Yesterday was my end of season appointment with Matt Mahowald of New Performance. My goal was to reach sub-10% body fat, and I had a thought that it might mean lowering my body weight to sub-170. I crossed my final 2008 finish line on Sunday, and at 3:30pm Wednesday I calipered in at 9.95% body fat and 183 pounds. That morning I had weighed myself at 178, so five pounds of fluid and food isn’t unreasonable. What does that look like?
It looks like this:
It’s funny, when I look at myself in the mirror I still see love handles at my waist, I still have a belly when I sit down at my desk. No one else sees them, and once again I come back to the numbers. The data doesn’t lie. It can’t lie. The caliper test, while not as accurate as a body submersion test, is still very close. And better yet, all my cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels were great. Which means even though I’ve been eating carbs, I’m nowhere near a danger zone of overcarbing. This season I learned how to eat while racing, fuel the machine, burn fat instead of muscle, and feel great the whole time.
Teaching the body to burn fat is a tricky business. It means eating a lot more fat that one would expect. Personally, I ate a ton of almonds and peanut butter because my body metabolizes fat very well. I gave it carbs regularly, but in moderation, and only single source foods like rice, oatmeal, and legumes. Because I am a comfortable habit eater, here is what a normal day of eating was for me for the last four months:
7am Wake: 6 oz coffee with 1 teaspoon L-Glutamine, 2 packets of Splenda, 3 oz low fat vanilla flavored almond milk, 2 tablespoons peanut butter & 1/2 cup applesauce
Workout (1-4 hours depending on day)
9-10am (no more than 15 min post-workout) breakfast: 1/2 cup oatmeal with 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed, 1/2 cup applesauce, 1 scoop whey protein powder
12-1pm lunch: 6oz meat, 2 full servings of vegetables, 1 cup single source carbohydrate (corn, rice, yellow squashes)
2-3pm 1st afternoon snack: almonds, piece of fruit, whey protein
4-5pm 2nd afternoon snack: almonds, piece of fruit, whey protein
6-7pm Dinner: 6oz meat, 2 full servings of vegetables, 1 cup single source carbohydrate (corn, rice, yellow squashes)
10pm pre-bed: whey protein, 1 tsp L-Glutamine, berries in a shake
By and large this didn’t change. If I did a monster workout on the weekends I’d make sure to force a whey protein shake down my throat immediately afterwards (even though I didn’t want to eat), and that would bridge me until the next full meal. More and more I am not hungry after intense workouts, but I’m training myself to eat when I don’t want to eat. In fact, after a race my wife would hound me to eat because I would forget. If I didn’t eat I saw the result on the scale later – not eating led to weight gain and bloat. It was immediate cause-and-effect. Deprive the body of fuel and it stores fat, going into starvation mode to protect itself.
“Dieting” per se is not the right term. This was learning how to eat for my lifestyle. My new food plans for zero workouts and then gym workout periods are slightly different, but primarily in quantity rather than frequency. I’m going to eat 6-8 meals a day, probably for the rest of my life. I feel better when I put food in, and I function better mentally and physically.
The cost of eating this way has not been any different from how we ate before. We ate out less often (in order to control food content more easily), so the slight increase of quantity in food at home was still less than dining out three or four times a week. I shop at CostCo for a lot of my core produce because I eat so much of it. I laugh every time I go because I’m the only cart with nothing but fruits and vegetables while everyone else is buying boxes of prepackaged food crammed with High Fructose Corn Syrup and a vast list of chemicals. Mine looks like a produce stand. A mammoth bag of prewashed spinach is $4, which I eat in about five days. I was eating two bags of asparagus a week, each bag containing at least twenty stalks. (Motivation for not pissing in the wetsuit.) 4 artichokes a week (my favorite carb). A pound of green beans a week. 5 pounds of broccoli crowns. Two flats of fruit – nectarines, peaches, grapes, and pineapple. A jar of peanut butter a week (I prefer Trader Joe’s organic peanut butter to the CostCo version by far). To mix things up we’d add lentils some nights, or I’d grill turkey burgers or a tri tip. It was a lot of food and sometimes we’d get tired of the same old thing and head out to dinner.
Dining out was always a challenge. The first thing I noticed about restaurants is that a normal entree consists of 14 oz of meat, 3 servings of carbohydrates, and an afterthought of vegetables, usually butter lettuce (which has zero nutritional value). I became a very expensive date because I’d have to order extra sides of vegetables to every meal and substitute like crazy. Tender Greens has been a local favorite restaurant since they opened, and yet even there I had to modify their menu extensively to get a complete meal per my diet. Their grilled vegetables are outstanding, so I’d often get them with whatever protein was on special and some potatoes on the side. My go-to meal was the Brazilian BBQ place around the corner that charges by the pound. I could quickly put together a great meal perfectly suited to my plan, especially leading up to races when I had to increase my carb and protein load considerably. And if I snacked all morning I could hit the place at 3:30 for a 25% discount – even better.
I certainly missed going out to eat with friends and trying new places. My Yelp! reviews have certainly suffered. But the payoff has been worth it. I’m a more efficient machine, doing more with less. My body burns fat for fuel and I can go and do a long course event without a huge amount of prep as long as I have my trusty yam baggies with me. I told Matt about my post-race migraines and he said it could be a mineral deficiency, having sapped my reserves in the races and not refueled with supplemental minerals or nutrient rich foods afterwards. Sunday I celebrated with pizza and I wish it had tasted better for the lack of nutrition it held. I suspect he’s right. I didn’t ingest any sodium supplements on Sunday’s race because I felt it wasn’t long enough to warrant an electrolyte boost. I was discounting the increased effort of a race, which was dumb. I am swallowing a few sodium tabs here and there to see if it makes me feel better.
So what’s next? The off season means less workouts, but different workouts. I’m ramping down the volume first, dropping down to 3-4 days a week for a few weeks. Then it’s time to hit the gym 4-5 days a week if I can to build muscle. I’ve got to do a garage sale to open up space so I can set up my bike trainer and a portable DVD player for speed sessions. (I’ve got a number of trainer-specific DVDs to try out that look to be severe ass kickings). I’ve got my new meal plans ready to go, and I’m also looking forward to saying hello to gourmet cheese here and there. Over 4 months I spent more than $1,000 on nutritional consulting. Our sessions were extraordinarily helpful and I gained things I never would have learned by doing it myself. Each session we did a blood test to determine how my body was metabolizing carbohydrates, and by extension, glycogen. By logging all my food, energy level, and workouts we could make adjustments to my intake and requirements. Most importantly, Matt disabused me of a lot of wrong thinking about food. That fat can be a good, and indeed, invaluable part of my diet. I would recommend Matt and New Performance to any athlete or individual serious about understanding their bodies, their relationship with food, and taking proactive steps towards fueling their lives.
I debated posting yet another semi naked photo on the site. Maybe I’ll do a progressive series over the last few months. There’s a point at which some blogs become a narcissistic exercise and I’d rather keep this one in the realm of the personal exploration documentary. It’s not about me, it’s about what I’ve learned and how it may benefit others on their path. To those still working towards their own number goals, I say good luck. It’s worth it.