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?)

Checking In

I’m a bit behind on where I’d hoped to be. Weigh in for the official start is coming up this week, rather than Feb 1, and I’m still working on getting a couple things I need — someplace to work out, an initial workout plan, and info on Brian Giles. I’m trading phone calls with his agent, who understandably thinks I’m a stalker at this point, but there’s hope. Don’t worry — this little experiment is still ongoing, so be sure to check back.

While I’m waiting, I hope some of you will share your ideas. I’ve gotten a lot of great emails, including some very inspirational stories about weight loss and how getting healthy changed lives. If you’d rather be anonymous, email me (wcarroll@baseballprospectus.com) and I’ll post it for you. This is a group project, even if I’m the experiment!

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.