Dinner With Friends

Excellent dinner last night. Got to meet the new woman in my friend’s life.

Food…I love food. Food means company and talk and wonderful smells and sounds. My happy childhood memories all seem to center around Sunday dinners at my grandparents. Which really meant hanging out in the kitchen with my aunts, listening to them cook, chatter and laugh, while the menfolk gathered in the basement to roar at sports. It was fun to head down there to the land of the old-school home bar and pool table, and play with the seltzer bottles. But the kitchen was always the best part.

The best part of being an adult is the freedom to recreate such moments at a whim. When I want to feel that happy buzz and roar again, all I need to do is turn on the oven, open a bottle of wine, and try to tease some company over for a few hours.

As a nutrition coach, it’s also a chance to make sure my nutritionally deprived friends eat enough veggies. Eating veggies is something no one does enough of. Veggies are hard to find, expensive…and we have no idea what to do with them. Don’t you just love that feeling of incompetent horror you get when you head into the vegetable section of the supermarket?

Honestly what the hell is half…no, three quarters of that stuff? Are you really supposed to eat it, or is it actually intended to sit on the counter until it decoratively molds? And why is that thing in the fridge called a crisper when it should be called the “black liquider?” Yech.

Anyway, moving on. My friend asked me to bring a salad last night, and I was happy to oblige. My fiancĂ©e had ordered a large variety of heritage and exotic seeds for our garden over the winter. She’d carefully nurtured those seeds into seedlings via totalitarian occupation of bookshelves, and then herded the wee little green beasties outside into the dirt to play and grow big…so we could eat them. Last night it was the turn of the varied lettii (What? “Lettuces?” Sounds less science-y. I’m sticking with lettii. Neeners.) to fill our bellies.

On top of that we added mint, rosemary, and thyme from the garden. Would have added strawberries but the ripe ones got raided by a ravaging horde of biclops. Next layer was crunched up cashews, black sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. And then some dried blueberries, and a big whomp of crumbled goat cheese. Topped off with olive oil and balsamic. It was good. Could have used a little more citrus to balance things out…we should have sliced up some strawberries and dumped them in. Next time.

A salad is a nice gateway to eating veggies. When I work graveyard shifts, I toss the leftover meat from dinner, chopped up, in with the salad for a tasty and healthy lunch. When you make a salad for yourself, I recommend starting out with something simple and easy. Buy a plastic bin of pre-chopped greens. The darker the greens the better. Avoid buying anything pale or light green. Forget salad dressing. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar…or olive oil and flaked salt if you don’t like balsamic. Next add some protein to the greens. Nuts are great and add more quality fats. They also get you used to eating things with a little more variety. You have to train your tastebuds slowly and easily.

Greens, nuts, oil and balsamic…now treat yourself and add in a little something sweet. Just a smidge. Raisins are great, or other dried berries. A little sugar kick, some good proteins, green nutrients, healthy fats. That’s a good meal. You can use this base to experiment with new veggies and flavours. Dice up orange peppers and add them in. Blend in some walnut oil. Avocado oil? Why not. Peanuts? Almonds? Tiny BBQ’d meatballs with maple syrup glaze? Hell yes! Diced up habanero peppers? Balance them with some more aggressive greens like julienned green peppers and maybe a hint of smoked paprika…toss some grilled chicken in.

Our dinner last night was hefty good garlic bread, two kinds of pasta with a killer home made pesto, strawberries and baked goods for dessert, accompanied with a huge Argentinian wine, and a delightfully floral French pinot noir. Chased it all down with some exotic and exquisite New Zealand liqueurs. Eating well is such a chore…

Leg pain from cycling…figured it out!

My weekend was shot due to muscle pain and serious joint swelling after five days of cycling. It was unusual for me because the overall workload and intensity was low…compared to what I usually call a workout. So a little research shows that IL-6 production (interluekin-6) increases with the intensity and number of muscles involved in exercise. Sprinting gives you a huge boost of IL-6, jogging only a little bit.

Since cycling involves only the legs, that’s less muscle. It has been observed that in low intensity exercise like jogging, IL-6 production doesn’t even start until later in the workout. And jogging involves more muscles than cycling, so produces more IL-6.

So I’m thinking that my cycling sessions, at an average of 35 minutes each, are probably ending right about the time my body is starting to ramp up IL-6 production. Bummer.

Since IL-6 serves to decrease inflammation (It also increases fat burning, and helps you not have type-2 diabetes and heart attacks,) my workout is not having the anti-inflammatory effect I usually depend on my workouts to provide. Therefor I’m suffering from swollen joints and much muscle pain.

So what can I do about it? I had already increased the anti-inflammatory foods in my diet in preparation, but I could probably add some more. More spices and curry would help some. I can also use mechanical aids like ice and massage. Or I can increase my IL-6 production by going for a longer ride. A half-hour ride is too short, if I push it to one hour, I might get more IL-6 production. I can also try ramping up the intensity, adding sprint sessions to my ride. Finally, I can add more intense other muscle exercise to my ride…jump of the bike at the end of a ride and do some gymnastics or sprinting on foot.

It seems counter-intuitive to increase exercise to decrease pain from exercise, but humans are meant to move. We aren’t meant to “exercise” at all. We are meant to chase a deer down all day…or sit on our lazy asses for hours, and then suddenly take off like a rocket after a rabbit, hoisting a rock to render it into dinner. We carry heavy things for amazing distances, climb things we shouldn’t…we move. Moving makes us healthy, and IL-6 is only one of the many ways that happens.

The Ideal Martial Art

Cartwheel in the park

This morning I’m going through my collected notes on martial arts training. My earliest notes start around 1990, when I started to really teach. Over the years I’ve experimented a lot, tried a lot of things, learned a lot of things.

It all started to click about two years ago, when I had the opportunity to work with a group of new students with no prior martial arts training. I started some new things, and it all fell into place. Sadly, I didn’t have the chance to really build on the that work with the students. Towards the end of that time, I wrote down a grand plan for an ideal way of training students. I’ve briefly shown an outline of that plan to two people, but I haven’t shared the complete method with anyone. Part of the method based on some comparatively new approaches to mental and physical training, part comes from my answers to things about the usual approach that bug me.

One thing that bothers me is progression in martial arts training. I really dislike knowledge-based progression. This is the idea that you learn a set of skills, pass a test on those, and then learn a new set, and repeat. It seems like a common sense idea, and it is. What I don’t like is that it doesn’t make sense in practice. When I studied tradition Japanese arts, the things you learned at an advanced level were not significantly different than what you learned at the beginner level. Indeed, I was taught that some of the advanced kata were formerly taught as beginner kata.

In developing the curriculum at previous schools, progression was a mixed thing. I had statistical data collected over years that demonstrated common plateau’s that students reached, and I devised some strategies at each level of training to guide students through those plateaus. But when it came time to adding breadth the material, such as adding new weapons or the study of historical manuals, the decisions about when to add those materials were either arbitrary or the result of spurious logic.

None of this sat very well with me, but I only had some ideas of how to make things better. I knew how to progress and cycle physical development for peak performance, and I knew how to build people up to learn complex tasks from simple tasks, but… Martial arts is a bit different from other things. Complex physical tasks that would challenge the most developed dancer combined with supreme tactical reasoning and absolute decisiveness. I found rote memorization and principle-based learning failed, no matter how much thought I put into program design.

I found my answer in a challenge-based progression. I defined a series of tasks that a student needs to solve, and the solution to each task requires a level of development be achieved beforehand. The tasks are physically impossible to solve without the physical development achieved at the previous level. The first level, introduction, classes are all workout based. Students learn nothing other than the exercises they will need to pass the first level physical test. Advancing levels include more and more challenging physical activities, and also include tests of increasing tactical prowess. The art I designed is entirely built of exams, with only suggested class content. I created a series of hoops for a student to jump through, and jumping through the hoops will give them each a solid, definable ability at the end of the sequence. How a student gets through those hoops is up to the student. Anything is acceptable, since the hoops are narrowly defined. The art is entirely results-based. If you don’t get the result, the training is wrong for the student and must be adjusted.

A little bit about calories.


Insulin. Pretty, isn't it?

What, exactly, is a calorie?

You eat a chocolate bar, it has 325Kcal. You bike for half and hour, you burn 325kcal. Great!

So if we chop up a chocolate bar in smaller and smaller pieces, at some point will we find tiny little pellets of calorie? No. Well, yes. Sort of. What we will find, eventually, are little crystals. Molecules of sugar. Calories are sugar. A whole lot of sugar crammed together is fat. Or protein.

Obviously, I’m greatly simplifying the process. Let’s look at what actually happens when you “burn” a calorie, and what happens to the “calories” you eat.

Our muscles are loaded with a thing called ATP. Adenosine Triphosphate. If you follow the common advice and don’t eat anything you can’t pronounce, you could avoid eating this. You won’t live very long though. ATP is the molecule in our muscles that allows them to move. Nothing else is used, just ATP. Every muscle in the body has a store of ATP. It’s only enough for a few seconds of activity. It’s just enough to kick-start the muscle and start a sustaining reaction that steadily produces more ATP. The fuel for this reaction is Glycogen. Each muscle has a nice store of glycogen…enough for a moment or two of activity, or just enough to kick-start a sustaining reaction utilizing lactic acid. Once we have enough lactic acid in the muscle, the muscle can start using it to produce ATP.

You can actually feel your body switching from mechanism to mechanism by running as fast as you can. The first second or two feels effortless (ATP stores), and then you start to pant and your heart races…it feels hard and you slow down ever so slightly (glycogen storage.) You can keep that up for bit, but then you start to feel that burn, and you have to slow down and breath a lot harder (lactic cycle!) but as long as you slow down enough, you can keep going for a long time.

A muscle at rest has ATP and glycogen stored in it. Lactic acid is generated as a byproduct of burning glycogen. We use up the ATP right away, and use up glycogen to replace the ATP, and lactic acid comes from glycogen…hey, where do we get glycogen from???

Insulin! You hear a lot about “blood sugar” and we tend to think of it as some sort of bad thing. What it actually is, is the available pool of glycogen for the use of all the muscles. Once glycogen is in a muscle, it doesn’t go back out. Our strategic reserve of glycogen lies in the blood, in the form of glucose…sugar. Insulin stuffs it into the muscles that need it, in the form of glycogen. Some of the free sugar in the bloodstream comes from immediate digestion, but most of it is released from the liver, where it is stored as Glycogen.

When you burn a calorie exercising, you are using up ATP. (Science fact! if you weigh 200lbs, you probably “burn” 200lbs of ATP in a day. The body is so insanely good at recycling that the unusable waste of that consumption only amounts to a few thousand calories. Neat huh?) That ATP has to be replaced, which is done from sugar…glycogen. The glycogen in the muscle is replaced from the blood pool, which is replaced from the storage in the liver, which takes its share directly from digestion…the chocolate bar you swallowed a while ago.

You swallow that chocolate bar, and the digestive system immediately tries to break the entire thing down into glucose (it’s actually a little more complex than this, but go ask a science person for more details. You’ll make them happy and learn a lot.) A chocolate bar is almost all glucose, so the digestive system doesn’t have much to do but transportation. Fat and protein digestion and synthesis I’m not gonna talk about today, but it’s very nifty. The glucose temporarily enters the bloodstream, but only via a single vein that leads directly to the liver. The liver then decided how much sugar has been used up out of the blood pool, and shoots out new replacement sugar. Excess is stored within the liver. If the liver is full, it converts the sugar into muscle…ha ha! Just kidding, it converts it into fat, which gets shoved out in the blood to be eventually collected in your love handles.

If you exercise a lot, and don’t eat enough, the liver will get the fat back from the love handles and turn it back into liver glycogen, and restock the blood pool. That process can take time, so if there is more immediate need for sugar, the body will claim it from another source: muscle protein. Protein can be broken down into sugar, just like fat. Which is why when you look at the calorie count on a chocolate bar, it lists calories for the fat and protein as well as the sugar content of the chocolate bar.

So calories equals sugar. Got it? Any questions?