This is a new topic for me; I've never discussed fitness before, but during the pandemic I have taken on several new projects. I hope you'll appreciate that my approach to this topic is similar to that of my more technical interests.
When I started digging into COVID statistics near the end of 2020, I realized that I was at risk. Not because of my activities or my age, but due to my weight.
I've never been one for gyms, though most of my life I have been an active racquetball player, which at least kept me in somewhat decent cardiovascular shape. However, I haven't played in several years, to my own disappointment and detriment.
I decided to set forth with the goal of losing as much of the excess belly fat as I could without having to devote a crazy amount of time to exercising. I settled on a plan that only required me to spend 2 hours a week in the gym. I think the results (pictured above and in the chart below) speak for themselves!
Starting weight: 207 pounds (~34% body fat)
After 4 months: 175 pounds (~21% body fat)
Starting belly size: 45 inches
Final belly size: 35.5 inches
Diet and Exercise
These are of course the two variables over which you have the most control; I had not put any effort into either in several years. I tried a ketogenic diet a number of years ago but wasn't able to stick with it for more than a month. On the exercise side I haven't done any weight lifting since I was a teenager.
Update (2 years later): I believe that I may have stumbled into the optimal diet for myself. Clearly low-carb diets work for some people but not for everyone. I highly recommend reading Eat Right 4 Your Type before you jump into drastically changing your diet.
Things I gave up:
- carbohydrates (I targeted 10g - 20g of carbs per day)
- seed oils
- beer and sugar-laden cocktails
Things I added:
- 30 minutes of intense exercise, 4 days per week.
- Pre-workout mix and creatine
- Lots of fresh meat and vegetables
- A keto-specific multivitamin that has many of the nutrients that ketogenic dieters tend to be lacking.
I vowed to never count calories or macros or really anything other than my own body metrics. I ate my meals to the point of being full and if I became hungry between meals, I would snack. I'm not willing to feel hungry because I find it highly distracting and this decreases my ability to concentrate and work.
A Typical Workout Day
7 AM: Pre-workout drink + SARMs mixed in
7:30 AM: Cardio for 15 min (elliptical / rowing / biking / MMA)
7:45 AM: High intensity weight lifting (alternate muscle groups each day)
8 AM: Bulletproof coffee or black coffee + omelette, multivitamin
12 PM: Leftovers or salad, multivitamin
2 PM: bone broth + 5g creatine
4 PM: almonds / pickles / jerky snack
6 PM: protein + vegetable, multivitamin
6:30 PM: Keto friendly ice cream
During my first week transitioning into ketosis I regularly experienced throbbing in my head and throat - something I was expecting as I had experienced "keto flu" when I had tried the keto diet 5 years earlier.
I did some research into the causes here and discovered that it was likely a vitamin deficiency. So I looked for a multivitamin that would contain the vitamins for which I was most likely deficient. I settled upon this "Tune Your Keto" vitamin and once I started taking it with each meal, I no longer experienced any of those symptoms.
As I noted earlier, the goal is to get the biggest bang for my time and effort. If there are some easy wins to help amplify the work I'm putting in at the gym, I'm all for it!
What are SARMs? Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators mimic anabolic agents (steroids.) The USADA points out that the difference between the steroids and SARMs is that SARMs have fewer androgenic properties, which permits SARMs to target tissues much more directly and reduce negative side effects experienced with steroids.
Disclaimer: SARMs are not FDA approved and are 100% banned by USADA, WADA, and most other global sporting organizations for both in-competition and out-of-competition. You should NOT use these if you are competing in any such sanctioned sport as it falls under the banned category of a prohibited class of anabolic agents.
If you want to try SARMs I wouldn't enter into it lightly; you should spend plenty of time researching them as there is a ton of information available and it can be overwhelming / hard to tell which sources are trustworthy. SARMs can certainly have side effects, though they tend to be mild in comparison to steroids. For example, you may experience natural testosterone suppression while on SARMs. If you're worried about that, you can pick up a natural booster like Animal Stak.
I suggest starting your research here:
I wanted to play it as safe as possible so I settled on a few things:
- Only taking 1 SARM at a time and not stacking multiple simultaneously
- Only taking low / mild doses with the goal of fat loss rather than muscle gain
- Slowly tapering off dosage over a two week period
- Giving my body several months between SARM cycles to recover
- Avoiding Cardarine because some studies suggested an elevated cancer risk
From day 5 through day 62 I took 4 mg per day of LGD-4033 (Ligandrol) which is a very light dose. During this period I lost 20 pounds; over 10% of my body weight.
During the period I was taking Ligandrol, I often felt like my heart was racing and my metabolism was in overdrive - it certainly increased my desire to snack between meals. I bought a blood pressure monitor and my levels were only slightly elevated and still in an acceptable range. One particularly odd incident that seems like it could have been related was the night that I consumed a Bang and vodka. Something about this combination caused me to develop a spontaneous gum bleed between two of my molars. The worst part was that the gum bleed simply refused to coagulate and stop filling my mouth with blood. I ended up running to the pharmacy to buy a bunch of gauze to pack into my cheek. It took nearly 48 hours for the bleeding to stop and I vowed never to mix these products again - my assumption is that it was a combination of increased blood pressure / heart rate and thinned blood from the alcohol that made my gums spring a leak.
I haven't had any other scary incidents since.
As expected, the results you see on a weight loss plan diminish as you are more successful. Once I hit the low 180s after losing 25 pounds, I plateaued. I wanted to break through this but without doing anything drastic, so I decided that a small tweak to my eating schedule would be interested to try. I began an intermittent fasting plan, which you could also call "time windowed eating" in which I only ate between noon and 6 PM each day. The only thing I had in the morning was black coffee.
I decided to try an 18:6 fasting:eating schedule, where I'd wake up, have a black coffee, but eat nothing until noon. Then dinner at 5 PM and nothing to eat after 6 PM. Nothing but water the rest of the time.
After a week I had only lost half a pound which is basically a rounding error, so I decided to also cut out all alcohol. This didn't seem to help much.
After 12 days of intermittent fasting I had only lost 1.5 pounds; I got tired of intermittent fasting and went back to 3 meals a day. Oddly enough, I started losing weight faster - I lost 4 pounds over the next 5 days. I'm not sure what went wrong with the fasting; perhaps I accidentally put my body into starvation mode or something.
After I had been off Ligandrol for 8 weeks I figured it was time to try a different round of SARMs. From day 63 to day 106 (post Ligandrol cycle) I had lost exactly 10 pounds; this was another 5% of my body weight and about 3% of my body fat.
I settled on MK 2866 (Ostarine) which is an even milder compound in comparison to Ligandrol.
I once again decided on a low dose regimen and started off at 10mg per day. After 25 days I had only lost another 4 pounds, so I bumped it to 15 mg per day. After another month I had only lost another 3 pounds, plateauing pretty hard in the low 170s. I then started tapering off to 0 mg and am still at 170 pounds at time of writing.
Unanticipated Benefits from Keto + Exercise
While my weight loss goals were clearly met, I also discovered (or was told by family) of some other noticeable changes.
- My gassiness dropped to zero. Prior to switching to keto I was passing gas at least a couple dozen times per day... to the annoyance of those around me.
- I've always been a "hot" sleeper, but now my sweat levels while sleeping have decreased significantly.
- I used to snore almost every night. Now I never snore.
- I'm told that when I'm sweaty I don't stink as badly as I used to.
I take a BHB based pre-workout mix 30 minutes before going to the gym and I can tell when it kicks in because my skin gets tingly and itchy. My research shows this can be caused by beta-alanine or niacin though it seems my original pre-workout had more of that than the BHB pre-workout I use now, and it didn't give me the same sensation.
Drinking plenty of water is very important. There were multiple occasions during the first month or so when I woke up in the middle of the night with very painful cramps in my calf muscles. This may have been partly due to me exercising them for the first time in years, but I also believe it was due to dehydration. Keto flu symptoms can also be worsened by dehydration. I noticed that in general I was much thirstier than before I began this experiment and I now needed to drink about a glass of water an hour in order to feel hydrated. This is significantly higher than pre-keto.
I suggest reading this note by a dietitian with regard to water intake and mineral loss. They also note that keto should not be undertaken by those with Type 2 diabetes or kidney disease.
After 4 months I loosened up my diet and started eating out at restaurants. I (accidentally) fell out of ketosis and it was immediately apparent. My gassiness returned, my mind was foggy, and my body was fatigued. This experience has helped reduce the cravings when I see others consuming delicious carbohydrates. In my mind I see consuming carbs as a high time preference activity that is enjoyable during the moment, but has longer term negative consequences.
Prepackaged Keto Meals
While I mostly stuck to fresh meats and vegetables, I also tried some meals marketed as being Keto-friendly.
I tried a variety of frozen cauliflower pizza crusts but they were mostly sad. The best one I had was at a classy wood fired pizza restaurant and I assume they made the dough fresh on-site; I haven't found any others that are anywhere near that quality where the crust is indistinguishable from regular dough.
In terms of Keto friendly brands, I'm a fan of "RealGood" meals. They have a chicken skin crust pizza that is a decent "fast food" option. My favorite RealGood meal is the chicken enchiladas in verde sauce. Avoid the meals with hearts of palm - they smell and taste like vomit.
I thought I liked jerky. That is, I bought several pounds of it at the start of my journey because I figured it would be a convenient snack. But then a couple of months ago I bought a 7-in-1 oven that also acts as a dehydrator. I can't overstate how superior the quality of fresh homemade jerky is in comparison to the prepackaged retail brands.
Bone broth has a number of health benefits; I also found it to be a convenient creatine delivery system. During the first few months of this journey I purchased every brand of bone broth I came across. Oddly enough, I did not find the more expensive broths to be better tasting. After extensive sampling, this is what my pantry looks like:
I was particularly interested when I found Keto-friendly ice cream that claimed to not have any carbs or sugar. So I grabbed some Rebel ice cream and had it for dessert one night. These Keto ice creams are certainly not as creamy as regular ice cream, and you need to give them about 20 minutes to thaw before eating. Some of them are halfway decent. However, I was in for a nasty surprise.
The day after I had half a pint of the Rebel ice cream I experienced some pretty terrible diarrhea. It was then back to the internet to research what was going on. It turns out that while Keto-friendly ice creams don't contain "sugar," what they do contain is "alcohol sugar." And some people's digestive systems do not tolerate large quantities of alcohol sugar. For my future meals I kept my ice cream intake limited and had no more problems of this nature.
I've tried 3 different keto ice cream brands. Rebel, Keto Pint, and Enlightened. I felt like Enlightened was the most like regular ice cream in terms of taste and texture. In particular, the Keto Chocolate Glazed Donut flavor blew all others away. Update: a year later, Breyers came out with their "carb smart" ice cream line and it blows all the others away both in terms of nutrition and taste.
I found myself using the following "substitutes" a lot:
Kim's Magic Pop rice cakes when I needed something crunchy / for dipping.
Cauliflower rice whenever a dish called for regular rice.
Egg wraps and cheese wraps in lieu of tortillas.
Baked cheese crisps whenever I wanted chips for dipping in salsa / sauce.
Pork rinds whenever I wanted a crunchy snack. The "artisinal" pork rinds stocked at Whole Foods are far superior to your average gas station pork rinds.
HopTea (the Really Hoppy One) whenever I wanted a "beer." I tried every low-carb beer I could find and they were all unsatisfying.
I recently had my first physical exam in over 5 years (with full bloodwork) and the doctor concluded that I was in excellent health. Interestingly, they asked me if I was on a special diet and they didn't bat an eye when I mentioned it was ketogenic - I was expecting pushback. Perhaps the Food Pyramid scam is finally collapsing...
The unfortunate aspect of this report is that it's not a rigorous scientific process. I'm not willing to fatten myself up to 207 pounds again to run through the process again without using the SARMs or to see if tweaking some other variable has a noticeable impact.
Going forward I intend to play around with tweaking a few variables here and there, trying to continue to decrease the complexity of my plan to see if I can maintain my current status with even less effort. I'll probably eventually try another round of Ligandrol once I have established a long-term baseline for my body just to see if it helps me bust through my current plateau.
One Year Update
It's been a whole year since publishing and I've managed to maintain a weight of 175 pounds, plus or minus a few pounds. I even ended up getting COVID 8 months later (confirmed via antibody test) and it was milder than my seasonal allergies. I can see myself maintaining this lifestyle for a long time!
Shout out to my buddy Nick Fogle for helping inspire this journey and providing feedback along the way; you can read about his own experience here: