February Check-In

Doran | February 18th, 2014 - 1:22 am

I haven’t really had any real-time updates since putting out my 2014 Fitness Goals in mid-January.  Here we are a month later, and I have to say, I’m in a little bit of a weird place.  I’m still enjoying lifting hard and working out.  But progress has plateaued a little bit.  I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my life  In the past decade or so, I’ve never really tried to break through this current level of strength with a sustained weight program.  So I find my motivation waning just a little bit.  This is rare for me; having the discipline to keep training consistently is one of my strengths, and the only way you can finish an Ironman in a decent time.   This goal of getting bigger and stronger does not seem to have the same motivation for me as triathlon.  I’m not sure if it’s because I like competing (triathlon) or what, because they both boil down to setting goals (beating times or putting up heavy weight) and working hard to achieve them.

Fitness / Workouts

Hitting some abs with suspension system.

Hitting some abs with suspension system. Gloves are more for the low temps in the garage, its cold out there!

I’m lifting three or four times a week right now, and generally doing upper body or lower body days with core almost every session and sometimes on it’s own between lifting days.  A typical leg day will be 5-8 sets of deadlifts (barbell and sometimes mixing in trap/hex bar) followed by bulgarian split squats or walking lunges.  Then usually some calf raises and maybe hamstring curls or leg extensions.  Often I finish it up by just carrying heavy weight (farmer’s carry).  Upper days are usually a combination of pushing (bench press, shoulder press) and pulling exercises (rows, etc) and usually include pull-ups.  Somewhat surprisingly, I’m only running about once and maybe twice a week.  I haven’t biked or swam since November, so my cardio fitness is at an all-time low. It’s also weird to only workout 3-5 times a week instead of basically every day and sometimes twice.  It is nice to have more time doing other things.


Still eating a lot of delicious meat.

Still eating a lot of delicious meat.

Since I’m in “weight gain” mode, I’m trying to eat more than usual, and make sure I get a lot of protein.  However, I’m really lax with quality, meaning I’m eating a lot of carbs and junk food.  This is really uncharacteristic and I’ haven’t had a sustained period (3-4 months now) of unrestricted food intake since undergrad.  For instance, last night, for some reason I invented a new way to get fat, by adding dark chocolate pieces to the biscuits we had with dinner to form my own chocolate croissant.  What?  Who am I?  For most of the past five years I wouldn’t have even had one of the biscuits.  And now I jam three down my face with dinner and another one covered in chocolate for dessert?  I’m borderline grossing myself out just thinking about it.  As you’d expect, this kind of behavior has lead to weight gain.  I’m now at 162, which I think is tied for the most I’ve ever weighed in my life.  Soon we’ll be breaking into new territory.

Garage Gym

This is the real exciting part of this update.  I’ve picked up a few new items since the initial install.  Will let the pictures do the talking, but I’ve added the following:

  • TRX Style Suspension System (Seen above, a Christmas Present from the Pennsylvania Reisers!)
  • SKLZ Core Pushup  (Another Christmas Present, thanks Georgia Reisers!)SKLZ Pushup
  • Mirrors ($40 on Craigslist)
  • Trap / Hex Bar (Love this for deadlifts, traps, and farmer’s carry)
  • Bar Holder (hand crafted by yours truly, a few progress photos included)
  • Cannonball Grips for pull-ups
  • Lifting Straps and Chalk

Of course, I still want bumper plates and maybe a new bar.  But I have the basics to get strong, and no excuses if I don’t.

You can see the mirrors and cannonball grips.

You can see the mirrors and cannonball grips.

Loving the trap bar for a number of exercises

Loving the trap bar for a number of exercises

Some gear I picked up from Rogue Fitness

Some gear I picked up from Rogue Fitness

Construction of the custom bar holder

Construction of the custom bar holder

The finished product, not bad for me, not exactly mr. fix-it.

The finished product, not bad for me, not exactly mr. fix-it.


The Danger of Supplements

Doran | November 17th, 2013 - 11:47 pm

As athletes, we are always looking for ways to get bigger, faster, stronger, leaner, or whatever it is for our sport.  Many of us utilize supplements that we believe can assist us in these goals.  Over the years, I have used many different supplements, such as creatine and protein powder to gain muscle, or even a weight loss supplement on a occasion. The crazy thing is, the supplement industry is not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so there are a lot of unsafe products out there.  The picture below is from my pantry as it is right now.  Lots of protein, a pre-workout supplement (NO Explode), some creatine I haven’t taken in about a year, and Cytocarb (tasteless calorie/carbohydrate additive for long endurance workouts), and of course, pumpkin puree, tons of pumpkin, I love that stuff.

The supplement section of our pantry

The supplement section of our pantry

Just recently, I’ve become aware of several products that I’ve taken, which have been recalled or at least reported to contain harmful substances.  Of course there are TONS of examples to choose from, but I’ll detail these few that hit really close to home with me.   I’m not trying to write this condescendingly and tell everyone not to take supplements because they are dangerous.  I’m just trying to share my experiences, which I’m sure are very similar to tons of people out there.

Muscle Milk (and other protein powders)

This is one of the most popular protein powders on the market, and rated 8.4 on Bodybuilding.com, a popular site for forums, purchasing supplements, and more.  Well, Consumer Reports released a study that many protein powders contained high levels of heavy metals (lead, arsenic, etc), and Muscle Milk was one of the worst offenders.  It’s Cadmium and Lead levels were above the max limit proposed by the U.S. Pharmacopea (USP), and Arsenic was very close to the limit.  These heavy metals have numerous negative health effects, including limiting mental and physical growth, causing cancer, and all of these effects are really serious in small children and/or pregnant women.   If you look closely, its in my pantry… so what should I do, throw it out?

OxyElite Pro

This one actually triggered me writing this article.  OxyElite Pro is described as a “super thermogenic… the ultimate fat incinerating formula to date by USPLabs.”  USPLabs is (was?) a really well known and respected supplement maker.  A few times over the years I’ve used this for a short time to get a quick cut look. It definitely works.  After maybe two or three weeks I would go from my usual “fit but not cut” to having defined abs and even veins down in my lower abdomen… it’s pretty sweet.  I chose this initially due to its high customer satisfaction rating and reviews on various websites.  It worked as advertised; the only side effect I noticed was being a little jittery, like drinking too much coffee. Well, recently the FDA informed USPLabs that their products have been linked to liver illnesses, and the supplement maker immediately recalled the product.  In a review of 46 medical records submitted to FDA, one death has occurred, and several patients require a liver transplant.  This all occurred in early November and the product has been removed from most websites (as of Nov 17), while some, such as www.SupplementWarehouse.com advertise it as “Discontinued Formula – Limited Supply!”  Are you kidding me?  This product has likely contributed to deaths and serious illness, and this website is still marketing it…. And the sad thing is people are probably rushing to buy it because apparently appearance is more important than health.

OxyElitePro SuppWarehouse





Craze is another story of supplements gone wrong.  It was a hugely popular pre-workout supplement, until it was pulled from the shelves.  Why?  Because the US Anti-Doping Agency and another lab in Sweden found it had amphetamine-like compounds.  Basically like taking meth.  Awesome.   This product was developed by Mark Cahill, a convicted felon with a history of producing dangerous supplements.




Jack3d is another pre-workout supplement, and I’ve used it.  Wow, I think this one had to have meth in it as well.  Was it awesome before a workout? YES.  I would crush out a strength session at the gym, basically have to pull myself away from the weights because I was so focused and intense.  Then I’d go home and do two or three hours of work or housecleaning before bed.  The whole time I’d have lazer-like focus and feel great.  I quit taking it after a few months after I got a little worried that my face burned when I took it and over time my… uh… man parts… started to ache on a regular basis.  These side effects were corroborated by my roommates at the time.  I stopped taking it, and my ache went away.  Two different New York Times articles (here and here) cover the danger of Jack3d and concerns that FDA has with an ingredient known as dimethylamine or DMMA, which narrows the blood vessels and can lead to high blood pressure.  Maybe that’s why my face burned, I don’t know.

Bottom Line

There are a few points I wanted to make with this post:

  • Sometimes our drive to be healthy or fit actually leads us to do unhealthy things (knowingly or unknowingly).  It’s probably best to keep the big picture in mind.  It your overall health worth sacrificing to look better or get in a few extra reps at the gym?
  • Do your research on what you’re taking; don’t just listen to the biggest guy at the gym
  • My pre-workout supplement is now a cup of coffee; this is probably the safest bet
  • The supplement market is NOT regulated by FDA and kind of a free for all.  Maybe the best questions are, “Do I really need a supplement at all?” or “What is driving me to take this supplement?”  If you don’t need it or its vanity or over-competitiveness, don’t take it.

Pumpkin Inspired Fitness Recipes

Doran | November 6th, 2011 - 3:01 pm

Nutrition is a critical piece to athletic performance and recovery.  Generally, I eat healthy enough to be a bit of an outlier in typical American society (but that doesn’t say much).  Both nutritionists and foodies tend to agree that it is best to eat with the seasons.  This means selecting the produce that is in its peak freshness based on your location and time of year.  For instance, summer is generally great for peaches, berries, and watermelon.  During fall and winter, I try to gravitate more towards squash, pumpkin, and most vegetables.  Of course, there is always the holiday factor as well. My absolute favorite dessert is pumpkin pie.  Most people tend to participate in seasonal eating patterns through Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice or Gingerbread Latte.  Well, I can’t afford a $4 coffee, nor the 300-400 calories that goes along with it.  But I can put a simple twist on some healthy dietary staples by adding pumpkin.  Pumpkin is extremely high in beta-carotene, which is an important pre-cursor to vitamin A (good for vision, preventing infection, and touted as an antioxidant).  Below are two ways I’m incorporating a little seasonal pumpkin into my diet.  Yesterday after a swim I blended the delicious smoothie recipe below.  The half empty pumpkin puree can in the fridge inspired CJ to whip up some impromptu waffles. Her diabolical plan worked out wonderfully (even after I snuck in some  extra protein).

Pumpkin Protein Smoothie

The main ingredients and glorious result; a delicious and nutritious pumpkin protein smoothie

1-2 scoops vanilla whey protein powder
A few ice cubes
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned – no sugar added, NOT pie mix)
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp ground flax seed (optional)
dash of cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of ginger

Put it all in a blender and mix it, duh.  If it comes out a bit watery, put it in the fridge for a few minutes and it will thicken up for you.

I eat protein smoothies all year round.  I usually make some sort of protein and fruit smoothie after all of my hard training sessions (especially weekend brick workouts).  They are easy to prepare, and contain all the necessary nutrition for recovery (fluids, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals).  Also, the frozen smoothie helps lower core body temperature after a long workout on a hot summer day.

Pumpkin Protein Waffles

What I cant capture here are the incredible smells that filled the kitchen


Your favorite waffle mix recipe that serves 2-3 people (I used Aunt Jemima)
1-2 scoops vanilla whey protein powder
1/2 cup pumpkin puree (canned – no sugar added, NOT pie mix)
Sugar or Splenda – maybe a spoonful
Cinnamon – to taste
Nutmeg – not much needed, just a pinch
Ginger – just a pinch

Add the extra ingredients to your normal waffle mix and whisk it up.
Pour into waffle maker and take it off when it beeps.

I usually try to avoid carbohydrate-heavy foods like waffles.  Generally my breakfast is an omelet with whatever vegetables or meat I have around to thrown in, and some berries on the side.  However, I will eat waffles every now and again as a treat on the weekends (CJ loves them) or before/after a long workout.  The good news is that this recipe contains more protein and vitamins than your typical waffles. Not exactly a super-food, but it could be worse.

The finished product, and a great start to Sunday

Startup Shape

Fred | September 5th, 2010 - 7:32 pm

In 2009, I did 2 Ironman triathlons, a marathon, and a half-dozen other races. I worked out 6-12 times a week. In May of 2010, I started working full-time on a startup. Currently, I exercise 1-2 times per week, and work the rest of the time. I haven’t gained any weight, and generally feel very healthy. Here’s why I think this is working.

I never stopped working out for an extended period. If I go 3-4 days without doing anything athletic, I start to get irritable and generally don’t feel good about myself. A 30 minute run is usually enough to make me feel normal again. We have a shower at our office, so it’s easy to go out for a run, and be back at my desk within a few minutes of getting back. The other workout I do is yoga, which is an great full-body workout. Doing a couple of workouts a week, consistently, has helped me keep my metabolism from falling way off.

I usually only eat two meals a day. My co-founder and I are on the Paul Graham manager-maker schedule. We come in to work mid-morning (or sometimes early afternoon), schedule any meetings or other interactions to take place in the afternoon, and then work into the night. Because of this, I have lunch when I get in to the office, dinner later in the evening, then basically don’t eat again until I come back the next day. For some reason it feels odd to eat a large meal after midnight, so I just don’t.

I rarely eat sugar (besides fruit). I don’t drink juice or soda, and we don’t keep any sweets around the office. Eating simple carbohydrates causes a body to use carbs as a fuel, and makes you crave more carbohydrates. Not having this stuff around keeps my appetite from getting out of hand.

We keep the office stocked with bread, peanut butter, jelly, apples, and clementines. Occasionally, we’ll also buy bulk nuts and deli meat. Nothing really sugary, no chips or snack food, or the kinds of simple carbohydrates that a person might crave. A PB&J or apple with peanut butter, or a small cup of almonds and cashews fills me up, and I’m not hungry again for hours.

During the Spring, when I was working from home and trying to get the company off the ground, I’d be working on a hard problem and wander into the kitchen to find something to snack on. Now, when I get up to pace around and think about something, the only easy snack available is fruit.

I drink lots of water and coffee. I love coffee, and drink 3-4 cups a day, sometimes more. No cream or sugar, so close to no calories there. In the evenings, I drink lots of water. This keeps the stomach full, which again, controls the appetite.

When someone takes us out to eat, or we attend a fancy dinner, or go out for drinks, I don’t worry about what I’m eating, and just enjoy myself. This happens infrequently enough (once or twice a week) that it doesn’t throw me off, and because of my reduced appetite, I don’t go crazy when there is a lot of food in front of me.

This simple strategy of almost no sugar, low caloric intake in general, and a very limited amount of exercise has allowed me to work longer hours than I ever have in my life, and still looking and feeling fit. Consistency, not following a specific set of rules, is the key.

Photo by hibecki

Trying to Eat Local

Fred | January 27th, 2010 - 2:54 pm

Putting on or taking off weight happens because of the activities you engage in consistently.  What you eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day determines whether you are over-weight, not what you eat for desert.  Here’s a healthy choice:

I had this salad for lunch today.  It was amazing, and includes:

  • An apple – Local, organic (Good Food – Good People, $20/half-bushel, or about $0.80/lb).  The $20 box will last about a month eating 2-3/day.  (~15 cents per serving)
  • A Clementine – Kroger, imported from Spain.  Not local or organic. $5.99 for a box that lasts me about a week eating 2-3/day.  (~25 cents per serving)
  • Feta cheese – Local, organic (Blacksburg Farmer’s Market).  This was expensive, probably about $6 for a chunk that would work for two salads.  Honestly, I usually buy from Kroger, where a $6 chunk will last about 4-5 salads.  (For this salad, $3 per serving, $1.25 normally)
  • Broccoli – Local, organic (Blacksburg Farmer’s Market). About $3.50 per pound I think.  A $4.50 bag lasts me a week.  (~50 cents per serving)
  • Spinach – Organic, but from Kroger.  I think it was from California.  I go through 2 bunches a little more than a week at $1.79/bunch.  (~50 cents per serving)
  • Carrot – Organic, but also from Kroger.  Not sure where this one came in from.  These are real cheap, about $1/bag that lasts a week.  (~10 cents per serving)
  • Almonds – From the local co-op, but probably not local or organic.  About $4/lb, which will last a week.  (~20 cents per serving)

Of the ingredients, 5/7 are organic, 3/7 are local.  It has fat, protein, and carbohydrates, and is delicious enough that it doesn’t require any dressing.  The apples and clementines provide a bit of sugar that goes great with the flavor in the feta and almonds.  It’s has extremely high nutrient density and extremely low calorie density.  I have no idea how many calories on it, but eating that plate and a glass of water will fill me up for hours.

Why is this blog-worthy?  I don’t want to sound uppity by writing about how healthy I eat, but after about the fourth salad like this in as many days, I needed to share it.  It cost a total of $4.70, mostly because I bought the expensive cheese (so about $2.05 normally).  The non-cheese ingredients come out to about $1.70, so with a bottle of dressing instead of the feta, it is extremely cheap.  I’m not a person who naturally loves salads, and tt has taken me a long time to come up with foods I will eat with lots of vegetables, but spinach and feta is amazing combination.

The Dirty Dozen: Which Foods to Buy Organic

Fred | January 20th, 2010 - 9:03 pm

Last summer, my girlfriend and I took part in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program here in Blacksburg, VA whereby we paid something like $440 in May and received a weekly grocery bag full of fresh, local, organic vegetables every week until mid-October.  I believe it was all from farms in Floyd County, VA (about 20 miles South of Blacksburg).  It was a wonderful experience, and forced us both to learn how to cook a lot of vegetables that we would normally not purchase at the grocery store.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.  From this experience, we both got more interested in the organic movement.  Before I really knew too much about why to buy organic, I started buying some things organic simply because I perceived them to be healthier.  I wanted to run, bike, and swim faster, and figured that less contaminants in my body may help.  When something wasn’t too much more expensive to buy organic vs. not organic, I would just buy organic.  If they were much more expensive, I’d buy the regular.

I’ve learned a lot more since then about why organic foods are important, but what I want to talk about today is a better way to decide what to buy organic and what you can get away with buying regular.  The answer is something called the “Dirty Dozen,” a list compiled by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit that studies toxic contaminants and their affect on society.

In the picture shown here, you can see a full list of the vegetables that it is most important to buy organic, and those for which it is less important.  Note that this list is only from a contaminant perspective for the consumer and does not evaluate the local environmental impact of growing these foods using organic farming methods or not.

The full ranking of vegetables, and a download of the guide are available at http://www.foodnews.org/.  I printed one out and keep it on my refrigerator.

Diet Tips for the New Year

Fred | January 2nd, 2010 - 11:18 am

I was talking to a friend last night who was disappointed with himself over putting on some weight over the last year or so. This got me thinking about what strategies I have used to find a sustainable place with my body weight.

In November, after finishing Ironman Florida I started focusing on finishing my thesis, and went from about 10 or so workouts per week to about 3-4. However, because of some simple diet strategies, this reduction in workouts hasn’t caused me to gain more than a pound or two. Here’s how:

Learn to say no. It is absolutely impossible to be in control of your diet if you eat everything that is put in front of you. Visiting friends, at the office, wherever, there is always food available, and until you start saying no to certain foods, your diet will be controlled by your circumstances.

Plan your meals. I’m not saying to schedule on your calendar what you are going to eat each day, or even that you have to cook for yourself. If you leave the house to go to the office in the morning and haven’t thought through where your next meal is coming from, you are much more likely to get fast food or eat whatever is convenient, which is much more likely to be an unhealthy option. Even if you don’t bring something, make some kind of plan for finding a healthy meal.

Consistency counts. Going to a friend’s house to watch football and eating chips and dip and having a couple of beers isn’t what is going to make you fat. What you eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner those other five days of the week is. You don’t have to order a salad every time you go out to lunch with friends, but when you’re by yourself, make sure healthier options are available.

Make your diet a priority in your life. You don’t have to obsess over it, just keep it in mind. You know you are going to be hungry every few hours. Make sure that there are healthy options available, or you are a slave to food that is convenient.