Fitness Advice for the "Average Joe"

By Paul Kim (Silicon Valley Entrepreneur & Certified Personal Trainer)


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Stay Fit while Traveling: Tips for the Road Warrior (2-Day/Full-Body Workout Included!)

One of the toughest obstacles to maintaining a good health & fitness routine is TRAVEL, whether it’s for work or for pleasure, because it throws off your routine in terms of the foods you eat, workout facilities, workout schedule, and your body’s natural rhythm. Apropos to this topic, I’ve been on a business trip to South Korea for almost a week now, with another week or two left. From the get-go, I knew this was going to be a very grueling trip, with many all-night work sessions with business partners, multiple “compulsory”  drinking events, and having to eat out pretty much every meal (many readers can probably relate to this on their trips). So before this trip, I tried to plan out as many health-related issues as I could to minimize the damage that I’d inevitably cause my body. So I made a list of the top fitness priorities while being on the road. They are as follows:

1. Get sufficient protein and vitamins.

It’s very difficult to get sufficient protein intake (at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight) when I’m on the road, so I went shopping on Black Friday for a bunch of protein bars, a bottle of multi-vitamins, and a ton of meal replacement powder (Myoplex) for when I’m on the road. This way, no matter what circumstance I encounter, I’d be ready. Below is a picture of some of the protein and vitamins that I brought on this trip. 

IMG_0732

This small preparation of protein in my luggage has gone a long way for me. In the morning, I drink a packet of Myoplex (meal replacement), which gives me 290 calories with 42 grams of protein (more than 20% of my daily protein requirement). My caloric and protein intake during the day is very sporadic and hard to predict, so this little piece of certainty goes a long way. Also, the protein bars (e.g. Atkins Bar, Zone Bar) have been extremely handy, as I’m locked in an office for much of the day, without time to go out and get the right kind of foods with high-quality protein. So I just pull one of these bars out and munch whenever a craving hits me, or when I feel I’m going too long without protein.

I brought enough protein bars to have up to 3 each day (3 x 19 grams = 57 grams of total protein), which was a wise decision. Noticeably missing from this trip is Whey protein – I had to drop this from my inventory because I didn’t have space to lug around a 5 pound tub of this stuff… yes, I could carry a smaller amount in a different container, but it wasn’t worth the hassle and extra luggage, given that I was already bringing meal replacement powder (I’m a guy, so I pack pretty light and don’t exactly travel “J-Lo style”, with an entourage and 35 suitcases, you know what I mean?).

2. Research the foods you might eat ahead of time (for nutritional analysis) and practice Portion Control when eating.

Don’t you hate getting sprung with uncertain foods that contain uncertain ingredients and calories, especially when you’re traveling overseas and you’re not as familiar with the foods of the other culture? That’s why I did my research in advance to see what the most likely foods I’d eat would be. I went online ahead of time and researched the nutritional content of some of the foods I would likely eat on the trip (Google is a powerful tool!). This helped give me a grasp of how much I would need to apply portion control to the foods I ate, based on my daily caloric budget.  If I encounter any foods that I don’t recognize, I try not to eat more than the amount that fits on my hand, until I learn more about the nutritional value. Below is a sampling of some of the foods I’ve eaten with business partners and friends on this trip, while practicing portion control:

Food Everywhere - 1

As I’ve said consistently throughout my blog, no matter what kind of diet you’re on (whether you’re trying to lose or gain weight), it doesn’t matter what types of foods you eat, as long as you (1) stay within your caloric budget and (2) get ample protein to fuel muscular repair and growth. Portion control comes in handy to help you stay within your caloric budget, and the protein bars and meal replacement powder have come in very handy in providing ample protein, given the uncertain dietary environment of this trip.

3. Adapt your workout to your environment (“Ghetto’s Gym”)

Remember that scene in Rocky 4, where Rocky goes to Russia and uses his natural surroundings to improvise workouts because he was given really crappy equipment and facilities (I especially love how he shoulder presses the carriage… what a beast!)? Well, sometimes you have to get creative because the workout facilities you encounter are inferior to the ones you are used to.

Rocky Scenes - 1

My business and pleasure trips have taken me to some remote places, including Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, etc. If you want to stay fit on trips to such places, you have to adapt and do what I call Ghetto’s Gym… this is where you improvise exercises based on the existing fitness equipment or do a ton of body-weight intensive exercises like push ups, burpees, bear crawls, inverted wall shoulder presses (upside down), pull ups, and situps. For example, on my trip last year to El Nido, a remote nature reserve in the Philippines, I performed a lot of wide-grip pull ups, behind-the-neck pull-ups, and bicep pull-ups while hanging off the side of the boats where I spent a lot of my time on during scuba diving and touring excursions… I just did them until I couldn’t do any more, then I’d force myself to do a few more partial reps 🙂

Ghetto's Gym - 1

Fortunately on this trip to Korea, the gym close by is of acceptable quality (better than most hotel gyms). I just pay ~$10 each time I work out, which is fine.

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Now, given the intense schedule on this trip, I condensed my workout to train my entire body in 2 sessions, with each session lasting about 35 minutes (I took the pic above after my first workout session in Seoul). I do these workouts every other day. Of course, this is not ideal to get maximum results, as I’m not training frequently enough or giving each body part enough attention, but it suffices for a super-busy business trip. I’ve outlined the workout regimen I’ve been using on this trip to Seoul below. Let me know what you think!

Busy Traveler’s 2-Day, Full-Body Training Workout: (each session is ~35 minutes)

Day 1: Work your Chest, Triceps, Biceps, Abs (~36 minutes)

  • Super-set #1:
    • Incline Bench Press (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderately light weights and focus on pumping blood into your chest (I use 135 pounds)
    • Barbell Biceps Curl (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure.  Use moderately light weights and focus on pumping blood into your biceps (I use about ~70 pounds).
    • Rest: 60 seconds.
  • Super-set #2: 
    • Incline Bench Press (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderate weights and focus on pumping blood into your chest while getting used to heavier weights (I use 225 pounds)
    • Barbell Biceps Curl (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure.  Use modestly light weights and focus on pumping blood into your biceps (I use about ~90 pounds).
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #3: 
    • Incline Bench Press: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your chest at the top (I use 285 pounds).
    • Barbell Biceps Curl: Target 6 reps and go to failure.  Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top (I use 145 pounds).
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #4: 
    • Incline Bench Press: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your chest at the top (I use 235 pounds).
    • Barbell Biceps Curl: Target 8 reps and go to failure.  Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top (I use 125 pounds).
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #5: 
    • Dumbbell Flys: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your chest at the top.
    • Hammer Curl: Target 6 reps and go to failure.  Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top.
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #6: 
    • Dumbbell Flys: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your chest at the top.
    • Hammer Curl: Target 8 reps and go to failure.  Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top.
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #7:
    • Dumbbell Flys: Target 12 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your chest at the top.
    • Hammer Curl: Target 12 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights and focus on squeezing your biceps at the top.
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Tri-set #8:
    • Lying Triceps Extension (warm-up): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderately light weights and focus on pumping blood into your triceps.
    • Lying Knee-up Crunches: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.
    • Rest: 90 seconds
  • Tri-set #9:
    • Lying Triceps Extension: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Lying Knee-up Crunches: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.
    • Rest: 120 seconds
  • Tri-set #10:
    • Lying Triceps Extension: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Lying Knee-up Crunches: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.
    • Rest: 120 seconds
  • Tri-set #11:
    • Cable Triceps Pushdown: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Seated Leg Raises: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.
    • Rest: 120 seconds
  • Tri-set #12:
    • Cable Triceps Pushdown: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Seated Leg Raises: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.
    • Rest: 120 seconds
  • Tri-set #13:
    • Cable Triceps Pushdown: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Seated Leg Raises: 30 seconds.
    • Plank: 30 seconds.

Day 2: Work your Shoulders, Back, Legs (~37 minutes)

  • Super-set #1:
    • Barbell Squat (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderately light weights and focus on pumping blood into your quads.
    • Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure.  Use moderately light weights and focus on pumping blood into your hamstrings.
    • Rest: 90 seconds.
  • Super-set #2
    • Barbell Squat (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderate weights and focus on pumping blood into your quads.
    • Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure.  Use moderate weights and focus on pumping blood into your hamstrings .
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #3
    • Barbell Squat: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift (intermediate warm-up set): Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 150 seconds.
  • Super-set #4
    • Barbell Squat: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Barbell Stiff Leg Deadlift (intermediate warm-up set): Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 150 seconds.
  • Super-set #5
    • Hang Clean Push Press (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderately light weights.
    • Barbell Upright Row (warm-up set): 15 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderately light weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #6
    • Hang Clean Push Press (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderate weights.
    • Barbell Upright Row (intermediate warm-up set): 10 reps. Don’t go to failure. Use moderate weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #7
    • Hang Clean Push Press: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Barbell Upright Row: Target 6 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #8
    • Hang Clean Push Press: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Barbell Upright Row: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #9
    • Barbell Bent Over Row: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Dumbbell Side Raises: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #10
    • Barbell Bent Over Row: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Dumbbell Side Raises: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Super-set #11
    • Barbell Bent Over Row: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Dumbbell Side Raises: Target 10 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 120 seconds.
  • Set #12
    • Machine Calf Raise: Target 8 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 60 seconds.
  • Set #13
    • Machine Calf Raise: Target 12 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
    • Rest: 60 seconds.
  • Set #14
    • Machine Calf Raise: Target 12 reps and go to failure. Use heavy weights.
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Every Dieter needs a “Super Food” to fall back on: Introducing my Turkey Chili!

Anyone who’s ever dieted knows how difficult it is to lose weight while getting toned and cut up. And apropos to this Thanksgiving ‘s “Caloric Armageddon” season, I want to share one of my “secret” Super Foods with you, which has helped me tremendously in my own diet, in terms of losing down to under 4% body fat. And this is where I’d like to give a major shout-out to my good friend, Sandra Chan, who gave me the recipe to this simple yet wonderful dish (God bless your soul, Sandra… you’re like an amateur Bobby Flay, seriously!).

So what makes something a Super Food? Well, when you’re dieting and working out, you need to find foods that offer four things: Foods that (1) are Tasty to allow you to stick with the diet for an extended time; (2) are LOW in Calorie while being HIGH in Nutritional Value; (3) Suppress your hunger and keep you full longer; and (4) are High in Protein to fuel your recovery & muscle development while keeping you under your caloric budget.

But it’s SO DIFFICULT to find foods that fit all of these criteria. Foods that generally taste good are high in calories and/or low in nutritional value, and foods that are good for you and low in calorie either don’t have enough protein or taste like a sweaty sock. Well, guess what? This Turkey Chili recipe is one of the single best meals that I know which checks off everything on the list above. Practically speaking, this Turkey Chili has worked wonders for me… as you know, hunger is one of the most difficult feelings to control. And for me, my biggest hunger attacks come late in the evening, as I crank away with work until the wee hours of the morning (usually 3~4 AM)… at these times, I feel like I could devour the entire meat section at Lucky’s, and I begin scouring my kitchen for food to annihilate. But when I eat a cup (or 2 cups if I’m incredibly hungry) of this Turkey chili, the cravings disappear, and I’m my normal “Dr. Jekyll” self again (as opposed to Mr. Hyde), at least for a few more hours 🙂 Scientifically, it turns out that the high fiber, high protein, and high cholecystokinin content in this dish helps to suppress hunger and appetite, keep your insulin levels at even keel, and ultimately keep you on track to lose fat.

Turkey Chili Recipe

So without further ado, here is the recipe for my favorite Turkey Chili. And Gentlemen! This dish is so easy to make, even culinary-challenged guys like us can make this dish with our eyes closed. For the most part, you throw a bunch of ingredients into a pot and heat it up. Here’s what you need:

Ingredients:

  • 99% lean ground Turkey: 32 ounces (2 pounds), raw.
  • 1 Can of Diced Tomatoes: 3.5 cups.
  • 1 Can of Pinto Beans in Chili Sauce: 1.75 cups.
  • 1 Can of Black Beans: 1.5 cups.
  • 1 Can of Garbanzo Beans: 1.75 cups.
  • 1 Can of Dark Red Kidney Beans: 1.75 cups.
  • 1 Can of Whole Kernel Corn: 1.75 cups.
  • Chili Powder: 2 tablespoons.
  • “Better than Buillon” Chicken Base: 2 tablespoons(3.5 cups of chicken stock can be used as an alternative).
  • Water: 3.5 cups (if you use chicken stock instead of “Better than Buillon”, do not add water).
  • Optional ingredients: you can put in diced onions, garlic, and other vegetables in for more flavor.

Step 1: Cook the lean, ground Turkey lightly (I like it medium rare). Put the contents into the pot.

Step 2: Add the rest of the ingredients into the pot. Drain the juice of the Black Beans, Garbanzo Beans, Dark Red Kidney Beans, and Whole Kernel Corn before putting them into the pot.

Step 3: Heat up the contents on a stove and serve! FYI, I love to put Tabasco sauce in mine, as it gives it a nice, spicy kick, and it tastes oh, so good!

This makes a large pot full of Turkey Chili – about 19~20 cups (~20 servings). But the truly amazing thing is that not only is this delicious, nutritionally dense, very filling, and high in protein, but this entire pot contains less than 3,000 calories! This is awesome, considering it’s enough food for several days to a week’s worth of moderate eating for most people (in conjunction with other foods).

Nutrition Information

I calculated the nutrition information based on the ingredients, divided by the servings: each 1 cup serving (~8 oz, or about 2 scoops of a regular home ladle) contains the following nutrition:

  • Calories: 155 kcal
  • Protein: 16 grams (~40% of calories)
  • Carbohydrate: 19 grams (~50% of calories)
  • Fat: 1.8 grams (~10% of calories)

Frankly, if I wanted to, I could probably do an entire diet program off of this one food alone! Normally, it takes ridiculous discipline for me to diet at 2,000 calories per day (I usually go higher at around 2,600), but with this dish, I could technically do it AND get enough protein intake for the day (at least 175+ grams of protein, with 200 + grams being my ideal goal) while staying full and satiated.

Try this out at home. This is a secret weapon of mine that has helped my diet. When you try it and it works, don’t thank me, you can thank my friend Sandra  🙂 Enjoy your Thanksgiving, and until next time, stay healthy and motivated!


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The “10 Commandments” of Workout Safety and Gym Etiquette.

Over the years of working out, I’ve seen some truly thoughtless & dangerous activities unfold in the gym. These events bugged me so much that I’ve been waiting to write about safety tips, gym etiquette, and how NOT to be an idiot and get yourself hurt or killed. So here are the “10 Commandments” to keep yourself and others in the gym safe and happy because it’s clear that not everyone knows them.

Rule #1: Use Weights that You can Properly Handle.

The picture above is from an actual guy that comes into my gym… I won’t release his name to protect the guilty. I mean, just look at this nonsense… dude, SERIOUSLY??? He has 16 plates (45 pounds each) stacked on the Smith Machine bench press, which comes to like 765 pounds including the weight of the machine… if he was truly this strong, I would bow down to the guy, but the problem is that I estimate he is only doing ~250 pounds of it himself, while his 3 spotters are doing the remaining 500+ pounds (1 guy in the middle + 2 on the sides). I mean, this is not a peeing contest… if you want to develop your chest or any other body part, you should use heavy weights, but WEIGHTS THAT YOU CAN HANDLE PROPERLY! This guy is asking to be seriously injured or killed, AND he is not building his muscles because his spotters are doing all the work. He needs to lower the weights down to say, 250 pounds, and either do it himself or ALMOST do it himself with a spotter. This is just plain STUPID. FYI, I’ve had the serious displeasure of spotting him on one occasion, and I had a sore lower back for several days afterwards because this guy insisted on doing like 15 reps too, which made his spotters really work their lower backs intensely (and it wasn’t even my back workout day). By the way, this guy above BROKE the only Smith Machine at one of my gyms in the area by doing this nonsense, so he’s on my craplist.

Rule #2: Use Good Form before You Go Heavy.

Using good form not only helps you to maximize your gains, but it helps prevent serious injuries. Always learn and practice proper form before trying to go too heavy.

Rule #3: Be Alert and Aware in the Gym.

Lifting weights is usually safe, but not if you’re not paying attention or unaware of your surroundings. I know of a guy who needed to surgically re-attach one of his fingers because someone had rolled a dumbbell close to his bench while he was doing dumbbell flys, and when he finished his set and put the weights down beside him, he caught his fingers between the dumbbells. Always be aware of what’s going on around you, so that you don’t get hurt, and just as importantly, don’t hurt others. Watch the video below. Be careful of morons like this, and definitely DON’T BE THAT MORON.

Rule #4: Re-rack your weights!

This is a common-sense rule related to cleaning up after yourself and being considerate to others. When you are done with an equipment, strip it down and rack it where it’s supposed to go. Leaving lots of weights on equipment is very rude, as it’s difficult for people, especially women, to use the weights after you’re done. Leaving your workout area looking like a grenade exploded at a quarry or a metal fabrication shop is NOT acceptable either. Would you like to work out in an environment like the one below? The answer is no, and neither would I.

Rule #5: Let others “Work In” with You.

Nobody likes or appreciates a “Gym Hog.” You don’t own the machines, and others need to get their workouts too. As such, be good about letting others work in on “your” machine while you are resting. I’ve known quite a few people who annoyingly monopolize a piece of equipment for 15+ minutes while resting for 3+ minutes at a time… and they give you the death stare when you ask to work in. This is extremely rude and is usually done by newbies who just don’t know the rules and very selfish people who don’t care about the rules. When you see this behavior, go tell the club manager, and the manager should lay down the law.

Rule #6: Towel Down Your Equipment After Use!

It’s never cool or sanitary to be slipping and sliding all over a piece of equipment that someone else just used. Be courteous and sanitary by bringing a towel to wipe down whatever equipment you used. If you don’t have a towel, use your shirt to wipe it off.

Rule #7: Manage Your Personal Hygiene!

I don’t need to explain this one. We all know the guy that leaves his scent all over the gym and the equipment. I remember my brother and I used to call this one super-stinky yet flirtatious dude in the gym “Pepe Le Pew” (the romantic French skunk on Looney Tunes) because he stunk up the entire gym and made me want to vomit with his aroma. Don’t be him. Take showers, use deodorant if you must, and bring a towel to wipe off your scent after use.

Rule #8: Don’t Loiter ON or AROUND Equipment.

It’s okay to chat with people, but be courteous to others and do your chatting away from the equipment. Getting on a long cell phone conversation while hogging up the bench press or treadmill during peak hours can result in death stares from other members. Also, it’s fine to flirt and get your mack on if you want, but let others use the equipment while you practice your pick-up lines.

Rule #9: Listen to Your Body.

Your body is really good about “talking” to you, and you need to get better at listening. Sometimes your body tells you that you should stop working out for the day because your muscles, ligaments, or organs are straining, and injury is imminent. Other times, your body requires you to take an extended time off from working out because you’ve “over-trained” for an extended period of time, and you’re better off resting for 1~2 weeks. Of course, the challenge here is to discern whether you really need to stop working out, or whether you’re just being lazy and inventing excuses to go home to ESPN and glazed donuts.

I’ll give you a personal example. When I was in my mid-20’s (a long time ago), I didn’t listen to my body very often… One day, I was bench pressing, and my body felt strange. Throughout several light warm-up sets, my muscles felt super tight and felt like they were being over-stretched. I considered stopping my workout, but I thought that I’d be a “man” about it and work through the weird discomfort. So I decided to use 405 pounds (my 1-rep max bench press at the time) and do super heavy negative reps, which is where you take the barbell and let the weight down onto your chest very slowly over 10 seconds while struggling against the weight the whole way. I also had a random, novice guy at the gym spotting me because I thought it would be simple, just like most other days. But on my way down, I felt the muscle fibers in my pecs separate, and I sustained micro-tears. In addition, the guy spotting me was not very strong, so I had to pick the weight back up and rack it mostly on my own with a damaged pec, which made the injury worse. Overall, this injury set me back for months. In contrast, I’m much older and a little bit wiser today, so I’m very sensitive about what my body tells me. For example, last week, I felt a pinch in my rotator cuff while trying to bench press… I immediately recognized the signs of imminent injury, and I decided to take some time off from working out, especially since I had been working out so hard for the last 4~5 months. Actually, yesterday was my first full day back to training, since taking a break 1.5 weeks ago.

Rule #10: Be Courteous and Friendly!

Open the door for other members, provide a spot for others, smile at people, let others work in, help ladies rack their weights (if they ask you), etc… these are all common sense rules, right? Please follow them, as it makes the gym a much more pleasant experience for everyone and allows you to make friends.

Following these 10 rules will help keep you safe, give you the results you are seeking, and continue to let your gym experiences be positive. Ping me if you any funny or ridiculous stories of people violating these 10 commandments above!


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Applying Portion Control: Grubbing Down without Going Down in Flames

“Ain’t no party like a D-Fong Party”… seriously, my good friend David Fong always has the best food at his parties, hands down. He also happens to own a Sonoma Chicken in Almaden Valley, San Jose, which is perfect because he loves food, wines, and spirits, and he’s very generous about sharing. So generous, in fact, that you have to be careful when you’re eating or drinking with him because your calorie meter can literally spin like a Vegas slot machine. Yesterday, he had a birthday event for one of his kids… and here’s a sampling of the food and multiple different kinds of wines and beers that were served in near-limitless fashion:

The menu included a full rotisserie pig (crispy skin), Korean Kalbi beef spareribs, baked salmon, chicken curry, shrimp & veggie stew, egg rolls w/ sweet chili sauce, stuffed mushrooms, mac & cheese, rice, salad, bread rolls, a wide assortment of fruits (melons, mangoes, strawberries, grapes, etc.), chocolate mousse with gummi bear toppings, jelly pudding cake, regular birthday cake, and a wide assortment of drinks, juices, beers, and various red/white wines.

When I look at this, I first get really hungry, then my brain begins to calculate the most efficient strategy to enjoy the food without busting my caloric budget for the whole week in one sitting 🙂 In general, I try not to let any meal be more than 40% of my daily caloric budget. For example, if I’m on a 2,500 daily calorie budget, I try not to let any meal account for more than 1,000 calories. Now, this is REALLY HARD at certain events, especially at a D-Fong event… I’m sure everyone reading this can relate. When you’re at events like this, unless you have really strict discipline, you will likely exceed your caloric budget for the meal, which just means that you will need to adjust the rest of your meals for the day to compensate (in some cases, you may have to adjust your meals for future days as well).

Basically, there are just a few important guidelines to follow when eating at a “take-no-prisoners” buffet like this:

  1. The most important thing is PORTION CONTROL!!! When there are so many options and so much variety of foods, it’s easy to over-do it… by the time you get through the buffet line, your plate is literally overflowing with food. Instead, the right strategy is to take just a little portion of each item that you want. In fact, just take ONE OR TWO small pieces from everything you like. Even when you take just a little bit of each item, I guarantee that your plate will be pretty packed by the end of the line. If by chance you are short on food, you can always go back for more, so take it easy on the portions and go more for variety. Portion control is also particularly applicable to a couple of culprits that usually contribute to taking in too many calories at these types of events:
    • Alcohol. Alcohol is deceptively high in calories, especially when you drink it in large quantities at social events. This is my weakness too. Especially when David comes around and practically pours the wine or liquor down your throat (God bless you, bro)… what I did today was to resist the temptation to drink any beer before the meal, although a bottle of Fat Tire was really seducing me and calling my name… instead, I had some white wine with my meal to enjoy. This way, I didn’t go overboard on my drinking.
    • Cakes, pastries, ice cream, desserts. These are loaded with fats/trans-fats and sugar, which usually make them very high in calories. However, if you’re at certain events, like a birthday party, it’s often hard not to eat at least a small piece of the cake. So again, if you must eat this, then take just a small sliver. Basically, what I do is allot myself a dessert budget so that the desserts combined do not exceed about 1/2 of a single portion. So if I’m going to eat a chocolate mousse, a piece of cake, and ice cream at one event, then I would take a very small portion of each so that collectively they add up to about half a portion of a dessert.
  2. Drain oil from oily foods and cut off excess fat.  For example, I always take tissues or napkins and “pat down” and drain excess oil from fatty meats (e.g. beef, pork), sausages, etc. to help reduce the fat that I am taking in. It may seem a bit awkward at first, but when you look at the grease that’s trapped on your napkins as opposed to inside your body, you will be happy to have done it. Same thing with excess fat on meat… can you imagine that hanging from your butt or your thighs? Cut it off and don’t put it into your body.
  3. Try to avoid certain foods altogether.
    1. Deep-fried foods. These are loaded with fats & trans-fats and are not only bad for you, but they can easily take you over your caloric budget in a split second. If you really must eat it, just take a really small piece.
    2. Soft drinks or other sugary drinks should also be avoided because they uselessly add to calories without making you full or adding any meaningful nutrition. DRINK WATER, it’s really good for you! I always get annoyed when I see parents teaching their kids to drink too much soda or even artificially sweetened juice… it’s just such useless calories that contribute to childhood obesity.

The plate above is what I brought back to my seat to eat. In my head, I was targeting not exceeding 1,000 calories. As such, I just took smaller portions from a variety of different foods. Now, given that I had not had pork skin in so long, I decided to take some, knowing that it is packed with insane levels of fat. Also, I was a bit hesitant about taking any of the fried egg rolls, but I decided to put it on my plate. After eating this meal, I quickly emailed myself a short list of what I ate, so that I could track the calories later. After doing the math at home, here’s a breakout of the calories from this one plate:

  • White Rice: ¼ cup  – 60 calories. I intentionally took just a little bit of rice because there is so much food here to eat, so I would rather get my calories from the other foods.
  • Korean BBQ ribs (Kalbi): 1 + 1/3 ribs broken out into four pieces – 350 calories.
  • Roasted Pork (5 ounces, including ~1 oz of crispy skin): 390 calories
  • Salmon (2 ounces): 100 calories.
  • Chicken Curry (just 1 piece of meat with a little sauce): 40 calories.
  • Shrimp: 3 pieces. 55 calories.
  • Egg Roll (1): 130 calories.
  • Drink: water. 0 calories.

As you can see, the total came out to 1,125 calories (125 more than my target of 1,000 calories, max for this meal). Now, what could I have done to not exceed my caloric budget? First, under normal circumstances, I would NEVER eat pork skin… but I have been so good for so long, I decided that it’s okay for today. If I replaced the pork skin with regular pork meat, total calories would have dropped by about 90 calories, to 1,035. Also, I should have just passed on the egg rolls or taken half of one. That way, I would have been well under the 1,000 calorie limit.

Now, in full disclosure, I ended my diet last week, and I’m now in the early stages of my lean muscle mass gaining phase, which I will do for 2~3 months going forward. As such, I intentionally went back to eat a plate like the one above 2.5 more times yesterday, LOL! However, I purposely got small portions and went back to get more to continue the habit of portioning… it’s just a good habit that I will continue to practice. But you get the point that I would have stopped eating at that one plate and stayed pretty close to my allotted caloric budget for the meal, had I still been trying to lose weight, just like I have done for the last few months of my diet.

Enjoy your parties, but remember to apply portion control, and try not to exceed 40% of your daily caloric budget from one meal… if it happens, just make sure to adjust for it during the rest of the day. Good luck, and enjoy your food wisely!


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Maximize Your Muscle Gains: How to Gain Lean Muscle Mass while Minimizing Fat!

Introduction:

Hey guys, before I get to gaining muscle, I wanted to say something. I’m writing this on the way to San Francisco on the Caltrain, heading to a consulting client’s site. Sorry that I was quiet on my blog for the last week… it was because this past week was my photo shoot week, and the temporarily “harsh” conditions that I subjected my body to resulted in me getting a little bit exhausted and sick. Basically, major scheduling issues made me shoot pictures/videos of my body over two back-to-back, late-night/all-nighter evenings, so I had to dehydrate and drink only subsistence-level fluids for almost 3 days, which wasn’t super fun (most bodybuilders do this for about 1 day or so). But the results were great in that my muscles came in looking super hard, dry, and vascular… I went into the shoot at 167 pounds, which is a weight that I have not hit since college, haha! The great news is that my diet is now over, at least for the next few months… the funny thing was that when my shoot was done at 3:00 AM this morning, I went home to raid my kitchen of junk food and my kids’ bags of Halloween candy, but the only things that my body was craving was water and relatively healthy foods like a Turkey sandwich, PB&J sandwich, and fruit, which I devoured like a savage, famished beast! It’s shocking how acclimated my body has become to good eating… it’s actually pretty cool 🙂

Anyways, through the multi-month process of dieting, exercise, taking detailed notes & journaling of all of my food intake and body weight, I learned so much about food portioning, losing fat, eating well, and my body’s response to dieting, temporary dehydration, and optimal carbohydrate levels for temporary aesthetics (pictures). As I said before, if you have never taken a journal of your food and body weight, or never counted your calories, read my post here, and I would really encourage you to try it for at least a couple of weeks. By the way, the last learning that I mention, optimal carbohydrate levels, does not refer to a diet that is constantly starving you of carbs… instead, since each gram of carb sucks in ~2.7 grams of water, I’m referring to temporarily optimizing your carb-intake for pictures so that you only have carbs INSIDE your muscles as stored glycogen, so that your muscles are full of water and look dense & full, as opposed to having free carbs outside your muscles that suck in water between the skin and make you look smoother… again, this is only a temporary manipulation for aesthetics and picture-taking purposes… I will make the point again that I LOVE carbs, and I’m a huge proponent of getting plenty in your diet to maximize your energy & performance in sports, weight training, and normal physical activity. In fact, my teammates on my indoor soccer team have been eagerly waiting for my diet to be done, as the low body fat and lower levels of macronutrients (including carbs) have resulted in me being less energetic and effective on the field…

Maximizing Muscle Gains:

Sorry for the long-winded introduction. Actually, as my title indicates, this post is not about losing weight, it’s about GAINING MUSCLE!!!!  A lot of people have asked me what the optimal number of calories to intake above maintenance-level calories to maximize muscle gains. Well the theoretic answer is that each person is different, and each person has a different tolerance to lean muscle versus fat gain. Having said that, here are some good, practical guidelines to follow, and I will end with an experiment that I will run on my own body over the next 2~3 months to show you exactly how much muscle versus fat that I gain.

Guidelines to Follow to Maximize Lean Muscle Gains versus Fat Gains:

  • Start out with about 500 Calories above your maintenance level calories per day. There is significant debate among bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts about what this number should be. On the one hand, you do not want to starve muscle growth by making your caloric surplus too low, and thus potentially limit your lean muscle gains. At the same time, you don’t want to eat so much that Jabba the Hut would be jealous and your only gain a small % of this in lean muscle mass. Empirically, 500 calories seem like the “Baby Bear” level that is “just right” for 90% of people (it means that you will gain about a pound of body weight per week, hopefully most of which is muscle). Of course, this figure is not set in stone, so you need to take a log of your progress and adjust your calories up or down depending on the speed of your gains, your workout intensity and frequency, and the effect of this that you are seeing on your body.
  • Eat healthy, just like you are dieting to lose weight, but just eat more calories. Some people espouse eating just about anything under the sun, like JAWS (including your kitchen sink), to promote massive weight gain, irrespective of whether it’s muscle or fat, rationalizing that you can lose fat once you are ready to cut. But why make things even harder on yourself later? Anyone who has dieted can tell you that it takes hard work to lose a pound of fat. Why not optimize and promote LEAN MUSCLE GAINS as opposed to fat? Why not train your body to eat right (just more of what’s right) as opposed to eating crappy foods? Of course, I am not saying you can’t indulge yourself occasionally in life’s pleasures… on the contrary, if you must, use this time to eat out just a little more, eat just a little more junk food, and drink just a little bit more beer or wine with your family and friends. You can live a little. But don’t go too crazy because you have to lose the fat that you gain at some point.
  • Try to make your caloric surplus come primarily from protein and carbohydrates because it takes 10 x more calories to store protein and carbs as body fat than it takes to store fat in foods as body fat. Basically, your body’s metabolic processes burn calories… on average, your body expends like ~2.5 calories to store about 100 calories worth of excess fat that is not burned (your body stores ~97.5% of excess fat calories that are not burned), while it expends about ~25 calories to store about 100 calories worth of excess protein and carbs that are not burned (your body stores ~75% of excess protein & carb calories that are not burned). As such, you don’t have to be Stephen Hawking to conclude that most of the excess calories you put into your body should come from protein and carbs to store the least amount of fat in your body. If you are intentionally creating a caloric surplus to feed your muscle-building process, wouldn’t you rather have any excess calories remaining be predominantly protein or carbs? Of course, in reality, your body’s metabolic processes are happening continuously, so it’s super difficult to time the impact of the fat storage and muscle building process. And this certainly DOES NOT mean that you should starve your body of essential fats or cut out most fats from your diet. Not at all… keep your fat intake stable (e.g. 15~25% of your calories). I mean, if you magically have a practical solution to calculating exactly when I should eat what foods to make close to 100% of my weight gain be lean muscle mass, I will pay you a lot of money to get this implemented for me… in fact, there is a HUGE market of fitness fanatics out there who would pay you beaucoup bucks to do the same for them 🙂
  • Track your progress by keeping a log, including your body weight record at least once per week, a journal of your food and caloric intake, how you look and feel, and your actual body fat to lean muscle mass measurements (e.g. take a hydrostatic body fat test at several points along the way – this test is one of the most accurate tests to give you your ratio of lean body mass to fat). This is not a necessity, but a STRONG RECOMMENDATION. Believe me, you will learn a lot about yourself, and it will help you in whatever kind of diet in the future, whether you are trying to gain or lose weight.
  • Work out Heavy and Intensely, focusing mainly on Compound Movements, to make sure you gain good, lean muscle mass. In future posts, I will recommend some workout regimens and strategies to help you maximize your gains. But in general, during this phase, go as heavy as you can on all of your weights, and stick with relatively low rep ranges, in the 3~8 range per body part. Using heavy weights and lower reps helps you get stronger and promotes a lot of growth on your muscles, much more than doing lighter weights for 8~15 reps would do (this latter rep range is for other purposes, like endurance, cutting, shocking muscles, etc. that I will talk about in future posts).  For example, if you are doing squats, push yourself to go heavier, while not sacrificing form and safety, to get as strong as you can on it. This way, you will maximize your size and weight gains during this phase of growth. Also, stick to more Compound Movements, which are exercises that incorporate lots of muscles into your workouts (e.g. bench press, squats, deadlifts, shoulder press, standing barbell curls, close grip bench press, etc.), as opposed to focusing on specific body parts as much. I’m not saying ignore the smaller muscle groups, but spend 80% of your time on Compound Movements and 20% on focusing on smaller muscle parts.
  • Finally, give yourself a relatively finite period of time in which you will engage in these heavy, lean muscle mass gaining exercises. For example, select 3~4 months or something like that. The reason is that giving yourself a time period helps ensure that you don’t constantly go heavy all the time and allows you to “periodize” your muscles, so you do not overtrain or get too acclimated to heavy training and your body stops responding). Also, setting a finite time period psychologically creates a deadline, which could make you work harder towards attaining the most by your deadline, as opposed to getting in an infinite mass-gain stage.

In my experience, following these simple guildelines have helped me to maximize my gains from a “Gain Period” of Training.

Lean Body Mass Test: Guess what % of my gains will come from lean muscle mass, and I will buy you dinner!

Finally, now that I’m done with my diet (losing weight portion), I’ll be going on a lean muscle mass gain phase. So I’ll buy dinner to one person (if you are not in the Silicon Valley area, I will send you money for dinner) who gets within 5 percentage points of guessing what % of my gains come from lean muscle mass versus fat. If nobody gets within 5 percentage points, there will be no winner (if there are multiple winners, then the person who is closest – if there is a tie, then I will select the first person who responded). PLEASE ADD A COMMENT ON THIS POST, IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN GUESSING!!! Of course, the benefits of winning is more than dinner… it will be good conversation and perhaps some advice on your fitness situation… who knows, maybe we can even hit the gym together 🙂

I will gauge my lean body mass % increase in the following manner:

  • I am scheduled to get a hydrostatic body fat test next week. Once I get this done, I will take my lean body mass and body fat mass as the starting point for the calculations.
  • I plan to take several hydrostatic body fat tests along the way, but I will take a final one sometime later this year or early next year, and I will use these calculations to select the winner.
  • I will be logging all of my foods, calories, macronutrients, and body weight gains throughout this process, and I will upload it for everyone to see at the end of this period. I hope this helps other people.

Thanks, guys… until next time, take care, and get ripped!~


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Learn How to Control Your Weight for a Lifetime: Try my 2-week Calorie Counting Challenge!

I’ve spoken to literally hundreds of people over the years who have told me some variation of “I can’t lose weight, no matter how hard I try,” or “I can’t lose this stubborn belly fat,” or for the skinnier, ectomorphic people, “I just can’t gain muscle mass.” Well for the vast majority of them (except for those without serious medical issues), the reason is simple: they’re not creating a sustained caloric deficit (to lose fat) or caloric surplus (to gain weight), primarily because of their haphazardly approach to food intake. Many of these people even exercise regularly. Many of them claim to know “for a fact” that they are eating right and that they are creating a caloric deficit or surplus, but when I ask them point-blank, “How do you know? Are you counting your calories?” their response is some form of “well kind of, maybe”, which means a resounding NO.

Look, if you want to really understand your body’s unique response to food and exercise, and thus lose weight properly (by properly I mean losing fat, not just water weight, while maintaining a healthy & balanced diet), then you need to give counting calories a try. As an example, I’ve used this method to drive my body fat down dramatically into the 4% range right now (from a double-digit level when I started a few months back) to take pictures in the next week or so. Getting my body fat down this low has been very interesting – it looks like I’m constantly in a state of “workout pump” because I’ve gotten so vascular… it feels pretty cool, actually. Now, I don’t recommend sustaining an ultra-low body fat level for too long, as it can be unhealthy (short-term is okay). I’m only doing it temporarily to take pictures, after which I will be jumping back up at least several percentage points from where I’m at now, perhaps to 8% or so, to balance health, aesthetics, and athletic performance.

Why count calories? There are many reasons to do this, but here is a list of the most salient reasons:

  • Get a deep understanding of how many calories you are actually putting into your body and identify your eating flaws, which helps give you the know-how and confidence to control your body weight for a lifetime. For example, by counting calories, I learned that my weight loss was being hampered by my continuous night-time snacking, as well as high beer & wine consumption – I was able to scale these things back, which was the key to controlling my weight.
  • Helps you learn portion control. You will learn how to eat well while staying within your caloric budget.
  • Understand your sources of Calories (Macronutrients) and ensure you get the proper amounts. This helps you to hit various fitness goals, like for working out (e.g. getting enough protein in your diet), preparing for a photo shoot or athletic competition (e.g. adjusting your level of carbohydrate intake to either carb-load for sports or lower your fluid levels for aesthetics), and for overall health (e.g. keeping your fat intake levels in check).

I know most of you guys are really busy with work, kids, or school, so I’ll try to make this as EASY AS POSSIBLE to do and provide practical shortcuts. Here’s my approach below, so just give it a try for 2 weeks, and I promise you that it will make a huge difference in how you manage your weight going forward for the rest of your life.

HERE’S HOW TO GET STARTED, COUNTING CALORIES!

Step 1: Gather everything you need. Most of you will have everything you need already.

  • Body Weight Scale. This is the only required piece of equipment. You will weigh yourself each morning for 2 weeks.
  • Spreadsheet Program (Excel), Tablet (iPad), or Plain Paper. This is where you will record the data each day for the next 2 weeks. You can use a mobile app if you prefer, if you found one that you like.
  • Optional items: Food scale (costs $20~$30) and measuring cups. Don’t worry if you don’t have these – you can just estimate.

Step 2: Determine your Average Daily Caloric Burn. This number is just a broad estimate, and it only serves as a starting point for now. After counting calories, you will understand your true caloric burn much better.

  • Try one of the 3 approaches below to deduce this number:
    1. Use my Simple Approximation approach that I lay out in the Chart Below to find your RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate), then multiply your RMR by the appropriate “Activity Factor”found below to get your Average Daily Caloric Burn:
        • 1.2 (Sedentary): if you are quite sedentary, work at a desk job, and get little exercise.
        • 1.375 (Lightly Active): if you are lightly active and engage in some level of exercise 1~3 times per week.
        • 1.55 (Moderately Active): if you are moderately active and engage in some level of exercise 3~5 times per week.
        • 1.725 (Very Active): if you engage in hard exercise 5~7 times per week.
        • 1.9 (Extremely Active): if you have a physically engaging job (e.g. manual labor) and you exercise hard 5~7 times per week).
    2. Use an online calculator, such as one found here (http://www.start-losing-weight-today.com/rmr.html) to get your RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate), then multiply the number by the “Activity Factor” above. This approach will be a bit more precise than what I propose above, since you are entering your own unique numbers, as opposed to ranges.
    3. Calculate your caloric burn based on all activities you do throughout the day. I won’t get into this one here, as it takes a bit of time to explain, and it’s not necessary for this exercise.

 For example, I have an RMR of 1,650 based on this chart that I created, which I multiply by 1.725 for being very active, which yields around 2,850 average caloric burn per day. Incidentally, I know that this number is low for me because average RMR is based off of “normal” body fat levels (~15% for men), while more muscular people burn more calories – actually, each additional kilogram of muscle burns around 70+ more calories per day. But this figure is a good starting point, regardless. Whatever approach you take, this figure is just an approximation of your actual caloric burn, which you will use to calculate your Caloric Budget. Each person’s metabolism and musculature is different, so your actual caloric burn can vary tremendously from this.

Step 3: Set Your Caloric Budget by using the Average Daily Caloric Burn you calculated in Step 2 and your own Weight Goal.

  • Caloric Budget: Take your Average Daily Caloric Burn from Step 2 and subtract (lose weight) or add (gain weight) calories to this number as appropriate. For example, if you want to lose 1 pound per week, you must target eating 500 less calories than you burn per day (500 kcal x 7 = 3,500 kcal, which is about 1 pound of fat). If my daily caloric burn is 2,800, then I should set a caloric budget of 2,300 per day to lose a pound a week. Conversely, you should create a caloric surplus to gain weight.
  • Unless you are very experienced with dieting, you should not try to lose more than 2 pounds per week (1,000 caloric deficit per day). Also, DO NOT go under 1,200 calories per day for women and 1,800 calories per day for men without first consulting your doctor or physician.

Step 4: Record everything you eat and weigh yourself every morning. Do this for at least 2 weeks.

  • Finding Nutrition Information: Use food labels and use a nutrition calculator like this one: http://caloriecount.about.com/
  • Key things to record:
    • Food names. If you have trouble finding the nutrition information for a certain food, then you can even break out the food into its components (I do this frequently). For example Roast Beef Sandwich can be broken out into 2 slices of wheat bread, Roast Beef (4 oz), Kraft American Cheese, Mustard, Veggies.
    • Total Calories. Enter the value for each food, then total it for the day.
    • Total Protein (grams). This is important if you are working out and need to take at least 1 gram per pound of body weight.
    • Total Carbohydrate (grams).
    • Total Fat (grams). A general guideline for your health is to try and keep fat as a % of total calories to under 30%.
    • % of Calories from each Macronutrient (protein, carb, fat). Calculate this from the total amounts for the day. Each gram of protein & carb has 4 calories and each gram of fat has 9 calories.
    • Comments (optional) – you can talk about how you are feeling, looking, or whatever else you think is important.
    • Body weight each morning. You will use your this to adjust your caloric budget on a weekly basis.
    • Below is what my calorie counting spreadsheet looks like, as well as a sample eating day. Notice the items that I track, the comments that I leave, and how I break down some foods into their components (e.g. see my jelly sandwich breakfast).

  • Helpful tips & tricks:
    • Copy and Paste in Excel. People often eat similar foods repeatedly, so once you record a food, it’s easy to copy and paste this information over in your spreadsheet, which saves a ton of time.
    • Pre-fill the information and PLAN your Calories for the Day. Pre-filling information helps to keep you under your caloric budget and gives you a good food roadmap for the day.
    • Leave your calorie counting spreadsheet open at work or at home and record what you eat whenever you have time. If you don’t have time, just log the foods you eat first, then come back later to fill in the nutritional information. You can “hide” the fact that you have this spreadsheet open from your colleagues or boss by keeping your work items on top in your PC but use the [Alt] + [Tab] keys to quickly access your spreadsheet whenever you need to.

FYI, I try to keep somewhat close to a 40:40:20 ratio of protein, carbs, and fats in my diet. Of course, this ratio is commonly very off (and that’s okay!), but that’s the ratio I strive towards. Also, remember to get ample protein in your diet (i.e. if you are doing resistance training, you should get at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight).

Step 5: After one week, adjust your caloric budget based on your starting and ending weight. This is an iterative process, and it’s a very important one.

  • Compare your starting weight with your ending weight for the week. If you are trying to lose weight, did you lose weight, and did you lose at the rate that you expected? Based on this information, adjust your Caloric Budget that you calculated in Step 3. For example, if your Average Daily Caloric Burn is 2,500 and you’re trying to eat 500 calories less per day and thus set your Caloric Budget at 2,000 calories (to lose 1 pound per week), then check if you lost a pound of weight. If you lost more than 1 pound, then you may want to adjust your Caloric Budget upwards by a little bit to slow the pace. Conversely, if you lost less than 1 pound or even gained weight, then you may want to adjust your Caloric Budget lower. The spreadsheet below shows how I track my data. Yours DOES NOT need to look this complex. You can just track your daily body weight, then make adjustments to your caloric budget on a weekly basis.

  • Don’t worry about daily weight fluctuations, which are mainly due to things like food, fluid, and waste levels in your body. For me, I’ve seen my body weight spike up and down 3+ pounds per day, measured at about the same time each day, but I don’t worry about it. All that I’m concerned about are longer trends, at least of a week.
  • Keep in mind that if you are gaining or losing muscle during this weight loss or gain phase, then it can throw your numbers off a bit. For example, during many phases of weight loss, you lose fat and lean muscle as well, so your weight loss is not 100% from fat. Also, in some cases, if you are training hard while losing weight, then 1 pound of weight loss may be more than 1 pound of fat loss + lean muscle gains. However, this is practically impossible to track, so you should adjust your caloric budget based on weight loss and ignore the effect of muscle gains or losses.

Step 6: Repeat Steps 4 and 5 until you hit your weight goal. That’s it!

FYI, below are some additional eating tips for when you are eating out at fast food & other restaurants, to help you stay within your caloric budget:

  • Try eating sandwiches (no mayonnaise, no cheese) from places like Subway, Lee’s Sandwiches, or any other Deli/sandwich place, Chinese Chicken Salad with regular dressing (no crutons, bread, or fried wonton), fish or chicken dishes, and lots of vegetables or salads (but be careful about thick dressing, as they are loaded with fat and calories).
  • Try to stay away from fried foods, like French fries, fried chicken, etc. If you’re at KFC, for example, try their grilled chicken instead of their fried chicken.
  • You can eat red meats, but try “protein-style” eating, which means eating the meats without a lot of the rice or breads. You can eat a lot of veggies, as they are low in calories. The reason I suggest “protein-style” is not because carbohydrates like brown rice, breads, and pasta are necessarily bad for you (quite the contrary) but because when you are dieting, you need to keep total calories down, and so I prefer to prioritize protein (needed to rebuild/repair tissue) and because generally you will get enough carbs from other foods that you eat throughout the day.
  • Ask for all of your sauces on the side, then only use part of the sauce.
  • Use portion control on everything, especially if the food is high in calories or is considered “junk food.” If you must eat high-calorie junk foods, use extreme portion control and just take a small piece. This helps satisfy your cravings, while keeping most of the junk out of your system.
  • Don’t drink soda unless they have low/zero calories, like Coke Zero. Drink water – it’s good for you!

After INVESTING in this process for at least 2 weeks, I guarantee that you will understand your body much better, get an intuitive feel for how many calories and amounts of nutrients you are taking in, and you will be well on your way to obtaining your ideal body weight. For me, I’ve made it a habit to record my diet now, and I plan to do this into the foreseeable future. Try counting calories for at least 2 weeks, and let me know what you think! I’d love to hear if this is helpful to you!


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Eating right doesn’t need to suck! Here are my practical “secrets” to getting your body fat down to 5%!

I spent the last couple days thinking, “what should I talk about in my inaugural fitness blog post?”   Should I talk about how to most quickly get ripped and shredded? Or maybe 30 minute workouts for busy professionals on the go? Or perhaps my bench press routine to press over 2x your body weight? Hmmm… then, I sat down for lunch yesterday, and the perfect topic was literally sitting right in front of me, in the form of mouth-watering tri-tip steak (6 oz), scrumptious brown rice, home-made salsa, and kimchee (yes, I’m Korean)!

Some of you know that I’ve been on a diet now for the last couple of months to shred my body fat down below 5% to take pictures for a new project that I’m doing. I’m losing weight at a gradual pace of around 7 pounds a month, or ~1.5 pounds per week. I’m doing this by eating about 800 calories less per day than I burn (since 3,500 calories = 1 pound of fat, this means that I’m losing 1 pound of fat every ~4.5 days)… right now, I’ve figured out that I’m burning about 3,400 calories per day (averaged out over the week), which means that I’m keeping my diet at around 2,600 calories per day. What was encouraging was that last Friday, I went to get my body fat tested, to ensure I was on the path to getting down to 5%… I got tested via the hydrostatic method (the most accurate body fat testing method) at Fitness Wave in San Jose (http://fitnesswavenorcal.com/)… my result came out to just under 5.9%, which was very encouraging, given I have 3 more weeks of dieting left (I thought that maybe I was at around 7% at that time). I’ve actually lost another pound since the test, so this means that I will use the remaining time to drop body fat at a slower rate by actually increasing my caloric intake to about 3,000 per day… this is awesome, as it means I can eat more snacks each day… in fact, I’m snacking on a bag of baked Pop Chips right now, while I’m writing this post!

Anyways, getting back to the topic of losing weight and dieting while eating good foods… you know, I find that dieting has not been nearly as difficult for me as I thought. You know why? Because I’m literally eating like a king while losing weight. Seriously, DIETING and EATING RIGHT DOES NOT NEED TO SUCK! Now, the only place where I find dieting impacts me negatively, is when I engage in heavily cardiovascular activities, like playing basketball or soccer competitively. Since I play both sports competitively every week, I notice that I have less energy, speed, stamina, and power than usual, but that’s somewhat expected because I’m cutting significant calories, and thus other macronutrients along with it. Okay, but aside from that, let me tell you why dieting doesn’t have to suck. First, let me debunk several dieting myths that I know you’ve probably heard at some point:

  1. You gotta severely cut carbs to really lose weight. This is total garbage. I’ve tried both dieting while cutting carbs AND dieting while eating plenty of carbs in a healthy ratio… and both methods work the same, as long as you stay under your caloric budget. In fact, I usually get about 40~50% of my daily calories from carbs (for me, that’s 250~300+ grams/day at current caloric levels), so I stay energetic for my workouts, AND I feel less hungry because I’m not depriving myself of a key macronutrient that gives energy. The reason why a lot of people on Atkins and other carb-deprived diets often lose weight is because along with less carbs, they are eating less calories overall. Look, if a carb-deprived diet works for you to lose weight, AND you can continue this lifestyle with no sugar cravings or lack of energy, then by all means keep doing what works for you. It’s just that for most people, I find that it’s very difficult to cut out this critical macronutrient for the long-term while staying energetic during workouts or exercise.
  2. You have to eat 5~7 times per day to keep your metabolism going. This is not true. Again, it all comes down to how many calories you eat versus how many you consume. It does not matter if you do it in one sitting or seven… as long as you create a caloric deficit, you will lose weight. Now, having said this, there are a few caveats to this… first, if you are involved with weight training, then you need to make sure you get a regular flow of protein into your system, so eating just once a day is not ideal… this is because your body is constantly repairing muscle tissue, and it’s looking for protein to do so… if you starve yourself of protein for most of the day, your body will not have the proper building blocks for growth and can even break down what you have. Thus, if you’re working out a lot, it’s important that you eat at least several times per day to keep a continuous flow of protein coming into your body. As I will show you below, I love eating constantly throughout the day, because for me, this helps me eat less, stay full, and continuously provide protein and nutrients to my muscles. The second caveat is that pragmatically, eating a little less, but more often, tends to keep most people more satiated and thus eat less calories. If this is the case with you (as it is for me), then by all means, eat 5~7 times per day, albeit in smaller portions.
  3. Don’t eat after 6~7 pm, to prevent fat buildup. This is complete and utter hogwash. You know, I stay up until 3~4 am almost every night, working on different projects, and I’m constantly snacking until I go to bed, and it hasn’t impeded my weight loss one bit because I’m staying under my caloric limit for the day. As long as you stay under your caloric budget, it does not matter what time you consume your food. So go ahead and eat that Ham sandwich at 3 AM… I certainly do!

Now that I’ve debunked some prevalent myths, I want to lay a few ground rules to help with your diet. This is especially pertinent if you are on any kind of workout or exercise regimen:

  1. Rule #1: Eat anything you want throughout the day that keeps you full and satisfied… but obviously, stay under your caloric budget (in fact, I’m going to prove this point to you in the future, via an interesting experiment that I plan to run and post on this blog). Now, for long-term nutritional purposes, it’s also a good idea to have a pretty balanced ratio of food intake, though… what I like to do is to try and hit a 40:40:20 ratio in terms of protein to carbs to fats. It’s totally fine if you are off by a bit, though (e.g. 30:50:20, 35:40:25) – I’m usually a bit high on the carbs, as I enjoy eating carbs and they give me plenty of energy for my daily activities.
  2. Rule #2Take a good multi-vitamin (almost any type of multi-vitamin will suffice) and preferably Omega-3 fish oil, and drink lots of water. This is for your overall health and to promote fat-loss (yes, fish oil for fat loss… go figure!). Especially if you are working out along with your diet, it’s very important to take at least a good multi-vitamin supplement. Try to drink at least .5~1 gallon of water per day (8 x 8 oz of water to 16 x 8 oz), as it is essentially to proper bodily functions, electrolytes, etc.
  3. Rule #3: Don’t try to lose too much weight at one time. Seriously. It’s much more sustainable and enjoyable if you take time to lose weight, as opposed to trying to go on a juice diet for 2 weeks to lose 20 pounds. If you’re pretty new to dieting, I would not recommend losing more than 1 pound each week (you do this by eating 500 less calories per day than you consume), unless you absolutely must lose weight in a short time to fit into a certain pair of pants for a near-term event or something like that (chances are, you will not be able to sustain the lower body weight if you lose too fast, and you may even slingshot back to a heavier weight after your diet is finished because you are so hungry and calorie-deprived). If you’ve dieted before, you can try to lose up to 2+ pounds per week, but it can get pretty challenging, especially if you are trying to lose quite a bit of weight while working out hard.
  4. Rule #4: If you are involved with resistance/weight training, you need to consume at least 1 gram of protein per pound of your body weight per day. For serious body builders, crossfit, power lifters, etc. I recommend getting 1.5 grams per pound of body weight. This ensures that you have the most important macronutrient for muscular growth in plentiful amounts. Now, since you have this “constraint” on your diet, you must do just a little bit of planning so that you can ensure that you stay within your caloric budget while getting plenty of protein, while eating the foods that you enjoy and keep you full. As such, this rule becomes a bit of a caveat to Rule #1, which is to eat whatever you want within your caloric budget. What I find helps in this situation is to use nutritional supplements. I use two supplements: one is a meal replacement protein drink (I use Myoplex Original from EAS, but it doesn’t matter at all what brand you use) that has both PROTEIN AND CARBS, and this should be taken within 30 minutes of completing your workout. By the way, the reason you also want carbs (not just protein) after a strenuous workout session is that you must replenish your depleted glycogen stores quickly because if your body cannot replenish this, it may break down muscle tissue to take what it needs. So prevent this from happening by eating a well-balanced meal replacement drink or taking a combination of a protein drink with 24 ounces of Gatorade or a piece of fruit, like a banana or apple. The second supplement I use is Whey protein. I like Whey protein because it provides nearly pure protein with little else (thus low calories)… as such, if I’m short on protein during the day or at night, I drink this to ensure I have ample protein, while adding only a little to my total calories. Also, I like to drink it before bed and first thing in the morning, to give my body plenty of protein to repair muscle tissue while I sleep. FYI, stay away from EAS Whey Protein here, as it tastes like crap and gives the lactose intolerant people like me diarrhea… instead, I like to drink Dymatize Whey Protein because it tastes delicious, just like chocolate milk (Chocolate Mint flavor)… yum…

So here’s a sample of what I eat on a daily basis… it changes day by day and week by week, but I continue to lose fat because I am carefully tracking my calories and staying under a specified limit. By the way, a great resource to find caloric information of different foods is found here: http://caloriecount.about.com/

Sample Day (eat 2,500 – 2,700 kcal):

  • Breakfast: Generally, I drink one serving of Whey Protein, as well as ½ cup of oatmeal (prior to cooking) w/ 1 teaspoon of brown sugar OR a jelly sandwich on 2 wheat bread slices.
  • Mid-morning snack: An energy bar (e.g. Cliff Bar, Granola Bar, Atkins Bar, etc.), an apple, or a serving of yogurt.
  • Lunch:
    • If I’m at home, I eat a plate of meat (6 oz cooked of lean steak, pork, fish, or chicken), 1/2~1 cup of brown rice, and a side of vegetables like salad, kimchee, homemade salsa, spinach, etc. I usually drink water at home (no soft drinks). Sometimes I’ll mix it up by cooking stir-fried veggies with 96% lean ground beef, then I put this over a bit of brown rice. It’s really delicious.
    • If I’m in the office, I usually eat a 6” chicken/roast beef sandwich (e.g. Subway, Toaster Oven, Quizno’s, Lee’s Sandwhich Shop) with no cheese or mayonnaise, but with almost everything else on it (I throw on tons of jalapenos, baby!). Then, I drink either water or a Coke Zero. I try not to waste calories on sugary drinks, like soft drinks, unless they have zero calories.
    • On the weekends, I’ll sometimes eat a big bowl of Pho (delicious Vietnamese rice noodles)… I just have to adjust my calories for the rest of the day a bit because Pho is pretty high in calories… but it tastes OH SO GOOD!~
  • Mid-afternoon snack: ¾ cup of 2% cottage cheese with a sliced apple or pear to make it taste much better; sometimes I’ll eat a yogurt or an energy bar instead.
  • Late-afternoon snack: a piece of fruit, like a banana, or a granola bar.
  • Dinner: I eat another plate of meat (6 oz cooked of lean steak, pork, fish, or chicken), 1/2~1 cup of brown rice, and a side of vegetables like salad, kimchee, homemade salsa, spinach, etc. Again, I mix this up… sometimes I eat home-made steak tacos on wheat tortillas with lots of veggies and salsa. The key is portion control (I stay at around 6 oz of meat, cooked).
  • Post-workout meal: High-protein meal replacement drink (Myoplex Original by EAS) with a banana or 12 ounces of Gatorade, immediately after my workout.
  • Late-night snack: Atkins meal bar, baked chips, granola bar, etc. I eat enough and keep the snacks spaced out to keep myself more full, while staying under my caloric limit. Also, if I’m really craving “bad” foods with high calories or lots of trans fats (e.g. cinnamon rolls with icing, cake, pastries, etc.), I will take a very small piece and just nibble. It helps me “enjoy” that food and eliminate the cravings, at least a little bit, while not putting all of the nasty crap into my system.

All of this comes out to about 2,300~2,600 calories per day, give or take. So I’m eating delicious foods while staying full and losing weight. What really helps is that I’m staying away from potentially super-high calorie foods like mega-sized burritos doused with guacamole & cheese, fried foods with tons of calories & trans/saturated fats, foods with lots of mayonnaise or melted cheese, or restaurants where you are just not sure exactly what ingredients they are using, etc… of course, it’s harder to stay under your caloric budget when you have to eat out a lot (e.g. working professionals), but as long as you use a little common sense (e.g. no mayonnaise or cheese, take it easy on the fatty or fried foods) and portion control, you can stay within your caloric budget. What I do is try and control my eating situation as much as possible – for example, I stick to foods where I know the caloric content (or check it out first online), bring some of my own food to the office, eat at restaurants where I know the menu, have extra meal bars ready to eat just in case, etc… and if I have to eat at a restaurant where I don’t know the menu or ingredients, like at a new Italian restaurant or something, I try to stick with foods that are more easily recognizable, like simple spaghetti with light meat sauce separately on the side, while staying away from the dishes with melted cheeses. If I’m at McDonald’s, I try to order the grilled chicken sandwich and stay away from the French fries or eat just a little bit.

Oh yeah, regarding social situations where you need to drink alcohol… listen, just budget it into your total calories, and you’ll be fine. This is one area that I have to be careful about, because I can seriously put the beers down, especially if they’re dark beers like Guinness, Young’s Oatmeal Stout, Newcastle Brown Ale, etc… but anyways, the worst part about alcoholic drinks are the empty calories they present (they contribute very little to nutrition while racking up the calories), as well as the fact that alcohol prevents protein synthesis and dehydrates you, which are both bad for people who are training… but again, lots of situations arise for me where I need to have drinks, so I just budget it into my daily caloric budget and plan my nutrition more strictly on the days that I know I’m going to be drinking. And of course, just limit the amount that you drink… for example, almost every week, I have a pint or two beers with my indoor soccer team after our game… but you know, I burn a ton of calories playing soccer, so I’m more lenient about my caloric consumption on those days (I’m more concerned about the impact of alcohol on my muscles, as I mentioned). Again, use good common sense (e.g. drink in moderation), and don’t be afraid to have a “cheat day” each week where you indulge in life’s pleasures a bit.

Following these rules while dieting have helped me shred down from ~190 pounds early this year(at ~17% or so body fat ) to almost 170 pounds right now (at ~5% body fat), while retaining most of my strength. I hope some of this information is helpful for your own diets. Good luck, and keep checking my posts, as I’ll follow up with a lot of posts regarding practical advice on dieting, exercising, and interesting fitness-related topics!