Friday, January 4, 2019

What to Watch Jan 2019

I've posted about this before, but it bears repeating: if you love martial arts you might love martial arts based entertainment. For many, watching martial arts movies and tv shows, realist or not, can be highly motivational and fun.

I know many experienced martial artists have little to no patience for highly unrealistic martial arts based entertainment - I'm not one of them. I can appreciate a crazy ridiculous movie or cartoon as much as a hyper realistic fight scene (maybe more).

Most of what I watch on TV is not martial arts or action - most of what I personally watch is Bollywood movies (no, I'm not Indian, and no, my South Asian wife is not into Bollywood, I came by this addiction all on my own). I'm not going to go on and on about why I love Bollywood here, but to be honest Bollywood movies rarely have well executed fight scenes, so from a martial arts perspective I wouldn't recommend them, even the action oriented films. (If you are interested in Bollywood, by all means go on Netflix and search for Shah Rukh Khan, the greatest actor who has ever lived, and watch anything of his - start with Happy New Year. If you have Amazon Prime, watch Kal Ho Naa Ho, then Khabi Khushi Khabie Gham, then DM me for more recommendations once you've stopped crying).

I'm going to put in here a few very short reviews about things I've been watching that are martial arts based. Everything I put in is on Netflix in the US (sorry, I'm not sure what Netflix has if you're in another country, and I'm not sure how to check - if anybody feels like adding recommendations from other country's options in the comments please feel free).

Iron Fist (TV show, Marvel universe, 2 seasons)
This was bad in every way. The fight scenes were pretty bad - though season 2 had a couple of well done scenes. See if you can find the Misty Knight/ Colleen Wing fight scenes on Netflix or google their locations in the series. Don't just watch it straight through, unless you're a masochist.

Daredevil (TV show, Marvel universe, 3 seasons)
Seasons 1 and 3 were outstanding and season 2 was very good (ironically, season 2 had more ninjas, yet wasn't as good as the others). Great acting, stellar storylines, and fantastic fight scenes - but these were not action packed. It's not one of those things where there's 5 minutes of fighting, 1 minute of dialogue, then 5 minutes of fighting, so if you're looking for sort of mindless action, this isn't for you (watch the Raid, below).

The Night Comes For Us (Movie, Iko Uwais)
Outstanding in every way. All action, all the way through. I love Iko Uwais movies - He's a great performer, first of all, but I find the films he's in (and this might have nothing to do with him) fun because they're less gut wrenching (usually) then Tony Jaa films. With a Tony Jaa film I feel like I'm always sitting through an hour of an elephant being tortured before the action starts. I'm very sensitive, I hate that stuff. With Iko's movies you're usually invested in the characters right away without having to watch the 'bad' guys do a whole lot of terrible things so you feel better when the revenge happens.
Iko's moves are silat based and look fantastic. He's NOT the main character in this movie, but it's amazing anyway. NOTE: kind of gory, lots of blood and shattered bones. Not good for kids.

The Raid: Redemption (Movie, Iko Uwais)
Amazing. Watch it. Also gory and maybe not for kids. All action all the way through.

The Final Master (Movie, Chinese)
Really, really good film. Great story, actual character development, fantastic fight scenes (all wing chun-ish). Absolutely watch it.

Rise of the Legend (Movie, Chinese)
Really good action film. Watch it.

Beyond Skyline (Movie, sci-fi, costars Iko Uwais)
Meh. Miss it. It's fine for a B level sci fi film, but not actually good, and the fight scenes alone aren't worth the rest of the film.

Baaghi (Movie, Tiger Schroff, Bollywood)
The only Bollywood title on this list. Greatest Indian martial arts movie ever made. Not bad, but not great. Action scenes are reminiscent of Jean Claude Van Dam films - Tiger Schroff is pretty athletic - but not up to 2018 international standards. Of course, it has the best music and dancing of any movie on this list. Another good Tiger Schroff is Heropanti - very, very amusing (and no, it has nothing to do with panties).

Broken Sword Hero (Movie, Buakaw, Thai)
Not terrible, I guess? I have a soft spot for Buakaw, who is an amazing and entertaining kickboxer in real life (not an actor). Above average action, decent story, acting is fine. Watch if you have time.

Sword of Destiny (Movie, Chinese, sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon)
Not terrible, but it's no Crouching Tiger. It's fine. Miss if you're busy.

The Last Dragon (Movie, American)
I can't objectively evaluate this movie. It's a cult favorite of mine, and as such holds a very, very special place in my soul. Watch it, because even if it's not a great film, it's a cultural milestone.

Mugamoodi (Movie, Tamil)
Weird super hero (but relatively realistic)/romance thing going on. Tamil films are very similar to Bollywood (but not the same) in tone, and this is no exception, so don't be surprised by the dance numbers and casual racism. Still, pretty decent action scenes and storyline (but not good).

Man of Tai Chi (Movie, Keanu Reeves!)
Super talented tai chi student fights in tournaments to prove the efficacy of his art, getting ever more brutal and advanced as he goes, until he's in kill or be killed fights with crazy Keanu Reeves. Absolutely worth watching.

There are more. I'm making my way through Monkey Twins right now, so far... it's fine, but not good.


Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Fasting: 5 questions answered

I posted recently about intermittent fasting for karate practitioners. If you don't want to read it, I'll summarize: I believe fasting (going for periods from 16 hours and up without eating anything, though probably no more than 72 hours at a time) is a great way to control bodyfat, insulin sensitivity, and might provide some other intriguing health benefits with very few risks. It might also improve sports performance (by facilitating fat adaption) and muscle mass and strength (which is counterintuitive).

I'm on a few fasting related message boards and a few things come up repeatedly as people ask about IF. Here's a summary of answers:

1. Can I fast if I'm diabetic?
MAYBE but NOT UNSUPERVISED. I can't stress this enough.
If your'e on diabetes medications you can't just suddenly decide to skip meals or entire days of meals without changing your meds. Diabetes medications are designed to reduce blood sugar. The dose you're on should be well calibrated to your current body and diet. If you suddenly change your diet, those meds might not work anymore. You can't expect your blood sugar to end up in a good place if you suddenly stop eating any more than you'd expect it to stay low if you suddenly started eating a sheet cake with every meal.
The real danger is that if you started eating an entire sheet cake with every meal your sugar would go UP, and that's less acutely dangerous (i.e. having very high blood sugar this very minute won't kill you this very minute, even if it's doing long term damage). Having very low blood sugar actually can make you pass out or die.
So fasting might be a great and healthy thing to do if you're diabetic, BUT you have to carefully monitor your blood glucose and adjust your medications to match as you do it. DO NOT try this alone.

2. Will consuming break the fast?
I see this question constantly - "I like to have a hard boiled egg in the morning, does that break the fast?" "Will coffee with cream break the fast?" And so on.
The answer to this is a little layered.
First of all, it isn't completely proven that fasting provides benefits beyond the caloric restriction that comes with it. It's not conclusive that a 20/4 eating plan that gives you 2000 kCal/day is better in any way than a spread out plan where you consume the exact same quantity of food over the whole day.
But I strongly suspect that the 20/4 is better. If you disagree, then you shouldn't care about breaking the fast because you don't think the fast is doing anything useful.
We still don't know exactly what it is about fasting that provides these additional benefits. So we can't say with real certainty what 'breaks the fast' because we don't know exactly what 'the fast' means from a physiological perspective.
Water probably doesn't 'break the fast' because nobody really thinks that dehydration has anything to do with the benefits of fasting. So plain water definitely doesn't break the fast.
Non-caloric, no-taste nutrients probably don't break the fast. I mean things like caffeine pills, vitamins and minerals, and electrolytes. I have never seen an idea for 'how fasts work' that would be broken by taking some electrolytes or Vitamin D, for example.
Small or large amounts of dietary fat by itself almost definitely doesn't break the fast. So you can add cream to your black coffee. Why am I so sure of this? Because while fasting your body can dump tons of fat into your blood, from your own bodyfat, anytime. And it does. If having fat in your blood 'broke the fast' nobody would ever be able to fast, at least not while alive.
Non-caloric non-sweetener flavorings probably don't break the fast. Think flavored water type beverages that aren't sweet, or black coffee, or unsweetened tea. These things might impact insulin, which might 'break' the fast's benefits, but I doubt it. Future science might prove this wrong.
Non-caloric sweeteners are a really tough call. They might increase insulin, which might 'break the fast' in terms of halting the benefits of fasting. But if you take them regularly, that effect might go away, and in real terms it's terribly unclear how much insulin you'd need to release to have an important physiological effect. So... I'm not sure. If you are absolutely committed to fasting, play it safe and skip the diet sodas. If you just can't manage without them... I sympathize, but I honestly can't tell you how bad it is (and nobody else can, either).
Protein or carbohydrates in small amounts either don't break the fast or only set it back a little. What do I mean by 'small amount?' Imagine eating a single peanut. It's possible that could knock you out of a fasting state, but for how long? A few minutes?
The problem comes when people extend this logic to encompass larger portions of protein and carbohydrate foods. What if you ate a peanut every 2 minutes all day long? I bet that would negate the fast. Or the hard boiled egg I mentioned above (that was taken from a real question on a fasting support forum). Nobody can really answer how detrimental a single egg can be - does it negate an hours worth of fasting? Half an hour? Two hours? Nobody knows.
Foods with lots of protein and/or carbohydrates will definitely break the fast. That's literally what breakfast is.

3. I'm having . Is it okay to skip my fast or break it early?
Good grief, yes.

4. What about fasting and detoxification?
OMG please stop with the detox.
"Detox" as it's used in popular diet talk is meaningless. If anybody talks about a 'detox diet,' ask them to specify what toxins are being removed from your body and by what biological process.
If they answer (they won't), post it to comments and we can look into whether skipping a few meals can interfere with that process.
Any kind of caloric restriction can reduce inflammation, which can help with a whole host of chronic conditions. That doesn't mean you're 'removing toxins from your body.'

5. Can I exercise while fasting?
Yes, you can do any exercise while fasting that you could do while fed. Your performance will probably suffer, though, especially if you're combining fasting with a low carbohydrate approach (which is popular but not what I personally recommend). You will, in my experience, find that the more you exercise while fasted the easier it gets. Either way, it's not dangerous or harmful to try.

I'm not a fasting evangelist. I'm not an anything-evangelist. My goal is never to tell you the absolute best way to do anything, because I am never certain that I know the best way to do anything. I do try to honestly give you the best advice I can, distilled from the best advice popularly available today, based on the best scientific evidence and reasoning that we have available. New studies could turn up tomorrow that force us to rethink some of these ideas, and when I find out about them, I'll post it here.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Go Half In: train like you kinda-sorta mean it!

This post is all about do what I say, not what I do.

I was listening to a podcast interview with a chiropractor (sorry, forgot his name, but it's not super relevant to this post) who is a fan of Tony Robbins (the self help 'guru,' and I don't mean that to be disparaging). He met Tony in an elevator before a seminar and asked what he could do to get the most out of it, and Tony said (I'm paraphrasing) he needed to go "all in." Basically, completely immerse himself in the content for the duration - do every exercise, take every suggestion, fully commit to the program for those three days without reservations.

We probably all understand this notion in terms of martial arts training. Going all in with your training means taking every class, stretching and practicing on your off days, eating sensibly, getting enough sleep, maybe doing extra conditioning or strength training sessions on your own time. And if you aren't the person who does that, I'm sure you know people who do - the most gung ho, most enthusiastic practitioners. Usually, they're young enough not to have outside responsibilities, or beginners. But some people maintain that level of training for longer.

For people who aren't always "all in," they often go all in for certain periods of time. Think of the months leading up to a big tournament or black belt promotion. Fear and the desire to perform often lead us to work extra hard in those times. In the 3 months before my shodan test I think I trained 12-14 hours a week.

The thing is, karate is a lifetime discipline, but most people can't go all in for a lifetime.

Maybe right now you're thinking of counterexamples - people who train maniacally for their entire lives. That's fantastic for them. If someone has a lifestyle that lets them do that, and is able to maintain that level of enthusiasm, that's great. For them. But for most of us regular people with jobs, relationships, kids, fluctuating health and injury status, and fluctuating life circumstances, going all in all the time is just not possible.

And here's the thing: we celebrate the people who train extra hard, never miss a class, are in great shape all the time, never fall off the wagon. (We should celebrate that, I'm not against it).

What's the problem with that? Where's the issue?

The problem, as I see it, is when we think that "all in" is the only way to train (or the only way to progress), and that's simply not true.

I figured out my personal definition of "all in." When I train 5+ hours a week spread out over at least 4 workouts (that combines actual classes with supplementary workouts) I feel like I'm really going all in. I've done more, that's not an upper limit, but that's the time commitment that makes me feel like I'm really dedicated to training.

Over and over again, in my own life, when I've found myself unable to get those 5+ hours a week in, for whatever reason, I get extremely discouraged. I feel like a hypocrite wearing a black belt to class. I feel that I don't deserve respect that is given to me by others in the training hall. I feel as though I've betrayed my art, my teachers, and my style (Seido Karate).

And it's very, very hard for me to get over those feelings - to the point where I stop training altogether. If I can't go "all in," then I go "all out." Meaning I stop training, or at least stop going to classes.

While I started training 30 years ago, I've only trained consistently for 10-12 years out of that time (not 10-12 years straight; I mean spread out over many stretches with breaks in between). I'm only a third degree black belt.

And I guarantee this - if every time I couldn't fully commit to training, I had, instead of stopping altogether, put in 1-2 hours a week of training, I would be a much, much stronger karateka than I am now.

I'm not saying I'd be as good as another person who trained "all in" for 30 years. I'm simply saying that if I had put in 1-2 hours a week for those approximately 18 years when I didn't train, I would have accumulated another thousand hours of training time. And I'm sure my training would have been more efficient - once you learn a kata, if you do it every week or two you never forget it, while trust me after you take two years off you have to relearn it almost from scratch.

Summary: Don't be afraid of backing off from training; be afraid of not training! You don't have to attend every class, train every day, or be the hardest worker around in order to make progress and improve your karate. Don't feel bad for taking it easy when you have to. "All in" training is great, but "half in" is much, much better than "all out." And if you have stretches of time where things are a little easier, where your kids are a little older and not as needy, when your job is going okay, your marriage is okay, and you have a little extra time and energy, train all in! Enjoy it.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Keto and Karate: A Good Fit?

Ketogenic Diets are very popular right now, for reasons I'm not entirely clear about. I've played with ketogenic diets on and off for the past 10+ years, and read a lot of the literature around them, so I figured it was time to talk a little about how useful they are for karateka.

What is Ketosis?
It's easier to start with a brief overview of 'normal' (I really mean typical) metabolism.
Your body needs energy all the time, in every living cell. Most of that energy comes from glucose or from fat. Your body stores both - there is glucose stored in the form of glycogen in your muscles and liver, and fat stored all over the place. When you need energy somewhere it gets glucose and/or fat from the blood and uses it for energy. When the glucose or fat in the blood get too low, more is moved from storage into the blood.
The glucose mostly comes from food (carbohydrates), but your body can make some glucose from proteins and fats (through a process called gluconeogenesis).
Some types of cells are better at using fat, others are better at using glucose. To some extent you can improve your body's ability to use either fat or glucose by eating and training in a certain way, but there are limits (you can never get your brain to run on fat).
If your cells aren't able to get enough glucose (this can happen either because you've run low on glucose OR because it can't get into the cells, as in with a Type I diabetic), your body will start making ketones out of fat. Ketones are just another molecule that your cells can use for energy. Some cells that are bad at using fat directly (like neurons) can use ketones, so you can stay alive even when glucose is in short supply. 'Normally' you make very few or no ketones.
Nutritional Ketosis is what happens when you restrict your carbohydrate intake (don't eat any) and protein intake for a while (specifics aren't important here, but 'a while' means days or weeks, not minutes or hours). At first, your body will just use stored glucose (glycogen) to fulfill its needs, but if that glycogen gets used faster than it's replenished, eventually it runs out (or at least runs very low). Then you start making ketones really quickly, to fulfill your energy needs.
Diabetics can get into ketosis while their insulin and blood sugars are both high. This is a different state and can be very dangerous. Diabetic Ketoacidosis and Nutritional Ketosis are not the same thing.
To be even more clear: on a 'normal' or typical diet, you will have very small amounts of ketones in your blood. If you eat certain foods (Medium Chain Triglycerides, as found in coconut oil) OR deplete your body's stores of carbohydrates enough, your body will start making lots of them.

What's are the benefits of being in ketosis?
There's a lot to unpack here - as with fasting, a lot of the science is mixed.
Health/Body Composition Benefits:
Being on a ketogenic diet (nutritional ketosis - very low carb, not high protein, high fat diets) might facilitate bodyfat loss. This is contentious - there are lots of reputable people who think that ketogenic diets are great for weight loss and others who disagree. I'm not going to take a stand - do the research yourself. I personally suspect that ketogenic diets are better for fat loss but hard to sustain compared to some other successful eating plans.
Having high levels of ketones in your bloodstream might have other benefits. Because ketones can provide cells with energy but get into the cells in a way that's different from glucose, they might help feed cells that are insulin resistant. This is especially interesting with the brain. There is pretty strong evidence that having ketones in the blood can help the brain resist traumatic injury and help the brain recover from injuries. Some also believe that high levels of ketones can prevent symptoms of Alzheimer's and dementia (I'm not going to say this is definitely true; I will say that I suspect the idea has a lot of merit).
There are a lot of other claims made about ketogenic diets, more than I have space to discuss here. Dig around if you're interested.
Performance Benefits:
This is another controversial area.
Your body can use ketones for energy. Your body can also make an effectively infinite amount of them. Suppose you want to run 100 miles. Your body can't store anywhere near enough glycogen to fuel that sort of effort - you'd need to eat carbohydrates along the way, and lots of them, to make it that far. But almost everyone has more than enough energy stored as fat to run 100 miles (it's not even close). So, in theory, if you could get all your energy for the run from ketones, you wouldn't have to slam down carbohydrate gels or eat along the way.
However, power is limited on ketones. You can generate energy forever (practically) using ketones, but you can't generate it very quickly. Yes, you can run 100 miles on ketones, but you won't run any of those miles at anywhere close to your maximum speed.
Having ketones and glucose in your system at the same time hasn't been well studied to my knowledge. It should provide performance benefits without any disadvantages, but it's not easy to get into that state.

So should karateka be on a ketogenic diet?
Short answer: no.
To actually get into ketosis you have to be on a very low carbohydrate diet until your body's stored glucose is very, very low. In other words, you can't have anywhere close to full glycogen levels. If you have lots of glycogen, you won't be in ketosis.
And there is abundant evidence that your body won't be able to generate high levels of power without lots of glycogen around. This makes sense - if you look at the energy systems, the glycolitic system runs on glucose. If you have no glucose around, and really deplete ATP levels, you'll crash, and the energy systems that can use fat or ketones to regenerate ATP from ADP won't be able to keep up with demand. So your body limits power output to prevent a crash.
So if you're in nutritional ketosis, your punches will lack snap, your speed will be limited - basically, you'll be a slower, less explosive version of yourself.
Some people think you can become 'fat adapted' and avoid this fate. Not true. Yes, if you exercise a lot while glycogen levels are low you can get better at using fat (or ketones) for energy, you'll never magically be able to generate peak power off of ketones.
This isn't even really controversial. Without glycogen your body is like a racecar without its highest gears. You can work hard, and for a long time, but you lose that top end speed. No amount of practice or training will completely change that.

I want to provide 2 caveats:

  1. For you, it's possible that the health benefits of a ketogenic diet are more important than your karate performance. This is something you'll have to figure out for yourself. As a corollary to this, you might find benefits to being in a ketogenic diet in a periodized way - say, 1 month a year, or a couple of weeks at a time, every so often. That's fine, just be aware that your karate will suffer during those times.
  2. The reduction in power output ISN'T CAUSED BY THE KETONES BUT BY THE LACK OF GLYCOGEN. So what, you ask? It is quite possible that you could get the benefits of nutritional ketosis without the downsides - by eating ketones. There are supplements out there that are just pills full of ketones. In other words, instead of getting high levels of ketones in your blood by depleting carbohydrates until your body 'thinks' it's starving, just consume ketones and let them get absorbed. This approach is relatively new - the supplements are expensive - and may or may not work. If it does, you'd potentially have a little extra endurance when you work out. Also, more interestingly, you might have some protection against head trauma. Another approach is to eat a lot of MCT (medium chain triglycerides) either in coconut oil or in a dedicated supplement. Your body turns MCT into ketones almost directly, so if you can consume enough of it you can get elevated ketones in your blood without depleting glycogen.
If I were, say, a professional fighter, I would absolutely load up on ketone supplements before hard sparring sessions or fights. We have very little reason to think it could make anything worse (performance or health) and some reasonably strong reasons that it could protect our brains. The downside is that the supplements are expensive. If you have money to burn, go ahead and try them! But nutritional ketosis is not conducive to martial arts training at any level, so I don't recommend it.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Find your Ideal Weight for Karate (or life)

There's a simple formula for finding your ideal weight:

1. Measure your height in cm.
2. Measure your weight in kg.
3. Take measurements of the circumference of your neck, wrists, and ankles.

The next couple of steps take a little bit longer:
4. Gain or lose weight as needed until you are happy with the way you look, the way you feel, and your general health.
5. Weigh yourself again.
6. That's your ideal weight!!!

This question goes around fitness circles every so often - 'what should I weigh?' It's an interesting, but silly question.

Why is it silly? Because it presupposes some perfect weight that a person should reach independent of... everything else.

Imagine you are very healthy, very pleased with your appearance (the right amount of fat and muscle that makes you think you look good, whatever that is). Suppose also that you are happy with your physical performance - you can jump the way you want, move smoothly the way you want, you don't get excessively tired, etc.
Now imagine that someone says, "oh, sorry, you should way 10kg more. Or 10 kg less. You're not at your ideal weight."
What would you do? Starve yourself to lose weight - keep in mind that you'd be moving AWAY from an appearance that you like. Or overeat to bulk up - again, moving away from your ideal?

I think people ask this question most often when they're UNHAPPY with their appearance, health, and/or performance, and want a target to shoot for. They weigh, say, 200 lbs, and want to be able to say something like, "if I can only get to 150 lbs, that would be ideal, so I have exactly 50 lbs to lose."

I can see the appeal in having a target, but it's not really useful. Imagine some expert determines that your ideal weight is 160 lbs. Then you diet and exercise (in a healthy way) and get to 160, and you are still kind of too fat (by your own standards). Let's assume you're not anorexic; maybe you have lighter bones than the 'expert' anticipated. Or your doctor does bloodwork and testing and says you still have too high a bodyfat percentage. What do you do, stop losing weight because you're already at 'ideal'? Of course not. And the opposite is also true - suppose that expert says your ideal is 160, and you hit 170 but you're ripped and feeling great and your doctor says you're in awesome shape. Do you keep trying to lose more weight?

I bet almost everybody already knows if they need to gain, lose, or maintain their weight (I'm assuming you're a regular person, not an actor, model, physique competitor, or competitor in a weight class sport - those guys all have unique considerations and might need expert advice regarding their weight). If you need to lose weight, try to lose weight (as long as you can do it in a healthy way). Reassess every so often (weekly at most). If you're prone to body dismorphia (like anorexia), be super careful to get some objective measures (like bodyfat analysis or the advice of a trusted friend) along the way. Once you are where you want to be, you're good! The same goes for those of you who might need to gain weight.

Don't fall into a paralysis by analysis trap of spending time and energy defining a target while you aren't working to get there.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Intermittent Fasting for Karate

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an eating strategy that's been around for a long time, but has been more prominent in the news the last few months for some reason. I'm a fan (the blog description even lists IF as one of its cornerstones), so I thought I'd discuss it for anyone who is curious.

What is Intermittent Fasting?
This is sort of tricky, because almost everyone practices a kind of IF. Most people go at least 8-10 hours a day without food - while they're sleeping. I know there are some people who get up in the middle of the night to grab some kind of snack, but they're in a minority.
So for an eating plan to 'count' as IF the fasts should be longer than 8-10 hours. Here's a pretty good start:
IF is a plan whereby one deliberately and on a regular basis goes without calorie containing food (so water is fine) for stretches of time that are at least 12 hours (NOTE: for most IF strategies the fasts are at least 16 hours long, so consider 12 the very shortest fast that might barely count as a fast) but NOT longer than 36 hours.
The MOST COMMON strategies I've seen are:
1. Restricted feeding window - Eat every day, but only for a period of time between 4 and 8 hours. So maybe every day eat normally between noon and 8 PM, then fast until noon the next day - this is a 16 hour fast, and an 8 hour eating window, sometimes called 16:8. You can shorten the feeding window, to get a 18:6 or 20:4 or whatever.
2. Every other day eating - one or more days per week, don't eat or eat MUCH LESS food than normal. So if your fast day is Monday, you'd eat normally on Sunday, stop at night, on Monday consume either NO calories at all or many fewer calories than normal - perhaps 20-40% of your 'normal' daily food intake. Obviously, you couldn't do this more than three days a week (or alternate 3 and 4), but most plans like this seem to average around 2 'fast' days per week.

What is IF good for?
This is the question.
In my opinion, you have to look at IF, and at the evidence supporting it, in 3 ways:
1. IF (probably) helps you create and maintain a caloric deficit, and caloric deficits have benefits;
2. IF may have health/performance benefits even compared to a diet with the same calories that are more spread throughout the day;
3. IF has lifestyle advantages that are completely separate from 1 and 2.

The reason I split these up is that the evidence in support of each point is different, and people comparing IF to other eating plans often get these confused. I'll address each one.

#1: IF helps you create and maintain a caloric deficit
Not everyone wants a caloric deficit (the leangains guys will use IF to build muscle), and this is NOT the only reason to do IF, but a huge selling point for IF is that it makes it much easier to eat fewer calories, and to sustain that lower caloric intake for a long period of time.
Suppose someone eats 4 times a day, about 500 calories per meal (that's like, a small sandwich and a Diet Coke), for 2000 total calories a day (much more likely is a 350 calorie breakfast, a 450 calorie lunch, 2 snacks for 100 calories each, and a 1000 calorie dinner, or something like that, but I'm trying to keep my math simpler). Suppose that person wants to create a 500 calorie deficit, because they're trying to lose bodyfat or increase insulin sensitivity or for some other health/appearance goal.
That person COULD shrink all their meals by 125 calories each. Eat 3/4 of a sandwich instead of a whole sandwich. OR that person could just skip one of the 4 meals, and eat 'regular' meals the rest of the time.
This probably isn't universally true, but for many (possibly most) people it is much easier to skip a meal every day than to eat the same number of smaller, less satisfying meals. Think about how people overeat - most people eat a large dessert or something at the end a meal, we are less likely to just go have a huge dessert in the middle of the afternoon. Eating triggers more eating for many of us, especially those of us who are overweight (those of us who need that caloric deficit the most).
Now there is definitely an adaption period to IF - if you're used to eating all day, then going all morning or an entire day without food is not easy. But in my experience it takes at most 2 weeks to adjust, and most often less than that. Your body 'learns' to go without food. Obviously, 36 hour fasts are a little more challenging than adopting a 16:8 eating window, but almost everyone I've known who has tried it has been surprised at how easy it is, and how much easier it is than eating the same number of meals but with smaller portions.
Now, what's the point of having a caloric deficit? That's primarily (though not entirely) about body composition. Meaning, in order to lose bodyfat, you pretty much have to cut calories. There are also probably benefits for everybody to be in a caloric deficit at least some of the time, to improve insulin sensitivity and increase autophagy, but that's less clear (in other words, I'm really sure that if you have too much bodyfat, you should be in a caloric deficit, and I suspect that periodic caloric deficits are good for everybody, but I'm less confident in the latter).

#2: IF may have health/performance/longevity benefits even compared to an isocaloric diet
There is a ton of research on the health impact of caloric deficits, but IF proponents often claim that IF has benefits separate from the caloric deficit. In other words, an eating plan where someone eats 1800 calories a day in a 4 hour window (maybe 2 large meals) will have a different outcome than someone who eats the same number of calories spread out through the day (3 small meals and a couple of snacks, covering 12-16 hours of the day).
I'm going to sum up the research on this. Basically, there are a few reasons why we think regularly going without food for long-ish periods of time does things to your body that don't happen when you trickle in a constant supply of food, even if the total amount is the same.
A: Longevity - there is some evidence that IF makes small animals live longer. This may or may not cross over to humans. I find the evidence compelling but not certain.
B: Insulin Sensitivity - IF may improve insulin sensitivity. I have heard diabetes researchers (actual MD's working in clinics, not the trainer at the gym) who claim IF does wonders for patients with type II Diabetes. If you're overweight you probably have poor insulin sensitivity, so this would be a good thing. I find the evidence here more compelling but still not absolutely conclusive.
C: Preserving Lean Tissue - IF, counter-intuitively, seems to make it easier to hold onto your muscle mass. This is a good thing. When you lose 'weight,' you really want to lose bodyfat while NOT losing muscle. IF may help with that. The evidence here is moderately convincing.
D: Autophagy and cancer prevention - When you don't eat for a while, your body starts 'looking' for places to get nutrients. One of those ways is to ramp up the cleanup processes that normally happen, clearing damaged proteins out of cells, looking to recycle nutrients. This is probably a good thing. Some research suggests that periods of fasting can help prevent cancer by putting your body in a position to kill cancerous cells very early in their formation. Evidence? More than none, but don't skip your chemo just because you didn't have breakfast.

#3: Lifestyle benefits of IF
Once you get used to IF, the benefits to everyday life are pretty large, especially when compared to an isocaloric (same total food in take) but more spread out plan.
A: Time - Eating fewer meals means saving time - less time preparing, less time eating. Cooking a 1000 calorie meal does not take much longer than cooking a 700 calorie meal, so removing a meal or two from your day is a big savings.
B: Social - On IF it is MUCH easier to eat out and socialize than on a 'regular' calorie-restricted diet. For better or worse, a lot of modern social life revolves around eating. It is VERY hard to be on a regular diet and go to a restaurant or a family function without either cheating or having a miserable time staying away from all the food. On IF, as long as you schedule social events during your eating window (which is usually pretty easy), you can often eat pretty much everything you want and still stay on track. For example, last night I knew I was going out to my favorite restaurant, so I ate only a light snack, about 320 calories, at 3PM and really pigged out on Korean food at 7. If I'd had a 'normal' breakfast and lunch I would have had to really restrain myself at dinner to stay in a deficit for the day. If your style of IF means fasting 2 full days a week, just pick days when you aren't out with friends.
C: Building resilience to fasts - IF builds up your ability to skip meals (because you're doing it every day). Suppose you're traveling and can't find a place you like for lunch. Just... don't eat lunch! If you're used to getting 3 or 4 squares a day, skipping lunch can be daunting, but for an experienced IFer it's no problem. And traveling is MUCH easier if you know you don't have to find places to eat all day long. It is very liberating to not worry about getting all your meals in.

But can I train while fasting?
Short answer: yes, especially once you get used to it (that is, workouts while fasted might be tough for you for a couple of weeks, but you'll adapt quickly).
If you're doing longer fasts, followed by longer workouts, you might have a hard time. So don't plan any 36 hour fasts that lead up to, for example, a belt promotion, or a weekend of camp where you're training 6 hours a day. Skip the fasts during times right before exceptionally long training sessions. But I've often followed 20 hour fasts with 2 hour martial arts classes, including sparring, and seen very little downside.

IF definitely frees up some of your time and makes travel easier.
IF is a really, really good way for many people to help manage a caloric deficit (in other words, if you're trying to cut calories, IF is a good way to make that easier to maintain).
IF is very likely a good way to improve insulin sensitivity. So if you're pre-diabetic, have a history of diabetes, or are Type II Diabetic (in which case talk to your doctor before making any dietary changes), IF is probably going to help.
IF might improve your immune system, might increase your lifespan, and might help prevent cancer.
IF might help you increase or preserve muscle mass, especially when in a caloric deficit.

If you need to/want to lose bodyfat IF is probably a really good choice. If not, it might be a good choice for the other reasons, but I can't say that with as much confidence.
Last point: if you're pregnant or still growing or breastfeeding, don't fast. If you have a metabolic disorder (like diabetes), talk to your doctor first. Otherwise, remember that if you're not used to fasting, you'll probably feel like crap when you first try it, but the adaption is really fast. As in, you'll be okay within a week or two.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Agility Ladders and Speed for Martial Arts

Every martial artist wants to be fast; the faster you are, the better you're going to be at hitting the other person while not getting hit yourself. The questions are, what is speed, and how do you train for it? Martial arts speed is not the same thing as speed for a marathoner or for a 100 m sprinter.

I was listening to two podcast interviews about speed training and realized that part of the problem is people thinking the wrong way about speed - seeing one attribute and thinking that it means the person is fast, when in fact it doesn't.

The first interview was with Mike Boyle on the Strength Coach Podcast (which I love). I can't remember which episode, but he was talking about training hockey players, and how he introduced a test where he timed how fast they could skate across the rink. What was interesting was that his results didn't match what the coaches thought of their own players. There were players who seemed slow but actually got across the ice quickly, and players who seemed fast but weren't actually getting across the ice fast.

What was the difference? The players who were thought to be fast but weren't tended to have fast, quick movements with their feet. Their feet were moving around a lot, but that wasn't necessarily translating into higher velocities in the rink.

Think about hockey - you want players who can get from one side of the rink to the other quickly - move their bodies along the ice quickly - not just move their skates fast. But fast moving skates makes someone look fast, so that's what the coaches were thinking about. Until someone came along with a stopwatch and actually timed how long it took to get from blue line to blue line (or something like that, I'm not a hockey guy).

The second enlightening interview, this one on the Just Fly Performance Podcast but I can't find the episode, was with a track coach talking about how useless agility ladders were for speed training.

Agility ladders are a common tool for speed development. They look like a ladder made of ropes or thin chains, laid out on the ground, and people either run through them or do little drills - hopping side to side, trying to get their feet to move faster and faster through the squares set up by the ladder.

The coach (again, sorry I forgot his name) found that players who did a lot of agility ladder work didn't actually get faster at moving their bodies, just their feet. In fact, the ones who did the most on the agility ladder got slower. What do I mean? They got good at having their feet dance around, left to right, in intricate patterns, but worse at actually accelerating their center of mass.

Watch some video of agility ladder training. In a LOT of the drills, the trainees are moving their feet really quickly, back and forth, often changing direction really quickly. Now watch the video again, and pay attention to the center of their body - somewhere around the sternum. Is that part moving fast, or are the feet just dancing around?

Having quick feet isn't a bad thing, but it's not that valuable to a martial artist (or a football player, or a soccer player, or really almost any kind of athlete). What you WANT is to be able to quickly accelerate and decelerate your center of mass - get your body moving fast, then stopping, then moving back the other way. If your feet are all over the place but your chest stays relatively still, your'e not going to be able to escape an attack or get yourself into position to counterattack. Imagine someone coming at you with, say, a front kick to the solar plexus. What's important there - having fast feet or getting your torso out of the way?

But, being able to fly around an agility ladder LOOKS impressive. It looks fast. And that's the problem.

I do not want to recommend a complete speed training program at this point - I have some ideas, but nothing definitive. I'm pretty sure that something like kettlebell swings and some work with minibands will do a lot more for your combat speed than running through an agility ladder routine.

If you are thinking about an exercise, and wondering if it will help speed, here's a quick list of things to think about:
1. Does the drill involve moving your body (the center of your torso)? It should!
2. Does the drill involve more than two steps in any direction? It shouldn't! Fighting speed is how fast you can take one or two steps, no more.
3. Are you doing the drill at maximum speed and force, or does it last so long that you pace yourself? Speed drills should be done fast an explosively. If you're pacing yourself to get through it, it's not going to make you faster (though it might be improving your endurance).

In short, agility ladders might be good for a warmup or a supplement to speed training, but they shouldn't be your primary tool. To get faster, get better at putting larger amounts of force into the ground, quickly.