In the sport of bodybuilding, it has been a nutritional “staple” to follow a “clean” diet: eat high quality proteins, starches, and fats in order to achieve a stage-ready physique. In recent years, however, a new philosophy of competition prep has begun to emerge: If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM). In essence, those who follow IIFYM contend that what you eat is not important; as long as you stay within your daily calorie allotment and meet your macronutrient needs, you can still achieve a stage ready physique. Many IIFYM followers proudly claim, “It doesn’t matter what you eat because a calorie is a calorie is a calorie!” I have also heard the claim that foods all process similarly in our bodies so, for example, an Oreo will be processed in the exact same way as a sweet potato.
As the numbers of those who follow an IIFYM continues to rise and their distain for those who chose to eat more “whole foods” becomes more pronounced, I found it necessary to delve into these two main claims: all calories are created equal and all foods process the same way.
First, what the IIFYM crowd claims about calories is true: in order for one to lose weight, it is necessary to have a caloric deficit: more calories must be expended than are being consumed. The nutrition professor at Kansas State University who lost 27 pounds on a diet consisting primarily of Twinkies, Ho-Hos, and Doritos proved this point. Originally, the professor had been consuming 2,600 kcals per day; he reduced this to 1,600 kcals a day for a ten-week period and managed to bring his BMI from nearly 29 to just under 25 (Katz, David, MD) Simply put, the professor lost weight because his diet was calorically restricted. What really sent people reeling, however, was the fact that the professor’s LDL and triglycerides went down, and his HDL went up. For many, this was proof that it really didn’t matter what you ate.
However, Dr. Katz notes that the changes seen in the professor’s numbers were more than likely due to the weight loss itself as opposed to the type of food the professor was eating. He notes that excess body fat is associated with an increased inflammatory response which, in turn, affect cholesterol and other blood lipids. Dr. Katz further points out that “severe illnesses of all kinds [are] associated with sudden drops in total cholesterol” such as drug addiction and chemotherapy. In fact, as cancer progresses, both weight and blood lipids decrease. Therefore, Dr. Katz notes it is not wise to equate BMI and blood lipids to health. He also points out that there is no proof that the “Twinkie Diet” would not be harmful to the professor in the long term. In other words, would a prolonged use of this type of diet ultimately end with lasting good health? Probably not.
So yes, it’s possible to lose weight no matter what you eat as long as you are in a caloric deficit. However, does the source of the calories really matter in regards to overall health? More significantly, for the body builder who is striving to achieve off-season gains, are all calories really the same? Specifically, are the calories and nutrients from processed foods equally as beneficial as those from whole foods? Felipe Donatto (et. al.) ,completed a study on laboratory rats to determine the effect of oat bran chow (whole food EX-O group) in comparison to control chow (processed food EX group) on time to exhaustion, glycogen stores, and cytokines. While both the oat bran chow and the control chow contained equal amount of carbohydrates, their effect on performance, inflammation, and glycogen storage were significantly different.
In regards to cytokines involved in inflammation (TNF-α; IL-6; IL-10; and corticosterone), the EX-O group showed a decrease in these cytokines. In regards to performance, the EX-O group’s time to exhaustion was 20% greater than the EX group; the rats in the EX-O group were able to perform the exhaustive exercise bout for two hours longer than the EX group. In regards to liver and muscle glycogen stores, the EX-O group showed 67% higher concentrations of liver glycogen stores and 59.4% higher concentrations of muscle glycogen stores in comparison to the EX group. These results show that the group fed the whole food diet was capable of a longer, harder bout of exercise than the group fed the processed diet. It also shows that the EX-O group still had ample glycogen stores available in case exercise continued. For the bodybuilder who is trying to make off-season gains, this study is significant in that it suggests it would be more beneficial to eat whole foods pre-workout in order to sustain exercise intensity during a long workout session.
The authors note it is possible that one reason for the results shown by the EX-O group is that oat bran has a higher nutritional quality (it is a natural source of carbohydrate, rich in proteins, unsaturated fats, vitamins, and fiber). They also suggest the results could be a product of the available carbohydrate in the oat bran which is determined by the balance of dietary fiber content-the quality versus the quantity (control chow contained 21.9 g fiber vs. 18.9 g in the oat bran chow). The oat bran chow contained more soluble fibers than the control chow, which the researchers hypothesized slowed the absorption of glucose, allowing for a lower, yet constant delivery of glucose to blood circulation.
Another study by Sadie B. Barr and Johnathan C. Wright, both of the Department of Biology at Ponoma College in Claremont, California, set out to show whole foods and processed foods have different effects on TEF (Thermic Effect of Food) The researchers used cheese sandwiches that were comparable in protein, carbohydrate, and fat composition. The Whole food (WF) sandwich was made with multi-grain bread and cheddar cheese; the Processed Food (PF) sandwich was made with white bread and a processed cheese product. What they found was the Average Energy Expenditure (AEE) for the WF meal was approximately 137 +/- 14.1 kcals (energy used to break down the food); the AEE for the PF meal was 73.1 +/- 10.2 kcals. There was approximately a 50% decrease in postprandial energy expenditure with the PF meal in comparison to the WF meal.
Some would argue that the TEF only accounts for 10% of the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and so the significance of Barr and Wright’s findings is minimal. However, take into consideration someone who estimates their TDEE at 2000kcals and, following an IIFYM approach, uses many or a majority of their calories by consuming processed foods. 10% of 2000 is 200 kcals so in reality, their TDEE could possibly drop to 1800 kcals, since they are not getting the added benefit of the TEF. In one week, this would mean there is the potential to overshoot their energy needs and overeat approximately 1,400 kcals per week. This would equate to adding about a pound and a half of fat in a month.
In conjunction with these studies, I thought it might be useful to consult a scientist in regards to whether processed foods are utilized by the body in the same way whole foods are. I reached out to Trey Jalbert, PhD in Bioengineering from UC-Berkeley with a focus in Cancer Neuroimaging. When I asked Dr. Jalbert if the sugar found in a processed food such as a Pop Tart would process the same in the human body as a whole food, he began by clarifying that “all sugars are not equal” and “[a]ll carbs are not equal…[t]o reduce food down to just kCals and micronutrients is too simplistic.” I told Dr. Jalbert it was my belief that the overall chemical composition of the other ingredients in the Pop Tart would somehow disrupt the way in which the body naturally breaks down and utilizes nutrients. Dr. Jalbert assured me that my “intuition [was] spot on with this,” as those who make the argument that all foods are equal “have completely missed the boat in terms of understanding what food really is”:
There is nutrition there, sure, but there are thousands of
complex compounds that help our health in terms of fighting
inflammation, boosting our body’s performance, killing bad
While Dr. Jalbert’s statements are relevant to everyone, they are especially relevant to the bodybuilding population. It is fact that intense exercise compromises our immune system and leads to inflammation. This is especially true for the on-season bodybuilder who is attempting to maintain exercise intensity on a caloric deficit and sometimes, on extreme caloric deficits. It would make sense, then, for the bodybuilder to fill his diet with nutrient dense foods that would best serve his overall performance and health as opposed to focusing on how to include a nutrient poor food into his allotted macronutrient intake.
I definitely understand the premise of IIFYM: it is an attempt to allow people to enjoy treats without feeling guilty about those treats since the calories and macros can be accounted for. In this way, the “dieter’s mentality” described by Keith Klein, CN, CCN of The Institute of Eating Management can be avoided. Essentially, an “all or nothing” approach can lead to binge eating. Certain foods are rendered “bad” or “unclean” and therefore avoided, but the craving for them can lead to a lapse. By allowing one to enjoy a treat now and again, the craving is satisfied and a full relapse is less likely…I get this. However, I am not convinced it is okay to replace nutrient dense foods with those that provide little or no nutritional value, especially during a contest prep where the potential to be nutrient deficient is greater than for the average dieter. I am not convinced that all calories are created equal, and I am not convinced that all foods are processed the same. This is not my opinion…this is scientific research.
If one decides to follow an IIFYM approach when prepping for contest, I think the proper approach is summed up best by Will Kitchen, IFBB Pro physique competitor and DotFit sponsored athlete:
“I always use the flexible dieting approach until I get around 3-4 weeks out.
Then I lay down the law and allow my body to achieve a certain level of
conditioning…the “cleaner” you keep your diet, the better you will feel because
your choice in picking foods which actually give you a better chance of your
body converting those foods and using those nutrients for energy….[n]utrient
dense foods will still no matter what be a stable in any diet I suggest.”
 “Twinkie Diet: A Physician’s Take on What Really Happens.” The Huffpost.com
 Health Science Faculty, Methodist University of Piraciaba, Sao Paulo, Brasil; Molecular Biology of the Cell Group, Insitute of Biomedical Sciences, Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, University of Sao Paulo, Brasil.
 Effect of oat bran on time to exhaustion, glycogen content, and syrum cytokine profile following exhaustive exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2010. 7:32.
 Small proteins that are important in cell signaling; they are released by cells and affect the behavior of other cells
 Postprandial energy expenditure in whole and processed food meals: implications for daily energy expenditure. Food and Nutrition Research. 2010; 54.
 The quotes presented here are taken from my text conversation with Dr. Jalbert on November 25, 2015.
I have seen many Facebook posts from competitors and non-competitors alike which triumphantly exclaim the completion of their 45-60 minute bout of fasted cardio. All I can do is shake my head and ask myself, “Why?” Don’t get me wrong—I was once a lemming, blindly doing exactly what I was told or exactly what I had read in some fitness magazine in regards to fasted cardio. And much like a lemming, I didn’t realize that following blindly might throw me over the cliff. In my case, I didn’t realize I was compromising muscle and slowing my metabolism.
Dr. Len Kravitz, program coordinator of exercise science and a researcher at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, recently discussed research which showed fasted cardio actually impairs endurance performance and total fat loss by 20%-25% (Lecture: The Ten Pillars to Burn Calories and Boost Fat Metabolism). He also sited an Italian study in which subjects ran on a treadmill for 36 minutes: one week under fasted conditions and one week under fed conditions. The study showed that at both the 12 hour and 24 hour markers, the subjects burned more calories and more fat calories under the fed condition. Dr. Kravitz’ suggestion to personal trainers designing exercise programs for their clients, then, was to make sure their clients consume some type of protein and low glycemic snack before the client engaged in a cardio session.
Not only does fasted cardio slow our ability to utilize fat as fuel, fasted cardio also signals our body to break down amino acids (the building blocks of muscle) in order to create glucose. In his recent lecture at the IDEA World Fitness Convention in Las Angeles, Fabio Comana, MA; MS, an instructor for NASM, as well as an instructor of exercise and nutritional sciences at Sand Diego State University, discussed the repercussions fasted cardio has on our muscle tissue.
Our bodies store glycogen in both our liver and our muscle; however, only the glycogen in our liver can be released into our bloodstream to fuel our central nervous system and red blood cells. The glycogen in our muscles can only be used to fuel that muscle and once those glycogen stores are depleted by “performing biological work…they turn to the blood for additional glucose.” So here’s the scenario: Mr. Comana points out that the average adult can store about 100 g of glycogen in his liver. While you are sleeping, these glycogen stores are gradually being depleted, especially during REM sleep, as this is when your brain is most active (remember, the brain prefers to run solely on glucose). Eventually, liver glycogen stores are depleted and the body switches over to ketone bodies (the by-product of fat breakdown). However, Mr. Comana reminds us that “ketosis is not a desired physiological state; rather, it is a necessary survival state” which places stress on the body and consequently, elevates our cortisol levels which in turn, wakes us up (our cortisol levels are higher in the morning and taper off towards the evening).
Once we’ve woken up, our liver glycogen stores are depleted and therefore, the back up glucose in the blood which our muscles will seek out for additional fuel is not available. What is available, then? Amino acids are, particularly the BCAAs, which are “the most glucogenic” (most often broken down during gluconeogenesis) of the amino acids. However, since BCAAs are so important to muscle protein synthesis…why would you want to do anything which may attack them? During the lecture, someone asked if this scenario is still true if one supplements with BCAAs prior to the fasted cardio session. His opinion was…why risk it? Especially when a small carb snack consisting of 25-30g of carbohydrate (as noted also by Dr. Kravitz) 30-90 minutes pre workout is sufficient to refill our liver glycogen stores? Especially in regards to perimenopausal and menopausal women where erratic hormone fluctuations can cause muscle loss…why would you want to do anything that would compromise your hard earned muscle?
Bottom line: if you are doing fasted steady state cardio, then I would encourage you to stop. Truly, there are no benefits, only pitfalls.
I am still a 185 pound overweight woman inside. No, I don’t mean this figuratively as in I face the mirror and look at my now lean, 135 pound frame and still see me in a 185 pound body. I mean this quite literally: I am really a 185 pounds waiting to happen again, and I have to fight it every step of the way.
Most people don’t realize that the struggle to remain at a healthful weight after major weight loss is a struggle that has nothing to do with one’s purported inability to “control cravings” or one’s lack of motivation to work out. Rather, the struggle is against one’s own body and the signals it sends out after weight loss—the signals that encourage the body to store fat and regain the lost weight. How does this happen?
First, let me start by saying I’m not a fan of the term “fat burning.” This terminology makes it sound as though it is possible to actually “burn” fat or, in other words, rid the body of fat cells. The unfortunate truth is that fat cells stick with you forever and ever (unless, of course, you get liposuction, but that’s a topic for a different discussion) and not in just in their number, but in their size as well. In comparison to a normal weight person, a person who is overweight/obese will not only have more fat cells, but he will also have larger fat cells. And as long as the overweight person continues to overeat, he will continue the proliferation of his fat cells, along with the increase in size of his fat cells. So in truth, when a person loses weight, his fat cells shrink in size, but the number remains the same, as does their true size. Take, for example, a balloon. When we fill the balloon with air (fat), it grows in size; when we remove the air (use the fat as fuel), the balloon shrinks. However, that balloon still has not lost the capability of achieving its air-filled size. Make sense?
So now let’s look at the overweight person who has lost a copious amount of weight in, hopefully, the right way by creating a negative energy balance (expending more energy than he took in) and by exercising regularly. However, those empty fat cells are not happy with the changes and in fact, they are now going to enlist enzymes and hormones in an attempt to get the body to fill those fat stores up again. The enzyme lipoprotein lipase (LPL) is produced by fat cells (and muscle tissue) and its job is to remove fat from the blood and store it in the fat cells and muscle cells. After weight loss, LPL activity in fat cells increases. In other words, fat cells send out even more LPL in search of dietary fat so that it can store and refill the fat cells to their previous size.
Maintaining weight loss is also influenced by the protein ghrelin, which acts as a hormone. Ghrelin is secreted by the stomach and stimulates appetite, as well as promotes efficient energy (fat) storage. Typically, ghrelin levels increase during a negative energy balance, which makes it difficult for the person who is trying to lose weight by restricting calories because hunger pangs are difficult to ignore. Once weight loss is achieved, ghrelin levels remain high in an attempt to maintain the previous body weight. In my case, I have found on many occasions that I actually seem to get even hungrier as I eat! I attribute this to the fact that elevated ghrelin levels are coaxing me to eat more than my portion in hopes that I will create a positive energy balance and therefore, give my body some fat to fill up those deflated fat cells. It’s hard not to give in, trust me…the 185 pound overweight chic inside is very hard to ignore.
While these are only a few factors that influence weight loss and maintaining weight loss, they are important factors to understand. I feel many people beat themselves up when they cave and eat more than they should or eat something that is not so “clean” because they attribute this to weakness or lack of control. What they need to realize is that losing weight and keeping it off is not easy: there is no magic formula or fad diet that will truly help them keep weight off in the long term. Instead, they need to learn the tools that will help stave off cravings, and help stave off hunger, while still providing adequate fuel in order to lose weight and keep it off.
On June 18th 2013, the AMA (American Medical Association) officially labeled obesity as a “disease.” According to AMA board member Dr. Patrice Harris, the decision was made because the board felt, “[r]ecognizing obesity as a disease [would] help change the way the medical community tackle[d] this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans” (IDEA Fitness Journal Sept 2013, 14). Originally, I was quite disturbed by this news. Great! Now pharmaceutical companies can create yet another slew of pills to help us combat obesity! Wonderful! Now bariatric surgeons can really push their number of lap band sugeries, sleeve gastrectomies, and gastric bypass surgeries to new heights! Sadly, the groups that appear to be left in the dust with the AMAs label are the personal trainers, Registered Dieticians, and Certified Nutritionists who combat obesity with exercise and nutrition knowledge.
Still, there had to be a logical reason the AMA made such a decision, right? So I decided to look up the definition of disease. According to Dictionary.com, a disease is a “disordered or incorrectly functioning organ, part, structure, or system of the body resulting from the effect of …poisons, nutritional deficiency or imbalance, toxicity, or unfavourable environmental factors.” Ah! Poisons! Nutritional deficiency! Toxicity! Now we’re talking! Now we’re making sense! As a NASM CPT and Fitness Nutrition Specialist (FNS), I stress to my clients that their results in the gym are truly driven by the food choices they make-80% driven, in fact. However, I have found that in too many cases, it is very hard to convince people to take the time to cook their own meals, pack their own lunches/snacks, and to read nutrition labels on packages. Why is this? I feel that it’s because much of the public believes what food manufacturers say about their food (they said it was healthful on the commercial, so it must be so) or what the manufacturers tout on their food labels (97% fat free…who wouldn’t buy that?). Americans want it fast, they want it now, and they trust industry to do right by them when it comes to providing healthful options.
One of my clients shared with me that her boyfriend’s sister (who is morbidly obese) told her she eats Mc Donald’s McNuggets because they are chicken. Now for someone who trusts the industry to do right by her, there is some logic in that. After all, aren’t we bombarded from every direction about the health benefits of eating chicken? Low in fat, high in protein…what’s not to like? Even when you go to the McDonald’s web site and check out the FAQ, the company assures the public “[t]he only meat used in McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets is chicken breast meat.” What McDonald’s conveniently leaves out in that little statement are the number of chemicals (yes, chemicals! Some of which are toxic!) added to that little nugget in order to preserve it and fill it. What they are relying on is the fact that the general public 1)isn’t going to take the time to actually read the ingredients and understand them and 2) is going to trust McDonald’s is doing right by them when it comes to nutritional value. So let’s take a little peek at those ingredients, shall we?
CHICKEN MCNUGGETS (4 piece)
Prepared in Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil with TBHQ and Citric Acid added to preserve freshness)
Ingredients: White Boneless Chicken, Water, Food Starch-Modified, salt, Seasoning (Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Salt, Wheat Starch, Natural Flavoring [Botanical Source], Safflower Oil, Dextrose, Citric Acid), Sodium Phosphates, Natural Flavor (Botanical Source). Battered and Breaded with: Water, Enriched Flour (Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Yellow Corn Flour, Bleached Wheat Flour, Food Starch-Modified, Salt, Leavening (Baking Soda, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate, Calcium Lactate), Spices, Wheat Starch, Dextrose, Corn Starch.
Prepared in Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil with TBHQ and Citric Acid added to preserve freshness).
Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.Prepared in vegetable oil (Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness). Dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent.
This information comes straight from the McDonald’s web site and if you have never surfed the web sites of your favourite fast food/dine-in restaurants, I encourage you to do so. What you learn may shock you. Hopefully, it will shock you enough to never step foot into one of these places again.
First, take note that while the first ingredient of the nugget is white boneless chicken, it is followed by a list of twelve other ingredients; this is in reference to just the chicken portion of the nugget. What are these other twelve ingredients? In order to keep cost cheap, McDonald’s adds “fillers” to the chicken in order to give the nugget “bulk.” What this means is that the company can use less chicken per nugget, yet still give it the appearance of volume.
There are eleven other ingredients in the breading, one of which is bleached wheat flour. Typically, wheat flour is bleached with benzoyl peroxide and chlorine. You know—the products associated with acne fighting and whitening whites? Another agent used in bleached wheat flour is potassium bromate. While this product doesn’t have any bleaching agents, it does strengthen gluten development in the flour. By the way, all three of these chemicals have been banned for use in the EU. Poison. Toxicity.
What is the most alarming to me, however, is what these little bites of processed pseudochicken are prepared in. I am sure many of you are already familiar with the negative health effects of hydrogenated oils, but do you know what Dimethylpolysiloxane and TBHQ are? Let’s take a look at Dimethylpolysiloxane first. As stated in the ingredient list, this chemical is added to Mc Donalds’ oil as an antifoaming agent. Basically, the product is added to ensure the oil doesn’t bubble over when food (and I use the term food very loosely here) is added to it. What McDonald’s fails to share is the fact that this chemical is one derived from silicone and is also used in shampoos (it’s what gives your hair the shiny, slippery appearance), in the manufacturing of contact lenses, in caulk, in lubricating oils, and in heat resistant tiles. Poison. Toxicity.
Mc Donald’s does let the public know that unhealthful hydrogenated soybean oil is one of the four oils used to prepare their fried foods. They also let the public know that TBHQ is used to help preserve freshness. Again, however, they are banking on the complacency of the public here. The chemical is listed, but how many people are really going to take the time to research what the chemical is? So let me share with you the many wonderful uses of this fine chemical that Mc Donald’s and the FDA finds acceptable to put into our food supply and therefore, our systems. TBHQ is used as a corrosion inhibitor in biofuels; it is used in perfumes to lower evaporation rates; and it is used in varnishes, lacquers, and resins. Yum, right? In fact, scientific studies have shown that TBHQ can lead to hyperactivity, asthma, and dermatitis. It can also lead to cancer in high doses (1-4 grams). Poison. Toxicity.
Let me not just pick on Mc Donald’s, though. Many people feel that Chick-Fil-A provides better, more healthful options in comparison to all of the food chains out there. However, take the time to browse their site and you will discover they use the same chemicals in their food preparation as Mc Donald’s. And if you are watching your salt intake (the recommended daily allowance for sodium intake in healthy people is 2300 mg; for those with high blood pressure, that allowance drops to 1300-1500 mg), those Mc Nuggets are actually a better option than Chick-Fil-A’s standard chicken sandwich, which comes in at a whopping 1390 mg sodium (a 4 piece Mc Nugget has 360 mg). Poison. Toxicity.
While I use fast food as an example, the harmful chemicals that are poured into our food supply are certainly not limited to fast food chains or sit down restaurants. I’m looking at a package of Ritz Crackers right now and see that listed in the ingredients are partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and high fructose corn syrup. Not only is that fact disturbing, but nutritionally, five of these little suckers provide 80 calories, with 50% of the calories coming from fat! So many of the processed foods sitting on our supermarket shelves are loaded with chemicals and fats, yet they are touted as healthful. Is it any wonder, then, that in a country where we don’t know how to decipher food labels and where we trust our food suppliers and government to hold our health paramount we are seeing a rise in obesity? Is it any wonder that this generation growing up has less likelihood of outliving their parents due to the effects of obesity? Is it any wonder that Americans are so easily persuaded to follow trendy diets in an effort to save their health, not realizing that some of these diets are actually causing real damage to the way their body functions?
You may still argue that obesity is not a disease. Ultimately, one makes the conscious decision to purchase fast food, to dine out, or to purchase processed items so obesity is simply a condition created by the choices we make. Well honestly, that is a topic for another blog but in order to for you to at least begin to understand the influence foods have on our mental state because of the chemicals placed in them, then might I suggest you watch Supersize Me by Morgan Spurlock? It’s a documentary which follows Spurlock as he decides to see what happens if, for one month, he does a McDonald’s driven diet. I think the end result will disturb you deeply.
So yes, I now believe obesity is a disease. Our bodies are being poisoned by the foods we eat and our minds--our very way of thinking about food—are being altered by the chemicals that make us “feel good” as we eat them. But attacking this epidemic shouldn’t come from new medications and new surgeries. This epidemic must be attacked by 1) forcing companies to stop using the very products which disease our bodies; 2) forcing government to apply more strict regulation when it comes to quality of our food supply; and 3) welcoming the help of trainers, dieticians, and nutritionists in order to educate the public on how we can help save ourselves from a disease that shouldn’t exist.
In his sermon on Sunday, my Priest made the following observation in regards to change: "One must have the openess, adaptability, and willingness to change; one must be open to unlearning all that he has learned." While Father John was referring to our lives in general, I felt that his words of wisdom crossed over easily into my world of personal training and nutritional guidance. In regards to training, what lessons have popular magazines and fitness "Gurus" touted? Lift hard and heavy for mass, and do long, stready state cardio for "fat burn." In regards to eating, what lessons are reiterated in almost every diet book and upheld by so many fitness "professionals"? Eat high protein for mass gain but keep carbs low (some articles I've read by "professionals" even suggest keeping carb consumption to pre and post workout) in order to obtain a leaner physique and/or to lose weight. In regards to weight, what lesson has been drilled into our heads from an early age? The lower your weight, the healthier you are. What do I now think of all of these "lessons"? A bunch of hooey, that's what! Now I must confess that it was very difficult for me to unlearn all that I thought I learned, especially when it came to eating. Hey! The way I was working out and the way I was eating seemed to be working. After all, with each obsessive step onto my scale, I watched the number drop steadily. However, I wasn't listening to the biofeedback of my body: my hip and back were in chronic pain; I couldn't focus, lacked the energy to get me through my day, and became ill easily; and my body became simply "thin" as opposed to the full, muscular look I was trying to achieve. In other words, my body was pretty angry with how I was treating it, and it was retaliating in ways that I didn't understand at the time. As Canadian fitness professional Scott Abel states in his compilation "Metabolic Damage and the Dangers of Dieting," "Force the body and it will react; coax the body and it will respond." So many of us who follow the Status Quo are forcing our bodies....and believe me, mine reacted in ways I had no idea were possible. In order to become a more informed fitness professional, I attended conferences with professional presenters in the top of their field who discussed the latest scientific discoveries in hypertrophy, fat burn, cardiovascular health, and nutrition; I decided to become a Fitness Nutrition Specialist through NASM in order to better understand how the body utilizes the macronutrients; I consulted with Kim Porterfield and Keith Klein, two of our nation's most renowned nutritionists, in order to discuss eating habits, food psychology, and contest preparation; I began my own trek to a Certified Nutritionist degree so that I could soak up even more information in order to make educated decisions about how a person should eat. And yes--throughout this entire process, I have had to learn to unlearn everything that I thought I'd learned. An effective cardio session in 20 minutes? No way! Achieving hypertrophy without the need for super heavy weight? Impossible! Getting lean by still enjoying an array of carbs? What a joke! But it was all true. Even to this day, I struggle to silence the demons of the past. When I do a lat pulldown with 70-80 pounds instead of the 110-120 I'm capable of, the Ancient Guru in my brain whispers, "How do you expect to grow like that?" But the reality is that my back is wider and stronger than it has ever been. As I sit and eat a hearty meal of Asian Orange Chicken with broccoli, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and **GASP!** white rice, that Ancient Guru whispers, "Tsk! Tsk! You don't need that rice! It will make you fat!" But the reality is that I've only gained 10 pounds (according to my doctor's scale) since my May show and I have maintained a strong, lean physique by eating a balance of protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats at each meal. When I step on a scale in the doctor's office (I threw my bathroom scale away a long time ago) and that number blinks back at me, the Ancient Guru chides, "See? You weigh too much for your height" (in fact, according to my BMI, I am on the verge of obesity). But the reality is that the scale doesn't acknowledge the fact that I am also 120 pounds of lean body mass and sitting at a healthy body fat percentage. That Ancient Guru is hard to silence, as change is hard to do. However, if you have the openess, the adaptability, and the willingness to see that what you have been doing is not working for you on so many levels, then you will have the openess, adaptability, and willingness to learn about the things that will.
If you have read any of my past blog posts, then you know that my preparation for the 2012 figure season was not a pleasant one. Let me say this, however, before I begin discussing last season's prep and this season's prep: what I have and what I am about to share are my experiences unique to me. I don't intend to say that all competitors react the same way to the "high protein/high fat/low carb" diet that is prescribed for many in this industry. What I do intend is to share what I went through, what I did in the off season in order to keep my promise to myself that I wouldn't suffer like that again for a trophy, and how I managed to still get lean with my carbs and my sanity in tact. I won't go into too much detail abou the 2012 season, as I have already given a pretty detailed diary of the experience here. In short, I found that after my first round of competitions in 2011, I rebounded badly (30 pounds gained), had a tremendously difficult time getting the weight off once I began prep, was put through a depletion, had my carbs greatly reduced, and eventually spent a day of carb binging 8 weeks out from show. I was drained both mentally and physically (I blame part of that on my work schedule and busy family life), and my self confidence continued to plummet with each meal plan change that took away my complx carbohydrates. I did well at the show, coming in 1st in my Class for Master's and 5th in my Class for the Open. However, I knew for sure that if I ever planned on doing another show, I would now allow my body to go through the suffering that I felt it had. I decided I really needed to learn more about nutrition and how the body uses the macronutrients as fuel. I took the NASM Fitness Nutrition Specialist course and learned, much to my dismay, that everything I had done to prep for the first four shows was detrimental to my health and metabolism. In fact, I learned that drastically lowering one's carbohydrate ratios was the last thing anyone, even competitors, wanted to do! I learned how to manipulate my protein and carbohydrate ratios pre and post workout in order to get stronger, help me recover faster, and still remain within a healthy body fat range. I learned that fat was, in fact, the least metabolic of the three macronutrients, so I began to question the logic behind adding high fat ratios to a competitor's diet. I learned about ketosis and its dangers. I learned how important complex carbohydrates were not just in the assistance of muscle growth and repair, but how ESSENTIAL they were for the proper functioning of the central nervous system. I can go on and on about the wealth of information NASMs FNS course gave me, as well as the wealth of info I derived from some of the IDEA Fitness professionals at the annual conference. However, I was still a little skeptical. After all, I had practiced nothing different on-season and had seen the typical body builder's diet work again and again. That is when I decided to seek out a nutritionist. And not just any nutritionist--probably the best in her field: Kim Porterfield. My husband and I had followed an eating regimen about five years ago called Get Lean, co-authored by CN Keith Klein and bodybuilding legend Lee Labrada. The information presented, as well as the meal plans, actually echoed all that I had just learned from my course. We both had gotten great success with the plan, and that was even with a whole cheat day (which I do NOT recommend!). My husband was so impressed that he actually sought out to hire Keith. He was handed over to Kim, with the assurance that if Keith didn't have 100% confidence in her abilities, he would not let her work with his clients. This time, it was my turn. I needed to validate all that NASM and the IDEA pros were telling me through first hand experience, so I hired Kim. During our first consult, I asked a lot of questions about how the body responds to the high protein/high fat diets, about metabolic meltdowns, about the necessity of high carbohydrate consumption, and about getting lean without too much suffering, In fact, I learned that I could get stage ready without suffering at all. We started early (16 weeks out instead of the typical 12) in order to get me from 20% body fat to 15%: goal accomplished in one month! I was eating foods I loved and plenty of them, so I never felt depreived. Even as the caloric intake began to lower, my carb intake stayed at such a level where I was able to stay energized and focused throughout the day. When my fat loss attempts did stall, Kim refused to deplete me. She explained that it wouldn't do much but change the number on the scale by taking away a bit of hard-earned muscle. Instead, she knew that I was in a great deal of pain (back and hip), so she told me to stop working legs, stop cardio (running), and go to my doctor. I did as she asked and once my PCP got the pain from the spasm in my back and the chronic inflammation in my hip under control, the fat began to fly off again. In order to give Kim an idea of what was going on with my body, I did bi-weekly hydrostatic weigh-ins. My first one, back in December 2012, had me with a little over 118 pounds of lean body mass and 20% body fat. three weeks before the show, I was still 118 pounds of lean mass but 10% body fat. I am convinced that the no change in my lean body mass was a combination of my excellent supplements supplied by DotFIT (I used Recover and Build, Amino Boost, and Muscle Defender both offa nd on season), and Kim's manipulation of my macros. I now practice the same philosophy as Kim with my own clients. I teach them that carbohydrates are not the enemy; rather, perhaps the types of carbs they are choosing (processed and sugar loaded), the timing of their carbohydrate intake, or the LACK of carbohydrates is what stumps their weight loss/strength gain goals. Everything comes in a delicate balance. Too much of any of the macronutrients can cause weight gain; on the same token, too little of any of them can be harmful as well. I am always learning so that I can bring my best to my clients. I am thankful for my FNS certification, I am thankful for the knowledge shared by the presenters at the IDEA Conferences and through our monthly magazine Fitness Journal, I am thankful for my mentor, Kim, and I am thankful to my clients who entrust their health to me. It is my hope to add to my professional portfolio a CN degree. After all, I can definitely give you a burn out workout in the gym, but if you don't have strong nutritional support, then you are heading for disappointment. Remember--you can't outrun bad nutrition.
I had one of the BEST HIIT training sessions of my life today, and it was all the work of my client, Grace! A one time collegiate track sprinter, Grace shared my love for bursts of high intensity work, followed by an equal ratio of low intensity work. As I've mentioned in previous posts, HIIT training not only leads to the most physiological gains, it also is THE proven method for overall sustained post workout caloric burn (known as EPOC) which leads to better "fat burn."
I usually do my sprints on the treadmill, but today, Grace took me, my husband, and her boyfriend Will to her environment: the track! I had forgotten how much different (read: DIFFICULT) it is to run on asphalt versus a treadmill, not to mention how much harder it is to run against the elements (the hurricane Sandy had just finished her visit with us, so we still had a chilly drizzle falling with gusts of strong winds)! Grace started with a 10 minute "warm up" that, for my husband and Will, felt like the workout itself! She then ran us through a typical track drill which had us, for 15 minutes, "striding" (comfortable, controlled pace with good form) the curves and lightly jogging the straight-a-aways. So Grace's idea of a stride almost equalled what I considered a semi-sprint! I think my husband and Will thought she was sprinting! It was AWESOME!!!!
After the 15 minutes, we did a timed 300m sprint. Grace can FLY! She was kind enough to make this old lady feel good about herself by holding back what she was really capable of (typical for her is 40-45 seconds), and came in with me at 1:02. She promised that the more I practiced this circuit, the faster I'd get :-) I'm looking forward to it! Yes, I love being strong. To me, there is no better feeling than picking up a heavy weight and throwing it around a bit :-) But I also believe strongly in the need for speed, agility, and endurance. In other words, I find it to be of paramount importance to be a well rounded athlete and trainer.
So now I'm gonna go ice my tired knees so I can channel my "inner Grace" to the fullest when the next track session rolls around! I can't wait!
When I began my first job as a personal trainer, I met David. David was also relatively new to the company I was employed with, but not new to personal training. I learned quickly that his passion lay with strongman competition and corrective exercise-and he was great at both. In fact, it was from him that I learned the proper technique for very complex Olympic lifts.
As I got to know him, he eventually revealed that he actually had a personal trainer. He’d been working with his now friend for many years and held him in the highest regard.
“But David, you are a trainer. Why do you need a trainer?”
“Because Elizabeth, in order to be great, you have to be humble. To be humble, you need to acknowledge that you don’t know it all and that there is someone out there that can do it better, smarter. So I learn. I’m always learning and that is what makes me better-I’m not afraid to learn.”
As a result of his confession, I revealed that I, too, had a trainer. But not just a trainer—a mentor, a teacher, a friend.
David was 100% correct. There is no trainer out there who knows it all, and if you encounter one who says he does, then I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Our job as trainers is to soak up as much knowledge as possible, to sift the fiction from the fact, and to apply our expertise in the gym with our clients in a manner that is safe and effective for each individual person.
Since David wanted to be a better “strongman” trainer, he went to someone knowledgeable in the field. I wanted to be a figure competitor trainer, so my husband hunted down someone knowledgeable in the field . . . and I’ve been training with him and learning from him ever since. Not only that, I now have the privilege to work alongside him at Jim’s five days a week.
I like to think that I make Shaun proud of me. I make sure I know what an exercise does before I do it; I never have a client do something that I wouldn’t contemplate doing myself or that I haven’t actually executed myself; I have more faith in my clients’ capabilities than they do because otherwise, they wouldn’t push themselves to their full potential; I listen to my clients’ physical concerns and take them into consideration when I’m creating their program design; I am PASSIONATE about what I do and what I do daily is change lives, just like he changed mine.
So do I think that a trainer who says, “I don’t need a trainer” has a big, fat chip on his shoulder? Well . . . yeah. Maybe not a trainer per se, but every trainer should be humble enough to know where their weaknesses lie and as a result, be willing to ask someone who can help them make that weakness stronger. To ask is not a confession of one’s ignorance; rather, it is an acknowledgement that you could do it better with the right guidance. In my case, I am better because I wasn’t afraid to learn and I am STILL learning. Thanks for the lesson, Dave.
I made a pretty tough decision today . . . I decided to not compete in the upcoming October OCB Battle for Tidewater Bodybuilding/Figure/Bikini show. Originally, the show was never on my radar: I had always said that I would stick to two shows a year, a decision made based on how grueling the dieting can be on the body (curious as to how grueling? read my earlier blogs :-) ). However, my trainer didn't want me to "put all of my eggs in one basket," so to speak, by focusing solely on the big OCB show that takes place in Richmond each year. I definitely agreed with him, and thus I began two days a week shoulder workouts, kept my diet REALLY CLEAN (that was also a result of pending photo shoots), and stepped up my cardio training by doing serious HIIT blasts (which I LOVE, by the way! SOOOOO much better than long *YAWN* steady state cardio not only on a physiological level, but on a mental level, too!)!
As a result, I am stronger (incline DB press with 55 pounds for 11 reps, anyone :-) ) and faster (I can now sprint at a 6 minute mile pace for 1 minute without any sign of getting winded), and I have exponentially lowered my rate of fatigue (how, you ask? Contact me, and I'll fill you in :-) ). I'm LOVING IT ALL!
But in spite of all of these wonderful gains, my heart and head never fully got into gear for this show. I kept vacillating between doing and not doing, so even though I was going through the steps to get to the end result, I was never 100% in my heart "there." The deciding factor happened this weekend. I was talking about the show to a girlfriend and she eventually said to me, "Elizabeth, you don't seem excited. All of the other shows . . . well, I could tell you were really excited about them. You're not about this one." She was right! I wasn't! So what the heck was I doing?
I told my trainer today that I wanted to spend the next six months concentrating on SIZE! Back, shoulders, better sweep. I want to do my routine over and over until each aspect of my pose is SPOT ON! I want to work on my endurance so that when I'm in the line up, my muscles won't fatigue, no matter how long the judges hold me there! I want to WIN! I am ready to get my pro card, but I don't want to "chase" it, meaning, I don't want to jump from show to show to show feeling as though I don't really look any better than I did in the previous competition. I want to walk on stage for my next show feeling the exact same way I did when I competed for my first one: I was in the absolute best shape of my life and I was PROUD of my accomplishment! As a result, I shined on stage and placed very well for a newbie!
So to compete or not to compete? Obviously, the "why" of competing can only be answered by you. But let me just say this: you have to really feel it, to be excited about it, to know in your heart that you ARE the best that you've ever been because, as I've stated so many times, competing is only about YOU! Sure, you are standing on stage with a group of girls who have worked hard to be there, too. However, in the end, you are competing against yourself--you're competing to feel your best, to look your best, to BE your best in that short time on stage. So if the excitement isn't there and the doubt is, I suggest you step away for the time being and keep at it in the gym until you you DO feel it because trust me, uncertainty shows on stage and if you are gonna really do this, then you want to walk across the stage with the attitude "I AM awesome because I worked HARD for what you see . . . I am AMAZING!" :-)