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:


Monday, January 24, 2011

Week 10...With A Cold

I came down with a nasty head cold on Friday. I skipped my cardio session and did none of my daily calisthenics over the weekend. Today I still feel like crud, but wanted to get in a workout to get the blood pumping. Here's some irony: due to my 3-day rest, I felt stronger, but due to the cold, I had less energy. That meant feeling strong on my exercises but not feeling like I could bust out set after set.

So this is week 10 already. I still have "fat" days, where my midsection doesn't feel as tight as other days. Today is one such day, where I feel the definition I could see in my previous photos is a bit blurred today. Oh well. Still have a few weeks to get the formula nailed down for the final photos.

Today's numbers:
Weight: 149.8 lbs.
Waist: 30.5" (and that's being generous to the tape measure)


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Turning A Corner

I've started to notice a pretty significant transition this week. This morning, my waist measurement was 30.5"...which is the first time it's been that small in many months (probably when I was running 40+ miles/wk. I hit 29.9" right before my marathon last year...but with far less muscle). Granted, my waist measurement fluctuates about a half an inch on any given morning, based on water retention and bloating (yes, I AM a man), but it's a good sign. Also, just the visual cues are telling me that I'm getting a little leaner. There seems to be more definition between the abs.

So...the suffering I spoke of earlier this week may not be as intense as I expected. My current diet isn't terribly extreme, yet progress is being made. I'll continue as-is until I see the progress stalling. One key is to very gradually coax the fat loss. Unless you have a LOT of bodyfat to lose (i.e. Biggest Loser contestant), you don't want to lose too much, too soon. That causes the body to go into starvation mode, which forces the body to conserve fat by slowing the metabolism. As my goal date approaches, I'll be constantly evaluating my status to determine what subtle changes need to be made.

As I spoke on my running blog about balance, I think I'm finding balance in this quest. My body told me I was starting to overtrain, so I cut back from 3 weight workouts and 3 aerobic sessions per week to two each (still doing pushups, pullups, situps, dips and squats daily). It seems to be working. My energy level has been good. Part of that is probably attributed to a cleaner diet, too, although I haven't been getting enough sleep (work has been crazy).

Speaking of diet...here are a couple of key things I've been doing, aside from eliminating processed sugar (well, 95% of it). My lunch is probably the most affected meal of my day. A typical lunch now consists of a half sandwich, large carrot and a large whole apple (today, I added a mini orange). For the sandwich, the only condiment I use is mustard (zero calories). I add one slice of ham, one slice of turkey, one slice of cheddar cheese, two cucumber slices and some lettuce. As a mental trick, I cut the half sandwich in half, so it looks like I have two halves. Silly, maybe, but it seems like I'm eating more. I've noticed that my stomach capacity has decreased, so I get full easier. Like I said, I'm monitoring my weight closely, and if it drops too quickly, I'll increase the intake slightly.

Finally, here are a couple of shots after today's workout.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Week 9 (Here Comes The Suffering)

It's already week 9 in this silly quest, which means it's time for the major deprivation to begin. I've already been watching chocolate chip cookies disappear into the mouths of my wife and kids, as I take another bite of my daily apple. Well, I've been sneaking a small treat here and there, actually, but this week begins the "no processed sugar" portion of my self-torture quest for sharp six-pack abs.

As you may have deduced, I'm pretty much playing this by ear (or, by mirror and tape measure). I refuse to count calories. It's too hard. I'm too lazy. I'm simply eliminating most foods that have a lot of calories with little bulk, in favor of lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains and dairy (light on the cheese). Most of my protein will come from chicken breasts, eggs, natural peanut butter and nonfat milk. I'm not sure if I have the guts to completely cut out coffee, as I previously stated I would. I've cut way back, but life without my little cup of gold every morning may not be worth living.

WORKOUT NOTES:
I've noticed, as my diet has become stricter and I'm starting to drop a little weight, that my overall strength seems to be declining just a little. I'm not sure if that's an effect of insufficient calories or waning motivation. I've been feeling tired and weak lately. I will say that my workload the last several weeks has been pretty intense (and stressful), and I have never been able to deal with stress all that well (well, running certainly helps, but I won't be able to do that again for awhile).

From here on out, I'm going to be less concerned with hitting PB's in my exercises and focusing more on lifting with very good form and keeping my muscles under tension for a good period of time during each set. I've incorporated standard planks into my core routine. I used to do them regularly, but haven't for a couple of years. So those, along with weighted crunches and hanging leg raises comprise my abs routine.

Eh, what the heck. I'll throw up some photos, even though I have yet to see much of a difference from week to week. Actually, the one thing I notice is more vascularity in my forearms in the top photo. I'm assuming that's from a slightly lower bodyfat level. Or, maybe I was just flexing them harder today.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Week 8

The weeks are moving by quickly. No photo this week, since they're a bit redundant at this point, although there are some minor changes taking place. First, here are my usual weekly numbers:

Weight: 153 lbs.
Waist: 30.9"

The biggest change is that I finally broke through the 31" barrier in my waist measurement. I'd like to hit 30" on the nose by the end of February.

I decided to change up some exercises during Friday's workout, with good results. I was sore in the right places for a couple of days after. Repeating the same workout over and over allows your body to adapt and to quit progressing, so it's good to mix it up from time to time (as long as there's still a way to track progress).

Diet-wise, I'm still in a holding pattern; not being too strict, but watching the sweets and meal portions. I've apparently hit a perfect balance of calories in vs. calories out, since my weight has more or less been the same since I started this quest 8 weeks ago. I'd like to think that more of it is muscle and less is fat since the beginning, but I have no way to know for sure (my body fat scale isn't terribly accurate).

Beginning next week, I'll start slowly adjusting my diet. I've already cut out all soda pop, most refined sugar, and have cut way back on my caffeine intake. My lunch is the biggest change, as it's heavy on raw fruits and veggies. If I have a sandwich, it's with one slice of bread and no mayo.

That's about all I have to report at this time. Soon, I'll see real progress and should be able to monitor how my body reacts and whether or not I'm getting enough calories (although I probably won't be counting them).

Cheers!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Week 7; Two Weeks Until "Tighten Up" Time

Hey y'all! Hope you had a nice New Year's Eve & the new year is treating you well so far.
Thus begins Week 7 of my quest. My plan is to eat fairly normally (but under control) until about mid-January. From there until the end of January, my diet will change slightly; slightly smaller portions and very minimal processed sugar. Then, starting February, I'll institute a specific eating plan (which I'll detail as the time approaches).

Here's this week's stats:
Wt: 154.2 lbs.
Waist: 31.4"

In lieu of the regular comparison photos, I thought I'd post a shot taken during my workout this morning (in my very cold garage):


Still some fat to lose, but I won't have to starve to do so. Plus, I'm finally doing some regular cardio.