January 2017: my wife and I were training for our first Crossfit competition together. If you are unfamiliar with Crossfit competitions -- typically they are a day-long event where an individual or team of two would participate in a series of workouts focused on strength, endurance and speed. In order to prepare for the competition, our training regime entailed going to Crossfit group class two to three days per week and spending our Sunday morning running through the workouts. Most athletic young adults would think this is totally a reasonable amount of working out to prepare for a competition. What most people don't do is train for a Crossfit competition while also training for a half marathon.
Adding half marathon training to the mix meant fitting in a run about three times a week, including a long run on the weekends. I would try to get a Crossfit workout in Monday morning, and a short 3 mile run in the afternoon. This set me up for a 4 mile run on Wednesday and a long run on Saturday, where I started at around 5 miles the first week of training and worked up to 11 miles two weeks before the race. The last challenging variable was the eating plan that I was utilizing at the time. I was following a structured eating plan, similar to Nutrisystem, called “HMR Diet,” which I described previously in last week’s post.
This eating plan put me around 1500 calories per day, which is a significant caloric deficit for someone who probably requires that much if I just laid in bed all day. I definitely have a slower than average metabolism, but HMR is a plan that is designed to strip weight off fast and then build your body back up as you add in more food and calories. About 3 weeks before the competition, my wife and I were doing a dry-run through the first workout which involved about 8 minutes of constant weightlifting work. Halfway through the workout, I threw the bar down and collapsed to my knees with the room spinning. I laid down on the floor as my wife poured an energy packet and water down my throat. Extremely frustrated and not wanting to make a scene (too late) in front of the class, I quickly cleaned up and headed home.
That day I learned an important lesson that I’m sure many can relate to: there are only so many balls you can juggle in the air at once before you drop one. This is a lesson that applies not only to eating healthy and exercising, but also to your family, work, friendships, and life in general. The strategy of “eat as little as possible, and workout as hard as possible,” brought me to the edge of breakdown. In order to perform, you need to fuel your body appropriately and adequately (see where Performing Nutrition comes from yet?).
I soon moved on from the HMR Diet to a more appropriate eating plan for my lifestyle and goals. I was able to identify a plan that worked for me and is a long-term solution to living a healthy life, rather than shakes and processed ready-to-eat meals.
A number of questions have come up around what my current routine is, as well as how do I personally adjust it based on my current goals in life. I typically plan out what I’m going to eat the day before using an app like MyFitnessPal or My Macros+.
To start, a macronutrient, or “macro”, consists of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. These are your essential components of energy that your body uses. I can totally geek out on how each one is processed in your body, but I’ll save that for a later post.
To determine what your macro mix should be, I will first calculate total calories for the day, then aim to get 0.7 to 1.1 grams of protein per pound of body weight (this will vary based on your goals and activity level). The difficult part is then figuring out how many grams of carbohydrates and how many grams of fat to eat per day. Generally, if you're an athlete wanting to focus on performance, you’ll want more carbs. If you are trying to lose weight, you’ll want fewer carbs and higher fat. No, fat is not bad and will not make you “fat” - especially if it comes from things such as olive oil, avocados, grass fed beef, nuts, seeds, etc. Once I have my macros figured out, I plug them into one of the tracking apps mentioned above and then add in my foods. Again, I will usually plan my food for the day the night before, and will tweak it the day of if any changes arise. In order to track macros, weighing and measuring is a must, as well as paying attention to food labels and serving sizes.
By utilizing this method, I am able to focus on the types of food I eat, as well as adjust up and down to hit my goals as appropriate. As you read more labels on food and learn the makeup of the food you eat, you’re in a better position to achieve your goals, whether that is weight loss, improved performance, or muscle gain.
Do you pay attention to food labels? Do you know what's in your food and how it fuels your body?
What other topics would you like me to cover in my posts? Let me know! Until we meet again, catch me in the comments.
Remember, although I’m studying to be a nutritionist, my advice and information should not be used to replace the advice of your doctor!