Monday, November 14, 2005

Quad Damage Really Does Hurt!

NO, UNFORTUNATELY, THIS IS not a discussion of any of the various versions of Quake. It's one of the beneficial, if painful, byproducts of the first day of my new exercise regimen. For a maiden flight, it went well, but I am particularly excited by the success of the accompanying eating plan. I nearly had a mishap, however, with the first meal . . . a Technicolor, three-dimensional mishap. if you get my drift.

The gym program I had adopted featured some exercises that are new to me, the most formidable of these being the squat. This specifically targets the four quadricep muscles across the top of the thigh. It is considered a "core" exercise because it forces your lower legs and back (and the associated ligaments and tendons) to complement the quad motion by enforcing stability, which leads to greater overall body strength than a machine (with a single axis of motion that isolates your quads) might foster.

Basically, you rest the barbell across and behind your shoulders, squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor, and then come back up to near-standing. If you've ever seen an illustration of the proper way to lift a box, you've seen the upward half of a squat.

As I'm already carrying extra weight I don't normally force through that range of motion (unless I lift boxes in my sleep, the way dreaming dogs sometimes run), I did my first quads with no actual weight plates on the bar. The program called for two sets of 12 repetitions. The first 12 took effort but not strain. About nine reps into the second set, I reeeeeeally had to push to stand up. Upon racking the bar after the 12th rep, I knew that stairs were not going to be a pleasant experience that day. But I was proud to have completed the exercise.

The initial 6 weeks of the program call for a full-body workout of about nine exercises, most of which I completed. I managed to crank out 40 abdominal crunches in two sets, which was more than I thought I could do. The only exercise I fell short on was the bench press, another key aspect of many weight-training programs. I suspect it's because I did a half-weight practice set of 12 reps before the two sets at full weight. One is encouraged to do such a practice set to get blood flowing to "cold" muscles before tucking into the "working" sets that you execute at full weight (or beyond if you're a real psycho). I stalled out at rep 10 of the second set. I wasn't disappointed, as I considered this day an experimental run to find the appropriate weights at which I could begin the program.

I have started weight-training programs in the past, but the two key aspects where I was deficient were getting enough sleep and proper nutrition. This is why I made so little progress in the past, I feel. As I mentioned earlier today, I took the first action to correct the nutrition aspect by eating a two-"egg" omelet of Egg Beaters and some cereal with soy milk. The problem here was that I ate all this a little close to the workout itself.

By the time I had returned to the car — walking down the gym stairs, as predicted, with stiff-legged awkwardness not seen since Boris Karloff last glued bolts to his neck — I was feeling a bit queasy. I had read about serious weightlifters who had followed their pre-workout meals with intense exercise just a little too soon, and had been sick as a result. I was afraid of heading down this very road, which I devoutly hoped might end in a bathroom. The real humor in such a result would have been that, once down on my knees, the squats would have denied me the strength to get back up. Lovely scene for the coroner to usher my parents into:

"And this is how we found him, Mr. and Mrs. Schizohedron . . . Yes, I agree, if he had stuck to cookie dough for breakfast, I'm sure this never would have happened. . . . No, we're still trying to figure out the note, but it looks like a menu for the rest of the day. Either he was plotting out a nutrition program, or we're gonna have to call in the Food Forensic Department to decipher it and see if it was suicide or merely death by resistance training. . . ."

I sat for a while and browsed on the computer, the ingredients to my post-workout protein shake waiting for me to integrate, blend, and down them, while my stomach pushed ominously upward. After a shower, and the decision that calling in sick over a self-inflicted dietary wound was not gonna be good for my karma, I got dressed, packed up my prepared food, made the shake, and headed out to the latest train I could conceivably get. I did give my boss a courtesy call to let her know I anticipated a late arrival, and a sketchy reason why.

Sipping the shake — raw oats ground into powder in my coffee grinder, chocolate whey protein, frozen blueberries, and fat-free Stonyfield Farms plain yogurt — actually settled my stomach, and I spent the train ride watching the surprisingly beautiful morning grow sunnier and warmer by the minute. By the time I got into the city, I was digesting confidently, even if my gait was slower than my usual angry–Sith Lord stalk. I did steer clear of anything except water until 10:30 or so, when a slight headache reminded me that, yes, I am a caffeine addict, and I needed a hit.

I tracked what I ate over the course of today, which was easy in that I had already measured out everything that I had brought into the city. I had also been eating carefully parceled-out snacks and greens over the past couple of weeks, so I had a little practice. I am not going to make you read my daily intake with each blog entry, but I figured it would be interesting to show you how the day's feeding schedule broke down. (Plus I may want to return to this post should I succeed in making a difference in my weight and build months or years from now.)

MEAL 1—Pre-Workout
½ cup Egg Beaters, made into an omelet, fried with Pam
2 Weetabix wheat cereal bricks
½ cup soy milk

MEAL 2—Post-Workout (aka "second breakfast")
The following blended into a shake:
½ cup steel-cut oat groats, powdered, raw
1 scoop chocolate whey protein
¾ cup frozen blueberries
1 cup fat-free plain yogurt
½ cup skim milk

2 Ryvita crackers, covered with
1 tbsp each natural peanut butter

MEAL 4—Lunch
4 oz. pork tenderloin
1 cup brown rice
2 cups red-leaf lettuce
2 tbsp Newman's dressing

Same as Meal 3, + ½ cup low-fat cottage cheese

MEAL 6—Dinner
3 oz. can water-packed tuna
1 cup broccoli, steamed
1 tbsp lite mayonnaise
1 tbsp flaxseed oil

Based on an estimate of my lean body weight, if I am going to train with weights, I should be taking in 2812 calories, at a ratio of 40/30/30 of complex carbs, protein, and fats. I subtracted 500 calories from this to foster fat loss, taking the total down to 2312.

Would you believe that the above meals totaled up to 2321?? On my first try, I came within a rounding error of my goal. Not bad! I also came damn close on the ratios: The above split assumes a carb/protein/fat split (in grams) of 241/170/92, and I hit 240/180/74. What I plan to do is to assemble a series of food "modules" for which I know all of these stats, so I can quickly put together meals that I not only like, but that meet my desired calorie count and stats.

So I am going to bed tonight feeling pretty damn happy with myself. I know how to stay on track and how to get back there should I have to improvise or diverge. I wouldn't call them moments of weakness, as the underlying program seems pretty strong. It's not even really a "diet" in the traditional meaning of a program of denial. More like the way I should have been eating, assembled sensibly to keep me feeling full and swimming in nutrients while my body uses up stored fat. Ninety-two grams of fat looks like a lot until you sit down and track its origins, and in my case it's all coming from healthful sources, not off the side of a steak or the fry pits of the local Burger King. With any luck, even if all I do is get a little stronger and only drop a little excess weight, I will decrease my chances of dying of something stupid and avoidable . . . unless my beleaguered leg muscles strangle me in my sleep.

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