Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Don't Go to Bed Hungry!

There aren't too many things I disagree with in the P90X nutrition guide (it lays out a very sensible eating plan in my opinion) but one item that has caused some consternation and may have caused more than a few people to give up on P90X (or at least the nutrition portion of the program) is the advice given on page 7:

"...Try to finish your last snack approximately three hours before you hit the sack. This will help keep undigested carbs from being stored as fat. If you do need to break this rule, a small protein shake would be the snack of choice before bed, as it can help your recovery during sleep."

It is pretty rare to find agreement among all the experts in the areas of nutrition and exercise, so not surprisingly there are a number of dissenters who think the above information is based more on conjecture and myth than on science.

For example, Mark Sisson (who developed the P90X supplements) has this to say about eating before bedtime:

The Myth: Eating after 8 p.m. prompts weight gain.

The Truth: No need to feel bad about those late night snacks! In reality, your body has no idea what the clock reads, so you’re ability to metabolize food will be no different whether you’re sitting down for dinner at 6 p.m. or 10 p.m. What is more important when dining late at night, however, is to eat healthy foods - including lean meats, healthy fats, and plenty of veggies - both to ease digestion and best fuel your body for restorative sleep!

And Doctor Dr. Rob Shmerling says this:

Perhaps you've heard this advice before: Don't eat before going to bed. People most often give this advice to people trying to lose weight. The logic behind this advice sounds reasonable: If you eat and then go to sleep, your body will convert the food you ate into fat rather than using it right away as fuel. Ultimately, you'll gain weight.

But is this true? I have been unable to find any study that specifically asked and answered this question: When total calories are kept constant, does eating at night (whether just before bed or in the middle of the night) lead to weight gain?

In fact, I could find no compelling evidence that eating late at night or just before bed matters one way or the other. It is likely that total intake over a 24-hour period balanced against calories burned through one's daily activities matters much more than what time a snack or meal is consumed.

I too can't find any scientific research that supports the "no eating before bed" rule.

On the other hand in many countries, like Spain, people eat dinner very late in the evening, often after 10 pm. Yet Spain has an obesity rate that is nearly 1/3 the amount of America's.

What is important is that, as Mark mentions, you make healthy choices, but that rule applies no matter what time of the day you eat. If you are trying to lose weight and following P90X you still have to work within the calorie and portion limits specified for your phase and level in the nutrition guide. But there is no reason to go to bed hungry because you fear that whatever you eat after a certain point in the evening will turn into fat overnight!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Body Weight Exercises

You've probably heard of body weight exercises before. You know, push ups, pull ups, any sort of strength training that involves nothing but your own weight. Well today's entry is about taking it to a whole new level.

Is there something in the water over in Europe? First those crazy French are purported to have invented Dwarf Tossing. Now there is a gym in London where you can literally lift people when working out. It is an interesting concept and given the growing unemployment rate it is nice to know that you might be able to find work as a human dumbbell.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Plate Lifting

Here's a great Primal exercise you can do if you have any Olympic weights. It is great for the hips and quads:

Lay a 45-pound plate on the floor in front of you; you'll need about 20 feet of clear space ahead. Squat, wedge your fingers under the side of the plate closest to you, and drive upward with your legs. When the plate is vertical, guide it forward until it is flat on the ground again, but on its opposite side (don't just let it drop to the floor and bounce).

I do three sets of 24 flips (12 across the room and 12 back). It seems easy at first but your quads will be begging for mercy pretty quickly.

Do this after you've completed your regular strength training workout. I do this twice a week (Monday and Friday).

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Primal Energy Bars

I just love these bars! I was addicted to "protein bars" but realized I needed to kick the habit because while they were high in protein, they were also high in other ingredients that aren't so good for you.

These bars have no flour or grain and no sugar (other than what might be in the dried fruit you use).

They can get a little crumbly so I recommend baking them for 8 minutes instead of 10. Watch them carefully when you put them under the broiler. It doesn't take long to brown the coconut!

Another tip of the hat to and Mark Sisson for providing this delicious recipe.


1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup almond meal (simply pulse a 1/4 cup of almonds until it creates a course flour)
1/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
1/4 cup almond butter
1/4 cup coconut oil (check your local health food store)
1.5 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp of raw honey
1/2 cup unsweetened whey protein powder (or 60g)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup dried cranberries or blueberries
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut to sprinkle on

Method: On a cookie sheet, toast nuts and shredded coconut until golden brown. In order for them to cook evenly, you need to shake up the tray at least once during cooking.

Once toasted, pour mixture into a food processor and pulse until nuts are chopped and the mixture becomes coarsely ground (sort of the consistency of bread crumbs).

In a mixing bowl, melt coconut oil and almond butter (about 30 seconds). Remove from microwave and stir until smooth. Add vanilla extract, honey and sea salt. Mix thoroughly.

Fold in nut mixture, almond meal and protein powder until mixed thoroughly. Add whole egg and mix thoroughly.

Fold in blueberries/cranberries.

Press mixture into an 8 by 8 loaf pan.

Cook in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle a ¼ cup of shredded coconut on top and place under broiler until top begins to brown. Let cool for 10-15 minutes.

Cut into 12 pieces/bars. Enjoy or stack on wax paper/parchment and store in an airtight container.

Nutrition for 1/12 of the batch:
Calories: 184
Fat: 15.4 grams
Carbohydrates: 6.4 grams
Protein: 7.5 grams

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

P90X Rules For Success

OK, it’s nearly three weeks into the New Year and some of the resolutions may have already gone by the wayside. If doing the P90X program was one of your resolutions I hope you are still going strong with it. Based on some of the messages I have seen posted on various Internet boards there are a few points that need to be driven home if you want to be successful. I’ll call them my P90X Rules for Success:

1. Know that you are not smarter than Tony Horton (at least when it comes to fitness).

Tony and BeachBody spent over a million dollars developing P90X. They conducted test groups and consulted with nutrition and fitness experts during the development process. They learned what works and what doesn’t work. So when you get it in your head that you can modify the program or deviate from the workout or nutrition schedule and still have great success, you are being egotistical. Look, if you knew more than Tony about this stuff you wouldn’t need P90X. You wouldn’t be overweight and/or out of shape. So you hate Yoga? Do it anyway. You think you eat healthy food, follow the nutrition guide anyway and measure your portions.

2. Follow the Nutrition Guidelines.

What you eat, and how much, accounts for 80% of your body composition. Don’t think you can have that piece of cake and you’ll just do a bit more cardio. Not all calories are created equal. That piece of cake is going to have an impact on your insulin production and blood sugar levels for several hours at least. No one is perfect but the more you cheat the more you adversely impact your results. Also don't think "I eat healthy, I don't need to follow the nutrition guide". You need to eat the right number of calories and the right percentages of protein, carbs, and fat. Following this rule alone will account for the majority of your success with P90X.

3. Don't overdo it.

With exercise, after a certain point, less is more. Don’t plan to do Plyometrics three times a week, or add an hour of running on each of your strength training days to “boost your calorie burn”. P90X is an intensive program (the X stands for Extreme). Give your body a chance to recover between the workouts. We live in a microwave society and want instant results. But our bodies don’t respond well when too much stress is placed on them. 90 days is a short period of time and you’ll get great results if you just follow the program.

4. Lift heavy weights!

This applies to the women as well. You are not going to “bulk up” if you lift heavy. Big muscles require testosterone and men have 40 to 60 times more testosterone than women. I promise, you won’t end up looking like Starla in Napoleon Dynamite. Even most men can’t build really big muscles (think Arnold) because we just don’t have the genetics to do so. That said, everyone will get better results if they lift a weight heavy enough to only be able to do 8-10 reps with good form. Yes Tony says do 12-15 reps if you don’t want size, but remember the videos where made about six years ago and a lot has been learned since then. BeachBody’s newest program Chalean Extreme has everyone lifting heavy weights. It is the best way to change your body shape.

5. Have a good recovery drink after a strenuous workout.

Chocolate milk in and of itself is not an adequate substitute for the P90X Results and Recovery Drink. Yes it has the same ratio of carbs to protein and it has Vitamin D, but that’s about it. A good recovery drink will have lots of vitamins and minerals as well as L-Aginine (promotes production of human growth hormone) and L-Glutamine (blocks cortisol and promotes muscle growth). It also contains a small amount of creatine (helps to supply energy to muscle and nerve cells). A protein shake is not a recovery drink either. They serve completely different purposes. Now you don’t need a recovery drink after every workout. You should only have one after your strength training workouts and Plyometrics. If you’ve really “brought it” during KenpoX you can have one then as well. Make sure you take it as soon as possible after your workout is complete (typically after Ab Ripper X). If you are trying to lose body fat you can reduce the serving to one scoop. This will save you money and calories and give you most of the benefits of the full serving. You can still get great results on the P90X program without buying the P90X Results and Recovery drink, but you need to have some sort of recovery drink.

6. Stay off the scale.

Put the scale away for the next 90 days. I mean it. The scale only tells part of the story and can be very misleading. During the next 90 days you are going to be burning fat, building muscle, retaining water, shedding water, and all of these things will lead to yo-yoing numbers on the scale. It is virtually impossible to gain (or lose) five pounds of fat in two days, but the scale will tell you that you are five pounds heavier or lighter. A better measure of progress is how your clothes are fitting. You can also take measurements with a tape measure and check your body fat percentage using calipers. But really you should only do this once every 30 days. You can (and should) take pictures every 30 days. They will definitely tell a different story to what you see in the mirror every day.

7. Avoid processed food.

The food you eat doesn’t have to be expensive and you don’t have to shop at Whole Foods to eat well. Yes it will cost more than the processed junk you have been buying, but you don’t have to eat steak or salmon every night. The menu plan in the nutrition guide is there to show you what you should be eating. Try some of the recipes but know that most people follow the portion plan. A good rule of thumb is to shop the periphery of your grocery store and stay out of the middle aisles (that’s where most of the processed junk resides).

8. If you want success you have to plan.

Plan your menus a week in advance (or at least three days). Get to the store and get the items you need, especially snacks. Don’t wait until you are hungry or temptation will win out and you’ll reach for the junk. You also need to plan your workouts. This part isn’t that hard since the P90X calendar tells you what to do on which days. But you need to set the time of day that you are going to do your workout and then NOTHING should take precedence. (OK, I know life happens, but the season premier of American Idol or Lost does not constitute an overriding emergency).

9. Don't miss workouts.

Travel for work or vacation is no excuse for not working out. If you have a laptop most likely it can play DVDs. Get some resistance bands (the B-Line bands are the best) and a door attachment so you can do pull downs in place of pull ups. Better yet order the Power Up Chin-UP from (tip they sell the B-Line bands as well). These handles fit over any door and allow you to do pull ups anywhere you go. They weigh a grand total of one pound. If you have room in your suitcase you can put in a yoga mat and block. Otherwise just use a hotel towel.

10. Do not substitute or skip workouts you don't like.

No you can’t substitute one or more workouts for another. Well actually you can. I mean it’s your program; you can do whatever you want. But you’ll really be compromising your results. CardioX is not a substitute for YogaX (even though it has a few yoga moves). Tony considers Yoga the fountain of youth and the most important workout in the P90X program. It provides strength and flexibility and it identifies your weak spots. The first time you do YogaX you are going to wonder what in the world is going on. It’s hard! Keep trying; you’ll get better at it. It may not become your favorite workout, but then again it might.

11. Be kind to yourself.

No one is perfect. You are going to make mistakes and bad choices during the 90 days of the program. Don't let a slip up derail you from the program. Resolve to do better and move on. While a round of P90X lasts 90 days hopefully you are making a lifetime change and you will continue to eat a healthy diet and exercise 5 to 6 days a week for the rest of your life.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Primal Experiment

What is The Primal Experiment? Well on January 1st, 2009 I took Mark Sisson's Primal Challenge. I've created this blog to talk about my ongoing experience.

The biggest step in the Primal Challenge (at least for me) was cutting out grains from my diet. I've always loved bread in just about any form. I've also loved cereal, rice, and starchy foods so this has been no small undertaking. I'm now nearly three weeks into the challenge and I have to say it hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be. I have stumbled a few times along the way (blueberry pancakes at IHOP!) but I figure following the Primal Blueprint 90% of the time is better than nothing.

I'll also be blogging about my exercise experience. In January of 2008 I started doing P90X. Its been over a year now and I've completed two full rounds and one partial round (interrupted by varicose vein surgery on my leg in August). I'm now in my third round of P90X and I've added some workouts from the P90X+ and Tony Horton One on One DVD series. I'm also working to incorporate some "primal" exercises into my routine and I'll be talking about my successes (and failures) with some of those.

So who am I? Well my name is Dave Fish. I'm 46 years old and am married with four children. I've had a longtime interest in strength training but like a lot of Americans I found myself overweight and lacking in energy. In the past year I have lost 37 pounds and nearly six inches off my waist using the P90X home exercise program. My progress started to stall in November and I started looking for ways to get it going again. A few months ago I came across Mark's website and his arguments for living a Primal Blueprint lifestyle made a lot of sense. I decided that I would shave my head and drink the Kool-Aid and give it a try in 2009. (I'll write more about the Primal Blueprint in an upcoming entry).

Finally I would like to share some of the knowledge I've gained in the areas of fitness and nutrition over the years. Please feel free to ask any questions in the comment section and I'll do my best to answer them or point you to a resource that can.

Thanks for reading and I hope you find it entertaining and informative.