John from Simpleprogrammer.com talks about the science of diet, lifting, and why he runs 40 miles per week

Peter: Hey John, tell me and the audience who you are and what you do.

John: Okay, sure. So, yeah, I basically teach software developers how to be cool.

Peter: I love it.

John: And what that really means is that, you know, I do personal development--sort of, you know, self-development for software developers. Everything that is non-technical in skill. So, you know, all the other areas of their life from fitness to finance to career development, even to mindset and mentality, and you know, achieving your goals and, you know, all those kinds of things. So I do a lot of motivational speaking and I do a lot of YouTube videos and blog posts. All are kind of based around those topics.

Peter: Awesome. How did you get into that?

John: You know, it’s kind of an interesting story. I was a software developer for, like, 15 years and I ended up doing a lot of technical training, right? I’ve always been a teacher. You know, if I learn something I have to share it. Like that’s just kind of part of my DNA. I naturally taught a lot of technical topics, like 55 courses--online courses for this company called Plorosite that does developer training, and as I started doing my blog, and I started doing some YouTube videos and podcasts, I would occasionally blog about or talk about the non-technical topics like, you know, mindset, or getting along with you team, and sort of some of the struggles that we kind of faced as human beings, really. And those things started to get really popular. And I sort of when down this--my own personal development path as I--I used to be really shy, and I overcame that, and I started, you know, getting into fitness and really getting my mind and my body into shape. And so, what started happening was I started giving a couple of talks on some of these software skills. It started off talking about how developers could build a personal brand online and market themselves, and those talks ended up being the most popular thing, right? So, all these people would come up after me, after the talk, and want to, you know: “Where can I get more of this?” So, you know, kind of the perfect storm came together and it was a combination of just, like, people wanting this, no one doing it, and my passion for personal development that ended up taking me down this road. So I pretty much shifted gears and just devoted, you know--I felt like, you know, this was the most important thing, I think, that--and no one was covering this--shifted into doing soft skills for software developers and ended up writing a book on it called Soft Skills, that’s what I do now, so--

Peter: Awesome. Yeah, I love it. So, where can they find out more? I’m looking at your website right now, it’s simpleprogrammer.com. Is that the best place for anybody that’s interested to kind of follow up and find out more?

John: Yeah, so simpleprogrammer.com. You know, my YouTube is probably the place where the most prolific amount of content there. So, from the videos you can get there, or, like, youtube.com/simpleprogrammer and you can find that. But, yeah, I’ve been doing some interesting things around--especially around diet, lately, and kind of--I’m kind of putting out a fitness and diet program, and so I’ve been creating a lot of YouTube videos showing my product and talking about that as well there, so.


 

Peter: Awesome. So, one thing to mention. So, I met you this weekend at SumoCon--or this past weekend--and I’ll tell you, you do not look like a programmer. I mean, we started talking a little bit about diet and a few things there, because I’ve been doing some interesting things myself with intermittent fasting and stuff like that, but then, when I was talking to you, you’re taking any just kind of surface level dabbling that I’m doing and you’ve taken it to a whole other level. So, tell us a little bit about that.

John: Yeah, so, the big struggle that I’ve always had is I could get down to about 10% body fat--and I think that’s pretty easy to do for most people. If you’re overweight, it’s fairly easy, with a regular diet program and fitness program, to get down to somewhere around that. You know, to lose weight if you’re overweight. But when I would get down, I would want to get down, you know, to lower than that--I’d want to get down to 8 or 7 percent--and every time I would start to dip below 10% certain things would happen. It would get a lot harder, it would mentally get really hard, and then I would start losing muscle like crazy. So, I’ve been kind of on this quest for the holy grail of how can I actually accomplish this and, you know, and live a lifestyle--a regular lifestyle--while doing it? And so what I did was I started combining everything that I was--I call myself, like, ⅓ Tony Robbins, ⅓ Tim Ferriss, and ⅓ Bill Gates because I always self-experiment on myself--the Tim Ferriss point of it, right? So over the years--over probably, like, 20 years--I’ve experimented on myself and documented various things, and so I decided to combine everything that I--that was working, and everything I knew scientifically, and see if I could come up with what I thought would be the perfect program to kind of, you know--the idea was kind of, you know--the idea was, like: “I don’t care how extreme this is or how difficult it is, I just want results.” And so what I did was for the past two years I’ve been fasting until five o’clock every day. Basically water-fast, you know, going without any kind of calories--and that’s worked out really well in multiple ways for me, right? So, one of them is that I was able to lose fat without losing muscle; and another one is it helped mentally, which is surprising because every time I’ve ever been on a diet, right? You know, especially bodybuilding diets where you have five or six meals. It’s hard because you’re eating these small meals and they’re pretty much sucky meals, right? And you’re spending all day cooking, and tracking your macros, and all that stuff, but when you only eat one meal a day and you put all your calories into one meal, there’s a lot less overhead. And it’s easier to stick with it because you don’t have to deprive yourself as much--you can go get a burrito and you’re still going to be under calories, right? So, I found that to be definitely a beneficial component. And then I had experimented a little bit with ketogenic diets, and I had some success with it, but not as much as I’d like to have. So, what I ended up doing--what I’m doing now--is basically--I fast until five every day, that’s my standard protocol. And then on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I lift weights, right? And so I’ll do, you know, I’ll do about an hour and a half to two hours worth of strength training, and right after that I’ll eat carbohydrates, okay? And then Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, I run 10 miles from three to five every day fasted, right? And then right after that at five o’clock, I’ll eat my meal--my one meal--and it’ll be ketogenic, right? And so the idea, really, is that--and I sort of use some of the learnings from diets, you know, ketogenic, cyclic diets like Bodyopus, or--you know, if you follow Lyle McDonald “Ultimate Diet 2.0” and things like that, those never worked for me. So--but I think the concept is sound. So, what I’m essentially doing is this--is--I’m basically depleting glycogen stores as much as possible on those--through the fasting, and through the ketogenic diets, and then these really long runs and heavy workouts. And then what that’s doing is it’s making me extremely insulin-sensitive. And so, right after doing the weight training--of course you know that, probably, you know that when you do weight training that, your--you’ve got this little--this window of when your muscles respond to insulin better and can pull in carbs. Well, especially so when you’re glycogen-depleted. If you’ve depleted all the liver glycogen, and you deplete muscle glycogen, and when you take in carbohydrates, your body--except for fructose, which, you know, I try to avoid in, you know, basically corn syrup in a lot of the stuff--your muscles will basically--or, your body will go into glycogen replenishment mode. And so, the idea, really, behind the diet is this idea that, you know, you’re fasting and burning a lot of calories during this fat burning state, almost a ketogenic state, except for the small window right after the workout when you’re taking in carbohydrates, and because you’re so insulin-sensitive and glycogen-depleted, that those carbohydrates go into super mode into your muscles and you basically can get the benefits of muscle gain there, because all those carbohydrates are insulin being converted into glycogen, and still lose fat at the same time. So far I’ve been testing it. It’s pretty grueling, I’ll admit, but I’ve actually been able to gain muscle at the same time as losing fat, and I’ve been able to verify that with dexa scans every two weeks. So, I actually put on a few pounds of muscle and lost, like, a full pound of fat within probably four to five week time period.

Peter: Awesome. So, I’ve got a few questions to follow in on that. So you’d said you were fasting until five PM, and you’d mentioned that it’s a water fast, so what about coffee or something like that? Do you allow yourself that?

John: Yeah, so there’s a few more components to it. Which is, in a--that’s the basic idea, right, is that I do allow coffee, you know, I don’t put any creamer in there, and I was putting Splenda in but I found that that seems to have an insulin response. So, it seems like xylitol seems to be ok, like sugar alcohols, a few things, so I think it’s something to experiment with. It seems to depend on individual biochemistry, but I’ll have coffee. And then the other thing that I do is I use an EC stack, so I’ll take ephedrine and caffeine, because that’s been kind of proven--like, that’s one of those things that’s been proven over time to actually have an effect. And I know not everyone likes to take, you know--some people are worried about ephedrine, I totally understand that, that’s not something that everyone does, but it’s been proven to be effective. The other thing that I did to--during the day, to, supplement-wise--is I’ll take yohimbine. Not yohimbe--yohimbine, the extract. The nice thing about fasting is that there’s been some studies that have shown that yohimbine can--works to basically, through, I believe it’s a beta blocker? I always mix up the alpha or beta. But essentially, the stubborn fat cells, right, have a higher number of alpha receptors than beta, and so you can sort of, you know, selectively target some of the stubborn fat areas, you know, for guys, obviously stomach, back. For women, the legs and buttocks. But the problem with yohimbine--why most people won’t use it--is that any amount of insulin completely cancels the effect of it. So the beauty of fasting all day is that you never--you don’t have any insulin going around in your body. So you can sort of take advantage of it. So that one I haven’t been able to prove that it works, but it seems to be effective. I’m kind of, like I said, I’m throwing everything that I know, all the science I know about this, all the studies that I’ve seen, and sort of combining it together.

Peter: So, something else that is just interesting to me since we’re talking about this--so I’m 36 years old, and I honestly don’t supplement very much. And I was talking to you before that my approach is I use what I kind of call the “Black Box Approach”, which is just I try a bunch of stuff, see what seems to work--

John: Yep.

Peter: And then I just follow on with that. So one of the things that a lot of my friends kind of my age or older are talking about is actually going with TRT--testosterone replacement therapy. And, you know, they’ll go to a doctor, they’ll get their T-level checked, and then they’ll get on the therapy. Which, I think, is actually probably not that hard to find a doctor to prescribe that for you.

John: Right.

Peter: Is that something that you’ve looked at? I mean, with all the research that you’ve done, is that something you’ve looked in at all as yet? Or no?

John: Well, you know, I mean, I’ll be blunt with it. Like, that’s essentially taking steroids. Like, it’s like--

Peter: Yeah.

John: It’s getting legal permission to take steroids. And, in fact, I recently just did a YouTube video on why I don’t. And basically it comes down to this: I don’t like the idea of being dependent--well, there’s two things. The one thing is, I don’t like the idea of being dependent on something. Like, if you do--if you go that route, and I’m not judging, I mean, you know, that’s a perfectly valid route if you want to go that route, but the downside of it is: if you’re not continuing the TRT, you are going to lose the gains, you’re going to lose them. And, you know, if you look at bodybuilders that take steroids and you see this. Arnold Schwarzenegger is probably a good example of that, you know? But you see that, and it’s--I don’t want to be dependent on it is my, you know, primary thing is I want to be able to--I want to be able to, like, reach my potential. What my body can do naturally without any kind of replacement hormones, you know? Because I don’t want to end up eventually losing that or, you know, say that you can’t get it prescribed anymore, or it becomes illegal or something like that, or they crack down harder on this stuff. You know, I would hate to, you know, to lose that. The other second thing that I think that influences my decision on it is really--to me, it’s like achieving this goal is not necessarily--I’m trying to build the most aesthetic build as possible, but it’s more about the person that I become in pursuit of the goal. And I feel like it’s a bit of a shortcut and it kind of deprives me of reaching that goal on my own. And, you know, I guess that’s kind of just a personal thing, but for me it’s really, like, you know, all of my goals in life I’ve sort of, you know, I’ve achieved a lot of goals and then been greatly disappointed, and I’ve found that it’s because my focus has been on the goal itself rather than me making money, or getting in shape, or building a business, or anything like that, instead of it being on the person that I become on the pursuit of--that is capable of achieving that goal. And so now my focus is really on, you know, goals exist as mileposts on my--in my life, in order for me to become the kind of person to maximize my potential. And so I don’t see it so much as the end result so much as it’s how you get there, and that’s why, you know, so that’s just kind of my personal take on it. You know, I wouldn’t judge someone that went and did that, you know, and there are really legitimate cases where someone actually does have a really low testosterone count. But, I do--with that said--I do try to naturally boost testosterone as well with this program. So what I do is I do take DAA in the morning, which has been found to boost testosterone. And there’s a problem with DAA, which some people have reported, is that in the fat cells it can aromatize and produce estrogen, so it kind of balances it out. So I do use an estrogen blocker called calcium glutamate, i believe, is--I’m going to double check on that one, but it’s been known to block estrogen--natural, over the counter, you know, these are all, like, total supplement, not prescribed things. And then, of course, I supplement with zinc and magnesium to make sure that those levels are topped, you know, Vitamin D3, and then other thing that I do is--with the ketogenic side of it, you know, high-fat diet has been proven to raise testosterone as well. So I’ll, you know, on those Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, I’m eating--what I’m eating ketogenically, I’m probably eating close to 70-80% fat in order to keep the testosterone levels up. But I have noticed that no matter what I do, when you get down below, like 10% and you’re on a calorie-restricted diet, testosterone just drops. Like, you know--and again, I do kind of the same Black Box Approach you do as I can just feel it. Like, you know, I just--and I think that’s the sane approach, that people have to test it on themselves, and test everything on themselves, because science, and research, and studies--it takes so long for those things to be published. It’s so situational that, you know, experimenting on yourself is really the only way to know if something is actually going to work for you.

Peter: Absolutely agree. So, a couple of other things--and thanks for being, you know, so honest and forthright with all this stuff. You mentioned lifting weights on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for around two hours. So, are you doing, like, a body--and, so, you’d mentioned also that you’re for kind of an aesthetic body. So, are you doing, like, bodybuilder type splits, or what are you doing when you’re lifting?

John: Right, so I used to do bodybuilder splits. I used to do, like, four or five days in the gym and split, you know, chest and back, you know, bis and tris, all that kind of thing. I just wasn’t seeing the effectiveness of it, and it was taking a lot of time and effort. So I did was--now, the program that I’m utilizing now is I’m basically, like I said, going after an aesthetic look. And what I kind of figured out is I sort of started from the basics. Well, what is important and how should this work? And what it came down to is I said: “Well, okay, aesthetically your upper body should be about, you know, twice as developed as your lower body, right? Like, that looks better for guys, I think. For females maybe it’s a little different. But, so, on Monday and Friday I lift upper body, right? I basically split upper, lower. On Wednesdays, so today, I’ll be going in, I’ll be doing just lower body. And so doing that too, you know, every week I’m essentially hitting upper body twice and lower body once, and I find that’s enough to get that proportion. The other thing that I do is with upper body I focus on--I feel like the biggest thing that makes an aesthetic is broad shoulders, so I’d focus on those and I’d hit those actually three times a week. I’ll hit those on leg days as well. And specifically I’ll focus on the lateral delts, right? The side delts. Because that’s the hardest to develop and that makes the greatest width on your shoulders, so that’s number one. And then number two I focus on lats, because having a wide back, having wide lats, again, makes the waist look skinny, gives you a broader, you know, superhero look is what I’m going for. And then I focus on chest, and specifically the upper chest. To me that makes the most visual impact and that’s also the hardest to develop. So, I kind of geared a workout around that it’s basic, you know, I’ll do five sets of most of the exercises, and right in the eight-rep range with an explosive kind of rep. I found--I tested all kinds of things from controlled, to, like, low rep high, you know, strength training, and I found that the most effective thing that I’ve discovered at least for me is eight-rep range but explosive reps. You know, trying to do as heavy a weight as you can for eight reps and you’re going fast as opposed to slow.

Peter: Awesome.

John: But, yeah, that’s what I do.

Peter: Can I ask you a question about that? So I hang out with a bunch of, like, crossfitters and people like that who would--or, like, functional fitness types--who would, if you asked them about the aesthetic side, they would probably say they’re not focused on aesthetics. Even if kind of you talk to them a little bit and they’d be like: “Oh, you know, I want to look good naked,” because everyone kind of wants to look good naked. So, but they would say that they’re more focused on--let’s use a buzzword and say functional fitness. I’m curious, just because I don’t hang out with a lot of people who would, again, openly admit that they’re focused on aesthetics. You know, why are you focused on aesthetics? Like, what does that mean to you? Where did that come from? I’m just very curious.

John: Oh, yeah, yeah. So, I mean, you know, I’ll be totally--I’m pretty blunt, I’m pretty honest. I think a lot of people that say they’re not focused on aesthetics are actually focused on aesthetics.

Peter: I agree.

John: That’s the main thing, right? I admit that I’m vain because I realized we’re all kind of vain to some degree. I mean, you’ve gotta think about it this way: someone who’s like--unless you’re actually, like, a firefighter, or actually, like, you know, using that functional fitness, if your day to day--like, you know, you’re a professional athlete or something like that--if you’re going to spend the kind of time that we spend in the gym, you know, even if it’s crossfitters, you know, I mean, you’ve gotta have some kind of motivation that is beyond, you know--what are the basic human motivations, right? You know, it comes down to, you know, survival, reproduction, right? And so you’re going to come into one of those. So for me, really, you know, like I said, I mean, it’s not a--well, okay, so it’s vanity, but it’s vanity in the sense of maximizing my potential. I want to look as good as I can, you know, I want to, you know, I’ve got a body. I want to maximize the potential of that body as much as possible. Why shouldn’t I, right? Why shouldn’t we all do that to the ability that we can? And I’m not ashamed of it at all, to have that pursuit. And like I said, in doing that, in maximizing my potential physically, I’m also increasing my mental discipline. I’m growing to be the kind of person who can achieve that. It’s not easy. Most people cannot achieve the kind of physiques, you know, that are muscular and still at very low body fat. It’s a difficult thing to do. So to me it’s a challenge, but I like to look good, I like to--and plus, you know, when you think about it too, in your professional life, right? If you--I guarantee you that if you are really good, you’re going to have a lot more opportunities because more people will talk to you, more people will be interested, more people will be inspired by you, and, you know, your dedication is right there, visible for anyone to see. So, I think there’s some big advantages to it, but yeah. At the end of the day, to me, it’s about looking good. And that’s why I’ve spent so much time, you know, I wouldn’t do it otherwise.

Peter: Awesome. So, let’s go really quickly to the programming side. So I’d mentioned before, just kind of joking, that you don’t look like a programmer. How tall are you? Let’s start there.

John: Oh, 6’3”.

Peter: Okay, so you’re 6’3”, you’re fairly jacked, I mean, I don’t know if you have any stats about that, but you don’t look like the typical programmer. And you had mentioned just a few seconds ago how you’re going to get more professional and kind of personal opportunities if you’re, you know, aesthetically pleasing, or if you’re looking good, or not. Is that something that you bring strong on the programming side with simpleprogrammer when you’re trying to help people out? Or is that just kind of part of the basket of what you, you know, consult on or talk about or say.

John: Ah, yeah. Yeah, I do think, you know, that it’s an important part because people, you know, people judge you by what you look like--very much surface level--and stereotypes do exist. And one of the things that’s really awesome is--I talk about a lot with style and image--is to be a contradiction, right, that--contradictions are really interesting, you know? The first time I heard about this I was in acting class, and my acting class told me, you know, he said: “When you’re playing this part, you’re just appearing to be angry,” and he said that real human emotion--the reason why what you’re doing doesn’t appear to be interesting or real is because real human emotion is mixed with contradiction. And he said that when people are angry, they’re also in love. When people are, you know, mad, they’re also sad. It’s contradictions. So I think when you present a contradiction, for example me being a programmer but looking jacked, or, you know, being into fitness, it’s a little bit more interesting. People are like: “Wait a minute, what’s behind that guy?” It’s not the typical thing. And so I think that just in general if you can achieve that, if you can somehow be a contradiction, you’re going to have more charisma because people are going to want to know: “What is behind this?” You’re a mystery, right? People want to figure it out. And, so, you know, for me, in teaching, in motivating others--being that contradiction helps me, right? But I also encourage developers to do this because it’s going to make them more interesting. It’s going to make them stand out, and, you know, getting people’s attention. You know, if you--I’m sure you’re aware in sales and marketing, right, that the first step is to get attention. And so that’s the first step in any kind business attraction, is if people don’t notice you, if they're not interested, you’re not going to be able to communicate your ideas. So getting attention is pretty important.

Peter: Got it. Let’s take a flip side a little bit. So, I’m not a programmer--I did code a little bit of ASP way, way, way back in the day, which I’ve forgotten everything about that. And, but--do you think it can be a negative? I mean, I watch “Silicon Valley”, you know, and they, you know, lightly bash on the programmers or something like that. I mean, do you think there’s that problem if a programmer were to get too into aesthetic, or too kind of too much into developing themselves, or something like that?

John: That’s a good question, you know, I don’t see it as a negative. I think because there’s sort of a cultural thing here where, I mean, I suppose that someone could be--could discriminate against you because they don’t like what you represent, but that’s going to happen anywhere. But I think that you’re more likely to be looked up to because I think in software development, it tends to be--there tends to be the stereotype of kind of nerdy, like, you know, guys and gals that were picked on in high school and didn’t, you know, and so if you come in there and you don’t look like that, and you look like--people want to be around you, right? It’s kind of, you know, they want to have you in that environment. Of course, I suppose that could backfire, but I think in general it’s not going to, at least from what I’ve seen. But I could see the way that, you know, it could be perceived that way. I think also what’s really important is the moment you open your mouth, that’s when people--so, you could be a contradiction in appearance, right? But when you open your mouth, that’s how they’re going to decide which way you go. So, for example, if you open your mouth and you sound dumb, and you look big, right? You look like a meathead. Then they’re going to say: “Oh, well, this guy’s pretending to be a programmer but he’s really a meathead.” But if you look like a meathead, and you open your mouth, and all the sudden something really intelligent comes out, or you’re well spoken and you seem to know what you’re talking about, now the contradiction gets interesting. Now it’s like: “Well, wait a minute. This guy looks like a meathead, but he’s the real deal. This is interesting.” You know, so I think that’s going to be the key thing is, you know--and I coach developers on this, too, is--especially developers come from another country where they might have a really bad accent or something like that. It’s like the more well spoken you are, the more intelligent you’re going to seem whether it’s true or not, so you should work on that aspect of it. But I think that’s going to be the key thing that’s going to determine whether or not the aesthetics go for you or against you.

Peter: I love it. That’s very deep. Well, I really enjoyed talking. I think we’ve gotta kind of bring it to a close. So, if people want more from you, they can go to youtube.com/simpleprogrammer, is that right?

John: Yeah, yep.

Peter: Yeah I’m going to look that up right now. And then they can also just find you at simpleprogrammer.com, is that correct?

John: Exactly, yep. And I put out about two to three YouTube videos a day right now, so--

Peter: Wow!

John: Yeah, a lot of content.

Peter: Awesome, I love it. Well, is there anything else you’d like to mention to our audience?

John: Nope, I think that’s it. I will be coming out with a fitness program, I guess, you know, but I’m really going to test this a lot before I--you know, because there’s plenty of programs and stuff out there. I don’t want to be another scammy thing, you know, I want to make sure that it actually, really, really works like I say.

Peter: Awesome. Well, John, I love it. And be well, be fit, and keep running those miles, man. That’s crazy.

John: All right, thanks a lot, Peter.


Peter Keller
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