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Entries in body fat (12)


Why is it harder to stay lean as you get older?

Like lots of people, I was considerably leaner in high school and college during my more athletic years.   Many of us who were high school and/or college athletes reminisce about how much better we looked, or how difficult things have now become to keep the same weight or "fit into my old jeans", etc. 

A common reason (or excuse) is the theory of metabolic slowdown that occurs as we get older.  Certainly there is a degree of validity to this.  However, a recent blog post I discovered makes things much more simplistic than complicated reduction in our respective metabolisms.

Rusty Moore of Fitness Black Book basically outlined a factor that is so simple, it's the last reason we consider when wondering why our waist lines were more trim during our teens and 20's - we were much more active back then.

I won't restate all of the article's points here so that you feel compelled to read through the original.  However, in a general sense think about how much more physically active we were as younger people, compared to our adult selves.  Or, said another way, think about the drastic reduction in our activity once we become everyday "office workers".

We wake up - drive to work or ride public transportation - sit at a desk or conference table for 8-10 hours - commute back home while sitting in a vehicle - then usually eat dinner and sit down once again in-front of the TV, computer, or possibly a book. 

Where is the physical activity?

In high school and college, you walk to and from most classes.  Chances are, if you're reading sites like mine, you were some sort of an athlete in the afternoons as well.  Two hours or more of sports practice or games 5-6 days per week.  Or maybe if you were fortunate enough to grow up in an environment that made it possible, you went  swimming at the lake or surfing at the beach, or mountain biking, or spent time hiking. 

No wonder we could "eat whatever we wanted"and still look like a shirtless underwear model  (or bikini model for you ladies) without even putting thought into complex factors like diet, counting calories, carb cycling, etc.

While it's a largely unavoidable fact that being an adult, and part of the working world means that the bulk of our time belongs to our company and will be spent in an office or behind a desk.  But it's up to you what measures you will (or won't) take to counter-balance this unavoidable slowdown in everyday physical activity.

Obviously joining a gym and getting some exercise either in the mornings or evenings (or even during lunch) is one easy fix.  If money is tight and you can't swing for a gym membership, you can find other ways to increase your "NEPA" (Non-exercise physical activity)like going for long walks, bike rides, workout DVDs (think P90X or Jillian Michaels), or even simple steps like choosing the furthest spot in the parking lot, choosing stairs over elevators.  Another idea I tried last year was 10-20 pushups and prisoner squats every time I leave my desk for any reason during the work day.

As Carolina Panthers' head coach John Fox is fond of saying, "it is what it is".  Adult life in the working world can drastically reduce opportunities for recreational physical activity, however it's up to you to take steps to fight back against "fitness atrophy".


Return of the Six-Pack: Getting Back Into Shape For New Moms

A month ago, a friend from work gave birth to her first child.  She's a former college athlete, so with a few weeks left in her pregnancy she was already lining up her game plan for getting back into shape.

"I've gotta get my six-pack back again!" she said one day.  Well I like fitness challenges, so I was quickly motivated as well. 

Losing the pounds that accumulate on a woman's body during pregnancy is obviously tough.  Adding to the challenge is the fact I'm a man and almost nothing about the complexities of the female anatomy post-pregnancy, however I've never had a problem consulting with people smarter than me to learn something new.

I assembled a "Dream Team" of the fittest moms I know and elicited their wisdom, feedback, and collective experiences after they gave birth to help my friend put a long term plan in-place that will help get her back to her "old self". 

Comprising my Fit Mom Roundtable: a former Division I college field hockey player, a former college soccer player in the ACC, and two fitness instructors/triathletes.  Clearly they know their stuff, but their shared experiences mean even more since they are "regular people".  What I hope to do below, is aggregate what I've learned from them (as well as some other sources) in the hopes that in-addition to my friend, some other new moms can help collect the tools to either reclaim their lost six-pack - or find the one they never knew they had!

 Doctor's Clearance

Also known as "Step One".  The Most Important.  Without this step, forget about reading the rest of the article until you've consulted a physician.  Hopefully it goes without saying, but there's no such thing as a plan to get back into shape post-pregnancy until you've been cleared by your doctor.


This was an interesting finding for me, since if you've spent any time on my site you know that I place a premium on nutrition strategy for athletic performance, body composition/fat loss, and overall health.  I was unaware that a new mom's diet had such a major affect on their baby due to breast-feeding.  Odds are that if you're a new mom reading this, there's nothing you can learn from ME about breast-feeding (and the subsequent effects of your diet), so I'll try to stay in my lane and stick to things I know something about.

Once your focus shifts to your own nutrition for your plan to get back into shape, many of the same dietary strategies that would help keep you lean under normal circumstances.  You'll want to do many of the same tactics like cutting back (or eliminating) those white starches like pasta, breads, pastries, and a few heavy dairy sources.  A shift (or continued focus) towards lean proteins, healthy fats, and moderate-to-low carb sources is the way to go.  Good news that there is no need to "re-invent the wheel" when it comes to dieting to lose pregnancy pounds.

As you have probably already learned the hard way, meal time becomes much less structured with a new little one controlling your schedule 24 hours-a-day.  As my friend Jessica (former Div. I college field hockey player) pointed out, "grazing" (snacking on healthier foods throughout the day) is one way to keep your diet pointed in a positive direction even while the baby's appetite takes precedence over your own.

"I became a grazer and would grab a protein and/or dairy source as a snack whenever possible (nuts, yogurt, cottage cheese, slice of meat, etc.). I kept berries and spinach on hand and would grab a handful here and there throughout the day."

Jessica makes a great point that gets overlooked too often, if you keep good snacks handy, that makes it much less likely that you'll gravitate towards the "wrong" type of snack while you're trying to get back in-shape.


I'm a big fan of setting goals for fitness, both short-term and long-term.  In this situation, the short-term goals need to be moderate, and the long-term goals need to be LONG-term.

The consistent response from my Fit Mom Dream Team was that their recovery time spanned from 6 weeks to 2-3 months, and even then, the first few workouts should be kept to some brisk walks of 20-30 minutes. Another good strategy (that solves two tasks at once) is to invest in a solid baby stroller that allows you to burn a few calories while getting the new baby outside the house for a little while.

Once you get past that introductory stage and can truly begin focusing on your legitimate fitness goals, scale weight is OK however it's only one factor in the grand scheme of returning to your old self (or even an improved version).  You'll know once certain clothes begin to fit again, so those things will take care of themselves.  But with regard to fitness goals, once you are able to get out and jog for 15-20 minutes, perhaps it's time to target a 5K run in the next 1-2 months.  No worries about what the stop watch says, just focus on finishing and being involved in the competition aspect.  Once you get moderately close to your old self, maybe you set a much longer term goal like a half-marathon or sprint-triathlon in the next calendar year.

Stephanie, a personal trainer/triathlete (and mom of two) here in Charlotte had the following advice for new moms:

"The cross training that triathlon offers is fantastic, and I would recommend it to everyone.  Having goals is a huge motivator and really keeps you on track with your training.  Every workout has a purpose, so it eliminates repetitiveness and boredom that so often occurs when people 'just lift weights'."

 The Power of Routine

One of the biggest consistencies I found from the new moms was that their own workouts and bodies are now a distant second to the needs and care for their new little baby.  That's obviously a good thing, however there does come a point where Mom needs to avoid neglecting her own health and fitness too.  Still, workouts need to fit into the overall family schedule, so time flexibility is paramount.  Rather than fall back on the sometimes valid-yet-insufficient reason of "I don't have enough time", you must MAKE time somehow.

  • Gather with other new moms you know and pick a time to meet and push the kids in the stroller together. 


  • If you've got a gym membership, print a group fitness class schedule and pick 4-5 classes per week that you'll attend like clockwork.  See if the gym or YMCA has a child watch facility where you can drop the baby for an hour and jump into a cycle class or total strength/organized cardio class.  Odds are you'll become attached to the group setting and probably meet a few new people along the way. 

Mary Dare is another of the great fitness instructors (also newbie triathlete and mom of 3) at the Charlotte YMCA and she said the organization of the group exercise schedules plus child care was a huge pillar of her post-baby fitness plan:

"It takes time getting used to new schedules, and I think routine is important. Everyday, we went to the Y at 9:30 for an hour. This was my hour to myself, and fortunately, the YMCAs have great childcare. I scheduled all appointments around that time. Obviously things come up sometimes, but 4 out of 5 days we were there. Once my children were in Child Watch, I could focus on my hour to work out."


  • If your husband also likes to work out, do like my friend Jessica and set a "your turn/my turn" rotation with Dad.  If you watch the baby on Monday while he works out, on Tuesday it's your turn.


The point is, MAKE time and make getting your workouts a part of your regular schedule somehow.  Even if you can't go for a long jog or swim like you used to, a brief but intense session can still get the job done.

 Celebrity Mom Perspective

While there are some celebrity new moms who spend 3-4 hours in the gym with their personal trainers, there are still quite a few that incorporated the same workout and nutritional philosophies that will give a "regular" mom the success she's looking for.  One online article I found illustrated that several big names found success by using similar dietary tactics that I outlined above:

Jennifer Garner, Kate Hudson, Elizabeth Hurley and Catherine Zeta-Jones all lost their post-baby bodies by following a diet that is low in carbohydrate-based foods (breads, pastas) and high in protein (fish, chicken, lean beef).

Jennifer Garner, mom to one-year-old Violet, tells People magazine, "It took me a long, long time. I just wasn't that motivated. I wanted to play with her. Then I got on the treadmill, stopped stuffing my face and lost the weight. I cut out croissants, bagels and muffins -- all the good stuff. And went back to having a salad once a day and protein."  David Kirsch, supermodel Heidi Klum's trainer, tells Access Hollywood that the best way to lose the bloat is to cut down on "starchy carbs" like dairy and fruit for two weeks.

Workout philosophies varied among celebs (as they do among the rest of us) - Jennifer Garner and Gwen Stefani were big fans of higher intensity running, whereas Gwenneth Paltrow was more into moderate activity like yoga.  Jada Pinkett Smithwas a bigger fan of higher intensities like interval circuits and resistance training to work off her baby pounds (which is what trainer/triathlete Stephanie recommends by the way). Pro Volleyball player and Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walshlost 36 pounds by consulting with other athletic moms like Mia Hamm and Gabrielle Reece for advice.


I saved the final key finding for last, since it seems to be the most important.  You can't rush back into your fitness plan 100% without allowing for a few set-backs and injuries along the way.  All of these aspects are important in their own way, but starting slow builds a solid base for more advanced training.

My friend Amy (half-marathonner and mom of two) was an ACC soccer player who went head-to-head with future Olympians at practice every day, but even she had to set moderate goals when first starting out.

"When I started walking I would take the baby out in the stroller just to get fresh air for the both of us.  And then depending on how I was feeling/healing I would either increase the length of time or if I was feeling too sore afterwards, then I would take off  a day or so, and then next time slow down.  It really is trial and error."

Kerri Walsh acknowledged the difficulties of remaining patient in her interview:

"They're like: 'It's possible.  Just give yourself time and be patient,' " Walsh said to the Times. "Which is truly the hardest part, being patient.  I want to be fit yesterday."

Trainer/triathlete (mom of two) Stephanie also echoed the importance of resisting the urge to do too much, too soon:

"I went back to work 6 weeks after giving birth and I think that's when I started working out again.  Lifting weights and light sessions of aerobic training.  I was determined to compete again in triathlons for the next year. I wanted to start running again and get a really good foundation of winter training on my bike (I rode on my trainer indoors).

  I probably did too much high intensity training too soon and paid the price with a  lot of injuries.  I was forced to scale back on my training and go about it in a smarter way.  I hadn't giving my body enough time to recover from the pregnancy and child birth, and it was retaliating!"

The odds are that your body will let you know what it can and cannot handle once you begin activity again.  The key is to listen and slow down when your body is asking for recovery time.  Set realistic short term goals, and keep the longer-term goals far enough in the future that you allow for a few minor setbacks along the way.

If my Fitness Mom Dream Team can illustrate anything, it's that with realistic planning, flexible scheduling, smart nutrition, and perseverance, that six-pack that you've been missing will return again one day.

Just be smart and persistent, and it might be sooner than you think.


Fitness Spotlight: Regular People (vol. 2)

I thought I would take a break from supplying Fitness Spotlights on the "stars" of the sports/fitness industry and highlight some regular every-day people who have done inspiring things.  Technically, this is volume 2 highlighting regular people since KathEats is considered as the first installment.

My friend Carrie started her weight loss journey on New Years' Day 2010.  She did the right thing by taking a two-pronged approach to weight loss, not only did she aspire to become a more fit person through sweat equity (ie: workouts) but she enlisted the help of Medi-Weigh Loss Clinics to discuss a better approach to eating and nutrition.

To climb on the soap box for a brief moment, it is almost heart-breaking to see so many people each week who clearly want to change their bodies but think they can continue eating poorly and "sweat it off".  Carrie's results just reinforce the proven axiom that diet amplifies positive weight loss results from exercise.

In addition to Carrie's new disciplined approach to nutrition, she became a regular at our group fitness classes at the Dowd YMCA in Charlotte.  I was proud to see her hesitantly step into one of my classes (fearing she wouldn't be able to cut it) and then power through the whole thing after a couple sessions.

I won't spoil all the details of Carrie's story, which is detailed here on her great blog, but in less than six months, she's lost over 30 pounds and dropped 10% body fat as well. 

I met Carrie through her boyfriend, who is an old high school football teammate, friend, and general all around great guy (he's also a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert).  We're all tremendously proud of her progress and success, and hopefully her story can serve as motivation and example for countless others with the same goals.


How do I get lean? Part 3 - Intermittent Fasting

Today I started a dietary adjustment called Intermittent Fasting (we'll refer to it as IF moving forward).  There is a TON of information available through Google so I'm going to stick to the broad strokes here. 

 In simplest terms, IF (as used and coached by Martin Berkhan) consists of 16 hours of fasting, with an 8 hour "eating window".  Most people completely freak out when the topic of fasting for fat loss (or cleansing for that matter) comes up, so I won't spend time trying to dispel any of your previously-held concerns or fears.  What I'll stick to here is (1) sharing some of the information I've found on the topic (2) the points of interest I've discovered and (3) my plan. 

Here are a few points to consider when you either think about (or immediately dismiss) IF as a tool in your plan to get lean for the summer.

 1 - There are cleansing benefits to small-to-moderate periods of fasting.

Since I am not a scientist, I won't attempt to boil down the mountain of evidence and studies to this point.  I'd invite you to perform your own Google search on keywords like "fasting health benefits", "fasting detox", and "fasting+colon+intestines".

2 - It's not unheard of for active people to remain active during periods of fasting

I never considered this originally, but many times of active people inadvertently go through periods of Intermittent Fasting while still remaining active.  Surfer Laird Hamilton awoke me to this fact when outlining his training habits and diet on an episode of "Insider Training" on FitTV.  Paraphrasing, he basically said that he only has a shot of espresso before leaving the house in the mornings before his surfing and mountain biking.  He said that digesting food requires energy from the body (true) and whatever foods he attempts to scarf while headed out the door for training won't be absorbed by the muscles fast enough to be of use anyway.

I also have a marathoner friend who told me she rarely eats anything before hitting the road in the mornings as well.  She places a much greater emphasis on eating a nutritionally substantial dinner the night before. 

In this same context, think about young teenage athletes who play hours upon hours of basketball during the summers without stopping for a PowerBar or a protein shake.  I also recalled my own experience as a college football player when breakfast would be at 7-8am and I wouldn't have a touch of food (save for a few gulps of Powerade) until close to 5-6pm that evening.

3 - Psychologically, IF is easier than grazing.

 I have tried nearly every diet and fat loss "philosophy" out there.  Many are more similar than they are different.  But the one consistent between IF-style philosophies like Eat-Stop-Eat and The Warrior Diet when compared against the traditional 5-6 meals per day grazing philosophy is psychological ease.  When I've been focused on "portion control" and monitoring the amount of calories in each individual meal, things are not as difficult as one might think.  However there is a substantial difference in the mental relaxation that comes with knowing I can (within reason) forget about meal size during my 8-hour eating window. Silly example, but I don't have to weigh a "handful" of almonds to make sure it's cut off at 1oz.  I don't need to measure each peice of salmon or chicken or cup of oatmeal.

4 - Calories in vs Calories out STILL matters

        This is perhaps the MOST important point, and needed to follow the points made in #3.  One of the biggest mistakes people make in any diet philosophy (low carb, low fat, Atkins, Warrior Diet, etc) is that periods of fasting mean they can throw all regard for caloric intake out the window.  I made this same mistake with my first trial of the Warrior Diet.  I forgot what is perhaps the first rule of dieting for fat loss - calories in versus calories out ALWAYS matters.  If you are eating more than your body needs, you won't lose weight.  You will possibly gain weight.

5 - Food choices still matter

This shouldn't be a necessary point to make, but I'll make it anyway.  You'll get much further in your quest to have the body you want when eating clean foods (lean proteins, tons of vegetables/fruit, healthy nuts, seeds) versus junk food with lots of white starches, sugars, fried things, and artificial elements.

There are a number of other sources available online that can help you educate yourself about the benefits of intermittent fasting, both for fat loss and overall health.  Rather than re-word some of the writings myself, I'd rather steer you to sources like Martin Berkhan's Leangains website that have helped me tremendously.  Pay attention to the sections about topics like leptin (basically the hormone that serves as the thermometer for your metabolism) and fat mobilizing hormones epinephrine and norepinephrine.

 As for my approach each day, it will look something like this:

5am-12noon - Fasting

12pm - some combination of almonds, sunflower seeds, grapefruit, apple, salad, green beans

2pm & 4:30pm - same as above (goal is less than 1/2 of daily caloric amount)

6pm - Workout and/or group fitness instruction

8pm - Largest Meal: salmon or chicken, brown rice, blended protein drink with spinach/berries

Tomorrow is day 2 in my second trial with IF, I'll be sure to log progress and follow-up with successes, failures, and key learnings.


How do I get lean? Part 2 - Zero Carb Diet

From the Atkins craze, to the Ketogenic craze, lots of people have found immediate success with "zero carb" diets.  Now in reality, it's close to impossible to consume ZERO carbs since many foods have trace carbs in them, but for the sake of this post I'll speak in real generalities.

It is definitely possible to get leaner and lose body fat with a Zero Carb diet.  The problem is that this sort of eating approach is only meant for the short-term (ie - prepping for a photo shoot or bodybuilding/figure competition, last-minute beach vacation prep, etc).  This sort of eating approach is not meant for long-term success without VERY close monitoring and periodic-to-frequent refeeding of surplus carbs and calories.


Now that I've gotten the disclaimer out of the way, back to the original task.  A zero carb diet is fairly easy to implement (the challenge is sticking to it).  You basically center your meals around protein (think anywhere from 1.5-2x body weight per day) and green vegetables.  That's basically it (besides your standard multi-vitamin and probably some fish oil caps during the day).

I've both studied and tested this philosophy myself several times and actually noticed it during a recent UFC Primetime episode to hype the St. Pierre-Hardy fight.  The week before the fight, cameras followed Georges St. Pierre into a Montreal restaurant where his nutritionist was preparing one of his meals.

 His chef, Jennifer Nickel explains: "I do this for Georges Monday through Friday, three meals a day.  We've done two fights so far with him, and we will cook for his weight cut in exactly this style - absolutely no carbs, or sugar, or dairy so...it gets a lot more strict.  The only fat in this meal is the olive oil."

St. Pierre sat down to a pretty good looking meal of grilled tuna, sauteed asparagus, and mixed diced vegetables with what looked like citrus flavoring.  Clearly the zero carb plan is working for GSP, both aesthetically and athletically, since he went on to beat Dan Hardy by unanimous decision on Saturday night. 

Everybody doesn't have a professional chef to make their zero carb meals (I know I sure don't), but compliance is still possible.  Fitness model Jamin Thompson recently underwent a zero carb phase for about 3-4 days to prep for a photo shoot.  He kept those of us interested in such things updated on Twitter:

@jaminthompson: Day 2 of "no carb"...not bad so far, just had ground turkey, steamed cabbage, green beans, & flax...now off 2 train legs. LETS GO!

 You can see how well the results worked out for him here.

There are plenty of resources available online about temporary zero carb diets.  Lyle McDonald is another well-studied resource, having written a book on to topic.  I actually tried his "Rapid Fat Loss" diet which is also termed a "Protein Sparing Modified Fast".  I made a few mistakes with this diet, not realizing two key points:

1 - It is very easy to over-train.

I didn't realize that recovery can be slowed by zero carb dieting, so it's important to reduce cardio and/or allow for rest days from resistance training.  MMA Nutritionist PR Cole made a great point on Twitter:

@FueltheFighter metabolic rate is slower if there is a cal deficit-that can mean suboptimal recovery rate/potential for compromised immune fxn

2 - It is important to "re-feed" within 4-5 days, if not sooner

At some point, the body will need carbs again, at least in my experience.  That doesn't necessarily mean a gorge-fest on pancakes and bagels, the refeed can still be clean complex carbs like oatmeal, brown rice, and sweet potatoes.  The amount of carbs and length of the refeed can be complex, and there are numerous sources and strategies available with a Google search.  But in general terms, refeeding with a substantial amount of carbs (preferably stretched over a day's worth of meals) is important after such a severe restriction.

I'll be traveling to Indianapolis for the NCAA Final Four this week, so my hope is to stick to a zero carb diet while I am there.  There will be lots of hotel, restaurant, and hospitality party food available, so my goal is to take down as much chicken, steak, shrimp, and vegetables as are available.  I can't guarantee I won't slip up "accidentally", but at least there's a goal and plan in-mind.

I'll let you know how it goes.