Saturday, 5 July 2014

Personal Experiments

Doing small personal experiments of n=1 is probably nothing new to any of my readers, so I won’t expound on the subject. I will say that changing and testing different parts of your life (health, fitness, diet, sleep etc) and taking a look at what happens (if anything) can be really helpful in learning more about yourself, and is often simply a lot of fun. You can get as in-depth and detailed as you like with recording and monitoring data, or you can go as simple as “how do I feel today?”

Note: I’m not going to reference anything I say here. Most of it is very basic and straight forward.  I also just don’t feel like spending the time to look up the primary research (or at least reviews); I’ve done enough if that in the past.

The easiest thing you can do

Over three years worth of workouts
The simplest thing you can start to do if you haven’t already is record some simple data. I really enjoyed the 4 hour body, if you want to get in and start self experimenting this book is an excellent resource to start with. For me the most important piece of information I got out of that book was to keep a workout log. Originally I started the log to keep me motivated to do something every day, I hated to write nothing in for a day. But I quickly found the log to be excellent for keeping track of my progress, and to push me to beat last week’s reps. I was also able to see some very basic patterns faster by focusing on writing things down. For example I noticed that my pull ups sucked the day after parkour because I was often doing a lot of climb ups at parkour training.

So the simplest thing to do is to buy/find a cheap school book, open a word document or however you see fit, start recording some basic information you are interested in. I only record my workouts as that’s all I’m really focused on but you could record weight, mood, sleep, diet whatever you mean to focus on. “What gets measured gets managed”

An extra 1000 calories per day

I got fed up with people going on about high fat diets and saturated fats, so I decided to do a really simple self experiment to show high fat, and saturated fat were not the big issue everyone was making it out to be. I decided to add an additional 1000 calories to my diet for a month, and see what happened. I chose to drink a can of coconut cream for morning tea each day in addition to my average diet of the previous few months. I did this in order to stack the deck in my favour as much as I could. After sleeping the 8 (ish) hours the body is burning primarily stored fat, my normal breakfast is bacon so I can continue burning fat, so by adding my extra calories as fat after this I will hopefully continue to burn these new calories. In addition the shorter fats in coconut oil convert easily to ketones which and be passed out in urine if not used. In addition I hoped that my background metabolic rate would increase with added calories (see ‘good calories bad calories’).

For four weeks I drank a smoothie of coconut cream with mixed berries (for flavour). By the end of the experiment it was getting difficult to drink, but I did it. I weighed myself before and after the experiment and had lost 0.3kg by the end (negligible). It would have been great to get blood tests and body fat scans but this simple experiment was good enough for me. My conclusion was that the additional calories did not cause me to put on weight, so I decide to start drinking a protein shake most days to get in some extra calories to help recover.


It’s fairly common knowledge that creatine is a cheap, safe supplement which can help increase strength within the rep range of 3-5 (ish – this is why I’m not referencing). I had read some good articles suggesting that one can take a loading dose for up to 6 weeks safely before cycling off. There seemed to be many papers to back this up so I decided to give it a go (Note: Here is a link to one of the articles I was reading, I suggest reading all three parts). The calculation I used suggested 25 grams daily for someone my weight (most loading doses used in research are 20-25 grams). So I decide to run this experiment for four weeks and see what happened.

First off, it’s not fun to take that much creatine in water, it’s like sand and baking soda mixed together. So I started taking it with fruit juice (which is good as carbs seem to help the uptake of creatine), this was a little bit easier. Towards the end of the second week it was getting more and more difficult to stomach the creatine. I was left with an upset stomach for up to an hour afterward so I cut the experiment short after two weeks. In that time my weight had not increased, nor had any of my lifts (beyond what I had projected). My conclusion was that I am a non responder to creatine, although I should look into taking a much smaller dose (5 grams) daily for basic health.

Other experiments

Those are the two main experiments I have done which had a clear goal and time frame but I have a few ideas for different things to test. I would like to do much more floor sitting and work on my squat (Ido Portals 30/30 challenge maybe) but after a long day a chair is always so inviting so I’m working on that. I have been thinking about putting some solid work into building my calves to see what happens. And I really need to work much harder on my mobility.

I hope that this has given you a simple introduction to self experimentation, and maybe given you some ideas of where you could start yourself. For more in-depth explanations and examples take a look at ‘The four hour body’ by Tim Ferriss.

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