Metabolic Adaptation and Weight Loss

What is metabolic adaption as it relates to weight loss? 

Metabolic adaptation is your body’s way of adapting to a low energy supply due to a calorie deficiency. A calorie deficiency can come from either increasing exercise or decreasing food intake. From the stand point of weight loss it can best be explained by this scenario, metabolic adaptation is when someone can maintain a caloric deficit for a few weeks or months and successfully lose weight but then weight loss suddenly stops while eating the same number of calories.

Your hormones are effected by metabolic adaptations. Here are a changes occurring when you are in a calorie deficiency.

  • Changes in appetite: increases in hunger and reduction in satiety
  • Lower Sex Drive
  • Impacts to Lean Muscle Retention
  • Reduced Metabolic Rate
  • Water Retention
  • Impacts on Bone Health

Metabolic adaptions are completely normal. Your metabolism is very adaptive. Just like it can decrease through calorie restriction or exercise. It will increase with eating more food and reducing exercise. Reversing metabolic adaptions due to dieting can be done a couple different ways.

  • Periodic diet breaks during weight loss phase
  • Reversing diet when you reach your weight loss goal
  • Recover diet when you reach your weight loss goal

Some Myths About Metabolic Adaption:

  • Metabolic adaptions can make weight loss impossible and make you gain weight. Basic laws of thermodynamics will tell you this false.
  • Metabolic adaptions are permanent. Your metabolism is not broken. It is adaptive and adjusts.
  • You can avoid metabolic adaptions. Metabolic adaptation is your body’s protective mechanism to maintain homeostasis.

While it it your body ingrained nature to adapt based on energy availability there are some ways to minimize adaptations.

4 Ways to Minimizing Metabolic Adaptions:

  • Maintain adequate protein intake to take advantage of its thermic effect. About 20-30% of protein calories are burned while the body is digesting and metabolizing the protein.
  • Resistance training support building muscle and therefore results in a slightly higher metabolism.
  • Implement the smallest possible deficit that yields appreciable weight loss. This allows you to minimize muscle mass losses and keeps energy higher than a deeper deficiency.
  • Do not add excessive amounts of cardio. Use cardio as a tool to increase calorie deficiency when calories get low.

If you are interested in practical strategies for weight loss. I recommend this paper by Helms, Aragon & Fitschen: https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/…/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20 . While the paper is written for natural bodybuilders for contest prep I think you find the information very informative.

How long does it take to start seeing weight loss results?

This is not a cut and dry answer of x number of days or weeks because there are a few things to take into consideration.

10 Factors to Consider:

  1. How were you eating before you started dieting? Generally, individuals are eating too many calories to maintain or lose weight. Once calories are lowered to create a calorie deficiency then individuals may experience quick weight loss results. This could also come from increasing more whole food choices, reducing processed foods, and limiting eating out. If you tend to not eat enough food, you may see weight gain due to an increase in food.

  2. Are you eating more food now than before?
    A common response when receiving a macro recommendation for weight loss is, “That is a lot of food. Are these recommendations right for weight loss?” If you have been undereating, you may have recently increased your calories for your weight loss goals which results in more food volume in your body, more food in your digestive tract, and maybe more water retention from an increase in carbs. You may even feel more bloated or fluffy with the increase in carbs.

    You may have been maintaining weight or gaining weight eating fewer calories but this could be the result of metabolic adaptations. The increase in calories might be the best step for you to start seeing weight loss results. It may take a few weeks or months to have your metabolism adapt to your higher calorie intake before you start to see weight loss. 

  3. Are you 100% dialed in with your nutrition?
    This is a critical factor for success. On average it may take 1 month or more for someone new to macros to adjust to tracking nutrition and get dialed in. If you are only at 75% dialed in then 75% is all the results you can expect. Give yourself time to learn the skills of tracking your nutrition accurately even on the weekends. Time after time people say that weekends are when they “fall off the wagon”. If you are not keeping your deficiency untacked on the weekends this could result in reducing or eliminating your calorie deficiency for the week and slow results.

  4. Females: Do you have normal menstruation cycles?
    Women have hormonal fluctuations through the month that result in different water retention variables. Typically, you will have two weeks where water retention is higher and two lower weeks. Don’t forget the week before you cycle begins and cravings set it. This can be a challenging week when we eat a sleeve of cookies and feel we messed up. This can lead to multiple days of eating outside of your calorie intake. Your metabolism spikes the week before your cycle begins. Consider upping your carbs by 20-30 grams the few days your cravings are higher.

    A good way to measure success is to compare month one with month two for like weeks. 

  5. Do you have underlying digestive or medical conditions?
    You can do everything right with your nutrition and training but if you have an underlying condition that is posing challenges you may have to consider your weight loss might take longer than the average person. Make sure you are educating yourself on the proper diet and exercise for your unique situation.

  6. Have you just started a new workout program or increased training?
    You might have heard of newbie gains. If you are new to working out you might experience the ability to gain muscle while losing body fat so you might not see scale changes but your body composition might start changing. Generally, when you start a new training plan your body experiences soreness from the new movement. Soreness from training equals water retention in the muscle tissue for repair.

  7. Are you monitoring water, fiber and sodium intake, bowel movements, sleep, and stress, ?
    The scale is a super fun tool to measure progress (heavy on the sarcasm). There are many factors to consider when weighing yourself and determining if you are seeing results. These are just a few of the big ones. Water intake paired with fiber can move waste out of your body. If you are not having daily bowel movements you might want to take a look at these two variables. Sodium intake varies day to day based on the foods you eat and it can spike when you eat out. Being aware of your average sodium intake and comparing weight to sodium intake can uncover a weight spike. Sleep and stress are important factors in managing cortisol. If you are highly stressed and not experiencing deep sleep your cortisol levels could be elevated which can result in water retention.

    Here are all the variables that can effect the number on the scale: https://med3fitness.com/2015/10/screw-the-scale/

  8. How much weight do you have to lose?
    The optimal rate of weight loss for an individual is .5 to 1% of total bodyweight per week. If you have a higher amount of weight to lose then your weight loss per week would be higher 1-2 lbs or more. If you are leaner and have less body fat to lose you might be looking at a .25 to .5 lbs per week.

  9. What tools are you using to measure progress?
    There are a couple recommend tools: scale, measurements, and pictures.
    • Pictures should be taken at a minimum of four weeks apart and compared.
    • Measurements two to four weeks apart. When taking measurements, take the measurement three times and document the average of the three.
    • The scale is your daily tool. Take your weight daily, average your weight over seven days and compare week to week to determine progress. Anything less may be less effective. NOTE: Obviously people have different opinions on this but the best analysis of data comes from more data not less.

  10. How big is your calorie deficiency?
    Your calorie deficiency determines the rate of weight loss. Generally, calorie deficiencies for weight loss are set between 250 to 500 calories per day depending on the person. The calorie deficiency can come from nutrition, which is the easiest, or can be created from daily activity including exercise. Typical weekly scale weight loss: Females is .5 to 1 pounds, Males 1 to 2 pounds.

In summary, the answer to the question, “How long does it take to start seeing weight loss results?”, it depends.

Navigating the Holidays with Nutritional Strategies


This year’s holiday gatherings are looking a bit different than years past. Some families are choosing to continue with social distancing and some are not but what is probably not going to change that much is the foods you intend to eat. These are the foods you have been dreaming about all year long. In my family, that means cheesy potatoes that my sister makes. They are commonly known as funeral potatoes. These potatoes are loaded with all the deliciousness and outrageous amounts of carbs and fats.

Whether you will be sharing one or many meals with friends or family, you may want to take a proactive approach and decide before the meal how you will be handling the day.  Whatever decision you make is 100% the right decision for you.  In this post, I am going to share some strategies on how you could handle your holiday meals.

Strategy One: Enjoy the Day

Strategy one is simply just choosing to enjoy the day and not track your nutrition. It is one day of eating. You know that it is consistent nutrition over time that produces results not one good meal. The opposite is also true, just because you choose to take the day off from tracking and enjoy some of your holiday favorites does not mean you will derail your progress. This is a great strategy that fosters a long-term balanced dieting approach.  Remember, you diet for you and sometimes that can put stress on those around you. Your family will love that you chose to focus on them for the holiday and not stress about weighing and measuring everything.  As you enjoy the meal, savory the flavor by eating slower. Your body will signal you when you are full and that is point where you stop eating.  Listening to your body cues for satiety results in creating moderation.

Strategy Two: Guidelines and Limits

Strategy two is creating guidelines and limits.  You decide before the meal where you will indulge and where you will set boundaries.  But, how do you implement this strategy, you ask. You decide to use the one plate rule.  You allow yourself one plate of food. You get to eat as much as you want but it must fit on one plate, no seconds. You only put on your plate the things you most want to eat and skip the less desirable foods.  When it comes to dessert, you choose one dessert not multiple desserts. You can have as much of that one dessert as you want but it can only be one. This strategy really focuses on moderation even though you might be allowing yourself to eat as much of something as you want it really creates moderation. Let me give you an example regarding eating one type of dessert, you are probably not going to eat the entire pie yourself because that might be frowned upon in a social situation. But people might not look twice at you if you had multiple different types of desserts. Eating a variety of desserts is far more calories than choosing one dessert and eating as much of it as you want.  And lastly, giving yourself a cap on how many alcoholic beverages you will drink.  If you already have a plan before the meal then this is going to give you a better opportunity to stick to the plan than if you are winging it. One way to manage your intake of alcohol besides setting guidelines is to drink a glass of water in between each drink you have.

When you choose using the strategy of guidelines and limits this results in reducing your choices. Limited choices allow you to make better choices.

Strategy Three: Bring a Dish or Try New Recipes

Strategy three is perfect option whether you are hosting the meal or if you are invited to someone’s home.  If you have been invited to dinner, bring a dish to share. Great options include a veggie tray, a salad or a dish low in calories that you can load your plate with to create volume.  This is a great option when you do not know what will be served and if you will like it or not.  This strategy also allows you to have something you feel comfortable eating and have some control over the calorie intake.  Hosting at your home?  What a great opportunity to try some new lighter recipes of some traditional holiday favorites like my Low Calorie, No Bake Protein Pumpkin Pie. It tastes just like the high calorie recipe at the fraction of the calories.   This a good way to introduce your guests to some new holiday flavors without all the extra calories.  You could also reduce the fat in many recipes by half.

Strategy Four: Flexible Dieting

You might be prepping for a show, a photoshoot or you just want to stay in a calorie deficiency and work towards your weight loss goals. Strategy four is flexible dieting. Flexible dieting in this scenario is banking or borrowing calories from other days in a 7-day period to allow you to bank extra calories for the holiday or reducing calories the next few days after the holiday.  This is a great strategy to use when you want to indulge a little bit but you want to keep on track with your progress.  Rule of thumb states that the reduction of macros would come from carbs and fats and not protein. You can reduce by 10-20 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fat per day.  This will create a nice surplus for the day. You want to avoid banking too many calories because that can result in you getting hungry and then you overconsume your calories and negate your efforts to bank calories.   If you go over your available budget of calories, you can borrow calories from the next 6 days and reduce calories based on how much you went over.  This strategy really focuses on keep your deficiency in tack to allow you to keep making progress.  One note about this strategy is that varying your intake from day to day will typically result in more scale fluctuations.

Strategy four also focuses on what you will be tracking. There are times you just want a little more flexibility with your nutrition choices and hitting macros can be daunting when you just want to enjoy yourself.  This strategy focuses on two different protocols, tracking calories only or tracking calories and protein.  You know that protein is KING in the macro kingdom so leaning towards tracking calories and protein is ideal BUT one day of not being 100% on protein intake will not hurt your progress.  You will most likely be estimating your nutrition for the day as well. Error on the side of the higher calorie choices in your food tracking application to give you cushion incase the food was higher in calories.

Food Environment

When eating at someone else’s home, you cannot control the food environment but what you can do is be mindful of your place in that environment.  Do not hang out in the kitchen or sit by dishes of food. While you have good intentions to have a couple bites of readily available foods, history shows you can not just have a couple bites and this can result in you easily consume many calories just by mindless snacking. 

Leftovers

Holiday meals typically result in leftovers for days. You have 3 strategies when it comes to leftovers. First, do not bring home leftovers. Enjoy the meal and politely decline leftovers even if it is your favorite pie. Second, send leftovers home with your guests. And lastly, when planning the menu make only enough for the one meal. The holiday is one day/one meal. When the holiday foods are no longer available it makes it easier for you to get dialed back in and on your way with your weight loss goals.

Be activity

One way to manage calories for the day is to active. Incorporate physical activity into your get-togethers with friends and family. Many friends and family have started adding in a holiday 5K the morning of the day. Depending on where you live you could do a hike or participate in a sport like touch football.   If a 5K, sporting event are not your cup of tea you can also take a walk after dinner. This will be a great opportunity to catch up with everyone.

Scale Fluctuations and Next Best Steps

You might see some initially spikes of weight on the scale but that is to be 100% expected. I mean you probably ate more calories, more carbs, more sodium and drank less water. There are a couple more factors that could effect the scale weight that I outline in my post called, “Screw the Scale“. My recommendation is to maybe take a week off of the scale and just focus on nutrition, fiber, exercise and water.  What will most likely happen is that you will be right where you were before the holiday or even down in weight.   What you do the days following the holiday meal will determine your success with your weight loss. 

The day after the holiday the best next step will be to follow your prescribe macros/calories to allow you get right back on task.  Slightly increasing your water intake to help flush out extra sodium.  Plan to workout. You probably ate a little more so those extra calories will make for good workouts for the next few days.  

While you might gain weight for a few days you could also maintain or lose weight.   Losing weight after an off-plan day perplexes people.  How can you eat more and still lose weight?  There are a couple factors to consider. If you have been dieting, have a lot of stress, etc. this can result in higher cortisol levels.  High cortisol levels result in more water retention. The break from your stressful life, a training break and a break from the diet can be the perfect combination to reduce cortisol.  The rest and relaxation from the holiday gathering might also allow you to have a better night sleep and maybe an additional rest day that your body really needed.

These strategies will help create intention to conquer the day, which builds confidence that you can be successful losing weight while still enjoying the holidays. A final thought, even if you choose not to plan for how to manage your nutrition for the holiday, even if you eat or drink more than you expected to and you gain weight that does not mean you messed anything up or that you failed.   Deciding that you will refocus on your nutrition and exercise program will get you right back on track.  Your weight loss journey is not determined by one or two days.  Your weight loss is a direct result of consistency over time.  You should expect that there will be good days and days that have opportunities. Take those opportunity days and learn from them and create change in your life for long term success.

Low Calorie No Bake Protein Pumpkin Pie

Did you know I am a Fitness and Nutrition Coach, Pro Bodybuilder and a Baker to boot? The months between October and January are when you typically put on the most weight between yummy extra treats and less movement. Your holiday body comes with a few extra pounds. As a fitness and nutrition coach, I know what a challenge the holidays can be and that means I head to the kitchen and find ways to reduce the extra calories in your favorite holiday dishes.

I am so excited to share this recipe with you this Low Calorie No Bake Protein Pumpkin Pie.

This recipe begins with a Low Calorie Graham Cracker Crust

  • 10 Graham cracker sheets
  • 3 Tbsp. Unsweetened Almond Milk

In a food processor*, process crackers into fine crumbles. Add the milk and process again to combine. Pour the now-sticky crumbs into a pie pan, and smash down very firmly with your hands or a sheet of wax paper. (Be sure to smash down as the lack of fat will make this crust crumbly if you don’t.) There’s no need to bake; just pour desired pie filling on top.

*If you do not have a food processor, you can put the graham crackers in a ziplock bag and crush with heavy tool like a tenderizing mallet until fine.

Next comes a two layer pie filling.

  • 1 Tbsp Sugar
  • 4 oz Fat Free Cool Whip
  • 1.5 tsp Cinnamon
  • 4 oz Fat Free Cream Cheese
  • 28 g Instant Vanilla Pudding Mix
  • 1 tsp Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • 1/4 tsp Nutmeg
  • 122 g Canned Pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup 2% Milk
  • 1 Scoop: Syntha-6 Vanilla Milkshake Protein Powder

In a medium size bowl, mix cream cheese, sugar, and cool whip and blend well with a hand mixer. Pour into prepared crust and spread evenly.

In a medium size bowl, mix pudding and milk and stir until thick. Add pumpkin, pumpkin pie spice, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Stir until blended. Pour on top of the cream cheese layer and spread evenly.

Put in refrigerator for 30 minutes to set up.
Print Recipe

This recipe serves 8 with sweet macros per serving: Protein 7g, Carbs 27g, Fat 3g = 168 Calories. Compared to traditional pumpkin pie, this pie is 5 times less fat and 1/2 the carbs with a boost of protein.

This is a perfect addition to your holiday table this year.

Nutritional Strategies for Social Situations

You have been invited to your best friend’s house for a barbeque. You are super excited because you have just the right outfit to accentuate your new body that you worked hard to achieve.  BUT wait…you think how am I going to be able to go and enjoy myself without undoing all my hard work.  Fear creeps in, you start thinking you can’t go because it is going to be too difficult to explain how you are eating to others and why you are choosing not drink until you pass out.

It is true that social gatherings and celebrations can cause some anxiety for someone who is dieting. But with the right mindset and tools you can navigate any situation comes your way and come out of it unscathed.

The best way to prepare for a social gathering where you do not know what food is going to be available is to have a plan you have control over.

Let’s talk strategies!!!

Strategy One: Bring Your Own Food

This strategy allows you the most control over your nutrition.  Bringing your own food to the party can result in some conversations you might feel uncomfortable having where you have to explain your choices.  It is very weird how you choose to eat is of concern to anyone else but yet people can be judgmental of your choices either because they wish they were in your position or they don’t understand and have their own misunderstandings about nutrition, While this is a great opportunity to educate others it might not be the best time and might cause unnecessary stress for a party you came to enjoy.   Beyond bring your own food for you to eat, you could  bring a dish to share with others that you know will fit in your diet like a veggie tray, a salad, something not high calories that you can load up on your plate to provide volume for you.  You could also create some healthy option that can introduce your friends to a new recipe that show dieting does not have to be boring. Depending on your personality this might be a good choice for you.

Strategy Two: Creating Guidelines

This strategy allows you some flexibility without tracking.  You decide before you go to the party where you will indulge and where you will set boundaries. One protocol is the one plate rule.  You allow yourself one plate of food. You get to eat as much as you want but it must fit on one plate, no seconds. You only put on your plate the things you most want to eat and skip the less desirable foods.  Next, you might allow yourself dessert. BUT you choose one dessert not multiple desserts. You can have as much of that one dessert as you want but it can only be one. And lastly, giving yourself a cap on how many alcoholic beverages you will drink.   This strategy really focuses on moderation even though you might be allowing yourself to eat as much of something as you want it really creates moderation. Let me give you an example regarding eating one type of dessert, you are probably not going to eat the entire tray of cookies because that might be frowned upon. But people might not look twice at you if you had a cookie, a piece of cake, some ice cream, etc and this is far more calories than choosing one dessert.

Strategy Three: Pre-Plan/Post Clean Up  

This strategy is banking or borrowing calories from other days in the 7-day period to allow you bank extra calories for the party or clean up the next few days after the party.  This is a great protocol to implement when you have a special celebration coming up you want to indulge in but you want to keep on track with your progress.  If you know in advance you will want to have a few extra calories for the event you can start banking within the 6 days leading up to the event. You do not want to pull from your protein macros.  The extra calories are going to come from carbs and fats. You can reduce by 10-20 grams of carbs and 5 grams of fat per day.  This will create a nice surplus for your event. You want to avoid banking too much that it results in you getting hungry and then you overconsume your calories and negate your efforts to bank calories for your event.   If you go over your available budget of calories, you can borrow calories from the next 6 days and reduce calories based on how much you went over.  This strategy really focus on keep your deficiency in tacked to allow you to keep making progress.  One note about this strategy is that varying your intake from day to day will typically result in more scale fluctuations.

Strategy Four: Focused Tracking

There are times you just want a little more flexibility with your nutrition choices and hitting macros can be daunting when you just want to enjoy yourself.  This strategy focuses on two different protocols, tracking calories only or tracking calories and protein.  We know that protein is KING in the macro kingdom so leaning towards tracking calories and protein is ideal BUT one day of not being 100% on protein intake will not hurt your progress.  When you have no idea what will be available to eat then thee options are great.   You will most likely be estimating your nutrition for the day as well. Error on the side of the higher calorie choices in your food tracking application to give you cushion incase the food was higher in calories that you would generally estimate.

More Nutritional Tools For Success

Before I move on to my final points, with all the strategies above consider implementing some additional tools for the day to allow for more flexibility. You can use intermittent fasting in the morning and skip breakfast to allow more calories later in the day. But be careful not to allow yourself to get too hungry that results in being famished and eating too much. If your event is in the evening you could eat higher protein, high volume/low carbs for the day…examples grilled chicken salad or egg white omelet with lots of veggies. You could eat a small meal of high protein before going to your event. If you are not hungry at the event then that will limit your intake. There might be a case where you do not know what food is available and you find there is nothing you like to eat. Bringing a protein bar with you to eat in a pinch and this might save you from hitting the drive through on your way home.

Food Environment

The last note is about food environment. While you can not control the food environment what you can do is be mindful of your place in that environment.  Do not hang out in the kitchen or sit by dishes of food. While you have good intentions to have a couple chips, history shows you can not just have a couple and can easily consume many calories just by mindful snacking.  One way to manage your intake of alcohol besides setting guidelines is to drink a glass of water in between each drink you have.

The Scale Goes Up But Should Come Down

Even with all these strategies you may have some higher scale readings for a couple days.  Understanding the WHY behind the scale readings help.  First, you might have had more carbs than usual, sodium may be higher, water intake lower, new foods introduced, and less fiber.   These can result in higher scale weights.   What you do the days following will determine if your success with your weight loss. 

The best next step will be to follow your prescribe macros/calories to allow you get right back on task. If you drank less what then increase your water intake to help flush out extra sodium.  Get in a good workout. You probably ate a little more so those extra calories make for good workouts for the next few days.  

While you might gain weight for a few days you could also maintain or lose weight.   Losing weight after an off-plan day perplexes people.  How can you eat more and still lose weight?  There are a couple factors to consider. If you have been dieting, have a lot of stress, etc. this can result in higher cortisol levels.  Height cortisol levels result in more water retention. The break from your stressful life, a training break and a break from the diet can be the perfect combination to reduce cortisol.  The rest and relaxation from the party might also allow you to have a better night sleep and maybe an additional rest day that your body really needed.

These strategies will help you conquer the day and because you planned for how you would manage the day you feel proud and confident that you can be successful, enjoy social gathers and still make progress towards your goals. This creates that positive mindset of success.

You Didn’t Mess Up….Keep Going

A final thought, even if you choose not to plan for how to manage your nutrition for the party, even if you over consume or drink more than you expected to and you gain weight that now has to be relost that does not mean you messed anything up or that you failed.   Deciding that you will refocus on your nutrition and exercise program will get you right back on track.  Your weight loss journey is not determined by one or two days. It is about consistency over time.  You should expect that there will be good days and days that have opportunities. Take those opportunity days and learn from them and create change in your life for long term success.

There are many ways to manage your nutrition as you work towards your weight loss goals. Check out my other article “A Tiered Approach to Nutrition” to read about creating a flexible nutrition plan that works for you and your lifestyle.

Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage: The Relationship Costs of Competition

In this third and final part of the series, I want to go over the relationship costs. When you choose to compete, you do it from the perspective of something you are doing for you.  While you want to make sure you focus on self-care and honoring your needs, competing does not fall under self-care.  Competing by many accounts can be a selfish endeavor. Especially when you choose to continue prepping for a competition even when it starts affecting your relationships.  You have to wonder if the costs to your relationships with your friends and family worth it all.

There are many ways that prepping for a competition can be hard on your relationships. Many costs to relationships are going to come from issues with dieting, how you spend your time and your behavior changes and how that affects those around you. 

While your friends and family may support all the goals and paths you want to take in life, they might not have a clear understanding of what they are getting into when they are supporting your goal to prep for a show.   And if this is your first show, you might not know either.   How does support go from all in to becoming non-supportive?

What You Eat

Dieting can be hard for anyone and it is especially challenging during competition prep. You can diet by any method that provides results but typically the one thing you might be doing is weighing your food and tracking everything you put in your mouth. This is what you have to do to be the most accurate to be able lose weight to get lean enough to compete. But from the perspective of another person who doesn’t diet it appears to them you are obsessed or have an eating disorder.  Eating together has been for many years a way to connect and celebrate with others.  When you begin eating different foods than the people you dine with on a regular basis, they can’t understand why you do not eat the same foods as they do. They feel disconnected to you and you feel disconnected to them.  This starts to breed tension. You try to explain and they do not understand your explanation. This is where the stress and appearance of non-support begins.

What They Eat

Understand you are on a diet; your family is not. That means they may want highly palatable and high calorie foods that you are unable to eat. You see them eating these foods and you become resentful to them because how could they eat these foods in front of you when they know you are on a diet and can’t eat them.  They begin offering you foods you can’t eat and you feel they are not supporting your goals.

Social Events

If, you are invited to a social event that involves food you might not eat at the event or bring your own food in a plastic container.  You will hear, “just one bite, piece, or meal won’t matter”.  You want them to understand that it does matter but they can’t understand because they have not gone through this before.  In some cultures, food is a way love is shown.  Your grandmother makes you a special dish and you tell her you can’t eat it and now you have offended your grandmother and you feel awful.

If choose to compete around any holiday, birthday or special occasion you may not be able to participated because you are unable to track your calories. Along with causing anxiety for you this could cause tension with your family and friends.

Isolation

When being social becomes too challenging and you just don’t want to even deal with it you begin to isolate. You have decided I cannot eat at the events and I just don’t want to explain why I am not eating or drink or why I have to bring my own food you start decline invitations. More invitations you decline the bigger the distance you create from friends and family. From your perspective it is too much of a hassle to even try to explain because they just don’t understand.  From their perspective, you are isolating yourself and becoming obsessed with prep. It could be inferred that you care more about your show than your relationship with them.

Mood Changes

As you get further into prep and your calories are low and you become more irritated then fights flair up more often and tempers fly. Basically, you are not going to be a fun person to be around because you will be hungry and moody and be a pain in the ass to everyone around you.   I am sure in life people have said things or done things to you that are unforgettable. You may become that person in someone else life including your children due to how you treat them during this time.  While it may seem like I am making it sound worse that it is I assure you I have said things to the people in my lives that have hurt them during prep. I was not aware of my behavior but you can’t use that as an excuse for treating people poorly.

One of my clients a week out from her show called me to let me know that her spouse had asked her to leave the house. She told me she still needed to get in her workout for the day. I responded, “Skip your workout, go spend time with your husband and apologize for your behavior”.  While not intentionally trying to be difficult her behavior was affecting those around her.  As a coach I would rather you miss a workout or two if it means repairing something before it breaks.

Training

Another area that can look obsessive to the outside view is the level of training you are doing to get stage lean. Typically, you may have worked out a couple times per week and maybe did some cardio. In general, you had a balance between working out and everyday life. But in an effort to get as lean as possible you have ramped up your workout schedule. You may have increased your strength training from a couple time a week to 6 days a week.  You may have added more cardio to your program in the form of 1 hr. to 2 sessions a day of cardio on top of the strength training.  You prioritize your training about everything including spending time with your family.  And when you are home you are too tired from training to spend time with them.  This focus on training and not your family and friends create distance and leaves them feeling like they are an unimportant part of your life.

Is It All Worth It?

I get it you want to stand on the stage and say you accomplished something. But really what are you celebrating?  How will competing change your life? And if it changes your life will be it for the good or will it be for the bad.  

Do you see this potential spiral when you first start prepping for a competition?  No, you think I just want to get on stage and be in the best shape of my life. In reality, you have systematically over weeks or months gotten to an unhealthy place mentally, physically and you may have ruined relationship along the way. You have to wonder if the cost of competition is too high when you factor in the relationship, financial, mental and physical costs when the return on investment is maybe plastic medal or trophy, body dysmorphia, significant weight gain, and maybe an eating disorder.

The most important thing to understand is you have chosen this goal for yourself and that can cause extra stress for you and the people in your life. You can not expect them to understand what you are going through. You are the one that is changing and they are trying to support you without ending up a causality of your pursuit. This is your goal and not theirs and they will not in many cases understand but they will do their best to support you.

My personal experience resulted in my boyfriend at the time breaking up with me after I competed in my first show. He did not feel like he was part of anything. He felt pushed aside and unimportant to me. This might not be your situation but I know of some marriages and relationships that have fallen apart during the course of prepping for a show.

I really wanted to focus on the costs of competition that does not get talked about enough. You see the glitz and glamour on the stage and you think one day that will be you and maybe you even want to turn pro and be a fitness model. You might have amazing goals and the stage might be the jumping off point for you.  But with all things you are investing your time, money and energy in, make sure you have a clear picture of the costs to you and those around you in your life.

Make sure you take a moment to read parts 1 & 2 if you missed them.
Read Part 1 Beyond the Stage: The Financial Cost of Competition
Read Part 2 Beyond the Stage: The Mental and Physical Costs of Competition 

Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage: The Mental and Physical Costs of Competition

In part one of, “Beyond the Stage: The Cost of Competition”, I addressed some of the financial costs to consider before deciding to compete in bodybuilding. If you don’t have discretionary funds in your budget maybe competing might not be in the financial cards for you.

In this article I want to address the mental and physical costs that you should consider before jumping into prepping for a bodybuilding show.  

Dieting

The first area I want to cover is the costs of dieting. I am sure you are fully aware that you will be dieting to reach the ideal leanness to be competitive against others on competing. You might believe, you have dieted before and it will not be a big deal.  BUT competition lean is a whole extreme level of dieting. Typically, when you have dieted before it may have been to lose a few pounds to look good for a trip or to look good in a bathing suit.  The point where you stop is the point where you as a competitor will need to dig deep because you may have to lose 10 to 20 more pounds.  Dieting is going to be difficult and you will be hungry.

If people in your life who are non-competitors are telling you that you look great when are a couple weeks out from a show chances are pretty good you are not lean enough yet.  The show ready lean competitor can have the appearance of looking sick and people begin to ask if you are okay and comment on your being too skinny.   My lean is vascularity everywhere, sunken in face, bones structure visible, and thin translucent skin. I know what you are thinking where can I sign up to get started, but wait there is more.

Ideal competition lean is different than lean. If you are doing the show just to say you did one and not to be competitive then you can compete at a higher body fat percentage.  But why would you spend all that money, put in all the time and effort into something you are not even going to try to be competitive at. It baffles me but I have seen it many times. You might have lost a substantial amount of weight and you are proud of your hard work and a bikini competition seems like a good idea. You are still paying hundreds or thousands of dollars to stand on a stage and be subjectively judged.

You have made the decision to diet for a show but do you know what changes your body is going to go through during the process?  Your body begins the process of adaptive thermogenesis as soon as you begin a diet.

Adaptive Thermogenesis

When you are in a calorie deficiency your metabolism adapts to your energy intake (i.e. calories consumed). As your metabolism adapts to a decrease in available energy, you will experience changes in your hormones. The hormones being affected include leptin, ghrelin, thyroid hormones, and testosterone. These adaptations are unfavorably affected by calorie restriction and weight loss.

Leptin is your satiety hormone that tells you when to stop eating. When you reduce your calories leptin levels decrease, which then sends a signal to your brain to eat more and burn less. This is your body’s safety mechanism that regulates energy expenditure and food intake. When we are in a deficiency for an expended time period leptin signals can become suppressed.  You do not get the signals you are full and can result in you overeating beyond normal capacity. Ghrelin is your hunger hormone. With a limited calorie intake and not responding to signals for hunger the signally could become suppressed. This can be a good thing for suppressing hunger and managing calorie intake.

Thermic effect of food (TEF) is reduced. When you eat carbs and protein about 10% of the calories you eat are burned from just the act of eating. The reduction in overall food intake naturally results in a reduction of total energy expenditure.

Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) is the energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. It ranges from the energy expended walking to work, typing, performing yard work, undertaking agricultural tasks and fidgeting. NEAT), can play a significant role in helping to maximize the total amount of calories burned in a single day. NEAT naturally decreases spontaneous activity decrease.

The longer you diet the more effect you have on your sex hormones. Low levels of testosterone can not only affect your training it can also affect your sex drive. You might find your once high sex drive is stuck in neutral.

These changes in your basal metabolic rate, NEAT and other systems is known as Adaptive Thermogenesis. This is your body’s way of counter balancing the changes happening while dieting.

Behavior Changes

Due to your low carbohydrate and overall low-calorie intake, as your metabolism begins to adapt you will notice some changes in your behavior.  Actually, you might not even think you are any different but those around you will. Reduced carbohydrate intake means less glucose for your brain and nervous system and other sources must provide glucose. One change that will be apparent is your mood. You will become irritable, short tempered, small things will set up off, maybe some yelling and scream at people for the littlest things.  Those around you will notice you are angry more often.  One client of mine would yell at people who spoke to her while she ate. I personally, will get upset with people who eat off my plate when I already weighed out my food. I also don’t allow my family to eat certain protein sources so I can have them for my meal prep for my diet.  I know you are like WHAT?  But seriously, my family can eat everything and they want the one thing I eat to keep me on track.

Due to the lack of available nutrition, you will become hyper focused on food. This can be seen by you meticulous counting your calories/macros, trying to find ways to be created with your limited calories, thinking about food all the time and when your next meal is.  You generally spend way more time creating a low-calorie masterpiece in a diet phase than you would be when you are not dieting.  

Reduced calories mean reduced energy levels to support your everyday activities.

Energy Levels

At the beginning of prep, you are highly motivated. Your training sessions are strong and you are still achieving personal records in the gym. As your prep continues your energy levels begin to decrease due to the lack of calories. Your calories may be cut many times as training increases over the months to create a calorie deficiency to achieve the expected body composition.  Your energy level is in the toilet and you are barely moving throughout the day except for the most basic things you have to do.  You are tired all the time and can not seem to recover from your workouts.   Your sleep begins to suffer as cortisol levels rise.  Your exercise program could consist of 5-6 days of strength training with 1 hr daily cardio sessions to 2 a day cardio sessions.  Even though you are so tired the physical changes you are seeing in your body gives you motivation to push forward.

Physical Changes

Your body is changing as you get leaner and you start to see definition you did not know you had and you are in love with the new look. BUT, wait a minute. The new body you have is now below a healthy body fat percentage. This lean body should be viewed as temporary not permanent.  Far too many competitors fall in the love with that lean physique and develop body dysmorphia.  The reality that this lean physique is unhealthy to maintain after the show is over can cause many problems for you if you do try to hold on to it. Which leads us to pulling back the curtain of the bodybuilding stage.

Behind the curtain are the true horror stories that come out. Competitors not working with a coach or don’t have a post-show plan can start a destructive binge diet cycle.  During dieting you have a list of foods you can not eat because it is too many calories. You create a list of all the places or the foods you are going to eat post show.  It does not stop at one celebration meal for all your hard work. No, it turns into days of eating all the foods you couldn’t eat.  And with your leptin hormone suppressed you binge eat way beyond a normal intake for a meal.  After a week of unrestricted eating you realize you have gained 10-15 lbs.   WOW! Visually you looked amazing 1 week before and now your abs are gone, your definition is fading and you feel fluffy. You might be back at your normal healthy body fat percentage but your metabolism is still in a suppress state and needs time to adapt.

BUT you the competitor is now unhappy with how you look and you decide you are going to start dieting again.   Now begins the vicious cycle of dieting and bingeing. Now that you have eating all those foods you missed you tell yourself that you can eat just one more meal untracked it won’t make a difference anyway since you gained all this weight already. But at the same time, you continue to try to diet so you don’t end up back where started or weighing more. HOWEVER, dieting is not going to work for you at this stage of the game.  Your metabolism is in a suppress state and needs time to adapt to higher calories before another dieting phase can’t begin.   If you continue the binge and diet cycle to hold onto your remain physique chances are pretty good you are going to look like you don’t even workout after a month. Trust me, after my first show I tried to hold on to the leanness but couldn’t because I couldn’t get a handle on my diet. It became a vicious cycle. Now as a prep coach during the dieting process when my competitor reaches a healthy body weight that is manageable I ask them to remember their weight and how they looked because this will be where we come back to when the show is over. Generally, a good idea is to take at least 6 months to build up your metabolic capacity and for your hormones to return to normal levels before even thinking about dieting again or prepping for another show.    

Before I move on let’s discuss WHY you gained weight rapidly in a short amount of time.  Remember above I discussed adaptive thermogenesis, during the dieting phase your metabolism adapted to meet the energy intake you provided it to maintain basic body functions like breathing. Your body adapted to this intake so when you ate a vast number of calories over what your body expected it rapid stored the extra energy as fat.   Additional your total daily energy expenditure was at a higher weight now at a lower weight it is reduced.

In some case, you may develop an eating disorder or body dysmorphia. Body dsymorphia emerges when you begin to have unrealistic expectation about what you body should look like. You long for the lean unhealthy body composition and are no longer comfortable being at a normal body fat percentage.  It is important to work with your coach, doctor and a counselor to address eating disorders.  It is a serious issue that needs to be treated with professional help from someone who works with this type of issue. If you have every had an eating disorder, dieting and competing should not be some you should consider because it will most likely reactivate your disorder.  As part of the physical changes you experience, digestive issues may also become a concern.

Digestive Issues

The reduction in calories during a dieting period can result in some digestive issues. Consuming fewer carbohydrates means you could be consuming less fiber. It is not uncommon for you to experience limited bowel movements due to less food volume intake. Bloating is another issue that plagues competitors. In an effort to reduce calories you might start using artificial sweeteners, chewing sugar free gum, or eating diet food that might have fillers. These additions to your diet along with less fiber and not enough water can make for an uncomfortable situation.  Before you start adding things into your diet consider just adding one thing at a time and making sure your body does not react to it. It may also be beneficial towards the end of prep when you are having challenges with bowel movements to add a fiber supplement to allow to reach your fiber requirements.  Bowel movements assist with removing undigested waste from your body and supports overall weight loss.

Physcologically

Let’s say you put in the work. You achieved stage lean, make up is on point, you nailed your posing and the results come in. You did not even place in the top 5 in the division you competed in. Your friends and family say you were robbed and you should have won. You feel deflated and start to try to analyze what you did wrong or could have done better. Judging bodybuilding shows is subjective. While the judges have some guidelines it could come down to some of the most basic things like the color of your suit, your make up and hair. You do not have any idea who you are competing against and what package they are bring to the stage. While you might have done everything you could have, you have to understand you may not win or even place. Competing is a subjective sport. If you do not win or even place this can be demoralize and create doubt and break your confidence. You might also start bad mouthing the other competitors vs congratulating them for their hard work.

As you can see competing in a bodybuilding show can be a physically demanding sport that takes you to the most extreme levels of leanness.  The levels of leanness you must achieve to be competitive are unhealthy and can be dangerous. It is important that if you want to compete and be competitive that you should work with a qualified coach that specializes in prepping clients for the stage.  There are many prep coaches but few that have the experience necessary to help you reach your potential in a healthy way.  My number one advice is do your homework. Interview many coaches about their programs. Do not choose the one with the biggest client transformation picture or largest client roster.  Consider a coach that limits who they work with because that coach is the one that is not trying to pad their resume and that is a coach that cares about you and can take you to the top level.  

In the next part of the series, I will be discussing the relationship costs of competing in bodybuilding. It is a cost that is never considered before choosing to compete and it can the one that changes everything for you.


Read Part 1: Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage:The Financial Costs of Competition
Read Part 3: Beyond the Bodybuilding Stage: The Relationship Costs of Competition

Health Benefits for Women Strength Training

There has been a stigma in the gym around women lifting weights. Some people believe women should not lift heavy weight because it is unattractive or that they will get too bulky. However, the reality is women should be lifting and lifting as heavy as they can with good form to support overall health.

Benefits of lifting for women:

  • Preserve Muscle Mass: As women age the percentage of fat increase due to moving less and diminishing muscle mass. Through strength training women can preserve and enhance muscle mass even as they age. It is not uncommon for women to have dieted multiple times in their lives and/or multiple times a year due to all the fad diets women tend to jump on and include significant amounts of cardio. This dieting mindset results in lower muscle mass due to being in a calorie deficiency for extended lengths of time. A report published in Science Daily showed that muscle loss was greater in people who only did cardio, but those who mixed cardio and strength training burned more fat and were able to prevent muscle loss


    A myth about women who lift heavy is that they will get bulky or too muscular. Due to the high levels of estrogen, this hormone can make it very difficult for women to become overly muscular. Typical results from a women training with heavy weights is a feminine toned appearance.
  • Weight Management: Strength training along with proper nutrition increases lean muscle mass. The body will burn more calories to maintain muscle which means the more muscle you have the more calories you burn. You can see this based on rate of weight loss between genders, on average women lose .5 to 1 lb per week and men 1-2 lbs per week for the same deficiency due to more muscle mass

  • Reduces Risk of Osteoporosis: Osteoporosis, is a disease in which the density and quality of bone are reduced. As bones become more porous and fragile, the risk of a fracture is greatly increased. As women age and go through hormonal changes they naturally start to lose bone density which can put them as risk for osteoporosis. Strength training routinely can reduce bone deterioration. It also aids in increasing bones strength and maintaining strength. Strength training alone can reduce a woman chances of developing or slowing down osteoporosis.

  • Reduce Injury Risks: Women who strength train build muscle and are able to protect joints from injury. Increased muscle assists in improved balance and coordination. These women rarely suffer from broken bones or injuries from normal daily functions that untrained women do.

  • Reduce the Risk of Heart Disease: Reduction in heart disease is due to lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, better sleep, and lessened fat around the heart that come as a results of regular strength training. American Heart Association recommends resistance training at least twice a week to strengthen your heart and fight against various heart-related health issues.

  • Increase Confidence: Women who generally strength train as a side effect have increased confidence due to the successes they see in the gym through hitting PR’s, body composition, and an overall feeling of being a badass. Confidence comes with knowledge. When women lift weights, the changes to their muscles are generally related to tone, strength, and endurance rather than size. These changes build confidence.

  • Stress Relief: In general, exercise has a positive effect on mental health. During strength training the focus shifts away from stresses at work, home, etc to reps, sets and good form. This switch in focus assists in lower anxiety, reduction in depression and stress. As an added bonus exercise and body composition transformation supports confidence and feeling positive and happy.

So ladies… the next time you pick up those heavy weights and someone tells you women shouldn’t be lifting heavy… say to them, “And why is that?” and then drop some knowledge on them and then hit a personal record with your lift.

You deserve to have the body you want and a long healthy life that comes from good nutrition and a solid strength training program. Your dedication to you will show those naysayers that they don’t know what they are talking about. Do not let anyone tell you what women can’t or shouldn’t do.

Diet Breaks 101

Diet breaks

One dieting protocol that has recently started to show promising results is the implementation of diet breaks for individuals who diet for a long time due to longer competition prep programs or larger amounts of weight to lose.  If you have ever dieted for extended amount of time you may find that you see affects in performance in your training, consistency in tracking nutrition suffers, and mentally and physically you feel fatigued. These are just a few things you could experience on your journey to lose weight.

What?

A diet break is a planned and purposeful break from your fat loss diet where you eat at maintenance calories.

Who?

  • Diet breaks can be beneficial for individuals who have been dieting for many months. These individuals may be showing signs of losing motivation with dieting. Their consistency may have dropped off.
  • Individuals who are prepping for a body building competition for an extended period of time. If prep lasts for more than 12 weeks a diet can help break up the diet to make it more bearable.
  • Individuals who are going on a trip for at least 1 week and intend not to track during the trip but plan to be mindful of their nutrition and be active on their trip.

How to implement?

Typically adding an additional 300-600 calories and reducing cardio by 50% is the protocol for diet breaks. The increase in calories is going to depend on the individual and how their body responds to an increase in calories.

Diet Break Length

Each person is going to be different but a diet break of 1 week to 1 month could provide benefit for the individual. This is unique to the individual.

Goals of Diet Break

  • Reduce cortisol from dieting deficiency
  • Minimum to no weight gain
  • Increase NEAT
  • Improve sleep
  • Improve bowel movements
  • Improve motivation
  • Improve strength and endurance in workouts

Strategies for Implementing

  • Continue to track all macros: this allows you to increase macros if your body responds well. You can also assess how increases in certain macros affect body composition
  • Only track calories and protein: this allows flexible food choices that may be restricted due to set macros
  • Only tracking on non control days.

What could happen

  • Weight Gain: (increase in cellular water & glycogen, weight of volume of food). Typically this weight will come off when diet break ends as it is temporary.
  • Maintain Weight: Physically and mentally feel better, train harder, improved motivation to start diet again
  • Lose Weight: Lower cortisol which reduce water retention

Here is a video breakdown diet breaks – https://youtu.be/14xml7QXS64

Don’t Fear Carbohydrates! They can actually be beneficial to your health and weight loss.

In the weight loss space, there is no other feared macronutrient like carbohydrates. Many of the crash and fad diets on the innerwebs today promote healthy living by eliminating or cutting carbs out of your diet.

But science will give you a better story of the importance of carbohydrates for health and weight loss. Carbohydrates are your bodies preferred source of energy. Your body can easily breakdown carbs into glucose. Glucose is what many of your important body systems use to function optimally. The two main body systems that use glucose is your brain and your nervous system.

Carbohydrates supply valuable vitamins and minerals to your body.

Carbohydrates Role in Disease Prevention:
Diets that are rich in whole grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits may protect against:

● Heart attack and stroke by lowering blood pressure, improving blood lipids and reducing inflammation. One of best-known foods that help reduce cholesterol and reduce heart disease is oatmeal.

● Type-2 diabetes management and prevention

● Supports healthy GI Tract functions

● Research suggests high fiber diets may protect against colon cancer

How do they help with weight loss?

● Higher carb diets promote a higher metabolism
● Carbohydrates are protein sparing because they protect your muscle tissue from breakdown
● Improve your ability to perform athletically
● Maintain hormone levels