Monday, April 09, 2018

Macro Training + Pull -Up Report

In January I started working with Amber of Biceps after Babies to help achieve my goals of completing 10 pull-ups (which are actually chin-ups but since a lot of people are like, 'What are chin-ups?' I refer to them pull-ups) as well as to get a little leaner by increasing my muscle mass and at the same time getting better control of my sugar habit. This post is in partnership with Biceps After Babies. Thanks for supporting sponsors here on TLM. 

I'm here to report on my 9 weeks of working with Amber of Biceps After Babies to see how I did with my 3 goals which were:

1. Get leaner--lose fat, gain muscle.
2. Have more control over my sugar habit.
3. Be able to do 10 pull-ups.

As a quick refresher, some of you may remember that I made a goal for myself to do 10 pull-ups by my 40th birthday (January of 2017). I did not make that goal, but I did make some good progress. When I first started I could do 0 pull-ups. By the time my 40th birthday hit my all time high was 4 pull-ups--which I only reached 1 time. Most days I could only do 2 with the occasional 3. When I set the goal of 10 pull-ups I decided that I would "work out more" and "eat more protein." Admittedly, those were rather ambiguous goals.

Well 41 came and I could barely even do 2 pull-ups. I was still working out regularly, including focused arm workouts, and my eating habits and weight hadn't changed, so I didn't really know what to do. Except I knew exactly what I needed to do. I needed to hire someone with professional knowledge to help me achieve this goal.

I started following Amber of Biceps After Babies on Instagram and really liked her approach to fitness and health. She is very body positive and encourages you to love the body you have, while working towards your fitness goals. She specializes in macro coaching. To understand more about counting macros I'll point you toward Amber's site, but here is my explanation: macro coaching is teaching people how to count and track their macros--fat, carbs and protein--as a sustainable means of having a healthy and well balanced diet. It is similar to counting calories, but is even more effective as it takes into account what kind of calories you are eating.

Why would someone want to count their macros? 

Good question. When I first started following Amber, I didn't know why someone would want to do this either. Was this a fad diet? Was it another form of paleo, keto, frito and dorito? No, as it turns out. While I've always considered myself a healthy eater as a lover of vegetables and lean meats, I've also got a raging sugar tooth and didn't really know what healthy limits of sugar (carbs) looked like for me. When I said I was going to "eat more protein" I eventually realized I had no idea how much protein I was eating in the first place and how much more I needed to eat. I knew that the biggest missing piece of the puzzle in my 10 pull-up goal was my lack of nutritional information and I believed that working with Amber and tracking my macros would help. Boy did they ever! (That's dramatic foreshadowing.) 
The Program
You start the program by filling out some information like height, weight, as well as measurements around your waist, hips, chest, legs, arms, etc. You also take a photo of yourself in a bikini or underwear. And it's good to get comfortable with all of this because you'll be sending in measurements and photos every week. However, Amber also asks about your goals--are you focused on weight loss, muscle gain, both? Do you have a specific fitness goal? She asks questions delving deep into the nitty gritty of why you've come to her, because counting macros isn't always about losing weight and cutting your food intake. You set your macros according to your goals.

Next, she sends you a welcome packet that answers a lot of general questions, gives you some tips to get started (equipment, tools, etc) and she also sends you your custom macros that she sets based on your body type and goals. What this means is she sends you the numbers you're going to try to hit everyday to eat for your protein, fat and carbs. As I said, your macros will change depending on your goals. For me and the goals we discussed, it was decided that at first I needed to undergo a "cut."

And then I was like, wait a second...am I on a diet? I don't diet!!! I eat a healthy and well balanced diet. I don't need to be ON a diet.

So I talked with Amber. That's when she explained this concept of macro eating being flexible and not static. Yes, for a short period of time I was going to restrict my overall calorie intake, while significantly increasing my protein and lowering my carbs and fat. So yes, strictly speaking I was going on a diet.

BUT--here is the big difference--this was not a diet in the sense that any certain kind of food was suddenly off limits. I have no problem with vegan, vegetarian, sugar free, keto, paleo diets for anyone else, but they're not my jam. And I had no desire to radically change my diet. With macros you can eat however you want--as long as you stay within your macro and calorie count. Of course this means that to hit your macros you will need to eat mostly healthy foods, but you can still have sweets and sugars if it fits your macros, or IIFYM as the saying goes. If you want to eat vegan and count your macros you can. If you want to eat paleo and count macros you can. If you want to eat all the things and count your macros you can do that too.

At first these numbers are pretty meaningless. 130 grams of carbs a day? What does that look like? How much of what kind of food can I have? I was nervous the night before I started. How hard would it be and would this enough food to sustain me during the day?

Support
Even something flexible like macro tracking has a learning curve to it, especially since for most people you are trying to really increase your protein intake and you don't always know where to begin. Amber sends a newsletter each Monday with tips, recipes, and encouragement. And she also frequently features macro friendly blogs with recipes on her Instagram page.
Amber encourages you to reach out either text or email if you have any questions or are feeling frustrated or stuck. This is really great. I reached out many times over the course of our 9 weeks and she always got back to me in a timely manner. (She lets you know upfront that she takes evenings and weekends off.) 

You also have access to her Biceps after Babies FB page where people share other tips and recipes and where you can continue to ask questions and look for support after your training session is officially over. Additionally, Amber also does a phone call with you at the beginning and the end of your training to answer your questions, explain things in detail and help set you on the right course for success.

Assessment
It wasn't that hard. But lets break that down a little more.

The hardest part by far, as Amber often discusses, is getting into the habit of weighing and tracking your food all the time. Luckily, I wasn't totally new to tracking as I had done calorie counting a few years ago, therefore I was familiar with the app and I already had a lot of foods logged in. And if you have ever tracked your calories, then you can track your macros using the same tools--either My Fitness Pal or Lose it! (I use Lose it!). After a week it starts to become a lot more comfortable. After a couple weeks figuring out my macros was also a lot easier. And more than that I started to really know what my food was made of before I thoughtlessly put it in my mouth.

I used to think nuts were super healthy with a lot of protein and I'd eat them by the handful multiple times a day. Now I know that while nuts are still healthy and they do have a lot of protein, they also have a lot of fat, and so I grab a small handful once or twice a day. I also learned that Greek yogurt has 18 grams of protein per serving as opposed to 4 and replacing regular yogurt and sour cream with Greek yogurt is an easy switch. Instead of having regular ice cream I ate a Yasso bar everyday and often had room for some Dove chocolate as well.

Also, it helps to know that you're not supposed to weigh and track your food forever. The idea is that you learn more about portion size and the macro breakdown of your food and then you go back to eating intuitively.

Results
1. Get leaner--lose fat, gain muscle. I definitely got leaner. I lost about 3 inches around my waist and I also lost about 8 pounds. If you remember when I started I said I didn't have a specific weight goal. I really didn't know what to expect, but rather was hoping to lose some fat and gain some muscle. In general I learned that I have a higher percent of body fat for my size than one would expect. (Not that one has expectations per se). Amber used the term "skinny fat" to describe my body type. Ha! Not the most flattering term, but the truth is she's right. It was startling to lose 3 inches around my waist and still see how little muscle I had underneath. I plan to continue to strengthen my body and gain more muscle. Being stronger is a benefit in so many areas of life, including as a special needs mom who continues to physically support her daughter.

2. Have more control over my sugar habit. This is not a very measurable goal, but again I felt a lot of improvement in this area. It was freeing to feel like I had a good idea to know when I should stop eating sugar. Right now I'm adding calories back in my diet, so I have a little more wiggle room, but I just like the feeling of not thinking about sugar 24/7--seriously!--but at the same time knowing I can have something sweet because I'm not completely withholding.

3. To do 10 pull-ups. I had absolutely NO expectation that I would even come close to doing 10 pull-ups in 9 weeks. I mean I had spent almost a YEAR training the first time and only ever got to 4 pull-ups, 1 time. By the time I started this program I could barely do 1 pull-up again.

Check out my video below to see how many pull-ups I did last week. (Also, yes I know I'm not doing them from a dead hang, and I know I rest in between each one, but this is how I was doing them before and so for ME, this is how I am measuring my pull-ups which are actually chin-ups.)


*****


Can you believe it??? ME NEITHER. I also happened to pull a muscle in my neck on that last pull-up so I'm now working through that--ha!--but honestly I am shocked! I really didn't believe I would get anywhere close to 10 and yet, here I am! And for any of you true fitness fanatics who may be giving my bent arm pull-ups some side eye, I want you to know I am going to continue to work on doing pull-ups from a dead hang OK? I just gotta let that neck heal first. 

Takeaways
My biggest takeaway from this whole experience is how changing my habits just a little made a BIG difference. I didn't radically overhaul my diet or my workouts. Amber definitely gave me some fitness tips for achieving my pull-up goal, and I definitely had to put in the work, but by working smarter and not harder I was able to achieve a goal in 9 weeks that had eluded me for over 9 months.

Which is to say that when it comes to any sort of fitness goal, nutrition is key. I'll be honest I've still been a little perplexed that this program worked so well in such a short amount of time. While I definitely followed Amber's workout tips,  my work outs didn't change that much in the course of 9 weeks. I've been helping my sister-in-law figure out her macros--she's a former college athlete and in general one of the toughest chicks I know. As a mother of 4 her fitness routine goes up and down with the seasons of life and she hadn't been working out much lately. After doing macros for not very long she told me about going running one night and how she timed her mile and couldn't believe how fast it was, especially for not having a very consistent running schedule lately. We both concluded that the extra protein in our diet was fueling our bodies and helping us achieve things we previously couldn't achieve or had to work super hard for and maybe then not even see results. Yes eating macros helped me get leaner, but it also had everything to do with being able to hit that pull-up goal.

Lastly, I've come to realize that in order to reach your goals you often need the help and advice of experts and usually this means paying them actual money. And listen, no one is thriftier than someone raised in a Mormon family who grinds their own wheat, sews their own clothes and retells stories of their ancestors crossing the plains pulling a handcart in their bare feet. My people have a hard time parting with money if it's something they feel they can do themselves. BUT when you invest in yourself--ie pay money--you're more likely to take it seriously and actually do it. Investing in other people, is investing in yourself. 


I want to thank Amber for all her help and for working with me! I hope by now you guys know that I highly recommend working with Amber. She recently released a free guide to setting your own macros--get it here! And for anyone else wanting to tackle the elusive pull-up she has a free 6 week guide for nailing your first pull up--get it here! It was really helpful for me. She also has a lot of other awesome information that you can find linked from her Instagram page, so go follow her and check out all the goods! Has anyone else tried macro counting? Did it work for you? Did it not? I'd love to hear your experience and all your questions. Let me know in the comments below!

2 comments:

  1. You are so strong!!!! Way to go mama!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. 1.WTG on the pull ups! That is awesome!
    2. I've never counted macros but maybe I will in the future! (I would say now but I've got 4 kids 7 y.o. down to 8 months and my husband is in the middle of studying for his boards so let's be real - not happening right now lol)
    3. Your comment about morms and our...frugality shall we say had me laughing out loud. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete