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Murph…the WOD that keeps on giving

30 May

Monday, May 29, 2013

I finished Murph…..

No, really, did you hear me?  I FINISHED MURPH!!!!

After I jogged all but 1/4 of the first mile, I started my 5-10-15 strategy.  5 rounds in, I thought to myself, “You have been doing Crossfit for only 6 months, you can be just as proud to do half of Murph.  Just get to round 10 and do your final mile.”

I will tell you this now…this conversation goes through my head in 75% of my WOD’s .  It is something that I battle and have never succombed to since I have started Crossfit, but it speaks to me more often than I want to hear it.  It is part of my problem.  I am still in the mindset that I am this obese person that no one really expect much from, so if I don’t finish a workout, it is no surprise.  “Kudos for trying!” I expect to hear.

Unfortunately, I have made too much of an impression at my box and people expect more from me.  Just writing this down is such a milestone from me and I have to say, I have tears in my eyes (Luckily, my husband and son are watching the Blackhawks, game 7, so I could be bawling uncontrollably and they would not notice).

I am so thankful that the people in my box expect more from me.  I am grateful for the comments that I still find hard to believe are true from Paul’s posts on ETP.  I am thankful for my husband’s comments here and there, calling me skinny.

I really am thankful for all of this and it has made me raise the bar for myself, but honestly, I still don’t always believe it.  Don’t get me wrong, I do believe it 60% of the time, but the other 40% of the time, I feel fat.  I feel like I could be working harder.  I feel like I could still be making better food choices.  I feel like if I could do all of these things, I would be 20 pounds lighter and 3 sizes smaller.

Damn Damn Damn!

I wish I could just flip a switch and believe the logic that my head tells me.  I KNOW I am on the right path.  I KNOW I am stronger.  I KNOW that 6 months from now, I will look and feel healthier, stronger and more confident than I do now.  Unfortunately, a little part of my heart seems to be speaking louder than my brain….

When I was young, I was INCREDIBLY shy.  Not just shy, I was “only speak to people in my immediate family” shy.  I was never really aware of this until high school.  I would hear people say that they thought I was a snob or bitchy because I didn’t really give them the time of day.  Little did they know that I was terrified to talk to them.  My self confidence was non-existent.  I had no idea what to say to people.

When I moved from Boston to Illinois after my bad breakup, I consciously told myself “I am done being shy.  Even if I have to fake my confidence, I will no longer be the person who missed out on opportunities because I am too shy.”  I honestly faked being confident for probably about 6 months, when it started coming naturally.  This was also during my “eating disorder” time when I was eating less than 1000 calories a day and exercising a ridiculous amount.  I still have to be thankful for this period though.  This is the period that I met my husband.  I had the confidence to just go up and talk to him that night at the racquet club.  3 hours later, I went home realizing that I just met the man I would marry, and wasn’t shy about sharing that with my family.

When people hear this story, they think, “No Way!  You were not shy!  You are one of the most confident people I know!”  Little do they know, I can still fake it pretty flawlessly.  It’s my defense mechanism.  I am not going to let people know how weak I think I am sometimes.  Hell, my husband can count the times he has seen me cry on one hand.  I am a rock….or so I want people to think.

All of this is why I am SO proud of how fucking sore I am right now.  Never, in my wildest imagination did I EVER think I would do a workout like Murph.  Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would backsquat 240 pounds.  Never, EVER, did I imagine being able to eat logically and exercise with so much determination.  Doubt is always there, but it’s just like the powdered donuts…you need to see the logic and sometimes fake it.  Fake that you don’t want to quit, fake that you have full confidence of RX’ing a WOD, fake that you are the strongest person in your box….even if deep down you know you are not…if you keep believing it and faking it…you won’t have to eventually, because you will be.   I will be…will  you?

And the Grocery Bill Doubles….

19 May

cioppino2My 19 year old son, Lucas, is home from his first year at The University of Wisconsin-River Falls.  I have two boys (3 if you include my husband) and they could not be more different.  Dalton is our athlete.  He acts like an athlete, eats like an athlete and definitely SMELLS like an athlete.  He knows random facts about professional athletes that the typical person could care less about and even has a special alert on his phone that sounds when something “BIG” happens in the sports world.  Lucas has no desire to play or watch sports.  He is our intellect who can read a book faster than you could watch the movie, loves animals and nature and….is a vegetarian!  While I completely support his choice not to eat meat, it does make cooking and grocery shopping more complicated and more expensive.  It also worries me that he is not getting the nutrients he needs.  Thank goodness he will eat fish and seafood, so he can get some of his protein needs there, but the amount of protein he is putting into his body is far from what he needs and his caloric intake is way too low.  It’s one thing to hear people, like Paul, talk about how fueling your body affects your performance.  It’s another thing to see it first hand, and it’s not pretty.  (By the way Paul, I can’t wait for you to talk to him!)  We are in the process of forcing Lucas to stay awake while feeding him whatever we can.  He is in this vicious cycle where all he wants to do is sleep, which keeps him from eating, which makes him want to sleep more.  6 months ago, I may have thought that this was just typical behavior from a college student who just finished a week of finals and whose sleep schedule is off.  Now, I think differently.  This is not normal, even for a college student.  This is a body that has not been fed correctly and can no longer function properly because of it.  Mom to the rescue!

Tonight, a nutrient packed dinner for the boy!  Since he will eat seafood, I pull out the scallops from my freezer.  Since they have been in the freezer for a while now, I can’t just do the typical salt and pepper, sear in a pan with butter scallop…this will need some extra flavor.  I love cioppino!  Cioppino is a stew full of various types of seafood in a tomato based broth.  Since I don’t have a variety of seafood (remember, I am in Minnesota) I will make a scallop cioppino.  I think I will add some spinach to it too, since I add spinach to as many of my dishes as possible just to add a little bit more nutrition.  Since the boy is basically in starvation mode, I will serve this over some cooked white rice too!

After I made this recipe, I tasted it and thought…YUM!  You could substitute chicken, fish, veal or whatever protein of choice and it would still be delicious!


  • 10-12 medium scallops
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1 cup chopped red onion
  • 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 16 oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 handful of baby spinach
  • cooked white rice

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

In a skillet, heat the coconut oil until melted over medium high heat.  Add the red onion and cook a couple of minutes, until transluscent.  Lower the the heat to medium/low and add the garlic.  Cook about 1 minute and add the coconut milk, tomatoes, italian seasoning and spinach.  Cook for about 2-3 minutes, or until the spinach is wilted.

In a baking dish, arrange your scallops in one layer and pour your tomato mixture over the top.  Cook for about 15-20 minutes (this is a perfect time to cook your rice).  Scoop your rice into a dish, top with your scallop cioppino and enjoy!!!

It’s Getting Hot In Here: Thermogenesis & The Thermic Effect of Food

1 Apr

jack daniels

Calories in versus Calories out is a tricky topic that comes up a lot in the “Science Lab” seminars that we offer free when you purchase things that support our site (it’s mostly stuff you would buy anyway).  Click the link and it will give you more details.

(NOTE:  Click here to jump to a short summary of this article)

Everything you do with your body requires energy; from pulling a heavy snatch, to taking a nap afterwards, even the consumption and metabolism of food depends upon energy availability and it all adds up to influence your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).  This spontaneous generation of heat during catalytic reactions is called thermogenesis.  When you calculate your TDEE, you’re really asking yourself a series of questions:  “How much heat do I generate just to keep my organs functioning?”  This is what defines your basal metabolic rate (BMR).    Another factor in your daily energy expenditure comes from activity:  “How much heat do I generate to fuel my exercise?”  The third, most overlooked contributor to TDEE and thermogenesis is nutrition.  Ask yourself, “How much heat do I generate when I eat?”

About 10% of your energy expenditure each day can be attributed to the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).  TEF describes the net loss of energy during the digestion and assimilation of nutrients.  When someone has a “fast metabolism”, they really have an inefficient metabolism that wastes more energy than it holds onto.  Essentially, their enzymes work very hard, but they don’t get a lot done for all the fuss.  The “cost” of operation is greater, so there’s less “profit”; less energy is stored.  This can be good and bad, but the great thing is that you can manipulate your efficiency.  A major factor in successfully taking advantage of the human body’s metabolic flexibility is consuming the right food, at the right time.  Depending upon the composition, size and frequency of your meals, your body responds to your nutrition in markedly different ways.

The Thermic Effect of Different Macronutrients

Of all the macronutrients, alcohol produces the greatest thermic effect; that isn’t a good reason to chug a bottle of Jack, however, due to the fact that alcohol consumption puts the brakes on fat oxidation for a little while (Anne Raben).  You’re actually more prone to store fat while you’ve got alcohol in your system, especially if you eat high-fat foods and drink at the same time (I’m looking at you, chicken wings!)  Many people do report waking up “tighter” the morning after a night out drinking, but this has more to do with water loss than anything.  Proper hydration is of the utmost importance to performing well and building muscle, so I would suggest taking it easy, but as they say: “To each his/her own.”


As far as everyday nutrition goes, protein is the most thermogenic of the three macros (carbs, protein and fat).  This explains, in part, why people see improved body composition on high protein weight loss diets; you waste a lot of energy just breaking protein down.  In addition, since you’ll feel more satisfied after eating a high protein meal, your drive to eat will be diminished (Halton).  We recommend that protein consumption act as a base for the rest of your nutrition, and this is just one of many reasons.  Not only are you providing your body with the material it needs to function and repair itself, but you’re keeping yourself lean.

Carbohydrate & Fat

Under normal circumstances, carbohydrate and fat are easier to break down and absorb.  The TEF associated with these two macros is less than that of protein.  Fat is the least thermogenic of the three.  It may be interesting to note that when comparing obese and lean populations, the thermic effect of food is smaller regardless of the macros, but carbohydrate displays a greater thermic effect than fat; fat is even less thermogenic in obese individuals (R Swaminathan).  Thus, consuming carbohydrates can contribute to increased net energy expenditure (K R Segal).  We write about this all the time, but this sort of explains the concept: avoiding carbohydrates when you’re trying to lose weight really does slow down your metabolism.  Conversely, if you’re trying to maintain muscle mass and conserve energy, eating low carb/high fat is a viable strategy.

Training and Post-Workout Carbs

Since you’re probably CrossFitting or weightlifting a few times a week, you’ll be glad to know that the thermic effect of food is more pronounced in active people than it is in sedentary individuals.  This may be due to increased responsiveness to adrenaline signaling brought on by regular bouts of exercise (Nicole R. Stob).  As I stated earlier, training creates a thermic effect too (exercise-associated thermogenesis).  It’s more difficult to store energy after a workout, and that can be a good thing if you’re trying to maintain a lean body composition.  It can also make it more difficult to build muscle mass, and that’s where carbs come in.

Carbs are normally pretty easy to break down and either utilize as an energy substrate, or to store as glycogen/fat.  This changes after training.  The thermic effect of carbohydrate consumption after a single bout of exercise can be over 70% greater than before training (Charlene M. Denzer).  That’s a difference of hundreds of calories every day, and thousands of calories every month, of food that you essentially get for free.  Eating carbs post-workout kicks your metabolism into high gear, you burn up like a space shuttle during re-entry, and your body does whatever it can to cool down.

What this ultimately means, in practice, is that you can get away with eating large amounts of carbs to generate a significant insulin response and jam as much water, protein and other nutrients into your muscles as you can…Without worrying about getting fat.  You get all of the hormonal and metabolic advantages of eating carbs without the bad.  This is the basis of back-loading, and it’s a great strategy to optimize recovery, performance and body composition all at once.  This goes for both men and women, as well as lean and not-so-lean individuals.

Special Considerations:  Intermittent Fasting, Yohimbine and Caffeine

The size of a meal seems to play a role in thermogenesis.  While smaller meals eaten at a greater frequency create a more sustained thermic effect, larger meals produce an overall greater effect.  Though the difference is small (somewhere around 50 calories a day), it does support the idea that eating more, less frequently, can make a positive impact on weight loss (M M Tai).  If you follow an intermittent fasting protocol like LeanGains, The Warrior Diet, Eat Stop Eat or even Carb Back-Loading, you’re probably already taking advantage of this concept; if you aren’t, it’s yet another reason to delay breakfast and eat more at the end of the day.

In addition, certain substances can increase thermogenesis and help you mobilize fat.  A common dietary supplement to consider, which you may already partake of, is good ol’ caffeine.  One or two (or three, or four) cups of coffee can really get your metabolism humming and help you burn fat (K J Acheson).  For leaner folks, Yohimbine (an herbal supplement) can augment the production of the catecholamines epinephrine and dopamine (Ostojica).  More catecholamines can translate to increased thermogenesis, fat oxidation, and (potentially) an increased sense of well-being.  Take caution though; it is not useful for everybody.  You should be pretty lean before you consider supplementation.  When adding anything atypical to your nutrition, be careful and start off very slow.  If you have a history of cardiovascular disease, metabolic dysfunction, or there’s any question in your mind whether or not you’ll react well to a specific modification, you owe it to yourself to talk to a doctor.

In conclusion, you don’t really need to worry about any of this thermogenesis stuff.  By simply eating protein and fat throughout the day, training hard, and having a nice carb-dense meal in the evening, you’re already taking advantage of these concepts.  I hope that by attaining deeper insight into the concepts we teach on Eat To Perform, you’ll understand how to dial things in a bit better and do what you need to get out of your own way.  Knowledge is power, but I don’t want you to get side-tracked.  I want you to focus on what really matters:  eating well, training your ass off, and enjoying your accomplishments.  Until next time!


  • TDEE is influenced by basal metabolic rate and activity, but also metabolism of food
  • “TEF” or the Thermic Effect of Food describes the net loss of energy during the digestion and assimilation of nutrients.  It normally contributes makes up about 10% of your TDEE.
  • Protein has the greatest TEF and fat has the lowest TEF.  Carbs are in the middle.
  • By eating carbohydrates after training, the TEF goes up drastically and more of the energy is lost as heat
  • Eating larger meals less frequently contributes to a slightly greater thermic effect
  • Caffeine and Yohimbine can help lean people increase thermogenesis and burn more fat

Works Cited

Anne Raben, Lisa Agerholm-Larsen, Anne Flint, Jens J Holst, and Arne Astrup. Meals with similar energy densities but rich in protein, fat, carbohydrate, or alcohol have different effects on energy expenditure and substrate metabolism but not on appetite and energy intake1,2,3. January 2003. 29 March 2013 <;.

Charlene M. Denzer, John C. Young. The Effect of Resistance Exercise on the Thermic Effect of Food. n.d. 29 March 2013 <;.

Halton, Thomas L., Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD. The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review. October 2004. 31 March 2013 <;.

K J Acheson, B Zahorska-Markiewicz, P Pittet, K Anantharaman, and E Jéquier. Caffeine and coffee: their influence on metabolic rate and substrate utilization in normal weight and obese individuals. May 1980. 31 March 2013 <;.

K R Segal, B Gutin, A M Nyman, and F X Pi-Sunyer. Thermic effect of food at rest, during exercise, and after exercise in lean and obese men of similar body weight. September 1985. 29 March 2013 <;.

K. J. Acheson, Y. Schutz, T. Bessard, E. Ravussin, E. Jequier, and J. P. Flatt. Nutritional influences on lipogenesis and thermogenesis after a carbohydrate meal. 1 January 1984. 29 March 2013 <;.

M M Tai, P Castillo, and F X Pi-Sunyer. Meal size and frequency: effect on the thermic effect of food. November 1991. 29 March 2013 <;.

Nicole R. Stob, Christopher Bell, Marleen A. van Baak, and Douglas R. Seals. Thermic effect of food and β-adrenergic thermogenic responsiveness in habitually exercising and sedentary healthy adult humans. 18 December 2006. 29 March 2013 <;.

Ostojica, Sergej M. Yohimbine: The Effects on Body Composition and Exercise Performance in Soccer Players. 21 December 2006. 29 March 2013 <;.

R Swaminathan, R F King, J Holmfield, R A Siwek, M Baker, and J K Wales. Thermic effect of feeding carbohydrate, fat, protein and mixed meal in lean and obese subjects. August 1985. 31 March 2013 <;.

S M Robinson, C Jaccard, C Persaud, A A Jackson, E Jequier, and Y Schutz. Protein turnover and thermogenesis in response to high-protein and high-carbohydrate feeding in men. July 1990. 29 March 2013 <;.

How Do I Know How Much I Should Be Eating? (w/ dead-simple calculator)

5 Mar

(Click here to jump to a summary of this article)

Ok, it’s time to get serious.  I talk a lot about eating “enough food” to support your activity level.  I realize that up until this point, that recommendation has remained relatively vague.  You’ve asked me, “How do I know how much I should be eating?” and I’m going to do my best to provide you with a succinct answer.  The problem with giving a one-size-fits-all recommendation, or setting up basic guidelines, is that they’re never right for everyone; each of us is a biochemically unique, adaptive organism living through its own personal challenges.  Even when a suggestion comes close, it needs to be tweaked as time wears on, or progression will wane.  Nevertheless, I’m going to do my best to explain what I mean by “enough food” and how to determine what that actually means.

Our new TDEE Calculator with activity multiplier

Here is the calculator for you guys to play with, but first, a few words of caution.  This isn’t a calorie counting exercise where you need to be all obsessive; running this calculator will simply enlighten you, show you what eating for performance looks like in a quantitative measurement, so you can make more educated decisions in regards to your food intake.  Before you start punching in your data, I want to ask you to look at this as a tool and nothing more.  Use this calculator as a means to establish a general idea of how much energy you expend during your average rest/training day, and go from there, always listening to your body and doing what feels right.

Without further ado, here is our new TDEE Calculator (remember almost everyone who Crossfit’s is considered “Very Active” and that is the calorie number we are looking at as your total)

Determining Activity Levels

Once you load the calculator, it should be pretty straight-forward.  You can ignore the bits about body fat percentage, waist circumference and such if you don’t have those data, but the “Activity” drown-down menu on the left beneath “Age” needs some special attention.  Half of knowing whether you’re eating enough comes from understanding how to define your level of activity.  The menu gives you several options; here’s how I’d suggest you match the categories available to your lifestyle:

  • Sedentary:  People who work a desk job and engage in very little (if any) structured exercise.  Chances are that if you’re reading this blog, this does not describe you, so you’ll probably avoid this option.
  • Very Active:  If you CrossFit or lift heavy a couple times a week, or if you work a physically demanding job, your activity level can probably be described as “very active”.
  • Extra Active:  For those of us who CrossFit 5-6 times a week.  Serious weightlifters and athletes, as well as folks who work jobs requiring hours of heavy llifting, fall into this category.

Again, because we’re all different and lead different lives, the TDEE (total daily energy expenditure) calculation that we arrive at is naught but a guideline; a person who lifts hay bales for 12 hours days will do well to classify their activity levels as “extra active” even if they’ve never touched a barbell in their lives.  A person who trains hard a few times a week but does little in the way of physical labor at work will err on the lower side of things.  Once you’ve got your numbers plugged in and your activity level selected, you’ll move onto the next page of the calculator: the macronutrient breakdown.

Macros:  What Are They and Why Are They Important?

Macronutrients are major components of your diet that are broken down into constituents to provide energy, build tissue and create hormones.  The ones we’re concerned with are protein (which provides 4 calories per gram), Carbs (4 calories per gram) and Fats (9 awesome calories per gram).  Just to clarify, micronutrients are vitamins that play an important role in how your body metabolizes the macronutrients that you make available.  A body without essential vitamins and minerals is like a car with a full tank of gas but no spark plugs.  This is why eating wholesome, nutrient-dense food is so important.

At the top left-hand corner, under “Presets”, you’re given several self-explanatory options.  I would recommend setting this to “Maintain” first and then to make adjustments with the sliders beneath the pie charts.  Here are some general guidelines for achieving different goals by manipulation your macronutrient ratios:

  • Improving performance/gaining muscle:  Increase your protein and fat on both days and increase your carbs on workout days.  Adding on an extra 3-500 calories for training days should help you put on some muscle and make some gains.  There are a lot of people out there looking to bulk up or get stronger with an all or nothing approach, but believe it or not, constant overeating may not be helping their progress.  Eating a little less carbohydrate on rest days can keep your body sensitive to insulin so that it can function properly when it needs the extra energy (around training).
  • Losing fat:  Simply eating at “Maintenance” calories and engaging in vigorous exercise a few times a week will help you lose body fat.  It’s important to eat when you’re active.  I write about it all the time because it’s true and I can’t stress it enough; you must eat enough or your workouts will suck and your long-term physique goals will be compromised.  To that end, a minor reduction in your carbohydrate intake on rest days that results in a 2-400 calorie deficit should do the trick and mobilize more fat, especially since you’re active.  Again, start small and work your way up.  Always pay attention to what your body’s trying to tell you.


A Real-World Example

I’m going to use Lindsey Valenzuela as my example, mostly because she is awesome.  Here are her stats that she tweeted the other day, with some minor adjustments to simplify the math.

  • Height:  5’6″
  • Weight:  150 pounds
  • Age:  26
  • Activity level:  Extra Active
  • BMR:  1572 kcal’s (basic calories you need to live)
  • Total Daily Energy Expenditure:  3000 (no wonder she’s so awesome)
  • Protein:  150g=600 calories from protein
  • Carbs:  300g (she is Lindsey after all)=1200 calories from carbs

That leaves 1200 calories to come from fat, so you divide by 9 which will leave us at 133.3 fat grams for the day.

Now let’s do a male example, but in this case he wants to put on 10lbs of muscle:

  • Height:  6’0″
  • Body fat %:  12%, 22.8lbs of fat
  • Lean Mass:  167lbs
  • Weight:  190
  • Age:  25
  • BMR:  2012 kcals
  •  TDEE:  3470

To get him there, we’re going to have him eat about 4,000 calories on training days, broken down into 187g of protein, 407g of carbohydrate and 181g of fat.  Now, let’s assume that several months have passed by and our male example’s training and diet were spot-on.  He gained 10lbs of muscle mass while adding only 2lbs of fat to his frame.  This is a great accomplishment, and his numbers look like this now:

  • Body fat %:  12%, 24.3lbs of fat
  • Lean Mass:  177.8lbs
  • Weight:  202lbs
  • BMR:  2115 kcals
  • TDEE:  3649

Compare the two sets of numbers:  A man at 190lbs and 202lbs, retaining the same body fat percentage burns only 100 more calories at rest, and only about 200 more throughout a day.  That equates to an extra hour of light activity or sleep…A sweet potato here or there.  First and foremost, it takes a lot of time, hard work and perseverance, but only a modest alteration of energy expenditure and intake to lose or gain weight.  The precise numbers are generally unimportant; as long as you’re within the ballpark everything is okay.  There are special circumstances where your unique biology and lifestyle require you to eat more or less but I’ll touch on that and explain why this is all so fuzzy in an upcoming article.  For now, what I want you to take away is this:  After you’re eating enough good food to end up in the general area according to the numbers, how you feel, how you perform, and how you look should always be the first indicators you assess when determining the effectiveness of your training and nutrition.


  • Everyone is unique, so there is no “one-size” diet prescription.  We all need different amounts of food based upon our height, weight, body composition and activity levels.
  • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is the amount of calories you would theoretically spend at rest.
  • Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) is the amount of calories you burn in a day.  This is based upon your BMR and then multiplied by an activity multiplier.
  • We recommend eating at or just slightly below your estimated TDEE to ensure proper recovery from training
  • Using our calculator, you can determine your expenditure without doing any math.
  • Macronutrients (protein, fat, carbohydrate) provide the bulk of the energy in your diet.  By eating more or less of each, you can manipulate your weight, body composition and performance without restricting calories.
  • How you look, how you feel, and how you perform are more important than any number on a scale or a calculator.