Back in November 2013, I set off for an adventure with 2 good friends, my laptop, and a suitcase. I’d booked a 7 week trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand with the goal of resetting my brain for the new year.
I hadn’t taken more than 3-4 days off in a row since February 2010, so I was feeling the pull to ‘JUST LET GO’ as Tyler Durden would righteously put it.
And that’s what I did, for a little while, at least.
I rented an apartment, established a daily routine, and tried to speak as much Thai possible on a daily basis. I sucked, but I tried.
Here’s a picture of me, Roger, and Mike eating street food, which we paid murderously for a few times (food poisoning). ^_^
Despite being in a new place, we still managed to train about 3-4 times per week, and made time to see the country side, bathe elephants, talk to monks, and discover things about ourselves only a trip abroad can teach you.
This article is simply a collection of my observations, and I’m sure you’ll glean something from at least one of them. [this is actually in 2 parts because it ended up being over 4000 words]
What Isn’t Tracked, Never Happened
I don’t mean this in a literal sense.
It’s obvious that your physiology will change depending on how much you eat, and what type of training you’re doing. And this is regardless of whether or not you’re keeping tabs on all the variables.
What I do mean is this: You’re only as good as your records.
I know this sounds simple, but if you don’t have a method of keeping records based on your movement and energy flux, you won’t make as much progress as the person who does.
Spare me the “I’m so advanced I don’t need to track” talk, or the unique, little snowflake argument. If you wish to do your best, you’ll keep records.
Diet is a bit different because once you learn a habitual intake that suits your needs and goals, you can pretty much rely on that framework with various checks and balances in place. This is where uniform eating comes in handy with the occasional weekend splurge, or late night drunken funk-fest to boot.
But training… Don’t skimp on tracking this.
It’s hard to remember what you had for breakfast, much less the weight you used on your final set of leg presses last Monday. Oh, and all the sets/reps you did on Tuesday, Thursday and that tumultuous conditioning session on Saturday morning in which you fought to keep the vomit from surfacing.
If you long for optimal progress, don’t tell me you can remember what you did last week. Track your training with pen/paper, or an app – whatever, really.
On the other hand, if your goals aren’t to get bigger, leaner, or stronger, then tracking your training and pushing for progress might not be as important.
This is what we did. We aimed for maintenance, and since we lacked a lot of our favorite equipment, it seemed like a decent idea.
There was no actual squat rack, so alas, no regular squatting was done. We also lacked a variety of machines, so our workouts consisted of 3-4 sets of movements such as DB presses, split squats, lots of pull-ups and dips, hyperextensions, hip thrusts, and some machine rows (when the cables weren’t broken).
Our training was haphazard and all over the place some days, but the truth here is that it’s pretty easy to maintain size, and even to an extent, strength gains as long as you maintain intensity through total volume and rest periods regularly.
Takeaway Point: Tracking training and diet progress is important, especially when you have a specific goal. For fat loss goals, your logs serve as both a motivator, as well as a means to keep you in check.
If strength is steady, and intensity is maintained, you’re doing well. If you’re getting weaker, a quick look at your records will usually reveal the broken link.
Maybe you’re doing too much volume, or your sleep is subpar? Perhaps you’ve doing too much cardio, or conditioning? If you’re not tracking, it’s easy to spiral downward fairly quickly without knowing what to fix.
Same with nutrition – don’t know what you ate last week and you gained a pound, how do you know what to adjust?
If you’re not tracking your training right now, START. You can get a pen and pad for $2-3 bucks at the store, or start using an app (I personally prefer pen and paper).
Protein Requirements, and Maxims We Had To Disregard
We all know of the popular mantra of ‘you must eat 1g per pound of body weight in pounds to maintain muscle’ or some variation of that statement.
Depending on who you talk to about protein requirements, especially on a fat loss diet, they can go all the way up to 2 grams per pound of body weight (which I find absolutely absurd by the way).
Another camp will claim you don’t need much more than about .5-.8 grams per pound of body weight to lose fat. They’re probably onto something, but still freaks me out a little.
All of these recommendations are assuming you’re following a regular weight training routine with the goal of maintaining the most muscle and losing the most body fat possible.
There are studies to show such low intakes being ‘enough’ and there are also studies and literature showing intakes upward of 1.5+ grams of protein per pound being beneficial (just check Lyle McDonald’s Protein Book).
And here’s what we learned deep in the Jungle of Northern Thailand…
They’re all right, in a way.
If you’ve never been to Thailand, or traveled in general, Americans have it pretty good when looking at portion sizes, and the easiness in getting quality protein.
I hear clients and readers all the time lamenting on how it’s too hard to eat their body weight (pounds) in grams of protein.
And to that I say “we live in a western world where protein is readily available in the form of all animals you can think of, plus powder flowing in endless varieties!”
This is not the case in Thailand – you see, their diet is mostly comprised of carbohydrate, from my experience. Just about every meal I ate was mostly rice, noodles, veggies, and a little bit of meat.
For the vegetarian, living in southeast Asia would be a breeze due to the array of dishes suitable for those abstaining from greasy animal flesh.
Also, most protein I saw Thais consuming was in the form of poultry, and swine (they sure love their pork belly), eggs, and alas… tofu (bleh).
From my non-scientific observation of those around me, as well as the meals I ate with the locals, protein was not prioritized in their diet.
We Needed a Solution
As you might imagine, three beefy brutes had to unify and scheme for a solid dose of daily protein.
For my habitual intake, I rely heavily on dairy (mostly cottage cheese, yogurt and milk) and beef for my protein needs. I rarely consume whey, chicken, or pork.
This is mainly due to my personal taste, limited time and desire to cook.
Milk was normal price, but cottage cheese was 3-4x the cost of America. So that staple was out the window. Time to think.
Forget about whey protein as it was 4-5x the normal price
I shifted from a high-dairy diet to one high in eggs, muscle meat from street food, and the buffets we hit up about every other night.
Beef was very hard to come by on the street. Even in restaurants it wasn’t served much unless you went to an international restaurant (we ate Mexican about once per week).
Mornings were usually a few eggs, and 2-3 cups of milk.
Lunch was some type of rice/curry and whatever meat I could get with the dish (hardly a few ounces at best).
Dinner was mostly the buffet where we’d each eat (or aim to at least) around a kilo (~2lbs raw) of meat. By the end of dinner, we had usually thrown down 1500-2000 kcals each (guesstimate), and ready for a movie, or bed.
GIMME SOME NUMBERS
Okay, so Roger is about ~210 pounds. I usually weigh anywhere from 185-190 pounds, and Mike was over 200 pounds at the time.
Here’s one thing I know for sure. We were, at best, getting an average of around 100-150g protein daily. That 150g figure is being generous and only accounts for the nights ended at the buffet (which were many).
When you do the math, this doesn’t add up – shouldn’t guys our size need much more than this? Shouldn’t we have shriveled up, lost size and strength due to lower than optimal protein intakes?
I know, I know – I thought this too, but it wasn’t our reality. Me and Roger talked about this a few times, both analyzing our previous beliefs and inclinations with the mind of a scientist – holding no bias, and reserving judgment based on our anecdotal data.
They say we are the Ken and Ryu of the fitness world, headbands and all, and even this came as a surprise to us.
We were maintaining our size, weight, and general ability to do lots of chins, dips, split squats, and forceful, sometimes x-rated hyperextensions with relative ease.
One thing this trip helped me get rid of were some high-protein neuroses I held onto.
If you want an in-depth look at fat loss, then read how to lose weight.
Takeaway Point: This doesn’t mean I’m advocating a lower-than-optimal protein intake all the time. The truth is, you’re not gonna be able to eat high-protein every day of the year, and from what I’ve gathered, ultra-high intakes are not going to be of much extra benefit when you can get by on less.
It seems we can generally manage pretty well on intakes slightly lower than 1 gram per pound of body weight when our main focus is fat loss as long as we keep the training intensity up.
The other great thing is it allows us to eat more carbs and fat, which seem to be better at keeping our hormones high, and our happy more consistent.
This is especially true for smaller women who find a high protein intake often eats up all the space in their diet for fat and carbs. Go ahead, have your cake and abs, too.
One anecdote I’ll share, and I mentioned this on the RoadToRipped podcast, is that I noticed my energy was better, and libido was higher (which I attribute to higher habitual carb intake, more sleep, and less stress/worries in general).
Analyze your current protein intake and see where it falls in relation to the whole 1 gram per pound idea. If it’s much more, I’d encourage you to drop it down and focus on more of the carbs and fats you might be missing out on.
If you notice it’s a lot lower than 1 gram per pound, and you’re NOT seeing the results you want, I’d encourage you to bump it up for a while and see what happens.
Part 2 will be out on Wednesday. In it, I’ll be sharing about our journey deep into the jungle where we found elephants, and how habits are crucial to your success with automatic fat loss.