Tuesday, November 29, 2011

You can really learn a lot that way....

It was 1976.
We had this second-year Latin teacher, Mr. O, in high school who was completely incompetent. A nice man, mind you, but not ready to teach high school. We knew more at the end of first-year Latin with another teacher than at any point during Mr. O's class. He was actually somehow sucking prior knowledge right out of our brains and replacing it with nothing. Yet, there were tests. Of course there were tests; it was high school. How do you do well on a test when you are not being taught anything? That was a conundrum that was solved early on in the first semester by a group of five clever individuals.

Mr. O had a funny routine on test day: he would give us 15 minutes to "review" before the test, and there was always a translation section taken right from the book. So, on test day, the Group of Clever Individuals (GCI), of which I was not a part--I was way too shy back then to pull off their stunts--would watch Mr. O come into class, and, as soon as he laid the tests on the podium at the front of the room and then walked across the room, three of them would immediately run up to him and ask him questions, blocking his view of their fourth member, who was stealing a copy of the test. GCI member #4 would then hand the test to thoroughly brilliant GCI member #5, who would not only tell us all which part of the book the translation was from, allowing us to look up all the words, but would also do a quick translation himself, and pass that around in case we needed a little extra help. The GCI were heroes--fighting The Man, getting us all good grades. They were legends.

And, for a very long time, we were all geniuses. We were scoring close to 100% on the exams, and Mr. O must have thought he was the best teacher in the world. Everyone won, well, except, I suppose, anyone who actually was planning on learning Latin that year, but we were high-school sophomores....please.

Which brings me to my point--everyone needs to know what he or she is good at, and don't show off when you don't know what you're doing. Don't play wildly out of your league.

Back to Latin class--the whole 10th grade genius Latin class was derailed when, in the spring semester, a kid named Robert, desperately trying to be cool, attempted to butt in on GCI #4's turf and be The Guy Who Actually Stole the Test. This freaked out GCI #4, who wondered why Robert was heading for the podium at the same time as he was--was he a narc, a rat, etc? And the ensuing scuffle at the front of the room caught Mr. O's attention despite the best efforts of GCI #s 1-3 to keep O engaged in conversation. Robert was out of his league, trying to get in on the glory of being a GCI member. I like to think important lessons were learned.

Latin class was really difficult the rest of the year.

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And if your confidence may be shattered, it doesn't matter....

"I try to keep myself in situations that will teach me shit. The more challenging, the better. It keeps me young, curious, and humbled. Life isn’t supposed to be figured out. It’s supposed to have twists and turns and things you can’t predict." --Mike Watt

I am not an enormous fan of limitations. I think most of them are self-imposed horseshit like: "I know I would be better off if I stopped eating _____, but that'd be *impossible*."

Those ones aren't truly a matter of "can't." They are a matter of "won't."

Then there are others that are, for the moment, firmly planted in the "can't" category, but those are temporary. Like right now I can't do a muscle-up. But I think it's possible that with a hell of a lot of work/practice, I may get there.

And generally speaking, that's how I approach everything in CrossFit: keep trying and I will get it, eventually.

I think that attitude may be a little too optimistic -- and perhaps painfully counterproductive -- when it comes to the jerk.

You have a barbell at shoulder height. There are basically three ways to get it over your head: press it, just using your arms; push-press it, using your arms assisted by a dip/drive from your legs; or jerk it, launching the bar upwards with a jump and then diving under the bar to catch it with your arms already locked-out overhead. Theoretically, the amount of weight you can get overhead goes up fairly dramatically as you move from press to push-press to jerk.

But it's the "lockout" part of the equation that I am afraid falls into the "can't" category for me when it comes to the jerk.

I have been playing drums for the last 30 years. Over time, thanks to the lack of full 180-degree extension every time I hit a cymbal (which I do 99% of the time with my right arm), I now simply cannot straighten my right arm. Well, I can't straighten my left arm either, also from drumming, but it is the right one that is especially horrifying. I would estimate that, at best, I can get it to about 165 degrees, although a protractor might give me a number slightly worse than that.

I do mobility exercises to try to straighten both arms. There is an especially painful one that involves using a giant rubber-band thingy to literally force it straighter, but, in the end, I think the best I am doing for it is preventing it from getting worse.

Which brings us to the jerk....

We did one-rep jerks today at CrossFit. For the third straight time, my jerk is no better than my push-press because when I jerk a heavier-than-i-can-push-press weight overhead I can't catch it with locked-out arms.

Try catching a flying heavy barbell with non-locked-out arms.

It hurts, a lot. It's as if someone is ripping your elbow, wrist and shoulder off in different directions.

I don't think I am doing myself any favors by trying the jerk.

This type of realization is difficult for me, but I suppose it is important to learn the difference between won't and can't whenever possible.

The learning never stops. It's just that some of it hurts more than others.

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Monday, November 28, 2011

But if you try sometimes, you just might find....

If the Buddhists have a notion that pervades all their thinking, it is impermanence. And the older I get, the more I think they have that one right. Some stuff just dies on the vine, and you can't do a damn thing about it, except treasure the things that stick around a little longer.

Let the bad things (and people) go, and enjoy the ones who matter. In fact, usually it's the people that matter.

A few years back, an old friend of mine called me up and told me that he had about ten crates of albums (vinyl) to give me as long as I was willing to drive the 550 miles to his place to pick 'em up. OK, I said, not thinking too hard about it. He is an odd duck and it didn't seem too strange that he would be dumping thousands of dollars of albums on me in some kind of mad house-cleaning exercise. Little did I know that he was in the process of shedding all his friends (not a long list) in some sort of cosmic dump of all his old life. This guy was a two-pack/day smoker for years, and has, in the ensuing time, I learned, quit smoking, taken up trail running and generally started over.

Except, as far as I know, he is still a lonely bastard.

I have given up trying to figure that one out.

But I think, by and large, I have given up trying to figure *any* of it out. You cannot control people and their behavior. You can just try to pick your friends carefully.

Which brings me to the impending wonder of what we call "band camp."

Bands are funny things. They are utterly dependent on both a solid group dynamic and the foibles/oddball tendencies of the individuals. Have one disruptive character in the group who isn't riding the same train as the others and, no matter how good you sound as a group, that kind of band won't make it to its first anniversary, let alone go for the long haul.

So when the same people have gotten together once a year for the last 25 years to meet in a cabin, in the woods, sometimes in Maine, sometimes in New Hampshire, sometimes in the dead of winter, sometimes at the close of fall, but always to celebrate the wonder of life, the universe and everything through loud, cathartic music, well.... it's pretty fucking special.

Yeah, the characters rotate a little -- except for my brother who, to his unique credit, has managed to be there every year of those 25 -- but it's mostly the same guys over the long haul. And the music we bash out has morphed from some kind of Giant Sand/Neil Young/Uncle Tupelo twangy grungefest into more straight-up punk rock.

And it gets a little more important every year.

Last year took a turn toward the primal, as my and my brother's newfound primal eating led to a near-constant crockpot full of meat simmering away in the kitchen. And there's always some stomping around the woods in the snow on a hike or two. But the important thing is the people. So, while the music changes here and there, and the food gets a little meatier, while the beer gets harder and harder to drink as much of, the conversation never wanes and the value of this trip keeps growing.

Oh yeah.... We don't actually head out on this year's band-camp adventure until February. But "songs we should cover" emails have begun, and the greatest cover band you have never (and will never) hear is revving up its engine for yet another year. Oh, and I have a feeling the meat consumption will be epic.

25 years, motherfuckers. You can't place a value on that. Band camp rules.

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Clean mass gain

Yeah, you can hate me now. I am the rare 49-year-old male who is thin and annoyed about weighing *less* than I want to. Boo-fucking-hoo, eh?

CrossFit and primal eating have been really good to me, but I am 6'3" and weighed, at the end of the eating challenge that I just finished, around 172 pounds. I want to put some more weight on, specifically in the form of muscle. I am decently strong for my weight, but not spectacular: my current one-rep deadlift is 365 pounds for example. But I would be a hell of a lot stronger with ten extra pounds of muscle on me.

So it's time for what Dallas over at Whole9 calls a "clean mass gain." Translated that means: "eating primal food, but in a way that fools your satiety sensor so you eat *more* good food than you need and gain some weight."

The best time to really pile on the food is post-workout. So for the last three days, I have probably eaten 1500 calories for *breakfast* each day.

It's been awesome. Well, OK, breakfast has been awesome. I feel *amazing* after breakfast and the feeling lasts for hours....

....and hours and hours. Generally it is about six hours until I am hungry again.

Which is great, except for the weight-gain part of the deal. And since "the deal" is about weight gain, well, this is all a bit of a failure. I may never eat a snack again, though.

I think coconut milk may be the key to fooling myself. (But, oh, the line between "fine" and "where's the Imodium?" is so fine with coconut milk). So I need to dial up my coconut-milk intake, apparently. I may even have to get brave enough to try this monster, courtesy of Dallas Hartwig:

1-13.5 oz. can of coconut milk – 720 calories
2 avocado – 450 calories
1 banana – 105 calories
1 pint of frozen blackberries – 260 calories
1 bunch watercress or spinach – 12 calories
3 carrots – 120 calories
6 eggs – 360 calories
Throw it all in (feel free to mix and match your ingredients). Blend. Slurp straight from the blender.

Total estimated calories: 2,027

I think may start with a half serving. Pray for me.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

You break it; you own it (a.k.a. Thanksgiving paleo thoughts)

It's funny... When you start eating this way and then blogging about it, more people than usual start talking to you about food. Some of those people flatter me greatly when they tell me that they're off on their own paleo or primal food journey as a result of my incessant blahblahblah on the subject. But let's keep one thing clear: if you choose to do this, it's your gig, not mine. In other words, I am more than happy to field any question a fellow paleo/primal person wants to throw my way, but what I am not here on the planet to be is your disapproving parent.

I had someone who is dabbling in paleo -- a concept I am not sure I really understand; "60% paleo" strikes me as "not very paleo at all," but I digress -- tell me the other day that she knew I would disapprove, but she ate ______ (some gluten-filled item). It was expected that I would either say something nurturing and caring like, "Oh, do your best; own your cheats and get back on the wagon," or, more harshly say, "That's awful."

Instead I said, "Whatever."

I got the impression that this went over poorly.

And then I had to explain: I don't care what you eat. I am more than happy to help steer you toward good food choices if you ask me a question, but I am not the food police and I think you ought to be responsible enough for your own actions not to complain about a choice you made to eat something bad for you.

I firmly believe that you will never successfully learn how to feed yourself until you take the position that no one is responsible for what goes down your piehole but you.

And this all plays a larger-than-normal role in my thoughts as we approach Thanksgiving and all its food-filled splendor.

Your mom didn't force you to have a piece of pie or a helping of stuffing because she made it. Yes, you can reasonably make a choice that it is politically or socially more acceptable for you to have a little bit (or a lot, for that matter) of some off-the-paleo-reservation food item, rather than declining it entirely and explaining that gluten is your personal enemy, etc. But *you* make that choice, not your mom or your grandma or whoever is making your holiday meal.

Man (or woman) up. Don't turn simple food choices into an exercise in drama. I really do not care what you eat. However, I do care if you try to blame your eating on something or someone else. It's your life; own it.

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

More proof this stuff works

I had a colossal shit ton of things to do yesterday afternoon, almost all of them relating to my dad, who, you may recall, is in a nursing home for dementia. I stuffed some high-quality grub (coconut-curry crockpot beef and veggies) into myself at 1:30 pm and went off to TCB.

The next time I ate anything was 8 pm.

Trust me when I say that the former version of me -- you know, the vegetarian-ish/grain-filled/35-pounds-heavier guy that doesn't exist anymore -- would have been fucking homicidal by then. I mean really .... just an abominable human being to be near. A cranky insulin-crashing motherfucker. The ranking of Awful People in History would have been something like:

1. Hitler
2. Stalin
3. Pol Pot
4. Me

And I might have given one or two of the ones above me on the list a decent run for their money.

But yesterday? No. I was, dare I say, witty, charming and generally a joy to be around.

This may be a slight exaggeration. Maybe I was none of those things, but I was not, in any sense, cranky or miserable. And, mind you, I was dealing with my dad and/or his crazy issues much of the time, so the surrounding circumstances were not the same as, say, getting a foot massage from Anne Hathaway while being served delicious drinks on a beach and Anne, let's say, just happened to forget the food she promised to bring. No, it was crappy and vaguely stress-filled. But it was not famished-feeling.

I just was ever-so-barely beginning to feel hungry after *6 1/2* hours without food. And the hungry feeling was just a vague sort of, "Hmmm, maybe I should start to think about eating something" feeling, rather than a "Give me food or I may eat your babies and/or pets" imperative.

It was really a stunning declaration from my whole metabolism that this primal/paleo stuff works. Fill up on animal protein, good fat and veggies and you can go longer than you ever imagined possible without the demon insulin making a cameo and demanding you do your best crazed-dictator imitation.

Yup. Eat like a predator, not a prey.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Rearrange your taste buds

"Jazz is not dead; it just smells funny."
-- Frank Zappa

Your whole relationship with food changes when you begin this primal/paleo journey, and when you go all-in, like doing a 30-day challenge, your taste buds completely reorient themselves. The simple stuff tastes complicated and full of flavor.

I stopped by a Starbucks today and got a venti (Italian for "bigass," I believe) Americano. The addition of a small amount of half and half (yeah, I know....) made it taste like dessert -- mostly in a good way, but not entirely. Later, coconut milk over blueberries reminded me more of Ben and Jerry's than a paleo snack. And coconut-curry crockpot beef tastes so rich that you'd swear the fun police are going to stop you from eating it.

Even bone broth.... for fuck's sake, I just drank a half a mug of bone broth and it tasted *delicious*. I mean, I would have had it anyway because I have just a touch of a cold and it is the mineral-rich bomb for getting rid of that sort of thing, but this tasted meaty and complex. And really, it's just broth.

It's as if the food challenge that just ended has been the total perspective vortex (note Douglas Adams reference) of eating. It is like suddenly everything is in its proper place, tasting the way it should. Nice.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Weirdness abounds

For a very long time, I have had what I will call a frequent, but not excessive, relationship with alcohol. I am a pretty dependable one-or-two-drink-a-day guy. Come home from work, get dinner going, crack open a beer, or, since I have gone paleo/primal and ditched the gluten, maybe wine, whisky or hard cider (Strongbow seems to beat all the other ciders, FWIW).

But then I did this primal eating challenge. Not a drop of booze or processed crap went into my gaping maw for a month.

And now booze isn't moving me much at all.

Yeah, on Friday night when I was out with friends, celebrating the awesomeness of, well, everything, a few Magner's hard ciders went down pretty well. But at home in the week since ending the challenge, I have had a little Highland Park one night, some Laphroaig another and two glasses of red wine last night. My reaction: ppbbttffftt (an unimpressive noise, trust me on this one).

What the hell?

It really just made me sleepy and sluggish. The nights when I didn't drink, I got shit done. I was a TCB machine. The others? Not so much.

I mean.... This *should* lead to a simple reaction of: "Maybe I shouldn't drink at home on weeknights." But somehow it is more complicated than that. There are years of patterned behavior to un-learn. Apparently my taste buds -- and, particularly, my metabolism -- have unlearned booze pretty quickly, but the brain is not so smart or logical.

Brain v. taste buds. It'll be an epic throwdown, I'm sure. Updates to follow.

This is fucking bizarre.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

"The Garage"

We have a workout at our CrossFit gym called "The Garage." The name is an homage to the humble residential-one-car-garage beginnings of the business, which is now in a *much* larger commercial space that the owners moved to last January. (And now, things are going so well there that a move to an even larger space is in the works).

So when the owners put together a "benchmark" workout -- one that tests movements and strength across a wide range of modalities, including bodyweight and barbell work -- and they needed a name for it, I suggested "The Garage." It seemed right, and it stuck. It goes like this:

3 rounds for time of:

10 pullups
10 front squats
10 burpees

So, right at the beginning of our 30-day primal eating challenge, we did that workout. And now that the challenge is over, we just did it again. I was a little skeptical that I would see big results on this workout. I was already eating mostly clean when I started all this. How good could it get?

Pretty good, apparently. I went in this morning, ass dragging from a brand-new (dammit) cold/cough combo and still beat my old time of 5:58 (with 115-lb front squats) with a new mark of 5:04.

Nice. Here's to clean eating.

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Saturday, November 12, 2011


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The Sebadoh post that isn't mostly about Sebadoh

Life is short. The New Jersey Turnpike on a Friday evening is long.

I'm glad that last night, in the end, my concern over the former won out over my fretting over the latter. I need to make sure to keep that in mind every time.

Hoboken is kind of a haul from my house. It's more of a haul if the trip begins at 5:45 p.m. on a Friday when the traffic report features up to 90 minute delays on the tunnels headed *inbound* to NYC. It's enough to make a man consider saying, "Fuck it."

But these days I really try to minimize how often I pass up opportunities to do cool things.

I'm pushing 50 years old, and as a similarly-situated friend and I recently pondered, in a mix of philosophy and simple mathematics that was, well, less complicated or stunning than the wine we were drinking at the time, but kinda whupped us both upside the head nevertheless: "So, this means, if we're really lucky, we get to be on the planet another 30-35 years or so. Any more than that and it doesn't sound like the pain-to-fun ratio is going to be a very low number; so, yeah, 30 to 35 more good years....at best."

Sorry if I just became Captain Bringdown, but it's the truth.

So when I heard that Lou and Jake from Sebadoh -- no spring chickens themselves -- were saddling up the old warhorse to take it for another spin --this time through Maxwell's in Hoboken -- *and* that this particular tour was going to focus on what are, for me, their two best records by far (go here and here) *and* that (I'm yelling in frustration here) THE EFFING TOUR CAME THROUGH PHILLY LAST SPRING AND I LEARNED TOO LATE TO JUMP ON IT THEN, I got the tickets. I was Maxwell's-bound.

Simultaneously, I realized that some friends in the general NYC area who I just don't see often enough might be interested in this show, and even a few more might want to meet up for dinner beforehand, and so I started floating a plan called: "I don't *care* whether you want to see Sebadoh with me, but you really ought to get yer ass out to dinner because life is short and with kids and houses and dogs and jobs and the general state of the turgid miasma of existence and all.... see you at 8 p.m. at Maxwell's. I'll be at the bar."

So plans were made, tickets were bought by some, and others said they'd skip the show but still be at dinner.

And then kids and houses and dogs and, yup, that raised their ugly heads and, by game time, our numbers were greatly reduced in quantity, but still oh-so-high in quality.

Kyle hit "pause" on her busy life to come across two rivers from Brooklyn, and Amy and Bill and I *finally* ended up in the same place at the same time in New Jersey where we've all lived for over two years but seem to only see each other in *other* locations across the country, and Pete and I ended something like seven years of never quite getting our shit together to hang out and rekindle what our pal Dan once called something like "the Pete/Steve vortex of punk rock that I like just hanging around to be close by."

It was awesome. Stories were told. Laughs were had. The proverbial shit was shot. I was reminded, once again, that most of my friends are so much more politically lefty than me that they make my libertarian-ish take on things appear oh-so-much more Rand-ian than it ever really is. (Amy: "You're outnumbered here, Steve. Remember that.") I was also reminded that even though, of the four of them, only Bill and Pete had ever actually met before, funny smart people *always* have something to talk about, and I dig gathering them together in heretofore unknown combinations like that.

So, this is just a small shoutout to you peeps who were there, for the good times that make me appreciate life on this manic blue orb even more than I do already, and to those of you who couldn't make it 'cause life got in the way.... well, do your best next time. It's worth it. And chances to do this sort of thing seem to happen less than they ought to.

Oh right....there was a rock show too. Sebadoh were great, albeit a tad on the sloppy side. But the song selection was, as I expected, aces. And the set length (30 songs!) was epic. Last night I'll call them a speeding truck that was big and loud, powerful and strong at its best, but simultaneously throwing off shards of debris that make you think the driver(s) -- who, true to past form, kept alternating positions behind the wheel, by the way -- ought to tie that load down just a little bit tighter. Stir a few of these together in a blender and you'll get the idea.

We'll call it "one for the fans," and that includes me. Good one, boys.

Dinner, on the other hand, was "one for the record books." Even better one, boys and girls. Let's do it again sooner than later.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Love letter to a deadlift

Dear Deadlift,

You bring me such joy that I thought I'd send you a quick note. Sometimes relationships are so one-sided, and one partner isn't telling the other what he or she thinks. And I didn't want that to be the case with us.

There's a simple joy between us when we meet -- a brute, animal sort of joy that is difficult to replicate on a more technical lift. Yet, that simplicity masks your complexity that requires adherence to some basic standards of conduct and form before embarking on an adventure with you.

You are really about the fundamental thrill of picking up something heavy and putting it down. But, as you warned me, compromise the basics with you, and only pain, suffering and regret will result. Yes, you are a little rough around the edges, and a bit demanding, but oh-so-rewarding.

Your principles are easy to comply with. Lock in and go. You are not "full of rules" like your friend The Clean -- although, truth be told, I have a bit of a thing for her too now. You don't require the extreme shoulder, elbow and wrist mobility of some others. For example, I have tried getting entangled with that nasty, technically-minded woman who goes by the name Overhead Squat and the results were decidedly unrewarding. Indeed, all of the sisters in the Overhead family bring me unwanted suffering whenever I dare go near them. Strict Press is painful and unreasonable. Push Press only slightly less so, and The Jerk? She is aptly named.

Sure, I have had my moments with our mutual friend Back Squat, especially lately. And her wacky, yet still alluring, sister Front Squat can be entertaining too, but only if I meet her strange demands of "Keep your elbows high!"

But things always come back to you, baby. Your reliability makes me feel strong even on a week when I have had chaotic and near-disastrous run-ins with likes of the Overhead sisters. Sure, the Front and Back Squats have an appealing emphasis on legs. But so do you, and with so much more simplicity.

And, unlike my time with all the others, I leave my encounters with you completely spent, every time. Sure, some days with you are heavier than others, but when I meet your requests for "just one more round before you go," and everything clicks like it did today, the brutish rewards are many. I feel simultaneously strong *and* exhausted. I eat all day long thereafter, and I sleep soundly. And when I ever-so-occasionally break our routine and meet you in the evening, rather than the morning, the benefits are even better.

So, amazing Deadlift, keep doing everything that you do, and I'll be back for more. I promise.


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Tuesday, November 8, 2011


It's day 31.... y'know, of a 30-day primal food challenge. In other words, I can eat whatever the hell I want today, but here I am at breakfast, post-gym, eating a meat/eggs/veggie combo that is paleo to its core. Pre-workout, I could have had a protein shake (i.e., non-paleo), but I didn't. I went for the coconut-milk/fruit combo that I started using during the challenge as a pre-workout fuel.

I mean....I am not really the kind of guy to come home and start stuffing chocolate cake in my mouth anyway, but my lack of a burning desire to jump off the challenge wagon, screaming, "Woooooooooooo!" with a beer in one hand and a slice of pizza in the other is kind of stunning even for me.

Yes, I would say that, if I give it any realistic thought, Vegas has the odds of me having a drink tonight at at least 75%, but, let's be serious...that means there is a one-in-four chance that I *won't*, and, really, I would have thought I would have been planning out that first post-challenge drink for days now ("Let's see.... In a hot tub, whisky, with Zooey Deschanel.... OK, I'm married, Zooey, so you have to go home, but the hot tub and whisky can stay.")

Seriously, I can't believe that other than probably, but not definitely, having a drink tonight, I can't really envision jumping off this wagon that has been so very very good to me.

And I still can't believe the "but not definitely" part of that last sentence.

25-year-old me would *so* not recognize 49-year-old me. I am stronger, faster and fitter than I was then. I do not binge on anything, not because I am not capable of it, but because...get this...I don't *want* to because it makes me feel like shit. In fact, I think the only similarity between those two versions of me is that both of 'em still dig loud punk rock.

Speaking of.... *these* boys need to get out on the road again.

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Monday, November 7, 2011


I realized that I never talked about supplements during this challenge. This is what I take. I have no idea whether it is the right mix for you. I play around with it pretty frequently:

One One-a-Day Men's multivitamin.
1100 mg magnesium gluconate.
2400 mg fish oil (2 capsules Costco enteric-coated)
2000 iu vitamin D3

I have taken as much as 9600 mg of fish oil back when I was trying, pre-paleo/primal, to lower triglycerides. Eating right has fixed all that. I keep reading more about how it may not be the best idea to load up on fish oil for very long. I am actually contemplating ditching it altogether and just making sure I eat wild-caught salmon at least three times per week. For now though, I am taking two of the Costco pills.

I have also taken 3000 iu of vitamin D up until recently. But my doc told me not to exceed 1000. I split the difference, and I feel great, so I am going with 2000 for now.

Magnesium is, as I understand it, impossible to take too much of from an OD standpoint, but it'll have a laxative effect if you ramp up the dosage too fast. Do *not* start with 1100 mg. Start around 250 and ramp it up slowly.

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Primal eating challenge, day 30

5:30 a.m., pre-workout: frozen cherries, heated in microwave, plus coconut milk. Wow.

PRd my three-rep front squat at CrossFit today, even though the rep scheme was 3x3, meaning I did that weight for three sets of three. Nice. Plus we had a bodyweight-only metcon thereafter, and I love those.

Breakfast: as I noted in another post, I didn't eat eggs today for the first time in I don't know when....well over a year, and it might be more than two years. I ate curried ground beef and cauliflower that I cooked last night, plus plantains with a little more coconut milk.

Then I had more of the curried beef/cauliflower, plus a little guacamole, for lunch.

DD black coffee, medium.

Lunch was early and dinner was late, so I ate a paleokit on the way home from work. Nice. Jerky, dried fruit and nuts.

Dinner: more of the curried beef and cauliflower with the added glory of broccoli. Had a few blueberries, but not many. Trying to stay away from fruit except pre-workout.

And that, folks, is the food-filled end of a 30-day challenge.

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What I learned from a 30-day primal challenge that I didn't already know

As I have told you before, I eat almost entirely paleo/primal anyway. This challenge was, for me, mostly a deprivation of booze, a little dark chocolate and protein powder. I didn't go into this with hardcore grain addictions, and dessert, by and large, is not a temptation for me.

So, smart guy, why'd you bother, you might ask, or, more particularly, did you actually learn anything?

I did. I learned a lot. Here are a few of those things, in no particular order:

1. "Eat like a predator, not a prey," a line I wish I thought of, but J. Stanton wrote it first. It means, pretty simply, don't snack. Eat big meals, fill up on good fat and I won't need to snack. Barring unforeseen circumstances, like large gaps between meals, I always found that to be true. I also found that if I needed to snack, something small like a Larabar would usually do the trick. But a paleokit will always do if a Larabar is not enough.

2. Plan ahead. Yes, we all know we need to plan ahead on meals, but plan ahead about the timing of those meals too. If I know I am going to have an eight-hour span between meals because of work or whatever, I put a paleokit or a Larabar into my car. The no-snack rule is not a religion. It's a guidepost. Sometimes I am going to need to break that rule. When I do, I need to have good food around to fill the gap. I may never need to go to Wawa again, except for gas and coffee. (For you non-midatlantic readers, Wawa is a convenience-store chain that dominates our neck of the woods).

3. None of this is a religion full of absolutes. The most important thing is for me to listen to my body and chart my own course through paleo/primal in a smart way that works for me. How my food choices make me look, feel and perform is the key.

4. In complete contradiction of #3, Here is an absolute rule: I shouldn't eat gluten. Ever. But if I do, take responsibility for my own actions. Man up and admit the mistake and move on.

5. Black coffee is no big deal. At this point I may even like it, tastewise, better than with heavy cream. The caffeine-acceleration properties of heavy cream and the good diesel-fuel fat are another story, though. So I will likely go back and forth on that.

6. But watch the dairy. If I have a cold, dairy, especially heavy cream, makes things awfully snotty. Rule #3 again. Listen to the body.

7. Paleo/primal is hard if you don't make sure certain staples are well-stocked in your fridge. Jamie and I are fortunate to have a freezer that is full of meat. Not having that option doesn't mean you should copout and make Chef Boyardee one night. It is critical to keep the fridge stocked full of the stuff we eat the most.

8. Websites and podcasts have taught me that, from a healthy-vs-unhealthy-omega-content perspective, grassfed beef and lamb are better for you than the high omega 6s of chicken and pork. It doesn't mean no chicken or pork --variety is good-- but it means beef and lamb are more common on our table than chicken or pork.

9. Fortunately, I also learned that my two favorite meats are grassfed lamb and beef.

10. Bacon is a lousy protein source. It is, however, a great condiment.

11. Food rotation is a good idea, just to see a comparison point with how I feel on a particular food versus how I feel when I don't eat it for a bit. So, as mentioned earlier today, I am dialing back on eggs for the first time in a long time, just to see. For the same reason, I need to rotate even more vegetables into our lives. We eat a lot of asparagus and broccoli. But the appearance of more squash and other veggies has been a good thing that needs to continue.

12. Canned wild-caught salmon is a great easy protein source and the best way to get valuable omega 3s. It is also awesome to have around when I forget to make enough other food.

13. Coconut milk with fruit may be a permanent substitute for pre-workout protein powder. That's an ongoing experiment, however. Again, how it makes me feel and perform is the key, and, based on today, it seems pretty great.

14. Bone broth is high on my list of things to make very soon, and then keep making for its amazing nutrients and the huge boost it gives your immune system.

15. Post-workout good carbs from sweet potatoes, white rice or plantains are essential for me, especially after CrossFit. They help me maintain good weight and body composition, and they just plain make me feel better. Recovery is everything. You don't get fit at the gym. You get fit properly recovering from the gym.

16. Proper insulin management has reversed my numb fingers caused by Raynaud's. When I drink in the future, I need to drink "smart" -- making sure I don't do it on an empty stomach -- or symptoms will return. And smart drinking may keep acid reflux at bay too, because that disappeared this month as well. Actually, in terms of insulin management, the same thing goes for fruit consumption. I can handle pre-workout fruit better than fruit at any other time. So eat it then.

17. I don't ever need to have an energy drink again. Oh, I probably will sometime, but not often, and I will hate myself for it because coffee is so much better.

18. As important as nutrition is, sleep is more important than anything. Remember that line about recovery? Sleep is when you recover the most. A bad night's sleep probably means I should skip CrossFit the next day.

There are probably a few more things, but that is a pretty comprehensive list, and a hell of a lot longer one than I ever would have anticipated. I thought I knew most of what I needed to know about paleo/primal eating when this all started. But, really, there was so much more.

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Day 30 begins....

....with a cool new pre-workout food: fruit and coconut milk, front squats (PRd my three-rep max even though we had to repeat that three times, i.e., 3x3). Then, since my wife just decided to stop eating eggs (high iodine content) until she can get her newly-diagnosed hyperthyroidism in order, I didn't have them either. I cannot tell you when the last time was that I didn't eat eggs for breakfast. Likely, it was sometime well over a year ago. But I am fairly committed to rotating my food choices more, so this is good.

Full food report will follow at the end of the day, along with, no doubt, some kind of sappy, maudlin recap of my thoughts on this whole 30-day-challenge deal as well.

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Primal eating challenge, day 29

29 days in....wow.

Other than waking up to a kitchen full of amazing smells from a four-pound lamb roast that cooked overnight in the crockpot in coconut milk and red curry paste, today was not a day full of excitement. It was more of a getting-stuff-done kind of day. I was going to wake up and do some lifting in the garage gym, but then realized that the pile of mulch that I had to move from one side of the yard to another was looking like a enough of a workout, and I opted just to do that. Later, I listened to the radio broadcast while my beloved Oakland Raiders (been following this team since 1969, so stuff a sock in it) turned a 24-14 lead into a 38-24 loss. Ouch.

Food? Glad you asked. It was much better than yardwork and a horrible football game.

Breakfast: blueberries in coconut milk. I am seriously going to use this pre-workout this week and see how that goes. Then eggs, bacon, and broccoli, plus black coffee.

Lunch: some that amazing lamb roast over greens.

Some cheese, grassfed.

Dinner: more of the amazing lamb, plus asparagus.

Three of us killed a four-pound lamb roast today with ease.

Even weirder....I only had one cup of coffee.

I am about to cook some ground beef and veggies so we have lunch tomorrow.

You know...tomorrow...day 30. Not that I'm counting.

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Food ideas

Eating this way, and listening to all the many cool podcasts out there (Robb Wolf, Balanced Bites, etc.) has me on a constant search to add more awesome foods to my life in more incredible combinations.

So yesterday, I finally threw some coconut milk into a blender with some frozen blueberries and frozen peaches. It was amazing (although go easy on the coconut milk at first, folks, or you could find yourself with a bit of intestinal distress....the medium-chain fatty acids in there are wonderful for you, but they take just a little getting used to for some people). I cook with coconut milk all the time, but this is the first time I used it in another context.

But.... I find cleaning out a blender to be a pain in the ass, so what's the lazier way to do this?

How about just heating up the frozen fruit in the microwave and then pouring some coconut milk over it?

Tried it this morning....it is equally amazing. I am thinking this may become part of the pre-workout ritual. I will try it tomorrow and report back.

Idea #2: bone broth. I keep reading about the benefits of it. It's loaded with beneficial minerals. So I went searching for a paleo bone-broth recipe and stumbled on this one from Balanced Bites.

It even uses a crockpot. Nice. All I have to do now is figure out a way to freeze/store it so it is easily accessible in small servings. I am thinking a pile of ice-cube trays?

Hell, I even have packages from Philly Cowshare in our fridge labeled "soup bones." This is going to be easy, once I buy more ice-cube trays, that is.

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Primal eating challenge, day 28

Today I drove down to CrossFit OTG to watch a competition they were holding there. Lots of impressive performances by amazing athletes. It was really inspiring stuff. It reminded me of the very first time I learned about CrossFit -- at an in-house competition at CrossFit 215 in Philly back in early 2010. That one inspired me to try CrossFit. A little less than two years later and I am a dedicated crossfitter, and have been eating paleo/primal for over a year. Cool stuff.

So what about the food?

Breakfast: eggs, andouille sausage, and broccoli, plus black coffee. Oh...some blueberries and almond butter too. In figured lunch might be a long way away, so the extra fat of the almond butter was a welcome addition to breakfast to help keep me full.

Had a Larabar at about 11:30 a.m.

Lunch, when I got home from the competition: coconut-milk/blueberry/peach smoothies made in a blender, followed by two grassfed burgers with grassfed cheese, over salad greens.

More black coffee.

Dinner: an amazing collection of paleo food at a paleo potluck dinner. I had chili, pulled pork, coconut-curry beef, homemade Larabars, pumpkin pie (no sugar/sweetener!), sausage meatballs wrapped around olives, endive and other veggies, squash....it was incredible.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

Primal eating challenge, day 27

Woke up this morning and got excited, as I mentioned two posts ago, over the prospects of power cleans at the gym. I matched my old PR, but I was hoping for more. What I really noticed was that I must be stronger, because otherwise my form sucked after so long away from this movement. On a number of the reps,I just kinda reverse-curled it, which is awful from a form standpoint, but proof to me that it was probably strength, not form, which got the job done.

Anyway, on to the food....

Pre-workout: frozen blueberries heated in microwave, plus black coffee.

Immediate post-workout: coconut water.

Breakfast: some of the crockpot chicken plus eggs, bacon and asparagus.
More black coffee.

Lunch (on the road): Chipotle salad with onions, peppers, carnitas, guacamole and lettuce.

Some almonds and grassfed cheese.

Starbucks black coffee, grande.

Dinner: Whole Foods fresh pork andouille sausage and broccoli.

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True story

There we were, on the highway, exiting with the sole purpose of going to a nearby Chipotle restaurant to get a delicious lunch salad with carnitas, guacamole, salsa and veggies (or, in the case of my partner in crime, barbacoa instead of carnitas). A short time later, we learned that just a mile past that exit, on the highway where we had been, was a huge tractor-trailer accident that had occurred moments after we exited -- like we might have been in it if we had stayed on that road. As we contemplated our well-timed lunch, we realized the truth:

Paleo saves lives.

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Power cleans!!!

I started CrossFit, on my own, at a globo-gym, in March 2010. Realizing quickly that I had no idea what I was doing on Olympic lifts, I went to a couple of O-lift seminars at CrossFit Tribe in Pennsauken, NJ.

Jesus, I was horrible. I still remember the feeling of dread when I became immediately aware that all the other "beginners" around me had much more experience than me and that I was far closer to a man wrestling a barbell than someone who was actually properly lifting.

But somehow -- and I have no idea how I got past my desire to leave right then -- I stuck it out, and stayed with CrossFit, eventually joining CrossFit Aspire, where I am happily coming up on 18 months of membership.

Since then, I have learned to love the complexity of the clean, but the vagaries of schedules have been such that I don't think I have actually done a clean at CrossFit Aspire in almost six months! That all changes this morning when I happen to be going there on a day when the strength component is: "Power clean 3,3,3."

Wish me luck.

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Primal eating challenge, day 26

Breakfast: eggs scrambled with wild salmon, bacon, and broccoli. Black coffee.

Lunch: that apple/chicken/bacon/pecan thing from dinner over greens, with guacamole. Plus one apple.

One lemon Larabar.

DD medium coffee, black.

Almonds and grassfed cheese.

Dinner: grassfed t-bones and asparagus on the grill. Blueberries and cherries too.

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

A name change, or not?

I am not sure if I like it, but I was getting tired of explaining that More Spiel is a song title by the Minutemen, just about my favorite punk band ever. Simultaneously, taking into account the primal-food orientation that this thing has assumed as of late, I thought I should have a title that acknowledged that angle a little more. Feel free to spout off about the name change in the comments. I'm not married to it.

And, before you ask, I don't think I can change the URL, so it seems that "more spiel" ought to end up in the name somehow.

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Primal eating challenge, day 25

Woke up and, fueled by a generous helping of black coffee, prepped a crockpot feast for tonight's dinner. It is basically a modification of that pork-chop recipe that I just made. If you wanna be like me (why?), do this:

Put nine boneless chicken breasts into crockpot (I used Wegmans free-range organic). Then cut up six slices of thick bacon (I used Whole Foods uncured applewood) and cook in pan. When bacon is almost cooked, add to the pan: four diced Granny Smith apples, about a cup of chopped pecans (I used more) and as much garlic as you want (I used a measuring cup labeled "metric shit ton" and filled it to the line, but we love garlic, so caveat emptor and all that). When the apples, pecans, bacon and garlic have properly rubbed themselves all over each other (OK, you helped with this, and you liked it) resulting in a beautiful chunky slurry of applebaconypecanygarlicy wonderment, transfer all that lovely goop to the crockpot right on top of the chicken, set on "low" and cook it for eight hours. Nommers (or so I hope).

On to today's food:

Breakfast: bacon, (the sad end of the) crockpot lamb, spinach and eggs, all scrambled in the bacon grease. More coffee.

Walked Ruby the pup for a couple miles before heading off to work, so I indulgently "recovered" with a Vita Coco coconut water. As a woman in a convenience store in Middle-of-Nowhere, Michigan once said to me -- albeit in reference to a stick of deer jerky, not Vita Coco -- "Them are good." (True story, I swear).

Lunch: those crockpot pork chops, organic sauerkraut and salad greens, all mixed together. Awesome, but, perhaps, not for the faint of palate. I have a sauerkraut problem. I really really do. It is rivaling my guacamole problem.

One pecan Larabar.
DD black coffee, medium.

Dinner: the (I hope) amazing crockpot chicken that I just described, plus a vegetable draft pick to be named later (probably broccoli, but I am writing this pre-dinner).

Then the plan is to drag my sorry inflexible ass to our CrossFit gym's new yoga class in order to embarrass myself toward mobility. More on that experience tomorrow. I will also update this post if I jam more food into my gaping maw.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Primal eating challenge, day 24

Last night, I put this recipe into the crockpot. Came out great.

5:30 a.m., pre-workout: frozen blueberries heated in microwave. Black coffee.

Breakfast: eggs scrambled with crockpot lamb, spinach. Plus bacon and coconut water to drink. Didn't bother with more coffee.

A pecan Larabar

Lunch: Crockpot lamb and sauerkraut over spinach.

DD coffee, medium, black.

Some grassfed cheese and almonds.

Dinner: crockpot stuffed pork chops (stuffing is pecans, bacon, apples and garlic) plus asparagus.

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This stuff works -- 24 days in.

It's day 24 of my primal eating challenge, and I don't want to say
that it has been "easy," because that makes me sound smug about it and
I really don't want to sound that way because I am fully aware of some
of the absolutely nightmarish sugar and grain addictions that some
people confront as a part of these challenges. It's not quite kicking
heroin, but it can be a very big deal.
But for me it's been, at worst, moderately annoying at times. The only
things I have repeatedly passed up on that I would normally consume
are booze, dark chocolate and pre-workout protein powder (no, not
together...heh) ; oh, and I suppose the odd black bean here and there.
In other words, I really don't eat gluten anyway. This primal-eating
journey of mine has been a long slow burn that started last year,
rather than a turn-on-a-dime reversal of long-entrenched bad habits
just for the challenge.
It was also spectaularly well-timed, coming just after I got home from
two weeks in Germany with Jamie where we ate and drank gluten-y things
that we never would otherwise.
So what have I learned? A lot, actually.
Despite spending some of the challenge battling with (and fighting
off) a sinus infection/cold that normally would have had me way down
and out, I feel really effing good being this uber-clean about my
eating. My energy levels are higher and I need less caffeine than
usual to get through a day. I think my immune system is doing really
well, because I know a lot of people who got hit pretty hard with this
cold. I didn't.
I also learned that while dairy is often a great source of good fat
for me, when it is grassfed, I need to stay away from it altogether if
trying to battle a cold. As soon as I made that switch mid-challenge,
the evil cold-induced snot began to dissipate.
My Raynaud's, as I told you already, appears to be gone. When I drink
post-challenge, I need to be smart about it and do it in ways that
don't make it a giant insulin spike, which will trigger Raynaud's
again. I also need to see how that goes, and be realistic in my future
evaluation of whether resuming alcohol intake, even through "smart"
drinking, means the return of Raynaud's anyway. If so, some tough
choices may have to be made.
Likewise -- and this is one I haven't discussed here in a while -- a
lifetime of sometimes-on/sometimes-off acid reflux (GERD) seems to
have gone completely by the wayside as well. I hadn't been taking
Prevacid for much of the time since I went primal last year, just some
occasional antacids, but, in the three months prior to the challenge,
I had re-experienced some GERD and so I restarted the Prevacid, with
little effect, so I added a nighttime Zantac. Then, when I mentioned
it to my doc at a September physical, he had suggested trying *just*
the Zantac, since it is just an antacid rather than a full-on
proton-pump inhibitor (PPI). That did the trick, even amidst the beery
goodness of Deutschland. But then, when I started this challenge, I
skipped some Zantac, and found I didn't even need that. Apparently,
all that stuff about reevaluating alcohol in regards to Raynaud's
applies to GERD too.
I also learned some super-micro/tweak-ish things about eating. I
mentioned at one point that fruit ingested immediately pre-workout
causes the glycolytic demands of the workout to kickstart your liver
to use fructose as an energy source. That's good, and it works well.
While I miss my pre-workout protein shakes, I think that if I revisit
them post-challenge, I am going to keep eating fruit pre-workout as
well. I also am not going to eat much of it otherwise. I already knew
that fruits and veggies are not interchangeable, but I learned it
again this month. If I eat too much fruit in a setting other than
immediately pre-workout, it moderately spikes my insulin. That's bad
news, and it makes me crazy.
I also learned that good carbs like sweet potatoes and even
occasionally white rice are good for me all the time. Yeah, they are a
righteous bump toward recovery if ingested in the hour post-workout,
but for a guy like me, who is lean enough and doesn't want to lose
weight. I could eat 'em at nearly every meal and feel great. In fact,
I think I feel better when I do.
Additionally, I became aware of a strong preference I have for
grassfed ruminants (beef and lamb) over other meat sources. Yeah, pork
is delicious and I definitely eat some of it, and salmon is awesome if
wild-caught, but I don't think I ate chicken once yet during the
challenge, and I haven't missed it. Sure, I'll eat it sometimes, but a
steady intake of grassfed beef and, especially, lamb has me flying
In the gym, I haven't been a rockstar lately, even by my own meager
standards, but I blame that on my cold hanging around just enough to
screw with my sleep. I've been fine, just not PRing alll over the
place. Hell, but even with the beginnings of a cold, I nearly PR'd my
"Helen" time (one effing second!!) and I have come close in some other
workouts, just nothing spectacular. But let's be serious, no one ever
used the word "spectacular" to describe my typical gym performance, so
even the ability to hang on through a cold with decent workouts has
been a really good thing, and a direct result of good eating. I am
curious to see how my post-challenge time comes in on a gym-specific
benchmark workout that we are all doing on November 14.
All in all, this challenge has been a very very good thing so far. I
have a week to go and am hoping for some more positive revelations in
that time. Let's go.