Posts tagged fat loss
Macro Tracking FAQs

Over the past year or so, I've gotten a ton of questions about tracking macros, counting calories, etc. This is just a short compilation of some frequently asked questions all about macros, tracking, etc. Let's get to it!

Q: What are "macros"?

A: "Macros" or macronutrients are basically the categories of foods that are required to live. "Macros" typically consist of protein, carbohydrate, fat, and fiber. I wrote an entire article all about the basics of these building blocks - check it out

Q: Do you have to track macros to lose fat/gain muscle?

A: Absolutely not. In fact, some people may do better without tracking macros or counting calories. There are multiple ways to achieve body composition goals - tracking and counting is certainly not the be all end all of dieting. 

Q: How do I start?

A: The easiest way to start is to begin tracking what and how much you are currently eating. From there, you can adjust up or down based on if you'd like to lose or gain. A lot of times, it can be a little more complicated than that, so I highly recommend finding a good coach to help guide you through the process if you're extremely new. 

Q: What should I use to track my macros and calories?

A: There are tons of apps available such as MyFitnessPal and MyMacros that allow you to track your macros and calories with ease. I highly recommend them!

Q: Should I prioritize calories or macros?

A: Priority number 1 is always calories. After that, focus on hitting your specific macronutrient numbers and then focus on when you eat what foods. Keep in mind, none of this matters if your consistency is lacking. 

Q: Carbs. When do I eat them? What kind do I eat? WHAT ABOUT CARBS?!

A: Carbs are everyone's favorite (and probably the most widely misunderstood) macronutrient. In generally, eat carbs that make you feel good and that you enjoy eating. Don't like sweet potatoes? Don't eat them. There are many, many carbs in the world to choose from (#AllCarbsAreBeautiful). How much carbohydrate a person requires is highly individual and based on a number of factors including activity level and type of activity, lean mass, hormones, etc. 

I usually recommend that people concentrate their carbohydrate intake around their workout window. This means eating most of your carbs for the day before/during/after your workout. Not working out that day? Cool, just eat a little less carbohydrate and spread it equally throughout the day. 

Q: What if I go over/go under my macros or calories?

A: Consistency is THE key when making body composition and diet changes. Macro and calorie tracking, while precise, is still an exercise in estimation. As long as you are consistently around your macronutritient and calorie goals, you're good to go!

 

Got more questions? Send them my way!

P.S. I'm running a sweeeeet online coaching deal on both programming and nutrition coaching right now. Check out the coaching page for more info!

P.P.S. There are just a few days left to order some shirts (or long sleeves! or hoodies!) that I've got up for presale! 

Crash Course in Carb Cycling & My Approach

*DISCLAIMER: I am not a nutritionist, dietician, doctor, etc. I'm simply sharing what I know and my own experience. Not everything works for everybody - this is just what has been working FOR ME under the guidance of my coach.*

I’ve been a fan of carb cycling in one form or another for quite some time now. I’ve tried a few different variations on it,  done some “informal” carb cycling, done some very meticulous carb cycling, and used various approaches to find something that works for me. So what the heck is carb cycling? Carb cycling is a dietary approach in which you, wait for it, cycle your carbs throughout a given time period (usually a week). Again, there are lots of iterations of carb cycling, but generally the thought is to cycle carbs and fats, while keeping protein the same, throughout the week based on your body composition goals and activity levels. The goal of carb cycling is to burn fat while continuing to maintain or build muscle (lean mass) and retain/increase strength. If the goal is to get stronger and leaner, why carb cycling? Well, the thought is to keep your body metabolically flexible and provide your body with enough carbohydrate to maintain or gain muscle mass and maintain or gain strength but still allow your body to burn fat by manipulating carbohydrates.

Rather than rehash all the science behind carb cycling, I will direct you here. (Note: I don’t really do any “calorie cycling” - I will have one or two untracked, whatever I want meals a week though).

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You can google “carb cycling diets” and find hundreds of versions of “carb cycling”. There are some protocols that are very specific and require a good deal of math, calculation, and tracking and then there are protocols that don’t require any tracking, measuring, etc. There are protocols that have you eating high carb on training days and protocols that you have eating high carb the day before your hardest training session. The one that works best? I think it really depends on what your goal is, how experienced you are with nutrition,  and how well you know how your body reacts to certain things. For example, I like to have my highest carb days on my heaviest and hardest training days because I feel the carbs help my recovery capacity while other people like to load the carbs the day before their training days to help refill their glycogen stores.

Another thing to consider is how you go about implementing a carb cycling plan. This is largely going to be dictated by the amount of mental stress caused by tracking/measuring/counting.  You can measure and count how many grams of carbs, fats, and protein you are going to have or you can skip the counting and just focus on adding in more carb dense foods on training days and eating less fat dense foods on those same days. Stacy over at Paleo Parents wrote about her carb cycling protocol and is a good example of how carb cycling can be done without tracking macros or counting calories.

I personally DO count and track since it actually just makes it easier for me, but again, that isn’t necessarily required. * I organize my  nutritional week into three categories based around my training schedule. These categories are: high carb days, medium carb days, and low carb days. *I would say that once you reach a certain point, some awareness of what you’re eating IS going to be required.*

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So here is what that looks like in a typical week for me:

Monday: Volume Training Day (high total tonnage, moderately heavy weight) → High carb day Tuesday: Rest day → low carb day

Wednesday: “Deload” Training Day (lower total tonnage, lighter weight) → medium carb day

Thursday: Rest day → low carb day

Friday: “Intensity” Training Day (moderate total tonnage, heavy weight) → high carb day

Saturday: Deadlift Program day (high total tonnage, moderate to heavy weight) → medium carb day

Sunday: Rest day → low carb day

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High carb days: These days are, as the name implies, high on carbs and consequently low on fats. I personally place my high carb days on my heaviest, hardest training days for recovery purposes and to help restore glycogen stores and gain muscle.

Here’s an example of a “High carb” day meal plan for me:

Pre-workout: ½ cup sweet potato puree + ½ scoop protein powder

Post-workout: 1 scoop protein powder + plantain bread

Meal 1: 3 eggs + 2-3 white potatoes

Meal 2: Lean meat + carbs + veggies such as  bison + ½ cup white rice + veggies

Meal 3:  Lean meat + carbs + veggies such as chicken breast + 2 ounces rice pasta + veggies

Meal 4: Lean meat + veggies or Epic bar or SR Bar

Medium carb days: These days have a moderate amount of carbs, moderate amounts of fats, and protein intake remains the same. I use this on my lighter, less intense training days to help with recovery and glycogen replenishment.

Here’s an example of a “medium carb” day meal plan for me:

Pre-workout: ½ cup sweet potato puree + ½ scoop protein powder

Post-workout: 1 scoop protein powder + plantain bread

Meal 1: 3 eggs + 2-3 white potatoes

Meal 2: Lean meat + carbs + veggies such as tuna + plantain chips + salad

Meal 3: Lean meat + veggies + fat such as chicken breast + roasted veggies with olive oil

Meal 4: Meat + veggies + fat such as ground beef + broccoli

 

Low carb days: These days are low on carbs and high on fats. I place my low carb days on rest days since I find that the high fat content helps my recovery and I’m normally not as hungry on these days. Low carb days make up the remainder of my week.

 Here’s an example of a “low carb” day meal plan for me:

Meal 1: 3 eggs + 2 pieces bacon + berries & fat (almond butter, butter, olive oil, etc.)

Meal 2: Meat + non-starchy vegetables + fat such as chicken thighs + broccoli, spinach, and olive oil

Meal 3: Protein shake or meat + non-starchy vegetables

Meal 4: Meat + non-starchy vegetables + carb + fat such as grass-fed ground beef with sweet potatoes, spinach, and brussel sprouts with butter

Meal 5: Carb + fat source such as sweet potato with almond butter - usually if I don’t have any carbs at meal 4

 

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Now - on to a few questions I regularly get about carb cycling:

 

Isn’t that a lot of keep track of day in and day out? Put simply, yes. At this point, it is fairly automatic for me but at first, it can seem pretty daunting. Planning ahead makes a huuuuge difference. This type of plan, particularly tracking and counting along with it, may not be the best idea for someone who feels intimidated by meal prep or is easily overwhelmed on the nutritional front.

 

WHOA. Won’t I get massive if I eat carbs? Sorry but you can’t demonize carbs as the be-all-end-all of reasons why we get fat. Carbohydrates are extremely important for your health and well being and are even more important if you’re physically active. How many carbs you need is going to depend on your chosen activity (the carb needs for someone who is an endurance runner vs a Crossfitter vs a strong(wo)man are going to be different) and how well your body handles carbs. For example, my “high” carb days are probably relatively low compared to others simply because my body and carbs had a rocky relationship for a long time (thanks to years of low, low carb dieting).

 

How do I figure out HOW MUCH I need to eat? There are some fancy caloric and macronutritient need calculators out there, you can hire a nutrition coach to calculate numbers for you, or if you don’t want to deal with numbers, you’re going to have to do some experimentation. Keep a food log and record your hunger levels, your gym performance, and how you feel. Use progress photos. Find a way to record your own version of data and reflect on it periodically. Then, make adjustments as needed.

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But things like white rice and pasta aren’t “clean”/paleo/low glycemic/etc. Can’t I just eat sweet potatoes? You COULD just eat sweet potatoes but you better really love sweet potatoes. I am not going to go into my disdain for the term “clean eating” but truly, things such as white potatoes, white rice, and rice pasta can serve a purpose. Again, it is going to be dependent on your activity level and such.

Won’t going between high carb and low carb make my blood sugar crazy? Potentially. Some individuals are most sensitive to this than others and this is another “it depends” situation. If you feel out of whack, your cravings get out of control, and you’re having issues, then maybe it isn’t the plan for you. Again, I have found this style of eating to work well for me because I took time to get my blood sugar regulated and resolve the majority of my metabolic issues.

PHEW. That’s it. I applaud you if you’ve made it this far. So - what do you think of carb cycling? Have you tried it? What other questions do you have?

Fat Loss and Strength Gain: Is it Possible?

*DISCLAIMER: I'm not a nutritionist, doctor, dietician, etc. I'm just sharing my own personal experience*

Losing body fat and gaining strength - isn’t that the holy grail that most people are looking for? I started off my long weekend by adding nearly 10# to my deadlift PR. And finding out I’ve lost around 6lbs and 2% bodyfat since June (if I count the starting weight as my last contest weigh in, it’d be closer to 10lbs but I usually eat all the things and weigh in heavy the day before a contest).  I ain’t mad about it.

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I’ve been working on cutting weight as I head into my off season.  Truth be told, I fully expected my gym performance to take a hit and feel less than great for the first month or so while I was “dieting” but, happily, that hasn’t been the case.  Operating in a small caloric deficit can be very difficult as a strength athlete but I’ve avoided pretty much all of the negative impacts I thought I would encounter. I was expecting to have most of my lifts track backwards a bit but so far, the only thing that hasn’t felt great has been heavy 5 rep max back squats - but I think that has more to do with needing to change my program rather than dieting down. In fact,  I think I’ve PRed just about everything in the past month and felt better in the gym than I have in months. Bottom line: since June, I’ve lost nearly 10 pounds off my frame and added it to my deadlift. Once this entire weight cut is done, I’ll do a post or series of post detailing what I did and how I did it but for now, here are the basics of how I’ve been able to cut weight while getting stronger, so far:

 

1. Carb cycling: Cycling my carbs has been the reason why I’ve been able to lose body fat and gain strength. I’ve done carb cycling before but I would fall into this trend of keeping my “high carb” days too low and not truly cycling my carbs. I usually do 2 “high carb” days, 2 “medium cabr” days, and 3 “low carb” days a week right now.

 

2. Doing the math: For this weight cut, my coach and I got very, very nerdy. We crunched numbers and did the math and I’ve been sticking to those numbers. For me, tracking things doesn’t produce any mental issues and I work best with having lots of data, so it’s been extremely helpful.

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3. Meal planning: LIFE SAVER. My top tips and tricks are here and here.

 

4. Having realistic expectations: I know that I’m not going to make any HUGE strength gains at this point but I am working to make small, steady gains over the course of this off season. I’ve also been realistic about the fact that training is going to feel harder some days and that’s okay. I also know that this weight cut is going to take a while and I’m fine with that. I’m all about slow and steady.

 

5. Moderation: My plan isn’t “super strict” and my attitude towards my plan isn’t one of all-or-nothing compliance.  Life happens. I’m not going to feel guilty about having gelato for lunch one day while my husband and I are out because 1.) it actually DID fit my plan (macro-wise) and 2.) it’s not a regular occurrence.  Trying to white knuckle my way through anything is going to end poorly, so I just don’t do that.

And that's been my experience thus far. I'm sure things will change, and adjustments will definitely be made as time goes on, but so far, so good!

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P.S. to all of my Virginia and especially my Richmond folks! My coach and I are hosting a  Strongman training camp! This 5-week training camp (5 Saturday sessions, 75min each)  is focused on teaching individuals all about Strongman and how to prepare for a specific contest. You DO NOT need to compete to participate - we will be giving detailed technique and instruction on several implements and will have a program in place to help you get improve over the 5-week time period.

Read more and sign up here: http://www.crossfitfullcircle.com/workshops/summerstrongmantrainingcamp/