My training at 39-ish

So another year has gone by and I’m another year older. A bit late, but here is the annual update on my training, nutrition and other key happenings in life. If you’re somewhat interested, links to my previous annual updates can be found here: 36-ish37-ish and 38-ish.

Context and Goals
39-year-old. 180cm. 77kg.

I want to be fit enough, fast enough and strong enough to get through the daily challenges of life. Basically just I want to live healthy and well into old age.

Year Forty. Go on…

Food
Where to start? Well, it’s a wholefood diet. Something along the lines of an ancestral or paleo type diet. This has been my basic template for the last nine or ten years now. It has evolved over the years and I generally rotate between lower and higher carbohydrate intake throughout the year depending on my physical and mental requirements. In general, my protein intake is fairly stable throughout the year and I would switch between a high carbohydrate or high fat diet depending on the season and how I looked, felt or performed (mentally and physically).

Most days I’ll eat 3 meals, with at least 5 hours between meals, to allow the digestive system to do its job to metabolise nutrients to properly fuel the body. Most recently, I have added a high protein snack towards the end of the day as part of my evening routine. This usually consists of some protein powder mixed into some Greek yoghurt or cottage cheese.

As a general rule, my macronutrient breakdown would average out to be in the ballpark of:

  • Protein: about 200g;
  • Fats and oils: about 115g;
  • Carbohydrates: about 130g (depending on activity level).
  • Total: about 2355 calories.

Since the middle of February, I have made a conscious effort to increase my weight and build some lean muscle tissue which has required an increase in caloric consumption. I have added more carbohydrate to most meals, especially on training and / or competition days to help facilitate lean muscle growth.

These days, my macronutrient break down has looked a little more like this:

  • Protein: about 240g;
  • Fats and oils: about 85g;
  • Carbohydrates: about 240g.
  • Total: about 2685 calories.

What does this look like on a plate? It starts with quality sources of protein, such as beef, lamb, pork, game meats like kangaroo and venison, or some fish. Then, a variety of leafy greens, root vegetables or rice and finally some healthy fats like, butter, ghee or olive oil. 

I also eat eggs almost daily, bone broths and fermented foods, like kimchi and yoghurt.

I drink a lot of mineral water and my coffee is almost always black.

Throughout the previous year with coronavirus related lockdowns within the community, my alcohol consumption went up, then down, then up again. Drinking the occasional glass of red wine with my partner throughout the winter, then experimenting with cocktails during the warmer months. Most recently, I have once again dialed back on the alcohol to zero, with the exception of special occasions like Anzac Day, or my birthday.

I normally train first thing in the morning, after a cup of black coffee with some collagen peptides. Since February, I have consumed a serve of WPC prior to my workout, in order increase protein synthesis, stimulate muscle growth and to help prevent the breakdown of lean muscle.

This has worked well for me for a while now and I have been able to maintain a healthy body composition, sustained physical performance and with fairly consistent energy levels throughout the day. In that time, I have increased my weight by nearly three kilograms. Looking in the mirror, I would say that the majority of the weight increase has been lean muscle. Not bad for year forty.

I’ll stress this again, this is what has worked for me.

Eating out. It’s now 2021 and eating out is a part of the modern social culture. 

Most of 2020 eating out was taken off the cards with practically all restaurants being closed. This meant that I was able to dial in my nutrition pretty well without the temptation of fancy, over-indulgent meals at nice restaurants. Whilst I did eat out on occasion, I was really lucky with the fact that my partner eats very similar to myself so it was pretty easy for us to cook and share meals together at home with ease for the majority of the year. It also gave us some additional quality time together which I thought was pretty amazing.

I also know a little bit about nutrition and how to cook which helped.

Additionally, my partner recently commenced contest preparation for her third bodybuilding / bikini competition, which has increased the requirement to keep her the nutrition in order. I have chosen to basically eat the same as her, using my macros in order to support my goals of building muscle. It makes meal time easier for us when we eat together or when preparing meals for the week. It’s also an easy way for me to support her through her preparation.

Supplements
Generally, I don’t take a lot of supplements. I try to get all of my nutrient requirements through diet alone, with the addition of some Cod Liver Oil during the winter months to boost vitamins A and D, which among other things, supports optimal immune system function.

For pre-workout, I’ll make a cup of black coffee with some collagen peptides.

Magnesium. This is probably one of the most important supplements for me. Magnesium is vitally important to over 300 biological functions in the body  from regulating protein synthesis to muscle function and supporting proper sleep patterns.  As the demands for physical training, stress or professional workloads increase, the requirement for magnesium increases.

Vitamin C. Is a water soluble vitamin that has been shown to improve antioxidant levels, improve overall immunity, improve iron absorption, lower blood pressure, reduce heart disease and dementia risk. Vitamin C is also critical for collagen synthesis. Collagen is the most abundant protein in the body. It makes up the skin, bones, tendons, ligaments, and many other structures. Vitamin C is essential for collagen synthesis. That means the conversion of amino acids into functional collagen that the body can use.

That’s about it really.

Training
Strength and conditioning. During the last 12 months I’ve mainly focused on two training protocols. The first being mostly completing the bigger compound lifts first, then finish up with some accessory exercises and a finisher.

That means, deadlifts, power cleans, weighted pull-ups, horizontal and vertical presses. Followed by some accessory work like push-ups, dips, cable rows, split squats and ab rollouts.

I have generally split these movements into two separate training blocks, being push and pull, with the other being squat and press.

Sets and repetitions will vary each workout, but generally I’ll aim for about 25-30 repetitions in total for each movement. How many sets it takes reach that total will depend on how I’m feeling on the day. So days that could mean a standard 5 x 5 protocol and on others it could mean something like 2 x 15. 

My other strength and conditioning focus has been the kettlebell lifts. I really enjoy training with kettlebells and have found them to be an incredibly versatile training tool over the years.

Training with kettlebells can be more dynamic and can develop strength and conditioning when implemented in circuit style training. I’ve also found that I can get a higher volume of lifts during my kettlebell training phases, not to mention a good sweat.

Farmer’s carries and high volume kettlebell swings have featured consistently in my programming.

Really simple. But simple works.

I’m not setting strength records, but I’m doing pretty well for a guy who has just turned 40 years old. I’m athletic, have a decent strength to weight ratio, can run reasonably quick, generally in pretty good health and rarely injured. Pretty important for somebody entering “middle-age”. This allows me to be consistent. And consistency is the key to long term health and performance. I can be active across a variety of disciplines just about any day that I choose, which is more often than not.

Running. It’s been mostly interval work and some 5km efforts. The Army loves running. So occasionally, I’ll have to run longer distances out to about 8km. As general rule however, it’s just the shorter, more intense runs that I feel the most benefit from.

During the last twelve months I competed in one virtual race with the New York Road Runners (NYRR), where you track a run locally and upload it to a global leaderboard.

Virtual Races:

  • NYRR Virtual, 5k (21:50min)

As opposed to running, I have been walking a lot more. A great opportunity to listen to a podcast, catch up with a friend or spend some time out in nature.

Basketball. It’s back. I’m really enjoying being on the court. Both socially and competitively. It’s a sport I’ve played since I was 12 years old. The 2020 competitions were brought to an immediate closure in March. Really disappointing as we were playing well and winning.

Overall, I’m having a lot of fun playing sport again. I just love competing. Each night I’m matching up against players half my age so it’s a good feeling to be competitive and even beat most of my opponents on a nightly basis.

Right now my training consists of four days of strength and conditioning combined with one or sometimes two days of running (mostly easy / mid-level efforts and some sprint work). Each workout will last about 40 to 50 minutes. I play basketball two nights a week, on Tuesday and Thursday.

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A final point. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

Lifestyle and Travel
I’m living in Melbourne, Australia. It’s my fifth year back in my home state. It really is great being around family and friends for such an extended period of time. I feel like I am a part of the local community again, which is great. It does feel nice to be able to hold a decent conversation with your local barista or butcher a daily / weekly basis.

The importance of good social connections is often overlooked when it comes to optimising your health and how well you perform at all levels on a daily basis.

This year is my eighteenth year in the Army. A life time. For the most part it’s been an exciting career that has allowed me to develop as a human and contribute to the global society in a positive way. A career that has taken me to almost every corner of the world and I have had the opportunity to work with many great people from a variety of countries sharing the same values and goals as myself.

My girlfriend / partner. What can I say? She is nothing short of amazing. Highly driven, intelligent, independent, strong and beautiful. Running an office as an associate lawyer for a major personal injury law firm. She also lectures law subjects at the local university, instructs fitness classes and as discussed earlier, is in the middle of her third bodybuilding / bikini contest preparation. Most importantly, she makes me strive to be a better human every day.

We were fortunate enough to meet about a month prior to the initial lockdown early last year. In my estimation, just enough time to figure out that we were both decent humans with great potential, both as individuals and as a couple.

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Note. We still are both decent humans.

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She lives in Bendigo, Victoria. About a ninety minute drive outside of Melbourne. It’s only four turns from my door to hers. We were lucky enough to be able to travel between the two locations during the lockdown months, which did give us some sort of freedom or normality during a period of time that could just as easily have been incredibly lonely and mentally tough.

We were both lucky to have the opportunity to remain employed throughout the last twelve months and the transition to the work-from-home life made it even easier to spend time together between Bendigo and Melbourne. We are both back working at our respective office / barracks most days which means our time together has been reduced to mostly the weekends.

Having the opportunity to spend time in Bendigo has been great. A regional city with the country town sense of community. There are some amazing restaurants to try and some fantastic cocktail bars that are worth checking out. Not to mention some good coffee and a decent gym by the name of McQuinn’s.

As usual, I also spent some time at the family holiday home on the Mornington Peninsula. Always a great option for a lazy weekend getaway and some valuable beach time. We also spent a few nights between Crown Towers Resort Melbourne and the Jackalope Hotel Resort on the Peninsula around the Christmas / New Year period.

We also travelled to Adelaide in early January for five days. Most of our time was spent visiting beaches and cafes along the coast during the day and some inner city cocktail bars in the evenings.

So, what’s next?
The next twelve months is going to be an exciting time. On a personal note, I am seriously considering the possibility of transitioning out of the full-time service with the Army in order to provide more stability at home. I’ll most definitely continue to contribute with the Army Reserve. I feel that it is time for me find a new challenge on a professional level.

I’m always looking at ways to continue my development both personally and professionally. Most recently I have taken a deeper look into the works of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson and furthering my knowledge of long term property investment to better prepare myself for the future.

Life can be whatever you want it to be, and there are some really exciting times are ahead.

Until then… Live well. Train hard. Enjoy life.

Fasting: hour by hour

How long should you fast? That depends on which health benefits you’re trying to tap into. The longer you do fast however, the more the health benefits begin to add up.

This does not mean that long fasts are for everybody. It depends. As an example, if you’re just trying to increase ketone levels for sustained energy and improved cognitive performance, then a 17 or 18 hour fast (which can be performed daily) might be enough. However, if you’re trying to reduce chronic inflammation or metabolic disorder then stretching it out to about 72 hours could stimulate the appropriate physiological response.

Here are the benefits of fasting broken down by the number of hours fasted:

13-16 hour fast

A 13-16 hour fast is considered to be intermittent fasting and can be conducted daily. At 13 hours of fasting, the digestive system down regulates (goes to sleep) and your body will begin to secrete more human growth hormone (HGH). The HGH assists in a variety of processes including the maintenance of lean mass, burning fat and slowing down the ageing process.

At this point, the body is transitioning to the use of stored body fat for immediate energy. 

16 hour fast

This is when most people begin to produce additional ketones. Ketones are a sign that the liver has transitioned from burning glucose (sugar) to burning fats for energy. In addition, ketones are neuro-protective and will move into the brain, giving you energy and a greater mental clarity. 

Also, HGH production continues to increase and the body begins to accelerate the fat burning process.

18-24 hour fast

At 18 hours, the body will begin to stimulate autophagy. What this means is your cells internal intelligence has been switched on and they are able to repair themselves by cleaning out old and / or damaged cells.

At 24 hours, your intestinal cells reboot and GABA production increases. GABA is the neurotransmitter known to relax the brain and help with anxiety.

At this point in time, the body would have depleted its liver glycogen stores and would now be operating primarily on ketones (from the break down of fatty acids) for energy.

36 hour fast

The longer you fast, the more it forces your body to deplete glycogen stores, and release stored energy in the form of body fat (an evolutionary adaption in response to not having a constant food source). As the body breaks down stored body fat and converts it to usable energy, the body also releases toxins that have also been stored within the fat cells. Proper hydration and even supplementation with a binder, such as charcoal may help the body to eliminate toxins during periods of fasting.

36-48 hour fasts is where to start to see an increase in stem cell regeneration, fat loss, greater anti-ageing benefits, and an increase in dopamine levels.

At this point, autophagy increases by approx. 300%.

48 hour fast

At 48 hours, cellular regeneration commences and inflammation begins to decrease. Autophagy continues to increase and the body begins to reset dopamine receptor sites.

72 hour fast

This is where autophagy peaks.

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Although longer fasts can be beneficial, fasting for periods greater than 72 hours should only be conducted under medical supervision or with consultation.

 

Homemade pumpkin soup

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The winter months usually means warm and hearty meals are back on the dinner menu. Nothing beats a warm and delicious soup after a long day out battling the elements.

Simple, flavoursome and nutritious, this soup can be made from scratch at home in about 30 minutes. Perfect for those cold winter nights.

Here is a quick 5 ingredient recipe.

Ingredients (serves 2)

  • 500g x pumpkin;
  • 1 x small potato;
  • 1 x onion;
  • 2 tsp x minced garlic;
  • 150ml x bone broth.

Boil the pumpkin and potato and onion until soft. Drain and add all of the ingredients and place into a blender or NutriBullet. Blend for 45-60 seconds. That’s it. You’re done.

Before serving, garnish with parsley, spring onion and / or sour cream.

Nutritional breakdown (153 kcal / per serve)

  • Protein: 6.7g
  • Fat: 0.5g
  • Carbohydrate: 27.7g
  • Vitamin A: 14,500IU (483% of RDI)
  • Vitamin C: 26mg (28%)
  • Iron: 2.1mg (26%)
  • Magnesium: 51mg (12%)
  • Potassium: 1130mg (33%)

My training at 38-ish

So another year has gone by and I’m another year older. Here is a current update on my training, nutrition and other key happenings in life. If you’re interested, links to my previous annual updates can be found here: 36-ish and 37-ish.

Context and Goals
38-year-old. 180cm. 74kg.

I want to be fit enough, fast enough and strong enough to get through the daily challenges of life. With continued learning and adaptation, living healthy and well into old age.

Oh, and add a little more lean muscle too.

Once again, the caveat is that this is what has worked for me so far…

Food
What do I eat? You could call it some sort of ancestral or paleo type diet, but it’s basically a whole foods diet. It’s evolved over the years and I have reintroduced certain foods into the daily rotation like butter, cheese and the occasional slice of sourdough bread at breakfast.

For the most part, I just try to reduce or eliminate highly processed fast foods, crappy vegetable oils and added sugars as much as practicable.

On most days I’ll eat 2 meals with a snack, with at least 5 or 6 hours between meals, which allows the digestive system to have adequate time to do its job and metabolise nutrients to properly fuel the body.

As a general rule, my macronutrient breakdown would average out to be in the ballpark of:

  • 40-50% fats and oils;
  • 30% protein;
  • 20% carbohydrate.

More recently, I have been trying to add more carbohydrate into my diet to help facilitate lean muscle growth.

It’s definitely not keto which has become quite popular these days, but it’s still a fairly low carbohydrate diet and I would definitely be cycling in and out of ketosis on a weekly basis. I’ve done some occasional ketone testing and usually score between 0.5 to 0.8 mmol/L, which is considered nutritional ketosis. If you’re within this range you’re generally thought to be metabolically healthy, meaning that you’re able to switch between glucose (sugar) and ketones (a byproduct from the breakdown of fatty acids) as an energy source efficiently.

What does this actually look like on a plate? Well… quality sources of protein first, such as pasture raised beef, chicken, pork or some sustainably sourced fish. Then, a variety of leafy greens and root vegetables, and finally some good fats like avocado, butter, ghee, coconut or olive oil. Add some cheese like Gouda or Provolone to close out the meal and you’re done.

I eat plenty of eggs, bone broths and fermented foods, like kimchi and yoghurt. I drink a lot of mineral water and my coffee is almost always black. A glass of red wine, specifically a pinot noir or a classic gin martini is always welcome to round out the weekend.

I normally train in a fasted state, or after a cup of black coffee with some MCT oil. During periods of more intense training, I’ll have a serve of WPC prior to my workout, in order to help prevent the breakdown of lean muscle.

Contrary to what a lot of people think is best practice for weight management, most of my calories are usually consumed in the final meal of the day. I find that eating meals higher in carbohydrates at the end of the day allows me to replenish depleted glycogen stores, and preparing my body to train early the following day. I also have more time available in the evening to get creative and prepare larger meals.

This has worked well for me for the last 12-18 months, I’ve been able to maintain my weight and body composition easily and have had fairly consistent energy levels throughout the day.

I’ll stress this again, this has worked well for me.

Adding some additional weight to this argument is that I’m human, and I’m more likely to be sharing a meal in the evening after work with friends or family. This was the case until recently. The global COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent societal lockdowns have greatly restricted what individuals or groups of people are able to do in public. But more on that later…

Intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding. There is a difference. As mentioned earlier, I generally eat two main meals per day. One meal post workout and one at the end of the day. I would argue that this is called time-restricted feeding, with all meals being consumed within a predetermined window of time, for example between 12pm and 8pm on a regular basis.

Intermittent fasting is exactly that. Intermittent, meaning occasional. Humans have evolved over time to thrive through seasonal periods of both excess and limited food availabilities. This is why the body can switch and use both ketones and glucose as an effective energy source.

How do I fast? Depending on the day, lets say a typical day where I do a strength workout, I might only have a 10-12 hour overnight fast while on other days I can stretch it out to 16-18 hours with ease. Occasionally on a low tempo day, I would dabble in a longer fast of up to 24-32 hours. This wasn’t very regular, Maybe only 3 or 4 times over the last 12 months.

Eating out. It’s 2020 and eating out is a part of modern life. Well it was until recently. The global COVID-19 outbreak has placed the community on lockdown which has greatly restricted people from eating out. In fact, eating out is dead, for now. A lot of restaurants have had to resort to takeout or delivery options just to continue daily operations. Many places have closed indefinitely. Hopefully in the near future some restaurants will be able to reopen, even if it means limiting the amount of customers dining at any given time.

Lucky I know a little bit about nutrition and how to cook.

Supplements
I don’t take a lot of supplements on a daily basis. I try to get all of my nutrient requirements through diet alone, with the addition of some Cod Liver Oil during the winter months to boost vitamins A and D, which among things, support optimal immune system function.

As mentioned earlier, my pre-workout is typically a cup of black coffee with some MCT oil, and I’ll occasionally use a whey protein powder pre or post workout.

Magnesium. This is probably one of the most important supplements for me. Mostly taken post workout in the warmer months or in the evenings prior to sleep. Magnesium is vitally important to over 300 biological functions in the body and these days it’s not that easy to get enough from diet alone. Add in some intense training or some elevated stress or workloads, and your requirement increases.

Additionally, over the last 12 months I have added Olive Leaf Extract during the standard cold and flu season to help strengthen the immune system.

Training
Strength and conditioning. During the last 12 months I’ve focused on two training protocols. The first being mostly completing the bigger compound lifts first, then finish up with some accessory exercises and a finisher.

That means, deadlifts, power cleans, weighted pull-ups, horizontal and vertical presses. Followed by some accessory work like push-ups, dips, cable rows, split squats and ab rollouts.

Sets and repetitions will vary from workout to workout, but generally I’ll aim for about 12-20 repetitions in total for each movement. How many sets it takes reach that total will depend on how I’m feeling on the day.

My other strength and conditioning focus has been the kettlebell lifts. These can be more dynamic and can develop strength and conditioning when implemented in circuit style training. I’ve found that I can get a higher volume in lifts during my kettlebell training phases, not to mention a good sweat.

Heavy Turkish getups (up to 50kg), farmers carries and high volume kettlebell swings have also featured consistently in my programming.

These three exercises are so good for you that you could almost base your entire strength and conditioning program around them and you’re likely to see consistent progression throughout the year.

Really simple. But simple works. I can also finish most workouts in about 30 or 40 minutes.

I’m not breaking any strength records, but I’m tracking pretty good for a guy who is nearly 40 years old. I’m athletic, generally in good health and rarely injured, meaning that I have the ability to be consistent. This allows me to be active just about any day that I choose, which is most.

Running. It’s been mostly interval work and 5km racing. Occasionally, I’ll run longer distances out to about 8km. For the most part however, it’s just the shorter, more intense runs that I feel the most benefit from.

In the last twelve months I have competed in the following events:

  • Mothers Day Classic, 4k (18:22min) (11th in category)
  • Run Melbourne, 5.2k (22:40min) (18th in category)
  • Melbourne Marathon, 5k (21:23min) (3rd in category)
  • Portsea Twilight, 4k (DNS)

I suffered severe muscular spasms in my back several days prior to the Portsea Twilight 4k which forced me not to start the event. It was a bit of a setback, and it took several weeks to recover and resume training at lighter loads which caused me to miss some of the summer circuit before the COVID-19 restrictions suspended all races.

I also competed in five virtual races with the New York Road Runners (NYRR), where you track a run locally and upload it to a global leaderboard.

Virtual Races:

  • NYRR Global Running Day Virtual, 1.6k (6:55min)
  • NYRR World Championship Virtual, 5k (22:36min)
  • NYRR TCS NYC Marathon Virtual, 5k (22:31min)
  • NYRR Resolution Run Virtual, 5k (22:34min)
  • NYRR Virtual, 5k (21:44min)

Basketball. Last year I started playing basketball again. Both socially and competitively. It’s a sport I’ve played since I was 12 years old. The only time away from the sport was from 2006-2013, when my military career took priority and I was unable to commit to the sport due to the amount of time I was away from home.

I was fortunate enough to play for Victoria in 2019 Defence Force National Basketball Championship. It was extremely competitive level of basketball and a lot of fun. It had been a while since I had played at such a high level of sport.

With other quality offensive players on the team, I didn’t shoot or score in the volume that I am normally required to do when I’m on the court, but it was great to play a lot of effective minutes and contribute to the team, especially in some of the closer contests.

The Men’s title was won by New South Wales and the women’s title went to Queensland.

Overall, I’m having a lot of fun playing sport again. I just love competing. Each night I’m matching up against players half my age so it’s a good feeling to be competitive and even beat most of my opponents on a nightly basis.

Right now my training consists of three days of strength and conditioning combined with two or three days of running (mostly easy/mid level efforts and some sprint work). Each workout will last about 30 minutes.

On the days I haven’t run, I usually go for an evening walk around the river for about an hour. I’ve found it a great way to stay mobile, relax and keep up-to-date on listening to some informative podcasts.

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March 2020. The final week before gyms were forced to close due to COVID-19.

COVID-19. With the government imposed community lockdowns in an attempt to “flatten the curve” during the global COVID-19 outbreak, I’ve had to make fairly significant changes to how I train. Firstly, the gyms are closed until further notice.

Personally, I feel that this has been a great opportunity to explore other areas of fitness. I’m fortunate enough to have spent the last 17 years in the military and have a solid understanding of “real” functional fitness. With gyms closed people have had to get creative with their workouts.

I have started to incorporate more circuit type workouts into my programming where I’ll run for 10 to 15 minutes, then conduct a series of bodyweight movements like push-ups, pull-ups, air-squats and mountain climbers then run the return leg.

Alternatively, I have a few training aids at home including some kettlebells, a sandbag, a sledgehammer, a deadball and an ab wheel that I can incorporate into home workouts.

Probably not too bad a set up for general fitness and conditioning training. Most strength based workouts are combining a variation of an overhead press with some pull-ups and goblet squats, then finishing with either high volume sledgehammering or swings.

Add in the occasional sprint workout, hike or loaded lift and carry and you’re set.

A final point. Doing something is better than doing nothing.

Lifestyle
I’m living in Melbourne, Australia. It’s my fourth year at home and I’m loving it. Being around family and friends definitely makes life more enjoyable. The importance of good social connections is often overlooked when it comes to optimising ones health and how they perform on a daily basis.

I love a cup of coffee and can be always found at cafe on the weekend post workout catching up with friends. I also don’t mind entertaining friends with the occasional get together at my apartment. The annual Hot Cider and Christmas Cocktail nights were a lot of fun and both had good turn outs.

A key point to note here is having flexibility. No-one is perfect and it’s fine to make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from these experiences. Everyone is human, and we all have to live in the present day. I make mistakes, just like everybody else. I always try to seek constructive criticism so I can make a better, more informed decision the next time a particular event crosses my path.

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Ben Lomond Track, Queenstown. At about 1450m elevation, on the way to roughly 1700m.

Travel. Last June I was fortunate enough to travel to the southern island of New Zealand for two weeks. It was my first time visiting. I spent time in Christchurch, Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo, Wanaka, Queenstown and Dunedin. During that time I was able to conduct multiple hikes saw some amazing country. I was also able to catch up with a good friend towards the end of my trip in Dunedin.

As usual, I also spent some time at the family holiday home on Mornington Peninsula. Always a great option for a lazy weekend getaway and some valuable beach time.

My studies. In December 2019, I completed a Diploma level qualification in Nutrition. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, my graduation ceremony was postponed indefinitely. I have since received my qualification in the mail.

The global COVID-19 outbreak. As I mentioned earlier, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced the government to lockdown the community in an attempt to slow the infection rate to reduce the burden on the medical system. It’s a global problem. Almost everybody has been effected in one way or another.

I’m lucky enough to still be employed and have some sort of normal daily structure. Defence provides a critical role within many areas for the nation from national security to logistical and medical support. Many industries however, are not as fortunate and many people have been out of work for several months now.

The lockdown has changed the modern way of life as we know it. No travel. International travel has stopped. Gyms, social sports, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, bars are all closed… and the list goes on.

Forced social distancing means less face-to-face human interaction and more online interactions through social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Zoom.

The thing here is that humans are innately social creatures. Telling people to stay away and isolate from each other during an incredible stressful time is kind of counter intuitive. People generally want to help each other and offer support where they can to benefit those in need, but in this case, the message has been to stay home and isolate. I haven’t seen the statistics, but it’s safe to say there will be an increase in mental health conditions relating to extended social isolation.

Some really good lifestyle tips that I’ve picked up from other people much smarter than me on keeping both mentally and physically healthy that can be applied during the lockdown and other periods of isolation:

  • create daily structure with regards to time management;
  • get daily sun exposure;
  • daily physical activity;
  • eat nutrient dense foods;
  • read more;
  • build a consistent sleeping pattern;
  • keep up social connectivity, face-to-face or via video conferencing.

Who knows what the next 12 months will bring? Hopefully, the world has found a way to better manage the whole COVID-19 situation and we’re all out and about again returning to somewhat of a normal life. One thing is for sure, society will be different in 12 months time.

Until then… Live well. Train hard. Enjoy life.

How to make mulled cider in a slow cooker

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Winter is officially here. Which means colder and longer nights. But it’s not all bad news. Hot drinks and cocktails come back into fashion, making it easier to enjoy the cooler nights out and about socialising with friends.

Mulled cider is a must have for autumn and winter social gatherings. Most popular in the northern hemisphere where the winters are very cold and a hot beverage is always welcome. Melbourne may not be as cold as the north, but the smell of spiced cider is pretty inviting and it tastes delicious.

Anybody can enjoy a mug of mulled cider, and as an adult you can take the opportunity to add a shot of spiced rum for a smooth kick.

A slow cooker does the double of both mulling the cider and keeping it warm for hours, making it the perfect appliance for this classic cold-weather beverage. It will also make your house smell like Christmas.

How to make mulled cider in the slow cooker
Makes 4 litres.

Ingredients

  • 4 litres of apple cider or unfiltered apple juice
  • 4 x cinnamon sticks
  • 1 x large orange
  • 1 x piece of fresh ginger (approx. 4cm)
  • 1 x tablespoon of whole cloves
  • 1 x tablespoon of nutmeg
  • 1 x teaspoon of star anise

Instructions

  • Fill the slow cooker;
  • Add the fresh ingredients (orange and ginger);
  • Add the spices (cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and star anise);
  • Slow cook on low for up to 4 hours or pressure cook on high for 3o minutes;
  • Strain cider (if required or desired) using a fine mesh strainer.

Keep warm and serve in mugs garnished with sliced orange or a cinnamon stick.

 

 

Why it’s important to have rest days?

screenshotWe’re always told to stay active and get regular exercise. But whether you’re training for a competition or feeling extra motivated, more isn’t always better.

Those who know me personally would have heard me say “less is more” when it comes to optimal health and performance. Yes, it’s important to be active, but how many hours do you really need?

With the energy mismatch created my modern diets excessively high in carbohydrate and overly processed foods its easy to understand why many people think they have to exercise upwards of 15 to 20 hours per week to lose or maintain a healthy weight.

Having days of low activity or rest allows the body to recover and repair, both physically and mentally. It’s a critical part of progress, regardless of your fitness level or sport. Failing to rest appropriately can result in overtraining or burnout which basically is the opposite of what you want to achieve.

Here are some of the benefits of taking rest days:

Recovery
Contrary to popular belief, a rest day isn’t about being lazy on the couch. But it can be, in part. It’s during this time that the beneficial effects of exercise take place. When you’re resting, you’re allowing the body to make physiological adaptions.

Your muscles store carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. During physical activity, your body breaks down glycogen into glucose to fuel your workout.

Rest gives your body time to replenish these energy stores before your next workout or competitive event.

Prevents muscular fatigue
Rest is necessary for avoiding exercise-induced fatigue. As mentioned before, exercise depletes your muscles’ glycogen stores. If these stores aren’t replaced, you’ll experience muscle fatigue and soreness.

Your muscles need glycogen to function, even when you’re not working out. By getting adequate rest, you’ll prevent fatigue by letting your glycogen stores to be replenished.

Reduced risk of injury
Regular rest is essential for staying safe during exercise. When your body is overworked, you’ll be more likely to fall out of form, drop a weight, take a wrong step or make a poor decision.

Overtraining also exposes your muscles to repetitive stress and strain over time. This increases the risk of overuse injuries, forcing you to take more rest days than planned. This ultimately leads to lost training time and in turn a potential failure in progression.

Improved physical performance
When you don’t get enough rest, it can be hard to do your normal routine, let alone challenge yourself.

Even if you push yourself, overtraining decreases your performance. You may experience reduced strength and endurance, slower reaction times, and poor agility.

If this is not addressed over time, this reduced output may become the new performance standard as the athlete may think they have hit a training plateau and begin to seek an additional challenge to continue progression, when actually a slight reduction in training load may be all that is required.

Rest has the opposite effect. It can increase energy levels and prevent overall fatigue, which prepares the body for more consistent and successful workouts, which can produce optimal mental and physical performance outcomes.

Improved sleep quality
While regular exercise can improve your sleep, taking rest days is also helpful.

Physical activity increases energy-boosting hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. Constant exercise, however, overproduces these hormones. You’ll have a hard time getting quality sleep, which only adds to fatigue and exhaustion and resulting in reduced mental and physical performance.

Rest can help you get better sleep by letting your hormones return to within a normal, balanced state.

The take away
Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned athlete, regular rest and recovery is crucial to maintain optimal health and performance.

The best way to make the most out of your rest days is to conduct low impact activities, such as bodyweight movement pattern training, biking, walking or yoga. These activities will help you stay active while letting your body recover and recharge.

A simple look at optimal human health

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Homo sapiens, or modern day humans are basically hairless sweaty apes with large brains and small stomachs. This is how we evolved:

  • Wake up with the first light of the day;
  • Eat one (maybe two) meals of local seasonal foods including a large amount of seafood and marrow from bones of other animals;
  • Be naked in the sun all day;
  • Swim in the ocean;
  • Be moderately active collecting food and fresh drinking water;
  • Watch the sunset;
  • Go to sleep on the earth in darkness.

Humans lived every day like this on the East African rift for 300,000 years in perfect synchrony with the daily and seasonal rhythms of the sun, the earth, the moon and stars.

Lets expand a little all of the points mentioned above:

Wake up with the first light of the day
Humans have detectors for light in the skin (melanopsin) that detect the first rays of morning light before sunrise and wake you up by releasing cortisol.

Watching the sunrise and the all the varying frequencies of the morning sunlight are absorbed by the eyes and skin to build hormones, neurotransmitters and set the circadian rhythms of every cell in the body.

Eat one (maybe two) meal of local seasonal foods including a large amount of seafood and marrow from the bones of other animals
One meal consumed during the day allows for beneficial intermittent fasting for the rest of the day and ketosis at night during sleep.

Humans evolved larger brains and immune systems than our primate ancestors by accessing the fatty acids and other key nutrients such as DHA & iodine from the marine food chain, along with the marrow from the bones of other animals.

Fruits and vegetables traditionally varied geographically throughout the seasons, so make the most of a the variety of these foods available to you.

Be naked in the sun all day
Humans are basically hairless primates that can run around on two feet. This adaptation allows for several evolutionary advantages, such as the increase of the amount of sunlight that the skin is able to absorb.

Visible sunlight is absorbed into the skin to convert or produce hormones, such as Vitamin D, which is critically important to optimal human function.

Other benefits include an improved circadian rhythm, increased blood flow, brain function, dental health, mitochondrial function and sex hormone production.

Swim in the ocean
Humans have traditionally lived near the oceans and river ways and have evolved over time to eat seafood. Swimming in the ocean provides another source of electrolytes, salts, and other micro nutrients that may be difficult to obtain through the modern diet.

Be moderately active collecting food and fresh drinking water
Humans have always been moderately active animal. Nomadic by nature, they had to walk or run everywhere, and had to carry their belongings with them as they moved from location to location.

Humans also have a great need for a daily supply of fresh clean drinking water. The human body is roughly 60% water, with the brain and heart being composed of approx. 73% water. Additionally, plasma (the liquid portion of your blood) is approx. 90% water. Plasma helps carry blood cells, nutrients and hormones throughout the body.

It’s possible for the body to survive several weeks without food, but the body can only survive a few days without water.

Watch the sunset
The eyes and skin pay attention to the waning frequencies of light at sunset to prepare the hormones of the body for sleep. The absence of light at night is a signal to release the hormone melatonin to facilitate regenerative sleep at night.

Go to sleep in darkness
The absence of light is a very important signal for cellular circadian rhythms and metabolism. Proper circadian rhythm promotes quality sleep, helps keep the cells healthy and contributes to optimal performance.

Concluding
A very simple look into a template for optimal human health. Remember, there is no one size fits all. However, by applying these practices to the modern environment of generally poor nutrition, constant over stimulation, inadequate time in the sun and disrupted circadian rhythms, we may be able to prevent and even reverse many of the chronic diseases that affect so many people today.

Humans need to relearn what is a species appropriate diet and lifestyle. The diet and lifestyle that previous generations have lived which shaped our evolution throughout history. The closer you can emulate this natural lifestyle, the less likely you will develop one of chronic diseases of life.

Characteristics of traditional diets

Delicious  portion of  fresh salmon fillet  with aromatic herbs,

From the Weston A. Price foundation.

Characteristics of traditional diets

  1. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain no refined or denatured foods or ingredients, such as refined sugar or high fructose corn syrup; white flour; canned foods; pasteurized, homogenized, skim or lowfat milk; refined or hydrogenated vegetable oils; protein powders; synthetic vitamins; or toxic additives and artificial colorings;
  2. All traditional cultures consume some sort of animal food, such as fish and shellfish; land and water fowl; land and sea mammals; eggs; milk and milk products; reptiles; and insects. The whole animal is consumed; muscle meat, organs, bones and fat, with the organ meats and fats preferred;
  3. The diets of healthy, non-industrialized peoples contain at least four times the minerals and water-soluble vitamins, and TEN times the fat-soluble vitamins found in animal fats (vitamin A, vitamin D and Activator X, now thought to be vitamin K2) as the average American diet;
  4. All traditional cultures cooked some of their food but all consumed a portion of their animal foods raw;
  5. Primitive and traditional diets have a high content of food enzymes and beneficial bacteria from lactofermented vegetables, fruits, beverages, dairy products, meats and condiments;
  6. Seeds, grains and nuts are soaked, sprouted, fermented or naturally leavened to neutralize naturally occurring anti-nutrients such as enzyme inhibitors, tannins and phytic acid;
  7. Total fat content of traditional diets varies from 30 percent to 80 percent of calories but only about 4 percent of calories come from polyunsaturated oils naturally occurring in grains, legumes, nuts, fish, animal fats and vegetables. The balance of fat calories is in the form of saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids;
  8. Traditional diets contain nearly equal amounts of omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids;
  9. All traditional diets contain some salt;
  10. All traditional cultures make use of animal bones, usually in the form of gelatin-rich bone broths;
  11. Traditional cultures make provisions for the health of future generations by providing special nutrient-rich animal foods for parents-to-be, pregnant women and growing children; by proper spacing of children; and by teaching the principles of right diet to the young.

Using the evolutionary exercise template to boost performance

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What did our primal ancestors do for exercise? Well, for a start, exercise for them wasn’t anything they had to think about. It was life.

There were no gyms or running tracks. No spin rooms or Zumba classes. It was just the surrounding environment. Everyday. This meant moving and exercising to gather food, build shelter, or simply to survive.

An evolutionary exercise program can be defined as one that is similar in principle to what our ancestors did on a daily basis.

Move often at a slow pace
Early humans spent much of their day walking around hunting and gathering their food, along with seasonal migrations to new territories following food sources.

Low level aerobic activity throughout the day will build stronger blood vessels, bones, joints, and connective tissues.

Some easy ways to incorporate low level aerobic activity could look like this:

  • Walking or riding your bike to work;
  • Parking your car as far away from your destination as possible and walking the rest of the way;
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator;
  • Take frequent breaks at work to get up and walk around; or
  • Take a walk outside during your lunch break.

You may even want to try a standing desk if possible. On weekends or after work, try going for a hike or even a swim. The possibilities are infinite.

Find ways stay active every day, even on your rest days. The benefits of being mobile are endless, especially as you enter into older age.

Sprint every now and then
Our ancestors didn’t spend hours upon hours exercising, and neither should you. For early humans, life depended on being able to outrun animals, either in the form of hunting them (persistence hunting), or to avoid being hunted by them. They would only work hard when it was absolutely necessary.

These short bursts of high intensity physical effort increased the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH). HGH helps to maintain, build, and repair healthy tissue in the brain and other organs. This hormone can help to speed up healing after an injury and repair muscle tissue after exercise. This helps to build muscle mass, boost metabolism, and burn fat.

HGH is released in proportion to the intensity (not the duration) of the physical activity.

Lift heavy things… and carry them
Just like sprinting, early humans had to use quick bursts of energy to lift and move heavy objects. They would have to move large rocks or logs to build shelter, carry firewood or large animal kills back to their camps.

These types of high intensity workouts help release testosterone that boosts metabolism and improves muscle strength and size.

The best movements to mimic this type of activity are the basic movement patterns:

  • Loaded carry;
  • Hinge;
  • Squat;
  • Pull;
  • Press.

This includes exercises like the squat, deadlift, pull-ups, push-ups and farmers walks.

The biochemical signals created by these very brief, but intense muscle contractions generated a surge of HGH, prompting an increase in muscle size and power.

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Rest, relax and recover
Exercise is utterly pointless and even counterproductive without proper rest, relaxation, and sleep. You need to eat well and eat enough, let your muscles rest and recover, and have enough downtime to reap the benefits of exercise.

If you want a better quality of life, to be strong and have the ability to run fast and for distance so that life is generally easier for you. Then get your rest and recover well. You don’t need to be in the gym every day. Enjoy time socially with friends and family. Read a book. Visit a museum or art gallery. Give your body some time to physically recover.

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In summary
You don’t have to spend hours every day in the gym to be physically fit. It’s actually the opposite if you’re after general physical fitness. Depending on individual goals and competitions you may need to spend additional time completing sports specific training.

However, if you want to be healthy, strong and mobile into old age the basic template can be fairly simple to apply, follow and easy to achieve.

My training at 37-ish

Goals
Fitter. Faster. Stronger. Wiser.
With continued learning and adaptation. Always tinkering.

Context: 37-year-old. 180cm. 75kg. Soldier. Student.

Basically, I want live well into old age, being able to contribute to society and avoid chronic disease (for as long as possible).

How do we do this?

As a start point, using the basic human evolutionary blueprint and applying it to the modern environment, I have found that for me, it has allowed me to look, feel and perform to a pretty good standard without too much compromise.

Simply put, try to keep my metabolism as healthy as possible (by eating whole foods), keep enough muscle mass and remain as mobile (by being active) as I can so that I can actually get around and do everything I want to do for as long as possible… and hopefully help a few people out along the way.

Once again, the caveat is that this is what has worked for me so far…

Food
For those who don’t know me, I have been following Paleo type nutrition for nearly seven years now. For the most part it’s just eating whole foods as often as possible, and cutting out highly processed vegetable oils and sugars as much as practicable.

I rarely count calories and eat when I’m hungry. On occasion, I’ll track using a smartphone application to get a ballpark estimate of how balanced my food intake is. Generally, I’d say my macronutrient breakdown would be roughly:

  • 50-60% fat;
  • 20-25% protein;
  • 15-20% carbohydrate.

Is that keto? Technically, no. It would be pretty close and there would definitely be times through out the year that I would naturally cycle into ketosis.

I normally train in a fasted state, or after a cup of black coffee with some MCT oil and collagen.

My basic plate is a piece of animal protein with a bunch of vegetables and/or salad topped off with some butter or olive oil and sea salt. I eat plenty of eggs and I enjoy full-fat cheeses and dark chocolate (85% min). Mineral water, black coffee and red wine, specifically pinot noir are my drinks of choice.

Mostly I’m eating two meals per day, usually after I have trained. Most of my calories would usually be consumed in the final meal of the day. Mostly because I have more time available in the evening to prepare larger meals.

Another reason would be that I’m more likely to be sharing a meal after work with friends or family and sometimes it’s just easier. Being flexible and understanding the process is key here. There’s nothing worse than being “that guy or girl” who doesn’t eat at a group meal because it’s five minutes into a proposed fasting window.

Finally, when you’re a person who is generally a eating low-carbohydrate diet, getting all of your carbohydrates in the evening can replenish glycogen stores (energy stored in the muscles), and the elevated insulin response helps produce more tryptophan, which allows the process of converting serotonin into melatonin, leading to a more restful sleep.

On occasion, I will eat a third meal, typically if I’m doing a bit more physically at work, if I’m planning an evening workout or if I’m hungry. Super simple.

Intermittent fasting and time-restricted feeding. There is a difference. As mentioned earlier, I mostly eat two meals per day. One meal post workout and one at the end of the day. This is called time-restricted feeding. All foods are consumed within a window of time, for example between 12pm and 8pm.

Intermittent fasting is exactly that. Intermittent, meaning occasional. I am metabolically flexible, meaning that I am well adapted to using fats or ketones as an energy source, allowing me to go longer periods of time without feeling hungry or craving food. Occasionally on a low tempo day, I would dabble in a longer fast of up to 24-32 hours. This wasn’t very regular, maybe once every 8 to 10 weeks.

Most weeks I eat out with my team mates on a Friday morning at a local cafe, and with friends one night which would usually lead me to the local Vietnamese Pho restaurant.

Supplements
I generally don’t take a lot of supplements on a daily basis. I really try to get everything through whole food nutrition. My pre-workout is usually just a cup of black coffee and I randomly use a whey protein powder post workout. Outside of that, it’s only occasional cycles of fish oil, cod liver oil and magnesium.

Magnesium. This is probably one of the most important supplements for me. Mostly taken post workout or in the evenings prior to sleep. Magnesium is vitally important to over 300 biological functions in the body and these days it’s not that easy to get enough from diet alone. Add in some intense training or workloads, and your requirement increases.

During the winter months I spend a bit more time indoors and get a little less sun exposure, so I add about a 10ml of Nordic Naturals Cod Liver Oil every other day. The Cod Liver Oil is a good source of DHA along with Vitamins A and D, which have a variety of health related benefits.

Training
Strength and conditioning. The last 12 months I’ve focused on compound movements for general strength and conditioning such as deadlifts, power cleans and overhead presses. The break down of sets has varied, with a focus of no more than 10-15 working repetitions per movement.

Heavy Turkish getups (up to 50kg), farmers carries and high volume kettlebell swings have also featured consistently in my programming.

These three exercises are so good for you that you could almost base your entire strength and conditioning program around them and constantly see improvements throughout the year.

More recently, I have broken down my workouts into the following workout template:

  • Vertical press/pull, hinge and loaded carry;
  • Horizontal press/pull, hinge and loaded carry.

Really simple. But I’m finding that keeping it simple is working well for me. I can also finish most workouts in about 30 or 40 minutes.

I’m not setting any world records with my weight training but I’m fairly strong and athletic for a nearly 40 year old, 75kg guy. I’m rarely injured and generally have the energy to perform every day. Oh, I can also run reasonably quick.

Running. It’s been mostly interval work and 5km racing. Occasionally, I’ll run a longer distance out to about 8km, but the days of longer endurance distance running are in the past. For me, its too taxing on the body, and just takes up too much of my time. My preference lately has been to run 50m to 400m intervals and every now and then I just get out and run around for 20 or 30 minutes.

I’ve enjoyed running some of the major running events throughout the year. Firstly, it’s nice to have short term training goals, but I believe that it can give you a pretty good snapshot of how you compare physically (at least when it comes to running) across society in general.

In the last twelve months I have competed in the following events:

  • Mothers Day Classic, 4k (17:43min)
  • Run Melbourne, 5.2k (23:09min)
  • YMCA Fathers Day Run, 5k (23:37min)
  • Melbourne Marathon, 5k (24:14min)
  • Portsea Twilight, 4k (17:43min)
  • Sole Motive Sunset Series Zoo Run, 5k (22:47min)
  • Sole Motive Sunset Series The Tan, 4k (17:20min)
  • Run for the Kids, 5.2k (23:48min)

I also competed in two virtual races with the New York Road Runners (NYRR), where you track a run locally and upload it to a global leaderboard.

  • NYRR Valentines Day Virtual, 5k (23:02min)
  • NYRR NYC Half Virtual, 5k (22:25min)

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Right now my training consists of three days of strength and conditioning combined with two or three days of running (mostly easy/mid level efforts and some sprint work). Each workout lasts about 30 or 40 minutes. This gives me a total of about three to four hours of dedicated training per week which allows me to have more free time to enjoy some of the other things in life, such as coffee and hanging out with friends and family.

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Lifestyle
Living in Melbourne, Australia. This is home. Most likely for another 2 years. Being around family and friends definitely makes life a little easier. The importance of good social connections is often overlooked when it comes to optimising ones health and performance.

A key point to note here is flexibility. No-one is perfect and you’re aloud to make mistakes. Everyone is human, and we all have to live in the present day. I love a cup of coffee and can be always found at cafe on the weekend post workout catching up with friends. I have my nights out which will almost always end up at a local wine bar.

Sleep. This is really important if you want to be at your best. I’ve tried really hard to get as close to 8 hours a night of solid sleep. Having a cool and dark place to sleep is a good start, combined with a fairly standard daily wake time (ie: fairly close to sunrise) will set you up for success. There is whole post here to flesh out this topic alone.

Sleep quality will impact your energy levels, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, body composition, overall immunity, heart disease risk. The list goes on… It’s the closest thing to the mythical “magic bullet” for health and performance.

This year will be my 16th as a soldier. Almost a lifetime. Whilst I don’t do too much soldiering these days due to my current role and position, I think it’s still important to keep those skills refined.

While it isn’t soldiering, I do like hiking and camping. Being outdoors is a pretty good escape. I try to get out every now and then for an overnight hike with friends, just to take some time out from the plethora of electronic devices and social media platforms that seem to take up so much of our lives today.

I was lucky enough to get away in January for a 3 week vacation to New York City. This was my fifth visit and it never ceases to amaze. I did a bit of sight seeing, revisiting some favourites, saw a show on Broadway, got to an NBA game and got to see my team win. Had the opportunity to meet new people and catch up with some old friends. I also drank a fair bit of coffee during the day and hot apple cider in the evenings.

Later this month I’m heading to the South Island of New Zealand for 10 days. I’ve never been and it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for sometime. I’m hoping to get a glimpse of the Southern Lights and maybe a bit of alpine hiking.

My parents have a holiday house on the Mornington Peninsula which I try to get away to every couple of months for a weekend. I’ve been going there my whole life and there is just something about coastal communities that is just relaxing.

My studies. This year I will complete a Diploma level qualification as part of a Bachelor of Nutrition. Doing this via correspondence which has it’s own unique set of challenges but overall I am enjoying it.

I don’t know what the next 12 months will bring, but I’m going to keep on tinkering and fine-tune ways to optimise health and performance as I move forward into the future.