Thursday, July 31, 2014

Water, How I Love Thee

One aspect of the High Performance Body Recomposition project which I am doing, is that all 16 or so of us participants, along with the two online coaches, are together in a secret group on Facebook.  This does provide a useful means for the coaches to share files regarding our workouts and diets, and for everyone to have an opportunity to learn from one individual's question.  The disadvantage, as far as I'm concerned, is that there are a few highly vocal individuals who like to step in and make my question about them, or who are trying to be at the head of this imaginary class by somehow finishing the second workout of week two before week one is over.  (Seriously, are you lifting weights every day?  Did you not read the bit where the two plans are classified as "three workouts per week" or "four workouts per week"?)

As I mentioned, one of our tasks for month one is to establish our maintenance level of eating: the number of calories that will sustain us at our current weight, performing the workouts as delineated.  A couple women (there is only one man in the group) were thinking that they'd need to add in some calories because in the first week they'd lost...drum pound.


Do you know that two cups of water weigh one pound?  So if I chug a pint of beer after a run (The Judge has declared that beer is the perfect post-workout recovery drink), I will increase my weight by a pound.  Or if I don't drink very much in the evening and sleep in a warm room for eight hours, sweating and respiring all that time, I can wake up a pound lighter than when I started.  Or, frankly, if I have an epic trip to the loo.  One pound of difference, in the short term, does not signify weight loss to me.

Or perhaps my thinking is just flawed.  When I stepped on the scale at the gym this morning, it indicated that my mass versus the earth's gravitational pull was producing a weight of 147.0 pounds.  This is after consistently weighing in at 150.0 pounds for all of last week.  Did I think to myself, "Hey--I've lost three pounds.  Better up my calories a bit."  Nope.  I thought, "Hey--I've lost three pounds.  I must be a little dehydrated."  Warm night, peed a lot yesterday, sweated during my morning treadmill workout => dehydrated.

However, if my weight stays at 147.0 every time I weigh myself for the next couple of weeks, then I'll believe that it represents actual weight lost, and I'll need to add some calories.

In other news, you may think that water is the best liquid for hydration...and you'd be right.  Yet another study, published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, has demonstrated that "neither coconut water nor sports drinks were better than water in hydrating young men after hourlong workouts."  I learned this over at Marion Nestle's site Food Politics.  Her write-up is here, and the original paper is available (free access!) here.

This morning, I spent some time hydrating myself with my favorite water of choice, tea.  :)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reminder: Food Does Not Have Moral Value!

First, let me up and apologize for all those times in the past when I was locked into my own personal low-grade eating disorder.  I was wrong.

While out at lunch with coworkers last Friday, there were two incidents of, well, food shaming.

First up, one fellow commented on the fact that he ate a bowl of ice cream for dinner last night.  My response: "Well, if that's what you wanted to eat and it satisfied you, then no worries."  His reply was that he only ate ice cream because there was no other food in the house, and he couldn't be bothered to go shopping or out to a restaurant.  Well, at least he was honest.  :)

Second, a woman was deciding on her lunch, and was talking about "being bad" by ordering the salad + quesadilla combo.  Another woman, seated across from her, agreed heartily.  I didn't butt in with a response at the time, but it would have been along the lines of what I said above.

You are not a bad person for eating food.  Food is not inherently good or bad, or absolutely healthy or unhealthy.  Even the unhealthiest foods I can think of still provide calories, and our bodies run on calories.  I don't beat myself up anymore if I eat something containing white flour or processed cane sugar.  A bagel simply is.  A doughnut simply is.  A strawberry would be a poor choice for someone who is allergic to them, while a cheesy breakfast burrito would be a fine choice for someone who likes having a hearty breakfast.  No single meal, or single day of eating, will undo an overall balanced diet.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Things have been very busy and non-routine lately, thus the large gap in posting.  Hopefully things will get back to normal soon, maybe even today.

Spent four days with my family back in Utah.  We visited Idaho on a whirlwind trip (drive up on Saturday morning, drive back Sunday afternoon; fortunately only ~5 hours each way) and saw lots of relatives.  And lots and lots of relatives' children.  There are only a three adults in my generation who have not spawned, and given the nature of LDS families (7 of my cousins are Mormon), that makes for a lot of wee ones running around underfoot.  Of course, I like kids when they want to run around and play, so I was frequently escorting anklebiters down to the creek or joining them in a jump on the trampoline.

After the Saturday of family togetherness was finished, I took the opportunity to do a long run, to keep up with my training even while away from home.  It was about 5.5 miles from my aunt and uncle's house to the motel where I was staying, on a mostly downhill road with very minimal traffic.  Thank goodness it was mostly downhill, because there is a big difference between running at sea level and running at over 5,000 feet.  Normally the first mile is the hardest; this time, the first two miles had me huffing and puffing for air before I hit my stride.  Of course, if I could have stayed there and trained for the next three weeks, I would be in great shape for the race!

In other news, the "High Performance Body Recomposition" program that I joined officially started on the 20th.  (Technically, I started executing it on the 22nd.)  The first month is all about getting introduced to the level of weight lifting we'll be doing, and establishing a baseline of nutrition that maintains our weight.  In terms of the nutrition, to keep track of everything I have been recording my diet over at  I'm doing my best to have a relaxed attitude towards what I eat, and not let the total calorie count (aiming for 2100-2200, a maintenance level determined by two different formulas for my 5' 7", 150 pounds) or my macro goals (~20% of calories from protein, 25% from fat) overcome my intuitive eating.

Since no single day of "unhealthy" eating can overcome a majority of healthy days, I figure that I'll also calculate a weekly average and focus on that, rather than any single day.  I know that on Wednesday, my fat consumption was up around 35-40%, whereas yesterday it was more like 20%.  Wednesday involved a company-provided lunch, including potato chips and a chocolate chip cookie.  If I'd completely forbidden the chips, I probably would have eaten my own bag and grabbed one of the extras, feeling guilty about it the whole time.  Instead, knowing that I could have potato chips if I wanted them, I chose the flavor that was most appealing (hot jalapeno!), and then I ate a few alongside my sandwich until I was no longer hungry, saving the rest of the bag to be eaten when I was hungry again later.  This was a great psychological victory for me!  Every time I can approach a highly-palatable food and eat it in an intuitive fashion, I smile.

In the weight room, I'm back into squats and deadlifts, plus a few new exercises I'd never heard of before.  I'm doing my best to follow the program, but realizing at the same time that my short-term goal is keeping up with the running training needed to succeed in my 12K coming up in...21 days.  When one's quads are aching from a morning of squats, it's awfully hard to run.  Plus, it's awfully hard to recover from heavy lifting by running.  So I'm working on maintaining some level of balance.  Tomorrow will be a rest day (hooray!) with just some pleasant walking planned, plus housework.  Sunday I'll do a trail run, and then Monday I'll be in the weight room again.

I'll close with this shot taken by my Dad, of me explaining to a 3-year-old cousin that the flower is, sadly, too short to wear in my hair.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

An Inconvenient Truth

I could blather on for several paragraphs to lay the scene for the cold, hard truth, but instead I'm going to flat out say it: really building muscle, increasing stamina, changing your body composition from fat to lean is hard work.  You can't do it with light weights, going for an easy 30 minute walk every evening, or pedaling on the recumbent bike while reading the latest issue of Elle or Men's Fitness.  You have to challenge your body, really challenge it, dealing with discomfort and frustration, push yourself to the limit more often than not.

Fighters from Giganti's Scola overa Teatro from

Back in the days when I did a lot of historical European martial arts, my friends and I would joke that the style of Nicoletto Giganti was lazy man's fencing.  The postures were very efficient, utilizing body mechanics to defeat one's opponent in the smoothest way possible.

The human body likes this; like many natural phenomena, it will seek the lowest energy state.  Not engaging in a lot of physical activity?  Slow down the metabolism.  Not using those muscles?  Recycle them for their proteins.  Ingesting extra fuel?  Burn some of it, then store the rest as fat for later.  Unlike other mammals who can rest for months during periods of hibernation without significant muscle loss, humans must use it or lose it.  Even a few days in zero gravity will leave one weaker.

So, especially for a woman in her mid-30's who has never been particularly athletic or even believed that she could be athletic, it's an uphill battle all the way.  I won't lie: right now I'm battling some pain.  Active trigger points in my trapezius, overworked hamstrings, and pectorals and triceps that will be really sore tomorrow.  It was all I could do to reach 6 reps in my third and last set of push-ups.

Why?  Why am I battling myself just to do 6 push-ups?

Because, a couple months ago, I could only only do 3.

It's hard to see the gains when they come so slowly, but they're still there.  I am stronger than I was.  I can lift more, run farther, climb higher.  While it is a work in progress, and hard work at that, I can see the progress, slowly but surely.

Last week, I decided to sign up for 6 months of online coaching.  It was at a reduced price, to be a beta tester for a trainer's new body recomposition program.  The program officially starts on Sunday, July 20th; I have yet to see any of the details.  I had to take photos of myself: front, side, and back, and send them in.  That was psychologically very difficult, as much as I love myself and my body, I have no delusions of my photogenicity, especially under fluorescent lighting in the gym mirror on a cell phone camera.  :)  I am excited and optimistic, keeping my goals realistic, and believing that I can really be fitter than I ever thought I could be.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Angel Island Pre-run Hike

Yesterday, two friends and I took the ferry over to Angel Island in order to hike the route I will be running in August.

What I really wanted to do was ascertain the intensity of the elevation changes.  The profile looks moderate, but how steep are these inclines, really?

I'm so glad we did this hike, because I really gained a lot of useful information to enable me to have more effective training.  I felt like the inclines are very comparable to the ones I get in my county park.  However, I definitely need to work more on duration.  Running up hills is difficult enough; running up hills for over a mile is serious work.  What I can do is park in a different spot and enter the park on particular trail which will give me around 1.2-1.4 miles entirely uphill.

At least half the trail is very narrow (one person wide) which will make passing etiquette very important.  There are also many portions with dangerous footing--dirt trail breaking away from the hillside, tons of rocks to trip you up--and other running hazards like low-hanging branches and underbrush.  It will require a lot of focus to ensure my feet land in the safest spots and I lift my toes enough on each stride to avoid tripping.

I'm really looking forward to the mostly flat portion from 1.2 to 3 miles.  The fire road is wide, smooth, and open to wonderful vistas all around the bay.  I'll be able to relax and really enjoy the run, pretend like I'm flying even.  Also, overall, the terrain is very conducive to imagining being chased by, say, a Utahraptor, or pretending to be one myself.

(Image from Smithsonian)

Thursday, July 10, 2014


You know that feeling you get after completing a challenging workout?  Feeling like you're Wonder Woman, ready to take down any villain that crosses your path; feeling like you're as fast as The Flash, feeling like you could dead lift Iron Man.  I feel so great after my morning workouts--they always put a positive spin on the rest of my day.

You know that other feeling, after completing a challenging workout that was also the first workout you'd had in several days?  Feeling like every muscle between your waist and knees is cursing your name?  Feeling like you have to use the handicapped stall in the bathroom because you need the assist bars in order to find the least painful ways to maneuver into a sitting position?

Delayed-onset muscle soreness, you are literally a pain in my ass.

(Asses courtesy of Free Pictures.)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I Put It In a Spreadsheet

I ran on a treadmill this morning.  Ideally, I was supposed to run outside, but what I really wanted to do was have an easy workout on the elliptical, so the compromise was running on the treadmill.  Turned out to be great and I really enjoyed myself.  I did a variation on the 3, 2, 1 combination; it's a little too complex to explain easily in words, so I made a spreadsheet:

Walk, 2 minutes, 4.2 - 4.3 mph, then...

Run [mph]
30 sec 20 sec 10 sec
6.0 6.3 6.6
6.1 6.4 6.7
6.2 6.5 6.8
6.3 6.6 6.9
6.4 6.7 7.0
6.5 6.8 7.1

And repeat.  I did 5 blocks, for a total of 40 minutes, then walked for 4 minutes to cool down.  Ran 4 miles in 40:40.  That's a lot of fours.  (I like the number four.)  During the last block of running, I started at the top speed and worked my way down.

You want to see a number that is not a four?  150.  That's how much I weigh, and I'm amused by the fact that it keeps showing up on the scale as exactly 150.0 pounds, whether analog or digital.

No word about when folklorico dance classes will start up again.  My interests are wandering to additional, never-before-attempted forms of physical activity.  Battling for top billing are horseback riding and pole dancing.

Monday, July 7, 2014

A Story About Donuts

As I was walking down the corridor towards my cubicle this morning, I noticed a catering fellow leaving the area with an empty cart.  The group admin has a tendency to feed us treats at random, so I wandered over to see what had been dropped off to welcome us back to work after the holiday weekend.  As the title indicates: donuts.

These are my favorite kind of doughnut, the old-fashioned style, either plain, or iced with chocolate or maple.

These are the only kinds of doughnuts I actually care about.  There are other kinds I will eat, like cake doughnuts covered with rainbow sprinkles, but the old-fashioned varieties are the only ones that really tempt me.

I ate doughnuts a lot when I was a child.  They were a popular weekend treat in my house, and they were a cheap breakfast occasionally during the week.  In other news, I was a fat child.  (My sister also ate donuts, and she was a skinny child.  Every body is different.)  I feel as though if I were to eat doughnuts frequently nowadays, I would backslide into a world of processed junk food, full of sugar, white flour, trans fats, and a lack of anything resembling an essential vitamin or mineral.

However, a great way to make something more tempting is to make it forbidden, thus I am totally allowed to eat a doughnut if I want one.  Or half of one.  I personally feel that they have no nutritional value whatsoever, therefore I would never try to make a meal out of them, but treats are fine.

The doughnuts available this morning looked similar to the ones from...ugh...Krispy Kreme: poofy and covered in too-sweet frosting.  Even though I am receptive to the lure of highly-palatable foods (mmm...fried and sweet), these were not exactly what I wanted, so they were not tempting in the least.  I instead enjoyed my breakfast of buttered toast, hard-boiled eggs, apricots, and tea.  Instead of feeling deprived, it was quite the opposite: feeling that I was eating intuitively.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Taking it to the Streets

This morning I went outside my comfort zone, that is, outside the gym.  Instead of running on the treadmill, as I have been doing for the past many weeks, I felt that I'd better do some "real" running.  For those of you who've never run on a treadmill, or who have only run on one, there is a big difference between having that belt moving beneath you, where all you have to do is lift your feet, and the stationary earth staying stationary beneath you, where you get to do all the work.

There's no way to keep up a perfect, constant pace.  No flat surface to rest one's water bottle.  No pre-set  incline or climate-controlled indoor atmosphere.  And no television screen in front of one's face to provide a distraction.

On the other hand, there is fresh, cool air circulating around the bay, providing a headwind in one direction, and not much of anything in the other.  Various wetland plants brushing up against one's shins and bringing forth a scent to the air.  Assorted stray cats taking their morning promenade.  Bicyclists sharing the trail, on their morning commute.  And the knowledge that it's just you, out for a run on your own two legs.

I did 38 minutes total, an unmeasured distance somewhere between 3.5 and 4 miles.