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Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Fewer, larger meals may be more satisfying and good for you too.

Today's post is about the benefits of eating less frequently (aka intermittent fasting), especially for smaller people such as myself.

As you might remember, I'm currently "cutting", or reducing my calorie intake to shed the last few pounds to get the abs showing through again. Given that I'm only 125 lb, my calorie intake when dieting is going to be roughly 10 - 12 times that figure, or 1250 - 1500 calories. In practice, I've found I need to go to the lower end of this even with a decent amount of exercise. At the moment, I'm losing about 1 lb per week at an average daily calorie intake of 1300. I do about four hours of exercise per week (two heavy weights sessions and two moderately strenuous yoga sessions). Remember also from previous posts that the absolute number of calories doesn't matter - it's more important to keep adjusting them depending on what the scales tell you on a weekly basis.

At such a low calorie intake, I'm finding it much easier in terms of hunger-management and actually getting satisfaction from meals to squeeze them into a smaller window of time. I had (years ago now) tried the "little and often" style of eating, but found it annoying to prepare small meals / grab snacks; was constantly hungry / never satisfied from a meal; frustrated by the micro-management and interruption of social events. Now that I'm only eating in the evening, between about 7pm and 11pm, I can get reasonably full from only 1300 calories and relax more about what I'm eating if I'm going out to the cinema / pub / restaurant with friends because I'd be getting all my calories in this window anyway.

It's also seriously helpful for my lifestyle (frequent overseas travel), meaning that I can be productive all day (drinking plenty of coffee and water) and then relax in the evening with a healthy meal from the hotel or restaurant. I don't need to worry about grabbing questionable food from the airport / train station / cafeteria and I can concentrate on what truly is important when it comes to diet / body recomposition - what you eat, not when or how often you eat.

So, if you're having trouble with hunger / not being satisfied from meals when you're losing weight, remember or try the following:

  • Eat fewer, larger meals.
  • Make sure the food is nutrient dense and low in calories - think fish and green vegetables and avoid simple carbohydrates like bread, pasta and especially sugar!
  • Remember that the body is relatively slow to adapt - it can take weeks to adjust to a new way of eating or see a significant change in fat / muscle composition.
  • Drink plenty of water and hot drinks when you're not eating. (Make sure the hot drinks don't have any calories in them - think black coffee and green tea with no milk or sugar!).

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Quarterly UK House Price Update

Now that Halifax and Nationwide have both published their quarterly house price data, I can update my graph of house prices vs. demographics. Incidentally, as you may have read, the ONS updated their census data too, so that is also reflected here with the data for the population of 40-42 year olds.

I stand by my assertion that it's demographics and population that determine the fundamentals of the economy and, if things pan out as the model is indicating, house prices in real terms are going to keep drifting down until 2015 - 2018. It's important to remember that the prices reported in the press are always going to be nominal, so I expect reported prices to stay fairly constant. Many people will assume that house prices are stable, or possibly even rising slowly, but once converted to real prices, the slow drift downwards will become apparent.

It's also important to remember how slowly the cycle of house price highs and lows moves. From the graph of UK prices (blue line), the time between the last peak and trough (1989 - 1996) was 7 years. In comparison to the recent house price peak in 2007, that looks like a small correction, so I cannot see the bottom of the market being achieved before 2015.

Another take away point from the graph above is that house prices are now the same as they were in 2003!

Here's another interesting graph of UK demographics (again using updated data from the 2011 census):

The dark blue and purple lines are UK house prices from Nationwide and Halifax respectively. The pale blue line is NI house prices. The most interesting line is the grey one. This is the population of 65 - 84 year olds. It was fairly stable until 2007, but from then on it steadily increases. I do not see this being supportive of either UK house prices or the wider economy and there are many who see this as a fundamental shift in the developed world. For more on this, see books such as Gray Dawn: How the coming age wave will transform America. And the world by Peter G. Peterson.

My suggestion for potential first time buyers is to patiently wait for the housing market to settle, bearing in mind this could be a few years yet. Following the money rules from earlier posts, you should be spending no more than 25% of your take-home pay on rent (ideally less) and saving as much as you can (at least 10% of take-home, if not 25% if you can manage it). You really want to be able to build a 20% deposit to secure a reasonable rate on a mortgage, ideally 25%.

Good luck!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

European Debt Crisis

Sorry, another fantastically lazy post from me (I've been busy with work and it's been interrupting my diet too!), but hopefully an entertaining one.

Nigel Farage is one of the few politicians to tell it how it is. Enjoy!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Supplements - the REAL secret...

This is an important post and hopefully, it will save you money and help you in your body-recomposition goals.

Supplements, as the name suggests, are just that. For the vast majority of people, they are the least important aspect of training / health / fitness. However, because companies can make profit on them, they are advertised as panaceas - you know the adverts I'm referring to. Miracle cures to help you "melt, burn and destroy body fat!".

The truth is that, until you get the basics, supplements will do very little to help lose fat or gain muscle. (An important exception is anabolic steroids, either oral or intravenous - these have a dramatic effect on muscle synthesis, but are powerful compounds that affect the endocrine system and have many potential side effects. They are also illegal in most countries, but are widely used, especially in bodybuilding competitions that are not explicitly designated "natural". I don't condone or condemn anabolics, I just wish that they were more widely discussed so that people can make informed choices and get realistic ideas about both rates of muscle development and total body size. I respect anyone who has made an informed choice. I have chosen not to take them.)

In roughly descending order of importance, the following is a list of the fundamentals to achieve the body you want:

Diet / food choices

The diet cannot be temporary - it must be a gradual and permanent change to healthy choices. What you choose to eat 80% of the time will determine what your body looks like. We all know what food is healthy and what is not - make vegetables and protein (fish, chicken, lean beef etc.) the main components of the diet. The best thing to reduce and, ideally, eliminate, is sugar. Most advice is to reduce fat intake, and whilst I don't disagree that fat contains a lot of calories, it is burned in the body slowly. Sugar on the other hand needs to be dealt with immediately because the body cannot store much. Throughout our evolutionary history, sugar has been a rare treat - found in berries and honey for example. The body has evolved the ability to deal with a little bit of sugar - by raising insulin to turn on the "store this for later" (as fat) signal. It cannot cope with the amount of sugar in modern foods, which is why so many countries are suffering from an "obesity epidemic".

Summary = Avoid sugar, make vegetables and protein the priority.


I think this is the second most important aspect of getting a leaner / more muscular body. It takes longer than many people realise. It's frustrating having to wait for weeks or months (or even years!) to see the changes. I want to be lean now! The minimum period of time to begin to see changes in your body is about six weeks. If you want to change your body dramatically (think obese -> bodybuilder), this will take years. Be patient - as long as you are keeping a weekly record of your weight to get an idea of which direction you're heading (up or down) and adjusting your food as necessary, you will get there. Have faith and think in terms of six week chunks. The fact that it can take a long time to lose fat or gain muscle can actually be a good thing! It means that if you don't make it to the gym for a week, it's no big deal. If you end up pigging out one evening, eating whatever you want, it's no big deal. As long as you don't let it become a habit, it changes nothing. As long as you are eating well for about 5 - 6 days of the week, you'll get there. Don't try to rush the process - for example, eating one tin of tuna per day and going to the gym 7 days a week will not be a successful strategy to "getting ripped in six weeks!". You'll burn out quickly and not be able to hang in for the weeks and months it takes. A small effort over a long period of time will be much more effective than a large amount of effort in a short space of time. Many people fall prey to the latter, hence the term "yo-yo dieting".

Summary = Be patient. Try to enjoy the journey, rather than concentrating on the destination.


I really believe that this is less important than many people realise - certainly less than food choices and patience. There is no doubt that exercise is good for you, but by the looks of any gym, people seem to think that spending hours on a bike, treadmill or elliptical machine is the most effective way to lose weight. If they want to increase their CV (cardiovascular) health, then they are doing the right thing, but for losing weight it's counterproductive. As I've stated before, to lose 1 lb of fat in a week, the person must burn 3500 calories more than they take in. They can achieve this in three ways - by eating 500 calories per day less than usual; by doing about an hour of vigorous exercise per day or a mixture of both.  The problem with (aerobic) exercise is twofold - it's tiring and tends to make you hungry - not a good combination if you're trying to eat healthier! People tend to overestimate how many calories they have burned. The best way to use exercise in your body recomposition goals is less often and with higher intensity. The recent BBC Horizon episode explored this and I believe more and more people will accept this and I hope it becomes more mainstream.

My personal experience has been this - running several times per week made me tired and hungry. I didn't really get slimmer - I certainly didn't get more muscular! Going to the gym to lift heavy weights for one hour three times per week (and now only twice per week!) has enabled me to turn the belly into a six pack and gain more muscle size, especially my back, chest and shoulders.

Summary = Vigorous exercise 1 - 3 times per week, ideally resistance exercise such as kettlebells, bodyweight exercises, free weights or machines, when combined with a healthy diet and patience, is the best way to change your body.


Finally, the least important aspect of any healthy lifestyle. In my opinion, there are only two must-have supplements:

  • Omega 3 - Fish oil or hemp oil - something like 6g per day (6 standard fish oil tablets or a tablespoon of hemp oil).
  • Multivitamin - MyProtein's Alpha Men is a good one.
Beyond that, you might also consider taking the following:

  • Extra Vitamin C
  • Extra Vitamin D (especially for those of us in less sunny countries!)
  • Protein - just choose the cheapest and look for high protein content (75% or more). Throw a scoop or two into foods like oats, rice pudding or anything that might use milk with to increase the protein content. You could also think about using two different types - whey for fast absorption (think pre and post-workout) and casein for slow absorption (think cottage cheese for a late night snack). The two I use are Impact Whey and Milk Protein Smooth. The latter is a little chalky but makes great Protein Pudding.
  • Creatine - just get the cheapest (usually monohydrate). It's cheap and has been shown to increase strength. I personally found that it allowed me to lift about 5% more weight. Don't worry about "loading" phases - just take a few grams every day. It's not going to help with aerobic exercise - only short bursts like sprinting and heavy weightlifting.
If you really must try others, check out Martin's LeanGains supplements list.

Save the money you would use for diet pills and buy healthy food, a set of scales, some kettlebells or a gym membership and a notebook.

Sunday, 29 April 2012


So I finally got one of these iPhone things - it's not actually an iPhone, but an iPod Touch (I have no need of another phone, but I wanted the ability to use apps and have a portable media device). I hate to say that I'm impressed.... I've never been anti-Apple, but being a nerdy gamer, I've just always used Windows-based systems because of the custom-built hardware option and the availability of games. I bought an iPod Classic a few years ago because I wanted something to store all my music (one of my passions!) and have an intutive interface and have also been very happy with it.

I've found two especially good health and fitness-related apps, so these are the subject of today's post:

The first is Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock. The premise of the app is that it uses the accelerometer(s) in the iPhone or iPod Touch to monitor your movements while you sleep (you place the device on your mattress). Knowing how the movements of your body correspond to different sleep states, the app will record your night's sleep and attempt to wake you as close to your alarm time as possible but ensure you are in the lightest state of sleep as it can. We all know that feeling of the alarm going off when we are in a deep sleep!

So far, I've used it for four nights and it typically wakes me up 20 minutes before my alarm time, but I feel it's easier to wake up. Here's last night's sleep:

I went to bed at my typical time - about 22:30. You can see that I got up (to get a drink of water) at about half-midnight and then went through a few cycles before waking at 07:00. This morning, I happened to be in a deeper sleep than normal - it would have been better to wake up at the peak around 06:15, but I've set the alarm clock to not wake me up earlier than 30 minutes before my set alarm. I might play with the setting and try 45 minutes...

Here's Friday's sleep after some heavy drinking (which I don't condone by the way! I'm not a fan of heavy drinking, but we all overdo it sometimes):

Ouch. Four hours of terrible sleep. Yes, I felt awful all day (no headache because I made sure I drank plenty of water, just really spaced-out). This is also fairly typical of sleeping after drinking. Initially, your body deals OK sleeping with alcohol in your system, but as the alcohol is gradually removed from your system, it starts to over-compensate so that you have large swings in awake / deep sleep states.

So, for those of us who want to get better sleep (and get pretty graphs in to the bargain!), this app is awesome. It's also only £0.69 ($0.99)!

The second is Fitocracy (this app is Free!).

This is primarily a website for tracking workouts and keeping yourself motivated. The app allows you to log your workouts as well as almost all the website features. I've mentioned before that keeping track of your body weight and the amount of weight you're lifting is one of the best ways to achieve your fitness or body recomposition goals. This app makes it easier and more fun!

In essence, Fitocracy rewards you with points for each activity you complete. You get extra points for just getting started, as well as Achievements for the more advanced activities and lifts. You can build your workouts by adding exercises from the extensive lists. There are also Quests that you can choose to try to complete - for example, running a certain distance or doing a certain number of pullups.

As you log more workouts and activities, the points you build increase your Level. This is a great way to record your activity, keep you motivated and make you feel you are making progress.

Note on the image for today's post - I love these "First World Problems" memes - if you've not seen them before, they play on the idea that those of us lucky enough to live in the developed world have extremely petty things to worry about in the grand scheme of things. I completely agree and it's great to poke fun at ourselves!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Update on the true economic situation in Europe...

Nobody says it better than Nigel Farage...


PS - I have no political party preference. I'll write more on some economic and political ideas in the future...

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Protein Pudding!

So, the cut continues to go well and, despite being away working in Germany for the week, the combination of LeanGains (i.e. not eating during the day and just having all my day's food in the evening) and reasonable food choices (All-you-can-eat Sushi at Sushi Am Ring!), I lost about 2 lb. This is a little more than I would like and I need to be careful not to lose too fast, but I was concerned that I would over-eat. Obviously not! I made sure that I filled up as much as possible on wakame seaweed salad and sashimi, but I didn't particularly hold back when it came to my personal favourites, salmon nigiri and tuna maki!

Anyway, today's post is about the somewhat infamous Protein Fluff. I'll be using this as my pudding of choice for the next weeks / months of reducing body fat while retaining lean tissue. I ordered a whole lot of different flavours of protein from MyProtein, opting for the Milk Protein Smooth because this had the biggest range of flavours and, more importantly, is a mix of protein containing casein. Protein fluff with whey protein simply doesn't work - it turns into a glue-like paste instead of a nice fluffy pudding! (I tried it...). If you go to MyProtein to buy some, feel free to use my referral code when you register - MP17425 - to get 5% off your first order. I get some referral points if you do. I'd much rather you simply benefit from my blog though, and I can't stand blogs that try desperately to earn money.

So, my first experiment with Protein Fluff, which I would describe more as Angel Delight or custard, was pretty awesome! Here's my first recipe:

  • 75g Milk Protein Smooth (I tried Strawberry Cream first, but I've got another 5 flavours!)
  • 250ml Kara coconut milk (or use skimmed milk, water or whatever your preferred alternative is)
  • 20g flaxseed (I'm a big fan of this Linwoods stuff)

Blend / whisk / whatever for a while and you get a great, filling, tasty (if you don't mind the sweetness of sucralose, which is in the protein powder) and nutritious dessert!

This comes out at the following "macros" (if you use the flax and kara as I did):

  • Calories = 470
  • Protein = 67g
  • Carbs = 10g
  • Fat = 17g (10 of which are from the flax, 5 from the kara)
  • Fibre = 6g (all from the flax) 

If you didn't use the flaxseed, it would be:

  • Calories = 350
  • Protein = 63g
  • Carbs = 9g
  • Fat = 7g
  • Fibre = 0g

But I'm a big believer in keeping essential fatty acids and fibre in the diet at all times, but especially when trying to lose fat (i.e. on a calorie deficit).

Compare this to a typical sugar-free version of Angel Delight or equivalent:

  • Calories = 370
  • Protein = 12g
  • Carbs = 48g (of which 20g is sugar, despite it being "no added sugar!")
  • Fat = 14g
  • Fibre = 0g
Because this will be digested much more easily, it will cause a shorter, higher spike in blood sugar and lead to hunger much sooner than the protein-based dessert.

One of the, potentially surprising, facts about the human body is that of the three main macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein), only fats and proteins are required. Carbohydrates can be synthesised. Two important points to address with this are -

This does not mean that carbohydrates are bad.
This does not mean that all fats are good.

Carbohydrates are great in the diet when you want to maintain your weight or gain muscle (or fat!). But I find that they are not filling enough when losing fat and can be unhelpful when trying to control hunger.
The fats you want to keep in your diet at all times are things like fish oil, hemp oil, flax oil, olive oil etc.
Protein is so important when losing weight because it helps to prevent loss of the good stuff - muscle and lean tissue.


  • When maintaining weight, eat moderate protein, moderate fat and moderate carbs.
  • When losing fat, eat high protein, moderate or lower fat and low carbs.
  • When gaining weight (muscle), eat moderate protein, moderate fat and high carbs.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Real world example of muscle gains

Now that I'm cutting, and enjoying the new challenge of maintaining my strength while reducing calories, I can look back on my second "bulk".
As you know, I'm a small guy and not taking steroids. Therefore the rate at which I can gain muscle is going to be fairly slow. I'm confident that this is a reasonable real-world example of a typical rate of muscle gain however, so let's take a look.

This is the graph of my bodyweight over the course of my second bulking phase. As you can see, I started at the beginning of May 2011, weighing 120 lb. I stopped at the end of Feb 2012, weighing 140 lb. I was reasonably lean when I started. See my previous post.

Some points I want to stress:

  • This was real-world. I have a full-time job and all the usual stuff to worry about.
  • I was lifting twice per week (roughly each muscle group every 4 days, which seems to be optimal for naturals). Lyle McDonald reckons every fifth day, although he tends to split muscle groups up more - since I'm still fairly new to this (two years isn't long in this game), I'm concentrating on big compound lifts to get a good foundation of strength).
  • I carefully controlled my calorie intake so that I would gain around 1/2 lb per week. If I found I was gaining faster, I reduced the calories a little. From my first bulk, where I wasn't really holding back from eating too much, I would gain around 1 lb per week but soon found that most of this was fat!
  • I developed an injury in my shoulder from too much bench-pressing and not enough rowing movements. I had to take six weeks off from the gym and went to several physio sessions. This really set me back mentally and I lost quite a lot of strength. You can see this on the graph as a plateau between December and January.
  • Notice that the gain wasn't steady. It was up and down, but you can see the trend. When weighing yourself, you need to bear in mind that there will be some variation.
  • At the end of the bulk, I felt fat. I couldn't wait to start reducing the calories and getting rid of the belly! (I'll post pictures when I've finished my cut).

Things I've learnt:

  • Patience. Patience is the key to this body recomposition stuff. Unless you are one of those people blessed with natural leanness, you will want to bulk slowly. It's frustrating to see the abs disappear!
  • Rate of muscle gain - Lyle has an excellent article on muscle gains. He gives a figure of 1/2 lb per week as good going for a natural male. My findings agree with this and, as a small guy, I estimate I can gain 1/2 lb every other week. During this second bulk, I averaged 1/2 lb per week, but by the end of it, I was quite a lot fatter.
  • It takes years to build significant muscle, unless you are naturally stocky (thick wrists and ankles) or taking steroids.
  • Injury sucks. I've been training consistently for over two years and until November, was injury-free. I was stupid because I figured that, since it didn't hurt when I was lifting, I was OK to carry on. I was just a little sore outside of the gym when moving my shoulder to its limits (stretching etc.). I kept training and it kept getting worse. If I had admitted I was injured and gone to see a physio earlier, I would have healed faster and therefore made better progress.

Things I'm going to do next time:

  • Go even more slowly. I'll aim for 1/2 lb every other week.
  • Add some cardio. I'll admit it - I'm a cardio-phobe. Ever since I got lean by lifting weights a couple of times per week and doing zero cardio, I haven't wanted to go back. I know it's good for me, and I did enjoy the running when I got reasonably fit. I maintain that when cutting, cardio can be counter-productive, but when bulking I think it will help me stay lean and healthy. 
  • Add flexibility exercises - I think I'll do some yoga as an antidote to the heavy weights.
  • Make sure I select a balance of exercises. Since adding more rowing movements and doing some external shoulder rotation exercises (see the animation at the bottom of this link), my shoulder is a lot happier. I'm now doing an equal amount of pushing (e.g. bench) as pulling (e.g. row).

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Tonight's dinner...

I'm truly into my cut now (i.e. reducing body fat while maintaining strength and muscle). I had to buy in some extra goodies to meet my nutrient requirements, the fundamentals of which are as follows:

  • Lower calories approx. 10% per week until I achieve a steady 1 lb per week loss.
  • Increase protein intake to around 1.5g per lb of body weight.
  • Maintain intake of essential fatty acids e.g. Omega 3 fish oil tablets (6 daily) and hemp oil (10 ml daily).

As you probably know, I eat all my food in the evenings for the following reasons:

  • Preparing meals to meet specific calorie and protein targets is annoying enough as it is. It's so much easier to do this once I'm home from work, rather than prepare things to carry with me in the day! Changing your body takes work, there's no denying that, but I like to make it have as little impact on my life as possible. Eating all your food in the evening also helps with social occasions.
  • There is lots of evidence to show that fasting for 12 hours - 18 hours is beneficial for blood sugar levels - check out LeanGains.
  • It's so much more satisfying eating some big meals in the evening, rather than nibbling through the day.

Currently, my typical meals (eaten between about 5pm and 10pm) look something like this:

  • "Salad" = Broccoli and two tins tuna for starters (~400 cals, 82g protein)
  • "Meaty Omelette" = Extra lean mince (or venison), egg whites, low fat cheese (~450 cals, 80g protein)
  • "Dessert" Cottage cheese, coconut milk (the milk alternative, not the thick creamy stuff for cooking!), 20g flaxseed, 10ml hemp oil, two scoops whey protein, a little creatine

On a workout day, I'll add some carbs, which are currently wholemeal pitta with the second meal and frozen blueberries with the dessert.

Total calories are approximately 11 x my body weight in lb, which I will continue to adjust depending on how the weight loss progresses. I don't want to lose too fast, as I'll be risking losing muscle.

The gym continues to be twice per week, following a Starting Strength type of routine - compound lifts of 5 - 7 reps. Zero cardio, other than a few minutes warmup. I continue to push the amount of weight each week. If I find I am losing strength, I might take a diet break over a weekend and increase the carbohydrates. I'll see how it goes...

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Another lazy post...

More on inflation and the simple nature of the global economy:

Global Economic Collapse

Friday, 30 March 2012

Just a quick money thought for today...

Presented without comment.

Source = ZeroHedge

And an excellent video along the same lines that exlains what is truly happening in the financial world:

Punk Economics - Lesson 3

Tuesday, 20 March 2012


I've chosen an image by Escher for today's post because I hope it will provide you with a different way of looking at something, namely inflation.

Inflation is most often defined as the rise in price of goods and services over time. However, its less often quoted meaning is the loss of value of the currency. It's this second meaning that is more representative of what inflation truly is. I strongly believe the first definition is misleading, perhaps deliberately so, as we shall see.

We have become so accustomed to living in a society that uses money that we often take its units of measurement, be they Pounds, Dollars or Euros, as fixed, much like distances like metres and weights like kilograms. In reality, they are units of exchange and are thus subject to the laws of supply and demand.

Think back to a time before money. Perhaps a wheat farmer wanted some meat for his meal. He might exchange a bushel of wheat in the local town for a pig. One year, pork is particularly popular (demand has increased) and the pig farmer can command a higher price - the wheat farmer will need to exchange two bushels of wheat. Another year, the wheat crop across the country is poor (supply has gone down) and so this time the wheat farmer has the upper hand - he only needs to give the pig farmer half a bushel.

Money simply makes exchange easier - if the pig farmer didn't want any wheat, the wheat farmer would have to find someone with whom to exchange his wheat for something the pig farmer did want.

You can quickly see that money itself has no value - it is simply a piece of paper or cheap metal and has very little practical use. Things like pigs, wheat, computers, cars and houses have practical use and inherent value. The "value" in money comes from the fact that everyone agrees to exchange it for goods and services - hence the term fiat, from the Latin for "it shall be".

Money is simply a common unit of exchange and is therefore subject to increases and decreases in value depending on its supply and its demand.

Two of the unfortunate side effects of inflation being thought of in terms of "prices going up" rather than "value of money going down" are:

Blame for the prices can be misplaced. People grumble about how suppliers or perhaps "speculators" are pushing prices up. In reality, the mismanagement of the supply of money, primarily by the government and banks, is responsible for pushing the value of money down. The following graph shows how the value of the pound has fallen:

Reported prices of some goods are distorted. Because prices are usually reported in "nominal" terms (i.e. without factoring in the falling value of the currency), it can appear that price changes are constantly rising. Compare the curves on the following graph:

If you were following the announcements in the press about house prices between 1990 and 1996, you might think the value of a home had only fallen by about £10,000. In reality, because the value of the currency had also been falling during that period, the home would really have lost £80,000. The same will happen over the coming years but people who think in terms of "prices go up" rather than "value of money goes down" won't see it.

Rising house prices are often portrayed as a good thing in the media. They make home-owners feel good - their wealth is increasing and so they feel confident about spending today, rather than saving for the future. People who don't own a home see the rising prices and want to join in to benefit. As prices go up, demand falls and so the inevitable boom-bust cycle is formed. This is somewhat hidden when looking back at nominal pricing.

Hopefully, you'll never see money the same way again...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Food choices when dieting

I've started the process of losing the fat I inevitably gained from eating a slight calorie surplus for the past 10 months during my muscle and strength-building phase. I now need to make sure that the food I'm choosing to eat is as satiating as possible. Losing fat depends on a number of factors, the most important I believe to be time, willpower and calorie intake. Unless you are very overweight, you don't want to lose weight too fast because you will also be losing the good things like muscle and potentially interfering with hormones, which lead to feeling like crap. In your head, you want to be lean now, but your body is going to fight that and if you go too quickly, you'll end up falling off the waggon too soon and never making much progress. Changing your body is about time and patience. It's a marathon, not a sprint.

I'm aiming for a loss of 1 lb per week and to do this, I'm going to taper my calories down each week to ensure that I maintain this rate of loss for as long as possible - until I reach a level of leanness that I'm happy with. I suspect it's going to get more difficult as I approach my goal, so I may need to take some breaks along the way.

It may sound obvious, but during a calorie deficit, I'm going to be hungry. If I get too hungry, I'm going to need more willpower to stop myself from reaching for the snacks (almost certainly resembling that guy in the image up there!).

The best food choices I can make are going to be foods that are filling, low in calories and high in protein. These foods will help prevent me from being hungry and, combined with resistance exercise, convince my body that it should be burning fat, not muscle (protein).
An excellent list of these types of food can be found over at ChickenTuna's website. Her motto of "eat boring food and have an exciting body" is pretty good, except that the food choices aren't quite as depressing as being boring! One of the best things I ever did to change my diet was to eliminate as much sugar as possible. Sugar creates a vicious cycle of highs and lows. By reducing your intake of sugar, you remove a lot of cravings and really start to enjoy the flavours and tastes of so-called "boring" foods like vegetables.

Because I love numbers, I created something I called a "Nutrient Quotient" (I'm sure this is not original and I bet there are loads of other similar things out there - I haven't looked for them though as this was purely for my benefit). I can input the foods I eat into a spreadsheet and by dividing the number of calories per 100g in that food by its total protein and fibre content, I get a number that reflects how useful it will be to eat during a calorie deficit - the lower the NQ, the better (it contains more fibre and protein for its calorie content). Let's take a look a few examples:

  • Broccoli - this has become one of my favourite vegetables since taking more interest in my diet: 100g contains the following: 30 calories, 3.3g protein, 3.6g fibre, thus its NQ (nutrient quotient) is 30 / (3.3 + 3.6) = 4 (I'm rounding to the nearest whole number as the accuracy isn't that important).
  • Pizza - along with sushi, pizza is one of my favourite foods. I'm using a typical margarita-style shop-bought frozen pizza for the following values: 780 calories (per-pizza), 36g protein, 11g fibre. Thus its NQ is 17.
  • Coconut Milk - I don't mean the tins of coconut milk here, but a dairy-alternative available in the UK from a company called Kara. This is my favourite alternative to normal milk because it isn't sweet, like rice milk (although I do like rice milk!) but isn't chalky like some soya milk can be. Anyway, because this is a liquid, it contains very little fibre so comes out with a very high NQ of 90. This demonstrates the principle of chewing your calories, not drinking them.
  • Egg whites - I've found buying liquid egg whites a great way of helping me get my protein intake without the hassle of cracking lots of eggs and throwing the yolks away, which also seems a shame. (Whole eggs are great and I eat lots of them when I want to gain weight). These come out with a NQ of 4.

Thus, using NQ, I can help make informed choices about which foods are going to help me maintain the good stuff (muscle) and get rid of the bad (fat), hopefully without getting too hungry in the process (by keeping fibre intake high).

The most important point to remember in all of this is that changing your body takes time and effort. Different methods work for different people, but they all have their foundation in controlling calorie intake. As a scientist, I like to take a measured, informed route. There is no magic secret or supplement until we can buy willpower in pill form.

I will continue to weigh myself weekly, changing my calorie intake to ensure I lose 1 lb per week and go to the gym twice per week to perform heavy, compound exercises like squats, benchpresses, weighted chinups and deadlifts.

Friday, 16 March 2012

UK House Prices Update


Since the mid 1990s, the UK has "enjoyed" substantial growth in the UK residential housing market. I say "enjoyed" because increasing house prices are a double-edged sword - they benefit those who are smart (lucky?) enough to get out at the top and hurt those who get locked in to a property worth less than the loan secured on it. I've written before on one of the factors affecting the market - the number of buyers, i.e. the demographics. Now I'm going to put my money where my mouth is and make a prediction for where prices are headed.

First, I need to point out the importance of real prices vs. nominal prices. Essentially, real prices are corrected for inflation and nominal prices are not. When discussing prices of anything over a reasonably long time period (5 years or more), it's important to use the real price because even a small amount of inflation can make large impacts to the value over time. This is due to the nature of exponential growth and I'll go into more depth on both this and inflation in a later post. 

Here is a graph of real UK house prices since 1983. I've used the average of both Nationwide's figures, which go back to 1975, and Halifax's, which only go back to 1983. The correction factor is taken from Nationwide's figures, which come from the ONS's numbers for the Retail Price Index, RPI.

There are a few important points to note:

  • The grey vertical regions are recessions.
  • The grey line is the section of the population I consider most likely to be active in the housing market. People younger than this may not be able to afford to buy, people older than this are likely to be downsizing or releasing equity. In fairness, I have cherry-picked the narrow portion of the demographics that most closely matches the change in house prices, but a broader section shows the same pattern.
  • The blue line is the UK as a whole.
  • The red line is just for Northern Ireland, which experienced a particularly explosive boom and hence now a bust.

I've added my prediction for UK house prices with a red arrow. This is based on the demographics and also the size and duration of previous peaks and corrections.

Perhaps the most important point is that I don't think many people will "see" the continued fall in the housing market. It will be hidden by inflation. For example, the average price of a house in the UK (at the end of December) is £163,000. I think it will stay at this price for many years (i.e. the price reported by the press and the mortgage lenders), gradually falling in value when corrected for inflation.

I'll begin to be interested in purchasing a house when I see house prices in real terms stop falling. I expect this to be around 2015. Having said that, anything could happen in the future and I think we are going to see some interesting things happen in the economy over the next few years. Never before has the world been in so much debt. That's another topic I'm sure I'll delve into another day...

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Long time, no see!

I've been away (from this blog) for far too long. My health routine is largely unchanged but I've changed my attitudes towards finances to some extent. I'll go into details in future posts.

This post is just an update to my muscle-building / fat-burning progress:

  • I'm no longer vegetarian (long story largely unrelated to nutrition).
  • I'm heavier.
  • I'm stronger.
  • I'm older (now 31) :D
  • I only work out twice per week now (it used to be three times, but I found no significant difference in progress by dropping to twice and possibly improved recovery of the big lifts - squat and deadlift).

Things that have not changed:

  • I'm still an IFer (LeanGains style, although since the whole thing is about convenience, I eat between 5pm and 10pm i.e. when I'm home from work).
  • I still get the vast majority of my calories and protein from food (i.e. I don't use shakes).
  • I still only supplement with a little whey protein and creatine (along with the obligatory multivitamin).
  • I still use a Starting Strength type approach - heavy, compound lifts.
  • I still record each workout in a logbook so that I can increase the weight next time (assuming I've managed all reps with decent form).
  • I still weigh myself once per week and adjust calories as needed to hit the rate of gain or loss I want.
  • I'm still short at 5' 4" =)

This was me before any consistent training (weight probably around 9st):

This was after 7 months of building up my strength and cutting down lots of fat with a Starting Strength type routine (weight exactly 8st 1lb!):

This was after another 8 months of a bulk/cut cycle (weight exactly 8st 8lb):

I'll post a current pic when I've finished cutting - I'm too fat right now, but I'll show the change.

Things I've learned:

  • I find it very hard to put on muscle, so I need to bulk slowly. (I'm both very short and small-framed - my wrists measure 6 inches at the widest point, my ankles 7.25 inches).
  • At a steady gain of 1/2 per week, I get too fat after about 6 months.
  • I would rather gain more slowly to minimise fat gain. My next bulk cycle, I will go even more slowly - aiming for 1/2b per fortnight.
  • Patience and consistency is the name of the game!
  • Steroid use is extremely common and very few people talk about it. I respect people who are honest, whether they take them or not. I've chosen not to, but for beginners it's very hard to get an idea of what is achieveable without them.

An example of someone whose achievement I respect:

Pham Woodbridge

Pham went from 110lb to 160lb in 9 years. This is an average rate of 5.5lb a year! As a small "hardgainer" I can relate to this as a realistic natural rate of growth (I'm assuming Pham is natural, but I'm never certain in this game).

UPDATE - I'm not convinced he's natural after further research. Most of the images on SimplyShredded are "enhanced"...

I also agree with his thoughts on aerobic exercise (i.e. unnecessary to get ripped) and main exercises (weighted chins, bench, squat). I don't think his "eating every 3 hours" is necessary and I found the whole thing a pain when I once tried to do it. Since doing LeanGains, I've found my life freed from the pain of preparing meals and worrying about "OMG my muscles are going to waste away if I don't eat in the next 18 mins". That being said, I'm hardly the next Arnie, so who knows, maybe if I ate every 2 hours, I'd be huge! ;)

Hope some of this is useful for a real-world example of a "hard-gainer". One thing that frustrated me when just starting was knowing how long it would take / how fast I could build muscle. I've tried to provide as many numbers in this post for that reason.

I'll post an update in a few months when I'm ripped again! (I'm much fatter than that last picture right now because I've been bulking for a long time through the dark winter).

Image from this post taken from here.