Almost Time!

The last twelve weeks, I’ve been on a training program to get me ready for the ATA Nationals tournament. The tournament starts on Friday.  Almost there.  I don’t know how I’ll stack up against the competition, but I feel like I put in the time and met my goals of sticking to the program. Over the past twelve weeks, I’ve put in over 80 hours of training (while continuing to work long hours at my full-time job).  I’ve done well over 5,000 push-ups to boot.

On the nutrition side, I’ve been good about following my Fighter’s Diet program.  I’ve dropped my body fat percentage from 15.5% to around 13.5%, and feel like I’ve gained some strength in the process. You can see a chart of my progress below.

You can see a lot of variability in the day to day measurements, but the trend is clearly downward.  And, trust me, I wasn’t starving on this diet. In fact, I was eating like a horse most weeks. The only real break from the program came from a week-long international business trip earlier this month where I broke my diet almost everyday — and you can see the backslide on the chart.  Overall though, I’d say the diet part of the program has been doing what I wanted. However, my next challenge in this area is to put on more muscle mass and I expect to make some adjustments there.

Mid-way through my program, I did a warm up tournament in Rocklin, CA.  Results were mixed. I placed in sparring (my strongest event), but I bombed in my other two events. In fact, I was disqualified from my weapons event because my form didn’t meet the black belt forms requirements. That meant I had only six weeks to learn an entire new weapons form. While it isn’t perfect yet, I’m pleased to report that I’ve learned the form and feel confident I can perform it at the event. We’ll see how I place! If you want to check it out, here’s a little video of a practice run.

Next week, I’ll report results from the tournament!


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.

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.

Good Bye Diet Soda!

As I put together the first version of my Fighter’s Diet, one of the things I looked at was my consumption of diet cola.  I drank a fair bit of it.  It had zero calories, so conventional “calories in – calories out” logic says it shouldn’t hurt.  It has zero  carbs, so Dr. Atkins says it’s OK too.  However, Robb Wolf’s Paleo Diet book and Mike Dolce’s writing both made me take a hard look at some of the really artificial things I was ingesting.

In looking around at the research on diet soda, it’s hard to find a smoking gun.  In some sense, I think the impacts this stuff has on your body is so complex that it’s hard to lock up the total impact in just one study.  However, there appears to be a huge amount of evidence mounting against this stuff.  Here is some of what I found

Weight Gain

Diet soda is associated with weight gain.  There are still questions about the mechanics of this — does it bind to the same receptors as sugar and mess with your blood glucose?  That being said, there is now study after study that shows this.  Here are some examples:

  • A 2005 University of Texas study showed that people drinking two or more diet sodas per day were 57% more likely to be obese
  • A long-term study of diet soda drinkers by the American Diabetes Association showed they 70% greater increase in waist circumference than non-users.  Worse yet, those who drank two or more cans per day had a whopping 500% increase!
  • Another study shows that diet soda drinkers are 34% more likely to develop metabolic syndrome

More Scary Stuff

Set all this stuff aside and then there is the question of how much caffeine do you want to be drinking?  Managing cortisol levels and getting sleep has become an important part of my program.  If I’m drinking a caffeinated beverage with every meal (which I used to do) how is that going to mess with my sleep patterns?

So, that covers a lot of the downside.  So, what’s the good side?  Well, it doesn’t have sugar.  That’s good!  However, there’s another good no sugar option: Water!  It’s cheaper, it’s easily available and its tasty (once you get your taste buds detoxed for a few days).  Contrary to what we see above, water has a pretty darn good reputation in the research! How many useful nutrients are you getting out of your diet soda?  Yeah, zero! That’s how many.  Maybe that’s why Coke calls their new diet flavor Coke Zero!

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.

Evaluating The Dolce Diet

Mike Dolce has become one of the go-to nutrition gurus in the mixed martial arts (MMA) community. UFC champions like Rampage Jackson and Michael Bisping and many others have publicly endorsed his methods.  You can see a full list of impressive pro endorsements here. So, on my quest to revamp my diet into Fighter’s Diet, I thought I should find out more about what Mike has to offer.

His website sells a book called The Dolce Diet: 3 Weeks to Shredded.  It goes for $39.99 and includes shipping.  So, what do you get for your forty bucks?  You get a 45-page, 8.5” x 11”, spiral bound notebook. The book is part text and part workbook — where you will note goals for each day of the program.

The first thing you’ll want to understand about the book is that, as the title implies, it is really a three-week program with a very specific goal. The first part of the book takes you through Mike’s exact diet from a weight-cut before a fight where he went from 212 pounds to weighing in at 170. While many of the tips included in this book can be applied to a more general life-style diet, the focus of this book is on a weight-cut for a fight where the fighter needs to weigh in at a certain weight to be within a weight class. The program isn’t solely about reducing body fat (although some of that will occur).  The program also includes means of manipulating your body’s water content to temporarily reduce your weight before the weigh-in.  You need to understand that going in.

I’m going to be the first to admit that the goals of this program don’t really meet my own goals.  I’m not trying to “make weight” for a competition.  So, with that being said, I’m not in a position to fully evaluate this program.  It looks rigorous and well-thought-out.  If you’re in a position where you need to cut weight quickly this book may have the advice for you.  However, even though I didn’t fit the profile for the program, I’m taking away several key things that I’ll start to factor into my own Fighter’s Diet.

  • Drink more water!  Mike says it over and over and I know he’s right.  I’m not drinking enough.  I’m now working on drinking more.
  • Eat real food!  Even on my Atkins-inspired diet where I’ve long-since purged sugary junk-food, I have a fair bit of funky-stuff in my diet including various “low sugar” or “no sugar” junk food substitutes that may not cause my insulin to spike, and thus make me fat, but it won’t make me strong either.
  • Shop for success!  Mike has a great section on shopping for the program that includes a complete shopping list.  If I compare his last against what I buy at the market it tells me something about how I can change.
So, bottom line, this book was worth reading even if I didn’t fit the target demographic.  I surely took home some things I’m going to factor into my Fighter’s Diet.  Also, I’m excited to see that Mike is going to be publishing another book later this year called Livin Lean.  This book looks like a more general lifestyle plan that includes both nutrition and exercise elements.  I’m going to be sure to pick it up and I’ll post my thoughts here after I check it out.

Goodbye Food Pyramid

In one of my first posts on this blog I voiced my issues with what the American government has been telling kids to eat.  Not only was the Food Pyramid metaphor confusing, but it told kids that most of their daily calories should come from starchy carbohydrates.  That’s a recipe to get fat, and I’m 100% sure that’s been a contributing factor to the American obesity epidemic.

Today, to much fanfare, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that it was replacing the Food Pyramid.  Maybe they read my blog?  OK, that probably wasn’t the cause, but it’s still a good thing.

The pyramid has been replaced, but a much simpler “plate” icon.  From a pure readability point of view, it’s clearly an improvement, but beyond that it seems to send some better advice.  CNN posted a story today about the plate that included a good interview with some credible experts on nutrition and I think they sum things up well about the new changes.

Its predecessor, the first food pyramid, released in 1992, recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables. But these were secondary to the recommendation of six to 11 servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta. It didn’t differentiate between refined and whole grains.

“It promoted eating so many grain servings, it was promoting obesity,” Nestle said.

Dr. David Kessler, author of “The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite,” agreed that the older food pyramid “didn’t reflect best of the dietary guidelines.”

“Refined carbohydrates should’ve never been the major part of the diet,” he said. “It was never about eating refined carbohydrates. It’s why it didn’t work.”

With the new changes, Kessler added, “Maybe now, we have a chance.”

I think this is a real step in the right direction and perhaps some more advice based on good science can start to trickle down to our kids now.  What do you think?

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!