When Less is More

There are times in life when you just have to work harder.  Whether thats at your job, with your family,  in the gym, we ultimately want to see that hard work rewarded with a great result.  When the effort doesn't pay off, that can be incredibly frustrating.  Recently in the world of Crossfit, there seems to be this sense that when it comes to trying to build a lean, healthy body, that training MORE is the answer.  This post is here to show you that this isn't always the case.

When eating more doesn't solve the problem

I've said before that somewhere between 75-85% of the people that come through M2 are NOT eating enough food to support either their performance based goals or their body composition goals, or both in some cases.

"We've got to stop starving our athletes" Part 1 and Part 2 show that adding MORE food to your diet can absolutely make enormous changes for people.  Part 3 showed us that sometimes we just need to be patient and that changes will come to those who stick with the plan. But what do you do when you add in the appropriate macros, get people sleeping enough and STILL don't get the results that you want in your body composition? 

The answer is often not what people want to hear.  Training needs to change, and not in the way that people want, as we typically have to have a rough conversation around doing LESS in the gym.  I recently went through this with about a dozen clients and I want to highlight the changes that we made to get the desired results with just one of them.

Ashleigh first contacted me in the summer of 2017 with a goal of improving her body composition, and to be honest she also was a little attached to the scale with a goal weight of 135.  She came to me with a pretty solid nutrition plan after having worked with some of the better coaches in the industry, so she was not massively under-eating.  Ash was in good shape, training HARD in the gym but things had been going sideways on her for a while, with a slow steady increase in the scale from the low 130's to almost 140.  This was definitely concerning to her as she came from a background of having lost a significant amount of weight from about 168 lbs earlier in life.  

Getting back to the point, she wasn't happy with the results that she was getting both in the gym or in the body composition that she was after either.  With her 3-4 hours of training from MISFIT programming, we bumped up her macros pretty quickly and steadily, settling her in at about 400C per day. She felt better and better, and performance was honestly headed in the right direction as well.  She had great strength gains in back squats and olympic lifts, with huge performances in the aerobic capacity department as well.  While this approach of "train more, eat more" has absolutely helped people to lose weight in the past, it wasn't happening with Ashleigh here.  In fact, at one point she was up to 142 lbs. Honestly, her body composition was still GREAT but there were all kinds of warning signs.  Anxiety was through the roof, and some ice cream binges were becoming more frequent as well. 

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What I haven't mentioned yet is that the other factors in Ashleigh's life were starting to dominate her time as well. School was keeping her busy and her burgeoning small business was starting to generate traction as well.  All of this on top of training like someone that wanted to go to Regionals someday. Ashleigh and I had a number of chats about how to "fix" this.  I told her straight up that she had three choices: 

1) Focus on performance and not on the scale. If she chose this, she needed to be prepared to sacrifice some of the other things in her life.

2) If she wanted to lose body weight, eating less was not the answer, training with lower intensity and volume was.

3) Continue down the path and be totally burned out, fatigued beyond belief and continue to gain weight.

Unfortunately for both of us, Ashleigh really needed to prove to herself that eating less wasn't going to be the answer.  I didn't love this but we slowly dropped her macros down, losing about 400 calories a day over a month. All that and she lost.... 1 lb.  We had more conversations about training less being necessary because ALL the other stresses in her life were mounting up on her.  It took another month and me basically asking "Do you want to be an athlete, or run a successful company? Because you are not going to have both" for it to finally sink in.

To her absolute credit, once Ashleigh decided to commit, she was all on board.  Training was reduced first to less than 2 hours a day, then closer to 90 minutes.  We let that settle in and then adjusted her macros down to match.  She got back into the 130's with these changes and was feeling MUCH better, much happier and much healthier honestly as well.

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However, she was still dealing with some anxiety around the whole situation.  Fun fact: Ashleigh had tracked her macros everyday for something like 4 years. While admirable, it was also another source of stress in her life.  She felt like she had to be "perfect" with her nutrition otherwise she wouldn't be successful. 

Of course we don't need to be PERFECT, and I just had to convince her that 80-85% accuracy with tracking and LESS stress was better than 99% accuracy with lots of stress.  Finally, Ash agreed to stop tracking for a while and just to eat intuitively. Instead of tracking food, we tracked other aspects of life such as food quality, GI health, getting off her laptop at a reasonable time and keeping exercise to less than 90 minutes and 5 days a week.

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First day... definitely some anxiety, but by day 4-5 she was feeling more at ease, more relaxed.  Her sleep went through the roof, her business did even better than ever thanks to more energy dedicated to it and sure enough she dropped another 7-8 lbs of healthy weight loss ending up in the 131 range.  Sure, some of it was due to muscle loss from a decrease in training, but at the end of the day she just was a much healthier person and it was reflected in her body composition and her happiness.

This is just one story out of about 12 that I've deal with recently where training LESS produced the desired results.  Why? Crossfit is a damn stressful exercise program and hammering it for 2-4 hours a day 5-6 days a week can have consequences. 

  • Elevated cortisol will cause insulin resistance and preferential body fat accumulation. 
  • Higher stress will result in aldosterone increases, which causes water retention and elevated blood pressure.  People will talk about feeling puffy.
  • Cortisol also breaks down muscle tissue since protein is metabolically expensive, while fat is very much inexpensive. When survival mode hits, the body will sacrifice muscle mass first.

All this leads to a lower metabolic rate.  Lowering calories typically just makes it worse, induces thyroid issues or adrenal insufficiency.  Not GOOD.

So what do we learn from this???

  • If someone's biofeedback sucks (poor sleep, always or never hungry, preferential midsection weight retention, lack of menstrual cycle) start by increasing the macros and getting them to sleep 8 hours a night, and focusing on good food quality to address
    • If you're the client, do NOT simply work out more when a coach bumps your macros.  That is annoying AF when we're trying to fix your broken ass :) 
  • Some supplementation can be helpful, but there are no broad recommendations, everyone is different. Gut health and adrenal support can be helpful to look into.
  • If that does NOT solve the problem, you have to remove other stressors, such as high intensity, high volume exercise. 

This is complicated S#!*, you might want some help with this process and figuring out the right balance of exercise and nutrition for you.  Hit us up here and we'll get you headed in the right direction.

I'm Proud of You

 The M2PN mission statement

The M2PN mission statement

If you follow us on Instagram, you may notice that the content we post is a little different than most other nutrition companies.  Sure we have a few "Before/After" photos, but most of the material revolves around athletic accomplishments in the gym. If you glanced quickly, you might assume we're a programming group like MisFit, TTT or OPEX.  But we're not, we're a nutrition company... in theory.

Lets start of by focusing on what we're NOT trying to do with our social media posts.  We're NOT saying we're responsible for the PR lift, the high end gymnastics movement or the podium placing at a competition.  Those successes are accomplishments of the ATHLETE, pure and simple. Its not to say that nutrition doesn't contribute to athletic success, it certainly does, but that achievement is not ours to claim.

What we ARE trying to do is to help people redefine the values that they choose to determine their own value with.  So many people, but especially women, have visual goals reinforced into their psychology from a young age ("You look so pretty!!"), which are hammered home by media for the next decade or two before we start working with them.  Things are definitely moving in the right direction globally, but there's a ton of work to do.  

We've chosen to fight this battle against a world that values what you look like versus what you can do by celebrating PRs and the training process that gets us there.  I don't care if you're a Crossfit Games athlete or a grand mother of three (or both! Heyyyy Linda Elstun), our check ins will ALWAYS start with some variation of, "How's it going? Tell me about the gym, your sleep, your energy levels in life. How's your mood?"

Ultimately we're trying to get at whether you're happy more days than not, because we’re really in the business of trying to help people lead happier lives. Sometimes that means changing diets, or getting people to sleep more. Sometimes it means letting people vent about a stress that they’ve not told anyone else about. Sometimes it means playing the bad guy and telling people that no matter how bad they want a certain body weight, there’s no short term way to get there that won’t leave them a physical and mental shell of themselves. It SUCKS having to be the one to deliver that message sometimes, but we are in this for the long game. 90 day transformations??? I have no interest in those unless I also get to see what you look like 6 months after that. We will never compromise someone’s health just for a cool IG post... Never.

 The best part about this update pictures from  Allison  isn't the abs... 

The best part about this update pictures from Allison isn't the abs... 

There is NOTHING wrong with wanting to have abs, a defined back, or quads that hang over your knee caps.  It just needs to be done is a sustainable way that allows for long term success.  I saw a post the other day that said something along the lines of, "If you're cutting for more than 2-3 months, you're doing it wrong."  I absolutely love it.  It would be SO EASY to put people on highly restrictive diets for 3 months to generate short term results.  About 50% of people would respond in the short term, the other 50% wouldn't... but shit who needs them, we'd have more than enough posts to fill our storyline up with (It hurt my soul just to write that).  Its more WORK to tell someone that they need to spend 2-3 months at "maintenance numbers" before they can try to cut.  Its more work to tell someone that they should alternate between 2 weeks at deficit and 2 weeks at maintenance (That works better by the way) but that doesn't mean that its not the right thing to do.  

In my opinion, good coaching tries to focus on the "means to the end" and not the actual goal itself. If you focus on enjoying the process, the actual training in the gym, or the discipline to get your butt in bed before 10 PM, then there can be 1000 small wins along the way that we can celebrate in addition to the final "after" picture.  If you've worked with us for long enough, you probably get the impression that the "update pictures" are kind of an afterthought.  They're important of course, but we'll always ask "How's life? How's your sleep going? How was the gym this week? Are you hungry? Anything stressful going on these days?"  Its not that we don't care about the progress in the mirror, we just know that if we can dial in those other things, the mirror will take care of itself. 

I've joked that I would market myself and M2 as a life coaching company, but everyone would think we're nuts and never hire us.  But thats what we do... we help people get their day to day actions in line with their long term goals.  Macros are a PART of that process but way less than you might expect.

I think its equally as important to someone's success to help them define what success means in a bigger sense. To let them know that you're PROUD of their effort to eat well that day when shit hit the fan at work, to tell them that you're PROUD of their PR in the gym, to tell them that you're so freaking PROUD of them for finally sharing their story that for so long defined who they were.

 Read  this ... its important.

Read this... its important.

I feel a need to share this example.  I cried tears of joy when Mekenzie qualified for the Crossfit Games.  It was a proud moment for me as her nutrition coach, but I teared up because I was just so damn HAPPY for her.  To see her realize her goal was an amazing moment and something I'll never forget, but the moment was made so much bigger because of all the small victories that she had won over the last two years of us working together.  I don't think she makes it to the Games without facing some demons along the way and choosing to focus on the process and not the result.  If you go check out the IG post from the day she qualified, you'll see that I wrote the following, "18 months working together... there's been laughs, tears, fights and hugs. I was proud of her before she even took the floor and now I'm just so freaking happy for her. Mekenzie Riley, Crossfit Games athlete."

If you want a nutrition program thats JUST focused on the macros, update pictures or the end result, we're probably not the company for you.  If you want a coach that cares probably a little too much, then give us a shout.  We'll be ready. 

Of Macros and Men

I’ve been a nutrition coach in some capacity for about the last 7 years.  I’ve worked with hundreds of athletes, and built customized nutrition plans for more than 1000 people in that time.  I would estimate that the male to female ratio of my work is close to 90% in the favor of women.  Let’s be clear, it’s NOT because men do a better job with eating than women.

As a male, and someone that has seen huge benefits from paying close attention to my nutrition, I want this to change... so now you get to read a blog post on the topic!  This isn’t just for shits and giggles, but because I know for a fact that you’ll look, feel, and perform better if you learn to pay even just 50% more attention to your diet, guys.

To spice it up a little bit, I’ve enlisted the help of my good friend, and all around Crossfit badass, Jake Marconi.  Jake started working with me in August and has seen some pretty remarkable results.  He was already a beast in the gym, but he’s taken his game to a new level.  Of course, much of that is due to great programming and hard work, but fueling him appropriately led to some FAST changes.  On top of that Jake has seen some pretty great benefits in the head space category… never mind the mirror.  Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until a hairy dude with a man bun sends you update pics out of the shower.

 Swear to god, this was Jake's before picture...

Swear to god, this was Jake's before picture...

The reason I chose Jake for this post is because of where he came from, as it relates to his relationship with food, and where we have him headed now. Its been an amazing transformation and I can't wait to see how far it takes him in the future.

WHY DON’T MEN TRACK

I think there’s this idea in fitness that men don’t under-eat as much as women do, and therefore don’t need to pay much attention to their diet to fuel their performance appropriately.  That’s just nonsense in my opinion. The best evidence that I can use to support this is about 75% of the men that I build nutrition plans for end up eating significantly MORE food than prior to us working together.  I polled four other nutrition coaches in the Crossfit community and each gave me a similar answer.  So I think we can easily dismiss the fact that men are doing a “good” job with their nutrition to support performance and/or body composition goals.

To be fair, there’s absolutely no evidence that the last 8-9 years of male Crossfit Games Champions (Fraser, Smith, Froning or Holmberg) counted anything in their diet.  Sure, Rich has partnered with RP now, but all evidence points to the fact that his four years of dominance was fueled pretty heavily by whole milk and peanut butter. However, it’s a dangerous game to think that what the best in the sport are doing will work well for the other 99.99% of us.

I think the other aspect of men not wanting to track their diet is related to the idea that men are more liable to think that they can simply “out train” a bad diet.  The concept of “Well I’ll just do an extra couple miles on the track tomorrow so I can have a few extra beers tonight” is one that I see frequently. The reality of this situation is that it typically backfires horribly.  More training simply does NOT equal better results. 

I thought about whether there are more social stigmas placed on men than women with tracking and dieting in general... is a man is more likely to be teased for weighing and measuring food, or carting his Tupperware around?  In the end, I don’t think we can say that there’s a disparity here.  Both sexes deal with comments from family, friends and coworkers that send the message of “Come on man, just eat the cake… have another beer… why are you dieting anyway, you look fine!”  "Health shaming" is a huge topic deserving its own post, so I won't expand here, but I think its safe to say, most everyone deals with that in some form or another.

I asked Jake about stigma’s and here’s what he had to say, “There is definitely a stigma with tracking your food for both men and women, but I feel it comes from people outside of fitness. Tracking what you eat has been commonplace in athletics for a very long time, so inside of our bubble it is not head turning when someone is weighing their food or sipping La Croix in place of a few beers.  There are still jokes, but for the most part I personally don’t feel a stigma as a male athlete. This is in large part due to surrounding myself with like-minded people who are either focused on similar goals or understand what it takes to reach a high level in any field. The stares, questions, and comments come from those who simply don’t understand why we are doing what we’re doing.”

Jake’s attitude and approach of building himself a strong support network that is aware of his goals and understands the larger picture is admirable.  Feeling isolated in your actions can be very daunting, but having others that understand the choices and respect the dedication can make life significantly easier.

 WHY MALE ATHLETES SHOULD TRACK

I’m clearly biased as the owner of M2PN and as a nutrition coach, so I thought I would let Jake give us some insight onto the benefits he’s seen as a result of working with M2PN.

Why did you enlist the help of a nutrition coach?

I’ve worked with nutrition coaches in the past but I never found a great fit for me until working with M2. I didn’t realize it but I had always been searching for a coach that I could be in consistent contact with, so that we could work collaboratively instead of just telling me what to do, then checking in every so often. I love to geek out on both training and nutrition and have since I was 13 so having someone to discuss concepts, methods and theories with is awesome.

The reason I reached out initially is because one of the M2 athletes gave a raving review and made fun of me because she was eating SIGNIFICANTLY more than I was at the time. I had also been in a spot where I was willing/ready to make a change nutritionally because what I had currently doing was not working. For me, performance was not an issue although it has improved since working with Mike, rather I never saw the body composition results I was looking for given the amount of training I did.  

What difference have you seen since working with M2PN?

Since working with M2PN I have both gotten bigger and leaner which is every dudes wish, right? I’ve also developed a heathier relationship with my food seeing it as fuel that will help my performance opposed to something I was restricting due to fear of gaining weight. The difference goes beyond body composition though, my performance has continued to improve, I feel less run down between sessions and have much more energy outside of the gym.

What benefits besides food/macros have you found from working one on one with us?

The two biggest benefits I’ve had since working with you are my sleep and my relationship with food.

 When we started working together I was waking up 5+ times a night and never feeling rested upon waking. Now I am able to sleep through the night without getting up and I wake up ready to train/take on the day. This has come through a lot of trial and error of techniques and enforcing habits such has creating a wind down routine, blocking/cutting out blue light, and journaling before bed (probably a bigger stigma around this then tracking, a dude writing down their feelings… WHAT THE F$%!??) Honestly, dialing in sleep has been our biggest priority and it has become clear that the better/longer I sleep the better I perform and look.

On my relationship with food, you helped change my perspective on carbohydrates a lot. FOREVER I had a fear that a lot of carbohydrates would inevitably make me fat, not fuel my performance. I have learned that I was quite wrong and it didn’t take long to realize this. I was eating around 260-300g of carbs a day when we first started working together and you immediately bumped me up to 405g daily which was scary as shit… but there was no negative change, I only felt better and looked better. After that it didn’t take much convincing.

 Amazing what some attention to detail and appropriate fueling can do for a guy.  

Amazing what some attention to detail and appropriate fueling can do for a guy.  

 

If you had to give advice to someone deciding whether or not to work on their diet, what would it be?  

As humans, we often live in a constant irony; we don’t know exactly what we want but we keep ourselves constantly busy chasing “something”. This is a quote I often use as a self-check, “Am I doing busy work or am I doing things that are in line with my goals and are moving me further towards the goal.”

 I was asked by my training partner the other day what I thought the biggest change has been in my training over the last year. It got me thinking, that the most significant change was a LONG series of tiny changes in my daily actions that have become routine. Things like having a bedtime routine, morning routine, food prep routine, mobility work daily, body work weekly, warming up and cooling down daily, etc… the accumulation of good habits has entirely changed my daily life to be in line with my goals and this took TIME and will continue to.

 Jake has a great perspective on the mental aspects of training and I think its allowed himself to start realizing his full potential.  He was already doing a great job with his training before working with us, but now he’s layered additional levels of successful practices on top of that.  Nutrition, food quality, sleep, body work, and all the other seemingly factors that add up to give huge results.  I would wish Jake the best of luck in the rest of the Open and what appears to be a very solid chance of making Regionals, but I know for a fact that he would say “F#$! luck, I’m prepared.”

If you’re looking to dial in your nutrition, sleep and lifestyle hit us up here to start working with a coach towards your goals.

How to Eat for the Open

Now is not the time to worry about your abs

Big picture, Crossfit is not a figure competition and these 5 weeks are NOT going to be the time we want to focus on trying to lose a few lbs.  This might be the most stressful time of the year which is already working against your body composition.  Lets not add to it by putting ourselves into a massive calorie deficit.

Fuel your performance

There are several key aspects to think about when it comes to your diet, but it all comes back to making sure you're recovering as much as possible from each training session, especially before you do an Open workout

High level: Is your training volume changing?

Many athletes drop their training volume dramatically the week before and throughout the Open to allow for optimal performance two times a week.  Instead of doing 4 hours, they might reduce down to 2-3 and remove some intensity, with the obvious exception of 18.X each week.

We definitely do NOT want to make major reductions in carbs, but if your training volume has been cut in half, listen to your body.  If you're having trouble finishing all of your macros, talk with your coach about making a small reduction.  Emphasis on SMALL.

Pre Workout nutrition is a 48 hour process

The reality of this situation is that it takes 24+ hours to actually replenish glycogen stores, which means that if you want to be "topped off" for 18.1, you need to make sure you're eating enough TODAY and TOMORROW (24-48 hours prior).  Its probably a good idea to add in an extra 50-100 grams of carbs to your typical macros the day before you take a run at the Open workout.  Don't go crazy on fiber here either... we want straight forward carbs that the body can actually use without literally digesting it for 2 days.  Veggies are great, but not so many you look like a rabbit.

Also, stay relatively hydrated.  This does not mean you should drink so much water that you think about "recycling" your piss.  Just make sure you're not thirsty before you go to bed.  You can't fix dehydration in one hour, so get your shit together today.

Game Day

Don't lose your mind and try something completely different from normal.  If you normally train fasted at 6 AM, Friday is NOT the time to decide to eat a full meal 2 hours prior and hit the workout at 6 PM.  Not unless you want to feel like a complete dumpster fire, at least.  

For higher level athletes, follow the usual competition routine.  Eat a solid protein and carb based meal with easily digestible foods 2.5 hours from "3, 2, 1, GO."  This will ensure a fairly empty stomach and prevent hunger from being an issue.  30 minutes prior, if you typically take BCAAs, take your BCAAs.  If you typically take Beta-Alanine, take Beta-Alanine. 

If you've NEVER done either of those things before, NOW IS NOT THE F-ING TIME TO TRY IT.  Same thing with coffee.  If you don't typically drink caffeine, do not start now unless you want to end up in a pile of your own urine, vibrating on the ground with the feeling of your heart wanting to leave your chest.

I made this mistake at Regionals in 2010 (yes I'm pretty old).  I happily chugged a coffee 60 minutes before a workout of 3 rounds of 20 box jumps, 20 C2B and 20 wall balls.  Warming up, I did 3 box jumps and felt my heart rate go to 100%.  "Mistake have been made..." was my only thought but there was nothing I could do about it.  Don't be an idiot like 2010 Mike... be better.

***SIDE NOTE:  Oftentimes higher level athletes will use a session in the morning to work out the kinks for an Open workout later in the afternoon.  Have a SOLID amount of purely liquid carbs after the first session.  Think 50-100 grams worth depending upon the size of the athlete, and the duration/intensity of the first session.***

Recovery

The open is a highly stressful process.  Oftentimes, stress can shut down aspects of the nervous system that control digestion making it really hard to eat.  With that in mind, eating really simple foods can make a huge difference in your ability to recover.  Veggie are great, but not when you're struggling to get down a meal post workout.  Think about using a protein and carb powdered shake POST WORKOUT to make life easier on your gut.  For most people 20-25 grams of protein and 25-50 grams of carbs will be a good idea.  Side benefit: that blood sugar spike that this post workout drink will give you will also lower your stress hormone (i.e cortisol) and allow your body to start recovering faster... because ya know you're gonna lose your mind and try the damn workout a 2nd (or 3rd) time.

How swimming is screwing up your diet

Over the past year or two the "functional fitness/crossfit" world has also begun to heavily integrate new sports and new training disciplines into their routine.  This is most obvious with the inclusion of swimming into the weekly training regiment.  Swimming can be a very unique training stimulus for many people, and something that I think deserves a little more attention from a nutritional point of view.  A lot of athletes are now incorporating "recovery swims" into their training but treating them like rest days as it relates to macros, etc.  I think this is a huge mistake and something worth discussing.  I can't even begin to tell you how many times a client  has come to me and said, "Dude, I'm starving on my recovery day" only to find out they swam for a full hour at a "relaxed" pace.

To start off, I asked M2PN athlete and all around bad ass Rikki White, a former elite level swimmer, about her experiences with swimming and nutrition.  Not only is her story insightful on the demands of swimming, but I think has a great message about nutrition in high school and college athletics as well.

Introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your swimming career

My name is Rikki White and I was a competitive swimmer for 15 years, both with year-round club and school teams. I also was an assistant swim coach for 2 years, and a head swim coach for another 3. 

 Rikki killing it at Clemson

Rikki killing it at Clemson

What was your training like?

My training varied throughout my career, but on average, since the age of 12, I swam around 5.5 hours a day, 6 days a week. This time was primarily spent in the water, with a little dry land work spread out a couple days a week. I was a mid-distance swimmer that focused on butterfly, freestyle and IM. It wasn't uncommon for me to have practices where I would swim a mile of just butterfly. I had a couple coaches that believed that some females could not be over trained, so our workouts would be a little longer than the rest of our group's. 

What was your nutrition like when you were swimming competitively?

I'll be the first to admit that my nutrition was not so great. I can remember waking up and eating pop tarts for breakfast, buying a sandwich with chips at school for lunch and then usually ate just enough to be allowed up from the table for dinner. After writing all of this down, it's making me a bit sick to my stomach. I think I was definitely motivated to be a great swimmer and to be great at my sport, but at the same time I was definitely motivated by how I looked. I'm not sure at what point that started to take over as my main motivator, but I became so concerned about looking skinny in my bathing suit and having a flat stomach. I started eating less and less, because I started getting this new type of attention. My mom definitely noticed the change in what I was eating and how MUCH I was eating, but she never had a great relationship with food either, so I think it was hard for us to connect and talk about what was happening. Then I started having episodes where I would just pass out, which we eventually learned was from low blood sugar. From that point on, we got the help we needed by talking to my doctors and some nutritionists about what I should be eating, based on my above average level of activity.  

Were you given any instructions from coaches on nutrition?

I can remember my coaches always talking about how swimmers can (and should) eat whatever they want, whenever they want. It was always a little blurp after practice saying "eat a little extra tonight." It never seemed all that important though, almost like an afterthought. I do know they would mention it in the parent meetings they held. My mother said that it was always an ask to make sure your kids eat healthy and don't consume too much sugar. 

Was there any talk about the importance of sleep?

I don't remember a single coach ever talking about sleep with us. In high school, I took all honors and some AP classes, so I usually had close to 2 hours of homework to do after I got home from practice, ate, and showered. I would go to bed between 11-midnight and then get up the next morning for practice at 5 AM. I also know that the rest of my group had similar schedules. I'm not sure if it's because they thought they couldn't change anything because our first priority was school, but it never seemed to be an issue for our coaches. 

Did you place any importance on micronutrients at all?

It was always about volume of food and never about the quality. 

 Rikki's getting ready to kill it in the Open this year

Rikki's getting ready to kill it in the Open this year

Is there anything with regard to nutrition that you know now that you wish you knew then?

EVERYTHING. I plateaued a lot during my swimming career. I can't help thinking that things may have been a lot different if I had the tools that I do now.  

Rikki, you are amazing... thank you for the help.

Why is swimming unique?

There are a near endless variety of workouts that one can do with swimming.  Short sprints, long endurance work, intermediate intervals, low strenuous recovery work.  This aspect is of course not unique to swimming as similar approaches are taken with running, rowing, biking, etc.  What is unique is the training environment... being surrounded by water.  Of course, lakes and oceans are at the mercy of the weather/time of year/location, but even pools have a large variety in temperatures.  Some are quite cool while others are heated.  Regardless of the situation, the human body has to work extra hard to try and maintain 98.6°F. For this reason alone, we need to treat training in water differently than other sports as it relates to the impact that it has on our bodies. 

Topics to consider

1) Hydration: It’s extremely difficult to provide specific hydration recommendations at a group level, but with aggressive workouts in the pool, especially with warm water, you're losing a significant amount of fluids to sweat.  Pay attention to urine color with a goal of "not quite clear" if you catch my drift.  On average though, at LEAST 100 ounces per day for someone in the pool for several hours is a good starting point, recognizing that in warmer pools and with longer workouts, significantly more could be necessary.  Also, do not forget to include some electrolytes throughout the day to replace what is lost with sweat

2) Fueling: Whether you're using activity multipliers, the Harris-Benedict equation or some other method to calculate someone's calories/macros, you need to be careful when accounting for swimming. If one hour of exercise 5 days a week means that you're athlete is eating ~2000 calories a day, we need to increase that if one or more days of training involve swimming.  For an hour of swim, I would easily add 200-400 calories to the recommended intake for that day compared to if the session was spent in the gym.

You might also ask yourself how much of a "rest/recovery" day this really is.  Just because the intensity isn't there doesn't mean that its not a significant stress on the body.

3) Don't fear the carbs: Most swimming workouts will rely HEAVILY on the glycolytic pathway to provide energy.  For this reason, we want to make sure that our diet includes a significant amount of carbohydrates as a part of the total calorie recommendations.  For ~ 1 hour training sessions, maybe 40-45% but if you're doing more like 2-4 hours, then you'd easily want 50-55% of your calories coming from carbohydrates.

4) Timing: Just like other training modalities, as soon as the workout is over, we'd want to have protein and carbs almost immediately.  For most training sessions, something around 25 grams of protein and 50-100 grams of carbs will help get our bodies OUT of the stress response and into recovery mode.  Protein shakes with added carbs can be a perfect option in this situation for quick absorption into the body.  As we've talked about before, spiking blood sugar is a GOOD thing for high level athletes post workout.

However we would also advise that you have a real meal, about 60-90 minutes after having that shake as well.  This meal would be one of the more nutrient dense meals of the day, with lean proteins, veggies and fruits, sweet potato and/or rice and of course some fats as well with avocado, olive oils, etc.

5) Sleep: Just like any other high level sport, sleep will be hugely important in your recovery process.  Ignoring this will stress the body and cause it to preferentially choose to store your energy intake (AKA food) as fat and not burn it as fuel.  Instead the body will choose to break down muscle mass (thanks to elevated production of a hormone called cortisol) to provide energy for your training.

Again, none of these 5 areas are truly unique to swimming, but I do believe that more attention and detail needs to be paid to them than for other training modalities.  If you want to get some help with maximizing your performance in the pool, or just in general, hit us up at: 

https://m2performancenutrition.com/sign-up

Patience...

In the past, I've written two blog posts about under-fed athletes and how correcting their macros resulted in amazingly fast progress.  The first example was about  Bri (click for post), an athlete that was being DRASTICALLY underfed.  Fixing her diet through the addition of about 1000 calories a day solved a bunch of scary symptoms, dropped about 10 lbs off of her and increased her performance dramatically.  The second example was about Mia (click for post), where we increased her diet, but to a much smaller extent, and once again saw huge benefits in both performance and body composition pretty much immediately. In both of these cases, the women were hyper-responders to the new plan. In my experience, this happens in about 1/3 of cases.  Its great as a coach because the emotional response is obviously a positive one and it helps the client to buy in fully to what we're trying to do. 

Sadly, not everyone responds this way.  In many cases, there's a period of weight GAIN that proceeds the leaning out process but no one really wants to talk about this.  It doesn't really generate a lot of likes on IG when you post updates of:

"I've added a bunch of calories to my diet and I'm becoming a healthier person that's going to see progress in 3-5 months, but right now I've gained weight and mentally having a hard time with it."

Its difficult to see a virtual world where people are posting all kinds of progress pictures with leaner physiques and not be "in the club" despite doing exactly what you're told by your nutrition coach.  With that in mind, I thought it might help to share a story about a client that dealt with just these same issues and ultimately persevered to become a huge success story... plus I'm really proud of her and I want to brag :)

Let me introduce you to Sam...  

Sam came to me having worked with another nutrition program that had put her on some pretty low macros for what she was doing in the gym, and while she had seen progress physically, there were consequences.

"I have somewhat of a bad relationship with food and have a hard time with my body image. I have been tracking macros for about the last year and have had some great success dropping body fat, however when I cheat I tend to binge uncontrollably and it's hard to get back on track. I know I need to eat more. I'm currently around 2000 Calories a day but I have a hard time knowing if I'm doing things the right way." September 2017

Based on what Sam had told me about her training I knew she needed to eat more and she did as well.  I told her that it might mean some temporary weight gain and that she would need to work through that process with me to restore some health factors, and that ultimately she would be where she wanted to be.  So we increased her macros pretty substantially for the first 2 months and this is what happened.

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 12.50.35 PM.png

It may not look like big changes, Sam was clearly still lean but it was a step backwards from Day 0, and it was hard for her mentally to be OK with it. 

"I just see these top athletes look the way they do, and I just want to look the part. I know I'm very hard on myself. And I have a poor relationship with food but it would be nice to see that its possible to make body comp changes eating this much."  

The good news was that she was seeing nice improvements in her performance and we could try and focus her attention on that.  Sam also started to report that she was getting HUNGRY, which was a really good sign, so we increased her macros, and she ended up even MORE hungry... again, a good sign so we bumped the numbers up again.  This took a ton of trust on Sam's part to stick with me through this phase as the first time I bumped her macros, she gained weight.

So a few months go by and we decided to take a few more update pictures along the way. 

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Day 30-75 was encouraging, but Day 110 was absolutely amazing.  It was the final bump up to around 360 grams of carbs that really pushed us into the right direction.  

Now we're focusing on pictures here because thats a major component of why Sam hired me, but I can't help but brag about the insane number of PRs that she hit along the way.  If anyone follows our IG feed, you'll know what we prefer to post about athletic accomplishments instead of physical changes.  Abs are cool and generate a ton of likes, but thats not why we do this.  We do this to help someone have a better relationship with food. We do this so people can improve their performance.  We do this so someone can hopefully realize a dream someday.  I'm happy to report that Sam is on the path to making those things happen.  She doesn't have nearly as many binge issues and we're working on not beating ourselves up when they do happen.  Her performance is through the roof as evidenced by her qualification in the Elite division at Wodapalooza this weekend.  I can't wait to see her out there competing on the floor.

What can we take away from this???

  • You might be able to generate a nice set of abs in the short term by putting someone on a heavily restricted set of macros, but long term this won't work physically, and we may do even MORE damage mentally if you can believe it.  Your Day 0 to 60 update picture might look pretty amazing, but what does it look like 2, 3, or 4 months after that?
  • Progress isn't always a nice linear path. Sometimes we need to go backwards with body composition to ultimately take a much bigger jump forwards.
  • Results are not just found in body composition.  Signs that we're on the right trajectory could be improved sleep, improved performance, better mood or even just a healthier relationship with food.

When you look for nutrition coaching, what does that company or that coach prioritize? Is it short term results that look good on an IG page? Or are they more concerned with the person behind the picture?  This is one of the central tenets of what we do here at M2PN.  We have to connect with the client and see them as more than a set of macros, or a set of abs.  These are PEOPLE that we're working with.  People with concerns and fears, emotions and frustrations. Templates cannot account for those emotions and help guide you through the rough times... but a good nutrition coach can.

Four Random Musings on a Tuesday...

There are a number of thoughts that have crossed my mind lately and I wanted to get some of them down in hopes they stop jumbling through my head.

1. THE HOLIDAYS:  You have a decision to make with the upcoming week between now and New Years.  Are you going to eat like a complete A-hole or will you figure out a balanced approach that allows for you to eat (and drink) enjoyably without compromising your goals.

If you're training to make it to Regionals or perhaps even the Games, you're trying to do something that 99.9% of the Crossfit world will never do.  Figuring out an appropriate approach to manage these 10 days CAN give you a leg up on your competition. I'm not talking about tracking every holiday meal, thats just going to create stress and probably piss your mother-in-law off.  Instead stick with a realistic goal.  This is mine and its what I recommend to my clients.  

  • Eat a solid breakfast so you don't go into the Christmas (or other holiday) dinner starving.
  • Aim to fill your plate with a solid piece of protein, a good scoop of starchy sides and some veggies.  Do NOT weight and measure these.
  • Pick one or two desserts and enjoy them, but then put a limit on it.
  • Have that glass of wine/beer, but try and follow it up with a glass of water before the next one.  Most of you have dynamic personalities and do not need to be drunk to either be or have fun.
  • Aim to get back on track immediately the next day, don't let it linger.
  • Try and keep your sleep schedule as normal with 8 hours per night.

2. Body fat % and Crossfit.  Recently there's been some attention to the idea that if you're not below a certain body fat percentage, your chances of reaching the highest levels of the sport are greatly diminished or zero.  The advice extends to suggest that if you're not below 16% for women and 11% for men, you should calorie restrict until you reach that point.  In my view this opinion is overly simplistic at best and absolutely dangerous at worst.  What would you have the clients that come to me training 3-4 hours a day on 1500 calories do? Eat less??? This is absurd for reasons that I've already explained (thyroid health, adrenal insufficiency, etc). Also, I just have DOZENS of examples that contradict this approach where people eat MORE and lose weight.  Weird...

3. Post workout carbsSimilarly, arguments have been made about using leafy greens in the post workout phase as an appropriate carb source.  NO.  If you're training hard and generating a stress response, the best way to handle that for LONG term development and overall fitness is to spike your blood sugar levels. This has been clinically shown to dampen the stress (read cortisol) response to exercise.  Cortisol absolutely dampens both the production and effects of growth hormone, contributes to muscle breakdown, alters the function of the immune system when chronically elevated and impacts insulin sensitivity.  We absolutely WANT to make cortisol in response to exercise, but we also want to have a strategy to move into the recovery phase as well.

The best way to do this is with simple carbs.  Cyclin Dextran is a great strategy to make it happen, but if you want to use real foods, mashed sweet potato, white rice, even some fruits are better than broccoli.  If you can't afford the Cyclic Dextran, basic old powdered Gatorade does a damn good job here as well.  Remember, you are training hard, you don't need to fear carbs the same way that an overweight type II diabetic does.

4. For the love of God sleep!!! For once social media was a useful tool as I was reminded by a post about a fat loss study where sleep was the controlled variable. The research showed that going from 8.5 to 5.5 hours of sleep decreased the amount of fat lost by subjects by 55% even though the calories were kept identical between groups.  Holy $#!^ thats a huge difference.  

How about something you performance junkies care about??? The 5.5 hour sleep group also lost 60% more muscle mass than the 8.5 hour group. 

SO yea... you want to lose weight, you should sleep. You want to build lean muscle mass, you should sleep.

We've gotta stop starving our athletes Part II

I didn’t really intend to make this a two-part series, but there was such an overwhelming response to the first post, that I felt as though it deserved a follow up.  Part 1 dealt with the obvious situations where people very clearly are not eating enough food to sustain basic physiology, never mind high level performance and body composition. Every case is unique and not everyone is going to respond like Bri or Casey did.  Nor is every case as obvious…

The non-obvious, under fed athlete

Sadly, I do see many clients come from nutrition programs that are under-feeding them by 30-50% of what they actually need to be eating, but most situations are not that extreme.  Instead, in a lot of cases their macros would seem pretty darn high compared to what an average person eats.

With permission, I want to tell you Mia’s story.  Mia came to me several months ago looking to take her performance to a higher level.  She is a top-level Crossfit athlete that lives in Dubai and competes in the Meridian Regional.  Before contacting me, Mia had worked with another coaching service that had done a solid job of increasing macros from not nearly enough to about 160P-75F-300C (2515 calories).  As Mia said in her own words, she had great results with these changes!

 This is great work… Increasing her calories (NOT WITH ME) made huge benefits over 12 months

This is great work… Increasing her calories (NOT WITH ME) made huge benefits over 12 months

Mia is 169 cms (5’5’’) and came to me about two months ago weighing between 68-69 kilos (~150-152 lbs). She is a very dedicated person and I can tell you that she probably stuck to her former macros better than most would. I can also tell you that she trains quite hard, on average between 4-5 hours a day and spends the rest of her time coaching other athletes, so she’s always on the move.  There were no OBVIOUS red flags that she was headed in the wrong direction other than waking up a few more times per night than we’d like, but even that wasn’t out of control.

Small changes, big results

Mia looked FANTASTIC before we started working together and was a Regional level athlete… so there can’t be much wrong here, right?? Well… just because something seems reasonable, doesn’t mean we can’t be doing better.  I think most people under-estimate the amount of work that elite level athletes can do is 4-5 hours.  CONSERVATIVELY Mia’s basal metabolic rate is probably in the 1600-1800 range. With 4-5 hours of training we can also CONSERVATIVELY estimate she was probably burning another 200 calories per hour of training (and probably more).

NOTE: keep in mind that Mia can probably hold an 800 calorie per hour row pace VERY easily… so any aerobic work drastically increases the total caloric output.

Put these two numbers together and you can see that she’s probably needing somewhere between 2600-2800 calories per day and maybe more.  Not wanting to completely freak her out, I started her with 2676 calories with a 149P/72F/360C split about 2 months back and then recently bumped her up to 149P/72F/400C (2836 cals) in the last couple of weeks.  Thats's about a 12% change... not a big deal, right? Here’s the results.

 Just a little change in her macros, and in 2 months we see a huge benefit… and not just in the mirror.

Just a little change in her macros, and in 2 months we see a huge benefit… and not just in the mirror.

In that time frame, Mia’s more or less stayed right around 68 kilos, but she looks considerably leaner.  Her performance, which was always amazing, seems to be headed in the right direction as well.  Mia’s incredibly strong with Olympic lifts that challenge 90% of men in Crossfit.  However, she’s still seen gains in that department with a recent clean and jerk PR (happier Central Nervous System!!!). She's also seeing BIG improvements in endurance and gymnastics movement as well, PR'ing both her 3K and muscle ups recently. Most importantly, Mia FEELS better with more overall energy, better recovery between sessions and less overall fatigue at the end of the day.

You rock Mia… very happy to have you on-board.  Thank you for letting me share your story.

Not everyone’s going to respond the same way

If everyone responded the same way that Mia, Bri and Casey did, I’d either be out of a job or rich AF and on an island somewhere.  The reality of the situation is that most people are going to take longer to get to the body composition goal than they want to.  I recognize that sharing this “instant” success stories probably doesn’t help people that are struggling to see the same progress.

STICK WITH IT

To explain why someone people struggle even when we fix their diet, I need to dive into some science.  Sorry.

There are a good number of consequences that can occur when we train really hard and under-eat (specifically on carbohydrates) resulting in increased stress levels.  Decreased thyroid function, altered cortisol production, decreased testosterone production (yes, women make testosterone too), altered/suppressed immune function and muscle breakdown all are possible. A person in this state feels a little sluggish, might be irritable, has more frequent upper respiratory tract infections, more frequent nagging injuries and generally struggles to make progress.

I’ve touched on adrenal issues before with low carb, so I want to focus on the thyroid this time.  Our body produces a critical hormone called T3, which when active is responsible for maintaining an appropriate metabolism through the regulation of blood glucose levels.  A good way to tell if you’re low on T3 without an actual diagnosis is if you have a “cold” feeling even when your surroundings are at normal temperatures.  An important, often cited study called the “Vermont Study” found that T3 is sensitive to carbohydrate intake, and when you decrease your carbs too low, T3 levels typically drop as well.  What’s worse is that there’s another hormone called rT3 (r stands for reverse) that’s job is to inhibit the function of T3… and decreased carb intake is associated with higher levels or rT3.   Importantly, studies where calorie intake is controlled but carb intake is modified consistently show the same effects on T3 to the Vermont Study.

Ladies, I’ve got bad news for you.  All of the things we’ve just discussed seem to happen much more frequently in women, perhaps because of evolutionary biology causing women to have higher body fats to appropriately maintain pregnancies. Sadly, you have a 4X higher risk of developing a thyroid autoimmune disease that ends up blocking the function of the thyroid.  Once the immune system has recognized a "self" tissue as a threat and started a response against it, its really difficult to get it to stop.  That said, just throwing your hands in the air and stopping is NOT the answer.  While a number of autoimmune diseases seem to respond favorably to ketogenic or low carb diets, hashimoto’s thyroiditis seems to be a bit of the exception.  If it was me, I'd probably run a medium to high carb diet but mostly avoid gluten as there's a strong correlation between Celiac’s and Hashimoto’s.

OK, all of this is great but it doesn’t fully explain why some people struggle to lose fat when they increase their carbohydrate intake.  There’s no great explanation, but genetic differences seem to be at play.  However, its still REALLY important to maintain that increased carbohydrate/calorie intake.  If for no other reason than improved overall health.

There is some evidence to suggest that supplementation can help push us in the right direction as well. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but if you’ve been struggling to get your body fat down despite eating a solid diet, I’d highly recommend checking out these two links which highlight the work of Dr. Bryan Walsh, a really great mind in this industry (see below).

DON'T GIVE UP! Remember that I've had clients take ONE TO TWO YEARS to restore the overall health and get the body composition, performance and health changes they want.  While that's of course frustrating for both of us, the good news is that the changes we create will stick.  We didn't use an unhealthy, non-sustainable approach that will ultimately lead to a yo-yo weight gain scenario.

Until next time,

Mike

Thyroid help

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/dr-detective-immune-system

Adrenal help

http://www.precisionnutrition.com/dr-detective-tired-adrenals