Sunday, July 24, 2016

Keto and Getting Ripped

This is a long post. Pics are at the botttom.

Reading over my old keto-related posts, I may not have emphasized CICO (calories-in, calories-out) nearly enough. Simply put, CICO is the only thing that matters in fat-loss and maintenance. Everything else is nuance. Keto is simply a tool; a method for simplifying CICO and managing appetite.

Below are the highlights of what I’ve learned while leaning out on keto.

But first, the reason I might get so OCD about all this is two-fold:

1) When I was in poor health as a young adult (smoker, sedentary, 70-lb overweight), I always meant to become a fit and active “grown-up.” When I’m careless with nutrition and store more body-fat, an unfortunate amount goes to inter-organ visceral fat, which is associated with metabolic and cardio-vascular disease. I’ll go into this further in a later post, or series of posts.

2) Nowadays, I’ve come to like the idea of competing. Even though I’m decidedly mediocre as a runner and cyclist, the idea of competing still adds a level of discipline and focus to the effort. With both trail running and road cycling, a huge limiting factor is extra weight (especially in the hilly Bay Area). A few extra pounds costs minutes in even a short race like a 5k. Extra weight also increases injury risk and compounds joint impact with every step and downstroke. 


Some keto folks get caught up with the bacon & butter and think that dietary fat is what defines keto. It’s not. Being in ketosis (via limiting carbs) is what defines keto. Dietary fat might add flavor and satiety to meals -- and that’s a beautiful thing -- but when on a cut, the biggest and easiest calorie-source to reduce is dietary fat.

That is, how would you prefer to eat 100 calories?  From a small pat of butter? Or from massive bowls of lettuce and colorful, crisp veggies?  

Body-fat Weight: There is an upper limit to how much body-fat the average person can burn over a period of time. And it’s proportional to the amount of body-fat a person has. That is, the leaner you get, the less fat-mass you can burn.

Per various conclusions, that limit translates to roughly 30 calories per pound of body-fat per day. To eliminate the guesswork, I’ve had a series of DEXA scans to verify my body-fat changes over time. Armed with this info, I’ve been able to better target how much I should be eating to maximize fat-loss while minimizing lean-mass loss.

A deficit beyond that 30-calories per pound of body-fat guide would hurt my fitness gains. (In real-life, though, that’s a massive calorie deficit that I find unsustainable.)

Dietary Protein: I follow the general guide of eating 1.5 grams of protein (6 calories) per pound of lean mass per day. Combined with some strength training, that amount of dietary protein spares my lean mass from the cut.


As mentioned in earlier posts, being in ketosis helps manage my response to hunger. It helps prevent making poor food choices. In addition to ketosis, I’ve found that doing the following helps tremendously while in deficit:
  • IF (intermittent fasting – going 16 hours after dinner and first meal of the day). I’ve experimented with longer fasted periods, but found 16 hours a good balance to maintain energy levels. As mentioned in earlier keto posts, I do this because it frees up my daily schedule and makes meal-time that much more satisfying (vs the often-recommended 5-6 small meals per day). There are also hormonal benefits that are too science-y to detail here.
  • Eat tons and tons of salad and fibrous low-calorie veggies -- and Beano + Gas-X !)
  • Make frequent visits to the grocery market, and shop for only a few days into the future -- within reason. Keeps salads and veggies fresh and crisp. Helps avoid stocking up on food I should avoid anyway.
  • Limit calorie-dense food in the house. (Again, within reason. We have two young vibrant kids who eat closer to a standard American diet.) Not in the fridge. Not in the cupboards. Out of site, out of mind.
  • Keep lifting to maintain lean mass.


I discovered something neat while going through old pics.

A couple years ago (summer of 2014), I experimented with an extended deficit with practically zero workouts. I was recovering from a string of injuries and surgeries that limited any kind of exertion. Not working out also simplified my calorie-deficit requirements. In the end, I got down to 134 at lowest and it did not look good. I had very little muscle. I was not just skinny-fat, but bony-fat.

From late 2014 through 2015, while mostly injury free, I re-started some strength training, then got heavily into trail distance running. Here’s from late summer 2015:

Not bad, but still a bit soft in the mid-section.

In late 2015, I had a pair of terrible injuries that shut everything down: 1) A frozen left shoulder that developed after a pair of rotator-cuff injuries and 2) A badly sprained ankle that I kept re-aggravating. 

Between the two injuries, I couldn’t lift heavy nor stay on my feet for any duration. By the spring of 2016, it became clear that any race goals I had for the year were out the window.
Even now, after eight months of focused rehab, the injuries still limit any kind of heavy lifting and high-impact cardio.

But, ya know what? I could still do some things well. I could stay positive. I could eat clean. I could do a core routine. And I could have goals!   

Instead of racing, the goal became to lean-out ahead of a summer vacation in Hawaii. It was to prove a point that CICO mattered most. What would it look like if I ate below maintenance and kept up with my core and injury-rehab routines?

Here’s the progress from late-April to late-July this year. We’re going to Hawaii next week, so the last pic will be my maintenance goal for August.

NEXT POST: Keto and next-level diagnostics

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Keto & The Bigger Picture

I’d meant to add this post later in the keto-update series, but world events lately got me thinking about “the man in the mirror.”

What am I doing to help bring light into the world? What am I doing to help ease the suffering? What am I doing about it in real life?

How can I serve? …

I have a family history of heart disease and diabetes. Both my parents were Type-2. My dad, a smoker and sedentary, died in his 50s of a heart attack. He was not much older than I am now. My mom died from brain-disease (PSP). Diabetes has been shown to accelerate her disease (and other brain diseases) -- if not contribute to its cause.

Now that I'm firmly in middle-age, I've noticed terms like "longevity" and "quality-of-life" becoming more a part of everyday conversation.

I grew up a runner and competing in races. I know what it feels like to compete in tip-top shape, and then try to do those same things while in poor health as a grown-up. In college and throughout my 20s, I tried to be a cool kid, picked up smoking (I know, I know), and ate/drank too much. Even now, decades later and leaner, I still see and feel the effects of those choices.

I have a responsibility to my family to be in the best shape I can be -- physically, mentally, financially; a responsibility to make positive choices a habit.

In the book series A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) there is a saying: “Valar morghulis / Valar dohaeris.” All men must die / All men must serve.

We try to teach our children to be responsible, to be kind and generous. To contribute. To serve.

Can I expect that of myself?

So here goes. In the coming months I will be contributing my time and fitness goals to causes that are close to home and that affect my family and circle of friends. I hope to keep a running tally of that effort here, and keep that up for as long as I can.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Keto & Long-Distance Running

To update last year’s running progress: I did, in fact, finish Brazen Racing’s Ultra Half Series by completing six of their toughest trail half marathons in a year. The finale at Rocky Ridge (Las Trampas Wilderness) was particularly torturous and required dedicated training for the terrain and heat. But I did it. All while in ketosis.

The following is what works for me while training and running at half-marathon distance and below.

But first, “long-distance” is relative. To me at the moment, a half-marathon is about as long as I want to run. Distances beyond that push the fun-to-suffering scale too far to the right. So, at half-marathon conditioning, a long-run might be 9-plus miles. But, say, 15 years ago when I ran a full marathon, a half-marathon would be warm-up. And in my 20s? Goodness, I was a smoker and 70 pounds overweight. I couldn’t run 50 yards.


Long Runs

It took me awhile to get this sorted right. And I’ve settled on the following: It’s okay to have some carbs during a long run. Heck, I’ll even have a few shots of full-sugar cola if race-day conditions are particularly brutal. Here’s the thing: If I’m not stuffing my face at every aid/snack station, it’s a safe bet I’ll be at a huge calorie deficit and running on ketones throughout.

What I eat on a long run:

  • Tablespoons of various nut-butters tied up in grocery-store vegetable bags. Lots of good fat. Potassium. A handful of sugar grams. I eat maybe one or two of these an hour. These are my energy-gel (sugar bomb) replacements.
  • Tablespoons of cream cheese tied up in bags. Helps break up the monotony of nut-butters. These have to be eaten before the day warms up. 
  • Gummy chews in tiny bites. This is mostly a mental/CNS boost to get through very hard efforts. Just a taste is enough. I’ll chew off about a quarter of a gummy and keep it in my cheek, swishing it back and forth before and during a hard effort. Here’s a really fascinating article (with linked studies) on When and Why to Swish 'n' Spit
  • Supplements: Zero/low-calorie electrolyte & salt-stick capsules 
  • Aid-station snacks. I’ll save these for late in a run. It’s a nice change-up in texture and flavor. A handful of nuts, raisins, M&Ms, maybe some banana bites. Maybe a shot of cola. I’m here to party, y’all.

For short races and tempo runs:

  • A pre-workout (eg, C4)
  • Gummy chews in tiny bites (see link above)


Keto doesn’t break the laws of Calories-In/Calories-Out. If I want to maintain my fitness gains and enjoy the rest of the day, I’ll eat back estimated calories burned. This is all fuzzy math because workout-burn is wildly speculative. To be safe, I low-ball the burn estimate then eat more through the day as needed in 100-200 calorie increments.


If I’m on a cut, I don’t count my longer runs as part of the calorie deficit. I feel awful when I try. The goals feel like they’re at tug-o-war. There’s a time for training-gains, and a time for leaning-out. Eat enough to get strong and kick-ass.

NEXT POST: Keto & Getting Ripped