Category Archives: personal

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON AN UNFIT AMERICA- PART II

So, as I was saying in Part I, portion sizes of food are huge in the US, and soda consumption is universal. What more?
* Gyms are full of people doing the same things I have seen in India: the obviously unfit men and women doing chronic, slow cardio and the men, sprouting big biceps, going at curls of various kinds. I was the only person deadlifting, though a couple of boys were doing barbell squats. The rest of the alpha males in the huge YMCA gym were going at the machines and the biceps curls. They probably had never heard of Pavel or known the difference between strength and conditioning. Trainers were busy with personal clients, helping them with the reps in various machines, and that was it.
Seeing all this, I admire my favorite fitness coaches for being so rational in their outlook towards training.
* Outside on the kerbs and in parks, one saw men and women jogging, the sweat tenuously held by head bands and wrist bands. Each well-cushioned foot would strike the ground by the heel, with little back drive to hit the glutes and hamstrings. Sigh.
* At certain hotels like the Sheraton , there were no barbells in the gym. Only machines! I couldn’t believe it, but rationalised that their clients were probably not fitness oriented or demanding.
* One striking feature about the country is the incredible abundance of food outlets, leading one to conclude (wrongly, as I will say soon) that with so much junk food available, people are bound to eat those and reap the dividends (obesity, diabetes, etc.). Clearly, that is happening, though the mainstream recommendation of eating a grain-based, low-fat diet has had a major contribution in this regard.
So why is it wrong to say that Americans are fat only because they are surrounded by junk food purveyors all around?
If you look around a grocery store in that country, you will see an incredible array of green vegetables, fruits, fish, meats, dairy, seeds and nuts, and with several varieties of each, like organic, free-range, etc. If someone wants to eat real food and stay healthy, there is no way he can say he did not have a choice (Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Whole Foods, Giants, etc.).
As a commentator said, the US is all about choice. The majority of Americans are making wrong choices because of several factors:
1. Misguided mainstream nutrition advice ( to eat grains/cereals, avoid fats, especially saturated fats).
2. The addictive nature of sugars and carbs— leading to cravings that leads the victim to the nearest outlet selling junk food.
IMG_0269
(butter caramel pie- image courtesy: http://www.tasteandtellblog.com/2007/12/gooey-caramel-butter-bars.html)

I visited Starbucks thrice in a day to have their rich pecan toffee pie which, as Part I of this ramble showed, carries nearly 300 calories.
cornbread(image courtesy: http://lilveggiepatch.wordpress.com/tag/restaurants/page/3/)

Being the melting pot of global cultures, the variety and richness of foods in America is incredible. Even American food (like the incredible corn bread with maple butter at Redstone Grill) was constantly tempting, even to this discriminating tongue.
Picture 5(image courtesy: Redstone Grill site)

cornbread2
(just to show I couldn’t have enough of this delicious cornbread!
Image courtesy: http://www.cookingforseven.com/2009/05/maple-cornbread-and-a-giveaway/
)
3. Fast and stressful life: though this does not apply as a general rule, I found the typical family struggling with mortgages, credit card bills, car repair bills, child care, job stress, etc. with holidays reserved for mowing the lawn, vacuuming, and sundry chores. In such a cortisol-driven milieu, fat gain seems natural.
4. Automation: all the Americans need now is a voice-activated remote to control all the other remotes, including the garage door. (The Koreans beat them in the bathroom, though, with toilet seats that warm your ass, flush it clean, and provide sundry other minor pleasures.)
Physical activity is almost nil!

*Books: I spent decent time at two of America’s largest book stores, Barnes & Noble and Borders. I was surprised to find not one of the (fitness) books I was looking for. I wanted to buy one of Tom Venuto‘s books, Alwyn Cosgrove‘s Afterburn, Pavel‘s Enter The Kettlebell and The Naked Warrior. I finally managed to order one of the books from the B&N on 5th Avenue in New York.
Protein Power, another book I was familiar with, authored by the Drs. Eades, was available in that store, and the blurb said the book had sold 3.5 million copies. I was not surprised, as the authors write very well, and sound very sane.
Most of the books in the fitness section were crap. I did find Arnold’s Encyclopedia of Bodybuilding, but I wasn’t interested. After reading Pavel’s The Power To The People, I am only keen on getting better at the key lifts and improving on my strength and conditioning. For the same reason, I skipped other offerings, including The New Rules of Lifting, by Lou Schuler and Cosgrove.
On the other hand, the shelves were choking with diet books: diet for cystic fibrosis, diet for phenylketonurics, diets for celiac disease, and so on. ‘Dummies‘ books (low carb/diabetes, etc.) were also easily seen on shelves.
After three days of hunting, I understood that it is far better to order something online than hunt for it in the stores, if you have limited time. However, I love browsing in stores and taking my time till I am hungry, so I have no regrets!

*Overall (an excuse of a word to cut down an overlong post!), I found (again!) that this is a country all about individual freedom, including the freedom of self-destruction.
When I think of that, my respect for those who are American and fit is very high indeed!
* Finally (to exorcise my cornbread ghosts), each slice of cornbread is around 200 calories, at least. Add the maple butter, and several slices as starters to a meal, and you can now explain my (temporary and planned) fat gain. Have one on me, please!

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RANDOM THOUGHTS ON AN UNFIT AMERICA (PART I)

Back after a 3 week long vacation spent in North America (mostly US), I decided to get something out of jet lag by blogging about it.
Here are some random thoughts of mine, having visited the US after 3 years. My health-fitness change had occurred in the interim, so my perceptions are new.
* Starbucks continues to maintain its smart image by doing things differently, and doing different things. They have a new drink that looks like a post workout drink (is that a first?) called Vivanno, that is a smoothie with strawberries/bananas/chocolate along with whey proteins. Around 280 calories and 15 grams of protein.Check this out for the full details.
retail_vivanno
(pic source: from Starbucks site)
They did have good breakfast foods, though their rich pecan toffee pie (see screenshot) and Tropical Paradise (which I had several times and helped to my adding 7 lbs of fat in 3 weeks) would more than compensate by way of sugar-loading your system!
Picture 2
They also scratch the patriotic itch by adopting soldiers in Afghanistan: you buy the coffee, and Starbucks sends it to them!
* Americans are patronizing fast food restaurants more than ever, and the results are showing! Mortons, an upscale restaurant chain, did not seem to be having as many customers as they would like, while McD’s were always crowded. Clearly a winner, though health experts continue to be traumatized at the ‘train-wreck nutrition’ of the company’s products.
* Soda consumption continues unabated, with very few people drinking water. Coke and beer continue to be as cheap as, if not cheaper than, water.
* Fitness ads on TV are all geared towards promoting gimmicky products. Nothing has changed over all these years: people buy into ‘new’ things that do nothing for them, rather than rely on the proven and trusted ‘old’ methods of fitness.
* I was impressed with one company (I forget which- Green Leaf, probably) that offered low carb products (they identified these clearly). However, their employees couldn’t tell me what a low-carb tortilla was made of!
* Another company, Au Bon Pain, had caloric numbers listed right beside the food names, unlike (almost) all others. This helped me: I baulked at ordering sandwiches/wraps/pizza slices that ranged towards 1000 calories a serving, even though I was hell-bent on going overboard with good-tasting (as opposed to healthy) food!
* Most good quality fitness products I wanted (like Therabands, mini-bands, ab wheels, etc.) were not available in the popular stores. Eventually, a City Sports store proved to give me most of all I needed (including Vibrams’ Five Finger Shoes and a foam roller).
Picture 1
* We all hear about the ridiculous food portion sizes in the US, but it is only when you experience it personally that you can imagine the havoc such food can cause to your health. A Porterhouse steak in Mortons weighs 48 ounces! That is like nearly three pounds of meat! Cookies, pies, cakes, drinks are all sized for monsters. Why, then, do companies continue to sell products that keep giving them constant bed publicity?
The answer is probably ‘value for money’: each dish could be shared by 3 or 4 people, I think, if it has to make any kind of nutritional sense. But do people do that? Clearly, no. Sharing does not seem to be fashionable.
* Italian restaurants, especially the highly recommended ones in New York, serve very small portions that simply cannot be justly shared. This seems to illustrate the Italian/French paradox: these people continue to maintain relatively lean profiles in spite of eating grains, sugars and fats in good measure, probably in part due to portion control.
* Indian food in Edison continued to be unhealthy for the most part. A couple of kebabs were surprisingly delicious and spicy. Fast food restaurants in the area served unhealthy food, as you would expect pav bhaji, sev puri, and mithai to be.
In the next post, I shall share more thoughts on related issues.

LEARNING ABOUT IF

Coach Adam Steer, who teaches an incredible brand of exercise/fitness (called Circular Strength Training) was kind enough to ask me to share my thoughts on Intermittent Fasting with the readers of his blog.
You can get the post by clicking this link.

NOT MAY, BUT MUST: THE MAY CHALLENGE!

While we have been grinding through our lives, four months of the year have rolled out silently under our feet, and many of us are still nowhere in the path of progress we had chosen during the last New Year resolution.
I can’t make you rich or help you get laid, but I can help with fat loss.
I am taking up a May Challenge from tomorrow: Lose 10 pounds of fat in May! This is inspired by Vic of Gym Junkies who has really got ripped in a few weeks with his diet and training. Of course, Vic is a martial artist, and is leagues ahead of most of us in fitness. Believe me, this doesn’t make it easier for him. On the other hand, beginners have it easier in the fat loss fight. The leaner you get, the more difficult it is to shed of those last remaining ounces and pounds.
How am I going to lose 10 pounds of fat in May?
I will try to take in a caloric intake of around 11 per pound of body weight. For me, that comes to around 1850 calories. I am sure that even if I eat clean, as I usually do, I will exceed 2000 calories, going up to 2300. I won’t scrooge on that.
Here is when IF will be handy: I will use my three IF days of the week to restrict my calories. I assume that if I eat five hours on my IF days I will not exceed 1500 calories. So, a 300 calorie deficit over my allowance will compensate for my exceeding it on the other ‘eating’ days.
While we are still at nutrition, I will ensure that my protein intake will be around 1 gram/lb body weight on at least my eating days, while it would not be less than half that on my fasting days (around 75-80 grams/day). With resistance training, I don’t expect any lean mass losses.
Three days a week (on my IF days), I will go low carb (around 50 grams per day), while I will hit it up on the other four days. I will not spare myself too many mangoes, I can tell you!
I have also determined that I will take my training to a higher level this May. Some numbers:
1. I will try to exceed my Deadlift by 25 percent. I am currently lifting 1.5 times my body weight, and I will try to go up. At the least, I will raise up the reps at my current weight (a little uncertainty there in my mind).
2. I will increase my pull-ups and push-ups by 50 percent this month: the reason is I don’t do too many as it is. I have jacked up the number of pull ups to around 100 or maybe 200 per week. I will now do 250 pull ups every week. Push ups: 150 to 200 a week (I know it is not much).
3. I will do Power Cleans and exceed my best by 10-15 percent. I currently lift around a measly 110 lbs. I will try to go to 125 lbs.
4. I will sprint even harder than I do at present: I will not spare myself during my (twice weekly) sprint sessions. ‘Kill It’ will be my motto!
5. I will increase my Bench Press by 25 percent.
If I find myself unable to achieve the specific numbers, it will not be because of want of trying. I will readjust my targets if necessary and increase the intensity and volume at optimal loads.
What about me, I don’t do all this shit?!” you say?
Well, for starters, start increasing your activities and systematically charge up your workout. Make it work!
Here is how:
1. Stop taking your car to where you normally do. Walk it some way, at least. Stop taking the car to nearby places, though many of you may not be living in places that are walker-friendly.
2. Stop taking the lift. I climb six stories up and down on a routine basis, as that is the level I live in. If you can run up and down, even better. Try it, at least!
3. Stop finding excuses. Period. Just do it!
4. Concentrate on your eating: that is THE thing that will make it happen. Remember to take in a max 11 calories per pound of body weight, and stick to it. Eating clean means eating natural foods only. No sugars, processed foods, or food products at all. I would strongly suggest laying off grains and potatoes as well.
5. Kill cravings: keep your cupboard and fridge clean, and visualise yourself at the end of the 10 lb fat loss. If that doesn’t help you control your cravings, what will?
6. This month, don’t let go. Be merciless!
7. If you don’t belong to a gym, or you have never lifted, try the following exercises/activities:
* stair-climbing
* sprinting (20 seconds on, rest 10 secs, repeat till you fail- a maximum of 8 reps).
* do burpees: 10 at a time. Doesn’t matter if your form is bad, and you feel like dropping. Just do it as well as you can, and do 10. Repeat three times.
* Choose four different exercises like squats, push-ups, lunges, burpees, mountain climbers, bear walks and planks, and do 30 seconds of each without taking ANY rest. Repeat three times with a couple of minutes rest.
8. Try to incorporate more activities in your daily routine. This Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT) will help burn up a few hundred calories daily. I can’t stress this enough!
9. Don’t allow yourself to fail: use any resource you can to help you from failing: try me if you want, by all means!
10. Blog about it, and make your commitment to fat loss public. This ensures accountability, something I learnt from Tom Venuto. I challenge my blog friends to post on this challenge and take it up. If you think 10 pounds is too much, take a 5 lb challenge- but take it up. This is one chance you shouldn’t let go: fat loss as a group activity is great!
Let me know what you are going to do this May!
As for me, I ‘m gonna kill it: with my six packs so close to visualisation, I am not taking failure as an option!

Postscript: If you are thinking, “Oh, I can’t do all this, Doc is being impractical”, then you gotta stay fat. Fat loss ain’t comin’ to you without commitment, short of bariatric surgery, AIDS or cancer!
Use my links (both within this post and in my blogroll) to learn more.

BALANCING CALORIC INTAKE

Yesterday, I started off my day with a solid Kickboxing workout (it burns around 750 calories in an hour). I had my post workout meal of casein, fruits and my protein shake.
After that, the rest of the day was a nutritional disaster of sorts.
Sunday lunch was a buffet at Mainland China (one of my perennial favorite restaurants). I normally don’t eat buffets, preferring to order from the a la carté menu. However, buffet it was yesterday, and it was big. It is hard to escape the instinct to eat more and maximise the price for the meal. On top of that, you eat more than one dessert, which you normally would not.
Dinner was at a neighbor’s wedding party. It was one of those ‘Big Fat Indian Weddings’ with 257 dishes, and 45 different juices. Literally. It was insane, the amount of food available, and the number of waiters serving them.
This abundance of food, especially attractive and delicious dishes, made me lose my reserve once more, and I ate more than I should have.
Have a look:
picture-2

The worst (or was it the best?) thing was my lack of remorse at the binge. I rationally examined the chart above, and I saw that I had exercised portion control even while eating processed grains (fried breads like parathas and kachoris/luchis). When I had binged, I had chosen relatively healthier options like sandesh (cottage cheese/casein dumplings). As a result, I had done not too well, but it could have been worse.
After dinner, I went on a fast. A mini-fast, really. Monday is a day I fast for 24 hours, but because I had a lot of carbohydrates yesterday, hunger bothered me today (carbs create cravings, unlike proteins and fats). I decided to break my fast at 18 hours. Good enough.
My meals were good, filling, and even included a couple of Hyderabadi cookies that I had with some macadamia nuts.
I satisfy my sweet craving by eating grapes with nuts. I was a little low on proteins, but I will make up for it tomorrow.
Have a look:
picture-3
This simple example from my journal (courtesy Fitday) underlines this simple lesson:
Eating primal along with intermittent fasting can balance your single day binge. ‘Eating primal’ means not eating processed foods, eating natural foods of all sorts, not eating grains and sugars. Of course, I do take in a sweet or two every now and then, but this helps to keep me grounded to my lifestyle. A small defeat should not prevent you from winning the bigger war: the war to live healthier and slimmer.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE SIX-PACK DOC

This then, folks, is my blog for fitness, health and related stuff. Expect somewhat geeky stuff here. Plus my personal fitness journey outline will be visible to some extent.
It has been a great learning experience in my transformation from a nearly 38″ to a 32″ (and you know I am talking waist sizes here, don’t you?). For the record, I am still not in the six-pack class, with a few more months of hard work remaining for the fortunate few to fully visualise the coveted recti. If you didn’t get the last word, it is the plural for the word rectus, and of course we are talking of the rectus abdominis muscle.
Talking of the rectus, it is unfortunate that most people don’t realise that the more important muscle of the anterior abdominal wall is the transversus abdominis, and not the rectus abdominis.
Too geeky, all this anatomical jargon throwing? Get used to it!
The main function of the abs is to stabilise the spine, and in addition, they help us to move, twist, breathe and to flex the trunk. Unfortunately, the way most people train the abs is to flex the trunk against gravity or resistance (crunches, sit-ups, etc), and not do the rest. The recti flex the trunk, while the three flat muscles (the two obliques and the transversus) do the rest.
Any good trainer would tell you that forced, repetitive crunching is just the thing not to do. Why? Perhaps we will discuss this in a post in the future.