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Regionals 2017 and Power Monkey Fitness

REGIONALS 2017

Whew… what a month.  Over the past 3 weeks, I travelled to the East, Central and Atlantic Regionals to support the 16 athletes that had qualified either on teams or as individuals.  Watching them out there competing and really laying their hearts into each workout is something that I’ll never forget or take for granted.

“I GET TO EAT CUPCAKES”

I hope each of them know how incredibly proud of them I am, regardless of the result. Its hard to explain how much work is involved in getting to that point, how many sacrifices are required and the level of focus that it takes.  While my job starts as the nutrition coach, inevitably the role usually morphs more into friend/confidant/cheer leader and as a result, I typically end up emotionally invested.  In some cases, this actually causes tears of joy that get captured on the live stream (sorrynotsorry).

Allergies kicked up BIG time when these two had their names announced… freaking drama queens making it all fancy with their comebacks. (ignore the shitty quality screen shots from my phone)

At the end of three weeks, nine clients will be headed to Madison, WI in August to compete in the Crossfit Games. To be clear, THEY did all the work and I’m just happy to be along for the ride. Some are old friends, some are new to my little team, but I’m really excited for all of them and can’t wait to watch them continue to kick some ass.

What can we learn?

Alright, lets try and make this post actually have some useful information for everyone and not just me bragging about my amazing friends.

COMPETITION FUELING: YOU CAN DO BETTER

So while attending the Regionals, I was also watching athletes (my own and others) to see how they were handling their pre and post workout fueling.  To be clear, everyone is different and the strategy involved for each person SHOULD be slightly different based on everything from the workouts, nerves/stress over the events, whether you’re a guy or girl, etc.  That said, I saw some critical errors along the way from people and we can do better.

  1. Eating too close to workouts.  Of course we need to fuel our workouts appropriately, but having solid foods within 60 minutes of a workout (even sweet potato) basically means that you’re body is shuttling energy and blood flow to the digestive track when it really needs to be elsewhere.  For solid foods, 2.5-3.0 hours of separation to the workout is a good idea.
  2. Not refueling adequately between workouts.  With these regionals there were 2 workouts each day with about 2 hours between them.  In this situation, the perfect answer is liquid options for both carbs and protein.  If an athlete has REALLY laid themselves out and is in rough shape, the protein might not be doable immediately, but the carbs are something we still want to get in as fast as possible.  Dextrose, Maltodextran, Highly Branched Cyclic Dextran… there are a lot of options and which is best is probably an entire different post.  Whats critical is you’ve got to have something to both refuel glycogen stores quickly and to help the mind flip into recovery mode and out of the “fight or flight” mode that Regionals often induces.
  3. Generally underfeeding.  I  get it… you’re stressed and your appetite sucks as a result.  You still absolutely HAVE to eat in the morning before the day gets started.  It doesn’t have to be the world’s most micronutrient dense foods if there’s no way you’re going to get it all down.  Use macro dense foods instead if they’re more appetizing and allow you to actually swallow them down.  Don’t all of a sudden have pancakes if you’ve not had any gluten for 8 weeks… but otherwise, eat whatever you have to to get a solid chunk of calories in.  Same thing after each day is over.  Eat, eat, eat… if you finish what you’re “supposed” to eat for the day and are still ravenous, DON’T STOP.  Going to bed hungry on a competition day because you’ve hit your macros is just crazy talk.

FUN NEWS

So I was recently put in touch with Dave Durante, co-owner of Power Monkey Fitness, a company that aims to develop better athletes and coaches through interaction with subject matter experts.  One of the fun things they do is run a week long, bi-annual camp down in Tennessee.  Well…. I’ll be attending the camp and running a Nutrition section for the campers.  Needless to say, I’m honored that other people think enough of my work with athletes to invite me to be a part of such an incredible team.

The past 12 months have been absolutely crazy and I can’t wait to see what the next year has in store.

Why you get sick during the competition season

Inevitably, you’ll hear about people getting sick this time of year in the Crossfit competition season or immediately afterwords.  It’d be easy to blame this on winter and being stuck indoors, but realistically I see this happening all across the country, notably in warm places where people aren’t coughing on each other all the time.  Our immune system’s major job is to recognize and then neutralize “stuff” that is foreign… so why does it fail us when we need it most?  I love Immunology and I’m a pretty big fan of this exercising for time thing, so it seemed like a good post to put together.

So the BIG question is why is does this happen and what can we do about it? To be clear:  it’s impossible to avoid ALL the bugs flying around out there… inevitably even the healthiest, best trained, appropriate supplementing person can and will get sick given enough time.  What I am suggesting is that we can minimize our chances of getting unnecessarily sick through taking a few really simple steps.

There is a solid amount of evidence that intense training and specifically exhausting competition (such as Crossfit) increases the risk of infection, notably in the upper respiratory tract.  Much of this can be due to effects of the body’s response to stress… and let’s be clear, your training is most definitely a stress on the body.  Exercise induced stress (which produces cortisol and a bunch of other cytokines) has often been described as a immunosuppressant, but honestly that’s not really accurate.  Instead, it’s better to think of it as a modifier of the immune system.  Specifically, intense exercise and the stress response skews the immune system away from what we call a Th1 response (which is great for killing viruses and cancer) and more into a Th2 response (which is great for inducing allergies…shit).  Intense exercise performed over extended periods also leads to lower levels of antibodies and fewer Natural Killer cells, both of which are again really great for fighting viruses.  All of this to say that extended exercise can dampen the type of immunity that helps fight off upper respiratory tract infections.

What to do about it

Well there’s also a good amount of evidence that inadequate carbohydrate consumption and mis-timed intake of protein can impact the immune system of an athlete.  Again, it’s not so much the full-blown dampening of the immune system, as much as it is the inappropriate modification of it.  MUCH of this correlates with elevated cortisol levels making it hard to determine what is a direct impact of inadequate feeding and what is secondary to having inappropriate, un-attenuated spikes in cortisol from the exercise.  What we do know is that most of the immune system functions optimally on glucose.  Virus killing T cells divide best on glucose, phagocytes which uses glucose 10X more than glutamine to eat bacteria and viruses… even saliva production is improved with intra workout carbohydrate consumption and saliva contains a bunch of anti-microbial peptides critical for neutralizing potential pathogens.  I don’t want to get crazy technical here, but I’ll list a bunch of references at the bottom for people that want to geek out on this stuff.

Whats cool is that we know that a pretty big dose of carbs post workout can help to stop the production of cortisol through spiking in insulin.  Spiking insulin??? Isn’t that bad for you?  NO! Not in this case.  Remember we are talking about athletes here and not a type 2 diabetic.  In this case, post workout carbs and insulin really are your friend, so if your carb source claims to NOT spike insulin, maybe it’s not such a great option in this scenario.

How much should you take?  Well it depends on the size of the athlete and duration/modality of effort, but I typically recommend anywhere from 30-60 grams post workout. Don’t be afraid of a little intra-workout carb fueling as well… it can help on a number of different fronts.

Timing is really really important

You really do need to get that carb dose down pretty quickly after the workout is over.  One study showed that near immediate ingestion of carbohydrates (and protein as well) helped to prevent decreased functionality of specific aspects of the immune system.  If that carb dose was delayed just 1 hour, it no longer had the same beneficial effect.  SO… get those carbs in QUICK after your workout is over.  How quick? Well, don’t go from your final pull up straight to your shaker bottle and then puke it all up… but once you’ve calmed down and are breathing more or less normally, its a good time.

What about protein???

Now we can’t forget about protein in this situation either.  Typically for athletes, you’ll see recommendations of the minimum protein required to be about 1.6 grams per KILO of body weight, but I certainly take things a little higher than that with most of my athletes aiming for more like 2-2.2 grams per kg.  Immunologically, we know that failure to consume enough protein drastically affects immuno-organ structure and the functionality of T cells, which again are critical in fighting viruses and cancer.  In reality, pretty much ALL immune functions including phagocytosis, cytokine production, and antibody production are screwed by not eating enough protein.

How do we exploit this for our athletes?  First, we eat enough protein (see above) on a day to day basis.  However, we also want to pay attention to our post workout window with protein as well.  You might be interested to note that POST race glutamine supplementation (5 grams) was showed to reduce upper respiratory tract infections in marathon runners. There are some conflicting reports but ultimately there’s enough solid evidence for me to use it in my post workout shake as well.  I’m typically looking for my athletes to get 20-30 grams of whey protein isolate (range based on body weight) and for there to be a good amount (~5 grams) of either L-glutamine or glutamic acid in that whey protein supplement.

Hopefully the idea that post workout carbs and protein are important isn’t a shocker to you.  Now you just know one more really good reason to pay attention to it.  No one likes getting sick and having it happen right before or during a major competition can be devastating.  If you have questions, shoot me an email!

Mike

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26634839

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18580401

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17053416

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9722284

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26568028

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25280408

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24673178

http://www.nature.com/icb/journal/v78/n5/full/icb200076a.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3475230/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11929359

https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-014-0061-8

http://journals.humankinetics.com/doi/abs/10.1123/ijsnem.19.4.366

 

Max Capacity and Max Perform (NOVA3 Labs) review

Easily my most popular post on this under-used blog is my review of Max Adrenal from the gang at NOVA3 labs.  Its definitely one of my top supplements and I take it every day still to help combat the stresses in my life/training.

When the folks over at NOVA3 released a couple new supplements called Max Perform and Max Capacity, I was excited to give them a try.  Transparency: they sent them to me for free to review along with a couple T-shirts.  If you think this is enough to buy my love… well, then you know me all too well.  All joking aside, this is an honest review of the products and I hope you’ll recognize that at this point in life (finally done with grad school) I no longer need to rely on free shit to survive.

Lets start with the science behind each of the products.

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Max Perform

This is the easiest one to describe.  Its basically a mixture of powdered Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs), Essential Amino Acids (EAAs), Acetyl-L carnitine, Taurine and Caffeine.  The purpose of this combination is to be used as a pre-workout supplement to (shocker) increase the overall quality of performance.  How does it do this?  Well the BCAA’s can reduce the perception of exertion (allows you to push a little harder), are glycogen sparing and can of course be used in protein synthesis.  EAA’s get less hype but have also been shown to be important for improving mitochondrial function (basically little cellular engines), reduce muscle breakdown during intense training and (perhaps) curb hunger a little bit as well.  Acetyl-L carnitine helps with a bunch of stuff involving fatty acid transport (so improves energy mobilization) and also helps the body to deal with lactate.  Guess what, crossfit athletes like to create lactate with their workouts and in my opinion, the athletes that can go the longest without generating tons of lactate AND clear it the fastest, do the best.  Caffeine is pretty self explanatory to most people, and Taurine has some nice evidence suggesting it can effect oxidative stress.

Prior to Max Perform I was using a BCAA supplement plus a cup of mild coffee pre workout.  It wasn’t ideal, but it wasn’t terrible either and generally I wasn’t dragging during most workouts.

Max Capacity

The folks over at NOVA3 say that “Max Capacity was designed to enhance mental focus and ventilatory/lactate threshold through a number of different mechanisms” So the goal is to help wake your ass up and to also improve your ability to work harder before moving to lactate production as the major energy source.  It does this with 4 major ingredients: Cordyceps, Rhodiola, Alpha GPC and Eleutherococcus Senticosus.  

So Cordyceps are the really interesting ingredient here as the recent research coming out on their functionality is really really fascinating.  Just one major example here.  Basically, they are supposed to improve mitochondrial function as well as help improve lactate threshold.

Rhodiola is an adaptogen that I’ve mentioned before in my Max Adrenal post.  Since then, the evidence of its solid function for mental and physical benefits really has grown substantially.

Alpha GPC helps with brain function and also has some evidence showing it can affect muscle firing (just a single example here).

Eleutherococcus Senticosus was a brand new find for me, and I basically geeked out on its reported effects on the immune system (they’re good…) but there’s a good bit of evidence that it can also impact on work capacity as well.

Alright, enough F*@!-ing science talk

So how did this stuff affect my performance.  I’ve been in this sport for a looooooong time and while my role is really more of a coach/spectator, I still do dabble in the gym.

How I took it: As soon as I got to the gym, I would take both of them immediately.  The Max Perform tastes really good FYI.  I’d then start my mobility and warm up and roughly 20 minutes later start either a lifting session or some kind of MAP session.

The facts:

I PR’d my snatch 3 times in 3 weeks.  Hitting 240, 245 and finally a fairly sketchy 250 lbs.

I hit a 290 clean in nano’s… previous best is 300 in lifters and with my knees wrapped to high-heaven in some Rogue wraps.

290 power clean (yes, I know…) and a 295 jerk as well.  Both of those are PRs.

Gymnastics: 20 UB bar muscle ups is a PR (+3) and I tied my previous HSPU PR (40) with almost no training of it.

Its hard to put a number to my MAP sessions but overall breathing work has improved.  Part of that is because of all the breathing work I’m doing but a part of it I THINK is from the MP/MC stack as well.

Overall, I’m very pleased.  Mike Kesthely, the co-owner of NOVA3, puts a LOT of thought into his products and every ingredient is well researched.  In the world of bullshit snake-oil supplements, he makes my life 1000X easier with his products and also doing a lot of the leg work for me on what works.  While I always double check his research, I’ve yet to really be disappointed in an ingredient that he’s stuck in a supplement which is saying something.  I’m slightly disappointed that he doesn’t have better body composition, but hey, no one is perfect (you really need to follow that link).

Plus this free t-shirt thing is pretty freaking sweet as well…

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OH, and they were nice enough to let me offer a 20% discount code for any purchases to you guys.  Just use the code MOLLOY20 when you check out!

Mike

How to set appropriate expectations

“How strict do I need to be to make the progress towards my goal?”

That is a frequent question that I receive from clients and it sparked the desire to write a new post. One of the better aspects of a flexible dieting approach is that you really can decide how strict you want to be based upon realistic goal setting.  For someone that is a Crossfit Games level athlete, or even if you’re looking to make progress as fast as possible the answer to the question is “Pretty freaking strict.”  Measuring almost all of your meals and hitting your macros within 3-5 grams daily will produce the desired results as quickly as possible.  At the same time, a lot of really good progress can be made with smart decision making and visual estimation of portion sizes and.  Whats important to recognize is that progress is not a linear relationship to effort.  Dropping the last 5-10 pounds can be 10X as hard as losing the first 30-40.

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The two questions that you need to ask yourself are:

  1. Does my goal actually require 99.9% precision or can I achieve it with 80% accuracy
  2. Does my current place in life allow for me to be 99.9% accurate?

Even for those people that answer the first question “YES”, there are going to be periods of time when its just not possible. Whether its the holidays, having to do a lot of travel for work, wedding season, hitting your macros exactly AND eating a micronutrient dense diet is going to be a lot harder.  During these phases, taking more of an 80/20% approach is much more realistic and way less stressful.  What is critical is to align your goals with the reality of the situation and then to be mentally OK with it.  Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are estimating caloric intake and then get upset when progress isn’t as fast as when you used to measure every meal.  At some point, life will settle down and you can back to the higher level of precision.  Also, I think its incredibly important to recognize the inherent value in a looser macro period, where you can go out to dinner with friends, relax on vacation or enjoy an extra glass of wine with loved ones.  I promise, no real friend in your life defines you by having a 6-pack or by being a certain weight on the scale.  Expecting to spend the rest of your life eating weighed and measured meals is just as unrealistic as eating donuts all day and expecting to lose weight.

Ultimately you are in control of your goals AND your actions, align them and then make peace with the decision.

Beta Alanine Review

I was recently asked to write a review about Beta-Alanine from the folks over at Blonyx Biosciences.  I’ve dabbled with Beta-Alanine in the past for a few weeks here and there, but never done a solid job of sticking with it long enough to have a good opinion.  This time I gave it one full month of following the Blonyx guidelines.

What is Beta-Alanine?

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Taken from the Blonyx website

Beta-alanine (BA) is a slightly modified form of the amino acid alanine, that most notably forms carnosine when combined with histidine.  Carnosine does some pretty cool things in the muscle, mostly by buffering hydrogen ions (meaning the pH of the muscle fiber).  This is important when it comes to acidosis induced muscular fatigue.  There have been a number of studies on beta-alanine showing some pretty nice performance induced effects for efforts somewhere in the 1-3 minute range.  This makes sense considering that those time frames are most commonly associated with the biology that carnosine would affect.  If you want to dig into the articles, check these out reviews which summarize things pretty nicely:

  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20479615
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16953366
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22253993

One might ask why not just take carnosine instead of BA.  Well, if you were to do so, carnosine would be broken down into BA and histidine in the intestine (mostly…) and then absorbed through the intestine where it could reform into carnosine again.  Histidine is not typically limiting, so taking BA makes the most sense ultimately.  Its also important to note that BA supplementation is extremely safe with very little to no side-effects other than some tingling in the skin which can be annoying.

Life would be so much easier if every single study gave the same result, but that of course just does not happen.  This study tested BA effects on a sprint interval training program.  What the data shows was that BA supplementation resulted in a significantly enhanced amount of carnosine in the muscle fibers, but that no performance effect was observed for the volunteers.  The authors conclude that either the training stimulus overrode the effect of BA or that BA does not impact this style of training.  So what are we to make of this study in the face of many others saying BA enhances performance?  Well, there are a couple things that stand out to me.  The first is the BA dose that they were given (3.2 g/day).  There are certainly studies that show effects with this dose, but in general it does seem like there is stronger data associated with a 6 g/day dose.  Of course, all of this also should be controlled for the size of the athlete, meaning that a 190 lb man should be taking more than a 150 lb man.  The other thing to consider when looking at these BA studies is the intensity of the exercise routine.  In my opinion, BA supplementation produces more consistent results if the exercise routine is VERY intense, but if the stressor is more in line with a recreational exercise routine (see this link), then the evidence does not support BA as being useful.  This makes sense, as most recreational exercisers do not push deep into muscle fatigue in the same way that a competitive sprinter would.

So overall, I think that if you’re into Crossfit or even moreso GRID, then a Beta-Alanine supplement makes some sense.  GRID athletes essentially live in the 1-3 minute time range for their sport, and while Crossfit of course extends into much shorter and longer time frames, athletes DO generate a significant amount of acidosis during many workouts.  Of course there are MANY other sports that BA could be beneficial for.  Blonyx themselves lists sports like rowing, short distance cycling, soccer and rugby.  What I would say is that if you are a RECREATIONAL athlete, I don’t know that BA is for you and would instead put my money into something like creatine instead.

Here’s how my experience went.

  • I split my BA intake into two doses, one in the morning and one after training.
  • With each dose, I noticed a tingling specifically in my scalp which lasted for 15-20 minutes.  Over the weeks, as my body “loaded”, this sensation became less and less.  This is VERY typical for BA supplements.
  • I did not notice any large benefits in the first 14 days, but after that I did have performance improvement.  Now, I’m not saying all of that was due to the BA, in fact in a case study its really dangerous to try and say that X caused Y.  What I can say is that I kept other variables as steady as I possibly could and only changed the BA intake.  Much of my training is based off of every minute on the minute style using barbell lifts and gymnastics as it forces me to get a lot of work done quickly (life is crazy these days).  I generally push hard for 10-40 seconds and then rest for the remainder of the minute.  I’m certainly not generating high levels of acidosis in the first few minutes but by the end, there’s generally a good burn.  In general, these workouts seemed to go better for the last 2 weeks of my BA supplementation routine.

If you do decide to take BA, here how I would do it.

  • Take 14 milligrams per every kilo of body weight daily.  This comes out to be about 6 grams for an 85 kg person.
  • Split that dose into two servings per day and dissolve in about 8 ounces of water.
  • Take it with food, specifically with some carbohydrate sources.
  • In general, I wouldn’t take it before bed.

Overall, I’d say cheers to Blonyx for creating another high quality, well researched supplement.

The downfalls of a one-sized fits all nutritional approach

Since my last post, I’ve had a couple dozen emails asking me whether or not I’ve changed my opinion on the health risk of eating refined carbohydrate sources like rice, oats, wheat, etc.  I’ve also had about the same number asking what percentage of a diet should be carbohydrate based.  This post is going to try and clarify a bunch of issues related to both those topics.

There’s quite a lot to like about the basic principles of the Paleo diet movement.  It encourages people to eat micronutrient dense food and eliminate many foods that cause systemic inflammation via a multitude of different mechanisms.  That said, acting like a religious zealot about the Paleo diet means you’ve chosen to ignore some pretty big caveats.  Its simply inaccurate to say that it’s impossible to be healthy while including foods that we did not evolve with. In my opinion, some of the foods the Paleo diet excludes are more harmful than others, and equally as important is that people’s specific response to them can vary dramatically.   That said, I think the following three groups of foods are worth reducing:

1) Wheat/gluten:  There’s pretty good evidence that everyone has some inflammatory response to wheat even if you don’t sense it directly after ingestion (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18485912). Of course particular groups of people (Celiac’s, etc) are much more responsive than others.  Key point: Individual responses may vary but probably worth avoiding most of the time… Saying that 100% of people should avoid 100% of the time is extreme in my opinion.

2)  There’s also pretty good evidence to suggest that avoiding high fructose corn syrup and industrial seed oils AT HIGH DOSES is a good idea as well.  However, low doses of fructose and even HFCS in relatively healthy people seem to be tolerated.  So again, simply stating to avoid this things at all cost represents blinding yourself from scientific evidence.  The key here is likely low, infrequent exposures…

3) There’s also pretty good evidence to suggest that soy is a disruptor of the endocrine response system and should be minimized as well:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=soy+endocrine+disruptor

So here’s where things get pretty tricky.  The Paleo diet also recommends the removal of ALL dairy products and also potatoes as well.  The evidence here is much less compelling in my opinion than it is for grains.

65% of the adult population has a reduced ability to process lactose, and may as a result be better off without consuming dairy frequently.  The other 35% of people though have the ability to appropriately digest this food.  For example, Weston A. Price  identified the Swiss Loetschental (among others) that were extremely healthy while eating a diet mostly of milk, cheese and…. bread.  If dairy is to be universally considered an unhealthy, inflammatory food, then these types of groups shouldn’t exist, but they do.  I think a smarter, more progressive line of thinking is to identify that each persons genes/microbiota place them on a continuum where some people need to avoid dairy completely while others do just fine.  Most of us will fall somewhere in the middle and factors such as current body composition, activity level and/or genetic composition determine where on the range we fall.

The Paleo movement against potatoes is where I start to diverge big time.  To be fair, many Paleo advocates recognize that there are benefits to potatoes, but others, such as Loren Cordain  (the founder of The Paleo Diet) are clearly encamped in the idea that potatoes are harmful because of the saponins and glycoalkaloids they contain.

Again, its pretty easy to find people that eat a potato rich diet and do just fine.  The most notable group is the Kitavans, a group of people that eat ~70% of their calories in natural carbohydrates.  Despite also having a large percentage of smokers in the population, these people remain extremely healthy and relatively lean.  This is completely counter-intuitive to the  post from Loren Cordain above.

Formal studies HERE

That said, lets take it to the extreme with a case study of a white middle-aged man living in the U.S. that decided to eat nothing but potatoes for two months (Chris Voigt).  On this regimen, he lost about 20 pounds, improved his fasting glucose levels and decreased his triglycerides.  Now there’s a bunch of reasons that could have resulted in his improved health, but ultimately the key observation is that an extreme potato diet did NOT make him sick or fat.

The point here is NOT to try to convince you that eating a high-carb potato rich diet is the key to health.  In fact, there’s enough evidence to show that ketogenic diets (EXTREMELY low carb) have huge benefits for a number of diseases.  The point instead, is that while its convenient to try and make a one-sized fits all diet (it also sells books), there is little evidence to support this approach and its unnecessarily restrictive.

What’s a better approach is to start with some general recommendations, such as:

1) Focus on a diet high in naturally occuring fats using nutrient dense foods. Avoid inflammatory foods by restricting processed grains, HFCS and industrial oils for 30-45 days.

2) Reintroduce  foods one at a time and measure your own specific response.  If you feel fine with wheat or dairy, etc. then you can probably feel pretty damn healthy following an 80%/20% principle.

This style focuses on eating a nutrient dense, non-inflammatory diet but still allows for flexibility such that you can enjoy life without feeling imprisoned by food choices.

If you are facing serious health conditions like obesity, autoimmune disease or neurological disorders, then the 80/20 principle might not cut it.  Someone who is a celiac, or  a person with Lupus probably shouldn’t start destroying pizzas and ice cream once a week.  Again, I would have these people reset their systems just as I listed above and see what happens with their symptoms.  Then more care and attention would be paid to the reintroduction of foods in small doses.  Using this approach each person ends up with a diet specific to their genetics,health-status and goals.

A really interesting study was recently published that took an approach similar (though not identical) to what I just described, attempting to reverse Alzheimers.  The results were impressive to say the least.

http://www.impactaging.com/papers/v6/n9/full/100690.html

http://neurosciencenews.com/alzheimers-memory-loss-reversal-1377/

Happy eating…

Mike

 

Eat like a champ

Sometimes the universe gives you a big serendipitous gift… in the form of an Instagram post.

I just spent the weekend working at the Crossfit Free/Vagabond Crossfit “Coaches and Athletes Camp” down in Salem, NH.  In addition to Brandon and Kevin running workouts that tested the various energy systems, specialty coaches were brought in to help improve people’s form in the olympic lifts and gymnastics.  There were also some specialists involved in injury prevention and trigger point release there to work on the athletes as well.

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I was brought in to discuss how to optimize nutrition and other aspects of a lifestyle to improve performance in the gym.  I focused much of the discussion on nutrient intake as it related to the timing of the workout.  While everyone’s situation is unique, I tried to give some basic guidelines on what and when to eat pre-workout and post-workout with ideas about what carbohydrate and protein sources are best for each period.

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Additionally, we talked in depth about the importance of providing fuel throughout the day to support the rigorous life-style of a competitive Crossfit athlete.  Over the years, many people in the crossfit community have come to fear any and all processed carbohydrates.  While this approach can certainly be beneficial for someone looking to focus on improved HEALTH, it can also be a recipe for disaster for a person looking to train like a pro-athlete.  With this in mind, I tried to provide a minimum amount of protein, carbs and fats that both men and women should eat on training days.  I think a lot of people were surprised by the sheer amount of food, and especially carbs that I was recommending.

I woke up this morning to see a post from Lauren Fisher showing exactly what she ate on a normal Monday-Friday.  FYI, Lauren recently represented the USA at the Junior World Weightlifting Championship AND finished 9th at the Crossfit Games a few weeks back as well.  She is 5’5” inches and 135 lbs of bad-ass performance.

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The timing of her post was PERFECT, as this is almost exactly what I was telling people how to eat at the Camp, both post workout and through the rest of the day.  Here are the key points that I would stress in Lauren’s post:

1) She starts off her day with a large breakfast with a ton of healthy protein, fats and plenty of carbs.

2) Post workout she’s immediately taking in protein and carbs with little to no fats… Perfect.

3) She’s not afraid of using some dense carbohydrate sources like white rice and oats to increase her total caloric intake.

4) Monday-Friday she’s still avoiding REALLY processed foods, but on weekends she lets loose a little bit to enjoy some sweets (which probably also acts as a huge carb reload… another good habit to develop for an athlete).  This helps her stay sane and keep her training and lifestyle fun and not too stressful.

5) Whether she knows it or not, the tea she’s drinking has some great adaptogens which help her to ramp up in the morning and chill out at night.

When I tell people, especially women, that a diet like the one described above is the starting point for a performance athlete they tend to get a little nervous about excessive weight gain because of all the calories and carbohydrates.  Take a look at Lauren though… 10552492_738288006230919_2942893137199159685_nAgain, she’s listed at 5’5” and she has to weigh less than 138 pounds seeing as she’s a 63 kg Olympic weightlifter (she lists herself at 135).  More importantly though, she defines herself by her performance in the gym as that is what is most important to her.  Check out this video to hear it for yourself.  At the end of the day, you should do what makes you happy.  If that means trying to become as strong and fit as you possibly can, that’s fantastic… just be sure that you’re fueling yourself for success.

Quick Note:  Everyone, even games athletes, are slightly different and will run optimally at various levels of food intake and macronutrient balance.  This post is not designed to convince everyone to eat just like Lauren, but instead to take look at your diet and analyze whether you could be handicapping your performance by not eating enough!

 

 

Crickets for Protein

Several weeks back I was surprised to receive a protein bar in my gym mailbox from a company called “Exo.”  It was actually perfect timing though as I was ravenous, so I took a quick peek at the ingredients and scoffed it down… pretty damn tasty.

I took another look at the package and saw the word “cricket powder.” I thought to myself it couldn’t possibly be made with actual crickets , but sure enough, the protein source was indeed very well ground up crickets.  I thought for a second about whether or not to be grossed out, but the bar was delicious and filling and really a cricket isn’t so different from crab or lobsters really… or so I convinced myself.

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Of course, for a person like me though, the more important question is whether or not crickets are actually healthy for us.  Lets look at some of the facts:

1) Many modern day “Paleo-esque” societies depend heavily on insects for their diet.  This is also true of our closest primate relatives… Good sign!

2) A serving of cricket powder has a nice balanced ratio of protein, carbs and fats of 13/5/5 with tons of magnessium (76 mg) and iron (10 mg).  Also, much of those fats is the healthy omega-3 alpha linoleic acid. I liked what I was seeing here as well.

3) There’s something to be said about using crickets, etc as a protein source for the health of the earth as a whole.  Crickets are extremely sustainable and have a small footprint on the world.  I could go on but I’d suggest reading this Forbes interview with the founders of Exo as it goes into depth about the idea behind using insects for food.

Should you invest in cricket powder prodcuts?

I really hate most of the protein and energy bars that are out on the market.  The protein sources sucks, they have shitty fillers and a lot of other undesirable qualities, so I sent an email off to the founders of Exo to see how they were different and they were nice enough to reply to all of my questions.

Question 1) You feed your crickets a grain based diet, any concerns about the effects of this on the nutritional aspects of the cricket powder?

They are currently fed a certified organic non-GMO grain-based diet (although we are experimenting with different feeds). Crickets are omnivores in the wild though, so it’s not like cattle, for example, where they should be eating grass and we’re forcing them grains, thereby screwing up the omega 6 / 3 ratios etc. Crickets can thrive on pretty much anything, including grains (and actually each other!).

Question 2) Crickets are reported to be high in omega-3 alpha linoleic acid, do you have any insight into this? Have you done any analysis?

We’re doing some analysis on our flour right now but you’re right–all the literature suggests crickets (and insects more generally) are very high in omega 3s.

Question 3) How do you feel your product is different from some of the other “paleo” protein bars that are out on the market?

The first difference between Exo bars and competitive products is that our bars actually taste great. The recipes were formulated by a 3 Michelin Starred chef, and taste has always been our number 1 priority. The second difference is the quality of the ingredients statement–no fillers, nothing refined/processed etc. And finally (and most obviously), our protein source, which is effectively an animal protein, in a bar.

Ultimately, I’m fairly convinced in the product.  Its HIGH in a protein that comes from an animal and not some shitty protein like legumes, etc.  The additional ingredients consist mostly of almonds, honey, vanilla and salt.  Overall, this seems like a great product to carry around for when you can’t find a normal meal and need to have a healthy snack.

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More proof that your gut controls everything.

I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, the bacteria in your gut controls everything…  

There was recently a paper published that caught my attention.  The title says it all, “Host Remodeling of the Gut Microbiome and Metabolic Changes During Pregnancy.

What the data shows is that, during pregnancy, there are changes to the mother’s gut-associated bacteria between the first and the third trimester.  The bacteria during the first trimester are fairly “normal” and contain a high diversity of bacterial species.  During the third trimester, several types of bacteria, notably the very inflammatory Proteobacteria become elevated.  Interestingly, there are a large number of studies which show that elevated Proteobacteria  levels are associated with screwed up metabolism of the host resulting in obesity, diabetes, etc most likely because of excessive inflammation.

Taken from the www.cell.com website
Taken from the www.cell.com website

What was REALLY cool  (at least to a nerd like me) is that when the scientists transferred the bacteria from a third-trimester mom into a germ-free mouse (Think of it as a mouse that lives in a sterile bubble), those animal became fatter and less sensitive to insulin signaling than mice given bacteria from a first-trimester mother.

What this means is that one of the main reason’s why pregnant women gain weight and adiposity during pregnancy is BECAUSE of changes to the bacteria that reside in their gut.  The study above went on to show that the bacteria that emerges during pregnancy is better able to extract energy from the diet and transfer that to the mother, and therefore the baby as well.  The downside of this is the extra-weight gain and potentially gestational diabetes as a result…

You have to ask yourself, why would you want this to happen during pregnancy?  You would think that you’d want Mom to be as healthy as possible and to not have a screwed up metabolism, never mind diabetes, right????    WRONG!

There is a strong hypothesis that during pregnancy, the mothers body is willing to sacrifice its own sensitivity to sugar/gluces so that energy is diverted to the developing baby.  Evolutionarily, it makes sense to put that cute little parasite (that you’ll eventually come to love) first.

Its amazing the balance that the host and microbiota have and how they can affect each other.  In this scenario basically what we have is the following:

1) Some unknown change in the mother that results in a slow alteration of the microbiota between the first and third trimester.

2) These altered microbiota produce more energy from the consumed food which can be transferred to the host.

3) The third trimester microbiota are also way more inflammatory…

4) The inflammation driven by the altered microbiota has been shown to play a CRITICAL roll in decreasing insulin sensitivity, which in this case is beneficial in diverting energy to the developing baby.

What an absolutely beautiful symbiotic set of events.

Personalized nutrition to meet your goals

I wanted to tell a story of two very different clients of mine and how I’ve approached using nutrition and lifestyle changes to help them get closer to their goals.  While we often talk in generalities on how to eat, the reality of the situation is that everyone is unique and needs tweaking to those basic principles to make progress… here are a couple examples.

Clients 1: The crossfitting, butt-kicking, weight losing husband and wife team

The first clients I’m going to talk about are the typical person that approaches me looking to lose weight.  Audrey and her husband Mark had been working out at The Fort Crossfit for several years and had been trying to eat with a Paleo style emphasis.  This approach worked well for a while with some impressive weight loss numbers, but they eventually hit a plateau as progress stalled.  This is when she approached me about working together to help her break through the barrier and improve her health and body composition even further.  While they were doing these pretty correctly for the most part, there were definitely some aspects of both nutrition and their lifestyle that needed to be modified.

One of the components of my program is a 28 day meal plan where I detail how I want people to eat for 3 meals plus a snack for every single day of a month.  The meals follow some basic principles as it relates to balancing protein, carbs and fat but really the goal is to show people how to eat cleanly for 28 straight days.

While compliance with the program is been a challenge with many clients, Audrey and Mark were committed 110%.  They followed the program as closely as any  people that I’ve ever worked with and the results were really fantastic.  While I generally couldn’t give two shits about the numbers on a scale, the results are worth talking about as Audrey dropped ~16 pounds over two months and Mark dropped about 10 lbs.  More importantly, Audrey told me that she was constantly having people tell her that she looked fabulous (she does…) and her coach was thrilled by her progress in the gym.  With results like these, they should both be getting compliments for quite a while.

Before...
Before…

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And after....
And after….

 

I credit Audrey and Mark’s success to several factors.

1) They actually listened when I told them to get more sleep at night.  Most people are unwilling to change their sleep patterns but they did and as a result, reduced stress levels which allowed for improved performance in the gym and more will-power to make the right decisions with nutrition.

2) Audrey and Mark really put a bunch of effort into figuring out how to make the meal plan fit into their lives.  When they went to parties, they brought their own snacks and beverages.  When it was their anniversary, they picked a place with incredible food that was also healthy.  Little choices like this make all the difference in having prolonged success.

3) They stuck with the program for more than just 1 month.  Many times people do great when they have someone (like me) holding them accountable, but derail when they are on their own because they have not yet made eating healthy a habit.  By sticking with the program for multiple months, Audrey and Mark really did make eating healthy the new “normal.”

Eventually, I told Audrey and Mark that it was time to give things a try on their own.  I can tell they are continuing to excel all on their own which is exactly my hope for all the people I work with.

Client two: The fit guy that needed to get bigger

I’ve known Kyle for many years now, back from when there was literally a single Crossfit facility in all of New Hampshire.  Kyle has always been a skinny guy… seriously, check out this picture from before he really discovered Crossfit.

"Blinded by the light...."
“Blinded by the light….”

Kyle’s done a really nice job of improving many aspects of his health and fitness on his own.   He’s always given 100% in the gym and his body responded by adding some muscle mass.  Unfortunately, being well over 6 feet tall and weight 185 pounds is FAR from ideal when it comes to competing in the sport of fitness, which is Kyle’s personal goal.  After working together for several months, it became QUITE clear that Kyle is what we call a “Hard-gainer.”  No matter how much clean food he ate, he just could not manage to pack any real muscle mass on.  It was time for some drastic measures.  Here’s a picture of Kyle before we made some drastic changes… he’s weighing in at about 187 in the picture.  Clearly cut, but way too light for a guy his height.

I think he's got -2% body fat...
I think he’s got a negative body fat %…

So what did we do to get him where he needed to be.

1) Dropped his workout volume by about 60%.  What Kyle needed was not to beat his body senseless 5-6 days a week, but to work out hard and then REST.  His body needed extra time to recover and GROW.

2) Spend time under tension.  The best way to induce a growth signal is to spend a shitload of time under heavy weight.  I had Kyle follow a slightly modified version of Dan John’s program called “Mass Made Simple” which calls for BIG workouts 2 days a week with nothing but rest on the other days.  The basis of the program is built around enormous barbell complexes and huge squat sets (think sets of 25-50 reps) with moderate amounts of weight.  Supplemented with some technique work on the olympic lifts and some extra unilateral work to correct for imbalances and you have a recipe for success.

3) While eating clean is very important for maximal health, that was not necessarily Kyle’s number one goal.  He wanted to get significantly better at Crossfit and was willing to sacrifice some of his long term health to do so.  With that in mind, I told Kyle to increase his carbohydrate intake significantly.  With a gluten AND dairy sensitivity, this wasn’t easy but we figured a way to increase his carb intake by at least 100 grams a day through white rice… a pretty good fuel source in this case.  Luckily this worked well and the mass started to be packed on quickly.

So what were the results?  Well, after 8-10 weeks, Kyle was up to 205 lbs.  While he lost a little of that leanness at the time, he also put on a ton of muscle mass.  He’s since gone back to a regular crossfit style program with a strength emphasis and is down to 199-201 pounds and looks like this.

Kyle DL CVCFI think the most striking difference is in his shoulders and in his legs/glutes.  He put on a ton of mass in these areas which has definitely come in handy as he’s PR’d his back squat, front squat, clean and jerk, and snatch all after the 8 week mass gain program.  Oh, and he can still knockout 15 unbroken muscle ups and a sub 3 minute Fran…

Take home: Most people can make some really great changes to their health, nutrition and body composition by following basic principles around exercise and nutrition.  That said, often times an individualized approach is necessary to optimally perform and reach your goals.