Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Summer plans

After the race season ended for me, i purposely gave myself a little break.  I was, frankly, burned out!  My last few races had been quite poor, no reason to keep pushing.  With my goal of improving 10%, my fitness plans from last year wouldn’t be good enough, so i spent a lot of time researching various aspects of fitness to devise a plan to bring my fitness to the next level.

One thing to keep in mind is that i am not only, or perhaps even primarily, a stair racing athlete.  I am primarily a Yogi, and if you want to get really bored one day, ask me how great i think yoga has been for me.   So aside from my planned improvements in stairclimbing, i plan to expand and deepen my yoga practice as well.  So my improvement plan must reflect that goal.  

Fortunately, these goals are not necessarily divergent.  Some of the things i am doing to help me become faster at the stairs will help me at yoga, and vice-versa.  

In general, cardiovascular fitness and strength will pay big dividends at yoga.  Cardiovascular fitness means i can do more classes and remain at an equanimous level. Strength and cardio means i can do a class, and keep my breathing smooth and even, and not be getting into a bad place with my pulse and breathing.  Losing weight will pay big dividends for yoga, as well as for stair racing, and will also help me to keep cool in both environments.  If i can be zen while torturing myself on the stairs, certainly i can be zen in yoga class as well.

Where these activities might be in conflict is mostly in time and flexibility and time.  I typically have spent a lot of time in the gym doing submaximal workouts to build a cardio base for the stair races.  These took away time i could have used for yoga, and also seemed to tighten me up more than my sprint workouts.

So, this leads to the “exercise” part of my big change from last year.  My basic stair training workout will be short, intense sessions.  Most of my races are going to be 10-15 minutes, a few of them should be under 10 minutes.  So most of my training sessions will be 10 minutes or so, and a long one might be 20 minutes.  The power hours did me no favors, and i can simply forget about them and focus on my speed/power in the shorter races.  Instead of hours on the stairmaster, i’ll do hours of yoga.  Better for my mind, better for my flexibility.

Several articles i read seem to indicate that the best sort of overall health/fitness routine is lots of easy activity ( gardening, walking, yoga ) with brief bouts of intense exercise. And, in particular, you can do fine with sprinting workouts  Here is an good article on sprinting, it can increase fitness and burn a lot of fat in a little time.

Part of the reason for the long workouts was to burn fat.  I’ve lost a lot of fat over the past few years, but there is still a bit to go, and it’s been increasingly stubborn. But i’ve come to the conclusion that the long workouts are just not the right approach, except maybe when there’s a football game i want to watch, and i can do it from the stairmaster.  That aside, an hour on the stairmaster is 1000 calories if i push it, and 1000 calories of high-calorie food can be ingested in a few seconds.  It’s more time efficient to just not eat that food.  

So i need to keep my calories down.  I’ve had the most success over the years doing so with various intermittent fasting protocols.  I know a lot of people are convinced that you need to eat often to keep your metabolism up, and that fasting will ruin your fat loss and muscle gains, but almost all the research shows the opposite.  Here is an excellent article by my friend PJ.  Martin berkhan has thoroughly debunked most fasting myths with links to lots of great research.

Two summers back i lost 10 pounds in eight weeks doing the warrior diet, which is essentially fasting during the day, working out, and having a big dinner.  I lost no muscle, and it was incredibly easy.  I gave it up for a few reasons.  One, because it was hard to get in the intensity of cardio i wanted.  Two, because it was often socially challenging--people think it’s weird when you skip meals.  Three, because it was hard to get in enough clean calories at that one big meal, even when i was trying to lose weight! I still do this on my solo vacations, and it’s great.  You can get in an extra hour of two of sightseeing when you’re skipping breakfast and lunch, and you are paying for one overpriced vacation meal instead of three.  

Now, i’m going with eat stop eat, in which you fast 1-2 times a week.  This is also called the 5/2 diet.  Basically 1-2 times a week, you have a normal/smallish dinner, then don’t eat again until the next dinner, so you go 24 hours without food.  Unlike the warrior diet, you have a full 24 hour fast, and you don’t go into the fast stuffed with food.  So autophagy ( the body’s clean-up and repair mechanism ) gets fully activated.  You are also forced to run on stored bodyfat for some period of time, especially if you are active during the fasting period.  

My basic plan is that i have a set weight ( for me 179 pounds ) and when i weigh over that on the scale in the morning, i fast that day, except if i fasted the previous day--this is unlikely to be a problem, as i am never “over” after a fasting day.  If i want to drop weight, i follow the same rules, and lower my set weight every 1-2 weeks, so i’ll be fasting more often.  Even if i am trying to GAIN i fast once a week, just for the health benefits.  

As for what i’m eating, my research has led to me adopting a much more vegan diet.  In particular, i am no longer that worried about my protein intake; i think it’s difficult to eat too little protein.  There are superb athletes ( such as Michael Arnstein ) eating the 80/10/10 diet, 80% carbohydrates, 10% protein, 10% fat.  I don’t know if i’ll get that extreme, but if people can perform superbly on that little fat and protein, i obviously don’t have to struggle to include it at every meal.  I also think that while diet may matter less for optimal athletics than many people think, plant-based eating is the right choice for both our health ( cancer & neurodegenerative risks ) as well as for the environment & ethics.  Meat, egg, and dairy farming creates more co2 than our transit systems, causes loss of countless acres of forest & wild land, and most food animals are suffering intensely.  So not more omelets for me when i am on the road, to make sure i get my protein.  I’ll be fine having salads, oatmeal, fruit, nuts, etc.  Here’s what i would think of as a perfect eating day. Not that i think i’m that disciplined in general...

So, the short of it, here’s my summer plan:

1) Fasting to maintain or reduce weight, and to protect against neurodegeneration and cancer.
2) Going entirely plant based, going low fat, moderate protein.  Perhaps 70% carb , 15% protein, 15% fat, and not worrying if i get closer to 80/10/10. A perfect day of food might look like this:
3) Short, intense stair workouts 2-3 times a week.  ( only on non-fasting days )
4) Lots of yoga, especially at the end of fasting days. Focus on skills and workout recovery.
5) Intense weight session ( design courtesy of Alex Workman ) about once a week--definitely not on a fasting day.
6) Easy cardio as recreation--bike ride, run, but just use it for pleasure.

As of this morning, i was 180 pounds, and my most recent hard workout was 151 steps/minute for 10 minutes, with one 25 second break at 80 steps/minute about 6:30. I'm going to really focus for this month, and reassess how this plan has affected my weight/climbing speed before a vacation to Tennessee. So i'll update this june 8. See you all then!