February 2006

Combine

I spent the weekend at the NFL Combine, watching coaches, players, and agents go through the interesting process. Guys incessantly talked about losing weight, gaining weight, or even holding weight, reminding me that my quest to watch my weight was hardly singular. Weight is a major component of sport. I heard a tale from a former NFL center about summer practice where he went from 260 to 237! That’s insane (and it’s small comfort that this was pre-Stringer NFL.)

Tests, MRIs, interviews, sprints, weights, and measurements are all just a small part of what goes into figuring out if this player is going to become an NFL player. It’s an interesting process, one I was happy to hang out and see with my colleage Aaron Schatz. I also got to have coffee with Peter King, a highlight. People would be surprised to know just what a big baseball fan he is!

I also got to meet up with Pete Williams for the first time. Pete is a co-author of Core Performance and at his book signing, a couple guys from Athletes Performance stopped by. They mentioned that some of the guys at API were following my quest, so it was interesting to hear that the very people that help me do this are watching the process. I’m hoping to get out to API in Tempe or LA sometime this winter to put the "finishing touches" on this transformation.

The weekend and the week’s media attention kept pushing workouts back. I missed Friday’s workout and will be forced to "double up" tomorrow morning, but I’ve done my core work. What I need is a set of dumbbells … anyone at Bowflex or Powerblocks want to set me up with those sweet quick-switch weights?

Nearing the end of the month when we’ll remeasure and reweigh, but the results so far are good. The first month of living chemically will likely be a big success.

You Can Even Skip a Day!

I forget what deodorant it was the purported to be so strong that you could skip a day. Please, don’t. But sometimes life gets in the way of a workout. This week, while getting flamed by the Chicago media, I dealt with a bit too much to make it in on Monday. The diet didn’t change, I didn’t backslide, and I was doing my core workouts including some extra ab work.

That left me with Wednesday’s double workout. Yes, double. Doug let me know that it was reasonable to double the workout since I wasn’t working the same muscle group – one was pushing, one was pulling – but that it would hurt. I can deal with some pain and I certainly had some aggression to get out. The workout went well, up to the point of the dumbbell curls, where I was simply out of gas. The double had robbed me, so it’s something I’ll revisit when I head in on Friday. Biceps are going to be a big challenge.

The key has been sensible eating, consistent workouts, and smart supplementation. I’m not losing a significant amount of weight — still dealing with some creatine bloat and increased water intake — but the jeans that had gotten slightly tight around the hips slid off last night without unbuttoning or unzipping.

It’s not advisable to skip a day, but it’s not the end either. Too many people get defeatist if they’re not following their program to the letter, if their results slide behind their goals, or if they get discouraged or distracted. Something’s better than nothing in almost every case. It’s not time to get defeatest or desperate in the first month of a year of living chemically.

Fighting Genes and Water

It’s a bit of a shock to step on the scale and see the numbers go from 225 to 230 literally overnight. Even thought I know the cause, it’s still disconcerting and even disheartening. It’s water weight, caused by the addition of a new supplement. I’m taking a creatine supplement, which does cause cells to take on more water, so very literally, I’m bloated. It’s a "good bloat" and will regulate.

The form I’m using, an esterized version, is very quick acting. Creatine is one of the most widely used supplements in sports and is very misunderstood. It helps with both muscle fueling and recovery, working in ways that are better described elsewhere. The danger is that the very action of creatine forces the person to "superhydrate." Combining dehydration with overheating can be deadly; creatine’s been implicated in several deaths among wrestlers.

The supplement, CE-XL from iSatori, works very quickly, as I’ve said and kept my legs from being quite as sore as my arms. Still some slow onset soreness from a very heavy leg workout yesterday, but nothing like the "oh my god" soreness in my arms. Friday, I had a hard time straightening my arms, so it looked like I was running anytime I moved!

The other thing I’m fighting is genetics. My parents are both athletic, with my dad still a good tennis player and my mom a national level swimmer back in the day. Brian Giles, however, has a brother who’s as physically gifted as him. I’m still trying to find out more about Giles’ parents — Geoff Young of Ducksnorts pointed me to a bio of Giles that said his father coached in Little League, but I’ll bet one or both parents were athletes. There’s a genetic proclivity we all have for certain things, be it running, baseball, bodybuilding, math or music. I can ride a bike all day and I’m never going to be Lance Armstrong.

What we all have to do is get to our "genetic maximum" right? I’m not so sure. Genetics contribute and certainly everyone can’t do everything, but the human body is a pretty amazing thing. The genetic maximum is likely so high that no one reaches it. Heck, we’re just a few years away from altering the genes themselves.

One week down and I can say my energy level is SIGNIFICANTLY higher. Some of that is simply feeling better about myself; I’ve set a goal and am working diligently towards it. The rest is probably endorphins. The next couple weeks will be interesting — will the new supplements help (more on this soon)? Will I get past the muscle soreness that would prevent some people from continuing? At what point will there be visible results? How will the two workouts (heavy weights plus core) synergize? How will I maintain flexibility? How can I increase the cardio I’ll need to burn more fat? (This is the big weakness I have going so far … the thirty minutes of cardio isn’t enough.)

All interesting questions, I hope, and interesting answers in the coming weeks. As pitchers and catchers report, we’ll find out more about how baseball players are answering questions about conditioning and supplementation under the new drug policy (and what’s up with Mark Prior’s shoulder!)

Learn Something New

As I rest my arms on the desk to type — yes, I’m powerfully sore from two heavy workouts this week — I wanted to share something with you that I learned. Justin Alexander, the editor of Mind & Muscle (where I’ve written in the past), kindly answered a question I have.

"Can I mix my various supplement powders together?"

The answer from Justin is yes. So the four separate things that I drink (Amino Vital, whey protein isolate, and two new ones — Creatine ester and Leptigen) could be mixed together. The problem is that the tastes might not go well together. Vanilla, two fruit punch, and lemon doesn’t sound like a tasty treat.

Honestly, the powders and pills are one of the hardest parts of this. I hate chalky powder drinks and some of these have a decent taste and others have a tinge of dried vomit to them. It’s the results I want, not the taste. If I want taste, I’ll try a nice cup of Starbucks Gold Coast.

A quick update on weight: I’m actually up a pound. I wish I could say it was lean muscle being added, but it’s water weight. I’m drinking FAR more water than I normally do, which is probably a good thing in the long run.

A Sensible Dinner

Several have emailed me asking about my diet, worried that I was relying completely on supplements to lose fat and gain muscle. No, this may have "chemical" in the title, but I didn’t check my common sense at the door either. As with any realistic and sustainable weight loss plan, there’s a simple math: Burn more than you bring in.

There are some great systems out there, such as Weight Watchers, that simply the math and make sure that the diet is sensible. Others, like GI or Nutri/System’s GI based plan, take more involvement. I have a caloric cap and use common sense to make sure everything else stays reasonable. 1600 calories of bacon or ice cream is 1600 calories, but it’s hardly healthy.

Here’s today’s plan. I’m at a 1600 calorie a day cap right now as I’m "shocking" my body into using fat as energy.

For breakfast, a large bowl of Total vanilla yogurt cereal with light soy milk (450c).
Snack: 10 cups of coffee. (Cups in this sense is the physical measure. I have big mugs.) (0c).
(There’s some debate on the actual caloric count of coffee. Some have 0, some have 10. I think there’s some assumption of sugar and cream. I take mine black.)
Snack: 2 cans of Monster Lo-Carb (20c)
Lunch: Powerbar and water with Amino Vital (240c).
Post-workout: Powerade Advance (130c).
Snack: 2 glasses of protein shake (200c).
Dinner: Penne with chicken and broccoli (290c)
(This is from the Kraft South Beach prepared meal series. Surprisingly  tasty and not bland as I expected. I didn’t even need to salt it.)
Snack: 1 glass of protein shake (100c).

Total: 1430 calories. Never hungry. Lots of protein, some green vegetable, low fat. I’m actually a bit down on veggies from where I’d like to  be, but I was crunched for time at lunch and went for the Powerbar instead of rice, broccoli, or salad.

(Edit: I forgot to add in here that I’m drinking copious amounts of water in addition to what’s listed. Water is key, so I’m embarrassed I forgot to list it, despite it’s zero calorie contribution.)

 

As always, looking for comments and suggestions.

** Ok, this is a baseball blog site, so I have to make a baseball comment. Barry Bloom thinks Barry Bonds will play in 110 games or less. No one in the media is closer to Bonds than Bloom, so I can’t tell if this is a real concern, over and above anything we already had or if this is a means to lower expectations. We started the Team Health Reports over at Baseball Prospectus and this is the kind of thing that vexes me. How can we tell what the real story is? I personally figured Bonds for around 500 plate appearances with a lot of early exits since Steve Finley’s a solid fourth outfielder who would be better than Bonds defensively. Batting Bonds in the 2 slot would be a nice way to add some ABs and still getting him out early. I’m glad we scheduled the Giants THR as one of the later ones!

Dear Doug, I Hate You. Love, Will

I’m typing this now because I fear I might not be able to tomorrow.

Today was my first serious workout with personal trainer Doug Walker from The Training Station. His "intermediate workout" may not look like much on paper, but (like everything!) try it and see. By the time I left the gym, my arms were like rubber. Doug pushed me and I pushed myself but more importantly, I started. This whole thing is tough because like everyone, I have the inertia of sitting behind a desk, typing and watching TV for a living. My kitchen is steps away and I love to eat.

I know now that ignoring my health is the fastest way to lose it and that inertia works both ways. It’s as exciting to know I’m getting healthy, to feel the pump in my triceps and shoulders, as it is to drink a nice Scotch. (I’ll still take a dram of Auchintoshen over a pyramid set, but …) I know that drinking a protein shake might not have the same taste as a Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper, but in the long term I know which one will get me what I want. Believe me, it’s very easy to just sit here in the Steelcase Leap and write.

As you can see by the workout, it was chest, shoulders, and triceps. I used to nearly live in the weight room when I was in high school and college. I was smaller than everyone (I was 5’5 when I finished high school) so having any kind of strength or endurance advantage was what I needed. I’m very, very tight and have been ******* down water and AminoVital and protein in hopes of keeping some of the soreness out, but I know that when I wake up tomorrow, I’ll be cursing Doug’s name.

What’s important is that I’ve made the first two steps:
1. I made the decision.
2. I started.

The next step is the most important: I’ve got to keep going back, keep working at it, and keeping the commitment I’ve made. There’s no failure in sight here. I knew from the very decision. Tony Robbins reminds us that the word ‘decision’ means ‘to cut off all other possibilities’ and that’s what I’ve done. There’s a long way to go on this journey, but I know the results will all be worth it.

What’s He Taking

The lineup of bottles, jars, powders, and pills is pretty impressive. It’s hardly the be-all, end-all heading into the first serious workout tomorrow. They’re just a part of it. It’s easier to drink a protein shake than try to eat a couple boneless chicken breasts. It’s simpler to take Amino Vital than trying to balance out my pre-workout meals. That’s what supplements are about.

(First – an aside. I meantioned in a previous post that I wouldn’t be doing Pilates despite the endorsement of Ryan Klesko. The reason is not that Giles doesn’t do Pilates, but that Klesko began doing Pilates to stay a baseball player, not to become one. It’s a great maintenance routine, but not one that will get me to the goal. The principle of specificity is going to force me to concentrate on burning fat, adding muscle, and making swinging a bat a big focus. Luckily, I have a batting cage handy!)

Here’s the current supplements I’m on:

Cellucor D4: The thermogenic I started with was good for kick-starting the fat burn, but has lost its effectiveness quickly. Part of the problem is me. I take in what one biochemist I spoke with last week called "a disgusting amount of caffeine." Thermogenics are mostly low-grade stimulants and I simply take more stimulation than most. My coffee intake is probably doing the same thing. I have some Avant HEAT, which is very good and will be subbed in soon. Some have had some problems starting a workout cycle when on HEAT, one of the reasons I’ve held off.

SportPharma 100% Whey Protein: The vanilla tastes pretty good, like a milkshake. I started slow, mixing it with soy milk and that was fine. Water’s not as texturally good, but it’s not bad and lower calorie, something I have to watch out for on a 1600-2000 calorie limit with very specific protein/carb/fat breakdowns.

Muscletech Nitro-Tech: This is just more protein, mostly. There’s some creatine monohydrate in here and some other additives, but the strawberry’s nice. I switch back and forth between them, more for taste than anything else. There’s some value to loading the Nitro-Tech, but I’m not doing it. At the point I start using creatine, it will be a creatine esther that doesn’t need loading.

VPX Dietex: Listed as a craving reducer, it’s actually reasonably effective. I can’t tell you why – could be Placebo – but it’s not bad. I’m waiting on some Avant Leptigen, which is much, much more effective at this. I’ll have more on this once it’s in hand.

AminoVital: Think of this as protein Gatorade and you’re not far off, though it’s much more technical. More people that I know in baseball swear by this stuff than anyone. It’s a good pre-workout drink that provides both hydration and available amino acids. You can tell that it reduces fatigue somehow. Good stuff.

ZAND Zanergy: A liquid multivitamin heavy on the B series. Since my caloric intake is way down, this makes sure I have the nutrition I need. Is it better than a pill? No, I just don’t like pills.

There are some things I’m going to add — Avant’s HEAT, Leptigen, and SesaThin, a couple Ergopharm products, and a Creatine Esther. I’d love for Muscletech to send me some of their GAKIC and LEUKIC, two high-tech supplements that I’m trying to avoid buying because of cost. I have some pitchers using GAKIC and it’s astounding, helping them put real velocity on the ball quickly.

One thing you might notice is that I’m not very scared of taking these and failing a drug test. NONE of these supplements has ever caused a cross contamination positive. Buy from a known manufacturer and a known source and the risk is minimal. Too many people inside baseball are scared now to take something as simple as a Powerbar because they don’t have the information they need. It’s going to be as big a part of baseball this season as the lack of uppers and the continued fade that old-school steroids make.

Have suggestions? Have a product you’d like me to try? You know where to reach me.

(As always, no product mentioned here should be considered an endorsement by myself, Baseball Prospectus. or MLB.)

What’s He Doing

I’m going to split out "what’s he doing" and "what’s he taking" because these are very different, yet important issues. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve started with a simple workout designed by Mark Verstegen of Athletes Performance. His book, Core Performance, is awesome and Mark’s a great motivator as well. His list of athletes is extensive but most tellingly, Brandon Wood is one of his products. Wood looks more like the batboy than a slugger, but 100 XBH’s in the minors last year has him ranked really high on most prospect lists. Much of that comes from his work with Mark.

I’m using the intermediate level of Mark’s Stability Ball program. It’s easy, quick, and doesn’t leave me sore at the start. Will it get me where I want to go? Not by itself, but it’s a darn good start. When I get on the road more this year, being able to have something that’s quick, easy, and effective will become even more important. You can check out GoFit’s website for more details. The equipment is under $50, also a nice thing.

I’m doing 20 minute stints on the elliptical for cardio. It’s boring, but I’m pushing to do two sets at the minimum. It’s again, something. The elliptical keeps the beating off my bad hip and worse knees. Once the weather gets warmer, I’m hoping to get more biking in. As a kid, I rode my yellow Free Spirit everywhere and it’s probably what kept me in shape … besides playing football, baseball, basketball (tho I was terrible), wrestling, track, aikido, and chasing girls. (Yeah, that’s a sport too, at least the way I did it!)

It’d be easy to sit here in my new Steelcase Leap Chair and not fight for the goals I’ve set, but this is a decision. No other possibilities exist now. It’s only a matter of when do I hit the goals and how far will I exceed them. I’ll be headed to The Training Station, a local gym for some work with their weights and trainers on Monday. I’m a bit ahead of schedule for the weights, but I’m chomping at the bit to start seeing more results.

I’ve been eating very sensibly, with very little snacking. I even followed that Jared guy’s advice and did a 6-inch low-fat sub today for lunch. He’s from around here … if he weren’t so annoying in the commercials, maybe I’d get him to give some suggestions.

Lots of interest from companies and such in getting involved in the process, so you’ll likely see more info on what I’m using and the honest opinion of how they work. I’ll  have more on what I stopped taking yesterday in the next post. (If you’re a fitness or supplement company and are interested in helping, contact me.)

So That’s Why I Scare Children

My pal Ken Arneson wrote in to tell me that not only does my math stink (yes, I screwed up a simple math problem in my last post. After getting my Brian Giles body, I’ll next attempt to get a Nate Silver mind for math … or not. The former is much more likely.) but also that my information may be bad.

After reading my last post, Ken says:

"So that’s why I scare children. I’m 5’10.5", 160.

Those BMI "ideal weight" stats you cite turned out to be wrong (as you suspected).  That’s because the CDC had done its BMI calculations wrong, and overcounted the obesity mortality risk by a factor of 14. So what was categorized as "overweight" actually turns out to be optimal.  "Normal" weight people like me are at slightly more risk for mortality than "overweight" people, and being "underweight" is more dangerous than being "obese".  So the preferable weight categories are, in order:  overweight, normal, obese, underweight.

Check THIS LINK and THAT LINK for more info.

In other words, going after the Brian Giles body is probably better
for you than going after the Ken Arneson body."

Good to know. I feel slightly less obese now that my mind is full(er).

The Beginning, Kinda

The plan was that Feb 1 would be the beginning, that I’d do my "official" first weigh-in and start from there, giving myself 365 days. The timing was planned too since if it comes to a panic to meet the goal, I want to do that in the off-season.

Of course, I’m off a bit. I started at 235 and am down a bit from there, but weight is the least measure to deal with. Brian Giles is 5’10, 205 (listed) but I’ll  bet his 205 is a lot different than my 230. It took a couple days to get to a point where I could be measured, weighed, poked and prodded. I did both a laser and a "dunk tank" for body fat measurement, which was an interesting adventure. It was also disturbing in a couple ways. I don’t like to think of myself as fat, even though I’ve gotten that way. Somehow, I still see myself like I was in college – in good, not great, shape. A little self-delusion is okay.

So after the poking, prodding, dunking, weighing, and measuring, we have both some statistics and some facts to deal with. With a known goal, let’s see how far I have to go:

Height: 5’10 Weight: 230
Body Fat %: 17.57 (this surprised me. I was ready for a number in the low 20s. Most importantly, it means I’m only carrying around about 13 lbs of fat. That might make hitting Giles’ 205 a real problem.) [ed. note: My math *****. The proper answer is 40.4 lbs of fat, which is plenty to lose, though still not enough to get to my "healthy" weight.]
Wrist: 8 1/2 inches (why wrist measurement? I asked and it’s used to determine whether a person has a small, medium, or large frame. It’s an area that is not affected by fat or muscle gains. For the record, I have a large frame.)
Neck: 18 inches (yeah, try buying shirts)
Biceps: 16 inches (not bad.)
Thigh: 25 inches (again, not so bad.)
Chest: 46 inches (I’ve been wearing the wrong jacket size for years apparently.)
Waist: 40 inches (Ok, this is the number that most bothers me. I do not like buying jeans that say 40 on them. That’s 10 inches over what I was in high school and I clearly remember Jerry Seinfeld saying he could still wear high school jeans. Judging your body by a line on Seinfeld is as stupid as it sounds.)

You can see how these compare to "average" at this interesting link.

Where it got really disturbing is when we sat down and looked at the charts of what my "healthy" and "ideal" weights would be. "Mr. Carroll, your ideal weight at 5′ 10 1/2 is 156 lbs." Get the bleep out. You could cut off both my legs and I wouldn’t be 156 lbs. After a long illness, I got down to 160 and actually scared children. The idea that this weight was POSSIBLE, let alone "ideal" is simply insane. As my pal Jim Baker said, "I’d have to get TB, AIDS, and amoebic dysentery to get to that weight."

He’s right and while it’s one thing for guys like me and Jim to rant about this, let’s look at it in an even more telling way. There’s actually a range of "healthy weights" and for a guy who’s 5’10 (and a 1/2, don’t forget the half!), the charts say that I should weight anywhere from 139 to 173. If 156 is insane, then 139 is cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs. (In my junior year, when I was shorter, I wrestled at the 135 lb weight class.) You measure "overweight" from the top of the range. You’re considered "obese" if you’re 30 lbs over the top of the range.

Brian Giles, you’re obese with two pounds to spare.

Obviously, these charts are meaningless as a guide and I’m much more comfortable saying that trying to match Brian Giles is a good goal than trying to get to 173. I might use supplements and even steroids to get to 205, but I’d have to consider amputation and anorexia to get to 173. The former is healthier.

So now we begin. The first batch of supplements is in hand while super assistant Matt Kleine is working on keeping it coming. I’ve got my Core Performance workout ready, my meal replacements and low-calorie snacks in the fridge, and you watching my back.

(Next post: What’s he taking and what’s he doing?)