Working Out Working Out
4-minute read

At the start of the year, I decided that I would spend more effort on staying healthy. This, in my view, translated to the combination of “eating well” and “working out”. Of course, this wasn’t my first time thinking about personal health. I was keenly aware of good health being a prerequisite for psychologically feeling good about oneself. And by “good health”, I don’t just mean “not being sick”, but feeling strong and powerful. Physical strength is a key contributor to mental strength and motivation.

During early 2021 amid the COVID pandemic, I’d had success for over three months committing to a 30-minute daily rowing workout at home. My approach this time around was different from past attempts in a few ways. First, I decided to obsess over metrics that I wanted to improve over time. This motivated me to purchase a Smart Scale capable of measuring body fat percentage (a quantity that represents the combination of subcutaneous fat and visceral fat in the body, separate from bone and muscle weight). I’ve been delighted by this purchase not just because it helped me better understand and closely track body fat, but also because it motivated me to make another tweak to my approach, which was to set a goal against these metrics.

The wonderful thing about setting a goal you examine daily is that you start to see and understand the details at work, with all its intricate machinery that you had previously glossed over. I became curious about how what I ate influenced the metrics the next day, and I realized that it wasn’t just what I ate, but when I ate that seemed to make a difference. I started to see the effects of sleep (and lack thereof) on the metrics and began to track macronutrient content in my diet along the way. The combination of a clear goal and ongoing measurement has made me see the whole exercise as a sort of continuous process with causal influences from the tradeoffs I happened to make the previous day.

So, the first lesson from this episode that I would share with you is that if success matters to you, start by identifying the metrics you care about, and setting a goal that you would like to achieve. A goal examined carefully daily is the gateway to curiosity, understanding, and eventual success. Who knows, you might even discover that what you really care about is something different from what you had originally assumed.

The second lesson from this episode is more tactical, but nevertheless important: treat your body’s health as a dynamic process with cause-and-effect being open to daily inspection. Here are my observations on the matter:

Body Weight = Fat + Muscle + Bone + …

To a first approximation, you probably care about body composition, not your weight in isolation. A healthy individual may have the same weight as a less healthy individual if they have a different body composition (other factors remaining the same).

Weight Gained = Calories Ingested – Calories Transformed

It remains a simple fact that anything you eat gets converted into either fat or muscle or gets burnt up as fuel for activity. You must work within this constraint. Muscle weighs more than fat, but it also increases your metabolic rate, transforming ingested calories faster.

Fasting Slows Down Metabolism

Fasting may end up being ineffective as it slows down your base metabolic rate (that’s your body protecting itself from starvation). Though your calorie intake may need to be reduced to create a deficit, you also need to ensure you’re eating small portions or snacks regularly, not starving yourself.

Strength Training Is Required

If you run on a calorie-deficit, you begin to lose weight. Except — you will lose muscle before you lose fat, making you weaker, lowering your base metabolic rate, and making it harder to keep up energy levels. Strength training (lifting weights etc.) therefore needs to be a critical part of your routine. What this does is break down muscles and signal your body to build more.

Diet Composition: Protein >> Fat >> Carbohydrates

Proteins, as a source of energy, burn slower and last longer, plus they have a harder time getting transformed into fat. Simple carbohydrates like glucose are on the other end of the spectrum. A protein-rich diet not only helps keep your body satisfied longer, but it is also essential for muscle growth, whereas carbohydrate-rich and starchy food are best had prior to workouts as quick fuel.