My brother’s good friend Johnny and his wife Jen (not their actual names) are amazing people. Both have struggled all their lives with their weight. In 2023 Jen, weighing in at nearly 400lbs, had had enough and decided to ask for bariatric surgery.
In order to qualify for the procedure the candidate must first demonstrate their commitment by losing weight prior to surgery and Jen did so losing over 80lbs on her own in advance of the procedure. After the operation she exercised diligently and continued to mind what she ate, managing to continue her successful weight loss journey until September 2023 when she began to suffer from severe knee pain. Eventually she was hospitalized. The knee had infected, and Jen’s immune system was failing in its fight against the invasive bacteria. My guess is cellulitis. It is an infection that usually follows an injury that involves a break in the skin but in 2003 I almost died of cellulitis following a light bump to my elbow which did not result in a break in the skin. I spent one fevered week on IV antibiotics and at one point thought I would need to have my arm amputated.
Unfortunately, Jen’s body was unable to overcome the infection and by December, still in a hospital bed, she had put on all the weight she had spent the year losing. On Christmas Day Jen succumbed to the infection and left Johnny a bereft widower. After the autopsy the doctor explained to Johnny that Jen’s immune system had failed due to malnutrition.
All of Jen’s well-intentioned weight loss efforts had left her deficient in the nutrients her body needed to survive. It’s both tragic and terrifying. Obesity is most often characterized as a result of over eating but, my contention is that it is a symptom of under nourishment. Saying that gluttony causes obesity is like saying that the store is crowded because too many people are in it. It’s a circular explanation that subtly blames the overweight person for their condition as if they suffer from a fatal character flaw rather than a misapprehension about what constitutes adequate nutrition.
You will only overeat if the foods you are eating fail to provide the nutrients your body needs. This is why you have sweet or salt cravings. Your body is missing something it needs and you will continue to feel hungry until those needs are met. Diets that work by reducing caloric intake leave you hungry and malnourished. If you eat the correct nutrient dense foods you will feel satiated even as you shed pounds. It is painless and effortless because all your junk food cravings disappear. I like ice cream, cookies and pizza as much as the next person but when I am eating well I do not crave or even desire any of these things.
But even coaches need coaching. During Shade’s Fall Fitness Challenge I continued to eat clean in order to maintain my 8% body fat and stellar lean muscle mass. I also tweaked my training a bit to optimize results. But, midway through I became very ill with a virus that took me more than 2 weeks to overcome. During that time I badly strained a calf muscle stepping onto tatame mats and just 2 weeks after recovery I badly damaged a tendon in my wrist by merely flexing it. My post-challenge InBody scan saw my body fat increase to 12% and my muscle mass decline. Exactly the opposite of the desired outcomes. Especially as I barely ate during two weeks of convalescence.
Under normal circumstances your muscles and tendons should not spontaneously self-destruct and your immune system should be able to shake off viral invaders. Something was clearly not working. CrossFit founder Greg Glassman was quoted as saying “There is no such thing as overtraining, just under-eating.” While this may not be exactly true, the valid point is that failure to meet your body’s nutritional needs will result in catastrophic failure. And the more demands you place upon your body, the more nutrients required to adequately recover.
In our post-challenge consult I suggested to Shades that I might need to consider higher protein to support tissue recovery. She suggested measuring my current protein intake. I declined. Measuring food intake works remarkably well and I hate it! I hate the neurotic approach of weighing every macro I put on my plate before I eat it. My whole being rebels at the suggestion.
And when my child-mind finished throwing its disagreeable tantrum I asked myself what I, as a coach, would tell a client. If it’s working for you, keep doing that, if not, then something needs to change. Shades was clearly right. For me, something obviously was not working.
I was the opposite of happy with my results. Would I take the coaching and change something?
Weighing and measuring meals did not appeal to me but, because I eat similar meals and quantities every day I realized I could reverse engineer it by calculating the macros after I ate instead of before. Somehow this seemed far less odious and allowed me to do a good rough estimate protein audit which revealed I was getting about 60% of the protein recommended for a sedentary person my size. 60%! No wonder my body was falling apart!
Action steps were required. First new action: I purchased some high quality protein powder, something I have avoided using for a long time but without it I would struggle to eat enough food to meet my protein needs. Through the day I keep a running total of protein consumed making sure that I get at least 200 grams per day. After 200 grams I stop counting.
Nutrition scientists once believed that your body could not process more than 30 grams of protein per meal. This has been debunked in more recent studies but it doesn’t really pass the logic test either. Many mammals survive eating just one large protein-rich meal per day. Evolution would have harshly punished an organism so delicate that it would have to portion out its nutrient intake evenly throughout the day in order to thrive. It also fails the bro science test. Who do you think looks bigger and more shredded Butch who eats 6 eggs and a side of steak every morning for breakfast or Stefan who nibbles 30 grams of low fat protein with salad 6 times per day? You don’t need a photograph – or a scientific study – in order to correctly answer that question.
Another interesting finding is that protein has a thermogenic effect. Study participants who ate more protein, got leaner than the control group even though they were eating as much as 300 calories more per day. That’s right, eat more food AND get leaner! That’s the opposite of calorie restriction. The caveat is that those excess calories need to come from protein. Eat more protein, recover better, lose weight, look better, feel better.
At 200+ grams protein per day my tendon recovery was much quicker than expected with steady daily improvements. My left hand went from completely unusable to full function within weeks. Everyday I could add some load or range of motion that had been too painful the day before. Last Friday I finally did Jiu jitsu with no wrist brace and no pain. Saturday I returned to handstand practice with full strength and zero discomfort.
My story didn’t end in tragedy but my training was certainly suffering from malnutrition. Sometimes we all need to take measure of our progress and get a little coaching – whether or not we like the advice – in order to keep our health and performance on track. Unlike poor Jen whose physicians failed to identify her problem until it was too late, I have the benefit of a great nutrition coach helping to keep me on track!
Now I’m optimistic for my next Fitness Challenge.
How about you? Will you join me for Shades’ New Year Fitness Challenge and get 2024 started off the right way?
Shade’s Winter Challenge will be kicking off February 3rd with a fun Ruck WOD (don’t worry if you can’t make the first one, Shades tells me there will be 3 more included as part of the challenge!).
Registration and early bird pricing coming soon. Stay tuned!
Moneypenny’s Monday Triple Threat Deadlift WOD
Moneypenny asked me an interesting question the other day regarding the purpose behind different rep schemes. These are the types of questions that excite and spark a trainer’s imagination. For example, how would you program a simple deadlift workout to elicit positive adaptations in posterior chain strength, explosive power and muscle growth?
Today we will answer that question with Moneypenny’s Triple Threat Deadlift WOD.
Thanks Moneypenny for the inspiration!
|1 min Romanian Deadlifts
|1 min Box Jumps
|1 min Bent Over Barbell Row
|1 min Box Jumps
5 DL @Barbell
5 DL @50%
5 DL @60%
5-5-3-3-1-1 start @70% 1 rpm and gradually increase load
|Rest 1 min
|4 Broad or Tuck Jumps
|Speed & Power
|Rest 1 min
|10 Slow Unloaded Good Mornings
|Rest 3 mins
Scored by total deadlift volume