AtA: The Pollan Conclusion and Brain Over Brawn

Posted June 7th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

[...]when I was reading the section on food and obesity and your critiques on the food industry, I though I was reading Pollan. Yet you arrived at a very different conclusion, and a low carb one at that, with room for exceptions. I was wondering if you came across Pollan when you were researching the food and nutrition section, and if so what your opinions are of him? More broadly, is the recommendation of 40:20:40 p/c/f because you feel this is a reasonable goal for people to aim for, or is this what you have found is an ideal ratio from your experience helping your individual clients?

Pollan is certainly a hell of smart dude, and even though some of his thoughts are hard (for me) to mutually reconcile, his books are worth reading just because he has an incredible style, and puts forth some really well-researched analysis that may blow your mind, even if the particular study may be familiar to you. He also manages his activism where he can get his point across without coming off with that slimy ulterior-motive aftertaste that’s so frequent lately in the wake of evolutionary/historical diet becoming A Big Thing. I’ve only read “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, but Food Rules is in my cart and I intend to read it soon.

My major divergences are probably summarized due to two things:

1) Individuals. People are radically different not just on the genetic and biological levels, but on the ways all these systems interact with each other. There are millions of permutations that make it to where two people on the exact same diet and program will almost invariably get differing results. Hard to say with someone’s lineage what sort of responses, tolerances, and so forth will apply, and each of those things complicate still further based on the the interactions of food, stress, stimulus and so forth.

In short, people are mad complex and there’s no blanket solution. However, one thing that is becoming apparent (thanks to diabetic research more than anything diet or supplement companies have contributed) is that many diet profiles are complicated and hindered by poor carbohydrate control, especially in excessive sugars. Vice versa, controlled-carb diet studies suggest that body composition and health are improved, independent to exercise or even (gasp) genetic/ethnic diversity.

That said, I seldom advocate extremism (the exception being against trans fats) and I feel like carbs have a place in a diet, and exercise both enhances the benefit from carbs and minimizes the potential negative impact.

2) Practicality. A pragmatic, realistic approach for “everyone” is a core concept of Brain Over Brawn. Even if we had the infrastructure in place for everyone to switch to a quinoa-and-red-yeast-rice diet tomorrow morning, not everyone has the money to buy everything organic and local, and even fewer have the immediate desire. Or to give up all their foods, or eat “mostly plants” or anything else. It’s certainly something I can agree with philosophically, and I respect Pollan’s stand against the factory-farm food industry. But it’s not going to change overnight, and my target with Brain Over Brawn was specifically designed to be things that can change overnight, or even right now, as someone reads it.

And all that said, I agree with you. Macros really aren’t that important in the grand scheme, especially since the type and quality of food, the foods with it, the eater’s internal chemistry (both genetic disposition and at-the-time), add so many factors that the same meal could have a significantly different effect on a different person or just a different day.

The best practical solution I’ve found is to orient carbs to exercise, making carbs less of a factor for people when physical activity is also less of a factor for them, and allowing for increased carbs alongside more exercise (both as a reward, and due to the tendency for higher tolerances due to improved physical profile). I allow for most vegetables in Base meals (without fearing for carb count), and for fruits as well in Peak meals; the 40/40/20 split is a target for people who simply can’t come to terms with the Base/Peak division of meals. Going with the Base and Peak meal design makes accurate counting/hair-splitting largely irrelevant; restricted carbs for sedentary people, carb allowance for active people. Bing bang boom.

AtA: Engineer Bags Revisited

Posted June 4th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

In buying your “engineer bags,” is it worth paying extra to get one with a flat bottom, or is round fine? It seems like round would roll off you when you try to do a weighted pushup? On the same note, it seems like you might be doing a disservice by continuing to call it an “engineer bag” when searching for that turns up only different things, while “duffle bag” is mostly correct. As a reader I’d rather just see links to a few inexpensive “recommended” ones on your site, though.

I apologize for the confusion; for effectively all of my life I’ve heard them referred to as engineer bags. It’s a heavy duty canvas bag that’s typically early 20th century issue, available at pretty much any Army/Navy store, suitable for carrying tools or parts in, and thick enough that chunks of metal won’t slice through it. “Duffel bag” to me is the big canvas tube-like backpack you see infantrymen carrying their clothing and worldly possessions in. And most people seem to think of the thin nylon/plastic ‘gym bag’ as a ‘duffel bag’ as well.

Whenever I’m not at home and I’m building a new engineer bag (which happens frequently if I’m traveling, at a workshop, helping a friend/client put one together, whatever), it’s pretty much an hour job. I go to a local Army/Navy (or failing that, sporting goods store) so I can physically touch the bags and see what seems most durable (and grab a bag of tube socks while I’m there), then go to a hardware/home improvement store and get 2-4 bags (100-200lbs) of gravel. About $20USD total cost. I usually take the recipient of the bag along so they can pick something that appeals to them (some people don’t appreciate having an olive drab sack in the corner of their nice living room).

I would feel uncomfortable recommending ones off Amazon that I haven’t tried, so I’ve ordered a couple and will test them out and let you know what I would recommend.

As far as flat bottom or round, my current pair are rounded. The rocks will ‘flatten out’ on the bottom and be more of a significant factor in stability than a seam will, for push-ups or whatever. But it’s not that big a deal either;dr get something durable that pleases you aesthetically. Straps going all the way around the bag for support. Many readers also recommend handles on the side as well as the top.

AtA: When to Eat, the “9 hour” concept

Posted June 2nd, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

In the nutrition section, you mention breaking up the day into 9 hour phases with meal breaks every 3 hours. What was the purpose of the 9 hour phases? I get that one phase is for sleep and metabolism is low. Am I right in thinking the next phase (morning-afternoon) should have meals with higher calories? Then with the last phase (afternoon-evening) should still have meals but with lower calories? I think that may have been what you intended but it was a bit vague.

The “9 hour” thing was simply to try and pry people loose of a “24 hour cycle” sort of mentality that has people scurrying to eat a bunch of calories before they sleep in order to meet some numerical goal, or else starving themselves because they ate too much that morning.

Really, the focus is on “what am I putting, or about to put, into my mouth?” A significant factor in that decision is what you’ve eaten earlier, and what you intend to eat later. You might consider eating more if (for example) you did not eat 3 hours before (you were asleep, say) or you do not intend to eat 3 hours later (zzz). Or when you plan to exercise, your meals will adjust as well.

If 3 hours ago you could only get a snack, your right-now feeding might benefit from being larger. Or if 3 hours from now you intend to eat a big meal, you may want your current meal to be something simple.

I should have said “6 hours”, in that with what you are currently or about to eat, you want to take into account what you ate 3 hours prior, and what you plan to eat 3 hours hence. More like this:

-3 —– 0 —– +3

Hopefully that clarifies things.

AtA: Wacky Antics and Chair Alternatives

Posted May 31st, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

Alrighty, so I read the e-book, and I really enjoyed the information and presentation and will definitely start giving in to my whacky side more by skipping to class and the like.

I don’t want to dissuade your originality or individualism in any way, but if you want to get some leverage on yourself and make things interesting, you might consider doing ‘whacky’ stuff with a buddy. Not only is it fun and motivating to have someone to race, but herd mentality suggests that if there is one person doing something out of the ordinary, people view that person with skepticism and suspicion. But if you go screaming by with a friend (or two), it makes people question if in fact you’re doing the right thing and they’re screwing up somehow.

Be sure to link the news article if you somehow get a majority of people on campus to dash frantically between classes. You trendsetter you.

But I have one question, what would you suggest as an alternate to a chair?

This is both an excellent question and a seemingly never-ending frustration to me. I have tried all manner of ergonomic chairs, kneeling chairs, silly bosu-ball chair things, even hammocks, beanbags, and recliners. I also know more than one trainer who puts their laptop on a tall shelf or bar and just stands up while they use the computer. The fact most people generally lean forward to get at the computer only complicates matters. But I am still searching for something that biomechanically makes sense.

At present, I personally have a regular ergonomic office chair approved by various back-health organizations, but truth be told I probably spend half of my time with my feet in it, squatting. Like right now. I’m not even kidding.

Since using a computer is typically the easiest way to be stuck in a chair for long periods, the best trick I can suggest at this point is to simply alter your position frequently, and also to stand up when you can. If you’re not interacting with the keyboard at any given moment, standing up, turning around, squatting down, doing any sort of movement that helps break up a static, prolonged position is probably the best damage control you can do.

AtA: Cookbooks and Meal Design

Posted May 28th, 2010 in Ask the Author, Foods by Clint

Do you have any recommendations for good cookbooks for your base and peak meal structure? I have this “Healthy College Cookbook” which I thought would be awesome because I can’t cook [...] and it lists nutritional info for every meal but all of them pretty much have more carbs than anything.

That cookbook appears to have the problems typical of many cookbooks, then. I have two suggestions for this.

The first is starting with simplicity. Pick a lean protein, such as chicken, fish, beef, whatever. Pick a vegetable or two. Season them. Then cook and eat them. Prepare multiple servings and eat the leftovers later on (so you’re not having to turn on the stove every 2 hours).

At some point you might get bored of just ‘seasoned meat+vegetable’ (some do, some don’t). The easiest thing then is to find a low-carb cookbook for your ‘base meals’, and a low-fat cookbook for peak meals. Since most of your meals will be low-carb, that’s really the ‘learning curve’. It’s easy to get carbs for the Peak meals (rice, grains, potatoes, etc); all you have to do is minimize the fat content.

AtA: Exercise Frequency and Off-day Meals

Posted May 26th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

What is your take on daily exercise? If I lift a 5×5 three a week, is it okay to spin on the in between days, or should I let my muscles recover?

Also, do you eat a peak meal on days that you don’t exercise?

As I mention in the book, I think it’s great. The more the merrier. I might debate the merits of Spin class, but as long as the intensity is high enough there’s nothing wrong with using it as an interval exercise.

One thing I would recommend (and I do recommend in the book) is that you allow for proper recovery, which includes both adequate sleep and active recovery, such as taking a decently long walk. Honestly, if you had the time on your hands, there’s nothing wrong with weight training every day and doing interval, provided you get proper recovery. If you find yourself fatigued or with reduced performance, you simply either increase active recovery (more massage, more rest, more walking and so on) or scale back training. It’s pretty straight-forward.

It’s not like in ye olden times (of a whole century ago) dudes would be like “hell, guess I can’t toil in the fields since I just chopped wood. I’ll overtrain! MWF is butter churning, T-Th is for wrangling livestock. Better eat mah glucose snakes.” What a horribly hamfisted analogy, but hopefully the gist is clear.

As for Peak meals, no. I don’t recommend them if they don’t accompany an appropriately intense activity. I sometimes take a Sunday off as a complete rest/recovery day, and those days basically mirror a meal plan from a ketogenic low carb diet.

AtA: The Skinny on General Movement

Posted May 24th, 2010 in Ask the Author by Clint

I wanted to clarify something about “general movement” – you say it essentially helps with the recovery process from interval and resistance training, but does it really do anything on its own? I know people take the stairs and do other slightly physically exerting tasks, claiming that they’re “getting a little exercise in” but otherwise never exercise.

You specifically list
-circulates nutrients
-higher levels of activity, metabolism, and energy states
-stimulates body into recovery mode

but it just kind of sounds like vague crap to make people feel better about taking the stairs and breaking into a sweat from the effort because they weigh 400 pounds.

I understand that doing anything is better than nothing, it just seems strange to have an entire chapter on something that intuitively seems frivolous. You’re the expert though, and I don’t know dick about this, which is why I’m asking.

One thing I stress repeatedly is that it is one of several elements to health; on its own, the effects are certainly better than ‘nothing’, but the synergistic benefits reaped from combining the suggested practices are when things really get good.

For example:

page 58:

There are three different types of exercise discussed in this chapter, each a major contributor to total health and each essential in its own way.

If upon reading the book, someone only takes away “I need to walk more” and actually does it, then their lives will be better for it. Not nearly as good as if they’d actually put together more of the pieces, but certainly better. I don’t consider it to be a justification for eating a triple baconator and dying from a coronary at 34, and I believe the person who does would have rationalized their actions however they had to. I can only offer the information, not force people to take action.

That said, that wasn’t the point of the chapter. For anyone who is actually doing either of both of the other types of exercise (Interval and Resistance), they will see improvement from simple things like walking that they otherwise would not. One thing I run into constantly are guys who perform prodigious feats of strength during their workout, then literally do nothing until their next workout. Sit in a chair and read these forums, play Gamebox X360, whatever.

However, by incorporating (by example) a 30-minute leisurely walk around the park each evening, they would find their recovery, gains, metabolism and energy levels all significantly improved. Soreness would be reduced and recede faster, and they’d even be able to work out more frequently if they so wished.

Both endurance athletes and musclesharks benefit from incorporating low-intensity movement; as I said, it’s actually a form of ‘rest’ as active recovery, not a ‘workout’ that entitles one to a Peak meal (or a Krispy Kreme).

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