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Sunday, 26 June 2016

Moving to health and longevity - my journey so far

Gary 2.0 – the first fifteen weeks

Over the last 15 weeks I have made changes to move towards health and longevity. This (brief) post marks my journey so far.

I’ve been a sportsperson all my life, and when I retired from professional competition, I carried on with ultramarathons and still do around 30 hours of physical activity a week. I’m currently 45.

A few things conspired to mobilise me on this journey. I didn’t like the way I looked. I could still perform, yet, I was 94kg, lacked the muscle tone I’d previously enjoyed, and carried far too much fat.

My general mobility was poor and I had a few annoying injuries and pains. A family member and a few friends became ill, making me think of my own health and where I am going in the rest of my life. Nothing like a reminder of mortality to spur change! I also was reminded of a comment from a couple of years ago by a friend of mine, Ray Cronise, who just happens to be a former NASA Metabolic Scientist now with his own metabolic laboratory. The comment was along the lines of “the way you’re training and eating for performance may not be congruent with health and longevity”.

These three things conspired with the knowledge I had obtained over a decade of study – I wasn’t doing myself any favours. I needed a complete overhaul of my behaviours.

Weeks 1-5

I started with intermittent fasting. I ate ONLY after 1700hrs. Often, due to the timing of my clients, it meant that I wasn’t eating until around 2000hrs. I would eat what I wanted to, starting with a big meal, until I went to sleep. Some days it resulted in over 24hrs between feeds.

I rapidly discovered I was in caloric deficit and the fat started to be stripped from my body. I learnt the difference between ‘fake hunger’ and ‘true hunger’. In fact, during the 5 weeks of eating this way,

I was only truly hungry twice. BIG learning for me!

I also cut back as much as I could on my physical activity. I still put the time in, yet was looking for ‘mild stress’ from physical activity only.

I used the first five weeks as a rapid fat loss. I used it to learn what hunger actually was. I used it as a psychological tool to understand I could make changes that would be sustainable.

Weeks 6-10

I reintroduced resistance training to my physical activity, and raised it generally back to my previous levels of intensity. The resistance training was 5 sets of shoulder weights, 5 sets of chest, 5 sets of back, just using the dumbbells in my home gym and using a punch bag as a bench.

My eating timing changed, I was doing certain things (thanks to Ray’s input) for muscle sparing. I was generally eating three meals a day.

The food I was eating took a drastic change. I decided to move towards a plant based diet. The data on this is clear – move towards an animal based diet and your health and longevity markers decrease, move towards a plant based diet and your health and longevity markers increase. So this was the major change. I started to read, to ask questions of vegans, and learn. I discovered it was quite simple to construct complete and tasty meals that were wholly plant based.

During this time I also ate fish a couple of times a week, still had semi-skimmed milk in my coffee, enjoyed an amazing traditional BBQ where I went back for meat again and again, and had the occasional meat in my meals. I was learning however that I didn’t miss meat, and that plant based diets can be very tasty indeed.

I continued to strip fat. My hydration levels reduced. My inflammation reduced. I needed to drink less.

The main learning from this period was that plant based diets are actually very easy, and very tasty too. Physically I learnt that muscle tissue could still be increased in a caloric deficit. I learnt that inflammation and hydration levels reduce and stabilise on a plant based diet.

Weeks 11-15

In this period I moved to a near vegetarian diet. I had no meat in this period. I had fish twice a week. I still had semi-skimmed milk in my coffee. I had cheese three times as part of a meal.

I continued to eat around three meals a day, plus fruit as snacks. Only now I was getting better at constructing meals, and each day I was learning new recipes. Very tasty flavour combinations were appearing in my soups, stews, stir fries, curries, salads, bowls, and various breakfasts.

My resistance training workouts changed, twice a week with dumbbell clean and press, twice a week curl press, only 5 or 10 minute workouts. I continued to increase lean tissue whilst the fat loss continued, albeit slower – my body fat was dropping to nice and low levels.

Weeks 14 and 15 I called in a personal trainer friend of mine, Kate Jones, who is a movement expert, and is an amazing trainer. She is helping me gain control over my entire range of movement, and increase the range of movement at the same time. Just in two sessions I’ve not only been moving better, but also have learnt far more and am a better coach myself as a result of her teaching.

I purchased a blood pressure monitor and bought some new scales which are pretty accurate for home scales. This has enabled me to monitor progress many times a day, and also see exactly what my behaviour was doing to my body in a more scientific way.

Here are the charts from the last couple of weeks of more scientific monitoring. Note that my lowest blood pressure reading was this morning.


I have gone from 94.4kg to around 84.4kg. Of that 10kg weight loss it appears I have lost no muscle tissue and have actually started to increase it. The weight loss is probably around 7-8kg of fat with 2-3kg of water as I lose the excess.

I am now happy to take my top off again in public. Not that I go about doing that at my age haha

My physical activity has become easier. My endurance and strength have increased. My movement is better. My pain is gone. My energy is stable during the day and at a high level. I feel clearer of mind.

I have no idea of the calories I have been eating, nor of the macronutrient breakdown of my food. I’ve just been eating food.

Here are the pictures of me today, so you can see exactly where I am at. I’m not an ‘aesthetic athlete’, that is something I’ve never trained for, this is just where my body is.


I will continue with a plant based diet, eating meat only when it is ‘rare and appropriate’ as Ray Cronise suggests. I believe, based on the overwhelming body of evidence, and fully supported by the current UK Food Guidance, that moving towards a plant based diet is one of the best things you can do for your health, longevity and performance.

Last week I was working with the British Army once more, working with the Elite Judo Players, with the RAF and Navy Judo Players in attendance too. The Olympic Judo Team strength and condition coaches were also working with them, and I joined in on the conditioning tests. Although I can hold my head up high with my results, turning in respectable levels of conditioning, it highlighted that I need to do a little more explosive work in my conditioning – with the appropriate recovery. So I will be carrying out around 4 high intensity interval training sessions each week, just short and sharp.

I will continue with my running and mountain biking, and I’ll be doing my movement drills every day. I’ll likely be putting at least one TRX workout in each week also in order to increase my joint conditioning and overall physical ability for life.

With the scales and blood pressure monitor I'm understanding a lot more as to the effects of my behaviour on my body. I'll continue monitoring, and I'll have to see what bloods I can get done through my doctor. Metrics are good - that way improvements (or not) can be monitored.

Let’s see where the next 15 weeks will lead…I’m enjoying the journey…

Edit: I'm going to put this here, a piece of feedback I've had from Ray Cronise, who has mentored me in this journey. I'm awaiting his forthcoming book, Our Broken Plate, where lots of the approaches I've been following, and the background, are discussed. If you are an athlete, a sportsperson, or someone who carries out physical activity - please read very carefully, and consider his points in detail.

"One thing I want to do more of is to encourage athletes, just like you, to find a soft landing. Games are fun. Competition is good. There is a limit and the go go grow message is one sided. At some point the intensive work to win a game - it's a game, profitable or not - should be balanced with a strategic healthspan exit as an option.

Exercise isn't the opposite of sedentary; it's active. One can be active and not get injured or be obsessed with swallowing and wiggling all day long.

The fact that no one can honestly challenge the ubiquitous notion that exercise or competitive sports are somehow the panacea of health, is reason enough to disrupt.

I'm so impressed that you stepped up to the plate (pun intended) and just gave it a complete and disciplined try with no excuses. The results are self evident. Richard did the same as have many others. This isn't new information, it's drowned by the profitability and popularity of sport. If you hear this as an anti-sport message, read over and over until you get the message I intend. That's not it.

Athletes need a soft landing that focuses on healthspan." Ray Cronise, 27th June 2016

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