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I started a strength cycle today. It’s a 4 week cycle that I’m going to do in 5 weeks. I’m going to do the first week twice in order to get used to the movements. Big 24 is heavily focused on snatches and overhead squats, two lifts that I haven’t been doing much. This week is helping me lock in the moves and get my body ready for the heavier weight that starts next week.


I’m in my early 30’s. Among my college buddies, almost all of whom played one sport or another at school, the shakeout is clear. Either they’ve stayed in shape, or have gone very soft. There is no in between. I am the first who has managed to noticeably move out of the “soft” category – though I’m not what I would call “in shape”. The change is obvious enough that friends and colleagues have started to ask me what I’m doing and what I’m eating.

Billy asked me a couple of weeks ago what I was up to. I told him about eating paleo, plus dairy since I’ve got the genes for it. I ran him through the general health effects of grain, sugar, and seed oils. I told him about Mountain Athlete, kettlebells and olympic lift fun, but told him that in my experience, diet was key.

“No cereal? What do you eat in the morning?”. Eggs and bacon. Lots of tasty tasty bacon. Billy’s on board with bacon. But Billy couldn’t get over the no pasta thing. He just couldn’t.


So I told him he could eat anything he wanted at home, as long as he cooked it from scratch. If he was out at a restaurant with clients, as his job often requires, meat, fish and veggies only – whenever possible make the meat grassfed, the fish wild, and the veggies organic. Easy enough at fancy “client dinner” restaurants.

Billy: So I can eat pasta then when I’m at home?
Me: You got a pasta roller?
Billy: No, but I cook the pasta.
Me: Does pasta grow on a tree or a bush? Does it swim or run around?
Billy: Don’t be a jackass.
Me: Well, if what you’re eating doesn’t do those things then it isn’t from scratch, now is it?
Billy: How do I make pasta?
Me: Flour, salt, egg – mix it, knead it, roll it out a few times, cut it, then boil it. (we’ll call flour “from scratch”)
Billy: That’s a pain in the ass. Screw it, I’m having steak.

The “Cook It at Home, From Scratch” Diet idea isn’t mine. It’s cribbed from comments made by Harry Balzer right at the end of Michael Pollan’s latest article in the New York Times:

“Easy. You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”

Harry Balzer isn’t some elitist diet guru. He works for a firm that collects d

ata on what Americans eat. That data is used

by the food industry to get you to buy more processed food. As Pollan’s article describes, the definition of the verb “to cook” has degenerated to the point that putting a tray in a microwave defines cooking for an alarmingly large portion of Americans. Adding the qualifier “from scratch” squares the definition of “to cook” with your grandmother’s. I suspect that is how Balzer is using the verb.

I think there are two reasons why “cook it at home, from scratch” is a great way of introducing the paleo diet to people who aren’t ready for the whole “grains and sugar are the devil” routine.

First, cooking food at home that falls under the definition of paleo is generally quick and easy. Cooking food that falls outside that definition usually takes a long time. Billy’s reaction to making pasta is instructive.

Almost everyone has the 5 minutes it takes to cook up a couple eggs in the morning. Very few people have the 45 minutes it takes to cook up oatmeal or the 30-50 minutes it would take to make muffins. Almost everyone has the 15 minutes it takes to oven roast a piece of pork tenderloin with asparagus after work (and really total prep time is closer to 5). Very few people have the hour or more it takes to knead pizza dough, wait for it to rise, make your own tomato sauce, prepare toppings, shred cheese and then bake the pizza.

Second, once folks are dealing with “from scratch” ingredients on a regular basis they will start to care about the quality of those ingredients. Over time, they will get a good sense of what tastes good and what doesn’t and migrate to local and traditionally farmed foods, even if they don’t understand why the Omega 6 / Omega 3 ratio of their meat matters.

I don’t think this is a perfect solution. But in general, in today’s time constrained world, “cook it at home, from scratch” gets you to 80% paleo.

That’s pretty good.

Today is the last day of the six week work capacity cycle (that actually took me 8 to complete).

Next I’m dropping into Rob Shaul’s “Big 24” 4-week strength cycle.

For the rest of the week.
Thursday: Vibram acclimatization drills, Pose running drills, short run.
Friday: Big 24 I – going light, focusing on form.
Saturday: Long Bike Ride
Sunday: Rest or Hike.
Monday: Start Big 24 cycle heavy
Tuesday: Vibram acclimatization drills, Pose running drills, short run.

Just a 3.75 mile run at a decent pace (29:30 something = 7:50 something miles). That’s what I needed for a “rest” day between gym efforts.

A lot of folks will tell me that I’m wasting my time running. That cardio is incredibly mode specific. Here’s what I know: The purpose of my training is to be able to skin up a mountain for about 30-40 minutes at a time. So, an aerobic effort of the same length with some incline is probably a good idea. Not perfect, but not useless either.

I do plenty of interval stuff in the gym (tomorrow is going to be killer). I know that there is a lot of research out there that strongly supports the use of interval training. However, I also know that very little of what passes as interval training in the gym or in a fitness setting is done at the necessary intensity or frequency to elicit the endurance gains found in a study setting. Likewise, the science has been done for short training periods (4-6 weeks). We don’t have hard evidence that these short-term results replicate over the long-term. (See Lyle McDonald’s discussion here for more on this). So that’s why I still run. Soon I hope to be doing all this running in my Five Fingers, but my lower leg and ankle strength isn’t there yet.

Almost. They didn’t say so, but if you follow their new sugar consumption guidelines you’ll almost certainly have to.

The AHA advocates a “heart healthy” diet that is anything but. It’s loaded with “healthy whole grains” and is likely thrombitic, promotes inflamation, raises triglycerides, raises small dense LDL, and probably raises the levels of oxidized LDL. For a detailed explanations of the science check out Dr. Stephan.

This is why today’s Wall Street Journal article titled “Sweet Surrender: Sugar Curbs Urged” is so surprising.

The AHA is setting its sugar consumption guidelines at 100 calories for women and 150 calories for men. That is drastically below what even “health conscious” Americans consume. As the article points out, a 12 ounce soda has 130 calories and six teaspoons of sugar have 100 calories. Although not mentioned explicitly, the examples the AHA gives imply that they are treating high fructose corn syrup and sucrose interchangably.

At first glance you may say, so what? The AHA is telling people to cut out sodas. What’s so surprising about that? To understand why these guidelines are so dramatic let’s first run through a daily menu that the AHA would approve of:

Bagel, Fat-Free Cream Cheese, Glass of Orange Juice

– Sandwich of Whole Wheat Bread, Low Fat Turkey, Low Fat Mayo, Honey Mustard, Lettuce, Tomato


– Pasta, Tomato Sauce, Low Fat Parmesan Cheese, Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls and Low Fat Frozen Yogurt for desert.

Everything in red has added sugars. If you went with whole grain pasta instead of regular, that may well have extra sugar in it as well. By the time you’re half way through lunch you’re already over the 100-150 calorie limit. Note that I haven’t included any snacks, sodas, juices, sports drinks etc… This is an incredibly bare bones diet. I know of very few people who could eat a bagel for breakfast and not be incredibly hungry before lunch. Likewise, a turkey sandwich is not going to tide you over till dinner. You’re not going to feel sated and you’re going to crave food from mid-afternoon on. If even this spartan high carb / low fat diet puts you way above AHA’s new the sugar guidelines,  how can you get under the 100-150 calorie/day limit?

For all intents and purposes you have to drop processed foods. Everything that comes in a box or a jar and says “low fat” on it almost certainly has added sugar in it to make it appetizing. The AHA just said to stop eating almost everything most Americans think is healthy. That’s a dramatic change even if it isn’t being touted as such.

Ok, so what does that have to do with a high fat diet?

The logic is as follows. If you have to avoid processed food you have to avoid almost all highly concentrated carbohydrates. The physical volume of unprocessed carbs such as steamed rice or potatoes, and unprocessed proteins, fruits, and vegetables that you would have to eat to get your required calories is enormous. Most people could not physically eat that volume of food. Where else can you get concentrated calories? Fat and a lot of it.

I will run through a concrete example tomorrow.


 (needless to say – straight from Mountain Athlete – videos for things like “mini leg blasters” and “sean specials” can be found there)

Work Capacity (short – 10 minutes)

Warm up: 5 Rounds 

Row 250 M

5 X 1-Arm Clean and Press


(1) 5 Rounds – For Time
 = 17:33
Mini Leg Blaster

5x Pull-ups for Men/ 3x Pull-ups for Women
 (I’m a girlie man, and did 3)
10x Push-ups for Men/7x Push-ups for Women

15x Sit-ups for Men/20x Sit-ups for Women

(2) 5 Rounds

5x Clean and Press (Start at BBC starting weight, increase load each round until 5x is hard but doable)
 Started at 65, went up to 85
Sled Push
 (replaced this with 10 box jumps, I usually push a sandbag on the basketball court floor, but court was in use)
10x Back Extensions

(3) 5 3 Rounds

10x Weighted Sit-ups

5x Ab Roller
 (I did it on my knees)
Modified Sean Special

This was a good long workout. Cut the last part down to 3 rounds instead of 5 because the gym was closing. For the timed part, I cut the 5 rep pullups to 3 because I simply couldn’t have finished 5. I was down to singles by the last round as it was. There’s something about doing pullups when you’re breathing heavy that’s downright destructive.

My time for part 1 was a bit slow. 17:33. It’s good for me to do these and just get a time down. I’m going to do a strength cycle next and then repeat this work capacity cycle to see where I stand. I’m sure I’ll see improvement. If nothing else the cuts I’ve made in my diet will mean that 4-5 weeks from now I should be 10 lbs lighter. On exercises like jump lunges and pullups 10 lbs matters. Hell, just cutting down to my target weight of 185-190 is a full 20-25 lbs less to move. It seems strange to think that I’m doing all these workouts as if I had a 25 lbs weight vest on.

Reading this article in the New York Times was infuriating at first, and then simply depressing. I’m not sure why an article from two years ago is linked from their “Health” front page, but most people who read it won’t notice and think it’s much more recent.

The tagline of the article was promising: “For the Overweight, Bad Advice by the Spoonful”. And here I thought, finally, we’re going to hear about how eating lots of sugar and grains is probably not a good idea.

Not so much.

Instead, the article devolves into a hodgepodge justification of set point theory and gives the strong impression that once we’re overweight there’s nothing that can be done. I find it an incredibly unexamined article quoting doctors who are not asking questions like responsible scientists should.

Here are some gems:

Scientists recently have come to understand that the brain exerts astonishing control over body composition and how much individuals eat. “There are physiological mechanisms that keep us from losing weight,” said Dr. Matthew W. Gilman, the director of the obesity prevention program at Harvard Medical School/Pilgrim Health Care.

Well, yes, “physiological mechanisms” mean hormones. If hormones are the issue then have you thought about how you can change the expression of the hormones that keep humans fat once they are fat? Is it too crazy to expect a scientist to ask the question: “We know that X leads to a result we don’t want, so what are the things that can affect X?”

“The meals we romanticize in the past somehow leave out the reality of what people were eating,” he said. “The average meal had whole milk and ended with pie…. The typical meal had plenty of fat and calories.

OK, so you’re talking about a meal from the 1960’s then? Well, this “typical” meal with its fat and pie kept the average American thinner than the current recommendations, with lower incidence of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, despite higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption. Wouldn’t that lead you to believe that the problem is with the current recommendations and eating habits? Wouldn’t it lead you think: Maybe there’s nothing wrong with whole milk and a little bit of pie. Wouldn’t it make you wonder how much milk and pie was in that meal? Maybe as a scientist you would go look at your grandmother’s plates and cookware to get a first impression of serving size before doing more research. Wow, that baking dish is really small compared to what’s standard today. Wow, that desert plate is tiny in comparison to the one you have at home. That typical meal probably only had a third of the pie you thought it did. You better try to find hard data on serving size and meal composition. Maybe you should take a look at what we ate 40 years ago that we do not eat today and vice versa? Hmmm…

Personally, I don’t think the typical meal from the 60’s is a great way to eat. However, we know the epidemiological outcome was better than the how we eat now. Isn’t that fact alone enough to scrap the current dietary recommendations that have driven people to low fat diets and processed, low fat food? Isn’t that enough to ask fundamental questions about where the science went off the rails? Wouldn’t a statement like “The typical meal had plenty of fat and calories” make you think that if it had lots of calories and lots of fat and didn’t cause people to balloon like whales then maybe, just maybe, where you get your calories from is pretty important? Oh, and where you get your calories from affects those “physiological mechanisms” that the doctor was talking about before. Hmm….

I will however, agree with the following:

“People don’t know that a 20-minute walk burns about 100 calories,” said Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, director of the weight-management center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “People always overestimate the calories consumed in exercise, and underestimate the calories in food they are eating.”

This is exactly why the effects of your food are so important. If you feel sated because of the hormonal triggers the right foods have set off, you stop eating, so you can rely on exercise for all its other wonderful benefits.

It’s incredibly frustrating that the supposed “paper of record” would publish such a shoddily researched article. Imagine if the NYT’s Washington office reported on a government program that for 30 years had led to nothing but failure. What if the journalist only talked to those experts that thought the program was the only thing that could be done to solve whatever problem it had been designed to address. Naturally, the journalist would get laughed out of the editing room. Not so when it comes to their health reporting.

Ran about 4 miles – my guess is at about a 8-8:30 mile pace. Easy enough. Wanted to get my legs moving after yesterday’s 100 Curtis Ps. Honestly, I didn’t feel sore enough today. I could have gone faster and/or heavier.

After several days of hobbling around on very sore calves and resorting to swimming, pushups, and kettlebell swings – I finally got back in the Mountain Athlete groove.

Today’s workout – 100 Curtis Ps for time. My time and weight was 37:34 at 55#. Let’s just call it “room for improvement”. The goal for me was to finish, tough it out and set a marker that I can compare subsequent efforts to.

To give you an idea of how far I’ve got to go, the strength standards for men for this workout are 55% bodyweight in 30 minutes.

I weigh 207 right now, so that would mean completing the session 7 minutes faster and with 60# more weight. At my 190# target bodyweight I would be looking at 50# more. I’ve got a LOT of work to do to get there. This session will be a monthly test, adding 5# each month until I make the standard. By next spring I should have it!

On Sunday I decided to go for a run. It looked beautiful outside and I figured “why not”. Rather than go with the running shoes I tried the Five Fingers. I’ve used the five fingers for sprint practices and such, but never for longer runs. Despite only running 20 minutes, I woke up the next day with incredibly sore lower calves. So I’ve been hobbling around instead of doing the Mountain Athlete workouts. Yesterday I threw in an upper body strength day. It felt weird going to the gym and doing just static lifts. Today I’m still deeply sore. I have been doing a lot of myofacial release with a foam roller and a lacrosse ball along with plenty of stretching. Good news is I can tell I’ve turned the corner and didn’t actually hurt anything. Today I’ll swim 25 minutes or so and then tomorrow I should be back on the ball.

Lesson learned – it takes a long time to condition you lower legs, ankles, and feet to run in Five Fingers. Since I walk around in them all day I thought I’d be fine. Not so. From now on I’m going to have to add a short jog at the end of all my workouts so I can condition my lower leg, ankle, and foot muscles.