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Sunday, 29 April 2012

iThings...



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.

Summarising:

  • 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