A Holiday Challenge!

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Help Me Undo A Holiday Binge

I need support and I’m asking for your help. If you are familiar with me you probably know I find sugar and grains highly addictive. I love the Thanksgiving holiday and all the wonderful food, especially stuffing (made with bread), sweet potato casserole (which seems to be mostly sugar the way we make it), mashed potatoes, rolls and buns (for those turkey sandwiches), and of course, cookies and pies.

This Thanksgiving weekend I decided, from Thursday until Sunday, I would eat and drink anything and everything the holiday had to offer–and I did. Boy did it taste good–but I also didn’t feel very good at times. Maybe it’s all in my head, but it seems I just feel better when I eat clean and drink plenty of water.

Look at the other thing that happened–my weight shot up 5.4 lbs:


A bunch of this is water weight, as I tend to retain water when I deviate from my version of Primal/Paleo eating, but I can also feel my clothes fitting tighter and my gut has expanded.


I did not perform my normal ketosis test all weekend until this morning and I only registered an “8”–anything under 25 means I’m not in fat-burning mode. I can pretty much bet I never came close to a ketogenic state based on the very high carbohydrate and sugar load I bombarded my body with over the four days.

Clean Eating Challenge

Now, to get back on track, I’m going to try to eat clean until Christmas, roughly three weeks. My goal is to stick close to my version of Primal/Paleo eating and shed the body fat. On top of that, I’m going to commit to my weight lifting routine so I’ll be lean and ripped :)

I could use your moral support in this endeavor! I am weak when it comes to eating at times, especially when I workout consistently–I get so hungry and I tend to slip and eat the bad things.

So who’s with me? Anyone else want to take the challenge and roll into Christmas lean and shredded…let’s do this and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!

Growing My Own Food

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Growing My Own Food

Growing up in Ohio, our family always had a garden where we grew our own vegetables. We ate what was in season and my mother canned or froze what we didn’t eat for the winter.

I’ve always been interested in gardening, but I don’t have fond memories of all the work associated with growing your own food, especially weeding the garden or adding cow manure to the soil once a year. Talk about mind numbing boredom for a kid (the weeding) and extreme odor (the cow crap)! :)

In high school, after we moved to Florida, I remember once trying to grow something (can’t remember what) in a little patch on the side of our house. Weeds, pests and my short attention span (I abandoned the project as I recall) resulted in a failed attempt at gardening.

Hydroponics: The First Attempt

A few years ago, after the kids had outgrown their little playhouse which had become termite infested, I decided to rip it down (since they no longer used it) and replace it with a greenhouse. I found a 30′ X 15′ kit which I purchased on-line and went to work constructing the floor and then assembling the greenhouse on top. Here are a few pictures of the construction:

Completed Floor & Beginning The Frame:

gh-floorCompleted Frame:

gh-frameConnecting Water Supply:

Here I am connecting into my irrigation system which is fed by our well.

gh-water-hookupElectric, Water, & Beginning Walls:

gh-walls-1Completed Walls:

gh-walls-4Beginning The Roof:

gh-roof-4-roatatedCompleted Greenhouse:

gh-completedHomemade Flood & Drain System:

Now that I had the greenhouse completed, I build my own hydroponic system. I chose to do a “flood and drain” technique. The system uses a pump submerged in the nutrient tank (blue container) which circulates the nutrients to the roots of the plants in pots sitting in the black trays above. The pump is on a timer that kicks on for 20 minutes or so four to five times per day. Every seven to ten days, the old nutrients are removed from the tank and fresh water and nutrients are added.

hp-flood-drainNotice each of the grow trays (black tubs on top) have a white PVC pipe going into the bottom and a black tube coming out of the bottom and back to the blue nutrient tank. The pump in the bottom of the tank pushed the liquid nutrient into the black tubs where it floods the pots (and therefore the plant roots).  When the feeding is over after 20 minutes or so, the tubs drain back into the nutrient tank to be used again at the next feeding.

Starting Plants From Seed:

I start my plants in little blocks of rock wool.

hp-starting-in-rockwoolOnce they a couple of inches tall, the baby plants, still in the rock wool blocks, are placed in pots filled with the grow medium, which consists of little pebbles consisting of expanded clay aggregate. This stuff allows the roots to grow and supports the root structure. Here are young tomato plants in the pots situated in the grow area of the flood and drain system.

hp-tomato-plantsIn the beginning, it all seemed to work pretty well. Here are young squash plants starting to blossom:

hp-squash-blossomHere are some baby tomatoes:

hp-young-tomatoGreens, like lettuce, kale and herbs did very well!


Soon the crops took over the greenhouse. The squash blossomed beautifully:

hp-cropsThe tomatoes plants literally grew out through the roof of the greenhouse:

hp-huge-tomatosThe first crop of tomatoes were fantastic and tasted unbelievable:

hp-ripe-tomatoBut, I began to have problems. I started getting blossom end rot on the tomatoes and squash. Then in the summer, despite having three fans running, the greenhouse was just too hot! The experts told me not to try growing in the summer. So I tried a new batch in the fall after temps cooled and got infested with white flies which ruined the crops. This winter I tried growing in soil and have had little luck as the plants seem to have contracted a fungus and are dying from the bottom up.

On top of all of this, I kept having to buy very expensive nutrients and was really not getting very much of a crop for the expense. I decided there had to be a better way!

Hydroponics: The Second Attempt

A few years ago a friend told me about her very successful hydroponic system in her back yard. She mentioned the nutrients were quite inexpensive with fantastic production. Once my soil experiment failed, I decided to go to the place where she got started and attend their hydroponic gardening workshop.

The place hosting the workshop is called Hydro Harvest Farms–check out their web site and the pictures of their hydroponic “farm,” it is absolutely amazing! After sitting through the workshop and looking around I became intrigued to say the least. I went back the next day and purchased a four tower system. I’ve documented building the hydro towers and the progress so far.

Building the Hydro Towers:

Here are the parts I bought on March 22, 2015 including the posts, bases, pots, nutrient barrel, feeding lines, ground cloth, quarter cinder blocks, grow material (vermiculite and perlite), nutrients, and automatic timing system.

ht-hydro-towers-partsNext I picked the spot for the system behind the existing greenhouse.

ht-spotThen I mapped out the site:

ht-mapping-spotNext I started putting in blocks making a retaining wall:

ht-start-wallHere is base level of the wall completed, the ground cloth and blocks positioned:

ht-finish-wallNext I pounded the pole bases into the ground:

ht-setting-pole-basesNow the blocks are positioned around the pole bases:

ht-block-poleNow I add the bases and poles:

ht-adding-bases-and-postsHere are the bases and poles set:

ht-bases-polesNow I pour the two bags of grow material into the nutrient barrel to mix them together:

ht-mixing-nutrientsNow roll the barrel all over the yard to mix:

ht-mixingNext I add the pots onto the poles. The far tower on the left are for tomatoes, the middle two are for leafy greens like lettuce and kale, and the right tower will have various pepper and cucumbers. The bases will have zucchini, yellow swash, eggplant, and spaghetti squash.

ht-pots-addedBut before I can plant the seeds, I had to fill the pots and the bases with the grow material consisting of vermiculite and perlite and then immediately wet it down so it won’t blow away.

ht-pots-filledNext the feeding tubes are added to the top of the towers. Here you can see the liquid nutrients coming out of the tube and into the top pot of the tower. The liquid filters down through the tower of pots and down to the base, feeding the plants.

ht-feed-tubesThe nutrient barrel on the right holds 50 gallons of nutrient. A pump in the bottom is activated by an electronic timer three times a day to feed the plants. The pump runs for six minutes at each feeding and pumps a quart of nutrient liquid into each tower. The feeding times are 10am, noon, and 3pm. The barrel holds enough nutrient for two weeks.

ht-finished-systemThe nutrients are simple! There are two packets, a white one and a blue one:

ht-packetsAll I have to do is add the white packet to a gallon jug of water and the blue packet to another jug of water. To reload the system, just fill the barrel up with water (50 gallons) and then put one ounce of white per gallon water and one ounce of blue per gallon of water (so 25 oz. of each) into the barrel. The last step is to add two tablespoons of Bio Nutrient into the barrel as well. That’s it!

ht-nutrientsI planted the first seeds on March 27, 2015. Here is what the hydro garden looks like on April 23, 2015:

ht-plants-2015-04-23Pretty cool! I’ll be providing updates as my plants mature–let’s hope the bugs and critters leave my crops alone. :) As always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!


I Love Fitocracy (What’s that?)

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“What the heck is Fitocracy?” you ask. On the surface, it is a web site and app that turn fitness into a game of sorts. From the website:

Fitocracy’s mission is to make fitness a more fun, more addictive experience. Play Fitocracy to beat challenges, push your boundaries, and show your friends who’s boss. Get addicted to your fitness.

WOWI find many more benefits beyond the “game” aspects–we’ll get to them shortly. But first, I love video games. At one point in my life I was addicted to World Of Warcraft (WOW), which is an MMORPG, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, where you start a character and, along with thousands of other players on the internet, explore an on-line fantasy world, participate in quests, and earn achievements. I spent hours upon hours playing this game, promising myself I would quit and go to bed after just one more quest or as soon as my character achieved the next level.

After 10 years or so, I had to stop playing the game because I needed to spend my leisure time doing more productive things and my addiction to this game helped prevent that. So when I heard of this web site called Fitocracy that combined fitness with aspects similar to WOW, I had to check it out.

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Sure enough, like WOW, Fitocracy let’s you log your workouts, either on the web site or via the app (iOS/Android) and you are rewarded with points. As you accumulate  points you achieve levels. This is where it gets fun because, like WOW, the early levels are easily achievable, but they becomeincreasingly harder as you progress–it’s addictive! To give you an idea, in the first 15 days of using the site I went from Level 1 to Level 11. I am now at Level 43 and it took me 170 days to get from Level 42 to Level 43! The same addition I had when leveling up my video game character is now being used to motivate me in the gym! “How many pull ups will it take for me to get enough points to hit the next level today?”

fito-questThere are also quests, achievements and duels. Quests motivate you to do a variety of different fitness activities by awarding you extra points when you accomplish certain tasks. For example, there is quest called “The Squat Isn’t So Scary!” which simply requires you to perform a single barbell squat and will earn you an extra 10 points. There are simple ones like that and some more difficult, like “Monkeying Around” which will earn you 300 points if, in a single day’s workout, you can do 10 pull ups, 5 wide-grip pull ups, 1o chin ups, and 10 parallel-grip pull ups.

fito-achievmentAchievements are also awarded for social activity on the site as well as exercise milestones.  For example, if you receive 100 props (props are similar to a Facebook “Like”), you will receive the “Feeling The Love” achievement. Similarly, if and when you are able to do a bench press for at least .9 times your body weight then you will earn the “Push It (Barbell)” achievement. Achievements are cool and motivating for me!

There are also duels, where you can challenge another Fito (what we call ourselves) to contest of sorts, like who can log the most push ups in a 30 day period.

Fitocracy _ PaleoFor me the points and other “game” aspects of Fitocracy are cool and motivating, but another, and maybe even more important benefit, is being part of a positive community of like-minded people interested in health and fitness. There are groups you can join where people with specific interests (not all directly related to fitness) can connect, like “The Fit Bookworms” group, the “StrongLifts 5×5” group, and the “Paleo” group, to name a few I’ve joined.

The site is really a very targeted social media platform that I find incredibly supportive and motivational. Now, this doesn’t mean there aren’t trolls lurking around that try to spoil things, but I find the folks at Fitocracy do a pretty good job of policing the site and keeping it positive and (mostly) troll-free. This is a diverse community as well, with folks that are just beginning their fitness journey, to highly accomplished athletes, personal trainers and everyone in between, including men and women of all ages and races across the planet.

fit-perfAnother great benefit I find from the site/app is it easily allows me to log my workouts. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, tracking my progress against goals is a key for me to stay consistent with my workouts. The app allows me to see my history and personal best for any exercise I have logged in the past. I love having that data on my phone and at my fingertips! If you’re not getting stronger, you’re getting weaker! 😀

I have no affiliation with Fitocracy whatsoever (in fact I have chosen to support the site monetarily because of the value it brings me). So why am I telling you this? Fitness can be a lonely journey. It helps me to have a like-minded community supporting me and motivating me. In my life, workout partners come and go–rarely do they last more than a few months–but Fitocracy has been there for me since I joined nearly three years ago. Part of the purpose of this blog is to relate how I stay lean, athletic, and young, and Fitocracy is an important tool!

If you use Fitocracy, I’d love to connect–I’m “danthebucsfan”. Please leave feedback in the comments and I’d love to learn tools you use in your journey. As always…

Be smart in the kitchen and beast in the gym!

My Fancy Workout Shoes

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally enjoy and use--should you purchase using these links (products cost the same) I will receive a small commission. Please, help keep the lights on! Full disclosure policy.

chucksThey say, “Clothes make the man/woman.” Ever heard this? It turns out this phrase originated from Shakespeare in Hamlet, where the character, Polonius, is giving fatherly advice to his son, Laertes, before he leaves for Paris. He tells him:

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express’d in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

Among other things he is saying something along the lines of don’t be a poser, don’t buy stuff you can’t afford to impress people, and the clothes you wear matter! More on this here if your interested…

Well my “not so fancy,” old school shoes are important too, but for a much different reason. Certainly you can go to any high school and see the kids wearing a version of my classic “Chucks” to make a retro fashion statement, but I assure you I wear them to the gym for a completely different reason… :)

running-shoesFor most of my life I wore other types of athletic shoes, either basketball or running, to lift weights, after all, I never thought footwear had anything to do with weightlifting. This included the 20+ years I spent wandering around the weight room doing split routines, you know, chest/shoulders/triceps on one day, them back/biceps the next, and legs once a month! 😀 A few years ago I changed my weight lifting philosophy to a simple, compound barbell program which includes squats and deadlifts (DLs). Adopting this program, based on StrongLifts 5×5, took my focus away from the weight machine area of the gym to the free weight area. Here’s where I noticed some really strong folks lifting heavy weight and many of them donning old school “Chucks.”

I still didn’t get it! I remember seeing these guys and thinking, “these guys/girls are wearing those shoes to show everyone in the gym they’re hard core iron pushers. Showoffs!” As the weeks and months wore on, and my program called for heavier and heavier weights for the squat and deadlift, I began to struggle, unable to progress with more weight. I wanted to get stronger and lift heavier, but these exercises are technically difficult and, as you know, form is everything!

So I started asking for advice (oddly enough from mostly dudes wearing “Chucks”) and doing a bunch of reading. A friend of mine, who had become very proficient at deadlifting, suggested a book titled, Deadlift Dynamite: How To Master The King of All Strength Exercises. Boom, there it was, right on page 121:

Do all your DLs and DL-related training barefoot or in minimalist shoes with a flat and thin sole. This is essential for safety and performance.

The light bulb went off and I immediately purchased a pair of “Chucks!”

Did my squat and deadlift performance increase? Absolutely! The question, the same one the Mars Blackmon character asked in the Air Jordan commercials, to be asked, “Is it the shoes?”

Like Jordan in the commercial, I can’t come to the same conclusion Mars famously comes to, “It’s gotta be the shoes!” However, I do believe the shoes play an important part in helping both my squat and deadlift form, which ultimately helps me lift more weight and thus makes me stronger!

chucks-squatHowever, as I’ve repeated many times on this blog, everyone is different and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. I see people in the gym all the time wearing running shoes with big cushioned heals squatting and deadlifting huge amounts of weight–double and triple what I can do. In fact, I know one guy in my gym who not only wears running shoes but also puts a pair of 10 lb. weights under his heals when he squats (and he can squat over 400 lb.). Isn’t that exactly opposite of the above? How is that possible?

It turns out how one performs these complex lifts depends greatly on one’s body type, bone length and other physical factors. One of these factors, depending on the person, can be the shoe. This video does a great job in explaining the mechanics of the squat and how all these factors play a roll. I would encourage you to watch the whole thing, but at 2:35 he specifically talks about how a raised heal affects the knee and hip.

Fascinating stuff!

Now you know why I wear those “not so fancy” but ever so flat shoes when I squat and deadlift. I truly believe they help! If you find your knees pressing forward and you’re having trouble getting your hips to parallel, might be time to pay attention to your footwear. Before I actually bought my “Chucks” I experimented with squats and DLs in bare feet. I immediately felt a big difference and I knew I needed flat shoes. I would love to do those lifts in bare feet, but my gym won’t allow it for safety reasons.

Any other “not so fancy” shoe wearers out there? Leave me a comment, I’d love to hear from you and, as always…

Be smart in the kitchen and a beast in the gym!