Friday, May 19, 2017

The Anatomy of a Successful Off Season

by Kris Pitcher

Coming off a show, most of us want to make progress. Before I even hit the stage, I'm thinking about what I want to work on, what I need to work on, and what my next steps should be. For me, the contest isn't the end of anything, it's just one stop in a cycle of progression.

People think of physique sports in two phases, either prep, or off season. What you do in, or with, that time makes all the difference. I'm always surprised when someone comes to me at 16 weeks out and is ready to start working out in preparation for a contest.

You have to have some mad genetics to only work out during a 16 week prep. Most of us do not fit that category. Thinking of those two phases, let's talk about the anatomy of a successful off season.

The period immediately following your contest leaves your body very anabolic. That means it wants to gain. When you fuel well, you will gain muscle. When you go off the rails, you will rebound and get really fat.

Let's assume you want to fuel well and make progress. Take advantage of this opportunity by:

  1. Maintain meal frequency - continue to eat your 5 or 6 meals per day. You've trained your body to work well with this.
  2. Follow your exit plan - your coach has provided you with an exit plan, follow it. If they didn't, it's time for a new coach. The exit plan is as important as any aspect of your prep. 
  3. Cut back your cardio - hopefully you haven't been doing a lot of cardio during your prep. Regardless, you want to taper the cardio back. 
  4. Lift - you'll have the fuel necessary to lift heavy again. Your energy will be up, and it's time to put it to use focusing on the areas you want to improve.
  5. Manage your extras - I like to treat "extras" with caution. Rather than having a little bit of goodies every day, maintain a schedule of a re-feed, or cheat meal. 
Over time during your off season, it's easy to step away from the structure. You start to feel like you don't really need it, or you might be sick of eating your food...this is where people get in trouble during their off season. Before you know it, you've gained a lot more than you intended.

Stay in touch with your coach. The most successful athletes work with their coach year round. Having the guidance, accountability, and objective eye of your coach is as valuable off season. You can expect more flexibility, more options, and in some cases less frequent check ins.

Keeping focused during your off season allows you to make gains while maintaining a reasonable level of body fat. I don't subscribe to getting fat in order to gain muscle. You can make lean gains. 

And hopefully, your method of eating has become a lifestyle. That's what it takes to make progress, have a successful off season, and become a better athlete.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Spicing Up Your Diet - What Can I Put On My Food?

by Kris Pitcher

Lots of people ask me what they can put on their food. Both competitors and lifestyle clients alike want to know what the guidelines are. Here's the short answer: it depends.

It depends on your goals. It depends on your values. Values? Yes, your values around foods. Lots of nutritional choices are values based decisions. I have my own ideas (values), and you can form yours too.

I cook in bulk and season each meal. This method gives me variety. I also cook the components of my meals separate. Again, this gives me the most flexibility to select the type of protein, and carbs I want in each meal.

A lot of people shifting to a healthier way of eating are used to sauces and dressings. Sometimes those things just don't fit the new goals. Or, we need to look at alterations to our favorites. When we want change, we need to be open to change.

Have you been down the spice aisle lately? All dry spices are great. There are tons of spice blends, rubs, and spice mixes to add to the flavor of your meals. And unless you are dealing with high blood pressure, salt is fine. We need salt. Take a trip down the spice aisle and see what catches your eye. Be sure to look at the list of ingredients, and watch for any "ose". Words ending in "ose" are some form of sugar. Sugar is added to lots of things for flavor and filler.

Hello hot sauce! Check the ingredient list for hidden sugars, but most hot sauces are fine. I love it on pretty much everything. There are hundreds to choose from whether you like it mild, or HOT. Go for it!

What about dressing up those summer salads? Look for a very low calorie option with minimal ingredients. If you don't understand the ingredient don't want it. Many "fat free" products are full of sugar, or other fillers. Get creative in the kitchen and make a dressing.

That's right, make your own. I love mustard with apple cider vinegar. Keep in mind I am smack dab in the middle of prep. If I weren't, I'd mix in a little balsamic vinegar, a touch of olive oil and shake it up. Oh! I almost forgot about fish sauce. I love that in dressings too.

Soy sauce is a values choice. Soy products can be estrogenic, and based on your goals this may or may not fit. It also contains gluten. So if that's a thing for soy. But for most, some soy sauce on things makes a great taste.

The key is staying away from things with lots of sugar. Ketchup, most BBQ sauces, anything white, Hoisen sauce (my favorite in the off season)...these are going to add to our caloric intake when our goal is to control calories and use them on the most nutrient rich foods for our body.

Another key is staying away from high fat sauces. Anything in the cheese related family is not going to get you to your goals. Gravies, sorry.

Explore the wide variety of salts on the market now. There are also many varieties of peppers. Red pepper flakes are another great way to add some spark to your meals.

Fresh herbs are fantastic. So are green onions. And you would be surprised how a spritz of lemon or lime will wake up any meal. Any dried herbs are great additions to the cooking process too. There is simply zero reason to feel bored with your food, or feel like you have to cover everything with saucy-sauce.

Tasting things in a new way gives you a fresh perspective, and will get you to your healthy eating goals. Hit the grocery store and open your eyes to some new ways to spice things up!

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Explaining Your Fitness and Nutrition Pursuits to the People Around You

by Kris Pitcher

When you begin to incorporate changes in your lifestyle, people take note. Whether you are bringing your meals to work, passing on the plethora of goodies, or making different choices in social settings, people start to notice.

In my experience, there are two things happening here. The people around you start to think about their own choices. It can make people uncomfortable when you are making a choice guided by your plan, and they are eating cake. That's not about you, it's about them.

We see this in couples a lot. One person begins to make lifestyle changes, and the other person feels threatened. They worry you will try to also change them. Now, healthy changes, losing weight, and improving your lifestyle shouldn't threaten those around you, yet somehow it does.

People are noticing, and commenting on what you are doing. They ask questions, they share what they are doing, and why they are right and you are not. Then comes the second thing here, you feel like you need to explain yourself.

I've always just done my thing, no explanation required. I've found over time, when people ask questions they really aren't interested in a lot of detail. If you begin to explain details...deer in headlights. They don't really want to know. I've taken that as a cue to not explain myself in the first place.

Yes. Yes I am eating chicken out of my purse in a meeting. No explanation. Yes, I am going to the gym instead of happy hour. No explanation. No, I don't care for the treats at the office celebration. No explanation.

I'm not trying to impact or impress those around me. Eat what you want. Do what you want. I don't need an explanation. And I have found, when I do and eat what I want, others don't expect one either.

If you find yourself constantly explaining yourself and your choices, challenge whether this is an internal need. Is less detail plenty? Probably. "I'm making some shifts in my nutrition and exercise." Period. Your pursuits are yours. No explanation required. Try it.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Mindless Munching, How to Combat Eating When You're Bored

by Kris Pitcher

You know when you're bored and you find yourself elbow deep in a bag of chips, or you look up to see you've plowed through an entire sleeve of Thin Mints? Or is that just me? A lot of damage can be done in just a few minutes of mindless munching.

We've had a lot of tough love conversations over the years, and this might turn out to be one of them. I'm going to first share some thoughts on being "bored". Being bored is for kids. Kids get bored. Frankly, I don't know how. I take that back. I do know how. Most kids don't know how to play. That's another blog.

I can rarely recall being bored growing up. You want to know why? Because if I said I was bored, it would be a matter of about 3 minutes and my dad would have me stacking wood. I wasn't about to be on the lookout for chores.

Being "bored" is about procrastinating the things you need to get done. I'm not suggesting you busy yourself 24/7. I am all about down time. But if you are bored at have work you need to get done and simply don't want to do. If you're bored at home, take up a hobby.

Some people feel like they need to (entitlement) snack during certain activities. Driving for instance. Or watching TV. Some people feel like they need to snack during a movie. Snack. Snack. Snack. Guess what? Snacking isn't part of your big picture plan (unless it is, in which case we work those things in).

If I jump off my "being bored" soap box, I can share some techniques that will help you. I'm down now. First, if you are actually hungry - look at your meal timing. Are you getting the nutrients you need at the appropriate times during the day? Typically snacking isn't about being hungry. It's about feeding emotion, and filling time.

Let's talk about filling time. I am a big fan of replacing one habit for another. We just need to make a choice that goes with your goals. For those of you finding yourselves "bored" at home, here are a few things you might try:

  • paint your nails
  • floss and brush your teeth
  • drink hot tea
  • chew a piece of sugarless gum
  • take up knitting (seriously)
  • work on a project
  • get an adult coloring book
  • massage hand lotion into your hands and arms
  • take a hot bath
  • work in the garden
When you are bored at work it's time to prioritize and get some work done. Revisit your goals, timelines and deliverable outcomes. Your first step to success here is, don't have snacks hidden in those drawers.

  • create a priority task list
  • take a quick walk around the block for fresh air
  • clean out your inbox
  • organize your files
  • look through your contacts and connect with someone
  • find a mentor and schedule a coffee meeting
  • read a professional development book
  • spring clean your space
  • drink water
  • develop a stretch goal above what's expected of you
  • write a thank you card (people still do this)
  • organize for the next day, week, quarter etc.
Recognizing when you are "bored" and what your habits are around that is the first step. Creating an environment for success is critical. If you don't have "snacks" in the house/office/car, you can't eat them. Stay connected to your nutrition goals. And find some clarity in your personal and professional priorities. Before you know it, you will have banished mindless munching.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

How to Manage Emotional Eating

by Kris Pitcher

I'm not at all phased by the pizza, cupcakes, or the lone Costco muffin left in the break room at work. There are also Oreo cookies and other snack items for the taking, available ALL THE TIME.

In my twenty-fifth year of successful personal weight management, I see food differently. My lens is focused on my goals and my values. Most importantly, my vision is conscientious. We get in trouble when we put our blinders on.

What I mean is, food should be a deliberate choice rather than an emotion which overcomes us, leading us into the depths of a binge. The American culture is heavily infused with emotional eating. We celebrate our very first birthday as onlookers cheer as we smash our cake covering ourselves with it. The Cake Smash.

Left to my emotions I would be elbow deep in a bag of chips. So, how can I simply walk past the beautifully iced cupcakes in the break room? Easy. I'm connected to my goals. I'm aware of my choices. Success begins with emotional management.

While some might argue I'm a cold-hearted fill-in-the-blank, I am an emotional person. I'm also good at managing my stress, and controlling what I can control. Did you know you are in control of how you respond to things?

You are! This just may be the secret sauce to managing your emotions. Social media is full of posts spewing on and on about how upset people are over this or that. Reel it in people. What is really affecting you in your life? And what do you have control over?

Allowing external events, people, name it, to cause a reaction leading you to eat your emotions is self sabotage at its best. Being in control of your reactions takes recognition of a situation, knowing what your options are, and choosing one.

If emotional eating is eating you up, it's time to stop and take a breath. It's time to think about situations and choose your reaction. This is how you manage your emotions, and your emotional eating. Be present. This means being aware of what is going on around you.

Awareness is key to thinking through solutions, and making a choice. Everything we do is a choice. Each choice we make has consequences. Our food choices are no different. Whether we over eat, don't eat, eat the wrong things...all choices with consequences. But don't blame everything "out there".

Begin to assess your surroundings, your situation, and the events you find yourself in. Stop and think about your choices. Which choice aligns with your goals? Be present and make a conscious choice. Take your blinders off and deal with, and manage, your emotions.

Take a deep breath and clear your vision. The choice is yours!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Compliance and Physique Competition

by Kris Pitcher

noun | com-pli-ance | the act or process of complying to a desire, demand, proposal, or regimen

I've often heard over the years, "I wish I had your self control." It's not really self control that I have, it's compliance. I'd like to have all the foods the rest of the world eats, but the truth is...I'm working toward a different physique.

With that, I have a coach who lays out a plan for me. I follow my plan. I am compliant. It's very simple. Truth be told, nothing in this sport is really all that simple, and neither is compliance.

You see, I must be compliant because my genetics are just average. I need every bit of every minute I spend both in prep and off season to make the changes necessary. All of it. I don't have the luxury of being able to kind of follow my plan, or to cheat now and then. My genetics simply don't allow it.

Now, for all you cheaters, and those of you who take your plan as a "guideline" can get by because of your genetics. Your coach usually knows when you aren't exactly on plan, but you're making it really hard for them. 

You might even do well competing as a non-compliant client. I'm wondering though, how well would you do if you did comply? Where could you take yourself in this sport if you just buckled down and did the work? All of the work. 

Compliance to your plan is the only way your coach knows if your plan is working. When you aren't in compliance, you aren't doing your plan. And if you aren't doing your plan...we might as well just throw darts at a board to make decisions about you.

It's a misconception that you can be non-compliant and still make good progress. Sorry, but if you aren't doing your plan, your coach can't make a judgement about what to adjust. The first adjustment is, do your plan. Follow it to a "T". Then we can see if it works.

I would never advocate you comply with a ridiculous plan, or one that included foods you hate. A good coach can alter and provide you some choices so you can live with your plan. If you hate broccoli, by all means...there are A LOT of other vegetables to choose from. 

My strength in compliance comes from a place of self choice. I choose this lifestyle. I choose to eat the way I do. I choose to exercise. I choose this. No one is telling me to do it. Non-compliance usually comes from a place of either defiance, misinformation or mistrust.

My approach is to educate clients on why we are doing certain things at certain times and in certain combinations. Knowledge leads to compliance in my experience. My advice? Ask questions. If you are working with someone you trust, listen to them. Lean. Learn why you are doing things a certain way.

It's a challenge to have so much information at the tips of our fingers. Sifting through that information is a burden, it's conflicting and confusing. Let your coach be the guide. When you work with someone who has a background in nutritional science...they should be a good resource. If you are non-compliant because you don't like their methods, work with someone else.

If you are non-compliant because you feel like you "deserve" certain things, or are overcome with feelings of defiance when someone tells you what to do, dig deep and deal with those emotions. Get clear on your goals and values.

There is no will power, no self control. There is compliance and trust. And if you fall into the non-compliant category, well this sport may not be for you. Think about your daily routine, your habits and your attitude. Are you compliant?  

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Constipation and Competition, Why You Can't Poop

by Kris Pitcher

I'm a producer, let's just start there. This blog is going to get personal. So, if you're not up for talking about your is the time to bow out.

Bowel issues are very common not only among competitors, but general population as well. What's "normal"? Normal frequency varies from three times a day, to 2 times per week. If you are having less than 3 bowel movements a week, you're constipated.

There are as many causes to constipation as there are remedies. A few common ones include pregnancy, age, dehydration, low fiber diet, sedentary lifestyle, medications, over use of laxatives, stress, diabetes, thyroid disorders, stress...the list is long.

For women, the most common cause is hormones. Thank you menstruation. After ovulation, our progesterone levels increase and peak. The levels slowly decrease until it drops enough to trigger menstruation - the actual bleeding.

Not long ago, my husband and I had a conversation about this. He was flabbergasted (my word) that women know VERY little about something so consuming. He said, "If I was bleeding every month I'm pretty sure I would know everything there was to know about it." And he would. He knows more about it than most of us.

Progesterone delays the transit time of food, and we get stopped up. By the onset of menstruation, we are gassy, bloated, and you guessed it...constipated. Recall that this hormone is peaking about a week before we see blood.

This is usually when the texts come in from competitive clients, "I can't poop." Or, "I haven't pooped for 3 days." First response? Where are you in your cycle. Period.

There are some common ways to alleviate constipation. Using laxatives is the least desirable. Remember over use of laxatives can cause constipation, so you're in a circle on this one. Let's go over some better choices to remedy your issue.

Most of us are fairly active, but increasing activity is great. Ensuring we are getting a fiber rich diet is also important. We can increase our intake of magnesium citrate. Increasing water is also key. Ginger tea, or really any hot tea, helps to warm and relax the lower intestines. We can also increase our intake of vitamin C.

It's also thought that propping your feet up while sitting on the john will adjust the angle of your bowels and help get thing moving. There are actual devices for this (no, I don't have one).

On a regular basis (see what I did there?) we can take a pro-biotic to ensure good gut health. Usually, one or more of these remedies in combination will get you moving. And if your stop up is due to hormonal fluctuations, those will change, and you will go.

And when all else fails, there's always the last ditch effort...the enema. But, we can usually get things moving before we need to go that route. Well, you know what I mean. Now you know more about your bowels, what's normal, and how to get things moving when you're constipated. It happens, pretty much to everyone.