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“7 Tips To Help You Lean Out WITHOUT Tracking Food” by James Barnum

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Eat To Perform is all about fueling your body for optimal performance, and we believe in using data like food logging to determine what exactly “optimal” is.  That said, most people don’t want to spend even a few minutes each day tracking food and for that to work, you have to focus more on behaviors and food choices.  It’s not exactly the best way to go about things, but it can work if you simply don’t have the inclination to track food.

Here are seven tips that can help you lose body fat without tracking food.  Number 1 is probably the most important!

1.  Start with more food and gradually eat less.  The best way to ensure that you lose body fat is to make sure that you’re coming from a stable base so you have more room to remove food and create a deficit.  If you’re already eating barely anything or you eat sporadically, there’s nowhere to go.  For that reason, you should start off your fat loss phase by gradually and consistently increasing your food intake over a 3-4 week period.  This is called a diet break.

You WILL gain weight on your diet break but it will be mostly water and muscle glycogen.  This is a good thing.  Once your weight has stabilized at a higher food intake, you’ll gradually remove food – mostly carbohydrates – and start to see a downward trend in your weight as you lose body fat.

As a general rule, you want to lose about 1% of your body weight each week – between 1 and 2 lbs. depending upon how heavy you are.  Any more than that and you risk losing a lot of muscle mass.  As always, take things gradually!

For more info on diet breaks and why undereating all the time is actually killing your fat loss, check out our eBook “Your Diet Sucks!”

2.  Eat plenty of highly satiating foods.      The fat, fiber, and water content of a food greatly affects how full you feel after eating.  As you have no doubt experienced in the past, when you feel full, your appetite is suppressed.  When you’re not hungry all the time, it’s easier to maintain a Calorie deficit and lose body fat or keep it off!

  • Foods to include in each major meal are fibrous veggies like:  broccoli, lettuce, spinach, asparagus, kale, etc.
  • You also want to make sure you have a generous serving of protein with each meal:  beef, chicken, fish, eggs, etc.
  • Last but not least, don’t skimp on the fat.  Great sources include avocado, walnuts, salmon, olives, and yes – there is room for some bacon.

For more ideas, check out our article “A Foundation of Foods”.

3.  Focus on protein.  When you’re in a Calorie deficit, eating an adequate amount of protein is extremely important.  Not only does a protein-rich diet help you maintain lean mass as you lose fat, but it’s also highly thermogenic.  That means that it actually adds to your daily Caloric burn – it takes energy to break down protein, so less of it is stored!

The question you probably have then is, “How much protein should I eat every day?”  The least complicated way to do things is just to eat 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.  For example, if you weigh 150 lbs, you’ll eat 150g of protein every day.  It’s really that simple.  If you’re going to track anything, track your protein.  You’ll thank yourself.

Now, eating that much protein can be hard for some people, so don’t hesitate to have a protein shake to make things easier on yourself.  For more info on protein and why you need it, check out our article on “The Basics of Protein”.

4.  Get some light activity on your rest days but DON’T overdo it.  
To lose body fat, you need to be in a Calorie deficit.  Many of us live fairly sedentary lives outside the gym, and thus our total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is lower.  That means that in practice, it’s easier to overshoot our Calorie intake and reach maintenance Calories for the day, even if we’re trying to create a small deficit!

For that reason, it’s a good idea to make sure you get some light activity on your rest/off days to bump up your TDEE a little bit – especially if you work a desk job.  When I say light activity, I mean light!  It’s tempting to push it to the limit in hopes that you’ll burn more body fat, but exercise can be a lot more stressful on your body when you’re not providing it with at least a maintenance Calorie intake.

Go on a walk.  Take a hike in the wilderness.  Play with your kids.  Throw a frisbee around the back yard for your dog.  Even gardening and yard work count as light activity and it all adds up without increasing the amount of stress your body is subjected to!

If you DO want to hit the gym, take it easy and scale the workouts back.  Don’t turn a rest day into a heavy workout day!  I recommend checking out this article for some tips on keeping everything productive:  “Remember Low Intensity?  That Still Works”.

5.  Lift weights on a regular basis.  Along with eating enough protein each day, resistance training is vital if you want to maintain your muscle mass as you lean out.  It’s difficult to build muscle in a Calorie deficit, but it’s surprisingly easy to maintain as long as you keep hitting the weights.

So what should you do to keep all of the hard-earned muscle you’ve built?  High reps?  Low reps?  Heavy weights?  When it comes down to it, what built your muscle will maintain it – don’t change your lifting up too much but don’t put too much emphasis on hitting new 1 rep maxes.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lift heavy, but you shouldn’t neglect the more moderate “hypertrophy” rep ranges either.

If you aren’t lifting weights, do your research and get on a good program like Strong Lifts or 5/3/1.  Current research suggests that 3 sets of 10 reps each on the big movements – squat, deadlift, bench press, rows, etc. – is plenty to help you build and maintain muscle.  A few additional heavier sets can help you build and maintain strength.  For more info on the different types of lifting and why you might want to utilize different styles, check out our article “Put Strength First”.

6.  Eat most of your carbs around training.  Carbohydrates are vital if you want to perform your best.  They’re the quickest source of energy available, and most tissues in your body require them to operate.  We recommend focusing carb intake around exercise – before, during and after – because that’s when demands for energy will be their highest.

When you aren’t working out, you can focus more on eating protein and fat.  It’s important to note that if you work out first thing in the morning, your pre-workout meal will actually be your dinner from the previous night.  If that’s you, eating most of your carbs in the evening has its advantages.

7.  Give yourself room to grow.  At some point, your fat loss will stall.  That’s inevitable.  When that happens, don’t freak out – stalls are the product of adaptation.  You need to change things up and take a diet break like we described in tip #1.  Increase your food intake so you can stabilize and start the next stage of leaning out.  Think of it like “two steps forward, one step back”.  As a general rule, 3 weeks of more food will allow your metabolism to recover so you can get back to work and as long as you take things gradually, you won’t put on a ton of surplus body fat.

“How much food do I add in?” 

Well, without tracking your Calories, you can only really guess.  That said, you should weigh yourself in the morning on an empty stomach after you use the bathroom (this is important) a couple times a week and ensure that there is a slight upward trend in your morning weight – you want to gain about 3% of your weight back over this 3 week period.  If you’re stalled out at (say) 140 lbs. you want to gain between 3-5 lbs. of morning weight on your diet break.  Much more than that and you risk putting on some unnecessary body fat.

You should notice at some point that your weight gain levels off, your energy levels go up, and you start to look “full”.  At this point, you can decide what’s best.  You can either stay there for a while or gradually take out some food until your weight starts to go down again as you should have done at the beginning of your fat loss phase.

“Training Tips for Beginners” by James Barnum

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Every person who lays eyes on this article was a beginner at some point.  Many of us who’ve spent years refining our skills still consider ourselves beginners (I know I do), and that’s a great attitude to have if you ask me.  I believe that it pays to remain humble and open to ideas, old and new.

What I’m about to present to you isn’t a magic program or anything like that – it’s just a few common sense training tips with a dash of motivation thrown in for good measure.  So, whether you’re just starting out and you need guidance, or you’re looking for something to reflect upon as you move to the next stage, I think you’ll find this a good read!

Find A Balance

When you begin your journey, it can be tempting to buy into the “more is better” philosophy and spend every day in the gym for hours on end, but some consideration for factors outside of training is necessary.  We have jobs, families, and other hobbies that require our time and energy.  This puts a limit on how much time we can devote to exercise.

After years of training, I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that missing an important birthday or social function because you were working on your deadlift is only cool until you hurt the feelings of someone dear to you.

Always put what matters most first.  Don’t feel bad about missing a workout.   Training can always be rescheduled.  Fit exercise into your lifestyle, not the other way around, and you’ll set yourself up for long-term progress and results.

Train Efficiently and Don’t Be Too Specific

Speaking of long-term results, it’s paramount to acknowledge that what you’re doing today influences what you’re going to be capable of in ten years.  For you to get there, you’re going to have to commit.  There are no shortcuts.

To that end, we’ve all been exposed to the idea that working hard is the key to progressing and while I personally believe that that holds true for fitness, it has to be applied correctly.  If you work efficiently and apply just enough overload to your body to get things moving in the right direction, you can see MASSIVE improvements.

Plain and simple, as a beginner, you can’t can’t push yourself as hard as someone with 10-20 years of experience – your mind and body aren’t developed yet – and you need substantially less specific training stimulus to grow compared to someone with decades under their belt.  You can get better by doing just about anything and you need to take advantage of that.

To better understand this concept, consider yourself a piece of clay – malleable, soft, and easily manipulated.  Pretty much anything can shape clay; dull instruments, bare hands, even water and flame leave quite the impression.

Consider then the elite athletes that you aspire to be like – veritable slabs of marble weathered by the storm of athletic achievement.  The same tools, techniques, and intensities that mold a clay figure are insufficient when it comes to sculpting a beautiful marble statue.  Likewise, a chisel driven by the concussion of a hammer will pummel a softer material into an unrecognizable mess.

When you’re just starting out, your time is better spent performing lots of different movements and styles of training to improve your general physical preparedness (GPP).

Get good at a number of things, don’t put yourself in a box, Jack of all trades, master of none, that sort of thing.

As you progress and figure out what you like best/what you’re good at, you can develop your special physical preparedness (SPP) and you’ll have a great athletic base to build upon.

As an example, I’ll share a bit about myself.  When I started working out, I liked running, sprinting, weight training, barbell complexes, circuit training on machines, calisthenics, and I even did yoga!  After a couple years, I realized that I love moving heavy weight and I started training for powerlifting competitions.  Although I’ve got some medals and I hold a state record, I still take the time to revisit the things that helped me build the general work capacity I needed to endure powerlifting specific training.  You should do the same!

Focus on Building Your Base – Don’t Chase Max Lifts Year-round

This next topic is directly related to the last section, so pay attention.

Whether you’re interested in general health, or you want to improve specific sport performance, a dense base of muscle will be very important.  The more muscle you carry, the greater potential you have for strength.  (Muscle also looks pretty good.)  Most people know this, and they make the correlation that if larger muscles move heavier weight, moving heavier weight must be the focus of their resistance training.  That’s not entirely true.

As it turns out, building muscle has a lot to do with total training volume – weight x reps x sets.  Lifting heavy for low reps is important when you want to develop peak strength but it’s hard on your body and nervous system, especially if you want to achieve the same volumes you can with moderate weights and higher reps.  225 x 2 x 10 is the same volume as 150 x 10 x 3.

In other words, to build muscle (and strength) in the most efficient manner possible, you don’t need to lift super heavy all the time!  To quote Dr. Brad Schoenfeld, foremost expert on muscular hypertrophy:

“…the best approach to building muscle is to perform a combination of heavy and moderately heavy loads. The “hypertrophy range” is applicable from the standpoint that it allows the performance of a greater amount of volume without overtaxing the body’s resources. Adding in loads in the 1-5 RM range can enhance strength (which ultimately allows the use of heavier loads during moderate rep lifting) as well as providing a potent hypertrophic stimulus.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that you need to drop everything to do the latest “arm blaster” routine – far from it.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t build a solid physique without dozens of isolation exercises…but next time someone argues that lifting heavy is the ultimate way to develop muscle, show them this study and rep out a set of stiff-leg deadlifts to build that posterior chain.  When it comes time to PR your squat, the extra meat on your hamstrings will come in handy.

Set Long-term Goals

To wrap everything up and put a bow on it, I’ll leave you to consider this question:

“What’s going to keep you going after the “beginner” phase is over?”

As you move on, your initial increases in strength, speed, endurance, and muscle mass will slow down.  After the “newbie gains” are exhausted, it’s very common for folks to become discouraged and chase tail (or quit outright).  I’ve seen it happen dozens of times, to some of my closest friends.  Indeed, the intermediate stage of development lasts a LONG time and getting through it is quite the task.

So what separates the folks who give up right out of the gate from the ones who march on to achieve their wildest dreams?

From what I can tell, the people who’re ultimately successful are the ones who accept that they may need to devote the next decade of their life to becoming who they want to be.  The journey excites them – they look forward to getting up out of bed to take a cold shower and hit the gym.  People who get left behind consider working out a task, a chore if you will; the men and women who make it all the way simply can’t imagine life without their training.

Above all, the ones who succeed are internally motivated and positive that they can achieve the desired outcome as long as they keep chipping away.  They don’t view failure, or hardship, or pain as a sign that it’s time to stop.  The most daunting obstacles present the greatest opportunities for growth.

To quote Muhammad Ali, “…Champions are made from something they have deep inside them – a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have the skill, and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.”

“Strength & Confidence” by Sheri Stiles

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Growing up, we all go through many struggles – some more than others – but everyone has their individual stories which shape them. Personally, I went through my hard times like anyone else, but one of the biggest areas that affected me as a teenager was confidence, and self-esteem.

Like any teenage girl, I wanted to fit in. I wanted others to like me. I also did what most teenage girls do, and that was be someone I really wasn’t.

Now, I agree most of this self-discovery and change comes from maturation. However, I believe some of it came from falling in love with powerlifting, and finding my true strength in all areas of my life.

I will share some things with you guys that I don’t usually talk about or like to remember about my teenage years.  I believe that I learned from these mistakes, and if my sharing this could help someone else then I have no problem or shame in doing so.

Let’s start with the fact I was overweight most of my life. It wasn’t until the end of my sophomore year of high school (into my junior year) where I lost quite a bit of weight, and was first really concerned about weight in general—not only from an aesthetics standpoint, but also a health standpoint. My dad has been diabetic as long as I could remember, and when I was about 16 something just clicked; I didn’t want to end up being diabetic.

Given most teenagers have crappy diets, I was no different. I drank a lot of pop, ate crappy food, and although I was very active with soccer, it was not enough to combat those diet choices. The biggest thing I can remember doing was to quit drinking the pop, or sugar drinks.

Really…that’s all I did over that summer and I had lost like 15 lbs. within no time. Then came the years of yo-yo dieting, the restrictions, the fad diets, the unhealthy diets—you name it, I had probably tried it. I became obsessed with that number on the scale.

This obsession was so much so that it dictated my whole life. The weight on the scale every morning determined my mood for the whole day. The size 4 jeans I could fit into gave me a sense of acceptance. The attention I got from others just fueled this unhealthy perception.

But I finally felt accepted.

Around December of 2009, I had so many health issues surrounding my IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) that I hardly ate each day. I knew this was extreamly unhealthy…I had a nursing background by this time, but, I can remember a time where I got on the scale and weighed 138. I remember going shopping and fitting into everything! Something I had struggled my whole life prior to. I hated shopping before; I was overweight, and nothing fit. I continued to diet and restrict foods, as well as started working out doing cardio 5 days a week.

It was unhealthy, but I finally felt attractive.

I can only speak from a females perspective, but this is still a huge issue with girls—especially teenage girls. The dieting and unhealthy measures some take to achieve what they believe to be an ideal image is dangerous.

It all seems from a lack of confidence and self-esteem issues. I can say this from experience! I was that teenage girl struggling to accept and love myself.

It wasn’t until 2011, when I was 23 that I stumbled into a sport that would forever change me.

It didn’t happen overnight—it has been almost 4 years, and in the beginning I was the same girl with the mindset of “needing to lose weight” and concerned with the scale. However, over these 4 years I have not only grown as a person both physically and mentally, but I have come to a point where I can say I am confident in the person I am, and love who I am.

I look back on those teenage years and wonder what the heck I was thinking! I wish someone had told me then how much easier life would be once I accepted and was confident in myself. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have listened.

We need to be building up others, and teaching young girls confidence and self-worth. We want them to make good decisions as young adults, but lacking in their own ability to love themselves isn’t going to lead to healthy decisions.

I cannot give credit to where I am now to any one single circumstance; but, what I can do, is tell you finding my love and passion for powerlifting has translated into finding confidence, acceptance and love for myself.

Strength does not just come from physical ability. Strength is also the ability to love ourselves, the ability to better ourselves, and the ability to empower others.

This all starts with being comfortable and confident in who you are!

“Creamy Italian Spaghetti Squash” by Shannon Vonkaenel

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Looking for a delicious and fast last minute meal?  Look no further.  I threw this together with only a spaghetti squash and a pound of Italian sausage to start.  After a few pantry staple additions, I ended up with a new favorite!

Ingredients

  • 1 Spaghetti Squash
  • 1 lb Italian Sausage
  • 2 Tbsp Olive Oil
  • 2 14 oz. cans of fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz can of light coconut milk
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbsp Italian Seasoning
  • 3 Tsp Sea Salt
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructionsphoto 2-1_1

  1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Cut your spaghetti squash in half and remove the pulp and seeds.  Separate the seeds from the pulp and set aside.
  3. Drizzle each half of spaghetti squash with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  On an aluminum foil lined baking sheet, place your spaghetti squash cut side down and bake for 30-40 minutes.
  4. *OPTIONAL*On a separate baking sheet, place your seeds in a small pile, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast for about 10-15 minutes along with your squash.
  5. While the squash is baking, cook your Italian sausage until cooked through.  Set aside.
  6. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add your onion and saute for about 4-5 minutes.  Add your garlic and cook for an additional minute.  Add your canned tomatoes, italian seasoning, 2 tsp of salt and bring to a simmer.  Add your coconut milk and bring back to a simmer.
  7. Add your sausage back into the sauce and continue cooking over medium heat until squash is done.  When the squash is done, use a fork to pull the squash away from the skin, separate and add to your sauce.  Serve and enjoy!
Nutrition Facts
Servings 4.0
Amount Per Serving
Calories 582
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 45 g 70 %
Saturated Fat 23 g 115 %
Monounsaturated Fat 5 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 81 mg 27 %
Sodium 2062 mg 86 %
Potassium 517 mg 15 %
Total Carbohydrate 22 g 7 %
Dietary Fiber 4 g 17 %
Sugars 9 g
Protein 24 g 47 %
Vitamin A 4 %
Vitamin C 15 %
Calcium 5 %
Iron 25 %

“Mongolian Beef w/ Zucchini Noodles” recipe by Shannon Vonkaenel

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Recently we purchased 1/8 of a cow so our freezer is full of beef.  Ground beef, beef roast, t-bone steaks, sirloin steaks, stew beef…needless to say, I have a lot of beef.  What to do, what to do…  I have been craving Chinese food lately, but have really been working on eating clean, so take out is not an option.  I have a recipe that I use for marinating chicken wings.  It’s delicious…perhaps with a tweak, it could also be a delicious sauce…hmmmm.  Done!  Now, should I just serve it over rice?  Rice noodles?  LIGHTBULB!!!  I recently spent the best $15 of my life… 81p5zeYQufL._SY550_

I make zucchini noodles 2-3 times a week since buying this little gem!  If you don’t have one OR if you have one of those big ones that is a pain in the ass to both operate and clean, buy this!  Mongolian beef over zucchini noodles it is….

You’re welcome…

Ingredients

  • 4.0 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 inches peeled ginger root
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3/4 cup  Tamari soy sauce or coconut aminos
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup raw honey
  • 2 lbs. flank or skirt steak, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup arrowroot powder
  • 2 green onions chopped
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds
  • 3 medium zucchini

Instructions

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add ginger and garlic and saute’ for 30 seconds; quickly add the soy sauce (or coconut aminos) and water so the garlic does not burn.  Add your honey and raise the heat and simmer for about 3 to 4 minutes, until the sauce thickens.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Combine beef stripes and arrowroot powder in a ZipLoc bag or tupperware container with a lid and toss until all beef stripes are evenly coated.
Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan and add the beef.  Saute for 4-5 minutes until cooked through.  Add the sauce and sesame seeds and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.

Use your spiral cutter to make zucchini noodles out of your zucchini squash.  In a saute pan, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil.  When the pan and oil are hot, add your noodles and saute for about 5 minutes.

Serve your mongolian beef over your zucchini noodles, garnish with green onions and enjoy!

Nutrition Facts
Servings 6.0
Amount Per Serving
Calories 576
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 22 g 34 %
Saturated Fat 6 g 31 %
Monounsaturated Fat 13 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 86 mg 29 %
Sodium 2089 mg 87 %
Potassium 871 mg 25 %
Total Carbohydrate 56 g 19 %
Dietary Fiber 2 g 6 %
Sugars 48 g
Protein 39 g 78 %
Vitamin A 5 %
Vitamin C 30 %
Calcium 5 %
Iron 24 %
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

“Are Fat & Fiber Hurting Your Gains?” by Dr. Mike Israetel

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Every time carbs are eaten, they get into the blood and need to be shuttled into tissues such as muscle and fat. To facilitate the transport of nutrients into tissues, the hormone insulin is secreted. Insulin not only helps to move carbs into muscle and fat, but it also helps to activate both muscle AND fat gain.

While Calories and total carbs matter a whole lot more, the kinds of carbs you take in and their effect on insulin levels can also play a small but significant role in determining how much muscle and fat you’re going to carry.

The effect of carbs on blood sugar levels (and usually insulin as well, as the two are very well paired in healthy individuals) is summarized by the Glycemic Index, which ranges from a low of 0 to a high of 100. High GI (Glycemic Index) foods tend to spike blood sugar and insulin rapidly, whereas lower GI foods tend to lead to a slow and steady rise and fall in both measures.

Interestingly, if most of the carbs eaten in a diet are of the lower GI variety, more muscle and less fat seems to accumulate over the long term. On the other hand, high GI carbs during and right after hard training (especially weight training) tend to promote muscle gains and fat losses as well. Thus, the best results seem to be obtained by eating low GI carbs (like oatmeal, sweet potatoes, most fruits, and dairy) during the day, and focusing on higher GI carbs during and right after training (examples might be sports drinks during training, or low fat dessert foods right after).

The type of carb plays a major role in determining its GI value.  For example, the carb that composes many fruits (fructose) is super low GI, which is why many fruits are themselves low GI. In addition, three other large components can contribute to the GI of a certain carb source:

1.) How much other food that carb source is eaten with.

2.) How much fiber the carbs source has (or is eaten with).

3.) How much fat that source of carbs is eaten with.

The inclusion of other foods, fat, and fiber all slow down the rate of digestion of the carbs they are paired with, thus slowing down their release into the blood and their GI value as well.

What does this all mean?  It means that if we want to keep our post-workout meal very high GI, we must make it smaller and keep the fat and fiber content low. On the other hand, larger meals with lots of fat and fiber promote a low GI environment for all other times of the day.

Follow these guidelines to the best of your ability, and you are likely to notice a meaningful improvement in body composition and performance!

“Carbs, Cortisol, and Butter Coffee” by Dr. Mike Israetel

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Every now and again, cortisol is brought up as one of the greatest enemies of fat loss. The proposed ways to manage cortisol are numerous, including hormonal treatments and stress reduction, but nutritional alleviations seem to be the most popular.

One of the most recent examples of this is the idea that eating lower carbs (or no carbs) earlier in the day when cortisol is high can be a positive for body composition.

Carbs and Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that has the proclivity to store fat, and it tends to be slightly elevated in the morning hours. Thus, some have concluded that it is a good idea to stay away from carbs in the morning to prevent them from being converted into fat. There are two main problems with this reasoning:

1.) Daily fluctuations of hormones have not been shown to greatly impact neither fat loss nor fat gain, and likely hardly contribute at all.

2.) Consuming carbs actually blunts cortisol release.

So in reality, not only do natural daily variations in hormones not add up to a whole lot in terms of making you fatter or leaner, but the very same “bad” carbs that would turn to fat with cortisol present actually reduce the amount of cortisol in your blood when eaten.

So the take home message is:

If your Calories are in order (not too few, not too many) and you’re getting enough daily protein, carbs, and fats to meet your needs, there’s no real reason to worry too much about cortisol or about avoiding carbs in the morning.

Fat in Your Coffee

A closely related topic is the new trend of drinking coffee mixed with a fat source as a first meal – usually coconut oil, grass fed butter, or some combination of the two. One of the reasons this is advocated is the supposed beneficial effect of avoiding carbs when cortisol is elevated (which we debunked earlier).  Now, there is some good to this meal idea; for instance, fat makes you really full for a long time and coffee has appetite-suppressant effects as well. On the downside, there are 4 distinct problems:

1.) Fat does not blunt cortisol nearly as much as carbs do, so now you still have high cortisol AND the fat supplied in the diet to add body fat. NOT a good combo!

2.) A lack of protein in a major meal of the day is a recipe to lose some muscle. Not much, but some. In order to stay healthy, shapely, strong, and lean, the best idea is to eat protein with every major meal. Skipping it at breakfast is not a good start.

3.) No carbs early in the morning can interfere with brain function, as carbs are a preferred food for the nervous system. If you have a job that requires lots of thought or physical activity (or both), some carbs in the AM might be a very good idea.

4.) Fat is REALLY Calorie dense, so consuming large amounts can be risky in elevating total daily Calories and thus risking fat gains.

On the whole, perhaps coffee with butter or oil isn’t the best idea as a breakfast. Removing some of the oil and adding in some lean protein and healthy carbs might make this breakfast a bit more nutritionally sound.

“North Carolina Strongwoman” by Sheri Stiles

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Saturday, I competed in the North Carolina Strength Challenge, which would mark my third strongman competition. I did my first one back in June, and then a partner meet for fun.  Like I have mentioned before, strongman has been exciting and fun for me to train and compete in. It has allowed me to continue to lift heavy while focusing on healing up my back fully before I start powerlifting again.

Strongman has also taught me some patience and flexibility within the competition setting. You may train the events with the weights given, to the distance planned, in a certain weight class…then, get there and find things are changed all around.

I experienced this my first time competing when the distance for both the yolk and farmer’s walk events and increased, as well as the planned height for the loading event had changed. I remember being annoyed by this—with powerlifting you have more control. You pick the attempts, you choose the weights, and you only have 3 lifts to perform.

This weekend, however, when I found out the weight classes had changed (leading to the implement weights changing) I didn’t find myself annoyed. Relieved maybe, that the axle clean and press would be 10lbs less but I also found myself calm, thinking “Hey…just go with it.”

Strongman is a different kind of strength arena—I feel you have to be strong all-around, not just a few lifts. Before I started training any strongman events, I was strong, yes, but, I was strong in squats, bench and deadlift (mostly deadlifting!) I wasn’t strong in events where you pick up things and run, I wasn’t strong in stone loading, I wasn’t strong in carrying hundreds of pounds on my back for distance or time, and I definitely wasn’t strong in overhead pressing events.

I can tell you the difference I feel in strength, in even a short amount of time being involved in strongman, will be beneficial to me both in my powerlifting as well as overall functional strength.

I also learned this weekend that my speed and endurance needs work; I like to pretend I didn’t already know this, but, it became apparent with my times on events. Really, this is the only place I feel I could have improved to place better than 4th.

No doubt, there were some strong ladies out in NC, and it was a pleasure to lift with all of them! I felt personally, I would have benefited if the weights were heavier on certain implements, as I am stronger than I am fast!

However, I felt I did really well! Yes, I would have liked to place higher, but I made huge improvements in the events in just a few short weeks of training. When I first signed up for the competition the overhead pressing medley was what I was most nervous about, and I ended up not missing any of the implements!

I had never practiced the sandbag/keg carry and load implements, so I was unsure how that event would go—it ended up being one of my best ones!

The stone loading was another event I was unsure how I would finish, and again, I proved to be strong in it…as my bruises and scraps all over my forearms can attest to! I got the 200lb stone (that I had missed a few weeks prior in the partner meet) and gave 225 a good run!

We don’t even need to recap the deadlift ladder…it was short and sweet! All the pulls were light for me, and I wanted to pull heavier but I actually ran between implements so that’s a plus!

Overall, the day went great and I was happy with how I performed. That’s really all one can do when competing at any sport—perform your best. It may not be your best ever, but go in there, give it your all, and come out feeling like your performance was everything you had to give that day! Learn from each competition, and improve where you find weakness to become the strongest YOU :)

“Remember Low Intensity? That Still Works” by Paul Nobles

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Look I get it – after experiencing high intensity exercise with your heart beating out of your chest, there is no going back.  Anything else doesn’t feel like a real workout.  Here is the problem though:

TRUE variation not only includes low intensity work but does so without the need for a high intensity finisher.

Whether you are weight training or hiking TIME not only can work in your favor but it can also cause greater adaptation based on volume.  You can only do so much work staying just under your red line.

“But it doesn’t feel like I got a good workout…”

My wife actually said this to me after a squat session the other day (et too brute) and I had to remind her that getting better at squatting will make her better at the exercises she does at high intensity.   That’s because if you are doing a WOD for time but you have to scale the weight, if you could do that weight comfortably with similar reps and time, that is more work capacity.  More work capacity equals more adaptation which equals results at the gym but also in the mirror.  So working on your lifts slow (no I don’t mean that 10 minutes you half ass before your real workout) will make you better.  There is another point that is important as well.  When you work on lifts slow and controlled, you will typically end up stronger as a result.  Squats are a great example for me, while I CAN Rx most WODs based on my one rep maxes, I can lift a lot more slow and controlled with good form than I can at high intensity.

Is Your High Intensity Really Low Intensity?

One of the biggest viruses when doing high intensity work is doing it too long too often.  If you are constantly putting your hands on your knees during the fifth 20 minute met con this week it might be tie to look for another gym.  Part of the idea of “constantly varied” is that your program should wave in and out shorter, more intense days and into longer, less intense days.  Don’t get me wrong, I know those 20 minute WODs really get you sweating but if your program is real good you will have 4 minute WODs, 8 minute WODs etc.  The biggest enemy of adaptation is normalcy.  Constantly doing the same thing too often (even if the exercises are varied) will give you a similar mediocre result when it comes to improving.

Overusing Low Intensity

Above I described a scenario where your “high intensity” is actually low intensity because you are constantly checking to make sure that your collars are in place.  You aren’t fooling anyone; we all know that you are  resting.  The other side of the coin is also relatively ineffective.  As we all know, there are athletes that don’t redline near as much or their capacity is high.  They can mentally push themselves through hurdles that others struggle with, so often their solution when results slow is to simply add more work.  So they start adding in hikes or burpee challenges and just wear themselves out (they often under eat too but you can reference all of the other articles on this site for that advice).  It’s like constantly banging your head against the wall.  Yeah the wall may cave at some point but was it really worth it in the end?

Here is my workout schedule

I am not suggesting that this is what your workout schedule might look like.  I am simply putting this out as an example because frankly I don’t go “beast mode” or “kill it” all that often.  My strength days I try to get better and my WODs are conditioning.  If I was training for a competition, my workouts would be different but I am not at the moment; I am simply working out, trying to improve.

  • Mondays is a Rest Day, not an active rest day but an actual “sit on the couch” and chill out day.  If I am really feeling spunky I will take my dog for a walk at a local park.
  • Tuesday is a slow lifting day.  I like to lift coming off of rest because it’s more favorable for being 100%.  Amazingly enough, the stronger I am, the easier heavier WODs are.  Go figure.
  • Wednesday is a WOD Day.  Focus is on conditioning and moving correctly.  I scale freely.  I don’t work on skills in WODs; if I am not good at something I add it as accessory work on slow days.
  • Thursday is a rest day.  See above.  Massages are good on this day.
  • Fridays I lift slow and work on skills.
  • Saturday is typically a longer WOD at our box.
  • Sunday is a WOD.  I almost 100% of the time scale this WOD.  It’s the third of three days and even if I am feeling spunky I try to override those thoughts and dial things back.

The reason for all of this is simple.  I am just working out and because of that, I want to be able to do it as close to 100% as possible without getting hurt.  Make no mistake about it though, if you want to go for a hike with your spouse or do something active, you have my blessing but don’t do it because of fat loss goals.  This indirectly affects fat loss goals positively by building new tissue and adding work capacity but in the end most fat loss goals are typically addressed structuring the way you eat around what you do.

When you’re in the gym, you train to improve.  Keep training as productive as possible.

“Are Cheat Meals Really Cheating?”

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I have often argued against the “cheat meal” idea.  I think it sets up an unhealthy relationship with food because it implies that you are cheating on your diet. Since we believe you should mostly be “not dieting,” the idea of cheat meals is contradictory to our core beliefs.

A super restrictive way of eating that makes you reset when you eat a food that is on the “naughty” list argues against moderation and looks an awful lot like an eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa.  As long as you’re eating enough total Calories and providing your body with the essential fats, vitamins, minerals, and hydration it requires, you’ll be pretty healthy.  Restricting foods puts you at a risk for malnourishment and malnutrition.

Look, I eat mostly meats and veggies and if that represents the majority of your nutrition, then great.  You will never see me make an argument against that.  However, a life of restriction and 7/30 day resets is just unhealthy.  Let’s face it – fitness people tend to be a little more diligent to their food choices, but if you constantly have the same group of women or men trying to get you to participate in their “misery” challenge where you live on yak butter and protein shakes for a whole month, just say “No.”   If your gym is constantly pushing this type of behavior and you’re being ostracized for eating “unclean” foods, leave that gym because they have a very skewed vision of health and fitness.

Guilt Burpees

Similarly, there are groups popping up all over Facebook related to burpee challenges and sit up challenges or whatever.  A lot of them are being set up because people have a bad relationship with food, so they are doing “guilt burpees” to pay the Calorie bill. Folks, this isn’t any better than limiting your food choices.  Exercising to purge your body of excess energy or waste or anything of the sort is called exercise bulimia and it’s no way to live.  In the same vein, restricting your food intake while you engage in high intensity activity can result in long-term metabolic adaptation that reduces your resting metabolic rate – probably due to loss of lean mass.

Eat Mindfully

The perfect approach to nutrition for each of us is individual and ever-evolving.  Each of us needs to build our plans around our schedules, food preferences, and energy demands.  For most of us, that includes eating foods that might not show up on the “nice” list.  So what can you do?  Eat mostly whole foods and eat for joy occasionally, but always have some understanding of what amounts of food your body requires to exist daily.  Calories DO count.  Don’t remain unaware of that simple fact because if you are guilt eating a Snickers alone in a bathroom it’s probably because you have been dieting too long, too restrictively and you are hungry.  Energy density isn’t always a bad thing.  Understand that just because a food is “natural,” that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.  Likewise, processed foods aren’t always bad for you!  Everything has to be looked at in context.

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