Category Archives: Food

Energy Availability and making sure you don’t undereat when training

Currently I’m tinkering with my diet, not necessarily the foods but the meal timing and the calorie macros.

It’s not so much that my weight loss has currently stalled. In fact, it did drop to a month-low 168.9 lbs over the weekend… though it has been tough, slow going to move the average down.

I’m trying to naturally maximize my energy levels, which when I’ve fasted had tended to stay low. This means I need more nutrients around these times, which indicates I should stop fasting.

However, I went back through my RRCA training course materials… mostly because I was walking on a treadmill for an hour and the spiral-bound book was one of the only books I had that I could suitably read while on the treadmill. In any case, I went through the information-laden appendicies and it includes a robust booklet on nutrition by the IAAF.

In the IAAF’s Nutrition materials, they mention an interesting stat: Energy availability. The idea of Energy Availability is that aside from calories burned in exercise, the body has a certain number of calories it needs to rebuild and recover from that exercise.

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Twelve (12) Training and Lifestyle Tips For Fat Burning

There’s a lot I could say about fat burning, and there’s a legion of users-guide material throughout the internet world about methods to healthy fat burning (and many more about unhealthy fat burning ideas, which I will not bother to cover). I could write a piece about a dozen topics.

But I think it would help you to get some actionable tips in one place, and perhaps a shorter bit of writing on each of those in one place may help you more in the present. I can always cover all of these topics in additional pieces later.

So instead, I’m going to put a dozen topics into this long post, and succinctly get into why you should make it a standard or best practice.

If you’re trying to burn fat and struggling with it, these tips should help spur things along or keep things moving in the right direction.

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Once I’ve Had My Coffee, I Can’t Go Back. Or, How French Press coffee has ruined me

Me, in colder times, with a hot cup of coffee during a cold morning at Dollop Coffee in Chicago back around 2018 or so.

I’ve been as avid a coffee drinker as anyone since about 1999, early in my college days. I quickly transitioned to black coffee at some point around 1999-2000 and I’ve drank it that way since. If black coffee’s an acquired taste, I acquired it rather quickly.

In Vegas I hung out almost religiously at the infamous underground hub Cafe Espresso Roma, at least until it closed for good in 2002-2003 or so. This indirectly got me hooked on the habit of visiting and hanging out at coffeehouses. I got to know Seattle’s coffeehouses during my 10+ years there, and after moving to Chicago in 2014 I got to know a good deal of theirs as well.

After returning to Vegas, I had found a few decent coffee hangouts before Coronavirus struck and closed everything for several months.

When working, I typically drank whatever black coffee the office made available, though in my later Chicago years I bought and started using a French Press to prepare coffee at home. It certainly helped me during the extreme sub-zero days in January 2019 when we worked from home and couldn’t really go outside without risking death. The French Press followed me to Vegas, and once I resumed working I began bringing my French Pressed coffee to work in a sealed ceramic cup.

It’s worth noting that when I prepare my coffee, I technically water it down. I press with 3 scoops of coarse ground coffee, as that equals a 12 oz serving of most coffee. This means to fill a 17 oz ceramic cup I’m adding more water than is needed, effectively watering down my coffee.

When I briefly experimented last month with drinking a nootropic blend from Vitacup, I only used two scoops (equal to 8oz) to press because it had a higher caffeine content. This meant the coffee was even more watered down, though the coffee used was so strong I didn’t notice any negative difference.

In any case, Coronavirus lockdowns struck down all coffeehouse visits for several months, so I drank my French Pressed coffee at home every single morning. It certainly saved me a lot of money each month, as these coffeehouse visits (while inexpensive per visit) did add up over the months.

But when coffeehouses re-opened, and I started visiting these coffee places again… I found the coffee at my Vegas hangouts not just strong, but at most I found the taste surprisingly unpleasant. On Tuesday in fact I bought a cup of coffee while I was out since I couldn’t press a cup that morning. I ended up throwing out half of that 12oz cup. I couldn’t stand what was skunky taste to me, and this was a place whose coffee I previously liked.

Other than possibly the beans sitting for months (which honestly is not unusual), I couldn’t figure out why suddenly I didn’t like coffeeshop coffee anymore.

It has now occurred to me what changed: The months of drinking my watered down French Press coffee soured me on the taste of coffeehouse coffee for these reasons:

1) I use purified water from a closed source, and French Pressing always allows you to be selective with the water source. Coffeehouses will just use heated tap water to brew. Sometimes they might use an osmosis filter, but that’s basically tap. The tap water in Vegas is pretty bad quality, and because the water quality is bad, it diminishes my relative taste of the coffee brewed with it.

2) As mentioned, my French Press coffee is watered down. This thins and isolates the taste of the pressed coffee. Plus, again, I only use enough ground for myself to have one large cup. Regular drip meanwhile is brewed with a lot more coffee grounds, and they’re often more finely ground, which effectively gets more coffee into more of the water. This is going to thicken the taste of the coffee for me. When the coffee is good, this is great. When the coffee is not so great, the saturation exaggerates any badness of the coffee for me.

3) Since my coffee is French Pressed with hot water and carried in a sealed ceramic cup, it retains its heat and I always drink my coffee rather hot. Regular drip coffee is great when it’s brewed fresh and very hot. But drip coffee quickly loses quality once it has sat for more than an hour. This is actually why Starbucks as a policy dumps whatever drip coffee they have every two hours. Most coffeehouses don’t have a dump schedule, and often (as I did two days ago) if you get it later in the morning that coffee has been sitting for several hours. Skunked.


Because I’m now accustomed to drinking fresh, hot coffee out of a French Press, I now more than ever definitely notice the skunky taste of regular drip coffee that is not fresh.

It’s not that the quality of coffeehouse coffee has gone down or has always been bad. It’s that, unless it’s impeccably prepared (which outside of an expensive pour-over, Aeropress, French Press or other personally prepared cups, it’s not going to be impeccably prepared), I’m going to notice the badness in any cup of coffee.

It’s nothing against these places. It’s just the way my palate evolved as a result of drinking my own French Press coffee every day for months.

The only takeaway from this is not to never go drink coffee at coffeehouses again, but just to either spend extra for pour-over or similarly custom-made coffee when it’s available, or to go to these places first thing in the morning when I know the drip’s going to be freshly prepared.

(Or you could say “Just go to Starbucks” and sure that’s probably a better option after the early morning. But, as many know, their bean roasts are also over-burned and the taste while consistently palatable is always over-burned. Given the option, I’ll pass.)

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Supplements I take, and why I take them

I went out this morning and had breakfast at the Coffee Cup in Boulder City, the first restaurant breakfast I’ve had since the lockdowns began in March. I got coffee and ran a few errands on the way back.

One of those errands included picking up a new bottle of the cal/mag citrate supplement I had run out of last night. I also picked up some L-theanine capsules to start supplementing with daily. I’m not one to add a new supplement to my current rotation unless there’s a very good reason to do so, so this was kind of a big deal.

I don’t take a ton of supplements, but I definitely take more than just a multivitamin, and I have good reasons for taking everything I do take. I’m going to spill a few blocks of text to talk about those supplements I do take.

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Summer Slimdown

After deliberately taking all of July off from writing here, I plan to write as much as I can in August about what I’m doing to stay fit, knowledge I can share, and so on.

I am currently in an aggressive intermittent fasting phase. Similar to what’s practiced in The Warrior Diet, I am now eating all my meals in a roughly 4 hour window each day.

I typically eat my first meal at around 4-5pm, and then eat dinner at home around 8pm. Sometimes I will chase dinner with something else, almonds or oatmeal, but after that I go to bed and I don’t eat again until 4-5pm the following afternoon. I just drink coffee in the morning, and water in the interim.

I had successfully pared my weight down from the 180-185 lbs I peaked at early this year. I had two brief periods of rapid loss buffered by more extended periods of flatlined, maybe slight increases in weight, and had gotten down to about 170-175.

Ideally, I run at about 160 lbs, lower if I can get there in healthy fashion. My bodyfat, which in my peak running days was around 15%… is currently around 19-20%, and that’s an improvement over the 22-23% I peaked at early this year. By BMI rough estimates, I was technically overweight for a few weeks.

It’s harder to lose weight now in Las Vegas for some obvious reasons.

1) Because I no longer commute on foot, a lot of my previously built-in daily calorie burn is now gone, unless I go to great effort to put it back.
2) Because of the Vegas heat (100-110 degrees Fahrenheit, and in the early mornings it’s 80-90 degrees), no races to train for, and no need to run-commute in car-focused Vegas (want to run 12 miles one way in 100+ degree heat?)… I’m not running nearly as much as I did in Chicago. Again, I’d have to make great efforts to match that mileage right now.
3) Because it’s summer in Las Vegas, it’s also really hot. Endurance exercise outside is often impractical.

So I wasn’t surprised to see my weight go up, and then struggle to come back down. I knew that, diet in principle being 80% of your body composition, most of my work to slim back down was going to require aggressive dietary habit changes.

I don’t eat processed food unless not doing so would be impractical, or if I’m about to exercise or just finished exercise and something like a protein bar is readily available.

I got my family to start cooking exclusively with healthier oils: Avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil. They were leaning on cooking with canola and vegetable oils, and getting them to switch was somewhat difficult. But the oxidative stress, inflammation and water retention from eating food cooked in the refined oils wasn’t helping them, let alone me. While they still have a lot to work to do with their diets (and that’s honestly up to them), the food we eat for dinner together has been better for my health.

I got so aggressive with cutting out industrial oils and processed food that I stopped eating most restaurant food altogether until I’ve hit my current goal. Every restaurant uses those refined oils for cooking due to cost, and then people wonder why most Americans are overweight and unhealthy. It’s not ever good for you, but now it’s harder than ever for Western society to not eat this garbage.

We’re trained to eat out of boxes and eat from restaurants, and these unhealthy ingredients are EVERYWHERE. They’re ubiquitous parts of most people’s diets and people don’t realize that it’s the source of their health problems.

And while I didn’t write this post to end up preaching out of nowhere, I did want to explain why cutting these ingredients out was important to my efforts to slim down. You can’t just fast, count calories and exercise. WHAT you eat matters as much than any of that.


I realized my current struggles with running, aside from obviously reduced volume, is because I weigh more than I did when I regularly ran in Chicago. The added fat is slowing me down. It needs to come off.

Also, because the quality of the Vegas Diet is not what I could maintain in Chicago, it was harder for me to maintain the needed metabolic health to run a lot. I’m also turning 42 in October, and I can’t just power through bad diet decisions and bounce back the way a twentysomething can.

So I decided to also curtail running, not totally stop but just do it every few days or so for now. I want to ramp up training in the fall when Vegas cools down to a more human temperature, and I want to be in better shape to maintain that volume.

Instead for now I focus on an old fitness-bro standby: Do walking for most if not all of my “cardio”, to let that and the hot Vegas sun fuel some calorie burn, instead of burning myself out by trying to run often in Vegas heat. I look to get in one good 30+ minute walk each day, and at least a bit of walking throughout the day if I can’t get that longer walk.

Since getting aggressive with slimming down in the last couple weeks I’ve gone from a stubborn 172 lbs to 170-171, and I notice energy-wise and mentally I’m feeling better overall. And this is despite some upheaval situations at work plus dealing with the 110 degree Vegas days in often-limited air conditioning.

I also strength train several times a week. I’ve increased my focus on weight training and now have found a consistent series of defined workouts, plus I’m seriously tracking my progress in weight I can lift for these workouts. I’ll get into these at some point soon. And I still walk even if I do strength train, so it adds onto the calorie burn and mitochondrial development from the walking.


That’s where I’m at right now. My plan to resume running is when the Vegas heat becomes cooler Vegas fall temperatures, and I can run in weather cooler than 87 degrees Fahrenheit or run at times other than the early morning.

Until then, I’m going to slim down with aggressive intermittent fasting, an aggressively clean diet, walking everyday and strength training throughout the week.

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Avoid the Novel Coronavirus (and other illnesses)

Coronaviruses are in general quite common. You may actually get one once every year or two. However, we’re experiencing mass panic over the current novel coronavirus strain, which has killed a few thousand people in China among the many thousands infected, and sent entire nations into a panic.

There are a handful of truths regarding this novel coronavirus:

  • Most of the people who contract the worst form of the novel coronavirus will make a full recovery without any required medical intervention, just like most people who get a common cold or the flu.
  • The death rate of the novel coronavirus is actually quite low. About 1-2% of people who have reportedly tested positive for it have died from it, and almost all of the deaths have been in China and Italy, where tens of thousands (again, nearly all known cases) have been diagnosed. Virtually all of the people who have died from the novel coronavirus either have seriously compromised immune systems or live in abjectly unsanitary conditions (and that’s assuming all stats are accurate, which is highly questionable). Sure, I’d be worried about the health of either population, but the vast majority of those reading this are in a much better situation.
  • Regardless of anything anyone does, there’s little people can do to prevent its overall spread, quarantines or not. It’s an airborne virus, and a common type of virus at that. It’s like trying to eradicate or quarantine the flu or common cold. Good luck.
  • The current quarantines are more a product of systemic panic than necessity.
  • Other governments are semi-thoughtlessly following in kind with their own over-reaching quarantines, not realizing they’re parroting a needless overreaction from a totalitarian government. This never minds major events that have elected to cancel said events in response to the hysteria. In most cases, they’re making a panic-driven mistake.

All of this said, this novel coronavirus strain is worth concern, the same way any major flu strain or flu season is worth concern.

As always, there are things you can and should do to safeguard yourself from illness and give your body the best chance to flush and resist that illness should it find its way into your system.

However, I have useful advice beyond the standard “wash your hands, take your vitamin C, avoid crowds, etc”. Here are some tips for you to help your body and immune system withstand any potential exposure to any illness, not to mention the novel coronavirus.

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Eating is (literally) stressful

abundance agriculture bananas batch

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One observation from my Garmin watch is that my stress score goes up after meals. No matter what I eat, how healthy the food I’m eating, my stress levels go up after the meal and stay elevated for at least a couple hours or longer, depending of course on activity and whatever else I’m doing. This is even true if I eat before bed: My stress levels can remain high for up to 2 hours after I drift off to sleep, following a relatively late meal.

My body only shows as resting (meaning a low stress score) in the morning if I have yet to eat breakfast. Despite any hunger pangs, it’s less stressful for me (according to heart rate variability) to be hungry than it is for me to digest a meal after eating. I find I record more restful periods when I intermittent-fast, aka skip breakfast and eat my first meal in the afternoon. Even with the added stimulus of coffee, my stress levels remain in a low resting state.

Garmin’s stress score is a function of heart rate variability, which can indicate activation or rest of your body’s sympathetic nervous system, which activates the body for activity. When the sympathetic nervous system is regularly activated, that indicates your body is under stress. A heart rate that does not vary much is indicative of the sympathetic nervous system being activated.

What does this have to do with eating? The sympathetic nervous system is a component of the autonomic nervous system, which passively operates our organs and hormonal glands. When you eat food, the autonomic/sympathetic nervous system begins diverting blood from other organs to the stomach and other relevant digestive organs to digest your ingested food. This activation of your sympathetic nervous system will continue until your food has been suitably digested and absorbed.

Even if you are laying down and doing absolutely nothing, your sympathetic nervous system during digestion is at work and therefore your heart rate variability at rest is likely small enough to indicate a level of stress to your Garmin. That doesn’t seem fair, but welcome to human biology.

If you live a relatively low-stress existence, eat only 2-3 meals a day, and you’re in good health, this is likely not a big deal. Your heart rate will eventually return to normal variability in a couple hours, and your resting time will read to your tracker as being at rest.

Of course, the vast majority of humanity doesn’t fall into the very thin demographic I just outlined. Most of us deal with some substantial degree of regular stress. Many of us have different meal habits, and many snack or eat enough meals a day that their bodies are digesting food not just throughout the entire day but even after going to sleep. And, of course, most people are not in optimal health.

This never minds people who endurance train, and are already subjecting their bodies to substantial stress through their training. The irony is that, depending on their eating habits, their fueling after workouts may in fact be contributing to their overall (already high) stress levels.

Science incidentally hasn’t laid a hand on this subject in over a decade, so we don’t have a ton of data on why this needs to be a stress reaction let alone if we can change the body’s sympathetic nervous reaction to eating food. So we have to accept that this is reality and work within that.

This incidentally is an underlying reason why intermittent fasting and the old “eat dinner like a pauper” rule* works so well. Fasting by skipping breakfast leads to generally lower stress levels, which improves overall hormonal function. Eating light limits the stress affect on your sleep time, which can improve the quality of that sleep.

Of course, this should not be taken as license to starve yourself and not eat at all. At some points during the day you do need to eventually take in quality nutrition and “take the sack” (so to speak) on the resulting sympathetic stress, because your body needs that nutrition.

This merely points out how the timing of that nutrition can affect your overall sympathetic stress, which in turn can affect your overall health.

Though this was never an intent of the rule, this is one benefit to making sure to eat quality protein/carbs as soon after a hard workout as possible, e.g. the 30 minute and 2 hour windows. Your body undergoes a similar sympathetic stress response after a workout, though the stress ripple effect can last longer than your meals (often, for example, a long run leaves you in a high stress state for the entire rest of the day, even if you spend all day laying down).

Eating as soon as possible and triggering that sympathetic nervous reaction can effectively piggy-back off the other sympathetic nervous reaction recovering from the workout itself. Eating much later could effectively re-start the sympathetic stress reaction, whereas eating right after one has began saves you the trouble of an extra stress reaction, or an extended period of elevated sympathetic stress. You can get back to a normal resting state more quickly, and spend more time in that low-stress rested state than if you had eaten later and had two separate stress-creating episodes for your sympathetic nervous system.

This lends credence to the following ideas:

  • Unless you work out in the morning, or you have health-related reasons not to do so, it’s probably best to intermittent fast by skipping breakfast, nothing but coffee and water.
  • Probably only eat breakfast if doing a morning workout, and probably following that workout.
  • It’s important to consume nutrition within 30 minutes of finishing tougher workouts, and to eat a meal within two hours of finishing those workouts.
  • Regardless of the size of dinner, you want to buffer a couple of hours between the end of dinner and bedtime, to allow digestion and its stress reaction to finish as early in the sleep cycle as possible.
  • Avoid snacking, as it restarts the sympathetic nervous stress reaction. Eat full meals and only full meals, 2-4 times a day.
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