I've managed to stay at pretty much the same level of leanness, maybe adding a touch of muscle, over the holiday season. That's pretty good - in the past month I've had a Christmas/ New Year's vacation, my 40th birthday (with a corresponding party), and a trip to Florida to visit my in-laws. As you can imagine, my diet has been pretty far from perfect and my training has been spotty.
Now I'm home for the foreseeable future, and I want to lean out fairly quickly. I am going to a 3-day karate training weekend in July (with a lot of higher-ups from my style, probably including my first teacher) and I need to be able to perform well, which means lots of hard training this spring. I'd like to be able to increase my caloric intake for that, but I don't want to do that until I'm as lean as I'd like to be.
My plan is simple. To lean out I'm going to cut back on alcohol (I was having some gluten free beer, wine, or margaritas 3-4 times a week this past month, which is a lot for me and a lot of empty calories!), cut back on sugar (I tend to overdo the sugar, in the form of chocolate mostly, when I'm not careful), and limit my fruit intake, especially dried fruit (it's just too easy to ingest a ton of calories and a ton of fructose with dried fruit). I don't plan to do anything in particular training-wise to lose fat, as my regular routine should take care of it. I'll probably also try to occasionally cycle my carbs - reducing my carb intake for a day or a few days at a time. If that negatively impacts my training I'll likely stop doing it. These are all good things to do for anybody, even lean people, but I'm going to be more careful about them.
I'm also going to experiment with leucine. This is an idea I had that is a shot in the dark - I'm not sure at all that it will work, but I figured I'd try. The idea isn't really mine, it's based loosely on Martin Berkham's work, but isn't exactly what he recommends. Let me explain.
Leucine is an amino acid, one of the branched chain amino acids (BCAA's). BCAA's have been famous for a while now (maybe 15 or 20 years) for their ability to induce some muscle protein synthesis. That is, if you eat a ton of protein that has a lot of BCAA's in it, or even BCAA's on their own, you get a big uptick in how much muscle protein your body manufactures compared to what you get from ingesting a similar amount of protein that is relatively poor in BCAA's or other amino acids on their own. This happens because the BCAA's were seen to directly affect the mTOR pathway. More recently research has shown that it's not the BCAA's as a whole that do this but really leucine (which, remember, is one of the BCAA's).
What's so great about muscle protein synthesis when you want to get leaner? Well, two things. First, the more muscle you build the more you'll have, probably. Muscle burns calories, makes your workouts burn more calories, and, really, who wants to be lean and un-muscled? I mean, what's the point of that? Second, protein synthesis is itself energy intensive. Building a pound of muscle burns a bunch of calories. So keeping mTOR active more of the day should help us lean out, as long as we can do so without ingesting a bunch of calories.
Remember that I only usually eat at night. I eat a nice dinner around 5:30 or 6:00, usually after training, then a small snack (a handful of Brazil nuts and a little chocolate and fish oil) at 8:15 or so. Other than that it's just water and some supplements and some fish oil in the morning.
If I want to keep mTOR active all day I could drink a whey protein shake (whey is very high in leucine) 3-4 times a day. The downside of doing that is I'd be spiking my insulin all day, ingesting a bunch of extra calories, and possibly be doing more harm than good. That's not even remotely intermittent fasting anymore.
My brilliant (not really) idea was to ingest leucine alone several times a day, during a time when I'd otherwise be fasting. Hopefully that will activate mTOR, keep my body synthesizing protein, burning lots of extra calories, and adding muscle to my frame without adding a lot of calories to my system or spiking insulin very much (you can't really burn fat while your insulin is high, so having chronically elevated insulin levels is the #1 biggest no-no if you're trying to get lean). 5g of leucine (the amount shown in research studies to activate mTOR) is only 20 calories, so using it 2-4 times per day won't add too many calories to my overall intake, nor should it do a lot to insulin levels.
How do we ingest leucine by itself? Now we're in the world of supplements. I bought a tub of leucine powder for about $21 that should be around 100 servings - enough for 30-50 days of use, depending on how often I use it. As experiments go, not too bad. The plan was to take 5 g or so of leucine every morning, and then 1-2 more times during the day, to get the protein synthesis machine rolling.
Disaster struck. Leucine mixed with water tastes like... I'm not sure what it tastes like, as I've never before put anything so disgusting in my mouth on purpose. It's foul. It doesn't mix well. It's quite bitter - enough so that I alternate wanting to tear my tongue out with my hands with wishing I was dead so the taste would go away. And it lingers on the tongue.
I tried mixing it with tea and sucralose. The result was a horrible tea flavored sea of bitterness. Then I tried mixing it with a LOT of water (12 oz. for 5g leucine) in a shaker bottle, holding my nose and just downing it. Still pretty horrible, but I managed to keep it down.
Can I stick to it? I'm not sure. It tastes really bad. I certainly wouldn't make a lifelong habit out of it.
There are BCAA preparations on the market that are high in leucine and contain flavorings to mask the taste. If I can't keep downing this stuff I might try one of them. They are, obviously, more expensive, and I don't want to ingest a lot of artificial coloring agents and sweeteners (sweet tasting things spike insulin). I'll let you know how things go.
This whole experiment may turn out to be a bad idea for a few reasons. The energy costs of the active mTOR pathway may turn out to be trivial. Having mTOR active all day may counteract some of the benefits of fasting all day - I'm not sure my cells will do what I want them doing (engaging repair mechanisms, cleaning out garbage proteins from the cytoplasm) if protein synthesis is ramped up. Like I said, this is a shot in the dark at a fat loss strategy. On the bonus side, we're talking about a non-stimulant method of possibly increasing both calorie usage and muscle building, which would be pretty awesome for dieters.
I'll update this blog with results and observations as time allows.