Macro Experiment: Week 5 (4/18/16-4/24/16)

After my meeting with Willie, I decided to take his suggestions regarding carb cycling and put them to work during week 5.  As I mentioned in my last post, I gave myself an extra 150 calories on training days, while leaving my non-training days as is. The ability to add more food several days a week, made meal planning more fun as I was able to squeeze in more snacks and treats when I wanted.  MyFitnessPal does allow you to set your macros and calories by the day if you purchase their premium services.  I decided to do that for this experiment as it only cost $10 for one month.

Refeed Days

Another topic I read about during my continual research was “refeed days”.  A refeed is where you eat up to (and maybe slightly over) your TDEE to help replenish your muscles of the depleted glycogen, boost your metabolism and also give your emotions a bit of a break.  Being as strict as I’ve been with my diet can be mentally and emotionally exhausting, so a refeed day is key in normalizing things a bit.

People who are just starting their weight loss journey and have quite a bit to lose don’t really need to worry about refeeds, however, those who are close to reaching their goals, or are already pretty lean, need a refeed day at least once every two weeks…maybe more.  After week 1, I opted to have one refeed day a week — on Sundays.  This worked out well, since I document my weekly progress on Sunday mornings, so I have the entire day to enjoy foods I don’t typically eat during the week.

Refeeds are different than cheat days for a number of reasons.  First of all, they are planned and calculated.  You still track what you eat, though the emphasis is on eating lots of carbs; specifically from starchy foods like breads, rice, cereals, potatoes and all the other delicious items you can’t really have when eating low carb.  Protein and fat remain the same.  Secondly, refeeds should occur on a training day, if possible.  This will provide your muscles with even more muscle recovery.  Fortunately, the Hammer & Chisel schedule typically has “training days” on Sundays.

Since my TDEE is around 1,725, I try to eat somewhere between 1,700 and 1,800 calories…with most of the calories coming from carbs.  This means I get 200-250 extra calories to enjoy dinner at a restaurant, a bagel and cream cheese or both!

With refeed days, there are a couple of things you must keep in mind and prepare yourself for.  1) you WILL gain 2-3 pounds immediately following the refeed day.  When eating at a calorie deficit, your muscles are depleted of glycogen.  As such, when carb-loading on a refeed, your muscles get replenished and store the carbs (i.e., glucose), which adds weight to your body.  2) Your metabolism will get a bit of a boost.  With the extra food, your body will have more energy to use.  I found I almost always KILL my Monday morning workout, as I feel fantastic!  3) You will be extra hungry after a refeed.  Since your metabolism is a bit increased, your body will crave more food.  This will leave you feeling hungrier than normal and usually passes after the first day. I typically drink extra cups of coffee or water to help with the hunger pangs.

Week 5: In Summary

Since I incorporated more food on 2-3 days of the week on my training days, the weight loss was noticeably less than it has been in previous weeks.  In fact, I went up a small amount.  Granted, I was actually another ½ pound down on Saturday, but didn’t drink enough water and was retaining some.  Regardless, I enjoyed seeing how my body responds to carb-cycling and refeeds.  Despite gaining a few pounds the Monday following a refeed, my body always seems to purge the extra weight by Thursday.  By Friday and Saturday, I can see more muscle definition and the scale moving down again.

Calorie/Macro Values:

TDEE:              1,725
Calorie Target: 1,386 (non-training) / 1,530 (training)
Protein:            127 g (non-training) / 151 g (training)
Fat:                   51 g (non-training & training)
Carbs:              105 g (non-training) / 119 g (training)

Stats:

Weight:                      125.5 (+.1 pounds)
Dress size:                 4
Natural Waist:            27″ (no change)
Estimated Body Fat:  19%
Updated Goal:           I still seem to have a bit of flab around the midsection, so I think I can get to 120lbs.

 

Macro Experiment: Week 4 (4/11/16-4/17/16)

Following the confusing feedback from the Hydrostatic scan, I decided to get a second opinion on my body composition along with getting some pointers from a personal trainer.  I wanted to run my macro ratios by a certified professional to see if I was on the right track.

Fortunately, the St. Peters Rec Plex by my home offers such services, so I was able to meet with a trainer named Willie for roughly two hours.  We went over my macros, workouts, supplements, etc.  I was on the right track, but he was adamant that to reach the goals I have, it was no longer about losing weight, but about using science to determine exactly how my body operates in order to reach my goals.  Macros and supplementation are key.  We also measured my body fat using calipers, and the reading was more consistent with my own measurements and with online calculators.  We estimated I was roughly around 18-19%, which makes much more sense.

For this week, I dropped my carbs down quite a bit and incorporated the extra calories into fat and protein.  Again, I did this to limit muscle loss and to get my body used to running on few carbs….thereby burning more fat for fuel.  As such, I noticed how difficult it was to get enough fiber when on a low carb diet.  Fiber is essential for helping the body to digest food, and most people don’t get enough in a day.  It’s recommend we get somewhere between 25-50 grams of fiber each day, and I was struggling to hit 20 grams.  This is where supplementation comes in.

With my protein requirements being higher than my carbs, I needed to start using supplements to hit my macro and fiber targets.  This means protein shakes, fiber supplements, multivitamins and the timing of when each are taken.

Another thing we discuss was carb cycling.  This kind of falls into the timing umbrella, but essentially means changing up my macros and calories each day based on my workout regiment.  On training days (days where I’m focused on heavy lifting workouts), I add an extra 150 calories to my target.  ⅔ of the calories go to protein, and the other ⅓ to carbs.  Also, it’s crucial to consume 25-30 grams of protein within the first 30 minutes following a workout for optimum muscle recovery.

On non-training days (rest days, cardio, ab work, yoga, etc.), I leave my calories and macros as is.  Both training and non-training targets are still at a deficit when compared to my TDEE, but it’s geared to help my body continue to burn fat while hanging on to the most muscle possible.  I didn’t begin carb cycling until week 5, which I’ll explain in more detail in my next post.

Week 4: In Summary

I continued to see astonishing changes on the scale.  While my goal isn’t necessarily to lose weight, I do want to lose fat, and can only do so in a caloric deficit.  Weighing myself each day allows me to see how my body is responding, and if I need to make any changes.  As I end week 4, I was shocked to have almost lost another 10 pounds.  I’m still doing the Hammer & Chisel workouts, but seeing many more changes this time around.  This tells me I was eating way too much to get the results I was after the first time.

Calorie/Macro Values:

TDEE:              1,725
Calorie Target: 1,386
Protein:            127 g
Fat:                   51 g
Carbs:              105 g

Stats:

Weight:                      125.4 (-1.5 pounds)
Dress size:                4
Natural Waist:           27″ (- ½ inch)
Estimated Body Fat: 19%
Updated Goal:           Fitness model physique – I’m all in at this point!

 

Macro Experiment: Week 3 (4/4/16-4/10/16)

So, at the end of week 2, I decided once and for all to get my body fat tested.  I have a pair of analog calipers from Amazon, but it’s difficult to take measurements on yourself.  I began looking into other methods of measuring body fat and found more calculators online, along with some other methods that require professionals and can cost quite a bit of money.

Some of these methods are:

  • bioelectrical impedance scale

  • Caliper reading from a personal trainer

  • DEXA scan

  • Hydrostatic body weighing

I’ve read pros and cons for each of these, but consistently saw that the Hydrostatic weighing technique was considered the most accurate.  Essentially, you are weighed dry wearing a swimsuit and then weighed again on an underwater scale.  You exhale all of the air you can and remain underwater for a few seconds while the reading is taken.  You repeat this process 3-4 times and the technician averages your results.

I was able to find a mobile unit that schedules sessions monthly near my work.  I decided to try it out (first time fee of $55 with follow ups costing $35), and was surprised at how simple the process was.  They took my height, dry weight and explained the next steps for the underwater scale.  The water was pleasantly warm, and I forcefully exhaled all the air as I laid back in the tank.  We did this four times, and the technician was able to get good results each time.  After the weighing, I got dressed and then had a consultation regarding my results.

To my utter shock and awe, I was told my body fat was an astonishing 14.8%, putting me in the 97th percentile.  I was a little skeptical, but wasn’t going to argue with a professional.  I was also told I should bump up my calories by 700/day, reduce my protein to 108g (my lean body mass), and that I should take at least 2 rest days a week (I currently take one).  I was also informed that my “problem fat area” is loose skin and that I shouldn’t lose any more weight.

Overall, I felt really good when I left, and it rejuvenated my efforts.  Despite what I was told, I decided to continue with my macro experiment as I wasn’t convinced I had reached my “final form”.  🙂  I did, however, modify my macros according to what was suggested by the technician.

Week 3: In Summary

I continued to see minor improvements in muscle definition and fat loss.  As I lose weight, the amounts will be smaller, so I’m focusing more on how I look, how clothing feels, and energy levels.  I did notice a bit of regression with my strength this week, but planned to offset that a little by incorporating refeed days, which I’ll explain in a later post.

Calorie/Macro Values:

TDEE:              1,725
Calorie Target: 1,386
Protein:            108 g
Fat:                  51 g
Carbs:             124 g

Stats:

Weight:                       127 (-½ pounds)
Dress size:                  4
Natural Waist:             27.5″ (- ½ inch)
Estimated Body Fat:   14.8% (???)
Updated Goal:            Get rid of “spare tire” and develop well-defined abs

Macro Experiment: Week 2 (3/28/16-4/3/16)

Since I lost five pounds during the first week of tracking macros, I decided I would recalculate my values at every five pound interval.  Using the calculators I mentioned before, I did just that.  So week 2 started out with me using the following values:

TDEE:              1,725

Calorie Target: 1,380
Protein:            130 g
Fat:                  38 g
Carbs:              129 g

I also soaked up a lot of information about tracking macros and IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros).  In other words, I was introduced to the world of Flexible Dieting!

Flexible Dieting

Currently, the fitness industry is throwing around a lot of terms related to diets and nutrition.  After completing four Beachbody programs, I became very familiar with “clean eating” and frequently used a lot of Paleo recipes to stick to my container allotments and food allowances.

However, IIFYM takes a different approach.  Simply stated:  Eat whatever you want as long as it “fits within your macros”.  What?  You mean I can eat McDonalds, and that’s okay?  Yep, but there’s a small catch; not all calories are created equal.

I love IIFYM, since gone is the concept of “clean” and “dirty” eating.  I can eat a piece of cake, or have that ice cream I’ve been craving.  BUT….1) you have to track it, which means you may not get something “fun” later in the day and 2) MICRONUTRIENTS.  Micros aren’t counted towards your calories, but they are important for keeping your body healthy.  These include vitamins, minerals, fiber, sugars, etc.  So, while you can have that cake, it’s comprised of lower quality calories.  Key macros and micros are missing, so you’ll find your body won’t be as satisfied as it would be if you had eaten a bowl of oatmeal with some fresh fruit.  However, if you choose to eat the cake…that’s totally fine…just stick to your macros and calorie limits.

When you first start flexible dieting, I highly recommend getting a food scale to help with measuring your servings so they match with the entries on MyFitnessPal.  Overtime, you’ll become familiar with specific food items and their nutrients, so you won’t need to use a scale as much.

Anyway, I had a few family functions to attend this week, so I was able to take full advantage of the flexible dieting.  It required a bit more planning (as I wasn’t able to measure out everything to perfection), but it was worth doing that so I could have cake, snacks at work, or an oatmeal cookie.

By the end of the week, I was really enjoying the process and was determined to see how far I could take this macro thing.  I changed my goal again and started to focus more on understanding my body and exactly where I was as regarding lean mass and body fat.

Week 2: In Summary

Calorie/Macro Values:

TDEE:              1,725
Calorie Target: 1,380
Protein:            130 g
Fat:                  38 g
Carbs:             129 g

Stats:

Weight:                       127.5 (-2.5 pounds)
Dress size:                 4
Natural Waist:            27.5″ (- ½ inch)
Estimated Body Fat:  20%
Updated Goal:           Reach 120 and/or 16% body fat

Macro Experiment: Week 1 (3/21/16-3/27/16)

And so begins my first week of tracking macronutrients!  After following the Beachbody portion containers for 10 months, I felt I needed to make some changes in order to keep moving towards my goals.  I want to be tone, with great muscle definition and low body fat, and I knew watching my portions wouldn’t be enough.

I began researching how to burn “stubborn fat” from the abdominal area, and ran across a series of online articles and forum posts with information from people in similar situations.  The more I read, the more I learned that losing fat and building muscle really comes down to one thing: Calories.

Now, some people will say to lose weight, just eat less calories than you burn in a day.  While this is true at face value, I’ve learned it’s a bit more complex than that.  There are calories that are more beneficial than others, which is where the macronutrients come in.

Understanding Calories

Before beginning any macro-tracking, one must understand how many calories they burn in a day.  To do so, we first need to understand several elements that make up our total calorie burn:

BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) – This is the number of calories your body burns while resting; essentially, what it takes to make your organs function.

TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) – This is the number of calories your body burns in a day, including: digesting food, exercise, and any activity outside of exercise (i.e., day to day living).

Until you understand the values are for your body, it is impossible to determine how many calories to consume in a day.  Every person is different, but there are a number of formulas and online calculators that can help.  Below is the one I used to calculate my TDEE:

http://www.iifym.com/tdee-calculator/

Following the Hammer & Chisel, I did continued to work out, but was a bit more liberal with my food.  As such, I did gain a bit of weight and began the experiment at 135lbs.  Using the above calculator, I determined my estimated values at:

BMR – 1,300
TDEE – 1,750

Note: These values are just estimates.  My body may burn more, or less.  This is where the experimentation comes in.

When losing weight, you must consume fewer calories than your body burns.  Since a pound of fat consists of 3,500 calories, you would need a caloric deficit 500 calories per day to lose one pound in a week.  Using my TDEE, I decided to be slightly less extreme and cut around 300 calories a day.  Therefore, my daily calorie target was 1,460 (or a deficit of 17%).

A key piece of information I learned during my research, was that it is impossible to burn fat without also losing some muscle.  On the contrary, if you’re trying to build muscle, you will also gain some fat.  The two are not mutually exclusive, which is where macronutrients come into play.

Understanding Macronutrients

Now that I knew my daily calorie target, I was able to calculate my macros.  “Macros” is short for “Macronutrients”, which are the main building blocks that make up your calories.  Each macro is comprised of calories as follows:

  • Protein – 4 calories / gram (recommend .8 g-1.9 g per lb of body weight)

  • Fat – 9 calories / gram (recommend 40% of body weight — in grams)

  • Carbohydrates – 4 calories / gram (remaining calories available)

Setting various ratios of these macros will allow to you achieve more tailored results when losing weight.   I wanted to continue burning fat, but also limit muscle loss.  The body doesn’t want to be at a caloric deficit, so it will do things to try and prevent you from losing fat.  This includes: increased hunger, decreased metabolism, and breaking down muscle for energy.  Note, this is not the same thing as “starvation mode”, which is technically a myth.

In order to minimize muscle loss, I set my initial macros as:

Protein:  135 g
Fat:  41 g
Carbs:  137 g

To set my carbs and ensure I was staying within my daily calorie target, I used the following formula:

Carbs = (Calorie Target – (Protein in grams *4) – (Fats in grams * 9)) / 4
— or—
Carbs = (1,460 – (135 * 4) – (41 * 9)) / 4

I then added these values and my calorie target into www.MyFitnessPal.com, which has one of the largest food databases available.

Macro Ratios

Keeping protein amounts at 1 gram per pound of body weight is important for rebuilding muscles that have been broken down through working out.  Maintaining a healthy fat range is also important for hormone balance (especially for women).  Carbs are essentially the one macro the body could do without, and is also the first the body burns for fuel.  Looking back, my fats were a bit too low for my weight, and carbs were a bit too high, but it didn’t really detract from my results since my calories were below my TDEE.  Overall, my ratios were: 37% Protein, 25% Fat and 38% carbs.

You can also use online calculators to help with determining your ratios.  Below is another calculator from the same website I used to determine my TDEE.

http://www.iifym.com/iifym-calculator/

Week 1: In Summary

After seven days of tracking my macros, I was surprised at how easy it was to maintain.  I also learned about “flexible dieting”, which I’ll discuss in my next post.  This made tracking my food much more enjoyable as I was able to eat more things I liked.

To recap, here were my calorie and macro values:

TDEE:              1,750
Calorie Target: 1,460
Protein:            135 g
Fat:                  41 g
Carbs:             137 g

At the end of week 1, I ended up having the following stats:

Weight:                     130 (-5 pounds)
Dress size:                4
Natural Waist:           28″ (-1 inch)
Estimated Body Fat: 20%
Updated Goal:          Reach 125 and/or 18% body fat

Dropping five pounds may seem like a lot, but it’s mainly water weight from depleting my muscles of glycogen as a result of the calorie deficit.  Glycogen is the principle storage form of glucose in cells and is replenished by carbohydrates.  Still, I decided I would recalculate my calories target and macros at every five pound interval, which I’ll discuss in the next post.

The Macro Experiment

Recently, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about my current workout program and though I would draft a post about where I came from, how my goals have changed, and what I’ve been doing over the past several weeks.

Fitness Journey Overview

I began my fitness adventure in May 2015, when I took the plunge and purchased the 21 Day Fix.  When my box arrived, I couldn’t wait to start!  At the time, my stats were as follows:

Weight:                         149
Dress size:                    8
Natural Waist:               33″
Estimated Body Fat:     27%
Original Goal:               Reach 127lbs (my driver’s license weight!)

I was in the first container bracket (1,200-1,499 calories), and after completed my first round of the 21 Day Fix, I definitely saw improvements and was excited to do another round (once you see progress, the work almost becomes an addiction as you crave seeing more results)!  As such, I completed four rounds of the 21 Day Fix, 1 round of PiYO, followed by four rounds of the 21 Day Fix Extreme.  I continued to see steady results through November 2015, but did start to plateau just a bit.  My stats at the start of December were:

Weight:                        128
Dress size:                   4
Natural Waist:              29″
Estimated Body Fat:    22%
Updated Goal:             Reach 127lbs and/or 18% body fat

After working to maintain my weight during the holidays, I decided to try the Masters Hammer & Chisel, 8-week program.  These workouts are more geared towards weightlifting, so I was hoping that adding some heavy lifting would help burn the last reserves of fat and help me reach my new goal.

I gained roughly three pounds during the holidays, so I started the Masters Hammer & Chisel a bit up from when I ended my last round of Extreme.  After completing the 8-week program, I definitely noticed gains in my strength, but didn’t see the muscle definition or scale movement I had hoped for.  I ended with roughly the same stats as above, but my natural waist did reduce by another half inch.  I struggled to understand which container group I should be in during the program; I started Plan B (1,500-1,799 calories) for the first 3 weeks, bumped up to Plan C (1,800-2,099) for week 4, but switched back Plan B after noticing my weight increase along with a loss of muscle definition.

Enter Macros

It was at this time, I began researching how I could burn more fat to reach my goals….outside of the Beachbody programs.  As I began to learn more about fat burning and muscle building methods, my goals also began to change as well.  I asked myself, “How far could I take this?” and “Could I actually sculpt my body to be extremely tone….like a fitness model?”  Well, I wanted to find out!  I was introduced to the world of BMR, TDEE, cardio vs weights, tracking macronutrients, flexible dieting, body recomposition, cutting/bulking cycles, and refeeds.

I decided to start another round of Hammer & Chisel on March 21st, 2016, but rather than following the containers, I would track my macros.  The experiment will last for 8-weeks, and I’ll use the time to learn about my body and how it responds to various changes in diet and exercise.  I’ll be documenting my results at the end of each week, so you can follow along with me to see how the experiment is going!