The holidays are upon us, the weather is colder, and we are most likely layering on the clothes. With all of the celebrating, we may also be making the switch from jeans to spandex/sweats because there is nothing worse than your jeans cutting into your turkey dinner and Christmas cookies!
If we aren’t on a current regimen, we may have given up on trying to avoid our caloric vices and just succumbed to the idea that once the New Year rolls around, we will jump on one of the challenges our Crossfit gym will offer.
Like most Crossfitters, I love a competition especially one that may lead me to look better naked a month later. However, I hate challenges most gyms put on. Blasphemy, I know, and you could argue that at least people are making better choices and are eating more nutrient dense foods, and you would be right.
But what happens after the challenge is over? A lot of the participants binge on the foods they have restricted themselves of for the past 30 days. And what happens a week later? They have gained all of the weight back if not more than when they started. Now why is this you may ask?
Have you ever started a new diet regiment and maybe you feel great the first few days, but then you find yourself hungry, irritable, and craving high caloric foods? This is an indication that you are under-eating and your body is begging for more calories. Some people may even experience weight gain. Every body responds differently! But
regardless of how your body responds, after 30 days of restricted caloric intake, your body has most likely slowed down your metabolism, become super efficient at conserving calories, and stored them as fat. So after those 30 days, you binge because you are hungry for food and barely survived the 30 days. Aaaaaand walla! With your slowed metabolism and your body’s efficiency at storing calories as fat, you have successfully stored that binge and your body is now happy because if you decide to pull another “stint” like you just did for 30 days, this time it has a stock pile of calories it can live off of for a bit.
But where was the disclaimer from your coaches running the challenge about how important it is to eat enough? If your coaches provided several talks about how to be successful throughout the 30 days, then I am happy to hear that!
The thing most gyms do well is list what foods are approved (unprocessed foods) and what ones should be avoided (processed foods/sugar) during the 30 day challenge, since most challenges are “whole” or “paleo” challenges. Ok then what? Some gyms may take measurements or rely on their participants to do that themselves, but then other than reiterating the point of eating unprocessed foods and how many days are left, nothing more is addressed.
So if you are a box owner or coach, how can you take your gym’s challenge from mediocre to great? Here are 5 ways to successfully put on a nutrition challenge:
- Education- This is crucial and should not be overlooked! The coaches running the challenge should be knowledgable enough in the area of nutrition especially when it relates to Crossfitters. For example, if you are running a paleo challenge, does that mean strict paleo or loose paleo where some dairy (tolerance permitting), beans, or grains are allowed? If it is strict, what is your purpose behind it (know it and explain it to your participants) and how will you prepare your participants before or during the challenge to ensure they are eating enough carbs? Paleo is lower carb and not ideal for everyone especially those that are naturally lean or very active. The importance of protein intake is another topic that needs to be discussed frequently especially since most people under eat in this area to begin with. I think a great way to approach your challenge should be with a focus each week. Pick 1-2 days per week to sit down with your athletes pre or post workout to go over that topic. If this is not an option due to the same coach coaching the next class or you only want to provide this service to the athletes that signed up for the challenge, then perhaps you can communicate via a newsletter, email, or FB group.
- Get Social- As an extension of the education piece, a newsletter or email would work fine, but what I think is an even better idea is a Facebook group. This gives you a place where you can share recipes, articles, tidbits of info, and develop a supportive environment. It is a comfort zone where people can share progress, struggles, and questions. They will realize they are not alone in their struggles and may even be able to offer advice to their fellow challengers!
- Set Realistic Guidelines- In a perfect world, we could all give up alcohol, all forms of bread, and drink enough water each day, but perfection isn’t life so what do you deam realistic? 1-4 servings of alcohol each week (not more than 2 in one day)? Ezekiel or sprout bread instead of wheat or white bread? 1-2 servings of grains vs none? Remember if you provide some flex to your participants, more than likely they will stick with it versus completely giving up.
- Goals- What do you hope your participants will get out of this challenge? How will you know if you are successful? What are your athletes’ goals for the challenge? These are three very important questions to ask yourself/them before you put on the challenge. If your goal is for the participants to have an understanding of macronutrients and how to fuel for performance, then where will you get this information (what credible sources will you use), how will you go about delivering it (in a group setting post wod or in a FB group), and how will you know if they have learned anything (do they apply the info to their new lifestyle)? If your goal is to simply have your athletes lose body fat, then you should be testing their body fat at the beginning and end, looking over food logs, and educating them to ensure they are eating enough so the body fat doesn’t just fly back on after the challenge is over. When you talk to your athletes, you have the opportunity to educate them on goal setting, outcome goals, behavioral goals, and what makes a goal measurable. This will decrease the amount of stress for you and your athletes when your athletes come to you wondering why they haven’t lost the 10 pounds they wanted to lose in a 30 day challenge or to determine if they reached their ambiguous goal of “getting stronger and leaner”.
- Let’s Have Fun- Make this challenge fun! What makes your gym’s challenge different from the others’? Why would people want to do it again in the future? Personally I love learning so that alone would make me want to sign up. Other people like to see progress (before and after pictures are a great tool for this). Maybe you throw a healthy foods party at the end? Get creative with it and that will ensure people will come back again for the right reasons.
There is no one way to put on a challenge, just better ways! Use the tips above and you will have a successful experience and healthy and happy athletes at the end!
As my orange ginger tea is steeping and I wait for the Josh Groban holiday playlist on Pandora to come on, my thoughts drift off to Thanksgiving and how I will miss my grandma’s presence there for the 2nd year. It is always hard knowing I won’t be squeezed by her warm embrace and filled with her radiant sunshine that sneaks out through her genuine smile.
Sure enough, as only God/my grandma would have it, Josh Groban’s “To Where You Are” was the first song that came on Pandora. Sometimes it is the little things that makes me know she is still here with me listening and being that positive light she always was.
Two years ago before Christmas she fell and some complications lead to her surprising passing. She was a healthy, bubbly 83 year old and had quite a few good years left…or so we all thought and hoped.
In the writing of her eulogy, I wanted to touch on a few things that really represented who she was to me: a fun, loving, thrill seeking, angel (I really did think she was one when I was younger). Perhaps only her sassiness and occasional swear words later in life made me reconsider 😉
She was the epitome of what I strive to be. She was an independent woman and always was one for adventure. As she aged she kept her desire to see and experience new things. She was full of love and never seemed to get enough of her family..especially her grandchildren. My grandma wasn’t afraid to say what she thought either (more so as she aged!). And what I valued most, was our talks about life, love, and what we saw ourselves doing/where we would live/etc when we were older. There was no judgement, only positive reinforcement.
Sometimes I wonder what she would say about my life so far and what I hope to do with it. I wonder if she would be quite and just pray I figure it out, or if she would be positive and provide good ideas (while still praying of course)..I always assume the latter.
I drink the last of my tea and even though this is not what I originally set out to do with my hour before training, it is something I felt the need to do. Since this week is about Thanksgiving, I thank God for providing me with such a loving role model in my life and for close friends that possess some of her same qualities that provide the support and nourishment to continue to become a better, more fulfilling person.