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Muscle UP and the Week Ahead

Monday, July 02, 2012

Last week I shifted my eating/exercise schedule into 'Sarah Connor Pullup Startup' mode!

This morning my calculations say my lean mass is up by 2.88lbs! Not that I would be able to tell by my scale. It says that I'm up 4lbs. My bodyfat % has stayed relatively the same.

Last week (lean mass):
128 x .72 = 92.16
132 x .72 = 95.04

There's probably going to be skepticism on how I put on lean mass (muscle, bone, blood, water) so fast. It could be water weight retention, but that usually results in bulging. My waist, thighs and arms are all down on the tape measure. I also have another visual cue that always tells me when my body is reconfiguring - stretch marks. The nastiest ones are on my thighs and underarms.

So if my bodyfat % is relatively the same, then how can I be losing inches? I believe it's the glycogen. I've upped my resistance based activities last week, so my body shed some adipose subcutaneous fat (the bulky type beneath the skin) and traded it for glycogen (stored muscle glucose for exercise).

Before I learned to track my bodyfat measurements, the weight 'gain' threw me into a tailspin. But even without the calculations, there are other cues like the extra hip room in the capris, and the stretch marks.

Stretch marks. Bleh. I guess it's more accurate to call them 'shrink marks' that are loosened from when they were stretched. This is why I wear surfing shorts and not cute bikini bottoms. Ahh well. They are my war scars that I'm winning the battle!

As many of you know, a year ago I changed my diet. The standard American low-fat diet wasn't working for me, so I researched paleo on the suggestion of some Spark friends. Atkins wasn't for me because I think it is too restrictive. I ended up settling on a "Protein Power" plan from Drs. Mike and Mary Eades.

These days I follow more of a "Primal Blueprint" method from Mark Sisson, better known from MarksDailyApple.com. The focus is on clean eating - protein, veg and fruit, very low grains and starches. The objective is to eat 80% clean, and everything will fall into place.

Since I switched my fitness goal to improve my upper body strength (with a pull up being a long term objective), I went back and reread "Primal Blueprint". The part about the carbohydrate curve stuck out at me.

The carbohydrate curve is the approximate grams that cause insulin levels to spike, or drop. After more than a year of my own n=1 case study, I was surprised that my observations fit almost exactly within the curve he describes.

In summary, the number of carbohydrates per gram and its effect on fat gain/loss:

300g+: The Standard American Diet (SAD) of cereals, breads, sodas, sugary sweets, potatoes, pasta and rice. Extremely rapid weight gain. This is how I became obese 12 years ago.

150-300g: SAD dietary recommendations for a 'healthy diet'. Slow and steady weight gain without exercise. Prevents fat burn, despite moderate exercise. This is why I was 'fit-fat'. I exercised 1 hour 5x per week plus 8 hours on the weekend, and yet had the awesome physique of a couch potato.

100-150g: Optimal level for muscle development and/or weight maintenance. My levels are slightly lower than this. I can maintain pretty well on 100g, but 120g+ is teetering on the weight gain slide for me. I'm not sure if this is because I have minor insulin resistance, or because I am a smaller person than average, and therefore my needs are slightly lower.

50-100g: "Sweet Spot" for weight loss. Insulin levels are lowered, allowing to body to dip into stored body fat. Again, my totals are slightly lower here. 60-80g is my optimal rate for fat loss.

0-50g: Ketosis and Accelerated Fat Burning. Insulin levels are drastically lowered, and the body burns 80-100% ketones (fat) for fuel. This is considered 'Atkins' levels. I drop a day to a week here to stabilize my insulin at lower levels, but I don't stay at these levels for a prolonged period of time. For some people with severe insulin resistance, this may be their only choice.

Here's the link to the carbohydrate curve on his blog:

I maintain about 60-80g protein. The rest of my calories come from fat. I eat full-fat cheeses, milk, animal protein/fat, real butter, coconut oil, and olive oil. The only fat I avoid are hydrogenated vegetable oils, which means no processed foods, fast food, or chain restaurants.

I also don't get hungry. If I'm hungry, I eat. So even though I don't count calories, I find my calorie totals naturally falls into the 1,400-2,200 range, depending on my activity level. My carb totals as described above determines whether I gain, maintain or lose.

Last week I stayed within the 100g zone while increasing my resistance training demands. Yesterday I went to 30g carbs to drop my insulin load, and now I'm going to average about 60g carbs for the rest of the week. Hopefully this will drop my subcutaneous fat 1-2%.

It's going to be challenging because we are going away for the 4th weekend. We plan to eat the majority of our breakfast/lunch at Whole Foods buffets on our way down the Florida coast. It should be pretty easy to prepare protein/veg plates. We'll be plenty active walking on beaches, body boarding, swimming and snorkeling, so I've got exercise covered. I'll continue to do my wall pushups, squats, calf raises, and planking in the rooms.

We'll see if I can manage to trim down while on the road!

Edit (1): Correcting muscle mass versus lean mass estimate.
Edit (2): Added lean mass calculation.

Quick 101 on muscle building: www.marksdailyapple.com/
This was basically what I was doing last week. Compound exercises to stimulate hormones. This week I'm cycling into fat loss.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    IMKFOX: Always striving to do better!

    GETSTRONGRRR: It took me a while and a lot of experimentation to figure it out. I was a bit clunky at the beginning because I didn't really know what I was doing, and I was still very nervous about the whole 'eat more fat' thing. All of our bodies are different and respond at different rates. For me, my body responded pretty fast, and I could see general changes in as little as one or two weeks. But metabolic changes are rolling stones, and it takes a bit to build up momentum. So graphing trends over a period of a month was even better. Excel is my favorite fitness tool! It was how I spotted that "calorie in-calorie out" wasn't working. Calorie differential did nothing at all for me, until I dropped the carbs to half my normal.

    But my belief is that calorie differential DOES matter for fat loss. My spreadsheets showed that I lost the most weight when I had a net calorie deficiency, and my carbs were below 80g. Fat grams also matters. If you're supplying your body with all the fat it needs, then it doesn't dip in the fat reserves. Have to lower carbs to lower insulin, and have to deprive the body of a little dietary fat in order for it to melt fat.

    My food tracker is currently showing that I am eating sub-optimally for fat burn. I plan to drop the fat and raise the protein. I should be hitting about 40%p/30%f/30%c and I'm currently 50%f/25%p/25%c, which is fine for maintenance level. But I want to burn more stored fat.

    I'm not scared to eat the fatty meats any more, but for a few months I'll be sticking to the leaner cuts so my fat % doesn't outpace protein. Fortunately, it's Sockeye Salmon season. My favorite. emoticon
    2119 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/2/2012 11:46:34 PM
    Great blog (as always!) and good info on the carb curve.....but of course it generates a question in my brain.

    How long did it take you to calibrate your carb curve? Did you give your self a week or 2 at every level to determine if your gaining, maintaining, or losing?
    2119 days ago
    Great info - and great job on the workouts. I dream of being able to do a Sarah Connor Pull-up someday. Have to add that to my goals!
    2119 days ago
    ARCHIMEDESII: I made the correction about 'muscle mass' versus 'lean mass'. Water retention is a part of it, but there is a change in the lean mass. Water retention doesn't usually correspond with reduction in tape measurements or pant fit, otherwise we would all love TOM! LOL!

    I understand the skepticism about the monitors, however, I have been using it for about a year, and my own observations have held it to be nearly as good as the calipers at the gym. It doesn't need to be exact for my purposes - it just needs to be consistent for me to spot trends.

    Gaining mass quickly isn't actually too difficult with 'muscle memory', exertion, and eating the right things. If you have ever at any time had muscle of a decent gain, regaining it doesn't take a lot of effort. Your body 'remembers' how to rebuild those tissues. Gaining NEW mass, on the other hand, is more challenging.

    Women's lower testosterone is why we have small, tight muscles instead of big and bulky. But muscle also requires stimulating growth hormone and IGF-1 so new connective pathways are built.

    It isn't just protein needed for muscle, fats keep testosterone levels high, thus one factor why gaining muscle on low protein/fat diets is difficult. 15-20% protein/fat isn't enough to grow new muscle.

    Excess cortisol from overtraining can also factor into slow muscle growth. I've been very careful not to overtrain.
    2119 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/2/2012 6:10:29 PM
    I suspect that you didn't put on 2.88 pounds of muscle in a week. It's just impossible for a woman to pack on that much muscle that fast. We just lack the necessary testosterone. Believe me, I am trying to increase my lean muscle and I've been finding it slow going.

    If you saw an increase in the scale, that's because of water retention. When our muscle fibers are worked intensely (say with a good Sarah Connor workout), they soak up water like a sponge. This is what they are supposed to do. You may even notice some swelling as a result of that water weight. that's pretty common too. Your muscles will release any excess water they don't need. That could take a few days.

    I would be very wary of the readings from those hand held monitors. I don't trust them at all.

    a 3 pound muscle gain on a woman in a week is substantial and definitely not typical for maybe 3 strength workouts in that week. Which is why I suspect your readings are off due to water retention from the previous week's workouts.

    I would say that you are beginning to increase muscle, but not at a rate of 2.88 pounds in a week.


    2119 days ago
    Cool... I'll have to google it--didn't know it existed! I really feel like it's good to have multiple "measures" or ways to check/evaluate progress, and that's definitely what you're doing.
    2119 days ago
    EATNBOOGERS: I use a tape measure, scale and a handheld Omron fat loss monitor. I've found the handheld model to be way better than the fat monitors on scales. I noticed a lot of physicians are using it. I can't say for sure how 'accurate' it is because I haven't had anything like a bodpod done to compare it to, but it is 'precise' in terms of consistency. I take the measurement at the same time once a week, and cross check with tape measurement. It is enough for me to track trends. Read the reviews on Amazon, most people say it is very close to caliper readings, unless you are athlete level bodyfat. I find this to be true for me, also.

    MKPRINCESS007: Keep doing the research! There's a diet right for you somewhere! Definitely check out "Primal Blueprint" and MarksDailyApple.com. He is so wildly popular because of his very easy, sensible, lay-man's approach to a paleo lifestyle.

    WOUBBIE: I have done it for a year, and I can say the carb curve is how it works for me!
    2119 days ago

    Comment edited on: 7/2/2012 11:33:57 AM
    Thanks! This is really useful info!
    2119 days ago
    Love this in depth information! You know I am "dabbling in Paleo" but checking out the work from "primal blueprint" sounds like it is worth me looking into!

    I know you will do fine on your road trip...........and when you hit Florida you will be getting tons of exercise!

    Rock on, sista!

    2119 days ago
    How do you do the body fat and muscle mass calculations? That sounds like something I'd be really interested in doing! Keep up the good work!
    2119 days ago
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