Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lost Video

I was digging around on my computer to get rid of old files and found this little gem. Frankly, it's pretty embarrassing, but it's evidence that I did indeed achieve my 6-pack ab goal (not that anyone accused me of Photoshopping my photos). This was recorded on 2/10/11, so I wasn't quite to my final condition yet. I was a little more "cut" a couple of weeks later.
I doubt anyone will see this (since this blog is pretty much dead), but I wanted to post it for the record.


Sunday, February 27, 2011

FINAL RESULTS

Yes, I've reached the end of the challenge posed to me by online running friend Chris K. With apologies for the long post, here are my thoughts...

OVERVIEW
Here's how I approached things during my 15 week odyssey:

EXERCISE
• I lifted weights 2-3 times per week (twice/week toward the end) and did cardio 2-4 times/week (3-4x/week toward the end). I usually split my workouts into pushing muscle groups and pulling muscle groups, doing 2-3 sets per exercise of 8-12 reps per set, not quite to failure. I tried to hit all major muscle groups to keep my body development balanced.

• I received several questions regarding how many situps/crunches/ab exercises I did every day. The answer is…not nearly as many as you may think. I worked them hard, but like any muscle, they need rest to recover and rebuild. I did roughly 250 situps per week, with maybe 60 of those being weighted (i.e. while holding a dumbbell on my chest). More on this in the summary.

DIET
I planned my nutritional approach in five stages:
        1. same basic diet as my regular diet, but slightly smaller portions (weeks 1-5)
        2. removal of all beer & sodas from diet (weeks 6-15)
        3. removal of all sweets & refined sugars from diet (weeks 8-15)
        4. uniform eating plan (final month), with calorie & macronutrient counts
        5. high protein, low carb (3 days during wk 14...which I abandoned)

WHAT I LEARNED
• Getting defined abs is much more about diet than it is about doing situps & crunches until you're blue in the face. You can have well developed abdominal muscles, but if there's a layer of fat over them, no one will know. So to all of those silly infomercials telling us you can sculpt rock-hard abs by using their gizmo 5 minutes a day...get real.

•  The calorie deficit really started affecting my strength toward the end, as I lost both strength and endurance. During my stretch drive (roughly a month out), I started counting calories, feeling that I couldn't really get a handle on what my intake level was doing to my body without the numbers.

• It's REALLY difficult to get razor-sharp definition. I wanted to be even sharper than this, but I'll admit that my heart wasn't into it at the end. Again, more elaboration in the next section.

• It was fun to see the physical changes during this process. I've been relatively lean my entire life, yet never lean enough to have a clearly-defined "six-pack." There were times when the day-to-day changes weren't noticeable, but there were also days when I suddenly DID notice them. Seeing direct results from your efforts is motivating.

THINGS I WOULD DO DIFFERENTLY
• I wouldn't restrict my calories as much. I was at roughly 1800-1900 calories per day in the early stages of the final month, but whittled them down to around 1500 per day, not trusting my body to reduce fat enough without the restriction. As I knew from reading many articles (and several books by leanness guru Clarence Bass), my body went into fasting mode and I actually lost more muscle than fat for a period of time.

• Watch the sodium intake. I dipped a little too low for me and probably dropped my blood pressure too much, as I was getting dizzy and nearly blacking out whenever I stood up several days in a row. This subsided when I bumped my intake back up (to ~1000mg/day, from about 500mg/day).

• I would also not try the high protein/low carb approach again. For a few days, I was eating 12 oz of chicken breasts per day, along with broccoli, black beans and egg whites and nonfat milk (with a few nuts & no-salt/no-sugar peanut butter), and that's it. By the third day, the thought of continuing made me nauseaus. Plus, the chicken felt like a brick in my stomach, as it didn't want to pass through. Yes, I lost a few lbs during those brief days, but it wasn't worth it. Once I returned to the previous calorie level, with the brown rice, other veggies and oatmeal, I felt better and my body composition actually improved (as did my mood). As the above mentioned Clarence Bass has also said, you won't continue with a diet & exercise plan if it's not an enjoyable experience. While I enjoyed about 85% of this process, that dreaded 15% was enough to make the later stages of this journey harder to endure. A bit more moderation could have changed that for the better.

• There were several weeks early on where I wasn't seeing much progress at all. Plateaus happen, and sometimes all it takes is just a minor change in diet and/or exercise to get things moving again.

• I was relatively lean going into this, so in reality I didn't need to make as many adjustments as I did. My personality is such that I aim at a target and charge toward it full-bore, consequences be damned, with the belief that nothing will stop me. That often leads me to overdoing things…which I did during this adventure. Yes, my goal was met, but I think with a little more "balance" (my key word for 2011, if you read my running blog), I could have gotten to this point with a bit less discomfort. I probably should have tightened my diet a little sooner, but not to the extreme I did during the later stages. I think I hit on the right combination early in my "calorie counting" stage (1800-1900 cal/day, along with the "clean carbs"). Unfortunately I didn't feel it was enough to get the job done. Lesson learned.

I believe I can continue staying pretty lean for the long-haul, although I'm not sure I can maintain a very low bodyfat level. I honestly don't know what my percentage is in the photos, as I don't have an accurate way to measure, but if I had to take an educated guess, I'd say somewhere around 7-8%. So, as of my 44th birthday, I'm leaner than I've ever been.

So, Chris K, who once commented "I bet you can't do it"...thanks for the challenge ;-)

Oh, a very special thanks to my wife and kids for tolerating my dietary disruptions and mood swings.

And with all that said, here are the photos (including some "bonus shots"):



Monday, February 14, 2011

Week 13 — Finish Line In Sight

Just two weeks to go in this project, and I have mixed feelings...on many levels. I'll explain. Today, I had a Valentine's Day lunch with my lovely wife at a local restaurant. I semi-splurged, with half a chicken salad sandwich, lentil soup and Italian bread with olive oil. I topped it off with a mini Hershey's chocolate. Not a big deal, right? Probably not...but I'm so zeroed in on my goal that I'm a bit confounded because I don't have nutritional numbers from the meal to enter into my spreadsheet (I probably don't want to see them anyway)! Eh, one stinking meal isn't going to destroy all the work I've done, but that's where my head is at right now. Other conflicting feelings I have relate to wanting to loosen my diet when this is all over, but at the same time I don't want to dismiss the many months of hard work and obliterate my abs right after I get them chiseled! Add to that the desire to put a little weight back on (I look muscular in the photos, but with clothes on I'm actually pretty skinny), and you can see I'm all over the place mentally.

With all that said, I'm really happy I've done this. It has taught me not only how my body reacts to specific diet and exercise plans, but that, with discipline and focus, anything can be accomplished. It has also provided a nice distraction from my "not being able to run" woes.

This past week — the first in which I've dutifully tracked every bit of nutritional information of everything I've shoved into my mouth — has been interesting.There have been days where I think I'm really getting sharp, and days where my definition seems to blur. As mentioned in a previous post, I also came to realize that my sodium intake was too low. The last two days, I've bumped that up nearly two-fold.

In case you're having trouble sleeping, here are my average daily nutritional stats from the previous week:

Calories: 1878
Protein: 117g (26.6%)
Carbs: 276g (63.8%)
Fat: 41g (9.5%)
Sodium: 662mg

I'm not going to post photos next week, but will wait until the "reveal" on my birthday (Feb. 28th). I know, you're going to lose sleep because you'll miss a week of seeing my shirtless (pasty) body in all of it's glory [insert heavy, self-deprecating sarcasm].

And with that ringing endorsement, here are this week's photos:


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Sodium

As I'm in wrapping up the first week of my stretch-drive diet, I have numerical data to analyze. This week, I've been eating about 1900 calories per day. My macronutrients look like this: protein — 28%, carbohydrates — 62%, fat — 10%.

I'm also tracking my sodium intake. Distance runners (or any endurance athletes that sweat) need a good amount of sodium. As a sidelined runner doing very little cardio work (i.e. not sweating much), I don't need as much. Through research, I know that bodybuilders drastically cut their sodium intake as they approach a contest, since this eliminates water retention which will blur muscle definition. With that in mind, I've been keeping my sodium intake low. Just how low I've been keeping it is becoming an eye opener.

I'm averaging about 550mg of sodium per day. I didn't think that was terribly miniscule until I researched what a "low sodium" diet entails. Some low-sodium diets to control high blood pressure suggest keeping sodium intake "as low as 1500-2000mg per day." Wow. I'm WAY below that. Average Americans consume a TON of sodium daily (not literally...but it's a lot!) The US RDA for sodium is under 2,400mg.

Why did I become interested in this number? Honestly, I've been blacking out and nearly fainting about every other time I stand up from a seated position. I believe my body might be in a hyponatremic state. The instances are becoming more frequent, so I'm suspicious that my low sodium intake may be causing it.

I've got two weeks until my final photos. Next week, I'll attempt to raise my sodium levels to around 1000mg per day to see if the dizzy spells & blackouts subside. In the few days leading up to my photos, I'll reduce the sodium back down. I think I may have jumped the gun!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Week 12...Getting Anal

I'm in the stretch drive now, which has led me to conclude that there's no way around counting calories, for me, at least, from here on out. I need to have the numbers in order to judge how much and what I eat is affecting my body composition. I'm measuring and weighing everything I eat now, and tracking my calories, protein, carbs, fat and sodium. In these final three weeks, I'll be tweaking and adjusting my intake to get the desired results. I'm also slowly increasing my cardio, both in duration and intensity. My weight training will stay about the same, as I'm honestly losing a little strength as the weight comes off, so it's not likely I'll make any increases there.

I'm hoping not to make my family's life a living hell these next few weeks. I'm spending a LOT of time in the kitchen now, and probably too much time thinking about food and exercise as I attempt to get as lean as possible.

Here's the current numbers:

Weight: 146.6 lbs.
Waist: 30.3" (had been 30.0" the previous 2 days, so maybe some water retention?)


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Back Shot, Week 11

I obviously can't see this view in the mirror, so I wanted a "progress report" photo of my back. Got more cuts than I realized. Validation for the pull-ups, rows & deadlifts.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Week 11....Drained

My cold has morphed into an upper respiratory infection, so it's now not only in my head & sinuses, but it's partying down in my chest. It has left me feeling quite drained & weak. My last few workouts have been pretty uninspired. Today's weights session was cut in half.

I think my calorie restriction may be sharing the blame for my energy drought, too. I'm now on ZERO processed sugar and lower carbs than normal. I dropped 2.9 lbs. last week, which is more than desired. I need to slow down the loss. This is where the calorie count would be nice to have. Still, I'll soldier on and adjust as I go. I'd prefer to only lose a couple more pounds by the end of the month before I binge like a frothing-at-the-mouth maniac.

I'm definitely losing some muscle mass along with the fat. The photos don't always tell the whole story, but my arms, chest, shoulders and legs are shrinking, along with my waist. I must say that I'm more of a fan of being in a positive calorie balance than my current situation. But, the show must go on.

Which brings us to this week's photos: