16 09 2013
Blog : The future of M.A.S.S.
First of all I owe all loyal M.A.S.S. followers (though there aren’t that many yet, I certainly do appreciate the ones we have) my sincerest apologies for the long absence. No, we haven’t given up on M.A.S.S. yet, but on top of having never been the most consistent and timely person, it has been a busy couple of months for GetXXL and myself. Your webmaster has had his share of personal issues and a ton of course- and other work to complete en route to his bachelor’s degree, and concurrently starting his masters courses, and yours truly has had his hands full with the ups and downs that comes with contest prep in preparation for the WBFF competition in London in November. More on that later. But don’t feel left out, I think the impact this whole endeavor has had on my personal life means I’ll have a LOT to make up to friends, family and co-workers after November 9th. I’ve been about as socially agreeable as a straight man in a prison shower for most of the summer.
However, we haven’t given up on M.A.S.S. or our plans for the site and the facebook group by a long shot, we still talk and share ideas on a regular basis, and we hope to see most of that come to fruition in the coming year. I do fear there may still be a dearth of very in-depth articles for the next two months, considering my daily routine and other matters to tend to, but hopefully we can get some input from you, the readers, on ideas to keep things interesting in the time between articles in regards to blogs, the possibility for videos and more regular facebook content. Well, I have a lot to cover in this blog, from preparation updates, plans for the site, scientific tidbits and my own psychological musings and ramblings. Since it’s a little bit of everything I’ve decided to arrange it by linkable paragraphs.
1.Updates on the preparation for London (with progress pics)
2.Betaine is hot again (science update)
3.Plans and suggestions for M.A.S.S. (we need your feedback !!)
4.A healthy attitude toward body recomposition (Psychology)
Considering this is 80% responsible for my abandonment of, well, everything, including sanity, family life and working on M.A.S.S., it probably deserves top spot. I’ve been preparing since May 15th now, and initially despite my best efforts things went exceptionally slow. Potentially starting off a diet with Intermittent Fasting may not have been the best idea. Don’t get me wrong, I still firmly belief IF is a valid and valuable tool in fat loss, but the last time I had success with it, I was easing into it more gradually. I found myself losing less than 3 kg (6.6 lbs) by June 15th and only another 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs) by the start of July. After that I may have gotten a tad aggressive with my diet and ended up losing a whopping 7.4 kg (16.3 lbs) in just over a month and a half, but that strategy came at the cost of significant strength and muscle mass. My initial calculations, factoring in inevitable muscle loss, had me coming in around 91 kg (200.4 lbs) for November, but at my current form and weight of 93.4 kg (205.7 lbs) I think I may have to readjust my goals to 88-89 kg (194-196 lbs). I only have a good 9 weeks left to reach that goal, and metabolic adaptation is setting in, so it promises to be a lengthy uphill struggle from here on out.
My current regimen consists of getting up at 6.45, doing 30 minutes of cardio on a stationary bike, 20 minutes of ab work, and then eating my morning meal, I leave for work at 8, have one meal at lunch, and end work at 5. I’m home by 5.20 where I take a shake with my supplements, get ready for the gym and head out at 6. By 6.20 I’m at the gym where I typically work two body-parts for a total of 24 sets, 20 mins of ab-work and 20-30 minutes of interval training on the treadmill. Then I head home, arrive around 8.30, have another shake and supplements, start preparing my meal for the evening as well as the next morning and afternoon. After I eat, around 9.30, I watch TV with my wife for about an hour, and then I head off to bed. That’s pretty much all I do on weekdays. That leaves weekends for shopping, meal preparation and various other obligations. I recently lost my father, on May 16th, and there is still a lot left to settle. We still don’t know the exact state of his estate, and the relationship with his second wife has never been extremely amicable for my sister and I. If I find a free moment, I prefer to spend it with my kids (perhaps more so because I lost my own father).
To say the last 4 months have taken their toll on my mood is an understatement. I grind on, day to day, often tired, always a little down, trying to keep my eye on the goal. Which at this point is still not to make a fool of myself on that stage. Since last weekend our entire trip is booked. We leave for London on November 7th, and come back the day after the competition on November 10th. I’m going with my training partner, Ivan, who is also competing in the -75 kg of the fitness category (I’ll be competing in the +75 and muscle model categories) and our friend Jens, who is an amazing hairstylist. I have no idea if this competition implies anything for the future. I only signed up to do it to finally coerce myself to stop making the same excuses I’ve made the past 10 years, and finally try to do something about my own physique goals instead of resigning to telling others what to do while I watched from the sidelines. At that point I had no intention of pursuing competition beyond this, but Ivan swears once you’ve done one competition, you will want to do more. The first thing I’ve learned is that if I do another competition after this, I need a coach. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I believe in my way of doing things, but I’ve learned that contest prep messes with your state of mind, so I need someone to repeat it all back to me, day in and day out, and keep me on my schedule, someone who isn’t going through all that at the same time as me. This whole affair is clouding my judgment and to do well in competition you need a pair of unbiased eyes, and that’s a huge handicap for me right now.
As a natural, 33-year old athlete with a thinning hairline doing his first competition, I highly doubt I’ll place very high in this competition , but my hope strongly remains I can just push myself to be in the condition I should be, regardless of weight, and don’t make any stupid mistakes, so I can get an honest read on where I am at, as an athlete, rather than always a coach. This whole year has bred a lot of sympathy for my past and current athletes that I didn’t have before. It has taught me that this whole ordeal is both harder and easier than I thought. I always made excuses because I thought the effort was inhumane, but in the end it’s not so much about incredible effort or willpower. It’s about breeding a routine and sticking with it. The only willpower you need is the one that keeps you from buying bad food, or placing yourself in a situation that requires abstinence. Once you do that, you take the choice away from yourself and you resign to doing what you must. And routine is your friend. It’s tedious, it’s boring, but it’s a never-wavering guideline that keeps you on track. Once you’ve tried eating 6000 calories a day, or none at all, your relationship with food changes. You don’t perceive hunger pangs the same way anymore. In these senses, it has all been much easier than I had ever hoped. But at the same time I highly underestimated the emotional toll the process takes on you. What you physically endure translates to your state of mind. It makes you tired, sometimes depressed. And that in turn skews your view, and makes it hard to judge your progress or make the important decisions this process asks of you. For the first time I understand the fear and process that makes athletes deviate from their guidelines at the last minute, that makes them doubt what they know will work. In that sense, it has been much, much harder than I thought.
Well I’ve included a few progress pictures and appreciate all the feedback I can get at this point. The picture below shows my progress as detailed in these last paragraphs. Although none of these pictures was altered, at all, the middle two pictures serve to nuance the before and after pictures. The before picture was deliberately taken as relaxed as possible, which, because of my hyperlordosis, causes my belly to protrude even with the slightest bit of fat. I have no tan and haven’t shaved. Few of you would probably guess this is only 15.5% fat. As you can see the difference with the second picture is only 3 kg, but that was taken on holiday in Tunisia, shaven, tanned and holding less water, and oddly enough the picture after that is another 2.2 kg further, and I look a little worse, probably due to holding more water. The last picture has me in a pose that neutralizes my lordosis, by arching the back the other way which stresses the abdominals. The difference is still 12.5 kg total of course, which is huge, but if I was to just show the before and after picture it would look far more impressive. But since I’m trying to detail things, and not sell you stuff, I feel as though the other two pictures are necessary.
This picture shows the difference of about a month and a half in a most muscular pose.
And this last one just because I think it’s a cool picture :p
Betaine, or trimethylglycine, is a supplement that has been around a while, but without much conclusive proof of its worth in athletes, and especially strength and figure athletes. Following in the footsteps of other old favorites like HMB, the research on betaine as an ergogenic has picked up again, and following hot on the heels of the work of Senesi et al (2013) earlier this summer showing the role of betaine in IGF-1 mediated skeletal muscle differentiation (in mouse myoblasts) comes a new study by Jason Cholewa (2013) and colleagues, published in JISSN. Some of you who are acquainted with my history in this industry may actually remember Jason, who also goes by the moniker Big Red, because like myself he was a former feature writer and moderator on bodybuilding.com that has flourished into a gifted researcher (Assistant professor of Exercise Science). For those interested in other work of his be sure to check out his site (Jasoncholewa.com) and facebook group (Big Red Physical Performance). The beauty of Cholewa’s latest study is that it was actually conducted with twenty-three experienced weigh training athletes using a well-thought out exercise schedule for the entire duration of the test. The rest of the test was pretty straight-forward (but all details can be found here, since the study is open access) : The subjects were given two daily doses of 1.25g of betaine or a placebo daily, and logged their food intake and exercise regimen, then had several markers of body composition and performance measured, as well as levels of homocysteine thiolactone (HCTL) as a marker for betaine’s proposed effect on homocysteine metabolism. The authors concluded that “Six-weeks of betaine supplementation improved body composition, arm size, bench press work capacity, attenuated the rise in urinary HCTL, and tended to improve power (p = .07) but not strength.” Perhaps the one thing that stood out from all the results was that betaine was seemingly more effective during training protocols that were metabolically more demanding (ie. Shorter rest and higher repititions in this case), showing that perhaps those athletes employing such protocols, or are typically under more metabolic stress due to their diet- and or exercise regimen, stand to benefit more.
The study is certainly enough to put betaine back on the map with regards to supplementation. Whether its conclusive proof of its worth as a must for the bodybuilding athlete, only time and more research will tell, but let’s say this study design is a lot more conclusive than many used for studies on supplements many of you probably are taking. But let’s above all hope that, like for HMB, it inspires more research on an old favorite that we may have been prematurely discarded too often because both lack of conclusive research and its high price in the past. Now that these supplements are more affordable in correct doses and have more scientific backing, they can hopefully be put to the test in various situations to determine the optimal dosing, frequency and situations of use where they can help athletes achieve their goals faster.
The problem of our recent inactivity has posed me with some recurring issues that need addressing. The fact that this is not a new occurrence – I finally broke ties with bodybuilding.com when personal issues no longer allowed me to meet deadlines or fulfill obligations – suggest that it simply will not always be possible to complete in depth scientific articles on a weekly or even bi-weekly basis. While I’m very eager to get M.A.S.S. going again right now, I know the coming 8 weeks won’t be all that conducive to extensive research and writing. Aside from lack of time, my mindset right now is fickle and troubling. My physical efforts influence my mood and capacity for thought, and my personal issues of late – most notably the death of my father, the complications with his estate and possible debts, and my youngest son getting operated on again in October – aren’t really helping me focus a great deal more. Which means that in order to keep the audience captivated by other means, equally valuable but less time consuming. For that of course I need your help and input – badly. The fact is I can make a ton of suggestions and plaster the blog and the facebook page with a ton of stuff, but I have no intent of doing so if what I post has no meaning to M.A.S.S.’s core audience. So I hope I can inspire you – whether you are a follower of the first hour, or this is your first time reading here – to lend us a hand and give us some feedback on the following ideas.
I don’t feel like becoming one of those pages that posts 15 updates a day with stupid little drawings and motivational pictures that really aren’t all that motivational (in fact today’s psychology segment deals with this very phenomenon) , and asking people what they trained today or what their favorite bodypart is. That’s not only not me, or what I want to be about. I also simply couldn’t care less because it doesn’t help me, and it doesn’t help you. Below are some specific suggestions I have to increase the amount of content, and I need to hear from your if such things would be appreciated, or if honestly such things really couldn’t bother you to check M.A.S.S. more often. Aside from that you are very welcome to make any and all suggestions.
1.A few times we have shared a link to newer research, or something we were reading on the facebook page. This is of course just a link to the abstract (unless the article is open source) and our preliminary thoughts on the study. We could certainly do this more often, regardless of how much articles we complete, we still read a great deal of them on a daily basis.
2.I could, and really should, make an effort to post the blog more frequently, at least once a week. However I remain unsure, due to lack of feedback, what sort of topics are appreciated. I almost always have musings to share on the psychology of training, but I never know if that is even something any of you are interested in that sort of stuff. Likewise a lot of my personal musings, and lately my competition experiment updates , make their way into the blog, and I have no idea if that is something you enjoy reading, or frankly, just puts you to sleep or makes you think “what the fuck happened to this site ? It used to be good”. I’m almost certain I would enjoy making sure the blog gets a weekly update if I knew enough people thought that was amply interesting to keep you coming back
3.I’ve always toyed with the idea of making Youtube videos. On the one hand the prospect scares me a little. I’m not THAT extraverted, and have no idea how I come across on camera (let’s face it, I’m not Kai Greene, I’m a trainer and a scientist first and foremost – they are by definition less visually appealing), on the other hand, if I get the hang of it, it’s a low threshold and quick way of sharing thoughts. I’d also love to expand that concept to recipes, if someone can direct me to some good software to make simple edits to videos (most notably fading in and out, putting text on the images, playing things in fast forward – I can’t imagine someone wants to watch me whisk eggs for 5 minutes – and cutting and pasting parts of videos together), and later even segments in the gym. I’m currently working off a replacement laptop, but hope to have my computer back soon, with some hardware upgrades, so it’s an option I’m keeping up. But of course I need to know if that’s something people want to see (I personally hate videos over articles, reading is easier than watching because text is easier to navigate) and if anybody can point me in the right direction to learn how to do this.
4.More links on the facebook page about other sites and articles, other than scientific ones. Pretty much speaks for itself I think …
5.A frequent Q&A. I’ve uttered this suggestion on the facebook page, and the answer was a resounding yes. But I need to remind you that it’s hard to do if not enough people submit interesting questions. Of course this has a lot to do with the fact that we haven’t really been trying our hardest to get more people to subscribe to M.A.S.S. (also something you can help with) but it has to start somewhere. This could also, in the future, be combined with the Youtube channel.
But most of all we urgently need your feedback. We want to provide content you want to read. If you guys remember our goal and mission, it is eventually to turn M.A.S.S. into a community, a free source of information. We will continue to provide what our articles provide, and hopefully more and better stuff, you can count on that, but we want to keep you coming back, and keep you interested, keep you active in this community, with more stuff. So please share your thoughts on these points, here (comment section below – please note it can take a few hours for comments to get approved, but we read them all ) or on the facebook group (link via the facebook logo at the bottom of the site) and feel free to add other ideas.
On the Precision Nutrition facebook page, this week, they shared this. I’d never heard of the blog or the blogger, but he worded his sentiments in a way I could very much relate to. I’ve always had this weird relationship with many of the motivational blurbs and pictures that swarm todays social media, and could never quite put my finger on why it was that they offended me so much. And I’m guessing a lot of it has to do with what this guy is saying right there. This business, like most businesses of course, has always been about money. But the lack of regulation and the ease with which people can get into this business now has made it boom like no other. Our health and body image as a Western population has never been so dismal, and there for the promise of better has never been so appealing. And in that process two distinct camps have formed. Those who wish to make money off THEIR image, and those who wish to make money of YOUR image. And the former camp seems to have a vested interest in making this whole process seem a lot more difficult than it actually is, while the latter camp has a similar vested interest in the opposite perception, namely making it seem easier than it is, provided you invest your money in the right (meaning “their”) products. As a long-time trainer of successful bodybuilders I’ve always been distinctly aware of the complexity of this thing as being both more difficult and easier than it seems to most, and if you’ve read the previous section about my progress-updates you’ll know that this is an on-going process.
Now motivation can be a powerful thing. But as we’ve commented on a few times before, motivation and willpower are inherently finite things. Putting stock solely in motivation, and especially hardcore motivation like some of these pictures and blurbs are, can be a dangerous thing, especially to your mental health, since the inevitable outcome is that they will make you feel “not good enough”. They will lower your self-esteem and self-image, and a majority of people who get into this sport are already dealing with severe issues in those regards. Chances are if you’ve adhered to such one-liners and catch-phrases, you’re probably putting in a lot more intensity and hard work than a lot of the people you’ve looked up to. But your motivation WILL run out. And your willpower WILL run out. And at some point, no matter how many pictures and youtube videos you look at, you WILL crash into a wall. And when you do, and fall short of your goal (and we inevitably fall short of our goals because it’s inside each of us to always aspire to greater things) you will question your worth, your motives and everything else that brought you here in the first place.
Make no mistake, our inherent discontent with who we are is what makes us aspire to greatness, what keeps us hungry, what keeps us always wanting more. And we don’t need to lose that. But we do need a lot of context, because the root of that discontent is an actual problem that threatens your happiness and mental health. It’s ok to want to be better than you are. It’s what makes you great, it’s what eventually makes you better than others. But it’s not ok to be angry at yourself for not being better. If you are anything like most of us, you will never reach your goal. Because you always want more. So when will you be happy ? The logical answer is never. Not unless you learn to appreciate where you come from, enjoy what you have achieved, and set about making the sane choices to keep improving.
Motivation and willpower inspire to great things. In the short term. They can make you do superhuman feats. But they are superhuman for a reason : we aren’t built to sustain that level for long. And let that be the one thing that is required for prolonged and sustained change : time. And for some people, as it once did for me, that thought is a scary one. Because a lesser effort, for a longer time, without sufficient motivation, appears much harder than a larger effort for a limited time. It’s why crash diets are in vogue, even though they inevitably fail. People don’t mind going all out. For a bit. But a continued effort over time, even a lesser one ? That scares them. Because we are all made to be lazy. We are biologically programmed to conserve our energy for life-threatening situations. But we’ve also created a society that will slowly kill us for abiding by our biological rulebook.
The obstacle here is effort. Effort cannot be sustained. Unless you make it less of an effort and more of a habit. And that’s the key to success. It’s using your limited motivation and willpower to achieve those feats that will allow you to sustain smaller changes for a greater length of time WITHOUT extra effort. For instance, fasting for a whole day will teach you new things about what actual hunger is, and what’s just your body reacting to you deviating from your normal path. Once you can appreciate that, the whole idea of reducing calories and changing your macronutrient profile becomes infinitely less daunting and difficult. It’s also about taking matters out of your own hands. When I take my measured out lunch to work, I already know that I won’t be able to eat anything else until I leave work. By having the willpower to only take with me what I’m allowed to eat, I’ve effectively made sure that’s all I will eat for most of the day, because even if I lose my willpower, I have no choice in the matter anymore. By that time I’m looking forward to my pre-workout meal, and then I pack my stuff for training. I’ll be gone three hours, and when I get back I prepare dinner. I eat dinner at 9 and at that time I have effectively survived a day with 4 planned meals without exerting any extra effort. What little willpower I have I can then exert to make sure I don’t overeat before bed. The most willpower I exert ? The two hours I go shopping, to make sure I don’t put anything in my cart that could tempt me the rest of the week. I have 200g of dark chocolate to last the week. If I succumb and eat it all on Monday, then I’m out till Saturday. It happens. And I live with it. The first step to change is to recognize and accept that you are inherently flawed. Play to your strengths and neutralize your flaws. Going to the gym is no different. When you are dieting, you won’t feel like working out most of the time. But you come home, get ready and go. And when you are there, half the time you’ll complete your workout and be happy you did. And half the time you may drop a set, you may not be able to adhere to your pauzes, you may forget about your TUT and your rhythm, but you’ll still be happy. Routine is your friend. You went to the gym and did your thing. And doing it every day is more important than doing it all out for 3 weeks and then losing courage. We aren’t perfect, not every day will be an amazing success. Your only goal should be structuring your life so that at the end of a longer period you can look back and call it a success. The most successful person isn’t the one being the energizer bunny in a 5-minute youtube video set to awesome music, screaming at himself. The most successful person is the one that embraces the mundane : the importance of routine. Just Do It. Even if once in a while it is the half-assed effort of a man dragging his carcass. Just … Do … IT ! Success seems like a glorious thing, but the road there most certainly is not paved with theme songs, awe-inspiring feats, daily personal records and a victory lap. No, as much as the ads and movies scream at you for greater effort, in reality, getting there is much harder. It’s not pumping yourself up for a 30-minute superman act at the gym, it’s waking up determined to do every mundane thing you should do, and going to bed knowing you did all you can, even when you feel exhausted, depressed and not at all pleased with the results.
At the same time you need to appreciate that you are great. The way you are. Not because you look awesome. You may be a fat slouch right now, or a scrawny weakling. But you are working on changing that. And if you are doing what you have to do, the right way, the boring way, then you have a right to be proud of that, because that change WILL come. Count your blessings. At the very least you have the insight, common sense and ample work ethic to know you can, and will, be better. You probably have a lot more to be thankful for. Your life is not that bad, and it will get better. It is important that you realize that gaining 5 kg of muscle or losing 5% of body fat will NOT make you happier. The same way willpower is finite, your ability to be content with what is, is also finite. It’s like a kid craving that toy for so long, and then casting it aside after two weeks. These changes in and of themselves won’t make you happy, successful or awesome. If anything the explosion of the number of people in this industry should tell you that short of winning actual competitions, there are a LOT of great bodies out there. What will make you happy and give you the best chance of success is knowing that with every step of the way you’ve traveled, you’ve proven you have what it takes to go for what you want. Whether it’s by willpower or just sticking with it. And if you are lucky, genetically blessed and have everything go your way, you may end up having the most epic body in the history of man (depending on what level you are aiming for that may come with some tough choices though), but what you will always have is a body that is miles ahead of the body you had, and awesome in its own right. And the knowledge that YOU achieved it.
Don’t get caught up in the psychological head games this industry throws at you. It’s all about image. This is not just a sport where one has to question if the use of illicit substances played a role, but also one where you need to realize that photos are often retouched, were taken with great lighting and effects, and that the models probably prepared well for that one day of shooting. Set yourself up for improvement, every day, don’t set yourself up for the disappointment of trying to look like someone else, in a context that is not your own.
Yes, the road is long, and at times hard. But not in the way you think. Inevitably, looking back, it is ALWAYS easier than you thought it would be coming into this. It’s about the right decisions, about information and applying it, about using a little willpower, but at the right time, and about accepting routine. There is nothing difficult about watching a motivational video and cranking out an hour of high intensity exercise once. There is nothing difficult about eating chicken and broccoli for 6 weeks. The difficulty you face is greater. It’s about dragging your ass to the gym when nothing motivates you and completing those sets any which you can (WITHOUT hurting yourself, or getting angry at yourself, physical weakness is normal) and it’s about making those changes to your diet that make it more bearable, finding those choices you can sustain, not for 6 weeks, but indefinitely. That won’t happen from one day to the next or even in a few months, it will happen gradually by trying new things, learning to cook different things in different ways.
Be content with what you have achieved without losing sight of the goal to be better. Be inspired by what you have achieved and let it motivate you to realize what you can still achieve. You will fall and fail along the way. More than once. But you already know you can do better. You’ve done better. You just owe it to yourself to stick with it. Aspiring to greater should never mean loathing what you are. On the contrary. You are great … as long as you aspire greater. No one has anything on you.
Well that’s all we have for today, but I’m really hoping I can move you all to share your 5 cents on my suggestions for the site (and add your own) on the facebook group, the comments below or via email, and hopefully we’ll see a lot more content a lot sooner.