Stretching Myself on the Rack

While my title might imply torturous methods, I’ve found a way to expand my work out regimen that’s helping me make progress and I’d like to share it with you.

I’ve been going to the gym 3-5 times a week for the last 6 months. When I started at the gym, I got an introductory session to acquaint myself with the equipment, including the weight lifting machines because I was determined to do weight lifting along with cardio.

Using weight lifting machines has been a great way for me to reshape my body. Slowly, over these past 6 months, some of my body fat has been transformed into muscle. (I know that’s not what actually happens, but you know what I mean.)

And weight machines are an excellent way to get started because the machines are easy to use, and have more controlled movements than free weights. I also liked how I could see my progress on the weight machines as I was able to increase the amount of weight over time.

I had a lengthy discussion with the primary trainer at the gym about how I seem to have hit a plateau on the weight machines. Even though I’m doing my regular workouts, I don’t see the kinds of results I got in the first six months. My body has adapted to my workout, and I haven’t changed things up enough.

The trainer suggested it was time for me to head over to the weight rack, and begin using free weights. He was nice enough to show me several exercises, and explained how I could do all of the exercises I was doing on the machine with free weights.

One thing that immediately surprised me was the extreme difference in the amount of weight I could lift. With the free weights, I felt like a wimp! The trainer said that’s normal. He said that I might be able to lift 30% of the amount of weight I was doing on the machine because free weights require more muscle groups to be engaged since there is no machine there to limit and control the movement of the weight.

But guess what? After only a few sessions with lighter weights at the free weight rack, I’m already seeing a difference in my workouts at the machines! (Yes, I’m still working out on all the machines I’d been using, plus adding new exercises with the free weights.)

I’m very excited about this new breakthrough I seem to be having with the free weights. I’ve got to be patient for the results, but I’d like to see where I am in another 3 weeks of doing free weights plus the weight machines, plus my cardio.

So, if you’re exclusively using weight machines to do your lifting, consider going to the rack!

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Vegan Weight Lifting – Creatine Update

At the end of August I began experimenting with taking Creatine to enhance my weight lifting regimen at the gym. I decided not to follow the “typical” recommendations which suggest that a person do “loading” where you take larger doses of creatine to jack up the blood levels of this naturally occurring substance. Instead I opted for a slow daily half dose of the recommended 5 mg a day… which meant I took 2.5 mg a day for a few weeks.

Within 3 days of taking this level dosage, I felt a huge improvement in my weight lifting at the gym. Suddenly, I was able to increase the amount of weight I was lifting at all of my machines, and overall I felt more energized during my workouts. Everything seemed to be working as expected.

Unfortunately, one known side effect of taking creatine is water retention. As I monitored myself on the scale, I did notice a 1-2 pound increase and I figured it was water retention, but I was okay with that because of the tremendous improvement to the work out.

And then, I began retaining water in my ankles. It wasn’t anything severe, but I realized it was clearly a side effect from the creatine, so as a way of testing if my hypothesis was right, I stopped taking it.

Sure enough, my ankles returned to normal size and the water gains I saw on the scale disappeared.

But… I also saw the negative effect on my workout too. Where I’d previously felt stronger and more able to take on higher amounts of weight, I now felt weaker and had to take a step back on the amount of weight I was lifting.

What’s incredible to me, is that it really was that direct an effect AND that dramatic in terms of the increase and decrease to performance. It was quite surprising.

Because I do have some aspect of the scientist in me, I decided to do another “experiment” on myself. This time, I would take creatine again, but in an even smaller dosage. I figured I would try a 1/4 dose, instead of a half dose. That meant taking 1.25 mg / day, instead of the previous 2.5 mg dose I’d been using.

After maybe 4 days I did not see a dramatic improvement at the gym, but I did begin slight retaining of water and slight swelling of the ankles returned too.

So, these two tests lead me to stop taking creatine, because of the side effects I experienced.

However, it does work. Creatine does greatly enhance weight lifting, especially when – as a vegan or vegetarian – your body is not getting the natural source of creatine that meat eaters get.

Each athlete has to make their own decisions about what’s best for them. For me, I’d like to be able to use creatine, but my body does not react well to the water retention … even at lower doses.

As a vegan athlete (who does eat eggs), I have to work harder than my meat-eating, weight lifting counterparts to achieve results. My power gains at the gym will likely be slower as a result.

Also as a vegan athlete, I have to be mindful of getting enough protein too. I continue to use brown rice powder protein shakes (I use the Growing Naturals brand, which provides 24 g of protein per scoop.) The shakes are part of my recovery process, which has been beneficial.

In the more than 3 months I have gone to the gym and I’ve continued to see progress. I’ve dropped two clothing sizes (inches) and I can see much better muscle definition than I had before I started. The progress seems frustratingly slow sometimes, especially because it takes so much effort to achieve results. Also, this routine requires a freakishly zealous adherence to eating about 1400 calories a day so that I don’t back-slide.

But, I feel the results have been worth it.

Me 10-3-14 LBD cropped

Vegetarian and Vegan Weight Lifting – Consider Creatine

While perusing a bookstore recently, I found Vegan For Her, by Virginia Messina. It’s a very good reference book for women who are interested in a vegan lifestyle.

I was especially impressed with Chapter 8, which has 7 pages dedicated to “Powered by Plants: The Female Vegan Athlete”.

In particular, I learned something important I didn’t know. Vegetarians and Vegans are low in Creatine, and should consider supplementation, particularly for athletes who are weight lifting, like me.

Creatine is a substance that naturally occurs in the body, and supports the body’s ability to build muscle. For women who are afraid of “getting big” that is NOT what happens when a woman does weight lifting. Instead, a woman builds bone density, and builds a lean, muscular form and as a result your resting metabolic rate rises, and voila… you burn more calories even when at rest. That also means it will be more likely that you’d be able to reduce overall levels of body fat.

Needless to say, weight lifting means doing the work and I’m not talking about lifting a 5 pound dumb bell once a week! My routine is a minimum of 4 weight lifting days per week, with 2 dedicated to upper body and 2 dedicated to lower body. I’m working on 5-7 weight lifting machines per workout, and continuing to increase the amount of weight resistance I use over time.

Back to Creatine.

Here’s what VeganHealth.Org says about it (http://www.veganhealth.org/articles/weightlifting):

 

Creatine (also known as creatine monohydrate) is the only nutritional supplement that has been consistently shown to improve strength and muscle mass. The main benefit of creatine is thought to be due to its effect on reducing fatigue during repeated, short bursts of intense exercise (such as weightlifting, sprinting, soccer, rugby, and hockey . Lower fatigue during sprinting and weightlifting means increased training and greater results.

 

Creatine is a component of phosphocreatine (PCr). PCr provides energy during short bursts of powerful exercise, by providing a phosphate for the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the quickest source of energy in skeletal muscle. Depletion of PCr in muscle is associated with fatigue during such exercise.

 

Creatine can be synthesized in the body. It is also supplied in the diet by meat and fish. Supplementing with creatine has been shown to increase performance especially in people whose creatine levels in muscle were initially on the lower side of normal.

Guess whose creatine levels are typically on the lower side of normal because we don’t eat meat or fish? Yeah, you guessed it: Vegans and Vegetarians.

There are vegetarian/vegan sources of Creatine, and a company called Now Sports makes one variety of Creatine Monohydrate that I’m using right now which is vegan, based on the label. There may be others, but my local health food store stocks this one – so it’s the one I got.

If you are interested in creatine, and read about it, you’ll read about “Creatine Loading.” For athletes looking to rapidly increase the amount of creatine in their bodies, there is a process whereby you take higher doses of the supplement during the “loading phase” which usually lasts 5-6 days. After that, you would return to the normal daily dose.

Since I have never taken creatine before, I decided to play it much more conservatively. There are potential side effects to taking creatine, including retaining water, and before you decide to take ANY supplement, you should do the research to determine whether or not it’s right for you.

So, I began taking only 2.5 milligrams (mg) of creatine per day, mixed with fruit juice since creatine is more readily absorbed in the body when coupled with carbohydrates. In most reading I’ve done, 5mg per day is the recommended daily dose, with perhaps a 10mg (min) per day during a loading phase. You can see, I’m below even the daily recommended dose because I wanted to try it without overloading my system right away. I am fine taking a more gradual approach.

After only 4 days of supplementation, I can already see the difference in my weight lifting routines. I have more power and explosive energy when I begin doing my repetitions, and I do not feel as tired at the end of my four sets as I had previously.

Of course, creatine is part of a larger picture equation.

I have purposefully increased the amount of protein I eat every day, while still keeping an eye on my calories. An adult woman needs 46 grams of protein a day, but a vegan weight lifter needs more than that, and the amount of protein you eat should be calculated based on your body weight. And of course you still need carbohydrates to fuel your workout, while your protein intake (especially immediately after your lifts) will help with recovery.

I’d love to hear from other vegan athletes, especially weight lifters, to see if creatine has been helpful to you too?

 

 

The Tyranny of Protein – or – Vegan No More

This decision has been weighing on my mind for months.

I’ve struggled with my vegan dietary habits mightily, and after about 8+ months of eating mostly vegan, I have decided that I can no longer sustain this level of dietary restriction.

However, I have particular reasons and I have a set of ideas about what I will do next, moving forward.

For those of you that have been following along with me on this journey, please keep reading.

1) I originally thought going vegan was going to help me lower my cholesterol to the point where I could get off my cholesterol medications. This was a patently false assumption on my part, and was unfortunately validated through blood tests with my doctor. After eating vegan with a rare exceptional egg in the diet, my bad cholesterol and triglycerides were higher than my previous readings … because I’d slacked off on my cholesterol medication. According to my doctor my form of cholesterol is (probably) genetic. There will be no miracle dietary intake to get me off my meds.

2) Now that I am entering week five of my daily gym routine, and I am one week into eating eggs again, and because I have not successfully kicked my daily hopping on the scale habit, I have noticed something radical.

I AM LOSING WEIGHT.

And I’m losing weight now at a more steady pace, since I have re-introduced animal protein into my diet.

Other than the dietary change, I am not exercising more, so I ascribe the weight loss to the dietary change.

I have to say, this is not a shock to me. As someone who has been eating vegan for 8+ months, I know that in order to consume my vegan protein it comes with a LOT of carbs. Black beans, lentils, and quinoa are all terrific sources of vegetable protein.

However, please consider:

  • 15 oz can of black beans = 315 calories / 24.5 grams protein / 66.5 grams carbs
  • 1 cup of lentils, cooked = 622 calories / 48.4 grams protein / 108 grams carbs
  • I cup quinoa, cooked =    635 calories / 22.3 grams protein / 117 grams carbs

VERSUS

  • 3 fried eggs                   = 260 calories / 18.6 grams protein / ZERO CARBS

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I’m not making complex carbohydrates my enemy, however in my struggles to lose weight at a steady pace, the levels of carbohydrate intake in a vegan diet are not working with me, they’re working against me. I have to work much harder to lose weight with the levels of carbs I’m taking in.

In the subject line of this post, I’ve put it out there – I am vegan no more because I am eating eggs again.

Theoretically, I’m now a vegetarian… except, I’m still not eating dairy. I see no need to reintroduce dairy into my diet at this time and I’m comfortable sticking to that.

But given where I am in my journey, I am going to reconsider the possibility of consuming two other foods, in addition to eggs, that are animal based: chicken and tuna fish.

Both chicken and tuna fish are lean sources of protein, and are generally healthier than most other forms of animal protein (like red meat, pork, bacon, etc.)

Also, like eggs, they are extremely high in protein, relatively low in calories and cholesterol and have zero carbs. These factors make these particular food sources attractive options if I decide I’m okay to go back to eating animal protein again.

Since I have proven to myself that I can live with many different kinds of dietary restrictions and stick with them, I’m comfortable with the idea of eating chicken or tuna every once in a while. I suspect my body will “tell me” if it wants animal protein.

In fact, higher levels of protein … between my brown rice protein shakes, which I still use daily for a decent boost of 24 grams of protein, along with other sources, has made my workout recoveries more bearable. I can tell I need higher levels of protein than the “normal” 46 grams of daily protein recommended for an adult woman to see the results I want.

And speaking of results, it’s been a while since I posted a progress photo of how I am doing.

Here’s how I look now… and the journey continues………

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Progress photo - 7-25-14

Progress photo – 7-25-14

My Vegan Journey – A Whole New Level

I recently wrote about my bad cholesterol results after the first six months of my (mostly) vegan eating regimen. I vowed in that post to up the ante on myself, and that’s exactly what I am doing.

This is a whole new level of commitment.

To recap, I’m totally off meat, chicken, fish, all dairy, eggs, caffeine, or alcohol. I have eliminated white bread and white pasta from my diet as well. (I’m still struggling to eliminate white potatoes from my plate…)

But that’s just the starting point these days. That’s just the price of entry.

Begin at the beginning - this is how I look today

Begin at the beginning – this is how I look today

I joined a gym near my house and have begun a daily weight lifting regimen. Based on input from the in-house trainers, I do a circuit of six different machines, and do three sets on these machines.

After I’m done lifting, I hit the stair master.

When I’m done with the stair master, I get on the elliptical machine.

Then I walk home, and drink a brown rice protein shake.

And THEN, I go out and do either a 4 or 6 mile walk outside.

I am doing this every day, although after three straight days of doing weight lifting I take one day off from lifting and just do the cardio part of the routine.

This level of commitment is extremely difficult and time consuming. I spend a lot of time preparing my food and exercising. I’m not sure how long I can keep it up, but I’m determined to DO MY BEST.

I’ve really only just begun, so I have not seen anything in the way of results yet. Within the next few weeks, I would expect to see movement on my scale in the downward direction…

More to come on my progress when it’s available………