Monday, August 13, 2012

"Thank You For Being a Friend..." *

As the 2012 London Olympics come to a close, I wanted to jot down a quick post about some thoughts that have come up in the past few weeks.

1) How awesome were our American Women? 29 of our 46 gold medals came from women this Olympics.

2) We need a Women's MLS league in America and we need to do better at supporting a professional level of women's sport in general. There are too many potentially good role models for young girls to only showcase them once every 4 years. Girls of my generation grew up idolizing Jordan and wanting to,  "Be Like Mike."  I want my girls to grow up knowing the names Rapinoe, Morgan, and Wambach. If they choose a not sporty path, that's fine, but dammit I want them to have the option!

3) More on topic with my recent rambling is that all the hoopla about Michael Phelps being the, "Best. Athlete. Ever." started bringing some focus to the topic I've been struggling with of Health vs. Fitness.  Six months ago, if you asked me about the relationship between the two, I'd probably have said that they had a mostly parallel track, meaning that as you increased your fitness, you became healthier.  Today, I don't think that's necessarily the case and Phelps (or any number of other Olympic or Professional athletes) kinda helped clear the fog in my thought process.

Few would argue that Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps weren't in phenomenal shape. Each man is literally more fit that billions of other men. The same applies to Allyson Felix or Missy Franklin with regard to women. But are they healthy and should we strive to be like them? I found myself wondering what horrible, unnatural things must they do to themselves to be able to perform at that level? Humans were not designed to train with such a singular focus to run 100m in under 10 seconds or to swim that same 100m distance in under a minute.

Granted, I'm not even a decent amateur caliber athlete, but I know the toll it takes on my body to be remarkably mediocre. I've never done any real recreational "off-roading" in terms of dietary/training supplements or dietary wonkiness, but a quick look at professional cycling (or baseball... or football... or track...) will return a laundry list of top-level athletes busted for migrating too far out of the grey area of legal supplement into the land of performance-enhancing substances. It's a safe assumption that to play at the top, you need to understand where that line is and get as close to it as possible without crossing the boundary -- if you don't, you can be certain your opponent is.

How healthy can that possibly be? Sure, many professional athletes have physiques envied by billions, but at what cost? How many retired NFL players appear "healthy" a decade after they've left the game? Many, if not most, have chronic ailments that prevent them from living a normal life. Some of that is due to the abuse of the game. Even in the case of Phelps, what the hell does it do a human's system to ingest 4-5 times the normal amount of food that a normal person requires?

What are we, the Normal Folk, doing to ourselves in our attempts to get as close to that Ideal Form as possible? We weren't built for the constant abuse we put ourselves through trying to look better, be faster, and get stronger. It's only our own arrogance in the Superiority of Humanity that convinces us that we are somehow significantly different than the dude chillaxing with his homies around the campfire 20,000 years ago. What I'm coming to believe is that we're not, and that chasing the dream of any PR fitness goal I might have, whether it be a 3:30 Marathon, 1:30 Half, or a 300# squat will not be evidence of my increased level of health, but can only come at its expense.

* Bonus points to anyone who makes the connection between the Blog Title and its content. Your prize is the sad confirmation that you're old.

Friday, August 3, 2012

21st Century Breakdown

21st Century Breakdown
I once was lost but never was found
I think I am losing
What's left of my mind
To the 20th century deadline
                    - Billie Joe Armstrong

What if everything you've been told about nutrition, health, and fitness was wrong? And not just marginally wrong, but almost the polar opposite of what was right? Spoiler alert: maybe it's not. But what if it is?  Hear me out.

The goal I undertook just over 2 years ago was to stop being a sod and get myself into shape, not just for me and not just for my amazing wife (who had already successfully unsodden herself).  I wanted to set a proper example for my then-infant girls. I wanted to set an example of being healthy and active with the hope that they might avoid the plight of the average American who finds themselves inactive, overweight, and unhealthy.

At the time the conventional wisdom was that I needed whip myself into shape with cardio, crank out hours in the gym every week, and support that activity with a whole-grain fueled low-fat diet.  As is the case for many (but certainly not all and many not even most), when I stuck to that plan, I saw pretty solid results. I was blessed with something genetically that kept me from getting fat, so I didn't have weight to lose, but I was certainly not in shape; I had a little belly an even less muscle tone.

I started running because it was "cheap cardio" and it was something where I could see weekly progress in both my speed and distance.  About 7 months after I started running, I ran a half-marathon in 1:40. 7 months after that I was training very well toward a 3:30 marathon and, despite blowing up on race day, I ran a sub-4:00 race. I believed that the faster I could run or the more weight I could lift (which has never been that much) had a direct correlation to how HEALTHY a human being I was. As of today, I'm not sure I'll go the grave believing that and that's not my belief as I'm writing today.

I've been bitten (and some would probably say infected) by the Paleo/Primal bug.  There are varying flavors of the concept, but the version I'm embracing is that we (human beings) have deviated too far from our very-recent ancestry in both lifestyle and diet.  As brief lesson in human pre-history, consider that the split in the genetic code we carry (vs. either extinct lineages or apes) occurred about 2 million years ago and the principles of natural selection (evolution) gave us a pretty rockin' person heading out of the Paleolithic into the Meso/Neolithic about 10,000 years ago.

Some anthropologists argue that this was the pinnacle of human health. Few anthropologists disagree that the health of the average human took a nose-dive in the Neolithic. Current studies are projecting that for the first time in recorded history the current generations of Americans are likely to have a shorter average life expectancy than subsequent generations.

I have always been a staunch believer in Science and logic as being able to provide answers to problems. As I have continued to read more about the status quo of our society and compare it to what we know (and in some cases what we presume to know) about what Humans are truly evolved to be/eat/do, I have started taking a hard look at how I'm going to choose to live my life and, with my own personal exceptions that come from living a 21st century life, I'm choosing to pursue a more ancestral path.  My hope is that I can find the time I've had today (yay vacation day!) to go more in-depth about what I'm doing and, more importantly, why I think it's right.