Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Bourne Experiment

Next week, I fly from Bangkok to India and then to Nepal, where I’ll spend the month of April.  Not too much has happened since my last post (over two months ago!).  In February I was occupied with work, finishing up testing with my students, and finalizing grades before they (and I) took off for the 3-½ month summer break.
Having so much time off is great.  However, these 3-½ months of freedom and fun are also 3-½ months of zero income.  Keeping that in mind, I did a good job of budgeting and saving from November to February and put away a decent chunk of change.  I was able to bank enough baht to live comfortably for two months without other income, plus pay for my month-long adventure in Nepal.
That being said, I knew that I had to stick to somewhat of a budget in March so that I could have plenty of funds to enjoy my time in Nepal to the max.  I don’t want to be the guy taking pictures of my friends bungee jumping from the highest bridge in Asia while I wait with empty pockets, safe and penniless on the ground below.  Traveling is all about having incredible experiences and the remarkable memories that stem from them.  Unfortunately, those experiences cost money.
Consequently, March has been pretty uneventful.  In an effort to save money I decided not to travel, but to stay in my fairly monotonous Thai town, where I don’t have to pay for accommodation and the cost of living is generally cheap.  To keep myself busy, I’ve spent most of the month working on a sort of self-improvement experiment.
My ultimate aim was to save money and to get in great shape for Nepal (I’ll be trekking up to 9 hours a day for 2-3 weeks to base camp of Mt. Everest at an altitude of 17,598 ft.).  I challenged myself to take just one month… just four weeks…. just 30 days, to make a real attempt to improve physically, mentally, and… become Jason Bourne… ok, not really.  (I recently saw the preview for the new Bourne Legacy movie coming out this summer and re-watched the entire trilogy, driving myself into a minor obsession with becoming a genius, multi-lingual, judo-chopping, badass specimen of a human being.)  Check out the trailer...

So, I made a list of goals to accomplish by the end of the month.  I kept the objectives challenging but not demanding.  For example, instead of trying to finish five books by the end of the month, I merely aimed to sit down and read for a minimum of 30 minutes a day; instead of attempting to race in a marathon by the end of the month, my goal was simply to improve my best 5k run time; instead of trying to become fluent in a new language, I tried to study and improve what little grasp of the Thai language I already had.

So did I do it?  Did I transform into Jason Bourne in just four weeks?  Well… No.  But I did obtain measurable improvements in almost all areas for which I set goals for myself.  I know this isn’t the most gripping blog post ever so I’ll spare you the details, but here’s what I did or did not achieve by the end of the month…

            -Increase strength and muscle mass:  CHECK
            -Decrease body fat percentage:  CHECK
            -Improve 5k (3.1 mi.) run time:  CHECK
            -Train Muay Thai:  FAIL
            -Train for the EBC trek:  CHECK
            -Improve flexibility:  FAIL

I collected data everyday throughout the experiment so that any increases or decreases were measurable and so I could be sure of any physical improvements.  I recorded my weight every morning and every night, took measurements, documented every workout.  I also kept a food/supplement journal in my workout book, noting everything that I ate or drank.  I even took notes on how I slept each night.  
In the end, after 30 days, I increased my one-rep max in every lift that I tested.  I also improved my 5k time by over 2 minutes.  I added 1/3 inch to each bicep, ¼ inch to each thigh, lost an inch around my waist, and lost 2 inches in my hips (I got that bodonkadonk).   Using pictures as a reference, I probably went from around 12% body fat to around 10%.  My starting weight was 67.9 kg (149.7 lbs) and I finished at 64.7 kg (142.6 lbs).
I was in decent shape before starting this, so for exercise, I kept with my normal workouts, spending 1½-2 hours in the gym, 4 or 5 days a week (including both weight training and cardio).  Cardio was usually running or swimming.  On some days, I went on a hike to train a little more specifically for the upcoming Nepal trek. 
The real change was in what I ate (or didn’t eat).  I followed a slow-carb diet and some tips and tricks from entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss' new book, a scientific, “minimalist approach to becoming super human”.  This is a high protein “diet” that basically eliminates carbs and fructose, concentrating on foods with low-glycemic index and that don’t raise blood glucose. 

I thought this would be tough…  I can’t eat rice or noodles… in Thailand?  WTF?!... but it was actually easy.  I was never hungry and never once restricted or counted calories.  In fact, I consumed more calories than I was used to, but from better foods.  I also made every Saturday a cheat day and ate and drank whatever I wanted, as much as I wanted.  The hardest part of the whole thing was not drinking beer during the week (but if I had to drink, I had whiskey and soda water.  Cheating? Whatever.).  In the end, it worked.  I thought I would gain weight as I put on muscle but after 30 days, I’m 7 lbs. lighter.
I also took 100-150 grams of whey protein (powder) and some supplements daily.  Feel free to look ‘em up if you don’t know what they are or for; I don’t feel like explaining… I took (fish oil, vitamin C, a multi-vitamin, L-lysine, L-glutamine, bio-magnesium, and calcium). 
Why did I “fail” in two areas: Muay Thai and improving flexibility?  Well… A motorcycle injury prevented me from being able to do what Muay Thai training demands (and by “motorcycle injury” I don’t mean I drove off a cliff while in a high-speed chase or anything crazy like that.  I lost my balance and dropped the bike on my foot… while parked… stupid, stupid, stupid).  And flexibility…  I tried yoga once and… well, that’s just not my thing.  I’m perfectly fine with not being able to touch my toes, thank you very much.
*I would post the before and after pictures, but my female fan club is almost full and I don’t want the Patterson brothers poppin’ broners back in Maryland.  Save it for each other, fellas.

            -Read a minimum of 30 minutes a day:  CHECK
            -Improve Thai language skills:  CHECK
            -Study a subject that I normally wouldn’t:  CHECK
-Travel somewhere new on a strict budget:  CHECK

All goals here achieved!  I finished three books this month (that’s three more than I finish in a usual month).   I drastically improved my Thai with only 3 lessons (from a great teacher) and just 20 minutes of studying a day.  Thanks to an awesome website, Memrise, I actually learned a lot about art history, a random subject that normally I wouldn’t give two thoughts about (I can now tell you the difference between Monet and Manet… yay.).  Last but certainly not least, I had an awesome 4-day excursion to one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been, Ang Thong National Marine Park (separate blog post on this coming soon) for under 5,000 baht ($160 USD)!  Only in Thailand.

Even if I didn’t reach Bourne status, March turned out to be a really productive month and I was able to not only save money and prep for Nepal, but also have fun and improve other areas of my life with this little experiment.  Next, maybe I’ll track how my health responds to a month of eating yak stew, drinking yeti blood, and mountain trekking in the Himalayas… Operation: Abominable Snowman.  But for now… I’ma go eat big bowl of rice and wash it down with a tall, cold beer.

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