Nutrition, Sex, and Priorities

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You are a busy person. You have seven hundred things pulling you in different directions. There is always Clark at work that is doing everything wrong and somehow ends up sucking up your time and the little patience you have. You love your family life, yet sometimes it feels like a drag and all you want is some “me-time”. You live with that to-do list in the back of your head. That silly list your subconscious is always throwing in your face every step you take. Then there is also the other list, the list of all the things you should do and are not doing. It includes things like going to the gym, meditating, reading, calling your mom, and eating your effing veggies. All these things are like gremlins in your head pulling you and telling you how much you are kind of sucking right now, and it is exhausting.

Thing is, the food industry know this. They know this so well they created the convenient and cheap food trap. They know when lunch time comes, you are stressed and tired and your capacity for making good choices is poor at best. They tell you the lie that you don’t have time for proper nutrition. They convince you what you need is to push a button that will bring you a submarine sandwich -I am sure your brain already liked that idea! Even if at the moment the easiest, most convenient thing to do would be to eat whatever you brought from home, they managed to convince you otherwise.  At the end you fall for their trap and you end up ordering Jimmy John’s for lunch or from that fancy italian restaurant down the street.

It is a clever and subtle maneuver. They present you the problem of business and stress, and they offer you a solution: convenience and cheapness. They identify the very real feeling of not having time for shit and claim to address it with their product. This is the idea behind protein bars for example: a ready to go meal! You don’t need to cook anything. It is all there for you, ready to be eaten, conveniently and smartfully wrapped. I say it is clever because what they have really done is make  you focus your attention on two aspects: convenience and economic value. And in doing so, they also have managed to put nutritional value in the rear window. They just managed to mess up your priorities. And what is worse, they made some kind of cultural inception and convinced us of the idea that we need convenience in our foods, that cooking is inconvenient, and that shit should be ready for us. So even if you are not a fast food consumer, you still want everything convenient, after all: you are a busy person.

Think about this for a second in a different context. A context as controversial and human as nutrition: sex. The convenience food narrative in the sex world would operate like this: “you do need sex. But you are a very busy person. You don’t have time to pick Mr./Ms. Nice. Nobody has time for that. You need something fast, convenient, reliable at a good price. You need something that does the trick, so you can move on with your life. You need something you can have sex with anywhere. You need something you could fuck in the car on the way to work if you were running late because you overslept your alarm. No preparation time, no warm up, no talk, no b.s. You need the “protein bar of sex”. Maybe a little far-stretched, but also not so much.

Now, I call it a trap because it creates a false sense of convenience. Make peace with this: the fastest most delicious meal in town is the one you cooked with love at home and brought to your office with you. It takes you 5 minutes to heat up and you don’t have to order it from anywhere. It is already there. No Jimmy John's sub will ever be more delicious that a sub you made at home. The advantage is that the food you make can be made to be as nutritious as possible. It can be made to meet your specific needs and goals. Remember this: food should be convenient and cost effective, but first of all it should be nutritious. You don’t want an inflatable sex toy (unless you do and I am not judging), you want a fulfilling partner that gives you some high quality lovin’. Food should be the same.

The solution for the trap is simple and twofold. First, realize that high quality, nurturing food can be convenient and easy. Second, realize you have to think and work a little harder for it. And when I say a little I mean it. You don’t have to go full meal-prep Sundays right away. You can do a lot of progress by making small changes. Let me actually show you how by using some classic food industry advertisement. Look at the following pictures:

 

 

The solution is right there biting you in the ass. Just eat the ingredients they use to make the foods you like. Do you need a protein bar made of whey protein, nuts and seeds, and covered in some kind of sugar just to make palatable the seven hundred industrial processes these ingredientes have gone through? No! You don’t need that, get a piece of cheese (whey), some nuts and seeds, and a smaller piece of dark chocolate. BOOM! Put this mixture on a ziploc bag and take it to your office. More convenient, more nutritious, and more delicious. And I bet it will be cheaper.

Do you love ordering thai at work? Then do some thai at home, do enough to have for several days. Involve your spouse and kids in the cooking and have some quality time with the fam. Start creating a habit of making your own meals, and let that habit build over time. You will gain control over what you eat. You will have one less decision to make in the day, one less problem to solve, which will make you feel less busy.

Don’t get me wrong, you can still buy pre-made food, order food, whatever you like, just be intentional about it and don’t let convenience and value be your first priorities. Put nutritional value first and then pick the most convenient cheapest option you can find. Don’t let advertisement victimize you and save you at the same time. Gain control of your shit! Set your priorities right and find yourself a high-quality lover for lunch time.

Learning New Skills

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When I  start working with a new client , I ask them, how do you think I can help you? The answer is never what a coach would like to hear. I would like to hear some romantic, grandiose version of how awesome coaching can be and how it can change your life for good in ALL the aspects.  But of course it’s never this. The standard answer is structure and accountability. Which usually translates to: tell me what to do and make me do it.  My very first task is to reframe that idea for my athlete, more than providing structure and accountability what I do is create contexts in which they can find what works best for them, and what they want. I create contexts in which they thrive.

But back to the question. I love this question and hearing how people answer it because it gives me a starting point, an opening. It allows me to start to create trust and to empower my client. I can build trust by focusing on delivering exactly what they are looking for. And by sending the message that my athlete knows what needs to happen, that they have the answer, I empower them to take control of the journey. After all they don’t need me for info, google does that. They don’t need my program, there are many  books written by far better programmers than I on Amazon. What they really need is my support and guidance.

However the fact that most people answer the same thing has made me realize how important structure and accountability are when learning something, or starting a project. More than needing an enforcer, what people need is another person in  whom they can confide and express their commitment. The process of saying “okay coach, tell me what to do, and I will do it, I will fucking get that marathon under 3 hours” is not as much as a trust vow in me, as it is a vow to oneself. It is the affirmation of one’s resolve and one’s belief that really does the trick. The contract my athlete and I have is just a metaphor for the pact they have made with themselves. My work then becomes honoring that pact by bringing my experience to the table to save my athlete from making silly mistakes. My support role should express completely that pact, that contract, that affirmation.

Most times when you are trying to learn something or start a new project you don’t have access to a coach, a mentor, or a teacher. Nonetheless, you can still create this contract, this statement of affirmation that will keep you grounded and working. Sure, it might not be as effective or powerful as having an external guide but it is still very productive. Start by doing the exact same thing a coach will do for you.

Define:

  1. Vision. Where do you see yourself after this project. Where will this project take you. Saying I want to know German is not enough--be more specific. Picture yourself going to Germany, making friends, expanding your culture, learning shit you could never do by just watching documentaries on Netflix. Follow the example of my athlete Barton who loves to snatch. He has a clear vision: he wants to lift till he’s old AF. That drives him to prioritize quality of movement over everything else. It is the backbone of his “snatch project”.
  2. Emotion. Create an emotion and tie it to your vision. Imagine how awesome you will feel when you can say you can speak German fluently. Imagine how it will feel cursing like a boss in German. Picture yourself singing along with some delicious German indie techno-pop. Follow Emma’s example she wanted wanted to have a new job where she could have a bigger impact on her school's culture. She imagined herself getting a job like that and how happy and proud it would make her. She worked and worked until she made that happen. That feeling was her guide, and it even helped her saying no to offers that would not help her get there. Emotion is powerful, use it to your advantage.
  3. Superpower. Visualize what will help you with this project. Are you really fucking good at using your phone? Then make sure your phone will be your number one tool -DuoLingo, anyone? Are you an organizational master? Get that spreadsheet out and start working. Create your own curriculum for learning German, week by week, slowly but surely. Find your superpowers  and make an explicit plan on how you will use them in this project. Follow Illia’s example, she is a creative beast. When attacking her Sunday meal prepping, she decided to not do the same thing over and over. She made it into a fun creativity challenge, she uses her artistry to her advantage. She now eats deliciously and sticks to her plan.
  4. Strategy. Have very, very small actionable steps for each day. Find a way to track if you took those steps or not, E A C H   D A Y (HabitBull is a good app for this). Listen, speak, read or write one phrase in German daily. Learn a new word, a new verb, discover a new German music band. It does not matter how small your step is, quite the opposite. When I was writing my PhD dissertation, my daily actionable step was to write just one word. My schoolmates thought I was an idiot. You will never finish they said. Each day I ended up writing a lot because instead of circling around my computer for four hours I just circled around it for one. Writing just one word is so much less frightening than writing a paragraph. And also there is no excuse for not doing it. Sooner or later I would end up in front of the computer writing. At the end of each day I could answer yes or no. Some days I wrote pages, some days a paragraph. But I consistently wrote. This daily yes or no also gave me a nice little number at the end of the week. That was my accountability system. It worked way better than any deadline I was given.
  5. Resolve. You are ready. Write down your pact, and give yourself a final reward, something you really want. For me it’s tattoos. When I finish a big project, I get a tattoo. For your German project it might be sausage with beer. Or a tattoo of a sausage with a beer? 🤷‍♂️

 

Now go on a find yourself a project, create a nice little pact with yourself and make it happen. Life builds on momentum. If you get good at this you can  get good at anything. Find your personal ink.

 

THRIVE!

Just Chill, Commit to Mastery

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Take a minute and do this exercise with me. Go outside of yourself right now. Go five hundred miles away from all the urgency of your present day life. Think about a skill you would like to learn. Something that seems far off. Pick something you haven’t tried yet but that sounds super cool and fun. Imagine yourself after working on that skill for 20 years. Picture yourself truly mastering it, knowing all of its intricacies, performing it with fluency and ease. Visualize yourself really knowing your shit.

For me that would be playing the clarinet. Funny, huh? But I fucking love that shit. When I do this exercise, I can really see myself mastering the skill and it fills me with joy. I see myself playing jazz if I want to, or some classical piece, maybe a cover of a punk rock song, just for the fun of it. I would love that. I’d be the coolest cat on my block in the most dorky way, which fits me just right.

No matter what skill you choose, you can visualize mastery. You can see it. Now imagine what it would take to get there... I bet that in your visualization that mastery does not happen in 6 months. In my mind’s eye I can see myself creating awful noises for quite some time before actually playing a tune. I imagine that if your thing was to master German, in your vision you can see yourself stumbling through words before you can actually write amazingly good emails. By the same token, I bet that if you imagine your teachers for that journey, you don’t see slicky guys selling you fast results or trying to trap you with hard sells and gimicky marketing. In that vision, mastery is a continuous, long, and difficult process of learning. It’s slow and tedious. This is why it’s so rare. (In other words, mastery is what Hollywood movies show in a super fast montage with the subscript “five years later”.)

Nonetheless, I think you should approach your fitness and your nutrition as chasing mastery. It is your fucking body we are talking about. Why would you try to give it a fast, shitty, low quality intervention? Why would you think learning how to properly move your own body and give it the nutrients it needs will happen in 30 days? You deserve the best of the fucking best. You deserve mastery. Stop looking for fast results. Take your time with the fundamentals, give them as much time as they need. Know that you can never be too good at the fundamentals. You cannot be too good at your hand position in the clarinet, or with your pronunciation in German. You cannot be too good at learning how to run properly, just like you cannot be too good at understanding to read your body and what it needs. Give your nutrition and your fitness the best of you as a learner. Be patient, be generous, be curious, and aim always for virtuosity. Just chill, and take your fucking time, you are here for the long run!

Start right now. Pick something very small, something basic of either your nutrition or your training, and commit to mastering it. Go beyond the will and the drive; these are good emotions but are just that--feelings. Design a plan. Then make it smaller and smaller. Then after that plan decide your next actionable step, which might be just asking for help, or analyzing where you are. Easy. Now do that! No matter what, commit to not stopping until you feel you are a true fucking master. Commit to getting back on the horse as soon as you fall off. Commit to not letting your ego make your decisions. Commit to listening more than talking. Commit to observe, assess, and refine. Commit to not seeing mistakes as failures, but as the most necessary and painful teachers you will have. Commit to share what you will learn. Commit to be generous to others with the skills you will master. Commit to yourself. Commit to mastery.

Don’t be lazy, have higher standards

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If you need one new year resolution this year, one that you haven’t made before, let it be this one: don’t be lazy, have higher standards.

I bet you are thinking I mean you should  go out workout more and workout harder. Memories of all those times you said you would wake up and work out and you didn’t will run through your head. You might remember those workouts during which you were tired and you did not push as hard as you feel you should have,  But nope, that is not what I mean. That is just your guilt. Your consistency on a given program is often not a laziness problem as much as an organizational problem. How hard you can push on a given workout is very seldom a willpower problem, as it is a self-regulation problem. I  am not here to guilt trip you. Let me tell you what I DO mean.

If you have 5 minutes to waste, look on instagram for the hashtag #newyearsresolution. True, those 5 minutes will never come back to you, but you might  learn a lot from them. You will realize that a great deal of those posts are fitness related or, more precisely , they are body image related. At the beginning of the year people decide this is the year they will change their bodies. Often this comes with a very vague or superficial idea that this will make them feel happier, younger, more beautiful. Truth is, culturally we still are taught that caring about nutrition and fitness is something you only do in order to  look better. So here is what I mean when I say don’t be lazy: if you are saying to yourself “this year I am going to lose the belly, or this year I will lose the 20 pounds”, or even if you think new year resolutions are stupid but you want to train really hard this year, remind yourself of the following: have a higher standard and ask yourself why.

Dig deep. We tend to dismiss the question answering what we think is right, like “because it is healthier” or “because it is good for you” or any variation of that. We get fucking lazy. But I challenge you to have a higher standard.

In my experience most men don’t even try. Women, because they are smarter than men, have been pointing out how oppressive the idea of a “beautiful” body can be for decades. They have problematized the idea of beauty, they have studied how patriarchal societies prefer an idea of women in which they are fragile and delicate, in which they look pretty and are quiet. This is an ideal in which fragile masculinity  is safe: we can be the saviors of damsels in distress. Yet women everyday have to struggle with their bodies, and feel like they have to force them into looking a certain way. It is still an oddity to be a woman and to have noticeable shoulder muscles or a visibly powerful back. And even if they know all this, the pressure is real and most women think whatever weight they weigh is too much. So if you are a woman in this situation, acknowledging that you might want a body type just because society wants you to have that particular body type might not be enough. Have a higher standard: answer for yourself what is it that your body wants and needs to be well. Be critical not just of the food you consume but the ideas you support. Give society the finger, while listening to this 1976 classic, and do the most rebellious act you can do: love your body the way it is.

Men, let’s learn from this experience. We often hide our true motivations behind external metrics. We  think of ourselves as being so objective and non-emotional. It is what we have been taught to be. You might say “I don't ’ care that much about my body image ... well ... maybe just more muscle definition in my calves, maybe a little less belly” . I think a lot of men want to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club but are so afraid to accept it. I think a lot of men are taught that caring about looks is superficial and vain -and maybe gay?- and so they will never be honest about  that and instead they say they want to be “fitter”. If you are a man, have a higher standard: acknowledge you are as much a victim of society’s pressures as the best of us, and find why you want what you want. Don’t be lazy, bro!  Question your motivations. Maybe you don't really care about body image per se, but wanting that heaviest deadlift is maybe just a way to prove you have the biggest dick in your school, holmes.

Even though I don’t like it because it’s hard, I hold myself to this higher standard as well. After lots of internal work, I have decided that the purpose of my training routine is that it allows me to move better, to move more, so that I can do more cool shit, and to keep learning new stuff including learning about myself. But this is not why I started working out.  When I moved to the U.S. I thought I better work out because gringas loved big muscles, and I loved gringas. In retrospect it seems silly and shortsighted. Lot’s of gringas love accents and brains, and I had those. Also one gringa decided to love me, muscles or not and that mattered most. Nonetheless, that is what I wanted and to some degree I still have body image problems. I still want to look more muscular, or bigger here, smaller there.  Although that crap is still in my head sometimes, I have learned to recognize it for the bullshit it is, and to refocus on my truer, more individual, and more optimistic motivations. This is super useful to me because it reminds me to get out of the gym to use my fitness, to take my dogs on hikes with my wife, to learn NEW shit, and to keep learning about myself. I train so that I can live better and maybe on the way help others. I remind myself: don’t be lazy, have a higher standard. It works for me, it might for you too.

 

Slay you should and Slay you must

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There is this feeling you get when you go to the gym and everything goes your way. I call it The Slayer, because it feels as if Beyonce did a Metal Song: fucking EPIC. You get it in one of those days when the warm up feels light and easy. Your technique sets are a display of grace and control. When you hit your workout the weights move as if they were feathers, your breathing matches your movement in perfect harmony, your transitions are smooth and short, and the only time you trip in the whole workout you stay composed AF and correct immediately with a smile on your face. You fucking slay like Queen-B. Heck! Even your hair game is on point! You finish on the ground exhausted but proud: I am so motherfucking fit, you think to yourself.


Sadly this does not happen often. I think for most people it happens rarely, like once every three moons. But it shouldn’t. I think the bulk of your gym sessions should feel productive and fun, you should feel accomplished, and more than having survived something you should feel like you achieved something. Sure, your hair game will not always be on point, but: Slay you should and Slay you must. I think this is something everybody can do, it just requires a little bit of thinking -which is hard, I know, but it is very doable.  

The most common thing getting in the way of your slaying is that too often we go the gym with a set of expectations of our performance. Sometimes we think we should hit specific numbers because otherwise we are not as strong or fit as we think we are “fuck! I did not get 135, I’ve lost all my strength!” Maybe we think that our run should feel easy and light “why do I feel like I am struggling at this pace? Today is going to suck so bad.Other times we might think that there should not be any shaking at all on that tree pose “it is just a fucking tree pose!Worse, there is that day when we feel we should not only beat Jenny in this workout, we should fucking bury her in her own shame, obliterate her so completely she never comes back to the gym again. The problem with all that is that it is based on ideas on how things beyond our control should go. When we have an expectation that something should feel lighter than it does it seems like a rational thought but it is not. We are comparing how something feels with an idea of how it should feel. We are comparing reality with a dream, and in doing so we are setting ourselves up for failure. We are basically telling ourselves: “you are not strong today, you are not fast today, you are not flexible today, you should be better”. That just about guarantees that you’re not going to achieve jack shit. Sure, there is some variation from day to day in our performance. But our sense of our capacity should never come from how we think something ought to feel. In weightlifting it’s often the case that days when you are feeling a little crispy at the beginning you end up PR-ing. The same is true for endurance: sometimes the warm-up sets raise your heart rate through the roof, and you think “Wow! It is going to be hard today, when in fact you are so recovered your resting heart rate is really low, and so the change feels bigger than it usually is. What is really happening here is that your system turns out to be super well-prepared to push hard, and the running sesh goes great.  

There are other times when you expect to not be able to do something. Like when you have to do pull ups and you have been working at them for months and you are sure you are not going to get one today. What will happen? Well, you will not get it. Every weightlifting coach will tell you that if you go to the bar not sure if you can get it, instead of with the drive and the fucking grit and will of getting it, you will definitely not lift the weight. Sure, the will is not enough, but expect to suck, and suck you will.

But having expectations is not the only thing getting in the way of our slaying. Sometimes your mindset is right, you have no expectations and yet you don’t hit your numbers. Your speed is off or your movement is off and you feel like shit. Often our minds go into explaining why this must be the case, which is understandable but unproductive. We just end up rationalizing the feeling we have, “oh gosh I sucked.” When this happens to one of my athletes in the gym I try to reframe the workout with them and find some wins. We look for things that actually went very well and there is always something. Despite my best efforts (and theirs), at this point is often too late. It feels like a consolation prize.

There is a way to turn all this around! Go to the gym with one very clear purpose, not a number. Choose one that is all about your behavior, something you can always fucking do, and that will make you better, and will move you closer to where you want to be. That is the magic. Let me give you some examples.

  1. You have a weightlifting session and you are supposed to max out on your 5 rep squat. Our minds totally want to go to I am going to hit X number of lbs. Change that to I am going to focus on the rep at hand today. For all my heavy sets of 5 repetitions, I’ll make each repetition be independent from one another. If one repetition feels heavy, I will let it go and focus on the next one and just on that one and go for it with all I’ve got. Every time I stand that bar up I will recalibrate, refocus on my technique, and go for the next rep. I guarantee you that if you do this, when you reach failure on that third rep of your last set, the number achieved will not matter as much because there will be not an ounce of doubt in your brain that you gave it your all.
  2. You have a running session and your coach assigned you some specific speeds to hit. This one is a hard one because there is already an explicit performance goal. Still the purpose of that session should not be the speed itself, but to meet the stimulus that your coach wants. If your coach is good that stimulus should be clear to you, if not: ASK HER! You could even ask that instead of speeds she could give you perceived-effort numbers. Once you have the stimulus clear your objective for that given session would be to try to hit the speeds prescribed for as long as possible, and if the speed is not just there, ask yourself how can you best match the stimulus wanted by your coach. Was it to have negative splits? Then stop for a second, and make sure the rest of your race is all negative splits even if your speeds are not as fast as initially planned. Did you have some intervals planned at your threshold speeds, but again your speed is just not there today? Okay then make sure each interval is at your threshold for that day. Make sure your perceived effort is 9/10.
  3. Do you have a crossfit training session and you know Jenny is coming and you really want to beat her ass, because fucking Jenny has been killing lately and you fucking hate it. You have always been “better” than Jenny, and to be honest the fact she will beat you just scares you. Remind yourself that even though the distance between jenny’s fitness and yours is getting shorter, this does not mean you are any less fit. It does feel like she stole your fitness but this is really not the case. So in this workout your only purpose is to be aware of every time this competitive thought is getting in your head. Each time you catch yourself thinking about Jenny, you will ask yourself what can I do right now to maximize my performance? You will find an answer right away, and it will be the right one. Also don’t forget, the experienced athlete is way better at not letting the competition unfocus them, be the experienced athlete.
  4. There is one purpose that always works and is highly underestimated. If you have one session in which your mind is all wrong and your inner troll is really getting the best of you, say fuck it! Focus on the quality of your movement. Decrease the difficulty of your workout and make sure you are moving like the fucking boss you are. Move with fucking style. It does not matter if you slow down the speeds, lower the weights, scale the pose. Decrease the difficulty enough so that you can do everything with fucking grace and you will fucking win!

So from now on before you start a training session, choose a purpose. Select a simple one, something you can control. It can be mental, like turning negative self talk into positive, or physical, like pooping really well before you do thrusters or else your belly takes up the whole rooooom . And remember, everytime you think, “gosh I’m tired” or “I’m feeling weak today”, turn it around into, “what can I do to maximize my slaying?”. And then just fucking SLAY!!!!!

What we are up against – Part 1

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Let’s start today with a grounding idea: we are fortunate enough to live in an age in which we can actually think about how to optimize our personal nutrition. When I was growing up, everyday I saw people in the streets who did not have enough food--I don’t mean they didn’t have high quality food, they didn’t have any kind of food. Luckily things have changed in most parts of the world. And to be sure, if you are reading this you are just trying to improve your health by tweaking your nutrition. This is a privilege of our times: the great access we have to food, to nutritional information, and to sophisticated metrics.

        In big part we owe this to the industrialization of foods. We have technologies to make food last longer, to grow our crops faster, to fatten our animals in every imaginable and unimaginable way, to make everything tastier, fluffier, more colorful, and crunchier. Whatever the fuck you like, it is out there. Do you like strawberries and cheetos? Don’t sweat it, Japan’s Frito Lay has you covered. Do you like “healthy foods” and also love chips, we have kale chips for you in every flavor you desire! Exotic fruits at your door? You got it motherfucker! WE HAVE EVERYTHING. The food industry has it all and it can be delivered to your doorstep so that you don’t even have to bother.

Yes! It is awesome, but as you can guess by my change of tone in the previous paragraph, industrialization and access have come with a cost: we are all getting sicker. The effects of our modern diet, and of highly processed packaged foods cannot be underestimated. It is true we’re no longer limited by whatever Joe the farmer grew this year, but it is also true that now we are at the hands of what the food industry wants to sell us. Nowadays, there is an ever growing chain of processes and businesses between us and our foods. Before you get your grub to your mouth, there is an organized group of marketers, advertisers, food engineers, and focus groups researchers all working together with the sole purpose of making sure you keep buying that grub as many times as possible. The sad truth is: the longer the chain, the less nutritional value your food has. In this game, the more branding, packaging, and marketing, the shittier your food is. It is as simple as that.

The first thing to know about industrialized food is that no matter which philanthropic silicon valley crusader is behind any food product: the health of the consumer is not the priority. Their first priority is that their business survives; they want buying customers, that is all. There is no moral judgement from my part there. My point is that you want to have this very, very clear: the food industry gives exactly zero fucks about your health.


You as a consumer are the one responsible to know what you buy and to evaluate if it is good for you or not, otherwise the marketer will tell you that those kale chips that they so naturally fried in copious amounts of canola oil are super good for you. They are not.

Now in order to be informed and know how to buy shit: you have to first learn how the food industry works and what are its tactics[1]. You need to know what you are up against. So let me give you an example that I hope will be enlightening. It is just one of many but I think it is representative of how shit works, particularly of the interaction between our consumerist cultural practices and the food industry. It involves fad diets, new products, and unsatisfying conclusions. It is fuckin’ awesome! 😒

“Mary’s heartbreak story with Fibersol-2” or “How she ditched Keto”

        If you have been paying any attention to the internets you would know that the keto diet is all the rage. This is an “old” diet that has been used medically to manage epilepsy in young kids, and has a plethora of benefits that you can read all about here or here. The protocol consists on lowering the consumption of carbohydrates to a minimum, think like maybe an apple a day and that is it.  Yes! Just that, and of course bread is out of the question, dude! The purpose is to make your body run on fat instead of carbs, a state that scientists call ketosis. But don’t worry about the science or the fancy names, what you need to know is that keto is very, very different from what the average citizen does. As a matter of fact if you go to myplate.gov you will see that the proposed nutritional guideline for the U.S. government is a diet on which a little more than half of your intake comes from carbohydrates, so not keto at all.

Okay now that you kinda know what keto is, let’s talk about Mary and the big question everybody in her office has been asking themselves: how did Mary from HR lose 20 those pounds? She has not even run a half-marathon dude! WTF? Well, Mary used to live on convenience foods: nicely packaged edible objects she bought at Trader Joes. They were all organic and shit and labeled as healthy and natural. But Mary was getting a little fat nonetheless, and she was pretty fed up with the whole thing, so three months ago she decided to give this keto thing a try. First thing she had to do was to avoid sugars and added sugars. But that was not enough -remember keto is basically no carbs- so then she had to avoid all the starches, and all the grains. She said ‘bye bye’ to her granola at breakfast and changed it for eggs, swapped her mid-morning bagel for some cheese and nuts, had to drop all the protein bars she used to eat while running (yes they are full of sugars), and at the end, she basically stopped eating anything that came in a box. Mary realized that almost everything that was convenient and premade came with sugar and had a high content of carbohydrates. She also cut out alcohol because you know, carbs, and when going out with friends always ended up eating salads and meats, no more pizza, sandwiches, pancakes during brunch, and so on. To be honest Mary has never dropped her Pumpkin Spice Latte with all the sugar it has, but we will not tell. So what did Mary end up eating? Simple, fucking REAL FOOD! Meats and veggies, nuts and seeds, and some fruits. And that changed her life, and this is what keto has done for so many people: it has gotten them to eat just real non-super-processed foods, that is its success.

So yes, Mary dropped 30 pounds, she has never been on ketosis because she has no idea on how to track that and doesn’t know there are still a lot of carbs in cheese, nuts, and veggies, oh! and yes: the PSL. But that does not matter. Mary was happy. Super fucking happy.

Until now.

It has been 3 months and she really misses her bagels and muffins, she sees them everywhere! She tried doing them with coconut and almond flour but despite what the blogs said, that shit was not tasty at all. The texture was all wrong and the flavor was totally off.  And that is not the only thing of going keto that Mary cannot handle very well: eating out is a pain, she has to cook so much more, buying snacks is a problem, in fact snacks are a problem in general because no fucking snacks are keto. I miss my skinny pop so bad! She loves keto and also hates it. It is really complicated and also terribly simple. Mary feels trapped because she does not want to lose what she has gained, or gain what she has lost, but she is soooo ready for a piece of cake, or a even a donut.

Fear not! This, my friend, is where the Food Industry comes in. The guys with the big money have been tracking the fact that keto is all the rage.  They know people love convenience, they know Mary would love to go back to buying premade shit from Trader Joes as long as it is keto, and they would hate to lose a customer in the name of ketosis. So they solved the problem: what we need is a starch that makes shit fluffy like flour, but that either has no taste or that tastes sweet, and of course: no carbs. Easy peasy: take maltodextrin (which is a sugar that has a powerful binding effect i.e. makes shit fluffy) and just make it so fucking artificially chemical that your body has no idea what to do with it so you just poop it. BOOM! That is it! They know they can convince the guys at the FDA that it has no carbs, because hey! even if it does, if your body poops it, so it does not count, so they can sell that it as a non-caloric non-carb “food”. Ah, and of course they have so much maltodextrin! Maltodextrin comes from corn, rice, potatoes, and cane sugar, and the food industry has a lot of that, A LOT. In summary this is how and why they invented Digestion Resistant Maltodextrin (DRM), a name you think would scare the consumer, strangely enough it doesn’t. Sounds crazy, right? Like I made it up. It is real though, and it is just like that. DRM is great for cooking, has a mild sweet taste and it is not turned to energy by the body. It was invented in Japan by the  Matsutati Corporation and it is commercially sold as Fibersol-2. They saw a “need” in the consumer and they filled it, they filled it so good.

Now back to Mary. During the past 3 months she has been building a robust instagram army of keto role models. They are all sharing fun recipes on all the things she misses. Finally, FINALLY, one coach posted a recipe of a protein birthday cake. It even has sprinkles on it! Mary thinks it for a second ... fuck it! And she orders the magic non-carb mix on same-day delivery. After an hour wait in front the oven the cakes come out. They are better than expected--sweet and fluffy and delicious; and full of DRM, but Mary does not know and frankly does not care. She has found THE solution!

Only she hasn’t.

But Juan, what is wrong with fluffy cakes with no carbs, you may ask. You are right, nothing in principle. And to be honest we don’t know for sure, we have not been eating Fibersol-2 long enough to know its long term effects. We don’t even have trustworthy tests on what that shit does to you in the short term, but we have seen enough to have a very, very good guess. Think for a second: you are giving your body an edible object that tastes likes a cake, feels like a cake, yet it cannot be processed like a real cake. It just goes through your system raising all the alarms that a sugary cake is in but when your body releases all the insulin to deal with it, it finds no sugar. You see, taste is a cue. In evolutionary terms, sweet taste tells the body that some easily digestible carbohydrates are coming, and so after generations and generations our bodies are trained to expect carbs after we tastes sweet. When you ingest DRM, you are ingesting a product engineered to fuck up the way your body works. Do that enough times, and your body starts being confused, very confused, so much that your whole insulin cycle gets all fucked up.

Thing is, this is not a hypothesis, we know this is how it goes, because we have seen it happening with diet soda, with splenda.  You thought food was just calories, and forgot one very important rule about nutrition: food is also information. Just like Fibersol-2, vitamins are also non caloric, but they still have an effect on your health, right? Even though your body does not turn it into energy, chemically fucked up sugar triggers hormonal responses all through your digestive system while making your gut bacteria deal with that shit, literally. But just to make it simple: giving your body mixed messages is no way to build a trust relationship man, no way!!!

The thing about the Food Industry is that they been at this game for very long. They knew that Mary, like the rest of us would fall for the following:

But they also knew there would be a big nerd like me that would say what the fuck is Digestion Resistant Maltodextrin? and they knew I would google that shit. So they made sure that the first hit that google gave me would make Fibersol-2 look good. As you can see the webpage is fiberfacts.org. Nice name, cool colors, happy people on the cover and the pictures of a lot of whole foods. This webpage provides information on all different kinds of industrialized and chemically-produced fibers. You see, technically any carbohydrate that is not metabolized by your body is a dietary fiber. Fruits, nuts, veggies, and grains all have fiber; they all have parts your body does not process. The part that is not metabolized gives bulk to your stool and it binds to some of the cholesterol on your intestine making your poop amazing, which is why we think Fiber is awesome for your morning deuce. Fiber  also feeds your gut bacteria, which is important because you want that bacteria really happy. But this is fiber we have been consuming for ages and so our body knows how to deal with it. The food industry is calling all their chemically-produced unprocessable carbs into dietary fiber. They are hoping that real dietary fiber’s good reputation will rub off on their engineered shit. By the way, fiberfacts.org is run by the Calorie Control Council, which is an organization created by none other than Coca Cola, PepsiCola, Dr. Pepper, JCM, among other giants of the sugar industry, and of course the  Matsutati Corporation.

However, the really creepy thing is that all the research they use to support the claims from fiberfacts.org is funded by  Matsutati Corporation. And by all, I MEAN ALL. I put my PhD skillz to work and I dug deep on PubMed: I looked at every article that had the name Fibersol-2 or DRM on it and it turns out that they were ALL funded by the  Matsutati Corporation. Now you may be thinking: I know this is unethical, but does it matter for the science?. Lucky for us Dr. Marion Nestle has already answered that very emphatically: funded research, no matter how objective it claims to be, tends to be biased towards the funder. Ethical invalidity in funding implies scientific invalidity.

Let’s get back to Mary. She has been making cakes for the past week, and it is now getting into some other different mixes. You are right in thinking they all have different resistant starches and fake sweeteners. There are tapioca fibers, corn fibers, oat fibers, potato fibers and so on. What Mary does not know is that if she repeats the exercise I did with Fibersol-2 with any of those resistant starches she will find the same results I found. They promote the fact that those resistant starches are supposedly good for gut health, hiding the obvious fact that the purpose of those ingredients in processed foods is not to improve the health of Mary’s gut but to make shit sweet and fluffy so that she keeps buying it. And in the meantime (and before real research catches up and shows the pernicious effect of this highly processed fibers) Mary has gone back to eating all the convenient processed foods, with the only change that this time they are say keto on the box. Think about it this way: in evolutionary terms, industrialized foods happened yesterday, and we have been eating perishable unprocessed foods forever. When Mary first started keto, she was eating almost exclusively whole foods, but when she moved back to the box she inadvertently ditched real keto, and its benefits.


[1] This topic has been study in detail by professor Marion Nestle, I invite you to spend time reading Food Politics and Unsavory Truth, both books will give you a good glimpse about the interactions between food industry and governmental institutions as well as the interactions between research and the food industry.

Training Hard

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We all love to train hard. We love the feeling of working our asses off, yet I think training hard, truly training hard, is greatly misunderstood. Hours of media featuring Energy Drinks, Athletic Shoes, and awesome-sports-movies-action-montages has lead us to confuse training hard with intensity. We have this image in our head that training hard is finishing a workout sweaty and gassed, lying on the floor looking up at the ceiling like somebody just punched us in the face and stole all our money while quoting Jame Joyce. That outcome turns out to be  fairly easily achieved: just do 50 burpees as fast as you can without stopping... it will take you less than 5 minutes and if you really commit to not stopping you will finish on the ground regretting life.

Equally pervasive is confusing training hard with quantity or volume. We believe that the more training the better, no matter the cost. Rest is understood as some kind of laziness and pain is just a sign that we are a fucking badass. Unfortunately, volume for the sake of volume just means you are getting a lot of hours of mediocre training and that all that effort is not as productive as if you invested half the time in some high quality training.

Lastly we confuse working hard with complexity. Hordes of internet coaches fishing for clicks in their youtube videos, fitness equipment companies, and our millennial desire of having the ultimate gadget created based upon the most cutting edge scientific insight, push us to believe that this uber complicated training program is the key to all our goals.

In my experience, most of us fall victim to these misconceptions  because they are actually fairly easy to achieve. Truly training hard is something much simpler, yet much more difficult: I define training hard as  the relentless pursuit of self-mastery. It requires discipline, self-reflection, and attention to detail.

I know this sounds like it might not apply to you, but it does. No matter what you are training for,  whether your thing is Zumba or IronMan, training hard requires the following:

  1. Purpose. What are you training for? What is your hard work and effort going to give you in exchange? Apart from braggin’ rights, what are you getting out of it? Take the time to really answer the question “why are you training?” with the depth it deserves. I guarantee you this is not easy which is why most people don’t ever do it. In fact, finding your purpose is quite daunting in some cases. It requires a lot from our egos because it requires us to match expectation with reality. Realizing that your goal is really to have better health and not to run a marathon under 4 hours can be hard to swallow. Having a clear training purpose will give you clear goals and objectives. It will ground your practice and allow you to define how to measure progress and ultimately how to measure mastery. Your purpose will also dictate if you need the help of a coach or if you need to follow a specific protocol.
  2. Consistency. Are you easily derailed? Do you train your ass off for two weeks and then something happens and you stop for one and so on? Are you constantly saying “I am back to training!”? It does not matter if you are puking your guts out everytime you go to the gym, if you go 2 weeks on 1 off. This doesn’t count as training hard and it won’t get you the results you want.  Consistency is the capacity of doing the right things habitually. It does not mean perfection; it means to minimize deviation from your plan. It’s the ability to get right back on track as soon as you notice you’ve allowed yourself to be derailed. Consistency is not a matter of will-power as most people think, it is a matter of anticipating problems, of organizing your life, of making sure you are creating the space and time your practice needs. Your purpose will define things like frequency and volume, but it is your consistency that allows you to   say “no” to that boozy dinner on Tuesday evening because Wednesday morning you want to train, or making sure you ask your coach fo ra workout to do in your hotel room because you are travelling next week, or not blowing yourself up weightlifting on Saturday, because you want to take best advantage of your gymnastics session on Monday. Consistency requires both taking the long view and focusing on the small choices of the moment. Consistency is hard work, and it is where most people struggle, and there’s just no substitute for it.
  3. Self-evaluation. Training hard means looking very honestly at what you are doing. Are you just checking off boxes? Are you really staying true to the purpose of your training? How consistent are you? Are you being honest with yourself? When things get difficult in our training, we often blame others, we blame our program, our coach, our job, our spouse, the weather, we blame everybody else but we avoid taking responsibility. It takes a lot of bravery  to look at your own actions without bias or sugar-coating, , to look objectively at what you are doing and realize your training is your responsibility. You think maybe your program is not working? Find a way to evaluate that and change it. It is your job really incompatible with what the sport you want to train for? Then either change your job or your sport, but make peace with it. You think your coach is not doing their job? Have a heart-to-heart talk with them  and fix it, or fire them. Take full responsibility of everything about your training. It is hard and  it will free you.

Discipline is nothing more than purposeful and consistent self-evaluation. Even though  it is simple, it is hard to do. And it is the true path to mastery. Before you go to the gym today, make sure you know your purpose. Spend five minutes thinking about it, and then hit the gym hard, making sure your training is really aligning to that purpose. Afterward, maybe try some self-evaluation and planning to help you be even more consistent. No matter what happens it will be a super productive session, and you’ll be on your way to training hard!!

 

The Importance of Warming Up

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I think we all understand the importance of the warm up before working out. Most of us have learned it the hard way: that one day when rushed we naively said to ourselves: “the first round will be my warm up”. And that first round sucked, heart rate was through the roof fast, and for the next four rounds you were just trying to survive. Yes, we all know warming up is important, but somehow we all still neglect it. In my experience, this happens because we don’t have any other reason to do it than that we are “supposed to” and anyhow, it often feels harder than the actual workout. The problem with thinking of it this way, is that it makes it a lot easier to say “fuck it, 20 squats will warm me up.”

What I am saying is that often our warm ups lack purpose and intention. So let me show you some of the reasons why I believe warming up is crucial. I’ll start by giving you my perspective as a coach and why this initial portion of the class--more than being just a silly box to check--is an essential part of the whole. When I am coaching, I try to achieve two things during the warm up :

  1. Set a tone: Different workouts require different approaches. If we are going to work on something super heavy and technical I want my warm ups to be gradual, not frantic or rushed. I want to make sure nobody feels hurried, and we are all working to find our best mechanics. The tone is to focus, to move with purpose, to be deliberate. If I have a long, endurance kind of workout--something that looks nasty and intimidating--I want my warm up to be energetic, to get the blood going, I want happy music and movements that make the whole body move but don’t require a lot of brain power. I want to make everybody feel ready and happy to be moving.

  2. Assess the present state of affairs: The warm up is also the best time to get a read on how everybody is doing. I usually ask people how they feel about the given workout, how their day has been so far, and as they answer I can measure where their energy levels are. When Richard tells me his husband has been an ass all week, rather than coaching him endlessly through super technical aspects just to raise his frustration, I try to scale for Richard so that he wins because the purpose of his workout today is not to kill the score, it’s to own the workout to conquer it, so that when he goes back to his husband he’s feeling calmer and accomplished. If Janet tells me she killed it in her presentation yesterday, I know it’s a good day to push her, I’ll tell her to put that vest on and to be chill if all the people pass her because today we are leveling up, we are going in for the big one! Equally importantly, the warm up allows me to see where people’s bodies are. Is Carlos tight in the hips, how is Jung’s shoulder today? I’ll be gentle on the scaling, making sure I have them safe and healthy. Or, Sandra is squatting great today, so it is a good day to make her squat clean for the first time, let’s go for it!

As an athlete you can add these two points to your own personal focus during a warm up. Rather than just rushing through a warm up, concentrate and set up the tone for your workout, maybe set an intention to focus on your movement, focus on bringing your body to where you want it to perform. If you feel rusty/crunchy/stiff, use that feeling to reinforce the importance of your warm up, and to remind yourself that what you are doing is getting your body out of that state of rustiness. If it is a long workout, start talking yourself into a mindset of perseverance and persistence.  Cultivate your inner grinder. Remind yourself of how good it felt that time you did fifty unbroken burpees--afterwards I mean, how good it felt after you did them.  By the same token, assess yourself: notice how your body is feeling, notice if you cannot get your mind off of that officemate who keeps eating noisy Doritos ALL. EFFING. DAY. or whatever other ish your mind is producing. Just by noticing and re-focusing on warming your body up, these distracting and unpleasant thoughts will begin to evaporate.

Okay now let's get a little geeky. Apart from these two reasons to warm up, the performance and physiological objectives of every warm up are the following, ranked in order of importance:

  1. Increase Heart Rate. Higher heart rate means more oxygenated blood going through your system, which means more energy. When we exercise without warming up our body has to rely on the the energy stored in our muscles (anaerobic systems) before the circulatory system catches up and brings more oxygen (aerobic system). This is why the first mile of a 5K feels awful -yes! Let’s be real most people don’t warm up before 5k’s. If you raise your heart rate before your work out, and give your body 3 to 5 minutes after the warm up to replenish the energy storage in the muscles, you will be ready to go with all your systems working! Now, make sure you don’t over do it. You want a perceived exertion of 70% since going over that depletes your anaerobic system, so now you have all the oxygen but none of the stamina: no bueno. Check out this cool study on this topic, in which they see a 10% improvement in performance for athletes who warmed up versus athletes who didn’t.

  2. Increase core and muscle temperature. When we are cold we are stiff, which means muscles are not flexible and cannot move through their optimal range of motion. As you have likely experienced, moving increases the temperature of our bodies which in turn improves our flexibility allowing us to take advantage of our fullest range of motion. On top of that, an increased core temperature improves blood circulation which, as explained above, improves athletic performance.

  3. Take the major joints through their full active range of motion. Make sure that you have moved all your joints, and that all your muscles are activated. Remember movement is not only physical, it is neurological. We want our neurological system to have triggered the biggest number of muscle fibers we can before we start, so they’re ready to go in the metcon. We want the whole system up and ready before we jump on top that box twenty times in a row as fast as we can, lift that heavy barbell, or start murdering the bike.

End of nerdery.

There is not a lot of research behind warming up, probably because we all agree it is very important and useful. I don’t think we will ever discover that getting up from bed and running straight onto the football field for the big game will improve athletic performance. I really don’t see  C.J. Cummings setting a new American Record just by going from the bus stop right into his 1RM. Unfortunately this lack of research means we don’t have guidelines on what is optimal. But to be honest that does not matter so much. In this case, optimal is personal and totally depends on what works for you. So for the next few weeks go early to your class and make sure you pay attention to your warm up. Keep it fun and give it a purpose, set your tone for your workout, assess yourself physically and mentally, raise your heart rate, get your muscles moving, and perhaps most importantly, track how you feel after it. You might discover that all you need is a set of 20 burpees, some PVC pass throughs, 2 sets of shin blocks, and a good ol’ 50 feet of goblet walk, and you are ready to K I L L   I T!

 

Further Reading

Improvement on performance after warming up:

  1. Gourgoulis, V., Aggeloussis, N., Kasimatis, P., & Mavromatis, G. (2003). Effect of a Submaximal Half-Squats Warm-up Program on Vertical Jumping Ability. The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12741875

  2. Tomaras, E. K., & MacIntosh, B. R. (2011). Less is more: standard warm-up causes fatigue and less warm-up permits greater cycling power output. Journal of Applied Physiology, 111(1), 228–235. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21551012

  3. Brock, K., Antonellis, P., Black, M. I., DiMenna, F. J., Vanhatalo, A., Jones, A. M., & Bailey, S. J. (2018). Improvement of Oxygen-Uptake Kinetics and Cycling Performance With Combined Prior Exercise and Fast Start. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, 13(3), 305–312. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28657812

  4. Stewart, I. B.,  H., & Sleivert, G. G. (1998). The Effect of Warm-up Intensity on Range-of-Motion and Anaerobic performance. https://www.jospt.org/doi/pdf/10.2519/jospt.1998.27.2.154

Static vs Dynamic Stretching

  1. Fletcher, I. M., & Jones, B. (2004). The Effect of Different Warm-Up Stretch Protocols on 20 Meter Sprint Performance in Trained Rugby Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Vol. 18). Retrieved from http://anneclairepannier.free.fr/files/etirements/THE EFFECT OF DIFFERENT WARM-UP STRETCH.pdf

  2. Church, J. B., Wiggins, M. S., Moode, F. M., & Crist, R. (2001). Effect of warm-up and flexibility treatments on vertical jump performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 15(3), 332–336. https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/11710660