Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Cardio vs. Strength Training

If you're like me, you've surely had the cardio-versus-lifting conversation with a friend, or with someone at a gym, or in an online forum. This may be the area in which there's more "bro science" knowledge than any other. Everyone has an answer. 

But what's the answer for Regular Guys? I don't think there is just one.

Everyone has a different starting point, everyone has different goals, and everyone has different preferences. Some people need to lose body fat. Some people are naturally lean but are looking to put on muscle. Some people enjoy distance races and should train with that in mind. And some people just want to be able to keep up with life without running out of breath. So if someone tries to convince you that his way is the only way, it's safe to say that you should ignore that person.

One thing I've noticed is that you'll see testosterone-fueled opinions like this one coming from the bodybuilding community, but there's no corollary on the other side of the fence. No running, cycling or swimming coach worth his salt would advise against strength training. To me, the name-calling combined with the my-way-or-the-highway attitude adds up to bias confirmation, and it's exactly what the Regular Guy should avoid.

But let's be honest: You may not see it in the professional community, but there are plenty of Cardio Kings at the gym -- guys who spend an hour on the elliptical but would sooner eat a pound of dirt than do a pushup. 

My opinion: The ratio will depend on your starting point, goals and preferences, but you need to do both. Strength training will improve your cardio and add lean muscle -- which looks good! Not to mention, being stronger allows you to do more things in life, like moving heavy stuff. On the other hand, cardio will help you achieve the calorie deficit you need to reduce fat. It will also help you build endurance, which will both aid your strength training and give you that stamina you need to keep up with life.

There are a couple of fitness ideas that people -- particularly the cardio detractors -- insist on. I think these are myths, and I think they're worth having a conversation about:
  • Cardio actually decreases muscle mass. There's this idea out there that aerobic exercise causes your body to burn muscle rather than fat. The thinking is that evolution has caused our bodies to choose glycogen (sugar) first, then muscle (protein), then fat. There are two problems with this, however. First, your body is never burning one of those exclusively. And second, you are building muscle when you bike, run, swim, etc. The article I cited above ("you need to do both") is based on a 2012 study that showed that cardiovascular exercise does, in fact, build muscle mass. Anecdotally, I can tell you that training for a marathon made my legs incredibly strong.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat overall. You hear this one a lot -- that resting muscle burns more calories than resting fat does. And it's true. The problem is, it's not a big difference. A pound of muscle will burn about 6 calories a day. A pound of fat will burn 2. So even if you replaced 10 pounds of fat with 10 pounds of muscle, you'd have a net gain of 40 calories a day -- about 4 pounds a year. And let's be realistic on both sides of that equation. 10 pounds of muscle is a serious gain that will require significant dedication to the weight room. And are you really looking to lose just 10 pounds of fat? Let's imagine you gained 5 pounds of muscle and lost 20 pounds of fat -- congratulations! You probably look and feel a lot better. You've also actually decreased your overall metabolism by 10 calories a day.
So now what? This is where you need to define your goals and to be realistic about what you want to do, are willing to do and have time to do. If you are looking to lose a few pounds, you're going to have to create a calorie deficit. Yeah, you can starve yourself, but that's not going to put on the lean muscle to help you look your best. And you're really not going to feel good, either. Consuming fewer than 2000 calories a day isn't going to help you keep up with your kids, or take the Christmas tree out to the curb, or rearrange the furniture. Nor is it going to be any fun when your friends invite you out, and you're the guy drinking water and noshing on the celery when they're knocking back coldies and chowing on wings.

That leaves you with cardio. I am not knocking strength training here, because it's clearly a big key in building the muscle that makes you look good and helps you accomplish things, and also because it will help with your cardio. For example, stronger legs and a stronger core will help you run longer, which aids your conditioning. But you have to do the cardio. 

In order to create a calorie deficit -- or even to maintain a calorie equilibrium -- you have to raise your heart rate. There are many other health benefits, as well, such as keeping your heart healthier, lowering your blood pressure and even making your blood vessels more elastic. But you have to get your heart pumping above 50 percent of your VO2 max -- preferably more -- and keep it there for a while. 

If your goal is to add muscle mass, consider high-intensity interval training (HIIT). You perform your sets quickly and give yourself little rest between them. I do this in my bodyweight routine. So, for example, I'll do a set of push-ups to close to failure, then flip to my back for bicycle crunches, then lunges or squats, and so forth. Within a few minutes, you should be breathing heavily. I understand that if you're going for real bulk, you're going to have to lift heavy, but for Regular Guys, I'm a big proponent of HIIT. You are doing strength and cardio simultaneously, and you're adding functional strength that will help you in the real world.

Of course, whatever your goals, the most important things for Regular Guys are to get off the couch, to make sure you're eating nutrient-dense foods and to keep your calories in check. I hope I've given you some ideas on the getting-off-the-couch part, and I hope you'll share what works for you!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Resolutions Seem to Be Starting a Few Days Early

With all the mild weather in New Jersey, I've seen a lot of people out there pounding the pavement the last few days. Looks like folks are getting a little bit of a head start on their New Year's Resolutions.

I have to say, though I certainly understand and even applaud the impetus, I'm not a huge fan of New Year's Resolutions. They just seem to work against the Regular Guy ethos. Fitness is not a number on a scale, and it isn't some obstacle to be scaled. Resolutions, in my opinion, put fitness on a pedestal instead of making it a part of your life -- and that's not how Regular Guys should be looking at it.

But let's set that aside for the moment. If you're a Resolutionary, you don't need me lecturing you on how it's such a bad approach and you're setting yourself up for failure. What the hell good is that doing anyone? Let's work on the premise that you've made the commitment to taking positive steps to better your health.

So can we have a conversation about making those Resolutions stick? Because that's really just a Conversation About Keeping Fit and Living Your Life.

Set real-life goals: Yeah, I do mean that you should set realistic, achievable goals, but that's not what I'm really getting at here. What I mean is that, at least for me, gratification comes from something tangible. A few years ago, before I'd started getting fit, a friend and I were dealing with a train commute from hell the night before Christmas break. There was a lot of running up and down stairs in Newark Penn Station. I had my work bag and was carrying a six-pack -- and I was completely winded. Being able to deal with that was a much bigger deal for me than doing a 5k or losing X number of pounds. And I have to say, when I did start slimming down, I got a lot more satisfaction from counting belt loops and eventually having to buy new jeans than from any particular number on the scale.

Yeah, it's hard: We all know there's no magic bullets, no miracle pill, no easy way to be fit. I'm not even going to make that argument because, well, if you're reading this, I'm preaching to the choir. Losing weight is all about creating a calorie deficit. And unless you're going on a very non-Regular Guy restrictive diet, that means getting your heart rate up. This is science. But the trick is to figure out what works for you -- what your hard is. Try the talk test: At least some of your exercise should be rigorous enough that you'd have a hard time speaking a full sentence. Don't worry about the speed or incline on the treadmill, the resistance level on the elliptical, the time on your stopwatch. Get that heart rate up a couple times a week, and keep it up for 20 to 30 minutes. This article on endurance-race pacing might help. Don't worry about the race strategy, but focus on the yellow-orange-red guidelines. If you're looking for more specifics, do some Google research on V02 max, But ultimately, you simply need to get that ticker pumping if you are serious about creating a calorie deficit.

Screw perfection: Three months of 80 percent is better than one week of 100 percent. What does that mean? If 80 percent of the time, you eat the "right" foods and exercise portion control, and you're able to sustain that, it'll make a difference. If you beat yourself up over every cookie, you're going to be miserable. Same goes for exercise: Let's say you want to work out five days a week. You know what? If you get to it four days a week, on average, you're going to see results. And maybe that extra day of sleeping in is what gives you the energy to keep it going over the long term. This is probably the very core of the Regular Guy lifestyle.

Save your money (for now): If you're just starting out, don't spend a ton of money on equipment or fancy workout clothes. Everyone is different, and first you need to figure out what works for you. By that, I mean that you need to find the kind of exercise that you'll keep doing. You don't really need much more than a T-shirt, a pair of gym shorts and gym shoes that offer you some support. There are plenty of body-weight exercises you can try. Or maybe you'll go for race-walking. Or even drop $20 a month on a decent, local gym -- that's still a bargain compared to hundreds or even thousands on a piece of equipment at home. When you find whatever it is that suits you -- the thing that gets your heart rate up and that you'll do regularly -- then start thinking about the kind of gear you'll need to make a bigger commitment.

Talk about it: I'm going to be honest here. Most of your friends aren't interested and some may even get annoyed. I know someone who quit Facebook because he'd tired of reading about people's fitness updates. Don't be that guy whose entire life revolves around his bench press number or biking mileage. But you'll also find that you do have a ready-made support structure out there. I sure did. There were plenty of friends who'd experienced the same challenges and were willing to offer support or a bit of advice. There are lots of online groups, too -- like this one! I think putting it out there for the world is a great way to learn, and a great way to keep yourself accountable.

Remember, results don't come instantly, and setting unrealistic expectations is a recipe for disaster. Don't worry about the guy doing crazy intervals on the treadmill next to yours. Don't compare yourself to the photos in Muscle and Fitness. And most importantly, don't get discouraged!

Friday, December 19, 2014

I Am NOT an Expert. But Who Really Is?

Where do you look for fitness and health advice?

A few separate things happened today that really got me thinking about this.

First, a friend (and a Regular Guy reader) and I were swapping some general fitness thoughts, and he said, "You know your stuff." That's a compliment, and I don't take it lightly. But I'm no expert. I do a lot of reading, and when I post ideas here, I try to back them up with credible source material. It's a conversation, and as I've said, I am doing this to learn as well as to share my thoughts.

Second, you may have seen the latest "Dr. Oz is a quack" headline: Half of what he recommends on his show is either unsupported by any peer-reviewed research or outright false.

And then I was on Twitter, which I've been using to find more good perspectives on fitness. There's a lot of people serving up click bait or just trying to sell you something. But I thought I'd found a good feed called Calorie? What? Well, I thought. Until I saw a tweet saying you can "never" get enough water. And then one posted a few hours earlier proffering that totally debunked myth that celery is a "negative calorie" food.

Let's face it: It's hard to know what's good information. So what's a Regular Guy supposed to do? Well, here's my take:

  • Side with science -- real science. Peer-reviewed, published science. Granted, most of us don't have the time or the expertise to comprehend scientific studies. But the stuff you're reading should be sourcing the real stuff.
  • Apply the sniff test. If it doesn't sound right to you, or it sounds too easy to be true, check it out further.
  • Talk to your fitness-minded friends. You know, have conversations with other Regular Guys. We don't know everything, but you're buddies aren't trying to sell you anything, and there's stuff that has worked for them.
So, where do you look for fitness and health advice? How do you filter out the crap? Let's hear it!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why I Hate the Admonition "Listen to Your Body"

Today is a second straight rest day for me, despite some tolerable running weather. Losing decent weather is irritating in December, when OK days are few and far between. 

But this was planned. Two mornings ago, I had a truly lousy workout. Nothing was working. My muscles were all tired. After 15 minutes, there was no exercise for which I felt I could complete more than a couple of reps, at least while maintaining any form. So I stopped.

Over the past few weeks, I've been pretty disciplined about exercise. With the exception of an extra off day over Thanksgiving, it's been two days on, one day off. But this week, it seems to have caught up with me. So I decided to take a couple of days off to recharge.

Many fitness-minded people would say that I'm "listening to my body." I hate that phrase.

I hate that phrase because it really doesn't mean anything. It's amorphous. It's a catch-all generalization that, in my opinion, is just as cloudy as the issues it's meant to remedy.  

Your body isn't something separate from you giving you helpful advice. It is you. If you're not "listening to your body," does that mean you're not cognizant of your own existence? Or that you're ignoring it?

I Googled the phrase "listen to your body," and I found a bunch of articles. (Feel free to keep going.) All of them dispense what you could say is helpful advice. But none of them define what "listening to your body" actually means. Apparently it's some kind of turn inward to fend off stress, or it's heeding small pains before they become major injuries, or it's choosing rest over caffeine and sugar, or... 

To be clear, I don't think the idea of "listening to your body" is bad. I just don't think it's specific enough.

So let's go back to the other day, when I cut my workout short. In this case, I was feeling too much soreness in too many muscle groups to exercise effectively. That's a specific issue. The cumulative effect of the micro-tears in a number of muscles had gotten to the point where they weren't healed up enough to push my program. So instead of gaining additional muscle through the rebuilding of those tears, I was simply tearing them more. 

Memes like this one really confuse the "listen to your body" philosophy.
Some people might say, "That's listening to your body." Here's where I disagree: When during a strenuous activity or workout has your body ever "said" to you, "Keep doing that. It feels good."? It will always feel better, in the moment, not to do those last few reps, not to run that extra mile, not to hold that plank another few seconds. 

What I needed the other day was not to "listen to my body." I needed some basic understanding of physiology and to recognize the specific sensations I was experiencing -- in this case, acute soreness in my arms, legs, abs and back. That's not the same as the general "I don't wanna" that every Regular Guy feels during a workout. Understanding the difference is key to making gains. 

This is true for injury prevention as well. If you've ever trained for a long race -- a 10k or longer -- you know that it's nearly impossible to get through your regimen without some ding or pull or whatever. You could "listen to your body" to consider whether it's a real problem. Or you could actually do some research on your specific symptoms and how they change during and after stress. 

An example: About a year-and-a-half ago, I began experiencing pain on the top of my foot. Rest would help, but then it would return when I got back on the road. If I were to "listen to my body," I could have read it as a harbinger of a serious injury and shut down my running program. But it turned out that, because I have wide feet, my shoes were laced too tightly. The solution was to run the laces down the sides, rather than crossing them over the tongue of the shoe. Haven't had that problem ever since.

Conversely, a number of more serious injuries don't give obvious clues. An IT band pull can often feel better when you're warmed up and running at a comfortable pace. If you aren't familiar with this injury and are just "listening to your body," you might write it off as a little tendonitis in your knee, ice your knee (which doesn't actually help anything) and keep your running schedule on track -- and that could be catastrophic. 

And what about regular old fatigue? I don't know about you, but when I wake up most mornings, I'd much rather roll over and sleep an extra hour -- regardless of what else is going on in life. Let's face it: I were to "listen to my body," I'd always opt for sleep. But I have to ask myself if I've been getting reasonable rest -- a Regular Guy needs 7-8 hours a night. Have I given myself adequate down time for relaxation and stress relief, or has life been go-go-go lately? Am I experiencing cold symptoms or general achiness? Those are some signs that your issue is more than just regular morning "I don't wanna," but you have to do more than just "listen to your body."

So, Regular Guys, I submit that we eradicate the admonition "listen to your body" from our fitness lexicon. Let's talk about specific challenges and specific solutions. Let's have a real conversation about our real lives. 

What do you say?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Motivation for the Regular Guy

If you're anything like me, your friends cover the spectrum of fitness levels -- everything from amazing on down to obese.

My feeling is that most people would like to improve their lives. But I think we get inundated with insane, unrealistic notions of what it means to be fit.

Check out this tweet I ran across the other day:
I actually replied. If you're already knocking it out of the park, stuff like that might puff up your chest and make you feel like a rock star. But to me, it sounds like a lot of guilt-laying and self-aggrandizing. It's not going to motivate anyone who's not already motivated.

Try Googling the term "fitspo" -- or worse, check it out on Pinterest. What will you find? Hundreds or even thousands of slogans like that tweet, generally in memes with photos of unrealistic bodies. The obvious implication: If you want to look like this, you have to put in the work. The other implication: If you don't look like this, you must be a fat, lazy slob who's unwilling to make any effort to improve your health or your life.

Now how is that supposed to motivate anyone?

Have unrealistic expectations, coupled with a huge dose of guilt, ever gotten anyone to do anything? Let's be real: 99 percent of us are never going to get to the point where we can be a fitspo meme on Pinterest. The fact is, if you're a Regular Guy, you simply don't have the time. But that doesn't mean you can't make a positive change in your life.

I think a lot of people don't get started because it just seems like too far a leap to get fit. It's really like anything in life: If you're destined to fail, why make any effort in the first place, right? I can say that was true for me for a long, long time.

I say it's time to hit the reset button on expectations. And that's where a Regular Guy's motivation should come from. The bottom line here is that motivation is really just a matter of seeing a clear path from where you are to where you'd like to be.

Here's a great article about exactly what kind of lifestyle choices you'll have to make for various levels of fitness. Take a look at the chart -- in particular, the second example. Doesn't that sound like something you'd like to experience? Improved sleep, improved energy, looking good? Heck yeah! And here's something not everyone knows: If you can average a deficit of 100 calories a day, you'll take off 10 pounds in a year. 100 calories -- you can do that, easy!

This is the part where I say, "I'm living proof that anyone can do this." Because this isn't impossible.

This means making a few changes to your diet, like a little bit of portion control and trading off a few unhealthy foods for more nutrient-dense ones. You cut a few calories, and you make sure that the ones you do eat count -- for the most part.

This means finding a little bit of time for exercise. You don't have to train for a marathon. You don't have to try to bench press 400 pounds. You don't even really have to spend any money on a gym membership or fancy equipment. All you really need is decent pair of sneakers, a T-shirt and gym shorts, and some clear space somewhere in your house. Push-ups, crunches, lunges, squats -- these are things I do all the time. You have 20 minutes in the morning. That's all it takes, really.

That's all it takes because we're Regular Guys. We just want to feel better -- mentally and physically -- and look a little better. So set aside those unrealistic expectations. Don't let them get between you and making some positive changes. You can do this!

Here are some specific suggestions that have worked for me:
  • Do what works for you. I have a friend who's made a commitment to get healthier from what is, in all honesty, a dangerously high weight. He's blogging about it at LessFatGuy.blogspot.com. What's my friend doing? He's monitoring his calorie intake and making the effort to walk more. And it's working -- he's down close to 30 pounds. Why is it working? Because it's something he knows he can do and will do.
  • Get yourself ready for work the night before. Lunch ready to go if you brown-bag it, clothes organized, laptop charged -- whatever needs doing, get it all done so that it isn't a fire drill in the morning.
  • Go to bed! There's no rule that says grown-ups have to stay up for the 11:00 news. Rest is a key component of health. If you need an extra 20-30 minutes in the morning for exercise, go to bed a half-hour earlier so you can get up.
  • Don't cook so much dinner. This seems pretty obvious, but I believe that a big part of portion control is not having it in front of you. If you're anything like me, it's hard to watch food go to waste. So rather than throw it in the garbage, you throw it down your throat. Figure out what's a realistic portion -- don't be skimpy -- and cook what you need. If you brown-bag leftovers, account for that, but put it away ASAP.
  • Greek yogurt. I can't think of a single food that's made more of a difference for me than this. It's satisfying and it's full of protein! But get the plain stuff and mix in your own fruit -- a lot of those single-serve ones have a ton of calories from added sugar.
  • Get a fitness-tracking app like MapMyRun. Even if you don't share your activity with anyone, the app makes it easy to log what you're doing -- and seeing it in black and white will make you feel more accountable to yourself.
  • Don't deprive yourself. Keep a six-pack of beer in the fridge. Have a few chips, or some cheese and crackers. It's OK. The point is to be fit and enjoy life. 
I'd love to hear some of the ways you Regular Guys get motivated or keep motivated. What are your little tricks to keeping up with your fitness regimen? To keep your calories where you want them? And what are your pitfalls? (Mine is hummus.) Sound off!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Protein: How Much Do Regular Guys Really Need?

How much protein do you really need?

There are a lot of answers out there, and they all seem to depend on who you ask:

  • WebMD (ugh) gives you the USRDA answer: The average adult male needs about 56 grams a day.
  • Runners World says you should be getting .55 to .77 grams/pound bodyweight. For me, that'd be around 110 to 125 grams per day.
  • Men's Health puts the number between .45 and .77 grams/pound bodyweight.
  • Men's Fitness puts the number at 1 to 1.5 grams/pound bodyweight. 
  • And Muscle and Fitness says 1 is a bare minimum, and even 2 is good. Good god, 400 grams of protein a day?
I'll be the first to admit I don't understand all there is to know about protein. What I know is that protein is made of the amino acids that are the building blocks of muscle. And if you're looking to achieve some level of fitness, what you're ultimately looking to do is to bump your body's muscle/fat ratio more in favor of the former.

But that doesn't mean you can just eat a huge steak every night and reap the benefits. Your body can absorb only so much protein at once. In real rough terms, more than 30 grams at a time is not going to help with muscle building. And if you're not exercising enough to create a calorie deficit, guess what your body is going to do with it? Convert it to glucose, and eventually to fat.

If you're a heavy bodybuilder, that's probably too simplistic of an explanation for you, and you may well be able to use more at a time. But then, you're probably not a Regular Guy, either.

OK, so we know that carbs and proteins each have 4 calories per gram, and fat has 9 calories per gram. You probably have an idea, based on your bodyweight, BMI and activity level, what your caloric baseline is -- mine's a little more than 3000 a day. So now we need to do some basic math -- how much of each macro should you eat to ensure you get the protein you need and feel satisfied, without going nuts on calorie intake?

Here's a good article that breaks things down based on your goals. A "normal" ratio is somewhere in the neighborhood of 4:1 carbs/protein. If you're trying to lose weight, you can go 2:1 or even closer. But my opinion is that if you're doing aerobic exercise (cardio) regularly, you're going to need some carbs for energy. Yes, your body does turn unused protein into glucose, but not in sufficient, readily accessible amounts for something like, say, a five-mile run. (Some other time we can talk about restrictive diets like Atkins and how they lead to cravings.)

So let's take my 3000-calorie diet. and try it at a 4:1 ratio. If I were to shoot for the high end of the Runner's World suggested intake, 125 grams, that's 600 calories from protein and 2400 from carbs. Oops -- no room for fat at all. Something has to give. Go to 3:1 and I have 600 calories left for fats. That's about 66 or 67 grams of fat -- not horrible. You can monkey with any of the variables here except one: calories. If you burn more than you eat, you're a winner. If you take in more than you burn, you gain weight. 

Now I want to come back to that idea that you absorb only about 30 grams of protein at a time (every three hours or so). What this means is you want to spread your protein intake throughout the day. Here's how I try to do it on a strength-training day:
  • 7:00 a.m.: Whey protein shake right after my workout.
  • 10:00 a.m.: Protein bar.
  • 1:00 p.m.: Lunch
  • 5:00 p.m.: Greek yogurt with chia seeds
  • 8:30 p.m.: Dinner
My diet isn't ideal, because by 8:30 when I finally get to dinner, I'm generally famished and eat too much. But it's not a bad spread of protein intake throughout the day -- netting five shots of roughly 25 grams. I'm also filling in, mostly during the afternoon, with raw fruits and veggies.

Is that enough? I'm still not sure. I know I've been putting on a modest amount of muscle, especially of late with my new-found commitment to bodyweight training. But it's a question of how to add more protein without adding big calories, and that's something I haven't solved yet. I'm not willing to give up the micronutrients I get from fruits and grains, so unless I ramp up my calorie burn to an insane level, I'm pretty much set where I am. 

So sound off! How much protein are you getting? What sources are you getting it from? Do you feel like you're getting enough? How can I ramp mine up without killing my overall diet? Or am I good where I am? Let's hear from ya!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Are Big Workout Milestones Worth It?

After taking the weekend off from working out, I did a body-weight strength workout this morning. Looks like the weather is going to dictate that for a few days.

I always start with 101 jumping jacks to warm up. Don't ask me why I add that extra one in there, but I think jumping jacks are one of the best dynamic-stretching moves you can do. Then I decided to do a plank and try to get my longest time ever. And I did it -- there's the time on the right.

But then the rest of my workout sucked. S-U-C-K-E-D. No energy for anything. I had to dial back a few exercises and settle for fewer reps on some others -- including a measly 12 pushups.

So, I'm proud of my three-minute plank. That's not something everyone can do -- not even really fit people. But it came at a cost: overall conditioning.

Today's question: How often do you Go For It? Push heavier weight than you ever have? Pick up your tempo pace on a run to do a mile faster than you've ever gone? Max out on a plank or a wall sit or some other timed exercise?

But is it worth it? There's definitely some mental (emotional) value in being able to say, "I can do [this]." It's good to know just how far you can push your body in a particular direction. On the other hand, when you shoot for one specific goal, you can sacrifice progress -- or even maintenance -- in your overall goals.

OK, sound off -- should I have let up on the plank?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How Do You Deal With Obstacles That Are Out of Your Control?

One of the real challenges I've found in keeping fit is in trying to manage my regime when stuff comes up that I can't do anything about. Let's face it: It's hard enough to find the time, energy and motivation to work out even under the best of circumstances. I'm definitely curious about how everyone deals with these things.

Work or other responsibilities: Occasionally I have to cover for a colleague who begins his workday at around 6:30 a.m. That means no morning run. Sometimes I'm able to sneak one in during the late afternoon/early evening. But often it means a stretch of days where I don't get anything done. And of course, there are all the errands and Back to School Nights and social engagements that come with, you know, being a regular guy.

Weather: If you're a runner like me, weather can be a real issue. I no longer belong to a gym -- which may be a mistake -- so if it's really cold, or it's pouring rain, or it's snowing, I don't get to run. I know some people will run in just about any conditions -- I'm not one of those people. I'm OK down to about 30 degrees or even a smidge under if it's not windy. And I'll go out in a light rain, but if I'm wetter from the weather than from sweating, no thanks. In other words, I'm a regular guy. I can do my body-weight workout as a substitute, but that doesn't always cut it.

Darkness: As we get to the shortest days of the year, it's dark when I'd like to go out in the morning, and even if I try to shift to an afternoon run, it's going to be dark by 4:30 or so. I recently bought a reflective vest for safety, but especially when I take the dog with me, I have my head on a swivel. I stopped wearing earbuds some time ago, too. Also, even if cars can see me, running in the dark means having to take extra care not to lose your footing.

Injuries and illness: Nothing is more frustrating than not being able to work out when everything is in place for you to be able to. I've read that you can run with a head cold but shouldn't work out if it's in your chest. And if you've ever done any serious race training, you know that you have to fight through some minor dings. But sometimes you're too sick, and sometimes you're injured enough that you simply need to rest. Argh! Even worse is not realizing when it's time to take a break and making things worse.

So what trips you up the most? Anything not on my list? And what do you do to work around it? Try to sneak in workouts at odd times? Do quick stuff when you get a chance on the better-than-nothing theory? Alter your workouts to fit your circumstances (like when I do a body-weight circuit in lieu of a run)?

Let's hear it!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Business of Debunking the Business of "Healthy Eating"

If you're trying to get fitter, you've undoubtedly read a ton of stuff about "healthy eating." There's paleo, there's vegetarian, there's vegan, there's gluten-free... And then there's all those miracles in a bottle -- let's not even get into those.

So it's refreshing when you come a cross a cut-through-the-BS article that breaks stuff down in ways that are easy to understand, right? Articles like this one...

It starts out great -- those huge all-natural smoothies you're drinking because they're "healthy"? Yeah, not so much. But then we get down to the nitty gritty, and what's the problem? Sugar. Carbs. The wrong ingredients.
We’ve been so conditioned to focus on calories and fat that we overlook the greatest nutritional poison: sugar. And it’s hiding in plain view, in countless foods and beverages that are "good for you."
Ugh. I don't know about you, but I hate crap like this.

Now look, Tim S. Carver has tons more experience than I do. No doubt, he's had tons of success helping his clients lose weight. But I'm not buying this one. One gram of carbs has four calories. One gram of protein has four calories. One gram of fat has nine calories. Period. If you're drinking a huge smoothie with all kinds fruit, yogurt and granola in it, it's very possible you're drinking 600, 800, 1000 calories in it. If you cut out those carbs and start losing weight, it's not a Atkins miracle -- it's because you cut your calorie intake.

And let's talk about what calories actually are. There's no physical thing called a "calorie." It's a measurement of the energy potential in the food you eat. Even the most sedentary of couch potatoes expends some energy -- things like breathing and even simply sitting upright require your body to burn fuel. A calorie is a calorie is a calorie. If you burn less energy than there is energy potential in the food you eat, your body has to do something with the leftover food -- and that's how you get fat.

I'm guessing that I'm not saying anything you didn't already know. But if we all know this stuff, why does it seem so complicated?

Here's the funny thing -- I'm not a calorie counter. I pay attention to my protein intake, I try to eat mostly good things and limit the crap, and I do my best to limit my portions to human levels. I exercise a bunch -- a lot of running and some body-weight strength training. And I was able to go from 240 pounds to 195. I was able to run a marathon. My old clothes literally fall off of me. I have some muscle definition in places I never would have imagined.

I realize that it's not quite this simple. I'm curious as to what everyone else thinks.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Let's Have a Regular Chat About Fitness

Are you as fit as you'd like to be? If you're anything like me, the answer is no.

Let's be realistic. Most of us are never going to have washboard abs or 18-inch biceps. We're not going to run five-minute miles or swim the English Channel. 

And that's OK.

But you wouldn't know it by reading Men's Health or Muscle and Fitness. You wouldn't know it by scanning all the "fitspo" posts on social media. Heck, just go to the gym at the wrong time and it can be demoralizing.

The thing is, most of us have careers and families and homes and responsibilities. And what we really need is to be able to talk about diet and exercise in a way that makes sense in our lives.

So let's have that conversation. 

It is possible to get to a healthy BMI. It's possible to put some muscles on your frame. In my case, it's possible to run 26.2 miles. We are capable of plenty!

I think I have a lot to share. I've long said that if I can do this, anyone can -- and I really believe that. But I also have a lot to learn, and I hope that you won't just read this, but add your own thoughts, opinions and wisdom to the discussion. And I hope that we can inspire each other to keep working to look better and feel better.