Weight loss – A continuous process

Most of us like breaking up our lives into days. We do this because of the 24 hour cycle we’re subject to. But our bodies don’t wait till the end of the day to tally up calories in and out and produce weight loss or gain. It happens instantly and constantly.

We are dynamic living beings. We consume and burn every moment. How much we weigh is basically a measure of how much we are. We are water, muscle, fat, bone and other tissue. Except water, all these other things live, do and die every moment. And water – it keeps things alive but it also goes in and out of our bodies and hence contributes to the weight fluctuation . The rough summation of this is what we call bodyweight and it will never be the same at any given moment.

Very frankly, you weigh more or less now than you did last year or last month or last week or yesterday or even the last second. Why? Because during every living moment our bodies are working to keep us alive and functioning. This is done by burning calories that are stored in the form of glycogen, fat or muscle. A good analogy here is that we are like cars that are always on. Even when idling (i.e when the car isn’t running but has the engine on), fuel is used because work needs to be done even just to keep things on (i.e to stay alive). The more work you make the car do (more speed, more distance etc) the more fuel you’ll use. Similarly the more work you do, the more energy your body will need.

If I have to say it all in one line – Everything you do either uses calories or adds calories.

And this addition or subtraction of calories (energy) makes us weigh more or less every moment of every day. So if you have any aesthetic goals whatsoever – fat loss, weight loss, muscle gain, toning, shaping, sculpting or whatever term you like to use to describe having less fat and more muscle – here is something that is very critical to your success –

Every little thing you do matters and it matters right away.

Every step, every bite, every rep, every minute of sleep, every bit of stress and every smile affects your results instantly. If you do equal amounts of positive and negative actions, then your progress will be zero, which is called maintenance. If you do more positive than negative, you will move ahead and if you do more negative than positive, you will fall behind. That’s the simple truth.

If you want to make a clean start, that’s great. But don’t wait for the next day, week or month. The next moment is as clean a slate as you need to make a positive change to your life.

Fitness hacks: What if you are too busy to be fit?

Situation 

You’re busy. You have long hours at work or an unruly child or are an internet addiction. There never seems to be enough time. Not just for exercise but for anything. How do you stay fit? 

Guardian guide to running - GPS watches - video

Solution 

The long term solution is, of course, to smartly rearrange your day and make time for things that matter i.e. getting your priorities right. But what about the short term? 

Option 1 

Wear your shoes, carry a watch and get out of the house. Set a 20-30 minute timer. Start walking or running based on your capability. Every 2-4 minutes stop and do a few pushups or burpees. Yes, people will stare. At the 10-15 minute mark, turn around. Make it back on time. Don’t worry. The mess at home will wait for you.

Option 2 

Do 100 burpees. Pick a version of the burpee based on your capabilities – Beginner burpees or with pushups or with pushups and pullups. Do 100. It should take you anywhere from 6 to 20 minutes based on your fitness level and the kind of burpee you’ve chosen.

Option 3 

Set a 10 minute timer. Do as many burpees as possible. Push as hard as you can on that day. Some days you’ll get 50 and some days you’ll get 150. Doesn’t matter. Just work as hard and safely as you can for 10 straight minutes.

Option 4 

Set a 20 minute timer and do as many rounds as possible of  (7 squats, 5 pushups, 3 pullups) or (3 squats, 2 pushups and 1 pullup) if you can’t do too many pullups at once.

Option 5 

Find a building with 3 to 5 floors. Run from the ground level to the terrace as fast as safely possible. Walk back down slowly. Repeat for a total of 6 to 10 rounds.

Truth is, you don’t need a gym or 2 undisturbed hours everyday or the latest and greatest equipment to get fit. All you need is the will to be fit and you will find a way to get there and stay there!

When in doubt, keep it simple.

The best kept secrets to muscle building!

 The word “muscle” to men is as exciting as chocolate to kids. We can’t enough of it. We love muscle and everything that is associated with it. Gaining muscle, working muscles, looking muscular, sore muscles and being muscle bound are all terms that will make any guy take a second look.  But not everyone is able to gain muscle and very few men actually end up looking muscular. Why? What are the secrets behind building slabs of muscle? What is that special training program one needs? What supplements should you take? Let’s find out.

JasonStatham1

You see, building muscle is a very slow and painful physiological process. In all honesty, losing 5 kilos of fat is so much more easy than gaining 5 kilos of muscle. To be specific, it is very possible to lose 5 kilos is 5 weeks for most people but gaining 5 kilos of muscle  is a task that could take anywhere from 5 months to 3 years depending on the trainees current status, genetic make-up, training intensity, nutrition and other lifestyle factors such as sleep and stress. 

Though incredibly hard, muscle gain is a simple process and the “lift heavy, eat big and sleep plenty” is a mantra that always works. To be more specific, in order to gain muscle you will need to lift heavy loads and there is no way around it. Now, the load you lift could be barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, sandbags, your own bodyweight or even unconventional objects like stones and rice sacks. The tools don’t matter much, at least not as much as the resistance they provide and the intensity you lift with do. Irrespective of what tools you use, you will need to work in the 6 to 12 repetition range and you will need to work the right movements. More on that later, but let’s get to the point here.

How fast you grow and how much muscle you build will depend on many aspects of yourself and your training self. 

Your training age 

Beginners tend to gain muscle much faster than advanced athletes who already have a significant amount of muscle on their frame. As a complete beginner one can expect to gain a good 10-12 kilos of muscle, albeit along with a very noticeable amount of fat, with a year a consistent, diligent, linear progression based training. But if you’ve been training consistently and legitimately for 2 years or more, expect to gain 1 to 3 kilos of muscle per year and not much more. As your training age increases, the rate of muscle gain will decrease and there’s nothing (natural) you can do about that. So be smart and work on getting stronger and gaining muscle right from the early days of your fitness journey.

Your training program 

Big lifts are critical for muscular hypertrophy (muscle growth) mainly because they activate the most muscle fibers and hence cause the greatest testosterone and growth hormone secretion. So make sure your training program is dominated by squats, pushups, bench presses, overhead military presses, pullups, rows, deadlifts and/or heavy kettlebell swings. Biceps and tricep exercises can be included as supplementary moves but they have very little benefit since every pull you do (pullups, rows etc.,) work your biceps more than any curl can and every push (pushups, presses, bench presses etc.,) burns your triceps more than any isolation exercise (tricep extensions, for example) will.

Your lifestyle 

When gaining muscle and size is the main goal, you’ll need to make some changes to your lifestyle. In general, you will need to sleep more, stress less and move less. To be more specific, get at least 49 hours of sleep per week, keep a log to check how often you get stressed or lose your temper and limit that to twice a week and remove all forms unnecessary movement that causes energy (calorie) usage. Sports, cardio, running, cycling, swimming etc., need to be restricted to 30 to 40 minutes a week and strictly only at an enjoyable intensity. The higher the intensity in such activities, the more calories you’ll burn and that, in your case, will mean wasting calories that could potentially be used to help you recover from you previous strength training session and to promote hypertrophy.

Your nutrition 

The most important rule for gaining muscle is to eat above satiety i.e. you will need to eat more food that your body needs. Let’s say you need 2000 calories per day in order to maintain your current body composition. You will then need to eat anywhere from 2200 to 2700 calories per day in order to even expect muscle growth. Now this doesn’t mean you go about counting every morsel you eat. Generally, if you (60 to 80 kilos) eat wholesome real food which is partitioned fairly well with enough protein (~ 100 to 150 grams), good fat (~ 80 to 120 grams) and starch (200 to 300 grams) along with a reasonably well planned and intense strength training routine, you will grow and there is no denying that. But to hit these numbers without counting you will need to eat wholesome protein rich foods above satiation i.e. till you feel full and also add a handful of nuts and dried fruit as an extra snack. And just so we’re clear, junk food is a NO. Though your goal is to gain weight, junk food and gluttony will not help one bit and only result in gaining fat.

 Your supplements 

Now realize that there is absolutely no supplement that will help you if you bypass the steps mentioned above. Supplements are meant to supplement your training and nutrition and nothing more. For the common man looking to gain some muscle and look awesome, a multi-vitamin pill, some whey protein, ZMA (zinc + magnesium) and maybe, creatine is all you need.

There you have it. The most well kept secrets of muscle building are not complicated and new but simple and archaic. Drop the mass gainers and steroids and pick up a fork and some heavy iron.

Peace out.

PS: I originally wrote this article for The Week’s SmartLife health magazine. This is the unedited version.

All about daal

And by daal I mean lentils, legumes and beans. We love ‘em, don’t we? They’re such a significant part of the Indian cuisine that you can’t ever find someone who isn’t fond of them. And rightly so, from the nutritional standpoint. Wonderful micronutrient balance, extremely rich in folate and molybdenum, scarily high in fiber, excellent source of low GI carbs and a decent source of vegetarian protein! What’s not to love for a carb loving vegetarian society?

chana-pindi-recipe

(This amazing photo was shot by the author of this really cool recipe –  www.vegrecipesofindia.com/pindi-chana/)

Anyways. Let’s keep the love and pride going but let’s be careful to not get carried away because these little pods of nutrition aren’t entirely harmless.

Phytate alert 

Now, lentils contain something known as ‘phytates’. We wouldn’t worry much about these little guys if they behaved well. But they don’t. They inhibit and/or slow down absorption of nutrients from healthful foods that work so hard to consume. So in order to reduce phytate content, our ancestors traditionally soaked all lentils, legumes and beans before cooking and consuming them. If anything that changed since then, it is the fact that we consume much lesser nutrients today and it becomes even more important to ensure their absorption is not inhibited.

Carb alert 

Also, remember that lentils are only a decent source of protein but they are a great source of carbohydrates. Depending on the type, each cooked cup will contains 12-20 grams of protein and 40 to 50 grams of carbohydrates. So the ratio between protein and carbohydrates will be ~ 1:3. Now that’s not too bad for most of us.

But the problem is when we combine it with a starch like rice or roti. Since the rice or roti is basically all carbohydrate, the ratio drifts more towards carbohydrates and ends up at ~ 1:6. Which is, well, bad especially considering most of us eat way too much carbohydrate rich foods all day everyday.

Fat alert 

And who eats a plate of lentils just steamed or cooked? We like some tadka on it or we like to maakhni it up or just add some all powerful ghee to it. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with eating fat, be sure to not overdo it. You don’t want too much tadka or ghee on your daal or beans. And if you’re eating daal maakhni or any preparation of lentils that is rich, you want to remember that it’s not just a harmless bowl of lentils but a dish is dominated by fat and carbohydrates.

Stupid alert 

1 cup means 1 standard cup which is 240 ml. Yes, that coffee tumbler you have at home. No, not the rice bowl you’re pointing at.

Enough alerts. Time for fixes.  

But it’s OK. Not everything is lost. I have some fixes that will help you continue the lentil love saga without having to loosen your trousers.

  1. Soak lentils, legumes, beans and even grains for a few hours before cooking.
  2. Keep the starchy foods to a minimum when you’re going lentil crazy. Yup. No roti or rice. Sucks. But you got yourself into this mess.
  3. Save the rich and creamy lentil dishes for a day of indulgence, which, I’m sure we’ll all agree, isn’t too rare these days.

Cool? Now, if you’d like to understand more, here are some links for further reading.

  1. Stephan Guyenet explains why lentils are real food and how to prepare and consume them for optimal nutrient absorption.
  2.  The fine folks at the Weston A. Price Foundation take it a step further and discuss phytates in detail.
  3. And finally, the in-depth nutritional profile of lentils on WHFoods.com.

Now, you tell me. Was this helpful? Did you learn a thing or two you could use in daily life? Do you have related questions? The more you talk, the more I talk. So share your thoughts here and share the knowledge for your health conscious friends on social media.

Always remember – when in doubt,  keep it simple.

Fixing sleep

A week back we posted a test on The Quad’s Facebook page that urged folks to to calculate their health score. The test was pretty simple. Health being a result of more than just dieting or exercising, the following equation was taken into consideration.

Health = Activity + Nutrition + Sleep + Stress 

Folks were asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 on each aspect of health. 5 stood for awesome and 1 stood for awful. Here is the original post.

A bunch of folks took the test and the results were revealing, to put it mildly. It was obvious that folks who focus on nutrition and training suffer from sleep issues. For some of us it is the lack of sufficient sleep while for some others it is disturbed sleep or feeling fatigued even after a supposedly good night’s sleep. What you need to realize is that sleep is a big big part of health and fat loss. To put it simply, if you’re sleep deprived you can be sure that your fat loss efforts won’t go too far and your health isn’t going to get any better, irrespective of how well you eat or how much you exercise.

To elaborate, during all our waking hours we place our bodies under stress (work, traffic, shallow breathing, deadlines, domestic quarrels etc) or we give it work (digestion, blood pressure variability control, excessive mental stimulus etc). It is when we sleep that all repair and replenishment occur in the body. It is the time for recovery. It is the time when all our efforts towards health come together. Click here for an amazing pictorial representation of why sleep is incredibly important to health and the effects of sleep deprivation.

Sleep being such a critical part of health, shouldn’t fixing sleep issues be a priority? Here are 5 incredibly simple ways to do exactly that.

Cal sleeping

Calvin doing what he does best

Dark is awesome

Turn off all lights (including night lamps), cover the LED display from your AC or alarm clock and use blackout curtains to block all night. The “glow” from electronics is the issue here. The small amounts of light from these devices pass through the retina into a part of the hypothalamus and delay the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. This is by far your best bet when it comes to sleep quality. The fix is simple – keep your electronics our of the bedroom. Yes, we know about your phone being your alarm. BS. Get a simple alarm clock.

Less is more

Sleep less but plan on it. Like in most things, sleep quality is much more important than sleep quantity. Look into your day and carve out the perfect time to sleep based on your lifestyle. For some, early to bed and early to rise works wonders as that is their undisturbed time while for some others, sleeping late and waking up late works better. When sleep deprivation is an issue, one is not better than the other. Find what works for you and work towards hitting the bed during that golden window.

Stay clam

Stress is directly related to sleep issues and vice versa. Sleep deprivation causes stress which piles up with other work and domestic stressors to result in more disturbed sleep and hence sleep deprivation. If you find yourself stressed out at various points of the day (angry, emotional, irritated, hungry, jealous), then it’s fair to assume that your sleep issues are a result of stress. Stay calm and sleep more.

Move

Let’s face it. Some of us don’t do shit all day long. Even though we are mentally exhausted, physically we don’t do anything that deserves high quality rest. Your body needs to work as much as it needs to rest. So do the needful – exercise regularly and stay active everyday by doing more activities of daily life. No. Lounging, sitting at a desk, driving or going for a short work don’t count. You need to breathe hard, sweat and tire yourself out optimally.

Supplement

Once you have tried all the above ideas and if none of them fix your issues completely, supplementation is an option. Magnesium is a wonder supplement that almost all of us lack in your diets today and is something that calms you down and regulates sleep quality. Look for magnesium oxide or citrate or any other ‘ide’ or ‘ate’ and supplement per RDA. For those who train hard, ZMA (Zinc and Magnesium) is a good option, as it helps with recovery too. Stay away from melatonin and other sleep inducing hormones ‘cos, well, they’re hormones and like all other supplemental hormones, will cause major issues in the long run.

Trust me. Put work away and hit that snooze button. The world will still be crazy and messed up when you wake up.

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