Making the case for Going Green

I’ve recently picked up a book by Rich Roll, called Finding Ultra, and it provided me with the push I needed to explore what a plant-based diet has to offer. In the past I’ve experimented with a Paleo diet and for some time I followed the strict version thereof with good results. Before delving into the ‘why’ of following a plant-based diet I’ll share a few thoughts on dieting in general.

The first is that no two bodies are the same and what works for one is not necessarily going to work for the other. The second is that you should not blindly listen to or follow any health guru or expert. Do your own research, experiment with different food types and protocols. Listen to your body, it’ll tell what works and what not.

Then be clear on the ‘why’. If you can’t convince yourself why you’re doing something, you’ll give up on it. That simple. If you are going to make such a change you are guaranteed to be met with resistance and even ridicule. Funny how all your junk food eating friends (and even family) suddenly become nutritional experts the minute you mention you’re going vegan…

I have three big reasons for experimenting with ‘going green’. The first is that I’m constantly seeking to maximize my athletic performance, stave off the onset of illness and disease, and ensuring optimum long-term wellness for myself and my family. It’s about living healthy for me. I’m a long way off from finding ‘my ultra’ but I’m trying to and at the moment, relishing the challenge.

The second reason is about changing habits. I have many bad habits that I’d like to get rid off and if I can succeed in changing the way I eat, it’ll give me the confidence and courage to change the way I live. Altering habits (eliminating the bad ones) is the first step in creating a sustainable and stable foundation for long-term wellness. It’s about becoming better (not only fitter).

The third is that by going green I contribute to making this planet better. And without boring you with statistics and data, chew on this: The population is growing and we’re not doing a very good job in feeding all the mouths. Our methods are not sustainable and they’re seriously harming Mother Earth in the process. Every day you take your animal products off your plate and replace them with plants – not only are you immunizing against the many chronic lifestyle diseases, it saves (on average) an extraordinary 1000 gallons of water, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 pounds of CO2 equivalent and one animal’s life. That’s something worth doing – at least I think so. (Animal agriculture is the the number one culprit when it comes to almost every man-made environmental ill on the planet. It accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector combined. It accounts for 91% of Amazon destruction. I can go on, the stats are alarming…it’s responsible for mass extinction and buggering up the ocean. Ok, I’ll stop there.)

Following a plant-based diet does not have to be complicated. If it’s overly complicated it is not sustainable and trying something you can’t sustain is pointless. In short, eat plant-based whole foods and stay away from processed food. Look to eat all kinds of plants. Every meal, all the time. All colors and sizes and as simply prepared as possible. Try to eat organic and opt for locally produced when possible. There’s a million books on this, get your hands on a few of them and follow the advice with regard to recipes and shopping lists. It’s easier than you think. Oh, and if you’re an athlete and worried about protein, you don’t need to be. The research has been done, there’s ways to manage that and the info is available and free of charge.

When I switched to eating plants this happened: Meal prep and cooking time were greatly reduced. Chopping up an avo, a couple of tomatoes and adding veggies like oven roasted butternut and beetroot took mere minutes, leaving me with more time for reading, exercising etc. Sunday lunches used to be a big thing in our house. A leg of lamb would be placed in the oven, cooking for hours on end. Preparing Sunday lunch literally took the whole morning to do. Now instead of standing guard in front of the oven we can actually get out of the house and go do stuff.

Plant-based meals are cheaper to prepare than meat-based meals for example. I live in a country where chicken is considered a vegetable. People here eat meat, and lots of it. Not buying meat has greatly reduced my grocery bill.

I lost the last few stubborn pounds I could not get rid off while eating meals that included animal products. Weight loss was not my greatest motivator and neither should it be yours but running and swimming, and even biking is just so much easier without carrying any ‘excess baggage’. Granted, I’m training harder and longer than ever before, but I’m sustaining it on a plant-based diet. Power increased while weight decreased. The benefits are obvious and more importantly I’m feeling good. A recent visit to my internist confirmed what I was feeling. Reduced cholesterol, reduced uric acid, higher levels of ‘good cholesterol’ etc. Point is I’m fitter, healthier and stronger than ever before. And the numbers confirm it – both in terms of athletic performance and medical evaluations.

For me it was and still is much more than changing the food that goes down my throat. It’s about changing who and how I am. It is as much about long-term wellness as it is about becoming a better person. Eliminating bad habits while at the same time eliminating limiting beliefs. It is about taking on challenges I previously thought was impossible to conquer. It is about slowly but surely unlocking the deep reserves of human potential I, and each one of us, are carrying inside of us and speeding up the journey towards becoming the best and most authentic version of myself. So far so good. I dare you to give it a go.

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The Power of Community – an underrated tool

funny-aerobicsThe other day my daughter had to prepare a short talk on ‘spectators’ and their influence on her life. She started off by stating that two is better than one and then went on to describe how we all are spectators of each others’ lives and that merely standing by and observing doesn’t cut it and that it is only when we give something of ourselves that we truly get involved in the game and transform ourselves from passive onlookers to active participants, thereby tasting what life is really about. A proper mouthful for a 16 year-old.

It made me think. On how many roads have I embarked just to be turned around without reaching my intended destination. Dozens, no, more. Now, with the power of hindsight, I’m not in the least bit surprised that on each of those journeys I’ve set off alone.

I won’t bore you with the tearful details of each (perceived) failure but I will say this: Had I embarked on those journeys WITH someone or at least FOR someone other than myself, I would in all likelihood have reached the destination.

The power of community is often overlooked and underestimated. It is especially true if your goal is reaching a place where you’re fit and healthy. Improving your health (and therefore your fitness) requires focused intention and consistent effort. It requires discipline when it comes to making daily choices. What it comes down to is changing habits and as we all know, changing habits is hard. Especially if you’re trying to do it alone.

Being part of a community, or harnessing the power of ‘togetherness’ is a powerful tool. And it is out there, and it is free. Being engaged in community will improve your health – and not just physically. Conversely, isolation will prevent you from becoming the best version of yourself. Alcoholics for example don’t get drunk in groups, they do however try to heal in groups.

Here’s the kicker: Health habits are contagious. For example, if you spend time with people who exercise, you are more likely to exercise. Same with eating healthy. The group you associate with often determines the type of person you become. This does not mean you should ditch all your fat friends. You are not only capable of being influenced, you can influence as well. If you keep healthy habits, friends and family are more likely to follow. Like I said, habits are contagious which means you can have a significant effect on those around you.

It won’t happen overnight however. You will most likely encounter some resistance. Chewing on a carrot while your friends are puffing away will draw the odd comment of resentment. By the way, that should be your sign that just maybe you’re associating with the wrong crowd.

And then there’s the small matter of ‘commitment’. To most commitment does not come naturally, we’d rather opt for the ‘no obligations’ route than be tied up, missing the point that commitment actually gives us freedom. The freedom to be who we want to be because it is only in the confines of relationships that we can let our hair down. Or fart out loud.

There is also comfort in knowing that we’re not alone in our battle to stay on track with our fitness and health goals. And being committed to a group or a couple of friends will cause them to be committed to you, dragging you along even on those days when you’re not feeling up for it.

You need not look far to start forging such bonds. Co-workers, neighbors, friends, parents of your kids’ friends – in today’s world of connections, groups and social media it should be quite easy to find a few like-minded individuals. A great place to start can be your immediate family. It’s a fact that couples who train together, are more likely to stay together so just maybe you don’t need to look any further than your better-half. After getting your better-half on board don’t be surprised if the kids follow suit. You might have started off thinking that you’ll be the inspiration but more often than not you’ll find that once those bonds have been established, you’re the one that is inspired for once you are surrounded by others who are just as committed to ‘loving thy neighbor’ as you are, you become the recipient of that ‘love’ as well as the giver of it. And only then will you transform yourself from a passive onlooker to an active participant in the joyous game we call ‘Life’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magic of the EMOM – and keeping fit after 40

Don-t-count-the-minutes-make-every-minute-countI’m 44 years old and still like to think of myself as young and strong (I have a beautiful daughter and still need to be young and strong!). And that is hopefully the case for most of us 40+’ers still keen on being fit and healthy.

It’s not always easy though, to tailor whatever advice is out there to your specific needs. Take high-intensity training for example. For the last couple of years high-intensity training was and probably still is, the preferred training method for getting the best results in the shortest period of time. The advantage of going flat-out is well documented and of particular interest is the fact that it burns a lot of calories quickly.

There are a few pitfalls to consider before embarking on a high-intensity training regime and the first is your level of fitness and your ability to master the fundamental movements. If you’re unfit (overweight) and have poor mobility, you should sacrifice intensity and prioritize form. In other words, don’t ramp up the intensity if your form is going to go for a ball of crap. You’ll likely end up hurting yourself.

Secondly, there is no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to fitness and health. Just because high-intensity worked for someone else, following that exact same regime is not necessarily going to work for you. Your body will respond differently to high intensity training than a 20 year-old for example. You’ll require different recovery protocols than an elite athlete and you’ll probably need to ease into it gently.

A third thing to consider is that high-intensity training is not only physically demanding, it also takes its toll mentally. Pushing yourself into that ‘deep, dark place’ during every workout will drain away your motivation to get up and repeat the process. If workouts are no longer fun odds are that you’re going to quit sooner rather than later.

Enter the EMOM – an abbreviation for every minute on the minute. It is a CrossFit staple and something I find more and more useful every day. It works like this. At the start of each minute you perform a set number of repetitions of a particular exercise and after that you rest for the remainder of that minute and so on…

EMOMs allow you to be creative in a number of ways. Firstly you can choose a time domain suitable to your level of fitness. Just starting out you can for example kick off with a short and sweet six minute EMOM of 8 air squats and 8 sit-ups. By the end of six minutes you would have banked 48 reps (24 squats and 24 sit-ups), meaning you just lapped the guy on the couch.

You control the intensity. Say you’ve breezed through your 6 minute EMOM, the next time you could up the reps and up the minutes. Going for say, an 8 minute EMOM of 12 air squats and 12 sit-ups. Equating to double the number of reps (96) of your previous workout, taking you only two more minutes. You get the idea.

You can easily keep tab on your progress. Making progress is a great motivator for sustaining effort. By adding minutes and reps you’ll be able to get more and more work done in a measurable period of time. You can always add weight and keep reps and time the same for exercises performed with ‘objects’. EMOMs make it easy to measure things such as reps performed, training time, weight etc. Again, you get the idea.

And then there’s the mental side. Compare having to do 50 pull-ups followed by 50 burpees for time, with having to do a 10 minute EMOM of 10 pull-ups (odds) and 10 burpees (evens). Most people can’t do 20 unbroken pull-ups let alone 50. Nobody will be licking their lips for having to grind through 50 burpees. To put it bluntly, workout 1 sucks while workout 2 seems doable. Doable because its broken up into bite-size chunks. I’ll jump up for 10 pull-ups knowing that it’ll probably take me 20 seconds thereby rewarding me with 40 seconds of rest before having to do it again. I’ll be much less enthusiastic about jumping up for 50 pull-ups knowing full well that I’ll probably fatigue by rep 20, fall down from the bar, not likely to be jumping up to complete the reps anytime soon. Go ask any guru how to eat an elephant and they’ll tell you ‘one bite at a time’. EMOMs make a seemingly impossible task seem manageable and if you perceive something to be manageable you’ll be up for it.

Truth be told, the possibilities are endless. You can do a different exercise every minute (on the minute), or you can do the same exercise for every minute. You can take a 5 minute breather between EMOMs and do a couple of EMOMs thereby burning a significant number of calories in a relatively short period of time. Training in, or with EMOMs are highly productive and from an injury perspective much safer than just going for it until you drop. It’s even fun.

Next time you’re dreading the prospect of completing a challenging workout, set the timer and work your way through it minute by minute and get it done.

LifeFit – The type of fitness we really want

happyScientists and fitness fanatics alike have long struggled to define “fitness”. At first it was a purely physical thing. You strap something around your chest, jump and down or go for a run and the “device” will tell us whether you’re fit or not. This conclusion would be reached with reference to things such as VO2 Max, resting heart-rate and how wide your nostrils open when chased by a polar bear. All purely physical parameters.

Nowadays lines between fitness and health have become blurry. And thank goodness for that. You can’t really have the one without the other. If you’re physically fit chances are you’re healthy as well. And if you’re doc is satisfied that you’re healthy you’d at least be able to take the dog for a walk which bestows upon you some sort of fitness.

Physical fitness on the other hand, warrants a discussion on its own. Who’s fitter? The Kenyan that can run until the sun comes up or the body-builder that can bench-press a house? Greg Glassman would argue that neither one is fit. The one has loads of endurance and stamina and the other lots of power. The Kenyan can’t pick up a bag of dog food, having sacrificed power and strength for stamina and endurance while the body-builder can’t run around a track without life-support.

Glassman argues that there are ten physical ‘skills’ and that you’re only as fit as you’re competent in each of the ten skills (stamina, endurance, power, speed, strength, balance, agility, flexibility, coordination and accuracy). According to this the heptathlete would be fitter than Usain Bolt or Tom Walsh. I tend to agree.

What then would it mean to be LifeFit? Or fit for life? If fitness means to have some form of competence in each of the ten physical skills, LifeFit would mean to be that plus having some competency in the ‘other’ skills required to navigate life’s choppy waters. Putting up with your mother-in-law for a month requires endurance, even flexibility, just not the physical type. Mental endurance and flexibility are required. Helping an elderly lady carry her groceries across the street takes some form of physical strength but also a certain resolve or attitude. Same with pulling out a chair or opening a door for your wife. Without the necessary coordination (physical attribute), your plan to build ‘credits’ can have the opposite effect. It requires an awareness.

Glassman’s list of physical skills is exhaustive. I can’t think of any other physical skills I’d like to add to determine or define physical fitness. The list of the ‘life-skills’ are not so clear-cut but here’s mine:

  • love (I know, sounds corny but love always wins – just ask Morrie);
  • joy
  • peace
  • patience
  • friendliness
  • kindness
  • faithfulness
  • humility
  • self control

Like Glassman, I’d argue that your happiness will only be determined with reference to your competency in each of the above ‘life-skills’. Improvements in coordination, agility, balance and accuracy comes about through practice. Whereas improvements in endurance, stamina, strength and flexibility comes about through training. Power and speed are adaptations of both practice and training.

Likewise, improvements in patience, friendliness, kindness, faithfulness, humility and self-control comes about through practice (and a bit of training) while love, joy and peace are the result of ‘adaptations’ of such practice and training. Go out in traffic and practice not to boil over when a taxi changes lanes without warning. Go stand in a queue in the bank and offer your place up for an elderly. Buy a cup of coffee for the person standing behind you in the queue. So many everyday situations can become your training ground. And training those skills will improve them.

Here’s an example. Next time your mother-in-law shows up uninvited, take a deep breath (patience), count to ten (more patience), smile (friendliness), give her a hug (kindness), tell her she looks wonderful (more kindness, friendliness, even humility), invite her in, offer her a cup of tea, listen to her stories. Easy, all of the above ticked. Love, joy and peace may not manifest immediately after she finished her cup of tea but your credit-rating will sky-rocket filling you with a sense of peace and even joy! And your wife will love you for it.

Improve your ten physical skills, improve your fitness. Improve your fitness, improve your health. Improvement in health will necessarily improve your life-skills. You’ll have more energy to engage in the activities that really matters. You’ll be able to mentally endure situations that would otherwise have caused you to have a minor seizure. You’ll have the discipline to go out and practice patience, friendliness etc. All because you feel good about yourself. If you feel good about yourself, you’ll be able to give more of yourself (which is nothing else than honing your ‘life-skills’).

The idea is to be fit for whatever life throws at us and the easiest first step towards achieving it is by getting off the couch and to start moving.

 

 

Losing 8 kilograms in 80 days, eating right 80% of the time

scale

First let me start by saying this: A scale can only give you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. It cannot measure fitness, beauty, purpose, talent, possibility or strength. The number staring back at you should never be an excuse for you to be miserable. My latest mission, to lose 8 kilograms in 80 days, eating right 80% of the time, comes from me not feeling “well”, a fact coincidentally confirmed by a bathroom scale.

A two-pronged plan

Losing weight starts in the kitchen and not wherever it is that you get sweaty. You can’t out-train a bad diet. It’s simply not possible. I’ve tried really hard and failed – every time. Besides, going for a run with a hangover is not fun. So, step 1 would be to clean up your diet.

The second step would be to get moving. Don’t get too hung up on a training program or fitness regimen or anything that resembles a routine. Your motivation will wane, you will miss a workout, you will start beating yourself up about it and eventually you’ll quit. New Year’s resolution down the drain. We all know the feeling. Don’t go there. Go easy on yourself.

It is not about the numbers

Forget the 8 kilograms in 80 days. That is simply my target because I know where I want to be and when I need to be there. On the other hand, keep that “80% of the time”-thought in the back of your mind.

We are not pro athletes. We are moms and dads (with social lives) that are never going to train like maniacs all the time. Even less likely is eating 100% right, 100% of the time.

My “This week vs The next week” approach

I started my “8-80-80 mission” on the 23rd of July. The week before I did zero workouts. In fact I haven’t done anything resembling a workout in more than 6 weeks (and promptly added 6 kg to my frame). On the 23rd of July my wife and I started from scratch. We did a CrossFit workout in our garage. That in itself made that week a better week than the previous one.

During the previous week (and weeks before that) we had a glass (or two or three) of wine every evening. By the time we got into bed on Thursday evening (of week 1) we haven’t had a single glass of wine and we completed three workouts. Progress.

Friday was a bit of a train smash, so much so that we did not do a workout on Saturday. On Sunday we went for a run which made us feel better about Friday night’s party. The week ended with 5 “clean days” and 6 workouts. So, compared to the previous week we made giant strides!

I recommend keeping a “little black book”. Log your meals and workouts (no great detail required). All you want to do is to measure progress. If you had a slice of cake on Monday and you don’t have one the next Monday, that’s a step in the right direction.

My Training Plan

For the duration of my eighty-day challenge I plan to move every day. In my book, a long walk counts. So if you’re not up for a rigorous workout, take your dog for walk or go kick a ball with your son.

My first two weeks looked like this:

  • Monday 23 July – Starting weight 84 kg
    • CrossFit (50 min)
  • Tuesday 24 July
    • CrossFit (50 min)
  • Wednesday 25 July
    • Walk-Run-Walk (4 Rounds of Walk 2 minutes, run 4 minutes)
  • Thursday 26 July
    • CrossFit (50 min)
  • Friday 27 July
    • Indoor rowing 7km (30 min 52 sec)
  • Saturday 28 July
    • Woke up with a monster hangover (Wife’s birthday) – did nothing
  • Sunday 29 July
    • Went for a walk-run-walk on the golf course (35 min)

Keeping in mind my “80% of the time” don’t-be-too-hard-on-yourself buffer, I was extremely happy with my week.

Week 2 (The idea is to improve on week 1) – Starting weight 82,2 kg

  • Monday 30 July
    • CrossFit (50 min) Upgraded from a 20kg kettlebell to a 24 kg bell
  • Tuesday 31 July
    • Indoor rowing 7km (29 min 55 sec) Shaved nearly a minute off the previous week’s time
  • Wednesday 1 August
    • CrossFit (50 min)
  • Thursday 2 August
    • Walk-Run-Walk Same workout as on Wed 25 Jul, went 1 km further in the same time and added 100 Kettlebell Swings
  • Friday 3 August
    • Try and behave tonight

The notes in red alert me to the areas where improvement is needed. The notes in italic is where I improved. As long as I’m not screwing up more than 80% of the time, I’m happy. Same goes for my “diet” (I hate that word, what you should be aiming for is instilling healthier habits so that it becomes a lifestyle as opposed to “following a diet”). As long as I’m eating clean 80% of the time I’m happy. By eating clean I mean eating real food as opposed to processed, packaged stuff.

Real food (a topic justifying an in-depth discussion) in short, is anything that is whole, fresh and unprocessed. Goodies that your great-grandmother would recognize as food. A chicken, a vegetable, a nut, a fruit, an egg – you get it.

I’m weighing 81,7 kg heading into the weekend…would dearly like to keep it there.

You can follow my 8-80-80 journey here and if you have any questions you can contact me via this blog.