The Vegan Diet for Athletes?

 
I came across the following article on NFL players going vegan several months ago (Going Vegan in the NFL) and it got me thinking about the dangers of ordinary folks taking the advice of the genetically superior/physical outlier population.
 
Here’s a dose of reality- those gifted few who are meant to be in the NFL due to their sheer physical size, speed, power, and athletic gifts. This is not meant to marginalize their work ethic, effort, and years of struggle to reach the top tier of their sport. However, it is unlikely that they had to rely heavily on optimal nutrition, training, and recovery programs to get where they are. As long as they trained in the off-season, whether intelligently or not, they probably continued to get bigger, faster, fitter, and stronger.
 
I bring this up because most individuals do not fully understand the inherited physical prowess possessed by most Divison-1/professional athletes. Many skills and techniques can be honed through good coaching and practice, but we all have metaphorical ceilings on our athletic abilities. You cannot “train” being 6’5” and 265 lbs, with quick feet and good instincts. Some people are destined to play power forward and some people make great accountants, and there is no amount of effort that can be applied to change that.
 
My point is bringing this up is that athletes often succeed in spite of their diets and training routines. I cannot think of a more foolish diet for a collision sport athlete (or any human for that matter) than veganism / vegetarianism. Animal flesh provides the essential building blocks for muscle tissue repair, as well as your bones, skin, hair, arteries, veins and a host of other important bodily functions (check this must-read meat article). It is also calorically dense and satiating, which is a crucial attribute for athletes of the size and stature of football players, where body mass matters in a major way.
 
One does not grow to be a lean 250+ lb human on salads, beans, and quinoa. Are some athletes able to get away with incomplete, malnourishing diets? Sure. Should we emulate genetic freaks and expect similar outcomes? Absolutely not. Get your nutritional advice from the sports/performance nutrition experts, not the world champion athlete who plays by a unique set of rules.
 

Communication

By: Marcos Hernandez

 
Why are certain lifts so hard for people? A simple concept to some can be complex to others.
 
For example: The coach tells you to arch your back on a deadlift. It feels like you are arching it every time, but the cues keep coming. The coach tries a different one, “Chest up!” You think you get it but the next time the same cues come out again. It might feel like you as an athlete aren’t understanding what the coach is talking about.
 
In reality, it’s the coach who isn’t understanding. They aren’t understanding how to effectively communicate a concept to you as an athlete. Maybe your particular way of thinking is something the coach has never encountered, or a particular cue isn’t having the desired corrective effect with you that day.
 
If the same issues come up again and again, help out your coaches by taking sometime to understand the concepts yourself. Research outside of the gym. Read up on it, ask other lifters; take control of your own future by investing in yourself.
 

Go Faster.

By: Marcos Hernandez

 
Intensity may be lacking if you have been training Crossfit for a while and are stagnant. Of course in the beginning it is very important to take your time and make sure all movements are performed properly. This makes sure you are staying injury free and building correct movement patterns.
 
After some time there should be a point where you turn off and go. The movements are clean. So when the buzzer beeps, go all out. The coach will be around to make sure your movement doesn’t become dangerous or cause injury. But let the professionals decide when that is.
 
Try and increase the intensity just once a week to start. Make sure the movements are something you are comfortable with or choose a lighter weight. Going faster could be just the thing your training needs.
 

One Mission at a Time

 
Focus on one target, one mission, one goal at a time. Can you tackle multiple training, health, fat loss goals concurrently? Sure. Will you optimize your results/progress in any of these areas using this multi-tasking approach? Doubtful.
 
For example: Steve wants to put 30 lbs on his squat, train for a marathon, and get shredded for beach season all in the same 6 week timeframe.
 
Each one of these goals individually are perfectly acceptable pursuits. However, unless you are a CrossFit Games caliber athlete, I highly doubt all can be pursued simultaneously. All goals are constrained by the principle of scarcity; that of time, resources, recovery capacity, adaptation potential, etc., etc.
 
Instead of inundating your body with stressors, many of which are likely conflicting, put your effort into achieving one goal. If you want to get stronger, don’t cut into your finite energy and recovery stores going running 4x week or performing random bouts of conditioning that don’t directly relate to your training goals. If you want to lean out, keep a detailed food log, get 8 hrs of sleep nightly, lift some weights, and keep conditioning brief and intense.
 
Remember not to confuse activity with accomplishment. Avoid expending valuable effort on things that produce little or no positive return on effort. Allow yourself to be successful on one mission before undertaking your next endeavor.
 

Trust Your Coach

By: Marcos Hernandez

 
Often times as athletes we feel like we know better than our coaches in regards to our lifts, our WODS, etc. I promise it isn’t a referendum on you or your abilities if your coach decides to hold you back a bit. Coaches may see something that would prevent you from succeeding at a heavier weight or more challenging exercise. Think of a coach as an impartial, objective observer who is looking out for your best interest, even if you sometimes aren’t. Often, we as athletes need saving from ourselves.
 
In weightlifting, taking multiple attempts at lower weights can help dial in technique and increase speed. The answer is not always more weight, more difficulty, more intensity, and pushing things to the threshold of failure.
 
In CrossFit, scaling back to L1 instead of L2 can often times lead to a better workout. Maybe those L2 movements would be slow. So maybe, by doing single unders instead of double unders, the athlete could get a better conditioning effect. L1 typically features less technical movements, but is not inherently an easier workout. Remember, you always control the intensity with which you push yourself.
 
The point is, coaches see the big picture and only have the best interests of the athlete in mind. Remember, we want you to succeed as much if not more than you do. Trust us: we won’t let you down.
 

Weightlifting memes that need to die

 

“Life is a wonderful thing. You laugh, you cry, you make friendships, and hopefully you improve the journey for someone else along the way. It’s a grand, beautiful, tragic, wonderful story.
 
Treat it as such. There are a few things in life that really matter, and are worth defining yourself by. There are many more that do not rise to that level of importance.
 
Among those things in the second category: Coffee, Beards, Weightlifting Equipment, and Bacon.
 
Coffee:
I drink about a quart of coffee per day. Why? Because it’s delicious. It is potentially the most delectable beverage in existence, and without it I am quasi-homicidal by noon.
 
Also, the more evidence that comes out about coffee, the more reason there is to love it. It’s beneficial to your metabolic and mental health, both acute and chronically.
 
However, coffee is a beverage. Coffee is not a movement. Coffee is not a lifestyle.
 
Coffee is a beverage.
 
You know the kid who has a Monster energy shirt and snapback who rides motocross bikes, and his brand identification with Monster is a defining characteristic of his existence? You know how pathetic that seems to you? Well, take a look in the mirror cupcake – that’s how most people are looking at you.
 
Coffee is a beverage.
 
I think this is a reactionary position. For years we were told that coffee was the devil. Sure, it may put some pep in your step in the morning, but there was something unhealthy and insidious about it. As we learned that coffee was, in fact, quite good for you, we collectively lost our shit and the pendulum swung too far the other way.
 
Coffee makes you feel good. Unless you go way way overboard, coffee is quite good for you. But.
 
Coffee is a beverage.
 
If a beverage is your life, you have a sad sad life.
 
If ‘the best part of waking up is Folgers (or any other type of coffee) in your cup,’ then you’re probably about a dozen cups away from realizing that there’s not much in your life worth waking up for.
 
Beards:
Few things culturally denote masculinity the same way a full, glorious beard does. The last time beards were REALLY in was the 1910s. They fell out of style in the roaring ‘20s, and remained the domain of hobos, creepy uncles, and stylized fatcat tycoons for the better part of a century. Now that they’re starting to come back into style, people are overreacting because they realized how cool a nice beard could be.
 
However, don’t forget the distinction between being a man and simply having a beard. A beard may be an emblem of our culture’s definition of masculinity, but if it’s all you have to hang your hat on and say “I’m a real man – can’t you tell because I have a beard?” then the only purpose it serves is to highlight your other masculine shortcomings.
 
If you want to grow a beard, then grow one. If you don’t, then don’t.
 
However, obsessing about it too much and putting too much stock in simply having a beard undermines any attempt to demonstrate the manliness that a beard may have otherwise assisted you in.
 
Weightlifting equipment:
If the proliferation of $200+ weightlifting shoes has proven one thing, it’s that weightlifters are just as insecure and susceptible to marketing as any other athlete.
 
Now, to make sure you’re not hearing me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with having nice things. If weightlifting is your main hobby, and you have a good job and plenty of disposable income, then by all means buy things you enjoy. Weightlifting gear is certainly cheaper than a new set of golf clubs, and well-to-do folks sink a ton of money into their golf game.
 
There’s nothing wrong with wanting and getting nice things if it makes you happy.
 
BUT, don’t act like it actually matters too much beyond your personal enjoyment.
 
A slumping Tiger Woods would still wreck you on the links with wooden clubs from the 1920s, and Ilya Ilin on his worst day would destroy you on the platform lifting barefoot.
 
It’s not that nice equipment doesn’t help SOME, but don’t act like it’s a make-or-break factor. It *may* be the 2kg difference between gold and bronze in an international meet for people whose bodies are well-oiled machines and for whom a very small thing could make a meaningful difference. Unless you’re reading this article as a break from writing your training plan leading up to Rio 2016, that does not apply to you.
 
The more important factor is simply getting stronger and becoming a better lifter, independent of your equipment.
 
If you think new equipment is fun and you have money to burn, by all means go for it, but don’t act like you’re a better lifter simply because you have 3 pairs of $200 kicks.
 
Bacon:
Bacon is similar to coffee. It’s something else that was a guilty pleasure for a long time. As soon as some reviews started coming out saying “saturated fat and salt don’t instantly kill you,” the pendulum swung WAY too far the other direction.
 
People who had been living deprived lives of chicken, rice, and broccoli since the ‘80s woke up and realized some foods could have a mystical, hitherto unknown quality called “flavor.” Bacon, perhaps being the most flavorful and fatty actual food on the planet (not talking about straight butter and coconut oil that some people drop in their coffee), became awkwardly fetishized.
 
Yay. Congratulations. You’ve moved into the 21st century and have realized that you can eat bacon. We’re so happy for you.
 
Newsflash: bacon isn’t a health food.
 
While saturated fat won’t instantly destroy your arteries, it’s still not something you should consume in mass quantities daily. Also, although red meat has been largely vindicated in the scientific literature, excessive consumption of processed meat (like bacon or sausage) is still implicated in a host of unpleasant health outcomes.
 
You like bacon? Sweet. You just joined a group consisting of 99% of human beings. Your love of bacon does not make you special or unique – it means you’re evolutionarily hardwired to seek salty, fatty foods just like every other person on the planet.
 
There’s nothing wrong with eating a few strips of bacon from time to time – as with anything else, although it’s not the healthiest food in the world, the dose makes the poison. It would be a sad life where you had to only eat “clean” 100% of the time. Have a few strips of bacon and a bowl of ice cream and live a little.
 
But keep in mind.
 
Bacon is a food. Bacon is not a lifestyle.
 
Bacon is a food.
If you are that obsessed with a particular food, you do not have a healthy relationship with food. You need to stop reading fitness articles immediately and seek the help of a mental health professional.
 
I promise you will not look back on your deathbed and say ‘my biggest regret was that I didn’t buy another pair of weightlifting shoes,’ or, ‘if only I’d drank more coffee.’ That is all.” – Greg Nuckols

The Rule of 5

 

“In a group of five workouts, I tend to have one great workout, the kind of workout that makes me think in just a few weeks I could be an Olympic champion, plus maybe Mr. Olympia. Then, I have one workout that’s so awful the mere fact I continue to exist as a somewhat higher form of life is a miracle. Finally, the other three workouts are the punch-the-clock workouts: I go in, work out, and walk out. Most people experience this.” – Dan John

 
The longer you train as an CrossFitter and the more you develop and improve as an athlete, the more the above quote begins to ring true. The number of people who have the privilege of being full time athletes who do not have to work full time to support their physical pursuits is small indeed. The rest of us have to find a way to balance our training with our jobs, families, and other extracurriculars. We do not have access to athletic trainers, massage therapists / PT’s, personal chefs, and other handlers that generally keep you from being burdened with the distractions the rest of us regular folks must contend with on a daily basis.
 
As we grow out of the novice stages of training and improve as lifters and CrossFit athletes, progress becomes much more incremental. We are progressing forward hopefully, but often times setbacks will occur in the form of travel, injuries, illness, vacation, etc., that cause us to at times regress. This ebb and flow is natural as only the mediocre are always at their best. The perfect program or perfect circumstances don’t exist so we must seek to do our best given our current lifestyle parameters. Learn to temper your expectations; enjoy your great workouts, but don’t write your goals based on one great day in the gym. Similarly, don’t assess your ability or self-worth as an athlete based on one bad day in the gym; everyone has them, and it will pass. Have a long term vision of where you want to be, keep track of progress indicators, and expect there to be an ebb and flow along the way.
 

Make the most of your circumstances

 

“Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.” – Teddy Roosevelt

 
One of the most useful aspects of the CrossFit methodology is the fact that it is inherently inclusive of all practical movements, regardless of the implement being used. If you have access to sleds, ‘bells, bars, bumpers, a pull up rig, medballs, etc., then by all means use every implement at your disposal in your quest to improve fitness. If you are on the road and have a sparse hotel gym with a treadmill and some dumbbells, get creative and utilize bodyweight movements, running, and dumbbell exercises to craft a quick and effective workout. Maybe you’re out on a hike or camping trip and don’t have access to any traditional equipment- no problem. What’s more functional than climbing some stress, carrying logs, shoulder rocks, and hiking around on unpredictable terrain?
 
The main thing to always keep in mind is that the “perfect” workout/program is an illusion. We are always dealing with a host of sub-optimal and limiting factors that affect training, so rather than getting caught up in what you can’t do, focus on what you can, where you are, with what you have.
 

Training the Aging Athlete

 
By: Marcus Taylor
 
I’m not young anymore…
 
So earlier this year I realized something….. I’m not “young” any more. I mean I know that to some of you you’ll probably look at that statement and roll your eyes BUT the reality is I’m not 23 years old. I can’t drink vodka sodas til I pass out, eat McDonalds at 4am, wakeup 4 hours later and workout for 2 hours the next morning. I’m a newly married 35.5 year old man so I have all the stressors that many of you have. After a long day of work and training, the next morning it takes my body several hours to get into gear. Furthermore, I realized that I am a middle aged man (you may roll your eyes at this fun fact but its true). The life expectancy of a black male in the US is 71 years old (half of 71 is 35.5…SHIT that’s ME). Imagine my surprise when I read that! So being “middle aged” I REALLY have to make sure that I’m sleeping well and eating properly to aid in my recovery.
 
Sleeping well includes getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep with the TV/other electronic devices off. Proper sleep in this manner will help your brain commit new information to memory (aka memory consolidation). It also aids in weight management, mood, and hypertension (which is extremely prevalent in black males) and it prevents immune dysfunctions. Coupling quality sleep with good nutritional habits will help me recover better from long days and tough workouts. Quality food will give me more energy, aid in weight control, and brain function. This is nothing that you all don’t know but sometimes you have to take a look in the mirror at what you are and think “Should I have that snack…should I stay up and watch this TV show at 11pm”? NO, put that Twix down and take your ass to bed my fellow middle agers. Stay classy CFSS!!!
 

The Exercise Technique Continuum

 
First, let us establish that “perfect” technique is a unicorn; it doesn’t exist outside of the realm of myths and ideas. Get Olympic coaches in a room watching the same competition footage, and you will get 10 different observations on what the athletes did wrong or could’ve done better.
 
A more realistic standard to judge technique is “optimal”. “Optimal” execution is going to be determined by an athlete’s body type, anthropometry (relative segment lengths), injury history, ability, mobility, etc.
 
In life and in sport, there are outliers who seemingly defy the rules and perform at elite levels. Do not emulate the outliers unless your physical structure, experience, and ability matches theirs (hint: it doesn’t).
 
Think of technique as an ever-changing continuum, progressing from unsafe/bad/inefficient to acceptable/safe/semi-efficient, to optimal/safe/very efficient. There are gradations within each one of these landmarks, but the goal is to always be traveling towards better & more efficient.
 
My goal as a coach is to always prioritize safe movement, and then seek to refine and improve efficiency and execution of movement. This is why we are always offering small pointers and refinements; there is always something to be done at a higher level of technical skill. Heavier and better are not synonymous, and an over-emphasis on the latter typically leads to overuse/injury. Continue chasing optimal and the PR’s will follow.