I’m not easily rattled by ignorance or people who jump to erroneous conclusions, but lately, I’ve been irritated beyond reproach.
Most of those of you who train at Rebels know I’m not a Nazi when it comes to Paleo, but I do understand enough, have studied and read enough, AND taken over 500 people, some sick and some healthy, through these challenges (20-30 day Paleo-ish diet challenges) over the past eight years, to know that irresponsible dietary and lifestyle decisions repeated over and over again in one’s life will ultimately impact one’s health at some point.
There are 20 and early 30 year olds who’ve been genetically gifted and are naturally lean, and who can eat whatever they want and still “look” the way they do…who will one day in their 40’s or 50’s start to see the results of the dietary and lifestyle decisions they’ve made in the form of many of the lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, rheumatic conditions, heart disease, autoimmune conditions…to name a few. This is what has recently irked me to point of boiling over. I’ve watched (yes, I believe these adjectives) irresponsible and ignorant young athletes purport that it doesn’t matter “what” you eat, as long as a) it fits your macros, or b) it makes you happy, or c) you PR after eating whatever you want. I vehemently disagree and there are people much more highly credentialed than I am who will back me up. I also feel horribly sorry for these people as they ignorance a) will catch up with them eventually and b) is part of the reason CrossFit coaches get a bad rap: bad advice. We are in the health and fitness industry people. You have to promote health and fitness, not donuts and PR’s.
So, I have to convey this information to you for my own conscience.
I wish I had the wherewithal to lay out for you all of the biological things that happen when you exist on a diet of highly refined carbohydrates in percentages beyond those needed by our activity level. Many people I come across at the box or in my day to day are completely uneducated, unknowing, or unwilling to be educated about how this type of diet is or will contribute to problems later in life. Many will say: my parents ate this way. No they didn’t. The hyperpalatability of food, the nutrient deficiencies in the more commonly consumed “foods”, the carbohydrate content in the more commonly consumed foods will lead to higher and higher amounts of these foods being consumed. It’s a scientific fact. This leads to elevated insulin levels throughout the day, which leads to inflammation, which is at the root of every condition I mentioned in paragraph 3.
Carbohydrates are, however, needed to fuel your training. Figuring out your upper limit of carbohydrate intake to fuel your training and not add body fat takes some effort. But for those who’ve gone through the exercises to do that, they have reaped the benefits and saw huge gains in their training and a solid refinement in their ability to control their body composition.
If you can’t exist without (daily) bread, sweets, alcohol, grains of some sort or heaven forbid your chips, dips, candies and mints, you’re headed down the wrong path and are officially addicted to neolithic foods and need help! These foods aren’t real food. The weren’t designed to help your body sustain or build health. They were designed to sell more of that particular food-stuff, and to make you crave more of that food-stuff. Meats, nonstarchy vegetables, fruit, some dairy, some potato or white rice starch, and healthy fat through meats and olive and coconut oils – those are foods.
There is a minimum amount of calories from nutritious foods you need to consume each to to fuel the inner workings of your magnificent body: organs, cells, activity, etc. Ladies: 800 calories won’t cut it. If you are doing that, you are suffering from malnutrition and no amount of supplements will make up for that. Lack of nutrients = lack of health. There are good formulas out there based on your body composition that will reveal where you need be from a calorie standpoint. From there, based on your health and physical activity, you can arrive at a target number of calories and combination of protein, healthy carbohydrates and fat that will fuel your body, your life and your training. Under-eating is one of the most common problems with health and performance we’ve seen at Rebels over the past six years.
In order to avoid loss of muscle mass (hard earned, as we all know so well), you need to ingest enough protein to both repair muscle broken down in training, and also keep you anabolic throughout the day. I’m writing in a forum read by hard-charging athletes – whether you are just starting out or are a veteran CrossFitter, if you are training and not paying attention to your protein intake, you’re, as they say, “pissing in the wind”. Why put forth the effort and not seal the deal by fueling your training. We’re learning more and more about how much protein is required for an average “athlete”, and how those protein needs vary based on your age and the type of training you do. The older you are, we’re learning, the MORE protein you may need to prevent muscle loss and sarcopenia seen over the age of 50. You can’t ignore it.
If I had a nickel for every time someone says to me “but I run when I’m not at the box to get my cardio in”, or “should I do extra cardio in addition to my CrossFit”, or sadly, those who solely do cardio and tell me they think it’s “best for them” or “best for their health”, I’d be retired and living in Bermuda by now. Stop it already! You want muscle mass: ladies and men. It gives you shape on your frame. It is more metabolic than fat and keeps your metabolism higher. It makes you stronger and more functionally fit. It will help you do things later in life that you would otherwise “be too frail to do”. Frailty is not something any of us want or can afford to play with in the future. Frailty causes dependence. Frailty costs you and society a lot of money through healthcare. Stop running yourself to death and get stronger. Stop burning off hard earned muscle. Most of the people who “overcardio” don’t understand the amount of muscle they’re losing because of all the excess cardio, and are also the same people who 1) don’t eat enough protein and 2) don’t eat enough calories in general. Two strikes!
A dear once told me, when we were younger and definitely stupid, “sleep when you’re dead”. Now we know that if you don’t sleep it might very well lead to your death…or at least a myriad of health conditions that could lead to your death. Sleep is vital. Quality sleep is essential. And the right quantity of quality sleep is the secret. There’s certainly an upper limit to sleep, but outside a lazy teenager, I’ve not come across anyone in that boat – ever! 8-10 hours they say is the key. The harder you train, the more sleep you need. The older you are, the more sleep you need. Figure it out. Sometimes I’m embarrassed to say I go to bed at 8:00pm, but there are nights I need to do that to get up at 4:00am. That’s just a fact. It’s not sexy, but it’s healthy.
Your life will take you a lifetime to live. Think about that. Think about the last five years – a lot happened right? Some might say it took forever to get through that five years. Some might say it flew by. Regardless of where you are now, in five years, ten years, fifteen years, your body will change, and hopefully with smart lifestyle changes, it will continue to change for the better! From CrossFit Kids to our Legends Program and everywhere in between, I watch our athletes, my friends, and my family make choices – myself included. I’m unfortunately as critical of myself and my choices and probably more aware of them and their consequences than most. I’ve watched poor choices turn into health conditions. And I’m probably in the midst of watching some evolve as I write this. I’ve watched good choices cure lifestyle diseases before my very eyes. I’ve watched unhealthy people become healthy and healthy people become unhealthy because of bad choices. When I watch a self-proclaimed expert who “thinks” they know what to do, and who purports that very loudly, bang their head against a wall over and over again without any good results; yet they refuse to change or even hear another way to approach their situation, Ed always tell me to arrogantly ask them the next time I see them: “So how’s that working for you?”. If it isn’t, you HAVE TO CHANGE. I’ve heard every excuse. I have made many of them myself and I’m super aware when I’m doing it and when I choose not to train or eat right. But I own my decisions and I don’t blame my genes, my husband or anyone else (sometimes, I blame my job – yea, I do, and that’s an excuse like everyone else’s).
You have the ability to make the right choices and do the right thing for your health. It’s the one thing you pretty much have full control of. I’ve been told your genes load the gun but your environment or lifestyle pulls the trigger. If you’re reading this you’re probably in a position to make good choices and have a huge support structure behind you. So do it. Stop listening to Oprah, Dr. Oz and reading general bullshit fitness magazines. They’re full of airbrushing and hype. Go against the grain. Be a Rebel. Make informed decisions based on solid science – not the latest superfood, super-supplement or magic pill. The only thing that works is intelligence, experimentation and effort. Make it part of your life and it will give you a long, healthy life to live.