Monday, June 29, 2015

The Bros Aren't Completely Wrong

If you've been reading the blog for a while, you know there's a lot of BS (Bro Science) out there that I don't really buy into. Carbs are the enemy. Cardio will make you fat. The "afterburn" of HIIT keeps your metabolism up for hours. Blah blah blah blah blah.

The thing is, there is some actual science behind a lot of Bro Science ideas. It's just been overblown. But making some small changes can actually add up to a pretty great benefit.

Cut Some Carbs Out
One of the biggest slices of Bro Science baloney out there is that carbs somehow cause inflammation, which spikes your insulin levels and makes you fat. It's bogus. Seriously, it's bogus. I'm not kidding -- it's bogus. I think you get the idea here. 

Delicious orzo salad. Carb city!
But that doesn't mean the idea is totally without merit. Protein and carbs have about the same amount of calories -- 4 per gram. However, your body has to work much harder to digest protein than to digest carbs. This is called the thermic effect of food. You can spend up to 20 percent of your protein intake simply digesting that protein. On the other hand, that number is only about 4 percent for carbs.

Now let's say that you're taking in about 75 grams of protein a day -- which would be pretty average for a Regular Guy who doesn't incorporate supplements into his diet. If you bump that to 125 grams a day without changing your overall calories, you'll move 200 calories around. But the thermic effect will mean that you're burning 32 calories more, without actually giving up any food.

You may find that your calories even go down. Since protein is so much harder to digest, it makes you feel full for longer.

And it helps with muscle building, which brings us to the next point.

You Should Lift Weights
Another Bro Science myth you'll hear is that resistance training is superior to aerobic cardio for fitness, weight loss and overall health. It's not true. Regular Guys, you need to raise your heart rate if you want to burn fat.
I'm a big fan of Hammer Strength equipment.
But let's say that you lead a reasonably active lifestyle and keep an eye on your diet. In other words, let's assume that you've already lost the "easy pounds" (or never put them on in the first place). Chances are, you don't have a huge amount of body fat, and what's there isn't going away without some serious sacrifices.

You should try to add a little muscle to your frame.

Your body has something called a basal metabolic rate -- that's the amount of calories you'd burn simply sitting on the couch all day. A pound of fat will burn 2 calories per day. A pound of muscle will burn 6. 

If you can add five pounds of muscle, you'll look better. Yeah, that's five extra pounds on your frame, but not the ugly belly-fat kind. You'll probably get more enjoyment out of life, because certain tasks will simply be easier. But best of all: You've raised your basal metabolic rate by 30 calories a day.

HIIT Is a Secret Weapon
This is my "home gym" for HIIT workouts.
I've written before about my love of high-intensity interval training. If you're pressed for time, it's a great way to get a lot of calorie burn for your exercise buck. But there's this Bro Science notion out there that HIIT gives you some miraculous amount of "afterburn," and that's just not true.

However, the difference in EPOC -- excess post-exercise oxygen consumption -- between HIIT and stead-steady cardio isn't zero. It's about 7 or 8 percent. So let's say you have an hour to dedicate to exercise, cooldown and shower in the morning. You could go for a three-mile run and burn 300 to 350 calories, or you can do 20 minutes of HIIT and burn the same. 

But the EPOC for your HIIT workout is going to be around 45 calories, and about 20 for your run -- a difference of 25 calories, and a few minutes saved, to boot.

Don't Eat Late at Night
A lot of Bros believe that the timing of your calories makes a difference -- that is, since your heart rate is lowest when you sleep, if you eat too close to bedtime, you won't burn off the calories. That's a misunderstanding of how your metabolism works. The thermic effect of food is static -- your body
There's gotta be some hummus in there!
will burn the same amount of calories digesting what you eat regardless of when you eat it. And if your activity level is pretty regular, your body is going to burn the same amount of calories overall from day to day. This is the first law of thermodynamics.

That said, there is a simple reason not to eat too close to bedtime: You're going to take in calories you don't need. 

Some people, myself included, eat dinner too late. If you don't eat dinner until after 8:00, you're going to be hungry. Really hungry. And you're going to pig out. Even a small second helping of lean protein could cost you a couple hundred calories -- calories you might not otherwise eat.

Other people stay up too late after dinner. There's nothing wrong with a small snack in the evening, as long as it fits into your overall calorie allowance. And it doesn't have to be something healthy, either. You want ice cream? Have a small bowl. The problem is, if you eat at 6:30 and stay up till midnight, you're going to be genuinely hungry again before bed. And that too can cost you hundreds of calories.

Worse, when you're tired, you tend to make poorer food choices, and your impulse control is at its lowest. So even if another 200 calories would be warranted, it can become 400 in a snap.

Summing this up: Try not to wait till you're starving to eat dinner, and get to bed before you get hungry again. Let's say that saves you 200 calories 3 or 4 nights a week -- that's an average of 100 a day.

Adding It Up
I've touched on a lot of these topics before in the blog. And I've tried to separate science from Bro Science. But one thing I've come to realize is that even though there's a lot of BS out there, a Regular Guy can still get some benefit from the ideas the Bros swear by. So let's just say you made all four of the changes I've suggested today. You can burn 1100 to 1200 more calories a week, just by pretending the Bros know what they're talking about. Even factoring in the weight of added muscle and the lowering of your BMR as you lose fat, you could still be looking at a net loss of 10 pounds a year. 

And I can tell you it works, because I'm down below my marathon weight since joining the gym at the beginning of March.

I want to hear back from you guys. What little changes have you made? What fitness wisdom do you buy into, and what have you dispensed with? Have you learned anything from the bros? Give us your best tips!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: June 27th

Sorry for skipping last week. I kept putting it off, and ultimately decided I didn't have enough good stuff to bother. This week has been hit or miss, but here's a pretty good sampling. Enjoy!

Why I Quit Coffee: Sorry, but not me. But if you get the jitters or have a high heart rate, give it a read.

How Much Caffeine Is in Coffee? Scientific breakdown that can help with the above article. The short answer: a fair amount, but not a ton.

17 Fitness Tips That Will Actually Make You Psyched to Work Out: Good motivation. Just skip number-one -- it's total BS.

The Cardio Vs. Weights Cheat Sheet: Among other things, this lays out why the first tip from the above article is BS. As I've said: You gotta do both.

Is Fat Shaming a Bad Thing: A composite of opinions. The consensus seems to be that maybe the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction.

Why Fat Shaming Doesn't Promote Health and What You Can Do Instead: This. All day.

Fat Shaming Vs. Body Acceptance: Is It Okay to Be Fat? Noticing a trend today? "Where do we draw the line between telling people 'love who you are, no matter what' and 'you are killing yourself with your lifestyle choices, and you need to change?'”

It's Okay to Be a Lightweight: Not quite what you think. Alex Hutchinson suggests that working to failure -- not the amount you lift -- is the most important factor in strength training.

More Than Two Thirds of Americans Are Overweight or Obese: Needs no explanation.

At All Ages, Exercisers Weigh Less: An interesting take on the debate over exercise vs. diet for weight loss. Conclusion: Changing your diet will help more initially, but once the "easy pounds" have come off, exercise is your best bet.

18 Ways to Maximize Your Workout for Weight Loss: Some good common-sense tips from Harper's Bazaar.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Alcohol and the Regular Guy

One of the real pleasures in a Regular Guy's life is a cold IPA, a fine Merlot, a smooth bourbon, a dry martini -- you know, a nice drink.

But how does alcohol fit into the Regular Guy ethos? How can we make it part of Keeping Fit and Living Your Life?

My Wife Jackie and I Enjoying a Post-Race Beer

A Few Facts About Alcohol
It is a toxin. There are no two ways around that. We enjoy the taste and the relaxed feeling that comes with a good drink, but you're asking more of your liver than it was designed to do. To metabolize it, your body removes additional oxygen from your bloodstream -- that's what causes you to feel drunk. The average person can metabolize one drink's worth of alcohol per hour, so if you drink more than that, you will be impaired.

It has a lot of calories. Alcohol has 7 calories per gram. So if you drink a 12-ounce beer that's 6 percent ABV, you're getting 140 calories just from the alcohol itself. That doesn't account for the unfermented malt in your beer or fruit sugars in your wine, which also deliver calories. Unfortunately, there's no government regulation requiring calorie counts on booze labels, so it's more or less a guess. You can try Googling it -- I found this beer list, which isn't too bad.

It has a high thermic effect. One minor upside to alcohol consumption is that your body works harder to digest it than it does to digest simple carbs or fat. You'll spend about 13 percent of alcohol's calories digesting it, versus only about 4 percent for carbs. So let's say you drink three 200-calorie beers. You'll use 78 calories burning them off.

Let's Apply That to the Real World
OK, so let's get real. You're a Regular Guy with an actual life. You get invited to parties or nights out with the fellas. You have rough days at the office. You have anniversaries and birthdays and other milestone events. In other words, you're going to have some drinks.

Two Marathon Men Drinking Marathon Man Beer

And why shouldn't you? Life is meant to be enjoyed. You just want to make it work within your fitness lifestyle.

These guys make the good stuff!
Liquor gives you more bang for your buck. For example a 1.5-ounce shot of bourbon has about 100 calories -- almost all of it from the alcohol itself. A 12-ounce beer at 5 percent ABV would have the same amount of alcohol, but there's no beer in the world at that ABV level below 150 calories. If alcohol delivery is a serious goal, the hard stuff is the way to go. But beware of mixers, which can add more calories than you'd get with a beer.

Light beer isn't worth it. Regular Guys don't eat "diet" food like Weight Watchers. Sure, the calorie count is lower, but that's because it isn't satisfying. The same goes for light beer. Now I know some guys actually prefer the taste of a light, low-alcohol lager, particularly on a hot summer
Beer Fridge -- Fully Stocked
day. But if that's you, it's just one style, and you'll have to admit that there's very little hop bitterness or malt backbone. Meanwhile, you're still getting less alcoholic punch per calorie than you would from liquor. So unless you're "sessioning," try different, interesting beers and keep it to two or three.

Account for the calories and adjust. If you've been maintaining a given weight, and your alcohol consumption is relatively steady from week to week, you've already done this without thinking about it. But if you're looking to make a change, factor hooch into your 80/20 Rule. It's a treat just like ice cream or cheesesteaks. My goal is 21,000 calories a week. If roughly 4000 of those calories are treats, subtract 200 for every beer I drink. So what I really do is set a weekly quota, and manage my social schedule so that I can have fun when it's time to have fun.

You're more apt to binge when you drink. This is the biggest challenge I run into when I've had a few pops. All of a sudden, I have a craving, and since my inhibitions are lower, I'm far more likely to give into it. Next thing I know, I've devoured an eight-ounce brick of cheese or half a tub of hummus. There's no easy solution to this one, but one thing I do try: When I'm at a party and there's a variety of food around, gravitate toward the healthier stuff. 
That's a lot of booze!

Three become six in a hurry. I also find that lowered inhibitions lead to drinking binges. When I'm out to dinner with my wife, I have no problem drinking two beers and stopping there. But after number-three, it's very easy for me to start downing drinks quickly. Peer pressure can also be a factor here. If you mean to stop at a certain point, you really have to set your mind to that and not give yourself an out.

You Knew This Part Was Coming
We're all grown-ups, so we all know that alcohol has some serious downsides beyond the calories. I know you don't need a lecture, but it's worth a few reminders:
  • Excessive drinking taxes your liver. Yeah, we all tie one on once in a while. But if you find yourself drinking more than 15 drinks a week, you need to take a look at your behavior patterns. Two drinks a day isn't a big deal, but if all that's concentrated on the weekend, and it's happening every weekend, you're asking for trouble. You're going to start developing fatty buildup around your liver, and eventually, liver disease.
  • Hangovers suck. The older you get, the less stress your body in general can handle -- and that's true for your liver, too. I often find that as few as three drinks in one night can leave me hung over the next day. Which means I severely limit my weeknight drinking.
  • Just don't drive drunk. I do enjoy a nice night out with my wife or a guys' night at the bar. But honestly, I'm much more comfortable drinking at home, or at least at a friend's house where I can hang out for a while to sober up.

What About You?
How do you manage your alcohol consumption? What are the challenges you run into? What are your strategies for handling the food and more-drink cravings? What's your go-to high-quality drink, and can you limit yourself to a few when you take that route?

If you're looking for a deeper dive into the science, this piece at really goes into detail -- I highly recommend it.

Sound off in the comments below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: June 13th

Once again, I slacked off and am a day late. But I really like this batch of articles. A lot of stuff about the mental side of being a Regular Guy, and some good stuff on nutrition, too. Definitely some ideas worth discussing! 

Stop Lifting Weights If You Want to Gain Muscle: This isn't what you're expecting. What the author means is stop putting too much weight on the bar. Yes, progressive overload builds muscles, but only if you maintain form to target the muscles you're trying to build. This is more about the mental side of that issue -- in other words, let your ego go.

The Dumbest Myth in Nutrition: Any diet plan that doesn't tilt the CICO scale to a deficit, axiomatically, cannot work. There are many ways to get there, but any plan that promises you results without having to burn more than you consume is in denial of the First Law of Thermodynamics.

Fat-Shame Yourself: This is probably the most controversial piece I've ever linked to. I really like Chris Shugart, and I'm totally down with what he's getting at here. But you may disagree with his in-your-face approach. I don't think he's advocating fat-shaming others, but his point is that "body acceptance" is a nice way of saying "excuse making." Regardless of where you fall in this debate, this is a must-read. Seriously. Don't skip it.

HIIT Is Not for Everyone: You guys know how much I love high-intensity interval training. But it is intense, and it does tax your system -- leaving you susceptible to burnout and injury.

"Excessive Exercise" Proponents Soften Their Views: James O'Keefe and his cohorts have more or less admitted they were wrong. No, too much running won't kill a Regular Guy. Now let's have them acknowledge how irresponsible their publications were.

How Not to Become a Crazy Person Around Food: This is written from the perspective of an ultra-marathoner, but there's some good common-sense nutritional advice here. Carbs are not the enemy.

Fear and Loathing at the Races: This is the serious side of my most recent RunJersey article. No matter how good you get, you still feel like a fraud. And it's not the worst thing in the world.

The Six Best Exercises for New Runners: This is some basic core stuff that will really help you if you're just getting going. I'll go over some of this in part two of my HIIT piece.

How Do I Build a Training Base: You can't always be in training mode. You need to build up a solid fitness base so that you can get the most of your competition-specific training plans. I guess in some respect, this is about periodization. 

How Many Days a Week Should You Exercise: Short answer: at least three. Go Rutgers!

Carbs Rock: Proof From ACSM That High-Carb Diets Beat Low-Carb Diets Every Time: I'm not totally swayed by this, but I think it does bolster the case that you don't need to go bananas about taking in too many carbs. I think you have to examine where you are now and what your goals are before you can determine your macro targets.

We're More Concerned About Nutrients Than Actual Foods: We tend to look at our macros and micros independent of the food we're eating. I don't think this is a bad thing, but take it to its logical conclusion and you'll advocate the Twinkies and Centrum diet.

10 Ways to Cause a Running Injury: This is also some good, basic common-sense advice, like don't skip your warmup, don't do too much too fast, etc.

Healthy Food Is Cheaper Than McDonald's: And for many of us, it's just as convenient. Here are some ideas to kick the fast-food habit. 

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Regular Guy Reads of the Week: June 6th

Sorry these are a day late, but at least they're not a dollar short. I don't have a gazillion reads like last week's haul, but there's still some pretty good stuff in here.

Why Fitspiration Is Killing Your Motivation: This one goes beyond what I've written on the subject and really breaks down the different kinds of motivation, how they work and how they don't.

Adapting to Burn Fat as Fuel: Alex Hutchinson has become one of my favorite fitness writers. He comes at the low-carb subject very objectively here. Worth a read if you're curious about the science behind it.

Nick Hardwick's Big Fat NFL Career: Nick Hardwick is a former offensive lineman who came to realize that maintaining the physique needed for that position is setting himself up for poor health and an early death. In other words, he's a Regular Guy.

Build Muscle With These Time-Tested Strategies: This is the kind of article I normally pass over, but there's some good science here. And there's a reason this stuff has been around forever -- it works. Forget all the trends and get back to basics.

How Much Weight Should You Lift: This is a really good breakdown of how different routines affect slow- and fast-twitch muscle fibers -- in plain English. 

Flexible Dieting and Foods That Are Truly High in Protein: I'm a big fan of flexible dieting, or IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros). Bret Contreras points out that chia seeds, peanut butter and a lot of other "superfoods" really aren't the way to feed your muscles.

The Truth About Extreme Planking: Regular Guy Joe Bongiovanni made this point in a Facebook thread months ago: More than two minutes is a waste. But you should aim to get there. 

What Running Means to Me: Jamie King expands on some of the ideas I put forward in the This Is My Church piece.

App Creates Running Routes From Hand-Drawn Images: You sketch out a figure, and the app works out where you should run so that your fitness tracker looks like it. Cute!

Know Your Limits: Why I Dropped Out of My First Ultramarathon: The more into your fitness routine you get, the harder it is to accept that you can't get something done. Take a deep breath. Failure is good: It means that fixing your setback is under your own control. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Why I Love HIIT: Part One

Looking to get more bang for your workout buck? HIIT might be for you.

What Is HIIT?

HIIT is short for High-Intensity Interval Training. In a nutshell, it's a 20- to 30-minute mix of aerobic and anaerobic training. It can be the best of both worlds: cardio and strength (or cardio and race-specific speed training).
Have your cake and eat it, too!

The idea behind HIIT is pretty simple: You go all out for a set, a distance or a pre-determined time, then dial back to catch your breath -- and then ramp it back up again. You'll get your heart rate up into the anaerobic zone, which is where you burn the most calories and make the biggest gains in your cardiovascular system. But by allowing it to return into the aerobic zone -- where you're taking in as much oxygen as you're using -- you're able to go for longer than just a couple minutes. And by staying in the aerobic zone, and not resting too long, you ensure that you're still burning calories and pumping blood.

The Benefits of HIIT

One reason I'm a huge fan of HIIT is that I'm able to work on both my cardio and strength training at the same time. I've worked out a basic bodyweight routine that hits just about every major muscle group: shoulders/arms/chest, abs/obliques, upper/lower back and quads/glutes/calves. And I've found that, at least for me, there's no better way to get my core work done.

HIIT has two basic benefits:
  • It saves time, as you get a lot of work done in less than a half-hour.
  • It helps you expand your VO2 max -- the maximum amount of oxygen your lungs can deliver to your muscles -- better than other forms of exercise.
You may have heard people talk about another big benefit: EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption). The commonly believed idea is that HIIT causes your body to burn through more oxygen -- and thus more calories -- long after you're done. Don't buy this one. I love HIIT, but it's not magic. Yes, EPOC does exist, but one study shows that the difference between HIIT and steady-state EPOC for an average Regular Guy is going to be in the neighborhood of 35 to 40 calories total. If your steady-state workout is long enough and intense enough, you're likely to burn well more than 40 calories more than you would during a half-hour HIIT workout.

So for example, let's say you burn 600 calories in an hour of biking, and I burn 400 in 30 minutes of HIIT. Then you burn 40 EPOC calories and I burn 80. Yes, I did it more efficiently and got more "afterburn," but you've still burned 160 more calories overall. And it's not like I could just go for another 10 or 15 minutes. If you're not exhausted after 30 minutes of HIIT, it's not "HI" enough. You're not getting your heart rate out of the aerobic zone. In other words, you're still more or less doing steady-state cardio.

But fitness isn't all about calories burned. You're also looking to build muscle and increase the amount of work you can do. And for a busy Regular Guy, doing that in notta lotta time is key -- especially when you can do it wherever you are, rather than having to drive to the gym.

So Let's Get Down to It 

Next post, I'll get into the specific bodyweight exercises I do during my HIIT workout. But for now, let me leave you with an overview of what I do.

I do all of my exercises more or less to failure -- till I literally can't do anymore until I rest. And as I've said, my rest periods are just long enough to catch my breath so I can do the next set -- ideally, 20 to 30 seconds. (This also gives me a chance to make adjustments like moving my mat around.) In an average HIIT circuit, I'm shooting for 10 to 12 sets. Sometimes I'll repeat exercises, but I have enough in my arsenal that I don't really need to do that.

I don't know if this is a problem, but I don't really have much in the way of organization or sequencing here. I warm up with jumping jacks, do another set of those somewhere midway through my workout and one at the end. I do pushups toward the beginning so that I can actually do enough to make it worthwhile, and generally I'll do the same with the standard plank. But aside from that, I do my exercises in whatever order I feel like that day.

If you're looking to get started and have an idea of what you're doing, maybe try pushups, planks, squats, lunges, crunches, leg lifts and kicks, Supermans and step-ups. The Flog Blog also has a good roundup of at-home HIIT exercises you can try.

Putting Out the Call

Do you have an HIIT routine that works for you? What kind of stuff do you do? How hard do you go, and for how long? How do you feel when you're done? How frequently do you do HIIT? What kind of benefit are you seeing? Comment below, on Twitter or on Facebook.