A few weeks ago at the start of the Olympics there was a lot of talk about the fact that a bunch of the swimmers, most notably Michael Phelps, had marks from cupping.
There were blog posts, news articles and “experts” weighing in on the subject on TV and all over the internet nonstop for about a week.
All this chatter about a known, but not widespread recovery strategy and the polar response of many (yes, it definitely works or no, it’s snake oil) got one of our coaches thinking about how funny the way we operate as a society is when it comes to fitness and health trends and he spoke up in our Cróga CrossFit Members Facebook Group.
His message of “quit concerning yourselves with these minor details and start looking at the big picture first” was one that I think gets lost all too often as we look for quick fixes and the easy way to get fit fast, so I asked him to write a full blog post to continue his thoughts.
Below are Coach Preston’s thoughts compiled into a blog post we’re going to call “Priorities”. I hope you enjoy it!
After being nominated by Dave to write a blog post, I decided to choose a few things to address that I have been studying closely recently that I think everyone would benefit from. In the past few months I have become borderline obsessed with learning about training and nutrition priorities and what science has determined to be effective, ineffective, and/or inconclusive. There is infinite information out there and I have only begun to learn how to interpret data and interpret the validity of findings in scientific studies. With that said, I will provide some general recommendations that I have found to be consistent among the top researchers.
Often the media will advertise the “one quick fix” or new methods in fitness and nutrition because it creates a new market to monetize. The mass population tends to jump on the bandwagon immediately because they believe it will help their overall well-being or it will help them reach their goals. This ranges from recovery techniques (think cupping, cryotherapy, etc.), that new health food (think coconut oil, coconut water, kale, kombucha etc.), that hot new supplement (think CLA, a new herbal “fat-burning” supplement, faster digesting protein powders, etc.), that new trendy diet (paleo, gluten-free, zone, vegan, raw food, etc.) and even certain workout plans (squat every day, HIIT, occlusion training, etc.). Some of these claims and methods have some value and some are just hogwash, but there are a few priorities that will probably always take precedence and have a much greater impact on reaching your fitness goals.
First, one should have a clear understanding of their goals and what takes priority to achieve those goals. I’ll outline a few priorities that will almost always come first to achieve one’s goals and what we need to understand before we set up a plan to achieve those goals. Without consistently adhering to these priorities, it won’t matter how much kale you eat, how often you do cryotherapy, or how many squats you do in a week, the results will be little to none.
This is absolutely huge. Whether your goal is to lose fat, gain mass, or improve performance, this needs to be one of the first places you look. There are many specific strategies to apply regarding nutrition, but explanations for those would probably require their own blog posts. I have provided some general recommendations that can be applied for those that want to improve their nutrition, but don’t want to get crazy about weighing and measuring everything they eat.
1. Protein with every meal
Protein is the primary macro nutrient that athletes should prioritize. Placing a portion of lean protein (chicken breast, 90% or greater lean ground meats, most fish, eggs, etc.), If you take a protein shake peri-workout (before, during, or after your workout) that’s great, but a protein shake becomes less effective the lower your protein intake is relative to your daily needs. Don’t obsess over the type of whey shake you take (concentrate vs. isolate), for the difference will minuscule even in elite athletes. (which is still minimal even if you have optimal daily protein intake.) A good general recommendation would be 1g per pound of body weight and .8g per pound of body weight for women daily.
2. Don’t be afraid of carbs
If you are feeling drained from your workouts and you are following a paleo/low-carb style diet, consider adding in some additional carbs. Rice, yams, whole wheat products (for those who’s GI tract tolerate it) are all good choices. Fruits can also assist in getting an appropriate daily carb intake. Timing on carbs isn’t super important as long as you are getting enough. If you are training multiple times a day, then start to consider having more carbs in between sessions. If CrossFit is the extent of your activity each day and you have a fairly sedentary job, 1g per lb of bodyweight is probably sufficient.
3. Don’t go crazy on fats
Beyond getting the minimal dose of fat in your diet to support normal hormone functions (which is surprisingly low), fats have little to no effect on performance. Think of this as more of a “filler.” If you are eating optimal levels of protein and carbs, you can still be at a caloric deficit. Fats will help reach a sufficient energy balance (overall calorie intake) and will help slow digestion allowing one to feel fuller for longer. This will also mitigate the insulin swing from carb intake. Most nuts, nut butters and cooking oils are great sources for healthy fats, but they are also extremely calorie dense. Most underestimate how many calories they are getting from these sources. If you want to be depressed, weigh and measure out that spoonful of peanut butter using a food scale next time and you will realize what I am talking about. Saturated fats are ok, but research indicates we are probably better off mono unsaturated fats as a primary fat source. Also something to note, coconut oil is high in saturated fat.
Quick note for those with weight-loss goals: If you are weighing yourself frequently, do so in the morning on an empty stomach at the same time with the same scale. Do not freak out from fluctuations in weight, even from a bad night of eating. Your body can easily have water fluctuations of 3-5 lbs in a day. Compare week to week averages in weight, not day to day. Some females can see several pound fluctuations due to water depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle. Don’t stress, this is normal. This may mean comparing averages due to the time line of your menstrual cycle. (Week 1 of one month to week one of the next month for example.)
Be consistent. Try to establish a set bed time. The craziness of life can try to break us of habits, but consistently getting 7-8 hours of good sleep a night will help optimize recovery. Anything less than 6 hours a night will start to significantly impact recovery. Nutrition can often cause poor or lack of sleep, so try to make sure your nutrition needs are met to maximize the benefit of sleep.
Find ways to manage the stress of life. This is usually personal. Some individual have much lower stress levels and don’t have to focus on this as much, but stress can have a significant effect on hormone levels in the body which can impact weight-loss and recovery. Sleep and nutrition are great ways to mitigate the impact of stress, but this may not be enough for everyone. If you are a high stress individual, find your way to unwind and distress. Whether it is working out, going for a walk, finding a mindless activity to unwind at night, meditation, or prayer, finding a technique that works for you can significantly help with recovery. Prolonged weight-loss can significantly increase stress levels and cause hormone imbalances as well. If you feel worn down from dieting or weight-loss has stalled, bring calories up to a normal level for a few weeks or until you start feeling “normal” again, then resume if you wish to lose more weight.
In a recent interview Mat Fraser, the 2016 CrossFit Games Male Champion, spoke on his approach to the previous year saying, “I’m able to dedicate more time to warm-ups, cool-downs, working on the little things, the 1-percenters that add up,” (http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/sports/2016/08/10/crossfit-champ-finds-time-unwind/88546802/). There are plenty of 1-percenters that can add up and make a difference, but the priorities listed above carry much greater value than the 1-percenters. The best part is these priorities are much easier to implement than most of the 1-percenters. Once these priorities are established in your routine, then these 1-percenters begin to hold greater value.
If you are curious if a method works, do research. Remember that one new study does not immediately discredit the decades of studies that have said something else. The new study may just provide a new perspective that likely needs more research.
The recommendations I have given to implement these priorities are good starting points, but optimal results will come will more specific recommendations. If you have questions, feel free to ask me in person at the box or send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). I’ll do my best to answer and if I am unsure, I’ll do my best to find an educated answer.
One last note, for whatever the goal is that you are trying to achieve, if you see someone who is where you want to be, don’t ask what they are doing now, ask what they did to get there.