Organic Food: Is it Really Worth It?

How many of you buy organic food?

In the past six months, I’ve started to put some serious consideration into what I put into my system. After reading the Paleo Diet, Mark’s Daily Apple, and Vin Miller’s Natural Bias, I’ve realized that I was completely unaware of where my food actually came from and what was in it. Up until recently, I was completely okay with this. In fact, I often went out of my way to stay ignorant and oblivious purely out of spite. Let me explain why:

I Hate hype

I hate hype, I don’t like fads, and sometimes I go against what’s popular simply because it gives me something to do. When this organic trend started a few years back, I figured it was just an evolution of the previous food fad: Low Fat! Take out the fat (most of which is probably good for you), add sugar and other super-processed ingredients (which is all bad for you), call it “healthy choice,” and then watch the money roll in. I didn’t buy into that fad, and I didn’t plan on buying into this “fad” either. I mean, come on: they sell organic pop tarts.

When I combined my general skepticism, inherent ability to rebel against certain things for no reason, and the truckloads of money brought in by the organic food business ($52 billion in 2008), it’s easy to see why I refused to jump on the bandwagon.

Then, yesterday happened.

Food Inc.

Yesterday I finally watched the documentary, “Food, Inc.”

I won’t go into great detail about the movie as that can be found anywhere on the net (Read Ebert’s really good review here). Just go rent it or watch it on instant queue through Netflix. After all the reading I’ve done, books I’ve studied, and people with whom I’ve conversed over the past year, I was already tipping in this direction – the movie finally put me over the edge: I’m going to start eating more organic foods. I’ve come to this decision for a few main reasons:

  • My health – All of the various outbreaks and diseases and recalls come from food products that are heavily engineered and loaded with all kinds of artificial/dangerous crap. If I’m going to put something in my system, I’d like to know what it’s made of and where it came from.
  • Competition is good – Right now, a few big companies control the food industry in this nation. McDonald’s is the world’s biggest buyer of tons of products, giving them incredible influence and power. Supporting local farmers and organic food is sort of like supporting Linux over Windows. Everybody loves a good underdog story; here’s your chance to be a part of one.
  • Primal Reasons – We’re designed to eat naturally grown fruit, vegetables, and meat. Adding chemicals and pesticides, and genetically engineering our food isn’t natural and can’t be good. Not enough studies have been done to prove that these changes we are making to nature aren’t going to come back and bite us in the ass.
  • My spite was misdirected – Turns out eating organic food is how to go against the trend, considering the rest of this country is eating poorly, getting sick, and becoming more overweight by the day. I had it backwards.

What does Organic Mean?

When you walk into a supermarket, you see all kinds of stuff that are labeled “organic.” Other than the higher price tag, do you really know what you’re getting? I certainly didn’t, so I did some digging. Here is what’s required in order for food to be labeled organic:

  • “100% Organic”: Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
  • “Organic”: Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”: Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo.
  • “100% Organic”: Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
  • “Organic”: Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”: Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo
  • “100% Organic”: Can only contain organic ingredients, meaning no antibiotics, hormones, genetic engineering, radiation or synthetic pesticides or fertilizers can be used. Can display the USDA organic logo and/or the specific certifying agent’s logo.
  • “Organic”: Contains 95% organic ingredients, with the balance coming from ingredients on the approved National List. These products can also display the USDA organic logo and/or the certifier’s logo.
  • “Made with Organic Ingredients”: Must be made with at least 70% organic ingredients, three of which must be listed on the package, and the balance must be on the National List. These products may display the certifier’s logo but not the USDA organic logo
  • What about meat? Every piece of meat these days is labeled with some term that insinuates “good and healthy,” but it’s pretty unclear what all of these things mean. Fortunately, Tim Ferriss over at the 4 Hour Workweek broke down what these different labels mean, and which ones you should be looking for: (“humanely raised,” “certified humane,” and “biodynamic” are the ones to look for). There’s a lot of marketing terms thrown around when it comes to meat, so you need to be careful:

    We can’t be sheep – I came across a great article over on Vin Miller’s “Natural Bias” site, discussing the issues with the “organic” labeling system. It’s up to us to actually take the time and understand what we’re eating instead of blindly buying into the hype. This is a “for profit” industry, which means there will definitely be people out there trying to exploit it. Yes, doing so requires a few extra minutes reading a label or finding out where the food came from. In the long run though, a few extra minutes here and a few extra bucks there could mean a world of difference for your health.

    Are these companies selling out? Or scaling up? As it turns out, the major food makers are buying as many organic companies as possible (here’s a great PDF showing what’s up). Honestly, I don’t know how to feel about this. Part of me thinks these companies are just looking for the cheapest way to take over the organic food industry too, while the rest of me thinks this might be a good thing – by operating under these big umbrella companies, the smaller brands (as long as they keep their standards) will have better access to a larger market with improved channels of distribution.

    What’s Important to Buy Organic? What Isn’t?

    Is it important to eat EVERYTHING organic, or can you get away with just some stuff? Once again, I had no clue, so I set out to find the answer. Research FTW!

    FRUITS AND VEGETABLES – According to the Environmental Working Group, these thirteen fruits and vegetables purchased from normal stores had the most toxins and pesticides in them. That means you should be buying organic whenever possible:

    • Peaches
    • Apples
    • Sweet bell peppers
    • Celery
    • Nectarines
    • Strawberries
    • Cherries
    • Lettuce
    • Grapes (imported)
    • Pears
    • Spinach
    • Potatoes

    If you have a tight budget (and who doesn’t these days), you can get away with not spending more for organic versions of the food fruits and veggies listed below:

    • Bananas
    • Kiwi
    • Mangoes
    • Papaya
    • Pineapples
    • Oranges
    • Asparagus
    • Avocados
    • Brussel sprouts
    • Broccoli
    • Onions

    There’s a pretty good read up on Smart Money on how to not break the bank when buying organic food. They discuss which foods to buy, which to avoid, and where to look to get the deals. They also explain why some fruits/veggies should be organic and others don’t need to be.

    MEAT – After research, meat is clearly one thing that absolutely needs to be purchased from organic sources. Your options are to either buy from a local butcher or search out meat that is “humanely raised,” “certified humane,” and “biodynamic.” In case you missed it earlier, here’s a link to how to read meat labels properly.

    DAIRY – From what I’ve found, it sounds like it’s a smart move to buy organic eggs. However, the jury is still out on organic milk. According to MSNBC, the benefits don’t really outweigh the cost. I found this other controversial article where a veterinarian advises against buying organic milk for other reasons. I still don’t know if organic milk part of the organic hype machine or is there enough benefit to outweigh it’s incredibly high price. (More about this at the bottom.)

    My Plan

    I’m still a skeptical S.O.B., but I think this is a good move. I’m going to have to be creative with my money, decisive on what I decide to eat organic and what I continue to eat normally, and I need to make sure I cut through the BS and buy the stuff that is ACTUALLY good for me. Here’s the plan:

    • Make a list of everything I eat, and determine what I need to buy from where. I eat a lot of apples, strawberries, lettuce, and spinach. After reading about how these are four of the most pesticides-filled fruits and veggies, I’m definitely going organic for these things.
    • Visit a Whole Foods. I have never been inside a Whole Foods, and I’m actually a little scared to go in there. I like the safe confines of my Kroger right down the street, but I feel like I need to at least walk into one Whole Foods to see what it’s all about. Also, I want to see if the prices are really as bad as everybody says.
    • Hit up Trader Joe’s more often – I drive right past a Trader Joe’s every day to and from work, but never go in because it’s so freaking busy. However, the one time I did make it in there I found tons of products with reasonable prices and a stronger emphasis on being of really high quality. It might be worth an extra trip late at night when it’s not so busy.
    • Find a solution for all the chicken I eat. I eat a ridiculous amount of chicken, so I’d like to find a way to eat a ridiculous amount of HEALTHY chicken.  Looks like I need to do more chicken research. [CHECK THE COMMENTS – good discussion on “Free range” chicken and what that really means]
    • Farmers Markets – I realize that I’ve missed the window for farmer’s markets…but I found one that’s located right down the street from me and operates from April through November. Come April I’ll be prepared to start making it a weekly visit. Eat better+ support local farmers = win.
    • Research Organic Dairy – I’m not much of an egg guy, but I do love me some milk. At this point, I really don’t know if it’s worth the extra money to buy organic milk. From a health perspective it looks like it might not be, but I need to do more research. Your input on this would be extremely helpful.

    I Need Your Help!

    I’m a total n00b on this stuff, so I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you eat organically, what do you do during the winter months when your favorite foods are out of season? Is Whole Foods full of it, or is it priced high for a good reason?  Is organic milk worth it?  How would you change my plan?

    Let’s hear it. I need your help!

    [edit – if you’re just reading now, make sure you check out the comments.  Lots of good discussion in there]

    -Steve

    ###

    photo from NatalieMaynor

    How to NOT Suck at Getting In Shape

    This post title pays homage to Baker’s “How NOT to Suck at Blogging” over at ManVsDebt.com.  Baker’s the man, so make sure you check out his stuff!

    Do you suck at getting in shape?

    It seems like everybody is trying to get in shape these days but nobody is actually succeeding.  Ask anybody, and 9 out of 10 will say “I’m trying,” or “I’m on a diet,” or “I’d like to lose a few pounds.”  However, considering two thirds of the United States is overweight…it seems like everybody sucks at this stuff.  Most reasons fall into these categories:

    • I don’t care
    • I don’t have time
    • I lack the motivation
    • I don’t know what I’m doing

    If you’re not in shape, it’s probably due to one, two, three, or four of the reasons listed above.  I want to address each of these individually and see if we can suck-proof your plan to get in shape.

    The “I Don’t Care” Crowd

    For a lot of people who are overweight and out of shape, getting healthy is the last thing on their mind.  They’re too busy wrapped up in their job, their families, World of Warcraft, etc. and getting in shape is NOT a priority.  I’d guess that for a lot of these people, they are extremely unhappy with how they look and feel, but have hit a point of giving up and instead hide behind a “I don’t care” shield.  I don’t want you to be one of these people.

    You need to find a reason to care:

    • People that are in shape are more successful in life. Let’s not tip-toe around this issue: good looking people go farther in life.  It’s true – it’s not fair, it sucks, but it’s true.  There’s a reason everybody is after plastic surgery, lipo-suction, and ‘the Hollywood look’.  Everything else being equal, the good looking guy/girl will get the job.  The good looking dude will get the girl.  The good looking guy will be a better salesman.  That’s how life works.  If you want to be successful, you should care about your appearance if you want to keep up.  Yes, I know it’s not fair, but that’s how it works.
    • Do you have kids? Do you want to see your kids graduate high school?  Do you want to see your grand kids?  If you do, you better get started down the path to being healthy today.  I don’t have kids yet, but I want to be around to see my great-grandchildren.  I know a lot of you readers are young (20s) and probably haven’t even thought that far down the road.  Think of this like a 401k investment – if you start investing now, you’ll be loaded by the time you’re 65 (as long as the economy doesn’t collapse again) thanks to all that extra time for your savings to grow.  If you start eating healthy and exercising now, before you have health issues, you’ll be in much better shape later on.  Don’t try to play catch-up after the damage has already been done.
    • Being unhealthy is freaking expensive. I haven’t been to a doctor for anything health related in years.  No co-pays, no expensive medicines, no stupid forms to fill out.  The only time I ever get sick is generally during my day-job’s cruise season, when I go four or five days straight on minimal sleep.  Our nations health care debt is spiraling out of control, and instead of attacking the source (prevention), we’re dumping money into treatment.  Why continue to put band-aids on a cut when you can stop the cut from happening in the first place?

    I’m going to guess that very few of you are in the “I don’t care” club, because you probably wouldn’t be reading a fitness website if you were.  If you ARE in that club, here’s what you need to do to stop sucking:

    • FIND A WAY TO CARE. I don’t care if it’s your doctor telling you to get in shape, your kids poking you in the gut and saying “daddy you’re fat,” or just taking a long look at yourself in the mirror.
    • Be selfish and vain – You know what?  I want to live as long as possible, and I want to look as good as possible.  I’m sure you do too.  I don’t care what your reasons are: maybe you want to pick up chicks, look better at the beach, and live long enough until they figure out cryogenic freezing.  Whatever your reasons are for getting in shape, if it gets you in shape I’m all for it.  The ends justify the means in this case.
    • Be smart – I just read “Spark,” a book that talks about exercise and the brain.  I won’t bore you with the details, but here’s the gist of it: you’re an idiot if you don’t exercise.  From making you more alert in school and at your job to helping stave off Alzheimer’s and dementia when you’re older, exercise has WAY more benefits than just making you look good.  It can make you smarter too.

    The “I Don’t Have Time” Crowd

    This one is my favorite, because I don’t buy it for a second.  After hearing story after story about single mothers with two jobs who find the time to exercise and venture capitalists who work 80-hour weeks and still squeeze in a morning jog, I find it hard to believe that people can’t find 20 lousy minutes a day to get in shape.  My guess is, “too busy” involves at least an hour or two of television at night and mindless hours spent crawling Wikipedia and YouTube.  If you really analyze your day, I have no doubt that you have time:

    Make time – There’s no excuse.  I don’t care what yours is, because nobody will listen.  Put it in your daily planner, add it to your Google calendar, schedule it as a “Meeting with Major Pain” or whatever.  They say those who find success are often too busy to be looking for it.

    Exercise in the morning – According to the studies referenced in the previously mentioned Spark, people that exercise in the morning retain a ****-ton more information in the hours after exercise than those who don’t exercise.  Here’s another reason why you should exercise in the morning: how many times have you made a plan to exercise after work, and then you get stuck at your desk for an extra two hours, or you come home and your friends have broken into your house and are playing Halo on your TV (this happens at my house approximately twice a week), and suddenly all that exercise time you just had to go out is now gone.  This is what you need to do:

    Set your alarm for 30 minutes earlier – While your wife is sleeping, while your kids are asleep, while your roommates are asleep, get your ass out of bed, and get your 30 minutes of exercise done.  You’ll be more alert at work, you won’t drag ass through your morning meetings, and your afternoons are free to do whatever the hell you want (like playing Halo with the aforementioned roommates that break into your house).

    Don’t think you can get a workout done in 20 minutes? Try 20 minutes of interval running and then tell me you’re not worn out.  Not enough?  One of the actors from 300 completed the 300 challenge in under 20 minutes.  Only have 5 minutes?  Do some Tabata. Just don’t come crying to me after.

    I think everybody who says they don’t have time either fall into the previous “I don’t care” category or the “No motivation” category and are just hiding under the “I don’t have time” clause.  let’s talk about why that group sucks, and how to get out of it.

    The “No Motivation” Crowd

    I bet quite a few of you have been in this crowd before.  You’ve tried to get in shape, you had a good two weeks where you went to the gym every day, you ate right, and you lost 10 pounds!  Then, it rained, a new video game came out, you got sick, whatever, and all of a sudden you’re right back to where you started.  Your heart is in the right place, but something just didn’t line up.

    What didn’t work last time? What is going to be different this time?  You’re a smart person (this might be a stretch, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess you are), so you need to determine why you failed last time.  That way, when the same thing happens this time, you can recognize it and plow through it.  Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

    Find your motivation – You’ve seen Rocky IV, right?  When Rocky arrived in Russia, he put a picture of Drago on the mirror that he looked at every morning.  Every freaking day, Rocky would wake up, probably at 4AM, load on four layers of clothing and go run in three feet of snow.  Why did he do it? Because Drago killed his best friend!  Maybe you don’t have a giant Russian man that you’ve sworn revenge against, but I bet there’s a picture of something you can hang up to make you hungry for success.

    I’m going to be honest, I sat down last night after a long day of work and didn’t want to write today’s blog post.  I sat at my desk, stared at a blank Word doc, and then read the sign I have hanging above my computer:

    “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” – The Shawshank Redemption

    If you’ve met me, you’re probably aware of my unhealthy obsession with The Shawshank Redemption.  This movie is the reason I made the move to Atlanta, it’s the reason I started Nerd Fitness, and it’s the reason I have my current day job at Sixthman (the absolute best company in the world to work for).  Every morning, I wake up and read this quote before I go out the door.  It’s this quote that makes me want to make something of myself and appreciate what I have.

    Whatever your motivation is, find a way to live it every single day.

    Set Specific Goals – To reference Shawshank again, the main character Andy Dufresne had specific goals in mind.  He wanted to:

    • Break out of Prison
    • Move to Zihuatanejo
    • Open a hotel on the coast
    • Fix up an old boat
    • Play chess with his friend Red

    It’s these goals and  dreams that kept Andy going for 19 YEARS while he sat wrongfully imprisoned.  Without those goals, I bet Andy would have been given up in that tiny jail cell.  Instead, he ended up with everything he ever wanted (spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie). What are you specific goals?  Don’t tell me you want to ‘lose weight,” I want to hear something like, “I want to lose 50 pounds by June, I want to do 10 pull ups, I want to fit into a pair of jeans with a 34 inch waist, and I want to finally ask out the cute girl at the coffee shop that I go to every morning.”  Get specific, and then work every day towards those goals.

    Tell Everybody – When you have people counting on you to pull through, you pretty much have to do it.  Last week, I didn’t post a blog on Friday because I was home for vacation and simply too tired and worn out to write anything.  That day on Facebook (become a Nerd Fitness fan), NF reader Jack jokingly (I hope) left the comment, No Friday post. I feel like a blind man this weekend.”

    I’m sorry Jack!  It won’t happen again, because I HATE letting people down – hopefully today’s post will get you through the weekend.  Want to see what accountability can do for somebody’s health?  Check out Tyler over at 344pounds.com, who has lost over 125 pounds since January, Steve over at 265andfalling.com, and Juncti at ScatterShotMind.  Accountability works.

    If you don’t want to start a website, then tell all of your coworkers, your friends, and have them keep you accountable.  Don’t suck!

    The “I Don’t Know What I’m Doing” Crowd

    This one is tough.  You care, you have time, and you’re motivated, but you’re still not losing weight.  You think you’re eating right, you go to the gym, but the weight just doesn’t seem to come off.  That means something ain’t workin’.  Luckily, you have the three toughest reasons for sucking out of the way, let’s take care of the fourth.

    You Can’t Outrun Your Fork. I’ve said it before, I’m saying it now, I’ll say it again – you can’t outrun a bad diet.  It can take you an hour to burn 500 calories, and then 2 minutes to put them all right back.  I’ve already written 2000+ words on how to NOT suck at losing weight; to sum up those 2000 words in two sentences: stop eating junk food, stop eating fake food, start eating fruits, vegetables, and lean meats.  Cut out the sugar, processed grains, simple carbs, and soda.

    Do you really know how many calories you’re eating? If you’re overweight, I’d wager that you’re probably underestimating how many calories you eat on a daily basis.  That handful of animal crackers, 5 Hershey’s Kisses, and half a can of soda all add to your calorie total for the day.  Keep track of your calories for a week, and if your weight didn’t go down, find a way to knock off 500 calories a day and you’ll start to lose a pound a week.

    Get Better – Your diet is probably 80-90% of your success or failure, so just fixing that will fix 80-90% of your issues.  However, if you’re interested in building some muscle while losing fat, you’re going to need to do some strength building exercises.  If you don’t have a gym membership, start doing some of these body weight exercises.  If you do have a gym membership, make sure you don’t suck at working out.  Whatever it is you’re doing, make sure you’re getting better or faster at it over time.  There’s only one way to know if that’s happening…

    WRITE EVERYTHING DOWN – Did you get stronger or weaker since your last workout?  Faster or slower?  The only way you’ll know this is if you keep track of what you did last time.  I don’t care if it takes you 20 minutes to walk a mile.  The next time better take you 19:59 or less.  Everybody has to start somewhere – make sure you always know where that “somewhere” is so you can do better than that next time time.

    What did I leave out?

    These are the four biggest reasons I could think of.  What other reasons are out there for why people suck at getting in shape?  Have you been in one of these groups and worked your way out?  How did you do it?

    -Steve

    ###

    Picture from:  MikeBaird

    My Struggle With the Paleo Diet

    I’ve always been skinny.

    For the past 8 years, I’ve ridden the roller-coaster of weight gain and weight loss in a perpetual effort to build muscle and bulk up.  Over the course of that time, I’ve tried every workout imaginable, dozens of different protein and meal replacement shakes, good diets, bad diets, gained 18 pounds in 30 days, lost it all, and confused the hell out of my digestive system and body.

    Before we get to where I’m at now, let’s see how it started.

    High School – No Clue

    After getting cut from the basketball team in my Junior year of high school, I signed up for a gym membership at the local gym.  I spent two years there ‘lifting weights,’ although I never really knew what I was doing.  I took advice from anybody willing to give it out, which unfortunately resulted in me getting pretty crappy tips from some pretty dumb people.  I managed to survive these two years without killing myself, but I don’t think I put on a single pound.

    That’s okay though, because I was headed to college soon!  After all, everybody puts on the “freshman fifteen,” right?

    College – Freshman Fifteen Fail

    Unfortunately, my time in the gym for four years of college was pretty much a monumental waste of time.  Although I learned more about fitness and exercise, I blindly followed the muscle-building routines from muscle mags like an idiot.   I worked out five or six days a week, chugged protein shakes like it was job, and STILL couldn’t put on my weight.

    By blindly following those body building magazines and not actually doing any of my own research, I now realize I was doomed before I even started.  At this point, I had all but given up on gaining weight – I just assumed it was impossible for guys like me.

    San Diego – It Finally Makes Sense

    After graduating from school, I moved out to San Diego with my brother, joined a gym, hired a personal trainer, and finally overhauled my diet.  I started drinking three Muscle Milk collegiate shakes a day, gallons of milk, ate pounds of spaghetti, peanut butter sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and meatball subs.  I drastically scaled back my time in the gym and concentrated on eating all day every day.

    After: 

    September 28, 2006 - AFTER - 180 lbs.

    September 28, 2006 - 180 lbs.

    Before: 

    August 28, 2006 - Me Before Hitting The gym

    August 28, 2006 - 162 lbs.

    In 30 days, I gained 18 pounds.

    Looking back, I’d guess that it was probably 4 or 5 pounds of muscle, and 15 pounds of fat, water, and glycogen stored in my muscles.

    I quickly realized that spending all day in a gym was a waste of time without a calorie surplus to stimulate growth.  More calories eaten than burned = weight gain.  I’m a pretty smart kid too, so I’m baffled as to why it took me like six years to figure this out.

    As for what I did in the gym: my workouts centered around big movements (squats, bench presses, incline dumbbell presses, deadlifts, lat pulldowns, and shoulder presses).  I kept my rep range between 8-12, minimized my time between sets, and really pumped my muscles up.  It worked.  If you want to see exactly what I my workout and diet during those thirty days, you can read my full article on how I gained 18 pounds in 30 days.

    So What’s the Problem?

    I looked better, got stronger, and finally managed to gain weight after years and years of failure. So what’s the problem?  In the past eighteen months, I’ve become more educated on how the body functions with diet and fitness.  I realized that I my plan of action to gain weight wasn’t the healthiest thing in the world.

    This past summer, I was turned onto a book by Loren Cordain, The Paleo Diet.  It really resonated with me, and I made the decision that constantly stuffing my face with 4000 calories of processed foods every day was a recipe for disaster.  I finally gave up my Muscle Milk shakes and adopted a more Paleo Lifestyle.  Not surprisingly, this change had a dramatic effect on my weight.

    In the five months since switching up my diet, I’ve dropped from 180 lbs. back down to 162 lbs., essentially losing every pound that I fought so hard to keep for two years.

    Why This Doesn’t Make Me TOO Mad

    Initially I stepped on the scale, saw that my weight had dropped all the way back down, and got extremely frustrated. However, I then looked at a picture of myself from four years ago at 162, and a picture of myself NOW at 162.  I have 8-10 pounds of muscle more on me, and 4-5% less body fat.  I’m still thin, but I’m in much better shape, far stronger, and more muscular compared to a few years back.  Most importantly, I’m not shoveling enormous quantities of processed foods, lab-created meal shakes, and gallons of milk down my throat.

    Essentially, I’ve taken my life back, and I don’t have to spend all day every day eating.  Win!

    My Plan For the Future

    Despite feeling much better about my health these days, I would still like to pack on another 10-15 pounds of muscle.  After all, if I’m going to run a fitness website I feel like I need to look the part.  I know that I could order two tubs of Muscle Milk tomorrow, start crushing meatball subs from Subway, and fly right back up to 185 pounds in a matter of weeks – but that doesn’t really line up anymore with my long term plans of staying healthy, physically fit, and alive.

    Instead, I’m going to try and build this muscle while maintaining a Paleo lifestyle.  I think the biggest reason I’d like to try it with a Paleo diet is simply that I want to see if I can do it.  I’m always up for a challenge, and doing it the old way is “been there, done that.”  This is the plan:

    Continue lifting heavy in the gym. I just picked up a copy of Mark Rippetoe’s Starting Strength, 2nd edition, and I’m excited to dig into really study the nuances of squats, deadlifts, shoulder presses, and olympic lifts.  I also ordered a weight-belt that will allow me to do weighted dips and chin ups.  Essentially, I’m going to concentrate on getting stronger and stronger and not worry so much about my weight.  After all, “appearance is a consequence of fitness,” and I figure the muscle will come in time.

    Continue with my predominantly Paleo Diet. What I’ve realized over the past five months is that I just can’t find a way to eat enough calories while eating like this.  There are a few things that I’ve been eating to maintain my current weight, and I don’t know if I can get away from them if I want to create a calorie surplus and pack on some muscle:

    • Brown Rice
    • Oatmeal
    • Flaxseed Bread
    • Whey protein

    Honestly, I’m okay with this stuff in my diet.  It’d be nice to go without it, but I haven’t had any issues WITH it, so I think finding a good balance of great healthy foods is most important.

    Bringing back dairy into the equation? I like milk, I’m not lactose-intolerant in any way, and it would be extremely helpful for me to consume enough calories every day.  If I do start drinking milk again, I’ll make sure it’s from healthy cows whenever possible.  Essentially, I want to find a way to eat enough calories but doing so without packing my system with bad foods.  I have a feeling I’ll be upping my intake of almonds and walnuts – loaded with protein, calories, and good fats.

    Get some more damn sleep! I certainly don’t get enough sleep, as I dump all my free time and a lot of my sleep time into this site (not that I’m complaining, I love what I’m doing).  This is something I often preach but never practice -sleep is one of the most important parts of getting in shape, losing weight, and/or building muscle.

    I had a super productive Thanksgiving break, and I now have a BUNCH of kick-ass projects in the works that you’ll hear about soon.  Because of these this, I’ve made the decision to post new articles on Nerd Fitness on Mondays and Thursdays for the time being.  In a few months once I get these projects launched I hope to go back to three posts a week, so thanks for your patience guys.

    Do we have any Paleo Dieters here?  Has it worked for you?  Any skinny guys that have bulked up on it and want to offer advice?

    Let’s hear it!

    -Steve

    ###

    If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” and If you like what you see, please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

    photo: FloodLlama

    Eat Whatever the Hell You Want on Thanksgiving

    Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the most gluttonous holiday in the history of the world.

    If you look anywhere on the internet today, you’ll find article after article on how to avoid weight gain during the holiday season, what foods to eat, what foods not to eat, how to politely say no, and so on.

    Here is the best article I’ve found. If you’re interested, make sure you download the free Survival Guide PDF at the end:

    Deadly Holiday Drinks, Weight Loss Scams, and Seasonal Weight Gain Survival Guide over on Fitness Spotlight

    Now, instead of regurgitating this same information (that has been presented more completely elsewhere), I’m going to tell you to eat whatever the hell you want on Thanksgiving.  You want to treat gravy like a beverage?  Fine.  Want to go up for seconds, thirds, and fourths on the turkey?  Go right ahead.  That case of Bud Light in your fridge isn’t going to drink itself either.  Go right ahead and eat whatever you want, drink whatever you want, stay up too late (or pass out too early), and generally disregard your health tomorrow afternoon.  You’re probably wondering how this will help you lose weight.

    Here’s the truth: it isn’t. Well, at least not physiologically.  You’re still filling your body up with tons of calories.  However, you’re really not doing TOO much damage and you’re also taking care of something far more important:

    Your sanity and your family.

    You deserve a break every once and a while, and you really can’t destroy yourself in just one day (unless you decide to start hard-lining lard into your veins), so live a little.  After all, we only get one chance on this planet, and if you’re not having fun with those you care most about, you’re just wasting your time.

    Thanksgiving is a day to spend with your family and friends – the most important thing in life is to love and be loved.  I want you to eat too much food with your parents, steal food off your niece’s plate over at the kid’s table, and drink beers with your buddies while watching the Lions lose another football game.  Just pray for Calvin Johnson to score a buttload of points, because he’s on my fantasy football team and I need a big win this week.

    Okay, so let’s say you take my advice (which you will) and eat until you pass out in a food-induced coma tomorrow, here are two things you can do to make sure you don’t completely derail your weight-loss efforts.

    Exercise Before

    Tomorrow, I’ll be getting up bright and early to run in a 5k Thanksgiving race with my family. I don’t even WANT to run this race (not after my last experience in a 5k), but if my DAD and MOM are going to do it, I feel like I should too.  After all, it’s because of my blog that they’re now suddenly inspired to run races and eat better, and I don’t want them to stop.  So, why not burn a few hundred calories first thing in the morning, and then feel a little less terrible about stuffing my face later on?  Get up early, take your dog for jog, take the kids for a walk, find a race in your town (which will probably benefit a really good cause), and get your blood pumping and calories burning.

    If you don’t like running – put yourself through a quick body weight workout.  Head down to your parents’ basement – unless you already live down there – and try the Nerd Fitness Challenge.  Bang out some squats, decline push ups, pull ups or inverted bodyweight rows, and jumping jacks, and THEN go eat your turkey and mashed potatoes.

    If you’re a skinny guy looking to bulk up, Thanksgiving is the greatest day of the year for you.  Hit up the gym first thing in the morning, pump up those muscles, and THEN start stuffing your face.  Pack on those pounds, son!

    Eat Less After

    Let’s assume you plan on jamming pounds of turducken down your throat while hanging with your family.  Then, you’re going to drink yourself into oblivion while playing Modern Warfare 2 with your friends or watching football with your family.  Needless to say, you’re going to create a huge calorie surplus in your system.  Luckily, your metabolism is kind of a dumbass and can’t really discern what’s happening in the extreme short term.  How do you use this to your advantage?

    Take it easy the next few days! According to Katherine Tallmadge, dietician and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association: “If you immediately go back to healthy eating, those calories you ate on Thanksgiving really can just average out.” On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, cram your system full of vegetables, fruits, and lean meats.  Drink gallons of water, cut way back on the drinkable calories (juice, soda, booze), cut out the processed carbs, and put yourself in a calorie deficit – things will even themselves out.  It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so after a day of overeating…GET RIGHT BACK ON THE TRAIN.

    I realize there are pounds of left-overs in the fridge, and if you have parents like mine they’ll try to force-feed you every second of the day.  However, here you can choose to be picky.  Go with the veggies, the turkey is fine, stay away from the bad stuff.

    My Thanksgiving Plans

    What good would I be if I don’t practice what I preach? Tomorrow, I plan on eating gravy-smothered turkey like it’s my job, cramming my face full of everything else on the table, taking a nap on the couch while watching football, and then drinking some beers and playing pool in the basement with my dad and brother.  After that, my old high school friends will probably end up coming over and the beers and pool will continue.

    This sounds like a perfect day to me.

    What’s your plan for tomorrow?  Favorite thing to eat on Thanksgiving?

    -Steve

    On a completely unrelated note, it looks like YouTube has added 1080p support, which means you can watch the Muppets sing Bohemian Rhapsody in true high definition.  God bless YouTube:


    [Via: Mashable]

    ###

    If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” and If you like what you see, please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

    photo: floodllama

    Winter Cardio, a.k.a. Frozen Chestnuts

    Screen shot 2009-11-23 at 10.14.30 AM

    When winter rolls around, everybody generally goes into hibernation by stockpiling Twinkies, wrapping up in a Weezer Snuggie, and packing on the pounds.  However, if you’re one of those people interested in staying in shape and you DON’T want to spend all your time on a treadmill, you’re going to have to brave the elements.  Luckily, my friend Jim (the man who lost over 100 pounds and just completed his first IRONMAN this summer) was nice enough to put together this guest on how to exercise outside when it’s cold.

    Take it away Jim!

    Whether you are a cyclist, a runner, or just someone who wants to drop a few lbs. over the winter, laying down some base miles and putting in your cardio over the chilly months can only help. You can do this inside on a treadmill or an elliptical trainer, but if you ask me, being on those things is the exercise version of self gratification. You know the kind I mean.

    I trained all winter this past year and raced a Christmas 5k, a February bike time trial with a half marathon the next day, and a full marathon in March, so I had to learn how to keep my cardio kickin’ through the frosty winter. I knew I couldn’t afford to slack off because I was on track to complete all the distances of triathlon there are, starting from a sprint distance, in one year.

    n1544984318_213408_326429I did my first sprint on August 23rd 2008, and completed my full Ironman on August 30 2009, doing Olympic and Half-Ironman distances along the way in September and May respectively. The detail-oriented among you will notice that it was in fact one year and one week, but the “one year” thing sounds better and I’m reasonably certain that no one cares.  At least, no one takes sufficient notice of my Ironman finisher’s cap and shirt which I have not taken off since the race and constantly point to [NF note: hahahaha]

    It’s also true that staying warm is mostly common sense, but I am, sadly, not a person to whom common sense has spoken in a loud voice through my life.  Just ask my dad.

    Having said that, in order to do this you are going to need some proper clothes. After all, you are made largely of water, and water likes to freeze around 32 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s zero degrees for anyone who lives in a slightly less awesome country full of nerds who like numbers that make sense. Or 273 degrees Kelvin if you are a turbo nerd.

    Start a little cold

    My typical rule of thumb is to start my workout kinda chilly. If you step outside and you are toasty warm, when you get going you are going to be roasting. So you want to allow for your body to heat up during your workout.

    Cyclists will want to be slightly chilly just like runners, but need to focus a bit more on the effects the wind will have due to their greater speed. Swimmers have the option of a full body wetsuit, but their best option in my opinion is an indoor pool.

    Freddy got (cold) fingered

    If you were a tree, your fingers would be your twigs. Far from the warmth of your sexy, toasty torso, by the time blood arrives at their outer reaches it’s had a lot of chances to radiate heat while traveling down your supple limbs.

    Oh yeah, there’s a clothes for that.

    My method for slightly chilly days in the 55-65 degree range is usually just to start my run in a fleece with my hands tucked into the sleeves.  This may not be an option for every jacket, but as a man who has lost over 100lbs I have a rain jacket and a fleece that are far too big for me so this is an option. Typically when it’s just a little bit chilly, once I get going I’m warm enough.

    If it’s a little colder, I will put on a pair of gloves. Sometimes I get hot, but my jacket has pit vents which can be opened to vent heat.  A lot of times I’ll also push my sleeves up, imitating a look pioneered by Michael Jackson in the “Beat it” video.  This lets me vent heat with my forearms and also lets the ladies know that I have an eye for style.

    Ace of Base

    When it gets even colder, it’s time to start thinking about a base layer. Base layers come in a lot of shapes and sizes and there is a right answer for everyone, but I bought a Patagonia Capilene 3 layer. The important thing to remember is that you want a wicking base layer. Cotton long johns are going to get wet and be heavy, saggy, and cold. You need something that is designed to keep you warm even when it’s wet.

    When I finished my February half marathon in my base layer, there was frozen sweat on it’s slightly pushed up sleeves but I was toasty warm. Thanks for wicking, base layer!

    Another great option is wool, and some pretty cool wooly base gear is made by Smartwool. I bought my
    Patagonia synthetic base layer because it was cheaper by a large margin than the Smartwool option at REI, but wool has the advantage of not getting stinky. Wool is also historically harder to clean. You can’t just toss a merino wool garment into the washer and dryer unless you want it to come out being the proper size for your house cat.

    The Smartwool stuff, though, is reported to be resistant to this phenomenon, and as an owner of several pairs of Smartwool socks, I can attest that they are still human sized as well as quite awesome. I don’t have a Smartwool base layer, but I assume they wash just fine based on the company’s claims. I definitely want one.

    There are also options from companies like Under Armour, but I am even less familiar with their products. I do know that they have a letter “u” in “Armour” which means “European fancypants” even though they are and always have been an American company. Hey, business is business!

    During a cold-weather running event, people will shed clothes like crazy, often times leaving them on the street. I try to get a friend to come watch my race so that I can toss clothes to them if necessary, but usually I just start cold and warm up without having to drop anything. I am far too poor to be dropping expensive cold weather gear like that.

    Try to catch me ridin’ chilly

    I much prefer to be running than riding bikes in the winter cold, so last year I did a cyclist- and ironman-specific indoor spinning class at Athletic Training Services under the watchful eye of Tony Myers. It was a two-hour base building class from 5:00-7:00am and it tended to kick my ass. I’m lucky to have a local cyclist spin class like this to go to so I don’t have to do the spin classes they have at gyms.

    At the ATS spin class we watch DVDs of previous Grand Tour cycling events and ride bikes with real cycling saddles and clipless pedals just like a real bike. I also got to meet and ride with people who had done multiple Ironman races as well as sub 3hr marathoners. I also got to get cycling advice and coaching from Tony. I’m not sure I’d have gotten as much from a big-box gym’s spin class.

    This year, however, I’m planning to ride outside much more with my buddy Chris Kelly, who believes that
    there is no such condition as too cold. I’m planning to invest in some heavier gloves and a balaclava, in addition to my usual cycling cap, gloves, and glasses.

    Wrap it up

    Well that about wraps it up. Make sure you are layered, start a little cold, and get out there and exercise regularly. When spring comes around you’ll be looking hotter and going faster than ever!

    Jim

    Do we have any winter runners out there?  Anybody sick of treadmills? Let’s hear it. Do you want to train like Drago in Rocky IV, or do you want to train like Rocky!?


    Rocky IV Training Montage video

    “DRAGOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    Follow Jim over at Jim Hodgson.com, follow him on twitter at twitter.com/jimhodgson, and check out his business at HodgsonCo.com.

    1st photo from JPCTalbot

    Heart-Attacks, Half-Marathons, and Superheroes

    Most of you have read my story about running a 5k this past weekend.  If you haven’t read it yet, I’ll give you my abridged version – running and I don’t get along.

    However, I know that millions of people all over the world LOVE to run.  Some scientists even believe that we’re built for distance running.  I was recently introduced to Tony (through Evan the Muay Thai Guy).  Here’s a guy who discovered a passion for running after almost having a heart attack.  Since then, he’s dropped a ridiculous amount of weight, ran two half marathons, and is now gearing up to run a full marathon next year.

    Oh, did I mention Tony is a real life superhero?

    Fat_TXN2NF: Meet Tony everybody! Describe a typical day before you decided to change things up.  What did you weigh?

    Tony: About a year ago, I tipped the scale at 215 pounds. I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and I took meds for adult on set diabetes. A typical day in the life of fat Tony (NF note – not THIS Fat Tony) consisted of over-eating and no physical activity.  I sit in a cube in front of the computer all day, so consumption of large quantities of food was my norm.  The only exercise I got in the office was my hourly walk to the vending machine.  After work, Jabba The Hutt would take over my body and I would lounge on the couch until past midnight.  With only junk food in my system and no exercise, I found myself clocking in only five hours of sleep every night.  By the time 6am would roll around, I would struggle to get out of bed. My daily routine proved to be a dangerous equation: gluttony + immobility = early expiration date.

    NF: What put you over the edge and why did you decide to make the change?  How did it happen?

    Tony: On April Fool’s Day I thought I was having a heart attack. No joke. I felt numbness on the left side of my body and a sharp pain in my chest.  My dog Chewbacca barked and ran around in circles as if she sensed she was soon going to be an orphan.  I got up from the couch, leashed up the dog and went for a walk.  The cool breeze made a world of difference. When I returned, Chewbacca snuggled up with me and gave me that don’t-ever-do-that-again stare in her eyes.  This was the turning point.  I knew I had to make some changes in my life. That short walk eventually turned into multi-mile urban hikes with the dog. I then started to jog, and before I knew it, I was running.  Seven months later, I dropped 50 pounds, reversed my type 2 diabetes, was taken off all meds, and am training for a marathon.

    NF: Congrats Tony, that’s amazing.  Can you describe a typical day now?

    Tony: A typical day for Skinny Tony now is pretty awesome: wake up, take the dog for a walk, do some core exercises, and go to work.  I rarely drive to work now because I can squeeze in 90 minutes of cardio by taking the bus. Lunch time is gym time. After work, it’s quality walk time with Chewbacca.  I also fit in about 20 miles of running throughout the week. It’s great to be able to sleep well, walk up stairs without losing my breath, and make it through the day without getting worn out.

    NF: You just finished another half marathon.  Talk about your race experiences.

    Tony: To date, I have run two 5ks, two 10ks, and two half-marathons.  My first 13.1 miler was the San Jose Rock & Roll Half Marathon on October 4th. I finished that race in 2:15:15, which far exceeded any expectation I ever had.  When I crossed the finish line, the endorphins kicked in and I was thrust into a euphoric high.  I hugged strangers and announced to everyone that I was the fat kid who always got picked last in PE.

    110109 EDI was on that runner’s high for days, and I admit, I wore that medal around my neck when I took Chewbacca for her walk. My legs, knees, and thighs may have been completely banged up, but my heart kept yearning for more, so registered for the Eye-Q Two Cities Half Marathon. I am happy to announce that my success in San Jose was not a fluke! I completed my second half-marathon in 2:11:26, a new personal record. I proved to myself that I am getting better with every race and my confidence continues to soar.  I feel like a super hero when I run, and hence I have created the alter ego “Endorphin Dude.”  Seriously, six months ago I thought I was having a heart attack. Now, I am experiencing a cardiac infraction of the euphoric kind.

    NF: Tony, what you’re telling me essentially is that you’re a bad ass: you’re a super hero and you run races.  What are your goals moving forward?

    Tony: I am all about out reach.  I know what it’s like to be unhealthy and my goal is to tell my story in hopes of inspiring others to get off the couch and make changes in their lives. I have created a blog that chronicles my journey called “I Am Endorphin Dude, See Me Run.”  I am also in post-production with my film team on a documentary short about a bay area ultra runner who just completed The San Francisco One Day, a 24-hour race in Crissy Field.  Running has made a huge difference in my life, and now everything I do revolves around it.  2010 will be ambitious for me.  I plan to run a half-marathon every month leading up to the San Francisco Marathon in July.  I plan to finish the year with a “Rock Legend” medal around my neck, which I will earn after completing seven Rock & Roll events in one calendar year.  My long-term goal is to qualify for Boston.  I don’t know when, but it will happen one day. Six months ago, I never would have thought that I would ever be able to turn my life around, and look at me now.  Mark my words, I will run the Boston Marathon.

    NF: Alright, that’s enough fitness. Let’s talk about the other half of the site: Are you a nerd?  Gamer?

    Tony: Am I a nerd?  You decide.  I made a reference to Jabba The Hutt and my dog is named Chewbacca.  Am I a gamer?  Hmm, does fantasy football count?  I play the old school stuff: Super Pacman, Centipede and Space Invaders.

    NF: I’ll take it.  When you name your dog a character from the Star Wars universe you definitely qualify.  If you could have any super power in the world, what would it be?

    Tony: Invincibility.  Oh wait, I already have that.  I AM ENDORPHIN DUDE, SEE ME RUN!

    There you have it folks.  Here is a man who completely changed his life in just six months.  Some of you might be saying that six months seems like a long time.  When you take it one day at a time, you’d be surprised how quickly you can turn things around.  That’s my favorite part about Tony’s story.  He woke up one day, went for a walk, and now he’s running gearing up for half-marathons on a monthly basis and kicking ass.  How’s THAT for inspiration.  To stay up to date on Tony’s adventures, follow his blog over at I Am Endorphin Dude, See Me Run.

    NF readers, what kind of superhero do you have hiding inside?  What’s your plan to bring it out of you?

    Tony, thanks for the interview, and thanks for inspiring others.  Superman would be proud.

    -Steve

    ###

    If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” and If you like what you see, please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

    What I’ve Learned From Writing 200 Posts

    Holy crap, I’ve published 200 articles.

    I’ve started three or four blogs prior to Nerd Fitness and none of them lasted longer than two weeks.  I start to learn new music for the piano or guitar when I’m only half-finished with the previous song.  I start way more stuff than I finish.  Essentially, I’ve learned that I’m a great ideas guy, and a terrible follow-through guy.  So, what the heck has kept me excited about writing a fitness blog for the past 10 months?  I think I’ve figured it out:

    • I have a passion for it. I’m not a fitness expert, but rather a student of it.  The whole concept of getting stronger, living better, and ‘becoming a machine’ fascinates me.
    • I enjoy writing – Luckily, I enjoy writing.  I didn’t realize this until I actually started writing.
    • I’m filling a need – Everybody wants to be in better shape, but very few people actually know where to begin.  There is so much crap information out there and too many people who are just after your money.
    • I really like helping people – Another thing I didn’t realize until I started getting emails from readers asking for advice.  I like helping people and seeing them turn their lives around.

    Through these ten months, I’ve watched Nerd Fitness grow from an audience of two (myself and my Mom) to hundreds of subscribers and hundreds of visitors daily.  Although it’s really exciting to see these numbers climb, there are far more important things that have come from running Nerd Fitness that really make me happy.

    Making Friends

    Nerd Fitness is really turning into a community, and that makes me proud.  People helping each other out, sharing information, asking questions, cracking jokes, engaging in healthy debate: it’s awesome.  Here are some of the people I’ve been able to “meet” thanks to Nerd Fitness:

    Brett over at Art of Manliness – After emailing Brett letting him know that I was a huge fan of his site, Brett took the time to reach out to me and stay in touch.  He’s even linked to a few of my articles through the AoM blog, which has been incredible for increasing the size of Nerd Fitness.  Brett, I’m working on that guest post for you, I promise!  Thanks again, and congrats on running such a great site.

    Josh Hanagarne at World’s Strongest Librarian – Josh is my hero.  Never in a million years did I think I’d ever meet a 6’8″, incredibly strong librarian with Tourettes, but thanks to Nerd Fitness I now feel like Josh is a good friend.  It all started when Josh put out the call to write guest posts for any site that wanted one.  I emailed Josh and said “I’d love for you to write one for my site, Nerd Fitness.”  Josh emailed me back 30 seconds later with the subject line, “Best Blog Name Ever.”  Thanks Josh!  I look forward to reading his posts every day, and you should too.  Josh taught me the importance of guest posts.  This site wouldn’t be where it is now had I not stumbled across Josh’s blog months ago.

    Baker over at Man vs. Debt – A few weeks back, Baker posted on his uber-sucessful blog that he was looking to get in shape.  I sent him a simple email that said I’d like to help him out in any way.  Bake emailed me back immediately asking if there was anything he could do for me.  In two emails I already feel like Baker’s a close friend.  This is also due to the fact that he writes such a personal and captivating blog that you can’t help but feel like you already know him.  I try to channel my inner Baker when writing my posts, making sure I know how to NOT suck at blogging.  He’s also been the inspiration for my “How to NOT suck” post series, which have been some of my most popular and successful.  Thanks Baker.

    Mike Rickett – Mike taught my personal trainer certification class last fall.  Since then, I’ve got a chance to hang out with him for a few hours at a time every time he comes back through Atlanta to teach another class.  I learn more in those few hours than I do reading any book.  Mike is the man, and a big reason why I’ve had such a good time with this whole fitness thing.  He gets it, and I’m glad I’ve got a chance to know him.  Thanks Mike, for being my Yoda.

    Jason Varley – Last night, I had a chance to meet with Jason in person.  He runs a gym over in Decatur called CoreBody, and he goes about training clients the RIGHT way.  I was put in touch with Jason through a NF reader (thanks Porter), and I could tell within 10 minutes of meeting the guy that he was the real deal.  I pride myself on being correct with my 1st assumptions of people, and I got a great vibe from Jason.  If any of you live in the Atlanta/Decatur region and you’re looking for a personal trainer/gym, this is your man.  Years of experience, incredible amounts of knowledge, and a level-headed approach to fitness.

    Although the guys listed above have really helped me turn Nerd Fitness into what it is today, there are quite a few other great people that I have met along the way too.

    Tyler at 344Pounds – Tyler has lost 125 pounds since January and has blogged about his journey every step of the way.  Hey big guys, if you’re ever wondering what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it, look no further than this man.  Tyler, keep kicking ass.

    Steve at 265andFalling – That’s right Steve, I’m calling you out.  Why?  Because you’ve lost 15 pounds in 6 weeks and you’re rolling.  You said yourself that you’ve been down to 245 in the past only to gain it all back, so I figure a shout-out and maybe some new readers might keep you motivated.  The fate of the world rests on your shoulders.  No pressure.

    Chris McNeil at FitMenu (for being one of my first interviewees.  Thank you Chris!), Evan the Muay Thai Guy (for reading since the beginning), Jim Hodgson (for inspiring everybody, myself included), and Brandi and Adam at the Paleo Kitchen.

    I have terrible organizational skills, so I’m sure I left out some very important people in these shout outs.  Please know it wasn’t intentional, but feel free to call me out on it!

    People That Have Inspired Me

    These are people that I don’t know yet, but have influenced me greatly through their writing.  Thanks guys, and hopefully we get to exchange emails some day.

    Leo at Zen Habits – I like Leo, a lot.  Leo runs such a great, simplistic blog that has helped me declutter my own life.  I’m still struggling with working too many hours, but I will get there at some point.  Thanks Leo for running a great blog and helping so many people take the time to stop and smell the roses.  Life is too damn short to not do what you love, even if it’s just for a little bit each day.

    Jason Ferruggia – Jason writes one HELL of a blog.  He tells it exactly how it is.  This post (some swears, just a heads up) he wrote the other day is one of the best articles I have read all year.  Read it.  Now. Although Jason is a Yankees fan, I’d still like to get to know him.  I think his approach to training is awesome, especially considering that he’s a Vegan.  You don’t see many Vegans that look like him.

    Craig Ballantyne – Craig is an inspiration to anybody in the fitness world these days.  Although he has quite a few programs available for sale online, Craig gives away more free content than anybody out there.  Just youtube “Craig Ballantyne” and see for yourself.  Thanks Craig for giving away so much awesome content.

    Chris Guillebeau – Chris is the reason I’ve taken my current approach to Nerd Fitness – write well, give away as much as you can, and the rest will work itself out.  Chris has created some phenomenal products to help people escape a 9-5 boring life, but he also writes great blogs on a weekly basis.  Chris, I’ll be picking up your “Frequent Flyer Master” e-book soon!

    The Future of Nerd Fitness

    So far, I’ve made approximately $0 for the 1000 hours I’ve pumped into this site.  I’m okay with this.  Eventually I hope to make a decent living through Nerd Fitness, but I had planned on spending years and years before anything serious started rolling in, so I’m right on schedule.

    I plan on following Chris Guillebeau’s approach and creating products that will provide way more value than I actually charge for them.  I’ve realized in the majority of the emails that I’ve received that most people really just want to be told exactly what to do, so these products will be day-by-day guides on what to eat, exactly what exercises to do, and how to do them.    Personally, I hate “4 payments of 29.99” and “BUY NOW” and “GET RESULTS FAST,” so the stuff I put together won’t have any of that stuff.

    I’ll continue writing great content (well, I hope it’s great) for free every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Exciting times are coming for Nerd Fitness, so get ready!  I’ve met some great people through these first 200 posts.  I can’t wait to see who I meet with the next 200.

    Thank You

    Lastly, I want to say thanks to all of you readers.  It’s your emails that keep me staying up way too late at night writing posts.  It’s your comments that make me happy to get up early and reply.  Hearing your success stories motivate me to write better and find ways to help more people.  All I ask is that you pass this website along to your friends if you think it would help them in any way.

    Let me know what I can do to keep you coming back.

    -Steve

    ###

    If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” and If you like what you see, please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

    photo from: JonRawlinson

    I Lost to A 10-Year Old Girl

    This past weekend, for the first time in 10 years, I ran a race.

    I like to think I’m in pretty good shape.  I mean, I do run a fitness website.  So why has it taken me an entire decade to run a race?  Lots of reasons, actually, but two reasons stand out above the rest.

    • I hate running! Seriously.  Not a fan.
    • I’m one of those people blessed/cursed with an overactive metabolism. I try to minimize cardio because it keeps me skinny.

    So what the heck got me running this weekend?  Easy: peer pressure, a really good cause, and humility.  Read on.

    How I Prepared for the 5K

    Honestly, I didn’t, which is a pretty terrible way to prepare for anything.  I spent my past few weeks reading books, watching the Wire on DVD (just started season 3), and playing Modern Warfare.  I still did my normal weight training (3 days a week), but I didn’t do any specific training for this race with running.  I figured 3.2 miles was short enough that I could manage without killing myself.  Actually, I didn’t actually agree to running until about a week before, and you can’t exactly cram for a race like you can cram for a test (my specialty).  So, I woke up on race day having run 3 miles just once in preparation.

    How the Race Went

    Having never run a scheduled race before (other than cross-country my freshman year of high school), I woke up on race day and had no clue what I was doing: where I needed to go, what I needed to do, what I needed to bring, etc.  Luckily, I was running with a few friends who DID have a clue: my friend Joe (fellow Five Fingers shoe wearer and the strongest mofo I know), his wife Ali (big-time runner, med student, and one of the coolest people I know), and my other friend Kate (who is indirectly responsible for all the bandages on my hands now. Long story).

    I woke up around 7:30, ate a bowl of Cheerios and an apple, and then carpooled down to Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves.  While getting weird looks for the gloves on our feet, Joe and I ran some warm-up sprints to get our heart racing and muscles warm.  We headed over to the starting line, about 5 or 6 rows deep, and had some conversations with the people around me about what happened to our shoes.

    I then got butterflies in my stomach.  I had forgotten what it felt like to be in a real competition.

    Bang! ..and…here…we…GO

    The race began, but it didn’t happen like I had expected it to.  Due to the sheer volume of people in front of me, I couldn’t really run.  I had to jog/walk for the first two minutes of the race until the pack thinned out, and then it was another few minutes until Joe and I could really run without interruption.  Note to self: get much closer to the front of the pack for the next race.

    Here are the highlights from the race that stick out:

    • Heavy breathing, followed by us passing only the 1-mile mark. Crap, I really am out of shape.
    • Getting passed by a dude running in Vibrams! More about him later.
    • Struggling through a lot of the downhill portions of the race. I haven’t perfected the art of running downhill “barefoot” without slamming my heels into the ground.
    • Surprise and happiness that my feet never really hurt. Woohoo!
    • Watching a kid who is probably 10 beat me by about 10 seconds.

    In the end, I finished huffing and puffing with a time of 26:40-something.  Factoring in the few minutes for a slow start, I was actually pretty happy with my time.  Sure that 10 year-old kid beat me, but he was running pretty fast, and I’m out of shape.  I chalked that one up to his youthful exuberance.  Then, I talked to Ali (who had run a 10k earlier) after the race ended:

    • Ali: “I wish I had my camera out!”
    • Steve: “Yeah that would have been cool to get a picture of me crossing the finish line.”
    • Ali: “No not for that. I wanted to take a picture of the 10 year-old girl that finished like 3 minutes ahead of you.”
    • Steve: “Yeah, but at least I can drive myself home.”

    Okay, so not only did I lose to a 10 year-old boy by a few seconds…I lost to a 10-year old girl by like 3 minutes.  Oh well, humility is good.  Plus, she probably had homework to do yesterday when I got to sit around and watch football.  I WIN, LITTLE GIRL!

    The Other Barefoot Guy

    Let me tell you about the other guy wearing Vibrams.  He came jogging up next to me with a HUGE grin on his face, but I didn’t notice until he was right next to me.  This is because he was literally floating down the road.  The best word I could use to describe his running style?

    Effortless.

    After the race ended, I went over to the dude and talked to him about his experiences running in Vibrams.  He said that two years ago he was running in some New Balance shoes, and he managed to blow out one of them while messing up his ankle.  He switched to Vibrams and never looked back.  Moving forward, I plan to do some more reading on the POSE method of running and find a way to run barefoot more efficiently.  Thanks Vibram dude, for showing me how a veteran barefoot runner takes care of business.

    What I Liked About the Race

    Although I don’t like running, I’m glad I ran.

    • It was for a good cause – I’ve been volunteering at the Atlanta Children’s Hospital for the past year, and this race raised money for the hospital.  If I’m going to run a race, might as well help some kids while I’m at it.
    • I got to try out the Vibrams – I bought these ninja-gorilla shoes.  I’ve been messing around with them in the gym and on the occasional jog, but I wanted to see how they’d hold up in an actual race.
    • My friend made me –   Everybody talks about how bad peer pressure is.  I think it depends on what they’re pressuring you to do.  If it’s something good like exercising, running a race, robbing a bank, etc., what’s the problem?
    • I wanted to know how out of shape i am – Prior to this race, I had only run 3 miles once in the past decade…and that was two weeks ago.  What better way to test my endurance than by running a race.
    • To say I did it – I guess it’s one more thing to check off a list – run a 5k. Done!
    • Competition – I haven’t competed in anything in a while, and I missed that great feeling of excited nervousness.

    What I Hated About Running

    I realized what I hate about running: the actual running.  I’m assuming being out of shape didn’t help, but my stomach started to bother me halfway through the race, I was exhausted the entire time, and I just felt like crap for most of it.  Of course, I felt absolutely amazing after the finish, which reminded me my favorite part about running: the end.

    I came to the realization that I just don’t get the satisfaction out of running that others do, which is fine (and not really surprising).  Some people get in shape by running.  I am not one of those people.  I get more satisfaction out of lifting heavier and heavier weights.  That’s what makes me happy.  For millions of other people, it’s running.  I’m happy for those people.  Are you one of them?  Do you KNOW if you’re one of them?

    How to Run a 5K

    Okay, so if you’ve never run before, how the heck do you set out and run a 5K?  You might hate it, you might love it, but you won’t know until you do it.  I wouldn’t recommend following my training regiment of NOTHING.  The best plan I’ve found to prepare for a 5k for desk jockeys is the Couch to 5K Program. This is literally a day by day plan for couch potatoes on how to run a race.

    Here are some other tips:

    • Take it slow. Don’t be an idiot like me, go through the plan and actually train for your race.  It doesn’t matter where you start.  It matters that you finish.
    • Sign up for a race, and pay for it ahead of time. If you pay weeks/months in advance, you’ll be more likely to actually kick yourself in the ass and go through with your training.
    • Do it with a friend. I had my friend Joe running alongside me the entire time.  Joe is in better shape than I am, so I spent the majority of the race trying to keep up with him.  Without Joe, I probably would have finished a few minutes slower because I wouldn’t have had somebody to push me past my limits.
    • Compete against yourself. Don’t worry about the people around you.  You will get passed by small children.  It’s humbling and embarrassing, but it will happen.  Or, you won’t even see the small children, because they finished 3 minutes ahead of you.  Just do the best you can. Then, for your next race, do better than you did last time.
    • Run with somebody who knows what they’re doing.  Race day is chaotic.  There are thousands of people running, and if you don’t know where to go it’s easy to get lost.  Go with somebody who has gone through the motions and can help you.

    The Future

    IMG_0054Does this mean I’ll never run a race again?  Absolutely not.

    For whatever reason, I’m a glutton for punishment (which you’d know if you’ve read my Crossfit article).  So, if I decide to run another race, I’m going to do it for a great cause and raise money through Nerd Fitness.  As my friend Matt says on his blog DoGoodedness, humility is free.  If I have to run a 10K dressed as Optimus Prime to raise money for a new kindergarten, sign me up.

    Do we have any runners out there? Any tips for first-time 5Kers?  Any suggestions on costume suggestions?  I’m thinking more and more ridiculous based on how much money gets raised.

    -Steve

    ###

    photo from: KalerBlind

    Steve Tries Rock Climbing

    Screen shot 2009-11-12 at 11.54.36 PM(Published November 2009)

    I went rock climbing at Atlanta Rocks!, and figured today would be a great day to write about it.

    Many of you guys are also readers of the Art of Manliness; what’s more epic that scaling a cliff side using nothing but your own two hands?  It’s an elite test of strength, a GREAT way to build your back, biceps, and forearms, and it works your core like crazy.

    Moral of the story: seasoned climbers are absolutely ripped.

    Secondly, and this is something I never realized until I actually tried climbing: it’s like puzzle solving! You need to plan your route ahead of time, think of every possible scenario, and then stick to plan A or move onto plan B when necessary.

    Oh, and you have to make these decisions while hanging by your fingertips.  Doesn’t get much more Nerd Fitness than that!

    My Climbing Experience

    This past Friday, I went to Atlanta Rocks!, an indoor climbing gym here in Atlanta, with my friends Jordan and Chris. 

    These two idiots (and I mean that in the nicest way possible) have been climbing for a few months and invited me to join them for an afternoon of awesomeness.  I had only been climbing once before on a company outing, but I hoped my general overall level of fitness and constant desire to not suck would get me through the adventure without looking like a complete ass:


    Steve Tries Rock Climbing

    All in all, it was a great experience. I initially spent my first 30 minutes trying to climb completely with my entire upper body and attack each route with brute force.  Climb FAIL.  After Jordan and Chris taught me to climb using my legs and my brain, I kept my body close to the wall, moving my lower body before reaching with my arms.  This allowed me to conserve energy, actually plan out my routes, and get my ass up the wall far more successfully.

    For me, the most appealing aspect of climbing was the rating system. Each route has a particular rating based on how difficult it is.  Atlanta Rocks! has approximately 50 top-rope stations, averaging three climbing routes per rope with difficulty levels ranging from beginner (5.4) through advanced (5.13).  I spent most of my afternoon on 5.7 routes (and one 5.8 I think) and I left the gym both exhausted and excited.  The next day my arms, back, and forearms were extremely sore.  Some of those two-finger holds were brutal, but I was JUST close enough to know that I could pull them off with enough practice.  Damn you, ambition.

    Although it’s a pipe dream, I’m still holding onto hope that one day I could make it onto Ninja Warrior (the greatest TV show you’re not watching), a competition that requires incredible hand, arm, and back strength and endurance.  I can’t think of a better way to work these muscles than to constantly climb higher and more difficult routes.

    In the meantime, I might look into picking up a hanging board to get ready for Ninja Warrior’s Cliffhanger…just in case I ever make it on.

    Why YOU Should Give It a Shot

    Screen shot 2009-11-13 at 12.10.08 AM

    Successfully completing a climb is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world, especially after failing numerous times.  Jordan and Chris told me about routes that they failed on for weeks before finally making it all the way up.  How great do you think they felt when they hit the top and could move onto the next challenge?

    What if you’re a big guy/girl? Give it a shot! These climbing gyms are designed for people of all sizes and levels of fitness. Don’t underestimate yourself: even if you can’t do a single pull up, this is a great way to build up your back and arm strength until you CAN do one.  You’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish when the finish line is just a few feet above you.

    How to Get Started

    Want to give it a shot?  For starters, search for an indoor climbing gym in your area, and give them a call to get more info.  You’ll have to go through a belay-instruction class if you’re interested in learning how to tie proper knots and belay (be the guy at the other end of the rope, pulling and supporting the climber).  If you’re completely new to climbing, I’d recommend grabbing a buddy and taking a training class together.  That way, you have somebody to belay for you and vice versa.

    Overall, I found the prices to be very reasonable. My afternoon for a few hours of climbing cost me $15 for the gym time, $4 for a pair of shoes, and $3 for a harness.  Much cheaper than a night of drinking at a bar, and you wake up feeling WAY better the next day.  Plus, you’ll probably meet cuter girls at the climbing gym who already share your interests – just my opinion.

    Incredible Climbing Video

    Okay, so after watching my stupid video of climbing indoors, here’s a video of Chris Sharma – this guy will rock your face off:


    Chris Sharma Climbing Video

    What Else Should Steve Do?

    During the winter months, it’s difficult to stay motivated due to the terrible weather, so I want to try some different ways to get my heart racing.  I’ve gone rock climbing, I’ve tried Crossfit, tomorrow I’m running a 5k (in my Vibram Five Fingers!).

    What else do you want me to try out? I don’t care what it is, just try to find stuff that’s cheaper than 20 bucks.  Oh, and it can’t kill me either.  I’ll pick each activity, film my experiences while I’m there, and then write about it.

    Get creative!

    -Steve

    ###

    picture from Ground.Zero, Les Sales

    Does Late-Night Eating Cause Weight Gain?

    Screen shot 2009-11-11 at 12.10.50 AMWhen it comes to fitness and health myths: which ones are true, and which ones are full of ****?

    As you all know, this whole diet/fitness process is a constantly-evolving learning process for everybody, myself included.  I’m always trying to find ways to get smarter, learn more, save time, and get better results faster.

    Enter today’s topic.  Last week, I received an email from long time Nerd Fitness reader Jerry, who wanted me to look into the whole “late night eating myth” and find out the impact of eating late at night.  As Jerry pointed out, “Steve, you’ve said it yourself – try to limit carbs late in the afternoon, and eat a bigger breakfast, but have you ever found scientific proof to support this?”  You know what Jerry?  I haven’t!  Thank you for calling me out and making me earn my money…well I don’t exactly make any money yet, so thank you for making me earn your attention.

    The Late Night Eating Myth

    As the story goes, you should cut back on eating (carbs especially) after a certain time in the day in order to lose weight.  Because you’re active during the day and less active at night, you’re more likely to burn off those calories during the day and less likely to burn them off at night.  If they don’t get burned off, then they turn to fat.

    I’ve heard this from everybody, from fitness industry experts to actors like Daniel Craig (who wouldn’t eat carbs in the afternoons and evenings to prepare for his role as James Bond), and it seems to work for them.   I’ve seen the articles and heard the stories and passed this information onto others.  However, as Jerry stated before, I made the mistake of not digging in to find the truth before endorsing the message.  I put on my research hat (which strangely resembles a Red Sox hat) and went to work; here is what I’ve found.  Not surprisingly, I found articles that both supported and disproved the myth, which I discuss below.

    Late Night Eating DOESN’T Cause Weight Gain

    The first study that was brought to my attention came from the University of Oregon:

    “We’ve all been told at one point in our lives that we should avoid eating meals late at night as it will lead to weight gain. However, our research in rhesus monkeys, which are considered an excellent model for studying primate (man and monkey) obesity issues, showed that eating at night is no more likely to promote weight gain than eating during the day.

    491412087_bf19adbe8fAccording to the study, after providing the monkeys with a special diet, scientists observed them for a year and this was their results:

    It was really interesting to see that the monkeys who ate most of their food at night were no more likely to gain weight than monkeys who rarely ate at night,” said Elinor Sullivan, an OHSU graduate student conducting research along with Cameron at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. “This suggests that calories cause weight gain no matter when you eat them.

    Not so fast ELINOR, if that is in fact your real name.  There are quite a few things about this study that didn’t leave me 100% convinced.  First of all, monkeys might be similar to people genetically, but the fact remains that they’re monkeys, not people.  Secondly, there were some other red flags:

    To conduct this research, scientists studied 16 female rhesus monkeys that were placed on a high-fat diet similar in composition to the diet normally consumed by humans in the United States and other Western countries. During the study, all of the monkeys had their ovaries removed – this simulates a menopause-like state in female monkeys similar to human female menopause. In lower animals both high fat diet and decreased ovarian function lead to weight gain.

    My first concern is the diet: correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty confident that most people in the US are eating more high-carb diets then high-fat diets.  I’d guess most overweight people are probably both high fat and high-carbs, but I’d like to see an exact breakdown of what they ate.  Secondly, I understand this is a study on weight gain, but I don’t know what kind of variables get introduced when the ovaries of a monkey are removed.  Frankly, I don’t want to know.

    This study essentially proved that “late night eating doesn’t cause extra weight gain,” but it was conducted on post-menopausal monkeys.  One of my life lessons has always been “don’t trust post-menopausal monkeys.”  Not what happened after last time.

    Late Night Eating DOES Cause Weight Gain

    Searching for “late night eating” does cause weight gain studies, I stumbled across this article over on FLEX from May of 2006.  According to them:

    For bodybuilders who want to lose body fat, FLEX has consistently recommended avoiding carbs at night–if you’re able to replenish your muscle and liver glycogen throughout the day, then the excess you consume in the evenings will more likely be converted to fat.

    A study performed by Swiss researchers also concluded that carbs should be avoided in the evening. Subjects who ate a carb-rich meal (spaghetti and carrots) two to three hours before bedtime had both higher body temperatures and heart rates than subjects who instead ate a big carb meal in the morning. These physiological factors could [my emphasis] interfere with sleep, ultimately having a negative impact on fat loss and muscle growth.

    First of all, this comes from a magazine called “Flex” (COME ON). I rarely trust any bodybuilding magazine, as most of them are run by supplement companies.  The glycogen part makes sense to from a bodybuilding perspective (email me if you want to know why), but I’d guess few of you want to be bodybuilders.  Now, I tried to track down the Swiss study referenced (but not cited) and I couldn’t find it, which would lead me to throw it out completely.  However, let’s say for the sake of the article that the study is true.  Before I could use take this study as fact, I’d need to more information than just if they ate a big dinner vs. a big breakfast.  Did they eat more often during the day as well? Were these people who were trying to lose weight, or just random people off the street?  So many questions!

    I then found THIS article in the Wellness blog section of the New York Times: According to a study conducted by Northwestern University, “mice who ate when they normally would have been sleeping posted an average 48% increase in body weight. The mice who ate on a regular schedule had an average increase of 20%of body weight.”  Both groups of mice were fed a similar amount of food.  Pretty substantial, right?  So why don’t I buy this study?

    To begin with, I think mice are an even worse research specimen than monkeys when trying to compare to human physiology.  Next, I’d guess the mice with the mixed-up sleep schedules probably dealt with non-optimal sleep conditions.  As many of you know, not getting enough sleep can lead to stress which lead to weight gain.  Lastly, all they say is “high fat diet.”  What percentage of fat constitute a high fat diet?  What kind of fat?  What else was in there?  Were these normal lab mice, or amazing mice like Mickey?  I need to know these things.

    So Which Is It?

    Honestly, I’m not thrilled with ANY of the studies listed above. There are far too many variables, too many monkeys, and too many mice for me to take any of them seriously.  Luckily, I found a few articles that made sense to me and passed the skeptic test.  My favorite article on the topic came from Australia (woooo down under).  This is from a study done by Dr. Kangaroo (just kidding).  Rather than quote it, I’ll give you the gist:  essentially, the timing of your meal doesn’t matter; it all comes down to calories in, and calories out.

    To further solidify this position, I’d like to reference another article (that uses ACTUAL HUMAN RESEARCH – w00t).  According to the study here, the diet diaries of 800 people were tracked over a set period of time:

    Their food and calorific intake was assessed for each of five, four-hour periods stretching from 6 am to 2 am the following day. The results of this study showed that those who had consumed the bulk of their food near the end of the day ate, on average, significantly more calories than individuals who ate more substantial amounts of food early on.

    Notice it doesn’t say “those who ate more later in the day gained weight.”  It says that those who ate more later in the day tended to eat significantly more calories  than those who ate more earlier in the day.  There’s no mention of a physiological difference in people’s metabolism.  Moral of the story?  Calories in, calories out.

    This makes sense to me. It’s what we consume over the entire length of the day that determines if we gain weight or lose weight.  It’s not the times of the meals, but the total quantities of the stuff in all of the meals.  There are so many variables when it comes to how humans work – until more studies are done with ACTUAL people who ate the same amount as other people, but at different times of the day, I can’t say with a clear conscience that your metabolism processes food differently in the afternoon or evening compared to how food is processed in the mornings.

    Why It Works for So Many People

    I believe the reason “no carbs after 4PM/5PM/8PM etc.” works for so many people is because carbs are generally loaded with calories.  A giant bag of animal crackers is like 1500 calories, and a giant bag of lettuce is like 100 calories.  If you have eaten close to your calorie consumption goal for the day during the daylight hours, munching down on a carbohydrate-loaded dinner will certainly tip the equation towards “Calories Consumed” and you will gain weight.

    As stated above, people who wait until the very end of the day to eat their main meal are generally so hungry by then that they overeat, consuming too many calories.  Others that eat huge breakfasts and healthy-sized meals throughout the day are less likely to be starving when dinner rolls around so overeating is less likely.  Until proven otherwise, I believe your metabolism processes all food at a constant rate – it’s what you eat between waking up and going to sleep.  It turns out I was giving out correct advice, but I was right for the wrong reasons.  Now I know, and knowing is half the battle.

    My Advice

    Moving forward, I recommend that you find an eating schedule that works for you. I have a friend whose wife cooks him amazing dinners every night, but he’s worried the carb content will make him gain weight.  I told him that if he wants to eat a big dinner with the family (and not have to sleep on the couch), he should concentrate on eating low-calorie, high-energy meals (loaded with lean meats, vegetables, and fruits) for breakfast and lunch.

    If you want to lose weight, you need to keep track of what you’re putting in your body. Eating late at night isn’t the cause of your weight gain because of anything physiological; it’s because when you eat late at night you’re probably overeating.  If you’re worried about weight gain and you want to eat a big dinner, you need to be more thoughtful of what you eat the rest of the day.  Find something that works for you.  Honestly, just use common sense!  Be mindful of what you shovel down your throat.

    Don’t want to count calories? Cut out the processed carbs (breads, rice, wheat, cookies, crackers, etc.), stick with vegetables and fruits and lean meats, and you’ll be hard-pressed to overeat.  When it comes to food, veggies are the best: high in energy, low in calorie content.  That’s efficiency in it’s most natural form.

    Don’t want to change what you eat or count calories or stop eating late at night? You’re on the wrong site, go play some more Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (WHICH IS AWESOME), and then come back when you’re ready.

    Your Thoughts?

    What do you guys think?  Have you tried the no-carb at night thing?  Do you have to eat late-night meals due to work?  Are there factors I’m leaving out, or articles I’m not referencing that I should?

    -Steve

    Moving forward, I already have two future myths that I plan on discussing:

    • Does more meals spread throughout the day help with weight loss? (I bet you can see how this one will turn out based on today’s myth)
    • How much protein do you really need every day to build muscle?

    Let me know if there are other myths you want me to look into.  I’ll do my best to prove or disprove them.

    ###

    picture from Yasin Hassan, Chi Liu

    How to NOT Suck At Losing Weight

    This post title pays homage to Baker’s “How NOT to Suck at Blogging” over at ManVsDebt.com.  Baker’s the man, so make sure you check out his stuff!

    So you want to lose weight.

    You’ve finally hit that point where you’re ready to mix things up: you stepped on the scale and it was too damn high, you had to buy a bigger pair of pants, or you reached the top of the steps and you were exhausted.  Whatever your reasons are for reading this, I’m glad to have ya – you need to start somewhere, right?  Might as well make today the day.

    When it comes to weight loss, I’ve heard every kind of story from people who have tried and eventually quit.  The moral of each story is this: they sucked at losing weight – there was a fundamental flaw in their plan that doomed them from the start.  I want to make sure that doesn’t happen to you so you’re not wasting your time.  Before we start, please know that everything listed below is my personal opinion, based on my own research and my experiences with helping people lose weight.  Take what works for you and ignore the rest of it.

    Change your Mind

    If I were a gambling man (which I DEFINITELY am), I’d wager that you’ve tried to lose weight before.  Whether it was a specific diet, or a new fad, a weight loss challenge at work, or a diet pill that you saw on TV, you probably lost a few pounds and after two weeks you went on vacation, got sick, or found last year’s Halloween stash of Peanut M&M’s and gave up.  What we need to figure out is why were you unsuccessful in the past, and what went wrong:

    • How much did you REALLY want to lose that weight?
    • Were you willing to cut back on drinking?
    • Did you really give up fast food?
    • Did you get lazy and start ordering pizza all the time?
    • Did you half-ass it?
    • Did you get sick and give up after you got healthy?
    • Did you have one bad day and then not keep going?

    It all starts with your mental attitude.  I know that sounds lame (and it is lame), but it’s the truth.  If you’re not committed to this whole weight loss thing for the right reasons with the right attitude, it ain’t gonna work.  Some famous guy once said “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.”  Figure out what will make this time different, and recognize the old habits when they start to creep in –  if you can stay away from these triggers, you’ll have a better chance of survival.

    Your Diet is 80% of the Battle

    You can’t outrun your fork, so just going to the gym isn’t going to solve your problems.  Sure, exercise is a big part of being healthy, but it’s your diet that really takes that cake (which is better than you taking the cake.  The cake is a lie!).  I’m going to guess you probably didn’t want to spend five hours a day in the gym anyway, so this should come as good news.

    I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: if you exercise 10 hours a week (which is a considerable amount of exercise if you’re used to sitting on your ass), you still have 158 hours to screw things up.  If you want to lose weight, you absolutely need to make changes to your diet.  There’s no way around it.  Just twenty to thirty minutes a day of physical activity to get your heart race pumping is enough to keep you healthy (along with a good diet).  Find something you enjoy doing, and do it all the time.

    Don’t Blame Your Genetics

    So you have big bones, a thyroid issue, a slow metabolism, etc.  Whatever your issue…and I’m going to put this as nicely as possible…”tough sh**.”  That’s the hand you were dealt.  If you asked for 150 less pounds, the big man upstairs would say “go fish.”  You’re going to have to earn it.

    Some people can lose weight quickly.  Some people can look at a set of weights and get jacked.  Ya know what?  That’s how life works.  Wherever your starting point is, whether it’s 20, 50, 100, 200, or 500 lbs. overweight, that’s all it is: a starting point.  Some people get a head start, most don’t.  Complainers and excuse-makers suck.  The people that succeed are the ones that assess their situation, shut their mouths and get the job done.

    Don’t Diet

    Going on a diet sucks.  It’s extremely restrictive, it forces you to deprive yourself of anything tasty, and once you’re done with it you balloon right back up to where you started.  Why waste your time?  A diet will not change your life; it’s a change in your lifestyle that will change your life.  Today, you’re going to skip Taco Bell after work – not because you’re on a diet, but because the new you just doesn’t eat there.  (I don’t care that they have new special black taco shells either; it’s just food coloring).

    Now, it’s up to you to determine how different this new you really is.  The more you try to change all at once, the higher chance you’ll have at giving up.  You need to find a good balance of changes, slowly incorporating new things into your routine.  This brings me to my next point:

    Make Small Changes, Relish Small Victories

    If you try to change everything at once, you’re going to get overwhelmed.  If you generally make ten trips a week to McDonald’s and drink five cases of Mountain Dew, switching to all vegetables and water will probably drive you bonkers.

    Instead, pick one thing a week and change it. Switch from white bread to wheat bread, white rice to brown rice, regular soda to diet soda, diet soda to water, give up one extra meal a week from the BK Lounge, stop going to the vending machine at your office, etc.  Analyze your diet, find one thing a week to change, and eventually you’ll get to the point where you don’t even miss it anymore.

    Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. I guarantee that first time one of your co-workers asks, “hey, did you lose weight?” it’s going to feel amazing.  Build on that victory and keep the momentum going. A body in motion tends to stay in motion (thanks Mr. Wizard!) – once you get the ball rolling, keep it rolling.  If this week’s weigh-in isn’t as low as you had hoped, don’t let it slow you down.  Think big picture and keep doing what you’re doing.

    Use Your Brain

    3500 calories = 1 lb. of body fat.

    If you consume 500 less calories per day (or burn 5oo extra calories per day with exercise), you will lose a pound per week.  So what’s easier: saying no to a big gulp of Mountain Dew, or running 5 miles?  Doing the Dew is 500 calories.  Running five miles burns 500 calories.  Why not skip the soda and skip the five miles?  You stay even.  If you skip the soda AND run the five miles, you’ll lose a pound.  It’s really a numbers game.

    You overachieving readers are already wondering: “If 500 calories less per day will make me lose one pound, then 1000 calories will make me lose two pounds, and 1500 will help me lose three pounds…”  This is true, sorta.  You really shouldn’t aim to lose more than 1% of your body weight per week.  If you weight 200 pounds and you want to weigh 150, aim two pound loss per week.  Don’t get too greedy, or things might backfire.

    Don’t Starve Yourself

    If you plan on cutting your food intake to 600 calories a day to lose weight, it won’t work.  When you start to deprive your body of food, your body’s genetics kick in and decide to revert back to caveman times when food wasn’t abundant.  It flips on the “starvation switch”  and starts to horde every calorie that comes through your system.  Thus, you stop losing weight.  Then, when you start eating normally again your body is still in starvation mode and all of THOSE extra calories get stored too.

    Suddenly, you’re bigger than you were before.  Suck. 1-2 pounds a week is a safe, obtainable, sustainable goal. Don’t get too crazy, or your plan will backfire.

    How to Lose Weight

    Okay, so now you understand how it works.  You did your reading, and you want to know what to eat to lose weight.  You really have two options:

    • Keep eating what you’re eating now, but eat less of it.
    • Change what you’re eating.

    If you want to keep eating what you’re eating now: you’ll need to count calories.  Yeah, I know…it blows.  Well, you’re the one that wants to keep eating Firehouse Subs, Lucky Charms, and Papa John’s.  Here’s what you do: sign up for a free account at Gyminee.com and spend a few days keeping track of EVERYTHING you eat and drink.  A half a can of Coke counts,  a handful of your kid’s Goldfish count.  The two light beers after work definitely count.  I guarantee you eat more calories than you think.  After a few days, you can start pinpointing places where you can cut stuff out or reduce your portions.  At this point, it’s up to you to stick with it.

    If you don’t want to keep track of what you’re eating: You’re going to need to make some changes to your diet. First and foremost, dump the soda. Switch to diet soda if you must, but know that it might be making you fat too. Next, you need to recognize that it’s not the fat content in foods that is making you fat, it’s all of the processed carbs and starches in your foods.  What do I mean by that?  READ ON!

    Eat Real Food

    Stop loading your system with junk food.  Eat real foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meats.  GET RID of simple carbs and starches, which can be found in: cookies, soda, crackers, rice, pasta, bread, candy, cereals, bagels, french fries, juice drinks, Gatorade, sweet Tea, and so on. No matter the calorie and “fat content” of these things, it’s the carbs and sugar content that jack up your system and make you fat.

    Screen shot 2009-11-09 at 8.18.10 AM

    Although I’m actually trying to bulk up, switching to a more natural Paleo Diet (which I explain here) has caused me to lose close to 10 pounds in the past three months.  I haven’t lost any muscle, I’ve just dropped my body fat % WAY down.  If it can work for me, and it can work for tens of thousands of people across the country, it can certainly work for you.

    Give up the low-fat meals from the freezer section (they’re made in a lab with chemicals and loaded with sugar), and eat all the vegetables and lean meats and fruits you want.  If you switch to all fruits, veggies, and lean meats, you WILL lose weight.  I explain my take on the Paleo Diet in my free E-book (hey shameless slug!), but it makes a lot of sense, and it works.  As I said at the beginning, this is the lifestyle that works for me and has worked for many of my readers.

    Eat Breakfast

    This is a must.  If you skip breakfast, you’re way more likely to be starving by the time lunch rolls around and eat something stupid.  This is the most common change I see in people who have turned their lives around.  DON’T SKIP BREAKFAST.  I’m not talking donuts, bagels, or sugary cereal either.  Eat a good, high protein breakfast and you’ll have a much better day.

    Don’t Use Supplements

    This is non-negotiable.  Every single day, there’s a new ad for a weight loss supplement that promises incredible results in a short amount of time without having to do any diet or exercise change.  When something seems too good to be true, it’s because it is.

    These weight loss supplements don’t work and they can cause some serious damage to your insides.  Remember Hydroxycut? It was on the market for like 8 years before it was pulled from the shelves for being linked to liver damage.  Think about all the junk out there now.  I guarantee eight years from now some of it will have caused a few deaths.  Why risk it!

    Better safe than sorry. Losing weight should be important to you, but not at the expensive your overall health.  My advice: keep your money, spend it on a session with a dietitian or personal trainer, and thank me later.

    Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

    It’s okay to slip up.  So you drank a case of Bud Light and watched 10 hours of football on Saturday while eating an entire box of Girl Scout cookies.  Who gives a ****!  You can’t do too much damage to yourself in a weekend (unless you decide to start snorting Drain-O or something), so take it easy with your food consumption for the few days after that and get back on the train.  One or two days isn’t terrible; it’s when you let that one day snowball into a few days/a week/a month that things quickly go to hell.  Never give up, never surrender!  Buzz Lightyear would be proud.

    Make Yourself Accountable

    Tell everybody you know that you’re losing weight.  It’s one thing to let yourself down when you skip a workout and pig out every other day, it’s another when you have to tell everybody around you that you’re slacking.  Be like Tyler, who started a blog back in January to keep himself accountable and has since lost 120+ pounds.

    “But I tried that last time and then I failed, nobody is going to believe me this time.”  That should make you want to tell everybody even more to prove the doubters wrong when you are successful this time.  Accountability is a really powerful motivational tool, and it’s completely free.

    Use it.

    What Did I Miss?  What is Your Change for This Week?

    I’m sure there are a few things I left out, which need to be in here to keep people from sucking.  What did I forget? Leave in the comments and I’ll edit them into the article for future readers.

    What’s the one change you’re going to make this week?

    -Steve

    ###

    In case you missed it, here’s the other “how not to suck” post: How to NOT Suck at Working Out.

    Picture from:  Joits, Augapfel

    Inverted Rows – What They Are, and Why You Should Do Them

    When I go to the gym, I try to keep things as simple and efficient as possible.

    I’m a huge supporter of pull ups and chin ups, as those are the exercises that are a true test somebody’s fitness level in my opinion.  There’s just something inherently badass about being able to lift up your entire body, which is why competitions like Ninja Warrior require ridiculous back and bicep strength.

    I know a lot of you guys are just getting started out with your fitness training, and doing a pull up seems like an absolute impossibility. That’s okay, I’d guess that 80% of this country probably can’t do one either, so don’t beat yourself up too much.  Just because you can’t do a pull up now doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work out your back.  I have just the exercise for you instead: the inverted row.  Big thanks to Mehdi over at Strong Lifts for bringing the exercise to my attention.

    So what the hell is an inverted body weight row you ask?  GREAT QUESTION.  In fact, it’s a question I get all the time in emails, and nobody ever has any idea what I’m talking about – which is nothing new – so I figured I’d add it to the repertoire of explained exercises here on the blog.

    The Inverted Row

    3743CB32D2C136941715AF47C54F6EA.standardYou’ve probably heard of the regular barbell row.  You pick up a barbell, bend over at the waist (keeping your back straight), and pull the weight up towards your chest.  I used to love these exercises – unfortunately, I could never get the form right once I moved to heavier weights and I could never isolate my back and arms completely.  Needless to say, it was an accident waiting to happen.  Luckily, the inverted row takes care of all of that.  You get to use your body weight, and there’s no extra stress on your back.  As an added bonus, you get decent core workout too.

    This exercise has been referred to as the reverse bench press, as you grab a bar like you were getting ready to bench press it, but instead of lifting the weight down towards you, you’re pulling your body up towards the bar.  Let’s go SAT on this s.o.b. – “benchpress” is to “pushing” as “inverted row” is to “pulling.”  Balance FTW!

    Why Is the Inverted Row Is So Great

    I’m a huge fan of compound exercises, and I’m a huge fan of exercises that don’t require extensive knowledge, expensive equipment, and lots of extra bells and whistles.  An inverted row works your back, biceps, traps, and all the stabilizer muscles in between.  If you’ve been doing just pushups and bench presses, you need to start doing equal work with your back to stay in balance and away from injury.

    If you want to eventually be able to do pull ups, THIS is the exercise you need to work into your routine until you can do a full pull up.

    How To Do It

    Let’s start with the people who have access to a gym (see a variation for No-Gym people at the end).  You know I hate the Smith Machine (boooo, don’t do squats on it like this guy! bad!) for pretty much every exercise, due to the fact that it only moves straight up and down, while your body wants to move differently.  However, this is the ONE exercise where I’m okay with using it.  Here’s what you need to do:

    • Lie on the floor underneath the bar (which should be set just above where you can reach from the ground).
    • Grab the bar with an overhand grip (palms facing AWAY from you).
    • Contract your abs, and try to keep your body a completely straight line. Your ears, shoulders, hips legs, and feet should all be in a straight line.
    • Pull yourself up to the bar until your chest touches the bar.
    • Lower yourself back down.

    Here’s a video of Joe DeFranco doing an advanced version of this exercise with his feet elevated:


    Joe DeFranco – Inverted Body Weight Row

    Elevating your feet makes this exercise extremely difficult, so only do that after you’ve mastered the exercise with your feet on the floor.

    If you’re still struggling and they’re too difficult, it’s okay.  We just need to back up a few steps.  Set the bar higher on the Smith machine so that when you lean back, your body isn’t at a 90 degree angle; maybe it’s only at a 45 degree angle.  This example video here shows a guy doing the exercise at less of an angle.  It takes more of your body weight out of the equation.  As you get stronger (and/or lose weight), you’ll be able to drop the bar until you’re parallel when pulling yourself up.

    Some tips and tricks:

    • Don’t let your ass sag (on purpose anyway…maybe you have a saggy ass – not my place to judge).
    • Don’t flail your elbows. Grab the bar with your hands a little closer than you would if you were doing a bench press, and keep your elbows at that angle from your body.
    • Pull the bar towards the middle of your chest. Don’t pull the bar up towards your throat, or down towards your belly button.  Right in the middle!
    • Keep your abs tight. Keep your abs tight throughout the whole routine.  Your body should be a straight line the whole time, and the only thing moving is your arms
    • Think of pulling your shoulder blades together at the top of the exercise.
    • GO all the way. Don’t half-ass it.  Lower yourself until your arms are completely extended, and raise yourself until your chest touches the bar.

    When should you do this exercise

    When I go into a gym, my time is extremely limited, and I’m working towards developing strength.  I’ll try to do one leg exercise (either squats or deadlifts), followed by a pushing exercise (either bench press or overhead press), and then a pulling exercise (pull ups or inverted rows).  Here’s a sample two day split for me:

    • Day 1: Squats, bench press, inverted rows, dips
    • Day 2: OFF
    • Day 3: Deadlifts, Overhead Press, Pull Ups (or chin ups), Planks (Floor Swipes).
    • Day 4: OFF

    Both days work my full body, I can do a full routine in less than 40 minutes, and I’m building strength.  If you can’t do dips on Day 1, you can do pushups.  If you can’t do pull ups on day 2, you can substitute assisted pull ups or lat pull downs (although I don’t like lat pull downs very much).

    On the rows, aim for 3 sets of 10. If you can’t do that, do 3 sets to exhaustion, and build your way up to 3 sets of 10.  Once you can do that, put your feet up on a chair, throw some weights in a backpack, put it on reverse (so the bag is hanging in front of you), and then do the rows.

    What if I don’t have a gym?

    Just because you don’t have access to a gym doesn’t mean you can’t work out your back, you just need to get VERY creative.  Try these few things for example:

    • Get a really thick wooden dowel or pipe, something strong enough to support your weight.  Lie it across two of your kitchen chairs, and then lie down underneath it.  Make sure its sturdy, and the bar isn’t going to break/move on ya, and pull yourself up.
    • Use your kitchen table. Or your desk (if it’s in the middle of the room and doesn’t have a back.  Be very careful on this one.  Lie underneath your table so your head and shoulder are sticking out above it.  Grab the table edge with an overhand grip, and pull yourself up (just like it’s explained above).  Warning, don’t pull the table over with you, and make sure you’re not gonna break the thing.  Obviously this is a pretty crude way to get the job done, but it works.

    Don’t forget, you want to stay in balance. Don’t just do push ups at home if you can help it, try to work out your back too.  If you don’t have a pull up bar, find a way to do some body weight rows whether it’s between two chairs or under a table.  You’re smart, get creative.

    Here’s a video of me explaining how to do Inverted Body Weight Rows using just my kitchen table:


    Inverted Body Weight Rows Nerd Fitness Video

    Do You Care?

    Before I sign off for the day, I want to get your opinion on something.  I’ve done 5 of these exercise posts now, and I probably have a few more I want to get done (just to cover the basic compound exercises that I love).  Is my description and these videos enough for you?  Or would you rather have me film my own video and explain it all that way?

    I’m just trying to be a little more transparent and helpful, so let me know what you think.  If  you want me to start filming some exercise videos (don’t worry, I’ll wear lots of spandex and put on some crappy techno – thanks Tripp), let me know and I’ll see what I can do.  I don’t exactly have access to a gym that would let me film in there, but I’ll see what I can do.

    Happy Friday everybody, don’t eat TOO many chicken wings this weekend. My plan is to watch lots of football, read through Spark, and hopefully beat GTA IV.

    -Steve

    Related Articles:

    picture source: MSN health

    Is Barefoot Running Really Better For You?

    Screen shot 2009-11-04 at 12.24.17 AM

    What if I told you running barefoot was a safer than wearing the latest $200 state-of-the-art, clinically-designed running shoe…is that something you might be interested in?

    Sounds ridiculous, right? You’d might even call me crazy, which would then make you crazy by default because you’re yelling at your computer…either way I win.

    Now, what if I told you Ethiopian Abebe Bikila ran a world-record 2:15:17 marathon at the 1960 Olympics in Rome…barefoot. Starting to at least see there may be some truth to this madness?  I want to discuss my the pros and cons of ditching your shoes, my experiences with running barefoot, and then teach you HOW to run barefoot if you’re will to give it a shot.

    How I ended up barefoot…kinda

    I few months ago, I went to the local Nike Store and picked up a pair of expensive running shoes designed to provide the “most support and padding.” As I was walking to the checkout counter, I walked past a pair of Nike Free shoes. They looked interesting, so I asked about them; the lady behind the counter responded: “oh, those are shoes meant to mimic barefoot running, which means you have practically no padding under your feet.  They’re pretty uncomfortable.”  I shrugged my shoulders, then bought my new kicks.

    Fast-forward a month: my buddy Saint up in Massachusetts, the one who lost 33 pounds in 12 weeks, tells me about these funky feet-glove things called Vibram Five-Finger shoes (pictured below).  A few quick searches on the internet leads me to stories and stories and stories about how amazing they are.  In fact, Tim Ferriss, life hacker extraordinaire, wrote quite the article on these shoes, explaining they cured his chronic back pain in a matter of weeks.  They looked ridiculous, and they sounded too good to be true – I went out and picked up a pair the next day.

    It’s now been two months, and my $100 running shoes are collecting dust in the closet. I wear my Vibrams to the gym every day and on an occasional jog (which I actually ENJOY now).  The first time I went running “barefoot,” my entire running style had somehow changed immediately.  I no longer took long strides and landed on my heels; instead, I took short powerful strides and landed as softly as possible on the balls of my feet.  This wasn’t done intentionally, it’s just kind of how my body adapted to running barefoot.  Considering my form changed instantly, everything suddenly clicked: this is how we are naturally designed to run!

    My excitement at this ‘discovery’ was quickly overshadowed by the pain in my calves.  Despite only running for 10 minutes, it was apparently enough to keep my calves sore for many days afterward.  Why?  Thanks to modern running shoes, our feet, Achilles tendons, and calves have essentially atrophied from non-use. Remember the scene in the Matrix where Neo wakes up for the first time in the “real world” and asks Morpheus, “Why do my eyes hurt?” Do you remember Morpheus’s response?

    “Because you’ve never used them before.”

    Whoa.

    Vibram-Five-Fingers

    Barefoot Goes Mainstream

    Now, the barefoot running concept has been around for quite a while (thousands and thousands of years to be exact), but thanks to books like Born to Run (which I reviewed here), recent articles in the New York Times, and products like FiveFingers shoes, the concept of barefoot running is coming out of the shadows and back into the spotlight.

    According to Chris McDougal, author of Born To Run, injury rates among runners has remained virtually unchanged despite thirty years of technological advancements and hundreds of clinical studies and “improvements.”  Why is it that we can put man on the moon, clone sheep, and create the internet (thanks Al Gore!) but we can’t cut down on running injuries? Why is it that Nike has spent hundreds of millions of dollars developing the world’s most comfortable running shoes, and then suddenly decides to develop a shoe at the other end of the spectrum (the Nike Free) with virtually no padding?  My guess is that they might have discovered that their shoes are possibly doing more harm than good.  Can that be proven though?  That’s what I wanted to know.

    Studies on Barefoot Running

    Before I went out and purchased my crazy ninja-gorilla shoes, I made sure to do the proper research and make sure they’re the real deal.  I found testimonial after testimonial of people whose chronic injuries disappeared and running times improved since switching to barefoot.  However, I wanted to track down some actual statistics and scientific studies to support all of these stories.

    According to This Australian study:

    • Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of ankle sprains, either by decreasing awareness of foot position or by increasing the twisting torque on the ankle during a stumble.
    • Running in shoes appears to increase the risk of plantar fasciitis and other chronic injuries of the lower limb by modifying the transfer of shock to muscles and supporting structures.

     

    My take: Although I haven’t done extensive long-distance running barefoot myself, I’ve done enough to understand why these conclusions make sense.  Add my experiences with the thousands and thousands of people who have become injury-free since making the switch and I can’t help but believe these barefoot people are onto something.  The author of the study goes on to say that more studies must be completed as the studies that were completed in developing countries had too many variables to be considered 100% factual proof.  However, I will bet my life savings (currently $12.30; $6.30 if I decide to eat lunch today) that more controlled studies from the United States are right around the corner.

    I still wanted more proof, so I stumbled across this great marathon article: Daniel Lieberman, a professor of biological anthropology at Harvard University (oooooooh, nerd alert):

    When you walk, you land on your heel, but during running you land toward the middle of your foot on your plantar arch.  The arch acts as a spring, stretching and then recoiling, not only helping to cushion the impact of the collision with the ground, but also to help push the body into the air. Laboratory studies show that the plantar arch alone returns at least 17 percent of the energy of impact. Running shoes have largely replaced our arches, but they are neither as effective nor as durable. Barefoot runners can clearly do as well as shod runners, but it takes time to develop the strength in the foot to use our natural arch fully.

    Lieberman then goes on to say that “people don’t run barefoot any more simply because they don’t have to,” he said. “The barefoot running movement is wonderful evidence of how good the human foot is for doing one of the most natural and fundamental of all human activities—endurance running.”

    Alongside all the anecdotal evidence, these are two pretty strong cases in favor of ditching your shoes. However, there are certainly plenty of reasons why you SHOULDN’T run barefoot.  In the spirit of good discussion, I’m hoping this becomes the greatest debate since Frank the Tank defeated James Carville on the topic of the government’s role in supporting innovation in the field of biotechnology.  On with the negatives!

    What’s Wrong With Barefoot Running?

    For every person that shouts the benefits of running barefoot, there are 10 people ready to explain why it’s such a ridiculous concept.  If you take a look at the previously stated New York Times article, a majority of the comments at the end of the article come from people who have tried running sans shoes and love it, or they come from people who immediately discredit it despite having never tried it.  Some of those arguments are below:

    Argument: Your feet are going to get destroyed – sure we might have adapted to run barefoot through thousands of years of evolution, but our feet haven’t adjusted to modern technology and surfaces like concrete and asphalt. Factor in loose rocks, garbage, dog sh*t, etc. and running barefoot is NOT smart.

    Counterargument: Fair point.  However, if you start paying attention to where you are running you won’t have these problems.  If you are concerned with stepping on infectious stuff, try a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes, which have a thick tough underskin to protect you from debris.  I have been running on asphalt, but I can see how running on concrete could cause problems.

    Argument: It’s too damn cold to run barefoot.  My feet will get frosbite.

    Counterargument: I completely agree, which makes me sad because I like running barefoot.  I think I’m going to get a pair of low heel running shoes for the winter because I don’t want my toes to freeze.

    Argument: “If running barefoot is so great, why aren’t barefoot runners setting records?” The same NYT article cited a race in which none of the runners who mimicked a barefoot style (type of stride and foot-placement) won.  They concluded from this study that this style of running does not make you faster.

    Counterargument: I think this article is ridiculous for using this as a source, as it’s not whether or not they win, but if they’re run faster relative to themselves.  Sure the people with the barefoot style might not have won, but they might have finished faster than if they had run with a more conventional style.  The winners of the race might have run even FASTER if they had been training barefoot style, or they could have been slower.  We don’t know.  Essentially, this ‘source’ is full of holes and variables and cannot be used to either credit or discredit barefoot running.

    Argument: “What about flat footed people? Without special orthopedics your foot will get even more mangled.”

    Counterargument: I need to find more studies to support this theory, but if we are to believe Tim Ferriss (and I do trust the man): “[going ‘barefoot’ in the Vibrams] has been nothing short of spectacular for me, despite my history of flat feet.  I’ve found that my arches, and foot as a whole, feels better with less support rather than more.”

    I’m sure there are quite a few more reasons to keep your uber-comfortable Nikes, so please post your arguments in the comments.

    Why I Support Barefoot Running

    After reading countless studies, dozens and dozens of articles, and speaking with tons of people about their experiences with running barefoot, I decided to throw caution into the wind and take the plunge.  Since making the switch, I have become a full time convert.  Other than the articles stated above, here are my reasons:

    • It makes sense to me! We’ve survived as a species for untold millennia without the use of shoes.  It’s only in the past 30+ years that we have decide to move away from unpadded shoes, trying to fix what wasn’t broken.  I ran cross-country for a year in high school and dealt with shin splints on a weekly basis: I haven’t had one issue since switching to barefoot running other than sore calves, which is already getting better
    • It’s fun, and it gets me running. I hate running, but now that I have these Vibrams I actually enjoy it.  I’m even considering running a 5k or 10k in them to raise money for a charity.
    • It makes sense for training. I exercise in my Vibrams for the same reason I use free weights instead of exercise machines at the gym. When you use machines, your movement is limited in two directions, robbing you of the use of all of your stabilizer muscles to keep things steady. Running in sneakers is no different. There are 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles and tendons in the human foot. When you wear shoes, those muscles don’t get used. Running barefoot builds strength in your feet, ankles, and calves.
    • My only problem with Vibram Five-Finger shoes: I can’t get my damn workouts done, because I have to take out my headphones every three seconds to explain to somebody new why I’m wearing gorilla-feet.

    How to Run Barefoot

    Okay, so hopefully now you’re at least willing to give this crazy concept a shot. First things first: you aren’t just changing your shoes.  You are changing your running STYLE too, which will keep you from getting injured. Rather than try to explain it to you myself, I’ll borrow from the guys who know what they’re doing:

    The barefoot running technique has been described as falling forward. It has also been described as gently kissing the ground with the balls of your feet. If you need one more concept to meditate on while running barefoot, imagine that a log is lying across the path in front of you; you don’t want to kick the front of the log with your toes. You want to step over the log with each step, keeping your knee bent and placing the ball of your foot immediately behind the log as your chest moves over the top of it.

    Here’s a video from Chris McDougal, author of Born to Run. Watch the video and notice how different his running style probably is from yours:


    Born to Run

    Chris recently wrote a Men’s Health Article on how to run barefoot – “Imagine your kid is running into the street and you have to sprint after her in bare feet,” he says. That’s the visual: “You’d automatically lock into perfect form — you’d be up on your forefeet, with your back erect, head steady, arms high, elbows driving, and feet touching down quickly on the forefoot and kicking back toward your butt.” And then, to build the strength and balance to maintain that form over long distances, use the heel, hips, and hills principle.

    1. Wear the most neutral, low-heeled running shoe that feels comfortable.
    2. Keep your hips dead under your shoulders and dead above your feet.
    3. Use big hills to iron out the rest of the wrinkles. “You can’t run uphill powerfully with poor bio-mechanics,” Orton says. “Just doesn’t work. If you try landing on your heel with a straight leg, you’ll tip over backward.”

    Some Precautions

    Don’t forget Neo, you’re opening your eyes for the first time.  Here are some tips for ya:

    • Take it slow. Try 5-10 minutes a day of walking barefoot, work your way up to 10-15 minutes of jogging every 3 days, and eventually get back to your normal jogging routine. If you try to push it too hard too quickly, you can do some serious damage to your feet and calves which will keep you off the roads for quite a while.
    • Stretch! Make sure you stretch after each walk and run.  This will help eliminate the crazy soreness after the first few rounds.
    • Try Vibrams if you’re afraid of running completely barefoot.  I went with the black Vibram KSO’s, as they looked the most normal.
    • Take a look at these shoes if you’re running in bad weather. If you can’t run barefoot, you can still work on your barefoot running style.
    • Run on grass when possible, go with asphalt over concrete. Get started on grass if possible, as that will provide the most cushion when you’re just starting out.  However, running on tough surfaces will certainly make you adjust that running style quickly!
    • Have fun with it. I run “barefoot” because it gets me excited about running.  Whatever it takes to get you off your ass and out of the house, go with that: shoes or no shoes, I don’t care.

    Yup, that was definitely the longest post I have ever written. If you’re still awake at this point, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  If you’ve tried running barefoot and loved it, tell the world.  If you’ve tried it and hated it, I want to know about it.  Think the studies above are full of crap?  Explain why!

    What say you, NF Community?  Barefoot: yay or nay?

    -Steve

    Additional barefoot resources:

    Picture from: Nicholas_T

    Are Personal Trainers a Waste of Time?

    A note from Steve: I wrote this post last night at 2AM waiting for some videos to upload for work, and then the entire post was lost thanks to me accidentally hitting “save” on wordpress when the internet crashed.  So, this post was re-written in a state of delirium this morning, so I apologize for the grammatical errors and sub-par quality.  I’ll go back through and fix tonight when I get a chance.  On with the post!

    Every other morning, I go into my gym around 8AM. I walk past five or six trainers, each with their respective clients (generally overweight), either sitting at a machine or doing some crazy ass-cross training.  These clients are generally beet-red and sweating like crazy, which means their trainers are doing their job, right?  However, Despite meticulous planning, a carefully thought-out routine, and ‘peak fat-burning efficiency’ workout, the people that I see with trainers for a long period of time often stay fat.  In fact, I see a few people in this gym that haven’t changed since I started working out there back in December of 2007.  So what hell is going on?  Why aren’t these people turning their lives around?  I think there are a number of reasons, but a few stand out above others.  Let’s see why most trainers aren’t successful, why they’re necessary, and then my experiences with a trainer and AS a trainer.  Let’s start with the bad stuff:

    You Can’t Outrun Your Fork

    Think about it: let’s say you’re wealthy and insane and you spend 10 hours a week with a personal trainer (most people spend only 1 or 2).  That still leaves 158 hours a week for you to screw it all up.  If you have a really crappy diet, there probably aren’t enough hours in the day for you to burn off the excess calories.  Secondly, I’m gonna guess that there are always emergencies that come up: you get sick, your kid gets sick, you need to take your dog to the vet, you take your sick kid to the vet and your dog to the hospital accidentally, whatever it is.  Stuff comes up, life happens, and you miss a workout.  If you’re used to eating 5000 calories a day and burning off 2000 of them in the gym in marathon gym sessions, your weight loss train will get derailed really quickly.

    A Trainer Shouldn’t Be Your First Step

    Developing a workout routine is probably the 3rd thing you should address when you want to get in shape.  Your 2nd thing is your diet, and your first thing is your mental attitude.  I realize this sounds really cheesy, but it’s true.  If you show up to a gym with a crap attitude and crappy diet, that trainer is already wasting his time and your time.  Luckily for him, he’s making money on your wasted time.  What are you getting?  It’s like hiring an awesome builder to come in and build on top of a crappy foundation.  Sure the house might turn out okay, but most likely it’s gonna fall apart.  Suck.

    Once you decide you’re going to turn your life around, you need to decide what’s important to you: that extra donut in the morning, or the satisfaction being able to fit into your old clothes.  Do you want to be able to play ultimate Frisbee for more than 5 minutes and not get winded, or is that Firehouse Sub really worth the 15 minutes of satisfaction?  By the way, sorry Firehouse Subs, you just happen to be the Kryptonite for my friend Jordan.  If you’re gonna turn your life around, you know that a change MUST be made in your diet first if you want to see long term results.

    Most Trainers Aren’t Dietitians

    If your diet accounts for 80-90% of your success, your trainer can only do so much for you in a one hour session every other day at the gym. Sure they can tell you how to eat right, strongly encourage you to eat right, but they’re probably not gonna help you with your grocery shopping and then force the right food down your throat.  When I moved to San Diego I was fortunate enough to get a trainer who told me exactly what to eat and how much of it to eat.  Of course, after that it was on me to actually stick with it.

    Now, that’s if your trainer is nice enough to actually care about what you eat…which brings me to my next point.

    Some Trainers Just Don’t Care

    To borrow from Office Space, it’s not that they’re lazy, it’s that they just don’t care.  With the economy in the crapper, everybody is doing everything they can to make a buck these days.  In a chain gym, I’d guess that more than half the trainers there took the one-day certification, passed a test, and then started training clients with their limited knowledge.  Before I started this website, I took a basic personal trainer certification to add some legitimacy to a a new fitness website.  Of course, after getting that certification I continued to further my education by reading every book I could find, studying videos, watching other trainers in action, and subscribing to over a hundred fitness blogs that I read on a daily basis.  I’m not an expert (as I’m still relatively new to the field of health and fitness compared to the guys who have been at it forever), but I like to think that I know enough to help people and I just care more than others.

    After getting my certification, I immediately started Nerd Fitness and dumped all my free time into running this site.  I could have started training clients and impacted a few lives (hopefully), but instead I had bigger plans, and wanted to create a place where I could influence others, who could then help and influence their friends, and eventually develop an army of super-strong nerds that could one day take over the world.  Up until this point, I’ve made exactly $0 with Nerd Fitness, and I could care less.  Every other day I get an email from somebody new that’s turning their life around, and that makes me happy.

    Why Trainers are Important

    Despite everything I’ve said above, I cannot stress the importance of what a great trainer can do for you, which is why I recommend that everybody go to a trainer at least once or twice when they start at a gym.  All of the best athletes and weight lifters in the world have trainers, I’d LOVE to have a trainer (if I could afford one), and starting out years ago I wish I had one.  This is why:

    • If you’re brand new to a gym, you’ve already decided to turn your life around, and you don’t know what you’re doing, a trainer is invaluable (that means really valuable right? if not, that’s what I was going for).  A trainer can assess your current level of fitness, hopefully give you some diet advice, and then teach you exactly how to do each exercise.  Deadlifts and squats without proper super vision suck, as you can’t tell if you’re doing them right and you could develop some bad habits.
    • A trainer makes you accountable. If you paid 50 bucks for a gym session with a great trainer, there is no way you’re skipping it because you’re tired.
    • A trainer can spot you, offer words of encouragement, and push you just outside of your comfort zone to get results.  I get 10-20% more out of a workout when somebody is yelling at me.  It’s just how it works.
    • A trainer can help you get through plateaus and mix up your routine for maximum effectiveness. When it comes to fitness, it’s much easier to follow somebody else’s plan (if you know it works) than it is to create your own.

    Of course, all of this stuff above only applies to GOOD trainers, so make sure you shop around and find a good one.  Go to your gym and ask other members which trainers are the best.  If you see a fat guy with a trainer and he’s been using him for 3 years, maybe you should try somebody else.  Don’t just go with whoever they give you, because I guarantee most gyms put very little thought into who trains who.  It’s all about the benjamins, baby.

    What About You?

    Ever used a trainer?  Was it a waste of money, or did it change your life? Let me know, and let others know how you went about selecting your trainer and if it worked out for you. I’m sure there are plenty of us you all in the same boat!

    Thanks for bearing with me today guys, have a great weekend.

    -Steve

    If you haven’t already done so, download my free E-Book, “A Newbie’s Guide to Fitness,” and If you like what you see, please sign up for the RSS Feed of Nerd Fitness or get NF posts daily via email.

    Can Diet Coke Make You Fat?

    Soda. Coke. Pop.

    ept_sports_nba_experts-686956474-1256580685Whatever you call your carbonated beverage (it’s SODA, by the way), you’re probably already aware of how terrible it is for you.  Other than rotting your teeth, it’s also a huge reason there are so many overweight people in this country.  Check out this crazy story posted yesterday: Caron Butler (pictured) of the Washington Wizards was so addicted Mountain Dew that when he gave it up this summer, losing 11 lbs in the process, he went through actual withdrawals:

    To try and give this up was crazy for me! I was going through withdrawals. I was in the bed sweating. My wife would turn over in the bed and ask “Are you OK?” Honestly, those first two weeks without The Dew [were] the roughest two weeks of my life. I’m talking headaches, sweats and everything. Before that I drank at least six 12-ounce Mountain Dews a day.

    I know if you Google “soda weight loss,” you’ll find 2 million hits on how terrible these beverages are for you…so I won’t get into it.  Instead, I wanted to take a look at the effect of DIET soda on weight loss.  I know there are conflicting reports on whether or not this stuff can actually make you fat.

    My Initial Thoughts Before Research

    Diet soda has zero calories (generally) and zero actual sugar, which means it can’t directly make you gain weight, right?  A normal 20 oz. Coke, on the other hand, has 240 calories and 68 grams of sugar (holy ****), which definitely causes weight gain.  Now, if diet soda doesn’t have calories, it can’t contribute to the calorie equation (calories consumed vs. calories burned), which means diet soda alone can’t make you bigger.  However, is Diet Coke responsible for insulin spikes and increased appetite, which would indirectly cause weight gain?  Time to put on my nerd researcher cap and see what I can track down.

    Sources I Don’t Trust

    If you look up “diet coke weight gain,” you’ll find all kinds of articles that say Diet Coke is the devil.  Unfortunately, some of these articles site no sources and are written by people who are trying to sell their own supplements.  Other sites say that Diet Coke is perfectly fine for you, as it has no calories and therefore no ill effect (I would guess these articles are written by people who chug DC by the gallon).  As hopefully you’ve learned, not everything on the internet is true (shocking), and when it comes to fitness and diet our bodies are so complex that things are very rarely so black and white.

    Sources I  Do Trust

    After reading some of the crazy extremist websites, I tried to track down some actual studies (and not hearsay) that could prove or disprove the effects of diet drinks.  I came across this study from the San Antonio Heart Study, where the amount of diet soda consumed directly coincided with an increased chance of weight gain:

    “On average, for each diet soft drink our participants drank per day, they were 65 percent more likely to become overweight during the next seven to eight years, and 41 percent more likely to become obese,” said Sharon Fowler, M.P.H., faculty associate in the division of clinical epidemiology in the Health Science Center’s department of medicine.”

    Now, because diet studies always take place with people of various levels of health, wealth, genetics, and social standing, along with thousands of other variables that take place, I’m hesitant to place the blame squarely on Diet Coke.  Maybe the people who drink Diet Coke generally don’t take into consideration what constitutes a healthy diet, while people who don’t drink it generally could be more knowledgeable about their diets and thus eat better?  Maybe the heavy DC drinkers work stressful jobs (and ‘need’ the caffeine to stay alert), and the stress along with poor diet choices (from working late) is causing their weight gain?  I don’t know the full reasons and more research must be done, but the strong correlation between the two has me definitely leaning towards the “Diet Coke can make you fat” camp.  My defense your honor? Better safe than sorry.

    I then came across this fantastic video on YouTube, already cued up to the proper part of the conversation where it talks about the effects of diet soda on your waistline.  I’m no scientist, but the guy makes a lot of great points in an easy to understand fashion.  Once again, I don’t have a scientific background (I was an Econ major in college), but after reading a few books on the effects of acidity and alkalinity on our diet, I would tend to agree with the makers of this video.

    My Problem With Diet Soda

    My big problem with Diet Coke is that I don’t know what the hell is in it.   I mean, if it tastes like soda, but doesn’t have any calories at all…what the eff are they putting in there?  Vin Miller over at NaturalBias.com (who is not surprisingly biased towards eating natural foods) breaks down the new ingredients in Coke Zero and Pepsi Max.  I’m a big fan of Vin’s and I certainly respect his opinion, as he always tends to lean towards the healthier/safer side of things.  Some of these can’t be good for you, no matter what the FDA says.  Speaking of which, I’m growing less and less trusting of the FDA by the day.  Check out this article where FDA scientists accuse their own administration of running the organization like the Mob.  Yikes.

    My Conclusion

    In my personal opinion, I’d say Diet Coke is the lesser of two evils if you’re trying to lose weight.  However, it’s still created in a lab with unnatural elements, and there are studies that have shown people who drink the stuff are more likely to be overweight.  Whether it’s directly the cause or simply part of a larger problem still needs to be shown, but the numbers don’t lie.  I think people who switch from a case of Mountain Dew a day to a case of Diet Mountain Dew are still going to have all kinds of health problems anyway…just a hunch. Regardless of what the FDA says, I’m not convinced that the stuff in Diet Coke and Coke Zero isn’t harmful, and I’m not convinced that because it has littler or no calories it can’t make you gain weight. Better safe than sorry, right?

    My Recommendation

    I recommend that you cut back on soda/sugary drinks as much as possible, even if they’re diet, if you’re trying to lose weight.  Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, give it up!  It’s not good for you.  If you’re drinking soda, don’t do so at the expense of your water consumption.  If you need “fuel” for a marathon session of Aion (a new MMORPG my friends are hooked on), you better be double-fisting some high-quality H20 with that diet Dew.  If you think water is too boring, you have to decide what’s more important: your health or your sweet tooth.

    Now It’s Your Turn

    These are my thoughts and opinions, but what do I know? I’d love to hear some actual stories from you guys and how soda and diet soda has affected your weight loss and health.  If you’ve given up regular soda and switched to diet and lost a lot of weight I want to know.  If you’re struggling to lose weight but you can’t kick your Diet Coke habit, I want to hear about it.

    Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

    -Steve

    ###

    Previous Next View Archive