riyada in arabic means "training" or "discipline". It was used by the arabs in relation to horse taming. Sufis refer to their discipline as "riyadat an-nafs": disciplining the soul / training the ego. Today, the word riyada has come to mean "sports". There is an Arabic proverb that says: "The purpose of sports (riyada) is not to win cups, but to discipline the soul". This blog is here to help me discipline my soul and train my body.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Bellies and Green Coconuts

Well, it seems that even in Amman i can't stick to the "ideal" i posted about last time. Although the last time i came to Amman for a bit over a month I was able to stick with such a plan, this time i didn't. At many times I'd be too full from my meals to have a protein shake 3 hours later. Then, i found to my relief, that my "ideal" plan was not ideal at all. A new article was posted on T-Nation by nutrition expert Dave Barr, called "21st Century Eating". What he argues is that "eat every three hours" rule is too simple and may be hindering the results of athletes..."We need to update the idea of meal timing", he says, "in order to truly optimize our fat loss and muscle growth."

So how do I apply it to my goals? Well, first of all I have to figure out what my goals are, and I'm facing somewhat of a dilemma. My number one priority is power and strength, as well as size. I want most of all to become really strong and lift big weights when it comes to squats, deadlifts and maybe bench press (the "big three" powerlifting lifts). But I also want to be big. I'm progressing well enough with both these goals, but the side effect I didnt want is a bigger belly: it's getting bigger and now I can only fit into three of my pants. So, I want to lose fat in my belly, but I'm worried about my strength and muscle size.

And here is when I ask myself, "what would jesus do?"- err, i mean, "what were the sahaba like?" They were warriors, powerful men. Some of them were big and scary like Umar (r.a.) Did they worry about how they looked or how big their bellies were? Well, no they wouldn't have, but at the same time they would not have big bellies because they lived ascetic lifestyles and ate very little. It is said that Ali (r.a) had a big belly, but i'm not sure how that's possible with his ascetic lifestyle... unless it was all that stress-induced cortisol! Anyway, they were powerful despite eating little because they were warriors. In fact, they usually ate no more than one proper meal a day, while snacking on some dates or milk the rest of the day. It is even related that the Prophet (pbuh) once saw Aisha (r.a.) eating a second large meal in one day and said, "Do you do nothing but eat all day?"

I have to diverge from the way of the sahaba in this instance and have to eat a lot in order to have power and strength, because I'm not living in the desert, walking long distances every day, moving from place to place, riding horses, and fighting battles. But what about the belly? Even though the sahaba wouldn't probably have cared about having bellies out of concern for looking good (and I have to admit I do care about getting rid of the belly for aesthetic reasons as well), they lived such lives that they would not have to worry about it. And I think, being the warriors-ascetics that they were, they probably would have frowned upon bellies. I think that a Muslim should not have a big belly. The prophet (pbuh) once saw a man with a big belly and told him, "That which you fed this belly of yours would have done you more good in the belly of a poor person"[1]. He also predicted that fatness will appear among the later generations of Muslims[2]. Ånd so, I think I have the justification and proper reasons to lose my belly: it is not befitting of Muslims to have big bellies. Bellies also give the impression of laziness and stuff. (YEAH, STUFF! THE RIGHT WORD DIDN'T COME TO MIND!) So, hopefully I'll start attempting to burn some fat soon, hopefully without compromising strength or shape. But if I feel my strength diminishing I'm gonna stop because for now I feel it is more important to be physically fit and powerful like the sahaba were.

Back to Dave Barr and what he said about updating the "eat every three hours" rule if your goal is fat loss:

Well, if you're eating for fat loss, and your last meal was a large slow digesting meal that is still releasing nutrients into your system 3 hours later, adding a liquid meal would blunt your fat loss by "adding more nutrients to an already fed system — even if [your] solid meal had been smaller."

If we're bulking we likely need to eat more frequently than every three hours, but what about if we're trying to lose fat while maintaining muscle? Well, in this case we can eat even less frequently than every 3 hours to optimize fat loss. Again, it all comes back to how the nutrients are being delivered from our gut, and not when we're eating.

Remember the big meal Mike had, the one with the salad and steak? Well, if he were cutting, this meal isn't all that bad because it ensures that he's fed for many hours to come. What is a bad idea...is that he felt the need to ingest something three hours later. This latter meal would be completely unnecessary because he had already met the specific nutrient requirements and was still being fed by the food in his gut.

After all, Mike was still protein-fed and his blood sugar and insulin levels were being managed, so why consume more food?

Also, young coconuts can finally be found in Jordan now! Why is that exciting to me? Well first of all, coconuts are a great source of MCTs which are fats that are very beneficial for building muscle and losing fat, and their water has amino acids and lots of other good stuff... But that's not the real reason I'm excited.

The water in young coconuts, which are usually still green, is a plasma substitute that was used in WWII. It was injected into soldiers as a plasma substitute when they ran out of real plasma. According to the argument, by drinking that water everyday, one is increasing their blood volume, or plasma level. By doing that, you get much better pumps when working out and you get much more nutrients to your muscle, because blood is what carries nutrients into the muscle. (full argument here, wildly exaggerated of course). Now I know when you inject it into your blood then it works, you will get more blood volume and all the rest. But when you injest it? I'm not sure if it still does that. But then again, while drinking that young coconut's water today, our Sri Lankan maid* said to me,

-you know, this water is really good for you because it's like saline
- what's saline?
- the stuff that gets injected into your blood when you lose blood
- yeah i know that, but how did you know that?
- our doctors in sri lanka told us this, and they said that whenever we get really tired, we should open a baby coconut and drink its water and it restores your strength.

And so, today I had my first young coconut drink! There's two more such green coconuts in the fridge, waiting for me to drink their water tomorrow and the day after. Now if only I could find them in Egypt, I'd have them every day!

1. Reported by Tabarani. The Path of Muhammad pg 301.
2. "The best generation is my generation, followed by the one after them then the one after them. Then will come a people who bear witness but are not asked to bear witness, who swear oaths but do not fulfill them and fatness will appear among them." (reported by Bukhari and Muslim)

*Most middle-class and upper-class households in Jordan have maids, mostly from Sri Lanka


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