Measure it, and it will improve

For Q1 update, I’m going to focus on fitness because it’s the easiest one to talk about and probably the most measurable of my goals.  I have a scale and a blood pressure monitor and I’ve been taking measurements once a week, usually on the Sunday morning when I get up.  I’m a firm believer that if you want something to improve, the first step is to decide how/what to measure and then measure it.

My specific goal around fitness (at least for 2013) is to dramatically lower my body fat % while increasing body muscle %.  I liked the weight I was currently at and I think ideally I’d be at 140-145lb range.  I want to shoot for a 6-pack by summer (going to be in Cancun, Mexico for a week – woohoo!) and I think I’d need about 6% body fat or less for that.  Any way, here are the data so far:

Body weight vs. fat/muscle weight
Body weight vs. fat/muscle weight

Data Summary on Weight

  • Body weight ranged from 143lb to 135lb, usually hovering around 140lb.  Trending down overall
  • Fat % went from 11.7% to 8.9%, hitting a low at 8.2%.  Lost 5lb of fat, definitely trending down.
  • Muscle % went from 43.8% to 47.6%.  Although the % is definitely trending up (along with fat going down) the total mass went up by only 3lb.  Moving forward, this will be a larger focus as I’ll be getting diminishing returns on the fat % decrease
  • Body weight has a variance of about 3lb from measurements to measurements, but the trends are clear:  all the metrics seems to be pointing towards me getting leaner and more muscular while losing a bit of weight (which is not really a goal).

All measurements were taken from this smart scale I bought from Amazon which I highly recommend (and so do 1800 others at the time of writing).  I think it put my body fat % a bit higher than actual since my Know-My-Numbers test (a work sponsored health screening) said 10% around the same time it said 12% but it gives consistent and deterministic measures (i.e. if you step off the scale and step on again, it will give you the same numbers assuming you are in the same state)

Diet?

I read a couple of books which likely influenced my dietary choices over the last year and also did research on a few key topics.  Prime among them is the idea of intermittent fasting.  I’m too lazy to repeat the info here but let’s just say for now I’m pretty convinced that intermittent fasting is an effective way to lose fat while keeping muscle and potentially have anti-aging benefits.  I like all of these things, and I think if even 50% of the stuff I read about intermittent fasting is true (and by far, the internet seems to agree IF is a good thing) then it’s worth my time experimenting with it.

For reference, check out the BBC documentary called “Eat, Fast and Live Longer“.  Books I’ve read on the subject are 4 hour body, The China Study, How to build muscle on a raw food diet.

Aside from IF, the other healthy dietary thing that seems almost definitely to be true is being vegetarian and eat more organic fruits/vegetables/nuts (raw if possible) while keeping meat (esp. red meat) to a minimum.  Fish is generally OK from what I can tell.  Finally, there’s also this concept of having binge day or cheat days which I’ve probably taken to new extremes.  Haven’t done enough research on binge day but I like the sound of it and it works well with IF.

Before I go on further, let me clarify that my entire philosophy on anything self developmental is to pick the low hanging fruits.  I am by no means a disciplined person (rather the opposite), so I realize enough about that to not force any hard change on myself.

General steps to picking low hanging fruits:

  1. Read broadly about a variety of options and jot down the things that are interesting.
  2. Research the few things that seem likely/easy to adopt to filter out the myths
  3. Implement the easy ones into my day to day life
  4. Implement the not so easy ones as I see fit.  For example, this means that if I’m not craving meat, I’ll go have the vegetarian option instead.  It could also mean that if I’m really busy at work, I won’t feel about about skipping lunch that day and just intermittently fast that day.
  5. Keep the concepts of how stuff works in mind, specific rules/implementation don’t matter as much as how you generally apply the concepts.  i.e. realize why intermittent fasting works rather than sticking to specifically any particular schedule/practice of it

 Summary of my diet:

  • I’ll try to fast at least one day of the week, often two.  
  • A day means 24h, so since I regularly skip breakfast, it usually means that I skip lunch too and just go dinner to dinner for the fast day and make sure to not snack in between
  • I generally cheat a bit and think eating vegetables and nuts are OK during fast days.  Also, it seems most people’s idea of fast days are days when they eat less than 500-600 cal. (for men) so maybe that’s not even really cheating
  • I also implement the 16/8 fast purely on a as I feel like basis.  And I mean that as in I don’t strictly try to limit eating to 8h and fasting to 16h of the day but rather I take the concept of that and will often skip lunch if I’m busy and just eat dinner or pre-workout meal.  Look up 16/8 diet and leangains.com for more info – this is supposed to be an effective way to burn fat while keeping/gaining muscle
  • I try to eat less meat but man do I ever love meat.  Ma Po Tofu is my favorite Chinese dish and I have that vegetarian often although there’s no hard evidence that with all the spice and oil they put in that dish that it’s really any healthier for you.  I try to prioritize chicken and fish over red meat but I often break that rule.  Anyway, I try to eat less meat and more veggies/fruits but that probably hasn’t resulted in anything statistically significant because I used to pretty much never eat veggies/fruits.
  • I have binge days and cheat days where I go nuts at all you can eat buffets and/or late night at HKB or Denny’s.  Supposedly this should be limited to just one day of the week but  what can I say, I’m kind of a big cheater.
  • I generally have a small snack pre-workout and eat a sizable meal post-workout.
  • I drink wine and eat a lot of dark chocolate, I especially like dark chocolate covered almonds!  This probably does not help with my health but I slap on the ANTI OXIDANT label to these things and go nuts.
  • Speaking of AO, there are anti-oxidants in coffee and it supposedly gives you a 10% metabolism boost.  Coffee also makes me feel productive and happy at work so I drink 2-3 cups a day.
  • I try to keep myself hydrated with more water as well since coffee can dehydrate you and I need more water to have my muscles heal.  I definitely don’t drink enough water though, need to remind myself constantly to drink more…

Physical Activities

It is not completely clear to me to what extent diet helps vs. physical activity.  The verdict from most things I read seems to suggest 70/30 to 60/40 split (diet in favor of activity), but one thing that’s definitely picked up this year is also the amount of physical activities I’m doing.  Here’s a summary:

  • In-door bouldering 3-4 times a week.  I’ve progressed from doing V3s and occasional V4s to doing many more V4s and occasional V5/V6 during the last 3 months.  There is a really noticeable difference in my ability to hold on to stuff as muscle % increases and fat % decreases.  Also, rest helps a lot although I definitely don’t get enough of it
  • Started doing badminton semi-regularly and I plan to keep it to maybe once a week (or maybe once every 2 weeks since tennis is starting).  Badminton helps with cardio, since I hate running
  • Started tennis recently (last week or so) as the weather got better.  Played 4 times since last weekend.  It’s tough to keep tennis with climbing at such high frequency, the entirety of my right arm wants me to stop.
  • I do zero weight training and zero cardio =D
  • OK, but I honestly should probably start weight training again at least for a few targeted things to help with climbing, tennis and shoulder issues.

I wanted to briefly update the other goals but I’ve already spent way too much time on this.  Maybe next quarter…

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