Water balance shenanigans

Over the course of this past week, I lost eight pounds according to my scale. Pretty awesome, right? To put that into perspective, that’s about 5% of my total body mass. Was my caloric deficit for the week really twenty eight THOUSAND calories? Did I actually drop 8 pounds of fat in seven days? Not a chance. My actual caloric deficit for the week when accounting for diet and exercise was somewhere around 5000 calories, because I’m targeting about a pound and a half per week of fat loss. So where did that extra six and a half pounds come from and go?

Welcome to the world of water balance shenanigans. If you go on a very low carb diet, you will see an immediate scale drop of 5+ pounds. If you then go out and have a massive pasta dinner, the next day the scale will be up at least that much the next morning. Is this an actual fat or muscle mass gain or loss? Basically, no. A tiny bit of it maybe, but the vast majority is going to be water weight.

The reason you see that big shift when removing carbs or binging, especially with low carb dieting, is because dieting generally depletes your muscle glycogen, which is an intra-muscular energy source, used to fuel your daily activities. And for every gram of glycogen you have in your muscles, you also store 2.7 grams of water. This whole storage system amounts to about 5-10% of your total body mass, which means that you can possibly see shifts of up to this much on an almost daily basis, according to the scale.

In addition to muscle glycogen and the associated water storage, your body also (obviously) uses water for a ton of other things. Stress and cortisol levels are one of the things that can have a big individual effect on water balance, and is also why you will occasionally see no progress at all for a week or more, then the morning after you go out for a big celebration or “fuck this dieting shit” meal, you will magically be five pounds lighter.

For the ladies in the crowd, the water balance bullshit you have to deal with is even worse. Because of the way your hormones do crazy shit with your water balance, you could possibly see absolutely zero progress on the scale for a full month or more, even if you are doing everything right. This doesn’t mean that you have actually stalled, but rather that your body just hates you. Or loves you so much just like you are that it wants to pretend that you will never change.

I’ve said a number of times that if I could ever manage to make fat loss completely linear without having to worry about water balance shenanigans, I could retire tomorrow. Without even speeding it up at all.

This is one reason I am a big fan of not only using the scale weight to track progress when dieting. I also use weekly circumference and skinfold measurements to track my progress. So long as you are seeing improvements on one of these, you know you are still making progress, and shouldn’t freak out. I recently had one week of really slow scale progress, then a two week period where the scale didn’t budge at all. Not even 0.1 of a lb loss over two weeks. But my skinfolds kept going down, and my other measurements went down as well. So I trusted that it was all working and that I should just keep going, even though it was really really hard to not just rage-quit and answer the siren call of the peanut M&M’s. Then this past week I dropped 8lb.

Even knowing all of the facts about water balance and whatnot, it can be really difficult to ignore the day to day scale weight. When I am dieting, nothing starts my day off worse than having the scale spike by a few pounds for no apparent reason. I know it’s just water balance or extra food mass or an increased sodium intake. I know that it will be gone in a day or two. I know that no single weigh in really matters, so long as I am doing everything right. I know that the thing that really matters is the trendline in my weight tracker, not the daily.

It still sucks. I don’t have a good answer for this one, I’m afraid. Just trust the program. Trust that you are doing things right. Know that in a month you probably won’t even remember the specifics of today. But don’t let a shitty morning weigh-in drive you to go on a food bender and actually destroy whatever progress you’ve made. “The scale went up this morning so I’m going to make myself really fat by eating an entire buffet including the hostess and server!” Is not a healthy choice.

The only person who can make good choices for you is you. So go forth, make good choices, and be awesome.

But I have a medical condition!

Ok then. In this case, you ARE actually a special snowflake. A special snowflake that needs to talk to a medical doctor, preferably one that specializes in whatever your medical condition is.

We are just random assholes on the internet, and I know that this will come as a surprise to many of the people reading this [Hi Mom!], but we are NOT doctors. Not even the kind that got PhD’s in basket weaving just so people would have to call us doctor.

My educational background is in mechanical engineering, process improvement, hard alcohol, and the culinary arts. House was raised by wolves and never went to real school and is not qualified to talk about anything except food and being a fat ass.

So go seek actual medical help. Note: contrary to popular belief, neither the Internet at large nor WebMD is a doctor either.

Actually, you should probably go see your doctor anyways. When’s the last time you went in for a check-up? Isn’t it about time? Yeah, I thought so. Don’t worry, we’ll still be here when you get back.

Odds are pretty good that your doctor will tell you something like “try to eat mostly things that are identifiable as coming somewhat recently from plants or animals, and try not to sit on your ass all the time.” Which also happens to really be what most good fitness advice boils down to. Still. Go talk to them before you make any changes to anything in your life ever. If you try to do anything we talk about on this website, you will probably die a slow and painful death and we will take no responsibility for it.

Now back to your regularly scheduled free-floating hostility.

Sunday Update: April 19, 2015

I Still Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter

Hello again kids!  I hope your week was entertaining.  Mine was uneventful.  Although I did get to see almost all of Alberta in a week, so there was that.  And visiting with old friends (Hi Steve!)

I did end up taking a week off from everything.  Well, almost entirely.  I managed to get into a gym on one evening and did a basic workout.  Mostly to keep muscle mass up and maintain.  Go me!

As I said last week, taking a week off isn’t a bad thing, and I think it helped as well as it could have.  I didn’t overindulge in my diet, and tried to keep it as in check as best I could.

All things considered, I think I did well this week.  But enough about that (and because I really having nothing to rant about here), let`s get on with the results.

Last week`s results:

  • Weight: 306.4 lbs
  • Chest: 125.1 cm
  • Right Arm: 46.4 cm
  • Left Arm: 46.4 cm
  • 2″ Above Navel: 120.7 cm
  • Navel: 126.4 cm
  • 2″ Below Navel: 122.6 cm
  • Hips (widest point): 118.1 cm
  • Right Thigh: 68.6 cm
  • Left Thigh: 68.6 cm

This week:

  • Weight: 306.6 lbs
  • Chest: 122.6 cm
  • Right Arm: 45.7 cm
  • Left Arm: 45.7 cm
  • 2″ Above Navel: 120.7 cm
  • Navel: 126.4 cm
  • 2″ Below Navel: 120.0 cm
  • Hips (widest point): 115.6 cm
  • Right Thigh: 68.6 cm
  • Left Thigh: 68.6 cm

I made some improvements.  Nothing major, which is to be expected from not having done much.  All in all though, I am not upset.

The week that was, in internet land – Volume 5

More awesome from the interwebs.

3 Science-based steps to curbing your appetite – Examine.com
Putting less food in your face is the key to getting less fat. Here are a couple of tips to help with that.

The Pre-Workout Supplement Scam – Scott Tousignant
Lots of supplements out there are a scam. And most pre-workouts are complete garbage.

Vetting Your Personal Trainer – Tony Gentilcore
What should you look for in a personal trainer? Here’s a good place to start.

Your Butt Cheeks Are Making Me Sad – Jessi Kneeland
Your butt cheeks make baby kittens cry.

How the powerlifts and sport(s) go together like peanut butter and jelly – Kelsey Reed
Lifting and sports are not and should not be mutually exclusive pursuits.

Strengthening the Core: An Interview with Bret Contreras – Kimberly Mills
Dis is gud.

Hey Stupid! Don’t Kill Yourself

Unless, You Know, You’re “That Guy”


So I was at the gym the other night, and an interesting thing happened to me.  It was a clear cut reminder as to why it’s usually a very good idea (if you can) to train with a partner.  You might not even do most of the same things, but for those certain exercises that require a spotter, it’s generally nice to have.

I, the other night, was not so fortunate.  I was in the gym, getting my fit on, and was enjoying my work out.  I was doing my bench press sets, and was having a grand old time.  I regularly do three sets, with an eight rep max.  What that means, is I find a weight that I can comfortably do for eight reps, and feel relatively exhausted after each set.  I had done my first set and everything was great.

I started my second set, and got to the last two and started to struggle a bit, but pushed through.  I knew that the last couple of reps at the weight I was at was just a touch of a challenge, so I took an extra 30 seconds rest to make sure I was good to go.  I started my last set and pushed through with ease.  Right up until my last three reps.  I got to six, slight struggle.  Seven and I barely made it, and without actually thinking I attempted the last rep.  I got half way up, and a stern realization hit me: I was not going to make it.

I did not have a spotter with me, as I was the only one in the gym.  My first thought was I would be okay, but I then quickly remembered, as I looked over to my side, that I had completely forgotten to put the brackets in place to stop the bar, in case this shit happened.

Under normal circumstances, I would be fucked.  But I am not completely stupid.  Instead of dropping the bar on my chest, I brought it down to stomach and rolled it down, sat up and shimmied out from under it.  I managed to do it without getting hurt, because I knew how to.

[Lincoln’s note: this is why when you are bench pressing alone you should NEVER put collars on the bar. If you have to you can dump the weights to the side rather than taking the bar on your body. It makes a huge clang and everyone thinks you are an idiot, but it is a hell of a lot better than getting crushed by the bar.]

Not everyone is that lucky.  Injuries are quite common from mistakes like that, as it happens all the time from people trying to look tough.  I wasn’t trying to look tough, I was just by myself, and made a slight calculation error (two days later I did the same weight without problem).

Ensuring your station is properly adjusted and set-up for you to use is just as important as having the proper technique when lifting a weight.  As I said before, you don’t always need a spotter, but you probably should have one for heavier weights.  It’s one of those pesky safety measures put in place to keep you from dieing.  Along with that, don’t push yourself without having someone to cover your ass so you don’t die.

Don’t try to be a hero in a gym, and ask for help from someone.  Although it might seem awkward, most people are fairly okay with spotting for a random person, as gym karma kicks in, and they will usually ask someone else down the line.  It’s kind of like an unwritten etiquette rule.  Personally, I would rather help someone that potentially watch someone get hurt, or die.

This also goes for not knowing how to properly use equipment.  If you aren’t sure, ask someone that is using it.  They “usually” know how to do it safely.  There is a video going around Facebook right now that I can’t help but get pissed off every time someone shares it and I see it on my feed.  It’s someone that clearly doesn’t know what the hell he is doing with a dual cable machine, and hopping into the air, jumping off the back panel, and slamming on the ground.  Instead of stopping the guy, the douche in the video records it over his shoulder and shames him.  No one else even helps the guy either.

That annoys me because he can clearly get hurt and no one cares.  Don’t be that guy either.  Like I said always ask.  The key to getting better is to do it properly and safely.  And when you do learn, pass it on.

There’s my rant for the day.