You’re Never Past It – Let These People Inspire You

Russian kettlebell maestro Sergey

Russian kettlebell maestro Sergey

Last week I had the honour of training with kettlebell world champion Sergery Rachinsky. He’s one of the strongest men in the world, holding multiple world records for strength and endurance such as his 100kg back squat for 180 reps.

His feats and mental toughness are mind-blowing on their own but one thing I found particularly inspiring was that he’s still smashing strength records at 42 years of age with plans for many more to come.

A has-been by 30?

About 10 years ago whilst working in a bank in England I remember a conversation with a colleague about fitness and exercise. I’d just started training and was really getting into it. I recall him holding his belly and telling me how it all goes downhill when you hit your late twenties. The weight just piles on, he told me. And besides, with a wife, kids and job there’s no time left to look after yourself. He basically said that he was on a steady decline towards ill health, powerless to do anything about it.

At the time I was concerned for my future and his words stuck with me.

Of course, I now realise that he was externalizing all his reasons for not looking after his health in an attempt to convince himself that his poor state was due to factors beyond his control. He felt better thinking that yeah, he was unfit and in bad shape, but what more could he do? It was all because of his age/job/kids/schedule etc.

Sadly, by relinquishing responsibility for his health he probably never did anything to change it.

The truth is, you can achieve incredible feats of fitness, strength, endurance and skill at any age.

I’m not talking about a 50-something who does a leisurely jog in the park twice a week – I mean elite athletes, world record holders or sportsmen and women dominating people their children’s or grandchildren’s age.

Here are some incredible stories of strength at all ages:

Herschel at 48

Herschel at 48

Not content with being a top NFL player and world class sprinter, Herschel Walker has gone on to become an MMA fighter into his 50s. Here he is fighting at 48. Seriously, scientists should study this guy.

Dara Torres was still beating records going into her 40s and at 45 she narrowly missed out on the 2012 Olympics by 0.32 seconds. Here she talks about her lifestyle.

In 2011, 54 year old George Hood set the world record for the longest plank hold at 1 hour 20 minutes. Not content with this, he smashed it 2 years later with an incredible 3 hours 7 minutes.

Canadian strongman Kevin Fast, 46, set the World record for pulling the heaviest object, a C-17 cargo plane. This is undeniably a cool record, but he outdid himself when he set the world record for most people lifted at once, with 22 girls on his back.

Kevin lifted 22 girls to set a world record
Kevin lifted 22 girls to set a world record

Just shy of her 50th birthday, tennis legend Martina Navratilova won a mixed doubles championship at the U.S. Open. This was an all-age full event, not a masters.

Sportsmen who didn’t just compete, but played in the top flight of their sport during their 40s: Jeff Carney, NFL player aged 45, Teddy Sheringham and Brad Friedel, football players in the English Premiership aged 40 and 42 respectively. Dikembe Mutombo and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, two NBA legends who played at the highest level until they were 42.

On a personal level, my uncle serves as a great inspiration to me. He’s 53 and in great shape, runs a few marathons a year ranking high in his age group, goes rock climbing every week (he outclimbed me when I tried it) and often beats me at tennis. He fits in all this training and competing while running his own company.

This guy ran a 3:15 marathon at 80 and smashed my 5km target time by almost a minute #noexcuses

This guy ran a 3:15 marathon at 80 and smashed my 5km target time by almost a minute #noexcuses

I’ve had many friends who’ve run marathons. Most go for sub 4:30 hours, or perhaps 4:00. Occasionally I have a very fit and active friend who trains hard and goes for sub-3:30. Ed Whitlock recorded a time of 3:15:53… at age 80 (no typo, that’s eighty), a respectable time for a man his great-grandson’s age.

Fauja Singh was running marathons at 100 years old. He finally hung up his running shoes aged 101, with a 10km race in Hong Kong. He ran for premature babies charities, being billed as ‘the oldest running for the youngest’ – what a beautiful and inspiring goal!

Olga Kotelko is a 92 year old athlete competing in numerous track and field events, such as high jump, long jump, javelin, shot put and sprints. She holds 23 world records and 17 records in her age category. She told the NY Times that she has more energy now than when she was 50.

Olga at 91

Olga at 91

The World Masters Athletics records page is a huge inspiration to me not only as I age, but also now. I set some 2013 running goals of a 20 minute 5km time and a sub-1 minute 400m time. I was a little embarrased to discover that the oldest person to record a sub 1:00 400m was 74 years old. Our marathon running friend Ed Whitlock (pictured above) hit a 19:07 5km time aged 75, a time I would be massively proud of.

Equally impressive are the 100m world record times. Some inactive guys my age would struggle to hit a 17.5 second 100m time. A time of 17.53 was recorded by Frederico Fischer when he was 90 years old. 90 goddamn years! Please record your 100m sprint time, and if it’s not as fast as Freddy then let it be the biggest wake up call of your life.

I’ll leave you with this video from the Veterans Athletics Championships in the over-95 category. Seeing Emiel power through like Usain Bolt in lane 4 brought a tear to my eye. I sincerely hope that’s me in 65 years time.

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Big Food Experient Pt.2: A Month With No Grains

My Big Food Experiment started with a month without meat. Eager to move on, next up on the food group cull list was grains.

I’ve eaten and enjoyed grains all my life, mostly in the form of bread, cereal, flour and pasta, and more recently in the form of rice and noodles in Thailand and Asia.

20 years ago giving up ‘heart healthy grains’ would’ve been absurd, but things have changed since then.

Food enemy number one has shifted from fat to carbohydrates, and numerous charges have been filed against grains by the food police – that they promote inflammation, that they contribute to an unhealthy level of carbohydrate intake leading to health issues, that many people react badly or are allergic to them, they make you bloated, their vitamin content is far surpassed by fruits and vegetables, that our bodies have not adjusted to eating them since their introduction to our diets roughly 10,000 years ago and that generally our bodies react badly to the gluten, lectins and phytates that grains contain.

Grains: pasta, bread (includes pita pretzels etc), noodles, flour, wheat, cereal, rice, oats, corn. Many processed foods include grain derived ingredients. Not grains: potato, sweet potato, quinoa

Grains: pasta, bread (includes pita pretzels etc), noodles, flour, cereal, rice, oats, corn. Many processed foods include grain derived ingredients.
Not grains: potato, sweet potato, quinoa

Now I’m not saying all these nasty things that are being said are necessarily true and I’m not particularly interested in debating them for now. All I want to know is how I react to grains, and how dropping them from my diet will impact my mind and body. So the day after my no meat month, I started my no grain month.

The first interesting thing was people’s reaction when I mentioned I was cutting out grains. Many people would just look confused and ask “why?” Not wanting to get into any long-winded conversation or debate (unavoidable, sometimes) I would just say I was trying it out. Some people would just stand there looking puzzled, wondering why anyone would do such a thing. I didn’t get this when discussing meat, something we’ve eaten for far longer throughout our evolution, so it was interesting that grains elicited this response.

So meat was back in and grains were out – I was happy to get my meat back and the changes I felt were immediate and positive. By eliminating grains I was mostly forced to take the healthy choice. No more cereal, bagels or croissants for breakfast, the only thing on the menu in the local cafe that passed the no grain audit was salad. Even the sauces had grain-derived ingredients so my salads went sauce free. At first it tasted a bit bland, but I found that fruit and vegetables for breakfast filled me up nicely until afternoon.

Grains, on the other hand, have me feeling hungry shortly afterwards and sometimes even make me hungrier. I’ve been a bit peckish before, eaten a bagel, and been full on starving afterwards (yes, even wholewheat bagels for those who asked after my last article).

I believe the poor hunger control often caused by grain and processed food consumption is due to blood sugar levels rising quickly and the resulting insulin production causing a crash, resulting in food cravings and more consumption. Repeat this often enough for a long enough amount of time and the blood sugar level rollercoaster will put you on course for weight gain, insulin resistance and diabetes.

As much as I’ve always enjoyed bread, pasta et el, they’ve always left me feeling pretty bloated and heavy and certainly not primed for peak performance. By eliminating them I benefited from increased energy levels and felt lighter.

Now, I realise this comes across as flagrant grain-bashing but please understand that I don’t think grains are awful and terrible. My current view is that grains are fine, but it’s excessive consumption that causes problems. ‘Excessive consumption’ is relative to how active you are – a marathon runner or labourer can safely consume more than a sedentary office worker who rarely stands up.

Now I consume grains in moderation and I feel I’ve struck a nice balance in my diet now that suits me. However, some people eat cereal for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, a big bowl of pasta for dinner and numerous grainy, high-carb snacks in between and think this is a good, healthy diet and can’t understand why they’re gaining weight and feeling tired.

no-grainMy only rule during this month was no grains. I didn’t diet (other than fasting for 24 hours every 1-2 weeks) and I didn’t monitor or worry about carbohydrate consumption during the month, but I still lost weight, just over 2kg. I didn’t worry about deserts or other ‘naughty’ foods and ate freely, but I discovered that most unhealthy, indulgent food has some form of flour, bread or cereal in it, so that seemed to largely keep my healthy eating in check.

Most highly-processed foods were off the menu, which again contributed to my positive experience with this experiment. I found myself having to check ingredients lists closely and almost all packaged food had something like ‘rice vinegar’, ‘wheat extract’ or some other grain derivative. This checking process made me more aware of what I was consuming and was a valuable education. I don’t think we give enough consideration to what we put in our bodies, but this month I was forced to check to ensure I didn’t inadvertently consume grains. Occasionally there’d be no grains, but the list would contain so many chemicals I couldn’t pronounce that I couldn’t bring myself to eat it. This is one of the biggest things I took from the month – being aware and mindful of what I was consuming.

Overall I felt great, had lots of energy and was losing weight, but I did crave grains at times. Towards the end of the month I started to enviously see people wolfing down sandwiches, pizza or pasta. Perhaps my body was craving the nutrients and energy, or perhaps I missed the taste and flavour of those foods. I introduced grains back into my diet after the month ended and now I eat them in moderation. By ‘moderation’, I mean a lot, lot less than the average person. If bread is served with soup and it looks tasty I’ll eat it. If it looks cheap, very white or full of preservatives, I won’t. If I’m eating out and I want grains, I’ll have them, but my intake has reduced dramatically. I’d estimate that my current grain consumption is about 30-40% of what it was pre-experiment, and I’m especially careful to avoid them earlier on in the day as I feel they set me up for a day of hunger. I’ve continued to see improvements in body composition and health without totally cutting them out and I can still eat the foods I enjoy.

Another way to put this is that I feel I’ve found the carbohydrate and grain consumption level that works for me, and I’m reaping the benefits of that.

My conclusion from this is that different people have different tolerance levels for grains and carbohydrates. Some react terribly, whereas some seem to be able to get away with consuming more. This idea of experimentation and accepting that people react to foods differently sounds so simple, but is so often forgotten with nutritional advice.

I have learned so much about myself and my body over these two months and would wholeheartedly recommend these kind of food experiments to anyone. Not necessarily no meat or no grains, but just play around with your diet, eliminate food groups for a while and see how you feel, try fasting or just keep a food diary and monitor weight, mood and energy level changes. You’ll learn so much about yourself you’ll never again pay attention to the drivel that’s often found in newspapers and magazines regarding nutrition, and that can only be a good thing.

Not wanting to halt my food journey, I had an interesting food experiment in store for part 3. Will fill you in soon…

The Big Food Experiment

What and when to eat?

Don’t let me tell you what you must eat and when you must eat it

I’ve been asked recently how I’m doing on my 2013 goals and ideas, which I so publicly revealed. The answer is some better than others. They’re all ongoing, so the end of the year is when I’ll fully assess, and if I haven’t achieved and maintained them I’ll get a big ‘FAIL’ stamp tattooed on my forehead.

One of the things I wanted to do was ‘try new things’, and I’ve approached this in one way by trying out some experiments with food. By food experiments I don’t mean genetically modifying tomatoes to be as big as footballs (although I would try that if I knew how), I mean experimenting with how different foods and eating patterns affect my mind and body.

We’re constantly bombarded with information on diet and nutrition. Magazines and online fitness ‘gurus’ tell you what you MUST do, and use powerful statements such as ‘eat this food to turn your body a fat-burning machine’, and ‘if you don’t eat breakfast your body goes into catabolic starvation mode and your metabolism grinds to a halt’.

When it’s written with such strength and conviction, who cares if it’s true?

Decisiveness sells and attracts people, I get that, but this is one area that requires a more diplomatic approach – experiment with different things, monitor closely how it affects you, keep an open mind and discover a personalized solution for you, which admittedly doesn’t sound quite as good as ‘eat this and watch the fat melt away’.

I guarantee, in 100 years there will still be people telling you that you MUST do this, you MUST do that, and the masses will be lapping it up and paying for it, both with their wallet and their poor results.

Discovering what works for you is possible for anyone with a little intelligence and the will to succeed. Unfortunately a lack of will is what stops most people…

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Albert Einstein

My first food experiment was a month without meat. I’ve eaten meat all my life and I’ve tried almost every meat imaginable. If it has a brain and moves, chances are I’ve eaten it. I believe meat consumption is largely healthy, but my big issue comes with the quality of meat. Organic grass-fed beef is very different from supermarket beef lasagne, which probably contains more unicorn than beef. So I rather hesitantly embarked on my no-meat journey and loudly proclaimed it on facebook to get some feedback and hold myself accountable.

I could write a lot about how I felt and reacted to no meat, but I want to summarize the main points to keep this article at a decent length.

I was told by some that a no-meat diet would leave me feeling clean, fresh and light. I didn’t find this at all. I actually felt quite heavy and bloated. A lot of my meat seemed to be replaced by grains – pasta, bread, rice etc. Interestingly, some of my vegetarian friends have confirmed that almost every meal they have is grain based.

If I saw this I had to turn around and run for my life

If I saw this I had to turn around and run for my life

For the first few weeks I was lacking in energy. This improved towards the end but I was a long way from feeling at my best. I stress, this could have been due to many other factors – sleep, stress levels etc, but I definitely didn’t feel ‘alive’, like some said I would.

It made me realise that I enjoy eating meat. It tastes good and I feel good from eating it.
I was really looking forward to eating meat again, but my first meat meal after the month was a bit of an anti-climax. It tasted good, but not spectacular like I’d envisaged. But overall I was happy to get it back into my diet.

It showed me I could go without meat fairly comfortably if need be. The longest I’d gone before this was probably a day or two at most.

I’d like to stress at this point that this was a long way from being a scientific experiment. I continued eating some fish and as mentioned previously, so many other factors could have played a part in how I felt during this month. I’m open to the idea that if I’d perhaps given it longer or tried some other no-meat diet solutions, these could have been more positive. Perhaps I’ll try that later. I have some friends who are vegetarian, eat loads of bread and pasta and look and feel great. I’m not doubting this works for them as I can see the results, but for now I don’t think it’s for me.

The biggest and most positive thing I took from this experience was how I view the quality of the meat I consume – how the animals kept and fed and how that affects the taste and nutrient profile of the meat.

So that’s a summary of what I discovered about myself. Nothing too profound, but I’m glad I did it and it’s already set me on the path to thinking more about what I consume.

And in case you’re wondering, I put on about half a kilo.

About half way through the no-meat month I was looking at a wholewheat bagel I was eating and thinking about how it was making me feel, when it came to me – the next month I would cut out all grains, which meant no bread, rice, noodles, wheat etc, or anything deriving from grains, such as rice vinegar, wheat extract (found in a lot of processed foods) and most alcohol including beer (oh dear!). I knew it would be harder as many food items are off the menu, but I was excited about trying this one.

In my next post I’ll let you know how I got on…

Also, please note that we offer nutritional guidance in Bangkok at BASE.