Dear Coach Ray,
I have a dilemma. I’m at Donut Bar and the choices are too many! This is going to be my only meal before I hit the gym for a brutal session of max effort back squats and a 30 minute metcon and I’m starving! Should I get the maple bacon bar, Cro bar, or the PB & J?
Well, if it were me, it would be a no brainer. The PB & J would give me an immediate case of anaphylaxis. The Crobar sells out fast so if it’s there, you better jump on it and grab me one too. The maple bacon bar is awesome too. Get them both and if you don’t bring some for me, you’ll be met with motivational consequences in the way of death by burpees or something equally heinous.
In all seriousness now… I love doing nutrition experiments. Starting around April of 2013, I lived off basically nothing other than Vons Deli fried chicken, cinnamon rolls, and donuts… just to see what would happen. I did this for about 4-5 months.
For about 6 weeks I squatted heavy EVERY day (I was inspired by Dave Lipson’s 365 Days of Squatting Challenge. Midway through the challenge). I ran the La Jolla Half Marathon with only 4 weeks of training and a total of 50 training miles, 90% of which was composed of short intervals on the track. The longest I ran pre-race was 6 miles. I wanted to run the big hill before the race just to strategize. This was my first half marathon and I finished in 1:44. Not bad for a guy who NEVER runs and is not built like a runner…and yes…I squatted the day of the race and the day after. Who needs a recovery day after a half marathon? Guys with weak legs. That’s who… That’s a whole other topic, though.
Over the next few months I continued this abomination of a diet and continually saw gains in the strength department. I started the year back squatting 255lb and by September I maxed out at 170kg/375lb. I was on track and hoping to hit 182kg/400lb by the new year. I was not doing ANY conditioning at this point. I was obsessed with the snatch, clean and jerk, and squat at the time. That’s all I did. I was following a condensed Bulgarian cycle and never felt so strong. And then one day, I did Fran… and while the weight felt super light and did the first round unbroken, I hit the wall midway through the set of 15 thrusters. I did the rest of the pull ups unbroken but had to break up the thrusters a couple times. I finished that day sub 5 minutes… but at least a minute slower than my previous PR. No bueno.
After that, I brought back the metcon into my training and started eating “cleaner”. I 86ed the fried chicken from my diet… which is hard because it’s my favorite food ever. I don’t buy it for myself anymore, but if I go to a social gathering and it’s there, I’ll go HAM on it. The donuts remained a daily staple for about 6 more months. I called it the daily donut diet and somehow I managed to STILL slim down to the point where I was no longer ashamed to take off my shirt. When I was just lifting heavy and chowing on chicken and donuts, I got pretty pudgy.
After eliminating the fried chicken, I lost some weight: from 180lb to 170lb. I also lost a bit of strength. For the last year, I haven’t been able to hit anywhere close to my lifetime back squat record. If I can hit 162kg/356lb it’s a good day. But those days are few and far between. Being smaller does play a role there as does the nature of my training program. But a lot of it still depends on diet.
Here’s the real skinny on the donuts and gainz: and this is in no way based on my extensive education in nutrition and diet (because I don’t have one). This is based on logging my nutrition (as deplorable as it may sometimes be) and tracking my performance in the gym.
Fried chicken + donuts = lots of protein and lots of carbs = good for training
The omitted variable to that equation is high fat… and not the good kind. This, I believe is what brought on the pudgy factor. As soon as I removed the fried chicken from my diet, I leaned up pretty quick despite the increased intake of donuts (my donut intake did indeed go way up to compensate… and yes…I know I tend to overuse parentheses). I also think that I took a big hit in protein intake as a consequence which may be part of the reason I’ve lost some strength. I often struggle getting enough protein without getting too much fat. I’m not a fan of chicken breast and fattier beef is just way tastier. I like seeing my abs, so I limit my fat intake at the expense of the protein. I know I can just eat more lean protein but I don’t like it. It’s lame…I know… but at least it it’s an educated decision.
One other thing I’ve learned is that the timing of carb intake is a big deal. I have had awesome success in limiting my carbs early in the day and pre workout. Having carbs before a workout usually just makes me more sluggish. If you’re intent on having those donuts preworkout, I would suggest exercising a bit of self control and eating just enough to feel less starving, and then save the rest of it for AFTER you train… like immediately after.
POST workout is when your body needs it the most for recovery, so I go crazy with the carbs after training up until right before bed.
To sum up…
I personally like to train fasted, but that doesn’t work for everyone. Nutrition is a tough subject because EVERYONE is different. There is no one ring to rule them all when it comes to diet. My suggestion to everyone is to track what you eat. I don’t pay much attention to calories… but I look at fats, carbs, and proteins. Keep good notes and learn which foods make you feel strong, and which foods make you feel gross. Make educated choices when it comes to food. I may not always make the best choices, but at least they are informed choices. Don’t be that guy that’s so annoying with his diet that no one wants to hang out with you. But at the same time don’t be that guy who eats with reckless abandon. Set a goal. Stick to it. Leave room for balance.