Why Meal Plans Don’t Work, and What To Do…

I used to make meal plans. Hand them out. Expect results. Get puzzled. Repeat.

But…it never happened. And with speaking with multiple other nutrition coaches, and dietitians, they all said the same thing.

Meal plans sound great in theory. Just eat this EXACT plan and you will get results. If they are made properly and calculated correctly, they CAN totally work. But usually from a quick fix standpoint or something that is not truly sustainable.

The time and effort that can be put into a meal plan, only for it to break apart in one meal is unmatched.

“My meal plan says 4 ounces of chicken, 1 cup of rice, and 1 cup of broccoli…but I had to go out to eat for work! HELP!!!”

Meal plans are too rigid. They take away any actual learning about food that is involved, and they only work for people who are willing to eat the same twigs and sticks every single day.

Now – there is a difference between a meal plan and a sample day (which I use). A sample day is one single example of what a day at a certain calorie/macro level might look like. But, nobody is expected to follow this one day for weeks, months, or years.

It is only an example of what the day might look like. Why? Because people often underestimate how many calories they eat, and seeing it on paper, and maybe trying it for one day can be very eye-opening.

Showing an example of a day at a set calorie level is good, but teaching sustainable habits and how to be flexible with your diet is better.

What is flexible dieting? 

Let me use an example. Let’s say your current goals are to lose weight. After finding that you currently eat 3000 calories, I would start with a nice deficit of 300-500 cals. So your goal will be to eat 2500 calories.

After figuring out your macros (carbs, protein, fat) – let’s say your goal is this:

2500 calories – 220 grams Carbs (25-35 grams Fiber), 220 grams Protein, and 82 grams Fat (these are all hypothetical)

With flexible dieting, your goal is to hit these numbers every day, by any means possible***

Some people will think this means you can eat whatever you want…which yes, you can! However, as fun as that may sound, it might not be the best idea.

Let’s go back to that photo from above.

These both are 1470 calories. The meal on the left is what we call calorie dense. It means there are a ton of calories (1470) in a small volume of food. The meals on the right are more nutrient dense – more volume, less calories.

If you think you could eat these foods, and hit your macro targets, you are good….but that might be highly unlikely.

Most calorie dense foods are high in fat, and carbs, and LOW in protein and fiber. Think about things like donuts, greasy burgers, pizza…

These three foods account for 154 carbs, 89 fat, and 69 protein, with only 9g of fiber.

That leaves our hypothetical person with:

66 grams of carbs – 151 grams of protein – and NEGATIVE grams of fat…

So pretty much the rest of the day would have to be PURE protein, and some rice…not the healthiest day.

How can you “have your cake and eat it too”?

Once you have your macros set – and you know you want a donut, go ahead and plug it in.

Then work the rest of your day AROUND that choice, with nutritious, whole foods, and high nutrient dense options.

Yes, this involves a basic understanding of nutrition, how to track, and how to measure foods…but when you understand how this all works, and it does, and it is like “magic” every single time you eat those foods that make your friends say…

“I thought you were trying to lose weight?”

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Do I Need to Track Food Forever?

I get this question a lot. “You always talk about tracking food, do I need to do that forever?”

Short answer, NO.

I recommend everyone tracks their food at some point though. Not because it is the only way to see results, but because most people have NO clue what they eat, how much they eat and aren’t even aware of half the food they put in their body.

According to studies, people underestimate their calorie intake by about 50%.

More than 4,000 people tracked what they are for four days. Men reported consuming an average 2,065 calories a day, but were estimated to actually consume 3,119; while women reported 1,570 but actually consumed 2,393.

This brings up the often made point “I barely eat, and still can’t lose weight!”

It’s not that people are willfully lying about their food intake (maybe some do) – but most are just not truly aware.

Take my current standard breakfast for example:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whites
  • Veggies
  • 100g of carbs (varies by the day) – let’s say it was my 130 grams of Life Cereal I had this morning (that is 130g of WEIGHT = 100g of carbs, in this case)
  • 1 cup of Fairlife Skim Milk

If someone tracked this as is, I would say that is some pretty dang accurate tracking.

But, what about the oil I used for the eggs? Oops forgot to track that (5g coconut oil = 45 cals)

And the veggies – didn’t track them, but likely 50 calories or so.

Oh, then Adalynn didn’t finish her oatmeal, so I had a couple of bites of that (20 calories?)

So right there, even though they were all healthy calories, it still was 115 calories unaccounted for…at one meal. Project this over 2 more meals, and that could easily be a 300-400 calorie swing, which is enough to move you from a deficit (eating less than you burn) to a surplus (eating more than you burn)

This is why I highly encourage consistent tracking for at least a couple of weeks to get an idea of what you actually eat.

Once you educate yourself on this and become more aware, you can make some tweaks.

Once things start going in the right direction, and you get into a routine or have a vacation coming up, or something called life happens…this is where the lesson needs to be applied.

After tracking for a while, and seeing what your ideal intake actually looks like, you CAN take a little step away from tracking…BUT this doesn’t mean you need to go fully off the rails.

Try to keep meals consistent, and duplicate portions sizes, and keep in a solid routine when not tracking.

But still, you should be monitoring SOMETHING. Your weight, your measurements, your performance in the gym…and if it starts to go the wrong way, maybe it’s time to get back to tracking.

If you maintain your loss without tracking, then that’s great! The eventual goal IS to maintain! Maintenance “practice” while taking a break from tracking is a great challenge in itself, and something that with enough practice, can be done!

IT takes practice, and it takes time – but once you learn more about the foods you eat, and make adjustments, and LEARN from the process (this is why meal plans FAIL, they don’t teach you anything ACTIONABLE), you can APPLY what you learned and build on it, take breaks, and jump back in the game when you are ready to make more changes.

If you still are stumped with all this, let me know, and let’s jump on a call!

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All You Need to Get Killer Fat Burning and Muscle Building Workouts

In the world of SO many options for fitness equipment, machines, gadgets, gizmos, inflatable surfaces, banded contraptions, and thingamabobs…we forget about the OG’s, the original gainers, of the gym.

I’m talking about the iron.

More specifically, the dumbbell.

Because even the barbell has made a comeback of sorts – well, for hardcore gym goers it never left – but it is getting more mainstream attention thanks to CrossFit.

But the dumbbell, even its name hurts its own feelings. It is one of the most versatile and functional pieces of equipment, can be used for thousands of variations of lifts, yet we seem to have forgotten its glory. It has been beaten down and reduced to being a paperweight on a desk, a doorstop at the gym, or an anchor for our camera while we take awesome gym selfies.

Today I come to defend the dumbbell and return it to its rightful glory.

Why is it so great you might ask?

1 – Versatility

With one set, or even just one dumbbell and your body, you can create hundreds, if not thousands of functional movements. Remember, we can lump them all into several categories:

  • Push
  • Pull
  • Squat
  • HInge
  • Lunge
  • Carry

Take those movement patterns, a single dumbbell or two, and you can branch out to at least 10- 20 well-known exercises for each.

2 – Safety

If you are benching a barbell, and you cannot lift it off your chest…where does it go?

If you are benching 2 dumbbells and cannot lift them, where do they go?

You see, for training alone, dumbbells are a safer option. I’m not saying to never train alone with barbells, but if you are new to this game, or are just trying to avoid crushing your windpipe, dumbbells are safer.

They also are safer on the shoulder joints themselves because of the freeness of the dumbbells and the ability to rotate them to an optimal angle at the glenohumeral joint (shoulder), whereas a barbell is in a fixed position.

3 – More Challenge

Because dumbbells are two separate weights in each hand, they require more stability and neuron recruitment. This is a good thing because it forces the lifter to slow it down, and actually learn the movement instead of rushing through some ugly reps with a barbell or a machine which is on a fixed path.

When you are able to slow a lift down, and really feel the muscle fibers working – this is where the magic happens.

By training with dumbbells, you will not only expand your knowledge of exercise, but also improve your motor neuron connectivity, and become a more well rounded athlete/gym bro/gym brah.

By using dumbbells, you can create endless workouts – circuits for a metabolic fat burning effect, or straight sets to pack on slabs of muscle.

So before you jump into the latest fitness trend that promises you only need 4 minutes per day, remember this – the iron has been around for centuries, there is a reason that the fittest people in the gym spend most of the time lifting weights.

Hit the dumbbells, and put it some hard work!

Oh, by the way…

Are you looking for a way to use dumbbells to create your own workouts, that you can do from home? I’ve got the perfect cheat sheet for you!

I created it as a way to plug and play with exercises covering the whole body, so we don’t end up getting any muscle imbalances, or skipping leg day… Click HERE to get your copy.

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Starting Strength Training From Absolute ZERO (Video Guides)

 

Strength training is growing in popularity among average Joe’s and Jane’s, which is friggin awesome!

I write about it’s importance all the time, and how it is literally the fountain of youth (when done correctly).

But what if you have absolutely no experience, are afraid, or have zero clue where to start and what to do?

I will try and lay it out in the post, step by step, as clear as possible. If you have any questions feel free to post or email me – mike@mgfitlife.com.

1) Focus on all the fundamental movements – push, pull, squat and hip hinge.

What the heck are these?

PUSH – think push up, or pushing AWAY from your body, like a chest press. Can’t do a push up? Try hands elevated pushups. Any pressing machine, or dumbbells will work as well.

PULL – pulling weight towards you. Start with a form of horizontal pull like a dumbbell row, a body weight row, or cable row.

SQUAT – pretty much exactly how it sounds. The squat is more of a knee dominant exercise and it tends to work the quads, or front of the legs more than the hamstrings, or backs of the legs.

Start with just body weight, then add weight once you can sit down to the point where your thighs are parallel with the floor.

HINGE – this is also a lower body exercise, but focuses on hinging from the hips – and works more of the backs of the legs – hamstrings and glutes (butt).

Start with a slight bend in the knees, but then push your hips back keeping your spine straight. Go to the point of feeling a stretch in the backs of your thighs then return to the top.

If using weights, keep them close to your legs, and shoulders back and tight.

So these are the 4 basic movement patterns that will cover most muscles of the body, now what do we do with them?

Start with ONE workout, because one is infinitely more than zero.

First – warm up. This can be as simple as a 5-10 minute brisk walk followed by 20 forward and 20 backward arm circles to warm up your shoulders.

Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions (reps) of the first exercise before moving to the next. Give yourself about 1 minute rest in between sets.

What weight should I use??? Use a weight that allows you to get all 10 reps, but it somewhat challenging by the final rep. If you are unsure, do one warm-up or “ramp up” set first with light weights to gauge the difficultly.

You shouldn’t go to failure on your working sets, and you shouldn’t force sloppy reps.

I often use the cue – leave a few reps in the tank. Meaning, if you absolutely HAD to do 12 or 13 reps you could.

How does this look?

Example:

  • 10 push ups or dumbbell presses – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 push ups or dumbbell presses – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 push ups or dumbbell presses – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 rows – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 rows – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 rows – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 squats – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 squats – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 squats – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 hinges – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 hinges – rest for 1 minute
  • 10 hinges – rest for 1 minute

That’s it!

See how you feel 2 days later, and if you feel up to it, repeat the same exact workout once or twice in the week,

Then what?

The most simple way to progress is to add reps until you get to about 20. Then go back to 10 reps and add weight. This will cover you for a decent amount of weeks and if you are truly new to lifting weights you will be good to go.

Example:

  • Week 1 – 10 chest presses with 10 pounds
  • Week 2 – 12 chest presses with 10 pounds
  • Week 3 – 15 chest presses with 10 pounds
  • Week 4 – 18 chest presses with 10 pounds
  • Week 5 – 20 chest presses with 10 pounds
  • Week 6 – 10 chest presses with 12 pounds
  • Week 7 – 12 chest presses with 12 pounds
  • And so on and so on…

That is literally the most basic form of weight training you can do, and if you are totally new to it this will be a great place to start!

Don’t try to get ahead of yourself and add weight every workout. It takes time for muscles to grow, and slow and steady is always the way to go!

 

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5 MORE Quick Calorie Cuts

For the first article click here: https://mgfitlife.com/2017/02/28/5-quick-calorie-cuts/

Still looking for more tips and tricks to cut back on those calories huh?

Well, just remember that if you aren’t consistent with your day to day intake, these “simple” cuts won’t make much of a dent, but they could help you get started.

1. When eating out, NEVER clean your plate

I stole this from a friend I had dinner with last night who said he has lost about 10 pounds recently by just cutting back on fast food, and by never cleaning his plate when he eats out.

I loved this idea. If you think about it, even if you leave a few french fries and a few bites of a ‘sammich, that could easily be 300 calories. If you eat out daily, this would be cutting out 2100 calories per week!

Not to shabby.

2. Slow DOWN When You Eat

Set a stop watch next time you eat. See how long it took you. Now double that time the next time you eat a meal.

Yes, I know we are all super stressed and crunched for time – but if you aren’t currently measuring your food, and have no clue how much you eat – then eating too quickly can really add up fast.

By taking your time, you are giving your hunger signals more time to tell your brain that you are full.

3. Use a smaller plate at home.

Still load it up with protein and veggies, and then the rest of the space with “other” stuff.

By reducing the volume of food you eat – you will reduce your calories (go figure!)

Plates and serving sizes have actually gotten bigger over the years, and so has your countries average waistline (also, go figure)Image result for portion sizes over the years

4. Set a time frame to eat. Also know as intermittent fasting.

 While this may not work for all, intermittent fasting has is proponents.

Essentially you just set a time window that you eat, and a time window that you don’t. Usually the feeding window is anywhere between 4 and 8 hours.

I would recommend starting with 8 hours. So say you wakeup at 6AM, then as soon as you have your first bite of food, then you start your “8 hour clock” when you can eat. As soon as your 8 hours is up, no more eating.

5. Feel Hungry Before Eating

This is a big one, as many people have never experienced hunger.

It is important to eventually get to the point of intuitive and mindful eating – when you don’t have to track things, and can maintain your progress made.

Feeling physical hunger before eating is a big step towards mindful eating.

So, give it a try – no matter what time it is, if you don’t feel hungry – then don’t eat. Wait until you FEEL physical hunger.

*PHYSICAL HUNGER comes on slowly, feels like a dull stomach ache, then leads to a little headache, and eventually dizziness. (don’t get to THIS point – but when you start feeling it in your stomach, wait about 30 minutes – then eat)

*STRESS HUNGER comes on quickly, and often comes back quickly after eating, because food doesn’t fix your problems.Image result for physical hunger

Hopefully one of these might give you the extra push you need – or some ideas to try.

However, if you are already trying one tactic (say tracking macros) don’t think you need to jump to a different strategy right away. Things like fat loss and muscle gainz take time – and consistency (AGAIN WITH THAT WORD!)

Make sure whatever strategy you are trying works best for YOU, and you do it with consistency and to completion.

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What is Carb Cycling?

The skinny on carbs.

Carbs are everywhere. We hear about them being bad, we hear about them causing all of our problems. But do they really?

The truth is, they are not inherently bad. In America we tend to eat more of the processed, junk carbs than anywhere else in the world – and on average we do eat too much of them.

However, carbs are important for fueling out intense workouts and giving us the energy we need. Think of carbs as your gasoline for your car. If you are following a super low carb diet, your body cannot perform optimally and can eventually burn out. You need them as fuel to power through workouts with the right level of intensity.

Who could try carb cycling?

If you have been very consistent (including weekends) with your food intake and have been making solid progress for some time. Or if you are you are numbers person and you have your macros and calories in the right ballpark and have been doing well with counting and tracking, you may want to add a little bit of an advanced technique to your eating known as carb cycling.

Essentially, on your high activity days (workout days) you need more carbs.

***High activity days meaning tough workouts, around 60 minutes, at a hard intensity***

On your less active days, you don’t need as many carbs. This also means less calories on these days.

***This would be rest days, recovery days, or light workout days***

Carb cycling works very well for anyone looking to lose fat, and minimize muscle loss – or even gain muscle and minimize fat gain (all dependent on your calorie levels).

It also helps to control your insulin sensitivity, which is great for your internal health – especially if you have some weight to lose.

So how many carbs do I eat on workout days?

This is variable based on goals, body fat levels, gender, and even ethnicity (yes, genetics plays a role in how your body handles carbs). If you know your calorie level, then start around 40% of your calories from carbs.

For myself this would be 310 grams of carbs. Remember, this is an intense workout day. Lifting heavy, minimal rest, over 30 sets of strength training for over an hour.

No clue where to start? Email me.

Carb Cycling on Non-Lifting Days

Remove 50-75% of your starchy carbs on non-lifting days.

I recommend removing your starchy carbs from whatever meal(s) is easiest for you.

Example: I workout at 11AM on Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays

 Normally I have 50 grams at breakfast with my eggs. Cut those.

 My lunches usually contain a sandwich with fruit or rice on my lifting days. By turning this into a huge salad with tons of veggies, protein, and a little healthy fat, I am cutting out another 80 grams of carbs. 

 This equals 130 grams of carbs, so I will usually eat about half the amount I would normally have at dinner to get my total intake as low as possible.

So this would mean that I cut out 155-232 grams of carbs (and also 620-930 calories).

On a low carb day, I will also get a higher percentage of calories from fat – BUT will not eat more grams.

This will still keep me in a 500-800ish caloric deficit for the day, which is right where I want to be when on maintenance.

So why not go low carb all the time?

Because you NEED the carbs for fuel, and to keep your metabolism running and healthy.

Yes, I know there are people who go full low carb all the time and run on ketones, but that isn’t most people.

Realize, me needing 310 grams per day is not just a random number, and I have literally worked up to it.

If you are a small female, looking to lose 10 pounds of fat, your HIGH carb days might only be 125-150 grams of carbs per day, and your low carb days might be 30-40 grams (pretty much your veggies and a piece of fruit).

So be consistent with your food for a while, and then if you want, give carb cycling a try!

Key takeaways:

  1. Before trying carb cycling, make sure you have been good with your tracking and following plan.
  2. Cut back your carbs from starchy foods on non-workout days.
  3. This definitely applies to weekends, especially if you have big plans for the night!

When It Comes To Workouts, Stop Chasing a Feeling

 

I, and many others in the industry have said it before, ANYONE can make you super sweaty and feel like puking during a workout.

It’s really not hard.

Run 50 sprints, do 100 burpees then jump up and down on a box 50 times (PLEASE DONT ACTUALLY DO THIS) – and you will probably want to die…


Does that mean it was a good workout? Far from it.

That type of training and mentality needs to change.

Chasing an arbitrary “calorie burn” on your heart rate monitor is really just marketing BS. “Burn 1000 calories a workout!” sells much more than “feel great, get stronger, and lean up over the next 6 months to a year”.

First, the “calories burn” of a workout is really just a function of you age, gender, and heart rate during a workout – as created by whatever HR monitor you use. It can be a good indication of effort put into a workout, but still, it’s not the tell tail proof needed of calling a workout good or bad.

This type of justification was popularized by certain TV shows that did lots of unhealthy things to get people to lose weight super fast…and we all know where most of those people are now…

What is your goal? Want to get stronger? Then monitor your weights used over time and see if you get stronger. Here’s a “secret” – if you are getting stronger, you are likely creating more muscle and muscle burns calories when you are just sitting around better than fat does…so do that.

Want to lose inches? Take measurements and track your food. If you lose inches and maintain muscle – chances are you are doing things right. (No clue where to start? Send me a message!)

Instead of chasing the feeling of being completely exhausted and weak after a workout, chase the results over time.

This may be hard for some to swallow, but if you have only been chasing a feeling or a calorie burn and haven’t seen the results you are after – maybe you need to change it up?

While diet plays a HUGE role in any type of compositional change – your workouts also matter. Train for strength and mange your diet accordingly is really the best way to go about things.

I have been seeing some amazing results with a lot of my female clients especially who have “bought in” to the idea of strength training, and frankly – training more like bodybuilders – for muscular hypertrophy. They aren’t getting bulky, or manly looking as many will still tell you – but are getting strong and tight in all the right places, and losing body fat at a great rate.

Here’s the caveat, they leave the gym feeling GOOD. Not crawling out like a puddle of a person, and sometimes they hardly break a sweat (there is always some by the end, but not the dripping, puddle forming, holy crap I might puke kind of sweat)

While this may sound like I am ain’t bootcamp or high intensity training – it is not quite that simple.

I have nothing wrong with these types of workouts, and still offer them to many – BUT this has to be done appropriately and accordingly.

If all you do is plyometrics, jumping, running, and explosive work – your body can become worn down, joints brutalized, and central nervous system fatigued out. Especially if you are on an extreme caloric deficit.

You have to take some time to STRENGTHEN your muscles, joints and connective tissues to withstand that kind of beating if that is what you are into.

This brings me to my next point – when you are supposed to be lifting weights for strength – do just that. Strength training is for strength, cardio is for cardio – keep it that way (most of the time)

Don’t rush through a set of squats or bench presses because you “have to keep your heart rate up” – those are meant to create strength and essentially cause a little micro trauma to the muscles. Thats how we get stronger. Focus on the INTENT of the exercise and FEEL the muscles working. Slow down the tempo, feel each rep, and squeeze the hell out of the muscle that is being worked. Here is an example for hamstring curls:

Yes things like dumbbell complexes, and kettlebell work is a little of both, and thats fine. But you will get so much more out of a lift when you FOCUS on the intent within the muscle, rather than trying to fly through your reps.

While this got a little ranty, the one thing I want everyone to take from it is this:

Rather than chasing a feeling; chase a result. Have a plan, know what you are going to do when you set foot into the gym, do it right.

Lift your weights with intent, go fast when you are supposed to sprint, and control what you are supposed to control.

 

 

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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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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: http://www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html

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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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.

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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!

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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!

tracking

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.

consistencybrucelee2

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.

hello-my-name-is-consistency

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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