What 9.95% body fat looks like (on me, anyway).

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:

Finishing 2008 Malibu Sprint

Finishing the 2008 Malibu Sprint


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.


6 responses to “What 9.95% body fat looks like (on me, anyway).

  1. Great job in the race, the ‘diet’ (regimen?), the season, all of it. Can’t wait to read your blogs about 120 minute sessions in the musty garage watching Troy Jacobson yell at you.

  2. It’s funny that you talk about forcing yourself to eat, while other people are always feeling guilty about how they ate too much.

    Great job!

  3. I agree: “dieting” really is misleading. It’s all about healthy food programming and training your metabolism. Having the discipline to eat the right amount of good fats, good carbs, and protein–and exercise, exercise, exercise.

    It’s a trip to see how much whey you eat–does the nutritionist say that’s cool? Interesting note about mineral supplements, never thought about them for migraines. I’ve mostly thought of them as baselines for enabling overall body reactions I want, particularly tissue regeneration–that’s why I use them, and why I asked you about them. I get Nature’s Plus Ultra Mins– a nutritionist I once worked with claimed that their manufacturing process particularly allowed for their being absorbed into the body. I’m curious what you know around this area…

    Anyway, great job Max, welcome to the subten percenters and keep up the good work!

  4. Just a thought about the nature of competitiveness. You wrote earlier about your 8th grader’s attitude of “why bother to run when you know you’ll come in last.” Then you wrote about your first goal in your first race being “not to finish last.” Now you have your sights set on podia. What an amazing story arc that represents! But now that the racing season is over, where do you channel that focus and drive? At least for the next several months.
    I think that finding the competitive edge and channeling it is as much a part of the story as finding the right bike seat. And maybe it’s more personal than discussing your yam sacks, but it might also be a key to unlocking some powerful information. Just a thought.

  5. The nutritionist was fine with the quantity of whey, but it was always best when balanced with single source animal proteins. They whey is a supplement in the literal form of the word, just to boost what should already have been a solid intake of meat. Also, it’s not monster doses, just an additional 5-10 grams per serving. By working out six days a week I was tearing up muscle tissue which needed repair, thus the need for so much protein. THe menu I have for my future gym workouts has even more protein in it – repair, repair, repair.

    I wish there was better data on vitamin and nutritional supplements. Fucking DSHEA has gutted the real science from this entire market. And that was under Clinton!

  6. As a multi-decade long migraine sufferer (pretty much always after I had as little as two pints of beer, or any decent quantity of alcohol) I have to say I can’t help you at all here. The three months I was in USMC boot camp I didn’t have a single headache. There was nothing healthy about the diet (lots of carbs, none whole wheat, lots of iceberg lettuce (worse than butter)).

    If they are truly migraines (a neurologist confirmed mine) I did find Advil Migraine did a better than average job, but it can leave an awful taste in your stomach acid, should you happen to taste it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s