Monthly Archives: October 2017

We’ve gotta stop starving our athletes Part II

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I didn’t really intend to make this a two-part series, but there was such an overwhelming response to the first post, that I felt as though it deserved a follow up.  Part 1 dealt with the obvious situations where people very clearly are not eating enough food to sustain basic physiology, never mind high level performance and body composition. Every case is unique and not everyone is going to respond like Bri or Casey did.  Nor is every case as obvious…

The non-obvious, under fed athlete

Sadly, I do see many clients come from nutrition programs that are under-feeding them by 30-50% of what they actually need to be eating, but most situations are not that extreme.  Instead, in a lot of cases their macros would seem pretty darn high compared to what an average person eats.

With permission, I want to tell you Mia’s story.  Mia came to me several months ago looking to take her performance to a higher level.  She is a top-level Crossfit athlete that lives in Dubai and competes in the Meridian Regional.  Before contacting me, Mia had worked with another coaching service that had done a solid job of increasing macros from not nearly enough to about 160P-75F-300C (2515 calories).  As Mia said in her own words, she had great results with these changes!

This is great work… Increasing her calories (NOT WITH ME) made huge benefits over 12 months

Mia is 169 cms (5’5’’) and came to me about two months ago weighing between 68-69 kilos (~150-152 lbs). She is a very dedicated person and I can tell you that she probably stuck to her former macros better than most would. I can also tell you that she trains quite hard, on average between 4-5 hours a day and spends the rest of her time coaching other athletes, so she’s always on the move.  There were no OBVIOUS red flags that she was headed in the wrong direction other than waking up a few more times per night than we’d like, but even that wasn’t out of control.

Small changes, big results

Mia looked FANTASTIC before we started working together and was a Regional level athlete… so there can’t be much wrong here, right?? Well… just because something seems reasonable, doesn’t mean we can’t be doing better.  I think most people under-estimate the amount of work that elite level athletes can do is 4-5 hours.  CONSERVATIVELY Mia’s basal metabolic rate is probably in the 1600-1800 range. With 4-5 hours of training we can also CONSERVATIVELY estimate she was probably burning another 200 calories per hour of training (and probably more).

NOTE: keep in mind that Mia can probably hold an 800 calorie per hour row pace VERY easily… so any aerobic work drastically increases the total caloric output.

Put these two numbers together and you can see that she’s probably needing somewhere between 2600-2800 calories per day and maybe more.  Not wanting to completely freak her out, I started her with 2676 calories with a 149P/72F/360C split about 2 months back and then recently bumped her up to 149P/72F/400C (2836 cals) in the last couple of weeks.  Thats’s about a 12% change… not a big deal, right? Here’s the results.

Just a little change in her macros, and in 2 months we see a huge benefit… and not just in the mirror.

In that time frame, Mia’s more or less stayed right around 68 kilos, but she looks considerably leaner.  Her performance, which was always amazing, seems to be headed in the right direction as well.  Mia’s incredibly strong with Olympic lifts that challenge 90% of men in Crossfit.  However, she’s still seen gains in that department with a recent clean and jerk PR (happier Central Nervous System!!!). She’s also seeing BIG improvements in endurance and gymnastics movement as well, PR’ing both her 3K and muscle ups recently. Most importantly, Mia FEELS better with more overall energy, better recovery between sessions and less overall fatigue at the end of the day.

You rock Mia… very happy to have you on-board.  Thank you for letting me share your story.

Not everyone’s going to respond the same way

If everyone responded the same way that Mia, Bri and Casey did, I’d either be out of a job or rich AF and on an island somewhere.  The reality of the situation is that most people are going to take longer to get to the body composition goal than they want to.  I recognize that sharing this “instant” success stories probably doesn’t help people that are struggling to see the same progress.


To explain why someone people struggle even when we fix their diet, I need to dive into some science.  Sorry.

There are a good number of consequences that can occur when we train really hard and under-eat (specifically on carbohydrates) resulting in increased stress levels.  Decreased thyroid function, altered cortisol production, decreased testosterone production (yes, women make testosterone too), altered/suppressed immune function and muscle breakdown all are possible. A person in this state feels a little sluggish, might be irritable, has more frequent upper respiratory tract infections, more frequent nagging injuries and generally struggles to make progress.

I’ve touched on adrenal issues before with low carb, so I want to focus on the thyroid this time.  Our body produces a critical hormone called T3, which when active is responsible for maintaining an appropriate metabolism through the regulation of blood glucose levels.  A good way to tell if you’re low on T3 without an actual diagnosis is if you have a “cold” feeling even when your surroundings are at normal temperatures.  An important, often cited study called the “Vermont Study” found that T3 is sensitive to carbohydrate intake, and when you decrease your carbs too low, T3 levels typically drop as well.  What’s worse is that there’s another hormone called rT3 (r stands for reverse) that’s job is to inhibit the function of T3… and decreased carb intake is associated with higher levels or rT3.   Importantly, studies where calorie intake is controlled but carb intake is modified consistently show the same effects on T3 to the Vermont Study.

Ladies, I’ve got bad news for you.  All of the things we’ve just discussed seem to happen much more frequently in women, perhaps because of evolutionary biology causing women to have higher body fats to appropriately maintain pregnancies. Sadly, you have a 4X higher risk of developing a thyroid autoimmune disease that ends up blocking the function of the thyroid.  Once the immune system has recognized a “self” tissue as a threat and started a response against it, its really difficult to get it to stop.  That said, just throwing your hands in the air and stopping is NOT the answer.  While a number of autoimmune diseases seem to respond favorably to ketogenic or low carb diets, hashimoto’s thyroiditis seems to be a bit of the exception.  If it was me, I’d probably run a medium to high carb diet but mostly avoid gluten as there’s a strong correlation between Celiac’s and Hashimoto’s.

OK, all of this is great but it doesn’t fully explain why some people struggle to lose fat when they increase their carbohydrate intake.  There’s no great explanation, but genetic differences seem to be at play.  However, its still REALLY important to maintain that increased carbohydrate/calorie intake.  If for no other reason than improved overall health.

There is some evidence to suggest that supplementation can help push us in the right direction as well. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but if you’ve been struggling to get your body fat down despite eating a solid diet, I’d highly recommend checking out these two links which highlight the work of Dr. Bryan Walsh, a really great mind in this industry (see below).

DON’T GIVE UP! Remember that I’ve had clients take ONE TO TWO YEARS to restore the overall health and get the body composition, performance and health changes they want.  While that’s of course frustrating for both of us, the good news is that the changes we create will stick.  We didn’t use an unhealthy, non-sustainable approach that will ultimately lead to a yo-yo weight gain scenario.

Until next time,


Thyroid help

Adrenal help

Power Monkey Fitness Camp 8 review

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whit and Caroline… two very special people

Also, the Friday night party is just legit… Tennessee apple moonshine for the win 🙂

What about the nutrition seminar you ask???

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

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

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

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