Everybody Gets Knocked Down

Posted: April 23, 2011 in Performance Improvement

“It takes guts to get out of ruts.” Brad Brewer

We left off at my starting a period of health improvement after a serious 14-month health scare. Many have asked me if fear of death motivated me start down the path of health and personal performance improvement. The answer is simple: Not so much.

My health issues were more likely genetic rather than lifestyle driven, though I made myself worse despite possessing the knowledge from both my extensive education and experience (30 years) as a coach, health care professional and teacher. The fact is, most people will not successfully change their health habits despite the extreme risk of not doing so. I witnessed it first-hand during my years working in cardiology. Research showed that patients following coronary bypass surgery most often return to the destructive habits (smoking, diet, lack of exercise) that caused their health issues to begin with. Having their chests cracked open and heart stopped while new vessels are being sewn in was not enough to promote changes. The initial shock and fear usually results in some short-term aggressive changes, but over 80% will not “stick” to positive lifestyle changes over the long-term. The fear of death does not motivate most of us.

My changes in lifestyle were more motivated by challenge and mastery over inertia flowing in a bad direction. I was leading the lifestyle of a professional coach, which involves long hours, stress, bad eating and no time allocated to physical activity. Intrinsic motivators drive long-term mastery. Over the years, I have noticed that extrinsic motivators such as better health or promised longevity, looks, and financial incentives were not very successful as positive change agents. Intrinsic motivators such as the flow state attained when mastering a complex task or simply having more energy (accidental side effect) were what made people stick with changes. Put simply, living better rather than promise of living longer.

I also wanted to experiment with some things I had never done… test new techniques and methods… question old paradigms i.e. higher fat/protein diet vs. my typical endurance athlete carb biased diet. Sprinting vs. my long cardio approach. I wanted to incorporate more strength training and play/sport/athletic activities. Ageing causes lean muscle mass loss, coordination issues etc. I wanted to curb this. The way I trained in Lepp 1.0 would not work. I wanted to stimulate a more general fitness vs. a specific targeted one.

Well, it’s the middle of April and I have lost 25+ lbs with phase I of my program. I extended the diet-only phase another month. My only physical activity was occasional play/drills with my soccer ball plus the addition of the increased activity on race days now that my season is in full swing.

Diet has obviously played a critical part in my initial health improvement program. Calorie reduction can’t be a big part of the weight loss, because I am still consuming a good number and certainly not counting calories. I still have my beer and wine. I do have my intermittent fasting (see below) but it is not that significant. I will discuss the fallacy of calorie in/calorie out in another blog.

Here are the primary changes I have implemented:

  1. A “Paleo-type” eating plan with 7 intermittent fasting periods per month.
  2. Selective supplements
  3. Kicking the soccer ball around now progressing to more formal physical activity including heavy weight training, circuit training and cardio intervals.
  4. Now that the racing season has begun, covering a lot of ground at the racetrack each week in lower heart rate zones
  5. Measuring and controlling some select physical metrics

“Now eat a good breakfast, men. For we’ll all be sharing dinner in hell.” Leonidas

Paleo Eating Plan: Basically I have combined /integrated Mark Sisson’s , Art DaVaney’s and Rob Wolf ‘s approach to eating with a bias to Sisson. These guys are at the forefront of the Paleo/Evolutionary/Primal diet and activity movement. Remember, I am a physiologist trained in the 70’s. I have been prescribing the low-fat 60 % carbohydrate, 20% protein, 20% fat diet for years. Fat is evil and the cause of all that is bad. I watched my clients and a nation get increasingly obese over 30 years on that approach. If this approach was subject to FDA approval as a pharmaceutical agent, it certainly would never be approved. Some will argue that it is a drop in physical activity levels, but I firmly believe that it is more related to diet. Not the quantity of diet, but the quality.

During this phase, my diet staples are basically all types of meats, vegetables, fruits (not as much as I need or want), occasional dark chocolate as a treat, and a desert of cheesecake (without crust) 2- times per week. This approach definitely makes me eat fewer whole foods and less processed ones.

In the morning I have a Starbucks Grande Red Eye with heavy cream as my caffeine fix and maybe 6-10 diet cokes per week, usually with my lunch. For whatever reason, I can’t drink water with my lunch.

Since the race season started, I am wary of dehydration and accompanying potassium depletion. Low potassium and heart arrhythmias are good friends. I usually drink Dasani water bottles with Nuun (a small electrolyte tablet). I like Nuun- they provide a “fizzy carbonation”.

Fizzy Goodness

Along with the diet, I also wanted to try some intermittent fasting. I have noticed positive findings on the benefits of intermittent fasting and caloric restriction in the scientific literature. I have been hesitant to try this, because it has been believed that calorie restriction can possibly reduce your resting metabolism and loss of metabolism promoting muscle tissue. It has been promoted that frequent small meals keep metabolism elevated and decreae hunger pangs. My intermittent fasting regime consisted of skipping breakfast 2 times per week and eating only 1 big meal per day 3 times per month.

Recently, I decided to quantify and measure my actual resting metabolic rate (MedGraphics O2/CO2 Metabolic Analyzer) 3x during the day It directly measures O2 consumption and CO2 production. It is the gold standard measurement. No guessing here. Why? I wanted to precisely know: 1) How many calories I was burning per minute at rest & 2) My Respiratory Quotient (RQ). RQ is an indirect measurement of the mix of fat and carbohydrate the body is burning during the metabolic process

Results: Resting metabolism of 2763 calories per day. That’s about 41% above normal for a male my age. The RQ was .70, which meant that approximately 80% of my calories burned were from fat and 20% sugar or carbohydrate. The relatively high metabolic rate surprised me. I expected the lack of exercise (particularly strength work) and the intermittent fasting to have a negative effect on these numbers. The scientific literature is loaded with “studies” that indicate fasting leads to lean body mass loss resulting in metabolic rate decline. The RQ did not surprise me. I believe that reducing carbs and/or eating a low glycemic/slow carb diet greatly shifts the body to more fat utilization as fuel. I have seen this over the years when performing serial metabolic testing my clients and athletes. For more on metabolic testing information, check this out. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basal_metabolic_rate My initial conclusions were that lack of formal exercise training (particularly strength exercise) and intermittent fasting was not negatively affecting my resting metabolism. My RQ in the past had been .74 to .78. I was burning more fat calories at rest now.

Selective Supplementation

  • Vitamin D –RX level 5000u 1x week
  • High Quality Omega 3 Fish Oil- 3000 mg/day
  • Green Tea Extract on days that I am most active

I had tested Vitamin D-deficient during a recent physical. The research on the importance of vitamin D is persuasive and I recently had it tested again. It has improved, so I am staying on it.

Research on benefits of fish oil supplementation is becoming very convincing. Studies have demonstrated improvements in mental function, blood lipids, arrhythmias, and bone health. This one is a no brainer for me and I highly recommend.

Green Tea extract only when I am going to exercise. I have tested this and it definitely lowers RQ (increases fat burn during and post exercise) during exercise. I use the decaffeinated version.

Physical Activity: Kicking the Soccer Ball Around

“Play is where life lives, where the game is the game. At its borders, we slip into heresy, become serious, lose our sense of humor, fail to see the incongruities of everything we hold to be important…and we lose the good life and the good things that play provides.” George Sheehan

Since testing the diet was my initial goal, I limited physical activity to “play time”. This would allow me to selectively evaluate the effectiveness of the diet alone vs. diet and formal exercise together. I have never “dieted” and not accompanied it with increased exercise. I love kicking a soccer ball around. My first job in professional sports was in pro soccer, and I started playing this wonderful sport at that time. Considering that I did not grow up playing soccer (I played baseball in college) this could have been “my sport” if I had started in my youth. I was not bad at it and actually started as a goalkeeper in the Charlotte Amateur Soccer League in the 80’s. I get “lost” in it. Chasing the ball, shooting it, juggling it. This creates a “flow state” for me, and this unique state has proven to be important for long term “sticking to it”. My Garmin HR monitor showed I was averaging about 120 beats per minute for about 40 minutes of this “play exercise”. With race season started, I have also increased moving around fitness each week. Using my Garmin GPS, Nike and ANT technology, I have been able to quantify my activity while working at the racetrack. I have been covering an average of 6 miles on Saturday and Sunday race days. About 600 calories burned at an average heart rate of 110 beats per minute.

In March I started more formal physical exercise. It includes one day of hard sprinting (6×40 yard sprints), a heavy weight-training day, a circuit weight training day and one easy cardio day. I also include one day of casual playing around with easy soccer skill drills. The longest exercise session has been 35 minutes.

Measuring select physiological metrics. Along with the select metabolism measurements, I have also started monitoring my sleep with the Zeo Sleep Coach-monitoring device. I am very intrigued by this technology. I really believe that sleep plays a critical role in how we adapt to exercise, metabolism and mental function. It is the most important recovery agent. I learned about this simple device via some experiments that were done by some sports science friends of mine. It can measure the times you spend in various phases of sleep, including the critical deep sleep phase (where physical training benefits seem to absorb) and REM sleep (where important mental function restoration occurs.) I will blog more about this later, but I need a lot of improvement in this area. Bottom line: a sleep score of 70 is good and mine has averaged around 50.

Love the Zeo Sleep Coach

My 12-Month Goals

(These may surprise some of you)

  • Stop 5 of 10 shots from penalty spot against my brother/nemesis Paul Alepa. (Summer)
  • Run 100-yd dash in under 13 sec. (Winter)
  • Kick a 40-yard field goal (with my damaged right leg, I decided to have one goal that was totally dependent on it.)
  • Run a 16-second or less pit stop as a rear tire changer (Fall)
  • Paddleboard from Davidson to Blythe Landing on Lake Norman (Summer)
  • Juggle 3 balls for 2 consecutive minutes without dropping (Ongoing)
  • Climb Camelback mountain (Phoenix) in less than 25 minutes (Fall)

Great Total Body Training

Big Goal - Love Vertical Work

Soccer - Love It

All of the goals require mastery of skills I don’t have right now. I need these for my “flow state” and mental and physical fitness. I call this my integrative approach to health/performance improvement, incorporating long lost underdeveloped childlike curiosity approach.

I am also incorporating quantification of lots of things I have not measured on myself in the past. How bizarre is that for an accomplished sports physiologist. I have lots of athletes that would like to see me suffer the pain I inflicted on them!

What I Will Be Measuring

  • Resting and exercise metabolisms monthly
  • Daily calorie expenditures incorporating actual measured metabolism numbers programed into Garmin 410.
  • Sleep cycles from Zeo
  • Blood Lactate Levels (to insure proper exercise intensities)
  • Blood Glucose levels during dieting and exercise changes
  • Heart rate/GPS data during all types of activities

Measurements Made Easy

Technology I will use
  • DigiFit, Nike+/Ant Technology
  • Garmin Heart Rate Monitors
  • New Leaf Metabolic Analyzers
  • Zeo Sleep Coach Analyzer
  • Touch 1 Blood Glucose Analyzer
  • Arkray Lactate Pro Analyzer

Blood Lactate Measurement - Critical Information

Heart Rate and GPS Measurement

“It is difficult to do with more what can be done with less.” William of Occam

I read the above in Tim Ferris’s new book, The Four Hour Body, and find it quite interesting. Over the years, I have casually observed much of what he refers to in the book. How much exercise is enough for athletic improvement, optimal health and fitness, weight loss etc.? Do we really know? What has research really demonstrated vs. systematic observation over the past 40 years? Habitual and formal exercise programs really came into vogue with Dr. Ken Cooper and the “aerobics” movement in the 1970’s. Low fat eating became the way to eat starting in the late 70’s driven mostly by observational and animal studies combined with the US Congress and various “special interest groups”. During my running and cycling days, I sometimes exercised 4-6 hours per day. I really found it hard to believe that I really didn’t not lose much weight and it was not one of the periods in my life when I was the leanest. When was I the most lean? When I played soccer and went through a phase when I windsurfed a lot. One of the themes you have noticed from the above is that I am taking a very minimalist fitness approach – nothing really formal. One of my major experiments over the next couple months is finding the minimal effective dose or MED for diet and exercise. How little can I do and still lose weight, improve functional fitness and increase quality of life. So far I have lost 25 pounds and overall energy is massively improved. How low can I go? How low should I go?

If you ever have questions, don’t hesitate to ask them in the comment section or email me. I know much of this is may seem complicated, but one of my goals through this self-experimentation is to come up with some solutions that can help others, along with making me a better teacher and coach. I am also looking for possible case studies for my blog. Share with me people!

Start following my journey on twitter @z1physiocoach I am in the process of transitioning my coaching to this address and keeping the rest of my life (me, NASCAR etc). on @mlepp also check back here for shorter and more frequent updates.


  • Thermal manipulation (ice baths)
  • MED exercise
  • 14 day acceleration plan
  • A week in the life
  • How much does this approach cost?
  • The critical role of recovery and restoration
  1. Boris says:

    That short film is incredible. Would be awesome to do that effect with a tire changer. Those metabolism test still fascinate me too. Good stuff.

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