Living healthier – my first year

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This is the story of my mental and physical transformation that began in August 2011. I’m sharing my story in the hopes that sharing my experience will help someone consider giving up unhealthy practices and work towards a healthier life.

At the time of this writing, I’m ten days away from turning 34 years of age and am arguably in the best shape of my life. It’s not something that I regularly admit to myself, but over the past year, I’ve come pretty far and am damn proud of my accomplishments.

Here’s how I got on the wrong track to begin with.

From fit to fat in 16 years!

After Highschool, I joined the United States Air Force, where I served for four years. I entered the USAF weighing 165lbs. During the first six months, I got into amazing shape. I was, after all, 17 years old at the time. During basic training, I trained pretty hard. I got down to 143 pounds. This was due to a few factors, but rigorous training was mostly responsible.

The following months after basic training, I went to a technical school where I learned critical skills to be an aircraft electrician. I continued to train physically, but definitely not as much as I had in basic training. After getting to my first duty station (Langley Air Force Base, VA), things started to go down hill.

As a “grease monkey”, I consumed a lot of fast food. This was due to the time constraints of being an aircraft electrician, supporting a squadron of extremely active F-15C/D fighter jets. During the last three years of my duty with the USAF, my weight shot up to 165lbs, my pre-Air Force weight. This is when I started to hold my job as a higher priority over my health. I was not smart!

I left the Air Force in 2000 and went to work for Marriott International at a datacenter located in Frederick, Maryland. I started off on 3rd shift (11PM – 7AM), supporting many of their critical automated systems. During this time, my weight continued to rise, as the demands of this lifestyle is not conducive to an active lifestyle. I consumed a lot of fast food, and to keep up with daily life, I didn’t sleep much and earned a heavy addiction to caffeine.

My caffeine addiction caused health issues

By the time I started strength training in 2011, I had already been experiencing severe ocular migraines, causing impaired vision in my left eye. I also had near chronic heart palpitations. All of which were caused by a mixture of stress and too much caffeine – a bad combination!

After my initial four years at Marriott, I switched to a day job, where I continued to lead an unhealthy lifestyle. After all, I was in my mid-20s, still feeling pretty damn young and figured I had all the time in the world to get fit, right? I thought, “I’ll do something soon,” but I kept putting it off!

I left Marriott in 2007 to start my own consulting company, causing me to travel a lot. This meant, you guessed it, eating out quite often. After all, work demands did not leave a lot of time to prepare healthy meals! And like many adults, to relieve stress, I consumed alcohol. By late 2011, I weighed 183 pounds. At 5’4″, I had my feet firmly planted in The Land of Obesity.

Are you starting to see the pattern here?

Since I started my working career, I consistently let work prioritize my life. I let my job take priority over my health! How many people do you know do this?

Today, I fully realize that I need to be healthy to be successful at my job. So what happened? What changed?

Inspiration slapped me in the face (many times over)

My life began to turn around in the winter of 2011, when I traveled in San Francisco. My brother in law, Mark Seto, happened to live close by, so I decided to have lunch with him. Mark is a Veteran of the United States Marine Corps and today is a personal trainer.

During that lunch I suggested that he run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Mark took up the challenge and since the marathon was only a few months away, he started to train hard.

A friend of mine from the Sencha Community, Nigel White (Ext JS Animal to some of you), is an avid bike rider. He would ride for over 60 miles and publish the stats via endomondo, a smartphone app that tracks workouts with GPS, on Facebook.

Nigel is in his late 40’s and became a source of inspiration for me. After seeing lots of his workouts posted on Facebook, I thought to myself (mentally yelled, actually) “you have to get off your fat ass and do something! Here is this guy, older than you, and look how active he is!”.

I started to ride my bike in an effort to get fit on August 16, 2011. My first bike ride was a mere 4.7 miles and it took me over 30 minutes to complete! I can remember that ride as if it was yesterday! I was so out of breath. I got thirsty quickly. My quads ached after the first mile! After that first bike ride, I ached for over 3 days!

Through the rest of the summer and through to November, I continued to ride and capped my bike riding at 40 miles, my longest bike ride ever. After that ride, I stopped.

The reason I stopped is because I had learned that cardio-based workouts really wouldn’t help me lose weight due to the fact that those types of workouts wouldn’t raise my resting metabolic rate (RMR) much, which is key to burning fat mass. Also, I would need to devote over 3 hours at a time to bike riding to get the calorie burn from riding 60 miles — something that I could not sustain.

After a lot of nudging from my wife, and getting over my hesitation, I decided to join a local gym. I visited the gym 2 to 3 times per week, running on the treadmill for 10 – 15 minutes, then doing some curls and a few other things on machines. I thought I knew what I was doing. I thought that I was serious about living healthier. Boy was I wrong!

Why did I hesitate to join a gym?

Part of my resistance to join a gym was more personal than anything. I had become embarrassed at my physical condition and really was afraid of having people look at me and judge me. It turns out, this was absolutely all in my head. No one cares about what I am doing. No one cares about how fat I am. What I learned is that you start to build relationships with strangers at the gym. And, being in a place where (most) people are trying to get healthier and stronger is really good for your own resolve! If you’re like me, seeing physically fit people at the gym can become a source of inspiration.

In late October of 2011, Mark flew from California to Washington D.C. to run in the Marine Corps Marathon Marathon. (I produced a small film about him that you can watch here). Seeing Mark complete the marathon became a huge source of inspiration and motivation for me. Imagine seeing someone who had never run a marathon actually do it, and complete it without stopping (after only a couple months of training)! On that day, I promised myself that I would work harder to live a healthier lifestyle. Notice that I didn’t say “lose weight”; I said “healthier lifestyle!”

The discovery of Strength Training

Earlier, I mentioned that Mark is a personal trainer. Knowing this, I decided to take him up on an offer to go to the gym with me. Mark needed to work out some of his soreness from the prior day’s marathon, and he also wanted to educate my wife and I on some exercises that we could perform that do not require “doing the machines”. This is when my eyes opened up to the world of strength training!

At my wife’s suggestion, I started to read a book on strength training: The New Rules of Lifting for Life by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.

Before I go into the details of this book, I should let you know that I have an extremely busy lifestyle. I am co-founder of Modus Create, co-author of two books on Sencha Technologies and am involved with my kids’ education. I don’t have a lot of time to myself or time to read for pleasure. With this book, however, I read from cover to cover in what little spare time I had, even losing some sleep time.

In short, this book helped me fully come to grips with my (then) unhealthy conditions and allowed me to peer a little into the future. I saw myself having trouble doing basic things like getting out of the bed without assistance or out of a car without the use of the door as leverage. At the time I was reading this book, I had already been experiencing lower back pain just from sleeping! I had to pull myself out of small cars with the handle and had trouble lifting my (then) 35 pound 5 year old. I could not do more than 5 pushups in a row or even walk a flight of stairs without being winded. I also experienced shoulder pain when lifting my arm for simple daily activities. Simply unhealthy and unfit!

In his book, Schuler highlighted all of the problems that I was having at that time, but in the future tense. This quickly opened my eyes. I realized that I was 33 years old and was experiencing health issues of a 50 year old. At that point, I became committed to changing my path. I could no longer bear the health issues I was having. My doctor suggested future surgery for my shoulder pain issues but Schuler said that it’s common for weak shoulders. Yes – weak! I fully registered that not only was I over weight but I was physically weak! Enough!

The other facet to this book that broadened my horizon on strength training was the notion that strength training is not the same as body building. Strength training is a method of training to increase one’s strength and promote health, where definition (gaining lean mass) and fat loss are an effect of the training. Body building focuses on physique and bulk. After all, I am a computer programmer and I don’t aspire to be a model.

Schuler helped me understand how people typically become, what he calls “gym rats,” where they go to the gym and simply “do machines.” I learned that most fitness machines that don’t incorporate free weights but work via muscle isolation. This is really good for body building but not particularly good for strength training. So I decided to stay away from any machine that isolated muscle groups and started to work with free weights more.

One important fact to strength training, that I’ve gotten to fully understand, is that free weights are a good tool and can be used in a way where you can get stronger without bulking up. For example, the squat, if done properly, engages your quads (upper thighs), glutes (your butt muscles), hams (back of your thighs), spinal erectors (back muscles that help your spine stay aligned) and even your rraps (muscles located your back between your shoulders). With so many muscle groups engaged, the squat is perfect for strength training and not just for people at the gym looking to bulk up.

A revisit to RMR

I said earlier that bike riding didn’t really help me lose the weight that I’d hope to. This is because cardiovascular exercises will only raise your metabolic rate for a relatively short period of time. After the workout, known as the rest period, your metabolic rate will decrease sharply. The only way to really keep your metabolic rate high is to shock the muscles through strength training exercises. Strength training, if done correctly, will increase your metabolic rate and it will stay elevated over a much longer period of time after a workout compared to cardio exercises. This is key to long-term calorie burn, aiding in the burning of fat for longer periods of time and the building of lean (muscle & bone) mass. If you mix strength training with cardio, then your resting metabolic rate can stay elevated up to 48 hours post workout. Imagine that! Doing a workout and your body burns calories up to two days later as if you were still working out. Simply awesome!

With this newly found knowledge and determination, I saw myself in a completely different way. No more would I eat food that did not aid in my goals of getting healthier. No more would I consume alcohol (special occasions are an exception!). I also had to give up my coffee addiction. In order to give up caffeine, I had to learn to actually get sleep! All of these changes were extremely tough for me, both mentally and physically. But I was determined!

A quick word about alcohol consumption

Through research, I learned that alcohol raises estrogen levels in men, contributing to non-flattering man-boobs. Estrogen also counteracts testosterone. Testosterone is important for muscle building in men!

I found an opportunity to better myself with each workout. This meant that I began to welcome post-workout soreness, where I previously was pretty much afraid of it. What I’ve learned is that in order to progress, you absolutely have to shock your muscles. This “shock” causes lactic acid to build up in your muscles, giving you that sore feeling. Later on, when I talk about nutrition, I’m going to tell you what I take and what I do to help combat muscle soreness.

I’m now determined to work out hard and change my life. The exercises that Schuler discusses helped me learn about the exercises themselves. But how would I really know if my form was OK? This is where I needed to seek help.

Training for education

Per my wife’s advice (are you starting to see a pattern here?), I looked for a trainer at my local gym. Even though I was hesitant, I ended up finding someone who understood my goals. I hesitated because over six years earlier, I spent a day with a meat head at a Gold’s Gym, where the dude put me on isolation machines and had me work out until I was extremely sore. He did nothing to discuss proper workout techniques. That sucked so bad that I did not want to repeat that experience!

At my local gym, I was lucky enough to meet Brandon Jones, a physical trainer. I explained to Brandon that I wanted to get healthier and stronger. I told him that building lean mass was my first goal. I also explained that I recognized that burning fat would be an effect of building lean mass (along with proper nutrition of course!) but “losing weight” was not something that I was targeting. I told Brandon that I was mentally “all in” and that this was a life-long goal for me. Brandon learned that I fully understand that I am responsible for my health and that I wanted to use him as a conduit for knowledge, not to depend on him to make me healthier.

After this short but intense relay of information, Brandon paused and smiled from ear to ear. Gleefully, he acknowledged all of my concerns and goals and ensured me that he would work to teach me something new with each session and that “doing the machines” is not something that I’d have to worry about unless there was a specific need. Brandon also explained that he would do his best to answer any questions that I would have and thoroughly explain exercises including proper form and their benefits.

Lesson Learned: “Doing the (isolation) machines” can be beneficial

One day, while toying with my 4 year old, I pulled a lower back muscle that nearly prevented me from walking upright. Brandon showed me how to use a machine that isolated my back muscles, allowing me to work them, softening the tissue and aiding in a reduced recovery time.

After my first workout with Brandon, I realized that this was a huge opportunity that I was not going to waste! I continued to work with Brandon, but a new source of inspiration came across my radar.

My first fitness goal: Tough Mudder

In the spring of 2012, both of my brothers in law, Mark and Keisey, took part in an event called Tough Mudder. I was fascinated by the idea of doing something like that but I honestly didn’t think that I was physically fit.

This changed after I saw a video by (Andy “The Mustache Man” Thom) that he produced for his 45th birthday.

After seeing this video, all I could think to myself was “Holy shit!” Seriously, “Holy shit!” was my initial thought. Why did I think that?

Why did Andy dump water on himself and run barefoot?

Tough Mudder is an event that requires absolute mental fitness as well as physical. One of the obstacles, the Arctic Enema, is a dunk into a pool of ice water (about 34 degrees Fahrenheit). Getting used to that type of shock is something that requires training. I can speak from experience; I did not train for the shock and hyper ventilation that I experienced during my first Arctic Enema!

Also Andy is running barefoot because it’s actually healthier for you! Chances are that what you’ve been taught about running is wrong. Check out the following video, which actually explains the physics of barefoot running (toe to heel): .

When he filmed the video, Andy was forty five years old and in absolutely amazing shape and he still is! How did he get in that shape? Hard fcking work! Dedication and hard fcking work! He didn’t start at 45 – he’s been active his entire life. I couldn’t help but contrast his physical condition to my own. I am 33 years old, barely able to run a single mile or do more than 3 pull-ups. Andy became part of my arsenal of inspiration, and after some nudging from my wife (yeah, there she goes again!), I decided to sign up for Tough Mudder in my home town, which took place on September 8, 2012.

Andy’s video inspired me to make a video of my own that documented my training for my first Tough Mudder. Here, you’ll find me at the gym doing all types of things, including free weights and even body weight exercises. Brandon is in a few of the shots (red shirt), and you can see a lot of what he’s taught me as far as things to do at the gym that don’t involve “doing the machines” (with the exception of the machine that helped me with my lower back issues).

Jay Trains for Tough Mudder (2012) from Jay Garcia on Vimeo.

My first Tough Mudder

Tough Mudder was pretty damn tough for me. I had to run about 12 miles, which is way more than I’ve traveled on foot in a single day, ever. I was sore just about all over for a few days but I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in it. I completed the course in a little over four hours, which is not fast by any means. Here is a video of my experience (it’s rather long – 26 minutes). I will warn you that there is a lot of explicit language in this video.

Modus Create visits Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic 2012!! from Modus Create on Vimeo.

After my first Tough Mudder, I quickly learned that as far as Mudders go, the one I experienced was extremely mild compared to others! This includes the Tri-State Mudder in New Jersey, which I promptly signed up for (October 20, 2012 – my 34th birthday!).

Here’s the video from the 2011 Tri-State tough Mudder:

This week, I will complete a regimen of 5 to 6 days of rigorous training for this next event. I am stronger and faster than ever. I’ve talked a lot about training, but what about nutrition? Surely training isn’t the only thing that’s key to getting fit, right?

Some thoughts about nutrition

One thing that I’ve come to understand is that nutrition is extremely important. You truly are what you eat. Choosing the right food for your body is important. Each choice you make helps or hurts your health. For me, this meant reducing or eliminating anything that is really high in calories and fat.

I’ve learned to reduce my portion sizes. The portions of food we are given at restaurants or even sometimes at home are way too big. When I go out to eat, I typically share a meal with my wife. We split it down the middle and we get a meal that satiates our hunger, not stuffing us. If I’m eating out alone, I take the meal and split it in half, taking the half I don’t consume back home with me.

After my first few months of workouts, I found that I craved fatty foods and complex carbohydrates. My sense is that that can be quite normal as a good work out will burn a lot of calories and your body will want to replenish energy stores immediately.

What I’ve been doing to satiate the post-workout hunger is consume a high protein shake as soon as my workout is complete. This helps with immediate muscle repair and actually reduces post-workout soreness. After I get home, I consume a “recovery” shake that is fortified with vitamins and has some levels of carbohydrates to assist with critical mental and body functions. Since I’m starved for time, I use the products from Vega Sport. These products are made from pure plant sources (I’m not vegan by any means), and the quality of the products are really high. They are not the cheapest on the market, however.

Another post-workout routine I use to reduce muscle soreness is to consume coconut water. Potassium is a nutrient that helps flush out lactic acid in your muscles, which is why you feel sore after intense workouts. Taking one or two servings of coconut water after a workout has helped increase my recovery time from extremely hard workouts from two or more days to one!

Looking to the future

I’ve learned so many things over the past year, that it’s hard to share it all. I’ve tried to share as much as possible with you, but this blog post has gotten a lot longer than I was planning.

The best I could say is that if you’re determined enough, you can overcome just about any obstacle. Remember those ocular migraines and heart palpitations I was experiencing? They are no longer an issue. Remember the shoulder pain I told you about? No longer a problem! Why? Because I’m not physically weak any more! I’ve strengthened muscles that hold my shoulder together, effectively eliminating the need for surgery – something my doctor suggested.

Everything in life must be balanced. Family, health and work all must be in harmony in your life. For me, letting work take over health in priority, put things really out of balance, causing me to become obese and physically weak. I’m proud to say that today, this is no longer the case.

Like I said before, I started all of this stuff because I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle. This means that training will be something that I will do as long as I’m physically capable! What I’ve learned is that age is not a limiting factor if you are determined enough. Ernestine Sheppard is a 75 year old female body builder who has won several body building competitions and is a source of inspiration for me as well. You can learn more about her in this video.

Thanks for reading. Live strong and stay healthy!

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