BE A BLOCK HEAD WHEN IT COMES TO NUTRITION
It’s that time again. Summer is quickly gathering behind us, the leaves will soon be aflame in vibrant autumn colors, and before we know it the cornucopia of holiday treats and temptations will be testing our metal quicker than Tom Brady gets into our end zone. There are two things we can do, prior to the holidays, to equip ourselves to more easily navigate the turbulent waters of healthy eating. First, we can educate ourselves on how to eat. Second we can establish good eating habits before the specter of processed sweets are banging at the gates.
The AU Crew been hammering home the benefits of food logging, keeping track of what one is eating, emphasizing portion control, and the use of a block system to ensure one is eating the right amount of food. There has been a windfall of questions regarding using a block system, so I will dive in and explain how it works. I will wrap things up by sharing techniques on establishing healthy eating habits. Start establishing healthy eating habits now to not only make it through the holidays without looking like you lost a fight with Grandma’s green bean almandine and her apple pie, but so that you hit the new year with a sound nutrition plan in place. Make no mistake, this is a battle that you are about to enter. Undisciplined, lazy you versus the disciplined, determined you. The undisciplined, lazy you has been around a long time, is experienced, and knows how to get what is wanted. The disciplined, determined you is younger, well trained, and UNLEASHED. Both combatants are tough; the determined you is tougher. Ultimately, like in every war, it comes down to the individual man or woman on the ground with rifle in hand and determination in their eyes. Generals and battle plans don’t win wars. Sticking the pointy end of the bayonet into the bad guy’s guts is what wins – you must be willing to do the same when it comes to establishing habits. There is no room for half measures and indecision. Ovid said it best: “Either do not attempt at all, or go through with it”.
We know the reason we go to the gym – to make ourselves HARD TO KILL.
“Uhhhhm, sure coach”, some of you may say while in your head you’re thinking, “I don’t know what the hell he is talking about. I’m working my butt off to work off my butt”.
We need to dispel a myth. Weight isn’t lost in the gym. One goes to the gym to build muscle, improve one’s metabolic conditioning, and to improve one’s athleticism and speed. We must rid ourselves of the idea that weight loss and body composition change occurs by burning calories at the gym.
The American Council on Exercise and the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse, did a study to determine the number of calories the average athlete burns when doing a typical CrossFit style workout. The workouts they chose for the study were Fran and Donkey Kong. Both are typical and popular workouts requiring maximum intensity but whose finish time are heavily dependent on athlete proficiency and fitness level . Using a group of 8 moderately to very fit females and 8 moderately to very fit males ranging in ages from 20-47, the average finish time for Donkey Kong was just over 9 minutes and the average finish time for Fran was just under 6. The average number of calories burned during Donkey Kong was 117. The average number of calories burned during Fran was 63.
Rowing at a pace of 2:00/500m, an average athlete will burn around 30 calories every 1,000m. At the end of a 20-minute, 5k row, one can figure they burned around 150 calories.
What about weight lifting? A Harvard Medical School study published some data on the topic. While it is hard to quantify the terms they use, the info is useful. In 30 minutes of what they call “general” weightlifting a 155 pound individual will burn 112 calories. That same individual doing 30 minutes of “vigorous” weightlifting will burn 223 calories.
Lets put it all together. We have our average, 155 lbs athlete in the gym and ready to chew the face off anyone in their path. They are going to do 15 minutes of “vigorous” squats, then do Donkey Kong followed immediately by Fran. Because this athlete is a highly successful and motivated entrepreneur they can make their own work schedule and can stick around for a follow on 20 minute, 5k row. Upon completion of their training session, standing upright, at the ready, and recovery breathing through their nose, they can celebrate the fact they burned an estimated 442 calories. The have only 3,008 more calories to go to get rid of that pound of fat. Great work. The reality is, however, in all likelihood the average athlete is burning far fewer calories than 442 in each workout. 250-300 is probably the more accurate figure.
So lets take our average athlete (one that wants to loose a pound or 2) and have them complete a 300-calorie workout and lets have them do it 11-12 days in a row, all while taking in 300 fewer calories per day. They could potentially loose a pound of fat. I say potentially because fat can’t be targeted, specifically.
This story is merely to illustrate how inefficient it is to loose weight by relying on the burning of calories while exercising. Weight loss and body composition changes come from the effects of a well-planned and executed strength and conditioning program plus a sound nutrition plan.
In short, lifting weights intensely does two important things for us. It dramatically boosts one’s metabolism. Scientists love to argue over by how much and for how long, but the consensus is that one’s metabolism remains highly elevated for anywhere from 14 to 39 hours after an intense weightlifting session. Think of the metabolism as a car’s engine idle. If a car’s engine is idling high, even while standing still, it’s going to burn more fuel. That’s a bad thing for the wallet but a great thing for the waistline and burning calories. We want to burn as much fuel as possible all day long. All those environmentalists are wrong about energy conservation. Burn baby, burn! All day long. In addition to increasing the engine’s idle speed weightlifting also increases the size of one’s muscle fibers. We were born with all the muscles fibers we going to have. We don’t grow more. We can only make them bigger and stronger. The bigger and stronger (and heavier) muscles are, the more calories they are going to require to simply exist. Think of this as the metabolism of each muscle. A pound of muscle requires the burning of 7-10 calories each hour. A pound of fat requires the burning of 1-3 calories per hour. Muscle burns more fuel than fat. Bigger muscles burn even more fuel than fat. Once again, the environmentalists are WRONG. We want to burn more fuel all day every day.
If we are going to get the results we need in the gym we are going to have to eat well. That means eating to perform. That means eating enough quality, nutrient dense calories to allow us to work with the level of intensity that is required to crank up our metabolism and to build muscle. I recommend using a block system to count macronutrients, rather than counting calories. The Zone diet popularized this method. The CrossFit Training Guide has a concise and very helpful Zone brochure.
Here is what you need to know about using blocks as a means of developing your nutrition plan
A Block: A block is a measure of food. A block uses the quantity of macronutrients as its measure rather than calories.
One block of protein contains 7 grams
One block of carbohydrates contains 9 grams
One block of fat contains 1.5 grams
Macronutrients: All foods are classified as ONE of the 3 macronutrients: protein, carbs, or fats. There are 2 foods that are classified SIMULTANEOUSLY as both a protein and a carb: milk and plain yogurt. I don’t recommend soy to anyone, so I have left it out of this discussion.
A meal: A meal will always contain EQUAL blocks of protein, carbs, and fat. Meals are classified by the number of blocks they contain, e.g. a 1 block meal, 2 block meal, 5 block meal. The number of blocks they contain indicate the quantity of each of the three macronutrient, not their total number. Remember, each meal MUST contain EQUAL blocks of the three macronutrients. A 1 block meal consists of 1 block of protein, 1 block of carbs, and 1 block of fats. A 5 block meal consists of 5 blocks of protein, 5 blocks of carbs, and 5 blocks of fats.
Body Type: The CrossFit Training Guide Nutrition section contains a chart that lists 11 body types by size and sex. Each body type is prescribed a set of block requirements. Regardless of body type eat your prescribed blocks 5 times per day. Those 5 meals will provide the total number of blocks needed. According to the chart a “medium female” female requires 11 blocks. They will consume those 11 blocks by having a 3 block breakfast and lunch, a 1 block snack, a 3 block dinner, and another 1 block snack. Don’t break up the blocks, i.e. don’t change a 3 block lunch and 1 block snack into a 2 block lunch and 2 block snack. Weather one is eating too little food or too much food, neither situation is “eating to perform”. Stick to the prescribed blocks.
Picking a body type: When picking a body type on the chart take an educated stab at it. Make a classification based on one’s frame, not on one’s current weight, i.e. if an individual is small framed but 30 pounds overweight, make the choice based on frame size.
Classifying foods: When classifying a food not included in the foods list, make the classification based on the reason it is being eaten. “Because it tastes good” isn’t a valid reason. If pork sausage is selected as a protein source, then count it only as a protein and do not add its carbs or fat to the meal’s block count. If mustard greens are selected as a source for carbs, then count it only as a carb and do not add its protein or fat to the block count. Don’t over analyze the food selections. Decide for which macronutrient it is being eaten and be done with it.
Good food/bad food: Foods higher on the glycemic index are generally classified as foods to avoid. Foods lower on the glycemic index are generally classified as desirable to put in one’s diet. Here is the metric I use to decide if and how often I should eat it. If it comes from the pasture/orchard/farm without having to be further processed I eat it as often as I’d like. If it is packaged, or it has an ingredient list on it then I minimize its contribution to my daily block intake. If the food is not processed, e.g fresh fruit, veggies, meats, raw dairy, do not worry about where it falls on the glycemic index. Avoid like the plague processed foods that are low fat, fat free, have added sugar, or contain heavy corn syrup. Examples are margarine, low fat salad dressing, most breakfast cereal, and low fat/no fat yogurt.
The beauty of the block system of counting macronutrients is that it accommodates any eating preference. Strict “paleo”, leaf eaters, meat eaters, and vegans can live together harmoniously using the block system. It doesn’t matter what style of diet is preferred or from where blocks are sourced so long as the block count is adhered to and they are eaten over the course of the prescribed 5 meals.
We said 1 block of protein equals 7 grams of protein, 1 block of carbs equals 9 grams of carbs, and 1 block of fat equals 1.5 grams of fat. We also stated that a block of food must contain 1 block of each of the macronutrients. That means, based strictly on the counted macronutrient content, each block of food contains 77.5 calories. A 1 block meal contains 77.5 calories, a 3 block meal contains 232.5 calories, and a 5 block meal contains 387.5 calories. According to the body type chart a medium female requires 11 blocks while an athletic, well-muscled male requires 25. Using the same math the medium female will be consuming 852.5 calories and the athletic male would be consuming 1,937.5 calories. Both would be starving themselves. The block system is used to ensure athletes are getting the required minimum amount of macronutrients needed, based on body type, to perform like a stud in the gym. The food being eating contains macronutrients (and thus calories) other than just those for which they were counted it towards. Take a look at the sample 3 block female menu below.
3 Block Breakfast 3 Block Lunch 3 Block Dinner
½ pita 80 cal 3 oz tuna 108 cal 3 oz turkey 110 cal
1 egg 78 cal 1 tbs mayo 100 cal 1 peach 60 cal
1oz chicken 105 cal 1 slice rye 109 cal 2.5 cups broccoli 135 cal
1 oz ham 27 cal ½ apple 70 cal 1 tsp butter 33 cal
½ apple 70 cal
3 macadamia nuts 60 cal
Total calories: 420 Total calories: 387 Total calories: 338
1 Block Snack 1 Block Snack
1 oz hummus 40 cal 1 cup strawberries 50 cal
½ tomato 16 cal ¼ cup cottage cheese 110 cal
1.5 oz feta 90 cal 3 almonds 21 cal
Total calories: 146 Total calories: 181
When accounting for all the calories, not only the calories from the original macronutrient content, it adds up to 1472 calories as opposed to 852.5. When doing the same exercise with a sample 5 block menu the calorie count goes from 1937.5 to 3409. Using blocks to account for your macronutrients will supply you with plenty of calories.
Take the pokers out of your eyes. Its time to move on to how to establish some healthy eating habits, particularly those that support counting blocks.
Write out a shopping list. Take an accurate inventory of what is in the pantry, refrigerator, and cupboards, decide what foods are needed as opposed to wanted, and make a list. This will promote healthy and more economic choices. In the short term eating well may cost more. Shopping well can offset the increased cost of fresh foods and saves time, both of which offer positive reinforcement to continue establishing healthy eating habits.
Purchase several sets of measuring cups and teaspoons/tablespoons. Measuring food accurately is a requirement. Nothing will stop someone from doing that faster than not having access to the right equipment to do it. I recommend purchasing several sets so that one is not dissuaded from measuring 2 cups of broccoli because the measuring cup is dirty.
Purchase a quality scale that can stay out on the counter – and keep it on the counter! Food must be weighed as often as it needs to be measured. Looking to find a reason to stop measuring food? Put the scale away somewhere out of sight. Food will most certainly stop being measured. Make measuring food easy. Get a nice scale and keep it out! Keep a stack of small paper or plastic plates handy so that food can be placed on them rather directly on the scale. They are typically easier to clean/throw out.
Pick a guilty pleasure with which to end the day. For me, along with my 3rd pot of coffee, when making my final 5 block meal of the day, I have yogurt with protein powder, honey, and nuts. Other times I will build my meal from rice cakes, bananas, peanut butter, honey, and a protein shake. It isn’t ice cream but it takes the edge off.
Pick a day/period of time to have some “bad food” and a cheat meal. Stick to that time, make it a ritual, and don’t deviate from it. For me, Saturday night I allow myself to have some sweets. Then, Sunday morning I cook a healthy breakfast for the family but DO NOT count my blocks. I just eat without worrying about how many block are on my plate. I found that the combination of my Saturday night sweets and Sunday morning breakfast was what I needed to keep me on track the rest of the week. Find something that will work and stick with it.
Don’t make fake desserts. Fake desserts generally taste like an amalgam of sawdust, coconut oil, and play dough. They typically don’t satisfy whatever the craving is and they end up getting consumed in larger quantities than if the real thing was being eaten. Just hold off for a planned cheat meal.
Bread is generally not a great food source for our training goals, but everyone loves the stuff. I recommend going with a rye bread. Rye elicits a lower insulin response than white and wheat bread and contains some good antioxidents. Try to purchase rye bread that is 100% whole grain. Anything else is white bread in disguise. Good luck finding it.
Get into the habit of prepping food. We talk about this every Monday morning. Boil eggs, make muffin tin breakfast sausages, make large vats of chicken soup and freeze in single serve portion sizes, use a crockpot to cook large meals that can provide a few days of left overs, precut and package fruits and veggies. The ideas are endless and promote healthy eating. Use them.
Grab one of the countless “Zone Diet” books, such as Mastering The Zone, available in any public library to replenish your “block menu”. It is extremely helpful to have access to recipes that are designed to be made and served based on blocks.
Conspicuously absent is any mention of cleanses, pills, potions, and special drinks. That stuff is all snake oil and doesn’t work. And fasting is ineffective. Remember our goal is to eat to perform. There is no such thing as fasting to perform.
Join the Recipes Unleashed page on FB. It is open to the public and great source for healthy cooking and food prep ideas. Ask questions during our cool downs and talk to the UNLEASHED. Our community is an excellent resource and incredibly supportive. Don’t try to make the journey toward healthy eating alone.
Thank you for all your hard work and for being so dedicated.
LIVE – GET STRONG – WIN