Training Tip – Counting the calories using MyFitnessPal

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MyFitnessPal on my iPhone

One of the most important aspects of getting fit and healthy is to take charge what we eat. That means we have be more aware of calories, nutrients, carbohydrates, protein, fat etc etc etc. I don’t want to go into the details of what you should or shouldn’t eat. The purpose of this post is just to share with you what works for me.

The most difficult thing about counting calories is actually recording what you eat. My personal trainer has asked me to start keeping a food journal which is a real pain in the *** to me and I couldn’t find the motivation to start that.

That all changed when I found this wonderful iPhone app called MyFitnessPal which is basically a free online calorie counter which helps you record your calorie intake. If you don’t use an iPhone you can still use the service free online. I’ve been using it for over a month now and I can honestly say I can now not live without it. Everytime I sit down for a meal I would use it before I make my order.

The most useful features that I use on a daily basis are:

– goal setting to lose weight
– a calorie intake plan based on the weight loss goal
– an exercise tracker which allows me to track how much I burn
– basic measurement tracker (weight, waist etc etc)
– a pretty comprehensive database of food with the nutrition information- carbs, fat, vitamins, sodium, protein etc etc (try and type any food from any brand and chances are it is listed)
– a way to add food info in the event it’s not listed in the database
– keeps track of favourite food that you eat
– a button you can click at the end of every day when you complete your logging for the day
– an estimate of what you weight will be in 5 weeks time every time you complete your logging for the day

This application impacts me most because I now have a choice everytime I eat. I can key in the food and know immediately the impact if I choose to eat it. I couldn’t do that before so I just ate everything I fancied. And even if I choose to eat what I’m not supposed to (it happens once in awhile) I now know exactly how much exercise I have to do to compensate for submitting to my whim.

The other thing I find extremely is that I can actually plan my food days in advance. I just sit down every sunday and key in the food I intend to eat for the whole week. Pretty useful eh?

The most important thing about MyFitnessPal is that everynight is a potential for success. When you see what the estimate weight loss (or weight gain) is everytime you finish logging, you get motivated.

I think for many people like me, it’s pretty difficult to change our lifestyle and food is an important part of  our lifestyle. If you want to start getting fit and losing weight is part of your goal, counting calories is a huge step forward and MyFitnessPal really works. It gives you choice and choice is important.

You don’t have to start overhauling what you eat overnight but if you use calorie counters like MyFitnessPal (or any other app out there for that matter) I’m confident you’ll be able to start making different choices.

Breakthrough run- 10km – 1 hr 50 mins

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My Polar FT60 showing my distance
for the run I did today

I had a breakthrough run today. I ran a full 10km non-stop in 1 hr 50 mins. This would have been the last thing on my mind last year when I wasn’t very fond of running. Though the pace is extremely slow, I am happy to be able to focus on my endurance. I ran at an effort of 77% MHR. My main focus of this run was to obviously run 10km but also to see if I can maintain my form after a long run.

After an hour of running I began to slip into a sort of different kind of awareness and everything seemed to melt away. All I could hear was my breathing and my voice. I developed this routine during my run where I would keep saying 1 word over and over again followed by the lap number. The run took 28 laps around my home park and I had 28 words to say, one for every lap. What kind of words? Well, it ranged from ‘smile’ to ‘strong’ to ‘courage’ and finally ended with ‘I did it’ for the last lap. So if you were there you would see this odd guy, running in the rain, muttering to himself, ‘ eight, eight, smile, eight, eight, smile, eight, eight, smile’.

The other thing I do is to smile throughout the whole run. I think it helps me as it keeps my cheerful especially when it get’s tough along the run.

Tonight I had to ice my ankle down as I think there’s some swelling. Nothing more than usual though but something to be expected after break through runs like the one I just did. This week is all about recovery. Light and easy. No hard stuff.

Everything is going as planned.

Remember, if I can do it, you can do it too.

6.5km Tempo Run – 29 January 2011

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View of the lake when I started…

I did another tempo run today. I decided to spend the weekend in Cyberjaya’s Cyberview Lodge. There are a lot of man made lakes in Cyberjaya and Putrajaya and running along the waterfront is a great feeling. I started at about 6 PM. The sky was already dark and there was a slight drizzle. This was the view I had of the lake.

I was running at my usual base pace at 71% of my maximum heart rate and sustained it for about 3 km. I was still going strong after half an hour of this. I then pushed the pace to about 81% of maximum heart rate and sustained it four about 1.5 km. Then I slowed back down to 71% (though it was tough to lower the heart rate down to that level. I managed about 75%).

View at 7:15 PM

At 7:15 PM I was still running and I realised that this run was the longest in terms of duration as well as distance. I found that I had covered 6.5 km and was still strong enough to go on. I wanted to hit the 10km mark but it was already getting late and I had other stuff to do.

I think running at places with beautiful scenery really helps me enjoy the run. One of the things observe in other runners is the tortured look that they have on the faces. Sometimes it feels painful to me too but I learnt to keep on smiling. It really helps push through the pain.

Right now I’m resting for my final run this week. I want to break through to 8km this afternoon. Tomorrow is a much needed rest and recover day.

What I learnt? Find something enjoyable is everything we do, even if it feels painful and torturous. If we have to do it, might as well enjoy doing it otherwise don’t do it at all…..

Reza’s running problems

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(Original post 28 January 2011)

I don’t want to give the impression that my journey towards getting fit and competing in a triathlon is all easy and not without its problems. It’s the most difficult things I’ve ever done and I’m facing so many issues that it’s sometimes feels overwhelming. The biggest issue I am tackling so far is my running form and technique. I am not a natural runner. Nobody has ever taught me on the proper way. I remember someone saying to me ‘why don’t you just run’?
Well, believe me, there’s nothing more I like to do that just run. When I started in december, I had to spend nearly 45 minutes every night icing my legs and feet. Both my ankles were hurting and I had to limp around for quite awhile. The biggest problem was that my technique was completely wrong.
Just watch the video to see what my technique issues are and also see my improvements.
I knew that I had to achieve technical excellence if I wanted to stop the pain and get somewhere with my running. So I did a lot of research and got some new knowledge.
There are any proponents of running technique and the one that is on the forefront seems to be POSE Method of running which was developed by Dr Nicholas Romanov, a sports scientist and 2 time Olympic coach (learn more about POSE Method here).
There are a lot of resources on the web and I tried to do the drills but could never really get into it until I found out that there was actually someone in Malaysia who was offering POSE Method running clinics. Pushmore is an outfit in PJ which conducts crossfit training and their founder, Jonathan, is a certified POSE Method running trainer. I asked for a private session for me and some friends and I finally got to learn the technique.
I still have a long way to go and will write about the various drill I have to do to perfect my running technique.
I want to share this particular story as there is a big lesson here. Don’t let your deficiencies or lack of expertise and knowledge defeat you. You can always learn to do something better but you won’t get better until you actually practice it.

5km Tempo Run – 27 Jan 2011

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Celebrating after this run…

I did a 5km tempo run today. Running at 60-70% MHR (zone 1) for 60% of the distance and 70-80% (zone 2) for the remaining 40%.
Tempo runs are a critical component of running training. It’s simple. You start at a slow base pace for 40% of the distance then go to a faster race pace for 20% of the distance and then slow back down to slow base pace for the remainder of the distance.
It’s strange to discover that an increase of 10% of my heart rate can result in a 25% increase in speed. I tried very hard to keep my heart rate below 80% but it would still creep at 82%. I think it’s because of the warm weather. I need to find ways to cool down my body temperature by drinking more fluids not only during the run but before and after. I discovered that I drink way to little water for my body weight and size.

Me and my running…

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I pass this graffiti every time I run..

(Original post 27 January 2011)

I wrote earlier about how running has always been a painful exercise to me. I never liked running as I was never really any good at it. I use to dread tuesday and saturday afternoons in school as I had to do cross-country runs on those days.
When I started my get fit journey last year, I bought myself a Reebok c5.1e elliptical trainer from Fitness Concept. I shied away from getting a treadmill as I didn’t want to do any running at all.
That all changed in december last year. Although many people say that reality tv distorts reality, I am a very avid follower of NBC’s Biggest Loser Show. I suppose I watch it both for the drama but also to get for the many inspiring stories in it. ASTRO was showing reruns of the Biggest Loser Season 7. Astro was showing episodes on a daily basis so we get to see the transformation and changes take place every day. It was November 5th 2011 and ASTRO was showing the rerun of the 18th Episode of Season 7 when the remaining contestants Helen Phillips, Mike Morelli, Tara Costa and Ron Morelli were told they had to complete a full 42km marathon as one of the challenges.

It was amazing to see them run the marathon. Tara came in first with a time of 4 hrs 55 mins. To think that 18 weeks ago (or in my case 36 days ago when ASTRO started to show half episodes per day) these same contestants were physically unfit, obese (some morbidly obese) and had mobility problems and now they are running a marathon got me really thinking about my own issues with running.

I thought to myself. If they can do it, I can do it too. I decided that night to start running. The very next day I started to do my research on form and technique and prevention of injury and the rest is history.
So Helen, Mike, Tara and Ron, thanks for inspiring me. If you ever read this, I want to let you know that when you changed your life, you changed mine too.

Easy bike and base pace run- 26 Jan 2011

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Having fun while I’m running

(Original post 26 January 2011)

Did a easy brick workout tonight. 10 km on the bike and 3 km base pace run. I want to get used to transitioning between cycling and running. I enjoy these kind of workouts as it gives me a real sense of accomplishment. Not much drama today other than the fact that my pace at 71% seems to be faster than last night’s run.
My splits for the laps are as follows:
Lap 1. 4.03
Lap 2. 3.59
Lap 3. 4.00
Lap 4. 4.00
Lap 5. 4.07
Lap 6. 4.00
Lap 7. 3.54
Giving an average of 4 mins per lap which is a huge improvement over last night’s average of 4 mins 17. It’d be interesting to see if that same pace can be maintained for another 7 laps.
It’s a great feeling when you track your progress and see improvements….

5 km run at base pace – 25 Jan 2011

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Just after my run….

(Original post in 25 January 2011)

I ran another 5 km on wednesday at 71% Maximum Heart Rate MHR (see here for an explanation why at this pace). I’m still running the park so that I can measure the splits which are as follows:

Lap 1. 4.41
Lap 2. 4.03
Lap 3. 4.12
Lap 4. 4.08
Lap 5. 4.10
Lap 6. 4.18
Lap 7. 4.21
Lap 8. 4.20
Lap 9. 4.23
Lap 10. 4.29
Lap 11. 4.14
Lap 12. 4.17
Lap 13. 4.31
Lap 14. 4.33

Total 60 mins 40 secs

I ran at an average speed of about 4 mins 17 secs per lap which is a little more than half my current race pace. I still feel great and think I could have run more than 5km but it was already getting very late (about 10PM) and I didn’t want to make a habit of exercising to late at night.

I have come to love running at this pace and enjoy the feeling of building my endurance. The pace doesn’t really matter to me at the moment though I suspect that over time, my pace will increase whilst maintaining the same pace. It’ll be interesting to see how the pace will improve when my weight comes down to the desired levels.

I experimented with using my iPod for a little over half the distance and ran the rest without it. I think I prefer running without the iPod. There’s a certain sense of solitude when I run without any music and it’s something that I have come to cherish.

As hard as I try to, I can’t seem to slow my pace down enough to get between 60% and 70%. The magic figure seems to be 73%. This is based on an assumed maximum heart rate of 180 beats per minute (using the normal rule of thumb of 220 less age to give the maximum heart rate). Pretty soon, I need to measure it exactly so that I can start training at the proper intensity.

Total cal burn during this run according to the Polar FT60 was 411 cal.

Mood for today’s run is 9.
Motivation level for next workout is 9.

Me and My Heart Rate Monitor

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Original Post 25 January 2011

Today was the best running day I have ever had so far.

One of the things I invested in to help me in my exercising was heart rate monitor. I didn’t know such a thing existed until I saw them given to the contestants from the Biggest Loser Asia Season 2. They were all given Polar Heart Rate Monitors. That very night I began to do my research on heart rate monitors. I started looking for them the very next day and finally bought a Polar FT60 from Athlete’s Circle in PJ.

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Me and the 5km run

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(original post 23 January 2011)

Running doesn’t come easy for me. In school, I remember having to do a cross country run twice a week and everytime I tried to do it, it was a disaster. There was a time limit set for each run which ranged from 30 mins to 1 hour 10 mins depending on the distance and route. Needless to say, it was a disaster everytime. Points were awarded for all runners which would go to the house tally. At the end of the term one of the houses would be awarded the Cross Country trophy. My contribution to the house points for cross country was remarkable for how negligible it was. Running was a painful exercise for me.
20 years later running has taken a new meaning for me. One fine day about a month ago (Dec 2010) I decided to start running as part of getting fit. I have a park near my house and I started to run in the park. I decided on the 5km distance because it was not too long so that it doesn’t required extreme endurance and it was not too short so I still have to push myself. Progress was slow. The first time I ran I had to run/jog for 1 lap and walk for another lap. Each lap is about 350 m (don’t ask me why the odd number) so I had to run 14 laps. My time for that was 68 mins. As slow as it was, I did feel good about it despite the numerous pain I had to endure in my shins, heels, knees and not to mention the extreme fatigue.
These are my 5 km run times:
15 dec 2010 68 mins 29 secs
17 dec 2010 45 mins 58 secs
20 Dec 2010 44 mins 28 secs
3 Jan 2011 49 mins 08 secs
20 Jan 2011 45 mins
2 days ago(20 Jan 2011)  I did the same 5 km on the home park. Though I think I started strongly I was getting weak near the end. Even though I knew I could better my personal time of 44 min something in me refused to break through the fatigue. In other words I gave up and as a result I ran the 5pm in 45 mins which is 1 minute of my mark.
Today was different. I started by cycling for 10 km on the trainer then I went for a run.
My splits are as below:
Lap 1  unrecorded
Lap 2  2.44
Lap 3  2.55
Lap 4. 2.51
Lap 5  2.51
Lap 6. 2.55
Lap 7. 2.50
Lap 8. 2.47
Lap 9. 3.07 (tired- had to walk more)
Lap 10 3.04
Lap 11 2.37 (recovered)
Lap 12. 2.45
Lap 13. 2.32
Lap 14. 2.37
Total time 39 mins 30 secs
It’s interesting to see my times for the last 2 laps was the fastest of all the laps. I nearly gave up for those 2 laps and was ready to admit defeat just like 2 days ago. The negative voices in my head though brief and quiet was still ruling my effort. The breakthrough came in lap 9. This was the lap where I nearly gave up running for the day. I walked for about 30 m and was convincing myself to walk the rest of the lap. As I went pass the 30 m mark I suddenly started running. Though not as fast as the other laps I still managed to run. With 2 laps to go, my pace started to increase. I think the last lap was the fastest and if I was able to run 100 of that lap instead of 70% run 30% walk I would gave done it in 2 mins.
Although I still had to walk for some portions of the run, I knew my pace was getting faster. I attribute this to the interval trainings during the last 3 weeks which went something like 200m sprint followed by 200m walk (talk more about that another time).
At the moment I am averaging 2 mins 50 secs per lap. My current target for the 5 km is to do it in 30 mins. To do this I have to bring the average lap time from 2 min 50 secs to 2 min 10.
This is not out of my reach for several reasons.
1. I am still walking parts of the 5 km (I estimate about 30% is spent walking). If I run the whole distance my average lap time will improve.
2. The second reason is my weight. Today I weighed in at 104.3kg (which is still classified as obese). As I lose weight I will go faster or to put in another way, I will use less energy to move my body.
3. I am still refining my POSE Method running technique (more on this in future posts).
4. My time in the gym is making my Core stronger which helps me maintain good form
All these factors will contribute to my 30 min 5 km time (and possibly go even faster).
My biggest learning for the day. There will always be moments of doubts, fears and maybe even weakness when we go after our goals. Don’t fight the doubts. Embrace it. Listen to it. The more you ignore it, the louder these doubts will get. Once you acknowledge it, then you can get to the business of getting it done.
If you have goals and dreams, the louder they are, the more doubts, fears and moments of weaknesses will come up. Don’t fight the doubts. Just like me, embrace it, listen to it and acknowledge it, then you can get to the business of getting it done.
All in all, a good day for Reza’s running……