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POSTED
2020-04-20
07-081940
08-47148
09-081966
10-31

Why does physical fitness occupy such a prominent place in my life? And how does my concern with physical fitness manifest and relate to other values?

This page is a stub, created on 2020-04-20 (last updated on 2022-09-01). Its contents are notes on the issues and angles I want to address about this topic.


On This Page

Introduction

I imagine that this will likely end up being a whole section of examining physical fitness from different angles. My immediate purposes are to give an indication as to why physical fitness occupies such a prominent place in my life and exactly how it manifests, provide a bit of detail about what I do for exercise and diet, and describe some of my personal history and evolution in my approach(es).

Physical Fitness, Philosophically

Here are a few areas I'd like to explore:

  • media imagery: the role of cartoon depictions of superheroes and developmental concepts of masculinity
  • consistency and integration: developing not only the mind, but also the body
  • connection to rules, discipline, and how cheating is psychologically untenable for me
  • the body as a work of art (functional "versus" aesthetic goals)
  • connection to physical health
  • self-esteem versus second-handed approval-/attention-seeking
  • shirtlessness: feeling sexy versus feeling wanted; pride versus flaunting
  • the rebellion against shame triggers
  • simultaneous feelings of pride and revulsion when looking in the mirror
  • the role of my genetics (eg, my being an ectomorph) in why achieving fitness goals is so rewarding
  • the impact of "eat, eat, eat!" and "you've gotten skinnier" as a criticism in my childhood
  • social stigma against judging / concern with the physical: "even deep waters have a surface"
  • terms like "narcissism" and "vanity"
  • exercise versus recreation and cardio
  • my history with exercise
    • dabbling as a kid and through SMC
    • starting lifting at UCLA
    • High Intensity Training (HIT) and SuperSlow
    • RP

Exercise

I use the Renaissance Periodization Male Physique Templates (full-body, 4-day-per-week, which is basically an upper-lower-upper-lower split).

There's a bit of nuance, but I basically go through the template (three or four 5-6-week "mesocycles") in conjunction with a phase of my diet. (At the start of a cut or bulk, I start with a fresh template, regardless of whether I chose to finish the previous one.)

A few high-level notes:

  • A "mesocycle" is a 4-to-6-week progression in which weights increase week over week, and the number of sets depends on performance the previous time that muscle group was worked. The last week of a mesocycle is a "deload" week, where the weights are very low; think of it as a "rest" week where there's still a bit of stimulation/activity. Mesocycles come in three flavors:
    • basic hypertrophy (medium-to-high weight), more reps
    • metabolite focus (low-to-medium weight), way more reps, little rest between sets
    • resensitization (high weight), fewer reps
  • I estimate my 10-rep max ("10RM") for each exercise I select at the start of a mesocycle. On that basis, the template tells me what weights to use in each week as I progress.
  • I often have to make modifications because of my knee issues, lower-back sensitivity, and propensity for elbow tendonitis.
  • I typically lift Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.
  • I don't do any "cardio" as a formal part of my routine (proper lifting provides all the cardiovascular conditioning I could need or want for any practical purposes), but I do enjoy recreation whenever it comes up as a fun thing to do! During a cut, I intentionally find opportunities for more low-intensity, steady-state "cario", like walking/hiking.

Diet

My approach is inspired by the science/logic/algorithms that were later incorporated into the RP Diet App. (Full disclosure: I worked on the UX for earlier versions of the app, and now my brother Andrew is their CTO / lead engineer!) I don't use the app or their templates, since I prefer to exercise more granular control over my diet design, especially by making various adjustments that help my cuts be more tolerable/effective (eg, reducing hunger pains, preventing hanger, avoiding ruining my health).

What about Paleo? Strictly speaking, Paleo and my calorie-counting/bodybuilding goals are orthogonal (or at least tangential). I eat Paleo for non-bodybuilding health reasons. Think of it roughly like this: Paleo is about what I eat (qualitative/substantive), whereas my bodybuilding dietary plan is about how much I eat (quantitative).

Cycle

Here is a typical full cycle of my diet:

  • cut / caloric deficit
    • drop body fat while preserving muscle: target rate is to lose 1 lb / week
    • typically correlates with one round of
      • 2 basic hypertrophy cycles
      • maybe a metabolite focus cycle
    • typically 10-14 weeks
      • typically until I get my ab veins back
      • stop when negative health indicators start manifesting; eg,
        • decreased sex drive
        • inability to sleep (mostly because fantasizing about food / next feast day)
        • chronic leg fatigue
        • "cut until you hate life"
  • bulk / mass / caloric surplus
    • put on muscle while minimizing fat gain: target rate is to gain 1 lb / week
    • typically correlates with one or two rounds of
      • 2 basic hypertrophy cycles
      • 1 metabolite focus cycle
    • typically 17-34 weeks
      • "bulk until you hate your body" (which is tongue in cheek; for me, that means I don't like my ab definition anymore and I have a lot more paunch than I would like)
  • maintenance
    • help body to "set" the muscle gains
    • typically correlates with the 4-week resensitization mesocycle of the last template used for a bulk

Calorie Calculus

As I understand, total calorie deficit/surplus accounts for about 80% of body morphology changes. So macronutrient breakdown and timing is a further optimization.

The basic figure that I start with is my "maintenance calories". This is not basal metabolic rate; this is the number of calories I need to consume to maintain my weight, given my typical activity levels. For me, that's roughly 3500 to 4000 calories. (Yes, I have an unusually high metabolism!) I discovered this through scrupulous tracking of calories and weight, putting the data in a spreadsheet, and fitting some curves! I err on the side of fewer calories, so I peg that at 3500.

I've found that, regardless of whether I'm cutting or bulking, since I'm limiting my caloric intake (yes, even on a bulk, so as to not put on too much fat!), I benefit from having a weekly feast day of unlimited calories. It's "feast", not "cheat", for conceptual/linguistic/psychological reasons, particularly because it's an intentional part of the plan, not a departure from it.

To lose or synthesize a pound of flesh, it's about 3500 calories deficit or surplus, respectively. On cuts and bulks, I project about a pound per week change; anything faster seems to not work well for me. So my daily average on a cut has to be 3000, and my daily average on a bulk has to be 4000.

Here's the arithmetic:

  • Maintenance is 3500 calories/day.
  • To lose/gain a pound per week is -/+ 3500 calories/week, which is -/+ 3500/7 = 500 calories per day.
  • Therefore, daily average on
    • a cut is 3500-500 = 3000 calories
    • a bulk is 3500+500 = 4000 calories

With a feast day, I have to budget something that will work "pretty okay" and probably beyond what I'm likely to eat.

  • cut
    • total calories per week is 3000*7=21000
    • budget 10000 calories for a weekly feast day (yes, this is totally possible!)
    • (21000-10000)/6 ≈ 1833
    • practically, I target 1800-1900 calories daily
  • bulk
    • total calories per week is 4000*7=28000
    • budget 7000 calories for a weekly feast day (definitely don't get too hungry on bulk feast days, and this is a typical number)
    • (28000-7000)/6 = 3500
    • practically, I target 3500-3600 calories daily
  • maintenance...okay, you get the idea

So how about macros? Well, I tend to use carbs as a performance-enhancing drug, so I time them around my lifts. So what follows is for lifting days, regardless of what diet phase I'm in. I tend to be willy-nilly on macronutrient breakdowns on non-lifting days, being low-carb on non-feast days and a total carb glutton on feast days (if that's what I'm craving!).

Here's the high-level algorithm:

  1. pin fat intake to be 25-30% of total calories (probably closer to 25% for a cut)
  2. pin protein to be 1.5 to 2 grams per pound of body weight
    Disclaimer: The general recommendation for maxing out muscle-sparing / protein synthesis requirements based on the science is something in the range of 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight to 1 gram of protein per pound of total body weight, which leaves more calories from carbs to use as fuel. My going well above that is based on my own experimentation around what helps me to feel better and do better with satiety.
  3. remainder from carbs

Here's a more detailed view. For purposes of the table, let's use x to refer to the total calories for that day. The entry in bold is the first part of the calculation (with other columns showing other representations of the same information).

Macronutrient Calories Grams Example for 1800-1900 calories
Fat (9 calories/gram) 25-30% of x min: 0.25 * x / 9
max: 0.3 * x / 9
450 calories
50 grams
Protein (4 calories/gram) min: (body weight in lbs) * 1.5 * 4
max: (body weight in lbs) * 2 * 4
min: (body weight in lbs) * 1.5
max: (body weight in lbs) * 2
1080 calories
270 grams
Carbs (4 calories/gram) x - (calories from fat + calories from protein) (x - (calories from fat + calories from protein)) / 4 280 calories
70 grams

A few notes:

  • Notice that the numbers don't line up exactly? This is why I deal with ranges, to make calculations a bit easier. So I do a bit of fudging within 50ish calories and round to nearest 5-10 grams. This also translates into a bit of fudging when it comes to estimating food quantities (eg, 1/4-cup of rice, not 3/16-cups of rice) and exact compositions.
  • I'm pretty loose about protein versus carbs, so I often err on the side of more protein. Any protein your body doesn't use gets converted into carbs anyway, and I tend to feel better consuming more protein.
  • Time the protein-carb combinations to be close to workouts. Move fat away from workouts.
  • Philosophically/psychologically, this is really important: Once the plan is in place (eg, a particular cut/bulk phase or mesocycle), adherence to the process is critical, no matter what the scale says, day to day. I weigh myself daily, but I do not allow that to shake my commitment to the process. Just because my weight on a cut doesn't decrease one day as much as I might have liked, that does not mean that I eat fewer calories the next day or decide to go on an ad hoc 10-mile run. I trust the process, and I reevaluate and adjust it only when I've gone through it. Trying to make adjustments mid-stream introduces more statistical noise into an already quasi-chaotic system, making it more difficult to extract useful data about the efficacy of any particular approach. Do keep in mind, though, that the committed-to process may itself have built-in adjustment mechanisms or even "escape hatches" (such as the health indicators that tell me it's time to end my cut)--that's not a problem; like "feast" days (that are not "cheat" days), those mechanisms are part of the process, to be evaluated at its conclusion.

Optimizations that make cuts more bearable for me:

  • unlimited feast days (covered above)
  • more, smaller meals throughout the day to keep deep hunger at bay (If I get to the point where I'm starving, there won't be enough calories left in the day to get me out of that state.)
  • casein (eg, greek yogurt) before bed because it digests slowly and provides caloric support throughout the night
  • lots of caffeine in the mornings (which is an appetite suppressant), but none in the afternoon/evening, so it doesn't interfere with sleep
  • Surprisingly, perhaps, calorie density (calories/weight or calories/volume) doesn't seem to make a big difference for me in terms of satiety. So things like meal-replacement shakes (Ample) and protein shakes (whey and dextrose) are perfectly fine sources of calories for me, even if they make up a substantial proportion of my daily quota.

Supplements

Powders

Pills

To be frank, I'm not confident how much good these various supplements are doing and how much I'm getting what I need from things like food (and in the case of vitamin D, exposure to sunlight). I might be largely throwing my money away. But given the fact that I don't really have a lot of variety in my diet, hate seafood, and have a general disposition toward eating the same boring things day in, day out (especially when I'm strictly adhering to a predefined meal plan!), I think of this as a sort of insurance policy, covering my bases in terms of important nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc).

Keep in mind that it's not a recommendation for anybody else.

Supplement Morning Evening Justification and Comments
fish oil or
flax oil
1280 mg Omega-3 (fish oil) or
1550 mg Omega-3 (flax oil)
1280 mg Omega-3 (fish oil) or
1550 mg Omega-3 (flax oil)
anti-inflammatory
(fish oil recommended by Diana; flax oil recommended by urologist)
cod liver oil 250 mg 250 mg dental health
(recommended by Diana)
butter oil 250 mg 250 mg dental health
(recommended by Diana)
vitamin D3 5000 IU 5000 IU immune function, calcium absorption
psyllium husk capsules 2000 mg
(1467 mg fiber)
2000 mg
(1467 mg fiber)
fiber: bowel function
(recommended by gastroenterologist)

Discontinued because ineffective.
glucosamine 1500 mg glucosamine HCl
1200 mg chondroitin sulfate
250 mg methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
1500 mg glucosamine HCl
1200 mg chondroitin sulfate
250 mg methylsulfonylmethane (MSM)
joint and bone health/support (particularly knee issues)
(recommended by Emily Webb; seemed to make a huge difference)
curcumin 1500 mg 1500 mg anti-inflammatory
(recommended by Andrew)
vitamin C 1000 mg   immune function
calcium citrate 150 mg   bone health
separated from magnesium to avoid competition for absorption pathways
(recommended by Andrew and Tom)
vitamin B complex 409.467 mg (various)   energy
magnesium glycinate   120 mg pre-bed calming support
separated from calcium to avoid competition for absorption pathways
(recommended by Andrew and Tom)
zinc aspartate and zinc orotate   30 mg immune function, thyroid function
(recommended by Christian Wernstedt)
iodine and potassium iodide   12.5 mg thyroid function
(recommended by Diana)

Discontinued because likely culprit in triggering hyperthyroidism.
selenium   0.2 mg iodine and iodide absorption
(recommended by Diana)