Friday, July 31, 2009

Hypertension Update

When I went to the doc in May, my BP at the office was crazy high -- like 170/110. They only took one reading, took it while I was standing, and generally had me talking throughout -- all of which are things that I've since learned can send the numbers up as well as provide inconsistent results.

As a result, I bought a home BP monitor and I've been taking my blood pressure daily for over two months now. It's interesting to watch the patterns and try to figure out what's what.

Normally, when doing a scientific test, you only want to change one variable at a time. For example, if you change a half-dozen things about your diet and your weight plateaus, what caused your weight to stabilize? It's much easier to find what works by doing one thing at a time; cut out this food, eat more of that, etc.

Except the problem in diet studies is that food isn't simple. Eating more bananas (say) means not just getting the potassium and other nutrients from the fruit, but also getting more fructose and more calories. Replacing one food with another is better, but still a non-trivial change. Was the old food good or is the new food bad? Is it calories? Sugars? Micronutrients? Or even something you're not paying attention to -- like the fact that you're eating breakfast now?

And if you're working out at the same time, a change in workout or diet might produce a change in body composition -- more fat & less muscle, or more muscle & less fat, or maybe you're gaining water weight, or all that fiber is just sitting in your gut.

Blood pressure is a bit easier. It's just a number. And my goal is really to get that number to go down.

A few things I've learned:

* Taking several measurements throughout the day has shown me how crazily volatile BP is. If I take a BP measurement then wait a few minutes and take it again, that second number can be much lower. I don't usually take two readings, and I think I'll start to -- and use that to see how the minute-to-minute volatility changes with time of day.

* Taking a measurement first thing in the morning is great for consistency. My morning routine is the most consistent time of my day and I think that reading (even though I'm normally in a rush out the door and don't have time for a second reading) has been the most consistent.

* I don't think I'm salt-sensitive, but I might be. Cutting out the salt didn't have a big effect on my BP, but adding it back in seemed to send it up. So I'm I'm going to go very-low-salt again for a couple weeks to check.

* Walking on a consistent basis (five or six times a week) has helped my heartrate a lot, and my BP some.

* Alcohol and working out will both push my BP and heartrate up; alcohol for maybe a day, while sometimes just an hour after working out those numbers will normalize.

* Being sick does crazy things to the numbers.

My numbers now, at least at home when I can sit down and rest for the few minutes it takes to get a couple readings, are back into prehypertension range: around 135/80, plus or minus 10 points for both numbers. My heartrate has also come down, from the high eighties to 70, sometimes in the 60s.

I'm going to continue what I've been doing: no sugar, no grain, no fructose, work out once every 4-7 days, and walk/run five or six times a week. Also, for the month of August, I'll be cutting down on caffeine and potatoes -- no more fries with those lo-carb burgers!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Unintentional Fasting

I managed to give myself food poisoning on Friday night. 12 hours of vomiting, 24 hours of tossing & turning, then 48 hours of dehydrated stumbling around. It hasn't been pleasant. I've "lost" 6 pounds, but that's all digestive mass.

Effectively, it's been a near-total fast for 96 hours. Everything I ate on Friday came back up, I had nothing at all on Saturday, and all I had on Sunday and Monday was a pint of ice cream, a candy bar, three slices of bacon, a couple eggs -- and a ton of sugar water (mostly sports drinks).

I've felt somewhat dehydrated, but I think that's been helped by burning off whatever glycogen stores I had -- and burning up those stores frees the associated water. This 'free' water is much of the weight lost when you first go low-carb; burning off glycogen stores doesn't also burn fat or break down muscle tissue.

Burning glycogen stores should make your lean tissues look more lean, too, by getting rid of the padding that comes from the water. The other major way to do that is to continue burning off fat -- just like high-grade cuts of meat, humans have fat tissue streaking through their muscles. Burn off that fat, and your arms and legs will look tighter, less 'puffy.'

I've felt some clarity of thought in the last few days, too. I haven't been low-carb however; those sports drinks have been high in sugar. Yet I think I've mostly burned that sugar off; at least, it's prevented me from burning off fat stores. But I've stayed away from grain and veggie oils the whole time, and I think that's helped.

Overall it's provided me an incentive to clean up my diet still further: (1) give up those corn chips, which primarily come with queso, which (when I can't explicitly check) is most likely some kind of veggie oil omega-6 goop instead of real cheese. (2) Stop with the potatoes. It's one of my major weaknesses now, and probably will continue to be, but I can start by not getting fries when I do get a burger (wrapped in iceburg lettuce instead of a bun, of course).

Down 26 pounds from my max... heh. My apartment complex is doing its own "Biggest Loser"-type thing starting tonight, and I'll be starting that off after five days of unintentional fasting. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Workout Update

My workout plan has finally settled down into something approaching a routine. I try to work out every day but I don't always make it out -- but that's fine. I achieve the goal -- to work out five or six times a week.

The center-piece of my workout plan is one day of intense exercise in the gym, following the workout plan mentioned by Timothy Ferriss and described by a few others. The essence of this strength-training workout is One Set to Failure: prefer compound movements (not muscle-isolation exercises), take a long time (five seconds or more) to perform each rep, and pick a weight where you can do 6-8 reps. The last rep should be to failure. Not just "I want to stop" but "I can't go on!"

Another key is to not over-train -- this intense workout should only be done once every four days, or possibly once every week or 10 days. Definitely don't work out every day; even every other day is too much. The idea is to avoid stress hormones. After such an intense workout, your body will respond, but constantly stressing it cuts off some of that response. You don't need to work out every day to build muscle. My days are busy; I don't really want to spend an hour in the gym every day. The only reason I would is if there's substantial gains there, and the research that these guys have dug up suggests that training more than once every four days produces a decrease in results.

A few people in the paleo community suggest fasting on this day, to pump up growth hormone levels. That might work, but I still haven't settled into a good fasting schedule.

I typically ran sprints after this intense workout, but over the last couple weeks I've shifted it. It might be a bit counter-productive to try to run hard after this workout since I've already stressed by legs pretty hard and they tend to be rubbery. Either way, my running schedule is one day of Tabeta sprints, a mile jog, a long walk (3-5 miles), a mile jog, and then repeat.

Tabeta sprints are sprinting hard for 20 seconds, resting for 10 seconds (true rest, not just walking), then repeating. What I've read on the procedure suggests doing eight such sets. So far, I'm up to five sets -- I'm just not that fit yet. :) My mile 'jogs' aren't really jogs, either -- I tend to run about half the distance and walk the other half.

I've noticed considerable improvement in both strength and fitness over the past couple months. My weight hasn't budged in that time, but I don't have solid records on body fat. My pants are definitely looser; I've dropped two inches there. So I'm burning fat, but I'm making up for it in muscle gain. Running has also gotten easier. The first time I went for sprints, that third set was painful. I'm now doing five sets. (The Texas heat isn't helping!) Likewise, my jogging days started out as walks, and I'm up to jogging a half mile each time. (Walk a bit, jog a quarter mile, walk a bit, jog a quarter mile, walk home.)

Improvement is fun, and I'm seeing it. My roommate really wants to work out more often, but I'm not biting. I'm getting results with this program, and I'd be tempted to tweak it, but I'll wait til I hit a plateau.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Running and Ankle Pain

I'm having trouble running more than about a kilometer. My ankle starts hurting and then running gets very painful. I can walk for miles, but moving faster (even a slow jog) brings up ankle pain. I've been averse to running on it, because it seems to me that it's just a good way to cause further injury.

The last time I went running a changed up my gate a bit and tried to place where exactly the pain was coming from. I think the pain I'm having is because my ankles are weak. That is, that they're not strong enough to handle the stress of running. I think the solution for weak ankles is to run more -- that is, I should be running through the pain.

Do I keep running or not? The safest thing to do would be to consult a sports physician. I don't want to pay for that right now, so I'm stuck trying to self-diagnose.

I'm still losing weight. If my ankle problems are related to the stress of propelling all that excess mass, then this is a problem that will resolve itself as I burn off fat. Eventually. Yet I still want to get out on the trails....

Aggravating, but at least I can walk pain-free, and I'm happy for that. Over the next couple weeks, I'm going to continue trying to run through the pain, and see what happens. Plus, I'm going to try to find some way to work out my feet, ankles, and lower legs in the gym, so that I can build up some strength other than being on the road.