Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Paleo Bachelor: White Sweet Potato Fries

Single serving of Paleo Bachelor Sweet Potato Fries

To be clear, I'm not actually a bachelor.  I am, however, like a bachelor in that: a) nobody in my house cooks meals for me regularly; and b) I don't like to cook.  There are bachelors who like to cook, even some who are also straight, but they're few and far between.

If you're a good cook, the type of person who gets pleasure out of making a perfect wine reduction and who has more than 3 spices (salt, pepper, and chile powder) in your cupboard, the type who knows how to cut vegetables without losing fingertips, that's fantastic for you -you're well on your way to being a successful paleo dieter.  If, however, you'r elike me and find the idea of cooking a dish that takes more than 15 minutes, has more than 3 or so ingredients, or requires using a thermometer horrifying, then you might be a paleo bachelor.

The secret to succeeding as a paleo bachelor is to develop a list of easy to make, low prep time recipes that don't require too many fresh ingredients, too much cooking skill to create, or dirty too many dishes, yet still fit the paleo prescription.  How many recipes?  That's your call, but I'd say more than one.  I'm pretty tolerant of food boredom and even I get bored eating the same thing every day.

Every meal should start with a large portion of meat or eggs.  I personally also function better on a moderate amount of carbs - which means a nice load of sweet potato or some other tuber most days.  Occasionally I'll cook up a bowl of rice, but I try to save the grains for special occasions.

I was eating white sweet potato (there are many varieties, I have no idea how they differ) mashed and mixed in with ground beef most days.  Lately I got into the idea of eating steaks instead or mixing my ground beef with onions.  I don't like roasted or mashed sweet potato too much as a side dish, so I needed another relatively quick way to get it in. 

Store-bought sweet potato chips or fries would be a nice choice except they're usually cooked in horrific oils.  I tried to find a frozen sweet potato fry cooked in coconut or palm oil, to no avail.  So I decided to make my own.

The recipe is simple:
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Knife
  • Spoon
  • Baking tray or dish
  • Bowl
  • Plate for serving
  • 1 or more sweet potatoes
  • Melted coconut oil (enough to coat the fries)
  • Seasonings - at least salt and pepper (I especially like garlic powder on these)
  1. Preheat oven to 450 Fahrenheit.
  2. Stick coconut oil in bowl in microwave or over heat (depending on the bowl you're using) until liquid.
  3. Peel sweet potato.
  4. Cut sweet potato into slices, wedges, or fry shapes as you prefer.
  5. Toss in bowl with coconut oil, salt, pepper, and any other seasonings you want - chile powder, garlic, whatever.
  6. Spread "fries" evenly across the bottom of your baking dish/ tray.
  7. Cook for about 15 minutes.
  8. Turn over "fries" - use spoon.
  9. Cook for another 10 minutes or until outside has reached desired crispiness.
  10. Serve.
1 large sweet potato makes a single serving for me or enough for 2-3 normal people.  Experiment.  Cook the potatoes at least long enough to lightly brown the outside, maybe enough to slightly blacken it.

Yeah, I know, AGE's, blah blah, early death, blah blah.  You could steam these or cook them at a lower temperature.  But they're just sooo yummy blackened!

That's my first paleo bachelor recipe.  You can make these even if you aren't a bachelor, and even if you don't eat paleo.  But if you are a paleo bachelor they might be part of the cure for a lifetime of boring eating!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Tendency to Over-Complicate

I am guilty of many sins, most of them irrelevant to this blog.  One that is relevant, however, is my tendency to over-complicate things.

I've been reading Mel Siff's classic book Supertraining.  It's a fantastic book, written like a textbook for a post-graduate course in exercise physiology.  It's not the book you give your mom when she wants to lose a few pounds - it's the book you give a strength coach when he wants to compare the physiological adaptions to various exercise programs of elite athletes.  It's full of graphs, technical jargon, and actual math.  Yes, I said it, math.

If you go through the book you'll find countless examples of studies that examine the results of training, done by advanced athletes, and refined to an amazing degree.  What I mean is there's nothing about how to get stronger - but there's a ton on how to increase a very specific aspect of strength, like maximal force output at a particular speed of motion and through a particular joint angle range.

If there's one take-home point to the book (and there are thousands, but I can't remember them all) it's specificity of adaption.  For example, getting very strong at moving a big weight slowly doesn't transfer to creating more force when moving quickly.  Developing long distance endurance doesn't transfer to maximal effort.  You get the idea.

The problem with reading the book this way - and the problem is with the reader trying to get a "take home point" out of a very dense informative text, not with anything Siff actually says - is that it's easy to forget that the research Siff is working with is primarily done with advanced athletes seeking to maximize performance.  It's exactly opposite to the problem with American research, which is primarily done on untrained college students.  Let me explain.

If you take an Olympic sprinter who can squat 400 lbs. and raise their squat to 450 you will very likely not make them any faster a runner.  The squat is too slow - what you need to do is increase their ability to put force into the ground in the incredibly brief contact period of a foot striking the ground during a sprint.  If all that required was a bigger squat then the best pound for pound squatters in the world would be the best sprinters in the world, and that's not true.  Squatting is not specific enough to sprinting.  So we learn that, recognize the truth in it, and take home the idea that squatting won't improve our sprint speed.  And maybe if we want to get faster we do lots of cool stuff but leave squatting heavy out of our routine.

But if you take a 40 year old sedentary person who can't even do a full body weight squat, get them into the gym, and get their squat up to 200 lbs., their sprint speed will probably increase dramatically.  Why?  Because a sedentary person's lack of basic strength is a huge limiting factor in their quest to build up running speed.  Increase that squat to 300 lbs and you'll get an improvement, but not as much.  Get that to 400 lbs and you might not see any further increases to speed at all.

If you want to punch harder and can't do a pushup then building up the strength to do 10 strict pushups will make you a better puncher.  Building up to doing 100 pushups - not so much.  Developing a solid one arm pushup will help also - but maybe not as much as getting good at clapping pushups (which, since they require faster movements, are close to punching in the adaptions they force).

It's easy to read through Supertraining or other higher level works on strength and think that we need to so very complex sports specific exercises to get better - that we need very advanced training with bands, Kaiser air driven resistance machines, and fancy routines to improve.  And we might be right - if we're elite athletes.  Except we're not.  For most of us (and I'm definitely including me), we just need to get stronger, more flexible, and more fit.  Most of us can improve our karate with fairly basic routines that focus on pushups, squats of some kind, chinups or rows, and a handful of plank varieties.  Heck, most of us can get better doing crunches, as long as our backs are in good shape. 

The danger is that getting too hung up on the sports specific mantra can paralyze us.  We can give up on too much - avoiding strength training out of fear that it will slow us down, waiting to develop the most advanced workout possible before doing anything.  And most of us don't need the most advanced workout - we just need a workout. 

So keep learning and keep refining your routines to make them more applicable to karate - to improve your performance in karate and to make you resistant to the injuries incurred during karate.  But while you're figuring out what that routine should look like do something to get stronger, more flexible, and more fit.  It will most likely help more than it will hurt!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Move with Intent

I've been posting haphazardly lately, for which I apologize.  I started a new job and did some traveling, which has left me with less time for blogging than I'd like!  On the plus side the job has been a nice change (not that I disliked my old job).

I now sit in a cubicle for eight hours at a time and on some days I literally never have to leave my chair for work reasons.  When I do have to get up, it's to walk 50 feet (or less) to a meeting and get into another chair to sit still for another hour.

We all know the hazards of spending too much of your day sitting.  What to do?  In my old position I had my own office - I could close the door and do whatever short exercise routine I wanted to do, which is often what happened.  I'd knock out pushups, stretches, and even do parts of kata during my workday.  Now it's a lot less convenient to get any activity.

I haven't found a way to get a balanced routine, but I have been climbing stairs.  My cubicle is in the basement of a tall 5-story building (the 5th floor is the roof, but the stairs go that high).  Every hour or 90 minutes I get up, run up the stairs, taking them two at a time, then come back down.  It's like a cigarette break without the smoking.  It wakes me up a little and I'm hoping it causes enough of a catecholamine release to increase my body's use of fat while at rest (I'm not well versed enough on the literature to know if it's enough exercise to actually work that way).  I even put it on my to-do list in Outlook - every morning I add 5 tasks, called Stairs 1 - Stairs 5.  Every time I do a set I check off one of the tasks.

You don't have to climb stairs, but many of us have buildings where we have a place we can go to take a brisk walk, knock out some pushups, do a handful of jump squats, or something else.

There are a few things you can do to enhance this practice:

Do your activity with intensity - go fast, get your heart rate up.  You'll get a slight conditioning benefit, and a little is better than nothing.

Let's face it, this isn't going to be a ballbreaker of a workout.  You're not going to use every iota of your concentration to make it up the stairs.  So instead pay very careful attention to your form and posture.  For example:
  • Keep your chin tucked and your head back (so the crown of your head is pulled up towards the ceiling).
  • Keep your shoulderblades tucked back towards your rear end by tightening your lats.
  • Maintain a slight anterior pelvic tilt the entire time.
  • Focus on tightening the glutes with each step and not driving with quads alone.
  • Tighten your core - abs, pelvic floor muscles, etc., and keep them taut through the climb.
The idea is to train yourself to maintain good posture.  Then, when you're doing challenging exercise or martial arts exercises, keeping good posture will be somewhat automatic.  There are only so many things you can focus on consciously at any one time -  the more you can shift into the subconscious the better.

You'll get a lot more out of climbing or walking with purpose, with solid posture and activated muscles, than out of just trudging around out of some impulse to just move without considering the quality of movement.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Is The Training Lifestyle Selfish?

If you're reading this blog and you're interested in improving, or even excelling, as a martial artist, or any kind of athlete, I bet the thought has crossed your mind that your lifestyle is selfish.  Maybe you thought it yourself, or maybe someone close to you said you were being selfish.  Why would this thought occur?

You're probably spending time exercising that you could be spending doing something for other people (like caring for children or doing household chores).  You might be spending time, effort, and money investing in paleo friendly food to eat instead of cheap junk that's more filling.  You might be eating differently from the rest of your family to be healthy, which is increasing the work put into cooking, dishes to be washed, etc.  You might insist on getting eight or more solid hours of sleep instead of staying up late socializing.  You might be spending time and energy reading about nutrition and training instead of spending it with friends or family.

Is this behavior, this lifestyle, selfish?  We could certainly argue that it is somewhat self-centered - that is, you're spending time and attention on yourself.  But you're not the only one who benefits from your lifestyle - there are plenty of indirect benefits that your loved ones can enjoy.

First, being in good shape will undoubtedly increase your functional lifespan.  We can argue all day long about whether lean, athletic people actually live longer, but there is no doubt you'll have more years of being alive and capable of doing stuff - like playing with your grandkids and having good sex, as oppposed to spending your days institutionalized, sitting in a wheelchair and staring at the wall.

Being fit and healthy makes you more patient.  Karate is moving meditation - it clears your head, calms the spirit, and makes you a better friend and a better relative (spouse, parent, whatever).  Exercise in general makes you feel good, and when people feel good they tend to be less irritable, less violent, and better to be around.

Being fit and healthy makes you better in bed.  One or more people close to you can benefit from your improved sexual abilities.

Being fit and healthy makes you a good role model for others close to you.  You might be spending less time with your kids, but the fact that your kids see you  make exercise an integral part of your daily routine is sure to help inspire them to do the same, which will continually enrich their lives.  This doesn't always work - I know of situations where family members reject everything about the fitness lifestyle, as if to spite the person who is in shape - but that's usually a sign of a dysfunctional relationship.

Being fit and healthy may wind up giving you more energy than it takes away.  In many cases you're feeling better, and accomplishing more good with your limited time spent with family members than you would feeling lethargic and having plenty of time.  For example, if you're taking care of your kids, being an engaged, attentive parent for two hours at night might do them more good than being an irritated, inattentive parent for three hours.

Let's imagine for a minute that you're not swayed by my "indirect benefits" argument.  Let's think of this another way.  Suppose you had a bad stomachache and told your spouse/ friend that you were going to see the doctor to get checked out.  Do you think that person would call you selfish for spending that time and money on yourself, or would they be glad you were taking care of yourself?  Do people think you are selfish for brushing your teeth?  Sleeping?  Drinking and eating adequately?  Of course not.  All those activities are directed at yourself - you brush your own teeth - but aren't therefore selfish.  Every capable adult needs to take care of themselves in order to be a functional member of society.  It's like the oxygen mask in an airplane - you put it on yourself first, not to be selfish, but to make sure you stay conscious long enough to take care of the kid sitting next to you.

The reality is that an hour a day of exercise and some time spent shopping for, preparing, and cooking nutritious food and some time spent learning about nutrition and exercise should be considered just as normal a part of life as brushing your teeth or seeing a doctor when you're sick.  A hundred years ago people didn't need to do this - they did manual labor on their farm or whatever to stay in shape and they didn't have to fight to stay away from Doritos and Diet Coke because those things weren't widely available - all their food was fairly high quality.  In our society we have to put work into maintaining ourselves the way our ancestors didn't. 

For another analogy, imagine you  moved to a colony on Mars.  You'd have to spend time every day ensuring your air supply was functioning properly.  That woudn't be a selfish investment of time; it would be a necessary part of what you'd have to do to stay healthy in an unusual environment.  We live in an unusual environment (from an biological/ evolutionary perspective) and deliberate exercise and food prep are part of what we need to maintain ourselves within it.

Now I am quite certain that there are people who can take this lifestyle to an extreme that is, in fact, selfish.  If you train, cook, and read books and blogs to the point where you refuse to do any household chores or spend time with your wife and/or kids, then you're being selfish.  If you train an hour a day but expect your partner to skip training so he/she can cook for you and clean the house, you're being selfish. 

But don't ever feel bad for taking a reasonable amount of time out of your day and using it to keep yourself healthy.  You deserve it, and your friends and family deserve to have a healthy, happy, and sane version of you in their lives.


Monday, March 7, 2011

Martial Arts Comics: Intro

There's certainly no mandate for karateka to be interested in fictional accounts of martial arts, but some of us are.  I would venture to say that a significant number of practitioners got hooked originally by some fictional portrayal of the arts - more often movies, I'd bet, but still.

I happen to be a huge fan of martial arts in movies, books, comic books, and manga or manwha (Japanese or Korean comics).  If you're not, that's fine - I certainly wouldn't say that reading comics about martial arts will enhance your art, unless you happen to find it motivational.  But if you are interested in these topics I thought I'd put out a few reviews.

First of all understand that these reviews will be far from comprehensive.  There is simply no way I can read every martial arts themed comic in any particular category.  I will also be using my own rating system.

I'm going to rate every piece of media in three different categories.  The first is realism - basically, how realistic is the title?  By "realistic" I'm going to mean specificially in terms of the physical abilities demonstrated.  For example, in All-Rounder Meguru the main character is a semi-professional mixed martial artist.  He uses real moves, he loses some matches, he doesn't ever get into fights outside the ring.  The action is super accurate - no crazy moves, no huge jumps, nobody even taking huge punishment, then coming back to win miraculous victories.  On the other end of the spectrum is, say, Dragonball.  In one of my favorite scenes in Dragonball, maybe in all of comics, one character wants to prevent another from transforming into a rampaging, gigantic monster, which his species does every full moon.  To prevent the change he uses a blast of ki energy to destroy the moon.  I happen to enjoy stories with a wide variety of realism scores - I'm perfectly happy to appreciate Dragonball for what it is.  Other people have a harder time suspending disbelief enough to enjoy titles where characters can catch bullets in their teeth, destroy objects at a distance, cast spells, etc.

My second category will be fun.  Some strips are fun without being good.  This is probably the most subjective rating of all, so beware, I have a weird sense of humor. 

My third category will be quality.  Well developed characters, authentic emotional reactions (even if the situations aren't authentic), complex and believable storylines, all contribute to quality.  Also subjective.

I'll use a 1-10 rating scale for each.  I hope to make this sort of an ongoing series, but we'll see how much time I have.  I'll use "MAC" in the titles.  If you find yourself enjoying these reviews, let me know. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Some More Link Love

I've never been one to publish lists of links for you to follow; given my readership numbers, I'm more of a destination blog than a gateway blog.  Still, every once in a while I feel the urge to do some re-directing:

I picked up new sparring gear from my regular supplier, Karate Depot.  You too can buy a set and save on sparring gear for martial arts.  (Disclaimer:  I really did buy from Karate Depot, as I usually do, but I hope to get a free t-shirt for posting this link here).  I got the Warrior Sparring Gear set - it's very nice stuff for what it is, which is designed for point style or semi-contact sparring, not the kind of construction you'd need for real kickboxing or full contact work.  I like Karate Depot - low shipping, reasonably fast service, and a nice selection.  I get all my equipment either from them or from

Check out this week's paleo rodeo.  As usual, the best of this week's paleo posts from a wide variety of blogs.  The Paleo Rodeo is always worth looking through, and is actually responsible for a fairly high percentage of my readership.

Next, don't tell my wife or my mistress, but I've fallen in love with the author of this blog.  Why, you ask?  I don't know - but it may have something to do with the pizza recipes or the picture of her hitting a heavy bag.  She's an engineer who loves boxing and eating!  If she weren't married...  Seriously, though, check out the most comprehensive list of paleo friendly pizza recipes I've ever seen.

I've added a new(ish) podcast to my regular rotation:  The Body Rx Show with Dr. Scott Connelly.  In case you don't remember, Dr. C is the guy who founded MetRx (which, if you don't remember, was a truly groundbreaking supplement for athletes when it was released) and was the brain behind ProGenix back when it was useful.  He's an expert in all things protein and insulin related, both in terms of general health and athletic performance.  His style is a bit... dry, you could say, kind of like sitting through a mediocre college lecture, but the information he shares is phenomenally detailed and fascinating.  At least to me.  The show is hosted by Carl Lenore, host of Superhuman Radio, a show I love, but Carl's role on Body Rx Show is more introducing Dr. C then getting out of the way.

I'm not a fan of most protein bars - they tend to be full of questionable ingredients and low quality protein.  One exception - both tasty and made of high quality, paleo or near-paleo ingredients, are Quest Protein Bars.  If you go to the Superhuman Radio home page you can get 2 free bars for free - not even paying for shipping - which is a pretty good deal.  Both flavors are yummy.  Are they as good for you as real food?  Of course not.  But they're yummy, easy to prepare (unwrap and eat) and transportable.   If you're traveling, especially if your companions aren't paleo-eaters, or taking a long flight, and getting tired of jerky and dried fruit, these might be a nice addition to your repertoire.  And I'm not getting anything for this endorsement, fyi.

That's all for now.  I plan to post some video on one arm pushups soon, along with a long post on karate in comic books and manga.  Keep training!


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Can Cavemen Hug Trees? Paleo, Veganazis, & the Environment

Among many anti-Paleo arguments the veganazis pass around is that the paleo diet is somehow bad for the environment.  They argue that paleo foods use up a disproportional amount of our limited resources - either land or energy - and so eating this way is somehow unfair to others or not sustainable.  This line of thinking is wrong, and muddled, in a variety of ways, and since I haven't attacked a veganazi in a while I figured I'd take the time to do it here.

The first gross mistake made by your typical veganazi is to assume that the beef we are eating is itself grain fed.  This is consistent, at least - after all, the veganazis don't want you to eat your natural diet, they certainly don't care if a cow eats its natural diet.  The problem is that this assumption grossly distorts the energy and land calculations in the veganazi's favor.  Let me explain.

Suppose Abe needs 2000 Calories/day to sustain his life.  Suppose he gets that from corn and soy products primarily.  It wouldn't be too hard to calculate how much land was used, for how long, to grow that food, and how much energy it took to harvest, process, and ship that food to him (I don't have those numbers, and I won't look them up, but I think we can agree that we could get some kind of average number on these counts).  Now suppose Abe's identical twin brother Ben also needs 2000 Calories/day to sustain his life, but he gets his in the form of grain fed beef.  How much land and energy would be used/consumed getting him his daily allotment?  I don't know, but it would have to be much more than Abe's.  Why?  Because you know that to get 2000 Calories of beef, that cow had to consume much more than 2000 Calories worth of grains (that's simple thermodynamics, really).  How much more?  I'm not worried about a number right now.  Plus the cow needed land of its own to live (in addition to the land used to provide it with the grains it ate) and energy to ship the grain to the cow, to process the cow, and to ship the meat to Ben.  However much land and energy are used, it has to be more than was used feeding Abe.

The hitch is that if Ben eats grass fed beef then the energy and land cost of producing the corn and soy his cow ate would be exactly zero.  Instead, the cow would be eating grass that grows just outside his barn.  That drastically changes the energy and land cost of the beef, while making the beef itself a much more nutritious product.  And tastier, but that's another story.

Is it possible that Ben's energy and land costs would be higher than Abe's even if he's fed exclusively on grass fed beef?  I have no idea.  But if large swaths of the population switched from corn and soy to beef we wouldn't just be adding to the burden on the earth - we'd need more grassland from the cows but we'd also need a lot less land to grow soy and corn.  And land on which cattle graze is a heck of a lot friendlier to the environment than fields factory farmed to produce soy and corn.

Next the veganazi tells you that we couldn't support the current population on beef, because there isn't enough room to feed all the cows we'd need to raise.  Is he right?  Again, I have no idea, nor do I care.  Let's assume for a moment that it is true - that there isn't enough land that can grow grass to support all the cows we'd need to feed the human race a beef based diet.  Even then, the fact that we don't have the resources to feed a diet to every last person on earth has nothing to do with the healthfulness or personal benefits of that diet.  I mean, suppose some rare truffle only found on the upper plains of the Ukraine could cure cancer.  Would the fact that there isn't enough of the truffle to give to every cancer inflicted person have anything to do with its benefits?  If a researcher discovered this truffle and shouted "eureka!" would we keep his discovery out of the scientific journals because he couldn't cure everyone?

The veganazi also assumes that we should be worried that, suddenly, the great majority of people in this world will start thinking for themselves and making rational choices about diet to maximize their own health. Do you really think that's a likely scenario? And if it did, by some miracle, happen, would the problems that ensue really outweigh the benefits?

The veganazi's argument (that we couldn't feed everyone on a paleo diet) really means this: we should accept a less than optimal diet, less than optimal health, for ourselves and our children, and lie to them and to one another about it, so that nobody winds up better off than anybody else.  It's the same weird socialist impulse that would say Ferrari shouldn't build sports cars because there are poor people who can't afford them.  And, presumably, nobody should have iPads (at least not until Apple can provide one to every person on earth) or drive cars or wear designer clothes. 

A meat based diet is healthier, by far, than a plant based one.  I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is on this one - I pay a lot of money for my high quality food.  If the paleo diet grows in popularity, good food  might get more expensive.  That doesn't change the fact that it's healthier, it just means I'm going to have to make sure to earn enough money to afford it.  And, as the demand for grass fed beef grows, you can bet lots of entrepreneurial people are going to work out ways to raise grass fed beef in more economical ways.  And if it is true that many people are too poor to afford a meat-based diet, I will feel bad for them, but there are lots of wonderful things that poor people can't afford - that's what the word "poor" means.  They also can't drive nice cars or live in big houses or visit the best doctors.  That's how the system works. The alternative to rationing high quality goods is to deny them to everyone - and how does that make us better of?

If you care about the environment, buy grass fed, locally raised beef and organic produce.  You'll have a much, much smaller carbon footprint and energy footprint than any veganazi chowing down on factory farmed soy products, grains, and other plants that are harvested by gas guzzling machines and shipped in gas guzzling trucks to your supermarket.

And if the time comes when everyone wants to eat beef, and the soy is rotting in the fields as ranchers rush to plant grass for their hungry herds, and the price of meat starts to go up, at least we'll save a ton of money on our health care bills, old age homes, joint replacements, oxygen tanks, and escalators.  Maybe it would all even out in the end.