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. 

Screen Shot 2018-01-09 at 1.42.42 PM.png

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

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.

If you need some help, we're here to get you headed in the right direction.  Just send us a message here.

Power Monkey Fitness Camp 8 review

Last week, I had the privilege of attending the Power Monkey Fitness Camp down in Crossville, TN where I would be running a nutrition seminar on Tuesday night.  Power Monkey is known for having the world's best coaches for a wide number of disciplines and while those coaches didn't disappoint, its not the REAL reason that PMC is such a special experience.  Here's my take on why this is the best athlete camp out there.

 This pinata must never be destroyed... its too freaking cute.

This pinata must never be destroyed... its too freaking cute.

When I originally received the invitation from Dave Durante to come to camp, I was extremely excited.  First off, its not everyday you get to spend 5 days with some of the best minds in all of Crossfit.  Also, I absolutely love talking about nutrition and I knew that this would be an amazing chance to hopefully spread the word about what I think is a better way to do things (#carbs).

I spent most of Sunday flying into Nashville, where I met a bunch of the campers at the airport before boarding a bus to Crossville.  More than 25% of the participants came from one of 14 countries, making it a truly international affair, which was obvious on the bus as you could pick up a few different languages.  Having never attended camp before, I think I had a bit of a "deer in the head lights" look about me when we finally arrived at camp, but  the other coaches were nice enough to show me where to go, where to stand during introductions, and more or less how not to make a huge fool of myself.   We played some fun ice breaker games and then watched Steve Gluckstein put on an absolute show on the trampoline. Its amazing to see what an incredible amount of hard work combined with some obvious talent can produce.

 Pike!

Pike!

So the basic premise of the instructional side of camp is that there are 10 stations which the campers rotate through over the four days: Rings, Bars, Hand stands, Kettlebells, Aerobic capacity, Clean, Jerk, Snatch, Jump rope and Rowing.  EACH of these stations is led by one or two people that are at the absolute pinnacle of their discipline.  Layered on top of these stations is work from Dave Tilley and Dan Pope about how to make changes to your body so that you can more easily hit the positions being instructed, or to hit them with more strength and stability.  You can't find that collection of coaching talent anywhere else and its a major part of what PMC so special.

As an example... on day 1, I spent a couple hours with Duke Van Vleet and Andy Timm, who have both spent a lifetime as elite level gymnasts.  They broke the movements for pulling and pushing into and out of a muscle up into small sections which allowed everyone to focus on moving efficiently instead of bleeding energy in 17 different directions during a workout.  I've been doing Crossfit for nearly a decade, and so I've heard almost every cue you can think of, but these guys just have a better eye than most.  By the end, strict and kipping muscle ups were feeling effortless, AND I managed to do a controlled negative through the muscle up transition point, something that hasn't happened in the 6 years since I tore my pec (A small, but important, accomplishment for me). I won't go through each station, but suffice it to say that what I experienced on the rings was replicated with every other coach for each movement.

 April Lowe (M2 client!!) getting some pointers from Duke

April Lowe (M2 client!!) getting some pointers from Duke

Let me put it this way... both a 72 year old man named Gary and Games athlete and former elite gymnast Alec Smith said that they learned a ton from camp. If you can help two people from such different athletic starting points get better in 5 days, you're doing a damn good job.

All that said, you can get pretty great coaching at other camps, hopefully even within your own gym.  What makes this experience so special is what happens AFTER the coaching sessions are done. Everything is geared towards a community and getting to know one another.  Meals are served at long tables, bunks have 4+ beds per room... its just like when you were a kid at summer camp! The atmosphere is perfectly built to bring people together quickly over the ~5 days that they're there.  I get the impression people make long term friendships and stay in touch year round... which is pretty remarkable in my opinion.

 Group 6! Nice enough to let me tag along all week long and compete with them on Friday

Group 6! Nice enough to let me tag along all week long and compete with them on Friday

At night, nine time national champion Chad Vaughn (also the nicest guy ever), runs a set of campfire talks which could easily be renamed "Inspirational chats that might make you cry a little."  Monday night we listened to Whitney Bozzer, a young woman that's survived four bouts with cancer.  Her story is incredible and absolutely brought me to tears.  She's a special woman and you can't listen to her talk and not be affected by it.  Strength, determination, maybe a little stubbornness... its no wonder that Power Monkey has named a scholarship after her.  The second talk of that night was from Caroline Bond, winner of this year's scholorship... more tears.  The next night we listened to Ron Ortiz and Linda Elstun, two masters Games athletes with incredible stories to tell of their own.  Finally Chad told his story about dealing with confidence issues and working hard enough to overcome them, followed by Dave telling the story of how Power Monkey came to be.  You can't generate moments like these when everyone goes home to their hotels at the end of the night, but they'll happen organically when you get people away from their computers, phones and televisions... and PMC does an incredible job at that aspect.

 Whit and Caroline... two very special people

Whit and Caroline... two very special people

Also, the Friday night party is just legit... Tennessee apple moonshine for the win :)

What about the nutrition seminar you ask???

So Tuesday night comes and I'm definitely excited but also nervous. Luckily the crowd's fantastic, tons of great questions and comments, and it goes over really well.  Anyone that's heard me talk knows I try and have a lot of fun, go over some interesting science, but I also try to get at the emotional aspect of food as well. Why we view it the way we do, or why we let it "control" our actions and thoughts about ourselves.  When I first booked my trip, Dave and Sadie were nice enough to let me stay the whole week despite having my talk finish on the second night.  I wasn't exactly sure that it would be useful other than for selfish reasons, BUT I'm really glad that I stuck around.  There's some questions that you can ask in front of an audience and others that need to be had one on one.  Over the next three days I had close to a dozen conversations with campers that resulted in some outpouring of emotions (from them, but also me) about their relationship with food.

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I've been doing this whole "nutrition coach" thing for a while now, but these chats were absolute eye openers for me.  Its easy to forget that while I talk about "food as fuel", very few people are conditioned to think about it that way.  Most people, including elite level Games athletes, struggle with the concept even when shown how powerful eating appropriately can be.  What is scary is that ALL of the conversations we had involved some aspect of the "food is the enemy" mentality being engrained during the childhood years, and these effects were still affecting people's behavior in their 20s, 30's and 40's.  I think its an important thing for both coaches and athletes/clients to remember... this is a LONG process.  While we talk about macros and micros... some people just need to start off by venting about their current situation.  Whether thats binge eating, purging, overall fear of food... whatever.  You'd be surprised how many people hold these emotions inside and tell themselves that they're just being weak minded. "Coaching" these people has almost nothing to do with ratios of protein, carbs and fat, but simply just helping them to recognize that their struggles are NOT their fault.  We view alcoholism or drug abuse as a disease but... we don't look at food that way for some reason, which I think is a mistake.

Coming back to the conversations, each of them admitted that it was the first time they'd had a conversation like that about their emotional connection to their diet and clearing the air kinda felt like getting the gorilla (pun intended) off their back.  For that reason alone, I'm glad I stayed past Tuesday night.

Anyway, I kinda got off topic there a little bit but I think it was worth it.  At the end of the day, Power Monkey camp was absolutely amazing and I hope I'm given the opportunity to speak at more camps in the future.   To Dave and Sadie, thank you for the opportunity, and to Jason Leydon, thank you for putting me up for the job.  Its not easy to put your reputation on the line by recommending someone for the job, hopefully I didn't let you down bud!!

Mike

How to set appropriate expectations

"How strict do I need to be to make the progress towards my goal?"

That is a frequent question that I receive from clients and it sparked the desire to write a new post. One of the better aspects of a flexible dieting approach is that you really can decide how strict you want to be based upon realistic goal setting.  For someone that is a Crossfit Games level athlete, or even if you're looking to make progress as fast as possible the answer to the question is "Pretty freaking strict."  Measuring almost all of your meals and hitting your macros within 3-5 grams daily will produce the desired results as quickly as possible.  At the same time, a lot of really good progress can be made with smart decision making and visual estimation of portion sizes and.  Whats important to recognize is that progress is not a linear relationship to effort.  Dropping the last 5-10 pounds can be 10X as hard as losing the first 30-40.

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The two questions that you need to ask yourself are:

  1. Does my goal actually require 99.9% precision or can I achieve it with 80% accuracy
  2. Does my current place in life allow for me to be 99.9% accurate?

Even for those people that answer the first question "YES", there are going to be periods of time when its just not possible. Whether its the holidays, having to do a lot of travel for work, wedding season, hitting your macros exactly AND eating a micronutrient dense diet is going to be a lot harder.  During these phases, taking more of an 80/20% approach is much more realistic and way less stressful.  What is critical is to align your goals with the reality of the situation and then to be mentally OK with it.  Don't put yourself in a situation where you are estimating caloric intake and then get upset when progress isn't as fast as when you used to measure every meal.  At some point, life will settle down and you can back to the higher level of precision.  Also, I think its incredibly important to recognize the inherent value in a looser macro period, where you can go out to dinner with friends, relax on vacation or enjoy an extra glass of wine with loved ones.  I promise, no real friend in your life defines you by having a 6-pack or by being a certain weight on the scale.  Expecting to spend the rest of your life eating weighed and measured meals is just as unrealistic as eating donuts all day and expecting to lose weight.

Ultimately you are in control of your goals AND your actions, align them and then make peace with the decision.