So…I am now a rounding error away from 50. That’s, kinda wacky to contemplate, but here I am. I remember my parents at this age and they seemed OLD. The naïveté of youth blinded me to what real age and decrepitude would look like for my parents in a few more decades, but yea, they seemed OLD. Bad food, smoking and little exercise certainly took their toll. I must admit that reflecting back on that process in my parents and extrapolating forward with myself is not a pleasant experience. This is likely a good argument for pulling a bit of Zen perspective into things and just doing my best to remain in the present, and let the phantoms of both memory and future expectations flutter away. In a more concrete way of dealing with the uncertainties of getting older I’m hopeful that what I’m doing with regards to sleep, nutrition, training and lifestyle will put me on a very different path than my parents. Time will tell on that, but part of these yearly updates is an accountability process. Is what I’m doing “working?” And what does “working” mean in the context of more effective aging?
I want to be as active and engaged as I can, cognitively, emotionally, physically, for as long as possible. I want to see my girls grow up and hopefully get to know some grandkids. I want to be there for them and provide the support and grounding I would so love to have if my own parents were still alive. I have a lot of work that I’m passionate about in both the health and sustainability spheres. I may be delusional, but I think I can help to bring about change for the better and the only way I can do that is if I’m firing on all cylinders, or as many as I can keep going!
If you have followed these updates for the past six years you will not see a ton that is new, but at this point the insights come more slowly. Adjustments are generally not huge, but they do add up.
Although I want to be generally strong, fit and mobile (while looking good enough naked that my wife still wants to sleep with me) the primary thing I’m training for is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. This is a tough sport, both physically and emotionally. It’s not difficult to get hurt and for every good day of training where you feel like you are making progress, there are often weeks in which you wonder what the heck you are doing. I could likely make the case that for an exclusively longevity focussed program BJJ might not be as good as say masters track & field, but, for whatever reason, this martial art is about the most interesting physical (and mental) activity I have ever done. I am still focussing the bulk of my time on positional drilling in lieu of the 3-4 techniques, and then live rolling, which typifies all too many BJJ schools. I’m getting pretty close to my purple belt and what I’m finding is I need to have a specific game plan for my drilling and live rolling and then I need to critically assess what I need to improve in my performance. I’m still leaning heavily on what I get from Henry Akins Hidden Jiu-jitsu and it’s tough to describe how enlightening this material is. Henry’s approach is simple, direct and does not rely on attributes like strength, speed or huge amounts of cardio. If you have those attributes, that’s great, but when I think about this process from the perspective of effective aging, I do not want to build a game that relies on my 45 year old attributes. Why? Because I do not want to change everything I do when I’m 50. And 55. And 60. Do you see what the attribute based game looks like? A constant process of discovering your hard won technique no longer works. That seems depressing enough to really want to quit! I want to build a game that is orthopedically sound and that will not require constant re-jiggering to keep pace with aging. I use very few fabric based grips as the folks I see who rely on this type of training end up with seriously dysfunctional hands. Not interested in that. My gi and no-gi games are almost identical. Again, from that aging athlete perspective, do I want to learn 2 things or 20? I try to stick to general principles instead of a laundry list of techniques. I focus on the 20% of techniques that get us 90% of the return we want. I’ve focussed a lot on my defensive game such that I’m reasonably hard to put away now, so I’m just not that worried about being either submitted or in a dodgy situation. I can relax and wait instead of trying to force situations. When I do get into a situation in which I have control, I’m not spazzing out trying to immediately get a submission like a poodle that needs to pee. Whether you do jiujitsu or not I think there is a lot to learn from this approach. With good technique we get the most from our attributes instead of skating by on them.
So, what am I doing to support both jiujitsu and my general goals of remaining fit, strong and healthy? Not a lot has changed from previous updates, but I do have a few tweaks on the themes of low level cardio, mobility and strength work. I am still following the Gymnastics Bodies program and the recent upgrade in how the programming is rolled out has been a real boon for me. The material is broken into Upper body, Core, Lower body and has three days per week of a dedicated stretching program (Front Splits, Middle Splits, and and Back Bend (thoracic mobility)). I am able to do 90% of this material as movement breaks throughout my work day. This is both time efficient and keeps my body from rotting out from under me while I work. The GB program is fantastic for a number of reasons but one biggie for me is the inclusion of mobility work with the strength training. Your progression in the program is predicated on mastery in both strength AND mobility, so I get some great time efficiency and ROI from this program. In addition to the GB work I have two weight oriented training days that I drop in when and where it makes sense. Those days are structured like this:
Vertical press/pull (DB press/chins for example)
Hip dominant movement (hip bridge or RDL)
Horizontal Press/pull (DB bench, plyo-pushups/DB rows or ring rows)
Unilateral lower body movement (lunges to every angle imaginable tend to be my go-to’s)
I use a Bulgarian technique of sorts in that I work up to a “heavy” set of 3-5 reps, then do 3-5 sets at that weight. “Heavy” has a very specific caveat: the movement rate MUST remain fast, and by fast I mean the repetition is a second or less on the concentric phase, with very little emphasis on the eccentric phase. This is likely not a good plan for bodybuilding but for athleticism and anti-aging it has some serious merits. I’m dealing with a reasonably heavy load AND trying to move that weight as fast as possible. This should preferentially recruit the large motor units and type 2B fibers which are the things we lose first with aging. Although this is not likely the ideal way to gain the most amount of muscle, I have gained about 8lbs since this time last year due to consistency and slowly increasing loads. I am (for me) relatively strong in the gym currently and the overall carryover to grappling is good. Rolling with people 40-60lbs heavier than I am is no picnic, but I am rarely if ever just rolled up due to superior weight and strength. I think this is due to NOT relying on my strength (relying instead on the non-attribute game I mentioned previously) but when I do need some chutzpah in the form of strength or power, I generally have it. I’d say 50% of the time I get one of these weight oriented days and 50% of the time I get two strength days per week. I let my schedule, recovery and how I’m feeling dictate the frequency. This is a remarkably flexible way for me to train and each weight session is at best 20-30 min, so it’s not a huge time suck.
On the conditioning side I try to get in 2 days per week of MAF pace “cardio,” usually after my strength days. I know that may not be optimal from the perspective of sending conflicting signals to my system (strength vs endurance) but this is very low-intensity work and I’m not gunning to be an elite strength athlete, so the convenience is worth whatever potential interference I may get from this. I tend to get 3-4 days per week of jiujitsu training but if I have to miss a day I do try to get in a circuit session along the lines of a Fight Gone Bad (5 stations, 1 min of work at each station, 1 min rest after completing the 5 min of work) but I do NOT kill myself on this. The only time I train hard is in occasional rolling. If I’m going to see the White Buffalo in The Sky, it’s grappling, not doing circuits in my cold-as-hell garage. Occasionally I will do an interval session on either the rower or airdyne on a weekend day. I’ve spent the last two years mainly focussing on that low intensity cardio side and I have made good progress there, so I am adding in occasionally harder bouts to push that anaerobic capacity side of things. This strength and conditioning work has produced a decent engine that allows me to train consistently, go hard when I need to, and recover without too much drama, so long as I keep an eye on my total volume and intensity.
Ah, good ole protein, carbs fat! I am, as always, still fiddling with my food, but again, not anything monumentally different, just small tweaks. Back in October 2016 I had the good fortune of attending the KetoGains seminar in Las Vegas. It was fantastic. I learned a ton and have been tinkering with that material a lot. I need to do a thorough review of the seminar and what was presented but here is what I took away:
1-While fiddling with ketosis, I have historically not taken in nearly enough electrolytes, specifically sodium. I thought I was taking in enough, I was not.
2-Although I have not been able to successfully keto fuel things like BJJ or CrossFit, there were folks there who appear to be doing so, but sometimes with caveats. It would appear some of these folks use a targeted ketogenic diet (TKD) for folks who are really hammering the glycolytic activities. What this boils down to is generally eating ketogenic ratios, but immediately prior to a training session an individual will consume anywhere from 10g-50g of maltodextrin or glucose. The theory here is once one starts exercising there will be little if any insulin release and thus this should only briefly take one out of ketosis.
I played with all of this quite a bit and here is where I have settled out: My first meal is pretty low carb. Breakfast is usually at the end of a 16-17 hr fast as we tend to have dinner around 5pm and then I do not eat until 8 or 9am. It’s super easy, I’m NOT training in that fasting period, and if I get really hungry, I just eat earlier. No stress, no drama. I tend to train at noon, be that jiujitsu or weights, so a few minutes before training I have about 20g of carbs in the form of either maltodextrin or the Recover product from PureWOD which is made from sweet potato. After the training session I’ll have “lunch” and will have carbs based on the volume and intensity of my training. I’m in the 75-120g of carbs per day range depending on activity. I have felt REALLY GOOD doing this. And some recent self experimentation has given me some potential insights into how to tweak all of this to best effect.
I did a two week experiment wearing a Continuous Glucose Meter (CGM) and I should have some pretty amazing data from that tinkering. I’m still waiting to get all that information back (which will include gut microbiome testing and a machine learning algorithm which will try to predict what foods I do best with) but one thing I noticed for sure is dense carb sources (rice, potatoes, gluten free bread…even sweet potatoes) eaten at times other than post workout, can pretty easily bring my blood glucose into diabetic ranges. I’ve known this on a subjective level for more than 20 years. Certain carb sources and particularly undo amounts of the same, will make me feel like complete hell. Using this testing I had the ability to see my blood glucose in “real time” as it was measured once per minute and I could record how I felt at these various BG levels. At high blood glucose (above about 120ng/dl) I feel like mierda. Alpha, Omega, done. I had some questions about this on social media and a few folks asked if perhaps I have physiological insulin resistance due to eating lowish carb. That’s a good question but in an effort to avoid just that problem I ate an uncomfortable amount of carbs in the two weeks leading up to this gig. I reduced fat, upped carbs and felt like poo, so I don’t think physiological insulin resistance was a factor. I think i just do better on a bit lower carb level. All in all, I’ve found a pretty good sweet spot with regards to carb amount and timing. My cognition is good, both my high and low intensity efforts are motoring along and I just “feel good.” This may be both a profound insight and a huge “no duh” moment as this really boils down to:
1-Put the bulk of carbs in the pre and post workout periods.
2-Dose carbs appropriate to volume and intensity, while keeping total caloric load at a level that supports your goal, be that maintenance, leaning out or mass gain.
Holy Over Complication Bat Man! I do feel like a bit of an idiot as I’m (theoretically) an “expert” on this stuff and the whole “take carbs around training” is about as basic as one can get but I try to console myself with the notion that if I did not spin out on this topic I’d likely live a life of crime. So, I’ve got that going for me. This is perhaps a good place to talk about a change I have tinkered with that bridges the gap between food and lifestyle and that is a meal delivered program called The GOOD Kitchen that I started using during my book writing and have continued to this day. I have historically prided myself on either cooking all my own food or just “toughing” things out by eating a can of sardines and some nuts. Well…the demands of kids, wife, dog, goats, chickens, book writing, being on the board of directors of a medical clinic…it’s been like a noose slowly tightening. I often times find myself either out of time (I did not cook or there are no left overs for me to take to work) or out of motivation (am I REALLY going to eat another can of sardines!?) Some days you just don’t want a $#@*&%$ can of sardines. So, at my wife’s suggestion (as I was getting damn cranky about all of this) I ordered a set of meals and prepared myself to eat something between cardboard and a “Hungry Man Frozen Dinner.” fortunately, I was really, pleasantly surprised. The GOOD Kitchen meals are not only amazingly tasty, their protein is grass fed, finished and pastured, and the veggies are organic. I keep a few of these in the freezer at my office and if I don’t have leftovers available, I put one of these in a microwave (has not killed me yet) and I have something that is better in both flavor and quality than almost anything I could get from a restaurant.
One niggling feature of my existence which has negatively impacted my life is a long running low back injury. I have a disk bulge in the L4-L5 region that, if improperly managed, can lay me out for days. So long as I stay up on my mobility and trunk-work, things are pretty good, but if I get “too busy” and sit too often, neglect my mobility, particularly my hip flexors, I am begging for problems. When I was wrapping up the editing for Wired To Eat I found myself in a situation in which I convinced myself I was “too busy” to stay on top of my mobility. A jiujitsu class got my back irritated. A sneeze (really) dropped me like I’d been tasered. A friend of mine here in Reno, Carolyn Dolan heard that I was laid up and offered to help. Carolyn is a DPT who is also certified in the Mckenzie Method of back assessment and rehab. I’ve tried just about everything from PRI to crystals and moonstones, so I was not overly optimistic about this whole process. Well, after a thorough movement screen Carolyn suggested a sequence of simple movements which provided almost immediate relief. It’s been a process, but so long as I stay on top of my symptoms, and really work on the exercises that help to (in theory) pull my bulging disk back into place, I do pretty damn well. Sitting too much can still be a problem. Working too much closed guard with 240lb guys can get me into trouble. But now I am paying much better attention to the low level symptoms and just staying religious about my corrective exercises. ALSO. If I am feeling a bit “fragile” I don’t roll, or if I do I pick my partners carefully and I work on things I know will not irritate my back. I’m hoping to get Carolyn on the podcast soon to delve into all of this, but I wanted to mention all this as I know many folks suffer from low back pain and the Mckenzie method might be a good option. It is also a bit of personal accountability putting this “out there” as I’m now on the hook to practice what I preach and not make excuses. There is rarely a compelling enough work deadline that justifies me neglecting my back and ending up in serious pain and disability for days on end. That is clearly NOT playing to my desire to live a functional, strong healthy life. As an additional piece of that accountability story here is a recent pic I did at the globo gym I go to:
There are bigger, stronger, leaner people everywhere I turn, but I’m pretty happy both with my performance and aesthetics. Circling back to my introduction, I do not FEEL old. I need to watch what I eat, mind how I train and not go overboard, but I am not aging like my parents did. Aging sucks, but I suspect there are much less pleasant ways to go about it relative to what I am experiencing.
Thank you for letting me indulge in a bit self accountability and I hope you find these updates helpful. If you have not heard yet, my second book, Wired To Eat is now available for pre-order wherever books are sold and will be released on March 21. Please keep me updated on YOUR progress and as always, I’m here to help if you have questions.
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