Monday, March 28, 2016

Basic guide to diets..

Strap in folks.. this is going to be a long one. A better blogger would parse this out into several posts, but it is my blog, so buckle up.
I have tried pretty much every diet out there that has been pitched for performance. As well I have advised clients and friends on fitness, and have credible data from them on most diets. They all have strengths and weaknesses for performance, compliance, and fat/weight management.
Lets jump in the deep end.

Vegetarianism: This is going to ruffle a few feathers. Vegetarianism is not generally an effective performance diet. It isn't really intended to be. Most people don't decide to become vegetarians or vegans in order to perform better at a sport. That said, one CAN perform well with a vegetarian diet particularly in endurance sports. When I rowed it was quite effective. Rebuilding muscle glycogen on a high carbohydrate plant based diet happens quite readily. You're generally hungry all the time. I found eating all the time also helped with recovery. However, this diet is particularly weak when one is trying to gain muscle mass beyond your body's comfortable range. I was a vegetarian for over a decade, and I got fairly strong (bench press over 350 with terrible levers for bench press, and hang clean and strict pressing 275), but it was hard. I had to force feed, I had to drink all manner of protein isolates, and milk pretty much constantly.
 Inactive folks can do ok on this diet, but processed foods (mmm french fries) do qualify as 'vegetarian' as a weight loss strategy it only goes as far as the rest of their diet. This is the biggest weakness of this diet. Excluding animal products, and including only plant products in no way informs performance or body composition. One could eat ice cream, french fries, and doritos, or one could have a smoothie for breakfast, a beet salad with feta, and a protein shake for lunch, and roasted vegetables for dinner. Both qualify as "vegetarian" but would have drastically divergent effects on performance and body composition. One still has to diet on top of this diet. Compliance within a vegetarian diet is generally a matter of morals and what motivated the individual to take on this diet initially. Overall I never recommend vegetarianism to folks, but it is easy to work within.

Zone: The zone.. does anyone remember this one? So much measurement, so many maths. Good grief. If you could hit your macros, pretty much everyone does pretty well.. You start to see problems when you're not dealing with generalists. People on the extreme ends of the spectrum of strength and endurance start to have.. not problems with performance, but have problems hitting their numbers. This is where the zone dies a slow and painful death. I have rarely dealt with a client who could consistently stay in "the zone." Eventually folks either just eat the same meals every day, or they get fed up with the zone.

Ketogenic:  The first four weeks of this year I went completely low/no carb. Only fibrous vegetables, daily carb intake was less than 30 grams. It was rough at first. The third through fifth days were downright painful. My brain felt like a starving symbiote. Compliance on this diet can be murder. The first week you feel worse and worse every morning, but after the first couple weeks, it was just another strict diet. It is strict; it is hard to eat out, it is hard to cook for others, it's just hard. I know a good number of folks who have tried a ketogenic diet and failed to even get off the blocks.
I dropped some weight, performed ok in the gym. I'm not training particularly hard these days, but I could perform in the gym without too much issue. The really interesting thing about this diet was that once I came off of it, my appetite was dialed down, and my sense of satiety had the volume turned up. Interestingly I've continued to lose body fat after. So the performance question is still open, but body composition improvements on the ketogenic diet are outstanding, IF you can stay on it for more than a couple weeks.

Paleo: My experience is that the Paleo diet is the best balance of performance, composition, and compliance. There are a lot of people who like to poke at the Paleo diet. They get stuck on two things: 1) You can't actually eat the same foods as Paleolithic people. 2) Paleolithic people died young. People who make these criticisms simply have not read the actual books that Robb Wolf and Dr. Lauren Cordain wrote explaining the diet in detail. If you haven't read the source material, you aren't qualified to make a criticism of a thing. If you scoff and think these things, then read the damn book. Otherwise, I don't understand what the issue people take with "eat some meat and green veggies" it's not complicated, and in my experience it works and it works well, and people (generally) are able to stick with it.

Here's the real deal with the efficacy of these diets: the stricter the diet, the margin of compliance is so narrow that when a bag of carrots is a "cheat" then eating a slice of pizza feels like a week in Vegas spending your retirement fund on hookers and blow. It gives you a pathway, a guide to understand something that is so fundamental to our existence. I think these kinds of diets have value for those reasons. Conversely, one needs to take the long view. Weeks and weeks of compliance are not scrubbed out by a single piece of cake. That is an overall net positive. Too many people focus on individual instances of non-compliance a loss rather than the net of the week or month.
The crux of all of this is the balance of satiety and energy. If you feel like you're sated, if you have enough energy, and you're meeting your goals of performance and body composition then you're probably on a good diet for you. If you feel constantly run down or you're always feeling deprived, even if you're on top of your performance and composition goals you're on an untenable track. It doesn't matter. Eventually you're going down, either to binge, or you're headed down the path to an eating disorder. If you're just suffering, you're on a bad diet (for the long term). You need to find a baseline diet that works generally for you. One that will maintain your body composition, one that will allow you to perform in your preferred arena, and one where your food is easy. Then you have a default position to return so that you can try making adjustments. Far too many folks move so many variables at the same time that they have no idea what is or is not working for them. If you have a baseline workout program, baseline diet, baseline recovery program.. then you can move one or two variables and see what is working for you. If you move all of these at the same time you simply have no clue what is influencing your performance or body composition.
Similarly if you're not tracking some metric of performance, then you simply don't know. You don't have to use your weight. Use a belt length, use pictures, use a 2 mile run, take measurements with a piece of string without any numbers on it. You only need retaliative measurements, but you need to measure.
If you're not happy with your performance, and body composition, put together a plan, and try things for 4-8 weeks. That seems to be the window to get through withdrawal, and see noticeable differences. I have seen a number of folks perform equally well on widely variant diets. Try stuff, work hard, find out what works for you.


Monday, February 22, 2016

One cannot understand what it means to be civilized until one has lived as a savage.

Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.
-Robert E. Howard

On it's face I agree with Howard, but the deeper I look at this quote it rings false.
People have lost contact with violence and death, and that gives us an unreasonable view of life. When you understand what it takes to kill something, you don't threaten people with death. When you understand what it feels like to be in a fight you don't threaten people with violence. When you understand what it feels like to be physically dominant you don't feel the need to be domineering.
Our society in many ways disconnected from violence and death, and yet we have all of these armchair experts. I'm no expert, I have just enough knowledge to see that I barely have any knowledge.  This is the Dunning-Kruger effect, which can be essentiallized as: the more you know, the more you understand there is to know, and if you know nothing you think you have a good idea of something.
People who are discourteous are not civil, and thus have not been civilized. When one lives a life stripped down to it's savage bones, one is more likely to be civil.
I'd go even further:
One cannot understand what it means to be civilized until one has lived as a savage.
I have wrestled, played rugby, done judo and boxing, hold a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu, I am a hunter and outdoorsman. I put myself outside societal norms by fighting, by seeking to put myself in the food chain, by sleeping outside, living in the woods off my back.
Admittedly, I'm only a visitor. I do these things when I choose under controlled conditions. Even in short visits you get course corrections. Moments where you have to face the reality that "if this were real, you'd be dead."
In all of these different venues I have constantly heard "those people look scary, but they're the nicest people you've ever met." I have found this to be consistently true.
These so called "savage" activities are completely honest. There is no lying when you are fighting; you can fight or not. If you're in the backcountry either you have it together, or not. If not, you freeze, starve, go without water, or have to call it quits. If you're hunting, you either make the kill or not. If you do you know what it means to kill something. The honesty of these activities temper you in a way that you have a hard time selling yourself a bill of goods. It is nearly impossible.
Find a way to connect to your place in the cycle of life and death and you will have more empathy. You will treat others better.
Only once you've learned to live as a savage will you understand what it means to be a civilized person.


Monday, October 5, 2015

On guard.

Not like in the old swashbuckler movies, but in that this is a post on "the guard position" which I hate as a term. Jiu jitsu players tend to think of guard as a box that they put their opponent in. A trap, or prison to be escaped. We would be better served to think of our jiu jitsu guard the way a boxer thinks of having one's 'guard up' to maintain distance and defend against the opponent's offense. This understanding gives a boxer flexibility in how their guard presents itself; it doesn't have to look a certain way as long as it maintains distance, and keeps the other person from punching you (conversely just because you have your hands held in a certain position doesn't mean you're going to have an effective guard the proof is in the punching). It allows for differences in style. Muhammad Ali had very low guard because he had amazing head movement and fought very upright. Mike Tyson had to use a much higher guard because he was a much shorter fighter and needed to deflect shots on the way in. Styles make fights, but styles make guards too.
Building our guard we need to understand the fundamental purpose of guard play; to control pressure and distance from your opponent. Players usually get too caught up in methodology: control points (grips), movement, and frames. Instead of thinking of our opponent "escaping our guard" and frantically trying to cram them back in the box we can understand that if we deflect their pressure, or move out from under it, create distance (if needed) we can get our guard back up. Note I did not say "recover guard" your guard was not stolen from you, it was broken.. it is generally easier to repair something than to replace it.
Controlling pressure from your opponent is key to preventing a pass. A guard passer needs to keep constant pressure on your center mass to keep the guard player from moving (movement is key for an offensive guard). They need to keep you in place or moving in a single direction to rotate around and get into a dominant position. Controlling this pressure can be as simple as using a foot on the hip or bicep to stop the pressure coming forward, or can be something that deflects the pressure of your opponent. Either to get them moving forward or keeps them moving as the guard player moves out from under the pressure (arm drag from sitting guard is a great example of this, but also the hip bump sweep is the same concept in the opposite direction).
Attacking from guard requires movement, but it also requires the passer to be within a certain distance. Too close and the guard player cannot move, too far and they cannot connect to the opponent in any meaningful way. The passer wants to move through this danger zone as quickly (read efficiently) as possible. The guard player wants the passer moving back and forth through this zone until a sweep or submission changes the position or ends the match respectively. There are three ways to control distance: move yourself, move your opponent, convince your opponent to move themselves. Moving yourself is the simplest and easiest of the three. Moving your opponent is simple but not easy. The third is easy, but not simple. This usually requires an attempted sweep or submission that forces your opponent's hand, but often undisciplined players will simply do the opposite of whatever you seem to want. Don't discount this, push and see if they push back.
By understanding the construct that is the jiu jitsu guard, and what it needs to do gives players flexibility. In the Keenan Cornelius 'de la worm guard'/Jeff Glover 'donkey guard' sense; to be able to take grips and controls that they are comfortable with to effect a viable guard but also to troubleshoot a guard that isn't viable. Either to dissect a roll and evaluate what about their guard isn't effective in retrospect, but also in the moment to be able to repair and reestablish a compromised guard before the pass. This is the difference between high level guard players and normal humans: the ability to rebuild the dam before it leaks, and the best way to get there is honest evaluation of one's performance. So train, evaluate, make changes and repeat.

Feel free to comment with any disagreements, or omissions.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

The little brother allegory of whiteness..

I always cringe when I see folks on social media denying what people of color say they experience. It always reminds me of my brother..
He's my half-brother, but close enough. I don't love people by halves.
He is 6 very important years younger than I. When I relay stories about doing without, or how things were a little lean when I was a kid, he always scoffs and reminds me of the suburban house we lived in when I was in high school, and the very cool car my folks bought me when I turned 16.
What he doesn't remember, and I don't bother to tell him, was that before our mother married his father, we lived in a tiny apartment a stone's throw away from where Michael Brown was killed. How even after his parents married we lived in that small apartment for a good while. How after a bit their combined income allowed them to buy a modest home in one of the exurbs in St. Charles county, but things were tight, and when the CWA went on strike in 1980 and a 21 day strike in '84 things were more than tight. Mom picked up shifts at my uncle's bar on top of working 40 hours at a local rent-a-car. My step-dad took odd jobs when he could, even hustled pool. We had a house, and cars, but we were broke.. and my brother who was 3 in '84 remembers none of it. He remembers a couple years after that when my step-dad took a supervisor position, and later manager and director level jobs. Things got more comfortable.. and more comfortable. He remembers a less modest new house my parents had built. New cars, and new furniture, cable and Nintendo.
It's not his fault. He's done nothing wrong, but he just didn't see the lean times. When you're three you don't notice that you ate hot dogs for dinner 3 nights a week (mac-n-cheez with hotdogs, pigs in a blanket, and beany weenies to be precise). That you were wearing hand-me-downs, or clothes our relatives gave us. It's not something you notice.. it's not part of your experience. So it's very easy to scoff at your older brother who lived in that same house where you grew up who was old enough to comprehend what was going on. Easy to disregard his anecdotes as being overly dramatic, because you don't want to believe that your family could have had such unpleasant experiences, and also to assuage your guilt for having missed some of the hardest times. In truth I don't expect him to wring his hands over the unpleasant stuff that he missed, but I wish he wouldn't deny that it happened.
(caviat, this is not to say woe is me, we never starved, or lived on the streets. We had family who could prop us up until we got on our feet.. that's not the point of the story)
For us folks in the majority.
If a person of color tells you they are terrified when they are stopped by the police. Don't scoff and say "Just don't do anything wrong and nothing will happen to you." That's not their experience, listen to them.
When they say that SNAP programs do not create a culture of dependence, but actually help keep kids healthy.. listen.
When they say they want to work, but that they are less likely to get called back simply because of the name on the resume.. listen.
When people of color.. or any marginalized group for that matter, tries to educate you on their experience in this country.. listen.
I know it's not your experience. That is the exact point, but wouldn't it be great if no one had that experience?


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The drilling dead.

I follow a few jiu jitsu folks on social media, and am connected to some of the younger jiu jitsu folks in the area. I see them constantly posting videos like this:
That looks cool, and it's a decent way to work up a sweat and clean up your footwork.. you know what else is good for that?
Ok. So don't be the goddamned Karate kid.
So how do we get practice in? We zombiefy those dead drills.
Zombies are dead, they come back to life (hopefully briefly) and we kill those suckers dead again.. and so should your drills.
This requires two things: a partner (you're probably drilling with a partner) and a coach..child.. girlfriend.. a reasonably well trained monkey.. some agent of randomness.
Drill way for a set period of time say 5 minutes.
In that window of time your coach/kid/monkey will at random intervals say "GO!" on go you and your partner are sparring.. for 30 seconds. Long enough if you're being slack and leaving space in your drills (or worse yet you're drilling stupid stuff) you will lose position. If you're truly drilling like a BOSS (do people still say this? I'm old.. you know what I mean) you should end up with the same outcome. Once that 30 seconds is over:
if you're still in position keep going,
if you've done better for yourself good for you hustle back and get after it.
if you've lost position FOR SHAME. You stay put and think about what you're doing with your life.
Rinse, repeat..