The definition of CrossFit is “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity” (1,2). In the last blog post we talked about what “constantly varied” means, and today we get to dig a little deeper into the second part of the definition, functional movements.
Part two: Functional Movements
CrossFit places high emphasis on functional movements,or movements that one might need to perform naturally in everyday life (2,3). These movements are generally done with our own bodyweight or with some kind of external load. There are almost no muscle-isolation machines in CrossFit boxes, unlike other types of fitness gyms. What’s this about, and why do we care so much about functional movements in CrossFit?
Basically, functional movements make us fitter and give us a better general physical preparedness (GPP) by having us practice movements that life might actually throw at us. On a scientific level, the most basic definition of functional movements is moving large loads over long distances, quickly (1,2). This is also the general equation for power. The higher power output we have, the fitter we are (similarly, the higher horsepower any machine has, the faster and more powerfully it moves!). We improve our power output by constantly varying our functional movements, and performing them at high intensity (1,3).Each and every WOD helps us fine-tune our machine. Some of the movements we do have obvious crossover into the real world (an air squat is like sitting down and standing up from a chair, a push press is equivalent to throwing a box onto a top shelf, a muscle-up can be used to scale any height you can get your hands on ), while some movements have less obvious crossover (the hip flexion and extension from burpees can help us climb a rope easier !) None of this can be learned by doing the circuit weight machines at the globo-gym, because those are segmented and isolated movements. CrossFit teaches us that “Training in a segmented fashion develops a segmented capacity (3).” These machines might build strength, but it isn’t functional strength because they aren’t functional movements (3).Ok, so we do countless of these so-called functional movements in CrossFit, but what exactly makes a movement “functional?”
In general, functional movements have some core things in common. Functional movements are UNIVERSAL MOTOR RECRUITMENT PATTERNS (1,2,3),a big phrase that basically means we find the same movement patterns everywhere in life. One picks up a large bag of potatoes in much the same way as one deadlifts a barbell or picks up a heavy cooler. These universal motor recruitment patterns move from CORE TO EXTREMITY, all the power starting in one’s core and traveling out through the less-powerful limbs (1,2,3).Think of a pitcher throwing a baseball: she loads her core, twists her hips, and the power travels in a chain through her shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, and finally her fingers. It is the same for all functional movements, from kipping pullups to barbell snatches: our energy moves from core to extremity. (Ever heard your coaches say “USE YOUR HIPS!”? It’s because that’s where the power originates!)
Functional movements are also COMPOUND movements, meaning they utilize multiple joints and muscle groups (1,2,3).For example, an air squat requires the hip, knee, and ankle joints to work together. You can’t break a squat into separate movements and reap the same benefits (3). A leg-extension machine might target the knee joint and quad muscles, and a calf-raise machine may work the ankle joint and calves, but the sum of these movements does not come close to the results you will get from a simple squat, where multiple large and small muscle groups work together (3). Compound movements also uniquely have the capacity to illicit neuroendocrine response, actually causing a change in the body’s natural hormones, building more muscle and stronger bones in the entire body (3,5)!
Functional movements are SAFE, NATURAL movements: our joints and bodies were made to move this way (2,3,6). They are movements that nature demands of us, and that only the privileges of growing up in western civilization have taken out of our wheelhouse (7). Greg Glassman, the founder of CrossFit, says, “The squat is a vital, natural, and functional component of your being. In the bottom position, the squat is nature’s intended sitting posture. Only in the industrialized world do we find the need for chairs, couches, benches, and stools. This comes at a loss of functionality that contributes immensely to decrepitude (7).“ Sometimes it is necessary to retrain our bodies into proper movement patterns after injury or a lifetime of misuse, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t natural or safe, just that we’ve temporarily lost the capacity for it. And with time and consistency, this can be fixed!
Functional movements are also ESSENTIAL to independent living (2,3). One must be able to get in and out of a chair, carry the groceries in, lie down on the floor, or lift things overhead in order to have independence and quality of life. This is likely why CrossFit HQ has taken such an interest recently in showing elderly people doing functional movements at home using broomsticks and water jugs (8). CrossFit’s message to the world is that, by performing functional movements regularly, we can have good fitness over a lifetime—in other words, good health (9).
Now, any exercise is better than none at all, and I won’t discourage anyone from going to the gym to work out, even with unnaturalmovements (i.e. not found in nature) like the lat raise machines or leg extension machines (3). However, if you truly want the best level of fitness, leave the machines behind and start building your own. CrossFitters are here to create functional bodies that will stand the test of time and be up for anything, all our lives long!
Thanks for reading! Tune in next time for the last blog post of this series, all about INTENSITY!
A Note to Readers:This blog post has been edited to include source citations. The CrossFit methodology is empirically-driven, and aims to produce fitness that is completely measurable, observable, and repeatable. CrossFit is committed to evidence-based fitness, and is an open-source charter, meaning that all CrossFit data is open to the public, and coaches and athletes can be collaborators in the development of the CrossFit program(1). This is a brief overview of the CrossFit prescription. None of the following article is based on my own opinion, but rather the empirical findings of Greg Glassman, the CrossFit community, and basic CrossFit methodology. I encourage you to use this blog post as a starting point for your own questions and research!
-Coach Sonja Rootvik
(1) G. Glassman. “Understanding CrossFit.” The CrossFit Journal, Issue 56, 1 April 2007. (Online) Available from: http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_56-07_Understanding.pdf. (Accessed May 2019.)
(2) K. Bowler, C. McDonald, and N. Shatila. CrossFit Level One Certification Course, presented at CrossFit Belltown, Seattle, WA. 20-21 August 2016.
(3) CrossFit Pierce County, “CrossFit Certification Seminar Notes.” 10-13 February 2006. Pages 3-5. (Online) Available from: https://www.crossfit.com/legacy-pdf/cf-info/FEB06CFNotesNoPics.pdf. (Accessed May 2019.)
(4) C. Paoli. “The Skill Transfer of the Burpee.” The CrossFit Journal, 20 August 2012. (Online video) Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EhR1xhexQs&t=17s. (Accessed May 2019.)
(5) M. Lloyd. “The Neuroendocrine Response.” Mountain Strong,2 October 2017. (Online) Available from: https://www.mountainstrongtraining.com/the-neuroendocrine-response/. (Accessed May 2019.)
(6) G. Glassman. “What is Crossfit?” The CrossFit Journal, 28 November 2009. (Online) Available from: http://journal.crossfit.com/2009/11/what-is-crossfit.tpl. (Accessed May 2019.)
(7) G. Glassman. “Squat Clinic.” The CrossFit Journal, 1 December 2002. (Online) Available from: http://journal.crossfit.com/2002/12/squat-clinic-by-greg-glassman.tpl#featureArticleTitle. (Accessed May 2019.)
(8) CrossFit At Home, CrossFit.Com. (Online) Available from: https://www.crossfit.com/at-home. (Accessed May 2019)
(9) CrossFit Inc., Adapted from Lectures by G. Glassman. “Fitness, Luck, and Health.” The CrossFit Journal, 16 August 2016. (Online) Available from: http://journal.crossfit.com/2016/08/fitness-luck-and-health.tpl. (Accessed May 2019.)
The definition of CrossFit is “constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.” Over the next three blog posts we will be discussing what this definition means, and how it applies to our everyday lives as CrossFitters.
Part one: Constantly Varied
CrossFit includes elements from all types of sports and athletics, from gymnastics to powerlifting, endurance sports to yoga, strongman events to martial arts. It is highly recommended that we learn and play new sports regularly, and here at DCF we encourage members to “opt outside” the box for a variety of activities. We do not specialize in any one type of training, but try to get a broad and general knowledge of all of them.
I remember being blown away at my CrossFit Level One training when our flowmaster told us that each of us was fitter than the person with the heaviest deadlift or the person with the fastest mile time in the world. It’s crazy to think about, but it’s true! Because CrossFitters train multiple movements and disciplines, we are generally more fit than athletes who specialize in one thing. One of my favorite CrossFit quotes says, “Outrun a lifter, outlift a runner.” CrossFit athletes may not be the best in any one event, but we are Jacks- and Jills-of-all-trades.
One of the cornerstones of CrossFit is the “WOD”, or Workout of the Day. Every single day you walk into a CrossFit box you will see a new workout on the board, and this is no accident; it is planned and purposeful. CrossFit is a General Physical Preparedness (GPP) program, meaning that we train for the known, the unknown, the likely, and the unlikely events that might happen in life. You can’t be ready for anything if you are doing the same workouts over and over.
So what does this constant variance look like in our workouts? Well, there are many factors that differ in each workout we do. Some of these are external factors, such as the elevation or humidity, how smoky the air is, how much sleep we’ve gotten, or what music is playing. These factors can all have an effect on us, but are largely out of our hands. Focusing on the things we can control, CrossFit coaches program variance in four major categories: time, reps, load, and movements.
Time: We have workouts spanning from two minutes to over an hour, and encourage our athletes to take their fitness outside of the box for even longer events that might take several hours. This constant variance of time forces our bodies to use different metabolic pathways, and to not get locked into using only one fuel source.
Reps: We vary the reps and distance in our WODs. We might program a 1-rep-max squat, or have 300 squats in a workout. We might row 100 meters or 10,000 meters. This approach is incredibly different than the typical “globo-gym” programming of 3 rounds of 8-12 reps in a handful of movements.
Load: Some CrossFit workouts are long and light, some are long and heavy. Some workouts are short and light, some are short and heavy. We are constantly switching up load! A typical gym-rat might be able to lift a heavy load, but how does that ability change when their heart rate is already high from the rest of a WOD? It’s also important to note that “heavy” doesn’t necessarily mean “harder”; I have been equally destroyed in workouts using a 100-pound barbell and a PVC pipe.
Movements: In the last 7 days alone (at the time of writing), 24 separate movements have been programmed in DCF’s workouts. I can easily think of dozens more that we use on a regular basis. This constant variance engages our entire body and mind, and keeps us continually learning and improving. We have gymnastics movements (moving our bodies through space), weight lifting movements (moving an external load), and monostructural, cyclical movements like running, rowing, biking, etc., and we combine all of these movements into thousands of different WODs.
Our WODs might seem random to the untrained eye, but your coaches (namely, Shane) are purposeful in programming them. We use constant variance to give you the highest fitness level possible. We train our athletes for all types of physical demands, because we can’t predict what life will throw at us. Will you need to sprint up a hill to get to the scene of an accident, or carry someone to safety? Will your grandchildren want to play tag with you in the park? Do you want to try a new sport? Well, CrossFit’s constant variance will keep you ready for these things, and so much more.
Thanks for reading! On the next blog post we’ll be focusing on Functional Movements: What are they, and why do they work?
1. Tell us about your first day at the box? How did you get to DCF?
I’m so glad I shared some of my physical limitations with the staff and was still encouraged to try CrossFit to see if that didn’t solve some of my problems. My balance was my biggest concern. Even stepping up on the curb, I would only do it when I could grab someone’s arm or I could steady myself by leaning on a parked car. After only a couple of months at Cross Fit I can now navigate curbs feeling completely steady.
2. What keeps you coming to DCF?
I really appreciate the way exercises can be adjusted for my level of expertise without berating me. All the other class members also continually bolster my morale rather than making me feel inferior to them. I was amazed that you recognized the weakness in my left arm (because I had broken it a few years ago and have favored it ever since) and were able to structure exercises to help build up the lost muscle tone in that arm. You did the same for my knee.
3. What do you tell people in the community about CrossFit?
I’ve shared my enthusiasm for CrossFit with a lot of people. Some of them were under the false impression that it is only for the extreme muscle builders. After sharing with them my first hand experiences, a couple of them said they were going to try it out. I hope they do so that they can know first hand what a warm and supportive group it is; not only the coaching staff, but members of the classes too.
4. What are some of the things that have changed for you outside of DCF?
I enjoyed my time in Hawaii trying to get enough exercise in so that I don’t lose the muscle tone I have developed at DCF - it was nearly impossible! Nothing can replace a coach and fellow classmates cheering you on. Another thing that has changed for me is my choice of chairs. My muscles had deteriorated to the place where I looked for chairs to sit in that weren’t too low and had arms. Even then I had to push hard with my hands to get up. Now I can easily stand up from most any chair.
5. What advice would you give someone On The FEnce about trying CrossFit?
I’m hoping that my example of what the elderly (I’m 85) can accomplish through proper coaching and encouragement, will be a catalyst for other people my age to try it out.
Efficiency is everything
The rower is a simple machine and the process of rowing is not all that complicated or technical but when you start racking up the meters and spending many hours sitting on that not so comfortable seat, being efficient in your movement is absolutely critical. The Concept 2 rower has many features and programs built into that when fully understood offer a huge amount of information that can greatly improve your rowing efficiency. By taking the time to study these programs and how they work, you can see significant increases in your calories per hour, better split times, increased endurance and stamina. Let’s take a look at some of these features:
The Force Curve
Whenever I coach someone on how to begin rowing I typically break it down into three positions starting with the leg drive, then opening the hips and finishing with the arm pull which brings the handle to the lower chest. The movement is very similar to that of the clean, meaning you always start by pushing with the legs, rapidly opening the hips and then bending the arms only after full hip extension. By bringing these parts together we are able to row one full stroke and by doing it efficiently and with correct timing we are able to create much more power and for a very long time.
To help us become more efficient, the Concept 2 rower has a handy feature called the “force curve graph” and it is a great way to visually tell how efficient your rowing technique is. It is something I highly recommend viewing during your warm ups and workouts. When looking at the graph the Y axis (vertical line) represents your power output and the X axis (horizontal line) represents time and your goal when rowing is to have a nice “round” line graph representing smooth power output for as long as possible. This also shows that the timing of your leg drive, hip opening and arm pull are correct.
On the flip side, the force curve can also help diagnose where your problem area is in any given stroke and what area you need to improve. For example, if your graph has a sudden increase and then drops off quickly it usually means your timing at the “catch” or very start of the stroke is too fast and too much force is being applied with your legs. This often leads to a high heart rate and early fatigue. And then there is the “double mountain” type of curve that gets its name for good reason, it often looks like a steep mountain range with two peaks and typically means that the timing of the legs, hips and arm pull is incorrect.
I highly recommend viewing the force curve whenever you warm up so that you can get your technique dialed in before your next workout. Simply hit your “display” button until you get to the “force curve” screen like the one shown to the right.
The Pace Boat
For those who have been rowing for awhile you are probably well aware of what your comfortable or doable pace is for short, medium and long distance rows is. This number is typically located towards the top of the screen and is displayed as either calories per hour or your 500 meter split time depending on what type of rowing you are doing. Your pace can be tracked in real time or as an average with the latter typically being the most valuable during a long distance row.
The great thing about the pace boat feature is that it gives you a target to shoot for during your workout in the form of an animated boat that you have to keep up with during your workout. Before you begin your row you simply program the distance that you plan to complete and then enter in your desired pace at the bottom of the screen where it says “pace boat.” Now during your row you will have to maintain or go at a faster pace then the boat otherwise you will fall behind. For those of you that are competitive, it’s a great incentive and more visually appealing than simply looking at numbers on a screen. During most of my 10k and half marathon rows I would row at a slightly faster pace so that I could get ahead of the boat and stop for a drink of water and not fall behind or be able to catch up easier.
Slow Your Row
As you row you should be thinking about driving hard with your legs because this is where most of your power comes from, and as a matter of fact it’s been said by many coaches that you should always think of each rowing stroke as a push, not a pull. This push, or drive of the legs, always begins at the beginning of the rowing stroke and is often called the catch. This is also where you should feel “connected” to the machine which simply means as soon as you begin pushing with your legs there should be immediate tension on the chain but to do this we have to pay attention to our “stroke rate” which is located on the upper right part of your Concept 2 monitor and shown as “s/m”. Those new to rowing tend to get into a bad habit of rowing too fast or having too high of a stroke rate and that often leads to lower or inconsistent power output. This would look like a very shallow curve on the force curve or a sudden spike with a drop off. By slowing the time in between each stroke you can actually generate more power and travel a longer distance for every stroke while also increasing your recovery time and endurance. Next time you row experiment a little and see where you have the best 500 meter time, calories per hour or highest wattage. As an example, if you normally row at 28 strokes per minute, try rowing at 26 strokes per minute while really concentrating on using your legs. Combine this with the force curve and you can easily fine tune your rowing technique to find where you are most efficient.
The Infamous Damper Setting
In my opinion one of the most misunderstood and often misused settings on the Concept 2 is the damper setting. This is the sliding adjustment on the side of the round flywheel housing that is numbered from 1 to 10 that controls the amount of air entering the machine. It should not be considered a resistance or intensity adjustment. When rowing, the intensity is always determined by how hard you drive with your legs and how fast you can get that fan spinning inside that housing. To determine where you should have that damper set to depends on the person and the type of workout that you are doing. A person who is proficient at Olympic weightlifting, is a fast sprinter or can lift heavy weight may be more suited to the lower end of the damper setting because of their ability to move quickly, maintain high intensity and have well trained “fast twitch” muscle fibers. On the other hand a person who is more of an endurance athlete and comfortable with longer workouts may be better off towards the top end of the setting because of their well developed “slow twitch” muscle fibers and comfort with lower intensity movements. If you don’t know what kind of athlete you are, sticking with setting number 5 is just fine and works well for most people.
So now that we know what the damper setting does and why it’s important, we can accurately adjust it by figuring out our “drag factor” which is a program in the Concept 2 that allows you to pinpoint exactly where your setting should be. This is important because each machine is different and your setting will change depending on what rowing machine you are currently using. To find what “drag factor” works best for you will take a little experimenting and time but once you figure it out your long distance rowing efficiency will greatly improve. There are many theories and workouts out there that attempt to find the correct drag factor, but the one I have used and experimented with a couple times is from Dark Horse rowing and shown in the included video. The workout will take some time but by the end you will have a huge amount of data to help you come up with your correct number. If you are taking part in the 100k challenge you can also review your rowing performance at the end of your workout and even save it by using a USB drive (that you connect before your begin rowing) and by changing your damper each workout you should get a pretty good idea on where you should be. After you have found your ideal drag factor remember it and always set your damper based on that number because every machine is different.
These are the biggest things I learned while taking part in the 100k challenge and by experimenting around with the above settings and features I was able to row more efficiently and maintain a consistent pace each time I jumped on the rower. By using the features built into the Concept 2 rower your workouts will become much more effective and you will be able to use the machine to its full potential. There are so many features including games that are designed to improve your rowing technique, and even built in bluetooth so that you can wirelessly link up to four machines and race your friends, which is a blast and something I highly recommend doing at least once. Check out these features and experiment a little but most importantly have fun!
-Coach Shane Orchard
Today marks the beginning of a brand new year and a great opportunity to set some new life changing goals. Cliche as it may seem, setting goals at the start of a new year is very rewarding mentally and gives us targets to shoot for; a feeling of purpose and we feel great when we finally succeed at reaching those goals.
Almost everyone enthusiastically sets goals for themselves on New Years Day but unfortunately those big plans and goals typically fall to the wayside shortly after. One of the big reasons is that we are not held accountable. We mentally tell ourselves that we are going to make big changes but then soon forget or go back to old habits because we have no one to hold us accountable for our actions.
Ready for a challenge?
I have a challenge for you, one that will hopefully help you reach your goals in the new year and I encourage everyone to take part in this challenge whether you are a member of the DCF community or not. This challenge is simple and goes like this:
After your workout today I want you to right down one goal that you have for the new year in the notes section of Wodify. This goal can be anything not just a fitness goal. Whatever big change you want to make or dream you have this is your opportunity to let everyone know. If you are not a member of our box just write your goal in the comments section of this blog.
I also want you to write down when you plan to reach that goal and please be as specific as possible. This is a big part of this challenge so don’t skip it.
It’s that simple, by writing down your goal and the date that you plan to reach that goal, you will be held accountable by everyone in our DCF community, or anyone else you choose to share it with. Instead of just thinking about it now you will be more likely to act on it simply because its now out in the open and your friends will ask you about that goal as that date draws closer and closer. Also, one of the coaches will touch base with you from time to time, making sure you are progressing toward your goal, think of them as your accountability partner.
Set yourself up for success
“A dream written down with a date becomes a goal”
“A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan”
“A plan backed up with action turns into result”
The cool thing about this challenge is that there is no end to it and once you have accomplished one goal you move on to the next one, then the next and the next. By not only having goals but also having people hold you accountable to those goals, you will set yourself up for success and anything is possible.
So let’s get started, this challenge is for everybody whether you are a member of the DCF community or not. If you have a big goal or change that you want to make in the new year let us know by leaving a message in the comments section.
-Coach Shane Orchard
What’s that you say? No, I’m not rallying to rename that terribly pesky insect we all know too well, nor am I ripping off a Skippyjon Jones book (for those of you who’ve had young kids in the last several years.) This is the story of my ketogenic diet experiment while maintaining my usual pescatarian lifestyle.
Pescatarians do not eat other meat, just fish and seafood. That’s been me for quite some time. For a handful of personal reasons. So when I embarked on this experiment for fun, I wasn’t willing to compromise the animal protein aspect of my diet which made it more interesting...and more expensive! The ketogenic diet, or keto, as I shall forever after here refer to it as, found itself historically used to treat children with epilepsy--like we’re talking since the 1920’s here (anyone remember Lorenzo’s Oil? Similar concept.) In the last few months, keto kept sweeping across my radar--for some reason it repeatedly cropped up, probably because it has bloomed into another hyped up, quick, let’s get some products on the shelves type of fame, and potentially because once you read an article online, suddenly you are flooded with similar texts as the oracle (aka Google) creepily does. But also, I listen to the colorful CrossFit.com podcasts, mostly on long bike rides, because they are insanely long, just as this blog entry is about to be, and those guys pointed me towards the documentary Magic Pill, which is based on following several people through many weeks of a strict keto diet. The sum of these piqued my interest--so many claims, I wanted to check it out firsthand.
I typically eat fairly cleanly, but by the ending of summer I definitely was ready to evict the tater tots and nachos from my diet for at least a month--so I set out to go pescaketo for four weeks. Phase one, I bounced back and forth between Andy’s Market and Huckleberry’s at Super 1 to acquire some keto basics. Why? Because keto is high fat, medium protein and looooow carbs. I used the: Total Keto Diet App to track. It rated highly of all of the free ones available. The app set my macros, after checking on my weight, bmi, fitness level, etc. to 140 grams of fat, 95 grams of protein and 25 net carbs. This means the carbs are calculated by subtracting the carbs from fiber from the total carbs and they don’t count against you. But 25...my favorite pre-workout bars have more than that in one little package. So quite a bit of my pantry and refrigerator had to be set aside for awhile. I stocked up on my oils: coconut, avocado, olive and some specially ordered from Bulletproof Coffee.
Add to that, lots of avocados and nuts (but not cashews, my favorite; too many carbs), eggs and heavy whipping cream, loads of fish and shrimp, butter and more butter. Gone was the fruit, except for berries, many of the sweeter veggies, mostly just the dark green and leafy and cauliflower. Some nut flour. Full fat cheeses and olives. The easy side of keto for me is that sweets don’t call my name most of the time, but I did invest in some Stevia products and a sweetener called Swerve.
I started every day with a dose of Bulletproof coffee (coffee blended with ghee and coconut oil or Brain Octane Oil as pictured above.) They warn you to go easy on the Brain Octane Oil as it is a super concentrated oil made from MCT or medium chain triglycerides. Hitting your body with a high dose of these when not adjusted can lead to some extra bathroom visits. For me, I found that I couldn’t drink my coffee before my morning workout like I normally do because it quickly gave me a stomach ache. The why behind the oil is basically that it is supposed to fill in some of the nutritional gaps in the keto diet and send quick energy to the brain. I now am definitely a fan of Bulletproof Coffee and found that my one cup in the morning carried me through the day and I cut out an additional dose of caffeine in the afternoon that I’d grown accustomed to.
Breakfast beyond the coffee included eggs in some form, a hit of cheese and a half of an avocado. Sometimes a dollop of homemade mayo. Oh yeah...homemade mayonnaise. I’m never going back. Incredibly easy to make and so tasty: avocado oil mayo. Throw an egg in the Cuisinart, let it get to room temperature, add a shot of fresh lemon juice, yellow mustard and salt. Very slowly drizzle in a cup of avocado oil while mixing. It takes five minutes and is divine. If you don’t like mayo, well, I don’t quite understand you and we probably won’t be close friends, but that’s okay.
Lunch usually served up as some combo of canned fish with more mayo, nuts and a serving of a veggie. Maybe some seaweed or a bit of miso soup, maybe some string cheese and a few olives. Dinner often looked like this:
A couple more eggs, avocado, grilled shrimp or salmon in a heap of butter or oil, mushrooms sauteed in more butter or oil, some mayo on the side, a mound of sprouts or kale or spinach. Luckily I’m not a wine or beer drinker, so if it was the weekend I could still have a bit of my favorite libations on the rocks--I tried a few rounds of Stevia mixers too, but I have discovered that no matter how much I want to enjoy Stevia, I just don’t. It’s sickeningly sweet to me in even the slightest amounts and has this off flavor that some describe as tinny, but I mostly just think of as overpoweringly sweet.
After the first couple of days staying true to under 25 grams of carbs, the most noticeable benefit was the relief of any amount of bloatedness--the gluten belly. Like my shorts instantly felt looser. I also didn’t get very hungry--eating a high fat diet leaves you feeling quite satisfied most of the time. My energy felt fine, workouts stayed solid, no other big changes except I was constantly thirsty (as I’d been warned by the literature) with a drought infested mouth--oh so dry. I was anticipating the keto flu (as the body transitions from burning sugar to burning fat) to strike at anytime, but by day four I still felt fine. Almost euphoric, to tell the truth. Like a low level chronic high in which my brain seemed really in tune with its surroundings at all times. Kind of fun, all in all. I was supplementing fish oil and higher doses of magnesium than usual, using plenty of salt--the word was that these would stave off the flu symptoms. So as I slid into the end of day four of euphoria, I was surprised to find out that everyone in the world hated me. Every single person. The weight of all of the plights of the universe came crashing down and I found myself heave sobbing for several hours into the night, talking to a close friend on the phone who later, yes, revealed that he couldn’t figure out what happened to his stable, even, rational Genie. And low and behold, it turned out I may have turned into an emotional wreck for the night as all of the carbohydrates finally dried up in me and I hit the lowest of low. Seriously--I feel extra sorry now for folks who struggle with lows from either PMS or blood sugar ups and downs. The lucky usual me has neither, so to be smacked with this unfamiliar wave really threw me. After a day or two, I swung back up to emotionally even. Meanwhile, I supplemented a bit more with some Nuun tabs to get the potassium I was lacking. A little over a week in, at the box, we had a death-by-burpee workout. I distinctly remember this being the first time I noticed a lull in my workout--and it came as a combo package. My body didn’t have the same get-up-and-go, but most strangely for me, was that my brain function had dropped. Because if you know me, you know I’m not too keen on backing off or easing up. But here I was, facing round 14 and my head talked my body into chilling out. Calling it good enough for the day. And after a few minutes of recovery, let me tell you, if my body could have walked away from my brain, it would have.
But then I remembered, “Oh hey, that keto thing you’re doing...think it may be playing into this whole sitcharoo?” And for the next few weeks I’d have to remind myself of this often. A few days after this, my lower left abdomen started to hurt, so much that I was often seen clutching my side and slightly stooped over. This inconvenience seemed to come and go so I put it out of my mind whenever it was absent. After a week I’d dropped five pounds and I started testing for ketosis with these strips:
And for the next week I typically showed small amounts of ketosis success or light pink on the strip. The idea here was to get to a darker shade and stay in a state ketosis. Eagerly I anticipated this success. The claims being that I’d be burning fat for energy as my body adjusted, and that my brain function would be amazing and my workouts kicked into overdrive. Sweet--I was ready to experience Turbo Genie. Now, keep in mind that I also was starting to experience a build up of insomnia nights. I typically find myself experiencing insomnia every several days, par for the post 40 single mom course...but now--the nights were stacking up, all in a row. And that abdomen pain? Well, it kept coming on stronger and I started to Google all of my feared options: gallstones? Kidney stones? Exploding spleen? Appendectomy in my future? Until all signs pointed to that one dreaded one: constipation. For you see, I am a real regular gal in that department. And yeah, I’d noticed the frequency shift over the two weeks--but it made sense--no extra fiber and carbs, no extra visits to the bathroom.
I upped my veggies as most I could, increased water even more, even though I was drinking about a gallon more a day already than my usual. The test strips showed that I was indeed in full ketosis, and I read a bunch of concurring opinions that once you hit that point you could up your carbs to 50 or so and your body would stay there. This sounded like a good idea to me, for all of the uncomfortable reasons. In general I’d say I was just feeling overall yucky too. Consuming so much fat was fun at first--butter, yay! Extra mayo, yay! But over two weeks in I felt like puking when I sat down to my high fat breakfast in the morning. I grabbed some paleo granola that still fit into the macro count and alternated that with a shot of heavy whipping cream in it to offset the feeling, but still often felt like my stomach was up in my chest, ready to toss back the oily coating inside of me.
And my workouts now...ha! At least I could laugh at them at this point--my runs felt so sloggy, like every moment was mile 17 of a marathon. My lifts felt so weak--like most days I’d double check the barbell to make sure Shane hadn’t slipped the 45 pounder in there for fun. For the most part, my brain felt relatively normal--still no extra special super power feeling though. I was also now back at work after summer, which always is a tough shift and I feel extra tired when first turning teacher mode back on--but this overall tired and gross feeling kept hanging out with me.
I’d tried a bunch of recipes for keto baked things that involved substituted ingredients--the Swerve sweetener, which tastes like the fake sweetener it is. I’ve always detested the sickening chemical taste of those things. I’d tried using coconut flour recipes--some were decent, some tasted like wood shavings. The thing I always start to question in these nutritional situations is this: if you have to work so hard and be so inventive and use strange substitutes that may or may not be “healthier,” for you, it seems you are straying from the original purpose. For example, if you are vegetarian and eat tons of processed soy filler and products with fifteen chemicals in there--how can that be a better mission than eating clean, local meats and seafood? I don’t eat hot dogs, but I also don’t eat pretend hot dogs--they both don’t fall under the category of “real food,” for me. So I felt like this trend was happening in the keto world too--how to trick yourself into feeling like you were enjoying something that was a substitute for what you wish you were indulging in.
And my abdomen kept cramping. And I wasn’t sleeping--and managing the behavior of at-risk teens plus my own young children on days without much sleep is about as fun as a week of double-under workouts. And I knew that this wasn’t going to be my permanent lifestyle--I’d entertained the thought early on, that if this went well and I felt like a rock star, why not keep it up?
But I didn’t feel like a rock star. I didn’t feel like Turbo Genie. And I just didn’t feel very good. Labor day weekend came and I was faced with my fantasy football friends in town to draft and hang with as well as more friends staying with me. Tempting treats on every counter, lots of yummy carbs everywhere. And what actually broke me? A bowl of cantaloupe. I’d chopped it up for my kids and houseguests while fixing a big breakfast spread for all. And my brain cracked. I wolfed down oodles of fresh Hermiston melon, sweet and juicy. Was I really going to hit the end of summer and abstain from all of the amazing local produce available? No, no I was not.
And so, my pescaketo experiment came to an end a week early--three solid weeks, a week shy of my goal. And I’m not one who likes to give up on my own goals, but this one I forgave myself for very quickly, for when that night (the cantaloupe was not the sole culprit of my carb binge that day) came I slept so hard--the first solid sleep in weeks--I was out cold and woke up bright and shiny, like I’d crawled out of my hibernation cave. And that Monday was a hero wod at the box for Labor Day. It was crazy how quickly the carbs kicked in--I had limitless energy that day--deadlifts unbroken, joyful, bouncy box jumps and a that feeling of my body and brain syncing up to keep me in the moment and locked into the workout.
By no means does my conclusion need be advice for anyone else. I’m sure that many people are out there experiencing wonderful keto results.
Good for them. I applaud them. I wish them well. In fact I toast them with my margarita glass and I’d offer them some chips and salsa, but darn it, they can’t have them. So I guess I’ll keep them all for myself.
- Coach Genie Huntemann
The world of nutrition is a complicated place. You have people, magazines, books and podcasts telling you hundreds of different things about what you should be eating, what you shouldn’t be eating, when you should be eating, and why you should be eating. There are fad diets and quick fixes that change every year. It can be overwhelming to say the least! Unless you have a very specific goal that is performance or weight driven, then your nutrition does not have to be all that complicated. I do count macros, but that is because I have very specific CrossFit goals and choose to have more precision in my diet, but this is not necessary for everyone. For most people it is very simple - you just want to feel good, be in good health and crush your workouts! With that in mind, if I had to pick one simple piece of nutrition advice that could apply to anyone, it would be: "Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants". This is advice Ben Bergeron gives in his podcast Simplifying Nutrition and I could not agree with it more. I would actually encourage you to listen to that episode as it has tons of great stuff in it. I will dive into what eating real food means and how you can apply it, and then answer a few nutrition related questions from our members at the end.
The concept of eating real food may sound too simple and vague, but it really isn’t, so let’s talk about what real food is. Real food comes from plants or animals. This includes foods that are in a whole, unprocessed or very minimally processed state, like animal meat, local or grass-fed dairy, eggs, ancient and whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and fruits. Real food is perishable and cannot be stored for long periods of time before spoiling. Real food can be found in the perimeters of the grocery store, at your local butcher, at the farmer’s market or local farmstead, or in your own garden at home. Real food does not have weird ingredient lists. If you cannot identify some of the ingredients on the label, chances are you should not be eating it as a daily staple or a large portion of your diet. The issue with nearly all processed foods is that many of the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients have been stripped away during processing, so you end up missing out on a lot of the health benefits when eating those things. Why are nutrients important? They give us energy, keep us strong, assist in survival, and prevent illness!
So how do you maintain a healthy yet realistic diet, mostly from real food, without giving up everything you love? One of my favorite approaches is the one Alan Aragon discusses in his book The Lean Muscle Diet. In his words, “a quality diet is 80% whole and minimally processed foods you like, 10% whole and minimally processed foods you don’t necessarily like but don’t hate, and 10% pure junky goodness.” Essentially, 90% real and unprocessed foods and 10% of whatever your heart desires. Some other nutrition coaching companies believe in a slightly more flexible 80/20 approach. Either way, you can see the key is to have the majority of your diet coming from real food. What does this balanced approach actually look like? Here is a fun infographic from Carter Good that I think sums it up well from a daily/weekly standpoint: The 80/20 Rule.
It is important to remember that even if a food is considered 'healthy' or 'clean' you can still eat too much of it, so that is why portions also become important! For example, nuts and nut butter are considered a healthy fat, but a small portion goes a long way. Something like 1 ounce of raw nuts (about 14g of fat/126 calories) or 1-2 tablespoons of peanut butter (7-15g of fat/63-135 calories) is about the right portion of fat intake for the average person in a meal. However, if you look at what people are actually eating, it is multiple handfuls of nuts, and heaping tablespoons of peanut butter that run way beyond those portions! This is where a lot of people get stuck and I hear the words, "I don't understand what is wrong. My diet is clean, I eat mostly real food and nothing is changing". Chances are that yes, you are eating the right foods, but maybe not the right amounts! A good way to estimate your portion sizes for each meal is just by using your own hand for reference. We all have hands and they are generally relative to your body size, so it works great when building your plates and deciding how much of each type of food to have. Generally speaking, for each of your 3-4 meals per day, you would want to include a balanced plate with protein (meat, eggs, dairy, or plant based protein) the size of your palm, a starchy carb (grains, potato, fruit) the size of your cupped hand, about a thumb size portion of fat (olive oil, nut butter, avocado, coconut) and the rest in vegetables.
If you can adhere to a 90/10 or even 80/20 approach of "eating real food, not too much, mostly plants", then you should see improvements in both your health and performance; no macro or calorie counting necessary, and no banishing all the foods you love.
Q&A – A random sampling of nutrition questions from our DCF members
1. I've been trying to start a better nutrition path...but I have always failed within a week. Is there a good way to start new and better eating habits for it not to be SO hard?
Absolutely! To me people don't fail diets, diets fail them, and this is because many of them are unsustainable or unrealistic. I think a lot of people look at a change in nutrition as 'All or Nothing': starting over, eliminating everything you love, restriction, eating foods you dislike. Look at it as a lifestyle and habit change and not a temporary 'diet'. You want to be healthy and feel good forever, not just to reach a goal and then revert back to where you started, and continue that pattern indefinitely. A good approach would be to start small by beginning to ADD more nutrient-dense foods that you enjoy into your current diet. Don't remove anything just yet, but start incorporating more real foods, and start paying attention to portion sizes. Begin to look at and understand your meals. Are they complete? Do they all include protein, vegetables, quality carbohydrates and a trace amount of fats? Compare your daily intake to the 80/20 rule. Are you getting in mostly real food each day? Do you cook most of your own meals? Once this is dialed in, THEN you can begin to break things down further based on results, but don't try to do everything at once. Decide in the beginning what your non-negotiables are and what you absolutely do not want to give up, and then make it a point to make trade offs to let go of some foods in order to incorporate more nutrient-dense options. For example, if you love Mexican food maybe you keep homemade corn tortillas in your diet but you eliminate tortilla chips. Maybe you love cereal for breakfast but could start opting for old fashioned oatmeal instead. Or if you are going to a party and know you will want cake and ice cream, you don't also have pizza and beer beforehand and choose a healthier meal instead, to balance it out. Finally, try to be patient. With any change in nutrition there will be ups and downs, there will be plateaus, there will be many trade offs and lots of temptations. Don't give up the second things get hard or go wrong - pick back up and try again.
2. What’s better between low carb/fat options and more natural foods with higher carb/fat content?
I believe in eating as many foods as possible in their most natural state, if you have access to them and they work within your budget, so often this does mean a higher fat content for certain products. The question of which is better depends on your goals. Organic produce, grains, grass fed meat, and dairy will be the freshest and have the least amount of handling and processing if that is your priority. It doesn’t get any better than getting food straight from the source! However, if your priority lies in losing body fat by implementing a lower fat or lower carb diet, then you do have to make certain trade offs here, so decide what is most important for you to keep and what you do not mind giving up. If you love real peanut butter then maybe you start opting for 1 tablespoon instead of 2 each day so you can have that healthy fat, but not overdo it. Maybe you get all your meat locally which generally has high fat content, but you buy the lower fat yogurt and dairy, or use egg whites instead of whole eggs to keep your fat intake lower. When it comes to carbs, most real food is fairly low in carbs as is, with the exception of certain fruits and grains, and even then, those would be important to include in your diet for the variety of nutrient intake – so sacrificing some processed or high sugar carbs to include these natural ones would be the diet trade off here, which to me is a good one to make. Remember the 80/20 rule!
3. How important is it really to eat organic and/or non GMO?
This comes down to personal preference. It is important if you want to avoid pesticides or preservatives that are used to extend the life of a product or any processing that alters it. You can take in more nutrients and less toxins from a product that is organic, according to some studies, and there is less environmental impact. If you can get food sourced and produced locally it is still going to be your best bet in my opinion, organic or not. But in the off season, it is my preference to choose organic when faced with the choice at a grocery store. For some people the cost of organic is tough to make work, so in the end, as long as it is still mostly real food you are buying, that is going to be better than buying something highly processed or from a box.
- Coach Amy Locati
We were so excited to get a chance to sit down and talk with writer Karlene Ponti about how we started Destination CrossFit, our values, and the reasons we want to share CrossFit with everyone! It really is more than just a place to work out - it is a culture, a community, a place to belong, and a place to become your best. Check out the article here: Union Bulletin Business Monthly Spotlight