*IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The advice in this article are from my own experience with getting in shape. I am in no way, shape, or form a professional fitness expert! Please consult with a physician or a trainer in your local gym before starting any workout regiment, as they will be able to fill in a lot of details that I cannot. Each person is different and each body type has different needs, metabolisms, and goals for true fitness.
I came home from Dragon*Con in September of 2003 and immediately came down sick. In fact, I started feeling ill towards the last day of the convention, to the point where I nearly passed out over dinner at the hotel restaurant while dining with Ted Knutson, Ferrett, Jim Ferraiolo, and Ted’s friend Griff. The ride back to Roanoke was even less fun, and I spent the entire next week on the disabled list. While I did get to catch up on all the Price is Right I’d been missing while at work (and is there any other TV show you should plan your day around while you’re ill?), I’d have traded all the Bob Barker in the world to do away with my fever, vomiting, and general feeling of malaise.
As I lay on my living room couch, I looked down at my body. “Body”, I thought to myself “why are you betraying me like this?” My body responded quickly, and seconds later I was praying to the porcelain god for the umpteeth time that week. As I got off my knees, and dragged my aching body back to the couch, I was hit by a revelation.
I was really, really out of shape.
This is a problem that plagues a large chunk of our Magic community. Playing Magic itself is a sedentary activity. I know that I gained a good thirty to forty pounds between when I started playing Magic and today – all of it fat. I’m not one to lie to myself, and I can say it – I got fat because I was not taking care of my body. This led to sluggishness, constant tiredness, fatigue from low stress physical activity such as walking up stairs, and a need to purchase first large and then extra-large clothes from stores. Dragon*Con had capped off a week of long work (SCG.com had done coverage at the event, which is extremely strenuous as you’re on your feet for 14-16 straight hours without any breaks), and I felt that my body had betrayed me because I had betrayed it. I was determined to get into shape, no matter what effort it took.
As I quickly discovered, getting in shape and losing weight was both harder and easier than I had ever thought it would be. I was 27 years old at the time, and had never really participated in any physical activities beyond required gym classes in middle and high school. Sure, I played basketball (badly) with friends and walked 30-40 city blocks each day while in New York City, but those sources of exercise were years in the past and thousands of miles away. I came into work the week after I came down sick and proclaimed to Pete that I was going to start working out that very day.
After work, I headed to the gym closest to my house – New Fitness. Now I have to admit, I had an aborted attempt at getting a workout routine started earlier in the year, so I already had some paperwork on file there. However, that effort had sputtered out in a little less than two weeks. This time I was serious. Kevin (who was the regular morning guy but who worked Monday nights as well) was the person who initially designed my workout routine. I also felt that Kevin looked down on me, and that he didn’t think I was serious about working out, which is why I stopped going to the gym the first time around.
Tip #1: Stop Making Excuses!
This was an excuse, because when it came down to it I had my own choice to make about whether I’d head to the gym or not. Saying that an employee at the gym was discouraging me was no reason at all, because if I was serious about working out I would have asked for a different trainer, or a different routine, or gone to a different gym. Instead, I blamed it on him and stopped going when instead it was my own insecurities.
I learned an important lesson in life during my second go-around with working out. You always have a choice whether you’re going to do something or not – and if you don’t do it, you have no one to blame but yourself. There is literally no situation in life where you are left choiceless. There might be times when the repercussions for a given choice make you avoid that choice. For instance, if you are being robbed at gunpoint, you have a choice about whether to comply or whether to fight. This is literally a life and death situation and 99 times out of 100 the choice that you’d make would be to hand over your money and hope for the best. Maybe you’d try to duke it out against a guy with a weapon. Either way, you’re making that choice.
During my successful workout run, I always made the choice to go to the gym to exercise each day. There were days when I was tired, or it was cold outside, or I had a lot of work to do for StarCityGames.com – but in the end, I told myself that being consistent with my workout routine and getting to the gym was important enough for me to set aside an hour of time from my day to do.
I ended up working out for six months straight until stopping due to over-extension. In short, I started getting more and more into weightlifting and eventually upped my routine to 2 hours a day, 5 days a week. After about a month of that, I gave up entirely, since I couldn’t keep up with the workout and didn’t want to do it half-assed. Again, this was an excuse – I could have easily have scaled back my workout routine, but instead I quit it all together and started packing on the pounds.
Tip #2: Do The Workout You Are Comfortable With
Every person has different needs for exercise. Not everyone has the same goals – in my case, I wanted to get in shape. It wasn’t a matter of losing weight (I lost at first and then gained it back as muscle mass weighs more than fat mass), but of feeling healthy and physically capable each day. I did end up pushing myself too far, but I’ve recently started hitting the gym again and this time I’m making sure that I’m in a routine that I can comfortably handle five days a week, an hour a day. I do a mix of cardio (running/biking/cross-trainer ski machine thing) and weightlifting (upper and lower body), and it works for me. Other people might want a routine that is more centered in cardio (fat loss) and others in weightlifting (muscle gain), but my regiment is about equal parts of each.
Tip #3: There Are Only Two Steps To Getting In Shape
Eat healthy and exercise. That’s it. There’s literally no other trick to it – if you eat a balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein and good fats, and exercise for 30 minutes to an hour each day, you will get in shape. You don’t need to starve yourself. You don’t need to go on a funky all-protein or all-carb diet. You don’t need to hit the gym for four hours a day. All you need to do is get the right number of calories each day from the right mix of foods, and to exercise (in a gym, running through the park, buying a treadmill for your house – anything!) each day, and you will start losing weight and feeling healthier. I can’t stress enough that this is literally all you need to do! There are no tricks or gimmicks – it is solely a matter of motivation (making it a priority in your life to follow your exercise routine) and planning (to plan your meals and exercise routines).
Tip #4: Drink Water, And Only Water
I don’t like being overweight, and right now I’m pretty overweight – 5’7, 190 pounds, and all of the extra weight is fat. I decided to start hitting the gym again about three weeks ago because I was tired all of the time, and I knew that the energy you put into exercise each day keeps you energized throughout the rest of the day. Before I began hitting the gym again, I altered my diet. First things first – cut out any liquids that aren’t water from your diet. Sodas – out. Diet Sodas – out. Lemonade – out. Coffee – out. High concentrations of sugar and caffeine are bad for your body, and knocking out non-water drinks will have a profound impact on how you feel right away. Water keeps the body hydrated, water doesn’t have any calories and water is free. Remember my Snapple story, from Neutral Ground? I was drinking 900-1200 calories a day in Snapples, and 1200 calories is about half of what my caloric intake should be for a day!
Okay, so you’re only drinking water now. That was simple! Seriously, it makes a major difference to your health when you knock all those other drinks out of your diet – suddenly you are getting your body well-lubricated internally, and you are freeing up your eating habits by allowing yourself more calories in healthy foods.
Tip #5 Don’t Eat Fried Foods Or Junk Food
Cut all fried foods out of your diet. I know that mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers and the like are staples of many Magic player’s diets, but many Magic players are fat and out of shape. Fried foods are high in fat and low in nutritional value, and so they are out. Likewise, cut junk food out of your diet – Dorito chips, Nachos, corndogs, Lucky Charms cereal – gone. These types of food also provide a ton of empty calories that do not contribute to your state of healthfulness. Each person has different nutritional needs, but junk food is never a part of those needs in the end.
Tip #6 Eat Five Small Meals A Day Instead Of Two To Three Large Ones!
Now, my ideal intake each day is between 2,000 and 2,500 calories. I split this up around 40%-45% Carbohydrates, 40%-45% Proteins, and 10-15% Fats. I always make sure that I check the little charts on the side of packages of food to see the nutritional content.
1 Gram of Carbs = 4 calories
1 Gram of Protein = 4 calories
1 Gram of Fat = 9 calories.
Let’s say for sake of argument that I’m eating 2,000 calories a day. On a 45/45/10 split, that means I should be eating around 900 calories of Protein, 900 Calories of Carbs and 200 calories of fat each day. All American foods are packaged with nutritional charts, and this works out to 225 grams of Carbs, 225 grams of Protein and 23 grams of fat each day. Because all foods are labeled, I can easily plan my foods each day to meet this goal.
Please keep in mind that this is the intake that is right for me – depending on your metabolism, body type and goals, you might want more or less calories than that. Someone who is naturally larger than me (taller, stockier) is going to need to eat more than I do each day, while people with other body types might need to eat a little less.
Also, the body begins to store food as fat when you start getting hungry. This is called going into starvation mode. If you eat more than you need at a meal, the body will also begin to store foods as fats. This is why fitness experts recommend that you break your day up into several smaller meals instead of a few larger ones. I eat about five times a day now, and nosh on fruits/vegetables/yogurts/healthy snacks (like rice cakes) when I start getting hungry, so that I am never hungry and so that my body has time to properly process and digest foods throughout the day.
Tip #7 Go To The Gym And Get An Evaluation
I know this isn’t the usual fare for my blog, but the overall physical health of the members of the Magic community has always worried me. I know that there are a lot of people out there who struggle with their health, and I know that I’ve been one of them. However, I also have proven to myself that I’m fully capable of getting into shape and staying in shape when I prioritize it, and I want to spread the message that you can too! I mean seriously, I’m Ben frigging Bleiweiss, and I’m not known for my physique – but if I can do it, you can do it. Best of all, you can do it immediately. All you need to do tomorrow is make the choice to eat healthy and exercise, and you will start to get in shape within a matter of weeks.
Check your yellow pages and find a gym that includes a couple of weeks of hands-on evaluation with a staff member. They will be happy to set up a workout routine to fit your time, needs and goals, they will walk you through the ins and outs of nutrition, they will steer you towards the right way to plan your meals, and they will be there to encourage you as you start on your path to getting healthy. You won’t magically lose 30 pounds in one week, but you will definitely begin to notice the change in how you feel and how much energy you have almost immediately. Sign up for a month at the gym and learn how your body responds to various workout routines. Find one that is right for you, and then decide if you want to keep going to the gym or if you want to start working out on your own. You don’t need to join a gym in order to exercise (I chose to because I can always ask a staff member for advice at my gym if I have questions, and because they have equipment for weightlifting that I would not have at my home), but it’s not a bad idea to at least have a professional let you know a good routine (running each day, buying a treadmill for your house, walking around a lot) so that you are not flailing around blindly on your own. That first month’s membership to the gym is not even for the gym itself, it’s for receiving invaluable, personalized guidance.
I feel the topic of exercise and health is one of the most important issues facing the Magic community as a whole, and one that has never been discussed in depth and constructively on a Magic website. There are a lot of you out there who want to get in shape but don’t know where to start – hopefully this Blog will point you in the right places to get answers, and will get you started on the path to a healthier lifestyle. If you have any questions at all about getting in shape, I will always have my door open at [email protected] and I will happily point you in the right direction to people who can answer your question. If there’s even one person out there who I help improve their life today, then this Blog will have been a complete success. If you know a friend who plays Magic who doesn’t normally read our site but is out of shape and wants to know how to turn their physical life around, please send them here as a starting point – just as I learned, there is no embarrassment in admitting you are out of shape and overweight – there are only excuses for not doing something about it once you recognize the problem.
Ben can be reached at [email protected]