Vegan phase – extended into mediterranean phase

After burger phase, I adopted for pretty much the complete opposite – Vegan Phase. This project has changed from last year, where I only ate “bad” foods, to now focus on different popular diets and whether there is any material difference in how they affect my training, general well being, and weight loss (if any).

It also helps me to be more empathetic with athletes that I coach who are following a particular diet. That was a big reason for choosing vegan, since I’ve never really excluded meat, eggs and dairy from my diet before, and I was interested in how it would affect me. I was still sticking to the calorie counting of 2000 calories per day, just to provide some consistency across the various diets. 

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Over the 2 weeks of vegan, sticking to the same calories as the burger phase I did not lose any weight, and this is what I noticed:

  • training was fine, no problems at all
  • recovery was good too
  • I never felt hungry, which is also probably why I did not lose weight
  • I was surprised at how much carbohydrate I consumed daily
  • on some days, the sheer bulk of food actually made 2000 calories quite hard to eat (unless I included nuts, then the calories would add up FAST)
  • I found it very difficult to eat enough protein without supplementation

Ok so let’s focus on the last 2 points (calories and protein). Most people will be surprised when they see I did not lose any weight during the vegan phase. Most people report weight loss within the first 10 days of eating vegan. I believe the biggest reason for this is that they are not counting calories. If I had not been counting calories, I’d have been able to get away with about 1500 calories per day without feeling hungry. I’ve come to the conclusion that hunger is one of the best indicators of weight loss. If you’re not hungry, you’re probably not losing weight. If you want to lose weight, you should become comfortable with the idea of being hungry. The only times I’ve been somewhat satisfied and still lost weight was when eating a high protein diet.

Talking of protein, I did find it really difficult to get in my goal of 0.7g per pound of body weight. I base the 0.7g on various research studies I’ve read over the years. It’s a hotly debated subject, and I’m not saying I have the answer, but it’s less than bodybuilders suggest, and it’s more than the “anti-protein people” whoever they are, suggest. From practical experience, that seems to be the right number for me if I want to maintain muscle mass during periods of high activity.

I ate a lot of lentils, quinoa, and other plant-based sources of protein, but I’d struggle to get in over 80g protein per day. Sure I could buy supplements to get it easily, but I wanted to avoid supplements during this phase. Even at that level of 80g per day, I felt a lot of discomfort in the gut when eating that high a volume of lentils and quinoa. My recommendation for vegans would be to either supplement, or to become ok with eating eggs. Most vegans are vegans due to ethical reasons, but in my view there are good options for humanely raised chickens. Personally I am ok with eating eggs, so no problem there. But I am also ok with eating meat, which is why the next phase I basically took my vegan diet and added dairy, eggs and fish back into it, thereby pretty much adopting the Mediterranean diet. 

In my view, the med diet is the best one for me as an athlete. It’s largely based around vegetables, I feel very good all of the time, I recover well, and it’s easy for me to get enough protein without supplementation (although I have no issues with protein supplements and regularly take them for convenience reasons). Plus it is expected that one drinks red wine every night (in my interpretation anyway). Also, in my view there is no reason to avoid grains (such as in the paleo diet) or gluten (unless you have celiac disease). Since I am free from these afflictions, it works really well for me. Having  said that, if you wish to be vegan I think it works really well, as long as you also supplement. If you want a great source of protein, take a look at these good supplements from Arbonne.

So overall this has been an interesting phase of the experiment. I’ve made some great tasting dishes and felt very good health wise. It’s not quite as fun as eating burgers or ice cream, but it is more enjoyable in the sense that I did enjoy eating good wholesome food for all my meals.



Burger Phase – 14 Days – Zero Weight Loss

I’m going to blame the lack of accurate calorie information for this one. Last year I lost 1kg in 10 days, but I had more food from accurate sources:

  • home made burgers are very accurate because you can measure everything precisely.
  • Chains like McDonald’s or Burger King have reasonably accurate calories, but who wants to eat there when you have much better options around!
  • This year I had no chain burgers other than Red Robin, and I never had any homemade burgers.

Despite the lack of success, I did have a great time trying some new burger places.

Mad Love from Red Robin

  • Biggest surprise was Red Robin’s Mad Love burger, which despite being a chain restaurant was actually a phenomenal burger.
  • Mountain Sun’s Junk Burger was fantastic. I’ve lived in Boulder for almost 3 years and (disgrace!) have never been to Mountain Sun. It was superb.
  • I had several burgers from Ted’s Montana Grill. The Avalon is really good!
  • Larkburger is a local chain, and I love their fresh ingredients and clean-looking food. You can tell it’s prepared from scratch (and the 20 minute wait time backs that up!)
  • Roadhouse Boulder Depot was great – I can’t remember the name of the burger but it was very good.
  • Fate Brewing Trifecta burger has an amazing reputation, but did not deliver this time around. It wasn’t juicy at all, and the flavors just didn’t do it for me.
  • Wendy’s was another great fast food option. The Dave’s Single was good, but the Baconator was not good at all.

Here’s the video.

For the next phase, I’ve decided to go super healthy with a strict vegan diet. And no junk vegan stuff, just whole foods with nothing processed other than some Ezekiel bread, and rolled oats if you consider that processed. Protein is going to be a challenge, but I’m stocked up on lentils, beans, peas and quinoa so hopefully I can get enough in. I don’t plan on supplemental protein unless absolutely necessary.

2018 Race Weight Project – Ice Cream Phase (2 weeks) done – 9 lbs lost!

The ice cream phase of “race weight 2018” was a success! 9.4 lbs (4kg) in 14 days is much more than I expected… I put it down to very low sodium (and therefore no water retention) and very accurate calories (it’s all packaged, with calorie values on the tub). 

Despite the rapid weight loss, it was not easy at all. I was hungry all of the time, so it took a lot of discipline not to eat more. On the plus side, my “cheat meals” were very healthy – I’d have a bowl of fresh tomatoes with spinach some balsamic vinegar and a little olive oil.  150 calories max. I had that about three times during the 14 days (over and above the 2000 calories per day of ice cream). It feels really odd to have a cheat meal that is so healthy, but it’s honestly just as rewarding as when you have a bowl of ice cream during a normal diet where you’re eating healthy food all the time.

Here is a long video that goes through all 14 days. I start with a short summary, so you don’t have to watch the whole thing. But if you want something to watch on an indoor trainer ride, then you have plenty of material there!

Training went surprisingly well – I don’t think I had a single bike or run workout where I struggled. I did suffer on some of the swims, I think because they are such high intensity that if you have any caloric deficit you just fall apart. The same thing happens when eating normally, if I do a hard swim without adequate fuel. So not very different to normal. Training volume is relatively low – 12 hours for week 1 and 14 hours for week 2. 

With ice cream done, I’m very excited to move onto burgers, although I suspect the weight loss will be only 2-4 lbs over the 2 week period. However it will most likely be a lot more nutritious and satisfying than the ice cream phase.

Having sampled a lot of ice cream over 2 weeks, I thought I’d list my favorites. Here are my top 5 of the 20+ that I ate.

  1. Haagen Dazs Caramel Cone
  2. Haagen Dazs Peppermint Bark
  3. Ben & Jerry’s Cookies and Cream Cheesecake
  4. Private Selection Denali Extreme Moose Tracks
  5. Tillamook Marionberry Pie

Onward and upward onto the much-loved burger phase!

Ice Cream Week 1

The first week of ice cream was a success. 6 lbs lost which is more than expected. No doubt much of that (like any diet at the beginning) was some water weight, since ice cream has very little sodium, and with the restricted calories there is probably not much glycogen actually being stored. So week 2 will be a better indication of progress.

The two best ice creams this week were the Denali Extreme Moose Tracks, and the Caramel Cone.


I feel quite good. Except for being hungry most of the time (actually a good sign you are losing weight), my workouts have gone well, and I haven’t felt undue fatigue during any of them. Training load is pretty light, with just 12 hours of training over the course of the week. I actually purposefully time the dieting with low training loads, because otherwise I find that I don’t have enough energy to train, and end up not losing weight despite a high potential calorie burn, because I have to eat more food to support the training.

So now it’s just about waiting out the week and seeing how much I lose in total for the ice cream phase!


The 2018 race weight project has launched!

In 2017, I challenged people to choose junk food categories that I would use to diet and get to race weight. The idea was that for every 1kg lost, I would move to the next food group. I did burgers, ice cream, pizza, beer and then cake. Beer of course was a total disaster, but in the end I did hit my race weight sooner than anticipated. This year, I’ve modified it a bit based on what I learned last year. In addition to the “calorie test” I’d like to experiment with various popular diets to see how they impact both weight loss and performance.

  • Instead of basing each food on losing 1kg, I’m now doing each food for 2 weeks and seeing what the weight loss for each one is
  • I’m choosing the best foods of the 2017 project to start with (ice cream, burgers, cake)
  • I’m thinking of also including some “healthy” diets to see if that makes a significant difference to the amount of weight lost, or to how I feel (or both)
  • My target is 2000 calories per day, based on previous experience on what I need to target for weight loss but still feel good.
  • I’m not adding calories back for exercise. If I have a particularly challenging workout, I will fuel that with 300 calories per hour, but I won’t add those calories to my daily total, and I also won’t increase my daily calorie goal with the exercise calories.
  • The project starts January 1st and will go up until Ironman Texas which is on 28th April. The month leading up to IMTX I’ll aim to eat whatever I need to for performance, and not be in calorie deficit. I will no doubt gain a bit of weight then, but the purpose of including that is to see how much I gain back. 
  • On Jan 1st I weighed in at 180.6 lbs (82kg) and to perform well in a race I should be at around 165 lbs (75kg) or lighter (I can probably safely get down to 72 kg without adverse health issues, it’s just really, really difficult for me to get there).

Here’s the provisional schedule

  • Jan 1st – Jan 14th: ice cream (done – 9.4 lbs lost)
  • Jan 15th – Jan 28th: burgers (includes a Vegas trip to start) 
  • Jan 29th – Feb11th: vegan with whole food
  • Feb 12th – Feb 25th: mediterranean
  • Feb 26th – Mar 11th: paleo or cake (I hope cake)
  • Mar 12th – Mar 25th:TBD
  • Mar 26th – April 28th (Ironman Texas): no calorie restriction, eat to perform! 

I started the diet off with a bang! 10k swim on New Years Eve…


Yeeeehaw – Ironman Texas preview – my big training day!

Since I finished the race weight project a little earlier than expected, and since I experience some very good performance gains the the final 3 weeks of cake-eating, I decided to pull the trigger and enter Ironman Texas (April 22nd), as a big training day for Ironman Boulder in June (11th).

This will be an interesting exercise in “Just in Time” training. Basically, I’ve maintained my bike and run with regular training, at a level at which I can just launch into an Ironman build at short notice without any issues. This “base” is not very time intensive. In fact my weekly hours between January and April has been under 11 hours per week. Most of that has been biking and running, since my swim volume has averaged 1500m per week (for comparison, my normal swim volume training for an Ironman is 15-25km per week). My longest run before I entered Texas was 14 miles, and most rides were not longer than 2 hours.

So with 2 weeks to go, I had a bit of work to do, especially on the swim. 1500m per week just really nothing, and my swim was in terrible shape. Last Monday, I was struggling to swim faster than 1:35/100m for short intervals (like 100m) and my 200m intervals were coming in at over 3:20. My strategy was to swim every day, as far as I could before my form would break down, building up to where I could manage 4000m easily. That took about 7 days (17k of swimming), and by this Monday (April 17th) my swim was back on track. My 100m intervals were down to 1:22 and my 200s were down under 3 minutes, under 2:50 if I swam hard. Plus I could get through 4k of swimming in one session with not too much fatigue.  So we’ll see how race day goes, but I’m confident that I will at least make the distance.

Biking has been going well. I haven’t done any long bike rides (4 hours max, with a few 3 hour rides). But my power is good, so expect a decent bike split at Texas. I’m guessing it will be under 5 hours but I’ve never raced there before so I’m not sure. Best case 4:40, worst case 5:00.

Running is a bit of an unknown. No long runs at all, although I got in 18 miles last Friday. I feel my pace is where it needs to be, but not sure about my endurance at all. On race day I will just start with a run/walk structure (9 min run, 1 min walk) and see how things go. I expect I could run a 3:30 marathon if everything goes well. Probably more around 3:45, but I really just don’t know.

But whatever happens, I will be there with quite a few friends, and two of my coached athletes. So just being there for a big supported training day will be fun!

Cake day 21 – its done! Also it’s not

Ok so after 3 weeks of cake, I am finally done! 3 weeks is a bit too long for losing 1kg, so clearly I enjoyed it a little too much…! It could also be that as I’m nearing a low weight, the weight loss rate slows down a bit, but I think it’s safe to blame those baked goods for the slow progress.

On the plus side, I experienced some very good performance gains in my training, which was definitely not expected. My FTP (Functional Threshold Power on the bike) increased from 281 watts at the beginning of this project to 313 watts by last week. That’s only about 15 watts less than my all time best. My run also seems to be in reasonable shape. My swim is not, but that is mainly because I have not been swimming at all (maybe a topic for another post?).  Anyway all this performance improvement is a good thing, and I would certainly always give up rapid weight loss if it means my performance will increase. But as I’ve said before, it’s best to focus on one or the other, I just happen to have got lucky getting a performance increase while on a weight loss project. As you can see though, weight loss was almost non existent while my performance was increasing.

So, the main project is done! But, it’s also not done, because I’m interested in seeing what happens now that I return to normal eating, with a focus on training performance. That means higher calories, with healthy foods that help to support my training and recovery. It is about time, since bizarrely I have been craving salads and vegetables!

I will also throw in some experiments along the way – at some point I really want to see if that rapid weight loss I experienced in the ice cream phase was just coincidence due to the timing of ice cream within the project, or because the calories are very predictable, or some other reason. I did not expect that at all, so it will be fun to repeat it and see what happens.

In other news, I decided today to enter Ironman Texas (which is in 2 weeks time). That will be an interesting experiment because I have not been doing any real Ironman training. Between January and April I averaged under 11 hours training per week, with only 22 miles of running per week and 150 miles of biking per week. My average swim distance is 1500 meters per WEEK!!!! That is a 10th of my “normal minimum” of 15k per week when training for an Ironman.  So, I will definitely be able to finish the race, but I’m treating it as a big training day. I will not be competitive at all. I think I will just survive the swim, I’ll do quite well on the bike, and I will do as well as I can on the run, maybe a 3:30 marathon is not out of the question. Probably closer to 3:45. So possibly an overall time of 10:15-10:30 depending on how things go. 

I’ll be doing some last minute Ironman training this week, and won’t taper at all for the race, so at least I will arrive fit(ish) but not very fresh. Either way, it will be fun to race with some friends and have a good time out in the Woodlands on April 22nd! One great discovery I made during cake phase, was Angel Food Cake, which is pure carb (both complex and simple carbs) and no fat at all, so I will be incorporating this into my carb load for sure! Plus some burgers and ice cream the day before race day – my secret weapon!!!

Also, when I get some time, I will do a post with a recap of the whole race weight project. Lately I’ve been pretty busy so I need to squeeze in the time to get that done.


Cake Day 14 (plus a few days of review)

Ok so we are two weeks into cake. And it’s been a lot of fun – maybe too much fun! I’ve managed to gain 1kg, but that gain came with a benefit… First of all, last Monday I did an 8 mile run in Breckenridge up to over 10,000ft elevation, without a severe degradation in run pace. That’s the first time ever that I’ve had a good run at high altitude. Secondly, I did an impromptu FTP test during my Thursday ride and had an unprecedented 30+ watt increase in FTP compared to my last test this year. My working theory is that the weight gain and performance improvement go hand in hand. There is no proof of that, and there are a lot of variables, so it really is just a hypothesis.

The one “experiment within an experiment” that I’ve done with the cake phase, is to “eat back” my burned calories. That actually introduces a lot of room for inaccuracy, because measurement of exercise calories is not super accurate. It’s reasonably accurate, but if you burn 3000+ calories in a day, even a 10% variance can impact your weight loss goals significantly. So as counter-intuitive as this sounds, it can actually be easier to lose weight if you don’t do a huge volume of training. That way you just set a daily goal (in my case 2200 calories) and add nothing back in for exercise. However, if you’re training a lot, you need to fuel and recover in order to support that training. My plan is to add calories back once I am no longer focused on weight loss. That way, a gain of 1-2kg here and there is no issue when your focus is on performance, because your priority is on fueling your workouts and your recovery really well. That’s where food quality AND calories become very important. Usually, in that “performance phase” I focus on food quality, but don’t pay enough attention to getting in enough calories.  So I will still track calories, but the focus is on making sure I eat enough. I’ll be doing some trial and error to nail down the numbers that I use. In a way, this last 2 weeks has accidentally helped me to define that. I used a baseline of 2200 calories and added back ALL workout calories, so I’ll start with that when I begin to focus on performance. I also learned that during the weight loss phase, it’s a mistake to add back ALL workout calories. I’ve actually lost the most weight when training the least, but sticking to a specific number each day and not adding any workouts back in. It just simplifies everything and (for me anyway) seems like a very good strategy.

So the plan for the next 2 weeks: stay on cake (yay!) but don’t add any calories back. If I have a particularly taxing workout (like a 4 hour ride), I will just fuel that workout itself at around 300 calories per hour, but not add the exercise calories or the workout calories back in.

In a way, I like the fact that this experiment has had a few surprises and things that didn’t work as expected. All of that helps me to learn more about what to expect and be able to tweak my “real life” nutrition and training accordingly. So the longer term view is to get to 73kg on cake, then focus on performance and training for a while and just see where my weight settles (without letting it get much higher than say 75kg). And then at some point I really want to try the ice cream phase again to see if I can repeat that rapid weight loss phenomenon I noticed during this project. I’m mostly expecting that it was just coincidental with the timing of the project phases, but it would be really awesome if it works again!



Cake Day 10

Posts have been a bit sporadic as we’ve been up in Breckenridge on a short ski vacation. It has been remarkably difficult to find cake up there, so I tweaked the diet to include anything that’s been part of it before. So I got to partake of a very good burger at Blue River Bistro which is a great little restaurant in Main Street Breck. 

I did manage to get hold of some ice cream sandwiches too, but they were just boring Klondike Vanilla Ice Cream sandwiches, which were very middle of the road and bland.

I found two donut shops but they were never open… go figure.

From a workout perspective, I had a surprisingly good run. I say surprising because it was at an altitude of 10,000 ft (peaked at 10,300ft/3140m) and I managed to hit 7:45/mile average on an 8 mile negative split run workout. The negative split was “designed”, by running the first 4 miles uphill and then back down for a total of 8. So not really the same as doing that on the flats. But anyway, usually my runs at an altitude this high are really slow, so I was happy with the performance. 

I should be able to get a weigh-in done by the end of the week. Due to the super high quality of my recent workouts, I’m guessing that I may have not been restricting calories enough. However I’m ok with that 1) it’s great to get some decent workouts in after 7 weeks of reduced calories and compromised training and 2) because I would love to continue eating cakes for a few more weeks.

PS here is the day 7 video – I did do a blog post for that day but it somehow got deleted…


Cake Day 6 – Red Velvet Cheesecake

Today was a day to look forward to – with the recently acquired red velvet cheesecake from last night’s dinner. I went out on a workout, not expecting much, but it ended up being superb! Almost 2 hours at around 250w, which in my current bike form is really good. So that’s 5 days in a row of solid bike rides… there may be some virtue to this whole cake thing after all…

 – link to video – 

The red velvet cheesecake was very good. I would highly recommend it. But I have no idea how one might fit that in after a meal at cheesecake factory. On it’s own was enough for sure.

Totals 3,785 calories 353g carbs 86g fat 77g protein