Leading up to and during the CrossFit open I was training very hard. The advent of a masters division for adult males 35-40 gave me renewed hope that I might once again find myself competitive in the sport of CrossFit. I handed my training regime over to my Partner Mike, who is a certified OPEX coach and programming officanado. We had 10-12 weeks to prepare for the open. We decided to throw caution to the wind and see what we could come up with.
Mike put me on individual design. Individual design is for athletes who have very specific goals. The goals typically fall on a spectrum that ranges from body composition to performance. The more you tilt the needle in any one direction, the more specific your program/training becomes. It is also implied that as the needle tilts, so to must an athlete's individual commitment/discipline level.
I was heavily invested in the performance camp. I wanted to do well during the open and needed to do what I could to increase my work capacity in the short time leading up to the open. I was first required to go through an assessment period to give my coach an idea of my current work capacity and additionally identify both my strengths and weaknesses.
The assessment period lasted about a week and included a laundry list of physical tasks. Some short and easy, others long and grueling. At the end of the week Mike was able to put together a cohesive picture of where I currently racked and stacked against the teeming masses. He was also able to glean how I might effect some timely change in the short weeks leading up to the open.
The training was hard. I have an excellent point of reference for what “hard” looks like. As a former Infantry Officer and Green Beret in the United States Army, I’ve suffered through some of the most grueling training you can imagine. Training designed to weed out those who do not have the constitution to keep going physically when their own lives and the lives of others are on the line. Despite having previously endured that level of training, I still found the programming to be as challenging as anything I had ever done, and in some cases harder than anything else I had ever encountered.
Training to perform is a difficult path to walk. You find yourself alone in the gym often, paying penance to no one in particular. I questioned my motives daily. More than once I found myself in bouts of cognitive dissidence. I questioned my goals, my future as an athlete, my career and even my existence in general. The places that level of training will take you can't be found on google maps or in a brochure for Crunch Fitness. I spent most of my time looking for answers in the puddles of sweat I left on the floor.
Athletes who truly want to be champions have singular focus and dedication to their craft. Maybe you just want to bust out a few handstand walks in front of some kids that just started CrossFit or slay the scaled division at your local comp. That’s a reasonable goal and most gyms will get you there in the span of a few months. But to exist in the top one percent, to chase the podiums that are reserved for only a chosen few...it takes sacrifice, heartache and the willingness to suffer.
I committed to the process. I was determined to see it through. Along the way there were speed bumps. I ran the gauntlet of high volume training induced side effects to include, restless legs, insomnia, erectile dysfunction, over soreness and compulsive watching of the documentary, “Fittest on Earth.” As training progressed I started to become more and more fatigued. I was getting “speed wobbles.” I found myself nearly falling asleep at my desk despite getting ten plus hours of sleep a night. I had pain in my joints no matter how much I warmed up/mobilized. Every morning I woke up in pain. Having trained for over a decade at that point in my life, I had a good idea of when an injury is coming. It wasn't a matter of if, but when. Although all the warning signs were there, I had no decrease in general performance. The opposite actually. I was getting stronger and faster everyday. I had taken every measure I could think of to maintain my training volume, but I was still falling to pieces.
Things came to a head one day while I was in home goods looking for a decorative mirror for my mothers house (no shit). As I was leaving the store I felt nauseous, dizzy and disoriented. I was covered in cold sweat, the color drained from my face and I thought I might pass out. I told my girlfriend what my symptoms were and she rushed me into whole foods. I assumed it was to beat up hippies, which always makes me feel better. She explained that I was having the same symptoms her diabetic ex-boyfriend used to have when his blood sugar was low. I got food from the hot bar in whole foods and immediately started chowing down. I immediately felt better. A light bulb went off.
I had been paying strict attention every aspect of my training to include, sleep, mobility, stress management and diet. However, it occurred to me that even though I had paid close attention to my diet in terms of quality, I had neglected to take into consideration if I had been eating enough. My good friend Zack Bell let me take a ride on his InBody machine at Orangetheory Fitness one afternoon and I recalled it having a projected breakdown of how many calories I burned on a daily basis. I revisited the document and found that my projected Basal Metabolic Rate sat around 2800 calories a day.
Basal Metabolic Rate you say? Basal metabolic rate (BMR) is the minimal rate of energy expenditure per unit time by endothermic animals at rest. Basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy expressed in calories that a person needs to keep the body functioning at rest. Folks with a higher percentage of muscle mass have a higher BMR on average, which I understand seems somehow unfair and backwards. Once you know your BMR you can take into account your activity level per day, age and lifestyle habits to get a pretty accurate approximation of how many calories you burn a day. It turned out I was burning in the neighborhood of 4200.
My initial reaction was the InBody machine is bullshit. Some fitness terminator robot isn't going to tell me how to live my life and couldn't possibly be accurate. In a desperate attempt to discredit the results I went to dexafit, a facility that uses gold standard measures to include x-rays and other sophisticated medical tools to accurately measure both my BMR and general body mass index.
I took the morning off and road tripped to North tampa to the Dexafit facility. I ran the gambit of tests. 3D body imaging, x-rays and sat with a snorkel taped to my face for 15 minutes in a dark room. When all was said in done I found out that I had 10 percent body fat, sick ass abs and a BMR that sat around 2800 and burned in the neighborhood of 4800 calories a day. The inBody was right.
For those of you that don't have a good idea of what 4800 calories looks like. That’s seven and a half burrito bowls from chipotle, five 20 piece nuggets from mcdonalds or a five pound bag of dog food. The hustle is real people. I started using the “my fitness tracker” application to log what I was eating. It turns out I was falling short of my recommended caloric intake by a margin of 2000 calories most days of the week.
The most common challenge people encounter have outside the gym is managing their nutrition. Making changes in your nutrition regime/diet can be tough. It’s no different for me. In order to account for my newfound dietary requirements I had deliberately make an effort to pay attention to what I ate on a daily basis. It was difficult at first, but over time I was able to adjust my diet accordingly. As a result I’m stronger, faster and don't have bouts of hypoglycemia in the middle of homegoods.
Knowing is half the battle. We can't expect to make our way in the dark without a flashlight. Knowing things like your current body mass index or how many calories you burn a day can help light the way on your journey to a fitter, healthier life.