Paleo Diet - Day 5

Day 5 on the Paleo diet and I'm still feeling great! Even without the longer than usual sleep last night I have been full of energy and happiness all day. I think some of that is a natural psychological by-product (as I start to notice improvements in my body I naturally become happier) but I cant help feeling it has a lot to do with the types of food I'm eating and the long lasting energy they provide the body.

The Obligatory Meal Info

Breakfast: Chicken Apple Hash and some Macadamias Snack 1: Fruit salad and some Almonds Lunch: Left over dinner (bolognese and vegies) Snack 2: Egg and 2 chicken sausages Dinner: More of yesterday's dinner with fruit salad dessert

Supplements and Vitamins

I have started on some of the dietary supplements and vitamins that are recommended as complimentary to the paleo diet. In particular I am taking fish oil, magnesium, and vitamin D3. I have not noticed any effects yet, unless they too are contributing to my more upbeat and energetic mindset.

Primal Exercise

I have been thinking more and more about changing my exercise routines to be more primal based so I trialled a few different things today.

I did some alternating step lunges, squats, pushups, and chin-ups using just my body weight as resistance. I then filled a bucket of water and did some quick "clean and jerk" style lifts as well as holding it above my head for as long as I could. The result? A bit of fun and some very good exercise and my abs feel tight without even doing any a work. Maybe there is something in this primal exercise theory?

Workout Food

I still have that niggling idea that I should have a big hit of carbs post-workout and I cannot find too much good information about what paleo-foods are ideal for this time. The extra meals have stopped weight loss but for muscle gain I can't help feeling I should load up with carbs after busting out the weights. We will see how tomorrow's early morning session goes.


It's working well. I look and feel healthier, stronger, and fitter. All positive so far.

Fitness February - lose fat, build muscle, run better

February 2011 is going to be all about fitness. Leo Babauta of fame is a shining light for how to break bad habits and introduce good ones and in the past five years he has quit smoking, lost 50 pounds, run several marathons, tripled his income, wrote a novel, wrote several e-books, and the list just keeps going. One of his key concepts is to only focus on changing one habit at a time which is a simple yet effective method consider the basic human behavioral stance is to oppose major change. Following this concept I have decided to dedicate the next 28 days to fitness.

Fitness February

The word "fitness" is pretty generic and is too vague on its own. The changes I am implementing will be a little bit more than just one thing but they all come under the fitness umbrella term. I think I can manage that. But as I mentioned previously, setting measurable goals and tracking data is the best way to remain focused on a task, so I will break it down a bit more to set myself tasks that I can easily measure my success against.

February Goals

Visit the doctor - I generally manage to steer clear of doctors baring semi-emergency experiences (collapsed lung, broken wrist, attacked by a clothesline). But this month I am going to schedule an appointment jus to get a full assessment on my health. I want to know how I am going now and what areas I need to work on.

Visit a Feldenkrais expert/Physio/Chiropractor - I was researching neck relaxation techniques the other day and stumbled upon a reference to the Feldenkrais Method. This phrase particularly piqued my interest: "changes in our ability to move are inseparable from changes in our conscious perception of ourselves as embodied", so I will be visiting a Feldenkrais practitioner to see what we can discover about how I use body. If I cannot find a good practitioner then I will settle for a physiotherapist or chiropractor for the time being.

Trim body fat - before I started My 4 Hour Body adventure two weeks ago I estimated my body fat percentage to be at 17.5 - 20%. That is too high. I am a naturally sporty person and I do not like being out of shape so my goal is to trim down to 10% body fat and reduce waist and hip measurements by a further 2cm (already down 4.5cm and 2cm respectively).

Gain size in muscles - I want to be one of those guys who kisses his biceps before going to bed and wears nothing but singlets, even in winter. Ok, not quite that bad, but some extra size in the right places would be great. I want to gain at least 2cm in my biceps, chest, and thighs.

Improve my running style and ability - I want to do some analysis on my running style and improve it to be more efficient. I am thinking about creating my "30 year bucket list" (things to do before I turn 30) and competing in a marathon\triathlon will definitely be included. So I want to iron out any kinks in my running style. As a subset to this I want to be able to run 5km in under 30 minutes by the end of February.

I think that will do. February is going to be great and by March I am going to be a leaner, fitter, stronger, and happier version of myself. And I will be ready for my next lifestyle challenge!

Update (2/2/11): You can now read the outcomes of Fitness February in this article.

My 4 Hour Body - 2 Week Progress

It has been two weeks since I started the journey towards a fitter and healthier me. I began on the Slow Carb Diet from Tim Ferriss' book The 4-Hour Body in order to lose some fat but also included the workouts from Geek to Freak in order to gain some muscle and size. The results have been pretty good so far.

Losing Fat - The Slow Carb Diet

This has been my greatest success so far. To get a full idea of my starting point you should read Starting Measurements which includes pictures of my starting point. Weighing in at 84.3kg, and at 6"2, I was not really fat but I lacked definition - I used to have visible abs dammit! I estimated my body fat percentage to be 17.5% which is way to high. Bring on the Slow Carb Diet.

For two weeks I have followed the diet pretty strictly, including the cheat day, and I have lost 2.7kg (6 pounds). If I assume all that loss was fat then my new estimate body fat percentage is in the 14.5%. In other words I lost roughly 16% of my entire body fat in two weeks! Nice.

The next pleasant outcome was how this fat loss translated across my body in terms of measurements. There was no effect on my biceps or thighs (good news) and my chest dropped 1cm early but has since started to increase (expected muscle gain from weights) but the real difference has been around my waist and hips. I dropped 4.5cm around my waist and 2cm from my hips. Sounds good but these measurements peaked early at 5.5cm and 4cm respectively so there is still potential for future losses.

My thoughts: The Slow Carb Diet works. Having lived it pretty strictly for two weeks I cannot see how you could not lose weight if you adhere to the rules. I felt like I was eating lots of food and eating often but because of the types and quality of foods eaten my caloric intake for the day was always small. For example my biggest day was 2236 calories which was derived from 280 grams of protein, 60 grams of fat, and 140 grams of carbohydrate.

Gaining Muscle - Geek To Freak

My results here have not been great - my biceps and thighs have not changed, and my chest has gained 1.5cm after losing 1cm early on - but I have identified two likely causes for this lack of muscle gain:

Not Enough Food

Following the Slow Carb Diet, I barely got over 2000 calories for the day even when eating lots and supplementing with protein powder. To gain muscle I need to be eating in the vicinity of 3000-3200 calories per day. Big difference.

Exercise Induced Headaches (EIH)

I wrote about Exercise Induced Headaches recently after I suffered a chronic headache when pushing on the leg press. EIH is very debilitating, especially when trying to push a workout to failure. I have since rested and made it back to the gym twice but each time I did not quite get to full muscle failure before I had to stop. Obviously this will impact muscle growth.

Overall Conclusion

The Slow Carb Diet works for losing fat, but is difficult for trying to gain muscle at the same time. I will be modifying the diet now to increase my caloric intake (mainly through extra carbs) to assist with muscle gain. Fingers crossed I can keep it from turning into fat. The main modifications I will make is my breakfast meal will now be 4 Weetbix and 250ml of Lite Milk (16g protein, 4.3g fat, 52.7g carbs) and try to supplement the diet with "good carbs" through the rest of the day until I reach 3200 calories.

I will reserve my judgment on Geek To Freak until I have had a better run with pushing myself to failure and have worked with my modified diet to reach the desired level of intake.

Update (2/2/11): You can now read the 6 week wrap-up of my 4-Hour Body journey in this article.

Exercise Induced Headaches (aka Exertion Headache)

Exercise Induced Headaches (EIH), also known as exertion headaches, are terrible pulsating headaches that appear very suddenly, most commonly during intense exercise (and during orgasm). The pain is so intense and they occur so abruptly that they have been given the nickname of "thunderclap headache". For me, the pain originates in my neck at the base of my skull and seems to pulsate to the beat of my heart. Sounds like fun doesn't it? Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and I am not giving medical advice. I am a sufferer of EIH and am just collating my information. If you are suffering headaches then I always recommend visiting a doctor first.

What causes Exercise Induced Headaches?

Sadly, my research has failed to find a definitive answer as to what causes EIH. Some of the proposed reasons I have read include: pushing your body too hard, unlucky genetics for migraine sufferers, not warming up, dehydration, and poor technique during exercise. Let's look at each of these:

Proposed Theory 1: Pushing too hard?

I have recently started a high-intensity training program which involves me pushing myself to the point of failure in my weights routine. That is, I push until I could not go any further even if my life depended on it. But thousands (maybe millions) of people around the world follow this concept, including my most dedicated gym friends, without EIH.

Conclusion: Nope.

Proposed Theory 2: Unlucky genetics for migraine suffers?

The fact that the causes of migraines are still relatively unknown, or at least vary from person to person, causes immediate skepticism but I also have doubts based on my own migraine experiences. I contribute many migraines (mine included) to stress and anxiety and while some people may argue that pushing until muscle failure causes stress on the body I think it is a weak link at best.

Conclusion: Maybe.

Proposed Theory 3: Not warming-up enough?

My first occurrence of EIH was around 2007. It was during my gym routine (chest press to be precise) which started with 30 minutes cardio and stretching. Needless to say I was quite warm when it happened.

Conclusion: No, no, no.

Proposed Theory 4: Dehydration?

I drink lots of water. An average day for me is in the 2-3 litre range while at work, and then more when I exercise. During my first occurrence of EIH in 2007 I was drinking 1 litre of water throughout each workout. However the latest occurrence (Jan 2011) I may have been dehydrated so I wont completely rule this out yet.

Conclusion: Doubtful.

Proposed Theory 5: Poor technique during exercise?

I love my sports and exercise but I have not been much of a gym junkie. My first venture to the gym was 2006 and was mainly because I wasn't playing any sport at the time so I wanted to stay active and keep fit. Same again for 2010/11. So I am a relative muppet when it comes to weights. Sure I have done the research, read up on technique, and watched the pros, but is that enough? Probably not. Combining that with the fact that I have never had an EIH while playing sport makes me believe it is my poor technique at the gym that is the main culprit.

Another compelling argument for this is my lack of strength. I am naturally thin ("built for endurance" I was told in school) and my muscles are slow to develop, so when busting out weights at the gym I believe that my body compensates by using muscles other than the target areas to help.

Conclusion: Likely. 

Orgasm/Sex headaches: The end of the world.

The news for EIH sufferers gets worse - it can happen during orgasm. I could probably handle getting the odd EIH at the gym, but appearing in the bedroom is a no-no. Sex is a wonderful thing and to have it ruined by a such a suddenly severe pain in the back of the head is just not cool.

My conclusion is that while headaches do occur during orgasms they do not create EIH but will aggravate an existing condition.

Interestingly, I never have this problem unless I have recently suffered an EIH at the gym. Some people think it is the exertion involved in sex that causes the headache and in their case maybe they are right. But my conclusion is that while headaches do occur during orgasms they do not create EIH but will aggravate an existing condition. For me it can even happens when I "ride the unicycle" which is not a very intensive physical activity.

Even with my conclusion that sex was not the cause, it is the very occurrence of an orgasm headache which sealed the deal and made me go see a doctor.

What my Doctor Said

My doctor's explanation was pretty simple. He said that through the neck runs big blood vessels (and nerves) that connect to the brain, and during certain activities (i.e. exercise) we can strain these blood vessels just like we can strain our muscles. When we have a particularly large strain in our neck we will often get headaches, most notably when we have large quantities of blood pumping through the area at high speed. Doubly so when the area is under tension. Which sounds very much like what occurs during high-intensity exercise and orgasms.

It made sense to me, and just like when straining a muscle, the recommendation was simple - rest. He recommended two weeks complete rest (no gym, no sex) to let the blood vessel recover from the strain. I followed his advice and sure enough my headaches were gone, but so was my confidence at the gym.

How to Beat Exercise Induced Headaches

I am not going to let EIH win. I want to be able to push myself to failure at the gym (because that is when you get the biggest gain from your muscles) without fearing another explosion of pain in my head. So here is my laundry list of things to do in order to overcome EIH:

  1. Visit a doctor, preferably a specialist;
  2. Assess blood pressure and make adjustments if necessary;
  3. Rest again before recommencing weights workout;
  4. Daily neck relaxation exercises;
  5. Practice correct breathing technique during exercise; and
  6. Focus on only using target muscles and relaxing everything else.

I will provide a progress report in a few weeks. In meantime, if you are an EIH sufferer then my heart goes out to you and if you have any tips, tricks or information that you think helps then I would love to hear from you.

Update 15/06/11: I took a little longer than a "few weeks" but I did manage to write a progress report on my EIH and how I beat it. Check it out here.