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Have Your Cake And Eat It, Too.

Written by Rob Schlicker (via Rob's Blog)

Theoretical Hierarchy of Development, Part 1

The Theoretical Hierarchy of Development is the roadmap in which Trebel makes people fit. The hierarchy, originally sourced from the CrossFit Journal, places Sport at the top. This concept of "Sport" is not limited to just baseball, track, or football. Sport in this case means whatever you are trying to improve outside the gym in regards to health and fitness. It could mean moving better around the house, running a 5k for the first time, keeping up with the other players in your basketball league, or losing 30 pounds. Regardless of what you what you want to improve, being able to move around external loads safely (Weightlifting & Throwing) plays an important role. Before you start throwing around weights, you must be able to control your own bodyweight (Gymnastics). A pre-requisite to any skill work is training the body to use energy efficiently (Metabolic Conditioning). However, at the foundation of becoming fitter lies the most important piece: Nutrition.

Nutrition - "The Foundation"

The foundation in which fitness is improved upon is nutrition. At CrossFit Blacksburg, “Nutrition” is replaced by “Lifestyle.” This bottom tier of the pyramid includes everything outside of your physical training - what you eat, how you sleep, the amount of stress you have, how often you sit in a chair, your alcohol and drug consumption, and anything else that would be considered a lifestyle choice. This lays the foundation of fitness, as no amount of physical exercise will counteract the negative effects of poor lifestyle choices.
Having said that, it should be noted that in order to see noticeable changes in your fitness level, you do not need to adopt an unwavering devotion to optimal nutrition and lifestyle habits at all times. A more sustainable and effective option is to abide by the 80/20 Rule. In order to achieve noticeable results in fitness, which may be fat loss, gaining muscle mass, or increased energy levels, a nutrition and lifestyle plan that gets followed 80% of the time is the minimum effective dose.
The 80/20 Rule
You may be thinking that 80% is a high number, but let’s look at an example. Say you eat on average 4 meals a day (3 large meals and 1 snack), which adds up to 28 meals per week. 20% of those meals will be “cheat meals” which is roughly 5-6 per week. That means that once a day, for 5-6 out of the 7 days in a week, you get one cheat meal. Now, a cheat meal doesn’t mean subbing an entire tub of Häagen-Dazs® Dulce de Leche ice cream for salmon and broccoli. But it does mean having that bit of pasta or a couple of beers at dinner. This is to say that you will get a reprieve from your diet plan often enough to keep you sane and happy. Because we all know the grumpy diet nut who eats 100% Paleo everyday and scoffs at the lowly carb eaters out there, and that dude is drain. I would know, I’ve been that dude before and it is no fun for him or his friends.
Word to the Wise
Plan your cheat meals on the same day. In The 4-Hour Body, Tim Ferriss explains the benefits of why. By keeping your caloric intake to moderate levels 6 out of 7 days a week and shocking the system with a higher than normal amount of calories (and probably sugar, too!) in one 12-hour period, your body undergoes a sharp spike in metabolism. Dieting in this way has been shown to actually improve fat loss for two reasons. 1) It kicks your metabolism into high gear for days after the cheat day and 2) It will dramatically decrease the desire to binge for the rest of the week. Ultimately, as Tim Ferriss states so beautifully, “its the perfect example of having your cake and eating it, too.”
You can extrapolate the 80/20 Rule out to all aspects of your lifestyle. Try following a strict 7-8 hour sleep schedule Sunday through Friday night. Then, when your co-workers go out on Saturday for drinks, you can still join them without worrying about your staying up past your bedtime. But make sure you’ve earned it. I promise you, you’ll enjoy the night out far more after following your sleep schedule the previous 5-6 nights.

Everything You Have Been Taught About Dieting Is Wrong

Since you were in grade school, every health class has promoted the USDA’s Food Pyramid. The older version (used through 2005) is on top, the current version is on the bottom.
Both versions of the food pyramids follow the same basic rules:
  1. The majority of your daily calories should come from grains.
  2. The second largest source of calories comes from vegetables and fruits.
  3. Meat products should be consumed 2-3 times a day.
  4. Fats should be eaten sparingly.
In short, the USDA recommended diet is high-carbohydrate, moderate-protein, low-fat. I argue that this diet not only correlates with our country’s ridiculously high rate of cardiovascular disease and obesity but is in fact a leading cause of it.

The Deadly Carb

It makes sense that grains would be the focal point of a government issued diet. Grains are easy to manufacture and store for long periods of time while remaining relatively cheap to produce. They are an easy way to keep people fed. However, there is a fundamental problem with high-carbohydrate diets.
The Glycemic index (GI) measures the effect foods have on blood sugar levels. Foods with a high-GI are digested rapidly, causing a spike in blood sugar. Foods with a low-GI are digested much slower resulting in a gradual rise of blood sugar levels and do not spike to as high of level as low-GI foods. A spike in blood sugar correlates with a spike in insulin. Insulin is in charge of lowering blood sugar levels in the body. But where does blood sugar go? If it is not burned quickly for energy it is converted to body fat. So, eating a diet of high-GI foods actually promotes fat gain.
Moral of the story: when eating carbohydrates, stick to low GI foods. This will keep your blood sugar levels in check and reduce fat gain.

The Fat Myth

There is a stigma behind the word “fat.” Because our society associates fat with a negative connotation, we often avoid high-fat foods because we think they are fattening. Which makes complete and total sense based on the dogma we have been told. But, what if I told you the key to fat-loss is consuming more fat?
“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” ~ Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky
Consider this thought experiment: Imagine your ancestors are from Northern Europe and it is winter time. Snow has coated the ground for the last 2 weeks. Edible plants are hard to come by. Your predominate source of food is what you hunt or fish for. Did your ancestors survive? Obviously, yes, because you are here. If so, how? They didn’t have bagels, canned soup, or pasta to eat. Their diet consisted predominately of fat and protein and they weren’t obese because of it. Your body has an incredible ability to not just burn glucose (what carbohydrates break down into) for energy but also burn fat. And it turns out that fat is likely the best source of fuel for your body. Imagine that, your body is designed to burn fat. But when you eat a diet consisting of mostly high-GI foods that provide a quick and easy source of energy, your body never switches to burning fat. This is because your body burns fat more slowly that carbs. So, we have to force the body to burn fat. We do that by restricting carbohydrate intake and increasing quality fat intake.
What % of Fat, Carbohydrate, and Protein Should I Eat?
Everyone is different and we all have genetic predispositions that enable us to process certain foods better than others can. However, the advice I have for you - the advice that applies to the majority of people, let's say 80% or the population - is simple. Eat roughly the same amount (in calories) of each macronutrient, and make sure the quality of each is what you focus on. Have your dinner plate roughly resemble this:
You do not need to get caught up in measuring everything you eat. Instead, enjoy your food and life. Just make sure that you are eating real food and organic/local when possible. Here are my recommended sources of each macronutrient (fat, carbohydrate, protein). When in doubt, stick to the perimeter of the grocery store.
*Note: Food sources do not fall into one category alone. There is a large crossover between the macronutrient profiles. For instance, ground beef contains protein and fat, coconut oil contains fat and carbohydrate, lentils contain carbohydrate and protein. But the following lists help identify the leading macronutrient profile contained in each food source, which makes it easier to plan.
  • Coconut oil
  • Grass-fed butter, Ghee (clarified butter)
  • Full-fat Greek yogurt
  • Olive oil
  • Avocado
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Nut butters
  • Grass-fed red meat
  • Eggs (yolks included)
  • Fish (wild caught)
  • Chicken and pork
  • Tofu
  • Whey/Hemp protein
  • Low-GI vegetables (green, leafy veggies preferred i.e. spinach, broccoli, asparagus)
  • Low-GI fruits (blueberries, tomatoes, etc.)
  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Sauerkraut
What to avoid
  • Grains, Bread, Pasta, Rice
  • Processed sugar
  • Soda (do not drink your calories)
  • Anything with a cartoon character on it​
“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.” ~ The CrossFit Journal​
The Most Important Point
Make sure to forget everything I have said once in a while. Grab that beer, eat a Big Mac, and enjoy the Snickers. Eating well will improve your life but not having any fun will hurt it more. Find what works for you and stick with it. It's better to have a decent diet plan that you stick with for years than the best one out there that gets forgotten about after a few weeks.