Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hojo Undo for the 21st Century

I'm an exercise equipment junkie.  I always have a list of things to buy - both instructional books and DVD's and actual equipment - and a bedroom filled with things I've picked up over the years (most of which I actually use regularly).  I recently posted a comment about wanting some new pieces and a friend of mine replied that the only equipment one needs to train is one's own body.  That got me thinking.

First of all, you do not need any equipment at all to train in karate.  There is no aspect of fitness that cannot be trained using your own body, gravity, a little space, and an appropriate training method.  Since you do not need any equipment, you certainly do not need any particular piece of equipment.  Anybody who says you "can't get in shape without product X" is probably trying to sell you product X, or has drank the Kool-Aid offered by people who do sell it.

Having said that, training with your own body and gravity alone is not necessarily the best way to develop all aspects of personal fitness.  A great example is hip snap - a powerful movement through the last few degrees of hip extension, using the glutes primarily, that drives punching power, closing speed, and jumping.  Can you develop good hip snap with your own bodyweight?  Of course.  However, a program of heavy kettlebell swings will develop your hip snap to a greater degree in less time, and it might develop that quality to a greater degree than is even possible with bodyweight alone.  I can say similar things about many other implements.  Can you become a powerful striker without ever hitting anything?  Maybe (maybe not - that's another argument).  But using a makiwara or a heavy bag will make the task much, much easier.

If you train at a school that uses equipment, that's great, especially if there's a small group or a lot of equipment!  I suspect that most dojos have only a limited amount of equipment, and you may not get as much use out of the items you do need in a group setting as you would prefer.  You should also be training more often than just at school - strength and skill training should both be done with frequent, brief sessions, and I doubt you're going to the dojo three times a day for five minutes at a time unless you're a full time martial arts instructor.  The solution?  Buy some stuff for home.

What equipment should you own?  As with all things, that depends on several factors.  First, identify your training needs.  If your biggest issue is flexibility you might want different stuff than if you need a lot more strength.  If you're stiff and sore all the time your first purchase should be a foam roller.

Second, identify your limiting factors.  Money is a big one for most of us.  If money is very tight, consider some do it yourself ideas, like the ones you can find on Ross Training.  You can make very serviceable versions of a lot of pieces of equipment with a little time and a little knowhow.  If space is very tight, consider a gym membership - some gyms have much better lineups of equipment than others.  Some items also take up next to no space - think bands, as opposed to barbell and plates.  Check your flooring - if you work out in the upper floor of a regular house, like I do, you might not be able to do some exercises, like anything where you throw or slam a medicine ball.  That's why I don't own any medicine balls!

Once you have a rough budget and an idea of what kind of room you're working with you can start shopping.  I highly recommend making a list and pondering it for at least a week, if not longer, to avoid impulse buying (maybe that's just me). 

You could group equipment into various categories.

Resistance is equipment that resists movement or loads positions.  Think weights (dumbells and barbells), bands, kettlebells, clubbells, medicine balls, and I'd even throw chinup bars or suspension trainers in there (because they let you use your body to load different movements).  Resistance equipment is generally going to help you get stronger.

Striking surfaces are things you can hit.  Makiwaras, striking bags, heavy bags.  Some are more for teaching accuracy (speed bag), some for power (heavy bag or re-breakable boards), and some for body conditioning (makiwara).  Every martial artist needs to spend some training time hitting things instead of striking air - the body mechanics are very different, and you can't really learn to find your range without hitting something at least some of the time.

Unstable surfaces are things you can support yourself on to train balance and increase core activation.  Bosu Balls, exercise balls, airex pads, and slack lines are all good for this.  Probably shouldn't be the first thing you buy.

Recovery aids are undervalued in the training community.  And no, I don't mean anabolic steroids (that's a subject for another post), I mean items to help you improve recovery at home.  Basically this covers a variety of self-myofascial release devices, or self-massagers.  Foam rollers, sticks, tennis balls taped together - they can take a variety of forms.  I can't tell you how much foam rolling my legs helps my recovery when I'm training really hard.

Flexibility aids are those items that will help you stretch out.  You've probably seen the ads for the leg spreader - that metal contraption that winches your legs apart to push you towards a full split.  Seems like a poor investment to me, in both space and money, but I've never used them.

Cardio equipment is stuff that helps you work for endurance.  Most resistance equipment can double as cardio - you can lift a dumbell for strength, but you can also power snatch a dumbell for sets to build  up your cardio.  I'd put a timer and a heart rate monitor into this category, along with rowing machines, treadmills, stairclimbers, etc.  A timer, something like the Gymboss, is a great idea, and I suspect there are good uses to be made of a heart rate monitor, though I haven't gotten into that yet.  Jump ropes are also great and underappreciated.

If you don't have any specific priorities I have some suggestions.  (I'll assume only that you live somewhere with gravity and at least a small space for training.) 

I think most of us would benefit first from some way to train for pulling strength.  Karatekas tend to do a lot of pushups, which train the front part of the shoulder girdle.  You need pulling strength to balance the forces around that joint and prevent injuries.  A chinup bar or a Door Gym type of device is cheap and a good start.

Next you should get something to hit.  Here space is a much bigger issue.  For hand conditioning you can get a portable makiwara (I love mine - bought it at, which I should mention for disclosure reasons is owned by my former sensei, although he doesn't know I shop there). Cheap and doesn't take up much space.  After that a heavy bag is a nice purchase, or maybe something like the Body Action System (I've never used one, but I find them intriguing, and it's on my short list for a Christmas present).

A Gymboss timer and a foam roller are great $20 investments.  I love using the Gymboss to organize all my interval training - I'll use a watch in a pinch, but the Gymboss is much better for hard sets (the alarm can be set to sound at any interval or combination of intervals, and hearing the "beep" is easier than checking a watch every 2 seconds when you're struggling to breathe).  A foam roller will aid your flexibility but also really helps with recovery if you're working close to your own limits.

I like kettlebells and selectorized dumbells quite a bit and use both in my training every week.  I'd advise getting one kettlebell in each weight category - I got a pair of 35 lbs. and a pair of 54 lbs. and I almost always use just one of them.  I'd much rather have a 35, a 53, and a 70 (and maybe an 88) instead of the ones I got.  They're pricey, but I really like doing presses, getups, and swings with them, and you can easily build your entire strength and conditioning program around just a couple of kettlebells and a park.

There are more advantages to having equipment at home.  One is motivational - for many people having a shiny new gadget in the house makes them want to use it.  Can't let dust accumulate on the new makiwara!  Another is convenience.  If you can't get to the dojo because of work or family constraints or an injury you can probably rattle off a few pullups just before hopping into the shower.

Focus on tools that are multi-use, can be used without help (a disadvantage to focus mitts), and if you're at all handy, think about some DIY projects.  You m ay not need anything to make progress, but many of the things you can buy can help your progress.

Friday, August 13, 2010

"Cheat" Foods and Meals

Whatever eating plan you are on, there are probably foods that you aren't supposed to eat, or that you aren't supposed to eat regularly.  I don't mean foods that are difficult to prepare or too expensive to eat regularly, I mean foods that aren't exactly healthy for you to eat on a regular basis for one reason or another.  We often think of these foods as cheat foods.

Various diet gurus recommend indulging in cheat foods or cheat meals or cheat days in various ways.  There are basically two reasons to cheat on your diet.

The first is psychological.  Many people feel that it is too hard to accept an eating plan which forbids some particular food (either type or quantity) forever.  If I tell you that you can never again eat bread in any quantity, it might be harder for you to accept that than if I said you could have bread once a month but no more often.  Some people feel that having one meal or day every week or month or whatever where you can indulge in foods that aren't good for you acts as a sort of release.  Plus, some people might use the thought of a promised cheat meal as a way to help discipline - "I'll skip this donut today, but on Sunday I'll eat a bowl of ice cream."  Another reason to cheat is social - you're out with friends, and wind up at a restaurant that doesn't offer good choices of food.

The second reason to cheat is physiological.  If you stick to a strict diet, especially one where calories are restricted, fat loss will stop after a while, and you might experience a host of other symptoms - reduced metabolic rate, some hormonal suppression, etc.  Many argue that an occasional day or two or more of higher caloric intake will re-set the body's systems and actually make long term fat loss easier.  I have my suspicions about this - I'm not sure a short term binge actually contributes to fat loss, as the effects may have more to do with water retention than actual changes in dry fat mass, but I can't be sure.

I have doubts about both reasons for cheating, to be honest.  I often find that "cheating" doesn't alleviate the pressure of dieting like letting steam out of a pot, but rather leads me on a downward spiral of binging that is harder to get out of.  This is very much a personal observation.

If you are going to cheat, for either reason, there are a few things to consider.  Determine for yourself if you have trigger foods that lead to more binge eating.  For example, if I eat a bunch of dark chocolate, I can stop there.  If I start eating foods made from wheat, like bagels or pizza, I end up on a three day bender.  Whether this is for chemical or psychological reasons I couldn't say for sure, but it's a pattern that's been repeated often enough for me to recognize it.  What that means is that if I'm going to "cheat" I'll overeat on foods like chocolate, chips made from root vegetables, and even sugar, but not pizza or bagels.  That way I can usually control the cheat meal and contain the "damage."  You need to determine if you have any danger foods - foods that lead you to binge further - and avoid them, but cheat on other foods if you feel the need.

If you decide to cheat, minimizing the damage can be tricky.  Overeating on clean foods is probably the safest way to go - adding 500-1000 calories of good, paleo food might actually do your body some good.  If you can't manage that, there are better and worse choices. 

The game of "which is worse for me?" is pretty complex and all too often we have to admit to not having any answers.  Stay away from trans fats in any quantities.  Small amounts of sugar (say, less than 20 grams or so) are probably okay, when eaten very infrequently, but the jury's out on larger amounts.  Artificial sweeteners are all over the place - if you need to drink soda, are you better off with Diet Coke or regular Coke with high fructose corn syrup?  You'll find people to argue either way, I'm sure, and I can't find a convincing answer.  Neither should be part of your everyday diet, and neither will kill you instantly if you drink them on Christmas. 

You can make some comparisons.  As far as grains go, wheat is worse than beans which are worse than white rice or corn, as far as I can tell.  So if you're going to binge on tortillas see if you can get ones made out of corn flour instead of wheat.  If you're going to eat dairy, cream and ghee are better than butter which is better than raw milk which is better than pasteurized milk.  Dark chocolate is better than milk, the darker the better - 85% dark chocolate has so little sugar I'm willing to have a little bit of it on a daily basis and don't consider it cheating (when I cheat I'll eat 70% dark).  Fruit is better than unsweetened dried fruit which is better than sugar-added dried fruit.  Erythritol is better than sucralose which is better than nutrasweet.  Sugar is better than high fructose corn syrup.  Agave is probably equivalent to high fructose corn syrup - the industry trying to tell you that agave syrup is good for you is the biggest scam since soy.  Pigging out on grain fed beef is still better than chowing down on the grains directly.  Tequila is better than beer (beer often contains gluten).

The question with a lot of my favorite cheats depends on the relative danger of artificial sweeteners - I just don't know how damaging erythritol is, for example, so some treats seem okay but may not be.  Take this recipe for example:  take a can of coconut milk (not light, regular coconut milk) and blend in 1/3 cup cocoa 1/2 tsp vanilla and 2/3 cup erythritol and 1/3 tsp xanthan gum.  Refrigerate for several hours.  Eat with spoon.  It kind of tastes like something between chocolate pudding and mousse and it's actually delicious.  You could sprinkle on cocoa nibs or something if you wanted.  Is this safe for everyday consumption?  I'm not sure.  Is it better than regular ice cream?  Yes, unequivocally.  Another good ice cream substitute is coconut milk ice cream, but most of the commercial brands I've found are sweetened with agave, which is like hepatic insulin resistance in a bottle.

The final words on cheating:  Cycling calories (eating more some days than others) is probably good for you and, if planned, isn't cheating.  Eating unhealthy foods isn't good, but you have to decide for yourself if you "have" to do it.  If trying to "never cheat" drives you to giving up your healthy diet completely and going on a McDonald's bender, then planned cheats may be good for you.  If planning a cheat meal or day every so often makes it easier to stick to your eating plan the rest of the time, then good for you.  Figure out how your mind works and go with it.  If you must cheat, minimize the damage - try overeating clean foods, and if that doesn't cut the mustard, go for dried fruit and dark chocolate instead of pizza and beer. 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Hips, Knees, and Jumping

I just read a great blog post by the great Dan John, whose work I wholeheartedly recommend in general, and realized something about movement that was probably obvious to everybody else but not to me. 

I always thought of lower body strength as coming from flexion and extension of the knees.  I was raised on bodybuilding magazines, and they always focused on quad development (which is what you want if you're going to stand onstage in a speedo) and not glute or hip development, and quad development comes mostly from action at the knee.  So I used to focus on action at the knee joint when I worked out.

If you look at a real squat, though, the knee is only part of the story.  A big part of the force in a squat comes from action at the hip.  I mean, look at a squat - the knee bends, but the hips flex just as much.  If you squat and focus all your attention on flexing your quads and straightening at the knee you won't get nearly as much pop as if you really focus on extending the hips and tightening the glutes (go ahead, try it!)

Different extension exercises for the lower body fall into different categories as far as whether more stress is focused on the knee or the hips.  Squats put a little more focus on the knees, for example, while deadlifts put relatively more stress on the hips.  Just watch someone do the two and see where more motion occurs.  Front squats will be even more knee dominant than back squats (because you'll lean farther forward in a back squat, recruiting the hips more).  I think you get the idea.  Mike Boyle calls different exercises "knee dominant" or "hip dominant."

None of this is new, not even to me.  But reading Dan John's post I realized that it relates to something else I was confused about:  jumping.  What's the problem?  Well, if you think about jumping as forcefully extending a bent knee (which I always have), you run into a couple of problems.  First, you might think that to jump high you'd squat down really low and load the knees, but if you try to do that (jump high from a deep squat) you'll see that it isn't very effective.  Second, you'd think that jumping off of one foot would be significantly (very significantly) worse than jumping off of two feet - after all, you'd get (roughly) half the force, and a little physics will tell you that you should be able to jump half as high.  But many of the biggest jumps we're used to seeing - like somebody dunking a basketball - are done off one foot.  Now they're also done from a running start, so we're adding in all kinds of conflating factors, like the transfer of forward momentum and energy temporarily stored in elastic tissues in the leg, but still - guys don't run up, plant both feet, then jump up to dunk.  Which you'd think they would if it was going to come anywhere close to doubling their vertical jump!

So what's going on?  Well, (and again, this may have always been obvious to everybody else, in which case I apologize for wasting your time), if most of the thrust for a jump comes from hip extension and not knee extension, then all makes sense.  As long as your stabilizers are keeping the hips nice and level and the supporting leg isn't overly weak you can transmit all the hip snap force through a single leg.  In other words, you'll lose the knee extension contribution of the leg that doesn't touch the ground, but you're not losing half your force output, you're losing half of much less than half, or much less than a quarter of your force.  I have a much easier time believing that the transfer of forward momentum is going to make up for a loss of less than a quarter of the force involved.

Take home message?  When trying to jump higher (because we all know jumping kicks impress the girls) focus on hip snap, not on knee extension.  If you're not sure what hip snap is, I can't recommend kettlebell swings highly enough.  I really feel the difference in my hips when I swing regularly.  You can also apply these same ideas to kicks.  Other than the mawashi geri (roundhouse), most kicks utilize hip extension at impact for either the kicking (yoko geri) or supporting (mae geri) leg.  By working hip extension in your conditioning program and focusing on snapping the hip and squeezing the glutes when you kick you can increase the power of your kicks. 

One last point - you can snap the hip at the supporting leg in a mawashi geri, but the hip is flexing on the kicking leg... I'm not sure exactly which part of the movement is contributing the most to the force of the kick.  Maybe that's fodder for a future post.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cutting Weight vs. Leaning Out

When people talk about weight loss they sometimes conflate weight cutting and weight loss.  Let me explain.

In many sports competitors are divided into weight classes.  MMA is a good example - there are divisions, and if you watch the fights the ring announcer always says something like, "weighing in at 155 lbs. in the blue corner, it's..." and so forth.  You may think that the guy in the blue corner actually weighs 155 lbs., but in fact the MMA weigh-ins (the event where the fighters actually get up on a scale and have to weigh in at or less than the maximum for their weight class) is at least 24 and often 28 hours before the fight.  What does this mean?

Well, imagine a fighter, Adam, contracts to do a lightweight bout (155 lbs. or less) on April 1.  On January 1 Adam probably doesn't weigh 155 or anywhere near it - he probably weighs around 185 or 190 lbs (as does his competitor).  He's probably a little pudgy, so he's not a super lean and cut 185, but nowhere near 155. 

Adam then starts training intensely for his fight.  He might train 2 or 3 times a day, depending on whether he's a full time fighter or not.  Over the next 12 weeks he'll lose some fat as he trains hard and starts watching what he eats.  His weight will fluctuate a lot over each day, because in a 2 hour workout he might drop 6 lbs. of water, but in general his weight will drop.  After 12 weeks, a few days before the fight, he might weigh, when fully hydrated and after a meal, something like 170 lbs.   

Where do the next 15 lbs. of weight loss come from?  Here's the trick.  Starting a couple of days before the weigh in Adam will start to dehydrate himself.  He'll eat very little or no food.  He might spend long hours in a sauna or slowly riding an exercise bike to sweat out fluids.  He won't drink very much.  He won't eat any salt.  In general, he'll deplete his glycogen stores as fully as he can, then sweat out the remaining pounds.  This is called "cutting weight."

Naturally, while Adam is dehydrating himself, he'll lose a little bit more bodyfat, along with some muscle, because not eating while sitting on an exercise bike is going to burn some tissue, but most of the 15 lb. weight loss at that point is coming from water.  Then, after weighing only 155 lbs. at the weigh-in, Adam will re-hydrate himself, drinking gallons of Gatorade and Pedialyte, eating some solid food and some salt, restoring both muscle glycogen and the associated fluid.

Why do this?  Well, by losing and then replacing all that water Adam can step into the ring at 170 lbs or maybe a little more.  If his opponent isn't cutting weight - if his opponent is just a guy who, when in shape, weighs around 155 lbs. - then Adam will have a huge advantage in the fight.  That isn't generally what happens, at leat not at the higher levels of the sport.  At the high levels of the sport all the athletes cut weight, and the two guys in the ring for a lightweight bout (155 and under) usually both weigh around 165 or 170 lbs. at the time of the actual fight.

Fighters aren't the only ones who do this, of course.  Bodybuilders and fitness models will dehydrate before a contest or photo shoot to appear more cut.  I'm sure athletes in other sports use water manipulation as part of their peaking procedures.

Why am I bringing this up?  The dehydration - rehydration part of this process is useful for professional athletes trying to compete within a weight class, but it has NO PART of an amateur athlete's fat loss or weight loss repertoire.  It's unhealthy, dangerous, and has little to no long term benefit.  In other words, dehydrating yourself on purpose to hit a certain scale weight won't help you lose fat and improve your body composition.  In fact, it will make it harder overall to keep your body in good shape.  There are also acute dangers to dehydration - athletes die from dehydration, I wouldn't say all the time, but it happens.  Plus, you can't actually perform well while dehydrated, so it's not going to make you a better fighter - you're going to have to rehydrate before a fight or sparring session.

If you watch shows about MMA you'll see guys sweating or sitting in saunas to make weight, but that has nothing to do with getting leaner or with losing fat, only with dehydrating themselves to make a weight class.  Don't ever do it yourself unless you're in that exact same situation.  I'll refer to healthy fat loss as leaning out and to dehydration as cutting weight if I write about this again.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Eating for Fat Loss

Need to lose fat?  Eat less food.

Physicists love this answer and usually expect the story to end there.  Take a trip to any bookstore in the country and check out out the collection of "diet" books and you'll see that it's not quite so simple.

Let's start with some caveats and good news:  The fatter you are, the worse your current diet, and the more out of shape you are, the better your results are going to be.  A 400 lb. couch potato who eats 12 Big Macs a day will have a much easier time losing 10 lbs. than a fit chronic dieter with a small spare tire obscuring his abs.  What that means is that the things that will work for that 400 lb. hypothetical person may not work for their more fit counterpart.  The fitter you are, the closer to an ideal weight (which means your abs are clearly visible and nothing jiggles when you move), the harder it's going to be to make those final few improvements.

So if you're really, really fat, just eat less and start doing some light exercise and watch the pounds melt away.  Until they stop (which will happen eventually).

When the simple measures have stopped we have to start putting more thought into what we're doing.  Let's start by thinking about our goals:  We want to lose fat.  We want to lose it quickly.  We want to do so in a psychologically sound way (if our diet makes us feel hungry and miserable all the time we won't stick to it).  We want to maintain or improve our health while we do it.  We want the fat loss to be sustainable.  We want to minimize or avoid entirely the loss of muscle mass while we lose the fat. 

How do we manage all those things at the same time?  Most diet plans fail on one or more of these goals.  Low fat diets tend to fail miserably on both the health and psychology axes - they make us miserable and eating low fat just isn't good for you (despite the conventional wisdom).  Starvation diets aren't comfortable or sustainable.  Fasts like the juice fast sacrifice lots of muscle and are not sustainable or healthy.  You see where I'm going with this.

You have to address two opposing goals:  you need to eat enough food to get the nutrients you need to support your training, your health, and your mood, while eating a small enough amount to create an energy deficit and make your body burn fat.  The keys to doing this is to eat nutrient dense food - that is, food that has a lot of good nutrients for a given amount of calories - while avoiding food that is either empty (has calories but few or no good nutrients) or, worse, full of antinutrients (substances that actually damage your health or ability to lose fat, like gluten, lectins, trans fatty acids, and high levels of fructose).

Let me break this down a little bit.

Get rid of all the empty calories in your diet.  A classic example of empty calories is soda - water, high fructose corn syrup, and flavorings.  There's basically nothing good for you in it (I'm assuming here you have access to a normal variety of foods - drinking soda is better than dying of dehydration, but that's not the choice facing most of us).  Highly processed foods fall into this category - most of the stuff from the inner aisles of a supermarket.

Get rid of foods high in antinutrientsImmediately stop eating any foods that contain artificial trans fatty acids - anything with "hydrogenated oil" on the ingredient label.  Reduce greatly your intake of simple sugar.  Stop eating any foods containing or made from wheat or legumes (beans).  You should probably limit or eliminate all dairy other than cream and clarified butter.  Reduce your intake of fructose as much as possible - you can eat some fruit, but don't go crazy on it, and eat no high fructose corn syrup.  Artificial sweeteners are a somewhat controversial topic, but you should probably avoid or eliminate them as well (this is a case of do what I say, not what I do, but I'm trying to overcome my diet soda addiction, I promise!)

If you want to know why I'm making these specific recommendations it's a long story.  Fructose induces hepatic insulin resistance, and if you're having trouble losing weight there's a good chance you have insulin problems.  Wheat and legumes cause immune responses that lead to greater insulin resistance and inflammation.  We did not evolve to eat those foods and can't tolerate them.  Sorry - I understand that many of your favorite foods are made from wheat, so are mine, they still aren't good for you (I'll delve into this issue more specifically in another post one day).  Artifical sweeteners induce an insulin spike, and insulin is pro-inflammatory and may contribute to insulin resistance, as well as promoting fat storage and preventing fat breakdown.

If we shouldn't eat all that, what should we eat?

Start by making sure you eat enough protein.  You need roughly .75 grams protein per pound of lean bodyweight per day, give or take.  If you're 200 lbs. with 20% bodyfat your lean body weight is 160, so you should shoot for at least 120 g protein per day.  Going higher is okay healthwise, but there are some reasons to not go too high.  If you eat a lot of excess protein your body will use it for energy, which is okay, but then your body gets used to using protein for energy, and if you run into a period of time where your protein levels decrease (vacation, whatever) you might start impacting muscle mass as your body dips into protein stores to supply energy.  Not a huge problem, but consider it.  You also can't eat a predominantly protein diet - there's an upper limit past which you'll die.  Look up "rabbit starvation" for more details.

I get my protein by making sure to eat a pound of beef a day.  Choose your own method.

You need a nice chunk of omega 3 fatty acids - but not just any omega 3 fats.  Your body can only use some of them in real quantities - focus on getting EHA and DHA.  Sorry vegans, you can only get the good omega 3 fats from animals or fish - the omega 3's in flax or other plants aren't usable by humans (we can convert small amounts of the short chain omega 3's into usable forms, but only a small percentage, and the rest goes to bad places).  Fish oil is good, as is grass fed and grass finished beef and wild caught fish.  If you're vegan, then... stop being vegan.  At least if you want to maximize your health.

You should get the bulk of your calories from a nice mixture of healthy fatsSaturated fat is good (no, it won't clog your arteries or give you diabetes, that's a myth).  Monounsaturated fat is good.  Think nicely marbled grass fed beef (grain fed beef has too little omega 3 fats and too much omega 6 fats).  Limit your omega 6 fat intake as much as you can - you probably get waaay too much of it in your diet.  That means no modern oils - no canola, vegetable oils, corn oil, safflower oil, etc.  Olive oil is okay (mostly monounsaturated), coconut oil and red palm oil are better.  Lard and butter (from grass fed animals) is even better.  Be careful heating olive oil, though, it will go rancid very quickly under heat, which you would know if you paid attention in high school chemistry.  This also means you have to restrict your nut consumption - almonds are great, but they're high in omega 6 fats, and eating a lot of them will lead to inflammation problems.

What about carbs?  I used to be a strong advocate of a very low carb diet, but I'm changing my tune slightly.  If your primary concern is health and longevity and your training is moderate you can get away with a zero or close to zero carb intake and probably be better off for it.  I find that if I train intensely (which I sort of have to as a karateka) that my performance is limited if my carb intake is too low.  Basically, high intensity exercise depends on muscle glycogen for fuel, which has to either come from dietary carbs or protein (via gluconeogenesis).  You can either eat some carbs, eat extra protein, or just suffer from flat workouts.  I personally prefer to eat some carbs.  If you want, do a simple experiment - work out on a very low carb diet, then eat a pound of sweet potatoes, and work out again, and see how it feels.  Some people tolerate lower carbs better than others.

Where can the carbs come from if you can't eat wheat or beans?  I stick to root vegetables - sweet potatoes, yams, that sort of thing.  Is it boring?  Yes.  Is it worth giving up pizza to have a six pack and be a better fighter?  That's up to you.  Rice and corn are on the bubble - probably not great for you, but better than wheat or beans.  Experiment and see how they affect you.

If this sounds like I'm recommending a paleo diet, that's because I am.  I'll explain why more in some future posts, but I'm justifying individual elements of the diet on current research, so even if you have issues with the overall theory I think you'll understand where the pieces come from.

Once your macronutrients are taken care of try to eat some green leafy vegetables for other good nutrients.  Lots of other things might be good for you - seaweed, many spices, veggies, some fruits and berries eaten in moderation, black coffee, dark chocolate (85% chocolate has sugar in it, but not a huge amount, so it's okay taken in small amounts if you're capable of that).  Some "cheat" nutrients are better than others - that is, eating a small amount of sugar is probably less damaging than a small amount of trans fats, but those distinctions are hard to clarify or justify.  Try to eat as "cleanly" as you can.

This is controversial, but I'd also recommend eating less frequently.  People all talk about how eating five small meals a day is supposed to stimulate your metabolism, but I don't buy it.  I'll write a post on intermittent fasting one day, but I eat all my food in one big meal at night, and other people do well skipping meals or going entire days without food (say, 1-3 days a week without food).  The more often you eat the more often you'll be stimulating insulin production, which tells your body to store fat. 

Very few people eat this way and stay fat.  Stick to fatty grass fed meat (or lean storebought meat), cook it in coconut oil, add some sweet potatoes and a few greens, and watch the pounds melt away.  The high nutritional density will keep you healthy.  The fat and protein will satisfy you so you aren't hungry all the time.  If you need help (like recipes), go through some of the paleo blogs out there - there are a ton of them, with lots of good recipes and articles.  I'll post recipes here if I feel the need, but this won't be a good primary source for you (I'm an awful cook).

You may not need to eat this way to get lean.  If you're lean already, great.  If you drop sugar out and lean out to your satisfaction, great.  But if you're having trouble leaning out and sticking to your diet, give this a try for a month and see how it works out.

Feel free to shoot questions my way.