupt your training schedule are the lowest. Bonus point: if you wake up at 06.00 you avoid early commute traffic
- Recovery is key. You workout and by doing so you trigger a reaction from your body. Let it react and adapt. Monday, Wednesday and Friday workouts since during the weekend you are usually more active anyway.
- You need a workout partner. Best to have a personal trainer. Otherwise someone with the same goals. You will not reach peak power when you second guess that 150% * bodyweight squat worrying about what will happen if you fail.
- Pick a sport you like and combine it with functional weight or resistance training specifically for this sport. Key to success is persistence and you will not walk the mile if you don’t like the process.
- Trust in the process.
Where am I right now?
I feel I am in the best shape of my life. I need to add some weight but will do so in a controlled manner over a long period of time. Other then that any assessment will have to wait after the second ergometric test almost exactly one year after my first. For my next steps I have looked into two new concepts. Metabolomic medicine and HRV.
Metabolomic medicine is a very active new part of modern medicine. Based on blood and urine tests the premise is that one can have a pretty good insight into how the cells in his body handle nutrients. It’s kind of the same principle as an exhaust gas analysis for your car. By checking whats left after the engine burned the fuel, the doctor can conclude what is missing from the overall cocktail of micro-nutrients and prescribe very specific supplements. I am currently in my first month, so I will have data roughly at the end of the summer.
Heart Rate Variability
I have been wearing the Garmin Fenix 3 HR for roughly two years now. Over the years I have seen a strong correlation regarding my health and my Resting Heart Rate. Whenever I am sick or starting to get sick my RHR will begin climbing from my standard < 45 bpm to a 50+. While RHR is a good indicator of cardiovascular stress other factors are not represented. That’s where Heart Rate Variability comes into play. It measures the variability of the time interval between heartbeats. This is correlated to the working of the sympathetic nervous system which is correlated to the overall stress load on the body. I have measured my HRV every morning for the last 3 months via the HRV4Training application which uses the phone camera in order to measure the heartbeats. Results have been promising. Training load and HRV are correlated and I have skipped some training sessions when the HRV value drops below a certain threshold in order to give my body the time it needs to recover. The only downside so far seem to be the single measurement in the morning. There are devices that measure HRV 24/7, especially during the sleep which should help with a clearer picture. Whoop seems to be the best I have discovered but they unfortunately do not ship to Europe so far.