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.

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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.

UNDERSTANDING HUNGER

As many of my readers are discovering, trying to bring in some semblance of control and balance in eating brings with it a sense of strain, a sense of doing something stressful and abnormal.
One of the reasons is the fact that we are largely culturally attuned to eating at regular hours and any change in that brings forth mental stress. Does that mean we are condemned to eating more and staying fat?
Hunger is a feeling that needs no definition. It is of two types: somatic hunger (the deep-rooted need for food felt when one is famished) and limbic hunger (the cravings for specific foods or an emotional food craving that occurs without starving).

the-hunger-hormone-is-it-really-that-easy-to-control-obesity-or-anorexia-2

If we recognize these two types, we can learn to pay heed to the former and ignore or downgrade the latter. In other words, recognize only true hunger, and ignore and crush those cravings which stem from some emotional disturbance or other.
Only when one does this can one eat sensibly and lose fat. Knowing when not to eat helps us to eat those treats we really cherish. If we ignore that temptation to eat a couple of slices of that cake going stale, and stay focussed on other things in life, we could actually eat a scoop of butterscotch icecream or have a Lindor truffle. We may be taking in 200 calories, but we saved ourselves more a few hours back. How? By downgrading one craving, and giving primacy to a superior one.
Once you start fasting, you begin to recognize the true signals of your body vis a vis hunger. Often, a glass of (lemon) water and a cup of liquor tea quells a hunger pang for a couple of hours. Even a chewing gum in the mouth keeps hunger at bay for some time, though sometimes it may momentarily exacerbate the hollow feeling in the belly. When the hunger pang becomes severe, it is wise not to ignore it. We are not trying to tear the mind apart in an exercise of self control. We are merely training the mind and body to behave the way we were evolutionarily designed to.
In medicine, a number of drugs have been tried to kill hunger and appetite. These anorexogenic drugs include sibutramine and the newer cannabinoid receptor blockers like rimonabant. These drugs bring a 5-10 percent fat loss but cause a lot of side effects, including suicidal ideations, clearly underlining the relationship between hunger and emotions.
Various hormones in the body act to drive hunger (and are called oroxogenic agents), chief among them being ghrelin, a hormone secreted from the stomach. Removing a large portion of the stomach in the operation called sleeve gastrectomy causes loss of appetite and major fat loss. This is one of the hottest bariatric procedures being done worldwide.
Insulin, the hormone that controls blood glucose levels, is also responsible for hunger. A large carbohydrate intake (following a meal that contains rice and potatoes, or pasta and pizza, for example) leads to an insulin surge. This brings down the blood glucose (which is largely stored in and as fat and glycogen), leading to the brain, which preferentially consumes glucose, thinking, “Oh, where is the glucose? I am starving!” This leads to a fresh pang of hunger, leading to more caloric intake. It is for this reason that cutting carbs may be the best way out in a fat loss program for a lot of people. However, for those people who are insulin sensitive, this may not be true.
Other hormones that play a role include leptin, Peptide YY, incretins, obestatin, amongst many others.
On a later date, I will outline how this may be of benefit in clinical fat loss programs.

WHAT IS FITNESS?

I got into a discussion the other day with a doctor and colleague about fitness. You know, doctors generally know it all, and brook few, if any, arguments. This gent was arguing with me, saying that he, with his paunch and obviously sedentary nature, was physically fit, as he could climb the stairs where he lives when the lift fails, and is able to operate all day without feeling tired, and so on. By his book, he did not need any physical training or exercise to become fit. He was, after all, the paradigm of fitness for his age.
Fitness, however my friend may think it, is a concept that is broad and encompasses the following:

Strength – the extent to which muscles can exert force by contracting against resistance (e.g. holding or restraining an object or person)
Power – the ability to exert maximum muscular contraction instantly in an explosive burst of movements. The two components of power are strength and speed. (e.g. jumping or a sprint start)
Agility – the ability to perform a series of explosive power movements in rapid succession in opposing directions (e.g. ZigZag running or cutting movements)
Balance – the ability to control the body’s position, either stationary (e.g. a handstand) or while moving (e.g. a gymnastics stunt)
Flexibility – the ability to achieve an extended range of motion without being impeded by excess tissue, i.e. fat or muscle (e.g. executing a leg split)
Local Muscle Endurance – a single muscle’s ability to perform sustained work (e.g. rowing or cycling)
Cardiovascular Endurance – the heart’s ability to deliver blood to working muscles and their ability to use it (e.g. running long distances)
Strength Endurance – a muscle’s ability to perform a maximum contraction time after time (e.g. continuous explosive rebounding through an entire basketball game)
Co-ordination– the ability to integrate the above listed components so that effective movements are achieved.

(Quote from http://www.brianmac.co.uk)

Quite so! This is basic stuff for fitness experts, but this is something lay people just don’t understand.
What is my fantasy of fitness? Here it is:
(this is supposed to be the fittest guy on the planet: so show some respect, and watch that movie for the 3 minutes it takes!)

“Oh, Doc! You are too old for this stuff! Get real!!” Did you say that?
Well, here is my answer, and my 77 year-old inspiration:

THE 7-DAY CHALLENGE: MID WEEK REVIEW

Thanks to you, dear readers, the 7-Day Challenge is becoming part of the internet history (yeah, modesty is one of my many virtues), with even people in elite fitness groups like Crossfit following it. And so many others, in so many different backgrounds.
I have been reviled in some quarters for pushing something “temporary”, a “shortcut”, “unscientific” diet that you will be better off without.
Well, this (allegation and reason for not taking the Challenge) is better than many excuses for not living a healthier lifestyle, and this blog will deal with all such issues regularly.
I am feeling great, let me tell you.
My average billing (like my doctor’s fees) has been very moderate. I had around 1500 calories on every day. This is one of the great things about Intermittent Fasting: it allows you to eat a lot of good foods (which even health-conscious people NOT on diets don’t indulge), and you still find that you have not eaten too many calories. The steady caloric deficit leads to fat loss, but remember not to skip (and I am not talking about ropes) on your resistance exercises. Forget your treadmills, I am talking of squats, push-ups, and the kind. Even better if you can pull some serious iron.
IF has become such a desirable and easy lifestyle for me that I have started doing this thrice every week (without realising it), one each of 24 hours, 22 hours and 18 hours. I enjoy the mental and physical training and learning it involves. You don’t have to follow me, but a fast lasting 15 to 18 hours is a breeze, especially when you are asleep for half the time!
So, mid-week of the 7-Day Challenge, I am down by, I kid you not, 2 kgs. Yes, I know it must have been because I had a good BM before stepping on the weighing scale, or because I must have lost a lot of body fluids after my periods, and all that, but we shall find out by Monday! I don’t want you to feel bad if you do less, and it would be absolutely fine if you didn’t weigh yourself at all, but I did tell you I would lead the way, didn’t I?
I leave you with a couple of my favorite foods that are so healthy, full of nutrition, and a treat I savor every day (just to show you I can write bad English, as well). What are your favorite eats this week? Do comment, and remember to enjoy yourself. This challenge is only about changing what you enjoy, and making yourself healthier and stronger in the bargain.
Bloggers, let’s hear you!


(pics show fried ham and eggs with salad, chicken steak, and mixed fruits and nuts with casein (“Chhana” in Indian terms))

THE FRONT SQUAT

If you haven’t checked it out already, get into Precision Nutrition’s site. They have a ton of information on nutrition and exercise that could be put to good use.
I found this interesting analysis of a paper comparing the efficacy and wear-and-tear effects of the two commonest types of squats (front and back) on the knee joint.
I had already read this paper and the conclusions, but you can go ahead with this article.

The Front Squat is a great exercise alright, but the problem is that you probably need spotters and/or a squat rack if you want to pull heavy. If you don’t have these, you could use a Smith Machine, but this is a poor second, as the machine describes a straight line movement and your core muscles are not put to the test as in the free squats.
The main problem with front squats (when you have good form in it), in my experience, is the inability of the squatter to extend the wrists to the extent needed to hold the weights while going down and coming up. A related problem is the issue of putting the weights back in place once the exercise is done. If you use a crossed grip style, it becomes even more difficult to lay the bar down. Beginners can do front squats with just a barbell or with light dumbbells, but should up the ante soon, as these are the ones where you should hit it hard and heavy to lose that tyre of fat, and get stronger in your legs and back.
Whatever it is, the front squats are great exercises that every person must do, even those (I would even say especially those) who have painful knees.
For a detailed and extremely intelligent analysis of squats, I can’t find one better than the Squatting 101 at Mike Robertson’s site (one of the treasure troves of kinesiology info in the net).

THE 7-DAY CHALLENGE

A lot of people need a kick on a part of the body occupied by the gluteus maximus muscle in order for them to do something good.
People like these (and include me in this august majority) can’t change anything in life, including the way they feel and look. Unless severely provoked. In such circumstances, ordinary people do extraordinary things.
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(pic: http://1stepcloser2im.blogspot.com/2008/05/cda-bike-course-computrainer.html)

This post is for those of you who need to shed fat. I am throwing this challenge to all of you:
Starting this Monday (or any day of the week), can you go for one week (seven days, or one hundred and sixty-eight hours) without eating one milligram of bad food?
Specifically, do you have it in you to do ALL of the following, for one full week, no excuses?

1. Eat NO artificial sugars, sweeteners, fruit juices, honey, agave nectar, chocolate (and you know what else could come in this group), etc.
2. Drink NO alcohol, whether beer and wine, or rum, whisky, etc.
3. Eat NO grains, including rice, wheat, corn, etc., including hidden forms, for example, batter-fried chicken (the batter contains grain).
4. Eat NO processed foods at all. This includes breads, chips, biscuits, cake, savories, ice cream, pizza, etc.
5. Not eat out at all.
6. Work out or do an activity for 45 minutes every day. You could start bodyweight exercises at home, and you could climb stairs several times fast, or walk outside, or play tennis, to complete this criterion. If you are already doing exercise, increase the intensity by 10 percent and time by 10 minutes. For weight trainers, this could mean increasing your loads or your total reps or both. If you are the type who skips core workouts because you lifted heavy, then be particular not to cheat this week. If you are too busy, remember you are saying no to yourself. Take 30, then.
7. Eat (all) vegetables, except potatoes.
8. Eat (all) fruits, but no fruit juices. Do not exceed three portions a day.
9. Eat (preferably lean) meats and eggs ad libitum.
10. Fast for 18 hours on any one occasion. If you can do two, even better. The hours need to be consecutive, and may include overnight sleep time.
“But I am already doing all this, dude!” are you saying? Then this challenge is not for you. Simple. This is for the vast majority who do not manage to start a healthy lifestyle because of the lack of a stimulus. Hopefully, this challenge will spur you on, and you will try this out.
Why, one may ask? Simple. If you fulfill this challenge, it is likely that you will run up a calorific deficit of around 1000 to 1500 calories every day, leading to a net loss of two to four pounds of fat. One week.
This will show you that, by next Monday, you would have changed your health and body composition for the better. A significant first milestone.
Are you man or woman enough to do it? Can you submit your name in the comment box, and report back to all of us? I will set an example. I will do more than any of you and try to lose the most fat, by jacking up the intensity of my workouts. And I will be honest if I fail. If you can, weigh up, but this is not important. I guarantee you that sincere effort in this will make you notice the change in some way.
If you are a blogger, take up the challenge and post this in your blog. Take it up as a tag that will change the lives of your readers, rather than some totally frivolous tags we all have been part of. I won’t name you individually, as I want no feeling of obligation on your part, but know I am talking to YOU. No one else.
You can use the ten criteria, and I would appreciate a link to this blog, but that is not important. Giving me money is. Alas, all this is free, and such is life!

To some of my favorite fitness bloggers, I invite you to involve your readers to this challenge: DR, Vic, Rusty, Scott Bird, and Son of Grok. If you wish, you could alter the specifics of the challenge for your readers.
Come on, let us show ourselves that we can do it. Go! See you next week, and drop in your responses!
Warning: If you are suffering from diseases like hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, etc. you may be able to benefit from such lifestyle adjustments as necessitated by this challenge, but please be careful and, if necessary, ask me or your doctor about it. All risks are yours!