Category Archives: Nutrition and Fitness

Put Your Muscles Where Your Mouth Is

Yesterday my six week CrossFit challenge came to a close. It was a bittersweet day because, although we were happy to have made it all the way through the course, we were sad about our weekly meetings coming to an end. Much as I suspected, I am not the only one who enjoyed working with the same group of ladies each time I went to class.

The six weeks went by quickly and, as I looked around the gym while we were doing our last WOD (Workout of the Day) together, I was surprised and impressed by how far we had all come in such a short amount of time. Everybody looked stronger, we knew the names of the movements we were supposed to be doing (a big improvement for sure; at many times during the six weeks I felt sorry for our instructors- it must have felt like herding cats trying to get us all going the right direction!), and, most impressive of all, nobody was complaining. Having a group of women, who two months ago would not have described themselves as particularly fit or at all CrossFit savvy, working together on a hot, Hawaiian Saturday afternoon and not hearing any complaints about the aches, pains, and sweat is a big accomplishment!

Our final WOD; do you hear the Eye of the Tiger theme from ‘Rocky’ playing?

Our final workout was a team workout, so, while we didn’t do all of the movements on our own, we did all do the 2 burpees every minute on the minute, and that counts for something, right? As a team, we managed to get through almost three rounds (we had just goblet squats and burpees left to power through, c’est la vie) and, I’m ashamed to admit, that when I first looked at the whiteboard and saw the 20 minute cap, I was concerned we wouldn’t make it through one entire round. Essentially what I am trying to tell you is that this group of ladies and I are a bunch of badass mofos and, when there are tacos at stake, we don’t play around.

Our final WOD was followed by a Taco Tuesday (on Saturday) themed fiesta, and it was well-deserved. No matter where we started from, we all worked hard to make ourselves just a little bit better each time we stepped into the gym. Using the guidance provided through the daily emails, we each tried to find a way to eat more healthfully, and, even from day to day, I could see physical improvement in all of us. There were ladies who couldn’t run the entire 400 m warm-up run on day one, and, by the time we were up to running a mile, Coach Gil said it was the first time he had ever had all participants in the New You group finish in under thirteen minutes. Progress! The first time I tried to do an overhead squat holding just the light PVC practice bar, my shoulders and hips were so stiff I almost fell over, and now I can do them, tentatively, with 25 lbs of total weight. Tentative progress, but progress all the same!

Kettlebell swings. To demonstrate how much I’ve learned, I knew to ask if we were supposed to be doing American or Russian style swings.

I’m excited to see how CrossFit will influence my running (yeah, I signed up to continue. That’s how it is with me, I guess; I sign up for things like this thinking it will be a fun, one-off experiment and I’ll have a funny story to tell about that time I trained for a marathon or that time I did several weeks of CrossFit, but then I really enjoy what I’m doing and see changes in myself that I really like and I’m hooked.) In the short-term, the workouts have made me very tired, but I think that is to be expected as my body adjusts to being challenged in a new way (challenged, tortured, po-tay-to, po-tah-to). I think CrossFit will be good at countering the stiffness that running, just by the nature of the fact that your body is always moving the same way, inherently creates. This must be why so many runners I know also like to compete in triathlons because the swimming and the biking force you to do something a little different, but I’m afraid of sharks and I don’t like to put my face in public pools because they are gross, so triathlons seem to be out for me. Also I think that people would laugh at my cruiser if I tried to ride it in a race. So, CrossFit it is, for now.

I think, in the long run, it will help my running. With a stronger core and more balanced strength, I predict that my endurance will increase and I will maybe even become a little faster. Time will tell. I don’t know if I will see these kinds of results in the upcoming Hapalua half-marathon (ummmm…..it’s next Sunday! One week!) because I am so flippin’ tired, but, I am going to take it a bit easier this week to allow my muscles some rest. Of course, it’s also time to start eating some extra carbohydrates- music to my ears; bring on the pasta! Last year I ran this race in about 2:05, and this year I hope to run it in under 2:00. After my fantastic marathon, I thought that this was a pretty achievable goal, but I’m starting to have doubts. I will be happy to knock any time off of last year’s race, and ultimately hope that I don’t add time, but if I’ve learned anything from having trained for two marathons and, now, three half-marathons, it’s that every day is different, and you’ve got to run the best you can in the moment. Here’s hoping my newly-found CrossFit muscles feel revived and ready to help power me on after a week of rest!

CrossFit: it’ll put hair on your lip!
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Stayin’ Alive

 

View from the gym. Makes it easier to play through the pain when you’re looking at this.

Yes! More than halfway through my CrossFit ‘experiment’ and I’m still standing.

I’m really enjoying the class and am learning quite a bit about CrossFit. Mostly I’m learning that it really IS as hard as it looks and that I really like working out with only ladies. There is something so liberating about showing up at the gym and knowing that nobody is going to be impatiently waiting for me to relinquish the barbell or be silently judging the (lack of) weight I’m lifting; these ladies, like me, have nothing to prove. I’ve heard the same sentiment expressed by others in our group; we’d all like to continue with the ‘ole XFit (is that a thing? like Xtina?), but we’d like to continue with just ladies. Can it be ladies night every night, please?

This CrossFit program has us meeting three or four days a week for an hour long estrogen-fueled sweat sesh. Most days, we start with a short run to warm-up (ahem, I ran my fastest mile on Saturday, 7:35, no big deal [brushes off shoulders]) which everybody but me seems to dread, but I like it because it’s the only part of the class where I feel like I know what I’m doing. Then, we move on to going over the day’s class goal which is usually learning some new movement, like a clean or toes to bar, etc., and we finish the day with a Workout of the Day (WOD for short, CrossFit is so hip that even the workouts get nicknames) that focuses on whatever the day’s skill was. It’s a pretty simple format.

We’re learning the correct form for lots of types of lifts and movements; they all look pretty straightforward when I watch the coaches demonstrate, but, man, I’ve never felt so uncoordinated as when I’m trying to follow their lead. It’s kind of like dancing, which I’m also not very good at, but I don’t let my lack of natural talent stop me from enjoying myself. So far we’ve learned how to jerk, snatch, clean, squat, toes to bar, pull-up, and burpee. Soooooo….many…..burpeeeeesssss.

We burpee if we show up to class late. We burpee if someone misses class. We burpee if we forget someone’s name. We burpee if we row under or over our rowing goal. We burpee if we’re bored. We burpee if we’re tired. We burpee if we’re hungry. Essentially, we burpee for the heck of it. It seems that, much like my parents’ telling me to “go play outside” whenever I started to annoy them as a child, the coaches instruct us to burpee as a diversion technique. I will admit it is pretty effective and they say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but I’m not sure if “they” ever did a burpee.

I’m not supposed to eat this.

Part of this program focuses on our diet. We are supposed to be eliminating processed sugar (even maple syrup,  which, since I’m from VT, is essentially a food group) and eating more protein and healthy fats. While I haven’t cut out sugar completely, I have almost done so (as an aside, tea without honey is hardly worth drinking), and I am surprised by the difference I see and feel. Swapping sugars for more protein and healthy fats has made me less inclined to snack throughout the day, and I feel like I have more energy in general. I’ll admit that, as a vegetarian, I’ve found it nearly impossible to completely forgo bread and I’m probably eating more starchy grains, like rice, than I’m supposed to be eating, but, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to maintain her sanity

The first week of the program, I cut sugar out completely, and, after a mini-meltdown when Don asked if I wanted to grab lunch at our favorite restaurant, which serves mainly sandwiches, decided that it wasn’t going to be possible for me to both completely eliminate sugar and maintain my status as a functioning member of society. By the end of the week, tired of hard boiled eggs and avocados, I found myself spinning around the kitchen like a whirling dervish trying to find an afternoon snack, cursing my vegetarianism as I imagined my classmates eating grilled chicken. I was probably one paleo recipe away from spending my afternoons crying into a bag of marshmallows; at Don’s recommendation, I began to allow myself the simple luxury of bread and feel much better now.

So far, this has been a great experience, and I’d like to continue pursuing my dreams of CrossFit competency after the New You program ends. I get a good vibe from the other gym goers and the coaching staff is friendly, knowledgeable and chill. My personal favorite is a gal named Coach Tiff because her whole “thang” is essentially my life goal. She seems really happy to be at the gym, even if she is spending much of her time helping a bunch of sweaty newbies adjust their form, and she is so fit that she looks like how I imagine look when I’m dreaming. That level of fitness takes a lot of dedication, and I admire that. I’m sure, since I’m doing this program and all, that I’ll look like Coach Tiff in a few weeks; thats how this fitness thing works, right?

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For Thanksgiving, this year, I opted for a non-traditional dessert. Since it was just going to be the two of us, I tried a recipe I had found online for Chocolate Stout Pumpkin Brownies, and I’m not going to bother to link to the recipe because it was a total bust.

I guess, judging from the title of the recipe I should have known it was going to be a bust- I mean, there is a lot going on there: chocolate, stout, and pumpkin? Kinda wild- but I had high hopes for this dessert. Even though they are relatively simple to make, I hardly ever make brownies from scratch because 1. I need a pan of brownies on the kitchen counter calling to me every time I walk past like I need a hole in the head, and, 2. I hate chopping chocolate; it is unsatisfying and makes a big mess.

I have a trusty brownie recipe that I’ve made in the past when an occasion called for not-from-the-box brownies and it’s this one from SmittenKitchen (or it might be this one, but either way you can’t go wrong. Or better yet make BOTH and have a taste-off), but I stumbled across this other recipe when I was looking, a couple of weeks ago, for recipes that called for beer (it’s a long story… actually it’s not: we are part of a home brewing club and for a recent pot-luck meeting it was decided that we all would try to make food that featured beer as an ingredient). I saved this recipe that called for a cup of stout beer as the liquid and featured a festive cream cheese/pumpkin swirl because I thought it sounded like the perfect finale to our small Thanksgiving feast. It was not.

The texture of the brownies is good- cakey and crumbly without being greasy- and they smell delicious, but they taste like a  square of baking chocolate. Bitter and bland. It’s been a huge bummer in our house; never has an 8×8 pan of brownies lasted for so long. I knew they were as bad as I’d imagined when I returned from work yesterday to find that my husband, who had the day off, had not yet helped himself to another brownie. Normally he would have helped himself to half of the pan- especially since he cleaned the house while I was at work and deserved a reward.

We bought a tub of frosting to see if we could salvage them, but I find that now I’m just eating spoonfuls of frosting instead of the brownies, and I need to be eating spoonfuls of frosting like I need a hole in the head! I’ve thrown in the towel, but Don has vowed to give the brownies just one more chance with the frosting, and then it looks like they are headed for the trash bin. I hate wasting things like this- the ingredients and the time it took to make the damn things- but it also seems just as silly to waste calories eating something that should taste yummy but does not. Life is too short to eat a bad brownie, am I right?

Luckily we are still in the midst of marathon training to offset some of those lost calories. Last Sunday we had our longest training run, the 20 miler affectionately known as the Motherf&@#er, and I felt pretty good at the end of it (that’s a lie, I felt terrible at the end of it, but I felt pretty good after a shower and some stretching. The stretching is key).

I ran it in about 3.5 hours which, while not fast for our group of over-achievers, is pretty incredible for me. I think that I could run the remaining 6.2 miles in about an hour (plus a few minutes), so it seems like I’m in good shape for my goal of running the marathon in less than 5 hours. I’m aiming for 4:45, but I would be satisfied with any time of 4:59 or less.

At this point, it is really mind over matter and all depends on whether I can talk myself into pushing just a little harder for just a little longer and ignoring the fact that my legs hurt and my armpits are raw. We’re fit and we’ve trained as much as our bodies will allow, so now it comes down to grit. For now, I’m enjoying our taper time and looking forward to the fact that tomorrow’s long run is only 7 miles through the picturesque (and hilly) Ho’omaluhia gardens. These few weeks of rest and food will hopefully help give us time to restore for the big day. One thing not on my pre-race fuel menu? Chocolate Stout Pumpkin Brownies.

 

What’s the Best Diet? Healthy Eating 101 According to Dr. Mike Evans

I came across this video on my Facebook newsfeed earlier this week; it was posted by the Wellness Center I used to visit in Germany and it does a great job of succinctly presenting advice for healthy eating habits. It’s definitely worth a watch if you have any confusion about what healthy eating means and want to reaffirm your desire to stay away from fad diets that are unsustainable because there is no way in HELL that you can go the rest of your lifetime without eating potatoes or bread!

Hotel Chef

The last several days have been pretty hectic with packing up the remainder of our household goods, super-cleaning the apartment (and crossing our fingers that we are rewarded with the return of our hefty deposit!), and moving our family of four (two humans, a dog, and a cat) into a hotel room. Now that we are settled in the hotel, we are just waiting for the day when we can fly back to the states. Unfortunately there are still odds and ends of paperwork that we need to take care of before we travel, so we can’t just head out immediately.

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Queen-sized bed for four?

Although there are a few upsides to hotel life (for example someone else comes in to clean for me!), eating has been kind of difficult. Our room is equipped with a fridge and a microwave, but the selection of easily microwavable foods in grocery stores is pretty limited. Don and I have been eating a lot of salad bar meals and have had a few microwaveable dinners. Nothing gourmet comes out of the microwave, but our ratings of the nuke-able options (based on taste alone, not nutritional value because I don’t believe any of these meals are particularly nutritious) are as follows: Amy’s Organic microwavable meals get two thumbs up, Kraft Easy Mac gets two thumbs down, Ramen noodles with snap peas and shredded carrots added to the broth get two thumbs up, Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean Burger is awarded two thumbs up, and Campbell’s Soup at Hand gets one thumb up, one thumb down. Honestly, the salad bar is the real winner but it is unfortunately only stocked during lunch time.

I am counting down the days until I can be reunited with a real kitchen that has a real stove and real knives to chop things up with and real counters on which to do the chopping- I don’t actually know when that will be so my countdown is imprecise. In the meantime, I have been browsing recipes both online and in cookbooks at the library and in bookstores. I found a tasty sounding arugula, watermelon and goat cheese salad recipe in a cookbook at the post office that I’m looking forward to making (it sounds perfectly refreshing for Hawaii’s climate), and earlier today I found this recipe for ‘samosa’ mashed potatoes and this one for a quinoa salad with ginger sesame dressing. Feel free to go ahead and make these and let me know how they taste so that I can live vicariously through you!

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Hotel living

 

Scared Straight

In college, I had an acquaintance who told me that when she was a teenager she started to get into a lot of trouble, and her parents (I think maybe in conjunction with the local police force- the details are foggy in my memory) hired someone to pick her up and pretend to arrest her in order to show her what life might be like if she didn’t change her behavior. Essentially, they wanted to “scare her straight.” I have just finished disc one (of three) of ‘Weight of the Nation,’ and this movie has had a similar effect on me; it almost elevates poor health as result of bad diet choices and lack of exercise to the anxiety-inducing level of terror that climate change causes me to feel. At this point in the film, I’d like to eat only lettuce for the rest of my life and pledge myself to working out for an hour before going to work, on my lunch break, and after work every day. On weekends I think I’ll just spend the entire day working out. I’m kidding, sort of.

I actually am not as terror-stricken as I would have been prior to starting this fitness journey, but seeing the rise of obesity rates detailed in cold, hard data really emphasizes how dangerous this problem has become. The body type that people considered heavy in the 1980s is much different than the one we consider heavy today; this point was illustrated for me about a year ago when Don and I were watching the movie ‘Stand by Me.’  In this movie, there is a boy whom the others tease for being fat, and to me he looked like an average boy. Our idea of what a healthy body type is has changed quite a bit. This problem is so dangerous not only because it is costly for our health care system to have to treat all of these completely preventable problems, but the personal toll it takes on us to watch our friends and loved ones, or even ourselves, succumb to these diseases, some of which, as you’ll learn if you watch ‘Weight of the Nation,’ did not exist thirty years ago.  After I watch the rest of the movie, I’ll give it a proper review along with ‘Forks Over Knives,’ ‘Hungry for Change,’ and ‘Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead.’

I started the weekend by checking-in with Kim about my progress toward my 10k in under 75 minutes goal. We (she) decided that I should set an actual calendar date deadline as opposed to my sort of vague “by the end of March” original deadline, so I chose March 28th as the day. Soooo….. I have four weeks to talk myself into running with enough of a sense of purpose to cram those 6.2 miles into the length of time it takes to watch a Disney movie. I feel good about this (at least that is what I keep telling myself).

Yesterday, I bailed on my running date with Kiki and opted to trudge out alone. We had had a late night out at a beer garden sampling bock bier- a delicious seasonal dark beer that has a high alcohol content and is the first sure sign of Spring in Bavaria- and had made plans to run whenever we both felt up to the task. When I awoke yesterday morning, it was immediately apparent that at no point was I going to feel up to the task. I was a little hungover which put me in a foul mood, and sometimes misery loves company, but not yesterday.

I ended up going 5 miles (5 endless, excruciating  miles) on a different part of my dog walking path in one hour exactly. It was hard work and it was decidedly not fun, but at the end I felt like I had redeemed myself for my excessive indulgences the night before and my foul mood had transformed into a cheerier one. What I’m learning about running is that the hardest part (after the pain in my legs from having to propel my body faster than it wants to be propelled, and after the feeling that my lungs are going to burst, and after the hammering of my heart that makes me wonder if it is going to explode in a Game of Thrones-ian firework of blood) is the mental aspect. Some days you go out for a quick jog and end up running 5 miles because everything felt so wonderful, and other days you set out for your long run, and when you feel certain your legs are going to give out from exertion, you look over your shoulder to realize you haven’t even made it out of the driveway yet. Its really a tough sport.

I’m going to keep on plugging away at my training plan and hopefully the good days will outnumber the not-so-good days. March 28th will be here faster than I want it to be!

 

Fattypuffs and Thinifers: don’t fear the fats

Fattypuffs and Thinifers is a book (written I thought by Roald Dahl, but really by a guy named André Maurois) that I read as a child and it somehow became inextricably linked to how I select the foods that I eat. Allow me to explain…

In brief, the book is set in a secret world where people are segregated by size; the Fattypuffs are a round, fleshy people who do and eat things for the pleasure of doing and eating them- a very Epicurean lifestyle- while the Thinifers are a lean people who take pride in exercising and denying themselves pleasurable foods. The FPs regard the TFs as grumpy and condescending and TFs view the FPs as lazy and indulgent. The two sides are at war with one another, and the book is worth a read, so if you want, you can buy it on Amazon (what can’t you buy on Amazon?), but I’m done synopsizing it because I’ve explained enough to arrive at how this children’s book became ingrained in how I choose what I eat.

After reading this book, I came to view my food choices as either a Fattypuff choice or a Thinifer one. The mound of mashed potatoes in which I hid a pat of margarine until it liquified was a Fattypuff choice. The green salad without dressing, a Thinifer one. At Thanksgiving, the acorn squash, turkey (those were the pre-vegetarian days), and asparagus were Thinifer choices while everything else (stuffing, pumpkin pie, green bean casserole, Pillsbury crescent rolls…) were Fattypuff choices.  As a child (I think I read this book as a third or fourth- grader), it was just a funny distinction, but as a young adult, I began to use these as guidelines to help in my decision making. When rummaging through the kitchen for a snack,  I’ll ask myself if I want to make a Fattypuff choice or a Thinifer choice and then I’ll eat either the banana or the brownie (admittedly, I sometimes eat both).

Unfortunately, since there seems to be new information about what is and is not healthy, what we should and should not eat, what a body needs and what a body should run like hell away from every day, the list of Fattypuff choices is now drastically longer than the Thinifer choices. It is really difficult to know what we should (according to science) be eating these days- low fat? no fat? gluten-free? carb-free? paleo? south beach? vegan? butter? margarine? raw only? juice only? fish = good because of omega 3? fish = bad because of mercury? high fiber? high fat? organic?- when every day it seems like some new way of eating that will guarantee health and happiness has been discovered and previously lauded ways of eating have been criminalized.

It is hard to know where to set-up camp among all of these conflicting views, and,  in the absence of real knowledge, I have just come to view it all as bad- as a Fattypuff choice. When I met with my fitness coach, Kim, this week, and we discussed my further nutritional goals, she remarked that I seemed hard on myself for not just the ‘bad’ food choices I make, but for all of them. And it is true that, unless I’m eating an apple or a fresh salad without dressing, I feel that I’m making a bad choice; but, really, there are varying degrees of bad and it all depends on perspective (for example, a serving of Nutella, not so bad, an entire 13 oz jar of Nutella, pretty bad).

The thing I’ve criminalized most is fat. As a child of the 90’s, I grew up in the era of low-fat. But, as Kim explained to me and as I read in a Newsweek article over the summer, scientists are realizing that fats are actually not as bad as we thought, and in fact, they are necessary. Eating a little more fat, as Kim explained, might actually be beneficial in losing weight. We can eat just about anything and fill ourselves up, but fats are what tell our body that we are satisfied. There is some sort of hormonal conversation that goes on between our stomachs and brain involving fats, and, when we’ve had some fats, our stomach tells our brain that we don’t need to eat any more. This is why when you eat a big salad, even though you might be full, you still feel unfulfilled and want to keep eating. I tested this theory over the weekend and had an egg and avocado sandwich for breakfast on Saturday… and I made it all the way until LUNCH without needing a snack which is very unusual for me. My normal schedule of meals is similar to that of a Hobbit.

I should probably say that Kim didn’t give me permission to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every day. What she did recommend is to not necessarily try to seek out fats, but that I should stop trying to avoid them. If I avoid them at every meal, I’m never going to feel satisfied and never going to be able to control my snacking choices. In light of this information, here are a few things I’m moving off the Fattypuff list (keeping in mind that all should be consumed in moderation):

Peanut butter (made without hydrogenated oils), eggs, cheese, salad dressing, avocados, butter (yes, butter!), cooking oils, yogurt.

These guys won’t end up on the Thinifer list, but I’ll stop beating myself up Dobby-the-Elf-style over buttering my toast or drizzling blue cheese dressing on my salad. No more fearing fats!

Analysis, Part Two

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Liter mugs of beer, sacrificing sleep to maximize socializing, eating carbohydrates Garfield-with-a-lasagne-style (to minimize the effects of those liters of beer!), trading my Friday morning gym-session for a shopping trip with a buddy; to say this has been a week of poor health choices would be an understatement. It is the peak of festing season in Bavaria (the world-famous Oktoberfest in Munich runs through next weekend), and my friends and I have been trying to make good use of the last bit of fair weather before winter’s dreary rains head our way, so I’ve done a lot of backsliding on my nutritional goals. Coincidentally, I received the results of my metabolic analysis the week before all of this backsliding began, so I am acutely aware of just how terrible some of the choices I’ve made are. How convenient (insert sarcasm here).

The surprising good news is that my resting metabolic rate is fast. Normal is somewhere in the 1200-1600 range and mine proved to be in the 1700 range. This data tells me two things about myself: the first is that in my teens and early twenties, my metabolism must have rivaled that of a hummingbird, and the second is that leading up to when I was my heaviest and least-healthy, my nutrition must have been more terrible than I can comprehend.

The metabolic test was a fairly simple process that took about fifteen minutes to do. The hardest part was making sure to fast for a least four hours prior to the test, and then I was tasked with lying very still, without falling asleep, and breathing into a mask as normally as possible without a lot of yawning or coughing. The mask was hooked to a machine that gathered information and gave me back data about my metabolic rate. While taking the test, it was explained to me, if you fall asleep, the data will show you a slower metabolic rate than you actually have, and if you move around, it reads a higher than actual metabolic rate.

Along with my resting metabolic rate, I was given two caloric calculations. The first calculation shows the number of calories I should eat per day in order to maintain my weight, and the second tells me the number of calories to eat per day in order to lose one pound of fat per week. In order to get these two values, my lifestyle, the amount of exercise I generally do, as well as my resting metabolic rate were assigned caloric values and added together.  I’m not going to share the exact values here because I would hate to seem as if I am giving nutritional advice, but I will say that both the number of calories to maintain weight and to lose some are over 2000 calories.

There is an important bit of information I learned when getting the results for my metabolic test. It takes about 3,500 calories to burn pound of fat, so, if a person is trying to lose weight, it is generally suggested they cut about 500 calories per day if they want to lose a pound of fat per week. The distinction between losing a pound of fat and just plain old losing weight is an important one; if you cut too many calories (more than 500 a day), your body goes into survival mode and starts to shed muscle because it has to work harder to maintain muscle than it does fat. To me, sending your body into muscle-burning, fat-hoarding survival mode sounds counter-intuitive to any fitness plan- it is hard to be fit and strong without any muscles!

A friend recently told me some horrifying nutritional advice she overheard being given in the gym locker room where a thin young lady was telling someone who had complemented her physique that they should do as she does and “workout at least an hour a day, eat under 1400 calories per day, and not to worry if her hair started to fall out because it would grow back once her body adjusted.” Thankfully my friend has enough self-confidence to step in and say that not only did that sound like bad advice but that someone who isn’t a licensed nutritionist should probably not be giving out nutrition advice. Hair falling out???? That sounds like a body going into survival mode to me; it also sounds like a good way to be hospitalized for an eating disorder (which is also counterproductive for fitness goals).

I was concerned that the number of calories I would need to eat for weight loss was going to be depressingly small, and I was pleased to learn that it actually isn’t that much smaller than the number I had been eating. MyFitnessPal has been helping me track the calories, although it, too, sometimes gives bad nutritional advice; a recent app update gave it the power to tell you about your food choices- a little box will pop up with green writing when you’ve made a good choice to tell you all the virtues of the food you’re eating, and, like a traffic light, yellow or red writing to tell you the not-so good things about what you’re eating, but I disagree with it on some things. I wish that the app would be a little more open-minded about things like eggs (it doesn’t tell you that they are a good source of protein, just that they are high in cholesterol), but I’ve learned to just ignore it when I disagree. It is, after all, only an iPhone app.

Obviously with a trip to Oktoberfest and a few end-of -season BBQs, my caloric intake has been higher than it should be. I have a follow-up appointment in the near future and I will be interested to see if I’ve made any progress at all despite my best efforts at self-sabotage. Even if there is no quantifiable change, having my metabolic score has really reinforced the importance of proper nutrition as being just as critical to fitness as exercise. As soon as I’m done eating soft-baked pretzels the size of my torso, I will be doing a refrigerator and kitchen cupboard overhaul, but first, the pretzels!

Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, Gemütliche!
Ein Prosit, Ein Prosit, Gemütliche!

 

 

 

Analysis, or, The Time I Asked People to Judge Me by Weight, Body Fat and Athletic Ability and Tried Really Hard Not to Feel Awkward

A fantastic opportunity recently presented itself to me, and I had to step a little bit out of my comfort zone and dip a toe in the waters of full-blown Fitness Freakdom in order to not let this chance pass me by. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had the good fortune to undergo free fitness and metabolic testing.  I’ve often heard of people being in the right place at the right time, and this was an occasion when I was that lucky person.

A quick search on Google showed me how fortunate I actually was; it seems that a metabolic test costs about $150 and a fitness test with VO2 Max can run between $140-$350 depending on where you go for your testing. Don’t let the prices scare you away because (and I know it’s easy for me to say because it didn’t cost me a damn penny, but I’m gonna say it anyway), I think these tests will prove to be quite useful for anybody who is either looking to be more fit as an athlete or trying to slim down in a healthy and sustainable way. photo 1-12 The tests are divided between two days. The first day, I underwent fitness testing and to prepare for this, I had to fast for one hour (no snacks, for one hour!) and not exercise on the morning of the test.

At the start, my blood pressure, resting heart rate, height and weight were recorded, then, I was hooked up to some sensors on my right hand and foot that sent a message to a machine and calculated my body fat percentage. Next, my grip and back strengths were assessed with some small pieces of equipment that measure the amount of force exerted. My cardio-respiratory fitness (VO2 max) was measured by wearing a face mask hooked up to another machine while I ran on a treadmill for less than ten minutes at various speeds. This test started at a walk and increased to a medium-paced jog. Other versions of this test take you up to your maximum ability to run, but I think because I told the testers that I was generally pretty slow and ran without dreams of races and simply for the sake of not being on the elliptical every day they decided the maximum test wouldn’t be necessary. After the VO2 test, my flexibility (or lack thereof) was measured.

In total, the testing took a little over an hour and I left with some interesting information. My flexibility, even though it has improved greatly over the last year, is still pretty terrible, I was pleased to find my body fat percentage in the normal range, but I’d still like for it to be lower, and my muscular fitness (grip and back strength) and resting heart rates were pretty good. What I was surprised to discover is that my cardio-respiratory fitness is EXCELLENT. And when I say excellent I’m not talking just barely made it out of the ‘good’ and into the ‘excellent range’, I’m talking 1 and 3/10ths of a point away from being in the ‘superior’ range. photo 2-11Imagine my surprise when, after all the complaining I do about huffing and puffing when I run, I find that I’m actually doing less huffing and puffing than most people. When I expressed my surprise to the man who was administering the test, he explained to me that half of a person’s VO2 fitness is determined by good luck- more specifically good genetics- and the other half is determined by the exercise you do to strengthen your cardio-respiratory system. I’d like to take a moment to thank my parents for blessing me with an excellent-verging-on-superior central VO2 system (heart and lungs), and I’d like to also thank Jamie Eason for giving me the kick in the pants needed to strengthen my peripheral VO2 system (all of the vessels).

The man running the test said that people are often surprised by these results and gave me the example of a guy he had tested earlier that morning who was a competitive athlete in very good overall shape who scored in the ‘poor’ range. Most likely, that guy doesn’t have a very good central cardio-respiratory system but is getting by because he has worked to strengthen the peripheral system. Once again, thanks Mom and Dad for making my life easier.

I had a chance to talk with the people running the test about my lifestyle and my typical workout schedule so that they could calculate those factors into their recommendations for me. Not really knowing what to expect, I had brought my workout journal along with me and it proved to be quite helpful. I was able to show them exactly what I had been doing at the gym, and I got a nice pat on the back for my workout regime. It was awesome to hear that what I had been doing was good, and I left with some guidance to go back to doing more strength training for a few weeks (I have recently been focused on doing a lot of circuits) and do more sets of fewer repetitions with heavier weights with the goal of challenging myself to become even stronger and take that new strength back into my circuit training so that I can do more (I’m looking at you Mr. Tough Mudder Interval Workout…) and do it better.It was also suggested that I find a personal trainer to get some tips on form and movement across the planes (i.e. moving up and down, side to side, or on the diagonal).

It was hard not to feel a little bit like a racehorse at an auction being poked, prodded and measured, and it was hard, too, to not bring along a photo of the 24-year-old version of myself and say “See? I have potential!”. As awkward as it was, It wasn’t nearly as awkward as I had guessed it would be. I prefer to go through life as inconspicuously as possible and this fitness test was the opposite of inconspicuous with all of the attention diverted to the things that make me the most self conscious (my athletic ability and my body composition). Thankfully, the people doing the testing were very professional (I didn’t feel like they were judging me in a personal way, just a science-related way) and the information was so interesting that it was easy to separate my fears of being a less-than-perfect physical specimen from my desire to learn all the fun science-y things.

I have yet to make an appointment with a personal trainer (although I fully intend to), but I’ve focused more on the weights (except for this weekend which I spent hiking) and am feeling the burn. When I get the results from the metabolic test, I will have a better idea of how much to eat for healthy weight loss. I’m really excited to have some new goals to work toward and to know that these are good goals because they have been set for me by professionals. Generally, I think the hardest part about starting a fitness program is knowing whether or not it is a program that is going to work for me, but, since this one is based on the information my body gave to those who are designing it, I know that it will work.

The sun sets behind the Bavarian Alps. An image from my hiking weekend.
The sun sets behind the Bavarian Alps. An image from my hiking weekend.