Thursday, April 4, 2013

First 6 weeks of Fat to Fit Dad Journey

The Purpose

Why now? Two main reasons.

First, life is short, one moment you are all happy and laughing together the next thing you know someone gets into a fatal accident or gets the news that you(or someone that you care about) has cancer and has a month to live. I've been in those situations, I've lost grandfathers, uncles, aunts and cousins. I've seen family members in those situation. It is a horrible feeling of helplessness, anger, and sadness. It just f***king sucks.

I was diagnosed with a fatty liver in 2010 and if not taken care of could result in liver cancer. Doctor's orders are eat better and exercise more.  I am almost at the big 3 zero and I feel I need to do something to improve my chances of a healthy life when I'm at my 60s or 70s. Simply put: I don't want to die or have sickness/disease that could have been easily prevented if i just adjusted my lifestyle.

I would like to be there when my son sincerely asks what "true love" is. I would like the pain and struggles that I have experienced to be his gain and learn from it. There are just so many things that I would like to teach and share with him.

The goal is not to make my son's life easier but to make sure he has the right mindset, environment and tools when life takes a crap on him. 

Second, I want to be a good model to my family particularly to my son who is almost 2 and a half.

If I want to show my son the importance of being fit and physically active then it is clear what I must do: I need to be fit, healthy, and strong. No other way around it. 

I started putting a plan together and listing some goals for 2013 around early January. After about 4 weeks of research I finally decided to start my 2013 with a "trial" 6 week experiment.

Below are details of my self experiment to be healthy/fit from February 18th through March 29th:

The Goal

Lose at least 10 lbs. My  BMI(weight to height ratio), wasn't looking too hot. Waist to Height ratio wasn't also looking too good. Waist to Height ratio is a good indicator on how prone you are to certain diseases, this is actually better than BMI in my opinion. I’m not looking to be a fitness model here I just don’t want to die to something later on that I could have prevented because that would really suck.

Gain strength. I want to lift heavy objects and put them down. I want to be strong enough to be able to do other physical activities with relative ease. Also adding lean muscles wouldn't be a bad idea since I get to up my metabolism, burn more calories and eat more food(more cake?!). I plan on translating this strength to other activities. No, not just for sex, although I’m sure the wife will appreciate the gained hip strength and muscle endurance.

Here is a good strength index for beginners that I am trying to aim for by Mid 2013:

Bench  press: bodyweight x 1.2
Squat: bodyweight x 1.6
Deadlift: bodyweight x 2
Chin ups: bodyweight x 8

The Basics

I tried to look for that one magic formula for fitness, fat loss, and muscle gain. That one super plan that will help me get to where I want to be. I ran into a bunch of diets such as paleo, low fat diets, glutten free diet, atkins diet, warrior diet etc. Also run into a good amount of strength training programs. However, after couple weeks of research  I kept coming back to the same basic principles.

  1. Diet plays a huge role in overall fitness. Some say 90% while some say 80%, whatever it is .. it’s a big deal. You can't expect to eat crap and think its sustainable(think 10+ years).
  2. Follow your grandparent’s advice: Limit junk foods and  eat more fruits and vegetables!
  3. Pay attention to your calorie intake. If you want fat loss then eat at a calorie deficit over a period of time. All diets you see on commercials, books, online ads etc who tells you otherwise will trick you on to doing a calorie deficit at the end.
  4. Doing some sort of resistance training will help maintain(or even build) some muscles while
    losing weight. Having more lean muscles will lead to faster metabolism which is good.
  5. For beginners on strength training, progressive overloading is where the magic happens mainly because of a beginner's body to adapt and overcompensate after 24-48 hours of training.

Once I can cover all the basics, I now need a structure for diet and strength training that is both sustainable and one that follows the principles I mentioned above. This means I could pick whatever structure and program I want as long as it makes sense for me, this is especially true for the diet part. If you're like me who has been looking into diets there are so many kinds of diets out there. After all, what good is the best diet in the world if it doesn't work for me?

The Methods

The Diet Structure:

The first two weeks was all about cutting wheat and sugar from my diet. This worked really well at the beginning. Next, I decided to try out intermittent fasting. I used the 16/8 method, method used by LeanGains. I fast for 16 hours then have an 8 hour feeding window. Basically I skip breakfast to allow my body to gain the benefits from fasting. I would then time my biggest meal after a workout. On training days, I eat more, I eat less otherwise. You can read more about it here.
This diet structure is not the silver bullet. I could have picked a 6 meal a day type of diet structure and still arrive at my goal as long as I stick to the basics and follow through. I chose this mainly because this one fits my lifestyle and would allow me to easily start doing (I don't have time to prepare 6 meals a day). The best diet in the world is the one that you can stick to. If what you have is working for you then don’t fix what ain't broken.

The Strength Program:

It was a toss up between Starting Strength and StrongLifts (you don't have to buy anything or register your email to view the programs). Both uses the basics I mentioned above. I ended up using StrongLifts mainly because I don't know how to properly perform a Barbell Press and Clean and would really like a coach to go through it with me just to be safe.
The goal is to focus on compound lifts(squats, bench, deadlifts, overhead press) and progressively try to add weight. There are two main workout routines:

Workout A - Squats, Bench Press, Pendlay Row
Workout B -Squats, Overhead press, Deadlift

I would lift three times a week and would just alternate between Workouts A and B. I would always try for 5 sets of 5 repetitions, except for Deadlift as it starts with 1 set of 5. If successful then I would add a small weight to the bar next workout. If not, then I would keep trying up to three workouts which is followed by a deload by 10% if still unsuccessful.

After a couple of deloads that means it is time to move on to 3 sets of 5. Rinse, repeat then I would fall into 1 x 5 followed by an intermediate program for that particular lift. Goal is to move all my lifts to an intermediate level. Honestly, I'm actually skipping 1 x 5 just like the Starting Strength model.

The Journey

During the first 2 weeks of my journey, my diet was all about making wiser food selection and limiting processed foods. This week was also awesome because the wife was in on this. She actually lost 10 lbs in 2 weeks just by taking out wheat and only doing bodyweight exercises maybe once or twice a week. Currently, she is stable at her weight for a month now.

On the last 4 weeks I decided to switch it up and try out intermittent fasting as I mentioned above. For the calorie and macronutrient part, first was to find out what is my BMR. On training days, I would go over that amount and eat more carbs and less fats. Non training days means I go below that, eat less carbs and eat more fat. Protein amount should be about the same on either days. Here is a calculator that I used.

The first week of intermittent fasting was tough but it did get easier at the 2nd week mark. It was really tempting to just go on a big calorie deficit(starve myself) on non training days, I got away with it during the first 2 weeks but as soon as the weights started to get relatively heavy, I felt really miserable so I upped my calorie intake and that got me through the rest of the way and I was still able to lose some weight. I like how I could go on a huge meal at night to make sure I hit my calorie target.

For the most part, I didn't feel deprived of food. What I liked about it was I was still able to eat pizza almost every other Friday, frozen yogurt with some sweet toppings every other weekend, chocolate once in awhile, and some carrot cake once in two weeks  while still steadily losing fat. 

Maybe I could have lost more weight but having a cheat day is a good psychology break and even good for your body, search for carb refeeds. On Sundays, I don’t skip breakfast since it’s the only morning that all three of us eat breakfast together. We usually enjoy pancakes, omelets and some hot chocolate.

I am almost 30 and I don’t really want to get injured as I am in this for the long haul. To prevent injuries and make sure I have some sort of idea what I'm doing, I bought Starting Strength book which goes into details on the lifts. I signed up at my local gym and started my workouts. Weeks 1-4 was fairly straight forward and have been able to add weight to the bar consistently.

The last 2 weeks was tough, particularly the squats as I had to increase my rests between sets from 2 minutes to 3 and a half minutes. A modification I did was use Reverse Pyramid Training on Deadlifts as soon as I was at the 180lb+ range. I really struggled with Overhead press so I might add extra shoulder work on the next 6 week cycle.

I also added chin ups and chest dips to my workouts. I am at the point where I can do weighted dips but my chin ups are still weak, currently at 5. Once I get to 8-9 reps of chin ups, I’ll start alternating it with weighted chin ups. 

I actually hurt my right collarbone while doing dips around the 5th week. I got scared that I need to have it x-rayed but I just iced it and stayed away from the dip exercise and just waited about 10 days. At the moment I don’t feel any discomfort but I will continue to monitor it.

I also did some cardio on my non weightlifting days. I did some High intensity Interval training the first few weeks but towards the end, I just dropped it and just went plain old steady state cardio where I just run at the treadmill for a given set amount of time.


Lost 10 lbs? Yup got that. I went from 162 lbs to 149 lbs in 6 weeks. Granted most of the initial weight loss was water weight, but you know what? I’ll take that as a win. My target goal is to be around 11-13% body fat have a frame with relatively good size of lean muscle(read look good naked). This is years worth of right nutrition and training so I’m not gonna sweat it if I don’t hit this mark by this year. 

My pants size before was 32" but now I'm at 30". I didn't measure my waist at the beginning but I measured my Waist at the beginning of week 5 at the navel and ended up with 34.5". At the end of week 6 I measured again and it was 33.7".

Gained strength? Got that too thanks to progressive overloading, right nutrition and proper rests. Below are the progress for my lifts:

I was able to hit the Squat goal of bodyweight x 1.6. My last lift was 225 x 5 x 5. I did do some weightlifting 6 years ago back when I was still in the military but it was only for a couple of months and I didn't really know what the hell was I doing and was just following split body routines from magazines. Oh yeah, that 220 lb lift on March 18 was an accident. I put in two 35 lb plates instead of two 25 lbs. I only noticed it at the 4th set so I just thought I'd finish it.

This one progressed alright. I got stuck on 185 once and twice on 195. On my last workout I was only able to do one rep of 195 lbs. I blame the squat for this. I'll be reducing the volume of squats and I'll also alternate between conventional deadlifts and sumo deadlifts next time. I would like this lift to at least match my squats. 

 My upper body strength clearly needs work but I think progress was alright since I was able to add weight to the bar consistently. I had to do 135 x 5 x 5 again because I missed it by 1 rep the workout after. 

I actually did Pendlay Rows but for the sake of records and some nice bar graphs, I just kept naming it Barbell row because I made a mistake of naming it that way during the first two weeks. I consider this one as a success, again because I was able to consistently add weight to the bar. 

Ok this one was horrible for me. Really need more work. I think it would also have helped if I just went with the bar at the beginning, I didn't because I felt it was really light and starting at 60 lbs seemed right. I'll do more shoulder work next time. 

A lot of room for improvement for all the lifts but I am really excited to go at this again after my break.

Lessons Learned

What I need to do better:

  • I should have been keeping a log every week. I would like to have more details such as waist size and body fat%, my mood, etc. This blog should help me with that.
  • More attention should be paid to my calorie intake and macronutrient composition

What I did right(mostly):

  • I tracked my progress. I took pictures of myself at Week 0 till Week 6, really awkward at first but this really keeps me motivated. I also tracked my workouts using a couple of apps and Fito for those nice bar graphs.
  • Giving myself some room for a diet break every now and then has actually helped me stick to eating “clean” and limiting junk etc.
  • I joined Fitocracy, an awesome fitness community(it's free). Surrounding yourself with people who have the same goals as you just helps to keep you on track.

What’s Next For Me?

My journey of fat to fit dad has just started. I’ll will be giving my body a full week break from both fasting and strength training. I’ll do some bodyweight training but it’s mainly to keep moving and not setting any new personal records.

The next step would be continue with the beginner strength training program until I no longer make gains every other workout. I will be moving my squat from 5 sets of 5 to 3 sets of 5 as the intensity and volume is starting to affect my other lifts. I’ll be ordering a pair of 1.25 lb olympic plates so I can start micro loading and milk the beginner program for all it’s worth.

After getting out of the beginner phase, I would like to do other activities such as running 5k, swimming, rock climbing and going back and taking some Wing Chun classes because I want to kick some ass Bruce Lee style. I’m also interested in parkour and qualify for a Ninja Warrior show but let’s take things slowly and one at a time =). These are the very same things that I want to expose to my son.

I feel I have a lot more understanding now nutrition wise compare to 2 months ago. There is no One Diet to rule them all but there are basic nutrition principles that I have to follow regardless of what diet plan or structure I end up choosing. This realization makes my diet goals more sustainable and makes it really easy to get back on track when I start to go off course.

I’m glad I didn't wait for the perfect time to start or waited till I have the perfect plan for my fitness goals but rather I just went ahead and started small and went from there. 2013 should be good year

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