1) Give us a short bio of yourself and what motivated you to start your own blog at Criticalmas.com?
My name is Michael Allen Smith. I’m originally from Ohio, but have since lived in Tampa Bay, the Washington DC metro area, San Diego and since 2007 Seattle. I’ve had a personal website since late 1995, but did not launch CriticalMAS as a “blog” until March 2000.
When I launched CriticalMAS, I already had a popular coffee site INeedCoffee.com, which will turn 15 years old in April 2014. Blogging was very new back then and my site was mostly a bunch of smart ass comments about what was in the news that day. Probably similar to what a majority of Facebook or Twitter posts are today.
I took over a year off blogging around 2004-2005. When I restarted the blog, my mission was to use the blog as a way to document what I was doing. My thinking was to prevent the blog from being boring, I needed to be doing interesting things. The bog has evolved from local activity in San Diego and Seattle to finance to nutrition and fitness. I fully expect at some point, I’ll move onto another topic.
2) In your blog, you write about many different dietary experiments you have implemented over the years. What are some of the most and least successful ones?
It is really hard to measure in retrospect what worked and how well it worked. An example would be in 2008 when I embraced the ideas of Paleo. I drastically cut back on grains, went lower carb, experimented with Intermittent Fasting and Cold Thermogenesis. I also began cooking each of my meals. The result was: I got lean and stopped getting sick. But which of those strategies worked and which didn’t? That has been difficult to answer.
I believe that part of the success of dietary experiments is that we become interested. Being excited about trying out something new takes us out of auto-pilot mode and makes something normally dreaded – dieting – a fun hobby.
To answer your question, probably the most successful experiment has been eliminating wheat from my diet. The least successful experiment was the Tim Ferriss strategy of consuming 30 grams of protein upon waking.
3) What does your current diet look like and which foods do you prioritise?
It is a combination of Paleo + WAPF + Ray Peat with a seasonal twist.
For meat, I favor red meats (beef, lamb) and offal. I don’t eat as much chicken, pork or turkey. I also like shrimp and fish, which I should be eating more frequently. All carbs are fair game except grains. I consume no wheat and minimal secondary grains. Fruit, rice, and tubers are all fine. I even think sugar is fine in certain cases. For fat, I am diligent about favoring saturated fats and minimizing polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). This means no veggie oil, no nuts and reduced amounts of chicken and pork.
I am a fermentation hobbyist and have been actively making kimchi and sauerkrauts for years. Now I make dairy kefir on a regular basis.
My seasonal twist is that I resolve the endless lower carb vs high carb debate by eating higher carbs in the summer and fewer in the winter. Summer is for growth and winter is for repair. It is a hedging strategy.
4) For people looking to lose body fat and keep it off long-term, which dietary interventions have you found to be most effective?
The first thing is to fix your sleep. Every person that I’ve ever met that is overweight that has struggled with losing weight has sleep issues. At that point just start cooking for yourself more and more. The goal should be to stay out of restaurants and away from engineered foods as much as possible.
5) Almost everyone starting with the Paleo/Primal diet goes low-carb for some time and start seeing good results on it. Do you think Low-Carb is suitable for everybody?
I am not a dietitian, so I can’t answer that. I will say there are numerous PhDs on both sides of the carb debate. I came to nutrition after studying finance, so I approach nutrition from the mindset of an investor. That means we must assume incomplete knowledge and that different investing strategies work for different people.
The overall trend I see from nutrition practitioners is low carb works better for men, older people, those less active and those wishing to lose weight. Higher carb is often advised for those more active, some women, those with sluggish thyroid issues and those that are over stressed and fatigued.
I do see that people often experience issues when they stay on one side of the carb spectrum for too long. Cycling between both based upon activity or season seems like a prudent starting strategy. Then the individual could tweak based upon their goals.
6) Let’s move on to fitness & exercise. You used to run marathons back in the 90s – why have you stopped? What do you do instead?
I stopped running because I was always getting injured. I did enjoy running. Until very recently, I stopped running 100%. Then I figured out that I could get the most benefit from running by sprinting. In particular, by only sprinting uphill I could shorten my stride and reduce the stress on my body. So when I do run these days, I do a brief session of uphill sprints. It is much kinder on my body.
My primary exercise is weight lifting. I follow the HIT (High Intensity Training) principles outlined in the books „Body By Science“ and Hillfit 2.0.
7) Have you refined your own philosophy of working out and who has influenced your thinking about exercise the most?
I must give great to the late Greg Anderson. Dr. Doug McGuff referred to him as the “Greatest Trainer in the World”. He sent me an email after one of my posts and invited me to his Seattle based gym for a workout. I had read about HIT, but it didn’t click with me until I went through those 9 minutes. It changed everything. He taught me how to vastly increase my level of intensity while making the movement safe from injury.
8) You have the genetics of an ectomorph and have struggled in the past to put on lean mass. What advice do you have for fellow ectomorph guys looking to add quality muscle mass to their frame?
Workout less, recover more, reduce stress, improve sleep and don’t abuse stimulants, like I do with coffee. When it comes to food, don’t fall for the more protein myth. Protein suppresses appetite and we need calories. Eat more carbs and saturated fat. If you can do dairy, I really like kefir and ice cream. If you can’t do dairy, coconut milk ice cream.
9) Besides diet and exercise, which other biohacks do you find most people are missing out on that prevent them from reaching their full potential?
Getting better sleep. I tracked my sleep quality for 2.5 years. That experiment probably lasted too long, but I learned how to deepen and lengthen my sleep. I’ve never slept better. Being fully rested makes everything better. It is easier to stick to a diet and I recover faster from exercise.