A huge part of what I do, both professionally and athletically relies upon one of the most important aspects of life – nutrition – how we are fueled day to day. Almost everyday someone asks me “How do you eat?” or something along those lines. (I try not to get offended by the fact that they think my physique, or exercising ability, is totally reliant on my diet and has nothing to do with how much weight I put overhead on a weekly basis. No one ever looks at me and says “How much weight do you put over your head and how often?” Which would be the question I would prefer.)
Anyway, I have grown accustomed to the “how do you eat?” question. I’ve grown so accustomed to it that it’s normal now. I have come to the conclusion that people are actually curious about how I fuel my body – probably because there are so many “great diets” and “proven theories” on how a human should consume food. People want to do the right thing by themselves but are clearly confused – and rightfully so. I am going to dedicate this blog post to explaining how I fuel my body and keep it moving day to day. Before I even start though, I have to make it perfectly clear that 1) I am not a nutritionist (however I am currently studying for my Precision Nutrition certification) and 2) everyone’s body will respond differently to different things, there is no cookie cutter approach to eating. Trial and error my friends.
When I originally heard about CrossFit (the cult!!!), I learned about “Paleo” for the first time. I was curious. Working on an exercise science degree in the classroom then, I knew there was something to this idea that what we put in our bodies will directly affect 1) how we perform, 2) how we feel, and of course 3) how we look. I figured I would give it a try. I was a college senior, mid basketball season, traveling around the country hooping it up. Anyone who has any experience with paleo knows that this would not be an ideal situation or the best time for me to “start”, but I am me – so I did anyway. I didn’t know any better. Needless to say, I wasn’t eating “100% paleo”. However I became more aware of how I was fueling my body and was trying to make some changes where and when I was able to. For me, the biggest issue was that I was eating too much grain. I tried to simply limit that along with the pointless sugars that I was normally consuming on a daily basis.
When I finally joined a CrossFit gym in May of 2012, I did my first and only “30 day Paleo challenge” to date. I didn’t cheat for 30 days and saw amazing results. I leaned out, had more energy, and knew this Paleo thing had something too it. Whenever newbies come into our doors and ask me what the key to success is in CrossFit, I explain that early on nutrition really is the key. I then go on to explain “paleo in a nutshell” and try and use the actual word PALEO as little as possible. I want people to look at this as a way they should revamp their everyday eating to make them a healthier individual, not as a labeled diet they are “trying”. As much as I love exercise, I do believe that our daily input runs the show. Please remember that most people I discuss nutrition with are normal, everyday people looking to lose some extra body fat or “see some abs” (I get that one a lot, it always makes me giggle). They are not athletes in training or competitive exercisers. My point in saying this is that the daily energy expenditure of these people, although greater than most of the American population simply due to the fact that they are showing up to the gym 3-5 times a week, is significantly lower than myself. Remember, the reason for eating is to support our energy levels. Therefore, my daily intake should look different than theirs, because my daily energy expenditure is completely different than theirs.
I have, through trial and error, adapted my diet to support my daily training regimen. The basis of my diet is in fact “Paleo”, but I’m no stranger to non-Paleo friendly foods like peanut butter, whole milk, tortilla chips, and even a weekend full of cheat meals. I keep my weekly diet as clean as possible, and kind of boring. I balance my carbohydrates, proteins, and fats appropriately. I drink protein shakes. However, I listen to my body. If I am not feeling “myself”, I have become pretty good at knowing why and I am usually able to fix it with a food adjustment. Sometimes it could be that I just need some quick acting sugars (M&Ms!), sometimes it is that I need an extra avocado in the day. Bottom line is, it’s not PALEO OR DIE. I don’t beat myself up trying to follow one idea of food intake. I know my body needs other things sometimes, things that are (oh no!!) not Paleo (gasp!). But, Dr. Lorin Cordain’s description of optimal food intake is definitely the best I have came across yet.
I guess the more helpful way for me to paint a clear picture of my diet would be for me to list out what a pretty typical day of eating looks like for me. Here it is:
2 whole eggs + 2-3 egg white omelet with spinach, half sweet potato, half avocado
Some kind of lean protein (chicken or turkey burgers are my favorite) with whatever kind of seasoning/sauce I want that day
As much green veggies as I think it would take to fill me up – cooked in a pretty good amount of olive oil – favorites are broccoli, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts
Half sweet potato
Identical to the first lunch but usually no sweet potato or avocado here. Just meat and veggies.
Identical to lunch except usually fish or red meat depending on the day.
I drink a Recovery shake after my workout(s) that contains protein, glutamine, creatine, and BCAAs among other things. I drink 1-2 cups of coffee a day with either almond milk or whole milk. I snack on things like Quest bars, peanut butter, tortilla chips/salsa or a chocolate bar – really no more than two snacks per day. As far as alcohol consumption, I average about a glass of wine a week.
My weekends are usually not like this at all. I take two days (Saturday and Sunday is just most convenient) and I basically “eat whatever I want”. I still always try and start the day with the above listed breakfast but throughout the day I load up on some pretty fast acting carbs, get really happy that I’m eating ice cream and having a burger, and then I’m ready to get back at my regular routine on Monday. On weekends where I am competing, I go all out . I tend to end up eating everything and anything in sight because that is how depleted my body is.
This is just what works for me. It’s the least stressful, it’s organized and regimented. I feel good doing it. I like the way I exercise under this system. My body is responding well to it. There are a million other eating approaches that have been very successful for a lot of my peers. Everyone has their own system, that’s what is so cool. Personally, I have tried Zone (I found it to be too much work for someone like me – I’m not down with weighing and measuring food, I was getting frustrated). I have attempted to try Carb Back Loading – the idea sounded great to me, but after a few days of housing half a pack of Oreo’s before I went to bed and feeling not so great after it, I stopped. But, I’m pretty sure I was really not doing it correctly because the science behind CBL actually makes some sense. I know people that have had great success on both of those methods and love them. Again, everyone is different.
My overall advice is to remember that food is fuel. Every time I put something in my body I understand that I am giving my body gas to run on, just like filling up a motor vehicle. The bulk of my intake is clean, nutrient dense foods that will keep me feeling strong and moving well, however life is always good with some chocolate chip cookies thrown into the mix!
Looking ahead, I am competing at Beast of the East this weekend in Connecticut with the same team that took first place at Flex on the Beach a few weeks ago – the mighty “Cohesive Unit” aka the Blue Barracudas. I’m excited, any weekend with them is a fun one. Plus the workouts are going to be freaking awesome. Updates on that next week !
*You can find this post and other posts by my peers and I at:
Recently, I made the decision to try and qualify for the American Open. The American Open is a national level weightlifting meet that features the best in the sport and allows them to go head to head to see who can put the most poundage (or kilos I guess) overhead using two different methods: the Snatch and the Clean & Jerk. This year it is held in Dallas, TX in early December.
But wait, I thought I was a “Crossfitter”. I am, competitive exercise is currently my sport. However, for the past 6 months-ish I have been following the programming of Rudy Neilsen’s Outlaw Way. This programming is geared toward crossfitters looking to succeed at the regional and games level by putting significant emphasis on the Olympic lifts (Snatch & CJ). The reasoning behind this being that 1) teaching an athlete how to properly perform the olympic lifts teaches them an immense amount of body control, force production, and rapid muscle fiber recruitment – all very valuable in the sport of exercise and 2) many events that we do in competition contain these lifts in some form. Needless to say, following this programming day in and day out I have grown to really appreciate these lifts and have seen significant improvements in my numbers. I have also watched some big names in the CrossFit world like Elisabeth Akinwale and Lindsey Valenuzela have great success in both the sport of exercise and the sport of weightlifting and to me that’s pretty damn cool.
A few weeks ago, on two separate occasions I had some friends who know the sport of weightlifting ask me if I was going to try and qualify for the American Open. I laughed both times and told them I was an exerciser, not a weightlifter. Then, about a week later, after thinking about their comments almost every day I realized how silly I would be to not look into this more. So I did some research and number crunching (by number crunching I mean converting lbs. to kg.) and came up with this:
I weigh 150 pounds which would put me in the 69kg weight class.
My current PB total (snatch and CJ combined) is 355lbs (161.3 kg).
The qualifying total for the 69kg weight class is 152kg or 334.4lbs.
I realized I would never let this escape my mind if I didn’t actually pursue it. I ran it by a few of my coaches and got enthusiastic affirmations from them, which solidified my ideas. So here I am. I am registered for a qualifying meet on September 22nd in my hometown and am pretty stoked. Of course nerves come and go, they always do with me. I think this time they’re here a little more because this is so new to me. I literally have NO IDEA how a weightlifting meet works. I am learning more and more everyday in preparation and I am even starting to finally understand kilos!
For those of you who are unfamiliar (like I was a week ago) with how a weightlifting meet runs I will give you my best rookie rundown. You have 3 attempts at each lift. You must declare an opening weight (first attempt) and then after that can decide what you would like to have on the bar for your second attempt. Ideally I want to hit my openers, then qualify on my second attempts. In the event that I miss my second attempt, I would have my third attempt to try again. The end goal (for me) is to complete two lifts – one Snatch and one CJ – that will combine to equal 152 kilograms. I am still unsure if a singlet is required though.
My workout regiment will change very little in the next two weeks. I will continue to follow the Outlaw Way programming for the most part. Between now and then I have to decide on an “opening weight”. Thankfully I have some great coaches in the sport helping me with this. My conditioning pieces will not change (after all, I am an exerciser first) and my supplemental gymnastics work that I have recently added into my programming because of specific weaknesses will continue. That’s what was one of the coolest parts of this new venture – I am prepared without even knowing it.
However, what I think THE coolest part about this whole sport is: when I step out on that platform, none of this really matters. My current numbers don’t matter. It doesn’t matter if my current total is 50 pounds over what I need to qualify. If I don’t successfully complete the lifts there, that day, I don’t qualify. The gutty performance aspect is there – and I’m always up for that test.
This is going to be a ton of fun.
On a different note — I competed with some awesome people this weekend at the Fall Faceoff in Albany NY. Here is my boyfriend Adam (yeah, were lame and matching), my good friends Riki and Brian, and myself on the podium (Coach Daniel not depicted). We had an awesome podium finish taking home 3rd, and had a hilarious time all weekend.
Recently, I’ve been living under the bar. Here is why.
Looking back, I now know I was simply born a competitor. I was born to walk up to a challenge, size it up, look it square in the face, and overcome it. Not just overcome it – but actually demolish it. Then, and only then, am I satisfied. Maybe for the day, maybe for only a few hours – until a new challenge catches my interest and I realize I have the ability to be even better that I thought possible. This is the constant circle diagram that is my life.
Growing up, that diagram was applied to the sport of basketball. I have been a competitive basketball player at high levels my entire life. It started out as a fun game, something that I enjoyed to do, something that I was genetically built for, and it just accidentally became the victim of my competitive nature. I quickly learned this was not a bad thing. I was blessed with some God given athleticism and the will to work hard. I soon learned how to apply them to my competitive nature and my need to be successful so I could use it to my advantage.
After 16 years of basketball and four years of playing at the division 1 level for a mid-major college some fire in me was gone. I was still competitive, but the fun had minimized significantly and I knew my passion flame was starting to shrink. Add two knee surgeries into the mix, one that cost me my ENTIRE left meniscus (the protective cushion in the joint) and the knee pain just wasn’t worth the game anymore. I never desired to play overseas professionally or walk into a WNBA tryout; I was almost ready to walk away from being a competitor.
Then I found the bar. And started to live under it.
I was introduced to CrossFit (I will refer to it often as competitive exercise) accidentally. I didn’t think much of it – I thought it would be a cool way to stay in shape in my retired basketball days. But… naturally it didn’t take long for me to realize I needed to improve in many things and had the ability to be able to compete with some of the best one day if I worked hard – there is my competitive nature. Insert aforementioned circle diagram of Nicole’s life here. So now here I am, under the bar. Same story, different sport. Where I use to walk around dribbling my Rock with a huge smile on my face, I am now swinging kettlebells and flying under barbells with that same huge smile. I could not be happier or more excited.
My passion is back; my excitement to get up everyday and get better at something has returned. I have found something that is FUN again! The idea of “getting back in the lab and working” as I use to refer to my time on the basketball court is present everyday now. But instead I am in a gym laced with rigs, rings, bumpers, and barbells. Instead of analyzing my exact thumb and elbow placement on my 3-point shot and then heading over to the court to take 300 of them the right way; I am now watching endless videos of bar track and footwork on my Olympic lifts, or my hip explosion and body awareness in my gymnastics movements – only to head over to the gym and get a ton of reps in right.
I’m still getting use to this, still trying to fit in – until I accidentally wear my basketball shorts to do “Fran” or start to follow through on wall balls and realize I am probably always going to be a baller at heart. Something I am now okay with.
Living under the bar has been so amazing because it re-ignited in me something I thought I could never feel again. It has brought me back some of my favorite feelings – hard work, pressure, challenge, victory, accomplishment, excitement, approval and satisfaction. Just like before, every day I want to be better. I want to perfect my craft. Then I want to walk out in front of as many people as I can, poised and confident, and perform. I want to show them the fruits of my labor in hopes they will then understand dedication and heart and apply it to their own lives.
Living under the bar, or on top of the rings, isn’t easy. I don’t want it to ever be easy. Basketball was never easy. Life is never easy. That’s the great part about all of this though. It is a perfect lesson in walking up to something difficult, sizing it up and down, looking it straight in the face, and overcoming it. Not just overcoming it – but demolishing it.
Follow me as I continue to live under the bar… with a huge smile on.
*You can find this post and other posts by my peers and I at: