Monthly Archives: May 2010

Exercise vs. Nutrition

I played with some numbers to see how many calories I can realistically burn in one hour of exercise versus how much “damage” I can do in one hour of eating. These are real life examples of what I’ve done.

Player 1: Exercise

One of my favorite pieces of equipment for doing “cardio” exercise is the upper-lower body cross trainer.

Realistically, I do a combination of things, but I’ll use this for our example. I go by the “calories per hour” display reading to see what pace I’m going at. I’m sure the amount is grossly overestimated but I use it anyway. The thing people don’t realize is the reason it asks for your weight at the beginning is to estimate your BMR (basal metabolic rate). Your BMR is the amount of calories you’d burn at rest anyway if you weren’t exercising. So the reading you get on-screen is not calories on top of your BMR, it’s calories total. Something to keep in mind.

I’m about 6 foot tall (with shoes), 150 pounds, and pretty well-trained. Going at a vigorous pace (enough to make me feel slightly uncomfortable the whole time) I can burn about 900 calories in one hour on this machine. This is also assuming I use the upper body segment the whole time. I usually get bored after 20 minutes; so 1 hour is pushing it for me.

Result: Exercise = 900 calories burned/hour

Player 2: Eating

Hopefully this won't become your new nickname

This was not a whole day of eating; but ON TOP of my daily intake. It was realistically done within one hour (the only things slowing it down were travel time, waiting, and paying). No names are hidden to protect anybody. This was a true life protocol.

1 Len & Larry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie = 280 calories

1 Kookie Karma Holistic Chocolate Chip = 180 calories

1/2 pound Jimbo’s Mac & Cheese = 375 calories

Cold Stone “Love it” Sinless Sans Fat Sweet Cream (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups + M&M’s mix-ins) = 580 calories

Burger King Small Fries = 220 calories

Burker King Jr. Whopper = 370 calories

Fresh & Easy Mac & Cheese (3 servings) = 750 calories

Fresh & Easy Dark Chocolate Pudding = 140 calories

Fresh & Easy Sweet Green Iced Tea = 20 calories

1 cup OJ = 70 calories

Result: Eating = close to 3000 calories consumed/hour

I can eat over 3 times the amount of calories than I can ever expend in one hour. This was not painful to do, either; I enjoy food a lot :). What it shows you is how food is an efficient fuel source, especially the calorie-dense sources available.

You cannot out-exercise a bad diet. And if you’re trying to lose weight solely through exercise without controlling your caloric intake, you will be royally frustrated.

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Cheat Meals Affect Your Workouts

I’m a big proponent of training throughout the year and eating clean/staying lean during most of that time. Regardless, I know “indulging” will be inevitable so I wanted to offer my experience.

Junk Food really affects my workouts for several reasons.

1. With heavy/hard to digest foods I just get sleepy and don’t feel like being active. Fat has the biggest effect.

2. Most “cheat” foods are dehydrated. In fact, almost all of them, by definition. This will be the #1 thing that affects your performance and you cannot get enough water during the training session to compensate.

3. The dehydrating effect, as well as the thermogenic (heat-producing) effect of higher calories will elevate your body temperature. This is not a good thing as exercise elevates body temperature and you may heat up too much. At worst, you may have a heat stroke; at best, you’ll sweat buckets as your body cools itself.

4. A lot of cheat foods also contain several additives, mainly salt. No matter the source, salt is harmful to the body and it will be excreted through your sweat glands as the body works to re-establish proper mineral balance.

5. Cheat foods bloat you. Water retention makes you heavier; so does food in the gut. This is not a good feeling when trying to propel your body through space or get into challenging positions with a distended belly (try to pretend you’re not the “gaseous” person nearby)!

In short – you may be able to cheat and still look great; but I guarantee it will negatively affect your performance, physically and mentally.

An Easier Way To Count Calories

A quick tip for those of you who use tools like FitDay, NutritionData, or even your Apple iPhone to count calories (something I highly recommend doing):

If you shop for groceries on a weekly basis for fresh foods like I do; and don’t stockpile your food, you can get a weekly total instead of a day-to-day count. It will also be much more accurate.

For example, if a large part of your diet is fruits and vegetables (which it should be), look at your receipt; you should be able to see each item listed and exactly how many pounds each. You can use this for your data instead of having to weigh/portion each meal. Obviously, your food intake will be spread out over several days, but you can get a weekly total instead of a daily total.

Let’s say your groceries last you exactly 7 days. You can get a daily average once your week’s total is figured out. For example, I know if my daily limit is 1500 calories per day, that’s 10,500 for the week. I can simply log in all my food for the week and see if it fits within that limit.

If someone digs into your food supply or you share your foods with others.. great! You’ve effectively lowered your calorie intake without effort.

Obviously, you still have to account for things like snacks you pick up, and meals eaten outside the home (which, if you’re trying to cut, are not very helpful I find). But at least you get rid of the ambiguity of “Is this a small, medium, or large melon?” or “Is this a small, medium or large banana?” because you have the exact weight listed on your receipt. You don’t have to measure things each day and you can distribute your food intake throughout the week however you want.

I understand this won’t work quite as well with places that don’t weigh your foods; but it’s still a useful tool.

So keep it simple and keep your receipts.

Weight Loss: Give Up “Obligatory” Eating

By weight loss of course I am referring to fat loss (emptying  out fat cells to be more exact) and by obligatory eating I’m referring to eating “just because it’s there”.

Trimming the fat off your body is a constant battle in an abundant food environment combined with a fuel-efficient human system; but it can (and has) been done. Maintaining your desired body composition once you reach your goal requires just as much mental strength. I find that the biggest key to cutting down and holding it there is patience.  You cannot burn as many calories through exercise or even OTC drugs in a given time period as you can by simply letting the body do its work.

Most of us have a clear idea of what foods or eating patterns improve our health and body shape while there are those eating habits that we may enjoy; but are not done in the name of physical health.

We may refer to the two sides of this dietary dichotomy as clean eating and cheating. Eating clean (or healthy) may be our usual diet with the intention to improve ourselves, while cheating (or indulging) would be everything else. (Why is it called cheating, by the way? I never gained anything of advantage by cheating on my diet. Nevertheless, there’s no fooling your body by cheating!)

Here’s an example of how obligatory eating works to your disadvantage: let’s say there’s a lot of good food around (cheat food) but you’re not hungry. So you drink water. However, you want to “fill the void” of not having cheat foods so you decide to have a meal of clean food, which you figure wouldn’t hurt. You guzzle the water and start eating clean, even though you weren’t hungry. By the time you’ve finished your clean meal, even if you have overeaten, you may get bored and desire stimulation so you start looking at the cheat food. If you start digging in, one bite leads to the next and sooner or later you’re over your calorie budget, or if you’re trying to cut, you’ve eaten just enough to wash out your fat loss for that day.

My recommendation is to step away from “good” and “bad” choices and simply eat food or not. Humans are weird in that we engage in food eating as a ritual. Since we are going to end up eating anyway, I’d say ride out your resolve and fortitude until you really want to eat. Then, since we like making “good” choices first anyway, you can eat whatever you consider clean, like a delicious watermelon or a good simple salad, and then stop eating when you’re satisfied with that meal. The next time you eat you can have another “clean” meal and spread out your calories over a longer time period. In other words, pace yourself, because that is your key to controlling calories, time.

Mental Roadblocks for Men and Women

What I’m about to reveal to you may be shocking. In fact, if more people knew this, you’d see WAY better bodies in your gym. And let’s be honest, 90-95% of the people working out do so to look better.

However, there is a major mental distortion that keep people from being at their best:

For women, it’s:
“I want to be toned but I don’t want to bulk up.”

And for men, it’s:
“I want to see some definition, but I don’t want to lose size.”

Allow me to give both genders a reality check:

Women – the limiting factor in the muscle size you can build is Testosterone. Unless you are on massive doses of steroids, you have MAGNITUDES less Testosterone than guys. It’s what makes men, men. Think about how many dudes work their asses to the ground their whole lives trying to build muscle, and are barely able to do so. You really think you’re going to become a professional bodybuilder by putting too much weight on the pec-deck machine? I think this distortion may come from seeing females who are on steroids. And I assure you, ANY professional female athlete who gets attention from the media is likely on steroids. It’s the truth. You’re more likely to gain too much “bulk” by one too many trips to the Frozen Yogurt place than by lifting too much weight. If you want to half-ass it in the gym, at least say it’s because you want to take it easy; but stop pretending that massive muscles happen by accident.  Muscle gives shape, so the more you maximize your genetic potential for muscle (which has a limit, outside of drugs) the better shape you’ll have. It’s as simple as that.

Men – you’re going to be a lot smaller in size when you’re at the leanness you want. Fat has mass, and everyone wants a six-pack but no one wants to weigh under 180 or 190.

Most would agree that Brad Pitt looked his best in Fight Club. At a height of 6 feet, I can assure you that he was no more than 155 pounds for that role. Shortly after came the movie Snatch, where he still looked pretty good, but is probably 5-10 pounds heavier and not as impressive-looking due to the smoothed out appearance.

Men: don’t be afraid of being lighter.

Women: don’t be afraid to build muscle.

If everyone would do this, you’d see a lot better bodies at the gym, at the beach, or just walking around.

What You’re NOT Doing = Your Results

Your level of leanness has less to do with what diet or exercise program you’ve been following, and more to do with what situations you consciously avoid.

Body shape is a weird thing in that it’s the lack of body fat that determines your shape. But America has an obsession with fixing more with more. Too much body fat? Fix it with more drugs, more surgery, more workout videos, more diet products. Sadly, this leaves people frustrated after investing so much time, money, and health to something that’s supposed to make your life better. To get anywhere with your body composition, you need to avoid putting the fat on in the first place.

It’s not about being macrobiotic, raw vegan, low-carb or following a special workout.

It’s about passing up the leftover pizza or pastries at the office, walking past the candy isle at the store, not stuffing yourself at a party, going to a regular lunch instead of a buffet (or better yet, eating from home), drinking more water than beer.. or going to the gym instead of the bar, the list goes on.

You can live however you want. But don’t lie to yourself and think you can take a magic supplement, exercise the excess weight away or “start your diet tomorrow” to get to the body shape you want. If you think it’s possible, do it.

Estimating Your Body Fat Percentage

In this post, I’ll tell you the truth about body composition numbers as well as give you a visual estimate of your percentage body fat based on your appearance.

Part of misunderstanding our body fat percentage comes from the common measuring devices used. For example, I use calipers on my clients to measure skin fold thickness, but I pay little attention to the actual body fat percentages given. I’m more concerned with the changes over time (i.e. once every 4 weeks).

The reason for this is simple: caliper measuring devices only measure the skin thickness of certain parts of your body. 99% of us have an uneven distribution of fat across our body. So even though I measure 7 sites, to be more accurate I’d also have to pinch your butt cheeks, hamstrings, calves, lower back, etc. which are not typically included in my calculations. Also, calipers don’t take into account essential body fat – that which is necessary to maintain life and reproductive functions. Essential body fat makes up about 5% of total body weight for men and about 10% for women. Subcutaneous fat, or storage fat is the fat stored underneath the skin that we’re all too familiar with. Part of its job is to protect the internal organs (now you know why we store fat around the waist). However, its main purpose is to store excess fuel (food). Calipers at best only measure storage fat, so it is possible to get a reading of 0% body fat using skin-fold measurements; but we all know that no living human being has zero body fat.

What Various Body Fat Percentages Look Like

Because we’re trained to rely on body size it doesn’t give us a very good eye for degree of leanness. Someone can be very small yet have a high percentage of body fat (aka “skinny fat”). On the other hand, a bodybuilder can be very big but also very lean. So it’s best to go by relative body fat.

Visual Guidelines:

5-7% – Stage-ready competitive bodybuilder. Striations everywhere, extreme vascularity, muscles on top of muscles.

7-9% – “Ripped”–clean pectoral line, thin-skinned appearance, striations in certain muscle groups, very vascular, abs are always visible. Typical of a fitness model.

~10% – Good definition everywhere. Very clean lines, prominent cheekbones, vascularity on the lower abdomen and thighs, and you have a nice “six-pack”.

11-14% – “Cut”–abs and shoulder definition are visible, waist is tight, and the structure of the face is more evident.

15-17% – Decent bodily contour with only a hint of definition. Very good shape in clothes, but comparatively smooth (lacking definition) out of them. Face is typically full.

18% or more – “Big” in clothes but soft without them. Belly protrudes slightly, face is round, and there is no visible definition in the arms. If you get any fatter than this, you start to develop a “beer belly” and a second chin. (Not recommended)

To lose fat, a general guideline is to give yourself at least 2 weeks for each percentage you need to lose. For example, if you’re starting at 14% body fat, with consistent weight loss you can expect to arrive at roughly 10% body fat in 8 weeks. Expecting more dramatic results sooner will only set you up for frustration.

In a future post, I’ll outline the exact method I use to get lean.