September 20, 2019

The Zone (You May Want to Get in It) … and More About Sugar

I am not sure how I missed this one, but thanks to a client (thank you Terri), I recently read “Enter the Zone” by Barry Sears, Ph.D.—author and leading researcher in the area of the hormonal effects of food, as well as an innovator in the area of intravenous cancer-drug delivery systems, Sears’ 1995 release, and its companion books, have now sold more that 5 million copies.  Sears’ work is an important one and provides the scientific foundation for the Paleo movement that is currently popular among dieters, fitness aficionados, and elite athletes (Paleo has grown in large-part due to its link to the tremendously popular CrossFit movement).

For those of you that train with me or read my “nutrition” blog posts, you already know that I firmly believe that nutrition plays a vital role in promoting wellness, improving fitness, and progressing an athlete toward his or her training goals.  I routinely speak of nutritional periodization and how it is important to have the dietary “inputs” supporting and meeting the needs of an athlete’s “outputs.”  Cycling and varying the requisite amounts of micronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats should be done to support one’s activity level, training cycle, and athletic goals.  Long a follower and promoter of  the likes of Dr. Mark Hyman (i.e., “Ultrametabolism,” “The Ultra Simple Diet,” etc.) and Mark Pollan (i.e., “In Defense of Food“) with his short mantra of  “[e]at food, not too much, mostly plants” that can serve most individuals very well, my food ethic revolves eating clean, organic when possible, “real” foods … you know, things that don’t come out of a box and typically have a single ingredient (i.e., an apple … Ingredients List: apple … period).  You may also recall that my personal physical transformation, from an obese midwestern kid to a healthy and vibrant adolescent and, now as an athletic adult, had roots in the the high-carb, low-fat revolution promoted by the likes of Nathan Pritikin and Dr. Dean Ornish.  The transformation in my own understanding of the important role of “healthy fats” and the need to focus on the quality and quantity of lean protein sources along with “good” carbohydrates (those with both low glycemic index—the rate at which a carbohydrate enters the bloodstream, and lower glycemic load—the actual grams of carbohydrates contributed) has taken along time—in hindsight, especially in the area of developing considerable lean muscle mass, I did my self a disservice by adhering to the high-carb, low-fat regimens during my youth.  Today, at least for me, it is all about maximizing the nutritional value of my meals and supplementing my training and lifestyle goals with the corresponding proper ratios of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.  I know consider myself somewhat of a master of  body composition, if only at the personal level, as I have been able to consistently make minor tweaks in my nutrition to best align my body composition with my current training goals.  I realize that I have figured out what works for me, but I also realize that we are unique individuals … what may work well for me, may not work so great for you (however, current research supports that, as is the case with so many things, most of us fall somewhere in the middle of the bell curve when it comes to basic physiological responses … there are some general principles that work for the vast majority of us).  Additionally, I am neither a physician nor a certified dietician; rather, I am an athlete and trainer that reads a great deal on this subject and has conducted countless nutritional “experiments” on himself to improve my health and athletic performance.  I am simply presenting the highlights of Sears’ work in hopes that it may prove beneficial to others, especially my clients that are seeking to change their lifestyles, improve their body composition, or achieve increased athletic performance.

I have laid out a few of the major points that Sears presents in his best-selling book below and I will strongly encourage you to pick up a copy and give this title a read.  Sears book is both educational and well organized, while at the same time providing a possible roadmap to achieving optimal health.  At the very least it provides the reader with another tool to combat an expanding waistline along with many of the associated health issues that are plaguing our country; specifically, heart disease, obesity and Type II diabetes, and cancer.  Note: I especially like Sears’ voice, as he writes not only with the credentials of a world-class researcher, but identifies himself as a “genetic time bomb”—Sears’ father died of a fatal heart attack at age 53 and his three uncles, each in their fifties, also suffered the same fate (a significant family history of coronary artery disease).  A true believer in using food as medicine, Sears presents a plan that can be used to help move you to “permanent fat loss, great health, and all-around peak performance.”

At the core of his program, Sears emphasizes a powerful class of hormones called eicosanoids (eye-KAH-sah-noids) … eicosanoids act as “master switches” that control virtually all bodily functions (i.e., the cardiovascular system, immune system, etc.)—Sears suggests that food can be used to impact the body at the cellular level to reach and maintain a balance of these hormones in order to promote wellness an optimal athletic performance.  Sears uses the descriptive phrase “dietary technology” to label the means by which people may achieve “a state of optimal healthy, physical performance, and mental alertness that’s called the Zone.”  According to Sears, “[t]he Zone is a real metabolic state that can be reached by everyone, and maintained indefinitely on a lifelong basis.”  Finally, Sears emphasizes that the Zone is not just about wellness; rather, it is about achieving “optimal health.”  To get there, Sears dictates that we must treat food for a what he believes it is: a medicine.  Sears’ directive is to treat food, in both the proper proportions and consumed in a controlled fashion as an “intravenous drip,” mirroring the words attributed to Hippocrates so long ago of “[l]et medicine be thy food, and food be thy medicine.”   Bottom line, according to Sears, the size of our waistlines and our health (among other things) depend on our body’s hormonal response to the foods we eat.  This response can be managed by introducing foods, in the proper combinations and at the proper times, to promote optimal health—this is the key to the Zone.

Sears contends that the dietary laws that we live by are largely the product of fad or fashion (even experimentation).  Of late,  the encouragement to those seeking to live a healthy lifestyle to “eat less fat and more carbohydrates” has had just the opposite effect on the waistline of Americans (not to mention the concomitant increased incidence of heart disease, diabetes, and many types of cancer).  Take a look at the USDA’s food pyramid that has served as the nutritional guidepost from 1992 until 2005, see  it here (in its latest iteration, released in June of 2011, the USDA’s primary food group symbol currently goes by the name of “My Plate”—learn more here). That is the so-called “American paradox” of the low-fat lifestyle, people are eating less fat, but are actually getting fatter!

Sears is one of the few authors that points out that there is significant difference between weight loss and fat loss!  An individual can lose weight via loss of water, lean muscle, and fat but we are each genetically limited to the amount of actual excess body fat that we can lose in any given period of time*—Sears highlights that our “weight” represents a composite of all of these elements as well as structural components (i.e., bones and connective tissues, etc.).  His review of the macronutrients role in both performance and weight loss yields the following keys: 1) fat doesn’t make us fat, rather, it is excess carbohydrates that get stored as fat that is the primary culprit for the additional fat around our midsections—the real metabolic player here is increase insulin levels, and 2) exceedingly high-protein diets drive ketosis that yields loss of water weight, a decrease in lean muscle mass, and “primes” our existing fat sells for rapid “rebound” storage once carbohydrates are reintroduced, and 3) Sears echoes the statement one of my favorite quotes from an outlier in the bodybuilding world, Dr. Warren Wiley: “[f]at on the lips does not equal fat on the hips.”  In fact, Sears emphasizes this point at the end of the chapter entitled “The Fattening of America” by listing the following as two of the keys to permanent weight loss: (1) dietary fat does not make you fat, and (2) you have to eat fat to lose fat.  *The week is a typical guidepost and most individuals are limited to 1 to 1 1/2 lbs. of fat loss per week.

The foundations of the Zone diet (I would suggest that you not label Sears’ plan as a diet; rather, as a nutritional strategy for promoting optimal health), are derived from the Neo-Paleolithic diet (lean meats, fruit, and fiber-rich vegetables), the anti-aging diet (i.e., calorie restriction), a growing understanding of the vast hormonal effect of the foods that we eat (especially on the insulin/glucagon axis), along with the body of scientific research that has grown out of the 1982 Nobel Prize winning study of eicosanoids (a large class of hormonal “controls” that are produced in the wake of food consumption—as Sears suggests, “you’re only hormonally as good as your last meal, and you’re only as hormonally good as your next meal”).  Sears stakes his reputation as a scientific researcher that eating “Zone-favorable” meals will result in positive changes in your health and, may even diminish (if not protect against and even cure) a wide range of disease states, e.g., heart disease, high blood pressure, cholesterol elevation and imbalance (i.e., ratio of LDL:HDL), obesity and Type II diabetes, atherosclerosis and restenosis, blood clots, cancer, AIDS and autoimmune diseases, chronic fatigue, nervous system disorders (specifically, MS), arthritis, reproductive disorders, chronic pain, skin conditions (the most common being eczema and psoriasis), even depression and addictive disorders such as smoking and alcoholism/drug addition—quite a list!!!  But it doesn’t end there, Sears further suggest that a commitment to a long-term “Zone-favorable” nutrition strategy may even promote a longer lifespan (the Sears program is a calorie restricted diet).

So what is the Zone?  Simply put: the “Zone” represents a range of protein to carbohydrate ratios that extends from about 0.6 and 1.0, with the “ideal” target ratio of 0.75 (note, as Sears correctly identifies, every individual is unique and some trial and error may be required to achieve the real goal; that is, “hormonally correct meals”—some of us have a genetic predisposition to exhibit a muted response to carbohydrates, while others—myself included—fast track excess carbohydrates directly to body fat).  The starting point is to determine the requisite grams of protein that you need to consume each day.  This number can be readily calculated by taking your lean muscle mass (LMM) and multiplying it by an “activity multiplier” (Sears includes easy calculation guides in the associated Appendices). Once you have your “number” the remaining carbohydrate and fat components fall easily into place.  In “Enter the Zone”  Sears provides a “block method” that is easy to use and provides ready access to Zone-favorable meals.  In Sears’ program, a single “block” of protein is 7 grams, a block of carbohydrate is 9 grams, and a block of fat is approximately 1.5 grams—don’t get hung up on the fat issue … others have … most lean protein sources contain hidden fat, therefore explaining the reduction in the fat block grams (if using “pure” protein sources, then 2x each fat block to achieve the correct ratio).  Note: Don’t let the “blocks” alter the understanding of the caloric contribution of each of the macronutrients, i.e., 1 gram of protein = 4 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates = 4 calories, and 1 gram of fat = 9 calories—it is the macronutrient ratios, not the caloric contributions, that are important for eating a in a Zone-favorable manner; however, the caloric composition of a Zone-favorable diet looks approximately as follows: 30% protein, 40% carbohydrates, and 30% fat.  Using the block system, the goal is to keep each meal at 1:1:1 ratio1Each So let’s assume that you require 112 grams of protein each day, that leaves you 16 “protein blocks” to space equally throughout the day.  A typical female would consume 3 blocks each meal, while the typical male would consume 4 blocks—working from the protein blocks, each meal would look like 3 protein blocks:3 carbohydrate blocks:3 fat blocks or 4 protein blocks:4 carbohydrate blocks:4 fat blocks, respectively.  For snacks … I bet you guessed it: 1:1:1, protein:carbohydrate:fat.  In supporting material, specifically, “A Week in the Zone” Sears introduces an even simpler “1-2-3 method” for creating Zone-favorable meals.  With this method you simply create meals that include 1 gram of fat, for every 2 grams of protein … add the grams of fat and protein to yield 3 grams of carbohydrates—simple as 1-2-3 (you then extrapolate accordingly to meet your individual macronutrient goals).  Simper still, you can get very close to building Zone-favorable meals by using the “eyeball” method.   Begin with a standard dinner plate and cover a third of the plate with a lean protein source (recall that an appropriate portion of protein is typically about the size of the palm of your hand and also only as thick).  Next, fill the other two-thirds of your plate with vegetables and fruits (recall that you should minimize starchy vegetables, e.g., potatoes, corn, etc. and instead focus on consuming the higher-fiber leafy greens, while similarly avoiding the higher sugar and GI/load fruits like bananas and dried varieties—note that Sears makes a distinction between Zone-favorable and Zone-unfavorable fruits and vegetables and provides useful lists to help guide your selections in each of his books).  Finally, add a small amount of healthy monounsaturated fat to complete the meal!

I have set out a few examples of what a typical “block” looks like for a each of the macronutrients below:

1 protein block = 1 oz. skinless chicken breast or 1 oz. turkey breast

1 carbohydrate block = 3 cups brocolli (raw), 1 cup if cooked or 1/4 of a canteloupe

1 fat block = 1/3 tsp. olive oil or 1 macadamia nut

Wait before you stop reading and say, “Well, I am going to STARVE!” take a look below at a couple of the 4:4:4 meals (4 blocks of each macronnutrient) that I literally threw together in minutes, a quick dinner and a quick breakfast:

A “Zone-favorable” 4:4:4 dinner: black beans, lean grass-fed beef, sautéd spinach, avocado, and a cup of organic decaffeinated coffee.

A “Zone-favorable” 4:4:4 breakfast: 2/3 cup cooked oats (GF variety), a 6 egg-white omelet with 2 tsp. olive oil, 1 cup sautéd spinach, 1 cup of organic strawberries, and a cup of organic decaffeinated coffee.














1Note that Sears, who has experience with working with a wide array of elite athletes at both the collegiate and  professional levels—from the prestigious Stanford collegiate swim team to the triathlon legend Dave Scott—allows for an additional block of fat for these athlete … the truly elite athlete would eat a ratio of 1:1:2 (adding an additional block of fat for each block of protein).

To quote Sears “a Zone-favorable diet is a protein-adequate, low-fat, moderate-carbohydrae program” and this is exactly how I will present it to you.   The Zone can either be seen as a tool to drop a few excess pounds or, as I prefer to view it, one of another possible roadmaps that one can use to promote optimal health and accomplish fitness and lifestyle goals.  I, like Sears, believe that the conventional wisdom (at least of late) to consume a diet dominated by carbohydrates with the inclusion of minimal fats is dead wrong!  I further believe that excess carbohydrate consumption—at least for the majority of individuals—can be blamed for the obesity epidemic that has its grip on our country (just take a look around at what typical Americans eat and the size of their waistlines) as well as the many complications that stem from being overweight/obese (usually goes hand and glove with a sedentary lifestyle … this is a vicious cycle).  At the biochemical level this all makes perfect sense: excess carbs, increased insulin, increased fat storage … physiology 101!

A little Zone experiment.  I chose to enter the Zone for a week during my busy summer training schedule and I elected to do it by accessing one of Sears’ companion books, specifically, “A Week in the Zone.”  This companion book sets out a step-by-step Zone meal plan for both a typical female and a typical male and, as part of my experimentation, I decided to follow the “female” program—this was primarily to combat any push-back from my male clients that the caloric guidelines of the male program were too restrictive to follow.  Results: not only did I achieve the 1 1/2 lb. loss of excess body fat, I experienced increased mental clarity, noticed performance gains in both strength and endurance (I maintained a nearly 40-mile/week running volume that was supplemented with nearly 150 miles of cycling), while failing to be pained by any sense of deprivation.  I only had a week to commit to this experiment and, again (at least for me), the results were intriguing—An important disclaimer: with the exception of the calorie restriction, I typically fuel on a similar percentage of macronutrients found in the Zone-favorable diets (admittedly, I do utilize higher carbohydrate days to support additional training volumes).  I will end with a quote from Sears out of “A Week in a Zone”:  “… the Zone is a powerful, yet simple to use dietary program that will allow you to lose excess body fat, reduce the likelihood of chronic disease, and enable you to live a longer and better life.  All of these benefits come from you ability to use food to lower excess insulin levels.”  I agree.  I plan to revisit the Zone program later this year and investigate if is possible to actually increase lean muscle mass (as Sears claims) while following a calorie restricted program … I will make a note to report back on my findings!


An associated note from the desk of our pediatrician:  During a recent wellness checkup for one of our children, our pediatrician, who is also a recreational runner and health conscious, eagerly shared some information with me concerning the role that sugar plays in determining our health—our pediatrician is very aware of my work as a trainer and my interest in promoting wellness and athletic performance.  I have provided a link to the information that she shared with me here.  Bottom line: Dr. Lustig’s presentation (Dr. Lustig is a neuroendocrinologist at UCSF, specializing in childhood obesity) identifies sugar as a powerful liver toxin (sharing the same biochemical pathways as the very well-known liver toxin, alcohol).  I highly recommend that you view Dr. Lustig’s entire presentation or read the summary that our pediatrician shared with me!

8 Hours at Life Time Fitness and My “Urban Adventure”

In April I placed two long training days on my calendar, each designed to support my longer-term training goals (i.e., primarily to promote changes in my strength to weight ratio) and to provide new and different fitness challenges.  For the first, I constructed an 8-hour training day at Life Time Fitness-Centennial (consisting of 4 group fitness classes supplemented with 3 hours of self-guided activity), while the second consisted of what I like to call an “urban adventure”­—an 8-hour hike from my home to the heart of Denver and back.  I elected to share these quirky training days as a means to encourage creativity and new fitness challenges.  If it is possible to devote a day off (I know how rare these are), or even string together a block of a few hours, consider planning a workout that is very different from your usual routine.  Consider roping a friend or a relative into participating in the challenge that you select.  If you belong to a fitness club, tap into some of the resources that you don’t normally take advantage of and see what new opportunities exist to progress your fitness exist there.  Finally, don’t forget that the simple movement of placing one foot in front of the other is a readily available activity that works wonders on our base fitness and body composition—a fitness adventure awaits right out your door.  Good luck in identifying and accomplishing your next “physical challenge.”  What follows is what I came up with last month:

8-Hour Training Day at Life Time Fitness

Although I had hoped to begin my quest to walk the entire length of Denver’s High Line Canal Trail (see the 2012 edition of the “Guide to the High Line Canal“) … a pursuit that I had initially engaged my friend Tom Frederick to join me in, the forecast for our scheduled outing didn’t cooperate.  The weather was expected to turn cold and wet and Tom wasn’t having it.  Instead of giving up on the training day (one that had long been scheduled on my calendar—albeit having moved around a bit), I elected to design another type of physical challenge.  I crafted an 8-hour indoor training day at Life Time Fitness (LTF) and pitched it to Tom.  What I came up with is set out below:

A copy of the 8-hour training day schedule that I threw together to guide our effort.

Tom met me at the doors of the Centennial LTF club at 6:01 a.m. and we got right to it … you see, the on-line schedules for the Centennial club (the ones that I used to plan our day) had not been updated yet for April, and the Vinyasa class had moved up to 6:00 a.m (or perhaps I just read it wrong).  Note: I have included a copy of the current group class schedule, here.  After receiving accepting glances from Sasha from our position just outside the studio door (a very capable Vinyasa instructor at LTF), Tom and I joined the class already in progress.  Note: As a rule, I NEVER join a yoga class late … you may disagree, but it’s just good etiquette, but Sasha runs a bit more informal class and kindly welcomed us in!  We quietly found our places and moved into the “flow.”  Note also that this was Tom’s very first yoga class … not an ideal way to begin, but he did his best to follow along through the relatively fast-paced series!  Next, the pool.  We made a quick transition to the pool where I spent a considerable amount of time helping Tom with his freestyle before abandoning him with orders to, above all else, “DO NOT stop moving.”  I managed 2600 m over the course of the next hour before heading off to the spinning class.  After some liquid nutrition (I fueled on NutriBiotic rice protein shake blended with flax seed, almond milk, and blueberries) it was off to Angela’s “Studio Cycle.”  After making the necessary adjustments to get Tom set up on his bike, I settled in to an easy cadence and waited for the class to begin.  An uptempo play list, a cycling video on the big screens, and a few sustained climbs helped pass the time (144 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 168 bpm)—only much later did I learn that Tom shares my affinity for techno remixes (check out his picks, via YouTube, original remix versions of Pink Floyd classic “Another Brick in the Wall: Part II” by Eric Prydz, here and here—both are close to the beats that propelled us through at least part of Angela’s spin class … note that, as Tom correctly pointed out, “the videos are a little crazy” but they will get you pointed in the right direction to finding more of Prydz’s work).  Another shake similar to the first, a quick change out of my cycling bibs and into shorts, and we headed off to “No Limits Circuit.”  Tom and I joined a group of 15  or so women (the class grew to over 25 by “go time” and included one other man)who were ready to do battle, “circuit style.”  Look, I have participated in these classes before … I know the scene and the routine … it usually goes something like this:  a group of extremely fit middle-aged women, lead by one of the fittest women on the planet (i.e., the instructor), brings this endurance athlete to his knees by challenging my anaerobic energy systems to their max while simultaneously revealing all the weaknesses in my ongoing endurance, strength, and flexibility training—I was glad to have Tom there for support.  However, it was not meant to be for Tom.  Despite my urging the he could, and SHOULD stay for the circuit class … after just 4 hours he had had enough!  I said my goodbyes to Tom and waited for the music, and the punishing, to begin.  The punishing came, delivered by Carrissa, the instructor and her regular “followers” … I survived, but it went exactly as predicted (144 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 177 bpm).  Drop in to a “No Limits Circuit” class just about any day of the week to see what I mean!  In the fifteen minute “break” I consumed another bit of liquid nutrition, knowing full well that it was unlikely to sit well with me and may even jeopardize my subsequent performance in the next class.  Next up, “Barbell Strength.”   As I went about collecting the items that I would apparently need for class, e.g., an aerobic step, a barbell with an assortment of weights, some smaller dumbbells, I discovered that a fellow endurance athlete and friend, Katie Loyd, was in the front row.  I visited with Katie for a couple of minutes and, after explaining was I up to, I assumed my place in the back row … I think she understood!?  (Katie is a veteran Ironman athlete and endurance aficionado.)  Funny, within minutes of starting the barbell workout I started to feel eerily weak—getting the appropriate amount of calories in was proving to be a real challenge through the first part of the day’s schedule.  As I worked through the initial barbell squat series I collapsed down onto one knee … seriously, right before I went “down” the lights starting to dim and the great to form around the edges of my vision—I had hit some sort of wall.  I was determined to continue, quickly recovered, and resumed squatting, all the while giving myself some serious self-talk like “You can do this!” … “Just shed some of the weight on the bar and keep going!”  For the remainder of the class I adjusted down my weights and things gradually turned around … it was still a challenge (and, as someone who teaches the finer points of weightlifting, I would suggest that you not use a “barbell circuit” class as your only reference for proper lifting technique … but if you have some experience moving weights around, these types of classes can offer a dose of variety to your routine).  My heart rate data for the “Barbell Strength” class: 113 bpm average HR, maximum HR of 154 bpm.  After class I consumed my final “meal” and headed to the treadmill (after a short visit to the on-site daycare to see how much Katie’s son had grown since the last time that I had seen him).  The treadmill (aka “dreadmill”) eagerly waited for me … a couple more hours of steady-state effort, as that was all that I could manage, and it would be over.  A little after 2:30 p.m. I called it a day and headed off to the locker room to enjoy the steam room and a shower.  At 3:06 I sent the following text to my friend Tom: “It’s over … that was crazy.  Thanks for showing up and participating (you could have done it)!”

“Urban Adventure”

I left my home shortly after 7 a.m., sporting my heaviest Vasque hiking boots, my Nathan lightweight hydration pack (essentially carrying only water, an apple, my phone, a visor, and some additional sunscreen—$20 and a credit card).  I accessed the Cherry Creek Trail behind my home and headed north.  The plan was to simply hike as far as I could between my departure time and 4 p.m.—I had originally contemplated and out-and-back route; however, as I worked deeper into my hike I committed to seeing just how far I could go.  I also carried my SPOT personal GPS beacon—a great little device that lets loved ones and friends (really whoever you allow access to you maps page) track your adventures … my wife enjoys coming “along” on my outings and she can use the SPOT map to get me out of a tough “spot” if the need arises (ha).  [I had hoped to share a screenshot of the SPOT map that I collected; however, it had expired from my account by the time put this post together.]  I shed some layers at Cherry Creek State Park and ate my apple, already beginning to feel the effects of some fatigue from this different mode of transportation (walking and running involve different movement patterns).  As I frequently ride the Cherry Creek Trail on my bike, I had anticipated much of what I would see on my adventure; however, I was surprised to encounter the following ant mounds … note that in each photograph, the ants had picked up some type of candy to dine on (you catch this kind of thing when you are moving at slower speed versus whizzing by on a bike).


Ants and candy (1) of (2).

Ants and candy (2) of (2).

My heart rate remained ridiculously low, around 70-90 bpm throughout my hike.  By 1 o’clock I passed into Cherry Creek North and had put over 18 miles behind me.  With my 2L hydration bag completely emptied, I landed at Whole Foods where I collected an assortment of items to eat and stocked up on fluids.  Let’s see … nearly six hours to get to Cherry Creek North … if I backtracked following the same route I certainly wasn’t going to make it home by 4 p.m.?  I had to come up with a new plan.

My lunch at Whole Foods: Water, carrot juice, kale & garlic salad, and a couple of rosemary grilled chicken breasts.

On my way in, I had noted the RTD buses and even stopped to check out the schedules at a couple of their stops.  Over lunch I used my iPhone to located the bus routes and schedules and I caught the bus heading to Nine Mile Station  (only slightly north of the Cherry Creek State Park) just beyond the Cherry Creek Mall.

The Garmin (a feature of Garmin Connect) player shows my progress (or, alternatively, click here):

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As I had an appointment that I had to keep at 5:00 p.m., I knew that I had to be home no later than 4:15 p.m. in order to shower, change, and make it—hence the “planes, trains, and automobiles” route on the way back (or, in my case, the city bus, hitched ride with a park ranger, and a taxi cab—I included a photograph of my Whole Foods lunch, bus fare, and taxi receipts as the lead photograph for this post).  Determined to put in as many miles in as absolutely possible, I walked from the Nine Mile Station deep into Cherry Creek State Park.  Again, after my vehicular excursion with a park official that I will leave unnamed but to whom I am extremely grateful (I hitched a ride as soon as I realized that I needed to get through the park in order to arrange a taxi ride to get me home on time), I landed on my feet and hiked out of the park while simultaneously arranging for a tax to pick me up at Valley Country Club (just to the south of Cherry Creek State Park).  In all, I logged better than 24 miles in a single day (just short of the marathon distance that I had hoped).  This was truly a LSD (Long Slow Distance) training day.  I simply concentrated on keeping my “heavy” feet moving (the reason that I selected heavy hiking boots over running shoes) and worked on training up my hiking/walking muscles.

I have included a slideshow of a few of the  other images from my “urban adventure” below:



Sardines = Tasty Little Fish?

Sardines … the word alone usually conjures up either a blank stare, facial contortions, or, as is the case with me NOW, a smile and thoughts of a great tasting, protein-rich comfort food.

Below I have outlined one of my favorite ways to enjoy these tasty little fish that are chocked full of “good” fats (primarily Omega-3s).  However, be forewarned, you MUST select the SKINLESS AND BONELESS  variety of these fish, otherwise you will be faced with (at least IMHO) a frightening and “fear factor” type of culinary “treat.”

Ingredients: 1 can sardines (skinless and boneless packed in olive oil), Jarlsberg Lite swiss cheese (havarti also works great), frisée or escarole (both a type of endive)—I prefer to use frisée (about 1 to ½ cup(s) finely chopped, 1 tbsp. (T) tahini (sesame seed butter), 1-2 tsp(s) lemon juice, ¼ to ½ coarsely chopped sweet onion, brown rice tortilla (any tortilla will do), and salt/pepper to taste.

Step 1 Collect the necessary ingredients (pepper grinder not shown)


Step 2 Chop the onion and frisée.


Step 3 Transfer to mixing bowl, then add 1 tbsp. tahini and 1-2 tsp(s) lemon juice (add salt and pepper)


Step 4 Combine using fingers, distributing tahini, lemon juice, etc.– covering the frisée and onions (makes a paste)


Step 5 Spread the mixture evenly over half of the tortilla


Step 6 Add the sardines (reserving the olive oil to discard, alternatively, use the oil ... if you use the olive, add it in Step 3 above), prepare the cheese by slicing it thinly


Step 7 Distribute the cheese evenly


Step 8 Fold, cut in half (if you choose), and serve … enjoy!


Nutritional Information:  Assuming that you include the olive oil and use Jarlsberg Lite swiss cheese, this tasty dish provides 414 total calories, with the following macronutrient breakdown: Carbohydrates, 13g; Protein, 38g; Fat, 24g; and Fiber, 4g.

Some of my fellow athletes concerned about the fat content of this dish may cringe, but the fact of the matter is that this dish (even with the cheese) is chocked full of predominately “good” fats.  Remember, some fats are good for you while others tend to sabotage your health and contribute to weight gain.  I don’t have time to tease out the distinctions here; however, look for that discussion in a subsequent post.  I will distinguish between the two groups: “good fats”: omega 3s, monounsaturated fats, and some forms of saturated fats (e.g., coconut products high in laurie acid) and the “bad fats”: polyunsaturated or refined vegetable oils, most saturated fats, and the worst of the worst, hydrogenated oils/trans fats.  Bottom line: if you are concerned about the minimal amount of saturated fat contained in the cheese, simply omit it and enjoy the remaining concoction with a clear conscience (or substitute some chopped organic walnuts, as the nuts add to the savory quality of this dish).

Omega 3s: Sardines are rich in EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) both are omega 3s that have been shown to help control insulin sensitivity, improve fatty acid oxidation (i.e., fat burning), and dampen systemic inflammation.  Note that these “good” fats are found in wild fish (especially concentrated in the smaller varieties), flaxseeds and flax oil, and a variety of nuts and seeds.

Bon appétit!

Zero Calorie Run?: Epic Endurance Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run – 25K

Paul Hardcastle, Michelle Grubb, Hope Beatte (my wife), and me pre-race in the parking lot at Cheyenne Mtn. State Park

Last Saturday I joined my wife, Hope, along with our friends Paul Hardcastle and Michelle Grubb for the inaugural Epic Endurance Cheyenne Mountain Trail Run 25K.  Epic Endurance is the brainchild of our friend Andrea Watkins and her new boyfriend, “Steve 6.0” … those are her words NOT mine!  Let me say at the outset that Andrea and Steve picked an outstanding venue.  Cheyenne Mountain State Park (one of Colorado’s newest) is located just to the southwest of Colorado Springs, CO and offers nearly 1700 acres to explore with over 20 miles of trail access.  Cheyenne Mountain offers an elevation of 9565 ft.

The morning arrived cold along with a potential for precipitation of the blowing, frozen kind (i.e. snow).  Although the skies eventually cycled through overcast to bouts of blue with intermittent snow—really, it was an ideal day for a trail run.  The parking lot featured lots of energetic, albeit cold, racers and many familiar faces as volunteers, our friends Beth Tennant, Tyler Walton, Barry Cross, and Anthony Beeson were just a few of the friendly faces that had turned out to support Andrea and Steve’s first race.  And now, a note about my personal guilt: I felt really bad about racing and not volunteering; however, when I had asked Andrea about how I could help, she had encouraged me to race.  However, even before I set foot to the starting line, I felt uneasy about being a competitor and made a personal commitment to serve as a race volunteer in subsequent years.

A bit about the lead photo on this post, the one withe the smiley face made out of various high protein, high fat, and low carbohydrate foods: Over the course of the last several weeks, I have been experimenting with elements of a “slow-carb” nutritional strategy, purposely training and racing on lower quantities of low glycemic index (GI), complex carbohydrates and higher quantities of “healthy” fats.  This nutritional plan also features scheduled “high carb” days to replenish my body’s energy stores, every 7-10 days.  The net effect or this type of nutritional strategy, when combined with metabolically specialized training, is an increase in the body’s ability to spare carbohydrates while relying on large percentages of fat as an energy substrate.  Note: To see one of the most dramatic slow-carb protocols, see pages 70-99 of “The 4-Hour Body” authored by the ever-controversial, but highly motivated and energetic Tim Ferriss.

The actual ingredients of my breakfast included 3 hard boiled eggs, 11 grams of Brazil nuts, 11 grams of organic whole almonds, 2 T (32 grams) of almond butter, providing approximately 652 calories and an approximate macronutrient breakdown of 14 grams of carbohydrates, 54 grams of fat, 36 grams of protein, and 8 grams of fiber.

There were two primary ideas behind this fueling strategy: 1) I wanted to provide a mental challenge to run 25K (15.5 miles) without an appreciable carbohydrate load, and 2) I wanted to test my own endurance while using a virtually no-carb pre-race meal and without the addition of on-course fuel (thereby testing the limits of my personal glycogen stores).

A brief biochemistry lesson: Glycogen is a “secondary” fuel source that is primarily stored in the muscle and liver (compared to glucose which is the “primary” fuel source that is made available to the body via the blood) and the average individual stores approximately 1500 calories of glycogen—this is highly variable and is determined by both genetic and lifestyle factors (think training and diet); but sufficient fuel to provide a couple of hours of sustained, moderately high intensity workout.  Note that only the glycogen stored in the liver can be made available to other organs.  The body has three principle energy systems: the phosphagen, glycolytic, and oxidative (each is always “on” but the amount of energy supplied by each is dependent on both the intensity and duration of the activity  the body is engaged in, e.g., complete rest versus heavy resistance training or sprinting versus running a marathon).  The energy systems fall along a continuum that places the phosphagen system on side, fully engage during high intensity but short duration exercise, and the oxidative system on the other, providing the predominant proportion of fuel during low intensity but long duration exercise.  The glycolytic system fall in the middle, being further divided between slow- and fast-glycolysis.  Each of the systems are “on” all the time, but each contributes to the body’s energy needs at different levels based on the demands being placed on the body at any given time.  Glycogen, or lack there of, is principally involved when an athlete hits the proverbial “wall” or “bonks.”  In this situation, energy expenditure outpaces energy (caloric) consumption and the athlete’s stored glycogen levels.  Not only does this have dramatic implications for the athlete during a training or race event, but it makes proper recovery nutrition paramount.

Running strong without any nutrition!

So as the mass of runners crossed the starting line, I set out on my personal quest to see when I would hit my wall.  The run from the parking lot along the park’s access road provided immediate elevation gain—it went UP—before quickly yielding to near perfect single track.  Once we made the single file line, the elevation continued to come.  I ran with Hope for a while as Paul and Michelle jockeyed for positions in front or behind us—I really had no idea where they were (only later did I learn that Michelle had bowed out early on due to some intestinal issues—I am sure that she will return next year to give it another go)!?  I was running free without pace of mileage data, only heart rate and felt strong.  Hope was now behind me and I started to really enjoy the trail experience, dodging roots and rocks, quickly changing direction, and following the trail as it coursed up and down.  Relatively early into the course I managed to hook up with a group of runners who was pushing the “perfect” pace (i.e., a bit faster than my comfort level) and provided an opportunity to draft … not that you can really draft in a running race, but I find there is a certain mental benefit and ease that comes by running on the end of a faster pack of runners.  This is especially true for me when running trails, as if I see that the runner (or runners as it may be) that I am following is making efficient foot placements, I can kind of put myself on autopilot.  Note: I still stay focused on where my feet are landing, but my mind seems to get a mental cue from observing a good foot placement in advance.  Has anyone else had this experience or is it unique to me?  Our group began to separate from the other runners (mind you, the runners ahead of me were three women … and all very experienced runners) and the pace continued to increase.   We were all running with iPods, but brief conversation was still manageable.  “You all are great trail runners,” I shared and then added, “thanks for the pull.”  To which I received a “glad to have you along and we will look forward to you leading us along in a bit.”  I promised to head out front and, at about mile 8, I did.  I worked out ahead and eventually pulled away from my little pack, only to assure them before I left that they would see me again as I was conducting a little experiment.  I passed all the nutritional goodies at the aid stations and only took water but continued to feel strong until about mile 13.  My wall appeared and I, as I had predicted, the other runners that initially followed, then paced, and eventually moved away from started to catch up and then overtake me.  I crossed the finish at 2 hrs. 47 minutes and 27 seconds after I started (12th in my division and 45th overall).  Paul finished at 2:53:04 and Hope followed at 3:24:39 with Michelle getting the DNF (really, it was DNS, “Did Not Start” as the nausea, etc. had plagued her almost from the start).

A word from the race director:

The Cheyenne Mountain Trail Race was my first attempt to organize a true race experience.  After spending years organizing teams of athletes to train, travel, and compete nationally and internationally event directing seemed the next logical step in my career.  My mission for Epic Endurance Events is to create an environment where competition is fierce but the race is also accessible and supportive to runners of all abilities.  For me this means support is available for every person on the course, whether you are in first place, in the middle of the pack, or the last finisher across the line.  The course will be challenging and well-marked.  Food and water will be available to you (even if you choose to pass it up!) at aid stations, volunteers will be on the course, and GOOD post race food and drink will be there for you when you cross the finish line.  Placing you in the race to hear your experience on the course was critical to building the race and achieving my goals.  I would have been crazy not to take advantage of your experience and knowledge as an endurance athlete.

This year [2012] I am looking forward to having you out there as a volunteer supporting our runners.  Your support means a lot to me, but more important, your support means a lot to all of the folks who made the decision to come run with us.  I wish you the best in your endeavors with your new blog.  I have no doubt you will inspire, encourage, educate, and support people in their endeavors to be fit and healthy.

See you at the races!


Owner | Race Director

Epic Endurance Events

The Takeaway:

My experiment was just that, a bit of experiment and a change from my usual routine.  Several weeks of lower- and slower-carb  (complex, low-GI carbohydrates) nutrition combined with an ultra low-carb race day breakfast had shown me that I had a “range” of nearly 3 hrs. of moderately high intensity exercise.  My experiment also solidified the importance of “good” carbohydrates on the athlete’s table as part of an ongoing training, recovery (they really can’t be separated), and race day nutritional strategy.

I can’t say enough about how impressed I was with the organization, the venue, and the execution of this inaugural event … congratulations Andrea and Steve 6.0—I will tell as many people as I can about this great new event and will look forward to seeing you next year, as a race volunteer, that is!!!

Shannon Sharpe and you? … and me?

The December 21st, 2010 edition of the Wall Street Journal featured the following article as part of its regular “What’s Your Workout” column: “Football Player Leaves the Field, Not the Gym: After a Stellar 13-Year Career in the NFL, Shannon Sharpe Maintains a Severe Fitness Program and a Disciplined Diet.”  For those of you that may not know, the “What’s Your Workout” column appears regularly in the WSJ and highlights the workouts and fitness routines of a wide variety of individuals … stories that encourage us by revealing how other “real” people stay in shape.

I frequently reference the Shannon Sharpe piece to my clients as an introduction to the concept of physical and nutritional discipline, especially to those who are looking to make significant “lifestyle” changes.   The article and my attendant comments have been so well received that I thought it could prove useful to a slightly wider audience.

The article highlights five noteworthy points that I want to share: 1) Shannon plans his workouts in advance (e.g., sets out his clothes the night before); 2) he focuses on intense cardio exercises—Shannon obviously understands the benefits of HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training—I have provided an excerpt from “Total Heart Rate Training” by Joel Friel, the “father” of heart rate training, see “Misconception #2,” that explains why this is important and the quasi-myth of the fat burning zone); 3) he has unshakeable discipline which has a way of influencing others (e.g., see the comments concerning Marino, Brown, and Esiason); 4) he devotes one day each week where he emphasizes cardio (an important part of developing a useful aerobic base); and, perhaps most importantly, 5) Shannon makes his nutrition a priority and his pocket book backs up this commitment—he has made a choice to purchase high quality food (i.e. average weekly food bill of $600); also, he understands the basics of metabolic efficiency/metabolism (eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day) and meal timing; note that he also avoids late-day spikes of insulin by utilizing low glycemic index carbohydrates and making sure that the majority of his complex carbohydrates are routinely consumed by noon).


From “Total Heart Rate Training” by Joel Friel

Misconception 2: To Lose Weight, Exercise in the “Fat Burning Zone”

The myth of the “fat-burning zone” has been around for a few decades now, and, like most myths, it has an element of truth to it.  It’s true that when you exercise at a low intensity your primary source of fuel is fat.  So why isn’t going slow always the best way to shed blubber?  Let’s examine what happens during exercise.

The body has two primary sources of fuel to use during exercise—fat and glycogen.  Glycogen is a form of carbohydrate stored in the muscles.  During aerobic activity both glycogen and fat are used simultaneously to provide energy.  At low intensity a greater percentage of fuel comes from fat, but some of the energy is also supplied by glycogen.  As the intensity of exercise increases—for example, going from walking to running—the body gradually begins to use more glycogen and less fat.  At very high intensities, such as long sprints, most of the energy is supplied by glycogen, with relatively little coming from fat.

Still sounds like slow exercise is the way to go, right?  Read on.

The confounding factor has to do with how many total calories are burned during low-intensity and high-intensity exercise.  When you are going slow, fewer calories are used per unit of time than when going fast.

Let’s say, for example, that there are two 150-pound people, each with 30 minutes to exercise.  One walks and the other runs.  Our walker covers 2 miles and burns about 200 calories.  Of these, 70 percent came from fat, for a total of 140 fat calories used.  The runner covers 3 miles in the same 30 minutes and consumes 330 calories, with 60 percent of them derived from fat—198 calories.

What is comes down to is this: Do you want a big slice of a little pie, or a small slice of a big pie?  While you’ll usually take the pie any way you can get it, the bigger the pie (the higher-intensity workout) is definitely the better for burning fat.

And there’s more.  For some time after the workout, perhaps a few minutes to a few hours, your metabolism is elevated above baseline levels.  Suet is melting away even though you are sitting at your desk.  The higher the intensity and the greater duration of the workout, the higher the metabolism and the more calories that are burned.  When it comes to counting calories, high intensity results in more calories expended than staining in the so-called fat-burning zone.

That doesn’t mean you should always exercise intensely.  When starting an exercise program, going slowly reduces the risk of injury.  Also, easy exercise days are needed after hard days, to allow muscles and other systems to recover.

Nutritional Discipline and the Glycemic Index

Shannon has made a commitment to his nutrition that he backs up with his time and financial resources.  Shannon tries anticipates life events (e.g., travel, work assignments, and family commitments, etc.) and takes nutritious foods with him.  He also emphasizes meal timing, spacing 5 to 6 meals out throughout  the day and, in his own words, tries “to get all my complex carbs in by noon.”  By utilizing lower glycemic index complex carbohydrates earlier in the day, Shannon effectively avoid the consequences of the blood sugar roller coaster ride that most individuals take every day.  Instead of spiking his insulin levels over and over through the day, Shannon gets his complex (or “good) carbohydrates in early in the day to fuel his active lifestyle and avoids the associated fat storage that results from bringing high loads of carbohydrates in late in the day.  Note that this is the opposite of what most individuals, instead, many Americans allow themselves to feed on a near constant supply of simple sugars (“bad” carbohydrates) throughout the day and then top it all off with a high carbohydrate (usually the processed white stuff) at the very end of their day—the consequences of this habit are visible our waistlines, hips, and buttocks … just look around!?

A Look at My “Food Ethic”:

The beauty of being both an observant and dedicated athlete is that you learn a great deal by trial and error.  I have developed a personal “food ethic” and an approach to nutritional excellence by referencing countless resources and through much trial and error.  However, recently I discovered a collection of books that fairly summarize what I have come to discover on my own.  If you are looking for some nutritional guidance, I can highly recommend the following resources: 1) “In Defense of Food” by Mark Pollan (there are many other titles that have shaped my food “ethic” but this is a really important work), Pollan’s mantra of “eat food, not too much, mostly plants” resonates with me.  I will also recommend “Ultrametabolism” by Mark Hyman, M.D.  Although styled as a weight loss book, this book provides a healthy outline for increasing vitality and sports performance.  As for endurance sports-specific, check out Bob Seebohar’s book,  “Nutrition Periodization” (it has it’s value, although I don’t agree with everything).  There is SO MUCH information in this area (much of which is conflicting, contradictory, and/or confusing), but you have to just dive in and start building a nutrition foundation.  First rate nutrition, especially for those who are looking to move beyond the standard energy balance concept of “calories in versus calories out”  (which unfortunately, is the bedrock principle of managing body composition—new nutritional science continues to suggest that both what we eat and when we eat it impacts body composition), involves a significant investment of time, money, and self-discipline.

Note: There is no magic contained in these books; however, these titles, admittedly in there individually incomplete and sometimes inconsistent ways, provide a foundation for my current personal nutrition philosophy, particularly, a type of “food ethic” that I subscribe to and one that I hope that you find beneficial to your own pursuit of wellness!

I devote a considerable amount of time and financial resources to both food selection and preparation.  As a means of cutting down on the time spent in the market, I have compiled a couple of grocery lists that use to guide both my family’s and my clients’ shopping (as I cycle through nutritional periods, these lists cover both my more plant-based nutritional “periods” as well as those that include lean, organic animal-based proteins).  Remember, keep it fun … I always try to bring home one new food that I don’t eat regularly each time I visit the market (preferably one that doesn’t have a label on it or come in a box).  I hope that you find these lists helpful:

Grocery List for Clients

My Family’s Personal Shopping List

Shannon Sharpe Article, citation (I would have liked to have provided an active link to the article or provided a reprint; however, the the WSJ charges dearly for such access.  If you are unable to locate the article, please send me an e-mail and I will provided it to you via my WSJ account):

Football Player Leaves the Field, Not the Gym.  (2010, December 21).  The Wall Street Journal.  (Western, ed.) p. (   ).  Or online:  Murphy, Jen. (2010, December 21).  Football Player Leaves the Field, Not the Gym.  The Wall Street Journal.  Retrieved March 31, 2011, from:

My Oatmeal

A lively variation, with the addition of walnuts, of my "standard" oatmeal.

I love oatmeal … period!  It is a staple in our home and recently, due to the urging of one of my personal training clients, I put pen to paper (or, as it turned out, fingertips to keyboard) and put together my basic oatmeal recipe to share.  But, what if you don’t share my enthusiasm for this anytime shape and say, “BUT I DON”T LIKE OATMEAL!”  Saying you don’t like oatmeal is akin to someone saying that she doesn’t like beer … there are a lots of styles and flavors of oatmeal (and beer)—BTW it’s is ok if you still don’t like beer (but give oatmeal a chance).  And listen, when I say oatmeal the kind that comes in the little single-serve packets, that can be prepared in 2.5 seconds by adding a 1/4 cup of tepid water, and have sugary sounding names like “Cookies & Cream” or “Maple Sugar Whatever” is NOT what I am talking about!

Before I bore your with the “why it’s good for you” stuff, let me add a few of the practical reasons that I really like this power food: 1) it’s scaleable, meaning you can enjoy a little or a lot depending on your caloric needs for the day, 2) it’s portable, it goes with you in almost anything (e.g. a cup, a bowl, a resealable container, even a Ziploc®), 3) it’s widely modifiable – you can prepare it coarse or “al dente” or cook it to oblivion, you can add almost anything in the cabinet or refrigerator to it or serve it “neat.”

So, why is oatmeal good for you anyway?  Oatmeal is a low calorie food, a single cup (prepared) has only 130 calories.  Oatmeal offers an abundance of fiber and even protein with a low associated amount of fat.  As a high-fiber, complex carbohydrate, oatmeal has a relatively low glycemic index (GI) and therefore is more slowly converted to simples sugars (this offers a muted insulin response).  Additionally, its high magnesium content supports the body’s utilization of glucose; consequently, oatmeal can help reduce the risk to Type 2 diabetes.  As a general rule, oatmeal can be considered a gluten free food; however, for the truly gluten intolerant or those that have been diagnosed with celiac disease the avenin protein can present a problem (avenin is one of the prolamine proteins that is potentially toxic to those with acute sensitivities).  Oatmeal is rich in plant lignans which have been shown to offer benefits for the prevention of both breast cancer (and other hormone-dependent cancers) as well as heart disease.  Oatmeal is rich in antioxidants.  It has been shown to lower the risk of heart failure by up to 30% (it is important to use the whole grain variety versus any processed or refined “quick oats”).  Oatmeal has even been shown to augment the body’s immense response to disease.


Brian’s Standard Oatmeal: 

Enjoy hot or cold, this dish can be enjoyed right off the stovetop or easily prepared the night before and consumed as a cold cereal the next morning.  Use this recipe as a base and feel free to mix it up, adding additional fresh/frozen fruits (e.g. blueberries, strawberries, gogi berries, raisins, dark chocolate, etc.) or nuts (walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, etc.)—use your imagination and experiment!

3/4 cup (dry) Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Old Fashion Rolled Oats1

1 medium banana

1 T chia seeds

1 T NutriBiotic rice protein powder (or substitute a natural whey protein)

1 slice organic cheddar cheese, sliced/shredded (or substitute Jarlsberg “Lite,” low-fat mozzarella, etc.)*

1 tsp. Udo’s 3-6-9 oil

1 T finely ground flaxseed

1/2 cup organic whole milk, preferably non-homogenized (or substitute almond, soy, or low-fat milk)*

1/2 cup prepared cranberry sauce or fresh variety (a tasty antioxidant) (e.g. Whole Foods, whole berry variety)2

Cook oatmeal as directed (using water) … don’t overcook (stir in protein powder once oatmeal is fully cooked or, omit protein powder in this step and simply sprinkle it over the bananas). Place chopped banana and chia seeds in the bottom of the serving dish. Pour the oatmeal on top and immediately add the sliced/shredded cheese. Top with flaxseed, Udo’s oil, milk, and add the prepared cranberry sauce.

Approximate Nutritional Information: Total calories: 755, Carbs: 100g, Fat: 24g, Protein: 37g, and Fiber: 14g.

1Any “thick,” NOT quick-cook or instant, oats will do (Whole Foods sells thick cut oats in the bulk foods section), note that the thick varieties can be prepared in 5-10 minutes on the stovetop … I often do this the night before while prepare the evening meal).

2For an additionally healthful preparation, you can make fresh cranberry sauce by purchasing frozen cranberries and gently boiling them on the stovetop. Alternatively, feel free to replace with 1 T of dried cranberries (also available in bulk at WholeFoods).

*Surprised to see dairy here (i.e., cheese and milk)?  Well, dairy can have its place on the training table and it is a good source of protein and calcium, as well as additional calories when needed.  I for one do not buy the whole “avoid saturated fats at all costs mantra”; however, I do believe in nutrition periodization, i.e., cycling macronutrients in order to best support a given particular training goal, cycle, or volume.  Bottom line: whatever side of the dairy debate you decided to “whey in” on (ha … couldn’t resist), don’t skip the oatmeal!

Some interesting resources on the issue of magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, and saturated fat, see:

Carvil P, Cronin, J.  Magnesium and Implications on Muscle Function.  Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2010; 32 (1): 48-54.

Spano M. Functional Foods, Beverages, and Ingredients in Athletics.  Strength and Conditioning Journal. 2010; 32 (1): 79-85.

Siri-Tarino P, Sun Q, Hu F, and Krauss R.  Saturated fat, carbohydrate, and cardiovascular disease.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010; 91:502-509.


Hypertrophy – to grow or cause to grow abnormally large, in this instance, growth as it relates to the size of skeletal muscle.

Increased muscle mass corelates to increased weight (all other variables remaining the same, i.e., percentage of body fat) and this is generally not a good thing for an endurance athlete.  However, I have started to expand my training goals and have set my sights on signficantly increasing my muscle mass.  There are several factors driving this new direction: 1) the birth of my children; seriously, I want to be strong for both my wife and my children (and, just so you know, there IS a physiological correlation between size and strength—note that there are many exceptions and variables that impact that correlation, so it cannot be stated as a truism, 2) I want to improve my physique and give myself the strength necessary to take on greater physical challenges, 3) I have devoted considerable time to the study of weight lifting techniques and biomechanics which I have applied to improve the health and vitality of many of my personal training clients, and 4) I LOVE lifting weights but have never given myself the permission to eat so as to encourage growth—well, those days are over starting now!

TBW % Fat %H20 Muscle BMR Body Age Bone
Week A 160.2 8.5 60.4 139.2 1894 12 7.2


Start of 7-week build phase (October 12, 2011)

A note about my starting metrics, I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to keep good records.  I use an Ironman™ Tanita “InnerScan” (Model BC553) body composition monitor scale (a device that uses bioelectrical impedance analysis-BIA) to record my daily metrics on a daily basis, first thing in the morning, Monday – Friday (I give myself the weekends off).  Although BIA suffers from numerous drawbacks, e.g., affected by time of day, body temperature, hydration, etc., it does offer a useful reference.  For most endurance athletes, the bodyfat percentage as a comparison to lean muscle mass rules and, for best results, I recommend using skin fold calipers.  I will begin using calipers to monitor my progress in 2011.

I supplemented these metrics with measurements:

Neck: Chest:  Waist (at naval) Hips (feet together):
38.0 cm 96.0 cm 84.0 cm 97.0 cm
14.8 in 37.4 in 32.8 in 37.8 in



Thighs (10 in. above patella): Calves:  Biceps:
58.5 cm 37.0 cm 30.5 cm
22.8 in 14.4 in 11.9 in


Start of 7-week build phase (October 12, 2010)

As far as program design, I have elected to attempt a 7-week program (Weeks A – G) using a straightforward four day split: Day 1: Chest & Triceps, Day 2: Legs & Abs, Day 3: Back & Biceps, and Day 4: Shoulders & Calves plus “bonus abs.”  I developed a straightforward hypertrophy program that I have included at the end of this post.  Each session requires less than 60 minutes in the gym and each, with the exception of “Day 2-Legs & Abs,” is immediately followed by High Intensity Interval Training (HITT)—a 15-minute treadmill session, with 30-second high intensity intervals (to the point of breathlessness) followed immediately by 90-second recovery periods (slow jog)—”wash and repeat” for the entire 15-minute HIIT session.  Calorie balance will be key, I am estimating my starting daily caloric intake—DCI (NOT including my pre- and post-workout meals at 2400 calories).  By tracking my daily caloric intake (note that I use Training Peaks) as well as my daily expenditures along with my metrics, I will adjust the caloric intake up or down as needed.

I am continually researching nutrition and how it affects athletic performance.  The cutting edge nutritional science is emphasizing not only what an athlete eats, but also when the athlete eats it.  Nutrient timing plays a key role in maximizing the gains of both the endurance and the resistance training athlete.  Both must focus on fueling and recovery; however, resistance training athletes seeking to gain mass must focus on augmenting anabolic pathways, while simultaneously limiting catabolic processes.  Part of my personal exploration during this process will be giving myself the permission to eat sufficient calories so as to facilitate the anabolic/growth phase.  I have included the recipies of both my pre- and post-workout meals here: Pre- and Post-Workout Supplementation (again, these are NOT included in my total DCI).  Note that this supplementation (and corresponding diet) is a bit of a deviation from my personal “food ethic”—a clean organic diet that emphasizes fruits and vegetables as well as lean proteins.  During the 7-week “build” phase, I will consume a true isocaloric diet (1/3 carbohydrates (low GI carbohydrates, coming in early in the day, with the majority coming in immediately after my a.m. resistance training workout, 1/3 lean protein(s), and 1/3 “healthy” fats).

Results at the end of 7 weeks are provided below:

TBW % Fat %H20 Muscle BMR Body Age Bone
Week G 166.7 9.1 60.4 144.2 1964 12 7.5


Note: I packed on 5 lbs. of lean muscle mass, with an increase of only 0.6% in body fat.

Neck: Chest:  Waist (at naval) Hips (feet together):
38.5 cm 98.0 cm 85.0 cm 98.0 cm
15.0 in 38.2 in 33.2 in 38.2 in
Percentage Increase: 1.3 % 2.0 % 1.2 % 1.0 %


Thighs (10 in. above patella): Calves:  Biceps:
61.0 cm 37.0 cm 33.5 cm
23.8 in 14.4 in 13.1 in
Percentage Increase: 4.1 % N/C 9.0 %


Note: DCI climbed as high as 3400 calories (higher cardio days required increased caloric consumption) as I continued to manage a few longer runs, moderate swims, and cycling sessions through the  build phase.

Daily resistance programs:

Day 1 Chest & Triceps

Day 2 Legs & Abs

Day 3 Back & Biceps

Day 4 Shoulders & Calves plus Bonus Abs

Results at the end of 29 weeks (an additional 22 weeks of training) are provided below:

TBW % Fat %H20 Muscle BMR Body Age Bone
Week 29 178.2 11.7 58.6 149.6 2000 14 7.8


Note: I packed on and additional 5.4 lbs. of lean muscle mass, with an increase of only 2.7% in body fat.

Neck: Chest:  Waist (at naval) Hips (feet together):
39.0 cm 99.0 cm 89.0 cm 102.0 cm
15.2 in 38.6 in 34.7 in 39.8 in
Percentage Increase: 2.6% 3.0 % 5.6 % 4.9 %


Thighs (10 in. above patella): Calves:  Biceps:
63.2 cm 38.5 cm 34.5 cm
24.6 in 15 in 13.5 in
Percentage Increase: 7.4 % 3.9 % 11.6 

End of 29-week build phase (May 8, 2011)

End of 29-week build phase (May 8, 2011)