Book Review: Fitness for Geeks by Bruce Perry; O'Reilly Books

What is Fitness for Geeks about?

fitnessforgeekscoverFitness and nutrition is a terrible industry to look for any kind of accurate information. The internet is riddled with tips and ideas that are inaccurate, vague or just plain wrong. Bruce Perry and O'Reilly Books have put together a fantastic book covering the basics of fitness and nutrition. Fitness for Geeks is the perfect quick start guide to health for anyone looking to quickly get an overview of the most important topics.The awesome (read terrible?) jokes and references in the book are aimed at programmers who spend a lot of time inside sitting on the computer drinking Redbull and eating vending machine fare. If you eat better then that, you'll have no problem with the info. I thought this book was a perfect fit for me because I'm right in between the tech and fitness industries. I spend half my day coding and the other half running around and reading how to eat better.This is a quick review of the book and the main topics.

Chair Living

From Fitness for Geeks:"Scientists have coined a new term for our trend: chair living. We're living in chairs, at home, in our car, at the office, at friends, out being entertained. Chair living is linked to all sorts of physical problems and disease."Humans are meant to move, that's what we've evolved to do, and we're very good at it. We've also evolved to rest every chance we get. When you were chased down by saber-toothed tigers, you never knew when you were going to get a solid rest in. We've obviously evolved to eat too. But with today's foods, it's easy to eat way more than we need too. Food is everywhere these days, and so are chairs. We are the at the peak of human evolution and a lot of what we do is just sitting and eating. This leads to problems.Bruce is here to explain how to fix those problems with exercise and nutrition.

Apps and Gadgets

Being for geeks one of the first sections is a good list of apps, websites and gadgets that help when you want accurate fitness and nutrition information. Many can track your stats and export them to different formats. NutritionData and FitDay are a couple of good ones for accurate information.We can now track some of the health measurements that used to cost hundreds or thousands of dollars for professionals to do. They can help us measure what we're doing so we can stay on track with our plans. These apps and gadgets obviously can't eat and run for us, but they can make it much simpler to track the information we should be seeing to make smart decisions.Our smartphones are one of the best gadgets for tracking. When we have it on us all the time, we don't even have to think about remembering it. We do have to remember to start the apps though!

Macronutrients: fats carbs and proteins

Nutrition is a huge part of how we feel, look and perform and macronutrients are the big building blocks of food.Macronutrients are what we all think of the basics of foods, fats, carbs and proteins. Bruce talks about the proper ratio of fats to carbs to proteins that are recommended and why they probably aren't what you're eating now. He subscribes to the idea that we should be eating closer to the ratio of macronutrients that we had thousands of years ago. This approach is very similar to the Paleo diet that a lot of people are talking about these days. We've evolved to eat that way before a lot of our modern human technology changed our foods, and that's what keeps us the healthiest.The book is a great reference on which of the fats are good and which of the fats are bad. Your body needs some of them and some of them are bad. I can never remember which is which so I'm always consulting the descriptions in the book.It's hard knowing exactly what's in your food but the internet comes to your rescue! FitDay is a great website for figuring out what macronutrients and other things are in your food.

Micronutrients: vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals

Micronutrients are all the other things you can get from your food that you body needs. They come in tiny amounts but those tiny amounts are important. Miss any small amount of these and you'll end up with some pretty nasty diseases. The best places for these to come from is your food, they'll digest better and you'll get a pile of other good micronutrients as well. These are part of the reason why it's good to have a variety of food in your diet. Even the healthiest foods on the planet don't have every single nutrient in them you need so you'll have to cover all your bases with other foods.Some "Superfoods" are super because they have so many micronutrients in them. These aren't a replacement for all the food in your diet but they'll help you get a lot of the micronutrients you need during the day.I like to think of all the food I eat as a big long list with the healthiest foods at the top and the least healthy foods at the bottom. I try to go to the top of the list and eat those first. Once I'm full of healthy foods,I'm not really hungry for more and the unhealthy stuff at the bottom just doesn't seem as appealing. It's easy to eat way to much of the unhealthy stuff when you're starving hungry, because everything looks super tasty!Two things to be cautious of with micronutrients.  One is that they can get cooked out of food. And two: just because you are eating them doesn't mean they are being absorbed into your body. All sorts of "anti-nutrients" exist that prevent some nutrients from being absorbed.

Food hacks: when to eat, fasting and how to find good food

As a hacker himself, Bruce goes into detail about a bunch of ways of more efficiently finding food. Just getting the food to your house and eating it can be a challenge so he has some tips and tricks for doing that in a healthy way. New research is uncovering some of the details on how important the timing of your eating is as well. Eating all day long or eating during set times can change how you body deals with all that food.

Working out, outside and in the gym

After he covers all the nutrition information in the book, Bruce gets into the fitness section. This is my favourite part of the book. He goes over the basics of working out, why you need to do it and what the basics are. Because us programmers tend to default to sedentary indoor activities, he lists the huge number of benefits to working out outside in the sun and fresh air. My preference is to be outside but when the weather is wet and cold and miserable, working out inside is better than nothing.

Why do you need to rest?

With all this eating and working out, we're going to need some rest. Rest is important. With too much of it it we don't get anything done, but with too little of it, we get injured and end up not being able to do anything either.  Rest is important from a fitness perspective and also from a overall health perspective. Many studies have shown that lack of sleep is a huge detriment to our performance during the day and long term health. We can't do much without enough sleep yet so many of us are cutting sleep here and there just to get more done during the day. I constantly battle with the alarm clock and how early to get up in the morning just to get an earlier start to the day. I wouldn't sleep if I didn't have to but unfortunately there's really no way around it.Resting between workouts is important for fitness as well. Working out puts small rips and tears in your muscles. Rest gives them time to repair and come back up to full strength before working out again. After repairing the muscles are stronger. On a smaller scale, rest between lifting each weight in a workout will give your muscles time to recover and get the energy they need for the next lift. Sometimes the point of a fast workout is to not give your muscles time to recover. Fitness trainers factor that in when they program workouts so follow your workout plan and you should be ok.

What is hormesis?

First of all what's hormesis? In the parting section of the book Bruce leaves us with an interesting question. Hormesis is the idea that when a stress is applied to our bodies and minds they can adapt to recover from it. This is how we adapt to new things in our lives, learn new skills or make muscle gains when we work out. Our bodies are adapting to the stresses we put them through.We have to be careful not to put too much stress on our bodies at a time, they can only handle so much. By applying just enough stress to cause a change and then backing off and letting our bodies and our minds rest with sleep and days off from working out, our bodies recover and end up stronger than before. An important thing to remember about the stress is that constant stress all day long is very bad for our health long term. Short controlled stresses, like some time in the gym, or short sessions learning a new language are very good for our health.Some new research has shown that cold showers or cold swims can be beneficial to our health. Like flu shots, our bodies adapt to to these small stressors and be stronger than they were before.

Interviews

As one last note before the end of this review, I was happy to see that there were a couple of interviews with well known nutrition experts from around the internet. One of my favourite nutrition writers online is Mark Sisson, who writes about the Primal lifestyle on MarksDailyApple.com. Primal is similar to Paleo with it's focus on "eating like a caveman" but has slight differences with some of the foods. Mark includes more base information about the fitness aspect of the Primal lifestyle as well which is not included in Paleo. You are left to your own devices when practicing Paleo.

Wrap-up

fitnessforgeekscoverNutrition is a notoriously difficult subject to research and understand. I've been working with it the last couple years, learning more and more, and every time a turn around there's a new rabbit hole of research and information to go down that's exactly the opposite of what I had read the previous week. It can be tough to keep on top of it all. In Fitness for Geeks, Bruce does a very good job at simplifying the details and pulling out the most important parts that you need to know to start.If you are looking to know more about nutrition and fitness and are learning towards the natural, outdoor Paleo-esque styles of eating and working out, I highly recommend this book. It's especially geared towards computer programmers with some of the jokes but 99% of the content still makes perfect sense if you aren't someone who speaks in 1's and 0's.Read more about Fitness for Geeks on the O'Reilly site.

Guitar Challenge Wrap-Up and January's Challenge

About time I get this thing posted, it's almost half-way through January!The months go by so fast when you're super busy ( and having fun ). I feel like I just post a wrap-up and I have to start writing another one.December was an especially busy and fast-paced month. I even had a week off from my day job and it still felt like it was packed to the brim with awesome stuff to do.December's challenge was one of the reasons that it went so fast. I was trying to play guitar every day. I certainly didn't end up playing every single day, I did improve quite a bit from where I started. I'm still playing almost every day and love every minute of it.What can you really learn in 30 daysI wasn't sure where to start with guitar. The first day in December, I was so hopelessly slow and uncoordinated at doing any of the chords. I didn't think anything would change as I went through the month. Watching videos and thinking about guitarists in bands and how fast they move through their picking and chords on the guitar, I had to wonder if they were superhuman, or just born with some special skills that I just didn't possess.As I played day after day, I would get a little faster. Each time I sat down it was easier to hold the strings. I could hold them for a little longer. It was tiny amounts sure, but I could feel myself getting better and better after a few days would go by.I know 30 days isn't going to be long enough to be playing tough songs by the end of it but I was hopeful that I would at least improve.Unfortunately because of how much I had already planned for December, travelling, Christmas, skiing, New Years, hanging out with people, I found it extremely hard to keep up the guitar every day. I ended up only doing about half the days after missing a big chunk around christmas and it was very noticeable. Most of the time it's nice to take a break from what you're doing for a little while and then come back to it refreshed and re-motivated. Taking a break from guitar, thought, meant sore fingers.Playing guitar isn't like learning a language or some other act of willpower. You can sit down and learn things on the mental side for hours if you really want to. On the physical side of things  you have a limit. You can only play guitar for so long before your fingers start to hurt so much you can't play.The nice part about this natural limit was that it was forced. I could not play longer than my fingers could hold out. It was easier to sit down and play because I knew there was a natural time limit for playing that day. Initially I could only play for 5 or 10 minutes. It got longer near the end. Accidentally taking time off meant that I was decreasing my time limit instead of increasing it. For every day that I didn't play, I would be able to stand the rough strings on my fingers for a slightly shorter amount of time. Many people say that the best way to learn is little by little every single day. Guitar forces this. It's the only way to learn it.What I learned playing guitar for 30 daysTime LimitsAs I said above, when you start off, you won't be able to play guitar for long periods of time. I couldn't at least. Someone with much more callused hands would be able to play for longer sessions right off the bat. I don't do much that would strengthen them naturally. Climbers would probably be able to play for hours!On the plus side, it forced a time limit on each session. This made them more relaxing. I feel like when I don't go for more than an hour or so doing something, I'm just making excuses and I should go for longer. I know this sounds silly. Most people can't concentrate on one thing for much more than 90 minutes. The little voice inside my head natters at me to keep going, even when I know I've had enough and it's time for a break. I've been experimenting with hard time limits on things. Much like in the pomodoro technique. It's nice to know that I only have to work for 30 minutes or 1 hour no matter what I'm doing. Sometimes I do get lost in something if I'm really into but I end up doing less of other things. I don't want to get sick of what I'm working on right now so time limits are a good way to keep things fresh.Best PracticesEverything in the world has best practices. There may not be one best way for doing something but there are always tips and tricks for getting the most out of your experience. You don't want to learn something the wrong way and keep those bad habits for the rest of your life. Learning on your own can be a fantastic way to try things out but finding good resources like websites, books or teachers to help you out can save you a lot of time down the road. The book I'm using to learn guitar comes with a DVD with videos and other resources to use while you're learning. You can watch the videos as you're playing to learn how to get the fingering correct and how exactly to do things. Words are amazing tools for teaching but often a picture or a video just makes learning so much faster.Nail the BasicsYou can't play guitar without learning the basic chords and ways to pick the strings. It's impossible. Also impossible is thinking that you can skip to the awesome part at the end of years of playing and be a rockstar guitar player. It doesn't work that way. If you practice every day for a couple years, you could actually get to be a very good guitar player. Playing for 30 days is not the same thing. I never liked things that simply required repetition to learn them. While it's not exactly the same every time, each chord is still the same chord. What I didn't know before was that it wasn't just mindlessly strumming the guitar over and over and over with the same chords to learn how to play. Actually learning something required deliberate practice. In this case, thinking about where your fingers are for each chord and moving them from chord to chord faster every time requires concentration. If you never increase your speed, you'll never become a better play. Sometimes it doesn't work and the note sounds terrible but you don't get faster unless you push.January's ChallengeI loved playing guitar every day and have continued to practice these first few days of January while I dive into my next challenge.I almost did this challenge for December but thought that I might fail before I'd even started. It would have been very tough and not a lot of fun. January is going to be month of eating extremely healthy. I'll be trying to follow the Paleo diet strictly for 30 days. The main idea is that I'll be eating lots of veggies, meat and fruit with very little sugar, coffee or gluten. I'm already entirely gluten free with what I've got in my cupboards and fridge at home but eating out is tough. It's rare to find a place that has a gluten-free menu and beer is right out the window.If you've gone Paleo, or are thinking about it, I'd love to hear from you. Let me know what your thoughts are about it. Maybe you could do a Paleo challenge for January as well?