Rob Guglielmetti (Googs) recently took home first place in the fall food challenge. Read about his experience and thoughts in this insightful post, and thank you for taking the time to write Googs!
I would always go to the “chalk talks”, the motivational introductory sessions put on by Nicole, Ali, or EC over the years, laying down the rules — and, of course, the rationale — for the food challenges at Roots. I’d go, take the handout, read the handout, imagine myself leveling-up on my nutrition game. I’d imagine myself getting ripped, and/or yoked. PR’s would rain from the sky, and I’d finally be able to do a muscle up. It all made sense, I’d bought the sales pitch; nutrition is the foundation of athletic performance. Yes. Let’s do this!! And then Sunday would come, the final day to sign up for the challenge, and I’d go hide in a basket of fries. Next one, I’ll do the next one for sure. Sure I would.
There was always an excuse: too much work, not enough time, traveling this month — I’m not gonna be able to keep it up. How in the hell can I miss my pizza Monday, and my Red Robin Tuesday lunch with my co-workers, where I commence ordering baskets of fries as soon as my ass hits the seat? Hell, I’m doing ok, right? I go to the damn gym five times a week, generally speaking, and I eat alright. But, not really. I love my candy, and my super-crossFitty bulletproof coffee recipe has gained a lot of weight over the years, without giving any thought to the consequences. I tell myself the MCT oil is for “alertness”, so I pour it in with half an eye on it, “bam!-ing” it up like Emeril with the spice. And butter, well, that’s the flavor, right? And so over the last year, I’ve seen my weight increase and this obnoxious, floppy roll of visceral fat appear at the top of my jeans and settle in for the ride. It was time to follow through, time to go to a chalk talk, suck it up, sign up, and play ball.
The Foundations Challenge — like all the other challenges — was designed to drive home the point that nutrition is truly the base for all other success in fitness. Participants were encouraged to eat a lot of good food, in specific quantities; that’s really all there was to it. Specifically, we were to shoot for 800 grams of fruits and vegetables a day and to hit a macronutrient breakdown for all our food. Like with the Zone diet, our macro targets were 40% carbs, 30% fat, and 30% protein. Unlike Zone, we only had to make that work as a daily total and not per meal like Zone requires. While this still entailed weighing and measuring and counting and tracking and, yes, obsessing a little bit, it seemed doable to me. Participants came up with a daily caloric intake “budget” based on current weight, goal weight for the end of the five-week challenge, and activity level. We were encouraged to sign up for the “pro” version of the MyFitnessPal app, which turned out to be a great way to track everything. We had our own track in SugarWOD to enter our scores each day, and that, of course, became the place to learn how everyone else is doing it, and for jokes.
My first couple days of the challenge were, uh, challenging. I struggled to find combinations of food that would allow me to hit my targets by the end of the day. I would add a little dressing to my salad, dutifully enter the quantity into my app, and curse as the fat just went off the charts. I’d add a whole tomato, thinking an entire fistful of vegetable just HAD to be a lot of carbs, but no, it barely registered a blip. Defeated, I entered my score, and then looked at the leaderboard; most of the women had put up the max points for the day. Damn, these broads came to play, I thought. The next day was no better. I had plans on the calendar to play trivia with my friends at Illegal Pete’s, so here was an opportunity to test the theory that this was a sustainable way to live. I consulted the menu, and the MFP app, and the internet, and eventually came up with an order that sorta seemed to get me close to all my targets for the day. The big thing I learned there was just how many goddamned carbs are in a stupid little flour tortilla. By the third day, I was getting the hang of it. I found foods that worked for me. At the end of the day, if I needed carbs, I could have some of my beloved Jujyfruits. For protein, I became a connoisseur of protein powders. My pantry now looks like a wine cellar — if protein powder were wine. Getting enough fat never, ever, seemed to be a problem. Hmmm.
Some may cry foul on the Jujyfruit Strategy, but the brilliance of the challenge was if I ate a ton of them, I’d be all out of carbs before being able to eat my 800 g of fruit/veg. The pairing of the 800 gram requirement with the caloric/macronutrient budgets was a perfect regulator. I could eat whatever I wanted but I had to learn what was in it all, and carefully consider my choices. And for me, the whole point was to really see what happens if I eat exactly these amounts of macros. I was very focused on hitting the targets every day because I didn’t want all the measuring to be for naught by just blowing it in week three or four. And speaking of weighing and measuring, I have to say that got much easier as time went on, and now, it’s habit. Post-challenge, I am still measuring my food when I’m at home, and I’m now trying to guess before looking at the scale what everything weighs, so my estimation game is also improving.
By the third week, I was hitting my stride. I was now easily hitting my macro targets to within 5 grams each, every single day. I started thinking I just might win this damned thing. And so it was that I found myself washing off my salad one night when I realized that two tablespoons would put me over on fat for the day. Yes, I washed off my salad. I also counted Jujyfruits (and Good n Plentys) one at a time onto the scale, some nights. But I *also* continued to scour the food labels (and Google) for nutritional information, and I was at the supermarket three to four times a week buying fresh stuff. I cooked a bunch of food every weekend so I’d have stuff that worked with the challenge framework, tasted good, and was easy to prepare each day.
In the end, I lost six pounds in five weeks, and not a gram of that was muscle — it was all fat. I lost that belly passenger I had acquired over the last year or so, in just five weeks. Sure there were days where I maybe ate a light breakfast and then didn’t get to lunch ’till late afternoon, and I felt ready to kill someone (and eat them). But for the most part, I felt great, my energy was very consistent, and I was recovering from workouts better. My meals were satisfying, I really never felt deprived. Whaddayaknow — what’s that they say about diet and exercise?
I certainly didn’t score any points for meal diversity, but I was really trying to hit my targets every day (and win) so once I found something that worked, I stuck with it. I’m branching out now, post-challenge, but more importantly, I’m still measuring and logging what I eat, which is absolutely amazing to me; I’ve been doing CrossFit for five and a half years now, and only in this last month have I taken the nutrition piece seriously. I’m not gonna lie, the day after the challenge ended I tucked into that bowl of leftover Halloween candy like an addict; I’d eaten ten candy corn pumpkins and four “fun size” candy bars before I even knew what the hell’d happened. But you know what? I logged that shit. I saw (and felt) the massive gulf between what my body really needs and what I actually get when I eat that crap. So far, the majority of days since the challenge has ended have not been perfect-scoring days — but some were, and in the case of the ones that weren’t, I know exactly where I went off the rails. In short, I’ve learned that this nutrition piece is important — which I sorta knew, but also that it’s doable and worthwhile. And that, I suspect, was the whole point. So thanks EC, and thanks Roots!
– Rob Guglielmetti (Googs)