Tag Archives: diet

How much ab work do you need?

Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

I’ve said this before, and since we’re here I’ll say it again: 80% of your body composition is determined by your diet. And I don’t care if you want to argue that’s wrong. See the forest for the trees: If you want your abs to show up, your diet needs to change so that you burn off most of your current body fat while maintaining your existing muscle and biologically healthy function.

And a good portion of that theoretical remaining 20% is going to come from improving your posture. Improving your posture increases the “display” of your abdomen, which maximises any ab visibility. Often, abs don’t show up because a rounded back causes fat/flesh/fascia to bunch up around your abdominal area, further obscuring your abs even if you’ve burned the fat necessary for those abs to show up.

A well rounded fitness routine combined with addressing your postural imbalances will go a long way to making the necessary posture improvements. That I can and will address another time.

Meanwhile, will doing ab or core exercises help your abs show?

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Food and Thermogenesis: How what you eat affects your body temperature

Energy produces heat. If you didn’t sleep through science class, they probably taught you this.

There are all sorts of circumstances behind what we now call climate change, the steadily rising temperature of the planet. But one key element is the fundamental existence of more human beings than have ever been on the planet in recorded history.

All humans produce heat. Every mechanical, electrical, chemical anything we have ever done produces heat. Vehicles and other machines produce heat when they operate. Anything we built that moves produces heat. Even the coldest fridges, freezers and air conditioners produce heat to cool what’s inside: The heat is just emitted out of the back or top of the device into the surrounding atmosphere.

And our bodies produce heat. The bigger we are, the more active we are, the more heat we produce. This is a key reason why your perceived temperature is hotter when you’re running than it is when you’re walking or still. You produce a lot more heat when you exercise.

Even the energy required to digest food produces heat. The act of digestion producing this energy is a little something scientists call thermogenesis.

Some foods require more energy from thermogenesis than others. This is one of the keys behind why it’s generally healthier to eat unprocessed meat and vegetables than processed sugar.

Insoluble fiber and most proteins require a lot of digestive energy for the body to digest its nutrients. These foods are highly thermogenic.

Meanwhile, chemically refined sugar is by design quickly digested, as these foods are chemically engineered to not satisfy you hunger and make you crave more of them. These foods are lightly thermogenic.

You can eat 500 calories of sugar cookies, and still be very hungry immediately after eating them. Meanwhile, you can eat 500 calories of steak, and be so full you won’t want another bite of anything for several hours. And woe is the poor soul who tries to eat 500 calories of broccoli… if he even manages to get it all down (1 cup of cooked broccoli is about 60 calories). He will end up spending a regretful amount of time on a toilet at some future point.

Broccoli and other vegetables are among the most thermogenic of foods. Many require more caloric energy to burn them than the calories the vegetables themselves contain!

Now, why bring up global warming when bringing up the thermic effect of food? Is Steven saying that broccoli causes climate change?

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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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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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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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Losing weight and specific needs with training

After returning to Las Vegas, I gained about 15 pounds before arresting what was clearly not a positive trend.

I have since lost about 5 of those extra pounds and am working on the rest, while also training for the Vancouver Marathon. I had to first correct the most important factor behind that weight change: Diet. I like my family’s home cooking, but they like to eat too much. I had to correct any controllable eating patterns I had fallen into, and eat better quality food as well as eat less of it.

I had eating patterns that made sense for me living in Chicago, where I traveled everywhere on foot and trained at a higher volume of running than now. Living in Las Vegas, where I now need to drive just about everywhere, and didn’t need to walk nearly as much, I needed to pare down how much I ate.

Still, even ramping up mileage in training for Vancouver, even now that life’s gotten a lot busier between my CPT study and work demands… I struggle quite a bit to get my scale weight to move downward.

I decided to look towards history for answers… and by history I mean my own personal history:

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Running coaches should coach diet and rest too

abundance agriculture bananas batch

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Every running coach will give you a training schedule of workouts, when to do them, how to do them, and how to adjust those from day to day.

Very few running coaches will give you more than trivial, general feedback on how to eat between workouts, or on your resting and sleeping habits. This despite your diet and recovery being even more important than what you’re doing in workouts.

Without the nutrients of a sound diet, you will not recover properly between workouts. And without a proper amount of sleep, you will not recover properly between workouts.


So, there’s obvious complications to coaching a person’s diet and sleep along with their running.

What makes diet and sleep hard to coach is that, unlike what a runner does in their workouts, these are everyday-living factors beyond a coach’s control. A coach may or may not be able to stand watch over your workouts (many athletes are coached remotely), but there’s no way they can stand and watch your every move, let alone every meal, in your personal life. And they certainly can’t monitor when or how you go to sleep. Even if they told you what to do, chances are good you’d flake on a good portion of their instructions. And, of course, who wants to have their lives micromanaged? The advice probably wouldn’t be welcome for many.

Plus, there are countless different approaches to diet even within a given culture, let alone between cultures. Those who have tried to bean-count the caloric intake of athletes have produced more problems for those athletes than they solved in doing so. Never mind the substantial differences in a vegan or carnivore or Atkins diet. Even the macronutrient needs can vary from person to person, never minding their age/size/shape/health in general.

Most of all, coaching diet is considered the field of a dietitician, a field outside of the specialty of a coach better versed in crafting and moderating workouts.

Now, all of that said (and no, I’m not providing any scientific citations), I can posit that a large number of injury and burnout problems are in no small part a product of deficiencies in each said athlete’s diet and sleep. The vast majority of humanity, in all fitness levels, is deficient in one or more key nutrients, whether it’s as simple as protein or as micro-specific as a vitamin like magnesium or iron.


Still, you don’t need to be an RD to know that:

  • The first half hour following a workout is the best time to ingest protein and carbs
  • Clean unprocessed food is better fuel between workouts than processed food
  • On average you ideally consume as many calories as you burn in a given day
  • You need more protein than most would recommend if you’re going to train hard
  • The more intense aerobic effort you put in, the more carbohydrates you need to consume between workouts
  • The harder you work on a given day, the more sleep you need that night to recover most effectively

The only resource that I’ve seen address post-workout nutrition with any specificity is Matt Fitzgerald’s New Rules Of Marathon And Half Marathon Nutrition. The book’s recommended workouts are bookended by a recommendation of carbohydrate/protein volume to consume in the minutes following a workout. The book is written around learning to effectively fuel a workout, and the information in general is a bit dated (the book was published in 2013), so its use is a bit limited. But it’s still more feedback on training nutrition than most authors provide.

The subject of what to eat between workouts is a broad and sensitive one, granted. It’s one I’m not going to get into now.

But I do think it’s a subject that running coaches need to give more than mere typical consideration. It’d be helpful to at least get a baseline idea of how many calories a runner consumes, estimate how many they burn per mile and during other exercise, get a good grasp on what the runner prefers to eat, and come up with some sort of concrete plan of what they should eat between workouts.

(And if you do actually want to become certified, there is a path to that. It’s not free, and it does take time, study and effort, but you can do it.)

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