Monday, April 11, 2011

Success with the 4HB slow carb diet

Last xmas we spent a month overseas mostly holidaying and over indulging in delicious food and copious amounts of alcohol. When we returned in January, I had put on 5Kg, and so decided to get a copy Tim Ferris' latest book, The 4-Hour Body and give it a try.

Before doing anything else, watch the brilliant video trailer!

My goal was to replace the 5Kg of excess flab with muscle, a body "recomposition" goal. I lost the 5Kg within a couple of months very easily, while eating more than I ever have in my life! I'm feeling fitter, and stronger than ever before, and I owe it to two simple changes to my diet and exercise habits.

The basics
The basic premise is pretty simple, and is comprised of a special diet combined with specific exercises. I was already fairy physically active, with martial arts training 3 times a week, but the recommended exercises have definitely seen a rapid increase in strength, and the change in diet has been spectacular to say the least.

Dietary changes:

  • replace all forms of high-GI carbohydrates with low-GI, high-protein beans & legumes

  • Cut out all sugars, fructose, and dairy products such as cheese, milk, yogurt

  • Consume large quantities of fresh, low-GI vegetables

  • Consume large quantities of lean meat, such as fish, beef, pork, and chicken

  • Once a week, enjoy a "cheat day" - eat all the bread, pasta, fruit, cheese, chocolate, etc that you want!

I've been on the slow carb diet for several months now, which means I haven't been eating any wheat or dairy products, or any fruit at all during the week, but instead I've been eating lots of meat, veg, beans, and eggs. The book suggests using magnesium and calcium supplements, but rather than just buying some pills from a supermarket blindly, I decided to go to the doctor and get a blood test. Today we went over the results, and I couldn't be happier!

Empirical results
I was worried about my cholesterol levels, with all of the meat & eggs I've been eating, and also wanted to check magnesium & calcium to see if I should be using supplements, and also vitamin D seeing as I work indoors. The results were better than I was expecting!

My biochemistry results were all excellent across the board, so no need for any additional supplements! I'm taking once capsule of 1000IU of vitamin D3 a day, and the doctor suggested perhaps I could cut that back to every other day. The surprise for me though was the results for the lipids and HDL. My HDL cholesterol (the good kind) were high, and my LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) were low. At first I was a little concerned about a "cholesterol" level being high, but my doctor looked at me and said "can it be bad to have a high level of good cholesterol?". Point taken. The book talks about good cholesterol having benefits, such as helping with insomnia, which historically is something I've always had trouble with, and I can now say finally that I now longer have any trouble getting off to sleep. This is another one of those things that I wish I'd discovered sooner!

The theory is that high-GI foods can cause an excessive spike in blood glucose which tends to be stored around the body as fat. Low-Gi foods on the other are converted to blood glucose more slowly throughout the day, and are more satiating. I've found that I now eat about twice the volume of food as I used to, but don't suffer the inevitable sugar crash that typically accompanies a large carbohydrate-rich meal. No more dozing off in the afternoon, I have consistently high energy levels throughout the day!

Another pleasant side-effect of the slow carb diet is that you no longer feel hungry between meals. I have my breakfast around 8am, and lunch four hours later at 12pm, and don't feel hungry at all in between. I have a light snack in the afternoon usually comprised of celery sticks & peanut butter, and that keeps me going until dinner at around 6:30. Again, I don't feel hungry in the evenings, despite rarely going to bed before midnight. I'm trying the book's suggestion of taking a spoonful of almond butter before bed which is intended to keep blood glucose levels from dipping too low in the morning, but I've never been an early riser so it's hard to say if it's helping directly but generally I've been sleeping much better and feeling more energised.

As for the "cheat day", mine tends to start on Friday even with beers, and extend right through the weekend... It's so awesome being able to pig out on whatever I want once a week knowing that I'm not gaining weight or affecting my health adversely!

Exercise changes
This wasn't a change so much as a supplement. I do martial arts training every Tuesday, Thursday, and Sunday, so I started out by adding a special exercise routing every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In recent weeks I had found myself feeling a bit exhausted by the end of the week though, especially considering how many repetitions I've worked up to now, so I've cut out Wednesdays. Only made that change recently, so too early to draw any conclusions from it yet.

So what's the big secret? Russian kettlebells. I started out with a 20Kg kettlebell, just going 75 repetitions of the two-hand swing, but a month or two ago I added a smaller 12Kg kettlebell for a wider range of movements, like the one-hand snatch. Kettlebells are an excellent supplement for marial arts training, because they exercise a wider range of muscles together at the same time in movements that are more similar to natural activities that free weights or gym machines, and they increase explosive strength rather than sheer bulk and lifting power.

They do increase core strength, but I've also recently added a gym ball for focusing on more on that. Still working towards visible abs, but probably have to get my body fat % down a but lower first.

Conclusion - it works!
What put a huge smile on my face was to hear the doctor say "whatever it is you're doing, keep doing it!". That in combination with the excellent blood test results validate that the perceived increase in overall health & wellbeing I've experienced are supported by empirical evidence. I intend to keep working towards my goal getting a reaction from someone along the lines of "what the fuck have you been doing?!"

I'll laugh and say "beans and cannon balls"...


B said...

Are you not finding it expensive to do 4hb here (in Japan)? Veg is sooooo pricey here compared to other countries. Even frozen veg is expensive....

Any tips you can pass on with regards to 4hb in japan would be gratefully received.

Mark said...

Good question actually. We moved back to Sydney in 2006, and by comparison it's rediculously more expensive than Japan. So when we went back to japan this last Xmas for 3 weeks, it was very interesting comparing prices, and trying to stick to a low carb meal plan as much as was practical.

It's very hard to avoid rice, especially when eating out, but when preparing meals at home I found it quite affordable to buy fresh meat & veg like cabbage, chicken, and pork. Beef is admittedly quite expensive, but we found Aussie beef that was cheaper than it costs here in Aus!

My advice is that eggs are your best friend. They're an awesome source of protein and cholesterol, and even regular eggs from a supermarket are so fresh in Japan! When breaking them into a pan, they just sit there in a solid mass, as opposed to Aussie eggs which just splash out into a runny pool, even the pastured eggs.

Also, mushrooms are quite cheap there. If you can get your veg from a market or veg shop they'll be even cheaper than from the supermarket. Fish & seafood are also cheap and abundant. Wakame is also an awesome source of iodine and other nutrients, and is super cheap.

Get some good low carb or Paleo recipes, like and see what you can improvise with local ingredients. I guess at the end of the day though it depends on whether you're working in Japan and spending yen, or working abroad and spending converted dollars. At the current exchange rate, spending $AUD in Japan is awesome!