Category Archives: Update

Month 28: The end of numbers

Wade - apple pie pizza

I had a checkup of sorts Tuesday. I went for a Bod Pod assessment, my first since May 2 and starting a maintenance diet.

In the 2-plus years I’ve been on Project Bulk, it’s been trickier and trickier to get the test. Lakeshore Foundation (which now does the pricier and more robust DEXA scans), Samford University and St. Vincent’s One Nineteen no longer offer Bod Pod. The University of Alabama still does at a very reasonable $20, but that’s a 2-hour round trip to Tuscaloosa.

Fortunately, PhysIQ Lifestyle Medicine in Homewood has one for $40. Contact them to get an appointment on Tuesdays or Thursdays.

May marked a successful conclusion to Project Bulk, with a 15.7 percent body fat reading, very healthy for my age and gender.

Today, after 8 months of a slightly looser maintenance diet, I’m at 16.8 percent body fat.

That is very good news. I strongly encourage you to get a Bod Pod or DEXA scan to determine your body fat percentage. I learned from watching the documentary “Fed Up” how even people without weight issues can have serious problems with high body fat.

I’m going to take a big step (for me) in 2015, starting in 24 hours on New Year’s Day.

No more food diary. No more measuring ounces and counting calories.

I will continue my exact same boring workout routine and record my results. I will continue to eat the same slow carb diet 6 days a week and indulge in a cheat day once a week, with a little cheating during the week.

The only change is I won’t have to weigh every meal and calculate the calories and protein. After more than a year, I know how to shop and cook and eat within the plan. It’s super easy.

Besides, my calorie and protein calculations were often estimates. I was winging it all along.

I’m comfortable with the road ahead. Maybe in a year or two I’ll check my body fat percentage again. But I’m going to return to eating like most normal people do, without the fuss of a scale and a calculator.

I call it a big step only because the numbers, even not perfectly accurate, have been reliable and comfortable. If I need to gain or lose pounds, or gain or lose muscle or fat, I could work on the intake numbers. This has been my life since September 2012.

But I have to remember a couple of things. First, I’ve lived most of my life without this obsessive pre-meal measurement. Second, I can always restart the record keeping. I’m not throwing my kitchen scale in the trash.

Step by step, I have dialed back the major time-consuming efforts: daily photos, weekly weigh-ins, protein shakes, daily/weekly/monthly posts. And I haven’t fallen down. I haven’t screwed up.

I’ve become stronger, more confident and comfortable in this lifestyle. It’s now routine.

I hope you’ll try some of the crazy things I did from “The 4-Hour Body” [Amazon | iTunes aff. links]. They worked for me most of the time, and I’m happy to help you with advice and answers and encouragement. Just ask.

I hope you’ll simply try. I did, and my life is better in ways I never imagined.

My 60 days of ice baths: Experimenting with testosterone and vitamin D

Vitamin D

Photo: Colin Dunn (CC)

A few days ago, I took my first hot shower in 2 months. It was glorious.

Let me clarify: I spent the last 2 months in a self-imposed science experiment. It was 60 days of ice baths, Brazil nuts and megadoses of vitamin D.

Project Bulk has changed my life for the better, but I found a new challenge. I wanted to see if I could increase my body’s vitamin D and testosterone levels.

A blood test in late August revealed that my vitamin D level was below normal and my testosterone level was average. Reading “The 4-Hour Body” [Amazon | iTunes aff. links] had inspired me to check on both during a routine physical.

Vitamin D has become a routine part of blood work this year at my doctors’ practice, since more people are turning up deficient. I was a little surprised, since I’ve take a daily 400 IU capsule (the lowest dosage) for years. I don’t get a lot of sun on a regular basis.

I upped it to 5,000 IU capsules, one upon waking and another before bed. That’s 10,000 IU a day, or 70,000 per week.

It worked.

Vitamin D chart

Chart: Vitamin D levels over 60 days

I had started at 27 ng/ml and aimed for 55 ng/ml. After 2 months, I was at 92 ng/ml. Easy stuff.

I scaled back: I’m now taking one 5,000 IU capsule per day.

Testosterone would be trickier. Much trickier.

I didn’t want artificial supplements: A body that becomes dependent on testosterone boosters is less able to produce it naturally.

I’m producing an adequate level, but could I raise the bar?

“The Four-Hour Body” suggests this daily regimen:

  • 2 cod liver oil/butter oil capsules, one upon waking and one at bedtime;
  • 6 Brazil nuts, three upon waking and three at bedtime (though the author notes this was for his selenium deficiency);
  • 6,000 to 10,000 IU of vitamin D, half upon waking and half at bedtime;
  • ice baths or cold showers, 10 minutes upon waking and 10 minutes at bedtime.

I substituted cod liver capsules and Kerry Gold butter for the capsules.

Those ice baths felt great in September when the highs were in the 80s and 90s, less so in late October when the lows dropped into the 30s.

And Brazil nuts … wow, $7 to $12 a pound. Delicious, but pricey.

The results were disastrous.


Chart: Testosterone levels over 60 days

I had a 20 percent to 26 percent drop in testosterone levels. I would’ve been better off doing nothing!

I immediately stopped with the ice baths (yay!) and dropped the butter and nuts. I went back to my previous daily dosage of fish oil capsules (which I had been taking with a simple multivitamin).

I strongly encourage you to check your vitamin D level at your next physical. Ask your doctor to have it tested with your blood work. If you need more, you can eat vitamin D-rich foods such as salmon, mackerel or mushrooms; get more sun; or take vitamins.

Really easy stuff.

If you’re looking to boost testosterone, WebMD suggests more sleep, a healthy weight, more exercise and less stress.

I’m going to let my testosterone level return to its previous normal while digging deeper into the research. My experiment could resume in January with different dosages or new tactics.

This is why I measure, experiment, measure again and remain skeptical. It works in the long run, if not always in the short run.

And I learned that my toughness extends to creature comforts. Ice baths, while uncomfortable, aren’t that bad. Billions of people do it regularly.

But if I can raise my testosterone while enjoying hot water, I shall.

Month 20: Achievement unlocked

Week 1 vs. Week 87 - front

Week 1 vs. Week 87 – front
[Click image for a larger version.]

Measurement Sept. 1, 2012 May 2, 2014 Change
Weight (pounds) 121.8 121.6 -0.2
Body fat percentage 23.5 15.7 -7.8 percentage pts.
Fat weight 28.6 19.1 -9.5
Lean weight 93.2 102.5 +9.3
Total inches 113.6 114.8 +1.2

Exercise Start* April 30, 2014 Change
Kettlebell swing 32 x 20 lbs. 62/13 x 60 lbs. +200.0 percent
Myotatic crunch 6.5 x 2.5 lbs. 4.0 x 25 lbs. +900.0 percent
Single-arm kettlebell swing 25 x 15 lbs. 8/7 x 45 lbs. +200.0 percent
Isolateral dumbbell
incline bench press
2.4/3.0 x 30 lbs. 0.3/0.3 x 40 lbs. +33.3 percent
Yates row 7.0 x 55 lbs. 4.3 x 165 lbs. +200.0 percent
Reverse drag curls 6.0 x 25 lbs. 0.3 x 55 lbs. +120.0 percent

*I started these exercises on different dates.

I needed just one number to mark my progress. But that one number proved to be more elusive than usual.

What was my body fat percentage after 20 months of Project Bulk?

Lakeshore Foundation no longer offers Bod Pod assessments, only DEXA scans ($150). Even if they were free, I wouldn’t change measuring tools midway.

Both remaining Bod Pod machines in Birmingham — at Samford and St. Vincent One Nineteen — were broken, with no repair dates in sight. This was getting ridiculous.

I tracked down three more scanners in Alabama: at Auburn University, Alabama State University in Montgomery and the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Fortunately, I was headed to Auburn earlier this week on business.

The one at Auburn? For students only. The one in Montgomery (a short detour on the way to Auburn)? The technician retired, and no replacement had been trained or hired. Really?

Early this morning, I drove to Tuscaloosa to last remaining Bod Pod in state available to the public. I desperately wanted to know my number.

It was worth it.

After an unhealthy score of 26.8 percent body fat in September, I’m down to an incredible 15.7 percent.

body fat percentage May 2014

Chart: Body fat percentage – September 2012 to May 2014

That score is in the excellent range for my gender and age group.

Body fat percentage chart

Chart: Body fat percentage ranges for men and women

Over 20 months, I’ve gone up and back down in weight. Today, I’m the same weight as I started, 121.6 lbs.

But I’ve lost 9.5 lbs. of fat and gained 9.3 lbs. of muscle. I’m stronger than ever, and I’m on a diet that’s easy for me to follow and maintain (though I might be a little less strict in the future).

I’m proud of how far I’ve come. I’m no muscled stud, but I am much healthier in strength training and nutrition. I can easily keep this pace, though I do need to shoot for more (empty) calories in maintenance mode.

If someday I choose to bulk up by working out more, I know I can do it. I’ve done some of the hard work already, simply by getting started.

I’ve completed Project Bulk, which means quietly updating my spreadsheets but no more selfies and no more regular posts.

I do hope you’ll check out “The 4-Hour Body”” [Amazon | iTunes aff. links] by Tim Ferriss, the book that showed me the way and gave me ideas, inspiration and options for keeping this fun and manageable.

Good luck on your own self-improvement projects!

I’m going to go celebrate with a bowl of beans.

Week 53 vs. Week 87 - front

Week 53 vs. Week 87 - side

[Click images for larger versions]

April’s average workout time was 25 minutes and 56 seconds.

I averaged 2,200 calories a day in April. I also had 132 g protein a day on average.

The project has cost me $807.30 so far. I spent $41.78 less on food in April compared to previous monthly averages.

You can see all the numbers updated in real time on the Measurements page.

Week 1 vs. Week 87 - side

Week 1 vs. Week 87 – side
[Click image for a larger version.]

Month 19: When mere results aren’t enough

Week 1 vs. Week 82 - front

Week 1 vs. Week 82 – front
[Click image for a larger version.]

Measurement Sept. 1, 2012 March 28, 2014 Change
Weight (pounds) 121.8 122.6 +8.1
Body fat percentage 23.5 20.3 [Dec. 31] -3.2 percentage pts.
Fat weight 28.6 24.9 -3.7
Lean weight 93.2 97.7 +4.5
Total inches 113.6 115.0 +1.4

Exercise Start* March 31, 2014 Change
Kettlebell swing 32 x 20 lbs. 65/10 x 60 lbs. +200.0 percent
Myotatic crunch 6.5 x 2.5 lbs. 11.0 x 20 lbs. +700.0 percent
Single-arm kettlebell swing 25 x 15 lbs. 25/8 x 40 lbs. +166.7 percent
Isolateral dumbbell
incline bench press
2.4/3.0 x 30 lbs. 0.3/1.1 x 40 lbs. +33.3 percent
Yates row 7.0 x 55 lbs. 3.3 x 165 lbs. +200.0 percent
Reverse drag curls 6.0 x 25 lbs. 0.3 x 55 lbs. +120.0 percent

*I started these exercises on different dates.

I’m happy with my results so far. I bulked up quickly. I worked out minimally. I reduced body fat percentage easily.

Each stage has been fun and challenging and ultimately fruitful. I even hit a new milestone on Saturday: 5,000-plus calories. I can eat a 12-inch pizza solo in one sitting. In 30 days, I’ll know if my body fat percentage has plateaued or dropped further.

But I feel I’ve failed in one key area, an area that shouldn’t really matter. But it still gnaws at me.

I haven’t convinced anyone else to take the plunge. Not a single soul has given it a shot. To me, that’s failure.

I don’t preach this diet and workout routine as the gospel. I know it works on me, but I’d like more data. One person is an anomaly. I can safely say that I can add and shed weight with sustained, applied effort.

But I’ve never struggled with obesity or trying to lose pounds. I haven’t wrestled with other diets, or denial, or exercise, or temptation. I will admit that this experiment has been rather painless.

You might try “The 4-Hour Body” [Amazon | iTunes aff. links] and fail. Or have mediocre results. You might write it off as another fad diet. You might dig in for a few weeks, only to gradually give into temptation or the simple distractions of a busy life.

I don’t know. I only know my journey, which has been well documented on this site.

I figured I get at least a few takers by this point. I know several acquaintances had been watching from early on, just to see if a skinny boy could actually bulk up. But no matter how the numbers have shifted up or down, or the photos have shown growth and reduction, it has been me and only me.

You might roll your eyes at this point, which is fair. I roll my eyes when I see friends hawking essential oils or studies that prove vaccines cause autism.

It’s fine to have a healthy sense of skepticism, especially when it’s the zillionth diet or exercise routine touted by friends and celebrities and kooks. Heaven knows my skepticism remains, and I’ve been the actual guinea pig for a year and a half.

I’m happy to have proven to myself that I could do it and that I got the results I wanted at each phase. I’d be happier to have some company, but I can do only so much heavy lifting.

March’s average workout time was 25 minutes and 55 seconds.

I averaged 2,192 calories a day in March. I also had 125 g protein a day on average.

The project has cost me $849.08 so far. I spent $37.70 more on food in March compared to previous monthly averages.

You can see all the numbers updated in real time on the Measurements page.

Week 1 vs. Week 82 - side

Week 1 vs. Week 82 – side
[Click image for a larger version.]