I’ve just returned to Vancouver after spending the winter in Argentina – Buenos Aires in particular.
Aside from the splendid architecture of this legendary “Paris of South America”, Buenos Aires is a city also known for its delicious foods. Topping that list is the asado grilled beef, creamy pasta cuisine and plentiful, inexpensive Malbec. There is also late afternoon espresso accompanied with sweet, flaky bizcochos (or melted cheese tostadas) and of course, legendary dulce de leche and gelato, both available at any time of day or night!
Closely paired with traditional foods is a cultural lifestyle of eating dinner no earlier than 10 pm, sleeping no more than 4 or 5 hours per night, and spending full weekend nights in either the disco (if you’re young) or a social environment of friends & family (if you’re less young).
Like most travelers, I researched a fair bit about Buenos Aires’ distinctive personality before arriving there in mid-January. In hindsight though, what I hadn’t given much thought to was the interesting “lab experiment” that would unfold for this “norteamericano” fitness trainer.
And the lab result is in…
Behold, my Argentine belly!!
Now wait a moment before chastising me over all those words that I’ve thrown out to you in the past… ”Discipline”, “Commitment”, “Consistency”, etc.
Believe me, the whole time that I was in Buenos Aires, I WAS going to the gym… consistently. I joined a gym within a week of arriving and went 4 or 5 times a week.
I WAS also doing my REGULAR strength-building workouts… and they were just as progressive as at home.
I WAS RUNNING regularly… on both the treadmill and outdoors, on average 2 or 3 times a week.
And in addition, I purposely INTENSIFIED my outdoor sprint INTERVALS each week that I ran through the lush parks of Palermo!
Plus, walking for kilometres around the city each day.
So then, how is it that I’ve come back to Vancouver weighing about 3 kg LESS than when I left (muscle)… but with a girth measurement that’s almost 6 cm LARGER (fat)???
Because, like it has been said over and over again…
… YOU CAN’T OUT-EXERCISE A BAD DIET!!
It’s as simple as that.
No matter how much I accelerated my exercise routine, the cumulative effect of 3 months of living the Buenos Aires lifestyle definitely took its toll from my body composition (= shape). But not only that, I also noticed significantly reduced energy level, physical stamina, and athleticism. Sluggish and lethargic are two good descriptions.
Reason #1 – Eating far larger meal portions (particularly red meat), far more often, and far richer, with bread, than I ever do at home (and if you’ve heard that vegetable or salad is not available in Buenos Aires; it’s either a fallacy or an excuse, because it is if you so choose).
Reason #2 – Consuming more alcohol than usual (what’s a bottle or two of red wine shared with friends at dinner each night? Or a 1 litre bottle of Quilmes with lunch on a hot and sticky summer afternoon?)
Reason #3 – Other than soy, there are few quality protein alternatives to meat and /or dairy; nor are nutritional supplements commonly available (largely due to import restrictions). From the reports of coaches and trainers at the gym, anabolic steroids are much easier to find (and way cheaper to buy) than is creatine or a bucket of good ol’ protein powder.
Do or do not, there is no try.
Even though I preach my daily messages of healthy eating, and have essentially lived that way for my entire life, I was quite shocked how easy it is to fall further and further behind in personal fitness levels when nutritional discipline slips. And although it was not very obvious in the first month, and maybe not much into the second – by the third? Well, you can see the effect.
Given a a few more months, I’m convinced that my shape would have assumed that of many handsome “chicos” on the streets of Buenos Aires… not necessarily obese, just soft and doughy around the lower torso and butt. At first I was commenting: “Give me a month training with that guy and I’ll turn him around”! But after my own experience, it became obvious that gym coaching alone was not what most of these guys needed.
And not just in Argentina.
As you can guess, the diet and lifestyle that I am describing here is far from being unique to Buenos Aires. Poor dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles haven’t restricted themselves to international borders. It has sadly become more common throughout the developed world.
Being back in Vancouver, my novel paunch should disappear in time for beach season. I know what it will take, and I know how to accomplish it effectively – through diet and exercise.
What will be more lasting is my renewed respect for anyone who is honestly trying to alter their eating and lifestyle habits – sometimes after many years of cumulative impact to personal fitness and emotional well-being.
But for some others, be warned!
Knowing the formula that resulted in my “Argentine belly” has made it much simpler to spot those I see in the gym still desperately clinging to a
belief hope that they can stay one step ahead of their consistently poor eating choices.
And to those today, “Let my belly speak for itself…
“Y__ C__’_ O__-E_______ A B__ D____!”