Sunday, July 31, 2016

Don’t Waste Time, Get a DXA

When starting or maintaining a cut, there’s usually some lag-time while figuring out just how many calories you should be eating to maximize fat-loss while maintaining lean-mass.

There’s a lot of trial-and-error. It could go on for weeks and weeks. And when you get into a grove, the numbers are still based on your best guesses. It’s like playing the board-game Battleship, but with moving pieces! This is when stalls happen despite your best efforts.

Enter DXA body-composition scans. These will tell you precisely how much body-fat, lean- and bone-tissue you have. Plug those numbers into various formulas and you can get just how much you should be eating – whether to lose weight, to maintain, or to add for lean gains.

Here’s 3.5 months of my progress. While I lost 9.2 pounds of body-fat, I also added 0.6 pounds of muscle overall! (ie, the extra muscle gave a slight bump in burn capacity!) That tells me the DXA numbers helped provide a sensible and successful nutrition plan. I saw consistent progress from day-to-day and week-to-week. No stalls.

Notice how the overall body-fat weight changed overtime. Using those updated numbers helped target my deficit max as I got leaner; In April, my potential fat-loss max was almost 900 calories per day. But by end of July, the potential max was 600. (The difference, 300 calories, is a light meal. Wow!) Cutting any steeper would put me in the red-zone and I’d risk losing hard-earned lean mass.


When I first got serious about proper nutrition, DXA and similar body-composition scans were prohibitively expensive and only available at select facilities nowhere nearby. Nowadays, however, a scan costs much, much less. And if you live near a major city, a mobile service will even come out to a convenient location! (In the SF Bay Area, there are at least three mobile services and a handful of brick-and-mortar locations.)

That’s one less barrier to the process: The math side and guess-work is all easily and immediately handled.

To get fit, you need only to act on good information; You don’t need any fancy gear, or a gym membership, or to exercise endlessly every day. You absolutely don’t need to starve.

NEXT POST: Keto, maintenance and travel

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 just a method for managing appetite and simplifying CICO (among many other great things).

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 add fat weight, 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 an extra dimension to training and nutrition. 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-wear 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.

During a cut, a constant focus is on satiety, how to feel full. What are the most-filling foods I can eat within a limited number of calories? Should I eat 100 calories from a small pat of butter? Or 100 calories 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. Per various conclusions, that limit translates to roughly 30 calories per pound of body-fat per day. 

For example, if I have 30 pounds of bodyfat, the largest daily calorie deficit I should shoot would be 900 calories (30x30). Anything beyond that, and I risk losing hard-earned lean-mass to the fire. (In real life, that's a massive deficit that I'd find unsustainable.)

To eliminate wasted time and the guesswork of finding my body-fat weight, I’ve had a series of DEXA scans to verify my body-fat changes over time. This info allows more-precise calorie requirements to maximize fat-loss while minimizing lean-mass loss.

Dietary Protein: I follow the general guide of eating roughly 1 gram of protein (4 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:
  • Intermitttent Fasting – going 16 hours after dinner and first meal of the day. I’ve experimented with longer fasted periods, but 16 hours is 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 help manage hunger and satiety.
  • 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.) If it's not in the fridge and not in the cupboards, it's out of site, out of mind.
  • Measure every morning. I record two: Total weight and circumference of widest point of ab flab. Measurements can vary day-to-day. Seeing that variance helps ease any doubts whether the program is working. It also helps see the effects different foods, liquids, and quantities have from day-to-day 
  • Keep lifting. This is a must-do to preserve 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. (I have eliminated all visual evidence.)

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 serious 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 progress with the exercises I could do. 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 rehab?

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.

Calories In, Calories Out: All of the above was done without running or cycling -- and with light resistance for weight-training and core-strength training.

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

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Still Keto: What I Eat Nowadays

According to the blog metrics, lots of visitors arrive here via keto-related research.

I’ve remained in ketosis (or “Primal/Paleo” at minimum) since July 2012.  Four years. It still feels great. The next few blog posts will be about what I’ve learned so far over that time.


Possibly the biggest reason I wanted to keto-blog again is that my wife and I have gotten really good at preparing our meat dishes. Some household appliances have greatly helped:
  • a sous-vide controller 
  • a chimney starter for charcoal grilling
  • a remote food thermometer 
Swear, since introducing these items, I have not wanted to go out to eat anywhere (except for sushi-sashimi and BBQ at a couple neighborhood spots). Add in some fresh home-grown veggies from Lisa’s vegetable garden and our kitchen is at Napa-level. Not even kidding.

The sous-vide controller lets us cook meats evenly at a desired “doneness” temperature while maintaining tenderness. That is, if you spend $40 at the counter for ribeye, you’re going to want to cook it the way you imagine it. The sous-vide controller lets us do that.


But even better is that it can turn otherwise mundane lean meats (chicken breast, pork chop) into something spectacular. At this writing, we’ve cooked chicken breast every week for the last four months. It comes out juicy, like a lite-flavored chicken thigh or leg. It’s inexpensive and helps simplify macro-nutrient planning.

The chimney starter helps speed up charcoal grilling, which had gone dormant for years after our gas grill. With the chimney starter, we can start grilling after 10 minutes (versus, say, 40 minutes spent getting the coals to burn right). We do have a separate wood-chip smoker that gets regular use (especially in winter) but it’s not the same. We like some char.

The remote food thermometer gives us a more-precise way of pulling the meat off the grill at the right temperature. It's not nearly as spot-on as the sous-vide, but a world of difference over the highly inexact poke-and-see method we used in the past.


At this writing, I’ve been on an extended cut for a couple reasons. I’ll go further into that in a later post. As mentioned early on, keto doesn’t magically break the laws of physics and CICO (calories in, calories out).

What I’ve learned on this cut: Hunger is my cue that I’m burning fat stores; Let it burn!

So I will get hungry. That’s just how cuts go. But maybe the best thing about keto is that it helps manage the body’s response to hunger; I don’t ever get “hangry.” I don’t bonk physically or mentally. And when it does come time to eat, having a level-head helps make the right food choices.

So besides the meat dishes, what do I eat?


Or, to borrow a Paleo/Primal adage, “vegetarianism with a steak on top*.” While cutting, a normal meal goes like this:
  • 2-3 ounces of a meat depending on protein/fat ratio 
  • A bowl stuffed to the max with leafy greens and low-calorie/high-fiber veggies (for satiety and vitamin/minerals)
  • Supplements: Fish oil, potassium, magnesium (chelated or citrate), one-a-day multivitamin
The above gets me through most days. For higher-activity, on-the-go days (or maintenance days), I’ll add the following as needed:
  • An extra meal or two of the above
  • Quest protein bars and shakes for any further protein and fiber needs (and because they’re delicious!)
  • Eggs, nuts, nut-butters, avocado, low-calorie cheeses, bacon bits, olive/avocado oil, coconut oil

*Being cheeky: For strictly practical reasons, keto/paleo heads likely eat at least as many fresh vegetables as vegetarians and vegans do.

NEXT POST: Keto and long-distance running