We've gotta stop starving our athletes

I've wanted to write this post for the longest time.  Life has been busy as hell, but with more and more people coming to me drastically under-eating, I've just about had enough  (I'm fired up in case you can't tell)

Case study number 1Bri Siegert

Bri came to me in the middle of June just asking for a macro plan to run on her own. She is a pretty damn high level crossfit athlete and trains like it with a routine of 6 days a week with 3-5 hours a day of work.  Thats a TON of volume.  So how much was she eating... well another company had given her 1356 calories  a day with a 104P/40F/145C split.  At that point, I basically said "No F-ing way are you doing this on your own, we're gonna work together to fix this."

So what are some of the effects of telling someone they can only eat 1356 calories a day on that training plan?

  • Fear of food groups-  "I did have fears of certain food groups. I KNEW I needed to eat more carbs, but doing Crossfit for the past couple of years paleo was engraved in my mind so I quit counting macros and was focusing more on quality of food for a long time. Following a very "whole 30" approach. It also stems back to my days in dance when all of my girl friends on my dance team would go on "diets" where we basically had a protein shake for breakfast, salad for lunch, and chicken and broccoli for dinner."

LOOK, the Paleo approach is GREAT for a ton of people out there, including most of the clients that walk through your gyms doors.  It focuses on primarily eating a ton of veggies, fruits, meats, nuts and seeds. Fantastic... but not if you're training for 4 hours a day.

  • Exhaustion- "Looking back on how I actually FELT at the time of eating this way , I was so dazed all the time. I felt so under recovered between workouts and after. I was over supplementing caffeine everyday to make up for it and then my sleep was affected BIG TIME. Most nights I averaged about 5.5-6 hours/night and would wake multiple times per night."
  • Adrenal issues- Some of the most surefire signs that the adrenals are in trouble were obvious in this case.  Bri was getting dizzy throughout the day, some blurriness in her vision for no reason, mixing up words, and as she mentioned above, waking up multiple times through the night.  If you want to read more into this topic, check out Dr. Bryan Walsh, he really know his stuff WAY beyond most people in this field.

So what did we do?  First thing was I asked Bri to SIGNIFICANTLY bump all three of her macros up to a much more sustainable level.  From there, I just waited to see how she responded.  Over the next 3 months, Bri was getting hungrier and hungrier despite the fact that I was giving her more and more food.  At this point we're up to about 1000 calories above where she was before (~25P/25F/50C split) and we're not done yet.  She doesn't feat the food anymore, and I'm not afraid to keep adding to her diet either.

I told her that those 5-6 hours a night of sleep were things of the past and that we needed to just ATTEMPT more sleep even if we were tossing and turning.  She might have hated me at first, but I also told her I needed a 2 minute cold shower before bed every night as well.  This is BY FAR the most effective sleep "supplement" that I know of and its totally free.  You just gotta want to sleep more than you don't want to feel cold water.

We added some supplements to her routine as well, mostly focused around adrenal health, but moreso through modifying the immune system than cranking on the adrenals themselves.

The results:

  • Bri's down about 6 lbs unintentionally.  It wasn't the goal, but it happened despite adding nearly 1000 calories a day.  Her gymnastics ain't mad :)
  • Too many PRs to mention here so lets focus on the quality of her workouts instead, "In the gym: We do multiple sessions per day and I now bounce back and am ready to go for round two within the hour. My metcon times and gymnastics have gotten way better and my strength has not gone down even though I am several pounds lighter."
  • Life outside of the gym: "I now average 7-8 hours of sleep now and I usually sleep the ENTIRE night. I know! Crazy, right? I only have 1 cup of joe a day, but only because I love it, not because I need it.  My hunger is back to normal and I don't crave any sweets anymore aside from the occasional chocolate chip cookie that my roommates bring home because they are my favorite and I deserve it. ;) I am a lot more energetic throughout the day which I definitely need considering what my job is and the fact that I like to purposely make myself suffer through grueling workouts everyday.

  • The adrenal issue symptoms are now a thing of the past.  She hasn't had a dizzy spell in almost a month, the blurred vision and word confusion issues are gone and as she said, she's sleeping through the night.
  • Body composition: The picture speaks for itself.  Again... ONE THOUSAND MORE CALORIES A DAY.
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I'm so damn happy that Bri got herself headed in the right direction.  She's an INCREDIBLE person, one of the nicest people I've met in a long time.  Fun personal story: At the Games, I was running around a bit like crazy and hungry almost all of the time.  Bri legitimately went out of her way to go get me some insane Maple Bacon donut AND brought it to me inside the Coliseum.  Who's that nice?!?!? Well, she is...

Case study number 2Casey Mendrala

So I actually met Casey at one of my seminars this summer, and after talking with her, it was obvious that she needed some help.  Casey is also an active Crossfit competitor but on top of that she is competitive in endurance races such as Iron Man's, etc.  She trains multiple times a day for several hours per session, at least one of those being a fairly substantial endurance effort.  Lets jump right into some details about what Casey was doing prior to working together.

"Before we met I had been following XYZ (redacted for political correctness) templates and on “hard days” which almost never happened according to their guidelines. I would get 225g carbs 15g of fat and 145g of protein. On a typical day I’d get 150g c 15g f and 145g of protein. I never took rest days because I literally got zero carbs-for weight maintenance/performance. That makes me want to cry now"

If someone literally WILL NOT TAKE A REST DAY because they're scared of the hunger, thats a huge problem.  The body and metabolism stay CRANKED in Crossfit style athletes on "rest days" and dropping the carbs down to practically zero just makes no sense to me.

What other effects was Casey dealing with?

"Other than getting frustrated with my performance and blaming my lack of effort,I never considered I had “bad nutrition” since I thought I had done enough research and was following a seemingly well written plan. I didn’t realize how drained, tired, and crappy I actually felt. I was sleeping but not well, had more “meh” days than good days, and I knew my performance was lacking but didn’t understand why."

What Casey didn't mention is that she was waking up about 7 times a night on average.  That basically means ZERO quality sleep on top of being massively underfed.

The Changes: I took Casey's macros WAY WAY WAY up immediately.  I told her that there might be a temporary weight gain but that she needed to be OK with it.  We went to 2850 calories with a 160/70/395 split which is about 1200 more calories PER day than she was eating prior.

The results: Its just best to let Casey describe whats happened.

"Performance and body comp are probably the most noticeable to other people. Since starting with Mike, when I actually get to drop in to a gym and workout with friends,  I can’t walk out without someone making a comment about one of the two. But to be honest, PR’s are always great and body comp is too,  but the shift in my mindset has to be the most obvious change. I am way more confident in my day to day performance and in setting goals, because I know that my body is catching up to where I want it to be. If I give it the fuel it needs my mind and body will eventually be on the same page-when we went from not even being in the same book."

So she basically PR'd everything for about a month straight in the gym with her lifts... it was crazy and a really fun time.  But the biggest victory was in her recent  Half Ironman where she hit an ~90 MINUTE PR over her previous best time.  That's absurd and is a huge credit to her dedication to the process.

What about the body composition, again the results speak for themselves.

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Wanna know the crazy part, she lost exactly ZERO pounds between those two pictures (muscle weighs more than fat).  There is no contraption on planet earth designed to make women more crazy than the stupid fucking scale.  Take another look at her pictures and recognize that some stupid number:

  1. Does NOT account for body COMPOSITION changes.
  2. Does NOT determine whether or not you will be successful in your sport of choice.
  3. Does NOT define who you are as a person.

Much like Bri, Casey is an incredibly sweet person.  She's self effacing, loves dogs, and is always up to learn more information about why we're doing what we're doing.  Anyone that wants to learn the WHY will have a special place in my heart.  I'm secretly hoping I can recruit her into nutrition coaching in the future because she'd be a natural at it.

The Big Picture

So if these were two isolated incidents, I wouldn't have such a problem and wouldn't be so pissed off right now.  The reality of the situation though is that I encounter at least one of these people per week on average.  Not all are quite as extreme as Bri and Casey, but they're still extremely aggravating to hear about.

While there are some genetically gifted individuals that can train for 4-5 hours a day on 1800 calories (or less) and look AMAZING, the reality is that this will not be the case for MOST people that you come across.  Instead, your metabolism is going to tank, you won't make progress in the gym, you may screw up either your immune system, your adrenals or both, and I can guarantee there's going to be some psychological damage as well.  Its NOT as simple as "eat less, lose body fat", but if you think that way then the negative self talk usually follows.  "Why is everyone else so successful and I'm not? Something must be wrong with me " which is just such total bullshit.  Worse, you view food (or certain food groups) as the enemy instead of as the fuel you need to achieve the goals that you're working your ass off for.

We need a culture change within Crossfit for our high level athletes and those training to be the next generation.  The simple formula of "Eat a piece of protein the size of your fist and a plate full of veggies" does NOT work for this group the same way that it can for someone doing 3-4 classes a week, so the basic philosophy needs to change as well.  Eat your fruits and veggies, but also eat the freaking rice, oatmeal and potatoes as well! Don't fear the liquid calories quite so much, they're not the enemy when you're doing 4 hours of exercise a day.  You are an ATHLETE, treat yourself like one.

Rant over.

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