Category Archives: Nutrition

N Equals 1: Supplements

I always get asked about supplements. What should I take? What’s the best? How about protein powder? Creatine? Pre-workout? Etc. Here’s the easy truth: you probably don’t need them. Here’s the hard truth: you are looking for a quick fix instead of doing the real hard work. That being said, you are probably going to succumb to the marketing at some point and try some supplements. That’s fine, but let me help you help yourself and empower you to not be a slave to the marketing machine and to make better decisions and obviate the need for supplements.

First, ask yourself why you want supplements at all. What are you trying to accomplish or correct with this supplement? “Supplement” is short for “Dietary Supplement” and that suggests that they should be used to get something that is not provided from your diet. So before you go spending your hard-earned money, try fixing your diet. Eat better quality foods and control the quantity of food that you eat.

If you are eating fast food and looking to take protein powder or creatine or some other supplement, don’t. Clean up your crappy diet. Whatever boost in performance is guaranteed by the supplement company can be matched and exceeded by simply eliminating fast food from your diet and cooking yourself some meat and vegetables. If you’re not willing to eat your vegetables, then buying supplements is a waste of time and money.

Still want to drop some money on supplements? Okay. How will you know if they work? You will need to conduct an experiment of n=1. You need to measure your progress in the gym. Get a journal and write down your workouts and how you performed. How much you lifted, how fast you ran and how many reps you did. You can also track other things like your weight, body fat percentage and how much you slept. Go to the doctor and get some blood work done. These are the types of things that you want to keep track of and measure before you take supplements in order to get a baseline, then again during the supplement trial, and, finally, after you stop taking the supplements to see if you return to your baseline.

Furthermore, how will you know whether any progress was the result of the supplements or something else, like eating less or exercising more? You will have to control certain variables so that they do not impact the results. At the very least, you must maintain a relatively constant daily calorie intake. To be more precise, you need to establish a baseline for how much of each macronutrient you are intaking every day. If you are not getting the proper amount of macronutrients in your diet, then that should be addressed before supplementation. You need protein for your muscles, carbohydrates for energy and fats for satiety. Eating too little will cause you to under perform and eating too much will lead to unnecessary weight gain. Finding the proper amount is a process that could take a few months, but it is worth more than all the supplements out there. It is only after you start tracking exactly how much protein, fats and carbs you eat during a day that you can then see how adding or subtracting something affects your performance.

I recommend doing the Zone Diet or Flexible Dieting and establishing a baseline for one month and then adding a supplement in for another month to see if there is any improvement and then discontinuing for several weeks at the end of the month. This will provide a contrast between your baseline and you on supplements. If you haven’t changed how much you’ve eaten and worked out for the month, then at the end you can measure the gains made by the supplement and also whether there was a drop in performance upon discontinuing use at the end of the month.

It seems like a lot of work, but there is a huge payoff. Doing the hard work of eating right will improve your performance and give you the keys to knowing objectively how you are functioning. It allows you to be objective about your nutrition and your performance.

Cook

Nutrition is a controversial topic like religion and politics. The chances of changing someone’s opinions about food are about as likely as changing someone’s sexual orientation. Nonetheless, we try and try. I start with the forrest and then eventually worry about the trees. You can (and probably should at some point) get very obsessive with counting the amount of proteins, carbs and fats you are eating (macros!). However, I believe the biggest improvement you can make to your nutrition is to start to cook.

Now anybody can put a chicken in the oven, but that don’t make them a chef. I am not saying you have to be a good cook, but outsourcing all your food prep to someone else is giving up control of an extremely important part of your life. If you want to improve or optimize your health and performance, you have to pay attention to your nutrition. When you start to cook, then you pay attention to the ingredients. When you start to cook, you pay attention to the portions. The process of cooking awakens you to so many things and makes you conscious of what you are putting in your body.

Ordering in, or heating up pre-packaged meals, is extremely convenient but makes it easy to take for granted everything that goes into preparing food. The gratitude you have for the food and the meal is heightened when you prepare everything yourself or when you cook with friends or family.

I am always shocked when I meet people that don’t cook, but they really exist. If you have never cooked, start small and work on making one meal. Maybe hang out with a friend and have them teach you how to cook. It’s not that hard.

Do It Tomorrow

Do It Tomorrow is a good book on time management by Mark Forster.  I read it years ago on the recommendation of a friend.  Unfortunately, I found it quite difficult to implement in my life.  The premise is simple: make a list of the most important things you are going to do tomorrow before you go to bed. Wake up, look at the list and get cracking!  This gives you the benefit of thinking through the most important things while you are calm and helps you create a map for the next day that you can follow in the event that you get bombarded and distracted by life.  It also allows you to sleep on it which can help your mind start working to solve big problems while you sleep.

Since starting “Flexible Dieting” or “Counting Macros,” I have found that the habit of choosing my meals for the next day the night before to be an enormous help.  I input all my meals and snacks for the next day and move things around so that I be sure to hit my numbers.  Sometimes I start with something delicious that I know I want to eat and then see what is left and start to fill it in.  Sometimes it’s merely copying and pasting todays food log to tomorrow’s log.  Then whenever I get a little hungry, I look at my app on my phone and it tells me what I should eat.

What this does is allow me to save one of my most valuable resources: self restraint.  If I wait until I get a craving or starting thinking about pizza and then look in the refrigerator, I most assuredly will not see anything I want to eat and then go to seamless and order something.  If I look at what is on my menu for the day, I merely have to go and get it and heat it up.  Ultimately, I still have veto power and sometimes go off menu, but having a plan going into each day is great help and I know, from past experiences, that doing it this way leads to much better compliance and results.

Tonight, before you go to bed, plan to make tomorrow the best day.

Conspiracy Theory

Most people that try to diet fail.  I have.  People get discouraged too easily and give up.  I don’t.  I keep trying because I learn something from every failure. Compliance with a nutrition or an exercise program can be extremely challenging.  Self control is a finite resource.  If we use all our self control trying to beat a craving for pizza, we stand a good chance of falling victim to the next grilled cheese that crosses our path.

I have a guilty pleasure of reading and listening to books about self improvement.  Jack Canfield, Bob Proctor, Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Napoleon Hill, etc. are just a few of the authors that I turn to for words of encouragement. It so happens that this month I have been doing “Flexible Dieting” or “Counting Macros” and coincidentally I started listening to a Zig Ziglar book.  I don’t know if it’s related or not, but I find it much easier to stay compliant and exercise self control when listening to Ziglar.  Maybe the two things aren’t related but I think there is some benefit to having someone tell you how awesome you when you want to get down on yourself and cheat on your diet.

There is power in words and power in community and power in who you surround yourself with.  Doing a nutrition challenge with the gym is good when everyone is in communication and supporting each other.  It feels more normal when you’re eating out with friends and you all order salads and pull out your phones and take pictures of your food and plug your meal into your apps.  Positive self talk is a great tool to keep you focused as well.  I heard that listening to motivational speeches increases your dopamine, endorphin and seratonin levels.  So that might help explain that this might be more than a coincidence.

If you want to succeed you have to conspire and plan.  Surround yourself with the right people and fill your ears and brain with the right words and thoughts.  Every little bit helps.

 

Obsession

ob·ses·sion
/əbˈseSHən/

noun. 1) the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire, etc. 2) a state in which someone thinks about someone or something constantly or frequently especially in a way that is not normal.

The second definition makes obsession sound pejorative: “not normal”.  Sure obsession can be bad, but there are some that would call obsession “commitment” or “focus” which are great qualities.

My obsession recently has been with counting macros.  I’ve done the Zone diet on and off for many years, so I am familiar with many of the concepts in “Flexible Dieting” or “Counting Macros”.  However, finding a new prescription and using an app on my phone to track everything and preparing the night before has brought a new level of obsession to my food game.  Is a normal? Probably not.  Is it an eating disorder?  No.  It’s just a quest for a deeper level of understanding.

Any quest for deeper knowledge will take on a form of obsession as the student thinks constantly about the topic.  New levels of understanding and knowledge can only be achieved through obsession.  Anybody that is an expert at something at some point was obsessed with that something.  My goal to understand my diet inside and out and to use nutrition to fuel my life and my performance is currently in that process of obsession.  After a month of this I hope to be far more knowledgable and intelligent with regards to my nutrition.  I don’t know that the obsession will last but the knowledge, once acquired, will be with me forever.

What’s your obsession?

 

 

Ready, Fire, Aim!

The concept of “Ready, Fire, Aim” is simple, you have to act first, see how far off target you are, and then make proper adjustments.  This is how real life works.  In real life we are not snipers.  We do not abide by “One Shot, One Kill.”  In life we can’t plan and plan and plan and then just execute once and be perfect.  Our lives are lived paddling a boat in a storm.  Life is constantly conspiring to push us off course and our job is to keep redirecting and steering ourselves back toward the lighthouse.

I started counting my macros last week.  I executed the plan to a “T” all week.  Every day I was supposed to hit my goal of 185g of protein, 204g of carbohydrates, and 53g of fat.  I was within 2 or 3 g of my goal every day.  You know what happened.  I started losing weight for a few days and then it stopped and went back up.  That’s not how it’s supposed to work.  Week 1 was a failure. If I had a “one shot, one kill” mindset, I would say, “This shit didn’t work. It’s not for me.  Counting macros sucks. I quit.”  However, I embrace the mindset of “ready, fire, aim” and think, “Something is not right, I have to recalculate my macros and try again.”

If every time you eat a slice of pizza, you think to yourself, “My diet is ruined, I might as well eat the whole pie.”  You will surely never hit your target.  If you instead say to yourself, “That slice threw me off course, what do I have to do to get back on course.”  You will be able to achieve your goals and enjoy a slice or two along the way.

 

Here We Go Again

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‘Tis the season for starting a new diet. I am sure most of the people reading this are considering a paleo, zone, Whole30, flexitarian or other challenge come 2015. I fully support you and so do my friends. Maybe you have done it before. Maybe you are jaded by the less-than-stellar results of previous New Year’s resolutions. Have no fear. The new year is teeming with possibility. There are so many people in your corner willing to help you. Me for instance…and my friends.

CrossFit Solace is hosting a paleo challenge. The only thing better than being a better you in the new year is to be a better you with better friends. I love doing challenges with a community of like-minded peers that help each other succeed.

CrossFit NYC is doing the Whole 30. My friends Dallas and Melissa Hartwig’s Whole 30 website is the best online resource for people going paleo. If you have a question, they have an answer.

CrossFit has always encouraged people to eat meat, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. And to keep intake to levels that support exercise but not bodyfat. CrossFit has always leaned on the Zone diet for precision and accuracy in feeding the machine. I always encourage everyone to try the Zone diet for 30 days. It will give you a tremendous insight into proper portions and control over what and how much you eat.

If you are like me, finding time to cook can be impossible. My friends at Kettlebell Kitchen are always on call with great meals prepped and ready to go. I highly recommend utilizing them for for stocking your fridge with ready to eat meals.

When I need to cry from lack of sugar, I know I need someone to talk me off the ledge. That person is Liz Barnet, a friend and a nutrition coach that is ready to coach the coach through the hard times that inevitably arise when you give up sugar and booze. Get her in your corner to help you meet your goals this year.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” –Hippocrates

What Should You Eat?

paleo_food

I care deeply about nutrition. I have a vested interest what I eat, what my pregnant wife eats and what our future baby will eat. I care so much because I have a strong belief that what we eat is directly responsible for our health. I also have strong opinions on what other people eat because real food is not grown in individually portioned packages. In fact, if I want someone to raise a grass-fed cow or grow non-GMO produce in nutrient rich top soil without chemical fertilizers and pesticides, then there has to be a big enough demand from a group of interested future purchasers of these products. There are other very good, socio-economic and moral reasons for me to be interested in your health as well. For example, I get personal satisfaction from helping people get out of pain and find joy living in their bodies.

Coach Greg Glassman used to say that “getting someone to change their diet is as difficult as getting them to change their sexual orientation.” People are so emotionally invested in food and the dogma around eating that talking about nutrition in social gatherings is as taboo as politics and religion. Regardless, I want you to try to eat differently. I want you to open your mind and your mouth to some new ideas. Furthermore, I want you to stop being a lemming. There is so much nonsense and conflicting “science” about nutrition that I am not going to try to convince you that eating one way is better than another way. I am going to recommend three books (see below): two that are biased and one that is not. I recommend these books because they reveal so much of the complexity of food and nutrition in the modern world vis-a-vis the government and the media and the science, not because they are “diet” books.

An example that I am sure you can relate to is the death of the term “organic.” What does that even mean any more? It use to mean something good: that the food you were buying was grown on a farm without pesticides and was somehow free of the industrial complex. Now, unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that at all. The term “paleo” is now meeting a similar end. “Paleo” was once a great descriptor of foods that predated agriculture and sustained our human ancestors for 2.5 million years. Now it is used for all sorts of gluten-free, baked goods. Stay away from buzz words!

paleo diet

Please ask yourself these questions before you read any further. What is food to you? Mere sustenance? Or fuel for performance? What is a diet to you? A way to lose weight? Or guidelines to ensure you get the vital nutrients you need for optimal health? How does food affect your other physical activities? Are your physical activities merely a means to lose weight or do you move and stay active for other reasons? Do you have a strong ideology about food? Are you willing to consider each piece of food on its own merits?

I encourage each of you to undertake a personal experiment to clean up your diet. Eat whole foods and avoid processed foods and refined sugars. Take out legumes, grains and dairy for 30 days. Keep a journal logging your workouts and your moods and any observations you have about your health. Take before and after pictures and weigh yourself. After 30 days add one of the things you pulled out of your diet back in and record how you look feel and perform. Do you suddenly feel great or terrible or not notice any change? This is the best way to determine those foods that are the best for you. I highly encourage you to read the resources below, but let this objective experiment be the light that guides you. Do not be swayed by dogma and propaganda. Let the data tell you what really works for you and your body. Nobody is going to care about your health and performance as much as you do. Take control of your nutrition and take control of your health.

Variety of fish, meats, vegetables, and fruits

First, get some metrics. Peter Drucker said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Keep track of how you look, feel and perform. Having some subjective and objective data can allow you to determine which foods to eat and how much of them to eat. The best way to navigate all the conflicting information on the news is to do your own experiment and see what food really does to your body. I recommend some basic data points to compare before, during and after this experiment: your bodyweight, a few pictures in your underwear, a standard blood panel from your doctor, how many pushups you can do, how fast you can run a mile, and any ailments or aches and pains you have.

Second, determine what to eat. Humans are surprisingly resilient and adaptable and can survive eating dirt. So we need to narrow the field down from everything to those things that we can classify as “food”. We start with a basic list of “meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar.” This is from Greg Glassman’s “World-Class Fitness in 100 Words” and lays out the basic food groups that our ancestors ate. We have been eating this way for 2.5 million years and are well adapted to eat this way.

Foods that are problematic for many people are legumes, grains and dairy. So the best way to find out if you can tolerate those foods is to remove them from your diet for a month and keep records of how you look feel and perform. Then one at a time re-introduce those foods back into your diet and see if your body tolerates them. This works for any “food” or “supplement” or “strategy” that you want to implement. What you want is a clean, constant baseline from which you can observe the effects that a food or supplement have and thus limiting the variables that can often cloud your perception.

The point here is that you should experiment and find the foods that your body thrives on and then base your diet on those foods. Using a basic guideline of choosing foods that are closest to the way they showed up in nature and humans have eaten for generations. While most of us will generally do well on a diet of meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar, we, each of us, will have better tolerances for certain foods depending on our tastes, genetics and personal biology.

Books to read:
“Good Calories, Bad Calories: Fats, Carbs, and the Controversial Science of Diet and Health” by Gary Taubes

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability by Lierre Keith

“Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal: War Stories from the Local Food Front” by Joel Salatin

Reading The Signs

I believe we all have those days when we say, “Fuck it! It’s disgusting outside, it’s a crappy day, I deserve to sit on the couch and eat pizza and ice cream.”  Once in a while, we need to cut loose and it’s good for our overall mental health to do so. However, I do notice a disturbing trend and that is, I look for those signs and I find them everywhere…all the time.

I find myself thinking those thoughts every time it rains or snows or gets cold or is Friday. The frequency with which that little voice in my head says, “Hey, cut loose and  have a good time” increases with each conceit.

How can we tell the difference between when it is a necessary step to keep ourselves sane and when it is a loss to the insidious power of resistance?  How do we know when we are reading the signs correctly?  Is the Universe telling us to relax and take it easy or is it testing our resolve?

I know how easy it is to succumb, to throw in the towel, to say, “just this one time.” I also know the feeling of satisfaction that comes from meeting your goals and staying the course.  Resistance hates momentum.  Build up some steam, keep making the better choice, keep fighting resistance and soon your momentum will carry you forward.  Read the signs: yellow means go faster!