(Disclaimer: Although we love to pretend, we do not live in a free country. There are powerful forces that love to intervene in every aspect of our lives. That is especially true when it comes to your pocketbook and your health. Please do not misconstrue the following as medical advice. So, to protect myself I will state the obligatory, “Consult your physician before engaging in any diet or exercise program”. That said, be your own advocate. Do your own research. Ask your own questions. Do everything possible to better your life. As far as I know, you only get one.)
If you followed the last 50 years of government advice regarding diet and exercise, its almost a certainty that you have a chronic illness, fatigue, a high body fat percentage and you have no idea what your body needs in terms of real nutrition and physical activity. Don’t worry. It’s not completely your fault. After all, we remember that awe-inspiring food pyramid telling us to eat five to seven servings of carbohydrates and walk 20 minutes a day as part of “balanced” diet and fitness plan. I have bad news for you: both of those recommendations are probably not suitable for you. What should you do? Say, “Screw it”, sit on the couch and pound some cola and chips while watching reality TV? NO! You care about yourself and your body and are dedicated to improvement. So, if you’re looking for some tried and true life hacks to kick-start your health and physical fitness, the following tips are for you.
- Intermittent Fasting (IF): The old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day turns out to be an old wives tale. In fact, new research shows that skipping breakfast altogether may turn out to be the single best thing you can do for your health. Dr. Joseph Mercola and others have done a great deal of research about this subject and I suggest you do your own. Fasting has been used for centuries as a way to detoxify the body and lose weight. This tactic is well known in the Paleo community, but it can also be used to build muscle mass and cut body fat. Many athletes and bodybuilders are beginning to embrace IF. Actor Hugh Jackman, when asked his secret for getting so lean for the X-Men movies, stated that he only ate between 10am and 6pm. Essentially, he skipped breakfast, worked out in a fasted state and then stopped eating food after 6 pm. He fasted for 16 hours, ate for 8. He did not cut calories. He actually ate more while he was trying to pack on lean mass. This is the approach I use and it has worked very well for me.
How does it work? Skipping breakfast and doing exercise in a fasted state triggers the body to release growth hormone to preserve muscle tissue. Additionally, the body is signaled to mobilize fat tissue to burn for energy. Most breakfast foods are high in carbohydrates, which triggers the body to release insulin. While insulin levels are high, the body will shut off growth hormone production. If your muscles and liver have enough glycogen stored already, that high insulin will cause your body to shuttle glucose from those carbohydrates into your fat cells. So what if you just skip carbs in the morning and opt for eggs? I’ll address that next, but I suggest unless you have some medical condition that prevents you from trying intermittent fasting, try it. Who knows? You may reverse unhealthy conditions in your body and you might feel better.
2. Carbohydrate Cycling or “Backloading”: I’ve already suggested skipping breakfast and especially high sugar, high grain foods in the morning. There are those who do not eat any sugar or grain whatsoever, and they have changed their lives. Personally, I have followed a no starch, low-sugar diet and I have been able to effectively manage an autoimmune disease without any painkillers or prescription drugs. However, if you are an athlete who needs to refuel your muscle tissue or you just have to have some carbs to feel whole, try eating them only on certain days and eating them later in the day, after exercising.
Carb Cycling: By skipping carbohydrates for a period of time and then spiking your intake of them, you can refuel your glycogen stores allowing your body to perform at a high level while stripping off body fat. This is carb-cycling. Essentially, skip carbs for a number of days to mobilize fat stores to be used as energy, and then fill up for a day. You will learn how many carbs and what type your body likes after just a few weeks.
Carb Backloading: Another approach is to eat your carbs later in the day. This essentially allows your body to slip into ketosis, maximize fat usage through the day, and then reefed at night. John Kiefer has published two books and other articles examining how the body can transport glucose without raising insulin levels in the body. By eating carbs later in the day, after exercise, the body can take in carbohydrates to refuel without the body’s insulin level skyrocketing.
If you need carbs in your diet, you may consider looking into these two life hacks.
3. Eating More Fat: If your have not read Wheat Belly by William Davis M.D. or Grain Brain by Davis Perlmutter M.D., you really should. Both books present a compelling case against high carbohydrate consumption and also for why people may not be eating enough of the right fat for optimum health. Grain Brain further argues that most bodies, and especially the brain, prefer to burn ketones for optimal health. The brain needs enough fat (butter, avocado, fish oil, heavy cream, nuts) to function and repair itself properly. Both books suggest that Alzheimers and other brain abnormalities could really be a form of diabetes, caused by excessively high blood sugar levels.
The takeaway? Fat is not the enemy. Fat doesn’t make fat. High blood sugar and insulin levels are most likely the culprits. Also, it is no coincidence that after the government’s “war on fat” occurred, the level of obesity and autoimmune disease began to skyrocket. Changing your diet will change your life. Embrace fat or be fat. Pun intended.
4. Hit it and quit it! How long are your workouts? Do you spend hours at the gym or on the bicycle or treadmill? If so, raise your hand, and say, “Hi, I’m ________your name here_______ and I’m wasting time.” You may have been led to believe that the time you put into an activity is more important that the intensity you use. The opposite is true. Just as productivity is more important that activity, intensity is more important than duration. Running is more effective than walking. Smaller rest periods are more effective that sitting on the leg press or preacher curl machine with your smart phone for 5 minutes between sets. The book First 20 Minutes by Gretchen Reynolds is a great resource for those who want to learn more about why exercise intensity trumps exercise duration. For now, as a multiple health club owner and personal trainer, I will tell you those who train using drop sets, supersets and high intensity interval training (HIIT) see much better results than those who workout without a plan and take a nap between sets. In fact, while I suggest changing routines every 6-8 weeks to shock the body into change, I never recommend people stop using high intensity principles.
Note: Please don’t confuse HIIT, drop sets and supersets with Crossfit. Some preach Crossfit, and I applaud anyone who sticks to a plan. However, the amount of injury, chronic fatigue and overtraining I see from crossfitters lead me to suggest using it as a part of a training routine, not the entire thing. Think Bruce Lee here. Take the best from all disciplines. Don’t be a fanatic without regard for the results.
How It Works: With Cardio: Instead of walking on a treadmill for 45 minutes, begin to walk for 30 seconds, then sprint for 30, then back to walking. Continue to do this for 10-20 minutes. You’ll save time and increase results.
With weight lifting: After doing squats with, let’s say 135 pounds, drop the weight down immediately after the first set to 100 pounds and perform more reps. This is a drop set. A superset would be performing bicep curls on the machine and then immediately performing another bicep exercise. It’s also possible to move onto a completely different muscle group. (For example, doing bench press followed by pull-ups.) Embrace intensity over duration. Save yourself some time. Don’t workout for longer than 90 minutes. Ever. 45 minutes is much better. See more results. Enjoy life more!
5. Wear a Watch During Your Workout And decorate your house with wall clocks. I believe firmly in being consciously aware that time is ticking away. We all have the same hours in the day. The bum and the millionaire get the same time during the day. What makes the difference? How people use and don’t use their time. Time is really the only asset we have that doesn’t depend on something or someone else. During your workout, being conscious of how you are using your time. Capitalize on it. This will help you be more productive. Personally I like to wear a Casio G Shock with a stopwatch so I can time my workouts and rest periods. Sometimes I’ll even wear an expensive watch to remind me that lost time is lost money and that craftsmanship matters in life and the marketplace.
At home, decorate with clocks. They look nice and they will keep you on track. Once you begin to maximize your time, you’ll find you begin to resent the people and things that waste your time. This is good. Don’t waste your time. This is especially true when eating and getting exercise. Most importantly, don’t waste time being ignorant. It’s your responsibility to yourself and your family to become educated and independent. Do your research. A mentor once said, “Poor people have big TV’s. Rich people have big libraries.” I believe this is also true with healthy people. You only get so much time in life. Don’t waste it!