For those of you who know me in person, I am one of those with the ectomorphic body type. What that means is that it is extremely difficult for me to gain mass – be it fat or muscle. In the worst shape of my life – about three years ago, I could’ve still easily passed as a skinny guy – except for the fact that my body fat percentage was over 27. I was nearly obese. So I was what they called skinny fat. Even then, I never put on any mass on my body. Some two months ago, I decided to experiment a bit and decided that I wanted to put some more muscle mass. For an ectomorphic person, it means that you literally have to have enormous of calories with significant exercise. With that, obviously you start getting a blood glucose roller coaster. So now, I had to start figuring out whats the best way to get my body into a shape I desire while still maintaining good health.
My wife – Deepti – has been diligently tracking her numbers for a long time now. She is perhaps the most methodical person that I have seen when tracking the bio-markers. She has also seen significant improvements with that approach. So I decided to implement that same approach for me as well. That’s where I got into the self quantification. Although I used it for a specific scenario, the approach and results can be used by literally anyone who wants to know how their body reacts to some things that you usually do. It is basically a way to start tuning to the body responses in a much more structured way than what you would usually do.
This post is of course not just for people who want to gain mass. Infact, it is for almost everyone to start understanding your body, diet & lifestyle better. To be able to customize your diet and lifestyle to what suits you and not what general dogma dictates. One thing to iterate here is that big muscle and washboard abs are not always healthy. They just mean that you have a body that the mainstream media thinks is good. Ideal body types vary vastly by individual people. I started on this path since I had specific performance objectives that I wanted to meet this summer. The results show that this is definitely not the most healthiest things to do for me – but that’s also why I can demonstrate self quantification. Most of us are anyways not doing things that are the healthiest for our bodies.
I have visited nutritionists several times in my past life and I always get a boilerplate template guidance. With this experiment, I also realized that this is not always correct. Each one of us processes individual foods differently. Each one of us has a different stimulus to different exercises. Some people feel good with slightly higher carbs than others. Some people can tolerate much more saturated fats than others. For some, running on treadmill helps lose weight while for others like me, it just builds up fat. So the best way if to always experiment on yourself to find out what works for you. In scientific research community, this is often referred to as n=1 experiment. An experiment that is done only on one subject – yourself!
The other important reason for the n=1 experimentation if just self-awareness. Writing things down has somewhat of a magical mental effect. You start getting accountable for things that you do. Since you tracking things down, you automatically realize how to mold healthy habits for yourself. Making yourself aware of the impact of your diet and lifestyle gives you the right tools to make positive changes. Writing these down makes sure that you actually make the changes and the changes are longer lasting. Its just a mind-game a the end of the day.
There are several different self quantifications mechanisms. Its a rabbit hole that can take you as deep as you want to go. It can start with simple heart rate or blood glucose values or more advanced topics such as heart rate variability, ketone measurements or even more advanced things such as tracking epi-genetic markers to identify what things work for you.
With this experimentation, I started with Blood Glucose markers – for several reasons. First of all, blood glucose if perhaps one of the most easiest markers to track. Blood glucose testing meters are available literally everywhere today at very cheap prices. The ease of access and ease of use, make this the easiest choice to start with. More importantly, the blood glucose is perhaps the most influential markers for overall health. We already know that it is very closely linked with body fat. The fat that we see around the waist line is really the elevated sugars in the blood. Research has also shown significant impact that sugar has on brain health as well as on all the organs. If you are tracking sports performance, sugars are perhaps the most important markers to control. It is shown that elevated sugars have a significant impact on the flexibility of the body in longer term. Oxidative damage in muscles and joints causes muscle degeneration of muscle tissues and also makes building muscle a much more tougher task. Blood glucose also has impact on sleep which in turn affects the recovery from exercise. With all this, the blood sugar is not just the easiest, but also the most important thing that you can start tracking.
Today, I completed one month of this self tracking. I am writing this post to summarize what I learnt from this experiment for my own body as well as how you can start this experiment for yourself.
Back in May, when I started tracking, I was simply looking at the Fasting & pre-post meal blood glucose values. Very quickly I realized that I needed some data and I started tracking the meal details, exercise details, sleep Quality and other remarks worth mentioning for the day. Below is a snapshot of my log book.
Below are the things that I tracked –
– Fasting Blood Glucose
– Pre Meal Blood Glucose
– Post Meal Blood Glucose
– Sleep Quality
– Meal Details
– Exercise Details
– Other Remarks
As I had suspected, at the start of the experiment, I had fairly high blood glucose values. This was because I had almost doubled my food portion sizes in attempt to gain mass. Now my task was to figure out how I can still gain mass without the detrimental effects of high blood glucose levels. This is where the self-experimentation helped.
Carefully tracking the values and understanding the differences in how I feel, how my body feels made significant difference in helping me understand and modify my diet and exercise habits. Here is a quick snapshot of how things changed for me and how I tracked these back to specific food patterns.
Similarly, keep the log of exercise at the same time also allowed me to figure out what exercises work better for my body type. At the same time, my wife was also doing the same experiment. We realized that the foods that worked for me sometimes did not work for here or vice versa.
Here are a few things I found out about myself –
1) Beans are a killer. Beans and rice is a combination that does not work well with my glucose metabolism.
2) I can tolerate Tapioca much better than my wife.
3) Contrary to what most nutritionists suggests, Both we and my wife can tolerate rice better than whole grain breads.
4) Long distance running builds me a soft tummy.
5) High intensity exercises such as sprints, burpees or kettlebell swings work best for me.
6) Thai food – especially the curries have literally a ton of sugar! Caused the worst blast.
7) Fruits cannot be part of dinner for me. Seems they release sugars slowly and keep them elevated throughout the night.
8) Same foods cooked with different oils have drastically different impact. Using good oils is a must.
9) Meals with high glycemic loads tend to make you sleepy right after having them. That’s a great clue to determine that you need some activity before the sugar kicks in. Or maybe have some bitters post meal?
10) Now that I am tracking and watching the body responses so closely, I realize that my fingers are slightly swollen when my sugars are above 120. Looking in the mirror, I can see differences in my face (puffiness etc) with sugars over 100. All these are normal values per the lab ranges. But its definitely not working for my body. I realize that I feel way better with lower than 100 blood sugars.
Again, as I said, these results are highly individualistic. I have seen people who are used to high glucose values and for them, a sugar level below 100 makes them very lethargic and gives them hypo-glycemic feeling.
Do this experiment for yourself. Ask some intriguing questions when you do this –
1) How do the meal combinations affect you?
2) Do you feel better if you space your meals differently?
3) How does exercise intensity & duration impact your sugars, mood & overall feeling
4) How is your sleep quality? Can you track back poor sleep to something?
5) Keep track of stress levels. Does your body behave differently on weekends when you have less stress?
6) Do you get any other symptoms? Such as bloating, heart burns, acid reflux, lethargy etc
7) If you figure out a particular food as problematic, try eliminating it for a week and see the difference.
8) Does same foods with different quality make a difference/ For example instead of hydrogenated oils, how about non refined expeller pressed oils? Or organic vs non-organic foods? etc
A simple one week or one month experiment is a great way to track your health and build a customized diet and lifestyle for yourself. Its cheap as well – way more cheaper than doctor visits for sure.
Write down what you experience and think during this time. Learn lessons from the experimentation and implement them in your day to day life even after you get out of it.
Hope this helps you track and understand your own patterns and you are able to make some changes for good.
— Deepti & Sanket