I have been meaning to write this post for a while now and just simply haven’t gotten around to it. Lately, I have been getting a ton of inquiries about how/what I eat and how I was able to transform my body and performance because of it. If you have been following me for more than about two or three months, you have noticed the changes that my body has gone through – at least physically. Maybe you have, or maybe you haven’t noticed, but those physical changes are directly correlated with changes in my performance as well. While being more than 10lbs. lighter since switching eating plans I have made some serious gains in the gym.
Since regionals, I have revamped my diet and the way I look at food. until then, I guess you could say I was the classic CrossFitter – I would eat “clean” (or paleo) for 6 days out of the week and on one day I would eat whatever I wanted, which was usually anything in sight. This is what I understood to be how an athlete was supposed to eat – simply because Paleo is the be all end all in the CrossFit community and I thought that was what I had to be doing. What I didn’t realize was how little carbohydrates I was eating (really only sweet potatoes and fruit) and how much fat (avocados, nuts) I was eating. This is almost inevitable on a Paleo diet because it leaves you with a limited amount of carbohydrate dense foods and a ton of foods that are filled with fat. This works for some people, and I am not knocking it. I just found that personally, my body did not respond well physically, nor feel great eating this way. Before I go any further, let me explain that I was 100% pro-paleo when I was first introduced to it. I found it made me feel cleaner, healthier, and I had a new-found respect for keeping nutrient-dense foods in my diet. I lost a ton of weight when I first started eating that way. In fact, when people walk into the gym and are overweight I still point them in the Paleo direction because I feel it is a great way to begin to understand food and the importance of consuming a diet that is based around protein and vegetable consumption. However, as I started exercising more vigorously, doing two-a-day sessions, and incorporating high volume into my training program – I became hungrier. I was still trying so hard to follow this Paleo way of eating that I was consuming an incredible amount of food to do so. In addition to a large number of protein I was consuming each day; an avocado or two in a day, handfuls of nuts, tons of bacon and eggs, all the fruit and sweet potatoes I could get my hands on was a typical day of eating. Still, I never felt like I had a great amount of energy and physically – although I was getting stronger and more muscular, I was somewhat soft and fluffy.
I stumbled upon my current diet accidentally. At the gymnastics meet disguised as the 2014 Crossfit Regionals, I weighed in at 155lbs AFTER the weekend was over. I was in no way “fat”, but knowing what I know now, and feeling how I feel – that was about 10-12lbs too heavy for me to be exercising at – especially in a gymnastics meet. A part of me kind of knew that, but I rationalized it with myself as I was putting on muscle and getting stronger and that was just the weight I was going to be as a result of it. I’m not one to be caught up on a number on the scale so it really didn’t phase me. After Crossfit regionals, I was getting ready to compete in weightlifting nationals. I had plans to compete as a 69kg (152lb) lifter because 63kg was out of the question. Then, I get a text from my lovely coach one day that said: “How mad would you be if I asked you to cut to 63 for nationals?”. Partially because I am so conditioned to listen to him, and partially because it sounded like a challenge to me I told him I would try my best but I could not make any promises.
To be honest, I thought it would be impossible and I was just going to be a good sport and try it out. I refused to starve myself and be miserable but I would try and find the best way to do it. I contacted a close friend, Ricklynn Long who I knew followed some food plan called Flexible Dieting and asked if she thought it was possible for me to cut about 15lbs in two months while maintaining my strength. She assured me that it would take a lot of diligence but we could make it happen. She introduced me to Flexible Dieting (IF IT FITS MY MACROS) and how it works and outlined a week by week plan for me. Within the first week, I dropped 5lbs as well as PR’d my jerk from the blocks and my 3-position clean. I felt like I had more energy in my workouts and throughout the day in general – I was convinced it would work. With her constant help and a lot of diligence from me, I weighed in under 63kg (138lbs) at nationals in July while still managing to keep my lifting numbers and strength numbers the same. Since then, we have adjusted my diet back to where I am comfortable maintaining a body weight of about 140-144lbs while eating more food in a day than I ever have before. This is possible because when your macronutrients are proportioned correctly, your metabolism skyrockets and you become a body that “burns hot” allowing you to eat a whole lot while still maintaining body composition. I am leaner and stronger than ever, I feel lighter and more in control of my body in gymnastics movements, all of my lifting numbers have gone up, and my energy levels have increased significantly.
For those of you who aren’t exactly sure what Flexible Dieting is, I will give you a quick rundown. Basically, it is a system where you create a food map of macronutrients (protein, carbs, fat) for your daily consumption of energy based on your needs. “Your needs” could be anything from a weight cut, to a weight gain, or simply weight maintenance where you just want to become leaner. You can fill those grams of macros with whatever foods you wish as long as you hit the numbers determined by your food map. This allows a bit more freedom in your diet which is good for numerous reasons. It doesn’t make any food “off limits” or “bad”. This, in turn, gets rid of the guilt that comes along with eating something that is “forbidden”. For me, it allowed me to incorporate much more variety into my diet which I feel is very important. In the past, following Paleo, I felt like I was eating the same things day in and day out. Also, because it allows you to eat literally anything you are craving as long as it is done within the parameters of your daily macro allotment, it alleviates the “binge day” or “cheat day” that is so often found on the Paleo diet. You know, the one day where you spend your entire day eating every single food that you weren’t allowed to have on your diet all week. Usually, people will consume 3-4x the calories they do on a normal basis during these days. This takes your body about 3-5 days to recover from and can leave you feeling pretty bad physically.
What this all means is that I regularly eat foods like sugary cereals, donuts, ice cream (which I’m actually having as I type), cheese, and anything else I am feeling like for that matter. However, I am very diligent about weighing and measuring the foods – making sure I eat them in their correct quantities to fit my macros. If you know me, you know that my food scale is never far. I keep it on my kitchen counter, I travel with it when I’m being a gypsy – I weigh and measure almost everything. This is how I was able to cut weight safely and happily while still eating a bowl of cereal in the morning if I felt like it, or having some ice cream at night before I went to bed. Don’t get me wrong though – just because the diet ALLOWS for these things does not mean that is the bulk of what I eat. Most of my meals consist of lean meats, vegetables, and solid carbohydrate sources such as potatoes or rice. I am very aware of nutrient-dense foods and always choose those over my treats. However, it is nice to know I am able to incorporate those treats into my diet when I want. As far as energy goes, because I now have an allotment of grams of carbohydrates, I am able to fuel my workouts and strategically place my carbs around workout time to keep my energy levels high when I need it most. Most days I will bring a carb snack to the gym to have during my mid-workout session. This snack is usually something like strawberries or bananas with fat-free whipped cream, cookie crisp cereal, applesauce, or a Golden Grahams s’mores bar. When I am working out I find that fast acting, simple carbs, like that work best to keep my energy level up and keep me feeling good. I also try to save some of those “fast acting” carbs for right before bed. This might sound crazy, but it stems from the concept of carb-backloading – muscles respond well overnight to this rush of carbs and it actually causes you to wake up feeling energized, hungry, and looking pretty lean.
All in all, my reason for writing this is to debunk the ideas that 1) carbs, grains, and sugar are the total enemy, 2) to be a lean, high performance athlete you need to eat super “clean” and boring 3) Paleo is the nutrition gift to Crossfit. If you want to be a successful, high level athlete, there is no doubt that diet plays an essential role. There is no one-plan-fits-all way that will allow success amongst all. This is simply the one that I have found to work best for me.
Decide what your goals are. Create a plan. Execute that plan. Learn your body and be able to understand what it is asking for. Don’t deny it of things that it wants. Approach food with excitement because it is going to put energy into your workouts. And, most importantly, do not be afraid of donuts, when eaten correctly, they will result in pretty, symmetrical abs, and more pounds on your snatch! 🙂
If you have hung around this long to read what I’ve had to say here is a quick overview of the pros and cons (in my eyes) about Flexible Dieting.
Pro’s & Con’s of Flexible Dieting
-No food is off limits (OREOS!!!)
-You have an exact outline of how much of each food type you should be eating
-Your energy levels will increase
-You have full control over your goals
-You are using science to allow your body to make changes
-You must be diligent about weighing, measuring, and recording all of your food consumption
-You need to understand that lean protein sources and vegetables should be the priority
-It can be tempting for people (especially on a cut) to chose not so nutrient dense foods over better ones
-Self control will be tested as you are faced with situations such as taking TWO Oreo’s out of the sleeve and putting the rest away
-People will always have something negative to say (I’ve found the best way to deal with this is to just show them your abs)
If you have any questions, or would like help with following this plan on your own you can find me coaching at Black Iron Nutrition: www.blackiron nutrition.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I would be happy to help!