Category Archives: french fries

I don’t care about your Ultra… How big is your ROTI?

How big is your ROTI?   —> click to enlarge 🙂

You participated in an ultra race and, quite rightly, feel pleased about it. But, there are many reasons I do not care much about it. Here’s one reason – tell me, have you thought about how big your ROTI is?

When I tell people that “I spend less than 30 minutes per day on exercise” or that “I spend less than 20 minutes per day on running” they look at me disbelievingly. Just like when I said I never do an ab workout, they think I am making up ‘facts’. But the ‘fact’ is that I am very passionate about time efficiency.

A few months ago, I took part in a reasonably tough 10km race. I was fortunate to come second. (As you probably know, I enjoy a podium finish but don’t care about it too much.) The friend who came first, deserved to. He was noticeably faster than I was and faster than I will ever be. A brief conversation around then revealed that his weekly running mileage was between 4 and 6 times what I was clocking in a typical week. Although the reason for that incredibly high mileage was justified because he was training for some very long races, it struck me that so often we spend too much time in the wrong way and produce time inefficient results.

Let’s go back to the very simple idea
The Denominator

Time is a severely constrained resource

It is clear that the one thing that all of us always wish we have more of is time! Getting sufficient hours of sleep is very important for our well-being and what we all look forward to is to have many more alert waking hours in our typical week. And, we look to have many healthy and happy years ahead of us. In all cases, it is natural to want the same return for less time invested. That would leave us with extra time to invest in other ways we desire.

Unless you are one of those sad people who is happy having no real friendships, you are likely to have a bunch of things in life that you are interested in. First there is spending time with your family – grandparents, parents, uncles and aunts, cousins, spouse, siblings, children, nephews and nieces and grandchildren…and I’m out of breath! Then there are your friends – recent friends, old friends, new friends that you will make, work colleagues, romantic partners. And then there are activities that you enjoy, sedentary and those involving some physical movement – sleep and rest, prayer and meditation, indoor and outdoor hobbies.

All these that you enjoy need you to invest time in them for an appropriate return. Would it not be great to have sufficient time for all of them and to get the most from each of them with whatever time you could invest in each of them?

The Numerator

The return can be captured neatly with the branches of the Wellness Tree. If you are not foolish enough to be chasing money (medium maximization) and wise enough to be enjoying the experiences that your money buys, then your focus will be on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.

When it comes to recreational distance running, the primary focus when investing time is to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance and muscular endurance. You also hope to have good flexibility, not lose absolute muscular strength and benefit from an improvement in body composition. (You may already know my thoughts on why you need not run.)

Numerator over Denominator

The refined question to then ask is – given the amount of time being invested in recreational distance running, how much are you getting back in terms of the primary goals of the activity? It is worth answering this question relative to your GPF (Genetic Potential Fitness), given that time is a severely constrained resource and there are so many more life enhancing activities that it could be invested toward.

Keeping Track

If you are going to maximize your return from any investment then you need to keep track of how much you are investing not just what you are getting back in return. Specifically, how much time are you investing in exercise? And, I have spoken about recording information in the past.

Smart investing

What is a good return on investment?

If you have been following my conversations over the last few years you will not be surprised to hear that I have no absolute recommendation for this question. What is more important to focus on is measuring it, and then trying to improve it. Remember, your GPF (Genetic Potential Fitness) plays an important benchmark here.

Less than 20 mins a day!

I want to stress again, that chasing higher absolute returns is a decent activity, but what will make it super for you is to also consider the returns relative to the time invested. If you are spending twice as much time on something for only a tiny improvement in results, it is time to rethink your strategy! Remember, Balance is True Mastery!

It may be that if you are in the early stages of a particular activity that your ROTI is high and that as time progresses and you start to get closer to your GPF, your ROTI drops. In that case my simple and effective advice would be this – consider just staying close to your GPF with a sensibly small amount of effort.

If you run, swim or bike an ultra race every once in a while, but the average stranger on the street does not look at you and think “athlete” then there’s something going wrong. Balance is True Mastery!

Consider your Capital

Whenever investing it is worthwhile to examine the promised (or expected) return from the deployment of capital. That capital need not be just financial capital, but could be human capital too. This human capital you invest could be physical effort (actual physical labour, or even exercise) or intellectual capital, or even emotional capital. And, I would like you to also think of spiritual capital.

[Read about Time Optimized Living]

The variable being considered in today’s conversation is time which translates almost directly to the physical labour capital. Given that good health is multifactorial, it is worth stopping and thinking if, perhaps, less time could be invested in the activity for better results. Or if time in that activity could be replaced with an improved focus on one of the other input factors. For instance, the fact that I achieve what I do in terms of fitness is clearly not only about the time I spend on exercise, but also the details in the many other things that I pay attention to in 24 hours  – including french fries.

It does not matter how many hours you spend with your head buried in books – what matters is what comes out of your head when it matters.

It does not matter how many hours you spend in Church – what matters is how you treat the world around you when you are out of Church.

I do not care about your ultra – how big can you make your ROTI?



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Get a 6-pack without ‘ab workouts’

Ab workouts not required

A year from now I’ll be in the 50th year of my life. For my age and lifestyle (minimum exercise, mostly sedentary days, and daily consumption of large amounts of fat and sugar in many forms) it seems unusual that I ought to have a noticeable set of abdominal muscles. They happen to be visible to the public because, when I run, unless it is too cold, it is almost always without a top on. (The reasons for that, some other day, soon.)

I receive a quizzical look in response when asked “Sir, how do I get a 6-pack too?” because my reply typically starts with…

I never do ab crunches or set aside any time to do an ab workout”.

Wait a minute! What did I just say? Yeah, just that – I never set time aside for an ab workout. The last time I did ab crunches with any seriousness was almost 35 years ago in Karate class! (And now you’re probably thinking that this sounds like my earlier conversation about why you need not run.) So, clearly any vaguely visible or distinctly discernible 6-pack needs some questioning! That is what today’s chat is about.

[see Why I am not a Fitness Freak]
[see The Accidental Wisdom of Pain Seekers]

These days even some women want a 6-pack (I’ve been approached by more than a handful with that request, and a couple of the ladies I mentor are a fair way there) but whether you’re a guy or a gal, it’s worth considering what it involves. So, let’s go through the following questions together:

What is a 6-pack?
What’s the use of it?
Did you know you have a 6-pack?
Why can’t you see yours?
Will you ever be able to see yours?
Why is doing ab crunches wrongly directed action?
What should you focus on instead?
What kind of effort do you need?
Who will have easier success with it?
OK, so you have a 6-pack, what next?

What is a 6-pack?

What’s happening underneath

Your muscles work when they contract. In your front abdominal region, there are many muscle groups performing different functions (e.g. twisting, bending side to side). The 6-pack that has captured the public’s attention is simply one of those many muscles, technical name, rectus abdominis. The reason it catches your attention is simply because it is the outermost muscle in that region. The other muscles that lie below it and perform different but equally important functions (e.g. internal oblique muscles) do not get the same media attention!

Bands of connective tissue traverse your rectus abdominis. These separate your rectus abdominis into distinct muscle bellies – the ‘packs’. In your abdomen if you are someone with low body fat, these masses of muscle can be viewed externally and are commonly referred to as “four”, “six”, “eight”, or even “ten packs”, depending on how many distinct muscle bellies were created in the first place by the connective tissue traversing across.

Not a 6-pack!

The lower your body fat, the more likely that the lower muscle masses will be seen. Six is the most common – and having more than six does not mean you are fitter or stronger – it is just about how many bands traverse your rectus abdominis. If you see just one pack – that’s a family pack – and it’s fat, not muscle. However, the good news is that you can convert it into a 6-pack.

Of what use is a 6-pack?

When your rectus abdominis contracts, its pulling action is at either end, between your chest and groin. So, the use of your 6-pack is primarily postural – for bringing your pelvic area towards your chest or, equivalently, for preventing your torso from tipping back. It also assists in your breathing and for forceful respiration when you exercise.

Did you know you have a 6-pack?

Yes, if you lead a reasonably active life then you probably have a rectus abdominis that is of decent size and strength.

Why can’t you see your 6-pack?

Family pack still gets you love!

If your 6-pack is not visible, the reason will be obvious to you by now. There is a layer of fat between the outermost layer of your skin and those muscles. Doing 1,000 crunches a day will not make them more visible! You will need to chisel the fat away. You don’t burn much fat at all doing 1,000 crunches!

Will you ever be able to see your 6-pack?

Yes, of course you will. It all depends on what you do for it. And what you stop doing. The details matter!

Why is doing ab-crunches not effective?

Although the classic ab crunch works your rectus abdominis, it is not the most effective in terms of stimulating those muscles. In fact, far from it.

6, 8, 10 – does not matter!

Have a look at this research report by San Diego State University. Specifically, the classic crunch is rated 11th out of 13 exercises examined. The ab crunch is also not a functionally useful movement – it does not appear in your activities of daily life. Also, in the same way that you would not put your spinal cord at risk by bending over repeatedly and rapidly when standing [remember all those tips to “bend your knees” when lifting objects off the ground?] – the classic crunch is not very different a movement for your spine housing your spinal cord (you are simply lying on the ground instead of standing on your feet).

What should you focus on instead?

When I say “I don’t do ab workouts” what I mean is that I never specifically target that region. Instead, acknowledging that your abdominal muscles are ideally engaged and working when doing most of your activities of daily life, including various sporting activities is a great way to get started. And, to keep going! I do not do any of the 13 exercises listed in that research report by San Diego State University. But, I am definitely stimulating my rectus abdominis to grow in size with all the other activities I perform. That is what I encourage you to do too.

Who will have your back?

Having a strong core is important for various reasons. To prevent injury from normal daily activities. To prevent aches and pains as you age. To ensure your body can cope with anything vigorous you do for recreation at various stages of your life. Since the rectus abdominis is only one of many muscles of your core, giving it undue attention can lead to imbalances that will not serve you well in the long run. And as I tell those I mentor, “symmetry is a subset of balance”, so ensure that you have equivalent development in your back musculature too. Balance between your ‘front’ and ‘back’ muscles.

A strong body with good flexibility and high levels of endurance will automatically lead you to a state where your body composition changes and your 6-pack emerges, almost as if by magic. No specific attention required!

Having a 6-pack ‘for show’ is not of much use unless you need it for your job. The vanity that might come with specifically targeting only that will be short-lived. Instead of focusing on appearance goals, focus on the processes for performance goals – being stronger, fitter, faster, leaner.

[see what I said earlier about Health Based Measures of Fitness]
[see the widely followed article on Pushups for the Ladies]
[see the 1-arm pushups article if you want to take things up a notch without leaving home]
[see my approach to nutrition]

Will distance running get you a 6-pack?

Not the final solution

In my mostly widely read article on why you need not run, I described how you will not see most of the men and women crossing the finish line at recreational distance running races looking ripped and toned. The observation does not change when you move from half to full marathons, to ultramarathons. Conversely, if you go to a gym where the big strong guys look muscular with well-defined 6-packs, you might find that they cannot do endurance activities particularly well. Like, I’ve said before –  Balance is True Mastery!

What kind of effort do you need?

The effort needs to go only towards systematic execution of daily processes. Nothing big, nothing extreme. Just the many small features of daily life that will lead to a body that is a fine-tuned machine. The physical 6-pack is just ornamental. If you are appropriately focused on living each day of your life well, then besides the physical 6-pack, your mental state will also have developed its own (invisible) 6-pack. The same holds true for your emotional and spiritual planes. Perhaps you have a 24-pack and most people can see only 6!

[for a mind map of the areas that might work for your current stage in life see the Wellness Tree]

Who will have easier success with it?

Would have been easier 15 years ago

Men, younger men. Women typically have to work much harder for the same visual results because of their naturally higher body fat percentage and lower muscle mass. And because from the age of 30, even men lose about 1% of their muscle mass each year (assuming they did not make any changes to their lifestyle to get fitter or otherwise), younger men will find it much easier than older men. But, remember, difficult does not mean impossible. If you are an older woman and work at it, you can get there too, if you want it. And if you do get there, I’ll admire you like no one’s business!

So, you have a 6-pack, what next?

The great thing about having a 6-pack is that you will appreciate that it is your own effort to live as close to your natural state as possible. And, when I talk about effort, I am not even referring to any unusual effort. Just the simple effort of living as naturally as possible.

It’s always work-in-progress

Having got there, it is worth then asking yourself how you got there. To what extent did you stray away from what is natural? (pharmaceutical aids, poor sleep, free of chronic injuries or illness). Think about what you can do to fix those. Then ask yourself how you are placed vis-à-vis where you would like to be for the health and skills based measures of fitness I wrote about earlier. Then take steps to get there too. And going beyond the physical dimension, looking at the Wellness Tree, ask yourself how you can get a 6-pack in the dimensions of mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

A 6-pack is not a panacea for happiness – but working to have one will, perhaps, help get many other rooms of your house in order. Ab workouts not required!



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Life can be Good with French Fries

Things are not always as simple as they first appear

I am often asked questions like “is it OK to eat French fries?” or “isn’t weight lifting dangerous?” or “isn’t running bad for the knees?” or “why do I find running boring?” or “is it OK to sleep in the afternoons?” or “why am I not able to motivate myself to exercise?

The questions are simple. My answers are rarely so. I invariably prefix them with “it depends”. And for good reason. Or many good reasons. Most expressions of love are conditional. And, so it is with the answers to most practical questions of life.

There are 2 central messages for today’s conversation. And they are both related. The first is that the details matter when you have a specific problem to deal with. The second is that what appears to most people to be a problem need not be one for you, and what might be OK for someone else might be a problem for you.

Allow me to explain, with that yummy plate of fries.

Scenario D (for Disaster)
Mr. FatCat has spent the day in a sedentary manner, eating a gut-busting breakfast, a luxurious lunch and then a delicious dinner with dessert. An hour after dinner, strolling around his neighbourhood he has an urge to eat fries from the burger joint that’s bustling with business at 10pm. Poor quality factory bulk processed potatoes deep fried in (reheated) animal fat. All consumed when his glycogen tank is fantastically full already. There’s almost nothing good about that snack. A recipe for disaster if this becomes a habit.

A disaster in the making…

Scenario A (for Awesome)
Sunny the Swimmer has cycled from school to his daily 2-hour swim. He has then cycled back home and along with a large platter of fruit, nuts and seeds, his father has prepared a plate of fries. These are sweet potatoes bought at the local organic market, and have been grilled after being brushed with a combination of olive and mustard oil to just the level of crispness on the outside that Sunny enjoys. There’s so much value in that meal. Awesome!

Fries can be awesome for you!

These 2 scenarios are not out of the ordinary. I have friends who fall into each of those scenarios on a regular basis. Both groups enjoy their fries. But for one the result is positive on long term wellness, for the other, negative!

And so, whenever I’m asked “are French fries bad for me?” my answer typically starts with “it depends…“.

I have referred to this aspect of life numerous times before. When talking about attention to detail or process for performance. And, just looking at the Wellness Tree, you can see that there are so many drivers of good health and sickness. Paying attention to the details is what will make a difference whatever be the aspect of life you are considering.

French Fries go to Heaven

So, when someone asks me in passing conversation a question looking for a short answer, I invariable respond in an enigmatic manner, if at all. It is only when the situation or context in which the question is being asked is clear can a short answer carry specific value to the questioner.

This applies to all kinds of questions besides the ones at the start of this conversation. Examples of other simple popular questions for which my answer would definitely start with “it depends…” include:

should I invest in the stock market?
is it OK to eat chocolate?
should I do an MBA?
is it OK to drink coffee?
is my yogasana class good enough as my only exercise?
are eggs bad for me?
should I do my own tax return?
what’s wrong with being vegetarian?
how do I improve my guitar playing?
can a vegan be unhealthy?
is it expensive to have children?
should I run a full marathon?

The list is almost endless.

Life is like a bowl of fries, it is up to you to pay attention to the details to make the best of what you desire.



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.