Category Archives: Core Principles

Balancing Good Health with Ironman Performance Goals

Health before fitness will always be my philosophy. I am under no illusion that doing events like an Ironman, much less racing an Ironman, are necessarily healthy. Long steady state endurance efforts at >75% max heart rate are stressful and, if done chronically without proper recovery, can be downright unhealthy. Even still…I don’t think I will ever be able to shake the dream of qualifying for Kona. This dichotomy between health and Ironman performance goals has been on my mind a lot lately. So I posed a question to the coaches on my favorite podcast, Endurance Planet, about just that.

My question: Long duration tempo efforts are going to be necessary to build the strength needed to maintain mechanics/performance in late stages of a race. Therefore, is it even possible to have both aggressive health goals AND long course triathlon performance goals? Would health need to become secondary to fitness at some point during a training cycle?

Their short answer: Health should always come first and fitness is second. An athlete needs to be in good enough health so that they CAN allow themselves to go into a TEMPORARY health deficit to improve fitness.

I definitely recommend listening to the full discussion (and episode!) on podcast ATC 212.

There were two things that really stuck with me from the podcast discussion:

  1. The stress of training to race an Ironman by itself is an unhealthy endeavor. Adding in family, any type of poor diet, a full-time job, etc. makes an Ironman performance goal even more unhealthy.
  2. A Kona qualification can be achieved at any age. Be patient, get everything in place (e.g., health, family, and job), and pick the most opportune moments to really focus on building fitness. During these blocks it is OK to let health deteriorate a bit.

Based on the podcast discussion, I’ve been rethinking my current training and health strategy and I’ve developed the following framework for myself.

Endurance Training Pyramid

Essentially, the base of the pyramid is the core foundational principles of good health. The next layer focuses on building the groundwork of an endurance athlete. The upper two layers focuses on building fitness. The pyramid shading represents the “healthiness” of each layer.

I still have a ton of room for growth in many of the areas in the first and second layers so I’m not ready to progress to the point of building fitness at the expense of health. Therefore, I need to dial back my performance expectations and be patient with my training. Patience is going to be my secret weapon.

Bouncing Back from Disaster Weeks

It happens to all of us…we get in a good routine and are super motivated for a handful of weeks…and then we have a disaster week. Life gets stressful and workouts are infrequent (or not at all), healthy eating takes a back seat to convenience, we get less sleep (or lower quality sleep), and it all starts to spiral into a negative feedback loop.

That happened to me the other week. Work got crazy, home renovation issues galore, workers were at our house from 7am to 7pm nearly every day, we were living out of boxes, we couldn’t leave our dogs at home without one of us sitting in a room with the door shut… There was no respite from the chaos. Stress at work and stress at home with no place to retreat became a bad combo. My wife and I had short fuses, stress eating empty carbs happened more than a few times (often accompanied by a beer…or two), I stayed up too late trying to get caught up, key workout sessions were missed. Not exactly living the “Tri Balanced Life” that I’m after.

When a disaster week strikes, I do my best to just focus on the basics, which are my core foundational principles (Sleep, Diet, Low-Level Activity, Productivity, and Relationships). Everything extracurricular gets put on hold…including training sessions. Disaster weeks are stressful and the body doesn’t differentiate between work stress and workout stress. Skipping a workout could actually be for the greater good if the body is already run down from life stress. Therefore, I’ll listen to my body and take an extra rest day if I need it. Sometimes the best workout session is extra sleep after all.

Even when I focus on just my core foundational principles during disaster weeks, some days I might only muster enough self-discipline for one healthy meal and I strike-out on everything else. The important thing is to NOT stress about the perceived slip-ups and imperfections. In fact…imperfections might actually be exactly what I need sometimes. Sitting all afternoon might make me a little more productive than standing. Sharing a gluten-filled pizza and a local craft beer on a date night with my wife could be the perfect way to hit the chaos pause button and relax. I try to be intuitive (within reason). On the most terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days I’ll just go to bed early and get after it the next day.

Eventually…the disaster week passes and normalcy resumes. By staying focused on my core foundational principles I can pick up right where I left off without too much regression in my health and fitness level.

The Overlooked Secret to Health and Longevity

Probably the most important and most overlooked aspect of health and endurance training is the impact of relationships. It is so easy to get caught up focusing on optimizing our diet and planning the perfect workout schedule that we don’t consider how our relationships factor into the overall health equation.

This TED Talk summarizes the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development that tracked the lives of 724 men for 75 years. The takeaway from the study was “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

To summarize: The presentation had three main takeaways:

  1. Social connections are really good for us and loneliness is toxic: It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family and friends are happier and live longer than people who are less well-connected. People who feel isolated are less happy and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.
  2. Quality over quantity: The benefits of relationships wasn’t about number of friends the study participants had or if they were in a committed relationship, but the quality of those relationships. Essentially, those that were the healthiest at age 80 were also the ones that had the strongest relationships at age 50.
  3. Relationships protect our body and our brains: The people in strong relationships experienced less physical pain and stayed mentally sharp longer as they aged.

And that makes so much sense! If your home life is stressful it is going to elevate cortisol and impact sleep which can cascade into a whole host of other unhealthy repercussions. The thing is, “improving your relationships” is hard so it easier to turn to things like kale and exercise to improve health. Relationships are complex and not always logical but they are also the most fulfilling things we have in our life. And let’s be honest…when our relationships are good life is GREAT and when they aren’t it can SUCK.

My wife and I have really gotten into watching the HGTV show Fixer Upper with Joanna and Chip Gaines. Normally I consider home improvement shows to be beyond boring but this one is different. The dynamic between the husband and wife team is hilarious and inspiring. This is a couple that has four kids, a farm, a TV show, a retail business, a real estate company, they remodel houses, and an upcoming book. I’m just so captivated by how they can work through all of that together and have so much fun doing it when a schedule like that would probably bury most families. They handle it so well because of how strong their relationship is.

I did a consult with Tawnee Prazaak, star endurance coach and host of the Endurance Planet podcast, a few months ago to talk about getting back into long course triathlon and how I should get started (more on that in a future post). One of things she asked that really stuck with me was whether your wife was supportive of your race endeavors. And the fact that I paused and I couldn’t answer with a resounding yes made me think I was starting to get too far ahead of myself.

When my wife and I first started dating I was in the midst of training for an Ironman. During that time I was putting in 20ish hours of training a week so that is what she associates with Ironman training volume. Back then I was in my last semester of college (pretty much a part-time student) and just had a part-time job so I could fit in that type of volume. Now…we have a house, two dogs, and pretty demanding jobs so the idea of me layering in 15-20 hours of training volume on top of our current schedule probably comes off as pretty selfish. And one way to NOT recover well from a long workout is to come home to an annoyed spouse.

Relationships should always come before any training plan. As I start to focus on increasing my training volume it will always be scheduled around family time. For one, I don’t need, or desire, to do as much training volume as I did during my first Ironman.  Lastly, training will always come at the expense of my own endeavors vs. time with my family.

Where I’m going with all of this is that if we want to do epic stuff and live a long and happy life, it would appear that the best thing we can do is spend more time leaning into our relationships and a little less time finding the perfect locally sourced organic kale and squeezing in another workout.

San Diego’s Newest Residents!

The reason the blog posts have been lacking as of late is because we moved to San Diego! The last three months have been an emotional whirlwind of saying good-bye to our family and friends and the place we’ve lived the last 14 years. It was hard to leave Minneapolis but it is exciting to have a fresh start in a new city. Change is good.

As a result, my training and overall wellness plan has fallen by the wayside the last three months. Before leaving Minneapolis, my wife and I hit up our favorite restaurants and hung out with our friends and family as much as possible. That, combined with trying to wrap things up at work, packing, selling our house and planning a move across the country made our final weeks in Minneapolis fly by faster than we would have liked.

Upon landing in San Diego on July 1st, it has been hard to establish a normal routine. We are planning to temporarily live in a downtown apartment until we figure out where we want to buy a house. We arrived about a week and half before our stuff so all we had during that time is what we could fit into three large suitcases and two carry-ons. The first few days were mainly spent shopping for some bare necessities, camping chairs, and a new TV.

My wife started work pretty quickly upon getting to San Diego and I had about two weeks before I started work. Our first week and a half was mostly spent getting our bearings (nearest grocery store, hardware store, etc.), buying and building furniture, getting California drivers licenses, registering our cars, establishing wi-fi etc. We still made sure to have some fun by checking out some restaurants and hanging out with friends that also recently moved from Minneapolis.

Once our stuff arrived, it basically was a full-time job for a week to unpack and organize. Even though I was unemployed, I’m not someone who can focus on extracurricular activities when my living space is in complete disarray (i.e., boxes stacked to the ceiling, needing to step over things to get from one room to the other, and not knowing where anything is). Our apartment is about half the size as our house in Minneapolis with significantly less storage space. As a result, we needed to get two storage units. Figuring out what we keep in the apartment, store, or donate took some time to figure out.

Despite all the moving chaos, I tried to stick to my core foundational principles as much as possible. I definitely had my fair share of cheat meals and cheat days (ok….a cheat week or two as well) but I took each day as a new opportunity to refocus. Since I was unemployed for three weeks, it was a luxury to sleep without an alarm clock and wake up naturally. I got plenty of low-level activity unpacking all day, walking to do errands and taking the dogs for a walk. One of the biggest initial challenges was trying to maintain a paleo/ancestral type diet in a new city when I didn’t know where to get good quality meat and things like Kerrygold butter, pasture eggs and full fat yogurt without needing to go to five different grocery stores on a regular basis. I’ve started to leverage Thrive Market for pantry staples. As it relates to meat, I still haven’t found anything like I had with my True Cost Farm meat CSA in Minneapolis. I’m probably going to start ordering from US Wellness Meats.

One thing that dawned on me is that I’m going to need figure out a pool and bike and run routes. Even though that is an exciting proposition, it makes the idea of doing either one a bit more daunting and harder to just go for a swim, bike, or run when I had a window of time and the motivation. I’m looking into joining the San Diego triathlon club and finding bike/run groups. Not only will that help me learn some good routes but it will also help me meet some like-minded people since we don’t really know many people in the area right now.

Once I started work….everything changed. I started in the midst of a really exciting project and was working non-stop 12-14 hours days right out of the gate. The mixture of stress and lack of sleep led to eating lots of junk food and drinking a LOT of coffee. Not only that, but I don’t have a standing desk yet so I spent all that time sitting. I was doing everything I could to get low-level activity (parking in the back of the parking lot, going to the furthest bathroom, etc.) but I don’t think I was getting more than 20 minutes of low-level activity each day and I wasn’t doing any mobility work. As a result, my body just felt wrecked. On a positive note though…I absolutely love my new job!

Work has finally calmed a bit and this weekend is the first one with any normalcy. Now I can start undoing all the damage from the last month. I need to get back to prioritizing sleep, eating a paleo/ancestral diet, integrating low-level activity into my day, establishing a mobility program and spending time with my wife.

After nearly two months in San Diego, we are finally starting to feel settled into our apartment and new jobs. I can’t wait to start taking advantage of the luxury of great weather all year round and exploring all that this city has to offer. This is going to be a great place to live, work, train and make the concept of a Tri Balance Life a reality!

Low-Level Activity Is the Base of My Ironman Training Plan

As I mentioned in my Core Foundational Principles post, Low-Level Activity (LLA) is different from exercise. Exercise is done with the intent of reaping a specific fitness benefit whereas LLA is staying as active as possible throughout the day. The importance of LLA in a minimalist Ironman training program should not be underestimated. In fact, LLA is going to be the base of my entire training plan. This is in contrast to spending most of my day sitting and then grinding out long slow workouts to build a base level of fitness.

There is a great video called The Truth About Exercise at DailyMotion.com that explains this principle very well (the whole video is worth watching but the specific portion about LLA is from 31 minutes to 42 minutes). To summarize, Dr. James Levine, a Mayo Clinic obesity expert, talks about non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) which is the energy that we expend for everything except sleeping, eating, or sports-like exercise. NEAT includes things like walking to work, typing, yard work, and fidgeting. In the video, Dr. Levine compares the calories burned from NEAT between a waitress who does no planned exercise and a writer who spends most of his time at a desk but goes to the gym most days to exercise. Essentially, the waitress who moves around all day burns significantly more daily calories through NEAT than the sedentary writer that also exercises.

An Ironman involves being up, on your feet, and active for 10+ hours. Therefore, I try to be on my feet and active as much as possible throughout the day so my body gets used to handling continuous activity for long periods. This will help establish my fitness base and then my workouts can be focused on specific performance enhancements instead of using workout time to establish a base. As a result, my workouts will provide a better performance benefit over time in contrast to my previous routine of sitting all day and then doing long workouts. In my opinion, it is the dynamic of sitting and exercise that makes people believe that an Ironman requires such a significant amount of training time. If I’m getting 7+ hours of LLA a week as part of my normal daily routines, I can get by with less workout time.

Based on this philosophy, I try to find opportunities to incorporate LLA in my routines with minimal incremental time added to my day. Some of the things I have started doing to get more LLA are below:

  • Avoid elevators/escalators and use the stairs unless completely impractical
  • Bike to work
  • Park in the back of parking lots
  • Walk/bike to nearby destinations instead of driving
  • Walk my dogs instead of playing with them while sitting
  • Do yard work
  • Have walking meetings and walk while I’m on conference calls
  • Make phone calls while walking
  • Read emails/articles while walking (yeah….I’m that annoying guy walking around looking at my phone)

By doing the above items, I have been able to add activity to the things I already do everyday so I have been getting a ton more LLA with a minimal time investment. I have been getting 7+ hours of LLA each week without any trouble now.

Additionally, I have been avoiding sitting as much as possible. I have been using a standing desk at work and when I’m at home I try to stay on my feet by cooking and doing house chores. I don’t count this towards my weekly LLA goals but I know every minute I’m active and not sitting helps.

Mobility…Another Core Foundational Principle

I realized this week that I need to add another Core Foundational Principle to what I came up with for myself back in January. This new foundational principle is Mobility.

As an office worker and an endurance athlete, I subject my body to a very limited range of movements in a typical day. I’m usually either standing at a desk, sitting in a chair, walking, swimming, biking, or running. Our bodies are capable of an infinite variety of movements but I routinely don’t need to use more than a few handful of different movements to complete any of my typical daily tasks.

In Katy Bowman’s book Move Your DNA, she introduced me to the concept of movement nutrition. Essentially, we should think of movement in a similar fashion to nutrition in that we need a wide variety daily movements just like we need a variety of fats, proteins, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. As a result of reading her book (see my book recap here), I’ve started to consciously integrate different movements into my day that may not otherwise be necessary. However, those extra movements are more important than I originally realized.

I don’t believe there are any definitive studies proving that stretching improves athletic performance, which makes sense in the short-term. However, over the long-term, that doesn’t logically make sense to me. Our bodies conform and adapt to how we use them and don’t use them. When we use limited ranges of movement, our bodies respond by making adaptations. Basically, whatever you don’t use…you lose. The body isn’t going to expend energy to maintain joints, muscles, tendons, etc. that aren’t being used. Instead, the body is going to adapt its optimal state to how it is most frequently used.  A perfect example of this is sitting and hunching over a keyboard. If this is the most frequent position the body is exposed to, our body is going to make adaptations such that this becomes the optimal position for our muscles and joints. These adaptations can get to a point where we start using non-optimal joints/muscles to compensate for movements we infrequently perform. Since we can still perform the movement, we may not even realize we have a mobility problem even though that movement should be optimally performed by our bodies differently.

If our body continues to use non-optimal mechanics to perform movements, over time, injuries could occur from overuse or from trying to complete movements the body is no longer capable of doing correctly. As an endurance athlete with a goal of qualifying for the Hawaii Ironman, I’m going to be subjecting my body to very repetitive movements of swimming, biking, and running. If my body has made adaptations such that I am not performing those activities with the correct mechanics, I’m likely going to suffer overuse injuries in the future. Therefore, I want to ensure my body can move as it was designed before I embark on a serious training plan.

There are a couple of tests that I did to assess my mobility. Someone with good all-around mobility should be able to do all of the following:

  1. Bend over and touch your toes with your knees locked
  2. Lie on your back and pull one leg up to your chest without the opposite leg lifting off the floor
  3. Get into a deep squat position with both heels flat on the floor and your calves and hamstrings in contact with one another
  4. Lie flat on your back with your legs straight and lower back in contact with the floor and reach your arms overhead and lay both wrists on the floor without bending your elbows
  5. From a standing position, pick up one leg and place the outside of your ankle on an object that is just below waist height. Now rotate your hip to touch your knee to the object so your shin is perpendicular to your body
  6. Stand and lift one arm so your elbow is at the same height as your shoulder and you are making a 90 degree angle with your elbow (like you are telling someone to stop). Rotate your shoulder 180 degrees so your palm is facing behind you.
  7. Reach both arms behind your back (one from above and one from below) and touch the tips of your middle fingers together
  8. Squat down so your hamstrings are parallel with the floor and maintain a flat back with your arms straight overhead and arms by your ears

I wasn’t able to perform any of the movements above and I don’t intend to start a rigorous training plan until my mobility improves.

As a result, I signed up for a two-week mobility program called “Get Stretchy” through the Vimify app. The program was designed by Jacquelyn Umof and you can find more details about the program and Jacquelyn at ActionJacquelyn.com. The program consists of daily 10-15 minute morning stretches, 10-15 minute evening stretches, and posts with tips and tricks. There is also a social networking element to the program and Jacquelyn personally responds to questions, provides coaching advice, and offers words of encouragement. Some of the stretches/movements are beyond my ability but Jacquelyn offers alternatives and reminds us that the goal of each move is progression vs. perfection. I’ve followed the program religiously for 6 days and I have already noticed the benefits. For example, during my last swim workout my stroke felt longer and more efficient and I didn’t experience any clicking in my shoulder. My 100yd swim time even improved as well.

After the two-week program is complete, I’m planning to maintain the 10-15 minute morning and evening mobility sessions. In addition to the mobility improvements, I’ve noticed that the morning stretch helps energize my body and the evening stretch helps me relax so I fall asleep faster. I’m also going to look into taking a weekly yoga session with my wife and getting some good yoga videos & books.

I have no illusions that I will ever become bendy but I at least want to be able to perform the eight movements above.

Why Sleep is One of My Top Priorities

For a long time I tried to get by on the least amount of sleep as possible. No matter how much I read or heard about the importance of 8 hours of sleep, I always thought that was a pipe dream for someone balancing career, family, and life. I’d supplement with multiple cups of coffee during the week and sleep in as late as possible on the weekend. I always rationalized my sleep habits by finding the Lava Magazine and Wall Street Journal interviews of business exec triathletes with families that had ridiculous schedules that appeared to consistently get little to no sleep. It wasn’t until I started journaling and paying attention to the correlation between how much sleep I was getting and how I felt throughout the week that I realized how crucial sleep is for me.

When I was consistently getting less than 7 hours of sleep I noticed that my self-discipline was impaired and I would fall back into habits and routines I was trying to change, I craved simple carbs and greasy foods, and my mental capacity was inhibited. My attempt to squeeze every minute out of every day by sacrificing sleep was actually doing the opposite and preventing me from living every day like I intended.

On the other hand, when I was consistently getting 7.5+ hours of sleep I was making better choices about my diet and daily habits. My brain felt unleashed and my ability to find creative solutions to problems (and how quickly I came up with those solutions) improved dramatically. I also noticed that I could handle more training volume and my recovery from workouts was faster.

The main reasons (and things I’ve personally experienced) that sleep is now a top priority in my daily schedule vs. something I view as discretionary are:

  1. Sleep spurs the release of human growth hormone which is an essential player in cell regeneration and recovery
  2. A full night of sleep enhances memory performance and creative problem solving skills
  3. Adequate sleep makes you a better person to be around by helping you see the positive in your interactions
  4. A full night of sleep boosts athletic performance, immunity, and resiliency to daily stress
  5. Ghrelin is the “hunger hormone” that tells you when to eat and Leptin is the “satiety hormone” that tells you when you are full. A lack of sleep increases Ghrelin and decreases Leptin so, essentially, a lack of sleeps makes you hungrier and less likely to stop eating.

It is one thing to prioritize sleep time but it is a whole other thing to actually get quality sleep. As any busy person knows, it can be hard to wind down your mind and body to actually fall asleep when you intend to. There are a couple of strategies that have worked for me.

When possible, avoid screen time about an hour before bed: TV, computer, and iPhone & iPad screens emit blue light that interrupts the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Exposure to blue light in the evening keeps me alert and awake even though I know I shouldn’t be.

Read an actual book: To avoid screen time before bed, I have started reading an actual physical paper book. However, I make sure the book isn’t going to make me think of things I want to do (e.g., non-fiction or business books) since my intent is to wind down my mind. Therefore, I started re-reading Lord of the Rings before bed.

Download f.lux or wear blue blocking glasses for screen time within an hour of bed: On the many occasions that I don’t get away from screens in the evening, I use f.lux on my computer or wear blue blocking glasses when I’m on my iPhone, iPad, or watching TV. This helps limit my exposure to blue light.

Dim the lights when it gets dark: To help maintain my body’s natural circadian rhythm that occurs with the rising and setting of the sun, I avoid using overhead lights in the evening and use lamps instead.

Drink some calming tea or bone broth before bed: I’ll frequently make some calming tea or bone broth in the evenings. I’m not sure how much of the effects are placebo vs. the actual properties of the tea/bone broth but it does seem to help me wind down. I like Yogi Honey Lavender or Yogi Kava tea.

Prepare for tomorrow: One of my evening rituals is to pack lunch my lunch, get my clothes together, clean up the kitchen, pick up the house a bit, and scan my work calendar and task list. Feeling organized and prepared puts my mind at ease.

Try to keep your bedroom cool: I sleep so much better in a cool room so we’ll program our thermostat to be a few degrees cooler at night than the rest of the day.

Use a sleep mask and ear plugsMy wife loves watching TV in our bedroom and it supposedly helps her fall asleep at night. Instead of fighting against having the TV on in the bedroom at night (I would never win that battle anyway), I have started wearing a sleep mask and ear plugs. Even if I hear the TV in the background, I have a tendency to start paying attention to the show instead of going to sleep.

When you wake up, get up: This was hard for me at first until I learned that the little pockets of sleep that the snooze button provides doesn’t help pay back your sleep debt. Instead, it can actually make you feel even more tired and groggy when you do get out of bed. I started being honest with myself when I set my alarm about what time I was actually going to get up. I tended to be one of those people who ambitiously set an early alarm only to feel exhausted when my alarm went off so, to the annoyance of my wife, I would hit snooze a few times. Ideally I can get to a point where I can wake up without an alarm but I’m not quite there yet…

Expose yourself to light as soon as you get up: One of the first things I do when my alarm goes off is look at my phone to get a jolt of blue light. Additionally, I’ll turn on as much light as possible (careful not to disturb my usually still sleeping wife) in the house if it is still dark or step outside to get some sunlight. This is usually enough to immediately jolt me awake.

Avoid coffee after late morning: As much as I thought a cup of coffee in the afternoon didn’t affect my sleep, it did. The half-life of caffeine in the body is 4-5 hours so my usual 1-2pm afternoon coffee was still in my system in the evenings. Now I try not to drink caffeinated coffee after 10am. On the occasions that I’m craving coffee in the afternoon I’ll just have a small cup of decaf.

Understand and control the impact of cortisol: Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” but it also has an important relationship with sleep. Cortisol elevation is what causes us to naturally wake up in the mornings. Low cortisol levels in the morning is what contributes to that overwhelming desire to hit the snooze button and stay in bed. Cortisol levels should be low in the evening so our bodies can fall asleep. Exercise and blood sugar spikes can raise cortisol levels. Therefore, it is best to avoid big meals and high-intensity workouts before bed. Correspondingly, exercising in the morning is a good way to raise cortisol levels.

It probably took me a good 1-2 months of trial and error to really dial in what worked for me. I’ve found that a full night of sleep for me is about 7.5 hours for a typical day and 8 – 8.5 hours to recover from a higher stress day. Sleep has become the core principle that I’ll always maintain as my core foundation. There isn’t much that a good night’s sleep won’t solve for me and sleep is what I will always go back to if I feel like I need to hit the reset button.

Diet Quality Scoring

I hate counting calories! I have given calorie counting a valiant effort a couple of times in an effort to improve my diet but I always quit because of a few key reasons:

  • It is a nuisance when you eat out. I would consider my wife and I “foodies” because we love to try new restaurants and foods. However, trying to figure out how many calories are in complex dishes is a major hassle and ruins the whole dining experience.
  • It brought out my obsessive compulsive tendencies. I found myself not eating foods (even if I was hungry) if it wasn’t going to be easy to figure out how many calories I was going to consume.
  • It was too time consuming to enter and analyze my daily calorie intake. The value I was getting wasn’t worth the time investment.
  • All calorie counts are just estimates and can vary wildly from what you actually consume.
  • It misses the importance of diet variability and making good choices. Outside of telling me my macro-nutrient (protein, fat, and carbs) intake, calorie counting doesn’t discern the difference between carbs from Cinnamon Toast Crunch and a bowl full of berries. As far as calorie counting is concerned, it is all the same.

The one aspect of calorie counting that I really do like is the mindfulness that is creates about what you eat. In an effort to increase my awareness of what I eat and ensure I’m eating a wide variety of healthy foods, I put together my own Diet Quality Scoring (DQS) system. Essentially, I give myself points for making good food choices and subtract points for the things that I’m trying to avoid/limit in my diet. Additionally, it also helps ensure that I’m eating a varied diet because points values decrease after a certain number of servings (except for vegetables). To get a higher DQS, I need to eat items in all the different categories.

My DQS is modeled after a similar system that was in Matt Fitzgerald’s book Racing Weight. However, I’m trying to eat a more ancestral/higher fat diet so I made my own modifications. My DQS scoring chart can be accessed at the link below:

Diet Quality Scoring

I print a couple of these and keep them at my desk at work and in our kitchen at home. Whenever I eat I just circle the items in the appropriate categories. Serving size is very subjective but I just use my best judgement. At the end of the day I just tally my score which takes less than 5 minutes. My goal is to be above 35.

Every once in a while I will count calories. I think it is good to analyze your macro-nutrient intake now and then……but every time I do count calories it reminds me why I converted to my DQS system.

Core Foundational Principles

There is so much information out there about ways to improve athletic performance but I think there are just a few basic principles that contribute 80-90% of the results that I’m after. Therefore, before I start any serious training I want to focus on the following five core foundational principles:

  1. Get adequate sleep
  2. Become a fat burning machine
  3. Incorporate low-level activity into my daily routine
  4. Work less than 50 hours a week and control stress
  5. Protect family time

Get Adequate Sleep:

This is an area I really need to make more of a priority. Most days during the week I get less than 7 hours of sleep and I know it takes a toll on my body, my mood, and my brain. When I’m tired I crave junk food, my mind feels sluggish, my self-discipline goes out the window, and I get really irritable. I have been hearing and reading a lot more about the importance of sleep. My goal is to get a minimum of 7.5 hours of sleep per night. I’ll need to figure out the best tool to track this for me as well.

Become a Fat Burning Machine:

I have already been following a mostly paleo/primal diet for nearly six months which has been life changing. Ever since I switched over to a lower carb and higher fat diet, my energy levels have been much more stable and I lost 3% body fat with no change in my lean muscle mass. That being said, there are still a lot of improvements I know I can make…particularly when it comes to alcohol.

Incorporate Low-Level Activity Into My Daily Routine:

In my mind, low-level activity (LLA) is different from exercise. LLA involves incorporating more movement into my routine (walking, taking the stairs, active commuting, etc.). This will help me maintain a base level of fitness without actually requiring me to spend any precious incremental time working out. My goal is to get a minimum of six hours of LLA each week.

Work Less Than 50 Hours and Control Stress:

This isn’t necessarily about working less but being more effective and productive when I am working. Effectively managing my inbox and focusing on only the most impactful work are going to be the critical success factors. Not allowing myself to work in the evening unless absolutely necessary is going to be a tough but welcome change for me.

Protect Family Time:

Having a supportive wife is going to be critical (maybe the most critical!). I have a tendency to get overly absorbed in work and personal interests so I need to do a better job of considering family time as sacred. I need to be more in the moment so the time we do have together is as good as it can be. After all…a happy wife equal a happy life.

I’ll write future posts about each principle, what I’ve learned and read about each topic, how I’m doing towards my goals, and tips & tricks that I’ve tried.

I would love to get your thoughts and suggestions!