Body Accounting and The Quantified Self

March 3, 2009

Thinking about one of Kevin Kelly’s blogs, The Quantified Self, has me thinking about what those of us who start to get serious about our personal fitness begin to do. We take up some forms of body accounting, maybe starting with using a digital scale to record our weight each morning, or a tape measure around the waist. I record this data for reference and to create a trend line as to where my body mass is going. I also weigh and measure much of the food I eat, or at least gage the calorie amount. This is entered in a sort-of double entry bookkeeping model in my head, where I know that if I fill my body beyond a certain energy level, it will begin to store fat for my future needs. I track my sets and reps and poundages at the gym, and when I do steady-state cardio I record the times and settings. I know there is a dose-response effect curve with exercise, and I measure how much I need verses fatigue and mood variables. Sleep also gets measured, at least in terms of hours in bed.

I suppose I am becoming more of a self-tracker, and I plan to do more of that as technology improves. If better tools existed, we could reach more of our human potential. Check out Kelly’s site – it will give you something to think about.

Not sure how I missed the release, but there is a new book out by Doug McGuff and John Little, who are prominent advocates of high-intensity (single set to failure) weight training. It’s called Body by Science and it looks like it might be worth checking out. Not sure when I will have time to read it, but I will post a review when I get a hold of a copy.  I’m partial to many of the HIT tenants, although I am “self-experimenting” with slightly higher volume right now. One thing I think about every day: I wish I could exercise in a professional noise-free, effort-focused environment like the ones the HIT and SuperSlow advocates favor. The local gym chain where I work out is full of distractions and multiple blaring TV sets, and idle conversations. Not to mention equipment picked for its low cost, and not its superior functionality.

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Save Money By Drinking Better Coffee

March 1, 2009

A while back I started to get disgruntled with my morning coffee routine. I’m a habitual coffee drinker who has a good tolerance to the effects of caffeine and I drink multiple mugs full daily. But, I found myself unhappy with the sour, off tastes of my morning brew, and relying more and more on buying mediocre coffee at work or from local by-the-cup shops.

That’s where saving money comes in. Even if you don’t regularly waste calories on lattes and cappuccinos (calorie bombs, anyone?), a large regular coffee or two bought outside the home can add up to a $2-5 expense, per workday. $10-25 per week. That’s roughly $45 out of pocket, and usually much more, especially if you are buying a high-calorie breakfast (extra large bagel or muffin) with your coffee.

I did a lot of reading and researching online, visiting the CoffeeGeek forums among many other websites. Making good coffee doesn’t take much work. Here’s what it does take.

  1. Fresh, good coffee.  Fresh means whole bean. I resisted this at first, because it seems inconvenient.  You can’t get around it. If you don’t grind your own beans, you are drinking a stale tasting cup of coffee. You don’t need an expensive burr grinder, even though they heat and degrade the beans less when breaking them down.  You also need to grind right before you brew to avoid oxidation and the development of staleness.  Also, if you can find a local roaster, use them.  Even premium whole bean coffee from a fancy marketplace has probably been sitting around for more than a month before you purchase it. Consider mail ordering fresh whole beans weekly.
  2. Hot water, 200 degrees F.
  3. Freshly ground coffee in the hot water for about 4 minutes.  7 grams of coffee for each 6 ounces of water. It’s much easier and more consistent than measuring with a tablespoon or coffee measure.  If you are reading blogs about diet and fitness, you need to pick up a quality digital kitchen scale.  Weighing my coffee instead of measuring was one of the most important changes I made to my coffee routine.
  4. Filtering out the grounds, which your quality automatic drip coffee maker does for you, along with heating the water to the right temperature and managing the contact time.  You can use a gold-plated filter to save money and the hassle of stocking paper filters at home.
  5. Not heating the coffee pot, preferably using an insulated pot and no warming plate. If you don’t have one, then set the warmer on low.

So, how can you make it healthier? Coffee’s full of antioxidants, the largest source in the average US diet. Most people tolerate caffeine well, although a few can’t drink coffee due to GI upset or irregular heart rhythms.  To make it healthy, stop putting high calorie cream or half-and-half or trans-fat laden whitener in your drink.  I drink mine with skim milk, which I think improves the mouth feel by adding a small amount of protein, slightly sweet carbohydrate and a trivial amount of fat for depth and richness. I don’t use sugar, or artificial sweetener, since I enjoy the taste of coffee and don’t want the calories.  I count the skim milk in the day’s calories and also get some protein and calcium for my efforts.

If you have an insulated mug, you can bring some of your morning brew to work and not have to buy any coffee out.  Since making a decent cup is difficult at work, I often drink tea during the day.  Now that I’m used to decent tasting coffee, most of what I purchase by-the-cup tastes stale and full of off-flavors.

If you are thinking about upgrading your set-up, first try to clean up your current machine, or even use a commercial descaler to get it in better shape.  Here’s what I use and recommend:

Cuisinart DCC-1200 12-Cup Brew Central Coffeemaker

  • This is a basic, quality automatic drip coffee machine. It isn’t perfect, including brewing into a glass container on a warming plate rather than an insulated mug. But, it has held up to my hard use without breaking or breaking down.  You will want to purchase replacement charcoal filters when you buy the machine, as they get changed every 60 days.

Swissgold Gold Foil Filter 12-c.

  • Better quality than the one that comes with the Cusinart machine, not necessary until you decide you prefer to brew with a mesh filter vs. paper.

Salter 11-Pound Square Stainless-Steel Digital Kitchen Scale

  • If you don’t have one yet, this is an essential part of a diet and fitness oriented kitchen. You can put the grinder on it, zero it, and pour in your beans until you get the canonical 7gm per 6oz water. It’s faster than measuring with a scoop and more accurate.

Krups Fast Touch Coffee Grinders

  • The cost is so much less than using a burr grinder, it’s hard to justify the small increase in quality you would get with the burr.  Only use it for coffee, you don’t want various seed or spice flavors to intermingle.

If you can’t find a local roaster, try ordering beans online.  If you don’t know what you like, start with a medium roast, like a city roast, or talk to your roaster about your preferences.  You can adjust from there, now that you can brew a decent consistent cup for comparison.

Let me know how it goes!