I Don’t Believe in “Cheat” Meals…

My contest prep started about 11 weeks ago and to be perfectly honest it kind of started out on a whim–I literally decided out of nowhere around 15 weeks out from the NY Pro that I wanted to compete, so I took about a week to come up with a plan and started my prep the following week. Prior to that I had spent the better part of the last two years learning, practicing and fully embracing an intuitive style of eating. My own personal experiences and subsequently a position as an eating disorder nutritionist had prompted me to learn as much as I could about eating disorders, disordered eating, food issues, body image, and everything that goes along with it. Learning the concepts of intuitive eating and listening and being kind to my body was my “recovery.” Teaching and helping others has served to reinforce everything I have learned and experienced. It is something I whole heartedly believe in. Prior to starting this prep I was in a place where I literally ate whatever it was I felt like, exercised how and when I felt like it, and still maintained my body weight within about a 2-3lb range ALL THE TIME. I ate a lot of nutritious foods but not always. And I was perfectly ok with that. I was content with myself. I no longer focused on my body or sought after the next diet or worried about my weight. I no longer battled with food. I no longer binged on food. Food and my body no longer consumed my thoughts. And it was truly a beautiful thing.
I believe that every person has the ability to maintain his/her normal/healthy body weight through a nutritiously intuitive eating style. And that is exactly what I was doing. And it was amazing. But in my heart I am an athlete. The process of training for a competition or event really brings me true joy and I really missed it. But my options for competitive sports are somewhat limited at this point in my life. So with already being an IFBB Pro, competing in the IFBB figure division seemed like the most logical option. The only problem was, the style of eating required to achieve a stage ready figure body seemingly contradicted everything I had come to believe in with regards to food. But the more I thought about it, the more I believed I could apply and maintain everything I had learned, even in a contest prep situation. It was (and is) my belief that I could approach a contest prep in a completely different way than I previously had done (and in a way that is different than what is generally considered “acceptable”) and I could succeed at both competing and maintaining a healthy relationship with food. And then I could help show others how to do it.

My goal at the start of this prep was to prove to myself (and others) that it could in fact be done without diving into the unhealthy depths of disordered eating and food obsession and body dysmorphia and ruined body image. The truth is, I was coming from such a great, healthy place that the idea of messing with it by artificially controlling my food intake (i.e. not always listening to hunger and fullness cues and not always listening to what my body was telling me it wanted to eat) for the sake of achieving an athletic goal was actually quite a bit scary- but I knew it was going to be temporary. To me, contest prep is a temporary way of eating to achieve a temporary goal. This may be a rare opinion in the fitness world, but I don’t eat on a meal plan year round, and I don’t walk around within 3lbs of my stage weight year round (nor do I have any desire to do either. To each his own).

Having a healthy relationship with food and my body and preserving that relationship at all costs (even if it meant not being as “lean” or “ripped” or “hardcore” as everyone else) was my first priority when designing my approach to this contest prep. Because in 100% honesty, having a healthy relationship with food and my body– no longer having constant anxiety around food, no longer constantly worrying about what others think of how I look, no longer feeling the need to keep foods out of the house for fear of bingeing, no longer obsessing about what I eat—has led to a significantly greater amount of happiness and peace in my life than any amount of leanness ever has or ever will. And I intend to maintain that perspective at all times.

Along with viewing the contest prep style of eating as a temporary means to a temporary ends, I’ve also implemented some other strategies along the way to help me maintain my perspective. I have approached the entire process with a perspective of “I have permission to eat whatever I choose at any time and whatever my choice is, I trust that it is what is best for me in that moment.” I trust my ability to choose the actions that will move me closer to my goal. If I choose an action that is not consistent with this, I trust it is for a good reason, and that’s good enough for me. I do not analyze or beat myself up over any choice. I own it and I keep moving forward.

I don’t believe in “cheat” meals (or days). I hate the word “cheat.” To me the word cheat has a morally negative connotation attached to it. And so if I say I’m having a “cheat” meal, it makes it seem as though there is something inherently bad about it, like I’m doing something I’m not supposed to be doing, when in fact, all I’m doing is eating food. There is nothing moral or right or wrong about it- it’s just food. So there is no reason to feel any type of way about it. I also think the “cheat” concept makes me feel like I have to go and eat certain types of food and eat as much of it as I can because after this I can’t have any of it again until my next “cheat.” And this promotes a last supper, “stuff my face” mentality rather than listening to my body’s cues.  

The most effective tool that I’ve been utilizing throughout this prep (aside from reading and journaling) is something I’ve termed an “intuitive eating day.” This is not a binge day, a “refeed” day, an “all you can eat” day or a “cheat” day. My intuitive eating day is a day where I let my body decide what it wants to eat and how much. It is just a day of “normal” eating for me (how I would eat if I weren’t prepping). I listen to my body, I trust my body, I don’t measure anything, I eat generally nutritious foods (for the most part but not always), and I eat when I’m hungry and stop eating when I’m satisfied. There is no bingeing, no stuffing my face, no “last supper” meals, no “cheating.” I eat intuitively. For those of you wondering what that might look like, here is an example:
​Breakfast: Oatmeal/egg white pancake topped with peanut butter and sugar free syrup or honey

​Lunch: Chicken, sweet potato, large salad with lots of veggies and whatever else I feel like
​Snack: No Cow protein bar, trail mix (nuts/dark chocolate mix), fruit
​Dinner: Banza chick pea pasta with ground beef, broccoli, tomato sauce and cheese (this meal always varied- sometimes sushi, sometimes pizza, sometimes just steak and veggies- whatever ​I was in the mood for)
​Dessert: Dark chocolate with natural peanut butter (a couple of times I had ice cream because I really felt like it- Ben and Jerry’s “The Tonight Dough” is the BEST ice cream ever invented!)

So you can see, its mostly nutritious foods that I genuinely like to eat, not measured, not over eaten, but eaten in amounts that satisfy me. This is how I “normally” eat. And I’d like to stay as close to that as possible. Do I believe eating like this once per week has hindered my progress in any way? Nope. And even if it has from a physical/leanness standpoint, I don’t care. It’s important to me to maintain my ability to eat this way and I believe it has actually helped me stay on my game mentally- which is really the most important thing during a contest prep. I’ve also incorporated a bit of intuitive eating throughout my prep nutrition plan, but that’s a bit harder to explain and I’m not going to get into the details.

The key is, I listen to my body.

Dan asked me the other day what I wanted to eat after my show. And I looked at him like he was crazy. I have no idea what I’m going to feel like eating 3 weeks from now. And I’m not in such a deprived state that food is constantly on my mind and all I can think about is eating (fill in the blank). Sure I get hungry and sometimes I’d like to eat more or something different, but like I originally mentioned, my perspective is “I have permission to eat anything I choose at any time.” And I trust myself to consistently make the choices that will help me to reach my goal. But if I want something badly enough I can just have it (I can count on one hand and still have fingers left over the number of times this has actually occurred but just having that self permission with no fear of judgement is key for me).  I’m not obsessed with food and what I can and cant eat.

Now please don’t mistake this approach as a “lazy” approach to nutrition for contest prep. I can assure you I have worked extremely hard on my nutrition for this prep—probably even harder than I have worked in the past and definitely harder than I had initially anticipated I would need to. But that’s all the more reason for me to keep the right perspective. When the nutrition gets really tough towards the end, having the right perspective is crucial (for me at least). My emotional well-being always takes precedent over my desire to be hardcore or shredded, but that certainly does not mean I’m not busting my butt to be my best.

I’m going to take a guess and say there’s probably not a “prep coach” out there that would advise clients to do what I’ve been doing. But I’m also going to go out on a limb and say there’s probably not many (if any) prep coaches out there that have significant experience working with people with eating disorders. I do. And the way I see it, a contest prep is a self-imposed disordered way of eating, and it can lead to many of the physical and psychological effects seen in actual eating disorders. To complicate that, many people that gravitate toward the bodybuilding sports tend to already have some type of disordered eating behaviors, and food and/or body image issues to begin with, tendencies which can certainly be exacerbated by the contest prep. So why not try to develop an approach that addresses this head on.

Many people will disagree with everything I’ve said. And that’s ok. That’s why I do my own prep. And it works for me. I’ve worked with enough eating disorder clients to understand the tendencies and the mindset. I also know my own personal experience, I know what I’ve learned from it, I know what is important to me, and I know what I want and don’t want. Is this approach necessary for everyone? No, of course not. But it would probably be very beneficial for some.  This approach works for me because I took the time to understand my own eating behaviors and to truly embrace and practice an intuitive way of eating. And I’m confident in my methods. 

I started this prep with a complete and genuine trust in my body and my ability to handle myself when it comes to food. I would strongly encourage anyone embarking on this type of journey to do the same. Unfortunately, not everyone that competes will start from a place of a healthy relationship with food and their body, and even worse many athletes (and prep coaches) do not necessarily feel this is important (or maybe they simply do not understand HOW important it is). And this is a HUGE mistake. If you’re starting from a place that involves disordered eating tendencies, and food and/or body image issues, I can almost guarantee you that a restrictive contest prep will make things much worse. My suggestion would be to take the time that you need to address these issues first and foremost. Read books, seek counselling, ask for help- do what you need to do to get yourself to a place where you have a healthy relationship with food and your body. That’s usually going to mean putting off competing. But it’s necessary and worth it. Trust me when I say, a contest prep will not solve your eating and body image issues. It will not make anything better. There is no way to implement a safe and healthy contest prep if you’re not starting from an emotionally healthy place. Let’s face it, you can’t successfully navigate an intuitive eating day if you don’t know how to eat intuitively. Then all you’re left with is the restrictive eating/cheat meal cycle. And personally I don’t believe in that approach. 

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I Am Not My Body

I am currently in the process of training for a competition in which I will be judged solely on what my body looks like. One might think that this means my entire focus right now is centered on my body, and how it looks. But in reality, I am learning more and more as time goes on that even though this process is technically entirely about my body, it is really nothing about my body at all.  

For the first time in my fitness career I am approaching this process from a new perspective. For the first time, I am not doing this for the sake of trying to find happiness in my body- for the belief that a certain look, or being leaner will make me happier and more satisfied. I have already learned that the “look” itself cannot bring true happiness or satisfaction. True satisfaction comes from something so much deeper than an outward appearance. For me, true satisfaction comes from who I am and what I do, not from how I look. Through this process I am getting better at maintaining discipline in tough situations, putting the work in every day, staying positive and persistent, learning how to handle obstacles, and helping others—these are the things that bring me true satisfaction. How my body looks is just an (irrelevant) side effect. 

In this sport, it is always possible to improve. And thus, most of us that compete are never actually 100% satisfied with our bodies from a bodybuilding perspective because there is always something to improve upon. There is no such thing as perfection. But that’s one of the cool things about the sport. There is always the opportunity to get better. But not being satisfied with my body from a bodybuilding perspective is NOT the same thing as not being satisfied with MYSELF. It also does NOT mean that I hate my body, or that I’m even unhappy with it. Wanting to improve can be a process of self-love, of belief in my own power. But deep down I KNOW that my body does not define who I am. I am defined by my character, my actions, my integrity and the way I treat others- none of which has anything to do with how I look.

In the process of training for a bodybuilding-style competition, I think it is extremely important that “person” and “body” remain separate. This can be a very tough thing to do. This is a sport that judges the body, and sometimes it can be very harsh. You must not allow judgement of your body to morph into judgement of who you are. I’ll say it again, YOUR BODY DOES NOT DEFINE WHO YOU ARE. When you allow judgement of your body, from yourself or from others, to influence how you feel about yourself, this is a big problem. And it can lead to the emotional and disordered eating issues that are seen in the fitness/bodybuilding industry.

So how do you avoid this?

First recognize WHY you want to compete, and be honest with yourself. This sport is not only physically grueling, but mentally and emotionally as well. Before jumping in, you must have a clear sense of who you are and have some sense of satisfaction with that person, regardless of what your body looks like. Understand why you want to compete and be realistic in your expectations.

Maintain a clear sense of who you are outside of the sport. Seek satisfaction in things that have nothing to do with your body- work, church, family, other hobbies, etc. Work to maintain the positive and important things in your life (outside of bodybuilding) and do not lose sight of them for the sake of changing your body. Stay involved in and aware of the bigger picture. This is so important because too often a competition prep can become an all-consuming black hole that can negatively affect relationships, finances, work and even your own physical and mental health. Keeping a clear sense of who you are and what is important to you in the bigger picture can help you avoid falling down this hole. Trust me, it is not a path you want to take.

Continue to help others in whatever way you can. This is one of the most satisfying things you can do.

Focus on process driven goals rather than outcome goals or physical changes. This is an extremely important key to maintaining your “person” satisfaction. Currently, my process goals focus more on my mental game and I have found this to be VERY helpful. For example, some process goals that I’ve been working on are- improving my ability to handle unexpected obstacles that used to throw me off track; staying relentless with my positive mindset and reframing negative thoughts; maintaining the “self-love” concept of discipline (as opposed to punishment/fear) and putting in the work every day, even when I don’t necessarily feel like it (and then mentally building myself up in a positive way for doing this); and replacing thoughts of self-doubt with ones of confidence and faith in my abilities. Focusing on these goals helps take the focus away from my body and allows me to feel successful even if my body does not look quite how I want it to. Process goals are always possible to achieve, outcome/results/body driven goals are not. It’s important to understand that concept.

Practice self-care and keep your focus on daily behaviors. Are you doing the things you need to do on a daily basis? If so, then give yourself credit for those accomplishments, regardless of how your body looks.  

Recognize if you are improving or if you are self-destructing. Are you getting stronger mentally or are you breaking down? If you find that things are turning negative, it may be because you are no longer separating how you judge your body from how you judge yourself. If that’s the case, take a step back and re-evaluate your approach. Remember, even in a sport where your body is being judged, YOUR BODY DOES NOT DEFINE YOU. Be proud of yourself for who you are and for what you are able to do, regardless of what your body looks like. Never lose sight of YOU the person. You are so much more than your body. 

 

Protein Spiking- Not just a rip off, but a possible health risk?

There have been a few articles come up recently that talk about the dishonesty of some supplement companies using a practice referred to as “protein spiking”- essentially using single amino acids and other substances instead of whole proteins in an attempt to cut costs, thus altering (reducing) the true total protein content of the product (as compared to what is on the label).  As a consumer, I consider this a rip off.  But as a Registered Dietitian, I consider this a much bigger problem.

Before I go any further, let me first explain exactly what it means to be a Registered Dietitian.  Many people do not understand the difference between “nutritionist” and “registered dietitian (RD).”  Believe it or not, in many states, anyone can call themselves a “nutritionist.”  There really is NOT a ton of regulation for the use of that title or the training required.  On the contrary, Registered Dietitians (RD’s) are required to have a four year college degree with a specific subset of mandatory coursework.  In addition to an extensive list of nutrition courses, RD’s are required to take biology, chemistry, biochemistry, organic chemistry, and anatomy and physiology to name a few.  Upon completion of this coursework and a four year degree, RD’s complete a year long supervised practice internship within the nutrition field, a good part of which is spent in an acute care hospital setting working with doctors and pharmacists to treat patients with a broad range of medical conditons.  A HUGE part of the training to become a Registered Dietitian is learning the biochemistry behind specific disease states and the subsequent appropriate nutrition therapy.    Thus, we don’t just learn about “eating healthy” and “weight loss”- we learn a whole lot more about science and medicine. 


So with all that being said, I’m going to put on my “Clinical RD” hat for a minute and get back to the topic as to why this “protein spiking” is especially concerning to me.


In an attempt to reduce costs, some supplement companies have decided to put large amounts of free amino acids instead of whole proteins into their products.  This is done because protein in food products is often measured based on nitrogen content, and free amino acids contain nitrogen.  The difference is, single amino acids do not provide the same nutritional content as complete proteins (which contain ALL of the essential amino acids), and thus are not utilized in the body the same way. Although we typically associate protein powders with those looking to build muscle, not all protein supplement users are athletes or gym goers.  Some health conditions require an increased protein intake and often these patients will use protein supplements.  So if I have a patient that requires a specific amount of protein each day for something more significant than just a desire to build muscle, such as healing a major wound or recovering from a severe burn injury, and that patient uses one of these mislabeled protein supplements, he or she is not going to get the results we would anticipate and his/her health may be further compromised.


But aside from the mislabeling issue, are there in fact possible health risks associated with these “spiked proteins?  Well, that has a lot to do with which amino acids in particular these companies are using to spike their products.   The article that I had initially read stated that companies were using the amino acid glycine in their products.  Glycine is a relatively cheap, non-essential amino acid, which means it can be synthesized within the body (from serine) with a sweet taste, often used in flavoring.  Glycine is metabolized in three different pathways within the body.  In one of those pathways it is eventually metabolized to oxalate which is a major component in a common type of kidney stone.  


Now realistically, in an individual with healthy kidney function and a well balanced diet with adequate fluid intake, this shouldn’t pose too much of an issue.  However, in a person with compromised kidney function or in someone prone to or at higher risk for calcium oxalate stones, this could theoretically be a major concern.  Additionally, looking at the dietary intake of a person who we would typically expect to use protein supplements (athletes, fitness enthusiasts) we would most likely find that the individual is already consuming a high protein diet.  A high protein diet, especially from animal proteins, in and of itself can increase a person’s risk for kidney stones through a few different mechanisms.  One mechanism stems from the fact that the amino acid methionine, largely found in animal proteins,can increase calcium in the urine.  Combine this with a high glycine intake (from spiked protein powders) and that could potentially be cause for concern (increased calcium in the urine plus excessive glycine converting to oxalate = increased risk for calcium oxalate stones).  Furthermore, taurine was also listed as one of the amino acids used in spiking and some studies have shown that taurine has a potential diuretic effect.  This along with a high protein diet can lead to dehydration if a person is not drinking enough water and thus even further increase the risk for kidney stones.


One example of a population that this would be a huge concern for would be those people undergoing weight loss surgery, or other forms of gastric surgery (i.e. those performed to treat GI cancers).  The standard post-operative diet for sleeve gastrectomy and roux-en-Y gastric bypass patients consists largely of liquids, with a major emphasis on protein supplements.  It is typically recommended that these patients use high quality whey isolate supplements, however some patients cannot afford these products or simply do not like the taste and thus turn to other products on the market.  To make matters worse, a common post-operative complication of any GI surgery is dehydration.  I would hate to think that these patients are also now increasing their risk for kidney stones due to their clinically vulnerable post-operative state AND the use of mislabeled protein supplements. But it’s certainly feasible.


As if that weren’t enough, another major concern I have is the fact that some companies are using creatine monohydrate as a so called “spiking agent” in their protein supplements without necessarily listing it on the label.  The most recent studies have shown that as a supplement creatine is generally safe to use in recommended dosages in healthy individuals.  However it is recommended that creatine supplements NOT be used by people with compromised kidney function.  Patients that have End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) requiring dialysis have increased protein needs due to the depleting nature of regular dialysis.  Some of these patients may decide on their own to use protein supplements to help support their body’s increased protein needs.  If such an individual were to unknowingly use a product that was spiked with creatine monohydrate, they may be putting themselves at risk for further compromise.  


Creatine supplements are also commonly used by both athletes and gym goers for their potential benefit in assisting with overall strength and performance.  As mentioned above, when used accordingly this is a generally safe practice.  However, if a person is already taking the recommended (or larger) dosage of creatine and unknowingly using a protein supplement that may have been spiked with creatine monohydrate, this could lead to a person significantly surpassing the recommended dosages and possibly increase the risk for health consequences.


When all is said and done, we as consumers have a right to know what is in the products we are buying.  Although the potential health risks associated with this “protein spiking” may be more pronounced in certain populations, I would still advise using great caution when it comes to choosing supplements.  It’s unfortunate that companies are getting away with both deceiving consumers and possibly putting consumers at risk, however you the consumer can do something about it.  Look for products that have undergone thorough third party testing, preferably by a reputable organization such as NSF or Informed Choice.  Choose brands that are known for having high quality standards.  Look at pricing schemes.  If a particular type of product generally falls within a relative pricing range among most brands and then there is an outlier that’s claiming to be the same type of product but it is being sold for much less, question it.  Check the labels of the products you are buying.  Read the ingredients.  If things don’t add up, question it.  Just because your favorite social media personality is promoting a specific brand or product does not necessarily mean its high quality.  Do your research.  Stay informed.  Because in the end it can make a big difference, and not just for your wallet, but for your health.

That little thing called “genetics”

I recently read an article that talked about how people respond differently to different types/amounts of cardio based on genetic factors.  To me this seemed pretty obvious, but I don’t know if the majority of people out there see it that way.  Let me preface all this by saying, the majority of what I’m going to bring up is based mostly on personal experience, discussion with others and observation.  My college degree is in Nutritional Science (which was in fact a “pre-med” major because I used to think I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon), but in pursuing that degree, I took one class in genetics which covered nothing about training/exercise/diet.  So that is the extent of my formal scientific training in genetics. 


Regardless, I’m going to speak my mind on own my understanding of the topic as it may or may not relate to training/nutrition based on MY experience.


Genetics is something a lot of people bring up when it comes to having a certain “look.”  Typically in physique sports the top competitors have “good” genetics, or even what we may consider “exceptional” genetics based on their natural shape/structure.  For women, this may mean naturally wide/capped shoulders, tiny waist, round glutes, etc.   The fact is everyone has a different genetic structure to work with.   Unfortunately, in the physique sports, genetic structure plays a major role.  It’s not to say we have no influence on how we look.  Proper training and nutrition can certainly help to alter one’s physique in dramatic ways.  However, we are ultimately limited by our natural structure.  I think it’s very important to accept this when it comes to developing physique based goals.  Be honest with yourself and be realistic with your own physical capabilities.  We would all love to have “perfect” structure, but it’s really not worth using unhealthy/unsafe practices in an attempt to alter your own genetic structure (i.e. wearing a squeem for hours a day in an attempt to reduce your waist size) for a placing at bodybuilding show.


Another concept involving genetics that I think is often overlooked is how it may impact our nutrition and training.  This is why there is no such thing as a one size fits all training or diet protocol.  I’m going to use my own personal experience here to explain the points I’m trying to make.  I feel like I can use myself as a valid example because I’ve been an athlete for a very long time, I’ve been training for many years, I’ve worked with many different coaches and I have employed many different training and nutrition styles over the years.  In doing so, I’ve really learned exactly how my body will respond to certain things—in essence, I’ve learned my own “genetics” when it comes to training/nutrition.  


I’ve learned that genetically speaking, I build muscle very well.  Additionally, I hold onto muscle very well.  I used to joke that I could eat nothing but iceberg lettuce and my body would still find a way to utilize it.  But what does that mean in terms of training and nutrition.  Well, in terms of getting ready for a fitness competition, it meant I could afford to do a decent amount of cardio without a huge fear of burning muscle.  It also meant that I could be a little stricter with my carb intake and still maintain size.  (And as a quick note, it doesn’t mean that it was ok or ideal for me to be doing zero carbs and 2 hours of cardio for weeks on end- it just meant that I probably could do more than some others and still maintain muscle mass).  There are others out there that lose muscle with just the thought of extra cardio, and thus their training/nutrition should be tailored accordingly


On the topic of cardio (and I’d like to do a full blog one day on this topic as it seems to be one of great debate), I did a contest prep one time which included little to no cardio (at least, it was a significant amount less than my body was used to doing), and I really didn’t have great results with that approach.  In addition to my personal genetic response to cardio I also attribute this to the fact that growing up and through college, I was spending anywhere from 4-8 hours in the gym everyday training for gymnastics.  My theory is- maybe my body just needs a little more because of this (training adaptation).  There are plenty of others out there who can do an entire contest prep and get stage-ready lean with hardly any cardio at all– and honestly, if you can do it that way you should!  But that wasn’t me (and it still isn’t- to this day my body responds very well to certain types/amounts of cardio)


Another example would be my response to strength training.  Like I said, I build muscle very easily.  I know there are some competitors that typically include crossfit workouts (and/or a lot of heavy barbell stuff) while getting ready for a show.  In fact, I know of a fellow fitness competitor that trained for her last show using exclusively crossfit training (in addition to routine work)-and her physique is AMAZING.  However, personally, that approach would never have worked for me.  I did a lot of heavy training and metabolic stuff back in my day, which would have been similar to crossfit as this was before crossfit became mainstream (you can still see the youtube videos of my crazy training here https://www.youtube.com/user/Ergis1999/videos, but the fact is, that type of training was actually detrimental to MY “stage” physique.  It was awesome, I loved it, I got super strong and I had a blast, so I certainly don’t regret any of it, but it definitely did not help me out in terms of my physique round placings.  So why can some people train like that and look amazing, and others maybe not so much- well, for me, I build muscle quickly, I have a very wide and thick back, my traps insert high on my neck (they used to call me Marcus Ruhl when I trained with the guys) and I naturally have a wider waistline with very thick core muscles.  That type of training enhances all of those features– which is the opposite of what I wanted for the physique rounds.  But on a side note, my fitness routine kicked ass when I was training like that because it was the strongest I have ever been (you can see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPRtGeDue2Y if you don’t believe me).


The last show I did back in 2013 was my ultimate physique to date.  The reason why is because I understood my body and I trained very specifically with that understanding in mind.  I used lighter/moderate weights with a VERY (let me repeat VEEEEERRY) strong emphasis on the mind muscle connection and focused VERY hard on feeling exactly what muscle I wanted to be targeting.  I also did a good mix of high intensity cardio, moderate intensity cardio- not a ton of steady state stuff- and metabolic workouts.  My cardio was geared towards preparing me for my fitness routine– I felt like none of it was “wasted” or “mindless” – each cardio workout had a specific purpose.  My nutrition consisted of a moderate amount of healthy carbs, fats and proteins- a very balanced approach- but I ate mostly fresh foods (fruits, vegetables, eggs, sweet potatoes, lean meats, greek yogurt) because these were the foods I responded best to, from both a performance and physique perspective.   I also limited gluten because I generally feel much better when I keep it relatively low in my diet (side bar here, I do not have Celiacs disease and I do not advocate a gluten free diet.  There is nothing inherently wrong with gluten, and I CANand do eat a modest amount of food containing gluten, I just personally feel a million times better when I keep it low—again, learn your body).  


I can honestly say I did NOTHING excessive or extreme for that contest prep.  It was really a matter of using all of the knowledge I had gained along the way, knowing how my body would respond to specific training and nutrition techniques and being smart about what I was doing.  And I was able to present my best physique.  It doesn’t mean that the way I trained is the ONLY way, and it doesn’t mean that the way I prepped will work for everyone.  


The point I’m trying to make here is learn your own “genetics.”  Avoid falling into the trap of following certain protocols just because other people are using them.  Learn what YOU need to do to improve YOURSELF, whether it be performance or physique based, and tailor your approach with that specific goal in mind.  If you work with a coach, make sure you are both on the same page when it comes to your goals and your genetic response (and make sure your program is tailored to YOU).  


Furthermore, be honest with yourself about your own structural and genetic limitations.  We can’t all look like Ms. Figure/Physique/Bikini (or Mr.) Olympia, just like we can’t all perform like Rich Froning or Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (crossfit superstars if you’re not familiar with the names).  I’m not saying don’t try.  It’s not the point I’m trying to make at all.  We truly have the power to accomplish great things when we work hard, believe in ourselves and go after our goals.  However, I AM saying be realistic.  Focus on self improvement in a way that’s healthy and productive, not self destructive.  Not everyone’s “end-all/be-all” is to be a Pro in the physique sports or a crossfit games competitor, and that’s OK.  Try to be the best YOU that you can be.  Learn to listen to your body.  Learn to work WITH your body, not against it. And always keep your health as top priority. Learning your “genetics” is a process, but the outcomes will be well worth it.

The solution is NOT another diet

So its been awhile since I’ve written, I’ve had a million and a half things going on, including an exciting move and job change, amongst other things. But with the New Year upon us and resolutions in full effect, I’m feeling it very necessary to write this post.

Your solution for happiness is NOT another diet. It’s not another fad, or cleanse, or diet pill, or Dr. Oz miracle product or any other promise of rapid weight loss and a “new you.”

In my experience, this is one of the hardest concepts to truly internalize. We all want the quick fix, because we believe that weight loss will be the key to our happiness. The paradox is, in order to truly be happy and healthy we must already accept ourselves. If you are unhappy, weight loss in and of itself will NOT bring happiness.

In other words, if you’re dieting or exercising to lose weight because you hate your body and you believe that when you finally lose weight THEN you will be happy, you will not get the outcomes you’re looking for. It does NOT work that way. In order to become healthy you need to focus on being happy NOW.

You must learn to disassociate weight and food from your self esteem and happiness. Find worth within yourself regardless of your weight and regardless of what food you choose to eat and believe in that worth with all your heart.

So how do we go about doing that? I think one of the first steps is to let go of the dieting mentality. The fact is: Diets fail. And in turn they have this way of making people feel like they’ve failed. People do not fail, diets fail.

One of the inherent flaws in the concept of diets is the “on or off” mentality. We’re either “on” the diet or we’re “off.” When we’re on, we’re severely restrictive with food choices, to a point where it becomes impossible to maintain. Many of us start out with good intentions and strong wills but we have the unrealistic expectation that this level of restrictive eating is maintainable. And then we quickly find out, it is not. And then we go “off” the diet, and boy do we go off. Typically we go “off” out diets and head straight for the opposite extreme, binge eating and consuming large amounts of foods we would not even normally consume, just because we’re “off” the diet and we can. And then any weight loss achieved with the initial restrictive period is usually gained back and then some. And then the cycle starts over.

I myself am guilty of planning shows (fitness competition) in an effort to force myself to diet to get back into what I considered acceptable shape for the fitness industry. I was one of those competitors that dieted 100% strictly for weeks and months on end, only to rebound pretty significantly in a short amount of time following my competition season. This would lead to very poor self image and of course, the inevitable plan to start dieting again. And unfortunately, I was very competitive, and would end up taking it to the extreme again to get in shape for the next show. And the cycle would continue.

Its only more recently that I’ve realized how destructive this behavior is. And the mentality is really no different than the yo-yo dieter.

So no dieting. But then you may ask, so how do I lose weight/get in shape/get healthy? First of all, let me start by saying weight loss does not equate to health (nor happiness, as I’ve mentioned above) but I’ll save that for another post.

If you’re doing a contest prep, of course that requires some form of structured eating. But my advice is to maintain a healthy, well balanced approach, as much as possible. Continue to include all food groups throughout the entirety of the prep and give yourself plenty of time to achieve the level of leanness you’re aiming for. And most importantly, approach a competition prep with the right mindset. Always keep the perspective that “competition lean” is not necessarily “healthy, real life lean.” Be prepared for a normal amount of healthy weight gain after your show and be prepared for the emotional rebound that can occur in the post-show period. Understand what’s realistic and what’s not, and always keep your health as top priority.

And before even starting a competition prep take the time to really evaluate whether or not you are physically and emotionally ready to take on all that the competition prep and the post competition period can entail. And if you’re not sure you can handle it, then DON’T do it. There is absolutely no shame in deciding NOT to compete.

As for the rest of us that will not be getting ready for any physique type competitions in the near future, here’s some additional advice.

✓ Try to avoid classifying foods as good or bad. All food has a purpose. Some foods serve our health and some foods serve as enjoyment/fun. And realistically, its healthy to include a certain amount of both in our everyday lives.
✓ Try making small changes to your everyday habits. In order to be successful, you must approach health as a lifelong commitment, not a quick destination. Slow, manageable changes will produce longer lasting results than extreme restrictions. The key is to accept this truth and stop seeking the quick fix, it doesn’t exist.
✓ Focus on something other than food. Obsessing about what you eat and what you think you “should” be eating will only lead to unnecessary stress and often stress eating. Its counterintuitive, but often we relieve our food related stress by eating more food. So stop worrying so much about it and focus your attention on other, more fulfilling things.
✓ When it comes to nutrition, aim to consume more fresh, wholesome, natural foods as opposed to processed/packaged stuff. Stick to the perimeter of the grocery store- fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy and whole grains. It doesn’t mean packaged stuff can’t be healthy too, but generally speaking the fewer ingredients the better. It also doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate some of the more fun, processed foods into your daily eating.
✓ Try to consume SATISFYING meals and snacks. If you’re forcing yourself to eat foods because you think you “should,” or because you think they’re “healthy” but you don’t necessarily like them, you’re not going to get very far. Choose foods that you enjoy. There is always a “healthier” version of all your favorite foods. Look for recipes and experiment!
✓ Create balance- use all 3 macronutrients at meals- carbs, proteins and fats. Do NOT eliminate whole food groups for the sake of weight loss.
✓ And most importantly, work on your own body image and outlook. Let go of the diet mentality. Break the cycle. Learn to love and accept your body for what it is and what it can do. Your self worth is NOT tied to how you look or what you eat. You deserve better than that, so treat yourself accordingly.

Stop chasing a placing. Seriously.

I have to admit, I cringe a little every time I hear someone say “My goal is a pro card. I will do whatever it takes to get it.”

As someone whose said those very words, which then turned into “My goal is the Olympia…” and then “My goal is top 5 at the Olympia…” –let me tell you that all that mindset got for me was injuries, frustration, anger, depression and terrible self esteem. I was chasing a placing; letting competition results dictate how I felt about myself. And in doing so I lost sight of who I was and what it meant for me to compete.

If you are training/competing solely for a placing, you are going to be disappointed. There are so many factors outside of your control that come into play in physique type competition, that in actuality, you have no control over where you place at all.

Let’s face it. In sports, just like anything else in life, politics exist, and that’s NEVER GOING TO CHANGE. The sooner you accept that the more sane you will stay. To make things worse, physique type competitions are SUBJECTIVE. They are judged by other peoples’ OPINIONS. And then there is that whole factor that you cannot control who else shows up (sometimes more politics here) but realistically, you may be at your absolute best, but the person standing next to you may still be better. Should that diminish the fact that you are at your all time best, and you did everything you could possibly do to get to that point?

Physique type competitions can be absolutely brutal on confidence and self esteem if your concept of success/failure is based on where you place.

Everyone wants to win. Not everyone will. #fact. It’s ok to want to win. I mean, why compete if you don’t want to win. But at the same time, how you feel about yourself and what you’ve accomplished cannot solely be based on winning.

My advice is to focus on YOU. Accept going into the show (and I mean really, truly accept) that your placing is beyond your control. Focus on the factors YOU control. Did you give 100% to your diet and training, did you work as hard as you could, are YOU happy with how you look. If you can answer yes to all of these questions then you are successful, regardless of where you place.

For the first time in my competitive career, I can honestly say that I couldn’t care less where I place in Phoenix. Of course I want to win and I train to win (I’m competitive, I always train to win) but it’s no longer the most important thing to me. I’m not trying to fit in, I’m not trying to impress anyone, and I’m not chasing an Olympia qualification. I’m doing this for ME. I’m doing this because I love it and because I want to and because I CAN. And I hope to inspire others to do the same along the way.

My goal is to be the absolute best version of ME that I can. In all aspects of life. My goal is to work towards improving myself, overcoming obstacles, learning from mistakes and teaching others to do the same.

I am honored to have the ability to compete as an IFBB Pro. But bottom line is- pro status, placings, qualifications- they really don’t mean anything in the big picture. It’s the process and what YOU get out of it that means everything.
Besides, once you turn IFBB pro you have to pay $200-$400 per year just to renew your pro card 😁😁😉

Be you. Do you. Never settle.

“Badass or Bad Idea”

These days it seems everyone wants to be “hardcore.” But in reality, there is a very fine line between dedication and just plain dumb.

Let me preface this by saying that pretty much every mistake I’m about to list- I’ve made. The thing about pros is that we can be very good at only showing what we want people to see. After all, we are pros, we are supposed to be the best of the best and we have an image to uphold. But in turn, we are doing a complete disservice to those people who look to us for inspiration and advice.

What you get to see are the beautiful stage shots and photoshoot shots and contest shape gym selfies that we like to share, but what you don’t get to see through those photos are the actual consequences of what it might have taken to get there. You don’t get to see the permanent injuries, the thyroid damage, the 25lb post contest rebounds, the reproductive issues, the broken relationships and all the other not so nice things that can go along with taking “badass” a little too far.

Since returning to the fitness world last year, I’ve made it a point to maintain perspective and balance in my life, to keep my health and my relationships at the top of my priority list, even while contest prepping. It’s definitely still a work in progress for me, but let me share with you a quick reference list that may help…

>Getting your fasted cardio in at 5am before a long day of work and returning to the gym later to get your weight training in is pretty badass.
>>Spending 4 hours on the stepmill everyday is a bad idea.

>Training when you’re sore, or improving a different lift/body part/area while recovering from/working around an injury is pretty badass.
>>Continuing to train on a known injury to the point where it becomes a lifetime problem is a bad idea (yes, this one I am very guilty of).

>Getting through your very low carb days two weeks out from your show with no deviations to the plan is pretty badass.
>>Spending 12+ weeks eating nothing but tilapia, chicken, eggwhites, broccoli and asparagus is a bad idea.

>Going to a party and opting to avoid the desserts and alcohol while still spending time with friends is pretty badass.
>>Skipping all special/social occasions for an extended period of time because there will be “bad food there” is a bad idea.

>Doing some extra work on the side to make some extra money to put towards competing is pretty badass.
>>Spending your life savings and putting yourself into debt for the sake of competing is a bad idea.

>Completing a 12-16 week contest prep to the absolute best of your ability is pretty badass.
>>Spending 6+ months on a contest diet without giving your body any time to recover, only to rebound 30lbs when you’re finally “off” your diet is a bad idea.

>Going to the gym instead of to the bar on Friday nights is pretty badass.
>>Being a complete bitch because of your workout schedule/diet to the point where none of your friends/family even call you to hang out anymore is a bad idea.

I’m sure the list could go on and on. The point is, there needs to be a distinction between giving your all and being stupid. You can still be hardcore/badass/completely dedicated or whatever you want to call it, while still being SMART. You still need to dedicate yourself to your goals and do what it takes to accomplish them. If you want something, you need to work your ass off and sacrifice and do things that may not be a lot of fun to get there.

I’m NOT saying to slack. I’m NOT saying to take the easy way. I’m NOT saying to give less that 110% every damn day. But what I AM saying is that part of being “badass” and dedicating 100% is also being knowledgeable enough to realize when something you’re doing is just flat out not good for you. If I’ve learned anything over the years it’s the importance of keeping perspective. You always have to keep in mind the things that are most important in this life- spending time with the people you love, maintaining good health, enjoying this short time we have here on the earth—because winning that plastic trophy at your show will not mean anything if you lose all of those other things along the way.
Just something to keep in mind.