4 Ways Hiring an Expert Changed My Nutrition

After years of experimentation, I only have a few hard and fast rules left about the way I eat.

  1. Eat whole foods and avoid packaging.
  2. Eat foods that make my body and my mind feel good.
  3. Eat enough to fuel my training.
  4. Eat well and practically.

Usually, that ends up including a lot of fruits and vegetables; little to no dairy; lean meat with every meal; complex carbohydrates; and a lot of healthy fats (avocados, oils, salmon, chocolate, ice cream… wait, what?).

Eating should do several things. You should feel satiated after meals. Your body should regulates itself at a comfortable weight, even with a healthy amount of indulgence (in my case, that means meals out and/or desserts). Your sleep should be consistent and uninterrupted by hunger pangs or discomfort. Your hair, skin, and nails should be healthy.

All those things mean you’re doing something right. 

I can tick most of the boxes, but I still felt the need to change it up. Why?

 

Why I hired a nutritionist

You guys know that I train a lot. I lift heavy. I condition. And I feel like I should be improving faster than I am.

While a big part of CrossFit is trusting the process, it’s important to recognize when professional advice can be a game-changer.

I wanted to do a little experiment to see how changing up my diet would affect my training. So I enlisted the help of a nutritionist I knew through a friend of a friend. 

After asking about my body, goals, training, and habits, she had me track my normal intake for a few days. Then, she put together a plan that changed up the way I was getting my nutrition.

To make a long story short, I’ve bumped up my protein and slightly reduced my fat intake. My carbohydrates are high, but my sugar intake (which I had never even looked at) is limited.

I’m committed to this plan for four weeks. After that, I’ll take note of how my training is feeling, how my body is adapting, and I’ll put together an update.

I’m two weeks in and I’ve already learned a few lessons: Follow along:

 

Sugar is Everywhere

Maybe everyone in the entire world knew this except me, but it is super hard to get a lot of carbs into your system without also ingesting a lot of the Thing of Evil (sugar). I’m not a fan of processed food, so most of my carbohydrates previously came from fruit. Fruit is great - lots of micronutrients, etc. - but it’s also loaded with sugar, which your body treats as any other source of fructose. While I’m by no means cutting out fruit (the micronutrients!), I am being more careful about how much I eat.

 

It’s Not Hard to get Enough Protein

Anytime I’ve shared the exact number of grams of protein I’m eating per day, I get the same response: “Oh, there’s no way I could eat that much protein. It’s just not possible."

Guess what? I felt the same way. And it is possible. It’s not even that hard.

Granted, I bent my rule about processed foods to include protein powder, but it’s clean protein without a ton of additives that tastes good. Combined with 3.5-4.0 oz of lean protein at every meal, it’s been easy to hit my protein goal.

 

Change the Foods, Not the Amount

I’m eating slightly less than I was before, despite my goals of building lean muscle. However, because the ratios are so different, I’m already noticing muscle gains and I just PR’d my deadlift. Clearly, the strength isn’t going anywhere.

Whether you’re looking to drop body fat or increase muscle mass, think about the proportions of your food before doing anything drastic to the quantity. Are you constantly falling below your fat requirements? Are you including enough carbohydrates, especially around your training? Work on that first.

 

Measuring Food is No Big Deal

One of the reasons I was procrastinating enlisting a nutritionist was, in a word, laziness. I knew that I’d have to start portioning and weighing my food and I just didn’t want to.

Newsflash: it’s easy.

Since I cook simple, wholesome foods, it’s no big deal to keep a scale on the kitchen counter and simply weigh out portions onto my plate right before I eat. Any more extensive recipes get calculated in MyFitnessPal first, and then weighed onto my plate.

My experience has been positive so far. My only concern is a slight weight drop, which is not my goal. The scale isn’t a great indicator of anything, though, so I’m not worrying too much quite yet.


The bottom line? When you feel stuck, take a good long look at the areas you can improve or change. You already know them: training, nutrition, and recovery. What needs dialling in? Can a professional help you make those changes? Sometimes, asking for help is the best step you can take.

You Have The Time You Make

You’ve heard this before. Everyone has the same 24 hours a day; if you don’t have time for something, it’s not a priority; if the CEO/mother of ten/business owner/PhD student can find time for a spin class before work, why can’t you?

Part of that is true. There’s no getting around the fact that you have to prioritize your fitness and allocate the necessary time. 

Still, that doesn't make it easy. Family is a priority, and work, and the other 3000 things that build a healthy and happy lifestyle.

It's true that even one hour of training, several days a week, will bring you pretty good general health (coupled with nutrition and healthy habits, of course). Still, few competitive CrossFitters are satisfied with that. We all want more.  

Luckily, there are a number of ways to make the time you spend in the gym - whether that’s forty-five minutes, an hour, or three - the most valuable it can be. Here are a few.

 

1. Plan your workouts

If you’re joining in with the classes consistently, you’re home free with this one. Getting the most out of your WOD can be as simple as chatting to whoever is responsible for programming. Chances are, they’ve got a larger plan in place; if you’re only able to come to three or four classes a week, ask which days will provide the most beneficial balance of strength, conditioning, and gymnastic work. Make sure your plan aligns with your coach’s vision for that cycle.

If you’re following your own programming, you have a bit more work to do. Still, the most important part is knowing the plan when you walk into the gym. Don’t waste time deciding on your rep scheme when you’re warming up.

 

2. Reduce rest

If you have a lot of volume to get through in a short amount of time, consider cutting back on your rest. That might mean working at a lower percentage of your overall output so you can adequately recover in a shorter time slot. Is it ideal? No. But neither is not finishing your programmed workload.

 

3. Use extra time wisely

Make two lists: one of all your strengths, and one of all your weaknesses. If you’re anything like me, your list of strengths is going to include movements you enjoy; your weaknesses are probably movements you would rather never do again (looking at you, burpees).

Whenever you have spare time that you can spend in the gym, choose two of your weaknesses and one strength.

My last one looked like this:

21-15-9
Toes to bar (weakness)
Push-ups (weakness)
Wall balls (strength)

Quick, simple, and a good starting point to helping you become a better-rounded athlete.

(If you’re hardcore, pick all weaknesses. I get too frustrated by workouts like that, and prefer to throw in a movement I love.)

If you’re really stuck, head over to Crossfit HQ or Competitor’s Training. Both post daily WODs, and might provide a spark of inspiration.  

 

4. Remember the big picture

Keep in mind that improvements are made in the gym, in the kitchen, and in your downtime. You have to eat, so make sure your nutrition is geared towards your goals. Recovery is vital for proper training, so do everything you can to get 6-9 hours of uninterrupted rest.

Muscle building, weight loss, injury rehabilitation, anything - it’s all dependent on your overall lifestyle. It’s not just about the volume.

Train smart. Use your gym time carefully, stay on track with nutrition, and rest as necessary. Results will follow.

 

New Month, New Me (Sort Of)

Okay, not quite a new me. Still, the same me is entering her second full week at our new gym, Studeo55. That means new coaches, fresh programming, and a different routine. 

Not long ago, I wrote about making the switch to morning sessions. That, at least, has stayed the same. The switch to 6:00am training went smoothly, and I decided to keep it up at the new gym. Morning sessions lets me start my day in my favourite way, keeps my schedule synced up with Damien's, and frees up time if I want a second workout later on. Win-win. 

(I'm also staying consistent with morning nutrition. A half-scoop of protein and a few cups of coconut water break the fast well for me. I'm satiated enough to get through the workout, but not stuffed or uncomfortable.) 

Everything else, though, has changed. 

I followed Ben Bergeron's Comp Train programming at the gym I previously trained at, and I had no complaints. I love his programming; the workouts were challenging and it was a perfect mix of gymnastics, strength, and conditioning. 

The only downside? I was training alone. That was fine when I already knew everyone at my gym, and had the space to do so. Studeo is a different story. 

I'm a big believe in the community aspect of CrossFit, but it's hard to get to know people when you're hiding in a corner doing your own workout. There's no better way to make a friend than to suffer alongside them in a tough WOD. 

Which is exactly why I decided to try the Studeo programming, and join in the classes - at least for a few weeks. 

Good, good decision. Studeo's programming has been fantastic so far. My aerobic capacity and endurance are already improving; even the warmup is making me fitter (I'm a sweaty mess by the time we're 10 minutes in). 

I think I'll eventually supplement the programming with a few strength sessions per week, but that's just my own desire to work the weaknesses. Overall, my experience with Studeo has been really positive. 

(Plus, they have fancy change rooms and showers and water-bottle service. Water bottle service, guys.

Yes, change can be hard. I miss the people at my old box. I miss the space (Studeo's classes are packed). I miss the comfort that comes from growing with a place, and becoming a part of the family there. 

Whenever I'm feeling nostalgic about Tactix, I just remind myself that new challenges are good for growth. After all, CrossFit teaches you to be prepared for the Unknown and Unknowable. 

That's exactly what this change will do for me. It's a chance to freshen up my training and refocus. After all, you can't get better if you're always staying the same. 

Source: http://www.studeo55crossfit.com/

Making the Switch to Morning Training

In the two years I’ve been CrossFitting, I’ve done everything from religiously attending the 6:00am classes, to multi-session Ben Bergeron programming in the middle of my day, to powerlifting in the evenings. No set routine has lasted longer than a few months, because I’m 24 and life moves fast and what can you do.

It’s been all over the place – and it’s all been great.

A few factors have changed recently, though, as they have a tendency to do. That means my training is changing, too.

 

Change #1

I started working a full-time, real-life, 8:00-4:30 type of job. On the upside, I feel like I’ve found my career and I love my work.

On the downside, I spend less time in the gym. I’m there after work for an hour to an hour and a half, and I generally only do one two-a-day per week.

Luckily, this doesn’t seem to have affected my progression very much. I’ve PR’d, competed, and finally figured out butterfly pull-ups. So, no big deal.

 

Change #2

Because of those PRs, competitions, and pull-ups, I’ve also narrowed in on what I need to work on. Powerlifting has helped hugely in terms of my overall strength. Now, it’s time to get back to technique, upper-body strength, and gymnastics stuff. Sticking to Competitor Training (can you say #BuiltByBergeron?) is the best move for me right now.

If it’s good enough for Katrin, it’s good enough for me. Rules to live by.

 

Change #3

A few months ago, the gym I’ve been going to since I started training changed ownership. It’s now focused primarily on Olympic lifting, which means there’s a lot more people and a very different feel.

As a result, I’m switching my training to 6:00am across the board. It’s quieter in the morning, I know all the regulars, and I’ll have space to do my thing.

Still, switching to morning training is already taking a physical toll. I am noticeably weaker in the morning, and my energy levels are significantly lower. While I remember training fasted with no issues when I started, I now find myself getting hungry before I’m done my warmup.

I’m in a trial and error phase at the moment. Failing lifts at 75% is no fun, so obviously I need a new approach.

 

How I’ll Keep From Dying

To figure out how to make my morning sessions as effective as possible, I made a list of all the important things that go along with training. Yes, I love lists. Yes, I am a nerd.

 

Nutrition

Obviously, this is a big one. Weight training while fasted isn’t recommended, especially since I’m not trying to lose weight (if anything, fasted training can contribute to muscle breakdown). While the jury’s out on whether protein is a beneficial pre-workout, getting some simple carbohydrates into your system before a session is a good idea. Food with a low glycemic index - like fruit, juice, cereal, etc. - digests quickly. That means your body can access those carbohydrates and easily use them as fuel.

Like most people, I can’t stomach a full meal right when I wake up and go to train. I’m currently experimenting with mixing about a cup of iced coffee (hello caffeine), two cups of coconut water (which rehydrates the body and provides simple carbohydrates), and a half-scoop of protein powder (because I’m secretly a bro and want a little protein always).

 

Sleep

 If I’m training at 6:00am, I’m up by around 5:15am. Sleep is a crucial component to safe and efficient training, which means I need to commit to being in bed by around 9:30pm. I’m a notoriously light and difficult sleeper, so I’m also committing to turning my phone off by 8:00pm and taking Rescue Remedy as needed.

Since I’m secretly 90 years old, I was already going to bed around 10 and waking up by 6. Hopefully, this won’t be a drastic change.

 

Warming up

I’m so bad about warming up - I love to just jump into whatever training I have to do that day. Our bodies are stiffer and colder after sleeping for eight hours, though - that means we’re also more prone to injury. I need to spend more time properly mobilizing and warming up before I get into my lifts. Ugh.

 

Flexibility

No, not in the Russian gymnast sense of the word. Since I’ll be training in the morning before work, I need to be both time-efficient and forgiving to myself if I have to change things up. Today, for example, I modified the RX weight in the programming so I could complete the necessary reps before having to rush home and change.

Is that ideal? No. Is the world going to end? Also no.

One day, I’ll have all the time in the world to kill myself with relatively heavy deadlifts in unbroken sets of 20 (THANKS BEN BERGERON). Until then, I need to be okay with doing as much as I can do, when I can.

Sure, I saw the switch in training to mornings as a bump in the road. I wasn’t particularly excited about it. But instead of being cranky, I decided to take this as an opportunity to reevaluate where I can dial in my attention.

So. Food, sleep, warm ups, mental game on point. Sometimes it’s important to remind yourself about the basics. Now, all that’s left is the execution.

Wish me luck.  

 

Training and Travelling: Finding the Balance

If you’ve been looking around the blog recently, you’ll remember this post about the trip Damien and I took to Victoria for our anniversary. In it, I talked about the three different CrossFit boxes that we dropped into. I mentioned how much I appreciated the people we met, the workouts we did, and the shared love we have for the sport. All true – and all reasons I love exploring new boxes when I’m away.

Sometimes, though, travel isn’t about training. When you’re on the road for a special event, or a short amount of time, or solely to catch up on some R&R, training might have to take a backseat to allow you to get to most out of your experience.

So when’s the right time to pack up your Nanos, and when should you take a gym vacation?

 

1) When your trip isn’t about you

This past weekend, I flew to Nashville, Tennessee for a good friend’s bachelorette party. I would have loved to check out a box while I was in Tennessee (hello, Rich Froning is from there).

The problem? I was only in Nashville for two days, the trip was planned and organized by the bride-to-be, and I rarely get to spend time with her (or our other friends). I know my friends would have completely understood if I took a few hours off to go train - they even would’ve encouraged me.

And yet, I would have been sacrificing those hours of quality time with important people to serve self-interested ends. Which is ultimately why I decided it wasn’t worth it, and I’m glad I did.

It can be tough to stay away.  Still, I don’t regret it for a minute. I know that I made memories with my friends that I would have missed by sweating it out at the box.

 

2) When your trip is all about you

If you feel a burnout creeping up on you and you book a few days away to recharge, consider taking the time off training as well. Exercising can be amazing stress-relief (all the endorphins), but you know as well as I do that training can be mentally and physically draining.

If even one or two of the workouts you programmed into your trip don’t go well, you’re cutting into your R&R. That means you’re limiting yourself.

Everyone needs a break – there’s no shame in that. In fact, I’m willing to bet that you’ll come back to the box stronger for it.

 

3) If your trip is super-short

Yes, in an ideal world, training doesn’t suffer when you have to take whirlwind work trips or overnighters to visit family. You fit in the programming, you get it done, and you feel better for it.

In the real world, taking very short trips (that still include travel time, sleeping in a different bed, and time away from your kitchen) can be incredibly draining.

Forcing yourself to smash through your normal workload while your system is under duress won’t help you. Good workouts are only good if they’re accompanied by adequate sleep and sufficient nutrition.

My suggestion? If you know you’ll need to be away for one, two, or three days, adjust your programming (or ask your coach to). Double up on sessions in the preceding days so you can use your travelling days as rest days. Or, go the active recovery route and switch out your weightlifting work for swimming, a light run, or a long romwod. Just don’t break down your muscles without planning to rebuild them.

Like I said, sometimes travelling and training go hand in hand. Normal vacations, work trips, and holidays are no reason to skip your programming. It’s about assessing the areas of your life that are strong, and those that are lacking, to maintain balance.

 

Don’t sacrifice your mental or health, and don’t throw away valuable family time, for your physical goals. Life’s too short.

 

 

 

Work, Work, Work, Work

You guys know I’m a writer in my everyday life, right? I’m also a powerlifter, and a CrossFitter, but I don’t make a living off fitness – I’m a copywriter, and I’m trying to write a children’s book.

I’m often surprised at how the two areas overlap. Lulls in inspiration coincide with weeks of tough workouts. Challenges in one aspect of my life are mirrored by challenges in the other. Luckily, solutions can often be applied across the board as well.

Anne Lamott – who I kind of idolize, I admit – recently tweeted that “The proportion of drudgery to inspiration, for me, is roughly 3.5 weeks of plain old hard writing, to 7 minutes inspiration.”

This was part of a series of tweets about the importance of just putting in the work: locking yourself to your desk and getting the words onto the page. There’s no secret formula and no tricks. You just have to keep doing it, over and over, even when you don't want to. Especially when you don't want to. 

Sound familiar to any CrossFitters out there?

One of the cardinal rules of CrossFit is that you have to just show up. Consistency is everything.

The moment after a PR is an amazing one. You feel accomplished, proud, animated, validated.

It’s also fleeting. It’s over before you even realize it.

Those PRs are probably the reason you keep coming back to the box, day after day. Improvement isn’t defined by those moments, though.

You get better in every other session. Every minute of just pure, grinding, put-your-head-down-and-do-it work.

That kind of grunt work usually isn't sexy, and it isn't always fun. But it's necessary. And it's character building. 

I've learned that if you're looking for a distraction, you'll find one. There will always be a new Instagram feed to scroll back through, or a new BuzzFeed article to gawk over. The thing is, there won't always be time for you to achieve the things you want to. You should probably get started. 

Believe me - I'm a master procrastinator and the queen of working under pressure. Anyone can change. I have faith in you. 

The pain of taking the first step will be far outweighed by the pleasure of the reward. I promise.