All posts by sanketbakshi

How to recover like Wolverine

Anyone who has ever seen the X-men series would quickly recall the magically healing abilities of Wolverine. The guy heals in a matter of moments from bone crushing injuries. Although you wont really get that close (unless of course you are a mutant), you can drastically improve your recovery time after the workouts with these ten simple ways. When stacked up right, I have used these to recover in just 25% of my regular time. To quantify this, I had used one of my really hard workouts – a derivation of Crossfit Murph – with some weighted vest thrown in and a 5k run at the start and end instead of 1 mile.

After this workout, I would usually be sore for 3-4 days. With the right stacking of these recovery tools, I was actually able to get my recovery time down to 1 day. Of course the nervous system fatigue is still real and I cant go hard charging again the next day, but you at least don’t walk as if you were taken out of the cast after 50 years. Some of the strategies below also help address the nervous system fatigue and help you bounce back faster.

The tips that I list below can be used together or independent of each other. So you don’t have to go full throttle on these if you cannot. You can always adopt just a few things that are easily possible and still be able to see some real good benefits.

  1. Sleep: There is a reason why sleep is number 1 on the list. Because it is the number one factor for recovery. Sleep has been known to recover and recuperate the body. Exercise is a pretty big stressor on the body and just like any other stress. So it is also important to not engage in high intensity exercise right before the sleep time. The amount of sleep required depends on how you are genetically wired, but usually between 7-9 hours is where the sweet spot for everyone is. As with everything sleep also has a point of diminishing returns and after 9 hours, for most of us, the sleep starts proving rather counter productive.
  2. Eat right: Exercise does induce a general inflammation in the body. This spins up the dial on recovery mechanisms and allows the body to adapt to the next stress session a.k.a your next exercise session. But in order to allow the body to recover, it is absolutely important to lower the overall inflammation in your body. Lowering the inflammation allows the body to focus on the recover rather than managing the inflammation. For most of us food & work stress are the biggest causes of general inflammation. Reducing sugars, processed foods and overload of carbs will help immensely in reducing the inflammation triggered by food. In general an abundance of veggies – especially the green leafy ones with some protein in form of meats or legumes is a good place to start. Also, research suggests that deferring proteins towards the end of the day at dinner time helps with post exercise overnight recovery. So maybe save the chunks of meat for the end of the day along with some low quantity of carbs to fill up the glycogen stores if you had a high intensity exercise.
  3. Soft tissue work: Yes a massage works wonders. They say that a typical ART (Active Release Therapy) massage can restore the tired muscles and even get back a solid range of motion. In absence of a good ART practitioner, a simple massage or even foam rolling helps immensely for recovering sore muscles. Not just that, a regular foam rolling session will eventually help improve the range of motion and reduce the stress the exercise induces on the muscles. I use the Rumble Roller almost daily. But for starters, it can be very painful, instead I recommend a good hard foam roller to start with. The Golds Gym hard foam roller is a good start.
  4. Essential Amino Acids: I am a bigger fan of the essential amino rather than branched chain – which is a lot more common. It is for two specific reasons. First, the essential amino acids already contain everything in the branched chain amino acids. Secondly, the net nitrogen utilization of the essential amino acids is substantial higher than the branched chain amino acids. Which means that the essential amino acids are much better absorbed in the body and result in less nitrogen waste excreted than the branched chain amino acids. I prefer the Master Amino Pattern blend of amino acids. I usually do 5 gms of essential amino acids each day.
  5. Fish Oil: I get this from Charles Poliquin – One of the best strength coaches in the world. He has trained several Olympians and world class performers in many sports. He is a big advocate of fish oil for recovery. I usually take between 5 to 10 gms of fish oil depending on my fish intake for the day. I use the SuperEssentials Omega. When selecting a fish oil supplement, do ensure that the oil is in triglyceride form and has Vitamin E or astaxanthin to prevent it from going rancid quickly. Fish Oil is also very sensitive to light and temperature – so best refrigerated in a dark container. What more, fish oil is also known for its brain boosting effects – so recover faster AND smarter.
  6. Creatine: Anyone familiar with a body builder routine has definitely heard about Creatine. Yes, it helps significantly to put in high volume work as it readily makes ATP available during your workouts. But upcoming research suggests that it not just helps during the exercise but also significantly helps with the recovery. Unlike the hyped up loading-phase, 5 gms daily is all you need to help with boosting the exercise session and speeding up the recovery.
  7. Cold Thermogenesis: This one might bite a bit. Ice baths and cold showers are becoming increasingly popular in the athletic community. And why not? They help shut down inflammation and significantly improve the recovery time. If you are not comfortable with cold showers, start with the Cold-Hot contrast showers. Similar to interval training, you can do interval showers – 20 secs hot and 20 secs cold and a few rounds of these.
  8. Compression Gear: This applies especially to running or similar sports. Using compression gear helps keep the blood moving throughout your legs. This promotes lesser damage during the exercise and also rapid healing post exercise.
  9. Reduce Stress: As we have seen by now, lowering inflammation helps with the recovery. Work and lifestyle stresses are big. 15 minute meditation sessions maybe twice a day will help normalize the stress responses in the body and help keep you in the state of recovery. Thus allowing your body to recover faster rather than fighting inflammation throughout the day.
  10. Mind your carbs: Although this seems fairly easy, it is probably the best mis-understood concept. Endurance athletes for instance, thrive on carbs and carb loading protocols. Whereas there are some others who completely eliminate carbs. Most of the recent research has proven that this depends on the body type. However, a common consensus is that it is best to lower your carb intake. If you are doing high intensity exercise sessions, you still want to have about 100 to 200 gms of carbs to refill your glycogen stores and help with some of the critical metabolic functions. But anything more than that is usually not needed – unless you are super skinny with very low body fat and then you can use some carbs – you probably earned it at that time.

So there you have it. I know I’ve kept it very high level and there are a lots of ifs and buts. But for an exercise enthusiast, this should be a good starting point.

As always, feel free to respond with your comments and questions in the comments section below and I will be glad to address those.

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Get ready for the Intermittent Fasting Challenge

We introduced the intermittent fasting challenge a few days ago in my earlier post. If you are already hooked up to the GenZeal facebook page, you will very soon see an event that will remind you about this. If you are not hooked up, simply go to the GenZeal facebook page and hit the Like button.

If you are not already convinced about intermittent fasting, check out this TED Talk by Mark Mattson. Mark is the chief of Laboratory of Neuroscience at the National Institute on Aging. Mark and his team has published several researches that link fasting to Alzheimer and Parkinsons diseases. His TED Talk focuses on how the brain functioning becomes more efficient with fasting.

So here is another reason for fasting – You will be a smart cookie!

Stay tuned for the Intermittent Fasting Challenge on Facebook and check out the TED Talk below.

As Spock would’ve put it – Live long and prosper.



Welcome 2016 – A new 30 day challenge

Last year, around this time, we started the 1 month sugar challenge. The year 2015 started with a not so sweet tooth. Many people embraced the challenge. To be honest, we had definitely underestimated the response for this challenge as we set out to create it. At first there was hesitation by many. Then we saw questions pouring in. Before we knew, a lot of people already accepted the challenge. People were then not just doing it themselves but including their family, their friends. They took onto GenZeal as their own community – very soon people started inspiring others with stories, videos, articles and helpful posts. Even with the bitter cold outside, the Gen Zeal community helped prove that winters are not just for sitting and packing weight. You guys used it to shed weight – and not just for the month, since I know many that stuck to the habits way past the 30 day challenge. Throughout the last year, as I kept talking to people, I realize that the 30 day challenge was way more than 30 days for a lot of people. They adopted as a lifestyle. People came back to us with inspiring stories. Weight loss was just the start! I’ve since heard stories about reversal of chronic illnesses including diabetes and cholesterol issues and so much more.

Personal life of course took better of me and as welcomed our son Aaryav last year, I could not be as active on GenZeal as I had originally intended to be. But then there is always a comeback! As we roll into the 2016 this year, GenZeal makes a comeback.
As I thought about the new year and the resolutions, I thought it would be awesome to keep evangelizing small lifestyle changes that would stick with the people for a long time. Small changes that make a BIG difference. Cutting down on sugar was one such change last year. For a lot of you, it was almost effortless. Even effortless to stay with it throughout the year. This year, we bring on the 30 day Intermittent Fasting challenge.
Fasting conjures up some grueling notions in our mind. Our deep-rooted primal association with food makes us think that fasting is a process filled with pain and hunger and agony that we need to brave through. But little do we realize that we are doing this process almost everyday – without even realizing it. Science today calls it intermittent fasting. The process of intermittent fasting hinges on the fact that you have at least a 12 hour period within a given 24 hours when you are not stuffing your face with something to eat. So in other words, if you have your dinner at 8pm, you don’t eat your breakfast till 8am in the morning. Now that does not sound too bad does it?
 
So you might say, what is the real challenge in here? I do that almost every day.
 
Well, for a lot of people today, midnight refrigerator raids are as common as midnight coffee with friends or family. Given the busy schedules that we have, late evenings or nights are the times that we have for socializing. What’s more? food or drinks are perhaps the best tools known to man for socializing since ages. So most of us end up treading late into the nights still stuffing our faces. The same busy schedules that force the socializing past sunset, also a lot of times forces us to delay the dinner time. I personally used to delay my dinner time past 9 or even 10 pm a few years ago. That unfortunately does not change anything the next morning. Most of us are out for the job by 8 or 9 am which forces us to get our breakfast done 7 or 7:30. With dinner at 10 and breakfast at 8am, you are barely able to make 10 hours between the meals. So now you see where the challenge begins? For a lot of people it might just be time management. But then, there are still others who struggle with blood glucose rollercoaster cycles as they toss and turn in their beds each night. That’s when the mid-night fridge raids happen. Maybe a cookie to start with, or a few spoons of ice-cream. The blood glucose fluctuations cause hunger pangs for many people that force them to eat something in the middle of the night. Those my friends, are the challenges that I refer to. Those are what we need to address for 30 days.
 
So why fasting?
I recently wrote about my experiment with Intermittent Fasting. In that I reference the fact that Intermittent fasting has been shown by research in having a beneficial impact on glucose metabolism, intestinal health, reversing aging as well as cardiovascular and brain functions. It is a real handy tool for a long healthy life. For those of your belonging to the Indian, middle-eastern or some of those older cultures, you might also be able to relate this to the cultural fasting be it either in terms of monthly fasts such as “Ekadashis” or once a year big fast such as the Ramadan. There are several physiological adaptations that happen in the body when we fast. These adaptions are also shown to reverse some of the commonly known chronic health conditions.
There are various different ways an intermittent fast can be done. Of those, the time restriction has been shown to have the best benefit and perhaps the easiest to follow. The foundation for such a fast however is at least a 12 hour gap between two meals. Once this foundation is set and the body is well adapted to that, the fast can be carried over to any duration. The 16 hour mark is when the physiological challenges become much more pronounced and interesting. Such longer duration fasts, when they cross 16 hour or 20 hour marks also start to have pronounced age reversal effects as the body starts building up the mitochondria and revives new energy into the individual cells. The cellular damage is controlled, the clean-up of oxidative damage starts to reverse and a lot more interesting changes start to happen.
However, to get to that place, you need to start with the fundamental 12 hours daily fast period.
 
With this 30 day challenge, that’s what we will aim at. We will aim at priming our body for the 12 hour regular fast (which really should not be a big deal). But more importantly, we will also try out extended fasts each week to see how much we can sustain. Can we get to that 16 hour mark? Of course, if you are a diabetic or having issues with blood glucose metabolism, you might want to do this a lot more carefully and make sure that you have something to eat ready at hand to avoid becoming hypo-glycemic. Hypoglycemia can definitely be a very concerning condition – possibly fatal for some and hence people with blood sugar issues, should venture into this very very carefully.
 
Just like the last one, this challenge will be launched in February. The month of February is when we will prime our bodies to be more efficient. That’s when we will be setting a tone for the rest of the year. It is also the month of love. So spread the love, spread the message. Help your friends and family onboard this train to a healthy lifestyle.

My short experiment with intermittent fasting and high fat eating

Fasting is a well respected and a fairly common occurrence in most of the traditional cultures worldwide. Most cultures do have their own version of fasts – either prolonged compressed eating cycles as in Ramadan, or frequent 24 hour long fasts as in the Hindu traditions. Both these cases are examples of what is now known to medical research as – Intermittent fasting.

Intermittent fasting has been shown to have beneficial impact on glucose metabolism, intestinal health, reversing aging, cardiovascular and brain functions. In essence this is quite a handy tool for a long, healthy life along with whatever diet and lifestyle practices you may already be following.

Growing up, I have seen many different forms of fasting. The most common one I have seen is when people eat during fasting what they normally do not eat. For instance, several food items such as garlic, onions, wheat, rice are off the plate, while you still fill the plate with things such as sweet potato, tapioca, potato etc. I am certainly not referring to that kind of fast – since that is not really a fast at all. I have also seen other type – especially with people fasting during the month of Ramadan where there is a feast after sunset and before the sunrise which is then followed by a 12 hour or so gap of no eating and no water. This is perhaps closer to what I was trying to achieve during my experiment with two specific exceptions – first, I had at least 16 hours of no eating period in a day and secondly during that period, I was drinking lots of water. Lastly, I combined this with what is known as high fat, low carb diet. The idea behind this experimentation was to deplete my glucose reserves and prompt my body cells to start using alternate fueling mechanisms other than glucose.

According to the literature, there are two key energy systems available for the cells in the body. The first, as we all know – is glucose. We see it and feel it everyday. That is what prompts the frequent, relentless hunger and provides us with energy as soon as we eat something. We are all told since childhood that the body to burn sugar. Any activity that we do burns sugar. This is exactly the mechanism that I am talking about here. Now the second mechanism, which is probably not very well known is where the individual cells in the body can use fats as fuel. Yes, the same dreaded fats that accumulates around your waist and makes the needle move in the wrong direction when you step on the scale. Imagine being able to use fat as energy! You would never end up gaining a pound of fat anymore because all of that will be used up by your body for energy.

But then again, conditioning your cells to use fat for fuel is not as easy and as quick. Imagine if your house had an alternate energy source like say hydro electric. You would usually use the electricity from energy company and then fall back on the hydro generation from nearby water stream. But then when you do not use that hydro generation plan for twenty years, it starts getting cloggy and rusty. Now when the energy company does not provide you with regular electricity, that’s when you will at least start taking efforts to clean up the pipes for the hydro plant and change the rusty parts and get it in prime shape again. But that all takes time and effort to do. That’s exactly the same with the body’s alternate fueling mechanism. You do have this system in place and functioning back when you were breastfeeding as an infant. Then it stops as soon as you start getting an influx of sugars when you are weaned off from breastfeeding. For all the decades after that, you have been burning sugars and the fat burning machinery is completely in shambles. Now when you stop the intake of sugars and readily convertible carbohydrates, the body starts taking efforts to bring the fat burning machinery in shape again. That takes time. The experiment that I did last week was the first of these sorts that will start priming the body for fat burning. I will be documenting this and the subsequent experiments on this blog.

As for the experiment that I did, the goal was to see how low sugars can be body sustain and work efficiently with. What I found out was totally ASTOUNDING!

To start with, I wanted to just play around and see how I can adapt this to a full fledged experiment. So this one was a short 2 day experiment with a Pre and Post day added to understand the context around the numbers. Now as we get into these numbers there are a few things to understand –

  1. My fasting blood sugars have always been slightly on higher nineties (between 95 mg/dl to 99 mg/dl). Even I watch my diet a lot and exercise, I am sometimes able to bring them down to high 80s (88 mg/dl or similar range). But at that point, I know that it is not a sustainable way of living unless I fuss extremely over what I eat. I don’t personally think that is the best way to live.
  2. Secondly, fat burning mechanisms require adaptation by the body. In my case, i have of course done a lot of pre-work by multiple 16 hr or more fasts throughout last year and very low to no-sugar eating. Even then of course, y body is not primed to burn fat yet. But it is definitely a lot more tolerant towards lower sugar numbers.
  3. During this experiment, I intentionally kept my workouts low intensity so that I do not cause glycolysis with high intensity movements. The idea is to reserve the liver and muscle glycogen and not allow it to raise the glucose levels in the blood.
  4. Lastly, I definitely encourage everyone to test their n=1, to test what each changes mean for their bodies. However, in this case, if you plan to experiment with this, make sure you start with frequent intermittent fasts before you delve into such experiment. Note that this can also lead to very low blood sugars – which can potentially be fatal. So make sure you know what you are doing with your body. if you need help, always reach out and I will be glad to help you find the right way to do this for yourself.

Below is my food, activity and blood glucose log:

Pre-Experiment Day: (September 1)

  • Dinner: Khichdi (Rice & lentils) and ghee.
  • Post Dinner 2hr blood glucose: 111 mg/dl.

Day 1

  • Fasting blood glucose: 99 mg/dl
  • No Breakfast
  • Lunch: Guacamole (2 bowls)
  • Physical Activity: Walking ~4 miles (part of commute)
  • Pre-Dinner blood Glucose: 94 mg/dl
  • Physical Activity: light play with kids
  • Dinner: Microgreens salads, tomato & onions. Rice & daal (100 gms)
  • Post dinner Blood glucose: 82 mg/dl

Day 2

  • Fasting Blood glucose: 74 mg/dl
  • No Breakfast
  • Physical Activity: Sun Salutations and 10 pull-ups.
  • Lunch: Watercress salad with Chicken
  • Physical Activity: Walking  ~4 miles (as part of commute)
  • Pre-Dinner blood glucose: 87 mg/dl
  • Physical Activity: 15 minutes weight exercises. Light play with kids.
  • Dinner: microgreens salad, rack of lamb, slice of sweet potato. Idli (fermented rice cakes) and butter.
  • Post-Dinner blood glucose: 88 mg/dl

Post-Experiment Day

  • Fasting Blood Glucose: 76 mg/dl
  • Breakfast: Eggs fried in coconut oil
  • Morning Workout : 5k run

Observations:

  • For the most part during these two days, my gross caloric intake was roughly the same as all the other days. In other words, i did not perform any caloric restrictions during this time. What changed was only when I ate (16 hours between the dinner and first meal of the day) and the ratio of carbohydrates and fats in the diet.
  • As the sugars dropped, I did notice a substantial difference in the body composition. The face look much well carved out in the mirror, I started shedding fat from those hard to hit areas – such as the belly.
  • I also noticed some difference in the energy levels. Although the blood sugars were low, the energy levels were fairly stable and in some cases better.
  • Similar changes were seen in the cognitive behavior. I figured that I was much more aware and a lot more attentive during my work meetings. This is something that I have not experienced before and was a welcome change.
  • The two days of such experimentation also significantly improved my exercise recovery period. In the past, I had seen several days of recovery period required for intense exercises. In the week that I carried out this experiment, I already had done a bout of intense exercise and I saw remarkable improvements in the recovery post exercise.
  • During this period, I also figured out a new normal for my body. What I used to consider normal for all these days, now feels a lot more lousy- just because i have a new benchmark to compare with.

Overall, this short experiment indicates to me that lowering the blood glucose to values much lower than normally accepted can potentially benefit the cognitive and recovery mechanisms at least. I, other words, I might be able to crank out more work and more exercise in the same period of time when performing intermittent fasting and combining it with high fat-low carb eating style.

This definitely warrants a bigger experiment. Once I am done with my OCR world championship event, I plan to get back to this experimentation. A few months down the line, I definitely expect to have better and much comprehensive results. I plan to spend 2-3 weeks in such experimentation rather than days. This period is of course not enough to setup the fat burning machinery but it will lay foundations for an even bigger experiment just like this smaller one did.

In the meantime, if you get to it before I could, make sure you let everyone know about your results.

Are you tracking the right blood markers for your sugars?

Medical science research is perhaps at its fastest rate ever in history. Literally every day we come across really path breaking studies that are being carried out all over the world.

A few months ago, I wrote about this self-experiment that me and my wife performed on ourselves to measure the blood sugars. Today, I saw a study – yet to be published in the clinical journals – that confirms such self experimentation model.

I believe most of us are well-aware of all the complications that Diabetes can lead to. The disease is characterized by high blood glucose in the blood stream. Almost all the doctors today, use a method of measuring the blood glucose values averaged over a period of approximately 3 months. This test is called the HbA1C or Hemoglobin A1C. Basically, the test measures how much your red blood cells have been “glycated” or how much glucose they have attracted throughout their life span. This test is also used to determine how much of blood sugar related complications you will be facing later in life.

But then again, as with everything there is a flip side to this as well. Now a life-span of a red blood cell for a healthy individual is roughly about 3 months. Which is why the test says that the reading is an average of blood glucose values over last 3 months. However, an interesting fact to note is that the life-span of the red blood cells can vary vastly between a non-healthy individual and a healthy, athletic individual. So what that means is, without completely understanding your background, you are being measured at an average – an average that can be way different than what you actually are.

Secondly, coming to this study that I referred above, it seems that research now suggests that the real markers of blood sugar related complications might not really be HbA1C. There are several microvascular complications related to blood sugar, such as, nephropathy (kidney diseases), neuropathy (brain diseases) and retinopathy (eye diseases). Today, most of the times, the HbA1c values are used to determine such a risk. However, this study finds that the averaged out values might not really be the right way to gauge this risk. For instance, if you have frequent spikes in blood glucose and then a good normal range rest of the times, it is quite possible that the HbA1C numbers are well within the ranges. However, those frequent blood glucose spikes setup a chain reaction of oxidation that kicks off the cycle for blood sugar related complications. In other words, you might be a completely healthy individual on the panel of medical tests. However, internally, due to frequent spikes, you might’ve already started a cascade of complications.

So what does this really mean? How do we understand the current state and improve it? The study that I mentioned above is a novel study. It is a basis for setting up newer tests and standards to really understand management of blood glucose. But while science keeps doing what it can to improve the measurements, there is something that we can do today. Enter Self-Quantification. I blogged about this a few months ago. Basically, it involves keeping a journal to track your diet, activity, sleep and the impact of all of these on your blood glucose levels. Perhaps one of the most basis self-quantification techniques, but it will be highly useful to understand your risk for microvascular complications related to blood sugar. As the study suggests, the testing methods today do not accurately diagnose this risk and this is definitely something that you do not want to miss. In my very close family and friends, I have seen huge implications on quality of life due to such microvascular complications. A month of testing and slight bit of discomfort will at least give you enough information to start planning and modifying your own diet and lifestyle.

I was surprised to see how my body reacts to certain foods and exercises. Try it out for yourself and see what you discover.

Racing for Autism

Some of you are aware that I will be participating in the Obstacle Course Racing World Championships this year. In the October, as temperatures begin to fall, I will be navigating over 60 obstacles spread out on 10 miles of hilly terrain outside of Cincinnati, OH to compete with some of the toughest athletes from over 16 countries around the world. This is a military style obstacle course that includes climbing, crawling, carrying weights over distances, running, balancing, hanging and so much more!
In the recent past, I was fortunate enough to be interacting closely with several children who were on varying degrees of autism spectrum. It does not take a long time to understand the obstacles that they have to tackle on a daily basis for activities that most of us would consider a normal life.
I intend to use this opportunity that I got to help raise money that would go towards making a differences in lives of autistic kids. I am working with a charity (Akhil Autism Foundation) that is helping transform the communication for these children and helping them socialize. Specifically, I am involved with their Stencil project that uses Rapid Prompting Method (RPM) to communicate and educate autistic children. The cost of getting this stencil to one child is $25. I have a goal this year to help make this available to at least 100 children. Thus far, we have been able to raise enough funds for 40 children and have 60 more to go.

In case you are interested, here are some videos that would help you understand this better.

Any amount you can give helps in the bettering lives for these children. I greatly appreciate your support.

Why I love OCR

I have never been the athletic kind earlier in my life. No sports in school or college. Never ran more than half a mile. But yes, I used to love the hikes and I loved the outdoors. That was probably most of my athletic abilities in my past life.

A few years ago, I was jolted by a sudden death of one of my dearest cousin – Kedar, in a road accident. It took me almost two years to get out of it. During those two years, I thought about him almost every day! Finally, I realized that perhaps the best way to remember him forever would be to inculcate some of his qualities in myself.  Now he was a really a strong and athletic person. He was also preparing for a marathon the same year. Me being in a sedentary job for over more than a decade, all the sitting, late night work, beer, pizzas and soft drinks had taken a huge toll already on my body. Climbing just one flight of stairs would take me out of breath. So  naturally, when I thought about inculcating his qualities in me, getting in shape and introducing movement in my day was the answer. So i started running. I followed some of his training timings and numbers. Within 2 months of getting up from the couch, I ran a 5k and then within next 3 months, I did my first half marathon in September 2012.

With that, I started looking into more healthy ways of eating and exercising. This eventually also led us to resolving my wife’s thyroid condition with our new diet and lifestyle. I was whipped up into shape with a dose of regular exercise and good nutrition. But something was missing now. Running just did not cut it for me anymore. It was monotonous. In 2013, I found something called as a Rebel Race. i registered for September race with my wife and loved it. That was my first obstacle course race. 5k or trail running along with climbing walls and cargo nets, running through the swamps, traversing ropes over water, crawling, balancing, hanging. This was it! I never was a fast runner. But the obstacles made up for my running. I was able to navigate the obstacles much more easily. This engaged the full body and not just my legs. I was hooked.

Next year, i did one more of these races – the BattleFrog race in NJ. Till this time, it was all fun. I never cared for the timing. For both my races, my wife participated with me and we had a fun time together merrily cruising with each other. Then in the fall of 2014, I realized that the OCR was on verge of becoming a recognized sport. With what I had experienced, I wanted to be a part of it. I analyzed my past OCR races, I realized that there were a few elements I needed to work on if I wanted to get better at this sport. The sport signified to me not just an athletic endeavor but a lesson in grit and perseverance. if I had to get a place for myself, I had to push my limits, be uncomfortable and have boat loads of determination. All this, after ensuring that my I had trained my whole body for the forth coming challenge. This was also the time I came to know about the OCR World Championship. 2014 was the first year such a worldwide event was organized for uniting the OCR world across the countries. I decided that I wanted to have a piece of this. I wanted to qualify for the world championships in 2015. That was a single minded goal.

This year, in March, I started training for the OCR season. I started with body weight exercises. The regular push-ups, pull-ups and burpees. But knowing what the races were like, I knew that the race would throw me curve balls. So my training had to prepare me for everything unexpected. The regular gym would not give me that. Without a dedicated facility, I decided to innovate my training. I got some keetlebells, weighted vests, steel clubs, ankle weights, climbing rope and doorway pull-up bars. All quite unconventional training equipment. The kids playground became my new gymnasium. The workouts had to be quick and effective since I had to have enough time for my family, my kid, my job and the social life of course. I could not afford to do long 4 hours workouts. So the workouts involved to be very intense bursts of unconventional movements spread across multiple times a day. 15 mins twice or thrice a day would work much better in the schedule rather than a continuous one hour workout.

Obstacle course racing to me now is a way of life. It has not just helped me whip my full body in shape, but it has taught me a lot more. No obstacle is unsurmountable if you have enough grit, determination and preparation. The human body is capable of achieving a lot more than what we usually give it credit for. Getting off the couch is the first step. After that, it is just one foot in front of the other. Last 3 years in my life, have made a remarkable difference to how me and my family now lives. We were able to pull my wife out of her chronic illness which the doctors thought was not possible. After being a diabetic and having cholesterol issues, I have been able to make a successful u-turn on those and in process also get a new found love for physical fitness. These years have been nothing less than transformative. They have also made me more than ready to face whatever is next in the life. I don’t worry about the curve balls now, I train for them – physically and mentally.

On 20th June 2011, I lost my cousin, my brother – perhaps the only person in this world after my wife with whom I felt more than comfortable sharing everything in my life. After a 4 year long journey, on 20th June 2015, I qualified for the OCR World Championships at the Battlefrog race in NJ. This is perhaps a mere coincidence for most. But for me, this is a culmination of my search for how I want to remember my brother for the rest of my life. To me this indicates a path that he gave me, a piece of himself that he left with me. 20th June is now more than just a date for me. It has marked a significant transformation in my life. I no longer feel a void now. Now I know that he is with me – in my mind, the dates are not a coincidence. I think my journey thus far in physical fitness has been led by Kedar and at this point, he has now given me the reins. For me, this is the start. One foot at a time and I am excited to see where the journey now takes me.

Self Quantification – 101

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.

Blood glucose log book

Below are the things that I tracked –

– Date

– 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.

FastingGlucoseTrends

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

Plastic Paradise

I just watched the documentary Plastic Paradise (http://plasticparadisemovie.com/). A fantastic & eye-opening documentary about the use of perhaps the most ubiquitous substance on the planet (right after air and water).

Plastic dumping is a real problem. On similar scale as global warming or might be even more. Unfortunately, nobody has a full grasp on the scale of the issue yet since a lot of it happens under the oceans which we don’t usually care to see. Plastic is not just out there in the trash cans and dump yards now. It is now an integral part of our food chain. Unfortunately, most of us are already eating plastic contaminated food today. Some of you might already be savvy health freaks and already know the hormonal havoc chemicals such as BPA cause in the body. The BPA infact was first invented as an estrogen drug for women. Imagine that seeping in your body now even when you eat your regular “healthy” food just because plastic is so entrenched in the entire supply. The planktons are small microscopic greens in the oceans. These are supposedly the base of the entire pyramid of animals. They form the basis of the food supply chain. There is good evidence that the planktons already have microscopic plastic within them. The same microplastic that the toothpaste and cosmetics industry denied for over a decade before finally giving up last year and removing it from their products. Imagine that for the last whole decade, you were brushing your teeth with plastic, applying microplastic to your face with the so-called exfoliating scrubs and creams. Plastic is also found very commonly in the fish that are caught for food. So it is already making way to your plate. Imagine the trash that you throw out as plastic making the full circle right to your dining table. Not a very pretty thought!

This got us thinking, right after the film got over, we counted over 15 things in our living room that were plastic. We did a retrospect on the plastic waste that we put in the recycle bin each alternate week – it was fairly significant. Much more than what we had seen during our childhood. This is despite the fact that we do not use plastic packaging for foods such as milk, eggs, oil and several other by choice already.

The movie highlights several things we can do to reduce our plastic footprint. But here are a couple of smaller impact items that you can start doing today –

Carry reusable bags when you go grocery shopping. We do that for more than 2 years now and it has helped reduce a lot of plastic waste. Also try out farmers markets. They are much better in terms of food quality and also a lot less plastic.

Avoid plastic toys for kids. Let them go out and play. Its anyways better. Plastic toys when put in mouth causes hormonal disorders for children.

Get your milk in glass bottles. A lot of local dairies provide milk in glass containers. It is just a matter of finding them around you. Trust me they are everywhere these days.

Get yourself a glass water bottle – perhaps for everyone in the family. Avoid using the plastic bottles. Especially the single use ones. Never EVER give a plastic bottle to your kids.

If you really don’t need it, say NO to receipts. The movie explains why a lot better. There is also a significant amount of research that goes into it.

– Get yourself glass cups  / glasses – Yes they look good and are much better for you and the earth. Ditch the plastic glasses for sure.

 – Say NO to straws with your beverage – They make up almost 33% of the waste on the beaches.

– Say NO to plastic caps on your next coffee – You will need it for just 5 minutes. But the plastic stays literally Forever.

Lastly, whatever plastic you cannot avoid, make sure you ALWAYS RECYCLE.

Check out the documentary at – http://plasticparadisemovie.com/ (Also available on Netflix)

Look at websites such as http://5gyres.org/ to educate yourself and spread awareness.

This is an issue that can be for sure changed at grassroots. Lets do it ! TODAY !

Your Get Fit Community in 2015

Yesterday I blogged about the Bodyweight workouts and also started the facebook community page for Bodyweight Workout WODs so that we all can take the get fit commitment head-on this year – Together. Join the page today to get started with your GetFit commitment. Do it with your community.

How it works

Twice every week, we post a workout to the community page. The first workout is posted on a Monday and second one on Thursday. Each of us performs the first workout between Mon – Wed & the second One between Thu – Sunday. We workout only twice a week and provide ample time for rest and recovery. But during the workouts, make sure that you push yourself!

Each workout will be graded with Levels 1,2 & 3. These are in ascending order of difficultly. The Level 1 is usually designed for someone with a fair level of fitness. So there might definitely be times when Level 1 itself is difficult for some people. In such cases, it is perfectly OK to scale it further down. Cut the reps in half. If doing pull-ups, use a tension band for assistance. If doing push-ups, start on the knees instead of full push-ups. There are many ways to scale the workouts depending on the exercise that you are doing. Scaling it down is perfectly fine and acceptable. At the end of your workout, post a comment on the workout that you are done. Possibly with additional details like time took, level attempted, how you feel at the end of it. Make sure to provide any progress you’ve made from the last attempt – this helps get the most needed encouragement.

The whole idea here is to start building up the strength and conditioning required to get to Level 1 and consecutively to Level 2 & Level 3 workouts. Every workout has a name and we will be cycling between multiple such named workouts. You can use this to track your own progress. What level was attempted the last time you did the same workout? Are you doing better now? What was your last time for the specific workout and specific Level? Have you improved on that? This is a great self feedback and helps you get better with time.

So go Get Strong and Get Fit this year. Use the community to Get Inspired, Be Accountable and Foster a Healthy Competition!

Have a great 2015!