If you have been receiving emails from me for the last several years, you may have noticed that the sign-off of each of those messages has evolved. The original message was “Show Up, Don’t Quit.” Over time it has become “Commit, Show Up, Don’t Quit, Be Uncommon, Be Your Best Self.” The theme of my primary message has evolved somewhat over time as well. For instance, much of what I used to write about was being a warrior and the “Warrior’s Path.” More recently I have been writing about the path to mastery, being your best self, self-actualization, or arete. Ultimately, they are all the same, and their path is indeed a warrior’s journey.
What I would like to discuss today is a different perspective on this journey. It was one I was reminded of during our recent workshop with Coach Gwint Fisher. These are the typical steps we go through when learning any new skill. Although we will focus on physical skills today, these steps are not limited only to physical skills. The steps are as follows:
1. Unconscious Incompetence
2. Conscious Incompetence
3. Conscious Competence
4. Unconscious Competence
If you set out to develop a skill such as moving better or learning Jiujitsu the first step, Unconscious Incompetence, simply means you don’t know what you don’t know. If you don’t desire to learn or get better at something you could consider it as ignorant bliss. However, if you want to learn or get better, this is where a coach can be very valuable. At this stage, the coach is going to give direction and demonstrate the technique or movement and then have you repeat it while bringing your attention to where you may not be performing competently. Not everyone responds well to this stage. Some people may think of having attention brought to their incompetence as a negative. I would recommend viewing it as a positive. It gives you an opportunity to improve. In our Jiujitsu program, we have a beginner and intermediate class which helps students learn the fundamentals of Jiujitsu. In the old days, we simply had new students spar the first day where they discovered they were incompetent by getting tapped out. Looking back, this was not the best, and definitely not the safest, way to learn.
Once you have become aware of the areas for improvement, you have a choice to make. You can ignore the incompetence and continue to do what you have been doing, or you can begin working on making the corrections. This choice may seem evident, but I have seen on many occasions people not understanding this process choose the path of ignorance. I like to recall a specific example from Jiujitsu to demonstrate. Years ago (before our fundamental program) we had a student who said he wanted to learn Jiu Jitsu to be better defend himself in case he was to ever be in a physical confrontation. He had been training a few months when he called one day and said he wanted to cancel his membership. We asked why and he answered that he got tapped out by a 16-year-old kid. He said that he decided he was going to begin training to run marathons instead. Now he may have changed his strategy for self-defense to merely running away from physical confrontation, but instead, I think he just chose to turn a blind eye to his incompetence rather than working on it. By the way, that same kid, who I taught back then teaches me now and taps me out. My view of this is that he helps me realize where I need to improve and as a result makes me better every day. We sometimes see the same faulty thinking in fitness. If you perform a workout that exposes your weakness, lack of mobility, or the fact that you were not in as good a shape as you thought, you can choose to begin working on these weaknesses or you can just go back to whatever your routine was before and be guaranteed not to improve. In this phase, a good coach will continue to give feedback to help you perform more optimally. You may not be there yet, but you are aware of what you need to do.
In the third stage of conscious competence, a good coach will continue to give feedback and cues to help you perform better. As you learn, you eventually will be able to perform competently, but you still have to think about it. Using myself as an example, if you watch me squat, you may notice that I sometimes will adjust my feet after each rep or at least at some point during a set. Somewhere along the way, I created a faulty squat pattern, possibly from training around and compensating for an injury over 30 years ago. My right foot will externally rotate and point out further than the left unless I consciously focus on it and even then I sometimes have to correct it. I have been working on this for at least five years (never said I was a fast learner).
In the fourth stage, you are not only able to perform competently, but you do so unconsciously. You do it as second nature and without even thinking. It is wired into your nervous system. Our goal as coaches at Alliance is to help get you to this stage. It doesn’t matter if it’s a kid running effortlessly with perfect technique, an adult picking up an odd heavy object demonstrating a perfect hinge with no back pain, or a Jiujitsu practitioner transitioning from one position and technique to another in a seamless flow, this is what we hope to help you accomplish. This is mastery.
I hope this has given you a different view of the path to mastery and that it helps you on your journey.
It’s a question that we get frequently, and it can be confusing, especially when there is so much information available on both sides of the issue. Primal Health expert, Mark Sisson, used to recommend red wine as part of his Primal Health plan but now has changed his stance after abstaining from alcohol himself. Here’s some helpful info from the Primal Health coach course regarding some of the adverse effects of alcohol.
Alcohol’s Impact on the Body
As a source of “empty calories” (seven calories per gram) and a potential contributor to insulin resistance, alcohol has a negative effect on body composition goals. However, contrary to popular belief, alcohol does not convert into fat upon ingestion. Rather, alcohol is absorbed directly into the bloodstream and has an immediate effect on the brain and other tissues; hence the resulting “buzz.” Since alcohol is a toxin, the body works quickly to metabolize the alcohol through oxidation. This detoxifies and removes the alcohol from the bloodstream before it damages organs and tissues. In the liver, enzymes convert alcohol into acetaldehyde and then acetate. This is what happens to most of the alcohol consumed, but some alcohol escapes metabolic process and is excreted unchanged through the breath or urine.
As the “first to burn” calorie source, alcohol . . .
- Inhibits fat metabolism.
- Makes carbs more likely to be converted into fat.
- Can stimulate increases in appetite.
While alcohol is being burned or converted into acetate, the metabolism of other fuels is put on hold. That’s why alcohol calories are known as the “first to burn.” Not only is fat burning put on hold while the alcohol calories are burned through, but any carbohydrate calories consumed with alcohol are more likely to be converted into fat and stored instead of burned. Similarly, fat calories consumed with alcohol will more likely be stored as fat instead of burned (if they are consumed without insulin-stimulating carbohydrates).
Alcohol inhibits lipolysis (fat burning) and glycolysis (glucose burning) because it is the first to burn. Not surprisingly, studies correlate frequent consumption with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). In fact, according to Enoch Gordis, MD, Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the stupor commonly associated with drunks could often be more due to hypoglycemia than to the effects of alcohol. A pattern of frequent alcohol consumption can also result in decreased insulin sensitivity.
Not only that, alcohol gives you the munchies, triggering an area of the brain that controls hunger. And when you do eat, those calories are more likely to be stored as fat. Alcohol ingestion thus detracts from fat loss goals by contributing empty calories (that you will burn before tapping into stored body fat), interfering with other ingested calories (promoting the conversion of ingested carbs into fat), and increasing appetite. Along those lines, if alcohol is to be consumed, it is best consumed alone to mitigate fat storage concerns, and, of course, in a sensible and moderate manner.
Alcohol can also affect body composition by altering the healthy balance of sex hormones in both males and females. Alcohol is known to be directly toxic to the testes, lowering testosterone levels in males. Frequent consumption can disturb hormone functions in the hypothalamus and pituitary glands, damage sperm, and compromise fertility in both sexes. In premenopausal females, frequent alcohol consumption can cause an assortment of reproductive problems, including abnormal menstrual cycles, delayed ovulation, and infertility. These negative effects are well associated with alcoholics, but reproductive issues can also occur in “social” drinkers.
Alcohol can also compromise athlete peak performance and recovery in varied ways. It can mess with your deep sleep cycles, and the critical hormonal processes (especially the release of Human Growth Hormone during deep sleep) that repair and rejuvenate your body for the next day. All-time triathlon great and current coach Mark Allen suggests that alcohol preoccupies the liver, hindering the liver’s crucial role in processing nutrients for performance and recovery (including interfering with testosterone production); interferes with water balance in cells, which hampers ATP production; and hinders your ability to perform in the heat.
In postmenopausal women, alcohol has been found to promote elevated levels of estradiol (estrogen), which commonly falls dramatically after menopause. The elevated blood estrogen levels from moderate alcohol consumption can deliver some health benefits by helping to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease without increasing the risk of bone loss, liver disease, or breast cancer. Due to the toxic effects of alcohol and its negative influence on the healthy metabolism of other calories, anything beyond occasional, casual drinking will have an adverse effect on healthy metabolic and hormonal function.
Take the Sober October Challenge
This challenge, like many of our challenges, is designed as an experiment to take you out of your comfort zone and help you gain a fresh perspective of your current health. The challenge comes from an idea I got from Joe Rogan. I have been told by a few respected clients and friends that this is the stupidest challenge ever and that October may not be the ideal month for such a challenge but there are no other months that rhyme with “sober.”
The challenge consists merely of abstaining from all alcohol for one month and is not an indictment of alcohol but an opportunity to experiment and learn about yourself. If you choose to take on our challenge, send us some feedback and let us know how it goes.
Much of my focus for the last couple of years has been on how to best optimize training in the gym and life outside it. The FITFLO system encompasses just that. Ultimately FITFLO is about life optimization. I also realize FITFLO is my perspective on life optimization and that it is based on my own specific values and beliefs. Not everyone has the same set of values and beliefs and there is nothing wrong with that. You can still benefit from training at Alliance even if your values and beliefs differ. Simply take any aspects of our training and utilize them where they fit in with your specific goals.
First, I want to give you a clearer view of where my idea of optimization comes from and what it means to me. From that, my hope is that you may see how it fits for you. As far back as I can remember it was engrained in me that I should do my best. Honestly, I don’t specifically remember where this idea originated from, but my parents certainly played a role in instilling this concept. What I do recall is sitting in church at an early age and hearing the parable of talents. In this story where a wealthy master gave his servants a certain number of talents before leaving to go away for a period of time. One servant receives five, another two, and one servant received one. When the master returned he was please with the two servants that had taken the talents and invested them to create more while one simply buried his to avoid losing it. He rewarded the servants who had invested while he took away the talent from the one who simply buried his and did nothing with it. I remember being young enough to not really understand but thinking that it was okay to bury it for fear of losing it. I would say this was my first true memory of optimization. My belief became that we were meant to go out and develop what talents God has given us. Of course, along the way there have been many coaches and teachers that emphasized this same idea of applying work ethic in order to become your best. There is also the Theory of Human Motivation from psychologist, Abraham Maslow, known as the “Hierarchy of Needs”. There are eight levels of development where each level must be satisfied before moving to the next. The two top levels have to do with self optimization. The seventh level is self actualization and the eighth is transcendence, where after self actualizing you have the need to help others self actualize. We also have the word from Greek philosophy, “Arete”. This is a word I have mentioned previously which means being your best self from moment to moment. I learned about this from Brian Johnson of Optimize.me. I have become a big fan of Brian and follow his Optimize.me website daily. These are just some of the origins from which I have developed my belief of the importance of optimization.
What I or anyone else considers to be optimization will be based on what they value. Let me use a few examples to illustrate this point. When we first started our Jiujitsu program I made the assumption that everyone had the same goals for training as I did and I quickly learned that was not the case. Therefore I decided to create a handout questioning what the students goals were. I remember one particular response which, at the time, baffled me. One student’s response was that “he did not have any goals in particular and that he was pretty happy with where he was.” Another example comes from Tony Robbins. At one of his trainings he quizzed two people about there goals and what it took to make them happy. The first, was a man who most would have considered to be very successful. He had a successful business and was a millionaire, he was healthy, and had a great family. When asked what it took to make him happy his answer was that he had to make more money, get his body fat from 15% down to 12% etc. The second guy was known at the workshop as the guy with the most energy and when asked what it took to make him happy his answer was simply, “Every day above ground is a good day.” Part of me wants to say that the guy with no goals and the guy who looks at everyday as a good day need to be more motivated to improve themselves but who am I to say. If they are actually happy and are productive members of society then more power to them.The guy who had very defined goals and by most peoples standards was super successful was unhappy. Maybe happiness is as Mo Gawdat puts it in his book ,”Solve for Happy”, simply a combination of your expectations and perceptions. What I consider to be an optimized life is one where we are happy, healthy, and strong. What I am looking for is to help those with similar values and beliefs optimize.
So what is the FITFLO approach to becoming happy, healthy, and strong? To reiterate, happy is an individual thing but to me revolves around finding a balance of mind, body, spirit , and connection. So optimization revolves around those things. To optimize we need to focus on the following five critical areas:
These are many of the same areas that human potential coaches such as Mark Divine, Dave Asprey, and Ben Greenfield emphasize in their programs. We have been providing group challenges in each of these areas this year in order to help you optimize and we will continue to do so. What we are doing next is providing a more individualized approach to this process where we create specific action steps and hold you accountable to their execution. Last year we began working on this more individualized approach but it was more related to the physical area and movement. We are now ready to help you take it to the next level as we move towards Arete and an optimized life.
More details on this program to come this month.
The following is from Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint. It is a great resource and guide to utilize if you are engaging in the Alliance Nutrtiion Challenge based on Mark’s 21 Day Reset.
The Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid, revised and updated in 2016.
Recommended Macronutrient Intake Levels: The Primal Blueprint recommends a highly varied diet based mainly on personal preference within the guidelines of the Primal Blueprint Food Pyramid above. Animal foods (meat, fish, fowl, and eggs) comprise the bulk of dietary calories. Vegetables are recommended in abundance, comprising the bulk of emphasis on your plate. Healthy fats (macadamia nuts, coconut products, avocado, olives/olive oil) are another featured category. Moderation categories include other nuts, seeds, and nut butters, seasonal fruits, high-fat dairy products, and supplemental carbs in the form of starchy tubers, quinoa, and wild rice for high-calorie burners.
Following the Primal eating strategy should default you into an optimal intake of protein, carbohydrates, and fat to support health, peak performance, longevity, and effortless maintenance of ideal body composition. This includes plenty of room for daily and seasonal variation of macronutrient and total caloric intake. Those new to Primal eating or interested in a methodical approach to shedding excess body fat may wish to accurately calculate macronutrient intake from time to time, using an online resource like FitDay.com to determine whether their macronutrient ratios are at the desired levels.
Using an online macronutrient calculator entails first writing down all food and drink consumed for at least a couple days and perhaps up to a week and recording the amounts, weights, or volumes with as much accuracy as possible. Measuring cups, a teaspoon/tablespoon tool, and an ounces scale are recommended. Recorded data can then be input into an online calculator to reveal the total calories, the breakdown for each macronutrient in convenient pie chart form, and even the breakdown of each individual food or meal consumed. Particularly with the goal of moderating carbohydrate intake per Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve guidelines, it can be quite illuminating to see just how grams of dietary carbohydrate accumulate over the course of a day. Following are the Primal Blueprint recommendations for protein, carbohydrate, and fat intake.
Protein: Start your macronutrient intake calculations with protein requirements, since adequate protein intake is critical for healthy metabolic function and the preservation of lean muscle mass. The Primal Blueprint recommends obtaining an average daily intake of around .5 grams of protein per pound (1.1 grams per kilo) of lean body mass. The original Primal Blueprint position was to fall in line with the widely-touted recommended range of .5 grams (1.1 grams/kilo) to meet basic needs, up to .7 grams per pound of lean mass (1.66 grams/kilo) for the moderately active, up to one gram per pound of lean mass (2.2 grams per kilo) for active exercisers. Mounting research now suggests that we might be overestimating our protein requirements to our detriment. Dr. Ron Rosedale, a leading voice in the concerns about excess protein, suggests that .5 grams of protein per pound of lean mass is plenty for everyone. He believes that even high-protein-demand people (the highly active, growing teens, and pregnant women) need only to add 5-10 grams per day to that calculation to ensure optimal protein intake.
Lean body mass can be calculated by subtracting your fat weight from your total weight. You can multiply your body fat percentage (measured in a variety of ways) by your total bodyweight to determine your fat weight. For example, someone who weighs 150 pounds and has a reading of 10 percent body fat has 15 pounds of fat and 135 pounds of lean mass. Hence, they would calculate their protein requirement to be 135 pounds x .5 grams = 67.5 grams per day, perhaps 75 if highly active.
Carbohydrate: Carbohydrate intake should align with the recommendations presented on the Primal Blueprint Carbohydrate Curve, which will be presented in detail in module 4. For lifelong health, weight management, and disease protection, no more than an average of 150 grams or less per day should be consumed. When grains, sugary foods and beverages, and other processed foods are eliminated from the diet, it’s easy to default into this range. One hundred and fifty grams per day represents an abundant intake of vegetables, and a sensible intake of fresh, seasonal fruits, nuts, seeds, and even the sensible indulgence of dark chocolate. Those wishing to reduce excess body fat should limit carbohydrate intake to 100 grams per day or less in order to stimulate the burning of excess body fat for energy. This average can be easily achieved through Intermittent Fasting, strict attention to avoiding grains and sugars, and a reduced intake of fruits and starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, etc.) during weight loss efforts.
Fat: With recommended protein and carbohydrate intake falling into relatively narrow ranges, it follows that fat becomes the predominant macronutrient in the diet and the main variable in obtaining dietary satisfaction. Recommended fat intake is generally not an absolute number (unless specific calculations are performed to lose a certain amount of body fat over a certain time period), but instead should align with obtaining dietary satisfaction at every meal. Although high-fat foods are calorically dense, they have a high satiety factor and do not stimulate an insulin response. By eating what amounts to a high-fat diet in comparison to the SAD, one can stabilize appetite and energy levels, and shed excess body fat without having to face the traditional struggles of deprivation and restriction.
Pursuant to a goal of reducing a specified amount of excess body fat over a specified time period, one can estimate the number of calories burned per day and prepare a fat intake calculation that will achieve that goal. Detailed examples are provided for a hypothetical male and female in Chapter 8 of the Primal Blueprint book. Briefly, the steps are as follows:
1. Estimate daily caloric expenditure using the Harris Benedict Equation. This is a formula that accounts for your basal metabolic rate (based on age, sex, and size) along with your average daily activity level to estimate how many calories you burn in a day. In the following example, our subject burns an estimated 2,500 calories per day.
2. Calculate desired pounds of fat reduction in 21 days, multiply by 3,500 calories = total fat loss in calories. Divide total by 21 = average caloric deficit per day and total intake per day to achieve fat loss goal.
Desired fat loss = 4 pounds
3,500 calories per pound = 14,000 calories total deficit
14,000 / 21 days = 666 calorie intake deficit per day, to be derived from stored body fat
2,500 estimated daily expenditure – 666 desired deficit = 1,834 (daily caloric intake to achieve fat loss goal)
3. Calculate carbohydrate and protein caloric intake per day
E.g. 140 pounds of lean mass, active person = 70 g/day x 4 calories/gram = 280 protein calories per day
75 grams of carb intake per day for weight loss x 4 calories/gram = 300 carbohydrate calories per day
Total protein and carbohydrate intake per day: 580 calories
4. Subtract daily caloric intake goal (1,834) from protein/carb total (580) to determine allowable fat calories per day to achieve weight loss goal
E.g. 1,834 – 580 = 1,254 fat calories per day
1,254/9 = 139 grams of fat per day
5. Goal macronutrient intake to lose 4 pounds of fat in 21 days
Protein: 70 g or 280 calories
Carbohydrates: 75 g or 300 calories
Fat: 139 g or 1,254 calories
Since it can be tedious and stressful trying to align with such calculations while enjoying your life and eating delicious primal foods, the Primal Blueprint recommends performing a macronutrient dietary analysis only occasionally instead of obsessively. Generating a report detailing a typical day of eating reveals where one’s habit patterns land, and where adjustments can be made if necessary. In the case of falling short with fat loss goals, macronutrient analysis can be very helpful in pinpointing ways to improve the rate of progress.
For example, many primal enthusiasts successfully ditch grains and sugars and take a liking to primal-approved foods to the extent that most or all of their necessary fat calories are provided from dietary fat. It is perfectly healthy to obtain all caloric requirements from food, and moderating insulin production will prevent the accumulation of additional body fat (since fat cannot be stored without insulin). However, those wishing to reduce excess body fat must create that familiar caloric deficit between expended calories and ingested calories, so that additional energy requirements will be pulled from storage areas on the body. The beauty of the Primal Health Coach approach to weight loss is that this deficit is achieved naturally through the optimization of appetite and metabolic hormones such as insulin and leptin.
Be a Part of the Alliance Nutrition Challenge
We have the Alliance Nutrition Challenge coming up on February 5th. In one of our last emails, we introduced that we would use Mark Sisson’s book, The 21 Day Keto Reset, as a template for the challenge. The reason I chose this book is that it resonated with me in regards to my own experience and research.
Here are a few of the key components that resonated with me.
- There is a transitional phase as you move from your current diet into ketosis.
- One of the goals is creating metabolic flexibility where you don’t need to stay in ketosis indefinitely.
- The effects of the plan are long-lasting in that you are able to move in and out of ketosis with ease in order to support whatever health and fitness goals you may have.
- You make adjustments to the plan based on how you are feeling and performing and don’t rely solely on blood measurements.
- You are meant to enjoy the food you eat and not suffer.
- You are able to go for longer periods of time without eating yet not suffer from hunger, lack of energy or performance declines.
My Low Carb Adventure
My previous experiences going from a higher carbohydrate to a lower one were quite an adventure.
My first experience into a low carb diet occurred nearly 30 years ago when I was preparing for a bodybuilding competition. For those of you who are old enough to remember, back then it was thought that the best diet for losing body fat while retaining muscle consisted of eating mostly protein and carbohydrate while eating very low fat. That is as low as 10% of calories from fat. It worked well for me back then as I was able to lose 20 pounds and become the leanest of my life while consuming 3,000 calories a day. It was also common practice to perform a carb depletion followed by a carb load the final week before the contest. The purpose was to create a rebound effect of storing more glycogen in the muscle while pulling water along with it so that you had a more “ripped” appearance. I don’t remember how effective this was for my physical transformation but what I do remember is how I felt going from 300-400 grams of carbs a day to 50. it was my first experience of what some call “keto flu”. I had no energy, was very grumpy, and lost strength. Needless to say, it was a miserable experience. Fortunately, this only lasted a week and I was back to my high-carb eating.
Getting in The Zone
A few years later, I read Dr. Barry Sears book, The Zone Diet. The science and anecdotal evidence intrigued me enough that I was willing to give it a try. The ratio of protein to carbs and to fat was 30/40/30. When I tried the Zone diet I did not have as severe a response as with my carb depletion experience. However, I stopped within a week or two because I thought it just wasn’t for me due to the fact I was always starving and again very irritable. Later after gaining a better understanding of the plan I was able to adhere a little better but did not notice a significant change in how I felt or performed so, I learned some things from this experiment and in general, continued to eat fewer carbs than before. I did not continue monitoring the macronutrient ratios and went back to more of my normal eating patterns.
The Path to Paleo
When I first read about the Paleo diet I looked at it from a different perspective and was more focused on food quality and what foods I might actually have a sensitivity to rather than simply focusing on macronutrients. I had a lot of clients achieve success on this program and I also had some success in terms of losing body fat and feeling better. With this program, I did indulge in a ‘cheat day’ and enjoyed the extra carbs. I had a much easier time transitioning into Paleo. I believe this was due to the fact I had become more fat adapted. During this time I was not concerned with calories or macronutrients per say but really focused on eating more high-quality whole foods. I still consumed carbs, especially after hard training sessions. I would also indulge in a cheat day from time to time. In general, I would say that some of these habits stuck even though I was no longer following a Paleo diet. I would try to eat more nutritious whole foods including fats and overall fewer carbs, especially refined ones. I also began to pay more attention to how certain foods made me feel. For instance, I love spaghetti and my wife makes great spaghetti but I realize when I eat it I don’t necessarily feel as good the next day.
The Keto Kraze
About a year ago, after reading about the Ketogenic diet and its benefits from a number of top biohackers, I decided to give it a try. I was actually surprised at how I felt. My energy was pretty good and overall I felt good. I also, lost some weight rather quickly even though that wasn’t the goal. Looking back I made several mistakes but it was a learning experience which is mostly what I was looking for.
As I was preparing my goals for 2018, I knew that I wasn’t optimizing my nutrition and after listening to a podcast with Mark Sisson decided to give the Keto plan a more committed effort. It has worked much better this time. I have made some mistakes on this plan but continue to learn and improve. However, I have to say this is the best I have felt for some time. I feel my energy is very good, my mental clarity is good, my training is going well, I’m sleeping better, my joints feel better, and I would like to think that even my mood is better.
I wanted to share this because if this has the same impact on you then it will be a big win. What it has demonstrated to me is how much nutrition plays a role in our overall well being. Even if I think I eat “pretty good” there is still lots of room for improvement. That is what optimization is all about.
If this particular plan isn’t for you then you will have learned from the experience.
Commit, Show Up, Don’t Quit, Be Uncommon, Be your Best Self,