Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Think critically about this stuff

In a previous post, I described the negative impulse to stay silent about fitness while my own journey was not complete.  I described a fairly harsh internal criticism on the subject.

Approaching that from another angle: I don't have a degree in dietetics or exercise physiology either -- does that mean that I'm not really qualified to make the observations that I make on this blog?  This is a fairly, overly self conscious line of questioning.

What I'd say is that someone with a masters in a STEM subject is probably well enough equipped to read the relevant research, and to think critically about claims being made by the community. (I'm only saying "with an MS in STEM" because that is what I have -- you might make the same claim about yourself, wherever you are.). If you are curious enough, and disciplined enough to pursue real sources (Google Scholar, not YouTube!), you can make good inroads into having a solid understanding.  It doesn't get you all the way to an MD, but you can understand a lot.

Also, incidentally -  Everyone in this community is running around saying "this is not medical advice, but...".    What you have to understand though, is that a layperson can (check this with a legal expert) give any kind of advice that they want, because there is no claim that their advice is medical advice.  If you have an MD and are governed by standards of care, this changes. I have at times entertained a fantasy of becoming a registered dietician, but I recognize that I would then be bound by standards of care, and the office that that degree awards.

I've said this before, but think critically about what I'm saying as well as everyone else you read, listen to, or watch on the internet, or at the library. (I also have an entire category on this blog marked "bullshit".) Checking citations is a good place to start, although most people don't write blog articles as if writing an academic research paper, and I am probably as guilty as anyone for citing YouTube.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Fasting for more meal flexibility than keto

"Well, if we are going to get really technical, I think a lot of the benefits [of fasting and time restricted eating] are overstated.  And a lot of the benefits are things that we have only studied in animals...  For example, a 16 hour fast in a mouse produces unbelievable results.  ...once you give a long enough period of time where the animal can ramp up the enzymes in the liver that are responsible for fat oxidation, they just become unbelievably efficient at metabolizing fat. 

We have to be careful though when we extrapolate that [to humans], because you and I have a very different metabolism than a mouse.  So I don't know if those benefits would extend.  So for me, what it comes down to is, it's just an easier way [than a strict low carb ketogenic diet], it gives me much more liberty with what I eat during my feeding window.  I don't have to be nearly as restrictive when I'm feeding if I have that period off.  I kind of hate being tethered to eat."

-- Longevity specialist Dr. Peter Attia

Monday, April 25, 2022


 This is really hard to admit, and to write in a blog post, but...

I was putting away laundry tonight and noticing how exhausted I was getting.  I've got this 140 pound bowling ball in my stomach, and every movement kind of deteriorates because of it.

I have done pretty well fasting, and I'd like to stick to my plan, but I think I can be even more conscientious about gratuitous  sugar.  I don't want to over-optimize something that is working, but I can't wait to be closer to where I want to be.

At the same time, I'm coming to my first goal, which is weighing what I weighed at the beginning of 2021.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Don't go hard all the time

 "Any individual who is going to exhaustion on a frequent basis is absolutely not in a healthy place with his or her exercise regimen. In training, just because I can go really hard doesn’t mean I’m going to benefit. In fact, it can be counterproductive. After either training or exercising, you are worse than before you started. You are slower, you are weaker, you are less capable. It is only once there’s been recovery that there’s the possibility of being better for it. If I just go as hard as I possibly can at something there is no guarantee that I’ll actually get a positive adaptive response."

-- Sports scientist Neal Henderson [ quoted in Men's Journal ]

It's important to establish where the boundaries of basic training, steady state, and tempo training are.  On my Polar Heart Rate Monitor these boundaries are at:

  • 50-60% basic training
  • 60-70% steady state
  • 70-80% tempo  

That means at a fairly relaxed pace, one is still doing beneficial basic training.

I have this instinct, and I believe it is common, to really push myself to go faster and harder, especially at the end of workouts.  I also noticed that in the subsequent day, I don't feel as keen on working out at all, and if I do, I workout at a much lower level.

A hard 40 minute workout in the upper range of steady state training, with a 10 minute excursion into tempo training at the end.

The next day - trouble warming up out of the basic training range, with perceived effort only slightly under the previous day, even at the slower pace.

I think the argument here is that it's much more beneficial to get a bunch of hours at relatively low intensity, then to just burn yourself out physically, neurologically, and psychologically with much harder effort.

During my brief athletic career this bore out, not only in the racing results, but in the continuity, and character of the training.  It is an interesting place to be to be looking forward to hour pieces every day, when the alternative is high intensity work.  The routine becomes relaxing, and it feels like it is constructive rather than deconstructive.

Learning to do "Long Slow Distance" is a skill that one likely develops with experience.  I am happy doing hour pieces now because I learned to do them when I was a teenager.  I am happy to have my only stimuli be the display of a heart rate monitor and music because I trained myself to get something out of that kind of biofeedback.  

I don't know in naive exercisers whether working towards hour long aerobic pieces is a chore or whether people universally take the pleasure in them that I do.  I do know that the bulk of our training ought to be in the aerobic range.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

You have a right to think and talk about fitness at any size.

 Sometimes when I am writing in this blog, a hyper-critical voice goes off in my head that says something like "STFU fatass, you can't actualize this stuff, so stop f**ing running your mouth about it."

That's dumb.

Moderation in goal setting

 The last post was entirely about moderation in.. ehem... moderating carbs.  This post is going to be about how we think about the destination for this journey.

When I was 18, I was a national champion sculler.  Scullers don't really have groupies, but as any 44 year old looking back on being 18, I am nostalgic for some of the relationships I had at the time!

When I think about where I want to be physically, I think a big part of me is looking for a time machine.  That's kind of dumb though.  For one, there is good evidence that the body mass index curve shifts to the right as you age.  The same body mass that is overweight at 18 might be protective at 65.    For two, there are a lot of really serious health benefits to be had all along the way to the fountain of youth.  5% weight loss, weighing what I did before Corona, class 2 obesity down from class 3 obesity, weighing what I did 10 years ago..etc, etc.

All I'm saying is be conscious of a kind of dysmorphia creeping in that doesn't allow you to see progress.   Just because I'm not in race-ready-18-year-old form, doesn't mean I can't celebrate what progress I have made. Shoot for small milestones, and celebrate them when you pass them.

You have to enjoy it!!

With fasting and exercise, you kind of have to enjoy it to make it sustainable.  One indicator that you have gone too hard, too soon is a feeling of anxiety about doing it again tomorrow.  If you ease into things, you may find that you really start to look forward to the fasts or the workouts.

Try to find different ways to infuse joy into what you are doing.  A big one for me, is really enjoying the break-fast.  A long time ago a good friend from Kentucky introduced me to biscuits and gravy, and that is my go-to meal to break a fast.  Just the joy of eating that sustains the next fast.   (If you follow a fast with plain grilled chicken over a salad, ask yourself how long can you keep that up?)

With respect to working out, the "runner's high" is a real thing.  If you aren't pushing too hard, or grinding, you may find that the workout becomes a critical part of your wellbeing.  

The simplicity of the 36 hour fast in terms of accounting

 One of the things that derailed early attempts at fasting was a kind of wishy washyness to start and end times.  When someone put me onto the 36 hour fast, this entirely resolved.

The 36 hour fast is simple: you eat dinner, then you fast the entire next day, breaking the fast when you wake up with breakfast 36 hours later.   There's not a lot of ambiguity in this, you just skip an entire days worth of eating.

From there, you can extend out your fast, or pull it back as circumstances dictate.

That first fast

In March, after months and years of flirting with fasting, I finally completed my first 36 hour fast.  This was followed rapidly by many more in the months to come.  

I wonder if that is a common experience among fasters.  There was a tremendous amount of anxiety before being able to just get through that first fast.  The concept that helped was Meagan Ramos, one of the founders of The Fasting Method, referring to fasting as "treatment", not to be skipped.

There are other times in this process where anxiety has played a role. For example  I wasn't sure I was going to be able to return to fasting if I took a few days off, but I was.  There is a ratchet-like characteristic to all of these experiences -- meaning that once you have gotten through the milestone you are then able to rely on that experience.

People refer to the "fasting muscle" in various support groups.  It is true that the more that you practice, the easier it becomes.  It is also true that you can "strain" this muscle by overdoing it.  Meagan Ramos at one point said that approximately 3 36 hour fasts is enough, and that "more isn't more."

Sorting out exercise and fasting took a little patience as well.  A lot of us have a tendency to be internally authoritarian with our nutrition and fitness schedules.  That turned out to be counterproductive -- it was when I gave myself permission to try different combinations of workout days and fast days that I found a rhythm.   Research into "Zone 2" training also helped (read back a few posts in this blog.)

I wanted this post to be a voice of encouragement.  There is sort of an "energy of activation" to all of this.  As I said, once you get through various key milestones, things do get easier.  I recognize though the tremendous anxiety that that first fast causes.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Noticing heart rate variability

 Two zone 2 workouts can have very different heart rate profiles.  During the first one below, it felt like it took me a long time to warm up, and was then a struggle to stay above 70% MHR.  In the second one, my heart rate jumped right up to zone 2, and the workout felt easy, despite being at the upper end of the 70-80% range.

I don't really have a good explanation for what is going on here, if anything.  The frequency of workouts for both sessions was only about 2-3 per week, and I didn't make any changes to my sleep or fasting schedule.  Neither workout was fasted.

Alternate day fasting? Alternate day weighing.

 One small difficulty of alternate day fasting is that you get these fairly large swings in weight on a day to day basis.  Try only weighing yourself on the fasted or fed days, or deleting the interleaved data once you have collected enough of it.  You might see a better weight loss pattern.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Zone 2 Training: Dose, Frequency, and Duration | Iñigo San-Millán, Ph.D. & Peter Attia, M.D.

 Dose here is something of a misnomer.  The dose is Zone-2 training.  70-80% of max heart rate, or tested via lactate analysis.

[Edit: On further reflection, I'm tempted to break Z2 up into 2 segments, call them Z2a and Z2b: 65-70%MHR and 70-75%MHR.]

Frequency Attia and San-Millan are in agreement that 4 days per week is probably the sweet spot, that less is ineffective, and that up to 6 days might be beneficial.

Duration: Attia recommends 45 minutes, while San-Millan recommends 1 to 1.5 hours.  The difference might be due to Attia doing workouts on a well controlled stationary bike, with San-Millan referring to road riding. San-Millan says at one point something like, 'in the course of a 1.5 hour ride, you might get 1 hour of zone 2.'

Order: Both are in agreement that it is effective to do a bit of high intensity training at the end of a Zone 2 workout, but not the other way around.

How to find your “Zone 2” without using a lactate [or heart rate] meter | The Peter Attia Drive Podcast

Even without a max-heart-rate test, I still really like using a monitor and predicted max heart rate as a gauge.   However the age-old test is whether you can carry on a somewhat halting conversation during the training.  My old coach, who was an English teacher, used to say "more in the manner of Hemingway, than Joyce". 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Where is Zone 2?

A quick (and probably flawed) summary of Zone 2 training: Zone 2 is also referred to as base training.  It is a pace that one might do for 45 minutes to an hour 3-4 times per week.  It is effective for training aerobic fitness.

I have heard from two authorities for where Zone 2 is with respect to predicted heart rate.  You can use the Miller equation, which is 200 - .48 * age to find a prediction of heart rate that has been shown to be affective in obese and overweight people.† The most recent is Peter Attia, who puts it at about %70 to %80 max heart rate.††  Going back a bit farther to a coach I really trust, he was proscribing workouts both in the 70-80% range and in the 80-90% range.   The latter zone might be something higher than Zone 2 training.

[Edit: On further reflection, I'm tempted to break Z2 up into Z2a and Z2b, 65-70%MHR and 70-75%MHR.]

This is a post where I really recommend consulting with a physician and/or cardiologist before trying to reach the heart rate targets below.

† Franckowiak, Shawn C., et al. "Maximal heart rate prediction in adults that are overweight or obese." Journal of strength and conditioning research/National Strength & Conditioning Association 25.5 (2011): 1407.

†† MD, Peter. "#201 – Deep dive back into Zone 2 | Iñigo San-Millán, Ph.D. (Pt. 2)". Peter Attia MD, Iñigo San-Millán, Ph.D. 3/28/2022.