Watching the Scale go Up

For the past six weeks I have been working with Emily Field, a registered dietitian, on my nutrition and diet. We have set a goal for me to gain 10 pounds over three months without drastically changing my body composition, which means maintaining a body fat percentage below 10%.

Each week, Emily prescribes my daily macros and caloric intake. She has provided a recommended list of foods but there is flexibility in what I can eat and drink. I can have a burger or a glass of red wine if it fits my macros. Obviously one can’t go hog wild or it will be difficult to consume the needed amount of protein and carbohydrates if I choose foods that are high in fat. Emily’s methodology is for me to gain weight in a slow and measured way so that my body composition doesn’t go out of whack (a.k.a not suddenly putting on a beer belly). Here is a look at the prescribed macros over the past six weeks:

Protein Fat Carb Calories
Week 1 125g 60g 175g 1,740
Week 2 125g 60g 175g 1,740
Week 3 150g 80g 175g 2,020
Week 4 150g 100g 200g 2,300
Week 5 150g 100g 200g 2,300
Week 6 175g 100g 200g 2,400

While 1,740 calories per day in the beginning seems low, Emily correctly diagnosed that I was under eating and not even consuming that many calories despite going to CrossFit classes four times per week.

The increase in carbs and calories in the first few weeks kicked my metabolism into high gear. As you can see on the chart below, despite eating more I actually lost weight. In response, Emily said, “You’re earning ‘unicorn status’. This refers to the phenomenon that a few handful of people experience – increase in carbohydrates and overall calories WHILE dropping in weight and inches. This warrants another increase in macros. Eat up, hopefully this will slow things down a little and we can get your weight to stabilize.”

Things have stabilized and I have gained weight over the past two weeks and so the scale is finally going in the right direction. weight

And so as you see the daily macros, you might be wondering what does that specifically look like? How much food am I eating? Here is a day ripped from my food diary earlier this week as I am not consuming 2,400 calories:

 ProteinFatCarbCalories
White rice (1/2 dry cup)6.00.070.0304
Chicken sausage15.08.02.0140
Eggs (2)14.09.00.0137
Mozzarella (1/4 cup)7.06.02.090
Protein shake24.01.02.0113
Banana1.30.427.0117
String cheese5.05.00.065
Carrots (1.5 oz)0.50.04.018
Pork muffin (2)33.638.08.4510
Baked oatmeal3.44.922.5148
Turkey burger (2)44.020.00.0356
Sweet potatoe2.00.126.0113
Peppers & onions (1 cup)1.00.07.032
Vanilla Ice Cream (6 oz)2.010.024.0194
Protein shake24.01.02.0113
TOTAL182.8103.4196.92450

It’s a good amount of food. I workout at 5:15am in the morning and so by the time I am back home by 6:30am, I am ready for a big breakfast. I try to bring lunch for work and I find it easiest to bring a lot of grab and go items – banana, carrots, cheese, etc.  I tend to eat just three times per day rather than small meals throughout. I get home from work by 6:30pm / 7:00pm and so dinner is followed pretty quickly by dessert.

Over the past six weeks, I have realized that when I get my carbs and fat from foods high in gluten and sugar (i.e. bread, cookies, etc.) that I don’t feel as satiated later and I can’t eat as much. For example, a #10 Hunter’s Club from Jimmy John’s with no mayo is 67 grams of carbs. It is a protein heavy sandwich but that takes up a 1/3 of my daily allowance of carbs. Or even more extreme, the chicken salad sandwich from Panera Bread is 9o grams of carbs. I’m trying to be more diligent about cutting back on these types of food and making sure I just meal prep for success.

I weigh myself  ever Monday morning as part of my tracking with Emily and hopefully the number on the scale keeps going up!

I’m Not Competing

The origins of this blog was centered around an innate desire to compete, which was awakened within when I attended the Granite Games as a spectator back in October 2013. Over the course of two years, I competed in my first powerlifting meet, Freeze Fest, the Dakota Games, small throwdowns and eventually the Granite Games. I even attended CrossFit camp and trained alongside Olympic gymnasts and weightlifters and CrossFit Games athletes. Through competition I learned about myself and gained much needed confidence to take risks outside the gym.

This year though I have made a pointed decision not to compete, despite the allure of Lifto de Mayo, SISU Summer Throwdown and even a return trip to the Granite Games. I realized with competition, especially as an amateur and a full-time job, that the ebbs and flows were a distraction to my day-to-day training. I would focus for two to three months to prepare for the competition and hit a peak of PRs, nerves and excitement. Immediately after, I would crash, need to deload and I would throw diet out the window. It was not sustainable and adding stress to my life.

athletic legs of young sport man with sharp scarf muscles running on staircase steps jogging in urban training workout or runner competition in fitness and healthy lifestyle concept

Since the end of last year I have worked hard to create a routine that I can stick to for 52 weeks out of the year rather than fits and bursts. For the past month, I have settled into going to the 5:15am class at CrossFit Kingfield every morning, Monday through Friday. I then take the weekends off, only doing some light activity as the nice summer weather allows (i.e. biking, paddleboarding, etc.).

This adjustment to my schedule causes me to happily fall asleep by 10pm at the latest, which is early but trust me there is nothing else going on at that time, especially at least during the work week. I am also then awake and fed and showered and at my desk by 8am, which has allowed me time to better prepare for the litany of phone calls, emails, meetings, property tours, etc. that fill up my day.  The office is quiet and the phone usually doesn’t ring and so I can actually think and organize my to-do list.

Not competing this year has also allowed me the mental headspace to focus on my nutrition. I did the 60-day challenge at my gym and that has spilled over into a much more prolonged effort to figure out how I can better fuel my body for all this activity in and out of the gym. I have been working with Emily Field, a registered dietician, to address the fact that I have been chronically under eating for the past few years. With her help, I am now doggedly hitting the prescribed macros and am slowly increasing my daily caloric intake with the goal of putting on ten pounds. While some may think it is nice to weigh what I did in high school (165 pounds), it is not very helpful when you are trying to deadlift, squat and press more weight. I want to eat great food, but I also want to eat the right kinds of food in the right amount of portions so that I can perform better and look better. While I have thought a lot about nutrition since this blog began, I have not given it the thoughtful time and focus it deserves.

So while I see all the pictures pop up on Facebook of these competitions throughout the year and feel a tinge of envy that I am not out there on the floor doing sandbag runs or handstand push-ups, I am also happy about the decision I have made. I know I will compete again, but I plan on being better prepared next time and that starts by taking a step back and strengthening my base. You can work on skills and movements but, at least for me, it is all for naught if I don’t have a body that is performing at its full potential. I believe this dedication to my diet, sleep and routine will help me get where I want to be.

Review: “American Grit” / “Strong”

Last month, two new reality competition shows premiered on TV focused around the idea of mental and physical strength.  On paper, they seemed like they would be right up my alley.

Scene from AMERICAN GRIT on FOX.
Scene from AMERICAN GRIT on FOX.

“American Grit” on Fox, hosted by WWE superstar John Cena, takes four teams into the wintery wilderness to face a variety of military-grade and survival-themed challenges. Each team is led by a decorated veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces representing respectively the Army, Navy, Marines and Seals. The contestants meet the requisite mix of cliches that you would find on “Survivor” (i.e. the quiet but manly lumberjack, the huge but sensitive body builder, the glamorous but tomboy equestrian). However, each has a story of adversity that they have overcome and a deep desire to prove their mental fortitude.

Every week they compete in an ‘Evolution’ – a lengthy challenge in which the winning team is safe from elimination. For example, in the first week the teams had to carry a huge log through multiple obstacles for over 3 miles. The military advisors/coaches of the losing teams must pick one team member to send to the ‘Circus’ – an obstacle course that ends with an endurance challenge. The endurance challenge goes as long as it takes for someone to finally give up and ring out – they use a bell similar to the Navy Seals.  In the second episode, contestants had to do 10 burpees and then submerge themselves in ice cold water. This was repeated over and over until one contestant actually fainted. The teams over the duration of the series will slowly whittle down until only one team remains and its members will split a $1,000,000 prize.

Scene from STRONG on NBC
Scene from STRONG on NBC

‘Strong’ on NBC, hosted by American professional volleyball player Gabrielle Reece, features 10 females contestants all looking to get in shape and get strong. They are each paired with a personal trainer whose backgrounds range from boxing to MMA to CrossFit to Cirque du Soleil. In addition to their daily one-on-one training, the pairs compete together to save themselves from elimination. Then there is a second challenge in which the winning pair gets to decide who will face the other team in the elimination round. Finally, there is a 4-story elimination tower that the two pairs must race through trying to finish first to stay in the competition. The winning pair will split a $500,000 prize.

The challenges have ranged from sprints to bar hangs to bench press. They are not easy and are reminiscent of metcons that you would find in a CrossFit class. At the end of each episode, they show the transformation of the eliminated contestant and they have all been amazing. More importantly, rather than focus on pounds lost, they show metrics centered around the increase in muscle mass and decrease in body fat percentage.

So where do these shows go wrong? In both instances these are reality shows and so drama reigns. More time is always given to the bickering and the strategy. For me, that often is tiresome. I’d rather see on ‘Strong’ more explanation of the training methods used. Plus, they make no mention of nutrition, though one has to assume the contestants are following some plan to complement all the exercise. ‘American Grit’ is less concerned with the drama, but perhaps that is because the veterans that are coaching each team get to make the calls and John Cena has little tolerance for contestants who are disrespectful or whiny.

So where do they go right? When the contestants reveal their motivation and tell their stories of adversity, the shows both soar. It is hard not to start rooting for them when you hear, for instance, how one contestant on ‘American Grit’ broke both her hands and had to have her father feed, clothe and bathe her for two years. Or of the contestant on ‘Strong’ whose life unraveled when she found out that her husband was cheating on her.

Of course the contestants want to win the money, but most also are searching for that inner strength that has been buried deep inside. They want to be healthier both mentally and physically, and part of that journey, if it is on a trivial reality show, is to force themselves to dig deep and go beyond their normal day-to-day. They aren’t just watching, they are doing. And some of them needed a trainer or a coach, like a hard-ass former Marine, to tell them that they can do it and they believe in them.

I understand that need. I have a had a charmed life in the scheme of things and so I’m looking to become stronger, to face fears and push my limits. But I also rely on my coaches to make me uncomfortable, telling me to get back on the bar, do another pull-up or to keep going.

‘Strong’ sometimes feels a bit too formulaic, but there are moments of vulnerability that keep me interested in seeing these women succeed. ‘American Grit’ applied reality show casting 101 to start but when you submerge yourself in ice water or carrying a log for 3-miles, all the noise of these loud personalities are quickly drowned out by the realization that shit just got real. Plus, they get just a brief glimpse as to the training that are Armed Forces go through before they even start facing the evils of this world.

I’ll be tuning into both each week.

Reverse Dieting (aka I’m Not Bulking)

After the 60-day challenge at my gym came to an end in early April, I weighed in at 165.8 pounds and my estimated body fat percentage dropped to 9%. While at the beginning of the challenge I had made a bigger goal for myself that by Memorial Day I would lower my body fat percentage below 10%, the reality is that when I look in the mirror I feel I look too skinny and lanky. I’m 6′ tall and I look more like a marathoner than a CrossFitter. Personally, that is not the aesthetic I want to achieve nor one that will support me in the gym and under the barbell.

I met with Emily Field, a registered dietitian, post-challenge to discuss my results and where I wanted to go next.  We discussed getting more dialed in with my nutrition in a productive way that could be sustained beyond 21-day sugar detoxes or 60-day challenges. Understanding that I wanted to put on weight but remain lean, Emily recommended we track my macros (protein, fat, carbs) and use a Reverse Dieting strategy over a 12-week period.

According to Emily, “Reverse Dieting is a form of positive metabolic adaptation in which the body responds in a favorable manner to increased food intake. Reverse Dieting is achieved by steadily increasing macronutrient intake and is designed to prime you metabolically without gaining excess body fat. Essentially, we are coaxing the metabolic rate to retune to normal  to what it was before you dieted in the first place.”

In short, we will increase calories slowly and methodically over time so that we minimize potential body fat gain and maximize strength and lean body mass gain.

PFC

Emily reviewed my typical daily food intake and identified that I was undereating.  To correct this and ease me into an increased calories/macros, she has prescribed a daily intake of 125 grams of protein, 60 grams of fat and 175 grams of carbs, which equates to 1,750 calories.

This is my second full week tracking macros. Here’s a sample day from my eating diary:

P F C CAL
Eggs (2) 14 9 0 137
White rice (1/2 dry cup) 6 0 70 304
Peppers & onions (1 cup) 1 0 7 32
Salami (1 oz) 8 8 0 104
Protein shake 24 1 2 113
Banana 1.3 0.4 27 117
Mason Jar Salad:
Balsamic (2 tbsp) 0 0 6 24
Diced tomatoes 0.9 0 2.6 14
Banza chickpea pasta (2 oz) 14 3.5 32 216
Chicken (4 oz) 23 1.5 0 106
Mozzarella (1/4 cup) 7 6 2 90
Baby spinach 2 0.3 2.5 20
Bear Naked Granola (1/4 cup) 3 5 28 169
Brocolli slaw (1 cup) 2 0 5 28
Beef sirloin roast (3 oz) 18 11 3 183
Protein shake 24 1 2 113
GOAL 125 60 175 1740
ACTUAL 148 47 189 1769

 

I’m a habitual eater so tracking isn’t that hard. I use a Google Docs spreadsheet and there is a lot of copying and pasting.  Meal prep helps.

Over the last 10 days, I’ve quickly learned that you can eat your fill of vegetables – the greener the better, white rice is your friend, bacon and salami are delicious, but a chicken breast has less fat, and chocolate chip cookies are loaded with carbs.

I am definitely eating more now than compared to just two weeks ago, but this is definitely not bulking.  My macros don’t feel limiting and they do allow some flexibility if I want to indulge here and there. However, you really have to consider your intake carefully. It’s not a buffet approach to eating. You can eat well but it’s not a free ticket to go hog wild.

In addition to tracking macros, Emily has noted that in Reverse Dieting it is extremely important to take progress pictures so that you can see the affects of the increased calories/macros on body composition. In addition, taking waist measurement (about 2 finger widths above your belly button, around the smallest part of your midsection) at least twice per month so you can track progress in body composition changes. We are keeping this data and pictures on file using a file sharing service.

Again, the goal is to gain weight while maintaining a low body fat percentage. While it sounds like the two ideas conflict, Emily has assured met that with Reverse Dieting and gradual changes to my macros it is very doable. I’m excited to see the results!

False Confidence

“Did I do something stupid that no one else did?”

“Yes, and you’ve asked that eight times now.”

“What? I did.”

In a flash, I was suddenly aware of my surroundings and realized I was laying on a gurney in the emergency room talking to my sister. But why?

My sister sighed with relief as she realized that I was no longer repeating myself. She explained that I had been in an accident while sledding. I had hit my head, went unconscious, and then had been looping for the past four hours, asking the same few questions over and over.

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Reenactment of me landing in the snow.

The accident was back on December 30, 2012. Years later, the majority of what I know about it has been told to me by friends that were there as I have little to no memory of that day. In short, we were cold and tired and ready to call it a day but I pointed to a mound of snow some kids had built and informed the group that one of us had to sled down the hill and go over this makeshift ramp before we left. Despite multiple warnings from my friends, I decided it should be me. I’m not sure where this bravado came from. Perhaps I was trying to show off? Nevertheless, I took the bright blue snowtube and swooshed down the hill. I hit the mound and was flung 10 feet past and landed on a snow-covered running path. I bruised my ribs and my head hit the ground, rendering me unconscious. An expensive ambulance ride, multiple X-rays and hours later I found myself with my sister clueless about what had happened.

The concussion and week spent on bed rest hopped on Vicodin was not worth it. Nor did I garner any enjoyment from the large hospital bill. There was no glory in this moment of false confidence. Why did I think I was qualified to make this jump? That morning was the first time I had been sledding since I was a kid. I was ill-prepared. I lacked a proper helmet or sled. The snowtube was borrowed and the gusto was founded upon nothing.

A trip last week with my Dad to Las Vegas made me think about this display of false confidence. While he and I sat at a card table playing poker, methodically learning the flow of the game, I was struck by others who walked up threw a large bet on the table and quickly lost it all with one bad hand. Now Vegas is a place to take some fun risk and so might not be the right analogy. However, it reminded me that in my life the moments of false confidence have led to nothing but trouble.

The other major instance of this was when I was 22 years old, right out of college and playing in a softball tournament for work. We played a full game in Central Park in the late afternoon and then headed to a nearby bar on the Upper West Side for a happy hour. I decided to challenge a friendly but older team member to go shot for shot. I was not a big drinker, especially compared to him – a regular bar fly with at least 50 pounds on me – but for some reason I puffed up my chest and decided I was going to try and prove something that day. Perhaps the impetus was my performance in the softball game? I had spent the majority of the time on the bench, probably due to my lack of athletic prowess. Perhaps I wanted to prove that the young new kid could hold his own? Whatever the reason, you can easily have guessed that it led to me getting drunk and blacking out. I embarrassed myself in front of my colleagues and endangered my own health. My boss was not impressed and set me straight the next morning at work. I didn’t touch an ounce of alcohol for the next few months. To this day, I never drink liquor at work events and keep to 2-beer maximum.

Reenactment of me passing out at the bar.
Reenactment of me passing out at the bar.

One more anecdote, courtesy of Aesop, to help drive the point: “A Donkey and a Rooster were together when a Lion, desperate from hunger, approached. He was about to spring upon the Donkey, when the Rooster (to the sound of whose voice the Lion, it is said, has a singular aversion) crowed loudly, and the Lion fled away. The Donkey, observing his trepidation at the mere crowing of a Rooster summoned courage to attack him, and galloped after him for that purpose. He had run no long distance when the Lion, turning about, seized him and tore him to pieces.” Moral of the story – false confidence often leads into danger.

As I reflect upon my effort over the last few years to develop my self-confidence, I realize it is built upon my training and hard work. I didn’t enter Freeze Fest or Granite Games on a whim with no preparation. My confidence entering those arenas was based on the fact that I had spent weeks, even months, lifting, practicing skills and movements, and working on my sleep and nutrition. I feel confident going into a workout or a competition because I know I have put in the time and effort to justify my enthusiasm and bravado.

Similarly at my job, I speak with confidence to my clients when I have done my research and come well prepared with all the facts and analysis. I feel my best on a property tour with a prospective tenant or buyer when I have anticipated all their questions and have the answers at the ready. As much as I’d like to think my charming personality could help me even sell the Brooklyn Bridge, I know that false confidence would be built upon a very shaky foundation and eventually will crack.

False confidence only masks our insecurities. It is good to be brave and take risks. It is even better to walk through life brimming with confidence.  However, that strong mindset and the actions that follow  need to be grounded in reality.