Monday, May 21, 2018

MAF Training

I hate cardio. Ok, not all cardio, but running, and any other mundane steady-state activity. Its just boring, and unless there's a good reason to do it, like competition, I see little reason to do it. It doesn't burn calories at any appreciable level for real changes in body composition (eat to lose fat, exercise for strength and performance.

I do feel that being "fit" or "in shape" means being able to exert myself aerobically and recover in a fairly short period of time, so I try to incorporate some form of aerobic exercise into my routine. As a child I loved cycling, I could just hope on my bike and take off for an hour or two at a time, speeding along, then coasting, cornering fast, zipping past people, it was fantastic. In my 20's I loved roller blading, so much so that I even got a dog-sledding harness for my dog (who loved to run so much, he's shake with anticipation every time I got out the roller blade!) And from time to time I've incorporated High Intensity Intervals Training in my programs to get cardio conditioning without having to spend more than a few (unbearably grueling) minutes at it.

As I've changed my eating habits to ketogenic, and become more educated on the Kerbs cycle (how the body converts macro-nutrients to energy), I've become interested in Optimum Fat Metabolism (OFM). I'm not an endurance athlete, and have little interest in becoming one, but the goal of further improving my bodies fat metabolism, along with it numerous benefits (I'm most interested in longevity and neurological health),means improving my aerobic base.

Aerobic energy uses fat and oxygen in the Krebs cycle, while anaerobic uses glucose and no oxygen (This is why people mistakenly believe aerobic exercise is better for losing body fat. Its a total over simplification and misunderstanding of metabolism.) Your body switches to aerobic fuel (glucose) for short, intense bursts of power, new maximum effort. Sprinting and near maximum lifts for example, which push the heart rate up above 80% of maximum. The standard rough estimate for one's maximum heart rate is 220 minus one's age (obviously, the exact number would vary depending on one's overall fitness level), for me, that number is 174 bpm. Eighty percent of that is 139 bpm.
Theoretically, once my heart rate goes over 139 bpm, I'm burning mostly glucose. Below that level, I'm burning mainly fat.

But how much work can I accomplish while staying below that level? For example, how fast can I run continuously, while staying below 139 bpm? The truth is, right now, about 8 minutes per mile, for about a minute. I can run a sub 7 minute mile in my current condition, and not feel like I'm going to die, but I would be anaerobic and not be able to sustain the level for nearly as long as if I kept in my fat burning zone.

A more highly trained endurance athlete, on the other hand, could maintain a much faster mile while still keeping their heart rate low, because they have adapted their body to more efficiently use fat. Which begs the question, what's the best method for achieving that improved adaptation?

It seems there's an upper limit to how much adaptation you can get using HIIT, and by just pushing yourself to run a little faster or a little further each time. After a point, everyone using these techniques seems to hit a limit and stop improving. That limit may be well beyond where they started, and may put them in the elite level of their sport, but not in number one place.

What I want to know is what the very top, upper echelon, number one performers are doing that other people aren't... And is it applicable to sub-elite athletes like me?

Turns out, just like nutritional ketosis, there is a little known, but growing number of athletes successfully using an alternative type of training to markedly improve their fat metabolism for endurance and it is applicable to everyone... In fact, is really pretty ease. Its called the Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) training, pioneered by Phil Maffetone (neat how Maffetone invented MAF training, huh?)

MAF training is the "low and slow" of exercise. The premise is simple: Exercise for a given period of time right at your ideal aerobic heart rate, maintaining a pace that allows you stay right on target for the entire training session. Period. That's it.

As your heart gets more fit, the exact pace needed to maintain that heart rate will increase. You'll adapt so your previous pace is easy and be forced to increase speed.

I set myself the goal of doing a Spartan race next spring, which is a 10K obstacle course. I'll have to run, and I know myself, I will not want to be dead last, so this gives me motivation to train my aerobic base.

The other reason for doing this is to improve my lifting. Weight lifting is mainly anaerobic, but by improving my aerobic base, I'll spend less time in an anaerobic state, between lifts, digging into my glucose reserves less and allowing my to continue to get stronger while maintaining a ketogenic lifestyle. Those are my goals, now how to go about it.

First is using a heart rate monitor. This is non-negotiable. You cannot possible know your heart rate without one. If you think you can, try one session of MAF using one and you'll see how wrong you are. Sometimes, walking up a hill feels easy, but your heart rate shoots up. Or you'll be jogging at a nice steady pace, thinking your doing fine, and look down and BAM! you're heart rate is 15 bpm too high, even though your not even winded!

To get my target heart rate, I subtract an additional 40 from my max heart rate (or 180 minus age). In my case, its 134 bpm, a little under the 80% threshold, is my upper limit target. I subtract another 10 from that and get my lower limit threshold, 124 bpm.

After a good 10 to 15 minutes of warming up with light exercise, walking or riding my bike at an easy, sub 124 bpm pace, I begin. I jog lightly until my heart rate hits 134, then I slow to walk until it drops to 124, then I job again. Job, walk, jog, walk, rinse and repeat for up to 30 minutes. Then cool down.

Jogging through my Atlanta neighborhood hills, I get to see exactly how much various inclines at various paces affect my heart rate. It becomes a game to see if I can find the right pace to stay in my zone for an extended period of time as the terrain changes and I get further along.

Every month, Maffetone recommends doing a test. Using a set course, or time limit on a flat track, test your pace while maintaining your heart rate zone. Always use the same course or time, so you know the conditions are the same. Each month, you should see improvement as your aerobic base improves.

I did my first test this week, even though I've been using this system for a few weeks. I'll know for sure next month if I'm improving, but I can already see improvements in my performance and how I feel.

Since I hate steady state cardio, this has given me something more interesting to focus on, making it more enjoyable. Once I get my "new" bike (read as "the $45 used bike I bought and have to rebuild) working, I'll alternate between running and biking. Biking is my preferred method, but the position is hard on my back, and running is more appropriate to train for the Spartan Run.

I'll begin incorporating a couple of HIIT sessions a month, to get those benefits, plus train my body to respond to the need to sprint suddenly. But I'll wait a few months for that, to get a solid base of aerobic performance first.

I'm doing this kind of training 3-5 times a week. Either first thing in the morning, or immediately following a lifting session. Never immediately before lifting. I have also begun wearing the heart rate monitor during my lifting, to see where my heart rate is while I work out. It obviously fluctuates a lot more than while jogging, but I can see how fast my heart rate drops from its peak back to aerobic which is interesting.

I'll post again when I do my next test to see how this is all working out.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Adventures in Keto, Part 5 - Retox

A couple of weeks ago, I went on vacation to Jamaica, at an all inclusive resort. If you haven't been to such a resort, its sort of like being on a cruise ship. Just about anything you want to eat or drink is included in the price. There are multiple bars and restaurants on the property, with different themes and styles of food to choose from. Which all sounds really great. But for someone trying to live low carb, it presents quite a challenge. I knew going in that it would be difficult to maintain my preferred eating habits while on vacation, and I was prepared to make some exceptions. By the second day it had become clear that unless I was willing to severely limit my self, it would be impossible. Breakfast was the easiest meal, because there was an extensive buffet, with plenty of eggs and bacon and cheeses and cured meats and salmon, etc. But once lunch and dinner came around, the keto-friendly options declined. By the end of the second night, I decided to just stop worrying about it and indulge myself while on vacation. I was there to relax, so why stress about food? (Also, as a member of the service industry who has spent years in and around high end restaurants, it was obvious that the staff was less experienced and knowledgeable than I am used to, and I honestly didn't want to be "that guy" making their jobs more difficult. Americans already have a well deserved reputation abroad for being entitled and difficult, and not eating my preferred way was not going to kill me -- at least not in the short term.) And indulge I did. There was a "sweets deli" which was essentially a dessert shop with ice cream and cookies and cakes and candies. The selection changed at least twice during the day, and varied throughout the week. I was delighted to discover a number of delicious chocolate treats, which I enjoyed to my hearts content. I did notice some of my high-carb symptoms returning almost immediately. Mid-afternoon sleepiness was the main one, along with an overall reduction in my focus and energy. One afternoon I was ravenously hungry, and began to feel light headed and weak, and my hands started shaking. I happened to be in my hotel room at the time, so I did a quick blood sugar test (yes, I packed my meter). The reading was 55, which is very low. Even in full ketosis, my readings are usually between 70 and 80. I had to eat something to bring my body back into balance. I hated the feeling of being a slave to food again. Its odd to hear myself say that, because I've never been over weight. I've always been someone people view as being fit and healthy. But after months of not having to eat on a schedule, I realize that anyone who isn't fat adapted is constantly reminded by their body that they need to eat. When I'm fat adapted, I eat when I'm ready, not when my body demands it, I'm in control. It surprised me how quickly my body became dependent on carbohydrates again. I had not expected that. I figured once I got home, I'd get back to eating right and withing a couple days, all would be well again. I was wrong. After months of feeling great and seeing a steady decline in my cravings for sweets and carbs, and rarely feeling hungry, all those things returned. I've been home for over two weeks now, back to eating healthy, low carbs, high fat, moderate protein and feeling better. But I did have to go through a less intense transition period again, complete with lethargy and cravings. Since transitioning back, I still am battling hunger pangs and sugar cravings. When I started eating low carb back in October, I knew it would take awhile for the cravings and other carb addiction symptoms to abate, but I didn't think I'd have to go through that a second time after only a week off my diet. Back then I was prepared, so I could handle it. This time, I wasn't mentally prepared, so its been difficult, and I've screwed up a couple times, which only drags the whole process out longer. Now that I've realized this is how it is, I'm buckling down and getting serious. I know I want to live better, to feel better, to have all the benefits I enjoy from eating right. I screwed up by going off the diet and now I have to do the work to get back where I want to be. I'm not beating myself up, don't get that impression. Its more of a mental shift, of realizing that until my body adjusts back, I have to be vigilant about not indulging my cravings, of recognizing when I'm actually hungry and when I'm just bored, and when I'm making excuses (like yesterday at my friends birthday, when I drank wine and sugary Margaritas and totally put myself out of ketosis.) Over the previous months of living low carb, I've been able to have an occasional sugary treat and return to ketosis easily. What I can't do is spend a week eating carb loaded foods and expect to just pick up where I left off. I learned a lesson about how my body works and what I can and can't do. Eating a lot of carbs makes me feel less than great, and feeling great is my new normal. I wonder how I went through life for so long accepting that as normal. This experience has made me very aware of how what I eat impacts my body and my life. My sleep, my mood, my energy, my mental focus and clarity, all of which go on to impact my relationships, my work, my enjoyment of life in general. When I'm eating right, my whole life is better, its just that simple. I have another trip coming up in a couple months, my fourth trip to Burning Man. Fortunately, at Burn one has to bring all your own food, so I can maintain my healthy eating there with some planning.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Dry Aged Beef -- At Home!

Dry aged beef is amazing. If you love steak, you owe it to yourself to try it. But do you want to pay for it? Probably not.

Two weeks ago, I had dinner out with friends, and saw a 35 day dry aged rib eye on the menu for $50. Given the quality of the restaurant we were in, I was really tempted. But I also know a fair amount about cooking, and what it takes to cook streak so its really tasty (dry aged or not), and decided, it wasn't worth it. I can cook a better rib eye than most restaurants at home, honestly. But...

How hard is it to age a steak yourself?

After reading The Food Lab, by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, it turns out its not that hard. An internet search found several accounts of other people doing it, with very similar processes, so I decided to give it a try.

In my research I discovered there's a thing called wet-aging, too. Basically, its bullshit. Don't pay for it, it does little to nothing for flavor. Moving on...

So, how do you do it?


Mini-Fridge -- You can skip this, but not recommended. Aging meat will give out strong aromas which other food can pick up, and it pick up flavors from other foods. Plus, using your household refrigerator with the door opening and closing all day does not provide a stable environment. I found a used mini-fridge on Facebook Marketplace for $20. If the steak thing doesn't workout, I can still use the fridge.

Wire rack -- This is to make sure the meat gets full circulation on all sides. In my case, the wire shelf in the fridge works fine.

Small Fan -- Well, maybe. Several sources recommend it. I bought one, and decided not to use it because the fan itself produced too much heat for the fridge to keep cool enough. More on that Below.

Thermometer -- This is critical. The meat must be held between 32°F and 40°F. Too cold and the meat with freeze, which stops the enzymatic processes we want, and too warm it it will spoil. I bought a cheap refrigerator thermometer to keep in the fridge to make sure it's consistent. I already owned an Infra-Red thermometer gun and a Thermopen instant read, which I used to check the fridge more accurately before starting (more below). You can probably get away with just one. If that's your choice go for the most accurate you can get.

Meat - Because the aging process drys out the outer layer of meat, you want to start with a good sized piece. When its done, you'll cut away the dry layer. The bigger your piece to start, the more finished product.  I bought a Prime grade rib roast, with 3 ribs, with the fat cap still on. The official name for this cut is "109A." When its done, it can be cut into rib eye steaks. The more fat the better, because the fat will dry out, and end up being cut away at the end.

That's it! Now on to the fun!


Before I bought my meat, which wasn't going to be cheap, I decided to check the fridge was working as I needed it.  I spent a couple days letting it run while empty and checking the temp. Using the IR thermometer and fridge thermometer I got it dialed into my ideal temperature range (32°F to 40°F).

With the IR gun, I found that the temperature varied in different parts of the interior, so I adjusted until all areas were at least below 40°F after a few hours with the door closed. I also noticed that the fridge thermometer was reading at the bottom of the "ideal" range. As long as it stays consistent, that's fine.

I installed a small computer fan, to try to improve air circulation and get a more even temperature. But after a day, the internal temp of the fridge was consistently above 40°F, even when set to "MAX". This was no good.

Placing my had in front of the fan, I found it was blowing warm air. The fan motor was generating too much heat for my tiny fridge to keep up with, so I removed it. If the fridge was bigger, I suspect the fan would be a good idea, but since its about as small as they come, I think its fine without.

Once I was satisfied the fridge would maintain a safe temperature, I bought the meat. When I got it home, I unwrapped it and dried it off. Using paper towels, I patted all the excess liquid and got it as dry as I could.

Straight from the butcher's shop, 7.56 pounds of Prime Rib Roast.
 Then came the hard part: I put the hunk of meat on the shelf in the fridge and closed the door.

Day 1: In it goes.
Note: The temp on the thermometer is too high, because I kept the door open too long to take pictures.

That's it. Done. Now wait 6 weeks. Well... Sort of.

After 1 day I checked the meat and temperature. The meat looked a little redder, some juices had dripped onto the bottom of the fridge. The fridge thermometer continued to read the same as during testing. The IR gun gave different readings all around the interior, all within range. The surface of the meat itself read 35°F. Perfect!

Next I inserted my instant read thermometer, to get the internal temperature of the meat. This is really the most important part. The outside will dry out and protect the rest over the first week or two, so its the internal temperature that needs to be consistent. It read 32°F, right at the lower edge of ideal. I turned up the fridge temp a bit and closed the door.

The next day I performed the same checks. the interior of the meat now read 34°F. Happy with this, I closed the door and will leave it alone for awhile. My plan is to turn the meat once a week, checking the temp at the same time. Turning will help ensure even circulation of air, and promote even drying.

How long?

This is the interesting part, especially if you're willing to pay for an aged steak at the butcher's or in a restaurant. During the first two weeks, aging does nothing for flavor. As the enzymes inside the meat go to work, they will tenderize the meat, but not impart much flavor. I personally would not pay the prices for meat aged this little. If I want more tender meat, I'll buy a different cut.

Flavor changes begin to happen around three weeks and get more intense as you go, with four to six weeks being most people's ideal range. After six weeks, I'm told the flavors get really, really intense and most people find them overwhelming.

Most restaurants who sever dry aged beef stay in the 28-35 day range, which is four to five weeks. Those are aged by professionals in purpose designed, highly controlled conditions. Since I don't have those conditions, and most sources I found for home aging recommended six weeks, that's what I'm shooting for.

One Week

After 1 week, the meat looks a darker and kind of weird, but the internal temperature is perfect.

I flipped it over to ensure even drying all around. I also relocated the thermometer so its not directly beneath the cooling unit. 

Week Two

Flipped it back over. Internal temperature still a consistent 35°F (again the thermometer in the photo is wrong because the door was open for a few minutes to clean up some of the blood that dripped and dried.)
14 days after starting and the outside of the meat is totally dry. Handling it to flip it again it was hard and leathery. It looks pretty rough. The surface temp is 39°F and the internal temp is 35°F, so I'm right in the sweet spot.

What looks like white salt crystals are forming on the outside of the meat. I think that may be fat, but I'm not sure, since it looks different from the fat cap.

I expected to get some odors or bad smells, but so far nothing. Which I think means it not rotting, it doesn't seem to be, there are no gray areas. I'll check it again next week.

Week Three

Three Weeks: its really dark now, Purplsh-brown, almost black, no odor. 
By week three, the last bits of the dark red seem to have vanished and its really dark purplish-brown. There's no odor.

Week Four

Week Four: Not much change in appearance from last week.

Four weeks now, two-thirds of the way there! Visually, it looks pretty much the same as last week. I flipped it again to ensure even circulation, but at this point I'm not sure its necessary. The outer layers are tough and leathery and dry. 

Temperatures are remaining consistent. The prod from the thermometer slips easily into the tough looking meat, and read 35°F still, which is perfect.

I didn't notice any smell when I opened the fridge so I got close and sniffed. There's a light, almost chocolate aroma coming from the meat, which I didn't expect. Its now 28 days aged, and could be cooked and served, but the real flavor is only just beginning to develop now, so I'm going to give it more time.

Week Five

Week Four: Not much visual change since last week.
Almost ready! Its now 35 days aged, a perfectly acceptable age for severing, but I want to go a little longer. The chocolaty aroma I smelled last week is a little stronger, but only right after I open the door. The smell is not at all unpleasant, and not as cheese-like as I expected. 

Next week we carve it up!

Week Six

Today the meat is done! Forty-two day dry-aged rib eye steaks! 

Visually, not much change from last week. There is still almost no aroma when opening the mini-fridge. The steak feels leathery and a bit greasy. Poking the meatiest parts, it feels tough like jerky.

Six Weeks: all ready to carve up!

Before trimming and carving, I weighed the roast. When I bought it, it weighed 7 lbs 9 oz (3.43Kg). After six weeks of aging, it came in at 6 lbs 2 oz, a net lose of 1 lb 7 oz in moisture. 

But it's going to get lighter. All that tough, dried outer shell needs to come off. I'm not a butcher, so my trimming was probably not the most expert thing, but with a boning knife and a chef's knife, I carved away the tough outer fat and meat in thin slivers, so as not to take off too much edible meat. It wasn't difficult. 

When I was pretty sure I'd gotten down to the good stuff. It looked like a lot! 

The scraps after trimming the roast.

The trimmed roast, doesn't look too different from a normal rib roast now. 

 Once again, I weighed the beast. Now it was down to a lean 4 lbs 15 oz, a total lose of 2 lbs 10 oz from when I bought it. Now I understand one reason dry aged steaks are so expensive! By weight alone, based on my purchase price, value per pound jumped 158%.

I divided the roast into three bone-in steaks, each about 2" thick. They weren't perfectly uniform since the end pieces had more meat trimmed off them.

Once divided into steaks, you can really see the color of the inside -- its a nice purple with some brown areas. But there's no rotting smell at all, so all good.

Each bone-in steak was about 2 pounds, that's a lot of meat! I'm not one of those ultra macho guys who eats tons of steak in one sittings, there's no way I could eat a whole of in a single sitting, and the idea of reheating left over dry-aged steak makes me cringe. So I de-boned one and cut into two boneless rib eyes, each about an inch thick. 

Boneless dry-aged rib eye steaks. I decided to cut off a that big chunk of fat at the bottom after taking this photo.
Once all the steaks were carved up, I vacuum sealed them in individual bags. The boneless steaks went immediately into the sous vide to cook up medium-rare. Once sous vide, they'll store for months! (Though I'll probably eat them all in a week.)

One of the bone-in steaks will get cooked up tomorrow night to share with a friend of mine who paid for half the experiment, and the other is hers to keep.

All told, I spent about $1.43 per ounce to produce these delicious dry-aged steaks (not counting the one-time cost of $20 for the used mini-fridge). Last week I was at a fine local restaurant that was offering an 12 oz, 42 day dry-aged steak for $65, or $5.41 per ounce, nearly four times my cost. 

Regardless of the initial expense, this was super easy to do, and from a cost stand point, totally worth it!

For Next Time?

I will absolutely do this again! But with a couple changes. I did a little hunting around and found I can get full, grass fed, rib roasts shipped for about $225. That's a lot more cost effective, being about twice the meat for only about $40 more than I paid this time. That would dramatically increase the value of this whole process.

I could probably find even less expensive if I skipped the grass-fed part, but why bother? Grass-fed tastes better, is healthier to eat, and less cruel to the cows. 

A full roast won't fit in my mini-fridge, but I can probably get 5 ribs worth in, instead of just three (Maybe even six? I'll measure when I get it.) The remaining ribs can be divided up and eaten during the six weeks of aging, so I'll always have good steaks in the house, just not always aged. 

The other thing I'm going to do is try to increase the temp of the fridge a little. I think if I get the internal temp of the meat up a couple degrees, I'll get a little more aging flavor. As long as I keep it below 40°F, it should be fine. 

Oh Yeah, How Do They Taste?

Cooking up a dry aged steak is done the same as cooking a normal steak, but it feels different. Because the meat has far less water in it, it doesn't pop and sizzle like you expect in the pan. It does develop a very nice crust though, because it still has all the fat.

I cooked one up in a cast iron pan, my preferred method for rib eye, and it was delicious. The texture is dryer, and chewer, again because it lacks water. But the taste is delicious.

Another steak I sous vide, then finished in a pan. This method ensures perfectly to temperature steak, and it was just as delicious.

For me, I won't say dry aged is better than regular steaks, only different, and the price of buying a properly dry aged steak from a butcher or restaurant aren't worth it for me. But with this method, I will absolutely do it again. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Adventures in Ketosis, Part 4: Protein

Over the past couple weeks, a friend of mine has been focusing on her diet more, which prompted me to look again at mine and see if there were any changes I could or should be making.

I listen to several podcasts about ketosis and the keto lifestyle, and upon reflection, I had to admit that I wasn't feeling as amazing as I had the first month when I was tracking my macros. I still felt really good, but some of the top tier benefits seemed to have faded. So I started looking for patterns.

Since I haven't been tracking my macros, or even logging my food, its hard to be precise. I decided to look at my eating habits, specifically my unplanned snacks.

I'm a habitual eater. When I'm bored, I graze. This hasn't been a problem for my weight or body fat since starting ketosis, I'm steady at 8% body fat and have maintained the lean body mass I started with. I just didn't feel the general sense of amazing well-being I did at first.

I considered the idea that I'm just adjusted to the new-normal and don't experience it as a "high" anymore, but I wanted to test that.

When I reflected on things, I realized my grazing consisted mostly of proteins, a piece of bacon or two, a shrimp or two, whatever little bit was available. Its a habit I developed trying to put on weight for two decades. My life style doesn't work for eating every 2 hours, or six meals a day, or whatever protocol hard gainers are supposed to use. So I snack, mostly on proteins, whether I'm hungry or not, just pop a piece bacon in my mouth or cheese, or whatever is handy.

In the mornings, breakfast is usually coffee with MCT oil, coconut oil, butter, cream, a pinch of salt, peanut butter and a scoop of protein powder. I have trouble consuming enough calories to build muscle, so I got in the habit of high calorie liquid meals years ago. (This one is around 900-1000 calories -- not recommended for losing weight.) Some days, I'd follow this with a solid breakfast of eggs, cheese and bacon, with some veggies.

I recently learned that protein powders digest more quickly than protein in food, which makes sense. Basically, all the work of digesting the protein is done already. This causes the protein to enter the blood stream more quickly, which can lead to an insulin response. Exactly the sort of thing ketosis is intended to avoid.

Between my breakfast habit and grazing habit, I figured I'm eating too much protein. This is purely a guess, since I didn't have consistent data, but given that my weight an body fat have been stable for a couple months, I figured it was a sound guess.

The ketogenic lifestyle effects the body's need for protein, its protein sparing. The body derives energy from macro-nutrients (Carbs, Fats and Proteins... And alcohol, but that's a complex topic). Protein is the last fuel the body wants to burn, but it will use it if it has to. When fat-adapted (meaning your body preferentially burns fat as the primary energy source) it has a a huge source of fuel, and thus a lower need for burning protein.  Therefore, if you consume the same amount of protein as when you ate more carbs, your body doesn't burn it, it has more than enough to build or repair tissue, so it must either store it or excrete it.

For years, while on a standard carb heavy diet, I tried to consume at least 150g (up to 200g) of protein a day. That's what it took for me to put on muscle mass. The generally accepted belief in the lifting community is that 1g-2g of protein per pound of body weight is ideal (though there are as many theories as their are lifters.)

Although ketosis is not well studied among strength athletes yet, the growing body of anecdotal evidence is that 0.5g per pound of body weight is enough to maintain lean body mass, and perhaps even gain muscle mass. For me that's about 66g of protein per day -- about 1/3 what I was in the habit of consuming!

The science is not in on the exact amounts, but evidence is pretty clear that athletes in ketosis need far less protein than high-carb athletes. There is even evidence that ketogenic athletes can build muscle while in a calorie deficit, which flies in the face of the practices of high-carb muscle building theory that has dominated strength sports for decades.

As a simple test, I began lowering my protein. I cut the protein in my coffee-calorie-bomb in half, or out completely when paring it with eggs and bacon. I cut way back on the protein grazing (I wasn't really hungry anyway).

Low and behold, within a day, I was back to feeling that "really good"general feeling I got the first month. I've been focusing on continuing this change for a past couple weeks. When I slip up, I know it, I feel a drop in my overall sense of well-being. I'm a little more sluggish, a little less "on it." But when I'm doing it right, I feel great. I sleep great, I wake up rested, I have energy all day long, I don't get hangry, and I'm generally a more pleasant guy to be around.

By cutting out the grazing, I inadvertently created a 12 hour window most days where I'm not eating, basically a 12-12 intermittent fast. So I decided to take advantage of that and begin doing my workouts fasted, before breakfast. In turn this made it easier for me to add in a day or two of 16-8 intermittent fasting when convenient. (Fasting isn't a goal for me, just something I know is beneficial, so when its easy, I do it, but I don't go out of my way.)

What I've noticed is my strength and endurance increasing. After going keto, my strength was sapped. I expected that, and was told it would return after adaptation. But adaptation wasn't supposed to take this long. My theory is that my excess protein was keeping my from fully adapting. In the past two weeks, I've knocked 4-5 minutes off some fitness routines, which is partly because I've been getting in better shape, but those are huge numbers, so I think better ketosis plays a roll (but that's not scientific).

The thing that really drove this home for me was lifting kegs at work. Pre-Keto I was deadlifting 295 lbs for reps, so lifting a beer keg wasn't a problem for me (they're awkward, which still makes them challenging). After starting keto, it was almost impossible for me. Eventually, it became doable, but not nearly as easily as pre-keto.

Within two days of cutting my protein, lifting kegs became simple again! If I eat too much protein one day, I notice it in how much harder it is to lift the kegs. Kegs are my new gauge. If I can easily lift one to stack it on another, then I'm doing things right. If not, I need to look at what I'm eating.

After starting keto, and having my strength sapped, I switched to a more fitness focused, body weight program, which has been really good. But since cutting my protein I find myself jonesing to pick up heavy stuff again. For years, I knew when to take a break by how I emotionally felt about lifting. If I consistently dreaded it, it was time to give my body a rest (I back this up with HRV monitoring which confirmed my mental state was in tune with my body). Conversely, within a week or two of laying off the weights, I always felt the urge to lift again, and I knew my body was ready to start again.

I decided to stay with the body weight only workouts until after my vacation in three weeks. I've got my next lifting cycle planned (based around Brian Carrolls fantastic book 10/20/Life), and ready to go. I'm going to keep up some of my fitness work on the side, since I felt like my endurance really suffered over the past few years out of neglect, and yoga for flexibility and state of mind, but my focus is going back to lifting.

Protein is an important part of the keto-lifestyle. You need it, but too much keeps you from really seeing the benefits. That's one of the key difference between scientific keto-diet and the paleo nonsense, eating a ton of protein triggers insulin spikes similar to eating carbs. You need protein, just not as much as you did.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Adventures in Keto, Part 3 - Exercise

Its been about four months since I started eating keto. (I choose not to say "keto diet" because its not a diet in the colloquial sense, its a life style, a way of eating all the time, not just until I reach a target weight or some other goal.)

I'm pretty strict about avoiding sugars and grains. About once a week I go out to dinner at a nice restaurant. I love good food, but most menus include a lot of carbs with every dish. When possible, I ask to substitute vegetables, or I just don't eat the carbs -- Well, I'll eat a few bites. My day to day carb count is usually below 20g, so I don't worry too much about going over at one meal.

I also get dessert, because I love a good dessert. That totally blows my carb count. In fact, I've learned that sweet desserts, like cake and ice cream are an emotional weakness of mine. When I'm bored, I like chocolate. So I've learned to make some keto chocolate treats, like keto ice cream and, most recently, a keto friendly, flour-less chocolate torte (still tweaking the recipe, but I'll post it when I'm totally happy with it.) I always keep something like that around the house, so I don't end up going for something with a lot of sugar in it.

I usually check my blood ketones the next day to see if I'm back in ketosis, and don't have any problems after my dinner out. But... Dinner out is usually Thursdays, my night off. This past Saturday, at work, I ate a hamburger (after still doing dinner out two days before), bun and all. Usually, I skip the bun, but this time, for some reason, I didn't. I figured I'd be fine.


First, it tore up my stomach. I had to get out of bed twice for unpleasant trips to the bathroom. In the morning I felt pretty normal, but my ketones were 0.1 mmol/L, so I was out of ketosis. I ate normally, Sunday and went about my business until about 4pm, when I crashed out on the couch until after 7pm. I haven't been needing naps since starting keto, a three hour nap is crazy! I woke up feeling total brain fog, but I was finally back in ketosis (1.0 mmol/L).

After being in ketosis for so long, my body definitely let me know the old way isn't as great as I thought. Which brings me to exercise.

I made the foolish mistake of beginning ketosis in the middle of a six month attempt to increase my bench press, because six months is a long time and once I decide to do something, I like to get started right away. Predictably, keto killed my gains and ruined my attempt... Well, not ruined, I did improve, but it got cut 8 weeks short of where I hoped to be.

It takes time to adapt to ketosis. When it comes to exercise, the science of ketosis for power is not well studied yet. Endurance and ketosis is well understood and heavily in favor of keto lifestyle, given enough time to adapt (read "start keto in your off season").

As I understand it (and I'm not a scientist or researcher, so do your own research and correct me if you find out differently), the process of adaptation goes through several stages. First, glycogen depletion, when you body uses up its carbohydrate stores in the muscles and other tissues during the first day or two.

After your body gives up trying to convince you to eat carbs by making you feel hungry and lethargic, it begins pumping out ketones, which your brain and muscles both use as fuel. You start to feel great, your head clears, and you're through the worst of it...Unless you try to exercise as hard as you used to.

You're power, and probably your stamina, will decline in the beginning. Mine certainly did. My lifts dropped by almost 50% initially, my stamina dropped through the floor. My heart would pound like a race horse and I would huff and puff like a coal fired locomotive after the briefest exertions. It sucked and I questioned the whole thing.

It also made me realize that I'd basically allowed myself to get strong, but ignored other aspects of fitness. I hate cardio, so I don't do much of it. When I do, its HIIT, so its short, but brutal. But my attempts to motivate myself to do that on a regular basis have been feeble for years. The last time I sustained a cardio routine was training for Warrior Dash  six years ago.

Also, I can't touch my toes. I'm not fat (I literally have a six-pack thanks to keto), I'm inflexible. I have been for a very long time, and its been nagging at me. Finally, I've decided I need to get serious about improving that, too. Maybe all this keto-clarity is helping me get focused on the neglected parts of my health?

So, with lagging power, shitty cardio and inflexible hips, I decided it was time to change things up. I started taking yoga classes and put the weights aside for awhile, in exchange for body weight workouts.

The yoga is pretty cut and dried. I pick a class that works for my schedule, show up and do as I'm told to the best of my meager abilities. Its funny, all the core work and Warrior poses that make people abs and thighs burn, are easy for me. Years of weights have made those muscles plenty strong. But all the Gumby, bendy stuff? Ha! I'm pathetic at that.

The body weight stuff is different. I had no idea where to start. Besides pushups, pull ups and crunches, I really had no idea what else to do. So I found an app to design the workouts for me. I don't get paid to endorse anything (probably because no one reads this blog), but I've really found this app useful, so here it is: Freeletics Bodyweight.

The app alone just gives you individual exercises and stacked cross-fit style workouts. I decided to spring for the virtual coach, which designs a whole program week by week. I wasn't expecting much, but I'm pretty impressed after five weeks.

First, I answered some questions about myself and my goals, then it had me do some simple exercises, and rate how easy/hard they were for me. Then it gave me my first week of workouts.

Each workout includes a warm up and stretching cool down, so that alone impressed me. Then each workout includes two individual exercises, like 10 pullups and 20 crunches, or whatever, they vary. After which you're asked to rate your performance on a sliding scale. I assume it uses this to gauge progress and design the next week.

Some days include an interval session, which will be two or more exercises, followed by a rest, then repeating the exercises again, etc. for several rounds. This is usually pretty easy for me. Intervals are meant to raise your heart rate, then let it drop, then raise it again. Its more interesting that doing sprints, my usual for of HIIT, so I learned something new!

Next every workout includes a "named" cycle of exercises, which is basically cross-fit. They can be anywhere from one to ten rounds, of two or more back to back exercises. These can be very exhausting. After you rate your performance again, both in terms of how exhausted you were and how your technique was.

All the main routines are timed. It was not until week five that I repeated the same workout. This time the goal was to beat my previous time, PB (personal best). To be clear, in the first couple weeks, this app kicked my ass. It gives a time range for each routine, which I assume is the average. One of them said 17-23 minutes, but took me 29 minutes, after which I thought I was going to die. I haven't felt do defeated by a workout in years, and most people who look at me assume I'm in great shape!

When you begin a routine, you click "Start" and it counts down from five, then begins. An animation on screen shows you the exercise and how many reps to do. When you finish, you touch the screen and move on to the next one, while the time keeps going.

Repeating a routine, every time you move to the next exercise, it tells you how far behind or ahead of your previous best you are. I found that motivating, instead of just wondering and waiting until the end to find out.

I did beat my previous time by over 90 seconds. Proof of improvement.

So, four months into keto and this is where I'm at: I've switched from low rep/high weight lifting, to high rep/body weight exercises, which is a huge change for my body. It is definitely taking time to adapt, because there's a third stage of ketosis which takes more than a couple weeks.

The long term goal of ketosis is to become "fat adapted." This is when your muscles preferentially burn available fat from your blood stream and then from your tissues, instead of ketones, leaving most of the ketones for your brain, and this can take time. According to some, it can take months (this also doesn't seem to be well studied scientifically).

My thinking, (again, I'm not a scientist or researcher, so I'm just guessing) is that muscles are used to having glycogen stores to go to when they need power. Now the don't, so they see ketones as the next option. Eventually, they learn that they can use fats directly for energy. But when they get stressed, like during a workout, they go back looking for glycogen and ketones,  because those are easier. But if you continue to put them in that stressed condition enough, they adapt to using fats more and more. Thus you become "fat-adapted."

How long this takes depends on a lot of factors: your diet (micro and macro nutrients), your initial health, your stress levels, your hormonal balance (or imbalance), how much sleep you get, how you workout, etc. Its not well studied, just hang in there.

As I continue on this journey, I continue to notice differences. After loosing weight for the first couple months, I'm now stable. All the weight I lost was water and fat. I have maintained roughly 9% body fat for two months without counting calories or macros. I just avoid sugars and grains, and eat lots of fats (bacon, egg yolks, butter, etc.) until I'm not hungry any more.

I still drink. Liquor is my go to, wine with my dinner out. Alcohol is not a carb, its a fourth macro-nutrient (7 Kcal/g), so its doesn't seem to affect my ketosis. I average one to two servings per day (which means 3 days a week I don't drink, and I drink more than two on the other four days. Bar life). Beers have too many carbs, I don't drink them (never really a fan of them anyway) Some people seem to react to wine on ketosis, I don't, but I don't over do it since they have residual sugars, I prefer dry, higher alcohol wines, which have fewer sugars.

To sum up: I've lost weight, but stabilized at a healthy point. I've lost a little in my over all measurements (I do care about how I look), but not so much as to make me look bad (still a decent shoulder to waist ratio). In fact, I'm pretty ripped, even without lifting weights for two months. I'm gaining stamina again, and feel like I'm improving my overall fitness, even if its has cost me some strength (I expect to get back to weight training eventually, but I feel this change is good for a lot of reasons.)

I love lifting, and I love getting stronger. I started working out 20 years ago with the purpose of putting on muscle. There are very few studies of muscle building and ketosis, and those have been poorly designed. But there are a growing number of strength/power athletes trying ketosis and having good results after adaptation, which can take months. Its hard to find volunteers for a study like that.

So, for now, how to build muscles and get stronger on keto is not well understood, and I'll be following the suggestions of those who seem to be successful and waiting for more science. I believe its possible, I just need to get through final adaptions.

If you think about it, it makes sense. ketosis reduces inflammation and catabalism, improves recovery and energy levels, while ending the competition between brain and muscles for the same fuel source. Some athletes are reporting that they can build muscle in ketosis with much lower levels of protein... In fact, at least one insists you must lower your protein to do so!

There's a lot of unknowns here. But the known benefits of living keto are too good to pass up.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Ten Thousand Miles

The day I bought the bike (bottom), and 10,000 miles later (Top).

Yesterday, I passed a milestone, 10,000 miles on my motorcycle. Just under two years ago, I decided to learn to ride, and almost as soon as I started, I nearly quit.

I got thrown off the bike in day one of classes and scared the hell out of myself, and my instructors. That night I made the decision to finish the class, get my license and become a competent rider. Only then would I allow myself to quit riding IF I decided it wasn't for me. I would not let fear be the deciding factor.

Twenty one months ago I bought my bike and began riding daily. First in parking lots, then the mile and half to work, then longer. The first time on a highway above 35 mph, the wind, the speeding cars, the huge trucks, was terrifying. Now its routine.

I ride alone, I didn't have buddies or a club to ride with, so it was a few months before I felt confident enough to venture OTP. By the end of the summer I took my day trip, 200 miles. There's a special kind of courage to wonder out into the unknown alone. You have to have confidence in yourself that you can handle whatever comes your way.

I still ride every day. Every step out my door is preceded by the question: Can I ride the bike? Rain, sub freezing temps and the need to carry anything that won't fit in my backpack are usually the only things that answer that question with a "no."

Now I've done ten thousand miles! (On a bike that only saw 2,000 per year before I got it.) Riding through the steep hills and curves of the North Georgia mountains yesterday, still gave me moments of anxiety and challenge. Finding the right gear, leaning a little more, remembering to brake before the curve, NOT in it, managing front and rear brakes -- Riding take thought and purpose and skill.

But unlike two years ago, I didn't have the terror in the pit of my stomach. I knew that if I went down, I would survive. Ego, and probably body, bruised, but I could handle it, because I'd handled everything the road had thrown at me for 10,000 miles.

I give myself permission to quit riding now.

But I choose to continue anyway. Its who I am now, its a way of life for me now.

I'm also reminded now, that I'm entering my third year of riding -- The most dangerous years. Riders in their third year are the most likely to have an accident, more than cautious newbies, and far, far more than seasoned vets who continue on beyond year three.

I told myself, when I began, that I would remain cautious through this year, that I would not let hubris bring me to tragedy.

I see other riders in shorts and t-shirts, in minimal helmets, no gloves, etc. I feel the heat in the summer and think it would be great to go without a jacket, that my boots are thick and hot -- That I don't look "cool." But I also know the cost of a small mistake without protection can be huge, and that even if I do it all right, someone else might hit me, or a mechanical failure could bring me down hard.

I ride to feel alive, I do not want to die doing it... Or get maimed or crippled. I realize I always run that risk, but there's no need to multiply.

So I enter my third year of riding with a renewed sense of purpose to my riding. To get better. Be more aware, become more skillful, to push my limits more.

And I ride on.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Handlebars: Take 2!

Phaedrus got some more upgrades yesterday.

When I first bought my motorcycle, a 2004 Honda Shadow VLX 600, I knew I'd be making changes. One of the first things I did was to take pics and work up what the natural angles and lines of the bike were.
Follow the pink line, that's the natural visual spine of the bike. Notice how the original bars and mirrors stick way above? Ugly!

The line from the seat, over the gas tank to the top of the speedometer (the highest natural point on the bike) looked pretty good, but the original handlebars, and especially the mirrors just stuck way up and shattered the natural lines. They had to go.

After a minor involuntary dismount, the handlebars got bend and it was a quick swap to low-profile drag bars. Then came the electronics upgrade with new control buttons, internal wiring, a Motogadget M-unit and a new custom (by me) wiring harness. All this looked a lot better.

But those mirrors. Ugly!

Not to mention cheap. At the time I wasn't ready to shell out for high quality mirrors, and didn't want to waste money on mid-range that I knew I'd be replacing. So I bought a pair of cheap ($15) mirrors. After about 3000 miles the plastic on one cracked and it wouldn't stay straight. I bought another set. Then the glass fell out of another at 60 mph.  Four thousand miles later, another cracked in the same place.

Time to get on with the upgrades.

The drag bars were cheap steel. This time I upgraded to high quality, thick walled aluminum street bars, with about a 2" rise.

To keep the natural lines of the bike, I knew the mirrors would have to under mount, so I got a pair of Oberon bar-end clamp ons.

I never liked the stock turn signals, which are big cruiser style. I always have intended to strip the bike down to a bobber style, with minimal accessories, so I really wanted to minimize the signals. Motogadget M-blaze LED bar end signals are ideal. The function as front and rear signals, plus as marker lights, and look like part of the handlebars, so all the other signals can go!

To finish it off, I needed new grips to accommodated the bar-end signals, so I got a pair of Motogadget rubber grips. They make metal ones, but I prefer the comfort of rubber, plus the insulation between my hand and the bar in winter helps a little with cold hands, and they're 1/5th the price.

Since I was doing wiring, I disconnected the power by pulling the main fuse. Its easier to get to than the battery cables.

This whole exercise also served as a test of the wiring harness I'd built and installed last year. Pulling the old bars was simple: I removed the body panels in front of the tank to expose the wire connections. Disconnected and labeled all the connectors. When I rewired the bike previously, I used nylon OEM style connectors, which made this supper easy. Then dismount the levers, and unbolt the bar from the risers. It took maybe ten minutes.

I removed the original turn signals, front and back. They'll go on Ebay to recoup some of my expenses. Bye-bye!

Then I mounted and test fitted the new bars, making sure to carefully mark everything to make sure it all went back exactly where I wanted it later. Measure twice, cut once.

Taping and marking where the bars meet the risers makes sure that every time I take the bars off, I can put them back exactly how I like them.

One mistake I made with the drag bars was positioning the buttons, they weren't exactly were my thumb naturally went. Since they depend on holes in the bars, I wanted to make sure I got them perfect this time.

With the bars mounted and positioned exactly how I wanted it, and taped and marked to ensure I could get it back there, I installed the grips and throttle assembly, making sure to allow enough space for the mirror clamps. I was careful to allow about a small gap between the throttle grip and the mirror clamp, to ensure the throttle didn't stick.

With everything in place, I put a piece of tape roughly where I thought the buttons should go and gripped the handlebars in riding position. Then with my eyes closed, I extended my thumb to touch the tape. I marked the tape at the middle of my thumb top to bottom. That would be the vertical center of the button hole, the natural position of my thumb.

Grips and mirror clamps installed, and the wiring holes marked for ideal position based on my natural thumb position.

Then I marked the left/right center by measuring to allow for the full width of the button housing and to the natural center of the pad of my thumb where I press buttons. All this ultimately put all the buttons in comfortable position.

Drilling the aluminum bars was much easier than the steel ones. I started with a 1/8" pilot hole, then stepped up with progressively larger drill bits to 5/16". I drilled both holes while the bars were mounted.
Wiring whole drilled.
I also marked the center top of the handle bars as mounted, and made a mark on the bottom end of each side to show the lowest point when mounted. Then I removed the bars.

The exit whole for the wiring needs to be in the center of the bottom of the bars. I used the marks I made while they were mounted and located the bottom center. I drilled three pilot holes, and progressed up again until 5/16" and all the wholes formed one slot. Wiggling the drill bit back and forth a bit chewed away excess metal to help make a smoother slot.

Finally, I cleaned up all the drill holes with a roto-tool to remove any burs, and smooth the sharp edges that would chew up the wires. The last thing I want to do is have wires shorting out from rubbing on the metal edges. 

Thne it was just a matter of routing my existing wiring from the other bars into the new bars. I used a left over piece of wire and tape to fish the lines through and that was done.

Then came the M-Blaze bar end signals. 

Motogadget's instructions are pretty clear. Before installing them, I used heat shrink to wrap the wires where they exited the bars as an extra layer of protection against abrasion, then installed the M-Blazes.

M-Blazes are sold individually as left or right side, and the Motogadget logo needs to face up when they're installed. If you look closely, you can see that they have two LEDs facing front, and one facing the back when installed correctly. 

Now back to the bike for another test fit. I wrapped the M-blazes in masking tape to ensure I didn't scratch them while working. 

Using the tape markings, I mounted the bars again and checked the routing of all the wiring. 

This time, I was able to find some black vinyl tubing, which gives a way more professional look to the wiring than wrapping them in electrical tape. Also, since the wires can slide easily in the tubing, they're more flexible and should have less stress on them. 

I decided to route the M-blaze wires in the tubing with one set of control wires, and the other side separately. Cut them to length, and install the nylon connectors I'd used before and they were done!

My custom wiring harness made the whole thing easy! I took a lot of time and effort to think ahead when I built it, and now I feel vindicated. I could have run wiring straight from the M-Unit, all the way to the buttons, in a continuous single piece, but I assumed I'd need or want to remove the bars, or replace broken parts eventually, so it made sense to add connectors. Glad I did. 

I rehung the clutch and brake levers, reconnected the throttle cable and reconnected the M-unit. The moment of truth: turn the key and test each button. Everything worked right off the bat.

It works!

Then came time to mount the mirrors. The go on easy enough and I thought I had them where I wanted them. It was raining out, plus I'd just installed new grips, so I decided to wait until morning to ride and see. Since I used WD-40 to help slide the grips on, I knew I need to give them at least over night to set up.

Left side - Now to figure out how to get rid of the mirror mount on the clutch lever?

Right side.
Clean look, and the under-mount mirrors make riding feel more open, nothing obstructing my view.

Nice and clean, no bulky turn signals.

Profile. The natural line from the bottom of the seat all the way up to the bars is clean. (Need a new seat, though!)

A little reprogramming of the M-unit to make the M-blazes function as marker lights, too (10% brightness) and its done. 

The whole process took me about 4 hours. The simple wiring harness and nylon OEM style connectors made a huge difference in how easy everything was. 

I'm about out of things to work on before getting serious about the body work. With the electrical and controls finished, and the lighting upgraded, plus velocity stack and pipes wrapped the next move is really removing the rear fender and replacing it with the seat to make it a bobber. That will mean cutting down the front fender to match and getting a paint job. Guess I need to start saving some cash!