Category Archives: nutrition

Ten Rules for Fat Burning

I have previously offered tips and principles for training and fat burning. But if you’re seriously trying to lose fat, these are firm rules you should follow. Following these will produce short and long term results on burning the fat you need to burn off.

Weigh yourself every morning

Arguments exist either way, but your weight is the ultimate scoreboard for how much fat you need to burn. If the number is going down, you’re trending in the right direction. If the number goes up, you’re trending in the wrong direction.

The one way to keep track of how your fat-burning is progressing is whether the number on the scale is going up or down.

If you ate something unhealthy for dinner, Intermittent Fast the next day

Sometimes you have to eat a processed, unhealthy meal. Life gets in the way. This is not a killer. Ideally, the meal had a lot of protein, but the key is to clear the inflammatory mess from your body as soon as you can.

The easiest way to do this is to make sure you skip breakfast and intermittent fast the next day. Your body’s 16ish hours without a meal going into tomorrow will churn and burn the mess you ate last night, and it will pass from your digestive tract and bloodstream more quickly.

Ideally, you break this fast with a clean meal. But the big thing is that, once your stomach has been emptied, your body taps into stored bodyfat, uses the unhealthy food for all it’s worth and sends it packing through your intenstines and kidneys.

If you wake up heavier than yesterday, Intermittent Fast the next day

Regardless of the quality of your last meal, the scale showing more weight than it showed yesterday is a sign that you’ve got some water weight and/or extra fat to burn.

So get to burning it, and make sure you go 16ish hours before your next meal. Load up on coffee and water, and give your body a chance to fat-burn and flush any extra water that’s accumulated.

Unless you eat a ton or eat really badly out of that intermittent fast, you should get the scale number moving once again in the right direction.

If you ate something unhealthy for dinner, drink 1 extra glass of water the next morning

Along with intermittent fasting, the best way to flush out inflammation-built water weight is to give your body more water. This will encourage a cellular reset, and more so will encourage your body to ditch the extra water and flush it towards your kidneys and bladder.

You don’t want to drink yourself into hyponatremia nor do you want to overkill and spend a ton of time running to the restroom. So the best middle ground is to take whatever water you usually drink in the morning and add an extra 16oz, 2 cups, one (typically sized) glass of water to that during the morning.

Sure, you will still take an extra trip or two to the toilet. But this will speed along the body’s return to homeostasis as well as the flushing of inflammatory nonsense from said body.

Do a minimum of one hour of demanding exercise activity every day.

Diet may be roughly 80% of your body composition, but 80% is only good enough for a B-. Honestly, while you could conceivably lose weight just by overhauling your diet, you may not feel too great and losing the remaining fat could be a longer, more difficult process as you approach a more normal weight.

It’s here where exercise really covers the gap. 60 minutes of solid activity, anything from walking to any other kind of demanding exercise, will burn at least 300 calories as well as any residual afterburn from having revved up your heart rate and associated hormonal effects.

You will simply burn more fat in the long run from having exercised than if you hadn’t.

Why an hour rather than half an hour? Anything less than 45-60 minutes is a negligible difference in your body’s net basal metabolic rate, and can be undone as easily as eating a slightly too large portion at one meal. The 300+ calories or 60 minutes of exercise carves out enough calorie/fat burn to make it so you’d need to make a clear eating decision to get back to maintenance calories.

Plus, the aerobic, circulatory and metabolic benefits of exercise are best manifested at and around the 60 minute mark. To exercise for less is to stop short of where these max bodily benefits would kick in.

Break every fast with a clean, non-processed meal. Prep the night before if you must.

Obviously, avoid eating garbage. And if you have just gone more than 4-6 hours from your last meal, the metabolic impact of that 1st meal post-break is more substantial. If it’s unhealthy, you set a negative metabolic tone for your body for the rest of day. You’ll probably feel crappy. And you won’t burn as much fat over the next 12-18 hours.

Eat healthy. Eat a lot of protein and other healthy, whole foods. But eat a nutrient-rich natural meal that your body will put to good use, and set a tone that will maximize the benefits of any food or exercise you do the rest of the day.

If this is hard to do from scratch, then you will want to spend the previous evening preparing or gathering food you can immediately grab and eat for your first meal the following day.

For example, back in Chicago, I would often set my rice cooker to have brown rice ready the following morning. I’ll also buy cans of tuna, fruit and other ready to grab food with the plan to eat it for lunch on subsequent days.

Worry less about net calories and worry more about calorie quality

I’m as big on counting calories as anyone. But I also recognize that 400 calories of lean whole food animal protein is a lot better and more nutrient-rich for me than 400 calories out of a box.

People who eat the same number of calories as before but much cleaner, whole food versions find that they still lose weight. This granted is in part due to shedding water weight from no longer being inflamed by processed food. But the whole food is put by your body to much better use and isn’t sitting in your bloodstream further rendering you insulin resistant. Your muscles are rebuilt, instead of your fat stores and retained water mass.

Even if you eat the same amount of food as before, just make that food non-processed instead of processed, and you will certainly notice a difference on the scale either way.

Protein first, fat/carbs second.

The easiest way to adhere to a cleaner, whole food diet is to front load all your protein, and make sure every meal is built around a protein source. Meat, dairy, eggs, fish, perhaps a amino-friendly combination of nuts, grains and legumes. Make sure you have a satisfying portion of one or more of the above, and then add fats and carbs as desired. This will ensure more satisfying meals without the need to gorge or overeat.

It’s very hard to overeat on a protein-rich diet. And your body needs the building blocks of protein anyway.

Give every carb a purpose.

I’m not a fan of low/no carb dieting, unless you live a purely sedentary existence and your only exercise is a brief visit to the weights at the gym 2-4 times a week. Sure, you can fat-adapt, but your brain and organs still use carbs, and often a low-carb diet just leaves the user feeling fatigued from the perpetual lack of glycogen.

Fat can be adapted a primary fuel source but it burns very slowly, much more so than glycogen. Your body will want to slow down in kind to keep up. Those who find success with such diets tend to have the necessary privilege and lifestyle to allow for that diet to provide suitable energy. Someone who is more active will need carbs.

That said, most people overdose on carbs, eating hundreds of grams a day despite being sedentary and not really exercising. Imagine trying to fill your gas tank everyday even though it’s full, and not caring that the excess petrol overflows all over your hands. Yet that is what most people do with carbs.

What you want to do is either:

  • Plan your carb intake around your exercise.
  • Plan your exercise around your carb intake.

Maybe you should workout right before dinner, if dinner with the family requires you eat a lot of carbs. Or maybe you can plan every meal… and it just makes sense to have those potatoes and fruit at breakfast right before that killer workout. Runners often don’t need to worry about carb timing, because they’re often running long distances and can easily use all the carbs they’re ingesting.

Try to look at your diet, and ask yourself, “When and where do I plan to use those carbohydrates?” No need to do complex Romijn glycogen calculations on your exercise. Just know that, if you want to have potatoes at dinner, you need to know at the very least when in the day or next day those carbs are going to get burned, or what exercise requires that you restore your glycogen stores.

Be conscious about what carbs you eat and why.

Dinner should always be satisfying, protein rich, and as unprocessed as possible

The crappier (i.e. less nutrient rich) your dinner, the worse you will sleep that night.

Sleep is where you recover not just from exercise but the rest of your life. Sleep is where your energy re-generates. What and how you eat impacts your sleep. If you go to bed having last ingested a dearth of nutrients, your body will either keep you awake wanting for more nutrients, or will wake you up during the night having exhausted the garbage you arte of all its lacking nutrient value, and starving for more nutrients that you likely aren’t going to eat at 3am.

A lack of sleep also inhibits fat loss. It promotes the product of fat-building cortisol and other damaging hormones and inflammation. You’re not helping yourself.

Eat well, eat right, for your last meal of the day, so you can sleep well.

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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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Eat A Big Dinner Before Bed

This won’t be long or in depth. I just understand that many people struggle with sleep, despite knowing much of the general advice every other person and website gives. I want to offer a key actionable tip that works for me and MIGHT help you.

Eat a big meal a couple hours before bed. I don’t subscribe to the “breakfast like a king, dinner like a pauper” mindset, in some part because I usually intermittent fast, skip breakfast, and when I do eat lunch it’s lighter largely out of necessity: I’m usually working, and a big lunch will only tank my energy level, which I obviously don’t need.

So lunch should be light. Dinner has to be big.

The big reason you want to eat a big dinner before bed is that hunger can keep you awake. If you eat a light dinner, then you will probably be hungry when you go to bed. Hunger will rev up your hormones and keep you awake when you want to not be awake.

And no, a snack before bed is not the answer. You typically shouldn’t be snacking either way.

A subsequent and useful reason for a big dinner is that digestion can cause fatigue. Blood flows to your digestive tract, taking away resources and emphasis on the rest of your body. This causes the general fatigue you often feel after a big meal, and certainly on workdays after lunch.

Yes, your food choice also matters, and certain foods can make you more sluggish than others. I notice if I eat a light lunch with, say, tuna and produce, I feel mostly good afterward. If I eat a lunch with something processed/fried or a lot of carbs, my energy level tanks and I physically feel heavy. That’s not totally because I ate a large lunch, so much as because the quality of the food required my body to inflame plus required more energy to digest.

However, if you eat a bulkier meal before bed, then that sluggish effect is exactly what you want. You want to go to sleep. Feeling tired and sluggish is going to get you there.

If you’re worried about indigestion, then you probably need to clean up your diet some. I’ve had foods that cause acid reflux. I also never eat those foods for dinner. The whole food protein, vegetables, clean carbs that I do eat are much better for digestion. If you’re having heartburn or reflux problems when you eat a big dinner before bed, it’s probably the quality of your food rather than the fact that you ate before bed.

It honestly helps if you practice some sort of intermittent fasting or limited intake during the day. But I recognize if you have your reasons not to do so. Just recognize that you need to burn at least as many calories as you take in, lest you gain weight.

Yet you don’t want to get to dinner having to calorie-count that meal and heavily limit your intake. At least get to dinner with enough calories left to consume that you can comfortably have a big dinner.

This points to your smart move being to eat light or not at all during the work/school day. If you don’t skip breakfast, have a light, protein rich breakfast. Definitely have a light, protein rich lunch. Don’t eat anything out of a package unless that anything is as close to its original form as possible (like a bag of nuts, not like a bag of potato chips… like a can of tuna, not like a TV dinner).

Drink coffee or tea. Learn to love it without cream and sugar. Drink water. But now I’m digressing into a separate subject.

Anyway, never minding things like dimming lights and screens, sleep hygiene, etc… the most important element to sleep that’s never addressed is how satisfied your appetite is when you go to bed. Err on the side of making sure you don’t go to bed hungry, even if it means going somewhat hungry during the day to allow for a larger dinner.

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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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Addendum on practicing marathon fueling: When should you practice it?

I recently wrote about the training benefit in strategically fueling and hydrating during long runs to mirror your usage of aid stations.

However, do you want to do this in every long run? I’d say certainly not. You definitely don’t want to do it in every training run. Never mind the hassle of carrying fluid: Race-day fuel isn’t cheap in large quantities. Do you really want to buy pounds of gel every week?

First of all, there is a training benefit to training without any fuel at all. Along with practicing some glycogen depletion and possibly improving your overall glycogen storage, you also will produce crucial aerobic stress that improves your aerobic capabilities.

That said, there comes a point where the losses from a lack of fuel start to hurt you more than the depletion stimulus of training without it is helping you.

Jeff Gaudette once noted that the body can handle about 2 hours of marathon pace running before running out of relevant lower body glycogen. Granted, you’re typically not running at marathon pace for most (if not all) of your long runs. This is a key reason behind most running minds’ stop-loss limit of 2.5 hours for long runs. That’s about the farthest you can go at an easy long run pace without fuel before your body taps out of glycogen and really begins to give out overall.

The suitable middle ground for easy runs is probably near the upper limit of a run’s peak aerobic benefit: 90 minutes. Anything above 90 minutes probably can be completed without fuel, but it may help you more to fuel that run than it may to deplete yourself running without it.

Save for the most hardcore of runners, this indicates you likely will just practice fueling on the weekend long run. Daniels 2Q runners will also need to do so in a long mid-week run (as most of those workouts will exceed 90 minutes), but most everyone else can just fuel and hydrate runs by comfort the rest of the week.

And of course, you will typically fuel and hydrate throughout more aggressive sessions such as speedwork and pace runs, plus should copiously hydrate warmer runs regardless of circumstance. Don’t consider my advice a mandate *against* intuitive fueling and hydration by any means. My recommendation was simply to consciously practice fueling and hydration based on the aid station patterns of your goal pace.

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Applied practice of fueling and hydration on long training runs

sunset men sunrise jogging

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Some will argue that you should do your long runs in marathon training on an empty stomach, to practice depleting your body of glycogen, not just to prepare for the experience of doing the same in the longest run itself but to also prime your glycogen stores to hyper-compensate and hopefully store more glycogen than before.

Some will argue that you should eat a good meal before long runs and stay completely fueled, in order to maximize your performance on these runs, avoid bonking, and maximize the potential physiological hypertrophy (growth) from these long runs.

Some will argue that you should practice doing it both ways, that both approaches have their respective benefits and that doing both will maximize your development prior to the taper and the longest run itself.

What is my point of view? I’ll be honest: My point of view has gone back and forth. I have trained with long runs on nothing more than a small meal beforehand, to push myself to the limit otherwise cold turkey. I have eaten a full breakfast, then brought 2 liters of Gatorade in a hydration pack and fueled religiously throughout the run, even stopping to eat or drink during the workout as needed.

But now, when it comes to the best way to do marathon training long runs, I come back to a semi-rhetorical question:

What is the primary goal of a marathon training long run?

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