I hope y’all are well. The past year has just gone by in a blur and I’m already a month late in getting this yearly training update out. If you are not aware, I started a yearly recap of my training, chow and related topics a number of years ago. You can find the previous installments here:
Looking back it’s interesting to note that not a ton has changed over the years, but the places that have changed have been pretty important. Before we jump in, a few disclaimers/contextual pieces are in order so we have the proper ambiance:
1- This is my story, it’s likely different than your story. (but you might find some useful tidbits anyway).
For some reason evolution selected for humans to be tribalistic and quick to slot things into black/white good/bad categories. There is a tendency to look at what other folks are doing, see what we assume to be “success”, and then adopt that process like a religious crusade.
This is, without doubt, human nature…but it’s something we’d likely do well to get a handle on. My point here is just because what I detail here is working for me, it does not mean it will work for you. Nor should it be held up on some kind of pedestal as “Truth.” There MIGHT be some fundamental lessons in this missive and process that may apply to more vs fewer…but I’d be cautious in attaching that kind of gravitas to this.
2- My Goals and “Why?”
Given the amount of information we all have at our disposal, just about ANY advice to do “X” vs “Y” should really be accompanied by the following:
1- Context. Where are ya, what are ya up to?
2- Goals. Where do ya want to go?
Absent context, and really specific context, looking at anything from dietary to financial advice just seems silly. It’s “all sail, no ruder.” All that considered, I’m going to tell you my context and “why.” As you read through the rest of this I’d recommend putting the information through YOUR filter built from context and “why.”
My context: 46 YO dad, husband, and “health educator.”
My “why”: I want to live as long as I can with the caveat that those years are healthy and productive. I want to do this so I can see my kids grow up, hopefully meet some grandkids. I feel like I have some important work to do in the big picture of sustainability and healthcare, I need to be around awhile to make that stuff happen. Mixed into that I want to get as good at Brazilian jiu-jitsu as I can before I take my final dirt nap.
My sense as to a path to all this:
-Avoid chronic degenerative disease (for as long as I can). This means keeping my metabolism as youthful as possible, clinging to enough muscle mass to stave off the ravages of time, remain mobile enough that I can actually get around and do the stuff I want to do.
-Look good enough such that my wife will still sleep with me.
Ok, with all that out of the way we can get down to the good stuff!
If you have followed previous updates or the podcast you will likely know that I’ve been tinkering with how to properly fuel my BJJ with something akin to a ketogenic diet. Why am I doing that? I tend to have (for me) fantastic cognition while in ketosis. I don’t suffer low blood sugar, if I need to go a day without eating it’s no big deal. I HAVE had a bit of challenge maintaining a “low gear” for grappling while following a traditional KD in the 20-30g of carbs per day range. I KNOW some people are able to do this. I also know some folks are at about this level and then adding in 10-20g of glucose source prior to training. I’ve tinkered with these approaches, but for me I’ve found something interesting: If I match my carbs to my activity I seem to perform better AND still maintain a mild state of ketosis more often than not. Depending on training volume and intensity I may do 75-150g of carbs, and here is how I chunk that up:
1- A BIG breakfast. In following Bill Lagakos’ work on circadian biology and our tendency to be more insulin sensitive early in the day, I do a morning meal with as much as 1600 cals and perhaps 40-50g of carbs. This is eaten around 7-8am, and as often as I can I try to get out in the sun in and around this time. Even in the winter Reno can be quite sunny. I’ve posted some photos of sitting on my back porch in nothing more than my skivvies with an ambient temperature of 19*F.
So long as there is no wind and I’m getting direct sun, it’s not too cold. I’ve always “tried” to get out in the sun as much as possible, but I’ve become borderline neurotic about it and I’ve got to say, it’s AWESOME. Productivity, happiness…it’s all better. I seem to be more carb tolerant and the early food seems to “settle” my high-strung AM self. Reducing cortisol? Initiating parasympathetic response? Not cure, but I feel better. I tend to do BJJ anywhere from 11am-1pm (depends on the day, and I also do my lifting or conditioning at this time if not rolling).
If the session is on the earlier side, I may do a BIG lunch (matching total cals and carbs based on my daily training…it could be another 1600 cal meal) and a very lite dinner. If the session is later (wrapping up at say 2-3pm) I may just fast until dinner and do my chow then (usually dialing carbs down a bit regardless of volume/intensity), or I may do a “supper” right after training and then not much beyond some kimchi or veggies at dinner. If I lived alone or did not have kids, I’d always eat after training and then just fast until the following breakfast. Given that I do have kids and mealtimes are important for the family, I tweak things a bit. In general I’m doing some kind of front loaded intermittent fasting/time restricted feeding most days, but I’m not neurotic about it. If life demands some flexibility, life gets it!
I’m following this process for two reasons:
1- Bill (and others) have made a pretty compelling argument to just try it. There are some reasonable mechanisms for why this might be a smart way to slice and dice my eating (better insulin sensitivity earlier, playing to circadian biology).
2- I’ve liked the results.
Now, I know a lot of folks do somewhat the opposite of this process, pushing “breakfast” to noon or later, perhaps back loading carbs to later in the day. Is this “bad?” I really don’t know. There are a lot of things to consider here. There is research that suggests folks who eat this way have a relatively blunted insulin sensitivity compared to the earlier feeding.
We do also seem to get some marginal benefit from time restricted feeding, mostly due to just being tough to overeat, but likely some legit upsides beyond this (debatable, but possible).
For social reasons, convenience and a number of other factors, eating cals later in the day may be easier. MUCH easier. If eating early and skipping breakfast creates marital strife and strains family or social bonds, it that really a win?! When we surveyed many of you, some of the greatest challenges involved social situations and compliance…so anything that makes sticking to a generally whole foods diet easier (vs raiding the junk food aisle of the supermarket) is good. Like I said, if I had a different social context I’d have two meals per day, big breakfast, big lunch, done. As it is I’ve massively front loaded the calories compared to three squares, and it’s debatable how much additional benefit I’d get anyway. I suspect it’s pretty small if at all. So, instead of being totally neurotic about my timing, I’m just a bit neurotic and have run with what is both easy and has improved how I look, feel, and perform.
Just a wee-diversion:
I receive a lot of questions about fasting, autophagy etc. It’s a fascinating topic and fortunately, there is a lot of research underway. Some research suggests longer fasts (3-5 days) are particularly beneficial for autophagy, which may have a host of health benefits due to cellular recycling. That’s awesome exciting stuff…so how often should YOU do 3-5 day fasts? I have no idea. Again, there is a lot of context and nuance here. I have kinda cooked myself in the past doing training and fasting, so it makes me nervous in some ways. Here are some things to consider with regards to health and longevity:
1- Just figuring out how to NOT overeat is likely the biggest win possible. In animal models of calorie restriction the main benefit of CRAN appears to be protection from the typical crappy lab-chow fed to these critters. The analogous story for us is staying out of the snack aisle, eating perhaps 2 meals per day most days. Dodging hyperpalatable foods is not the easiest thing to do, but I could make a case that this will provide 90% of any benefit we’d like to see from diet, almost regardless of macronutrient composition.
2- There are a lot of things that promote autophagy and health that we can do besides fasting. Good sleep, exercise, coffee consumption, and perhaps just a little ketosis and or time restricted feeding ALL enhance autophagy and have some decent literature supporting their healthfulness. I can do these pretty much every day and I don’t have to worry about cooking my HPTA axis by trying to exercise and fast. I try to hit BJJ as often as possible, so this just seems to work better for me. Do I ever do longer fasting? Kinda. If I get super busy I may not eat a whole day. Rare, but it happens. I DO tend to fast while traveling, particularly if I have time-zone changes. That fasted state lends itself to establishing a new circadian set-point at the new location. So, a couple times per month you can hear my stomach growling a bit while sitting on an airplane. All in all, this is easy and seems to support my goals. For you, fasting might be a great idea, I’d just keep in mind we can do a lot of things daily that support the mechanisms of what that extended fast theoretically provides.
Before I forget: I weigh about 170lbs, I get ~120-150g of protein most days (occasionally I’ll do a super low protein day…maybe 30g…I drop this in randomly and actually like it) 75-150g of carbs (fewer on travel or really sedentary days) and the rest fat (total calorie load can vary more than 1,000 on a sedentary day vs a day when i do 2 hrs of rolling…So I have a big range there)
This thing is gearing up to be a book, but there is an important topic peripheral to chow that I need to mention, which is gut health. I suspect some of my carb intolerance has historically been due to some niggling gut issue.
I did extensive testing and got back what looked like mild SIBO (which did not surprise me) and some likely fungal overgrowth (which DID surprise me). I followed some pretty complex protocols to deal with both of these issues, and after a lot of supplements, weird poos and other strange things, my digestion is…better. I’ve tended to be on the “loose” side of the Bristol stool chart for about 25 years. This is much better. My blood glucose seems to be better, and here is an interesting one: I think my gluten sensitivity is better! Over the past 20 years I’ve just taken it as granted that I’d get some kind of a gluten cross contamination while eating out, particularly while traveling (which is another reason why I tend to fast while traveling).
Over the past year I have not noticed ONE instance like this. The obvious thing to do is pressure test the system and just grab a cookie or beer and see what happens, but it sucks when I get a gluten dose…If I’ve “just” managed to get myself healthy enough to not be poisoned while eating out…I’ll call that a major win. There is precedent for this in the literature: some kids with celiac were given a fecal transplant. A remarkable number of the kids no longer showed celiac pathology upon gluten challenge.
Some gut bacteria CAN degrade gluten to a degree that it is largely benign (or not so nasty.) It may be this is what happened. I’ll keep y’all updated as time goes on, but it makes a case for continuing to explore options if you have any health concern. I did not obsess about my wonky gut, but I also did not roll over and accept defeat. As I’m writing this I’m realizing it could be a number of things coming together in a favorable way: more sun, more early sun, improved gut health, more happiness, less stress. The gut protocol could be all, some or none of the changes I’ve had. Just worth noting.
Back in April of 2017 I hit a pretty serious milestone in my jiu jitsu training by receiving my purple belt. For those not familiar with BJJ this might help with regards to belts and competency: One starts with a white belt, after a period of time advances to blue, then purple, brown, and finally black belt. An analogy that works (in my head anyway) is a blue belt is like an associates degree, purple=Bachelors, brown=Masters, black=doctorate/Phd. The internet being what it, is I’m sure some folks will quibble over some nuance of this story, but I think it’s pretty solid and provides some context for folks not in this scene. This was a pretty serious accomplishment for me and it’s just a bit odd to wrap my head around. Historically, purple belts are the folks that just beat the dog-piss out of me (kinda). Although not universal, purple belts have always struck me as being REALLY proficient in BJJ while also seeming to be just a bit…cranky. They seem to like to dish out an ass-whooping, whereas brown and black belts seem a bit more content to “play” if given the right energy. Now, I find myself in the position of being one of these quasi-mythical beings and it’s just kinda odd.
I think I’ve talked a few times about what I get from training BJJ but I’ve had a few more thoughts on that: I DO love it for the “flow state” that I can attain while rolling and drilling. I tend to be pretty cerebral, so anything that turns the monkey-brain “off” is liberating. Right behind the liberation is a really interesting sense of transparency and accountability. One cannot fake nor BS their way through rolling any more than they could Salsa dancing or speaking a language effectively. Despite the gi or rash-guard, one is pretty neked. This is good for me as it’d be easy to stick with things I have decent competency in..that make me look good. I have a small degree of notoriety for the work I’ve done, I’m still half decent in the gym…it’d be easy to stick with that stuff so I have a nice, airtight image. I’ve seen folks do that, and all kinds of ugly mental states emerge from that process, not the least of which is a super nasty flavor of narcissism. Although I’ve made incredible improvements in BJJ, I still suck, I will always suck compared to someone somewhere.
That’s a good reminder and constant daily lesson. Mixed into this lesson of humility however, I’ve also discovered a degree of self confidence and belief that did not exist previously.
Confidence, born of hard work, absent ego (ish), born of love. It’s been pretty powerful.
Although I have made physical progress in the past year for sure, I have to say the greatest improvements for me have been mental. I’m thinking about starting a side-blog where I can prattle about some of this stuff, so if this is of interest to you, keep an eye open for that.
I try to train as often as I can. Most weeks this is likely 3x, although it can range from none to 5x in a given week based on work demands, kids, etc. I usually get a few scheduled classes per week, one private (working mainly on takedowns, although that varies), and then I try to organize some open mats with folks who are game to do positional drilling. If there is one thing that has improved my rolling the most it’s been the drilling emphasis vs just live rolling after a few reps of “the technique of the day.”
My coaches, Scott and Andrew at Guerrilla Jiu-jitsu in Reno, have been incredible…they put an enormous amount of thought and planning into what they do. You can tell when someone has been thinking about curriculum vs showing up, doing an armpit fart as a warm-up and then pulling something out of their backsides.
I continue to get incredible value from Henry Akins Hidden Jiu Jitsu program. It is absolute gold. I have to admit to some degree of trepidation at recommending Henry’s work as it is enough of an advantage that I’m not sure I want everyone to know about it! That said, Henry is an amazing guy and the world really does need to get a perspective like his on the art of BJJ. I’ve also learned that no matter how much I suggest that folks check this material out, most will not and for two goofy reasons:
1- Cost. People will balk at the cost of the online materials and seminars. If you can’t afford it, I get it, but how many nights out drinking would it take to get VIP access to his materials? Not many. If you value your time at all you are hard pressed to not make a case for making every training session count. Henry’s program can help with that in remarkable ways.
2- People assume they know this material. With very few exceptions, folks DO NOT know this material. It is not magic, but it is a remarkable amount of details and context. folks balk at this all the time and all i can say is “You do not know what you do not know.”
In the next section I’m going to talk about my strength and conditioning to support my general goals, but strength and “cardio” are interesting in the context of learning what I’d call “good” jiujitsu. Good jiujitsu should (ideally) not require huge amounts of strength or conditioning. If I have to exert some kind of maximal force to make something work, I’m not doing it in an efficient way. If I rely on scrambling to stay always ahead of someone, I’m likely missing an opportunity at efficiency. An epiphany I had this year: If I’m training in a way that I could potentially get OUT OF SHAPE doing jiujitsu…I’m likely doing it right. My main training goal should be efficiency, and efficiency to such a degree that the training is barely a stimulus for me.
That’s an ideal to shoot for IMO. If you are really focused on competition jiujitsu this still applies BUT this is where strength and conditioning can fill an interesting gap (I’ll get to this in a moment). Efficiency is still something anyone in combatives should strive for as it’s something that will not really degrade with time and aging. I don’t want to build an engine or game that I need to completely re-jigger every five years as I physically decline. This is in part why I do not have a ”cloth dependent” game and my gi vs no-gi games are remarkably similar. An added bonus to this is my fingers and hands are not eff’d up from rolling. If you are spending 30 min taping your hands to roll for an hour…yea, you might want to re-evaluate that.
I’ll make an additional case for efficiency by looking at elite Kenyan runners. I don’t follow endurance athletics much but one would have to live under a rock to not know these folks are phenomenal distance runners. There appear to be a number of reasons for this success, but perhaps the most important include both anthropometrics and training which facilitate a high degree of efficiency. If one can save energy, or direct that energy in a highly efficient way, it’s a remarkable advantage.
One final point that is perhaps worth mentioning: The past year I focused almost exclusively on defense. Henry made a point at a seminar that if one can develop a solid defense game it opens up attacks, sweeps, etc as you do not really worry about getting in a bad spot. I still get tapped, but it’s a good bit of work on the part of the brown and black belts to do this…so I’m now focusing my efforts to get solid in my finishes. This was a really enjoyable way to slice all this up (at least for me) and if your ego can handle it, I think this type of focus can pay big dividends.
I got to spend some time with my dear friend and 3rd degree BJJ black belt, Roy Dean. Roy shot some video of us training, check it out if you’d like:
If you have followed previous updates you will likely recall I’ve leaned heavily on the Gymnastics Bodies program, as it hits both strength and mobility work at the same time. I’ve tweaked and modified this over time, largely in response to the demands I face from work and family. The past year I have gone to a remarkably minimalist program that looks like the following:
2 days per week of weights or some kind of gymnastics movements broken up like this:
Day 1- Vertical press/pull (DB press, neutral grip chins for example) and a hinge movement (trap bar dead-lift).
Day 2- Horizontal press/pull (DB press and DB rows for example) and a squatting or lunging movement.
I will get a weight that is fairly challenging for say 5 reps but will only do 2-4 reps in a given set. I’ll rest for 5-10 seconds then do another set. I’ll keep doing this until I get 24-30 reps on the movement, then I move on. This has been super time efficient with all my “lifting” happening in 15-20 min, including a warmup. I then focus a good 10-15 min on gymnastics based mobility work.
This has been fantastic for me…I’m not going to set any records doing this but am (for me) reasonably strong, I’m not bored, and like always, the gym work does not negatively impact my jiujitsu. If you are just starting strength training this may not work for you, as a more traditional set/rep scheme with longer rests will almost certainly produce better strength gains, but for me, it works great.
Conditioning has changed a bit in the past year. Because I am working for efficiency in my rolling I’ve supplemented my 140bpm “cardio” (usually some kind of low intensity circuit) with some anaerobic threshold work (typically on an airdyne or some specific circuits). I think I’ve built a decent aerobic engine at this point, and I find that the harder intervals both feel good and I recover from them quickly. An important point: Although I am pushing this work harder than in the past, my gym sessions are almost never a max effort. If I know I’ll not get to roll a given week then I will get after the conditioning pretty hard. Otherwise, I’m still searching for that “minimum effective dose.”
Hows it all working? I feel as good as I can remember, reasonably lean and strong, I can work long hours when I need to…so far, so good.
Work and Life
2018 marks 20 years of tinkering with “The Paleo Diet” and everything surrounding ancestral health. It feels like things have gone by in a blink. Zoe is now 5, Sagan 3…this is crazy stuff! Turning 46, twenty-years in a career path…it was interesting as an exercise in mortality. When the next 20 years elapses, I’m going to be a lot closer to my permanent dirt-nap and I’ve really been thinking about how to best spend my time, both for my family and for the work I want to do. I remember my parents at this age and they were OLD. I’m grateful that the food and lifestyle choices I’ve made have helped the aging process, as I really do not feel old. Travel can knacker me, I need to be smart about my training, but there is not much I can’t do today that I could do 20 years ago. Conversely, there are many things I CAN do now that I could not previously (that whole skill-set represented by the purple belt).
On the work front I asked a number of you folks what you’d like to see from the podcast and other offerings. There is more information available than ever and I want to make that as worth y’alls time as possible, so I’m bringing back the Q&A portion of the podcast, and to the degree I do interviews it will mainly focus on folks in the cutting edge of research. We have some other projects cooking that are largely inspired by the feedback we had from you folks and I’m excited to roll that out soon.
I had a really interesting development in 2017, and that was joining the Chickasaw Nation in an advisory role for their Unconquered Life Initiative. This is interesting in that it validated my thoughts not only on health, but also insurance, healthcare, community, decentralization, economics, and sustainability. All of these topics are woven together. Hardly anyone is talking about the disparate parts, to say nothing of practical integration of these ideas. I’d not be surprised if when I pen “My training at 66” that I’ll still be working with these folks. The reason why is it will be a systems based approach that addresses the problems we face. If I see folks talk about these topics it’s usually in a highly reductionist way that mises context and integration. It looks a LOT like how symptoms based medicine progressed in the 20th century. I don’t toot my own horn often, but I’m pretty good at synthese and context. Some of the material y’all will see in the months and years to come may challenge you in some uncomfortable ways, but I’d encourage you to hang in, ask questions, and help bring these ideas and programs to fruition. When I first got involved with the paleo diet concept there were perhaps a few hundred people on the planet interested in it. Millions of people now tinker with these concepts, and there are more research studies underway than I believe have been done to date. More on all of this soon.
Thanks for hanging in here with me! I tried to be as thorough as possible, but if I missed anything, please do leave a comment and I’ll tackle that.