Paleo Comfort Food is Awesome

When I started my Fighter’s Diet program, the biggest single influence on its design was Robb Wolf’s book on the Paleo Diet.  Since moving from an Atkins-inspired low-carb diet, to a Paleo-style program I’ve dropped weight and seen improvements in my training.  I’m a big convert.

When I started working Paleo concepts into my diet, it was pretty easy at first.  Eggs and fruit in the morning.  Meat and veggies at night.  Wash, rinse, repeat… However, just working off the basic stand by meals can get boring.  That’s why I’m so glad this book was created!

Paleo Comfort Foods: Homestyle Cooking for a Gluten-Free Kitchen by Julie Sullivan Mayfield and Charles Mayfield gives an awesome introduction to cooking creative dishes using only “real food.”  They give you great alternatives to things you may be missing like muffins, tortillas, fried chicken and (this one is dangerous) chocolate cake!  All of these things made with ingredients that aren’t full of anti-nutrients.

The book covers all sorts of basics like how to make great salsa, guac and even catsup with all the scary stuff you’ll find in the off-the-shelf products.  It offers ideas for how to bake with wheat flour alternatives like almond flour and coconut flour.  The Morning Glory Muffins are awesome, and totally gluten free.  There is also a huge list of main dishes that you can make for you friends and family where they wouldn’t even know you’re feeding them special food.  I served the Chili recipe for a crowd on New Years Eve and got rave reviews!

All the recipes have clear directions and are generally easy to follow. However, they often call for ingredients that I haven’t been able to round up at my local super market.  Thus, you may need to work on shopping ahead.  I’ve had to order some ingredients (like almond flour) on the internet.  Also, while some of these recipes are easy, many are time consuming.  Expect you’ll be spending more time working on these than the simpler recipes inside Mike Dolce’s book.  But, even if it takes more time, the results are simply amazing!

One of the things I love about this book is that each recipe has an absolutely gorgeous photo with it.  It’s just a really attractive books and even my daughters have enjoyed browsing it and picking recipes.  Here’s a picture of my little kitchen ninjas helping me with prep work.

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Evaluating Mike Dolce’s Living Lean Book

When I started designing my own Fighter’s Diet, one of the first things I looked into was Mike Dolce’s Three Weeks to Shredded.  I liked a lot of the ideas in Mike’s book, but it was really more of a weight cutting manual than an optimized diet for a fighter.  While there was a lot of good advice, it left me wanting more.

Late in 2011, Mike published a new book called Living Lean.  This book has a lot more of what I was looking for.  I get a ton of hits on my site for people googling the Dolce Diet, so I thought I’d add some info on Mike’s new book too.

There are three main sections to Living Lean:

Here’s what you’ll find in each section:

The biographical information is interesting and Mike tells some good stories.  While there is some entertainment value here, I think it’s really just to deeply establish Mike’s credibility in the area.  He doesn’t take the time to explain the science of what’s he’s doing — unlike many other diet books.  He’s pretty much making the claim that he knows what works and he’s going to share the secrets with you.  You don’t need to worry much about the “why” part because he’s an expert.  Given this, I can see why it’s important for him to set up this context.

In the diet section, Mike lays out some basic principles about eating good, whole food.  He doesn’t believe in calorie counting — which is good because I don’t either!  Instead, if you eat the right things the rest will take care of itself.  Next, you get a lesson in shopping for the right things. If you only buy good stuff then you’ll only be able to eat good stuff!  And finally, you get a set of meal plans and recipes.

I like Mike’s approach on the recipes.  While he doesn’t spend any time on the issues with grains, like you’ll get from Robb Wolf, he does offer gluten free options for all the recipes.  That’s simply a decision that’s left up to you (although many of the recipes are gluten free by default).  He also offers vegan options if you’re eating that way for moral reasons (I feel sorry for you, but that’s your call).  I’ve tried cooking some of the recipes and they’re generally easy to follow and tasty.  My favorite so far is the Chicken and Asparagus stir fry.  You can put this together in just 10 minutes if you have the (easy to find) ingredients on hand.

The last section is about exercise.  While it’s hard to substitute a book for time with a real strength and conditioning coach, Mike offers sound advice in this secion.  Some of the workouts are killer.  My favorite is the Fighter’s Treadmill Workout.  It gives you a ~30 minute interval training routine to get you the kind of endurance you’ll need for a MMA fight.  When you first try this workout it will bring you to your knees. If you can get through this without wanting to die then you’re ready!

So, is this book worth the investment?  The price per page is pretty steep.  At about $40 for a 160 page book it seems expensive when you compare to some other diet books.  However, would you even think twice about paying $40 for even just 30 minutes with a coach that has Mike’s qualifications?  I wouldn’t!  When you think about it that way, it’s a steal.

I’m working several of the Living Lean recipes and workout tips into my own program.  It think it’s worth checking out for yourself.

Matthew Polly’s Tapped Out

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to train for a real MMA match?  You should check out Matthew Polly’s Tapped Out: Rear Naked Chokes, the Octagon, and the Last Emperor: An Odyssey in Mixed Martial Arts. A few months back, I reviewed Matt’s first book American Shaolin about his time as a young man living with the Shaolin Monks. I really enjoyed that book, so when I saw Matt had a new book out, I knew I’d have to pick it up.

Tapped Out is an odd-ball kind of sequel to American Shaolin. 20 years after training in Kung Fu with the monks, Matts has put on 100 pounds and settled into the soft life. This book chronicles his two year journey leading up to fighting in a real MMA bout. Along the way he meets big-time MMA personalities like Randy Couture, GSP, Fedor Emelianenko and Joe Rogan.

Polly’s book is funny, informative and uplifting. He constantly entertains you while making you feel you’re there living it with him. From training with top MMA coaches in New York and Las Vegas to training adventures in Russia and Thailand you get to feel the adventure.

The part I loved most about this book is that Polly really worked his butt off. He didn’t just train for a month and jump in the ring.  He trained hard in Muay Thai, BJJ and really became a credible mixed martial artist. He’s never going to be GSP (and after seeing GSP up close, Polly makes that clear) but he’s no slouch. This book may inspire you to train harder and do things you didn’t think were possible. You should check it out.

Book Review: The Talent Code

You know that guy you train with who is so fast it makes your head spin when you spar with him?  He must simply have been lucky enough to be born fast, right?  Wrong!  Excellence in martial arts, just like playing an instrument or playing baseball is a skill, and skills follow a universal set of rules for how you excel.  In his book The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How, author Daniel Coyle describes the science behind talent acquisition and how you can use this knowledge to become that guy who’s faster and better than everyone else.

In his book Coyle says, “Every human skill, whether it’s playing baseball or playing Bach, is created by chains of nerve fibers carrying a tiny electrical impulse — basically, a signal traveling through a circuit.”  He then goes on to describe how your nervous system responds to this by building a substance called myelin, “When we fire our circuits in the right way — when we practice swinging that bat or playing that note — our myelin responds by wrapping layers of insulation around that neural circuit, each new layer adding a bit more skill and speed. The thicker the myelin gets, the better it insulates, and the faster and more accurate our movements and thoughts become.”

He goes on to describe the process that world-class individuals use to get better.  It’s called Deep Practice.  “Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways– operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes– makes you smarter.  Or to put it a slightly different way, experiences where you’re forced to slow down, make errors and correct them — as you would if you were walking up an ice covered hill, slipping and stumbling as you go — end up making you swift and graceful without your realizing it.”  So, yes it is going to be hard.  But, you can do it.  Anyone can do it.  There are no Luke Skywalkers, people who posses special abilities at birth that the rest of us can’t replicate!

So, here’s the bottom line.

  • Every type of movement, and everything you think and feel is a precise set electric signal traveling through a chain of neuronal connections
  • Neural connections strengthen and are wrapped in myelin to increases signal strength, speed and accuracy
  • The more you fire a circuit, the more it becomes optimized, and the stronger, faster and more fluent your movements and thoughts become

So, how much better is a finely tuned set of neural connections than a new set?  A lot faster!  In martial arts terms, we’re not talking just a little bit faster.  Think about Neo-in-The-Matrix-faster as your guide!  Coyle gives us this reference, “Neural traffic that ones trundled along at two miles an hour can, with myelin’s help, accelerate to two hundred miles and hour.  The refractory time (the wait required between one signal and the next) decreases by a factor of 30.  The increased speed and decreased refractory time combine to boost overall information-processing capability by 3,000 times.”

So, bottom line, what do you need to do in order to become that guy who’s faster than everyone at your school?  You need to practice!  You need to practice hard!  You need to focus on your task at hand when you practice!  Time alone won’t do it.  This final quote from Coyle seems to sum it up for me, “Struggle is not optional — it’s neurologically required: in order to get your skill circuit to fire optimally, you must by definition fire the circuit suboptimally; you must make mistakes and pay attention to those mistakes; you must slowly teach your circuit.”

You should check out this book.

My Fighter’s Diet 1.0

For the past several years, I’ve been on an Atkins-style diet program. I did successfully lose a lot of weight (and kept most of it off) on this program, so I have nothing but love for Dr. Atkins.  That being said, as I started to get much more serious about my martial arts training I didn’t feel like my diet was really meeting my needs.  Thus, a few months ago I embarked on a plan to design myself a new Fighter’s Diet.

Along the way, I looked at several diet programs to see what ideas I could steal.  I looked at the Gracie diet.  While the Gracie clan is known as some of the world’s finest fighters, I found the diet confounding and really couldn’t take much from it.  I looked into the Dolce Diet with the Three Weeks to Shredded program.  This was really a program for weight cutting before a fight, but I actually found much of the advice sound.  I also, stumbled into the Paleo diet program thanks to Robb Wolf’s excellent book The Paleo Solution.  And of course, I couldn’t completely neglect what I learned from Dr. Atkins.  Thus, by taking bits of advice from Mike Dolce, Rob Wolf and Dr. Atkins, I designed my program.

My Fighter’s Diet had to be simple.  I can’t count calories, and I found that over the long haul I couldn’t really count carbs either.  I needed something with a very simple rule set about what kind of foods were OK and which were not.  Here’s where I arrived.

Bad Things (to be avoided)

  • Sugar – seems simple, but it’s a core concept.  Avoid foods with cane sugar and corn sugar
  • Bread – Except for the occasional cheat, I’ve gone gluten free.  I have never been diagnosed with celiac, but I’ve become convinced that gluten is bad for most people.  Also, most flour-based products are full of empty carbohydrates, so why even go there?
  • Rice – Empty carbs.  What else do you need to know?
  • Artificial sweeteners – goodbye diet soda.  I think this has made a world of difference and it really surprised me.  Research continues to show this stuff may be nearly as bad as the real thing
  • Sugar alcohol – Dr. Atkins said this stuff is OK.  I now think he’s wrong.  All my Atkin’s-branded, low-carb junk food went in the trash and I’m happier for it.
  • Caffeine – I don’t think it makes you fat, but it makes me irritable and it messes with my sleep patterns.  There’s nothing good here.  It’s gone.
  • Cheese and Milk – I’ve minimized dairy in my diet.  I didn’t find many good things in dairy that I couldn’t get elsewhere, and I found that cheese and milk may have been causing me digestive discomfort in larger quantities.  I’ve cut them out.

Good Things (eat ‘em up)

  • Meat – Turkey, chicken and lean beef (grass fed when I can get it).  Also, I eat bacon.  This one is a little controversial in the Paleo community, but I eat bacon several times per week.
  • Eggs – A core food for me on this program.  Great way to start the day and helps keep appetite under control.  It means I don’t get hungry for hours after breakfast.
  • Fruit – Strawberries, blueberries, apples.  All good stuff.  This I would have avoided on Atkins, but the insulin impact is actually low, and there is too much good stuff in here to pass up.  It also helps to get some carbs from these sources to keep up your energy when training.  Oh, and don’t forget tomatoes
  • Vegetables – Lots of good fiber in here.  Broccoli and asparagus are favorites
  • Leafy greens – Lettuce and spinach.  Salad is good, but it’s best with meat on top!
  • Water – drink lots of water!  This is something Mike Dolce hammers on continuously.  I took this to heart, and water is now pretty much the only thing I drink.

Things in moderation (OK, but watch the quantities)

  • Nuts – I like almonds and cashews.  They’re a good snack or garnish, but I’ve had to avoid turning them into meals.  They’re energy dense, high-fat, and I’ve found cause digestive distress for me when consumed in large quantities
  • Greek yogurt – I don’t have much dairy in my diet (see cheese and milk item above), but I make this exception.  For me, it’s a great ingredient for breakfast or snacks and seems to have a good effect on my stomach.  Also, the sugar content is low and it has good fat and protein to ensure it helps control appetite.
  • Dark chocolate – the darker the better.  It doesn’t have all the sugar of milk chocolate and feels like a treat.

So, what are my results so far?  It’s been a bit shocking to me.  Over the past four months, I’ve lost over 20 pounds.  For my 5 foot 9 frame, this has dropped my Body Mass Index (BMI) from 24.1 (the high-side of normal) to 21.0 (smack in the middle of normal).  I’m at my lowest weight since I was 19 years old, but in a less quantifiable measure I can now see my abs!  I’ve never seen them before, not even as a kid — I was kind of pudgy even back then.  I’m also starting to see some good definition in my chest and arms.  On simple Atkins, I didn’t feel like I had the fuel for serious athletic training, and I had a hard time breaking through to get under a body fat percentage that really took me from looking “healthy” to looking “athletic.”  I’m now getting there!

Beyond weight management, I feel great.  My endurance in taekwondo and MMA training has gone way up.  I feel strong in multi-hour training sessions where before I just couldn’t keep up.  My energy level during the day, even at work, is higher and I’m sleeping better at night.

So far, I’m declaring my Fighter’s Diet program a success and marking this as version 1.0.  I’m going to continue to tune this over the coming months and will be writing more about it here.  Thanks to Robb Wolf and Mike Dolce for the excellent advice and helping to get me on the right track.

Should I Eat Like A Caveman?

I recently blogged about how I’m trying to tune up my diet in order to create a Fighter’s Diet.  I evaluated the Dolce Diet and found some interesting tidbits that looked great for professional fighters, but by itself it wasn’t the program for me. I’ve seen a lot of people tweeting about the Paleo Diet, so I thought I’d make that my next stop so I could learn what it’s all about. To that end, I picked up a copy of Robb Wolf’s Paleo Diet Solution.

The basic premise of Robb’s book is that humans have started eating a number of types of foods the past few thousand years (since the invention of farming) that we weren’t designed to eat. These include entire “food groups” like grains and dairy. In fact, he goes so far as to say that most people have some kind of in-built allergies to these that can cause us great distress.

So, that all sounds fine in theory, but Robb really brings the science to back this all up.  He starts with an analysis of carbs and their effect on insulin, with which I’m familiar from my Atkins experience, but goes on to cover a lot more than that. One of the things that really peaked my interest is that Robb goes beyond just what you eat. He includes items like your sleep patterns. How you sleep effects a hormone called Cortisol, which seems to be as important to your health and fitness as insulin. This was an entirely new concept to me, but understanding it helped explain some of how my body has felt, and my weight went up, when I’ve been under stress at work.

So, even if some of this sounds good, one of my questions has to be whether Robb has any standing to tell me about a Fighter’s Diet. I mean, what if Robb is just some academic, pencil necked geek in a lab coat? The good news is I found in reading the book that he’s an amateur kick-boxer (with a 6-0 record) and studies Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu!  Also, the first case-study in the book is about a professional MMA fighter and how he’s using the program. Knowing this made me feel like Robb might be a really good person to give me advice on my project.

Lastly, the book is really well written. Robb clearly explains the science, but also has a great sense of humor. He also seems to make a mean margarita!

I’m going to be incorporating a lot of advice from this program into my Fighter’s Diet. I’ll post more on that as I try things out.

What Would Bruce Lee Have Thought of Twitter?

What would Bruce Lee have thought about Twitter?  I bet he would have loved it, and I’ll tell you why.

I recently picked up a copy of Tao of Jeet Kune Do by Bruce Lee.  While I enjoyed reading it, I must say it’s one of the strangest books ever!  Honestly, to say that Bruce Lee wrote this book is a bit of an exaggeration.  While he did write almost all of the words, it was really the result of one of his students sifting through and organizing massive piles of notes left behind by Bruce before his untimely death.  Here’s a small quote from the forward to the book:

 “Some of the material within the volumes was written in a single setting and had the natural progression of a well-outlined conversation.  Other areas were sudden inspirations and incomplete ideas that were quickly scribbled as they entered Bruce’s head.  These were scattered throughout the work.

Much of the book consists of nearly disconnected thoughts that stand on their own in the text and are then followed by other barely connected thoughts.  While Bruce’s student put great effort to make a logical grouping of these ideas you can tell these started as stand-alone thoughts.  Here are just a few examples of the gems that sit by themselves in the text:

  • Do not run away; let go.  Do not seek, for it will come when least expected.
  • Give up thinking as though not giving it up.  Observe techniques as though not observing
  • There is no fixed teaching.  All I can provide is an appropriate medicine for a particular technique.
  • To attack, you must study the adversary’s weaknesses and strengths and take advantage of the former while avoiding the latter
  • When you are completely aware, there is no space for a conception, a scheme, “the opponent and I;” there is complete abandonment

Now go look at those again.  It is as if you’re seeing Bruce Lee’s Twitter stream – transported forward in time and preserved so we can all follow him.  I am 100% convinced that if Bruce were alive today he’d be on Twitter and would have millions of followers.  It’s easy to imagine him typing these insights into his iPhone’s Twitter client instead of jotting them into paper notebooks.  He could have shared them with the world instantly. I think he would have loved Twitter, and would probably have blogged too!

What do you think?

American Shaolin

When you were younger, did you ever dream of moving to a far-off land and studying martial arts with some of the world’s most legendary fighters?  While I did dream of such adventures, I never had the courage to actually do it.  However, Matthew Polly did.  He dropped out of Princeton and moved to the inner China to study Kung Fu with the Shaolin monks.  The book American Shaolin: Flying Kicks, Buddhist Monks and the Legend of the Iron Crotch is the tale of his true adventure.

You see, when he was in high-school, he created a list of what’s wrong with himself.  It included:

  1. Ignorant
  2. Cowardly
  3. Still a boy/not a man
  4. Unattractive to the opposite sex
  5. Spiritually confused

After attending Princeton for a couple of years he felt he could finally cross #1 off his list.  However, that still left him with the other four.  Somehow, he got the idea in his head he could fix the rest by moving to China to study Kung Fu at the Shaolin Temple, so that’s just what he did!

The book details his adventures in finding the temple, not an easy task in pre-Google Maps China (the events in the book take place in the early 90s), and then training with the Monks.  While living at the Shaolin Temple, he studies Sanda, or Chinese Kickboxing.

The book is full of fun adventures, including his run in with a master of Iron Crotch Kung Fu — one of his funniest and most amazing stories. However, it’s worth noting one lesson that I took away from the book.  Polly talks about learning to “eat bitter.”  This has nothing to do with food.  It’s about training hard and sacrificing to do it.  He had no real martial arts training before moving to China at age twenty — and he wasn’t very athletic. However, with two years of hard, hard training he had developed in a very credible fighter and was able to compete at the highest levels of his sport.  If he can do it, so can you!

I strongly recommend this book.  It’s a great adventure, and a fun read.

Is Government Propaganda Making You Fat?

Does the US government lie to us?  I’ve watched my share of X-Files episodes, so perhaps the government is hiding alien spacecraft in New Mexico.  Maybe the government is covering up who killed JFK.  I honestly don’t know.  But, I do know that the basic advice I got as a kid about what to eat was wrong — dangerously wrong.  And, it remains so to this day.  The government is still giving our kids really bad advice about what to eat.  Exhibit 1: The Food Pyramid.  It’s brought to us by the good folks about the US Department of Agriculture, and it’s wrong.

The food pyramid tells you to get most of your calories from carbohydrates – bread, pasta, rice and cereal.  It also tells us to restrict intake of meat, fish, nuts, cheese and milk.  What’s wrong with this?  Quite simply, it is a recipe to become fat.  There is a commonly held fallacy that you become fat when you take in more calories than you burn.  That’s basically false.  The only time your body converts food into fat is when your body is producing the hormone insulin.  When does your body produce insulin?  When you’re digesting carbohydrates — and ONLY when you’re digesting carbohydrates.

While I know this to be true at an intuitive level, having used this knowledge to loose over 40 pounds and keep my weight under control for the past five years, you shouldn’t take my word for it.  You should look at the science behind it and make your own conclusions.  Thus, I strongly suggest you read this book: Why We Get Fat by Gary Taubes.  It presents all the science you need to draw your own conclusion.  The evidence is overwhelming and a times shocking.

Why is the government giving us such bad advice?  Maybe it has to do with aliens in Roswell.  I don’t know, but the fact remains that people have need to understand it.  The Truth Is Out There!

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