Ladies, Don’t Let Aunt Flo Hold You Back

While this might be one of the more obscure posts I write, it may also be one of the most important. The female menstrual cycle is a very serious thing, and in fact, can have a huge effect on women’s bodies, their minds, and their overall well being.

You might be saying right about now, “Mike, what do you know about it? You have never experienced it firsthand!” – that would be correct. But I have also learned about it from a nutrition standpoint and from a human physiological standpoint throughout my years of education, and continuing education. So there’s that.

The female menstrual cycle can be a very daunting experience for many women, often crippling them around the time of their period, and making it tempting to eat anything and everything in sight.

My goal of this article is to help explain why certain things happen, and what you can do to stay on track, and make the most of that often miserable time. Guys, tune this one out – or not – listening to the science here might help you better understand what she’s going through, and maybe you can score some bonus points 😉

The menstrual cycle is purely controlled by hormone fluctuations and cascades, and can essentially be broken down into two phases: the follicular phase (Day 1 of menses, ending at ovulation) and the luteal phase (ovulation to the first day of menses).

So from a hormonal approach, what happens?

  • The follicular phase (Day one of a woman’s period) – rising to high estrogen, low progesterone
  • The luteal phase – high estrogen and HIGHER progesterone
  • The premenstrual period (late luteal aka “leave me the hell alone phase”) and menses – rapid drop in both hormones

By looking at the effects on the two sex hormones, this really doesn’t help explain much in regards to how they affect the body composition, and especially fat storage or loss. We need to look deeper into the hormone effects on our main anabolic (building) hormones.

  • Estrogen makes women more insulin sensitive (less insulin needed to store glucose)
  • Progesterone make women more insulin resistant (more insulin needed to store same amount of glucose)
  • Both and anti-cortisol (anti stress)

So what do these mean for muscle building, fat loss, and over all well being?

  1. Follicular phase has higher estrogen, therefore more insulin sensitive, meaning less fat storage, some fat burning and is primed for muscle gain.
  2. Beginning luteal phase is for less muscle building, but good fat burning – as we see a 2.5-11% RISE in metabolism
  3. Later luteal phase is a more catabolic time (burning fat and muscle).
  4. In the later luteal phase, ie. premenstrual phase, the steep drop off in both estrogen and progesterone cause increases in stress, and drops in positive neurotransmitters (thus leading to PMS and sweet/carb cravings)

How to tailor your workouts and diet… (what you have all been waiting for!)

Starting off, I want to say that not all women are exactly alike, and by no means are these blanket statements that cover everyone – but they should be helpful in understanding your body better, and how you could potentially adapt your training plan around your phases.

First, don’t weigh yourself around your period. The bloat from water retention can be very unsettling, and can really mess with your head. It’s not uncommon for women to gain 5-10 pounds around their period.

  • Avoid salty foods
  • Drink more water (yes, that seems counter intuitive)
  • Sip herbal teas

Second, looking at how the sex hormones affect insulin sensitivity, there may be some recommendations to be made based off of carbohydrate intake. While carbs alone don’t cause weight gain (excess calories do) they can lead to greater water retention and thus lead to a lower psychological well being based off of weight (remember DON’T weigh yourself) or even appearance (belly bloat).

Remember, estrogen makes a woman more insulin sensitive, and estrogen and progesterone are both anti-stress hormones, so most women can better handle carbs in the follicular phase and be less tolerant in the luteal phase, mostly in the late luteal phase.

For exercise purposes, one of the most hormonally stressful forms of exercise is long duration, medium intensity cardio (your daily jogs).

Because of the anti stress properties of both sex hormones, long steady state cardio may be best when performed during the follicular phase, and early luteal phase (when both hormones are higher) – and estrogen will help maintain muscle, especially during the follicular phase.

Think of the follicular phase as a time to focus on muscle building, and the late luteal to premenstrual as a time to tighten up your diet and really focus on getting the most out of your fat burning hormones.

Breaking up your cycle may look like this:

Follicular Phase –

  • Weight training focus 3-4 days per week, and long duration cardio 2-3 times per week (as it will be better tolerated)
  • Keep diet the same as you have been doing, with normal or even slightly higher carb intake around workout days.

Luteal Phase – 

  • Weight training 2-3 days per week, and shorter duration – higher intensity cardio, with plenty of rest – 2-3 days per week
  • Focus on adding on some VERY low intensity, relaxing exercise – walking, yoga, meditation
  • Keep diet roughly the same, but be more aware of cravings and overall carb intake (first and foremost, maintain a caloric deficit if fat loss is goal)

In dealing with cramps (late luteal):

  • If you know you react more to carbs, AND have bad cramps, focus on limiting sugars and white breads leading up to your period, as these can contribute to worse cramps.
  • Also, if menstrual cramps are bad, try supplementing with Vitamin D3 – 2000 IU – year round (helps with inflammation), not just during your period!

If anything, I hope this post helps women better understand what is happening in their bodies, and how they can make the most of certain times during their monthly cycle.

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Stay healthy my friends,

The 5 Stages of Sustainable Fat Loss


The Stages to the Path of Sustainable Fat Loss:

  1. Counting Calories
  2. Counting Macros
  3. Creating a positive relationship with food
  4. Eliminating food as an emotional comfort
  5. Intuitive Eating

The path to long term, sustainable fat loss, and health can be a long and winding road. There are many stops, detours, and speed bumps along the way. For some, we drive a speedy European sports car to our destination, and for others it is more of a smart car approach. Either vehicle can get you there, however, one might be a better option than the other depending on the person.

The vehicle you choose may depend on your current relationship with food, and how many detours, and speed bumps are along your path. For some, it may be a simple fact of realizing that you are just eating too much, and for others, it may seem like you are doing everything right and just spinning your wheels in place.

No matter where you start, I feel that there is a definite path that all must take in order to truly master the long-term challenge that lies with fat loss and maintaining those results.

  1. Counting Calories/Overall Quantity Control

Most nutrition and health professionals with a true background in nutrition will agree; when it comes to fat loss, calories are king. To lose weight, you MUST be in a caloric deficit. Ignoring these simple physics is a mistake that many still make.

The first step to fat loss is figuring out if you are in a true caloric deficit through food and activity. If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. If you consume more than you burn, you will gain.

Use this site to figure out your calorie needs:

Figuring out your intake starts with tracking. You must be aware of how much you consume regularly, and take the appropriate steps towards creating a deficit. I recommend a 300-400 calorie deficit.

  1. Counting Macro Intake/Overall Quality Control

Once you figure out your caloric goals for fat loss, I recommend finding a healthy balance of macronutrients to fuel your body appropriately. What does this look like? It depends. I am not a fan of any diets that cut out a huge chunk of one or two macros (super low carb, super low fat, super low protein – why you even think about super low protein??)

However, it is important to find a balance of nutrients, especially if you consume a huge amount of one of them currently. Most people who struggle with weight loss consume too much of their calories from carbs or fat (think junk food).

How should you structure your nutrients? For starting out, I recommend:

First set you protein around .8-1 gram of protein per body weight. (1 gram of protein = 4 calories)

Second, try to get 25-30% of your CALORIES from fat. (1 gram of fat = 9 calories)

Lastly, fill in the rest of your calories with carbs. (1 gram of carb = 4 calories)

For example: my current fat loss “diet” that I am shooting for is at 2600 calories. I am targeting 200 grams of protein per day (800 calories. Then, 30% of 2600 is 780 calories, or 87 grams of fat. This leaves me with 1020 calories, divided by 4, which is 255 grams of carbs.

  1. Create a Positive Relationship With Food

This is where we get more into the mental side of eating.

Do you feel like some foods are good foods and others are bad? Do you punish yourself or feel guilty if you eat a “bad” food? This is where you need to focus on your relationship with what you eat.

If you look at food as strictly good or bad, and continue to feel guilty when you eat out, or have a treat, you will always be slipping into the diet cycle of doom.

You try to eat super healthy, you slip up, you feel guilty, you say screw it, and start over where you began.

Rather than looking at foods as good or bad, look at them as optimal or sub optimal. Choose mostly foods that are optimal for your calorie and macro goals, but don’t beat yourself up over a few cookies once in awhile, or a small ice cream treat. By learning the calorie and macro content of sub-optimal foods, you can still fit them into your diet, eat them on occasion, and guilt free.

How do you do this?

If your dinner goal is to consume 40 grams of carbs, but you really want a few cookies, (say each cookie is 10 grams of carbs) then make those carbs fit. Maybe skip the normal half cup of rice with dinner, and have the cookies after dinner instead.

Not an approach to follow every meal, or daily, but on occasion this can help you reduce stress with food, and not sabotage your diet.

  1. Eliminate Foods as an Emotional Comfort

You have mastered your calories, figured out your macros, and have stopped punishing yourself for eating “bad” foods. Now we really need to look at why we eat.

Do you eat because you are hungry? Or do you eat because you are stressed, sad, bored, tired, etc.?

One of my all time favorite lines is, “Food won’t fix it”.

It is important to always be thinking about why we are eating, or why are we feeling hungry. If it is because you haven’t eaten in 6 hours, then you probably should eat something. If you just ate, but are dealing with a brutal assignment/co-worker/family member and are all of a sudden craving ice cream – then you probably aren’t actually hungry.

Creating awareness of your emotional eating is step one. Figuring out how to combat it, is a much harder step two.

First, you need to realize what is making you want _______ (food), then how can you actually address this issue without food, and rather to help clear it up. Some suggestions are:

  • If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, watch a comedy.
  • If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, taking a brisk walk or destroying some heavy iron at the gym!
  • If you’re exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
  • If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a good TV show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).
  • If you’re tired, go to bed! (simplest fix)

This is an ongoing struggle for many, but the harder you work at it, the more it can become automated and healthy.

  1. Intuitive Eating

Once you become fully aware of you intake, your quality of food choices, create a healthy relationship with food, and stop using food as an emotional support; you have truly mastered intuitive eating and are on your way to long term success.

True intuitive eating involves knowing your foods, knowing your intakes, and listening to your body. This means that you eat until you are satisfied, but not stuffed. This means you allow yourself to have the occasional treat, because you know how to make it work with your goals. This means you don’t feel guilt when you enjoy a weekend with friends because you are still listening to your body and not gorging on food beyond your comfort levels.

Eating intuitively is a skill that can be mastered, and sustained for a lifetime. It may take a while to get there, but once you do, you will be completely on autopilot and able to succeed when it comes to eating.

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Stay healthy my friends,

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Stay healthy my friends,

Hopping and Hoping…Why They Will Get You Nowhere.

*No, I’m not talking about physically hopping up and down like a bunny.

I spent this past weekend in Chicago with my wife, and some of my closest friends watching one abysmal baseball team (my Minnesota Twins), and one extremely dominant team (the Chicago Cubs).

On Sunday, we weren’t in too much of a hurry to get back to Madison, and we decided to grab a late breakfast at an awesome restaurant we found (check out Kanela Breakfast Club if you are in town, I highly recommend it!).

A group of people sat down at the table next to us, and from the minute they sat down, one of the girls in the group started talking about working out. Now, we weren’t trying to listen in, she just gave us no choice. She proceeded to talk very loudly – THE ENTIRE MEAL – about all the different workout modalities that she has tried. She truly may have listed off every single workout program/facility (to name a few; Crossfit, Orange Theory, yoga, pilates, barre, P90x, Insanity, spinning, running, bootcamps, abs classes…) you could ever think of.

After naming each one of them, she went on to explain how she didn’t get results from any of them, or she was too sore from one, or one wasn’t hard enough, or one was too boring, and on and on.

While some of these options may not be the best for everyone, most of them all have their benefits in their own unique way if done correctly.

In my head, I wanted to tell her, “maybe you should just try sticking to one program for longer than 3 days, and then give it a fair assessment” – but I just kept sipping my coffee, because it was really none of my business.

When it comes to exercise and nutrition, this is an all too common problem. Hopping from program to program, diet to diet, and hoping for these miraculous results.

If you are truly just looking to mix it up, and try new things for fun, or stress relief, or for general fitness, this isn’t the worst thing you could do.

However, if you are truly looking for the results that most programs advertise, you need to see them out. Just like the now dominant Chicago Cubs, they stuck with their farm system (and a few free agents here and there), and are now on pace to set some season records in the MLB.

The same goes with diet hopping.


There are so many fad diets out there that promise amazing results. However, the first thing I always caution with my clients is that it must be something you can stick to for the long term to maintain those results you initially get. Sure, any diet that restricts calories by cutting out a huge chunk of food (carbs, fat, meat, gluten foods, etc.) will get you to lose weight. But can you stick to that diet for the long run?

So what should you do?

1. Pick Your Goals, and Find the Right Program for YOU

If your goals are to look like an NFL linebacker, you need to train like one and eat like one. If you want to look like a fitness model, you need to train like one and eat like one.

What if you just want to get a little healthier, and lose a few pounds in the process?

Find a well balanced program that focusses on strength, cardio, flexibility, or whatever your goals may be – but just stick to it!


2. Find a Program That You Enjoy, and Track Progress

You have to enjoy what you do, or you will burn out, get bored, and want to quit pretty quick. This goes for diet as well. The holy grail of workouts and diets will not help you if you don’t enjoy it, and stick to it.

When it comes to tracking progress, this is something a lot of people don’t do enough of. Invest in a $5 notebook, and track everything you do in your workout. This way, you can look back and see if you are progressing. Depending on your abilities, age, and overall goals, there are many ways to progress.

  • Lifting heavier
  • Lifting for more reps
  • Running/biking/cardio-ing further
  • Running/biking/cardio-ing faster
  • Increasing time of work/time under tension

Now, we can’t always go heavier and heavier, especially as we age. But by tracking different progress, such as reps or time, you can still progress.

The key is that you are always increasing SOMETHING, over time. This could look something like this:

  • Week 1 – Squatted 100 pounds for 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Week 2 – Squatted 100 pounds for 1 set of 12 reps, and 2 sets of 10 reps
  • Week 3 – Squatted 100 pounds for 2 sets of 12 reps, and one set of 10 reps
  • Week 4 – Squatted 100 pounds for 3 sets of 12 reps
  • Week 5 – (deload – or go lighter for recovery purposes – don’t forget recovery!)
  • Week 6 – Squatted 105 pounds for 3 sets of 10 reps
  • Week 7 – Squatted 105 pounds for 1 set of 12 reps, and 2 sets of 10 reps

You get the idea. While this may not be fast enough for some, this is still true progression!


Same thing goes with diet.

Track your bodyweight (weekly), track your waist circumference, track your body fat %, take weekly progress pictures in your underwear, anything that you want to track.

If you aren’t seeing a long term change happening, then maybe you need to work on adherence.This could be because you decided to do a crazy crash diet cleanse program that is not sustainable for the long term, or maybe you just didn’t stick to a well rounded program. Whatever it may be, you need to be honest with yourself, and assess what went right, and what went wrong.

3. Stick It Out, and Give it Your All

Once you decide on your goals, and once you find a program that has shown results that match your goals, hit it hard, and with everything you’ve got.

Whether it’s 12 weeks, 6 months, or a full year planned out, you need to keep it up. Just like getting out of shape doesn’t happen over night, getting the results you want for the long term doesn’t happen overnight either.


You need to give things time and effort to see change. I still remember my first day ever lifting weights. I could barely bench press an empty 45 pound bar for 10 reps. I remember seeing the high school seniors putting up 225 like it was no big deal. Did I expect to be able to do that over night, or even by the end of freshman year? No.

I worked, and worked, and worked, and by junior year I hit the 225 mark, and went far beyond it by my senior year in college when I put up a personal best of 350. Yes, that was 8 years! It took time, consistency, and effort.


Anything worth accomplishing will take work, sweat, and time. If you keep giving it your all, doing what you love, and tracking your progress, you will get there!


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Stay healthy my friends,

Why Quick Fixes Suck…For Long Term Results

(Sorry for the abrasive language.)

Lose 10 pounds in 5 days! Take inches of your waist in ONE week! 4 minutes to Six-Pack!

All things we see on the cover of magazines, infomercials, and other popular media outlets.

Do these methods really work? Can you lose the weight in a matter of days? Yes*

Do these methods last for a lifetime? Do they replace a solid foundation of health? Do they lead to never ending happiness? Are they as “easy” as they claim? Hell No.

This past week I ran a simple self experiment. I came across an article on T-Nation “Shredded in 6 Days” that laid out the ground work that many fitness models, bodybuilders, and cover models use to get ready for a show or photo shoot, and decided to give it a try. (I condensed it to 5 days, and didn’t do the supplements they recommend)

***Let me say again, this is a method used by people looking to get cut as **** for one moment in time. This is not a fad diet you see in magazines, BUT it does use alot of the underlying principles from those popular fad diets***

You can read the details in the article, and how it works, but the main points are:

  1. You must already be relatively lean to get the true effects from this method.
  2. It is extremely strict in many ways.
  3. The first few days you cut out all starchy carbs, and try to keep your total carbs as low as possible, while drinking un Godly amounts of water (3 gallons per day)
  4. Then, you flip the two, eat a high amount of carbs, and drink as little water as possible.

This works by essentially flushing out water from your body, from under your skin, to make your muscles “pop” out more. These are some of the same underlying principles that people use for to weight loss, detoxing your body and soul, etc.


Starting weight on day 1 – 208.2 @ 15.9% fat (33.1 pounds of fat)

Weight at day 4 – 201.8 @ 14.8% fat (29.8 pounds of fat)

This is only a 3.3 pound difference in body fat! What did the other 3.1 pounds come from? Muscle? Probably not? Water and glycogen? – probably. Now these measurements are from a basic bioelectrical impedance scale, so I highly doubt I even lost 3.3 pounds of fat, and most of this was from pure glycogen and water depletion. Woop dee do!

What I Learned:

Drinking 3 gallons of water per day, and having very little carbs sucks.

Cutting water out after 3 days sucks even more.

I lost about 6 pounds in those 4 days, and gained 2 back as soon as I reintroduced carbs into my diet.


***Weight and “bodyfat” after one carb heavy meal on day 4***

I was miserable by day 2, and excited to eat the forbidden carbs by day 4.



My workouts were low energy by day 3, not fun, and unmotivated.

And by Sunday afternoon, I was right back up to the same body weight I was at when I started this little trial. I wasn’t upset, this is what I expected. 

Why This Is a Terrible Idea…For General Fat Loss

This type of weight loss is all artificial, can be demotivating for people who are seriously looking to lose body fat (if you only read the scale, a weight fluctuation can be depressing), and it definitely does not represent a real world diet that works for most people.

For most people looking to lose pounds, they are not looking to get cover model ready. Maybe just to drop a few sizes, or feel more confident, but not to look like they are ready for the next Muscle Mag Cover.

As I noted above, I expected these results, so I was not put off by them.

So Why Did I Do It?

For one thing, once I set my mind to something, I plan on doing it – 110% committed. Like I said, by day 2 I was starting to reconsider. Yes, it was cool to see how the body water can be manipulated to make you look more “shredded”, but that was about it.

Once I went back to my standard diet, nothing crazy like this, I felt better, had more energy, and was just fine with everything.

Real results take effort, but not crazy drastic effort like this. They take longer, but they last longer – even a lifetime.

I have lost over 50 pounds since college, and maintained that weight for over 6 years. I still go out, I still enjoy sweets, I still live my life. It is all about finding TRUE moderation with what you eat, and finding times to enjoy the less healthy foods in life.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 3.25.18 PM

I like cake, I got married, you bet I ate some damn cake at my wedding…and every other wedding I go to…


It has been a process, but once you make healthy choices into long term habits it really becomes automated.

The four principles I still stand by to this day for long term fat loss success are:

  1. Be mindful of eating. Stop when you are satisfied, not bulging at the belly (still do this on occasion)
  2. Move everyday, as much as possible. This is not exercise – it is just moving. Luckily I have a job that keeps me on my feet most of the day, so this comes naturally.
  3. Move with intent most days of the week – this is exercise. When working out, don’t just go through the motions. Have a plan, know why you are doing what you are doing, and attack it with 100% commitment. Enjoy it!
  4. Allow yourself to enjoy certain foods, have the occasional drink, but still practice moderation (see step 1 – and I still struggle with this once in a while)

Find a healthy lifestyle that works for YOU, and work at one thing at a time. If you get pretty lean, and want to look good for the beach or a photoshoot – sure give this a try (and props to those who have done anything like this before!) to a but don’t expect to walk around looking like this for long if this isn’t the lifestyle you enjoy.

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Stay healthy my friends,