Pineapple Cherry Smoothie with TJ’s Light Coconut Milk

Pineapple Cherry Smoothie with TJ's Light Coconut Milk

This is a staple and you can get most of the ingredients at Super Target.  Technically you can get most of the ingredients everywhere but I know these taste great.  I have also used “Tree of Life” cherries but they are about double the cost.  So keep that in mind.

I almost hate throwing out this next option for smoothies because the Medium Chain Triglycerides from the Coconut Milk is so beneficial but some people find it difficult to find coconut milk that is BPA free or it has too many ingredients.  Some people also just don’t like it and that’s o’kay.  Lastly let me say if you have issues with dairy don’t do this next one, it’s that simple.  The nice thing if you can tolerate dairy is that you get protein, which is a nice add.  Do 4 ounces of whole fat milk and 4 ounces of whole yogurt, no sugar added (it’s fruit, it is full of sugar!)

Here is a good article on BPA free coconut milk cans, stay away from the plastic stuff, the texture isn’t the same and there are a few issues with it.  Of course it that’s your only option and it’s BPA free then do what you need to do.

Milk and Yogurt

Another option that I only use very sparingly (about once a week) is I have some Udi’s Granola in my yogurt.  Basically I try to really vary anything I eat and most things I am able to keep on a one week rotation.


Posted in nutrition, paleo diets, snacks, Uncategorized, weight lifting, weight loss | Leave a comment

Maybe you’re just weak

Gun Show PicI remember someone saying something to me when I first started serious resistance training and it sticks with me to this day.  At that time I had a lot of issues, my knees popped like fireworks every time I did anything.  I couldn’t do many pull-ups because the tendons in my forearms didn’t work well.  Of course my lower back was always strained and I had (and still have) chronic shoulder issues.  I whined about this stuff all of the time because I thought that was part of what I was paying for, I paid them money, they in return needed to listen to my belly aching.  Lucky for me I had someone look me dead in the eye and tell me something I will never forget and is one of the hallmarks of my training to this day.


“Maybe you’re just weak?”


I learned early on that the first person to throw a punch in a fight is typically the victorious person.  In this instance however the person staring me in the eye was highly trained in hand to hand combat.  So that option wasn’t on the table.  So the only other option I had was to consider the question.


Addressing Weakness


I remember this well because when I first showed up in the gym I could do pull-ups but only a few reps at a time and I certainly could not get any serious sets going.  I had what is referred to as golfers elbow, the solution was to make the tendons around the elbow stronger so I bought a hand gripper and went to work.  It took a while as I recall, when I first started off doing pull ups I graduated from a black band to a green band to a blue band.  The bands didn’t make much of a difference for me because I wasn’t weak overall, I was just weak in certain spots.  I am sure by extreme standards I was indeed weak but looking around my daughters music recital I was definitely above average in that group.  I can now do weighted sets up to 60 pounds.  Pull-ups are one of those exercises that just benefit you so much, I am really glad I addressed that weakness.  I am much stronger overall as a result.


What about knee pain though?


When I would sit down in a chair the gases around the joints in my knee would pop so loudly everyone in the room would hit the floor to avoid the gunfire.  I am joking a bit but not all that much.  The depth of my squat was compromised as result and early on I iced my knees a lot (I wouldn’t do that any longer defaulting to compression but that’s another point for another day).  If I hold my hand to the side of my knee I can still feel popping but I can no longer hear the popping.  As muscles get stronger your joints, tendons and bones get stronger as well.  This is one of the reasons why doctors recommend resistance training for women (and men but women seem real dialed into this one), the strain makes bones stronger which makes you less susceptible to osteoporosis down the line.


I think you get the point, if you have pain it’s typically a sign of weakness in that area or around that area and if you work to address the weakness that is a better approach than treating the pain.


Don’t misunderstand me


One meme I hate goes something like this, whenever someone mentions anything there is always some genius that says “just lift heavy shit bro”.  I hate that because it misses the point of how you address weakness in your body.  If I had just “lifted heavy shit” to address my weaknesses early on I would have gotten hurt.  The same can be said however when you are lifting heavy, I squat over 300 and deadlift over 400 and sometimes parts of me get sore as a result, often it’s a result of just working a muscle a little too hard but occasionally it points out weak points in my lifts that I can work to make stronger.


Am I suggesting that there is no room for pain medication or surgery in extreme cases, I am not.  What I am saying though is that if you need those extreme measures it is likely due to the fact that you didn’t address weakness in a smart manner all along.

Posted in crossfit, personal training, protein supplements, strength training | Leave a comment

Supplements are a poor substitute for a good plan

abouthealthyfoodsA few weeks ago I got a sore throat, I was experimenting cycling Creatine on heavy days and leaving it out on light days.  This is not an indictment of Creatine, just so you know, it’s very common to get a sore throat this time of year in Minnesota.  But it was certainly an option that the Creatine dehydrated me after not using it for a few days.  So I had two options, take Creatine more regularly which artificially keeps my weight a bit higher or lose all my gains.    The reason is simple, not only does Creatine help endurance and increase capacity to your muscle cells but it is also a myostatin inhibitor, which is known to be catabolic (tears down tissue, not just muscle).  If you really want to screw with people in the gym simply say the word catabolic.  I like to think of myself as a science friendly alternative to a lot of the extreme noise you hear related to health and nutrition but it’s very easy to get caught up in all of that.  Which is why it’s not uncommon at the moment to have some skinny guy telling some jacked woman or man what “is” and “is not” correct.  When said jacked woman or man laughs in that persons face she/he is labeled a “bro-scientist”.  Bro-science (why isn’t there a female alternative to this) is simply the act of ignoring actual science in favor of what has always worked.  The obvious implication is that “what has always worked” works despite the actions of the person lifting the heavy weights because it stares in the face of actual science.


What about protein or carbs in the peri-workout cycle?


If you are not familiar with the term the peri-workout cycle is the time before, during and after your workout.  The idea being that you may need carbs to fuel your workouts (you don’t), BCAA’s during your workouts and more carbs and proteins post workout, possibly with some BCAA’s thrown in there for good measure.  We certainly wouldn’t want you to go catabolic.  Working out also serves another function which is often overblown as well, it frees up fatty acids that could potentially be used as energy.  The only problem is that if you are slamming all of these “anabolic” (builds tissue, not just muscle) foods it comes at a cost, your body then uses those foods as energy and since all of them are insulinogenic (they all increase insulin) burning fat becomes a distant goal during this point.  It is much more likely with all that insulin trying to build tissue that those fats get re-stored into your body.  Which is o’kay that is what body building is all about.


Let’s be clear, all the insulin panic out there is for the most part silly unless you are a diabetic or pre-diabetic but you should be aware of the role of insulin.  Insulin builds stuff in your body which is an antagonist to the stuff that leans you out.  Not forever, just for short bursts of time.  This is the problem with the overly scientific approach to body composition, people go to the extreme for extreme results when a good balanced approach is the best long term course of action.  Let me say that another way, most of the people I talk to on a daily basis want results tomorrow, not two years from now.  Why is that? It’s because what they have been doing so far has not been working and it seems obvious that going in the opposite direction is the logical fix.  Indeed it may be the fix depending on what you are doing for health and longevity but I bet you weren’t doing everything wrong because that is rarely the case.  I don’t get a lot of severely obese people calling me so that is the basis for my statement above.  Most people aren’t doing everything wrong, just a few things.


Are you a body builder?


You might be surprised at my response because I think everyone is a body builder in some way shape or form.  We all want to look good naked and whether you lift weights, run or do something else you do that as a manner of addressing the way your body looks and feels.  So let me tell you one of my basic tenets that actually ticks a lot of people off:


You should be building your body most of the time and dieting occasionally


The ultimate goal being under 10% body fat for men and 20% body fat for women, both are highly negotiable in my mind because not everyone is built similarly.  Genetics play a big factor here, I see a lot of men and women trying to fight their bodies basic nature trying to get to arbitrary numbers when the mirror should clearly tell them those numbers should not matter for their body type.  So body type matters a great deal.  With that said you will only go so far with your body composition goals using diet alone, I’ll clarify that a bit by saying “in a healthy manner”.  There are a lot of men and women walking around that are in danger of a stiff wind bringing them to their knees, this hopefully isn’t you.


The question ultimately is do you need supplements to build your body and I would suggest that if you aren’t below the numbers I mentioned above that answer is likely maybe with a strong leaning towards no.  The debate on whether or not supplements are better than whole foods bores me.  The more accurate question for most people is “can you meet your nutrient requirements with real food” and that answer is 100% yes.  The reason people take protein supplements as an example often comes down to the fact that they aren’t getting their total protein in a day without it.  I recommend a number in grams close to your lean body mass, this might only change if you are looking to dramatically increase your lean muscle mass, otherwise that number does seem to do the trick as long as your workouts are asking you to use said nutrients.


What about nutrient timing?


I am certainly a fan and I believe that small changes make big differences over time.  The key there is “over time”.  So let me break it down.  Would 60 grams of protein post workout as your only source of protein be better than getting 150g throughout the day? Certainly not and to some the example is absurd but it’s very common for people to ignore amount of protein throughout the day as a significant number.  The science is very clearly on the side of amount of protein overall being more important than around your workouts.  Another frequent question is “how would this affect my recovery?”.  I will concede that your (and my) recovery is likely better if you ingest protein (or BCAA’s) in a liquid form around your workouts.  The reason you might not take it is because it might be contrary to your weight loss or “leaning out” goals.  I think of supplements like insurance, it’s good to have them there in a pinch but they are there to insure your overall intake in case you lack nutrients for that day.  Once again I need to step back and ask who you are? Are you a body builder prepping for stage or a mother of four in the burbs? Because the difference matters in terms of what I recommend (though honestly if you are a body builder prepping for stage I am probably not your guy).


When and how many carbs should I eat daily?


I eat my carbs at night and have for almost two years.  This stands in the face of the standard recommendation that most people think is correct, namely that you should not only avoid carbs after 6pm (seriously google it, it’s unreal).  I first heard this recommendation from Bob Greene on Oprah but it was later made famous by Elle Macpherson.  In a sense it’s hard to argue with when you look at it as a form of intermittent fasting.  Even if you are assuming that there is some food after 6pm it’s pretty clear that ketogenic diets (fats and proteins) work similar to fasting without food.  Either way there is no magic here but I think I can make a strong argument against it.  Namely that you shouldn’t go to bed hungry and you can get a similar result by simply delaying breakfast.  Let’s assume that Elle Macpherson stops eating at 6pm and wakes up at 6am and eats her carb meals.  Does she eat carbs in an unrestricted manner? I am going to suggest she does not, so let’s assume she takes a conscious approach to her carbohydrate intake.  Also it matters which carbs we are talking about here and are those carbs the exclusive sources of nutrition at those times? Once again, lot’s of factors.  The reason I eat carbs and night and that is what I recommend is because you go to bed full and that fact allows your sleep to do it’s best work.  The basic function of sleep is to repair the damage you did to your body throughout the day, every single day.  Carbs as a general rule make you sleepy and full.  Trust me, I tried it the other way and failed multiple times before I quit banging my head against the same wall.


This of course leads me to how many carbs you should eat and that question is also multi-pronged.  As a baseline I start at 100g a day, I don’t feel like 100g a day is magic but assuming you are eating an adequate amount of protein and eating a moderate amount of fat 100g’s will keep your bodily inflammation in check.  So that is my recommendation for sedate people.  For active people my recommendation changes, women hold glucose in their muscles better than men so I recommend lower amounts for women because of this fact.  I tend to stay under 200g a day with less most days and more the days before I lift heavy.  I am 162 pound man, this is what works for me after trial and error.  Most people would do well to see what works for them (or hire someone to help them figure it out, wink wink).


Should I avoid fat at night?


This is a really funny one because most of the “science based” folks are doing something similar to what the bro-scientist do.  They are taking what they know about one topic and applying it to multiple topics without significant evidence.  Namely that you need to feed your muscles glucose for performance (I agree) and that the best approach to doing so is in the absence of fat.  The assumption part happens based on logic, the logic that the carbs are going to keep insulin high and therefore cause the fat to store more easily.  It’s the basis for all calorie cycling.  The only problem with this assumption is that isn’t what most of the studies are suggesting because there is rarely a mention of fat restriction.  In fact, most of these studies really don’t care about the whole carb part, they are more interested in whether or not people function better with their calories in the evening.  Fats blunt insulin so the uptake of glucose to your cells is slowed.  Fats also slow digestion.  Much of the science suggesting eating carbs at night is the exact science that suggested you shouldn’t eat after 6pm.  Namely that it inhibited your bodies recovery hormones.  So the hypothesis goes that if you eat your fats with carbs (glucose) that slows the digestion and then slows your bodies ability to recover.  I am not going to argue that it does or does not but I would like to point out that the science is not completely there.


I don’t avoid fats at night when I eat my carbs and it hasn’t been my experience that eating less fat and more carbs is substantially better for both me and many of the people that I have worked with.  Those people are not professional body builders however, so if your goal is to be a professional body builder or even just compete on stage then you should at least consider what I am suggesting.  That is simply this, since fat slows digestion it allows for the glucose you are eating to more effectively load into your body over a slightly longer period of time.  This means that you can get a similar (granted possibly worse) result eating fats with fewer carbs.  The ultimate point being that it’s incredibly hard to use very specific studies from scientific literature to make broad generalizations.  The more accurately you can define the study for a specific outcome the less relevant it becomes for the whole.  I am not arguing that carb cycling can’t work, I am arguing that a balanced plan can be similarly effective.


It all comes down to your goals and plans


About a month ago I started cycling in some Westside Barbell training for strength in conjunction with my normal Crossfit workouts.  I have made a few adjustments to make this work, the Westside stuff is typically more heavy work so at Crossfit I don’t always try to Rx the workout depending on how it works with my Westside schedule (or the conjugate method).  Even though I probably rambled a lot on various topics I actually sat down to write this article because it has been surprising to me how much my strength is benefitting just by changing things up a bit.  Especially when you consider that I stopped taking all supplements as a result of getting sick.  When I first stopped I felt more sore than I do now because my body has simply adjusted (could have been that I was sick).  It’s also hard to say that I wasn’t just sore because I was doing something harder.  For the good majority of the year I used supplements and carb drinks as a way to help my muscle gains.  It worked, I gained about 10 pounds of muscle.  I also gained some fat, which happens.  What I didn’t foresee is that I would have similar, if not better gains, without those supplements and carb drinks.  The ultimate point being that science isn’t wrong, it’s just incomplete.  You have to apply what you know and tailor it to your needs.  Creatine, Protein, Dextrose or whatever, they aren’t miracles that will make you jacked.  Getting under the bar and seeking out progress is way more effective than any supplement you will take.  I know it took me a long while to make that point but that is where I was going all along.  The problem with writing a simple article is that the minute you address some topic you have to qualify that topic by explaining it and so sometimes these articles go long.  In the end I hope it helps people more than it confuses them.

Posted in crossfit, nutrition, paleo diets, personal training, protein supplements, weight loss | Leave a comment

What is your fat loss plan?

nutrition personal trainingRecently I went to a party and and at parties you have a lot of people that ask “so what are doing for a living now”? For me this question could literally go a bunch of ways but I default to “Nutrition Coach”.  This sometimes leads to the person pretending to ignore what I said while simultaneously avoiding me like I have pink eye but most times it ends up starting dialogue with 4 to 5 people huddled around my every word.  Maybe most importantly though is when people go get their significant other or friend with something like “you absolutely have to hear this”.  There are some reasons for that but I am going to start at the beginning.  All of these conversations start the same with them saying they want to lose weight and I clarify by saying they want to lose fat.  Most agree, some do the pink eye thing at this point.  This is usually when they ask me about “XYZ” diet plan.  If you do not know I am not a huge fan of any plan per se I default to an overall understanding of food and nutrients and typically at that point the path becomes more clear.  If it does not I can steer clients in the direction they need to go and then typically the path becomes clear from there.

“Do you have a fat loss plan”

“Yes, I am doing Weight Watchers” or “Yes, I eat Paleo” is in incorrect answer.  You may in fact lose fat using those plans but that is not the primary focus of the plan.  That is not a criticism, it’s simply fact.  Here is what I mean, with Weight Watchers you are basically restricting calories in order to lose weight, thus the name.  You are watching your weight without respect for what those calories typically represent from a fat burning perspective, so if you lose say 20 pounds some percentage of that will be fat but it’s only a percentage focusing on the whole and does not specifically target fat.  Paleo dieters better target fat but that also is not the primary focus of the diet.  The primary focus of the diet is to change what you eat from a health perspective.  It does this primarily through recommending whole foods while restricting carbohydrate and foods like grains or dairy.  Once again, not a criticism, I am simply attempting to explain the purpose of the diet to highlight my next points and how they differ.

There are diets that do a better job of targeting fat but they typically come with a nasty side product, they require you to be very precise with food intake and/or activity levels.  Two that come to mind are “If It Fits Your Macros” which is very popular in the body building community and “Zone Diet” which is popular in the Crossfit community.  Both require a level of precision that the good majority of people just would not prefer.

Lastly let me mention Intermittent Fasting because I have more than a few articles on this site about it.  Intermittent Fasting is not a fat loss plan per se.  For instance, you can not eat in an unrestricted way and without some level of counter balance that corresponds with fasting.  Many IF’ers count their calories, many do not but have an approach similar to the one I will mention later.

There are critics and zealots for all of these approaches and my point is not to have an opinion on any of them as much as I think mentioning them highlights the task at hand.  Namely, if you want to lose fat you need a plan.

Establishing a baseline

Every diet I mentioned has a baseline, said simply a baseline is a starting point for a diet (this is typically the first few chapters).  From there the diet typically gets tweaked related to the goals of the individual (that is usually the middle chapters, the rest of the chapters tend to be recipes).  My approach focuses mostly on whole foods but I do not ask people to count calories (or blocks in the case of the “Zone Diet”) because I think for most people it is not necessary.  I like to say that whatever you do needs to be a lifetime plan.  So if you are a beer drinker trying Paleo as a weight loss plan that is not a real good lifetime plan because beer is a grain and a high carb source.  Therefore it’s not going to be a good plan unless you have decided to give up beer for life by my definition.  That is not to say that you could not figure out a way to do Paleo and then eventually incorporate beer later on but that inherently becomes a different plan.  The goal, as I typically lay it out, is to come up with a plan that you keeps you on the same course.

There are times where counting is valuable but it does not need to be to the level of all your foods.  I am a big proponent of getting in a base level of protein so my clients track that for the first few days.  Most people are deficient in the amount of protein they eat on a daily basis and these few days tend to highlight that to them which as an easy fix to the overall problem.  Another way to keep track without keeping track is to look at the parts of your diet that are not vegetables or unprocessed meats.  These are typically your higher calorie items and so if you are eating a pound of almonds a day as an example that could be stalling your fat loss.

Simply eating less

I work on a referral basis so I do not typically throw out offers related to what I charge or “fat loss deals” but I find it astounding that people think they can just eat less.  Trust me, most people have tried the “eat less mashed potatoes” approach and it’s gotten them nowhere.  One criticism I do have for calorie restricted programs is that it naturally limits your energy output, this fact can not be argued by the most ardent zealot for whatever approach that restricts your energy intake.  Inherently if you take away energy arbitrarily it compromises your system.

Similarly if you add activity without addressing for a potential need of additional nutrients you might not get the result you are looking for.  Sure the personal trainer you are working out with might be fit but is that a result of their understanding of how to get you lean? Or is it possibly a result of a life related to staying fit? The majority of my clients are referred to me by personal trainers that have customers that need a customized approach.

“Why” is actually important

What most diet systems tend to do is give you a plan and ultimately you become reliant on that plan for success.  That way when people ask you what you did to look so great you get to say “I am on the Zone Diet” or whatever system it is.  Diets get powerful word of mouth mostly from people that simply want to look like their friends that are having success.  Why the diet is working is either completely obvious (you are eating less food than your body is asking you for) or you simply do not care at this point.  A lot of people just want “A” approach, the problem with just any old approach is that old question again “can you do it for life?”.  I attempt to explain why foods work the way they do and the impact that activity/exercise has on those foods.  From there we work out a strategy based on their life.  It’s not as simple as reading a blog or cost less than the latest diet book that is all the rage but it is typically cheaper than hiring a personal trainer or joining a gym.  Both of which you may still do but it seems to me you will get a better result from both of those things by talking to me first.





Posted in crossfit, nutrition, paleo diets, personal training, weight loss | Leave a comment

Lauren Brooks is wrong about Intermittent Fasting

When you paint topics with too broad of a brush typically that discredits the overall topic.  This has not been the case for Lauren Brooks article on Intermittent Fasting (I will refer to it as IF for the rest of the article).  In the article she compares IF to an eating disorder and suggests that literally “ALL” women that are fasting are opening themselves up to hormonal damage and uses one blog post as well as a few studies that anecdotally seem to make her point.  The problems with the article are many but the basic problem is that IF is not one single system.  She is not very specific about which version of IF she is critiquing and therefore the article does not really warrant serious consideration.  Firstly though I think we need to have a discussion about why women turn to IF in the first place.

Here is the link to Lauren’s article

Losing fat is a hard endeavor

The majority of my clients are women, so I am keenly aware of the struggles and differences between the sexes.  Evolution did not do women any favors either, mobilizing fat can be a real challenge.  Which brings us to the real problem these women are having, dieting too extremely is usually a bad idea.  If anyone has ever been on Weight Watchers you know what I mean.  You start off reducing food intake and you lose a few pounds and then you stall, the obvious answer seems to be to reduce calories further and that is exactly what gets recommended.  If you have more than a few pounds to lose the end of the journey has you extremely calorie restricted, hormonally damaged but yes, as a side result your fat cells are more emptied than they were.

So let’s be clear about what we are talking about here because the problem is not IF, the problem is extreme restriction.  No one calls someone like me looking to lose 20 pounds over a years time, they typically want to know if it’s possible in a weeks time.  If you have not had a discussion with someone that has literally tried everything but always ends up in failure I can tell you personally it is humbling.  So I know that the article Lauren wrote comes from a good place but let’s be clear, if you are someone that helps people lose fat and one of your tools is IF it’s hard not to take her article a little personal.

One size rarely fits all

I will discuss three styles of IF that are very popular.  There is Brad Pilon’s “Eat stop Eat” where you fast for 24 hours, Ori Hofmekler’s “Warrior Diet” where you eat one meal a day and last but not least is Martin Berkhan’s Leangains where you eat in a window.  While Lauren mentioned the Warrior Diet specifically in her article it is the Leangains system that most people consider to be the most useful, especially women.  As a standard recommendation Martin recommends that women eat in a fourteen hour window and not the sixteen hour window that he recommends for men.  So already you see that there are concessions to account for the differences between men and women.  If you have ever read a book on Intermittent Fasting what you basically get is a brief explanation of the system and then an extensive explanation on how to customize the diet for your needs.  So it would be ludicrous to think that any of these authors or any IF proponent would subject their clients to extreme measures that would hurt them.  How it actually works is that you have to be able to customize things for each client and in the end IF is not correct for everyone.  That might seem to back up what she is saying but it really is the opposite.  Also as you tweak and customize eating plans for people you need to have an alternative method, one was not really provided.

Let me provide an alternative for women struggling with IF

The reason why two of the authors recommend fasting throughout the day is simple.  When you wake up your body has used many of your stored nutrients.  So what you eat or do not eat when you wake up makes a very big difference as it relates to fat mobilization throughout the day.  This is why I recommend avoiding eating when you first wake up (if you can, for some people this just is not an option and you simply need a strategy that works with their reality).  So now we get into the debate of how long you should wait and that answer is person dependent but I can assure you that it’s your overall choices regarding restriction that are the real problems from a hormonal perspective.  Let me also be clear that “skipping breakfast” is and never was the problem, for most people the real culprit is the choices they make as their first meal.  Lauren uses as an example of a Paleo blogger that used Leangains and it led to poor food choices that caused various issues (acne and bingeing).  That article actually does a great job of pointing out why you should not do IF without some guidance because it’s the small details that matter greatly.  What people really want from IF is a system that allows them to make poor life and food choices without repercussions, I have bad news it does not do that.

There is another important point to the pitfalls of IF, you can not eat in an unrestricted way with any system and not have some consequences.  The same can be said for the opposite which is the real problem that many of the women struggling with IF are having.  A lot of it goes back to previous dieting experiences where a caloric deficit is used as a means of controlling weight.  So rather than eating mostly whole foods people tend to start IF make poor food choices.  Once they realize they are not getting results with those poor food choices they do what they have learned from previous diet experiences and start eating less of those poor food choices.  Some people even take it further and start extending their eating window past the point of being comfortable.  The basic idea being if the current hammer is not working maybe a bigger hammer will work better.

That is what ultimately leads to hormonal damage.

There are three tools I use when women struggle with a bigger fasting window.  The first is simple, shorten the window (my current recommendations are actually closer to 12 hours as a general rule which means if you stop eating at 9pm and wake up at 6am you have breakfast at 9am).  The second tool is to use a ketogenic approach to eating as a way to continue fat mobilization throughout the morning and sometimes throughout the day.  Basically I have people eat fats and proteins for breakfast.  The predominant food choices being whole foods.  Lastly if clients continue to struggle we try a more balanced approach with all of their meals.  None of this is magic, what works for some does not work for others.  You simply tweak to find what works best.

You should treat your diet with more care than your exercise

I am both a personal trainer and a nutrition coach.  My real interests lie in nutrition coaching because it’s just a more complex topic.  It is also the best way to ensure results.  We are coming up on the holiday season where people will over indulge and after the new year personal trainers will be in high demand.  Nutrition coaches, not as much.  For most people their approach will be the same strategy, try and eat less and move more.  I would just like to put this out there, maybe that strategy is not working and you should talk to someone that knows what they are doing.  Lauren Brooks clearly knows what she is doing and I suspect that when she works with clients she takes a different approach than she did in her IF article.  She tries to find what works off of some baseline that she uses and tweaks from there.  Her article would be similar to me writing an article about why kettlebell books and DVD’s are bad for people’s health.  Not only would that not be true but it misses the greater point that topics related to diet and exercise need to be handled in a more encompassing manner and with extreme care.

Posted in leangains, nutrition, personal training, weight loss | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How do you get better at Crossfit?

Remember when you improved the most as a Crossfitter?  It was when you first started because ego does not matter when you absolutely can not lift the prescribed weight.  Inevitably you would default to some percentage of the weight on the board and just gradually put more weight on the bar in later workouts.  Then there is that perfect WOD, you know the one that just sets up just right for all of the things that you do well.  The weight is five pounds higher than you might like but you go for it, your first Rx, now you are officially a Crossfitter.  More importantly though you are now an Rx’ing Crossfitter.  When you get home your box owner has posted a message on your wall “Congrats on the Rx”, not being one prone to throwing around compliments this hits you hard.  You are there.  Cue triumphant music.


The next days WOD does not set up so well for you and the weight is probably a good fifteen pounds higher than you would like for repetitions but you decide to go for it again.  Your second Rx in two days, except this one was different.  The euphoria from the previous day has been drowned out by the puddle of sweat in front of you.  Pride will not let you say it but this time was a lot harder, it took a lot more from you.  For the last few months you have been able to follow the schedule pretty good but this time you can not.  It’s time for a day off (which, by the way, is a very smart decision).  Since you are on a three on one off schedule it allows you two days to get your strength back.  


The next time you walk into the gym is similar to the second time but this time the wheels come completely off.  It’s very possible this was your worst workout since you started and it does not add up.  Sure the weight was a bit uncomfortable but you had two days rest.  The next morning you wake up and you are about 60%, even worse than that you did not sleep all that well.  I do not need to go on because most of the people I am writing this article for know what I am talking about.  The pattern gets repeated until the obvious happens, more rest and deload.  It’s demoralizing, you worked so hard to become “one of them” only to find out it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.  Does everyone feel like this all the time?  That answer is no but I will get to that later.  In my Crossfit Level 1 class Chris Spealler was the lead instructor and he said something that changed my life, I will paraphrase, “Crossfitting is not about Rx’ing the weight all the time, in fact, that is the opposite of what is truly Crossfit”.


Does Rx’ing the weight make you better?


The concept of just putting more weight on the bar works great in the beginning, especially in the case of deconditioned athletes.  So when you first start out that is often the best approach to just getting better.  Naturally you look around the gym and see that the best athletes Rx most of the workouts so that is the template you would like to use.  The only problem is that it’s probably the wrong approach for almost everyone, even people that have been Crossfitting for some time.  If you look at a lot of the strength programs that many boxes use, like Jim Wendler’s 5-3-1 or Louie Simmons Conjugate system what you will find is that the nuts and bolts of strength come from doing weight at a percentage of your max.  The math is simple, if you have an AMRAP at 135 pounds that you can only do three times are you better off doing it at 95 pounds ten times.  The overall volume in the first instance is 305 pounds, in the second instance it is 950 pounds.  It does not stop there though, let’s say that 135 pounds is 85% of your 1RM do you think you are going to explode through the lift? Of course not, you are going to struggle and possibly injure yourself.  The opposite is true of 95 pounds, those reps are more explosive, you can literally feel your hip flexors loosening.  Best of all it was a better workout and left you feeling refreshed but of course you did not get to write an Rx on the board.


So the answer to the question “does Rx’ing the weight make you better” is almost certainly no when you factor in all of the various metrics I mentioned.  The thing that made you better in the beginning will make you better now, you just need to drop your ego and ask yourself one simple question “do I want to Rx this or do I want to get better?”.


Think like a Trainer


Recently I have focused on gaining strength, in that pursuit I have put on about fifteen pounds.  A lot of that weight is muscle and you would think that the more muscle you add the better you would perform as an athlete.  Which of course you do in certain things, all of my lifts are up considerably but the most noticeable difference is my cardio.  So rather than Crossfit somedays I have begun running hill sprints.  Before that to gain strength I focused on Squats, Deadlifts and Overhead Press, sometimes slow, sometimes fast but almost always at no more than 70% of my one rep max.  I was able to use WOD’s for most of this but other days I did this at home.  Which may be the strongest argument for taking the level 1 certification, it allows you to look at yourself through a trainers lens.  


I am not arguing against Rx’ing workouts at Crossfit because some days you are just up for a challenge and you should embrace those days.  For a lot of people that are struggling to get better what I am suggesting is the missing component.  Beating the snot out of yourself to just do what is on the board is not often the best way to accomplish this.  Lastly the people that do Rx the WOD’s comfortably almost certainly worked their way to doing those workouts consistently.  So in the end if you truly want to get better at Crossfit you should own your programming and deviate towards your specific goals, typically at a percentage of your 1 rep max from 50-70%.

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Paleo for Crossfit Athletes

Loren Cordain’s book “The Paleo Diet” was written as a template to address inconsistencies that he perceived were caused by evolution, namely farming and processing.  He wrote it for people trying to lose weight.  He absolutely 100% did not write it for athletes, I know this because he wrote a follow up that addressed athletes called “The Paleo Diet for Athletes”.  Now I realize as I say this there will be a bunch of people that will say that they are familiar with the book yet numbers do not lie, the first one was a hit, the second one not so much.  I say this because there has been a lot of talk within the crossfit community recently related to sugar.  The problem becomes not what the reality is but what people perceive as the reality.  Does the Paleo Diet allow for some fruit? Absolutely but fruit has sugar in it.  How about Paleo starches like sweet potatoes and squash? They also break down into sugar in your blood stream in the form of glucose.  You might think that the messages of Gary Taubes or Dr. Robert Lustig are open for interpretation but for many people simple is right.  Eat no sugar, that’s simple.  I mean who has the time to research all this stuff?

That answer is, “I do”.

I am also pretty sure I can keep it simple too.

Guaranteed Fat Lost Costs and Program

There really are two kinds of athletes doing Crossfit for this example

Many people Crossfit as a way to lose weight or change their body composition positively, this typically involves some manipulation of bodily fat or muscle, so this is the first group.  That is where the Paleo diet comes in, when combined with Crossfit many people are able to reach their body composition goals.  I have always been a fan of Mark Sisson’s carbohydrate curve, more active equals more carbs, less active, less carbs.  Pretty simple, that is why so many people like it.  Eating mostly whole foods at an overall energy deficit and exercising with intensity gets results.  It’s easy for Crossfitter’s to dismiss the “haters” that make fun of the Paleo diet and Crossfit because it works, six packs do not lie.  I will come back to this point in a bit.

One mistake I see a lot when it comes to Crossfitting and Dieting is that people restrict carbohydrates to a dangerous level.  Ketogenic Diets or diets similar to the first phase of Atkins where you stay in ketosis with extreme carb restriction so your body needs to convert protein to glucose through a process called glucogenesis, seem like a good option because restricting carbs is almost a mantra at this point.  When that stops working, people start eating less to see continued improvement (I’m looking at you ladies).  Fat mobilization is a tricky game, you need to be in a deficit to lose fat but if you stay in a deficit too long the effects on your hormones are negative.  This is an example where more is not better, in fact, it’s worse.  This really applicable for athletes doing high intensity work like Crossfit.  First your body composition goals are compromised but in the end you never reach your performance potential.

Workout of the Day Killers

The next group is the “WOD killers” as we know them in Crossfit.  This group is always at the top of the board in terms of performance.  These folks are typically pretty ripped too, for anyone that thinks the Crossfit Games competitors are the only ripped people doing Crossfit you are wrong.  Crossfit gyms have more six packs than a liquor store.  Some of these folks eat pretty clean most of the time but they often have a hidden secret.  They eat and drink sugar.  They are normally pretty good about not flaunting it because they are already ripped and good performers in the gym, it would add insult to injury to point out that they are not eating celery and chicken breasts all day.  In the end abs are muscles, bigger muscles are the result of work capacity.  The glucogenesis process does not work fast enough for athletes that need a ready supply of glucose for athletic performance.  Energy from fats and proteins will get you far but to reach your performance goals you need carbs as well, specifically those that are good source of glucose.  Don’t worry, some of the old Paleo staples like sweet potatoes and squash fit the bill.

That is really one of the secrets to body composition goals.  To reach your full potential muscle is a necessary component and carbs/sugars help that along.

Paleo Post Workout nutrition for athletes

I didn’t quote stage 1 and 2 but I will provide the link. The recommendations are more in line with endurance runners, for most Crossfit athletes that are not avoiding fruits and whole food carbs having a standard breakfast with mostly fats and proteins works fine.

“Stage III: Eating Immediately After

In  the first  30 minutes  post­workout  (but  only  after long  and/or highly  intense

exercise) and  post­race use a recovery  drink  that  contains  both  carbohydrate and

protein  in  a  4 to ­5:1  ratio.  Or you can make your own  by  blending 16

ounces of fruit juice with a banana, 3 to 5 tablespoons of glucose (such as Carbo­

Pro) depending on body size, about 3 tablespoons of protein powder, especially from

egg or whey sources and two pinches of salt. This 30­ minute window is critical  for

recovery. It should be your highest priority after a hard workout or race.”

Who wrote this blasphemy that spits in the eye of Taubes and Lustig? Loren Cordain did.  What gets lost in all of the conversation of “what percentage Paleo are you” is that athletes have different requirements than dieters.  At some point in your Crossfit journey you are no longer a dieter, you are an athlete.  Athletes need glucose.  In the grocery store pure glucose is sold as dextrose, 5 tablespoons of dextrose is 60 grams of straight sugar.  Why would Loren Cordain recommend this if it were so toxic? Well, because for athletes it typically is not.  The simple answer is that glucose is a toxin in your blood stream, post workout however glucose stores without insulin through proteins call GLUT4’s, that’s right, you don’t need insulin to store glucose.  So when you can bring glucose into the muscle cell you remove the potential of it being a toxin and storing in your fat where all the problems start.  Post workout is the best time to do this.  Let me also suggest that you should still have your sweet potatoes or squash later, you have to think of your post workout meal as a bit of a “bonus meal” because if you try and fit this into your “carbohydrate curve” you are missing the point of how a muscle filled with glycogen (the storage unit for glucose in the muscle) allows you to perform and ultimately gain strength and build muscle.

Incidentally I do not agree with his fruit juice recommendation because it requires too much sugar to get an appropriate amount of glucose and fructose actually prioritizes replenishing liver glycogen first.  Though I do like a banana in my shake for this reason, well that and it tastes good.

Paleo Post Workout drink perfected

Crossfitter’s have a huge advantage over strictly endurance or strength athletes because we get the best of both worlds (even if it’s only degrees of both).  i designed this stack based on using the fats to blunt the insulin response and slow the digestion for better absorption of both the protein and the glucose (dextrose).  Endurance athletes can typically handle the added calories from the fats but their sport does not place a heavy demand on the muscle/skeletal system, this is why endurance athletes typically have a low body fat percentage but are not particularly muscular.  Strength athletes have the opposite problem, their sport places a high demand on the muscle/skeletal system but calories need to be limited otherwise they can store excessive fat.  Crossfitter’s are sort of a happy medium in this respect, because we do a combination of both.  One thing you should know about fats and fat storage is that when your calories are below maintenance you do not store fat as a general rule.

So here is my shake:

30g of Protein from Protein Powder (usually one scoop)

10g of BCAA’s (2 TSP’s)

60g of Dextrose (5 TBSP)

200g of Whole Coconut Milk (half of a can, make sure to be aware of BPA free cans), most often I use Trader Joe’s light and add a TBSP of Medium Chain Triglyceride oil.

1 medium sized banana

Total Calories (gulp) 750 kcal’s.  Remember you drink this post workout because that is the best time to get all of these nutrients into your cells.  Having this pre-workout will not get a similar response.  Also do not be tempted into thinking you need to carb up pre-workout, if you want to have a banana with breakfast or lunch then great but intaking carbs at this point does not address your glycogen stores quite as acutely as the post workout window does.

Confessions of a former fatty

I addressed my issues related to obesity by honing in on body fat reduction.  I went from 32% to 20% upping my protein and fats and being more conscious of my carbohydrate intake.  That got me to the phase of my journey most Paleo’er refer to as “skinny fat”.  I gained a lot of muscle and lost more weight in that process, I got strong in comparison to my former self but trust me the WOD Killers were not shaking in their boots.  I was able to add that muscle without a lot of carbs simply because I was not muscular and far from my genetic potential.  I got down to 9% body fat before I started on my bulking journey, so avoid the temptation to use this article to justify bad behavior, be honest with yourself, could you still stand to lose some more fat because if so those 750 calories a day will not help you.  Like Robb Wolf is fond of saying, I will paraphrase “at some point calories do matter”.

At my lowest I was a small 149.5 pounds, I was athletic but not strong (I wanted every WOD to have HSPU’s or Pull Ups).  I now weigh 160 pounds, about half of those gains was muscle.  That means I put on 5.5 pounds of fat in the process.  If you don’t think that sucks you are wrong, I worked my ass off to lose 63 pounds.  In the end though performance is what drives me now.  There are certain WOD’s where I miss that little athletic guy but last night I Rx’ed Grace for the first time, it took me 8 minutes and 34 seconds.  Once again, the WOD killers did not notice but I did.  That added 5 pounds of muscle allowed me to do something I could not do before.  Carbs did that.  I will probably be dialing in my nutrition for the rest of my life, the WOD killers probably don’t give that too much thought.  It’s often a fine line pursuing performance while also being conscious of your past.  Just remember that some of those things that contributed to you being fat can now make you more athletic.

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To gain muscle faster you need Carbs

The easiest experiment you will ever do, assuming you can feel and see your abs a bit, is to do a good possibly highly intense workout routine and drink 50g of dextrose with some lemon and maybe a tiny bit of salt afterwards.  Your muscles will feel jacked and very full, total caloric cost 200g assuming calories.  The reason why creatine and carbs absorb best post workout is because the goal of what you are doing is to bring the supplement and glucose into your cells (both fat and muscle, fat for later muscle for now).  This is a pretty easy one to debunk folks and all you have to do is drink some lemonade.  The harder one to figure out is protein, studies seem somewhat conflicted but the general rule seems to default to getting enough grams a day with an advantage towards getting some post workout.  Once again it seems like the advantage has to do with the fact that post workout your cells have more of a capacity to absorb nutrients into the cell and thereby increasing the healing and creating new healthier cells.  Pre-workout nutrition seems to fall in the category of overall nutrients, if you feel week and underpowered food helps energy and overall circulating nutrients but it’s not as acute as post workout.  Similarly drinking a shake while working out is pretty close to drinking a shake post workout because most of the factors are the same and nutrients do not digest immediately.  A couple of notable exceptions are football practices lasting say 2 hours compared to an HIIT set for 15 minutes.  The first you should probably consider having some available nutrients the second can wait until you are done.

Guaranteed Fat Lost Costs and Program

My experiments with bulking

For most of last year I was either dieting or super conscious of intake, that is how I went from 31.4% to 9.1% or 32.5 pounds of fat.  I had already lost about 30 pounds before that by simply reigning in bad behavior.  Everything that ever worked was some form of a ketogenic diet, basically very low carb with an emphasis on fats and proteins.  This style of eating was a lot easier when I didn’t work out very often and got harder as I upped my training volume.  The best way to describe it was very cyclical but when I was on I was typically disciplined.  I learned a lot at that time and if I had to do it all again I would change a lot, one thing that is not negotiable though is that if you want to lose fat you have to eat at a deficit.  Ketogenic diets work because you don’t get near as hungry as you would if you ate low fat and primarily carbohydrate.  Also they work well for retaining muscle because they are typically high in protein and fats are said to be muscle preserving because they are a sustainable energy source during rest.  This means that your glycogen stores are preserved and so your body doesn’t go after your muscle to turn those amino acids into energy.  Dietary protein also serves as a bit of a buffer in this respect.  The process in which the body turns protein into glucose is called glucogenesis.

I started my journey at 213 pounds and by December 17th of 2011 I was 149.5.  I should note here that my athleticism was off the charts at the low weight, anything from a body weight perspective I was very good at but anything that involved lifting heavy things was tough.  The goal was to get below 10% Body Fat and at that point start putting muscle on my frame.  I didn’t start this just because I like experiments, I started it because even though I was 9% I didn’t look they way I wanted to look, I didn’t want to be a small 149.5. The way I initially started was to continue to eat about the same, mostly fats and proteins with whole food carbs post workout and some carbs after dinner.  I checked it a few times and my typical carb intake was in the 100g to 200g range.  For the month of January I basically tried an experiment eating mostly whole foods.  On January 27th I took a body fat test and the results were not good, I had eaten a ribeye a day, lot’s of fats and protein, lot’s of whole foods and I gained less than a pound of muscle which is statistically insignificant.  Even worse I did another one about a month later and not only did I lose muscle but I gained body fat.  I also was not getting significantly stronger.  Something needed to change that was clear.

On March 10th of 2012 I weighed 156 pounds, up 6.5 pounds from my lowest and virtually resigned to the fact that I was just too old to gain significant muscle even though I am quite far from my maximum muscle potential.  Most people don’t know this but every person, with a few genetic exceptions, has a maximum muscle potential, mine is 156, on March 10th I had 134.5 (I know this is all data heavy but I do this to point out that I am making these conclusions off of real data).  I had a choice, continue on my really super slow bulking or look for something different.

What got you here will not get you there

Being conscious of intake worked for fat loss, for me that answer was mostly fats and proteins while being conscious of carbs.  That is roughly the same template I still use.  I was stumped and definitely considered it possible that gaining muscle was just something that had passed me by and that maybe my focus should be on maintaining a low body fat percentage but something told me that wasn’t it.  Couple that with the fact that I already knew how to lose fat and my search for muscle building, or at least maintaing continued on.  Clearly whole foods got me here and health is always a concern but maybe there was something I was overlooking.

Fueled by performance

Right about this same time started the Crossfit Open workouts and that’s where everything started to become clear.  I had only 2 ways to go, I was gaining fat but not gaining muscle but I knew that if I cut back to 149.5 that wasn’t going to do a lot for my muscle.  The Crossfit Open workouts woke me up because it was clear I just was not strong enough to compete competently, by competent I just mean to my satisfaction not in comparison to other athletes that may or may not have trained their whole life.  The second workout was all snatches starting at 75 pounds and going higher from there.  It didn’t matter, 75 pounds was all I could do, the next step up was 135 and I could barely move the bar, in a snatch you basically jerk the weighted bar from the ground to overhead with a squatting motion in between.  It didn’t matter, I wasn’t close.  I needed to get stronger to become the athlete I wanted to be.  Within days I bought bumper weights for my garage and I started researching weight training plans.  In the beginning I just really liked getting out there and lifting weights slow and working on form.  I toyed with a lot of programs sometimes working out twice a day but I eventually settled into working out on days I didn’t Crossfit and if I didn’t feel up to Crossfitting for whatever reason I used those days as workout days too.  I was told by a lot of people that I would not get stronger this way and for all I knew they were right but something told me to stay on the path I was on and keep refining my program.  I am still doing that really but my workouts now are versions of the same rather than complete and total changes.

Changes to workout nutrition

In the beginning of March I had not really established a great routine in terms of eating yet.  I was still skipping breakfast and eating around noon.  I typically ate about 3000 calories a day.  The funny thing was that while I was bigger and weighed around 160 pounds most of the time I didn’t look any different really than when I was 149.5, that would change later.  I wasn’t really keeping track of calories but with the added volume I did do one thing.  In an attempt to keep my fat levels in check on rest days I was eating just chicken and vegetables twice a day with a probiotic drink and a coconut milk smoothie.  I ended up dropping that when I noticed I could get a similar result with a small workout on those rest days and thus my rest day protocol of alternating squats (I now do snatches) and deadlifts was born.  The other thing I did was I ate breakfast earlier, typically around 10am and I started to go to the noon class for Crossfit.  I still eat basically two real food meals (both are pretty big) but I added another meal that ended up being pretty important.

Could it be as simple as just adding more carbs?

Around early April there started to be a lot of buzz about this new concept called Carb Back Loading ( or CBL.  Similar to when I started doing a version of the Leangains ( protocol the concepts made a lot of sense.  Like all things you learn it changes your filter and doing leangains I learned that eating carbs later in the day was beneficial.  Basically doing leangains I would wait to eat until noon but I typically had sweet potatoes.  As I mentioned earlier my carbs were roughly 100g to 200g on my most aggressive days, standard leangains is more aggressive on carbs on workout days and more reliant on fats for rest days, basically working out 1 day and then resting 2 but I was working out every single day.  My change was pretty simple I just ate more balanced, even the most avid leangains supporters probably realize that it is a great cutting system but for bulking it has some challenges, the priority is to be lean and retain muscle.  When all of the articles surrounding CBL started to come out it seemed like leangains improved for bulking.  The one thing that you have to realize about all of these protocols is that they rarely introduce something completely new and leangains and CBL follow this path.

How CBL works and why that isn’t magic

You can check all of my writings going back for two years, when people would ask what do I eat for breakfast I have always suggested an emphasis on fats and proteins.  Similarly since about September of last year I ate the majority of my carbs at night excluding my sweet potatoes that I ate mostly at noon and maybe a probiotic drink.  CBL basically just had me move my sweet potatoes to the evening assuming I worked out at 4pm or 5pm.  Cool, that was easy, the only problem is that working out in the evening was inconvenient and I didn’t always like it.  The main idea of CBL is that GLUT4 proteins which basically are like glucose straws activate without the presence of insulin after intense muscle contractions.  Then when you have a post workout carbohydrate drink your muscles are more receptive to uptake.  Another part of the basis for CBL is that the body is less prone to storage in the evening making that the best time to consume the majority of your calories.

Similar to Leangains I think I can tweak it for my level of activity

First let’s focus on the parts of CBL I think are correct, I agree that post workout GLUT4’s are more available and more prone to bring glucose into the cells, both muscle and fat (fat is less of a priority post workout).  I don’t however agree that 4pm to 6pm is more optimal than say 5:30 am or noon.  In fact you could really make a strong argument that 5:30 am is the most optimal and this is why, GLUT4’s are also very prone to storage in the morning.  So let’s look at a scenario that I think would be more optimal than Kiefer’s (the author of CBL).  Fasted workouts at 9am (personally I don’t believe any of this matters all that much, if it does it is only degrees or percentages).  So working out fasted you get the advantage of nutrient uptake partially because GLUT4’s are more sensitive, throw in a couple cups of coffee pre-workout to hold back the mTor pathway for muscle synthesis and bingo, you have a pretty optimal situation.  Here is the supposed problem, which I don’t think is a problem at all.  You are going to be eating a lot of fats post workout (egads, with all those GLUT4’s storing I will get fat).  That isn’t my experience.  Basically the way that Kiefer has drawn up CBL assumes that dietary fats post workout leads to increase fat storage, he is right for body builders that are relatively inactive but what about active crossfitter types or HIIT trainers, basically anyone building muscle with a high energy output.  Said simply fat does not store around maintenance, to use the most extreme example let’s say that you ate nothing but protein powder and Omega 3’s and Olive Oil for 2000 calories (yuck) but your activity was 2500 calories you would not store fat.  So let’s be clear fat timing is not say more important than overall fat intake.  A notable exception might be that fat timing in the morning might lead to a larger energy output.  Similarly while insulin is an antagonist to HGH or growth hormone so is fat, so eating fats during the day might blunt insulin but the net affect to HGH likely isn’t very different at all.

The other point we agree on, energy dense carbs at night is optimal for a number of reasons.  As a general rule carbs make you feel full (think pasta dinner or for clean eaters a couple of sweet potatoes) it doesn’t always last but I will get to that in a few sentences.  Going to bed full is optimal for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it is difficult to sleep when you are hungry or even stay asleep.  When you go to bed full it is optimal from a hormone perspective, so growth hormone and testosterone are affected positively.  Where we MIGHT not agree is on fats, namely eating less fat at night.  This is why.  As I mentioned earlier carbs make you feel full in the short term (think chinese food), as a general rule protein also makes you feel full in the short term and often accompanies fat (which makes you feel full in the long term).  This is the argument I make for eating all macro nutrients in the evening and eating mostly fats and proteins throughout the day (other than post workout).  While eating carbs and proteins might do the trick there is no reason to ignore a good amount of because they act as hunger insurance.  This of course assumes that you can handle the added calories without adding a lot of fat.

I also don’t believe you need to stay under 50g of carbs throughout the day even if you exclude a post workout drink in the morning, this is why.  Firstly let’s assume we aren’t talking about a cinnamon roll filled with sugar, that one might be tough to overcome but lets say that you had a breakfast with 3 eggs a couple of pork chops and took some fish oil, a banana is not going to compromise your fat burning goals and will likely provide you with a level of satiety.  Nor will 3 bananas to get me over the 50g of carbs example.  Why is that, because you ate a diet high in fats and those fats make your insulin response more balanced.  What a lot of these diets tiptoe around is that they think that your HGH response is more or less profound related to activity and nutrition.  I don’t believe this is the case, my belief if that your overall HGH response and mTor are positively affected by activity and nutrition as a whole.  You might be able to affect them marginally but that will not make a big difference.  If you want to build muscle lift heavy stuff and have a good recovery protocol post workout.  Want to lose fat, eat less.  Everything else is just degrees of optimization.

Lastly I think Kiefer is wrong about post workout caffeine intake.  I think fats are better and this is why.  When GLUT4’s are active muscle can convert glucose without the presence of insulin.  Fats blunt the insulin response and slow digestion.  This is Kiefer’s shake 150g of dextrose with 60g of protein.  Here is mine 50g dextrose, 30g of protein, 8 ounces of coconut milk and a tablespoon of MCT oil.  You could really make a strong argument for your fish oil here too.  In Kiefers scenario he is trying to overload his system to get the nutrients in as quickly as possible which is why he needs to use three times as many as I would suggest (by the way my suggestion is more in line with someone like Alan Aragon’s, though I doubt he would be a fan of the fats).  The problem with his scenario is that glucose is a toxin, he suggests using caffeine to blunt insulin but you would need a hell of a lot of caffeine to do that and I think fats are a better option assuming you can budget the calories.

Oh damn, this can’t be right

My current pattern looks something like this:

Eat breakfast about 2 hours before I workout


Drink a recovery drink with 50g of dextrose and 30g of protein

eat mostly fats during the day and eat the majority of my calories at night

Wait a second, this sounds an awful lot like the standard advice of just lifting heavy, have a good recovery protocol, eating enough protein and fit your fats and carbs towards your level of activity.  That’s the advice people have given for years and there is a reason for that.  It works for building muscle.  If it didn’t it wouldn’t have stood the test of time.  Leangains or CBL or anything I can draw up always has some element that is pretty similar to the tried and true.  For leangains it’s mostly about cutting because there aren’t a lot of stories of guys getting jacked doing it.  CBL is for bulking, want to get big, you are going to need carbs to do so.  Or you can do something pretty similar to what has been recommended for years.  Want to cut, eat less, want to bulk, eat more.  The devil is in the details but the details haven’t changed all that much, they have just been packaged differently.

From March 10th to May 5th after months of no gains at all I added five pounds of muscle to my frame, so it appears that I am moving in the right direction.  I am currently at 13% BF.  The biggest change was my workout nutrition and lifting heavy.

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What my kids eat

When I started eating well it was only natural that my family would follow suit, after all, I do the grocery shopping.  Taking a left turn from cereal for breakfast, school lunches and macaroni and cheese for dinner was not easy, mostly because it took time and effort.  At the time I assumed that if I ever got real serious about my kids eating right it would add extra work time and effort on my part.  As it turns out, I was right, it did.  Frankly it’s embarrassing to think that I allowed poor eating habits to fester based on convenience but let’s be honest when life hits you “what’s for dinner” is the first thing out of the window.  That was the case then and that is the case now.  So the first key is to be prepared, you have to plan some meals that you can whip together on the fly.  Even back in the dark days my kids ate fruits and vegetables so some of it was simply a matter of keeping those foods in the house which is even more of a challenge now.  So let’s start with some simple rules that my family uses to eat well.

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Rule #1, Everything in your house should be good for you

If there are 100 things in the house and 1 of those things is a food that does not add value to you nutritionally that one thing will be the first thing eaten and it will be eaten until you replace it.  If you continue to replace it do not be surprised if the other 99 things go uneaten.  It’s not that kids do not like oranges or beef jerky but Captain Crunch is a whole lot better and if it’s available the oranges and beef jerky will rot.

Rule #2, If it’s a treat it does not get kept in the house

Every Monday my family and I eat Ice Cream, we schedule it, sometimes we go out or sometimes we buy Ben and Jerry’s and eat it at home.  Just enough so there are no left overs (which typically is not a problem).  We do this for a number of reasons, a healthy lifestyle does not mean restriction all of the time, in fact, I am pretty sure most people would think that is unhealthy (or at least they should).  This approach is also helpful because it accentuates the value of moderation, I suspect that for most people eating unhealthy occasionally was never their issue.  Part of a healthy lifestyle is doing exactly that and trust me, your kids will like Ice Cream Monday’s or whatever your families equivalent happens to be.

What my kids eat for breakfast

When a person first wakes up they have technically fasted for 8 hours or more, that is what the word breakfast means after all, you are breaking your fast.  Sleep serves a lot of functions as it relates to repair but once you wake up your body is said to be insulin sensitive, what this means is that your insulin is on high alert to store whatever nutrients you put in your body.  Eating sends a signal to your body that everything is fine, so don’t be so sensitive insulin (that was a joke).  Which brings me to more rules.

Rule #3, start your kids day with a balance of fats and proteins with some carbohydrate from things like fruit.

Every gram of fat represents 9 calories, that’s a heck of a lot of energy for 1 gram and your kids can use that energy for a lot of reasons.  There are two things that blunt the insulin response (remember insulin is on high alert in the morning to store stuff for later) fats and fiber.  Fats in this instance are incredibly important because they are an energy source and they keep you full long term.  I think it goes without saying that protein is important because it is used for your child’s growth, if you feed your child protein in the morning it will get used to the best of their bodies abilities as a general rule.  If there is any time of the day that children should be conscious of carbohydrate intake this would be the time that said if they are also eating some fat they will get a more stable insulin response which will mean they will be able to concentrate better in school until lunch time.

Three quick and easy meals my kids love are great examples of what I mean:

Eggs (fat and protein, win win) cooked in butter or ghee, bacon (I would technically rather this be a pork chop, bacon is not particularly protein dense and while the fat in bacon isn’t preferred taste matters) and a half of glass of whole milk.  That’s right whole milk!

A banana with some chocolate almond butter (man this article is making me hungry)

Whole Greek Yogurt (I swear to you my kids love this stuff) with blueberries or strawberries.

Rule #3.5 Why my kids do not eat skim milk, cereals or oatmeal for breakfast regularly

Please notice that I said regularly, actually they rarely eat it but not because they can not, they actually like the other stuff more.  Why no skim milk? Firstly, they aren’t on a diet so calories are of little concern to them but if they were on a diet I would certainly recommend skim milk, especially in the morning.  The reason is simple, lactose is a sugar, sugar in the absence of fat is not blunted causing a more acute insulin response.  Turns out nature has evolved with fat in all forms of animal milk for a reason, nature is so smart.  If you said to most people on a diet do you eat sugar most would be aghast at the very idea while eating their skim milk and low fat yogurt.  Similarly cereals and oatmeals break down to glucose in the blood stream, fiber helps this a bit but not a ton.  So cereal with skim milk for your child for breakfast is not something I recommend, even whole grains.

So this is a no for your child: Cocoa Puffs with Skim Milk or really even Cheerios with Skim Milk.  Carbs make you sleepy and are not a great energy source long term so your child might end up getting hungry and distracted before lunch.

This would be better but not great: Oatmeal, 2 eggs cooked in butter or ghee.

Rule#4(though technically this is more of a guideline) I like my children’s breakfast to be balanced with about 75% coming from Fats and Proteins and 25% coming from Carbohydrates.

I should also mention that similar to Ice Cream Monday we have French Toast Sunday’s, which is why #4 is a guideline and not a rule;-)

This is how I feed my family, I base this off of research I have done and I change it often

I suspect that the things I do for my family will differ greatly from the things you might do for your family but let’s be clear about one thing, nothing I do now related to my families nutrition is by accident.  It is not based solely on convenience any longer.

Let me also say that my kids did not like converting from cocoa puffs to greek yogurt with berries.  Oh well, I vividly remember an argument with my daughter where she said “would you rather I not eat” and when I said “yes actually”, she knew I meant business.  My kids take a great deal of pride in how they eat, certainly if given the option to eat bad choices they would take that every single time but other children often ask my children for advice on what and what not to eat.  They take pride in that and they should, they are great kids and have learned well.

I will end this article here, in the next article I will talk about lunch, school lunches, snacks and dinner.  Hopefully I can get it all done in one article.

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You can not “diet down” to six pack abs

…..ignoring your muscle along the way, abs are muscles.

If you look at any of “ab” ads you see in Google or Facebook people now definitely understand that diet is a major component, and it is.  The real question is can you diet down to a six pack and that answer for most people is a definite no.  If you think your layers of fat are somehow hiding some glorious physique you are kidding yourself.  How do I know this, because I was kidding myself.  The good majority of people that are giving advice as to how to get abs or not get abs are either young or have trained for a very long time.  That is the simple reality.  I realize this is probably bad news for some but the truth often is and there is a silver lining in this message.  I dieted down from 213 pounds to 162 pounds and stalled around 20% Body Fat, I certainly had a long journey but as my body started to change I no longer required the amount of muscle necessary to carry 213 pounds around so it was natural that I would lose some.  The training I was doing at the time did not help though, like most people to lose fat I did massive amounts of cardio, eventually doing a lot of High Intensity Cardio which is known to build muscle (look at any sprinter as an example).  The problem with this was that I would get injured a lot and if you look at most high level sprinters they are in a constant battle with this.  So sprinting and high intensity does have some drawbacks, especially when you do it without the benefit of good health practices and some strength.

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You have to build muscle

I will talk about fat in a bit but your abdominals are muscles, not unlike the biceps you can easily flex and see a result no matter how fat you are.  Abs are different, no matter how much flexing you do if the layer of fat on the top of them is too thick you are not going to see much and I can tell you that there is value in being able to see your flexed abdominals beyond the perceived “beach value”.  So let’s talk about a few realities, the first being a young male that weighs around 130 pounds and just for example purposes let’s say this person is 5 feet 10 inches.  This person really does not need a body fat measurement to make the right decision but let’s say that he is measured at 11%.  The standard advice in the “six pack” world is for this person to go on a diet and “lean out” so in this instance this persons fat weighs 1.3 pounds per fat percentage.  If we have them lean out to say 6% they would then need to lose 5% multiplied by 1.3 pounds, so 6.5 pounds.  So that person is now 123.5 pounds I bet that’s going to look real good on the beach.  When I was in high school as a senior I weighed 125 pounds and I assure you I was under no illusion that if I got down to 120 pounds the ladies would flock.  Now that I am familiar with exercise science I am similarly confident that dieting does not enhance your ability to grow muscle because all of the hormones that are stimulated for muscle growth only do so in a fed state.  You can try and trick your body all you want but it has millions of years of evolution on it’s side and the only way to get muscular is to lift heavy things and eat.  This does not mean you need to be irresponsible as it relates to your bodily fat so having some decent check in points is probably pretty smart but I think most kids are guessing on what their percentage is based on a lot of things that are not very scientific.  The best measurement is simple, get in front of a mirror and if you do not see actual muscles build some until you do and eat like a man (same could be said for women but I was going for macho), mostly whole foods, good amounts of protein and vegetables.  If you are out with friends have some ice cream but if you think ice cream and donuts are helping your cause they are not.  Same could be said for monster drinks, red bull and mountain dew.  Can you get ripped eating donuts and drinking mountain dew, sure, but you will be hungry a lot and that is a pitfall when you realize that your goals are not making you happy (most people are unhappy when they are hungry).

The simple message for this group is to lift heavy things and eat like an adult.

Abs for the middle aged

The second situation is similar to mine so I will use myself as the example.  I was 213 pounds, I have no idea what my body fat percentage was at that point because I was too embarrassed to have it checked, I estimate that it was around 40% at the time.  Like most people my age that are heavy I started with the basics and I quit eating like a moron.  It’s pretty easy to give up M&M’s and Coke’s when you just eat whatever you want but you will not look like you want until you grow up and start eating like an adult.  I did not.  My plan was to exercise, let’s be honest we all want to be able to exercise down because we like what we eat and would rather not change our behavior.  So what do most of us do, we hit the treadmill or the elliptical because those are easy and currently act as a clothes hanger for our delicates (since we have been down this path before).  So now with no M&M’s and Cokes and an hour investment we start to lose weight and can actually make it up the stairs without our hearts beating through our chests.  That’s progress but we do not look any different.  Why? That answer is simple, sure you are losing weight and while it seems like some combination of fat and muscle is fine there is a much better approach that will show you noticeable results with a smaller time investment.  To see your best results get your biggest muscles moving and learn to squat and deadlift, in the beginning you want to exercise some caution and focus more on higher reps at a percentage of what you think you are a capable of doing one time, even if it is theoretical.  If you have flexibility issues (I still do) you are much better off working on your form at lower weights than trying to push your limits too early.  Use your weight lifting as your cardio, doing your reps in shorter bursts in 30 second intervals 2 reps and 10 sets or intervals is a good start, this will take you 5 minutes.  If you want to do some accessory work then great, it’s nice to be in the gym but if you are going to do cardio do it slow (unless you are weight lifting with good form).  Anything more than a brisk walk will contradict your goal of muscle building and that extra speed does not burn that many calories any way.  The three movements I do in the gym are overhead press (you can do bench press as well), squats and deadlifts.

The value I talked about earlier in having abs is that it is a constant reminder of your health goals.  This is not dissimilar to the person that judges their weight loss goals by the way their pants fit but it is much more visible.

This article is not about diet but to suggest it does not play a part would be wrong

For both groups the answer for food is similar but let’s go over the basics.  Your protein requirements should equal the lean body mass you are looking to achieve, for the slender individual looking to gain some mass at some point I would take it in chunks.  Start with 130 grams of protein from mostly whole food sources and limit your whey protein supplements to post workout.  While calories are not a concern typically for this group I like using unflavored whey with a banana and some coconut milk, or you can just eat real food which is what I would recommend but I realize the temptation is there.  Also eat your vegetables, limit your fruits to a few pieces a day and take some fish oil.  This applies for both groups really.  For the heavier individual your protein requirements should equal your lean body mass, this is important for a number of reasons.  While you think you want to add muscle while losing fat I have some bad news.  You are much better off simply keeping the muscle you have and focusing on the fat.  Unlike the first scenario you CAN in fact diet down to six pack abs but you will not be able to do this if you lose your muscle along the way.  What I did was I gradually took out the higher calorie foods and replaced them with more nutritious options.  If you want to have mashed potatoes occasionally then great, every night is a mistake in my opinion, similar could be said for a lot of the foods that got you where you are today.  Whole foods that are rich in nutrients provide you vitamins, proteins and fats keep you full and use your carbs to fuel your workouts.

Shallow goals are easiest to compromise

My initial goal was not to have six pack abs and I can tell you that if you get there you might be surprised at the way you feel once you do (cliffs=it’s cool but a bit disappointing).  Vanity goals only take you so far and while I have had days where I have had noticeable progress and those days feel good you never quite feel 100% there, I am speaking for myself but I have talked to many people about this topic.  So having a six pack should not be your goal, before joining the gym I currently work out at that was my exact situation, I was floundering around with vain goals and the thing that kept me going was that I simply was tired of giving up.  Had I not found the gym and trainers I work with now I would likely have succumbed to frustration.  Here are some of the highlights of the approach I suggest:

1.  Be a part of something.  Whether it is power lifting, crossfit or some type of organized training with a group you will do better as part of a group as long as you measure your improvement by yourself and not others.

2.  Find a mentor or a support group.  Just make sure the people are supportive and have similar goals to yours.

3.  Any diet that involves being hungry all the time is not sustainable and contrary to your end game goals.  Remember the payoff is never worth the sacrifice in this instance, if you think you will perform better athletically at a lighter weight then great but extreme dieting rarely lands someone where they want to be in the end.  A long term sustainable approach focused on performance is the better way to go.

Embrace the journey

Whether you are a young kid starting the game or an old dog re-joining the party today will not get you where you want to go.  It will take a constant effort to sustain you and you will not stick with a plan that makes you uncomfortable and unhappy.  Now that I am lean I like to run but I only do it once a week because I do not want to compromise my strength goals.  I also like lifting really heavy and challenging myself and my limits.  You can likely reach your goals without doing it this way but it will be slower journey.  Lastly let me say that when you diet keep it flexible, a few cookies at your in laws house is not going to set back your goals quite the way starving yourself and then bingeing ever will.  Flexibility is the key and whether it is diet or exercise give yourself a break, you have your whole life to reach your goals but do not make the mistake of not having any at all.

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