January 2006

First Weigh-In

I know I said I wouldn’t start officially until February 1, but the response here got me excited and …

… well first, I want to say that weight is a really bad measure of progress. If I lost fat and gained muscle, my weight would increase, but that’s hardly failure. In this program where I’ll be both reducing weight and fat while trying to put on lean muscle, weight is going to fluctuate more than a simple take-off-the-pounds diet.

I’m scheduled to have my measurements taken and get a very accurate body composition  measurement in a couple weeks, so that will be better progress. Still, it’s easy to stand on the scale and say ..

… I’ve lost nine pounds. That’s a good start, but actually more than I expected. Light cardio work, change in eating habits, no beer or fast food, and some minor supplementation have shown quick results. I’m focused on hydration so this *isn’t* strictly a water loss, though it’s a bit fast to say it’s fat. I’m expecting a slower week this week as the cardio gets a little heavier and I start changing the diet a little bit to get some more fat-burn going.

I’m working on some interviews of top professionals in the fitness and supplement fields over the next few weeks, so be sure to check back regularly.

The First Choice

Thermogenics. It sounds technical, perhaps innocuous. It’s anything but.

Dr. Andrew Weil says "Stay Away!" Every supplement company is the world has a product that they say is "the best" and "promotes weight loss." Certainly the truth is somewhere in between. Essentially, a thermogenic agent is a simple low-grade stimulant that, at least theoretically, amps up the metabolism. Current thermogenics range from  the very simple (caffeine or ephedra) to the complex (multiple substance formulations such as "sclaremax, A-7E, and guggulsterones", which make up the active ingredients in the popular Hot Rox supplement.)

You may have noticed a word in  there that you thought was gone – ephedra. The substance that once was banned, in large part due to the death of Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, is back. The FDA ban of the substance was relaxed by a Federal judge, though they insist the ban is still in place. Ephedra is now limited to 10mg per dose. Prior to the ban, 25mg was a common dosing. Besides some intriguing legal questions that the decision holds in both directions, ephedra is back in stores. It’s important, however, to remember that it remains on the MLB prohibited list, making it forbidden in this process for now.

I stopped in to my local supplement store (I reject the term "health food store" completely) after some research. You’d think with as much coffee as I drink (averaging about 10 cups a day) that adding to that isn’t necessary, but to kick start the diet portion of this exercise, a thermogenic isn’t a bad idea. Maintaining proper dosings (too many think if one is good, ten are better) and hydration are key. I decided on Cellucor’s product due to their strict controls on the product’s manufacture and distribution. Called "D4", the substance comes in both ephedra and ephedra-free. The ephedra-free uses a compound called "Ampacor" which purports to effect adrenal output.

There have been numerous discussions of this and other products on some of the bodybuilding forums I began frequenting when I started researching "The Juice." While I’m going to add in some supplements from Avant, Ergopharm, Muscletech, and ALRI in the future, for now, this is it (and a multivitamin to make sure that my reduced caloric intake doesn’t affect my nutrition.)

I’m easing in the changes and this is a solid step. I know there’s some disagreement about the use of thermogenics in the medical world, but in the world of "body hackers" — more on this term in the near future — it’s so accepted that it’s barely a consideration.

(Note: None of the products discussed in this or any other entry are endorsed by myself and certainly not by MLB or by Baseball Prospectus. Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.)

(Note Two: You’re on your own for research. My local supplement store was manned by a guy who introduced himself as a pre-med student. He then proceeded to get nearly every fact wrong. He recommended creatine monohydrate over a creatine esther because "less bloating." The opposite is true. He recommended "stacking" two different formulations of thermogenic, something that’s patently dangerous. He stated that the FDA "approved Cellucor’s formulation of ephedra." That’s just silly. Make sure you buy your products from a reputable source, a reputable manufacturer, and — just to be sure — save a few pills from each bottle and mark them. If you test positive, you’ll be able to submit what you took.)

So Where You Been?

Sure, this blog/serial might be just starting, but some people are already asking me what the next step is and why there’s been a delay between this post and the last. I haven’t been idle … and that’s the problem.

Last weekend, I was attending a function with an MLB team and it essentially killed all my writing and research over four days. That’s not to say I didn’t learn a lot — and I was careful to watch my portions, even skipping the raspberry cheesecake that looked delicious — but blogging was backburnered.

Over the last week, I’ve been talking with a couple fitness and supplement companies about using their products. The holdup there? Product placement and assurances that I would "speak positively" as one rep put it. Product placement is fine — I’ll be glad to tell you what I’m doing and what works, but I’m not going to sell my objectivity. If something works, great. I’ll say so. If not, well, I’ll say that too.

I’ve also been doing the research on how to effectively measure my results. I can step on a scale, take body measurements, take pictures, but what’s the goal?

Brian Giles.

He’s six months younger than me and an inch shorter, but he’s close enough for my purposes. Even better, the guy is in great shape and has been considered a power hitter during his career. Heck, I even met him back in Pittsburgh during my first journalistic trip to a ballpark. I talked with Kent Biggerstaff, the longtime Bucs trainer, since fired and clearly remember two things.

1. Kris Benson had a giant scar on his elbow and was just ready to come back from his Tommy John. My talk with him may be the last interview where no one asked about his wife.

2. Brian Giles walked into the clubhouse with a box of "team t-shirts." Teams often print these up, the most famous recent example being the Red Sox "Cowboy Up" shirts. Giles showed off the shirt he was wearing and it said …. umm, I don’t think you can say that word on MLBlogs. Let’s just say it was a homonym for the last name of the Braves manager. I have NO idea what it meant and honestly, I had no intention of asking.

Giles has long been a colorful character and I like colorful characters. But it’s not his character I want — it’s his guns. Brian Giles is a major league star with power and has never tested positive for steroids. It’s been his job to get in shape and play ball for the last decade. I just have a year.

I’m hoping to get Giles’ stats – arm, chest, leg size, body fat percentage – so I’ll know what I’m dealing with. In the meantime, I’m watching my portions, drinking water, and getting ready to crack the box on Mark Verstegen’s latest product. I’ll keep you updated.

Reacting/Next Step

I’m happy with the reaction to the new blog and to the concept. It’s funny — writer Aaron Gleeman is starting a weight loss plan himself, though not quite as dramatic as mine. Hopefully, we’ll both have good luck.

So what’s the next step? Why did I skip the raspberry cheesecake last night at the 300 Club? Because the next step is small steps. I’m trying to eat smarter – smaller portions, leaving some on the plate, no snacks or fast food – while I do the research for the bigger plan. Adding in some exercise and keeping a focus going is where I’m headed now.

I did get some good information this weekend, talking with a couple MLB strength and conditioning guys. I’ll be following up with that soon and figuring out how to set both the baseline I’m working from and the goals. I think I’m going to try and use the PECOTA system to help me find a player to try and end up like. I think Brian Giles is the most likely right now – power hitter (until PETCO), about my height, and from what I can tell, he’s in great shape.

As always, this is an interactive process, so be sure to post your comments and suggestions.

Part One

?Does my a** look fat in these jeans??

I?ve never said those words. The cliché feared by every man is seldom uttered by any man, outside those headcases and Red Sox you see on ***** Eye. (As an aside, if someone showed up and said they were going to make you look better and give you a bunch of free stuff, wouldn?t your first thought be more akin to ?I won the lottery!? than it would be ?I?m going to kill my so-called friends!??)

What I don?t look like ? and I imagine my *** doesn?t either ? is what I looked like when I was playing ball. That?s right, I played this game; not very well or very far, but my 5?10, 230 pound current set of circumstances is not only unhealthy and unattractive, it?s unnecessary. For the last year of my life, I followed the trail of steroids and supplements around the game of baseball and chronicled this in my book ?The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball?s Drug Problems.? I learned a lot and after the book came out, I kept learning.

I met people that taught me a lot and people that scared me, on both sides of the issue. Still, there was one phrase that stuck with me: ?Give me six weeks and I?d have you in the best shape of your life.? Those words were the last thing that ?Dr. X?, the chemist I profiled in ?The Juice? said to me and while they chilled me to the core, they also echoed in my mind every time I looked in the mirror.

If I could consider taking his advice and whatever he?d give me, how could I fault the athletes that consider taking steroids? There?s little financial gain for me comparatively. Maybe I?d be healthier, need less coffee, need a new pair of jeans, or look better on TV, but that?s about it. I?m like you, a guy who sits in his chair in front of his computer a bit more than he should, who watches way more baseball than he should, and is, when it comes to exercise, flat lazy. I don?t want to get up early and hop on the elliptical. I?d much rather have a Big Mac than a salad. I?d rather have Snickers than celery.

And I?d rather have Scotch than water. I had both in my glass, more of the former, when I found myself sitting in the lobby of the Wyndham Anatole. Alan Schwarz, the great sportswriter from Baseball America and the New York Times had stopped by to talk to a mutual friend and sat with myself, James Click and Joe Sheehan of Baseball Prospectus, as well as Brad Wochomurka of BP Radio and a few others who I?ll protect with some anonymity. We?d been sipping Scotch and talking baseball a table over from Mike Scioscia, Joe Maddon, and last year?s Angels coaching staff when Alan came by and, in the course of conversation, started me thinking.

?Someone should take steroids for a year and write about it,? I remember him saying. It?s a bit out of context and I?m sure not word for word, but the idea was there. A couple calls the next week told me that publishers would be interested in just such a book. ?A natural followup to ?The Juice?,? one told me. Another quickly made an offer.

Just one problem. I don?t want to take steroids, even for a six-figure advance. Now, you?ll need to read the book to find my position on steroids, an admittedly complex one, especially given the last year. I spent much of that year questioning the effectiveness of steroids in baseball, so if I were to suddenly start taking them cosmetically, where they are proven to be effective, it would send the wrong message.

So I?ve decided to do what I should have been doing all along and combining it with my quest to bring out the truth ? the real truth ? about steroids and supplements. I would spend a year using the most advanced legal technology to bring my weight down, my strength up, my cardio to a solid level, and most importantly, prove that steroids aren?t needed to make the type of gains that we?ve all secretly wondered about.

I?ll take the next year of my life as a quest to do what I should have been doing all along ? staying in shape ? and also conducting a bit of an experiment. I?ll use what I?ve learned in researching steroids and supplements for good, not evil. I?ll have goals, talk to professionals, chemists, trainers, doctors, gurus, wackos, and whoever else could help this process along.

And I?ll write about it.

I?ll have goals for fat loss, weight, strength, power, cardiac endurance, and muscle building. I?ll guarantee that I won?t be a major league caliber ball player at the end of this, but I do think we?ll have a much better idea on what a world-class athlete with resources far beyond mine could do. I?ll be calling in favors, looking for suggestions, and in the end, I?ll succeed.

That?s right ? I?ll guarantee success.

How can I do that? I have a year. One year, starting on February 1 and not a day more. Who knows what I?ll do if I get desperate? It should be an interesting ride.

Greetings

Greetings and welcome to a new blog adventure. My name is Will Carroll. You might know me as one of the authors of "Baseball Prospectus" where I write "Under The Knife," a column about injuries in baseball. You might have seen one of my books – "The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball’s Drug Problems" or "Saving The Pitcher." You might have seen or heard me on the radio or TV or even here at MLB.com where I’m a regular on the great Fantasy 411 show. I even have another blog — http://www.thejuiceblog.com — where I yap about baseball, music, and who knows what else.

So why am I here?

The crew at MLB.com was gracious enough to host this experiment. I’ll have more details soon, but the title should give you a clue. This is the start of the Year of Living Chemically.