Body Fat vs Lean Muscle Mass: Part 5

hydrostaticAs I sit here eating oatmeal this morning I am pondering my decision to contine with intermittent fasting (IF) as part of my workout, something I began back in April as an experiment. About 3 weeks into this, I decided to make IF a daily part of my routine. The goal of IF was to gain lean muscle, while losing body fat. I currently have an 8-hour “feeding window” that opens between 11am and 8 pm. This allows me a small meal before I get home to lift weights or run. Once I am done with my daily exercise, I consume a protein shake followed by dinner and a snack, in hopes of getting my daily calories in.

On Thursday I had my fourth hydrostatic test over the last 12 months with my first test occurring in June, 2012. At that time I was pleased with the results, weight, 179 lbs. (lean weight of 151.1 lb) of which 27.9 lbs. was fat or 15.6%. Since that first test the only constant has been the plant-based diet. The exercise regiment has changed for nearly every test. Prior to the first test I transitioned from working out at home on a Bowflex Revolution to joining a gym and working a split routine. By the time of the second test I was just starting to follow Stronglifts 5×5. Things remained fairly consist through February, although I lost 1 month of lifting helping my wife recuperate from major back surgery at the end of December. All my time was for her, I stopped lifting.

This current test now takes the running I have been doing (since April) into account. The results were somewhat mixed. I was a bit discouraged by what I heard and read as Mike (the tester) went over the 4 page report with me. When I started my journey on the road to health my goal was twofold. First lose weight and second decrease my total cholesterol (TC) so I did not need medication. Within the first 10 months of changing the way I eat, not only did I meet my weight goal (175 lbs) I exceeded that by 3 pounds. I wanted to drop my TC to 150 mg/dL, not only did I meet that goal, I exceeded that with 130 mg/dL. The only exercise goals I set were when I joined the Stronglifts Inner Circle (SLIC). I wanted to  squat 240 lbs., bench 140 lbs., and deadlift 260 lbs. As of today, I have only achieved the bench goal.

The real change to my exercise was decided to take up running on the last day of March. Since then I have continued to add miles to my total each week, decrease my times, increase endurance and be able to run faster. I also decided to set a goal of running in a half marathon on August 3. This has been the motivation to run. Why do I mention all of these exercises? The 4 page report I was looking at and the numbers I heard frustrated me.

My weight for the test was 174.4 lbs. or just over half a pound off from my goal weight. I have been within 5 pounds of this weight with the exception of my February, 2013 test which saw me weigh in at 182 lbs. The most frustrating number was the ‘Lean Lb.’ or lean body mass. I was hoping for another increase (of 5 lbs)  over the last 4 months, which would have brought my increase to 10 lbs. of lean body mass, unfortunately that gain I had hoped for was dashed when I saw I had lost 3.25 lbs. of lean body mass. I was discouraged, especially considering I adhered to a strict routine of lifting weights 3 days a week with continual gains up until just a few weeks ago when I had to deload a few exercises and stop two lifts altogether because of shoulder pain.

The other number that caught my attention was seeing my body fat had dropped to 13% (a loss of 4.35 lbs.)! I had been told quite a few times on the SLIC that my strength gains (muscle) would be compromised with the addition of running to my exercise regiment. I do believe that to be true based on the body composition results. Still weight lifting and running can coexist and I have shifted my focus and goals. Even with the naysayers on board, I am still pleased with the progress. Never thought I would see my body fat reduced to just 13%! I am sure if I continue to increase the running that number would probably go lower, but I am not sure I want it much lower.

I would still like to lean out a bit by losing another few inches in the waist, but increase numbers around my chest and arms for healthier looking physique. The problem seems to be how much I eat or don’t eat. I continue to track my calories daily, which is not required but like running and lifting has become part of my routine. I am still adhering to a plant-based, whole foods lifestyle, but seem to have problems meeting the 2000 calories. Every day I lift or run there is a good chance I will be in a calorie deficiency.

So has intermittent fasting helped or hindered my progress? Not sure I have a definitive answer at this point. No longer to do I crave meals in the morning, usually going until 11am before having my first meal. Obviously the body fat number has improved considerably, did it come at a small cost in lean body mass? Possibly but received information,

One of the things I don’t want you to worry about is losing body mass. Unless you are starving and losing massive amounts of strength I wouldn’t worry to much about it. What has probably happened is you are burning off the fat that has stored in your muscles. People store fat in their muscles and if you cut a cross section of one it will sometimes look like a well marbled steak. So you aren’t losing muscle. You are just finishing one of the processes of leaning up. You are probably also burning off the fat that has stored around your organs too. And all this is a good thing! You want to get rid of all the extra stored fat, visceral and otherwise.

Bottom line regardless of what I decide, I need to eat more, especially with my half marathon quickly approaching. I am still pleased with all the progress I have made from diet change to exercise to improvement in my blood work numbers as well as body composition.

Strain vs Gain

Stronglifts: Strain or GainI started real strength training using a barbell and plates on October 22 thanks to Stronglifts. This after spending 5 months working out in my garage on a Bowflex Revolution, followed by another 5 months doing a split routine at the gym with a co-worker, who was my lifting partner. Yet during those 5 months prior to him passing away due to a heart condition, we never used a barbell. We used dumbbells in some of our work outs, but never did we perform the 5 lifts that have made me stronger than I have ever been. is a beginners program, which can lead to other forms of barbell training from 3×5 and 3×3 to Madcow and Smolov Jr. I still consider myself a beginner and I am still adding week nearly each session to all my lifts. Sometimes I stall on a lift, which requires me to reattempt the weight a second and possibly a third time before I remove weight an attempt a lower weight in order to push through the previous weight I stalled at.

This was the case with my squat, I was able to get through 185 lbs. and attempt 190 lbs. last week. I came up one rep short on my 4th set. I still considered this a failed attempt since I didn’t get my full 5×5. So I reattempted on Sunday and it was absolutely pathetic, as I went 2/2/2/2/1 in my 5 sets. I was exhausted and I could not drive up, out of the hole with 190 lbs. on my back. I was frustrated because I was so close the previous time. How could I go downhill so quickly in just 3 days?

It took another set of eyes from the Stronglifts Inner Circle to see the errors of my way. I had been doing too many warm up sets. I misread the guide provided my Mehdi Hadim, owner of Stronglifts, instead of doing 2 reps at 45 lbs, I was doing 2×5 at 45 lbs. A difference of 8 reps. This was followed by 3×5 at 95 lbs. and 3×5 at 135 lbs. A difference of 26 reps. So I was added 32 warm up reps to my squat work out before I even got to my work out weight. It’s no wonder I was tired and straining to get through some of the heavier weights more recently.

My warm up routine has now been modified and I currently do a total of 11 reps (2×45, 3×95, 3×135, 3×165) before starting my 5×5 at my work out weight. Yesterday, it made a world of difference, not that the weight was any easier, it was still a challenge, but unlike the previous weeks I had the power in my legs to drive out of the hole to the lock out position and easily accomplished my 5×5.

This is the second mistake I have made while performing Stronglifts. The first was pointed out to me in January when someone mentioned that I “really loved the deadlift” as I had been doing 5×5 and not 1×5, as the program directs. This change allowed me to progress even further on the deadlift since it was only 1 set. It could have also been previous weights were easier to pull. Now that I am at 240 lbs. I have started using chalk and a mixed grip in order to hold on to the barbell with a stronger grip.

Two mistakes and countless minor changes over the course 7 months and I feel as if I am set to make some very good gains in the coming weeks. Add to that the introduction of intermittent fasting, now on a regular basis, going 16 hours without food before having an 8 hour window in which to eat. The running has taken off, as I put in 27.57 miles last month and through today I am already at 25.28. Hopefully this trend continues through June and July as I continue to prepare for my first half marathon in August.

IF Changed

fasting2Intermittent fasting has been going very well. The hunger pangs have not been bad at all. Work was challenging last week, but after posing a question to the Stronglifts Inner Circle, I have now modified my IF based on the Leangains Guide. This was a series of documents I read while investigating fasting, but for reasons unknown forgot all about the information that was provided. What is nice about intermittent fasting is the flexibility you have to modify your program so it fits your lifestyle.

The goal again is to “get as lean and strong as possible” based off the Leangains summary to IF. Since work gets in the way of fasting and training my feeding window has been adjusted. Instead of not eating prior to working out, I now open the feeding window at noon until 1pm and eat approximately 20-25% of my total daily calories. I work out between 3-330pm, lifting weights, which is approximately 90 minutes or run for anywhere between 30-60 minutes (depending on mileage). My largest meals comes right after my work out. So far it consists of a protein shake (Vega Sport) followed by a full meal. About 2-3 hours after dinner I am eating another meal to round out my 3000 calorie day (on days I lift).

Eating 3000 calories on a lifting day is still a challenge.  I have only been successful twice since starting this little experiment. That means I need to get more food in while my window is open or I won’t see the the results I am looking for. On my running days, I still maintain a 2500-2700 calories diet. I have been following each workout up with a great tasting shake I call the Green Glop. Doesn’t that sound tasty?

Much like Martin Berkhan talks about on Leangains, “skipping breakfast keeps hunger away far better than eating in the morning.” Doesn’t sound logical, does it? I can attest to being hungry an hour to 2 hours after my morning cereal or oatmeal. No more! While it might take time for your body to adjust to skipping this meal, the results could be beneficial, depending on what your goals are. You can read more if you are interested.

For me, my goals are to increase the amount of lean body mass and decrease the percentage of body fat. The 4 months leaning up to February, 2012 were good, as I gained 5.5 lb. of muscle, but also added 1 lb. of body fat. That is a trade off I am willing to accept. Next month I have another hydrostatic test and hopefully I can see more positive results with the heavier weight lifting, running and adding the intermittent fasting to my lifestyle.


As you might have read I have been experimenting with intermittent fasting (IF) this past week. Originally my intention was to use it 3 days a week in conjunction with weight lifting, following the Stronglifts program. As it turned out I started fasting Monday night after eating dinner. I had no food between 8PM and 12PM Tuesday. I ended up working out on an empty stomach, the premise being burning off fat while you exercise. After I was completed my lifting, 90 minutes later, I ate.

I had no problems skipping breakfast and not eating until after I had worked out. Unfortunately, looking back on this I will have to adjust the feeding window or change my work out because it has been very difficult NOT to eat while at work. I have failed the last 2 days, but I also need to be flexible, as IF is something I am just experimenting with. I did have outstanding results when running. On Wednesday I put together 2 of my best miles, running a 7:57 to start and 2 miles later backing it up with a 8:16! All this while fasting. In fact running felt great, better than if I ate 3-4 hours prior to running.

On Thursday I came back with another Stronglifts session. I was able to increase weights on the squat, overhead press and the deadlift. Much like running the previous day if felt great lifting on an empty stomach and I felt as if good progress was made. The left shoulder pain continued to be a problem as I cut the deadlift short by 2 reps. The real challenge would be the next few days as work would stand between IF and my work outs.

Friday was difficult, but I held off until about 11AM before I finally decided to eat an oriental salad and a veggie roll with pad Thai noodles in it. I knew this would have an adverse effect when I went to run my 4 miles later in the day. Looking at my IF chart, moving the feeding window won’t accomplish anything. The problem is getting off work by 2PM and home 60 minutes later and then putting in a 60-90 minute work out or run. This means I don’t eat until 430PM or 5PM. By this time, the feeding window is well on it’s way to closing. Fasting for 16 hours is manageable, but adding an additional 4 hours is probably not the best idea.

Interesting enough I could feel a big difference when I ran 4 miles. It felt better to run on an “empty” stomach rather than one that had food in from lunch or breakfast. Unfortunately, work gets in the way again and there is no way to incorporate weights or running while at work, I don’t have that sort of down time or equipment. Not quite sure what I will do, as I sit here contemplating how to fit a full 3 days of IF in.

IF: Week 1

fasting_trainingIt’s called a “feeding window” for a reason. During this 8 hour period you will eat your daily allowance of food. The other 16 hours of the day you are fasting or not eating any food, but can supplement your eating with liquids, such as water with lemon or coffee (not that I will). I have been looking into the advantages of ‘IF’ for the past few weeks. Reading quite a few articles from different authors and hearing success stories from other individuals, as well as results that didn’t go as planned.

I feel this is a good time to give it a test run, so to speak as I have a physical on Wednesday for life insurance I am considering. Going back to Monday, my last meal was prior to 7PM. During my last meal I consumed about 1500 calories. Today, Tuesday it means I skip breakfast. Yes, I know you have heard the adage, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Consider this thinking outside the box and if I really want to, I could eat breakfast when my feeding window opens later today. As Brad Pilon, author of Eat Stop Eat explains, “you have 144 hours  of eating that you can play with  every week…there are no incorrect ways to eat.”

So now you are asking yourself, “what do you expect to gain from not eating for 16 hours. Let’s look at how I am organizing this. First the feeding window I decided upon is open from noon until 8PM at night. Right there, is usually when I get a bulk of my calories anyway. Sure in the morning hours I will miss out on  my cereal and oatmeal, possibly even a very early lunch if I am at work. From 8PM until 4AM I am sleeping (give or take 2-3 hours in the PM). That means there are only 8 hours while I am awake that I won’t eat. This isn’t “starving myself” nor is it to lose weight, but being my first time into this experiment I might drop a few pounds, but the intention it to lose fat while building lean muscle.

Since there are no hard and fast rules I will give this first round of IF a shot. As of May 1 I have started tracking my calorie intake again and it’s no surprise to see my diet dominated by carbohydrates (66%) with protein at 14% and fat at 8%. It will probably be 2-4 weeks following this plan, which will see me fast 3 times a week in conjunction with the days I lift weights. So let the experiment begin!