“Beginning a Food Diary” by Sheri Stiles


Food tracking is something we hear a lot about.  Even with the progression of  technology and the availability of smart phones, it’s something I have not actually done for a while. I used to keep a food log (like an old school one where I wrote it in a little notebook) and it took forever!  Recently I have decided to try and drop some body fat, so I was told to get My Fitness Pal and start tracking!

I was a little hesitant at first, as it took so much time before.  I downloaded the app and have started to use it and to my surprise (so far) I love it! I would consider myself a little seasoned in the nutrition area—I did teach nutrition classes to kids and families – and I feel like I “know” what I am supposed to eat and do to lean out or improve body composition.  However, I have always struggled to drop much weight/fat without losing strength, so my strength goals have always taken priority.

Ill clarify, though, that I am not on a “diet”, nor is weight loss necessarily a goal.  I love my muscle (I wouldn’t be upset to gain more) and instead, I would just like to lose some body fat so those muscles I’ve worked hard for show more!

It is only day 3 of my working with this MFP app and I’m shocked how easy it is. There is an option to scan the barcode of food items you are eating, and it pulls in the nutrition information automatically; no searching, guessing, or trying to manually enter the food.  This is the biggest plus for me, as I am so busy during the day, and like most, I do not have time to fumble trying to find the foods to enter.

I also like that it gives you a graph breaking down your macros.  I can easily see how much protein, fat, and carbs I have had for the day in a simple graph.

So far, it’s helping to keep me honest as well :) I don’t eat too terribly (at least not usually) but actually seeing the calories and food choices is much easier than just having them in my head and guessing.

For me, this tracking is not really about limiting—sometimes I have a hard time getting all my meals in, so it’s been helpful in that sense too.  I make sure I get the macros and foods I need to in during the day. You can also track exercise, which I think would be very helpful for someone just starting out.

I am excited to try this tracking ‘experiment’ for a bit and see how it turns out! With rehab and changing my normal routines anyway, this is just another thing to play around with.  I will make sure to keep you all updated on the progress!

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“A Perfect Summer Meal” by Shannon Vonkaenel


I LOVE summer cooking!  I find so much inspiration in all of the fresh veggies!  The ironic thing is that until just recently, veggies were NOT my thing.  I rarely ate anything other than lettuce and maybe a tomato.  Now, I still have an aversion to some veggies (cauliflower, you will never be cooked in my house) but for the most part, I have found myself really enjoying them!  This chicken recipe is a HUGE crowd pleaser!  I have made it twice for get-togethers at my gym and it disappears quick (especially for the kids!)  It’s easy to make gluten free if you use a gluten free soy sauce too!  The salad was a Bobby Flay inspiration!  The man knows how to grill anything and I love his food.  I made my own version of a salad he made on one of his shows and LOVE how it turned out!  You can eliminate the bread if you want to make it Paleo or gluten-free, but the bread was delicious as it absorbed the dressing from the salad!

Honey Lime Grilled Chicken


  • 2-3 lbs chicken of choice (I did a combo of wings and bone-in thighs)
  • 4 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1 cup honey
  • The juice of 1 limes
  • The zest of 1 lime
  • 2 garlic cloves (crushed)
  • 4 Tbsp chili garlic sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl whisk all of the ingredients together and marinade the chicken for at least one hour (I marinated for 4-5 hours).

Once you are ready to cook, remove the chicken to a cooking sheet lined with foil and pour the marinade into a small sauce pot.  Bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer, reduce into a nice glaze and set aside.

Cook your chicken in the oven for 30 minutes.

Heat your grill to high heat and finish cooking the chicken on the grill while brushing the remaining glaze on your chicken until you get some nice grill marks on it.

This is a great chicken kabob recipe as well – just skip the oven and grill to perfection!


Grilled Ratatouille & Ciabatta Salad


  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 zucchini
  • Olive oil, for brushing
  • 1 loaf ciabatta, split in half horizontally (optional but HIGHLY recommended!)
  • 12 cherry tomatoes

Prepare your dressing by combining the basil, parsley, vinegar, garlic, olive oil and salt & pepper.  Set aside until ready to dress the salad.

You will want to grill your vegetables and bread.  Brush your bread with olive oil.  You can cut your vegetables however you like and grill them, but I found it was easiest to cut them to fit on wooden skewers, brush with olive oil and grill.  It makes it easier to manage while on the grill.  You’ll want to grill the veggies and bread until you get some good grill marks and the veggies are tender but not too soft.  Cut your veggies into 1 inch pieces, place in a large bowl and toss with your dressing.  Cut your bread into 1 inch cubes.  Serve your salad over a handful of ciabatta cubes with another spoonful or so of dressing.

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“4 New Research Tips For Better Performance and Body Composition” By Dr. Mike T Nelson


June has been a busy month as I have been jumping from conference to conference, both presenting and attending.  Whoo ha.   Paul asked me to give you a breakdown of the top tips and tricks I learned along the way to boast your performance and improve your body composition.

The amazing part about conferences is that they’re really cutting edge.   Many times the data presented will not be out in formal journals for many months.   Here are some highlights.

Dr. Layne Norton’s VIP Camp in Tampa FL, June 2014

This was a pretty awesome experience to say the least due to the caliber of both presenters and coaches.  It is very rare to find highly educated researchers and practitioners in the same space.

Peak Week by Dr. Joe Klemczewski

The short version is simple:  Stop with the stupid last minute “water manipulation tricks”

This really only applies to those looking to compete in physique-based contests but it is one of those myths that will just not die!

You do not need to drink 3 gallons of water, salt the piss out of your food 2 weeks before a show, and then suck on ice cubes the day of the show to “trick” your body into losing more water.   Anyone looking to outsmart their body is in for a rude kick to the nut sack.   Or as my boy Dr. Jeremy Loenneke would say, “You are just not that smart.”  I am guilty of this too and have tried to outsmart my body in the past.  It ended poorly.

Physiology 101 tells us that your body keeps a very strict control over water and sodium/electrolytes. It has to do this in order to survive.  Cutting back on water will just reduce the amount of mean systemic filing pressure at some point and make all your hard work dieting appear worse.  Yes, worse.   If your blood volume is low, you are going to look more “flat” and it will be very hard to get a pump in the muscles.

Dr. Joe Klemczewski gave an amazing talk on this aspect and went into a lot more detail.   He has prepped many many natural competitors and they …gasp…..drank water right until they stepped on stage.  Ditto for other coaches such as Layne, Dave Goodin, etc

The cold reality is that those looking to put faith into magical changes in the days leading up to a competition are just not lean enough.  Sorry.

Judges don’t help this at all by telling competitors time and time again that “You had just a bit of water covering your quads.”, etc.   It is probably a way for them to save face than to tell someone who dieted for 24+ weeks, worked their butts off, and felt just above dog poo status for weeks that they were just not lean enough.  This unfortunately perpetuates the myth.   And yes, if people chose to use drugs they can have side effects that may cause water retention and competitors have used other methods such as diuretics to lose water.   Not only is this illegal, it can be deadly and has killed competitors in the past.   Do not do it.

Take away #1:  If you are a natural competitor looking to step on stage, don’t cut your water.


Mike (right) with Layne Norton

Meal Frequency by Dr. Bill Campbell

Dr. Campbell gave a great talk about the research behind meal frequency.

I am sure you have heard people say stuff like:

“You need to eat multiple times per day to keep your metabolic rate stoked!”


“Eating multiple times per day is the best way to burn more fat!”

Are those statements really true?

Well, if you look at the research there are not too many studies that only compared meal frequency: meaning that the percentages from protein, fat and carbs along with total calories were held exactly the same, only the number of meals were different.

What Dr. Campbell showed is that the data does not support the notion that increased meal frequency is beneficial for fat loss.   It did not show it was bad for it either – just pretty equivocal.

The research demonstrates that eating more meals per day is not bad but does not seem to have any magical fat loss properties.  Eating 3-5 times per day is a reasonable expectation.

Take away #2: Increased meal frequency does not appear to be advantageous for fat loss when calories and macronutrients are the same. 

There were many many great talks at Layne’s camp for sure and I don’t have space here to list all of them.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition Annual Conference, Clearwater FL, 2014

The ISSN as it is commonly known by is a great mix of practical and uber egg heads.  My kind of people!

Here are just a few highlights:

Neurological Benefits of Creatine Supplementation by Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky

Amazing talk!   I’ve been following the research on creatine over the years and more and more uses are being found.    The short version is this – creatine is awesome!

Creatine was actually found in the sports nutrition field and then found application in other aspects, especially now in neurology.  Many times the sports nutritionists and even exercise physiologists are the red headed step children of the medical community.  Everyone agrees exercise and nutrition are important, but not much beyond that.  Tell MDs that you research supplements and wait for a lecture about how evil sports supplements are now and what a profound waste of time for precious athletes to see if they can put on another pound of muscle or take 1/10 th a second off their sprint time.   Where is the medical research?

I remember attending Experimental Biology conference a few years ago with Dr. Lonnie Lowery and a researcher (Dr. Gabe Wilson) put up a picture of Arnold from his Conan days when presenting about BCAAs and said “…and maybe some people want to look like this…”   A huge gasp came over the crowd.  How dare a researcher say that people may want to look better too!

Back On Track

Even now with tons of research, many docs are reluctant to use creatine; even though they give drugs that have known nasty ass side effects.  Dr Tarnopolsky is a PhD and an MD who works as a clinical neurologist.  He presented some very cool data on mice where creatine was shown to reduce the risk of TBI—tramatic brain injury.  TBI results from many small “micro traumas” that happen from impact.  It has been seen in older football players and can be quite debilitating.

Critics may cry that it was a mouse stud – humans are not mice so how do we know it applies to us at all?  Unfortunately, no IRB is going to approve a study where humans get smacked in the head in a randomized fashion to see if one group has less brain damage.   Any volunteers?

Doses of creatine have been used in the 10-20 gram range and it does cross the blood brain barrier.   The biggest side effect he said was some GI distress in about 5%of the people—pretty much nothing considering the most common used drug (prednisone) has a laundry list of side effects including fluid retention and massive muscle loss over time, which leads to further impairment of their movement.

Take away #3 – creatine is good, cheap, and appears to have some nice preventive effects in neurologic disorders.

Metabolic Adaptation Panel Discussion (with Dr. Norton, Dr. Smith-Ryan, Dr. D’Agostino, Dr. Nelson)

I could retitle this one as “Poke the Hornet’s Nest and See What Happens”.

This was a packed house of about 250 people in attendance as Dr. Abbie Smith-Ryan moderated a panel discussion on metabolic changes with low calorie diets with Dr. Dom D’Agostino, myself, and Dr. Layne Norton.

Judging by the turnout and that we had some many questions afterwards for another hour after the discussion was done, it was a hot topic.   Much of that is the “Layne Norton Effect” though (LNE) as he draws discussion everywhere – which is great.

What Is Metabolic Adaptation?

As you cut calories, your body will decrease your metabolic rate a bit.   This does not mean it drops like a stone if you miss a meal or even decide to fast for 24-48 hours, but it will change based on how much you eat.

The nice part is that when you eat more, your metabolic rate will slowly go back up.  It is not fixed in stone.  The trick is that it does not appear to reach a super low level either.   Some complain that their metabolic rate is “damaged” and I got into depth on this in the Metabolic Flexibility for Fat Loss Ebook (shameless plug I know).

Dr. Dom showed data on the possible use of ketogenic diets as a way to lower calories and perhaps not see a big drop in metabolic rate.  A ketogenic diet is one that is moderate in protein, very low in carbs (less than 50 grams per day in many cases) and very high in fats.   In that state, your body produces ketones (similar to fat) that are used directly by muscles and your brain for fuel.   Ketones appear to have beneficial effects to combat the risk of oxygen toxicity that some Navy divers can encounter doing dives with rebreathers (more stealth and no bubbles).

Dr. Layne Norton discussed some research showing that the amount of times you diet and regain weight may have detrimental effects on your metabolic rate, thus making it harder to lose fat the next time.    He had a term called YOLO aka You are Only Lean Once.  He is a big proponent of “reverse dieting” where you work your calories back up over time to increase your metabolic rate.  I would agree with that approach and at ETP we are very big on working to expand your capacities.

I presented some cased studies of heart rate variability (HRV) and stalled progress.  HRV is a way to measure the stress on your nervous system.  I showed where 2 clients I had (a figure competitor and a burnt out crossfitter) came to me with signs of being classically overtrained.  When that happens, accessory movement grind to halt and people feel like poo, thus burn fewer calories (and many times don’t train).  How much HRV is linked to metabolic adaptation is not fully understood, but it is a measurement that you can do each AM and it does correlate to overall stress.

Take Away #4 – your metabolic rate is not fixed in stone and you can change it over time.


Now you are armed with some of the latest information from the geeky research world of nutrition and exercise physiology.   Go forth and apply for greater performance and better body composition!

–Mike T Nelson, CSCS, MSME, PhD

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Bacon (Yes! I said bacon) Rubbed Chicken Kababs

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So, while looking for some inspiration for recipes, I came across one that called for bacon paste…BACON PASTE?  It’s simply pureeing some raw bacon in your food processor until it’s a paste.  You can then use it to flavor ANYTHING!!!! (As long as you are cooking it)  The possibilities are endless with this one…add it to your bolognese, burgers, meat rub….oh boy!  What a discovery.  So today, I decided to make some chicken kababs since I have a plethora of chicken in my freezer.  The rub has got some kick to it, but pair it with my sweet BBQ sauce (you’ll never buy store bought BBQ sauce again!) and it’s perfect!  If it is too spicy, just cut the chipotle chili powder in half.  Enjoy!!!

Bacon (yes I said BACON) Rubbed Chicken Kababs


  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chipotle chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 4 teaspoons raw honey
  • 2-3 slices raw bacon, cut into 1/2-inch pieces


Trim chicken of excess fat and cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. In a large bowl, toss the chicken with the salt. Then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the paprika and chili powder. Put the raw bacon in a food processor and pulse for about 30-45 seconds, until a smooth paste forms, scraping down the sides of the bowl twice throughout. Add the bacon paste, honey and spice mixture to the chicken. Mix with hands or spatula until the ingredients are blended and chicken is coated. Thread the chicken onto the skewers, rolling or folding as needed to maintain 1-inch cubes.

Grill the chicken over medium high heat with lid closed, turning one-quarter of a turn every 2 minutes or so, until browned and slightly charred (about 8 minutes total for chicken breast and 10 minutes for thighs). Brush the top of kebabs with BBQ sauce; flip and cook until sauce is browned in spots, about 1 minute. Brush second side with sauce; flip and cook for another minute or so, until cooked through.

Remove kebabs from grill and let rest for 5 minutes. Serve with remaining BBQ sauce, if desired.

Never Buy BBQ Sauce Again Barbeque Sauce


  • 1 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 cup raw honey
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup pineapple juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon hickory liquid smoke
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons ground mustard
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch dissolved in 1/8 cup cold water (optional)


Whisk together all ingredients (except the corn starch in water) in a medium pot over medium heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. For a thicker sauce, add the corn starch and water mixture and simmer for about 15 minutes, until desired thickness is reached. Keep in mind that it may thicken slightly more while cooling. Serve immediately or cover and store in the refrigerator.

Eat To Perform Team Challenge


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It was clear from the genesis of Eat To Perform that we needed to live up to our namesake and emphasize the role proper nutrition plays in maximizing your performance in the gym.  At this point, the majority of our blog posts and materials reflect that.  Over time, Performance Focused Fat Loss became a priority and as such we started what ultimately became our ETP Live Challenge.  In those challenges the goal was simple: build muscle and lose fat.  The more muscle you gained, the better, but you also got points for fat loss.  What we really wanted people to know is that they shouldn’t always be seeking fat loss; a general focus on adding lean mass makes the times you do pursue fat loss much easier and more permanent.  A year and half later, people have gotten our message loud and clear.

To be perfectly clear, we’ve never suggested that fat loss should never be a goal but the fact of the matter is that many people are coming from an extreme dieting background – they’re not giving their bodies the energy and nutrients they need to adapt positively.  Our members have worked diligently to increase their energy intake and as a result, their work capacity has gone up.  That of course isn’t the end game for a lot of people.  Many people have more fat to lose and we want to help them get there.

With that in mind, we’re holding the first-ever Eat To Perform Team Challenge!

Over the course of this two month, 60 day challenge, we will be dividing everyone into teams.  The number of teams will be dependent upon how many members participate.  Each moderator in the Science Lab will be assigned to a team; what this means is that you will have a significant amount of support for the two month period.  In the end, points will be tallied, winners announced, and prizes distributed.  This challenge is only for Science Lab members so if you haven’t signed up, now is the time to do so.  In addition to being able to participate in multiple challenges every year, you’ll become part of a community and receive legitimate, science-based advice from our team of doctors, nutritionists, and coaches.

In addition to the team we will have individual winners (similar to our ETP Live challenges).  Here are some basic guidelines we will be using as a framework for judging:

  • After seeing 1000’s of body fat tests, one thing is clear:  the faster you lose weight, the more lean mass you lose.  This is not a good thing, so we came up with a general guideline of who should be most aggressive and who needs to be careful.  If you are a female over 35% or a male over 25% you will be allowed to lose more than eight pounds, or a pound a week.
  • For the leaner folks, we would like you to stick to the one pound a week guideline.  Please note that that’s a GUIDELINE, not a hard/fast rule.  If as an example you can get the weight to come off easily at a higher calorie point you probably aren’t jeopardizing a lot of the muscle.
  • Super lean people need to be even more careful.  If you are a female under 20% or a male under 12% your goal might be four to five pounds lost.
  • If you are coming from an extreme dieting background this challenge will be different for you.  Your goals will be to lose fat by gaining muscle.  We will help you do that by addressing deficiencies in the way you eat but fat loss is an equation.  If you are undereating, that needs to be addressed first.  It’s extremely common for people coming from a pretty restricted background to put on a decent amount of muscle in a few short weeks but if you are eating 1200 calories a day right now and you want to eat less than that as part of this challenge, that isn’t what we are trying to do.  This is about health, mental first and then physical.

What we’re ultimately trying to do is get people the fat loss results they want without detracting from their performance goals.  Losing lean mass is never desirable.  It certainly can and might happen when you pursue fat loss but we want to make people aware of the conditions that cause this.

We are excited about this challenge but because of the short time frame (two months) we need to have a quick turnaround on the materials submitted.  The latest we’ll accept entries is August 10th so act now!

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“My First Strongwoman Competition” by Sheri Stiles


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As I sit here, completely bruised up and feeling exhausted, I can’t help but think to myself “Man, no matter how sore I am right now, that was totally worth it!”

As many of you know, I competed in my first strongman/strongwoman event on Saturday.  As I feel the aftermath now, with every task seeming more daunting than normal and no matter how much coffee I consume, I could sleep at any given moment.  I don’t regret it at all :)

I have written before about the post-meet exhaustion and emotional process I go through, so I won’t go into that too much but it’s definitely no different this time around; if anything, I am sorer than after my powerlifting meets!  I am attributing the soreness to doing movements I am not accustomed to, and deadlifting (technically) 4,200lbs in 60 seconds!

I had a blast the whole day! Although I felt out of place (it seemed everyone else but me knew what was going on) it was quickly apparent that everyone was very supportive and willing to lend advice, and help each other.  You get some of that in powerlifting, but this seemed even more so in strongman. It was like it didn’t matter if you were first or last in an event, everyone was right there alongside of you, pushing you to go further. I know personally, during some of the events, it was others encouragement that made me bust out that last rep!

The competition had 5 events: farmers carry, circus dumbbell for 60 sec, 5 odd object load, yoke walk, and deadlift for 60 sec.

The farmer’s carry was 135 lbs. each hand for the women, for 100ft and timed. Originally it was 70 feet on the entry form, so those who trained this event for distance had to add 30 feet. This event was one I had actually trained (like 3 times anyway). I was nervous as it was the first event, but I also felt comfortable doing it. I finished the event in 14 seconds and 5th place. I remember thinking after, “I could have walked a little faster that wasn’t bad.”

The 2nd event was a 50 lb. circus DB for max reps in 60 seconds. I had tried this twice in the gym, and did alright. However, I have a tendency to press too much, and if I could learn to get underneath it more and use my legs I could have gotten more reps. I learned something I have to work on! I ended up getting 20 reps and 8th place in the event. Pressing has always been my weak point, I stopped doing any overhead movements about a year to heal a shoulder injury. My shoulders have been great since, however, much weaker than they used to be. Slowly, I am adding back in pressing movements as this is big in strongman.

Next we came to the 5 odd object load event – this was by far the most fun! Well, besides the deadlifting (anyone who knows me knows I LOVE deadliftingJ). We were given approximate weights prior to meet day, but no information on the implements that would be used. We were also planning to load to a shorter height than the actual event called for. I am kind of short, so I was disadvantaged in comparison to taller girls in this event. Plus, I had only ever practiced loading stones twice, and a sandbag once; neither of those were included in the 5 objects!  The objects we had were a 90 lb. keg, 115 lb. propane tank, 145 lb. fire hydrant, 165 lb. keg, and a 175 lb. circus dumbbell. You had 75 seconds to complete this event, and had to get at least the first 3 for it to count. I ended getting 4/5 implements before running out of time. This was probably the hardest for me endurance wise.  I don’t believe the weight was necessarily the issue, but the speed/time is new for me. I honestly loved this event though!

Yoke walks were next. This is what I had been dreading all day! I had practiced standing up with a 410lb yolk, and actually walking with it once without weight, and once with 375. I couldn’t move the 375 more than 10ft, so I was thinking there was no way I’d be able to do 350 for 100 ft. I ended up (somehow) finishing the yolk carry of 350lbs for 100 ft. in 19 seconds! I took 3rd in this event. It did not feel fast and smooth (all I remember doing was staring at the finish line) but the video made it look easy!

The final event was a 300 lb. conventional deadlift for max reps in 60 seconds. Needless to say, I looked forward to this ALL day. Going into the competition I knew I could deadlift; if nothing else, I could pull! After all, I would consider it my best lift, although having it last – after the loading event and the yoke carry – I was nervous about how my back would feel. One of my training partners said to me “Look at it like a powerlifting meet; you squat and bench before you get to pull!”  This was a great way of thinking. Usually, I go into the deadlift event in my powerlifting meets with a ‘clean slate’ mentality. Forget what just happened and pull like it’s the only lift of the day…So that’s what I did. I ended up doing 14 reps and ended in 3rd place. I pulled 11 reps easy, then decided to strap up (as that was allowed) and pull the last 3. Although I was tired at that time, and I fought for the last one, I think I wasted time strapping up to only get 3 more out of it. My grip has never been my issue, so I don’t usually conventional pull with straps, but in the moment I thought it could help me get a few more. Overall, however, I was fine with pulling 300×14—talk about endurance athlete ;)

I ended up placing 3rd overall (out of 13 very strong girls) and qualifying for nationals in my first strongwoman competition. This is something I did not expect; I was honestly shocked when I saw I had placed.  I was ecstatic nonetheless, but surprised!

I went into this competition super excited to try something new, and although I honestly felt I had no idea what to expect from the events, I told myself I would go there and do my best. No matter what the trial was, I was going to work my butt off and test my strength. I believe I did just that!

I love the challenge strongman has opened me up to. I love training, and doing work to see just what I am capable of, and I have once again found my desire and passion for competition!

I have even signed up to do North Carolina’s Strongest Man/Woman in SeptemberJ

“Bodybuilding for High Intensity Athletes” by Michel Davidson


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the act or practice of exercising, lifting weights, etc., so as to develop the muscles of the body

Bodybuilding and athletic training..If I had a dollar for every time I heard an athlete bash bodybuilding, I might just have enough money to quit my day job and open my own gym, fully equipped with cable machines and lat pull downs. The bashing goes both ways so before you get ahead of yourself and say bodybuilders and physique athletes are always bashing our pull-ups and metcons, stop. I am not here to solve the feud between the two; I am here to talk about how WE as athletes, weekend warriors, weightlifters and powerlifters can all benefit and learn a thing or two from our bodybuilder brothers and sisters.

In episode #122 of Barbell Shrugged, guest Mark Bell of Supertraining Gym joined show to discuss the benefits of having “big muscles”.  ”A bigger muscle is a stronger muscle” he says. Mike Bledsoe, founder of Faction Strength and Conditioning stated “The muscle size helps with the durability.”  While any form of resistance training will make a muscle grow, bodybuilding style routines are the most efficient way to elicit hypertrophy.  Having muscle means that your tendons and ligaments have been put through the test of rep after rep and are now conditioned to handle more stress than average. Lifting, pulling, throwing, jumping, washing your car etc.  

Another reason you might consider training with classic bodybuilding routines and movements, is the metabolic advantages to having more muscle – by packing on lean mass you turn your body into fat burning furnace, as well as prioritizing where certain nutrients will go.  If you are training hard and have a lot of muscle development, then chances are you can have some ice cream and it will likely go to fuel that lean tissue rather than straight to your belly fat or love handles.  

In our world, the best of the sport are likely not new to this type of training routine due to the fact that many of them were collegiate athletes or high level athletes before they crossed over.  As high school or college-level athletes, their weight-room training may have incorporated accessory work along with the main lifts. In other words, Rich Froning doesn’t have a a round full chest because he’s done only full-range-of-motion push ups and kipping everything.  No, he is likely incorporating bodybuilding style accessory movements to go along with his bench press variations.

Dropsets are something every bodybuilder incorporates into their training.  The idea is that you do a movement at heavy weight until form breaks down, strip the weight to something lighter and go for reps until muscle failure sets in at said weight, and repeat.

In bodybuilding, this is a crucial part of hypertrophy – it’s that muscle pump that literally leaves your muscles looking swollen and full, so for aesthetics it’s great but it is also achieving muscle growth and teaching your mind and body to continue when the movement seems almost impossible.  How does this benefit our sport?  Solid muscular endurance is necessary in so many WODS where muscle failure is reached in the high-rep ranges.

For example, look at “Fran.” 21 Thrusters at 95 pounds, immediately followed by 21 pull-ups, then 15 Thrusters and 15 pull-ups, and finally 9 Thrusters with 9 pull-ups. In this example, the weight is not dropping but the concept is virtually the same:  right around when muscle exhaustion might set in, the reps are descending. To further my example of literally “sets that drop”, check out “Linda”.  I’m sure you’ve heard that what we’re doing is an “endurance sport” enough times by now, so it makes sense to train in higher-rep ranges that prepare you for longer durations with high-volume repetitions and distances.

The cool thing about training in these high rep ranges (we’re talking something over 15, maybe 20′s, 30′s, etc) is that glycogen depletion is more extreme in high-rep-training, so muscles will readily store nutrition that delivers to replenish the muscle glycogen more readily. In other words, Post-workout-cupcake?  Straight to muscle! (I’m only kind of joking/serious.)

One thing I think we really miss out on that bodybuilders have a true grasp of is the mind-muscle connection.
This is the communication between your brain and muscles.  Your brain sends signals and releases chemical neurotransmitters to make the muscle contract.  It’s simple to do:  you just lift! But for a bodybuilder, the connection is crucial in posing – flexing the muscle with no weights.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (no introduction needed) describes this in a way that should illustrate how a strong connection with your muscles can make you a better athlete.  ”The weights are just a means to an end; how well you contract the muscles is what training is all about.”  Research has proven that visually seeing the muscle contract and focusing on the range of motion you are putting your muscles through can improve muscle recruitment.  When athletes are able to recognize and recruit which muscles they want to use to be the  main movers, it leads to more options under fatigue or a more proficient movement.

For example, I’ve been hearing a lot about lat activation and how one type of exercise may engage lats more than the other’s but what it boils down to is the individual’s inability/ability to recruit the desired muscle group, or “tap into” the desired muscle to move the weight; it is all about proper muscle recruitment.  Someone who has difficulty doing strict pull ups may only be thinking of using their grip on the bar, and pulling up with their arms while someone who is proficient with pull-ups would tell you how they retract their scapula, engage their lats and tighten their core.  The more body-aware, the more successful an athlete because of the ability to call upon muscle groups for assistance and contraction.

The discipline and passion of a bodybuilder is something to be admired – many athletes would agree, but many of us are unaware of how closely we actually train.  The way I see it, bodybuilding has been around as a culture since the mid-19th century (or earlier).  If you want to go way back, look at ancient Greece!  It has paved the way for “physical culture”. What bodybuilders have been doing for the decades works and has been developing for centuries – SUNS OUT GUNS OUT!!!

The “Amy” Burger – Sweet & Spicy Korean Burger with Kimchee Slaw

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I have a good friend Amy who this burger is named after.  She is also sweet and spicy…


  • 1 lb lean ground chicken or turkey
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2-3 dashes fish sauce
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 green onion, thinly sliced (save some to garnish)
  • 1 serrano chile, seeded and minced
  • 2 tablespoons rice flour
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Sesame seeds to garnish

Sweet & Spicy Glaze:

  • 1/4 cup Gochujang (spicy Korean chile paste)
  • 4 tablespoons raw honey
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

“Kimchee” Slaw

  • 1 head Napa Cabbage, chopped
  • 1 cup sliced radish
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey
  • 2 tablespoons Gochujang (spicy Korean chile paste)
  • ½ inch piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 scallions, finely sliced


  1. Combine all of your burger ingredients and form into patties (3-4 patties).  The mixture will be somewhat mushy, so refrigerate your raw burgers for about an hour or so to let them set.
  2. The sweet and spicy glaze is a cinch…mix it all together and voila, done!
  3. For the slaw, mix your cabbage and radish in a large bowl.  In a smaller bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.  Pour your “dressing” over your cabbage mixture and mix to coat.
  4. When you are ready to cook your burgers, heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat with some olive oil (about 1 tbsp).  Drop your burgers in and cook for about 4-5 minutes per side.
  5. Spoon some of your glaze onto your cooked burgers, top with slaw and a little more glaze along with some sesame seeds and chopped scallions.


“Is a Calorie Really Just a Calorie?” By Dr. Mike T Nelson


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Click here to jump to a summary of this article.

Mention the word “calorie” to a fitness professional, grab some gluten-free popcorn, and watch the chaos ensue.

On one end of the spectrum, we have a group that defends the use of counting calories and argues that it solves all of your problems with body composition.  Therefore, you must count all ‘em calories down to a gnat’s ass.  Calories are the only thing that matter, and you just need to either burn more or consume less.  This is followed closely by a muttering about the law of thermodynamics.  It is a law, for heaven’s sake, and must be right!

On the other end, we have a group who argues that calories are outdated and do not describe the complexities of human metabolism.  Therefore, don’t even worry about them!  You’re an idiot if you spend your precious waking hours counting them.   Stop it!  Go to the gym and don’t collect $200!

Who is right?  If we put them up against each other in a grudge match of wits, who would emerge as the winner?

Calorie Confusion Conundrum

You can now see why the average person looking to deflate their spare tire is utterly confused.  If we can’t agree on something as basic as calories, are we doomed to spew confusion to the masses as the obesity rates climb higher than a slam dunk from Lebron?

The short answer is that both philosophies are too much of a simplification.

Give me 2 minutes and I can find a horde of people that got lean by never counting a calorie.

Give me another 2 minutes and I can find the same number of people who did count calories and were equally as lean.   Hold the phone as I submit this study to PubMed…..  OK, I’m back (insert sarcasm here).

Enter the Geek – Thermodynamics 101

Both sides come back and site thermodynamics at the heart of their argument.  I always like to ask them what the first law actually says, which is followed by lots of “hmmms” and “uhs” and the blurting of a seemingly random number.  Hint, there are ally 4 laws and the zeroth was actually added last.

The laws are as follows.

Zeroth law of thermodynamics – If two thermodynamic systems are each in thermal equilibrium with a third, then they are in thermal equilibrium with each other.

First law of thermodynamics – Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only change forms. In any process, the total energy of the universe remains the same. For a thermodynamic cycle, the net heat supplied to the system equals the net work done by the system.

Second law of thermodynamics – The entropy of an isolated system not in equilibrium will tend to increase over time, approaching a maximum value at equilibrium.

Third law of thermodynamics – As temperature approaches absolute zero, the entropy of a system approaches a constant minimum.

I am pretty sure both groups use of the Laws of Thermodynamics does nothing more than to confuse the piss out of people.

Not to mention, most who argue about it never once took a friggin’ thermo class nor did the do any research in that area.  If I wanted to get all huffy about it, I could point out that I did suffer through those classes for my MS in mechanical engineering and even published research in the IEEE journal on heat transfer in a monkey head.    I am not an expert in the field by any means, although I have a pretty good grasp of the math behind it in addition to physiology.

But don’t believe me, here is what Dr. Feinman stated

“Our major point here is that there is more than one law of thermodynamics and that a more accurate understanding of the role of the second law shows that differential weight loss is not inconsistent with any physical principle.”   (Feinman & Fine, 2004)

No physical laws were violated.  The universe is still intact and you can sleep well tonight.

Second Law, First Law, Who Cares

If I ate my Wheaties in the morning and I magically have 3 extra hours in my day to get into pissing matches on the old interwebz about this topic, I would throw out that the first law of thermodynamics is not really what matters as much regarding calorie confusion.  It is actually the second law that is the most helpful.

Keep your arms and legs inside and buckle up partner as we embark on an uber-brief crash course in thermodynamics.   All aboard the pain train!

The first law is primarily just a book keeping law.  Energy is neither created nor destroyed and just changes forms.  Keep in mind that this is applied across the universe, not just to your body!  This law is not violated and is also generally not too useful unless we look at a closed system such as a metabolic chamber.   It does not tell us much about free living humans.

The second law states that entropy (a simple measure of disorder) increases over time.  It is this law that drives chemical reactions (Feinman & Fine, 2004).  Metabolism can be thought of as a crap ton of chemical reactions.  The second law came about from the investigation of machines since they are not 100.00% efficient as some of the energy is lost as heat.  Hmmmm, sounds like the human body.  If your body temperature reaches room temperature, you are dead which really impedes your fat loss progress.

Enough Physics!!

To summarize so far:

  • The laws of thermodynamics are real and not violated.
  • It is actually the second law regarding entropy that is the most important.

The Disconnect

Where people go off the rails is to assume that either counting calories works for everyone or that you don’t need to do any of that stuff.

According to the second law, there is not a super nice and linear relationship between the calories you eat and how many of them go to your love handles.   Rarely is anything in physiology nice and linear (Thomas, Ciesla, Levine, Stevens, & Martin, 2009: Feinman & Fine, 2007).  Just like the efficiency of machines will vary, humans are similar in that regard it is not a simple linear equation.

Unlike a car, you want to be more inefficient and throw off more energy as heat for fat loss since that energy is then not stored as fat.  This is where the huge disconnect happens. Thermodynamics is still valid; it is just not that simple to calculate all the inefficiencies that go into metabolism in the average person.

True, we could lock you up in a metabolic chamber where all of this is accounted for; but that does not mirror real life where the decision to eat skittles may predispose you to eat more calories later.  Calories in affect calories out and vice versa.  Unless you are in prison, you live in an open system where calories in and calories out fluctuate constantly.

This Is NEAT

If you spend enough time wander the aisles in Walmart like a lost puppy, this next statement will not seem true, but I have S.C.I.E.N.C.E to “prove” that it is real.   Humans have all sorts of counter regulatory measures that jump into effect in an attempt to not let you get fatter.  One of these is NEAT aka non-exercising activity thermogenesis.  In short, you tend to start moving around more and even fidgeting away the extra calories.  The downside is that this may not be enough to burn off the extra calories and thus some gets stored as fat.  This rate of NEAT varies widely from one person to the next (Levine, Eberhardt, & Jensen, 1999).

“Changes in NEAT accounted for the 10-fold differences in fat storage that occurred and directly predicted resistance to fat gain with overfeeding”  – Dr. Levine

In a review by Levine 2007, he also stated “NEAT varies between two people of similar size by 2000 kcal per day because of people’s different occupations and leisure-time activities.”

Eeeeek gads man.  There is a massive variation from one person to the next.

In another study by Trembly et al. in 1992, they over fed subjects by 1,000 kcal for 100 days.   They found that it did induce an increase in the cost of trying to maintain weight, but even then two-thirds of the excess was stored as ugly body fat. (Tremblay, Despres, Theriault, Fournier, & Bouchard, 1992).  The punch line is that your body will increase your metabolic rate, thus burning more calories when you overeat.  Sadly, at some point it is not enough to keep you lean, and you will gain weight.  It is not a simple linear correlation though.

What to Do

This is one of my new favorite quotes:

“Telling an obese person to exercise more and eat less is like telling a depressed person to have a nice day” –Dr. Stu Phillips

If just telling people to eat less and do more exercise worked well, we would not have such a rapidly escalating rate of obesity.  However, counting calories in only does not guarantee you to be super lean as that is only half of the equation.  Further attempts to record keep your way into accounting for calories burned is not only quite hard, but many equations are not super accurate and do not account for counter regulatory factors such as NEAT.

Yes, you can count calories and see great results.

You can paradoxically not count them and see great results too.  Just because you opted not to count them does not mean they don’t exist.

The calories do matter, but whether you decide to count them or not is up to you.

My bias is to do the least amount of work first for the greatest potential change in body composition (metabolic leverage).  The 3 step process is

1)      Eat more protein.

This involves bumping up protein to around 0.75 grams per pound of bodyweight first.   Protein has several advantages and the main one is satiety making it hard to over eat.   And even if you did ramp up your protein super high, a new study by Dr. Antonio et al. 2014 showed minimal changes in body composition when subjects ate a whole bunch of protein.

2)      Go lift stuff.

Add some weight training for 3-4 sessions per week focusing on compound lifts with increasing volume.  You can add in some interval sprints if that tickles your fancy.

3)      Be aware.

Record what your put in your cake hole first so that you are conscious of it.  Work to eat more whole foods first that have minimal processing.  No foods are automatically off limits though.    Everyone needs to stop with the “good” vs “bad” food or labeling certain eating “clean.”

Once you have done 1-3 consistently for 4 weeks, then you can start to sweat the details and start counting stuff if you please.  There is no need to major in the minors to start.


  1. Thermodynamics is real, and no laws have been broken.  Cold fusion is still not real however.  I have my doubts about Bigfoot, and the Loch Ness Monster is a lie.
  2. According to thermodynamics, calories in and calories out is true.   If you agree, give yourself a gold star.
  3. How much you eat will generally determine how much weight you gain or lose.
  4. What you eat will generally determine the composition of that weight (fat or lean body mass).

Follow the 3 steps above to get started today.  In the time most spent arguing about calories, you could be significantly leaner.


Antonio, J., Peacock, C. A., Ellerbroek, A., Fromhoff, B., & Silver, T. (2014). The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 11, 19-2783-11-19. eCollection 2014. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-19 [doi]

Feinman, R. D., & Fine, E. J. (2004). “A calorie is a calorie” violates the second law of thermodynamics. Nutrition Journal, 3, 9. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-3-9 [doi]

Feinman, R. D., & Fine, E. J. (2007). Nonequilibrium thermodynamics and energy efficiency in weight loss diets. Theoretical Biology & Medical Modelling, 4, 27. doi:1742-4682-4-27 [pii]

Physics for Idiots,, accessed June 25, 2014.

Levine, J. A. (2007). Nonexercise activity thermogenesis–liberating the life-force. Journal of Internal Medicine, 262(3), 273-287. doi:JIM1842 [pii]

Levine, J. A., Eberhardt, N. L., & Jensen, M. D. (1999). Role of nonexercise activity thermogenesis in resistance to fat gain in humans. Science (New York, N.Y.), 283(5399), 212-214.

Thomas, D. M., Ciesla, A., Levine, J. A., Stevens, J. G., & Martin, C. K. (2009). A mathematical model of weight change with adaptation. Mathematical Biosciences and Engineering : MBE, 6(4), 873-887. doi:10.3934/mbe.2009.6.873 [doi]

Tremblay, A., Despres, J. P., Theriault, G., Fournier, G., & Bouchard, C. (1992). Overfeeding and energy expenditure in humans. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 56(5), 857-862.

“Changing Routines” by Sheri Stiles


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With my recent near 12 weeks of rehab, I have been forced to change my lifting style more than I would have liked to. If you would have mentioned some of the stuff I would be doing 12 weeks ago, I would have giggled inside and probably walked away, only to pick up something heavy and put it back down. I mean, come on, I am a powerlifter after all!  However, given we are always changing and evolving, I too have changed over the last few months.

I continue to strive to evolve and better myself in many ways and lifting is no different.  Although I started out 3 years ago with a very narrow way of thinking – you know, the “Psh everything else is dumb, all I do is deadlift and squat.” kind of mentality – I have learned some lessons over the years that have opened my mind up and allowed me to understand and appreciate things outside my comfort zone.

One of the biggest things has been learning to employ lifts outside of my typical powerlifter routine (squat, bench, deadlift).  I know many powerlifters who will automatically dismiss what I am about to say and you know what?  That’s OK!  This is my experience and my realization.

Recently, as many of you who follow me already know, I have signed up to compete in my first strongman competition (next weekend, eeek!!). I really have no idea what I am doing, but hey, that’s half the fun right?! Anyway, with my injury being the main factor behind my initial change in routines, I have also always wondered about other strength discipline – Strongman and Olympic lifting to be specific.

Being on rehab, and unable to squat the last 12 weeks has allowed me to explore this curiosity with Olympic lifting and Strongman training more. I first started out front squatting as I could do that without pain, and have recently transitioned into attempting to learn to clean and jerk (which, by the way, is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be).  I have implemented some strongman events as my body and rehab program will allow, and have discovered I love it, although I think next weekend will be a challenge.  I am looking forward to experiencing this kind of competition.

It’s not without resistance, however, that I have opened myself up to trying things I wouldn’t have otherwise; mostly that resistance is from other people. I have been told it’s dumb, that I will get weaker at my powerlifting, even that it will hurt my back more. Well, guess what? Those people have been wrong so far.

I have accepted that my squat will have to drop (number-wise) before it gets any better—that is inevitable, as I am unable to squat heavy until I fix my back. But what really gets me is that people think I will get “weaker”.  First off, I am implementing STRONGMAN training. Those guys have some of the strongest backs out of anyone; in fact, they are simply strong, period! Second, what makes it so black and white – you either powerlift or you don’t?  What is that? Just because I am choosing to pursue another strength area for a bit doesn’t mean I won’t still train my butt off and get stronger. Incorporating other lifts can only make me a better athlete.

Like I said, and I have no problem admitting this:  I was just as closed minded when I first started.  I was guilty of doling out some of the same criticism I have experienced.  Nevertheless, I have grown since then. I am enjoying learning a new area of strength training, and although I will never give up my love for powerlifting, I will branch out and see what else I am capable of doing.  A new challenge is always good and I will do that weather people agree or disagree.  Whether they say “That’s dumb.” or they support me, frankly, it’s what I am choosing to do it; does not affect anyone else.

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