Eat, Breathe, Work Hard, Repeat

I’m going to tell you something, and you may be shocked. Drum roll please… I eat ice cream sometimes. Gelato specifically, it’s my fav. And cheesecake, like on my birthday last month. And even chocolate, because every 20-something girl loves chocolate, it’s science. I know, I know -- you’re totally shocked. A nutritionist eats things full of fat, sugar, processed ingredients and insane amount of calories sometimes? Sometimes, yes.

Every time I’m at a social gathering and indulge in something less-than-nutritionist-worthy, heads literally explode and I hear comments ranging from “oh my God you eat things like that?” to “how do you look like that and eat like that?” -- there’s flaws all in, out, and around the logic of those statements and I’m going to break them down for you really quick. Partially for my sanity, but mostly to help you take better control over your approach to nutrition as well.

Eat

First, I eat things like that sometimes. I’m a BIG advocate of balance, and my clients know this well. If you hate what you’re doing, you’ll grow resentful and create an unhealthy relationship with your approach and possibly foods. Anything that doesn’t bend will eventually break, and your “diet” should allow for flexibility.

Balance is open for interpretation, but with something like sugar, it’s fair to assume it should be consumed far less than the higher-priority, nutrient-dense foods like vegetables (especially the green ones), lean proteins, whole grains and fruit.

Next, I’m not actively trying to lose weight right now. I’m eating for maintenance, which supplies my body enough calories to train hard, be less strict with my calorie intake and/or macronutrient distribution, have plenty of energy, and hold consistently at the same body weight. If your primary goal right now is to lose weight, it’s also fair to assume your balance should be more strict than the person who is trying to maintain. Note: you can still eat delicious things and lose weight, but as a general rule of thumb, less frequently.

Furthermore, maintaining is pretty easy (especially once you’ve been doing it a while). Basically: keeping abs is generally easier than getting them. So don’t fret if you are trying to drop pounds, you’ll have even more flexibility once you’re trying to maintain, too.

The 80/20 approach means eating nutrient-dense food 80% of the time, and enjoying other things 20% of the time. Of course, these percentages will vary based on if you have specific goals you’re working toward, but for maintaining weight and overall wellness, this structure works well for most people. So if you’re absolutely just craving that doughnut, consider it part of the 20% for that week. Keep in mind: in order to stay within that 80%, you want to get right back on track after an indulgence -- be mindful of that, and don’t let one meal turn into a weekend.

Breathe

It’s so important for your mind, body and overall health to not beat yourself up when you do indulge. Way easier said than done, I totally get it. But the practices below really help me keep that “guilt” in control.

I make the meal count. I don’t eat indulgences in my car, alone at home (unless that’s your happy place, no judgement), or at the office. Don’t let your circumstances dictate your decisions; you can always find an excuse: it’s so-and-so’s birthday, but there’s a work happy hour, someone else is in town and your aunt is having a baby shower -- if you indulge every single time something comes up, you’re probably further from the balance concept we just addressed. You are in control of your nutrition choices, the food sitting on the break room counter is not.

Try to eat well most of the time so you can really enjoy the pieces that don’t fit in the “most”. Do you ever eat something and think “man that wasn’t worth it?” — “it” being the calories. I strive to avoid that feeling. If I’m going to splurge on something sweet, it’s going to be planned and in-line with what I’m really craving. This notion can be applied to events, too: if you know you’re going to a dinner party, eat well most of that week to allow yourself to embrace whatever delicious items are available in that scenario. Be in control when you can, so that when you aren’t it doesn’t set you back (thus, ladies and gents, an example of the 80/20 approach).

Another thing that really helps with the breathe component is meditation. I used to think meditation was rah-rah yogi stuff and totally not for me. Since I’ve let that assumption go, I’m in the process of writing a piece on how much guided meditation has positively impacted my, and many of my friends’ lives, but in the meantime, know that I use an app called Headspace. Download it on any smart phone -- your first 10 sessions are free. It REALLY helps with the whole “letting things” go thing. Seriously, look it up, right after you finish this post.

Work Hard

Lastly, work hard! My clients know we don’t call them cheat days, we call them reward meals (not “cheating” because you’ve earned the indulgence, this is a lifestyle not a diet, and it’s not full days). Reward meals are earned for, you guessed it: following the plan 80% of the time, not making excuses, and working hard.

Truth be told, in addition to the ongoing comments aforementioned during the introduction, the inspiration for this blog post came from a conversation with my CrossFit coach. On the first Friday of each month, our gym does Fran (a famously terrible workout in the functional fitness community). After everyone sweats their heart out, our coach brings in something fun like snow cones or a waffle truck. It is his intention (and him and I are quite aligned on nutrition-based things) that members eat well most of the time, work really hard during the workout, enjoy the indulgence with their fellow CrossFit friends, and then don’t stress about it and get right back on track the next day. Hmm… it’s almost like, that is what I just outlined as my approach, too! :)

I hope you find these concepts helpful and apply them to improve your mental health, quality of life and relationship of food. Cheers!

CrossFit athletes: How the simple rules you’re breaking are inhibiting your progress

You’re kicking ass in the gym: mobilizing, warming-up, getting after it in metcons, crushing your barbell lifts and maybe even catching a yoga class or grabbing the foam roller occasionally. But the fact of the matter is you can only get so fit without nailing a couple principles located outside the walls of Magna. You’ve heard “you can’t out-train a bad diet”; it goes hand-in-hand with the lesser known phrases like “you need lots of good food to get strong” or “beer doesn’t count toward your water intake”.

These concepts are rooted in science and practice, utilized by our coaches and Games athletes alike. In many cases, people don’t realize they don’t feel optimal, until they feel better. Consider your current habits and note areas of improvement given the general guidelines below; a friendly reminder to adequately supplement your exercise efforts. Hold yourself accountable, and to a higher standard, to reach your fullest potential as an athlete (and a healthy human being).

Drink More Water

If you’re thirsty, you’re already too dehydrated. Aim to drink a gallon per day, and don’t count things like coffee, milk, or flavored liquids toward your intake. Getting plenty of H2O is critical for proper cognitive function, muscle and joint health, digestion, and not dying on the rower. If you’re struggling to get sips in, try these ideas: have water handy every time you have a meal/snack, set an alarm on your phone every half hour to drink 5 big gulps, draw lines on a gallon jug to set incremental deadlines, track your water in the MyFitnessPal app, or aim to fill up your Hydroflask a certain amount of times per day.

Then, Drink Less Alcohol

This seems like a given, but definitely a necessary discussion. Alcohol carries the second most calories-per-gram, just under fat. This substance dehydrates your body and depletes your organs of the energy it needs not just to exercise, but to build muscle and capacity. Although I’m not advocating for completely abstaining, be mindful that a best practice would be to enjoy alcohol in the same matter you indulge in birthday cake — for special occasions. If consuming alcohol is a regular pastime for you, cutting back even a little bit will make a world of difference in how you perform, how you feel and how you look.

Eat Pre and Post Workout

You need to give your body fuel to expend during training: plain and simple. A car doesn’t go very far without gas. Get some quality food in 90 minutes before you get to the gym, and play with what foods make you feel better than others (rice vs. potatoes before cardio, for example). Fat is a good source for strength and skill work, and carbs are your go-to for aerobic training/endurance.

Contrary to popular belief, gains are made during recovery, not necessarily while working out. During exercise our body is tearing muscle fibers and being exhausted of fuel sources. Gettingenough of the right stuff after training gets the rebuilding process going. The better you strategize your post-workout plan, the better you’ll feel in terms of soreness and energy levels the next day and throughout the week, and over time in regards to health and longevity. This meal should have lots of carbs, some protein and a minimum amount of fat because we want the body to cash in on these nutrients ASAP. Keep in mind that what works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work best for you, too.

Furthermore, I mentioned “quality” and “right” when discussing food choices. These terms are relative, but generally refer to things with less crap in them; meaning product labels with few ingredients, plant-based foods, lean meats, lots of veggies, whole grains, carb sources with little sugar, and healthy fat sources. Don’t obsess over advertising claims and health fads, like Organic or gluten-free. Strive to eat a variety of colors and nutrient-dense foods, primarily coming from things that can be grown or killed. (You can read more about my thoughts on eating real food from a previous post here.)

Then, Eat More

To create an understanding, without getting too technical: everyone has a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or how many calories you burn at rest/just walking around throughout the day. This number is influenced by a few things, one of which is how much lean muscle mass you have. So take that indicator, add in the amount of calories you burn working out, and consider that you need a surplus of calories to build muscle. It’s clear that many athletes are eating far below what that caloric total is, essentially starving themselves and simultaneously training at a high volume/intensity. Over the long term, this will make you feel terrible, inhibit progress, and wreak havoc on your metabolism.

Try tracking your food, even for the sake of getting an accurate look at how much you’re typically eating. Then, try having smaller meals more often, adding in calories/increasing your daily average slowly, and changing up where you get your nutrients from. Don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry, but experiment to make sure you’re sufficiently fueling your body. You can also find out your BMR through the InBody machine at Nutrishop.

I hope you found these reminders of some simple nutrition rules helpful, and as always please don’t hesitate to reach out to myself, BK or any Magna Coach with questions or for clarification — we are always happy to help.

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.
— Greg Glassman (CrossFit Founder, CrossFit Journal, World Class Fitness in 100 Words)

Note: This post was written specifically for members of my gym, CrossFit Magna, thus why it is referenced above. However, the subject is applicable to many other CrossFit athletes which is why I wanted to share it through this platform as well.

Quick thoughts: “So many years of education, and nobody ever taught us to love ourselves or why it’s so important”

Confidence is hard. Body peace is hard. A healthy relationship with food and training is hard. And hell, being honest about this stuff is hard. But you know what’s a lot harder? Being unhappy. You absolutely can’t reach your fullest potential coming from a place of negativity. During the destruction, and rebuilding process, of my metabolism, body composition and self-worth I’ve learned that your mentality is your single most powerful weapon. And just as importantly, you need to have a genuine, positive group of people in your life supporting you (as I was graciously reminded of today). Be honest with yourself: if what you’re doing and/or investing in isn’t rooted in love, it’s the wrong thing for you. Apply this to every area of your life, and give yourself the opportunity to experience what it’s like to thrive.

The trick with rebuilding yourself is to be sure you use the right materials and tools for the job. A healthy mind and body, a worthy goal, and dependable friends are all vital components in the construction of a new you. Remember, a skyscraper is only as strong as the steels it’s made of.
— Beau Taplin
  That’s me! This picture was taken in the summer of 2014.

That’s me! This picture was taken in the summer of 2014.

Chasing greatness

I have firm beliefs in many things, but for the purposes of this post I want to focus on a few specific ones: always strive to be better, surround yourself with good people, and be a part of something bigger than yourself.

That’s some heavy stuff, right? Those are some overarching life goals that you probably don’t stop and consider every day. I can tell you one thing…I know I’m living those beliefs every day in at least one small way, and I’ll tell you how.

It wouldn’t be right to start this story without thanking my great friend Joe – he introduced me to the world of CrossFit and Weightlifting (and by introduced, I mean patiently taught, coached, and helped me through the transition from bodybuilding to functional fitness). Joe’s also easily the most mentally tough, authentic person I know, and a great judge of character, so I tend to trust his judgement. After training together at the ASU fitness center for a while, he moved up north by a box called CrossFit Magna and fell in love with it. I made the average 30 min drive once to train with him, not thinking much of it, until I got there. Then a few more times. Until August of 2015 when I joined, and have made it virtually everyday since.

Brian Kunitzer (BK for short) founded Magna on one basic value: “I wanted a competitive, family-friendly environment” he said.

Brian and his wife Katie own the gym, but also do all the admin work, clean, organize, coach and program for the members as well (amongst all the other behind the scenes stuff involved in running a gym/business). You can’t forget Ainsley, their 3-year-old daughter who is the most loving, intelligent, excited girl I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. She knew my name before I even joined, shouting “Miss Preslie!” every day I walked in, and still does.

It’s hard to describe Magna, it feels like trying to explain Disneyland to someone who’s never seen pictures. It’s absolutely ginormous, with lots of natural light coming in through the garage doors that frame the wall with the whiteboard. There’s a huge American flag next to another large wall that says “Forging Elite Fitness” in purple. There’s a spacious play area for kids and a chalk board that includes a countdown for when the fourth member of the Kunitzer clan, baby Calvin, will be born. But those are all cosmetic things. The coaches treat each person as if they care about their personal success, because they do. There are no stupid questions, only an unspoken requirement that you show up with some effort and are nice to the people around you. And that you don’t get chalk all over the floor either, BK hates that.

I asked Brian what his favorite part about being a gym owner/head coach is.

“Helping people gain confidence, there’s a lot of different ways to say that but that’s what it comes down to,” he said. “Being able to do something they never thought they would be able to do, like a muscle up, or the additional confidence that comes from being in shape that translates to other areas of their life.”

Confidence…here we go. Part of the reason I initially had interest in Magna is because it’s one of only a few competitive gyms in Arizona that have proven themselves enough to make it to Regionals. I am a very competitive (arguably to a fault), goal-oriented, driven person. I really want to become a high-caliber athlete someday and I knew in order to reach that level, I’d have to train with people significantly better than myself. I chuckled just writing that…I KNEW that and somehow forgot it rather quickly after starting at Magna. I’d been CrossFitting about 6 months when I joined.

There’s some really talented athletes there. And the thing that still astounds me about high level athletes is they make tough things look easy, it’s like watching those gymnasts perform at the Olympics. Shortly after joining, I lost my eagerness to improve and got immersed in self-doubt and insecurities when I started following the competitor program, thinking I was in way over my head.

But this rut didn’t last long, thankfully. Imagine a scale: where on one end you have the most coddling “rah rah you can do it, great job, you’re going to the Games someday!” coach, and the other end is the one that makes you feel like you’re never good enough, yells absurdly and is ultimately de-motivating. BK, Katie, Coach Marcus, Joe, and some of the members are really that perfect sweet spot in the middle. Couple that with seeing actual improvements in my fitness by following the program to a tee (crazy what happens when you follow a well-written program, eh?), and I was back on track from feeling uneasy, to excited for improvement. I have a feeling, in atmospheres that aren’t as positive or supportive, people quit when they start feeling how I did in the beginning, and that’s heartbreaking.

Meanwhile when I was throwing internal fits that I wasn’t half as good as the people I was training with or comparing myself to, there were full-time doctors, dad’s, high school kids and grandparent-age members busting their ass in class everyday, leaving with the satisfaction that they did their best. They hung out with their friends, made their health a priority and got fitter that day. Man, that’s the way to look at it. People new to CrossFit inspire me as much as BK, who’s 6 years in the game.

Brian likes to hashtag “chasing greatness” and call me cliche, but I just love that saying. You’re never there – if you think you’ve “reached” greatness well then you’re wrong, because life is a constant effort to improve as an athlete, friend, daughter, sister, spouse, you name it. By chasing it, it’s on the horizon, you know where you’re headed and regardless of actually getting there, the idea is to be living intentionally.  

If by this point you’re thinking that I’m just sippin’ the Magna kool-aid, let me stop you right there. I am a former competitive volleyball player, bodybuilder, health club manager, CrossFit coach, freelance writer, ASU athletic department intern, Arizona native, and current college student who’s traveled and dropped into a lot of gyms. If that doesn’t prove I’ve met a TON of athletes and coaches, well then I don’t know what does. I feel perfectly confident saying there is in fact something unique, and awesome, going on at Magna.

This weekend I got to judge several athletes competing in the CrossFit Open. (You can read more about what the Open is in my last post, here.) My point in bringing this up is to express that helping members who had to scale the workout, absolutely crushed it, or fell somewhere in the middle find their mental and physical limits was absolutely exhilarating. Rep counts don’t matter as much as effort, RX scores aren’t as important as healthy, safe movement, and winning a workout doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know the name of the guy sharing a bar with you. Those are a few more unwritten rules at Magna.

Referencing what I mentioned in the beginning, being a member of Magna fills up my cup. Always strive to be better: check. Surround yourself with good people: check. Be apart of something bigger than yourself: check.

In one building I have found an improvement in my overall fitness and confidence, a place for laughter and good times, and a family.

 Pictured left to right: Joe, Brian, myself at CrossFit Magn

Pictured left to right: Joe, Brian, myself at CrossFit Magn

My thoughts on the CrossFit Open

The Open

I’m not sure how many of you do or know anything about CrossFit, I'm lucky to have a mixed-readership on this blog; therefore, I’ll give you a brief overview.

The CrossFit Open is a worldwide competition, anyone can join (young, old, male, female, new to CrossFit or the fittest in the world – literally). Every Thursday night for five consecutive weeks CrossFit Headquarters releases a workout, and participants (there’s about 300,000 globally now), have until the following Monday night to submit their score. There are movement standards enforced through certified judges (your fellow gym friends who complete the online certification) who monitor the athlete’s workout. There’s even a scaled division for those less proficient at certain movements or new to CrossFit. At the conclusion of these five workouts, the top individuals and teams move on to the next round of competition, which then leads to the CrossFit Games – the Super Bowl of this sport (though it includes people from all over the world, and has a variety of events).

So the Open takes place in an affiliate, your garage, wherever you normally do CrossFit. Last year, I’d been CrossFitting about a month when the Open came around and it never even crossed my mind to not sign up. You mean I get to do the same workout as everyone else in this sport, talk about it, and compare my score? How cool is that!

To Register or Not

It honestly confuses me when people say they are “too new” or “not good enough” for the Open. It is one of the most measurable ways in fact to gauge your skill level, and measure your progress between now and the next season. CrossFit is hard – mentally, physically, it is no damn joke. Sure, all sports are difficult in their own way and I’ve never been a pro football player so I can’t compare the two, but CrossFit is absolutely a taxing activity. The people that stick with it have goals, there’s no way to keep putting yourself through it if you aren’t aiming for something.

I asked Brian (owner/head coach of my gym, Magna) if the Open is for everyone.

“I think the Open is just like CrossFit, you have to have your personal goals with it and if you approach it correctly, the Open is for everyone,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to have a reason to do a workout, and be able to compare yourself with friends, family or coworkers who don’t go to your gym. It’s fun to narrow the leader board down to males that are 36 in Arizona, for example. But you have to have the right perspective on things, and that comes from your home gym environment.”

BK continued, “As an athlete it’s a good reason to push yourself to a spot that you probably wouldn’t go to for just any other workout. For me, writing my own programming, it’s a great test of what our programming is versus what Dave Castro (CrossFit Games Director) wants us to do.” 

The Nerves

You can’t gain aerobic capacity in the four days you’re allotted to complete the workout, you can’t cram fitness in an all-nighter like you can a college paper. You’re either training all year for it or you’re not, and your scores will show it. BK and I talked off the record, so to speak, after a night of running heats of 16.1, where we discussed pressure shouldn’t be a foreign feeling during the Open, because theoretically you should be training with that intensity all the time.

Now sure, that’s ideal. But the science that a healthy amount of pressure is important for optimal performance is basically common knowledge now. I was so anxious all day Thursday. I want to prove that I’ve gotten fitter than last year, I want to make my coach proud and contribute to the team by getting a good score, and I want to feel proud of myself. If I did terrible in the workout, none of those things would happen.

Big Picture

I place a lot of pressure on myself to do well in everything that I do. However, I survived my first Open workout. And I didn’t do terrible actually. I’m not qualifying for anything, but I could’ve told you that beforehand. I’m going to do it again, because why the hell not – I think I’m capable of better and if by the unfortunate chance I’m not, I got a great workout in. 

The important thing to remember is the Open is a measure of your fitness. Not of your kind heart, competency, motivation or worth. If Michael Phelps doesn’t qualify for the Olympics, he still has to get up the next morning and be Michael Phelps, the man, husband, father, and so forth, and not the Olympian. 

My closest friends may sense some hypocrisy, having seen me cry in the gym or obsess over my scores. There’s nothing wrong with being a passionate athlete, those that succeed really care about what they’re doing, but I think finding the balance is the key to pushing limits and being your best self, and getting closer to that balance is all apart of greater process.

I look forward to sharing with you how the next 4 weeks of the Open go. It’s going be a great opportunity for personal growth and to embrace the amazing community CrossFit offers.

Resources

To register, and/or see schedule of workouts: click here.

For more on CrossFit Magna, click here.

 CrossFit Magna, photo taken by me.

CrossFit Magna, photo taken by me.