A few weeks ago, someone asked me what the difference was between “cutting” and “dieting” in powerlifting. I’ve been thinking a lot about that on several levels, so I want to address that question and why it matters if you are a powerlifter, or just a person trying to look a little bit better and drop a few pounds.
First, it’s important to understand that in the sport of powerlifting there are weight classes. People compete against other people in their weight class. Who cares? Well, if I weight 100 pounds and I’m competing against someone who weighs 200 pounds I’m at a clear disadvantage. For the purpose of this post, we are going to use my weight class: 72kilograms, or 158.9 pounds. I have to weight that or under to compete against other women in that class. If I come in at 72.1KG, I compete against women in the 84KG class… I’d be at a clear disadvantage.
In strength sports, the general reality is that the bigger you are the more weight you can lift. Why? Well, in an ideal world your weight would be pure muscle and that’s what moves iron. So, in my ideal situation I want to train at 72 kilograms, not 64 kg (the next weight class down). My goal is to be at that higher weight when I train and compete… but not over it.
Here’s the challenge… when you consider your body composition things get way more complicated. There are three macronutrients that we use to build and fuel our bodies: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. We need them all to function, and strength athletes particularly need protein to build muscle and carbs to fuel (give you energy) to make it through training. Fat is the third wheel here. You need it to regulate hormones (really critical for all athletes, but especially women), and your body loves it… but it’s the thing most of us have in excess… it’s the place we can and want to lose weight.
So, dieting is a restriction of calories (caloric deficit) to lose mass through fat. That’s it. We look at macros to figure out how we lose that mass. If you don’t eat enough you will not increase your muscle mass, which is the goal. You need a certain amount of protein to build muscle, and carbs to fuel your workouts (and life in general). So, if you aren’t also losing fat you will just gain weight. No harm, no foul. Just move up a weight class. That’s why we powerlift right? Eat all the donuts. We love you. I love you. Please give m a doughnut.
However, if you are like me you live at just around 160 pounds, about two pounds away from the 72KG class. That’s where I want to compete. That means as I gain muscle mass through training, I need to lose it somewhere else… fat’s the only option here.
If you go have a body composition scan done you will find out your percentages of fat, muscle and bone. The generally accepted “healthy” fat ratio is under 25% of your total weight in fat. Anything over that and you are considered obese. And who cares… those are just numbers based on averages… screw that. But, if you are trying to compete at a certain weight, and you are increasing muscle mass, you have to cut your fat to make that weight class. That’s the only option.
That is why you diet… to get rid of fat. Dieting is a long-term process. You need to understand the amount of calories your body needs to maintain your present weight, and what it needs to lose weight. That is a moving target because as you increase your muscle mass, you will increase weight.
Dieting is an art. It requires you know what your body needs, and you can adjust that as your body composition changes over time. I know that if I do the standard macro calculation it will tell me to eat 2,800 calories a day. I also know that as a 49-year-old woman I am not going to cut fat if I do that. I know that because I have tried. I also know that at this point I need 1,800 calories to maintain my weight and 1,400 calories to lose weight. And I also know that as my body composition changes, and as I age those numbers will change. This is why it is helpful to work with your coach and/or a specialist who knows your sport and understands macros and food.
So, what is “cutting?” Cutting is two things: massive lowering of calories (caloric deficit) and manipulation of water in your body. Generally, one cuts a week or two out. For me this has included cutting calories, but more so manipulating water intake so that my body would eliminate as much unnecessary water stores before a weigh in as possible. It’s generally harmless unless you get completely out of control with caloric intake… you can’t cut to 700 calories a day for five days before a competition and expect to perform well… it’s just not possible to refeed with enough nutrients before you lift.
At the end of the day, in my experience, cutting is not desirable over a steadily maintained body weight. There’s a lot of stress before a competition… adding whether or not you’re going to make your weight class is not a necessary thing to add into the mix. You know when you are going to compete… plan for it on the plate as well as at the gym.
With the new year, I’ve seen this meme make the rounds on social media and it really struck a chord with me. There are two important sides to this meme and the message we are trying to send by sharing.
First, is the comfortable gym goer. This person has been going to the gym for years. People know their name, they have a favorite locker, cardio machine, gym space, whatever it may be. The gym is a comfort zone. If you are this person you can play a very positive or very negative role for someone else. It can be as simple as a smile or head nod, or as negative as a dirty look, side comment to your friend or even worse a picture or video you take then share to facebook, instagram, snapchat, twitter, etc.
I was given a good piece of advice early in my career in the fitness industry: When a new gym goer walks into a gym they feel like every exercise, stretch, run, jog, or core movement is done standing on top of a plyo box. Imagine how daunting that can be for someone just trying to improve themselves.
The other person in this equation is the new gym goer. The last sentence is the most important thing to remember when going to the gym: you have the same right to be there as everyone else. The gym can be a daunting place but it doesn’t have to be. You will be surprised at how many employees or other members would be happy to help or offer a smile. Remember, you are at the gym for you, not for the meathead in the squat rack or the cardio bunny watching “Friends” reruns. Make 2019 the year of you!
I was having a conversation over the holidays with an old, old friend of mine who recently took up a new diet and was going to the gym almost every day. She's struggled with losing "the last fifteen pounds" for the last fifteen years. At 48 years old, this was her last attempt. "Claire, if I can't do it now, I'm done. I'm just going to eat whatever I want, because no matter how hard I try nothing is changing."
She was really upset about three things:
People (women in particular) have been told for years that the only way to lose weight is to enter into extreme caloric deficit... a.k.a. starvation. And, add in a good dose of cardio every day for good measure. The enemy in this scenario is The Calorie. Calories are bad... to be restricted and watched very carefully when they are around.
There's only one problem with that approach... calories are the things that fuel our bodies. Without them we literally don't have the energy to do stuff, we get "hangry." And your body isn't stupid, it learned years before you were even born (way back when humans were hunting and gathering) that when energy is not plentiful, the body will hold on to whatever it has... translated into modern concerns: you won't lose weight.
So what are calories then? They are the literally the little energy units that keep you alive. We consume them through food, and there are three basic macronutrient forms: protein, carbs, and fat. [There are micronutrients too, but that's for another day.] We need all three of those kinds of energy for our bodies to function. Even when you aren't doing anything at all your body is burning calories because you are breathing, your heart is pumping, etc. The more you move, the more you need to keep going.
If you are a moderately active person (working out 3 to 4 times a week), and have a job that requires you to move around, or kids, or an overly active dog, or anything like that... you probably need more than 1200 calories to get through your day without feeling like crap. So, how do you know?
There are four things to consider here:
1. How active are you? Not just working out, but other stuff like I mentioned above.
2. What is your body type? There are three kinds: endomorph, mesomorph and ectomorph (see below).
3. What is your goal? Are you trying to lose weight, maintain, or gain muscle mass?
If you know these three things you can calculate your true caloric needs, and how they are best achieved. Wait? What? Yes, calories are calories, but depending on our body type, how much we move, and what our goal is, there is an optimal ratio of those macronutrients I talked about above that will get you there fastest.
Again, macro-nutrients are protein, carbs and fat. We eat them to make energy (referred to as kcals). It's good to note that every gram of protein and carbs you eat yield 4 kcal (calories) of energy; fat yields 9. Yes, there are different kinds of fat and some are better than others, but that's for a different day... we're talking calories here. Depending on your body type and your goals, you need to eat a different mix of those three things to optimize performance and reach your goals... aka live your life and look the way you want to.
So, if you are an endomorph - you carry weight, have a slow metabolism, and tend to be "thick"; and your goal is to lose weight- your body will do better with restricted carbs, and more fat and protein. That's cool. Only eat one slice of bread, but put double the meat, a slice of cheese and a bunch of veggies on it.
If you're like my friend, a mesomorph who is athletic, moves a lot and wants to build muscle AND cut down on fat then you need closer to 30% protein, 40% carbs, and 30% fat. Have a second roll.
That's the basics of it. You don't need to figure your macro-analysis out yourself... I'll do it for you (it's even FREE in January!), and I can develop a meal plan around that, and we can check in on progress. Or you can download an app that will do it for you. I use My Macros+. It won't build your meal plans (or make your food), but you can figure out your macros and track them there. It's the best interface I've found... and I look at these things a lot.
However, you do it... or don't do it, the point of this blog post is that calories are not the enemy. Food is not the enemy. You need food... protein, carbs AND fat in some combination to keep living. Reflecting on who you really are right now, and where you really want to be are the first steps to really understanding how to develop the very personal macro-mix that will work for you.
This is an act of self-compassion and self-care. Love yourself enough to nourish your body with the things it wants and needs. Calories are the compassionate friends your body needs to be the true you. You’d be surprised. Sometimes the answer to the elusive question “why aren’t I losing weight or getting stronger,” is that you aren’t eating enough.
A couple days before Thanksgiving we got some interesting news... the kitchen space we rent was closing. That is a big, big bummer. However, as with most things in life, this ended up being a good thing for us because it's allowed us to make some changes in how we do things. We've gotten a lot of great feedback from folks on what we are doing, and this change in location helps us address several of those requests. So, here they are...
So, the moral of the story is... when life hands you an undesirable condition you gotta roll with it. Sometimes the weight on the bar is pretty heavy. You might miss the lift, but the only time you fail is when you don't get back under the iron and try again.
Here's to explosive growth for all of us in 2019!
Now that you had a chance to read about Claire and purchase our delicious to_go boxes I figured it’s time for me to introduce myself.
Growing up I have always participated in some kind of sport: baseball, football, wrestling, track & field but when my high school days were coming to an end it was clear there was one sport that I excelled at: football. I decided to continue playing football in college and that is where I really learned about my passion for fitness.
Entering college I thought I wanted to be a graphic designer. It only took a semester to realize my artistic abilities are comparable to my 3 year old, so I knew I needed a change. While training in the offseason we had a strength coach who was also the exercise science department head. I struck up a conversation with him and asked about his job. From that point on I knew I found my calling.
After graduating college I did a summer internship with the Houston Astros as a minor league strength and conditioning coach. I had the opportunity to travel with the team, prepare them for games, and learn about professional baseball. There are still philosophies in my training that have been with me since those days 10 years ago. Two summers with the Astros was a wonderful experience but I needed more.
I was fortunate to get my first collegiate experience as an intern at Marquette University. Working at Marquette taught me the difference in working with males and females. Prior to that I had only trained male athletes but I soon realized I was able to connect with females and motivate them without the screaming and yelling.
When my time at Marquette was up I enrolled at Ball State University to earn a masters in sports performance. My time at Ball State gave me the opportunity to work with athletes of all different backgrounds, sports, strengths and weaknesses. It was there I truly understood what it took to motivate the individual and further study the science behind what we do from a fitness standpoint.
Upon completion of my graduate degree my wife, Emily, and I packed up and moved back to the Milwaukee area. We have planted our roots here and are now raising two wonderful, happy, healthy, challenging, and fun boys.
I believe in balance in everything we do. I balance working long days and odd hours with savoring the time I get to spend with my family. I balance eating healthy with a “cheat day” here and there. I balance my workouts with things I like to do and things I need to do.
I can’t wait to help you find balance in your life and achieve your fitness goals!
Back in the early days of Girlchef, we took a month long trip starting in Omaha, winding up to Seattle and then down the California coast and back east to Kansas. We stopped at state and national parks the entire way. One thing that emerged from that trip was a series of spice blends designed to compliment the different foods we found in those regions.
This one is a modern take on Harissa, a Tunisian chili paste. Ours is unique because it integrates Urfa Biber, an dark red Turkish pepper that has an almost raisin taste to it. These peppers are covered with fabric when they are dried, which gives them a unique, more robust flavor. Because they "sweat" under the cloth they retain a moisture that gives this pepper a more mellow heat that sun dried peppers like guajillo. Of course, we throw in some ancho and a bit of coriander, which gives this spice blend a floral note.
I personally love this as a dry rub on flank or sirloin. However, it's great on seafood and vegetables as well. It's not very spicy, but it does add a bit of heat to whatever you put it on.
I love pasta and pizza, but marinara gets old sometimes. This sauce is incredbly easy to make and can be used with pasta, in lasagna (like last week's butternut squash and spinach lasagna), or on top of pizza. Honestly, it's so easy to make, and holds up really well for about a week in the fridge, or freeze it for later use. And... it's vegan! Pairs really well with pinot grigio or a hard cider.
Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce
1 Butternut Squash; peeled, seeds removed, and chopped into pieces
1Tbsp Rubbed Sage (you can use fresh if you like)
1 Tbsp Garlic; minced
1 Tsp Himalayan Sea Salt
Put the squash into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until squash is well done (approximately 15 minutes). Drain, and save the cooking liquid. In a food processer place the cooked squash, sage, garlic and salt. Add about one cup of the cooking liquid and puree until well mixed. You can add additional cooking liquid if you prefer a looser sauce, but we like our thick.
Keeps for about a week in the fridge, or it can be frozen for longer storage.
Happy Halloween, or Samhain for the traditionalists! In a fun happenstance I went for my body composition test (DXA) today,and received a nice little scan of my skeleton. I wanted to share some of the results from that scan, and the Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR) test I also did today because I'm a geek for this kind of stuff, but also because it is tangible evidence of the work Dan has been doing with me over the last six months. Yeah, I lifted the weight and cooked all the food I put in my pie hole, but he programmed this, and he deserves a lot of credit for that... and putting up with me.
Let me start off by saying that shortly after I started lifting in February I decided to have a Bod Pod and RMR test done at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Department of Kinesiology. Those were baseline tests for me to know where my body's general composition was at before I started powerlifting.
Six months later I returned to have a more comprehensive DXA scan and another RMR test. The DXA is like lying in the bed of your printer's scanner. A big arm goes over you and produces an x-ray of sorts that shows essentially three things: your fat and lean mass, and your bone density. Unlike the BodPod, which only factors out fat and then lumps together lean and bone mass. With the DXA you get to see your bone density and lean muscle mass.
The RMR test is a more precise way of knowing how many calories you burn at rest. So, if you never got out of bed in a day, this is what your body needs to survive. It also breaks out how much of that caloric burn is through carbs, versus fat.
So, what does six month of powerlifting do to a 48 year old woman? Here's some basic stats from my test today...
Here's the thing about this... the journey over the last eight months of lifting has been an incredible gift to receive at this point in my life. I've genuinely enjoyed every day on the weight floor, and every conversation with my coach (Dan-Dan, Superman) about how to move through this process. I've learned to see food in a completely different way. It is not a restrictive, prohibitive regime any more... I eat to build my muscles and my bones - and I've achieved that. Lifting itself is intensely philosophical for me... I no longer see a goal weight, but a process of acceptance of what my body is capable of now, and what it is capable of in the future with proper training, rest and food.
Here's the other thing, it's not over... it's never over. I have some goals with those numbers (I want the z-score to stay up as I age, and I'd like to drop the fat percentage down a few points), but those are in process... and it's a process I love and derive incredible pleasure from. I love going to the gym. I love prepping my food. I love giving Dan shit about everything. And I love building a business that's in alignment with all of that. There is no "when I lose ten more pounds I'll be good," or "when I get to 700# cumulative weights in my lifts I can back off." I'm actually at the place of happiness right now, I'm totally fulfilled with being in the process of living life like this.
Life is a quick ride when you get right down to it... make it as fun and fabulous as you can. And lift heavy... it's good for your bones.
There are a lot of health benefits behind this dish: miso is a fermented soy paste that is great for helping balance your microbiom. And salmon is an excellent source of protein, omega 3 fatty acids, and vitamin B. I garnish this with shiso, an Asian herb from the mint family. It's a fabulous and easy meal, but if you don't want to make it, we'll take care of that for you - it's on our menu this week!
I love to serve this with white rice and steamed vegetables. It pairs particularly well with sauvignon blanc, or a pale ale.
Miso Glazed Salmon Filet
2 Salmon Filet (we prefer coho salmon, but you can use any kind)
1/4cup Miso Paste (We use white, but you can use red... it's just more intense)
2 Tbsp Maple Syrup
2 Tbsp Mirin
Scallions or Shiso to garnish (optional)
Whisk together the miso, maple syrup and mirin and cover the filets with the marinade. Refrigerate overnight, or atleast a couple hours. When you are ready to eat preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the fish in an oven safe dish and cover with aluminum foil. Cook for approximately 6 minutes. Remove the foil and cook until the salmon is firm to the touch (approximately another 6 minutes). Garnish and serve.
I don't really like labels when it comes to people, but on food they are really important. For us, the label is a critical way for us to communicate information about the product we lovingly made, and you are about to make a part of yourself... so, it's important.
Food labels are also notoriously confusing to read and understand, so we simplified our version to tell you exactly what you are getting in that little box/bowl of joy. We tell you the name of the product, the macros, the nutritional information, ingredients, and that's about it. Allergy information is also highlighted on the bottom of the label, if there is any. If it's vegan, gluten free, or anything else of note, you'll also find it down there.
So, how do we figure all this out? We use a program called Nutritics to analyze every recipe we make. The analysis they do is FDA compliant, so you know what is on the label is what is going into your body.
What's not on the label is cooking instructions. Why? Because everything we send to you is 100% edible as is. If you want to eat it cold... go for it. If you want to heat it up, throw the container in the microwave for a couple minutes, or until it's the temperature you want it. Personally, I like my stuff a bit on the 'not-so-hot' side, but we'll leave that up to you.