Archive | fat loss

Why different foods (and drinks, hint hint) can burn fat more effectively

jack daniels

Calories in versus Calories out is a tricky topic that comes up a lot in the “Science Lab” private group and seminars that we offer free when you purchase Met Flex for Fat Loss.

(NOTE:  Click here to jump to a short summary of this article)

Everything you do with your body requires energy; from pulling a heavy snatch, to taking a nap afterwards, even the consumption and metabolism of food depends upon energy availability and it all adds up to influence your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).  This spontaneous generation of heat during catalytic reactions is called thermogenesis.  When you calculate your TDEE, you’re really asking yourself a series of questions:  “How much heat do I generate just to keep my organs functioning?”  This is what defines your basal metabolic rate (BMR).    Another factor in your daily energy expenditure comes from activity:  “How much heat do I generate to fuel my exercise?”  The third, most overlooked contributor to TDEE and thermogenesis is nutrition.  Ask yourself, “How much heat do I generate when I eat?”

About 10% of your energy expenditure each day can be attributed to the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).  TEF describes the net loss of energy during the digestion and assimilation of nutrients.  When someone has a “fast metabolism”, they really have an inefficient metabolism that wastes more energy than it holds onto.  Essentially, their enzymes work very hard, but they don’t get a lot done for all the fuss.  The “cost” of operation is greater, so there’s less “profit”; less energy is stored.  This can be good and bad, but the great thing is that you can manipulate your efficiency.  A major factor in successfully taking advantage of the human body’s metabolic flexibility is consuming the right food, at the right time.  Depending upon the composition, size and frequency of your meals, your body responds to your nutrition in markedly different ways.

The Thermic Effect of Different Macronutrients

Of all the macronutrients, alcohol produces the greatest thermic effect; that isn’t a good reason to chug a bottle of Jack, however, due to the fact that alcohol consumption puts the brakes on fat oxidation for a little while (Anne Raben).  You’re actually more prone to store fat while you’ve got alcohol in your system, especially if you eat high-fat foods and drink at the same time (I’m looking at you, chicken wings!)  Many people do report waking up “tighter” the morning after a night out drinking, but this has more to do with water loss than anything.  Proper hydration is of the utmost importance to performing well and building muscle, so I would suggest taking it easy, but as they say: “To each his/her own.”


As far as everyday nutrition goes, protein is the most thermogenic of the three macros (carbs, protein and fat).  This explains, in part, why people see improved body composition on high protein weight loss diets; you waste a lot of energy just breaking protein down.  In addition, since you’ll feel more satisfied after eating a high protein meal, your drive to eat will be diminished (Halton).  We recommend that protein consumption act as a base for the rest of your nutrition, and this is just one of many reasons.  Not only are you providing your body with the material it needs to function and repair itself, but you’re keeping yourself lean.

Carbohydrate & Fat

Under normal circumstances, carbohydrate and fat are easier to break down and absorb.  The TEF associated with these two macros is less than that of protein.  Fat is the least thermogenic of the three.  It may be interesting to note that when comparing obese and lean populations, the thermic effect of food is smaller regardless of the macros, but carbohydrate displays a greater thermic effect than fat; fat is even less thermogenic in obese individuals (R Swaminathan).  Thus, consuming carbohydrates can contribute to increased net energy expenditure (K R Segal).  We write about this all the time, but this sort of explains the concept: avoiding carbohydrates when you’re trying to lose weight really does slow down your metabolism.  Conversely, if you’re trying to maintain muscle mass and conserve energy, eating low carb/high fat is a viable strategy.

Training and Post-Workout Carbs

Since you’re probably CrossFitting or weightlifting a few times a week, you’ll be glad to know that the thermic effect of food is more pronounced in active people than it is in sedentary individuals.  This may be due to increased responsiveness to adrenaline signaling brought on by regular bouts of exercise (Nicole R. Stob).  As I stated earlier, training creates a thermic effect too (exercise-associated thermogenesis).  It’s more difficult to store energy after a workout, and that can be a good thing if you’re trying to maintain a lean body composition.  It can also make it more difficult to build muscle mass, and that’s where carbs come in.

Carbs are normally pretty easy to break down and either utilize as an energy substrate, or to store as glycogen/fat.  This changes after training.  The thermic effect of carbohydrate consumption after a single bout of exercise can be over 70% greater than before training (Charlene M. Denzer).  That’s a difference of hundreds of calories every day, and thousands of calories every month, of food that you essentially get for free.  Eating carbs post-workout kicks your metabolism into high gear, you burn up like a space shuttle during re-entry, and your body does whatever it can to cool down.

What this ultimately means, in practice, is that you can get away with eating large amounts of carbs to generate a significant insulin response and jam as much water, protein and other nutrients into your muscles as you can…Without worrying about getting fat.  You get all of the hormonal and metabolic advantages of eating carbs without the bad.  This is the basis of back-loading, and it’s a great strategy to optimize recovery, performance and body composition all at once.  This goes for both men and women, as well as lean and not-so-lean individuals.

Special Considerations:  Intermittent Fasting, Yohimbine and Caffeine

The size of a meal seems to play a role in thermogenesis.  While smaller meals eaten at a greater frequency create a more sustained thermic effect, larger meals produce an overall greater effect.  Though the difference is small (somewhere around 50 calories a day), it does support the idea that eating more, less frequently, can make a positive impact on weight loss (M M Tai).  If you follow an intermittent fasting protocol like LeanGains, The Warrior Diet, Eat Stop Eat or even Carb Back-Loading, you’re probably already taking advantage of this concept; if you aren’t, it’s yet another reason to delay breakfast and eat more at the end of the day.

In addition, certain substances can increase thermogenesis and help you mobilize fat.  A common dietary supplement to consider, which you may already partake of, is good ol’ caffeine.  One or two (or three, or four) cups of coffee can really get your metabolism humming and help you burn fat (K J Acheson).  For leaner folks, Yohimbine (an herbal supplement) can augment the production of the catecholamines epinephrine and dopamine (Ostojica).  More catecholamines can translate to increased thermogenesis, fat oxidation, and (potentially) an increased sense of well-being.  Take caution though; it is not useful for everybody.  You should be pretty lean before you consider supplementation.  When adding anything atypical to your nutrition, be careful and start off very slow.  If you have a history of cardiovascular disease, metabolic dysfunction, or there’s any question in your mind whether or not you’ll react well to a specific modification, you owe it to yourself to talk to a doctor.

In conclusion, you don’t really need to worry about any of this thermogenesis stuff.  By simply eating protein and fat throughout the day, training hard, and having a nice carb-dense meal in the evening, you’re already taking advantage of these concepts.  I hope that by attaining deeper insight into the concepts we teach on Eat To Perform, you’ll understand how to dial things in a bit better and do what you need to get out of your own way.  Knowledge is power, but I don’t want you to get side-tracked.  I want you to focus on what really matters:  eating well, training your ass off, and enjoying your accomplishments.  Until next time!


  • TDEE is influenced by basal metabolic rate and activity, but also metabolism of food
  • “TEF” or the Thermic Effect of Food describes the net loss of energy during the digestion and assimilation of nutrients.  It normally contributes makes up about 10% of your TDEE.
  • Protein has the greatest TEF and fat has the lowest TEF.  Carbs are in the middle.
  • By eating carbohydrates after training, the TEF goes up drastically and more of the energy is lost as heat
  • Eating larger meals less frequently contributes to a slightly greater thermic effect
  • Caffeine and Yohimbine can help lean people increase thermogenesis and burn more fat

Works Cited

Anne Raben, Lisa Agerholm-Larsen, Anne Flint, Jens J Holst, and Arne Astrup. Meals with similar energy densities but rich in protein, fat, carbohydrate, or alcohol have different effects on energy expenditure and substrate metabolism but not on appetite and energy intake1,2,3. January 2003. 29 March 2013 <>.

Charlene M. Denzer, John C. Young. The Effect of Resistance Exercise on the Thermic Effect of Food. n.d. 29 March 2013 <>.

Halton, Thomas L., Frank B. Hu, MD, PhD. The Effects of High Protein Diets on Thermogenesis, Satiety and Weight Loss: A Critical Review. October 2004. 31 March 2013 <>.

K J Acheson, B Zahorska-Markiewicz, P Pittet, K Anantharaman, and E Jéquier. Caffeine and coffee: their influence on metabolic rate and substrate utilization in normal weight and obese individuals. May 1980. 31 March 2013 <>.

K R Segal, B Gutin, A M Nyman, and F X Pi-Sunyer. Thermic effect of food at rest, during exercise, and after exercise in lean and obese men of similar body weight. September 1985. 29 March 2013 <>.

K. J. Acheson, Y. Schutz, T. Bessard, E. Ravussin, E. Jequier, and J. P. Flatt. Nutritional influences on lipogenesis and thermogenesis after a carbohydrate meal. 1 January 1984. 29 March 2013 <>.

M M Tai, P Castillo, and F X Pi-Sunyer. Meal size and frequency: effect on the thermic effect of food. November 1991. 29 March 2013 <>.

Nicole R. Stob, Christopher Bell, Marleen A. van Baak, and Douglas R. Seals. Thermic effect of food and β-adrenergic thermogenic responsiveness in habitually exercising and sedentary healthy adult humans. 18 December 2006. 29 March 2013 <>.

Ostojica, Sergej M. Yohimbine: The Effects on Body Composition and Exercise Performance in Soccer Players. 21 December 2006. 29 March 2013 <>.

R Swaminathan, R F King, J Holmfield, R A Siwek, M Baker, and J K Wales. Thermic effect of feeding carbohydrate, fat, protein and mixed meal in lean and obese subjects. August 1985. 31 March 2013 <>.

S M Robinson, C Jaccard, C Persaud, A A Jackson, E Jequier, and Y Schutz. Protein turnover and thermogenesis in response to high-protein and high-carbohydrate feeding in men. July 1990. 29 March 2013 <>.

Five Thoughts on why “Oils” may be Detering your Fat Loss


A big part of your fat loss journey is learning how to avoid some of the common pitfalls that deter fat loss.  In our book Met Flex for Fat Loss, we detail how and why it’s better to rely on fats while you’re at rest…And then flex your metabolism to run on carbs around your training.

Here are some tips on :

  1. A balanced diet of carbs and fats is necessary to achieve optimal performance.  There is nothing magical about a low carb diet, and it will probably have a detrimental impact on your performance.  Still, going low carb occasionally can be of some benefit.
  2. Relying too much on oils and butter to supplement your fat intake on low carb days is a big mistake; it’s too easy to end up in an energy surplus if you go overboard.
  3. You should get most of your fat from whole food sources like grass fed beef and wild-caught fish; these sources are rich in anti-inflammatory Omega 3s.
  4. Use butter, ghee, and olive oil in your cooking.
  5. Many people enjoy a Bulletproof Coffee w/ coconut or MCT oil in the morning.

If you’d like a more in-depth look at how and when you should (and when you should not!) be using oils in your nutrition, check out our article “Addicted to Oils.”

Seven Quick Fat Loss Tips

Helpful Tips


The “big idea” of what we teach is that fast fat loss is hard to maintain.  The goal is gradual fat loss where you are preserving your muscle along the way.  That is the emphasis of Met Flex for Fat Loss and we support the book with the Science Lab private forums and Webinars four times a week.  The last two are free when you buy the book.

1.  You don’t need to eat at a deficit to mobilize fat; your training will keep you lean. Stress is good, but the stress of dieting compounded with the stress of training intensely day in/day out will probably be too much and will likely have a negative impact on your body composition. You’ve got to eat to perform and let your body do what it needs to do!

2.  Most diets work, but the wrong diet for the wrong person can be a disaster. A diet should ideally become a lifestyle that you can adhere to long-term. There is no magic macronutrient.

3.  Energy-dense foods are the way to go if you’re an athlete. Sedentary people may benefit from the standard “eat fewer carbs” Paleo diet but active people will tend to underfeed if they avoid starches and fatty meat.  So think of what we teach as “Paleo Plus” which is pretty consistent with what Dr. Cordain wrote in “Paleo for Athletes”.

4.  “Eat less/do less” low carb/low calorie diets can help you lose weight quickly, but most of it’s water. It can be hard to tell how much fat mass you’re losing vs. how much water you’re expelling on a low carb diet, and it definitely has an impact on performance due to chronic glycogen depletion.

5.  You need a significant amount of muscle mass before you worry about having abs! You can starve yourself for months and strip off every ounce of fat on your body but you won’t look the way you want to without a solid foundation. Focus on training and eating to fuel performance/muscle gains; you’ll look and feel much better.

6.  Homeostasis is physiological stability. Your body is great at adapting and finding its center when you feed it properly and get enough sleep. When these factors get out of whack, body composition will degrade and you can start to underperform during your training/events. In extreme cases, you become obese and develop metabolic disorders/cardiovascular health problems. It’s important to look at your nutrition, training, and lifestyle as a whole when determining how you proceed with your plan. Dynamically alter your strategy to fit in with your life, NOT the other way around.

7.  A gradual, personalized approach will save you a lot of heartache and keep you free of injuries. Don’t gamble on your health by trying to force things.

Crossfit Athlete Fat Loss Summary

Ivette Carcas

This is just the summary version of the long post you can find in the link at the bottom.  What we teach is a patient approach that focuses on work capacity.  Our book Met Flex for Fat Loss gets updated monthly and you also get a free membership to the Science Lab private forum and unlimited access to the webinars.


  • Prolonged periods of low carb dieting can equate to underfeeding, and this can lead to all kinds of metabolic derangement.
  • Eating to perform means eating enough food to sustain and improve your work capacity, strength, agility, and sport specific skills.
  • Form follows function; by putting performance first, you can achieve an optimal body composition.  That may not mean you walk around at 5% body fat, but you’ll be lean and muscular without eating in a restrictive fashion.
  • Start by getting a ballpark figure of how many calories you need to eat every day (TDEE).  Although it may seem like a lot of food at first, most of the time you will create a calorie deficit through your training and eating more (not less) will promote positive body composition changes.
  • If fat loss is your primary goal or you’re coming from a period of calorie restriction, subtract 10% from your TDEE calculation to give yourself some room to eat a little bit less.
  • A good place to start for men would be bodyweight in grams + 50g for carbs on training days and dial it in as they go.  Women should start at bodyweight in grams of carbs. Another and potentially much better approach is to use the calculator and solve for carbs using the fats as I recommend on that page (lean people need to start at their weight in grams to maintain conditions favorable to maintaining the muscle they have earned)
  • Eat 1g of protein for every lb. of bodyweight.  
  • Counting calories may be necessary for a short period of time while you get a handle on how much you need to eat, but you should ultimately try to eat more by how you feel, look, and perform than any number.

Here is the link to the full post “How Crossfit Athletes Should Do a Calorie Deficit“.

Keeping Fat off while Eating To Perform (Control Days)


I believe this article is the missing ingredient for most people.  I wrote it based on information I was receiving from Science Lab members.  The “Science Lab” has basically three main components: the seminars, the private group, and of course the book you purchase, “Metabolic Flexibility for High Intensity Athletes”.  Click here for details.

I refer to “control days” a lot.  They’re part of developing a flexible, intuitive style of eating, as well as a high-functioning metabolism.  At the most basic level, control days are days where you rely mostly on fats; it’s that simple, yet people tend to over-think the subject quite a bit.

As a 165 lb. male, I have two personal versions of the control day:  A “low carb” day that comes in around 125g of carbs, and another day (which I use very sparingly) where I modify down to 75g of carbs.  The 125g day comes up fairly often, but I might only utilize the 75g day after holiday’s or (as an example) weekends in Vegas.  I have been eating like this for almost three years now, so my body is relatively flexible as it relates to moving from one energy system (fats) to another energy system (carbs).  As someone who CrossFits and stays pretty active, I’m never very concerned about “spillover” or holding too much water due to excess carbohydrate consumption (I actually think the concept of fat spillover one any one given day is a bit silly).  In truth, men have it a little bit easier as far as carb loading goes, but women need to be a bit more cautious.  As an example, my wife’s control days are pretty similar to mine, but she uses 100g of carbs.  It’s not a hard-and-fast rule where we are counting calories, but more of an intuitive approach where the goal is to simply eat less carbs.

For people struggling to meet their protein or carbohydrate needs, check out this article I released on the “Supplements I put in my body”.

How to Schedule Control Days around your Training 

Hopefully, you take a few rest days here and there.  I am talking to way too many people that have active recovery days in an attempt to screw themselves into the ground and lose that last bit of abdominal fat.  Not only is this ineffective, but it’s counter-productive and it puts you at risk for injury.  If you want to get rid of that last bit of fat, there are two ways to do that:  add more rest days (which will add more control days) and start focusing on building/maintaining your muscle.  Allow performance to be the driver and stay away from very low carb, extreme deficit dieting.  It’s a trap!

The logic behind implementing control days goes like this:  When you’re not deliberately trying to gain weight, or if you feel “watery”, you throw in a day where you eat fewer carbs.

Yes, you read that right; to control inflammation, you eat fewer carbs.  It can get a bit confusing, so here’s a primer:

  • If you WOD today, and also WOD tomorrow, eat carbs around your workouts.  You could optionally eat carbs tonight depending upon your goals.  This will ensure that you’re fueled for your workout tomorrow morning.
  • If you did not WOD today, but you do WOD tomorrow, eat some carbs tonight. (Again, this is optional depending on your goals.)  Even though you didn’t train, you may need some carbohydrate to fuel your training the next day.
  • If you WOD today but do not WOD tomorrow, try a control day.  Eat fewer carbs (mostly in the evening) and more fat/protein (throughout the day), as you do not need to fuel strenuous training today nor do you need to prepare for the next day.  This will all go hand-in-hand to help you clear up inflammation.

Here are a few weekly schedules to help clarify the concept.  This first example is for someone who CF’s 3x a week with no back-to-back training days:

  • Sunday:  Rest.  Eat some (*this is optional) carbs in the evening for tomorrow’s WOD.
  • Monday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s since you rest tomorrow (possibly using pre-workout carbs but avoiding post workout carbs).
  • Tuesday:  Rest.  Eat less carbs since you rest tomorrow.
  • Wednesday:  Rest.  Eat some (*this is optional) carbs in the evening for tomorrow’s WOD.
  • Thursday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s since you rest tomorrow (possibly using pre-workout carbs but avoiding post workout carbs).
  • Friday:  Rest.  Eat some (*this is optional) carbs to fuel tomorrow’s WOD.
  • Saturday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s since you rest tomorrow (possibly using pre-workout carbs but avoiding post workout carbs).

Here’s another example; in this case, the hypothetical individual has some back-to-back training days and WODs 4x a week:

  • Sunday:  Rest.  Eat some (*this is optional) carbs in the evening for tomorrow’s WOD.
  • Monday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s since you rest tomorrow (possibly using pre-workout carbs but avoiding post workout carbs).
  • Tuesday:  Rest.  Eat some (*this is optional) carbs in the evening for tomorrow’s WOD.
  • Wednesday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s AND eat some (*optional) carbs in the evening to set up tomorrows WOD.
  • Thursday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s since you rest tomorrow (possibly using pre-workout carbs but avoiding post workout carbs).
  • Friday:  Rest.  Eat some (*this is optional) carbs in the evening for tomorrow’s WOD.
  • Saturday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s since you rest tomorrow (possibly using pre-workout carbs but avoiding post workout carbs).

In this final example, we’re training 3x a week with 2 consecutive rest days.  Fewer training days equate to more control days:

  • Sunday:  Rest.  Eat less carbs.
  • Monday:  Rest.  Eat less carbs.
  • Tuesday:  Rest.  Eat some (*this is optional) carbs in the evening for tomorrow’s WOD.
  • Wednesday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s since you rest tomorrow (possibly using pre-workout carbs but avoiding post workout carbs).
  • Thursday:  Rest.  Eat some (*this is optional) carbs in the evening for tomorrow’s WOD.
  • Friday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s AND eat some (*optional) carbs in the evening to set up tomorrows WOD.
  • Saturday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s since you rest tomorrow (possibly using pre-workout carbs but avoiding post workout carbs).

NOTE:  We go over this a bit in the next section, but the goal of each workout is to be at 100% capacity and that requires you to eat some carbs around your training.  This isn’t always consistent with fat loss goals, so you are always looking for a reasonable compromise to fuel your activity while getting aggressive with fat loss occasionally.  If, as an example, you take all of the situations above with optional carbs and just remove carbs, that is pretty much the same thing that probably landed you at this site in the first place (i.e. your fat loss and weight loss will plateau).  Remember, these are guidelines and templates; it is up to you to find the sweet spot and hammer that as it relates to your goals.

Why you still Need Carbs on Control Days

This is a cyclical approach, and if you can dial it in, basically have the secret to optimal health.  There are no “reefed” days because at no point are we limiting carbohydrates in an extreme manner.  We’re never dropping to 15-30g of carbs.  CrossFitting usually doesn’t require a tremendous amount of carbs, but going very low carb is a recipe for disaster.

If you need a “guide” or a place to start, I suggest that women go with 200g on days you WOD (possibly lower where the next day is a rest day to mobilize some fat) and 100g on control days and/or rest days.  Men can start at 1g/lb. and add 50g.  That’s usually a pretty safe place to start, and then you systematically adjust it to what feels most right.  That is different for each person, but I will caution you:  you should be adjusting up (not down) in most cases.  I talk a lot about how underfeeding affect things like thyroid function (Pimstone).  Artificially lowering your carbohydrate intake will more than likely result in under eating.  Compounded with extreme exercise, this is almost always bad for your health.

My recommendations are not extreme; I prefer to take a moderate approach in both directions.  I believe that relying mostly on fats, most of the time, is the way to go.  However, I rarely prescribe less than 75g of carbohydrate, even for women.  If you think it’s kind of outlandish for me to suggest that athletic people eat 150-200g of carbohydrate on training days, I’d like you to take a look at the FDA’s Daily Values.  You’ve probably seen them before, but please, refresh your memory.  Most of us can agree that 300g of carbohydrate, as a baseline recommendation for a sedentary person, is pretty ridiculous.  To make matters worse, most of the people eating a “Standard American Diet” are sedentary; they’re not at the gym burning up glycogen all day, and they certainly aren’t CrossFitting 5x a week.  There’s a reason it’s abbreviated as S.A.D.; these recommendations have failed the majority of us and that’s why we’re having this conversation.  I hope that clears things up.

Low Carb Does NOT = Low Calorie

The biggest mistake a lot of people make with control days is that they lower their overall intake too dramatically.  This is a surefire way to lower your work capacity and subject yourself to illness as well as stalled fat loss.  When you decrease your carbohydrate intake, you need to make up for the calories with a concomitant increase in fat or protein.  It doesn’t need to equal the same calories each day; control days are good days to “eat less occasionally” and speed up fat loss.  Just  don’t take it to  an extreme where the calories are so low it affects you for days to come.

Here’s how I suggest you approach this:  on control days, eat a bit more protein.  Do not be obsessive about tracking, but keep the amount a lot closer to 1 gram per lb. of body weight.  On higher carb days, I would still like to see you get close to 1g per lb. of body weight.  If you are going to be conservative with calories, subtract them from fat.  Tracking this should take all but 5 minutes of your day; it’s a general rule.  You’re not obsessively counting, you’re just getting yourself in the right ballpark.  To round out my calories, you add in more or less fat.   Somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-50g on your lower carb days should make up the difference.

(Special note to the calorie counter: when we initially wrote this article, we did not expect people to use such extreme amounts of fat.  If you are using the calculator, I suggest women set their fats at 80g-100g and men 125g-150g.  That is based on size.  The goal isn’t to add loads of fat WHILE also adding more carbs to your diet.  Despite what you may have heard, fat can store as fat without the presence of insulin.  Besides, 100g or 125g of fat is still a good amount of fat to remain fat adapted.)

Can you expect your weight to go down or up as you cycle carbs and fats?  Yes, and this is a good thing!  You’ll tend to weigh in lower after the control days, but not by a lot.  Having full muscles is not the same thing as having inflamed muscles.  People on excessively low carbohydrate diets systematically render their cells inflexible as it relates to using carbohydrate as an energy system.  This is why when someone goes on vacation after being relatively low carb for a long time, they gain ten pounds and panic.  While there may be some fat gain, the majority of this extra weight comes from simply rehydrating the cells and replenishing glycogen.

There is no need to excessively restrict calories when you eat in a manner similar to this.  Every now and again, I have days where it just becomes inconvenient to eat.  My energy levels are high so I just roll with it.  Typically this is a rest day.  Once I get hungry, I have a small fat/protein meal, and then that night I have carbs to prepare for the next day’s workout.  Overuse of low carbohydrate diets, or even these “control days”, leads to a form of insulin and leptin resistance, and that is a contributing factor to a repressed hormonal system.  Please, don’t turn control days into a version of the “Eat Less Do Less” diets I often admonish.

Can I Use Control Days on Day That I Work Out?

Training without loading carbs can suck, but if you do it right, you can use these days to deplete glycogen and accelerate fat loss.  I was tempted to say “No.” when I asked myself this hypothetical question but the reality is that on occasion, it is useful.

Here is what I suggest, especially for people new to this with relatively inflexible bodily systems:  on days you WOD without carbs, modify your workouts down and get in some metcon.  For men, do the women’s weight.  Women should drop the weight about 25%.  Remember that without fully replenished glycogen stores, your performance may suffer.  Be cautious and approach the situation with my Eustress Training article in mind.  Get in a good workout and don’t stress yourself out.

Here’s an example of what this could look like:

  • Sunday:  Rest.  Eat fewer carbs.
  • Monday:  WOD.  Potentially modify the workout down so that it’s more of a metcon, loading before your WOD.  Potentially avoid carbs-post workout.
  • Tuesday:  Rest.  Eat some carbs for tomorrow’s WOD (*optional, see above).
  • Wednesday:  WOD.  Potentially modify the workout down so that it’s more of a metcon, loading before your WOD, and potentially avoiding carbs post workout.
  • Thursday:  Rest.  Eat some carbs for tomorrow’s WOD (*optional, see above).
  • Friday:  WOD.  Eat carbs around your WOD’s AND eat some (*optional) carbs in the evening to set up tomorrows WOD.
  • Saturday:  WOD.  Eat less carbs since you rest tomorrow bet load before your workout.

There Are No Big Mistakes

When you are recovering from a repressed endocrine system brought on by chronic underfeeding, seeing the scale going up is frightening.  Sure, it was easy to keep the scale down when you sucked all of the water out of your body and your hormones were broken, but that way of life wasn’t getting you where you wanted to go or you wouldn’t be reading this article.  Think of your body like a lawnmower that’s been sitting in the garage all winter long:  the first few pulls of the cord are tough, and you may need a new spark plug, but it’s not broken.  The next few pulls are easier, and by the end of the summer, all is well.

That is what the “gradually awesome” approach is like; there are no big mistakes.  In short time, you’ll see that the fear of eating carbohydrates (and for a lot of people, appropriate amounts of food) to fuel your athletic performance is unjustified.  Your anxiety was based on limited experience with a new approach to eating that is quite easy to implement, and you can always control whatever minor mistakes you’ve made.  Contrary to what you may have been taught your whole life, it’s really hard to mess up a diet.  As an athlete (and yes, if you CrossFit you are an athlete) you need to take the reins and do some self-experimentation.  In the end, that’s the path to health and an optimal hormonal profile.

Works Cited

Pimstone, Bernard. “Endocrine Function in Protein-Calorie Malnutriton.” Clinical Endocrinology (1976): 83-84.


Using Body Fat Results, Extreme Fat Loss Example

Maggie Martin

Our Extreme Fat loss classes are held on Monday nights and you get that class free when you purchase the book “Metabolic Flexibility for High Intensity Athletes“.

1)  If you are new to body fat testing the first one is often disconcerting, don’t let it be, it’s a baseline you are where you are and it’s a great starting point.

2)  The most important number by far is lean body mass, this gives you some idea on how much muscle you have and as the tests progress you will be able to tell if you are doing a good job of preserving it.  If you aren’t that’s a bad thing, for fat mobilization you really want to keep muscle mass high as that is favorable for metabolism.

3)  The biggest indicator for fat loss is weight loss assuming you are eating adequate amount of carbohydrates.  When people refer to “water weight” they are talking about pulling the water out of your muscles.  So the goal is to keep your muscles hydrated “occasionally eating” less to try and get your overall body weight to move down.

4)  For people with a lot of fat to lose their fat layer serves as a layer of protection for their muscles so they can tend to get a little more aggressive with lowering carbohydrates/calories occasionally to get things moving in the right direction.

Using your Body Fat Percentage Trump Card

Ace Of Spades


This is some of the information you get when you buy Met Flex for Fat Loss.  I made this post and subsequent video as a response to Science Lab members explaining how you can use a mostly fed approach to get your best fat loss gains over time.  (Sorry the volume is so high)

1.  The value of a low carbohydrate diet is basically that it pulls water/inflammation from your cells, and if you eat at a caloric deficit related to your energy output you CAN lose fat in the process.

2.   The value of a high carbohydrate diet (at a caloric deficit) is that you maintain hydration levels within your body.  The downside is that countering excess inflammation from a high carb diet requires you to drop your calories.  In the end, people with high activity levels won’t have adequate energy.

3.  Whichever approach you take is not going to favorable as it relates to energy levels, so you are always compromising something else (in this case, performance) to reach a body fat percentage (or weight) goal.

4.  When you diet down to get an extreme result, you are basically using up your “diet” trump card.  You have two options at this point:  you can attempt to maintain your current body fat percentage by upping your level of activity (possibly ending up hurt and sick), or you lower your calories further which will be equally harmful.  Most people do some combination of the two.

5.  If you eat adequate calories for a prolonged period of time it is favorable as it relates to muscle maintenance and muscle retention.  This is the basis for what we teach at Eat To Perform.

6.  If you are coming from a low carbohydrate or low calorie way of eating you will often gain weight as your muscles re-hydrate and become more functional.  This doesn’t typically correlate with an increase in body fat, but the your jeans might fit a bit tighter.  A full muscle is a bigger muscle!

7.  Losing fat the right way requires you to throw out your misconceptions related to what you think you should weigh.   Body fat tests (BOD POD, DXA) can help but often just signal people to make bad decisions trying to aim for a goal when they should aim for performance.  A gradual approach to body recomposition through increased performance (form following function) is your best bet.

8.  Here’s a strategy that CAN work: go for a period of time (let’s use three months as an example) with a goal of maintaining or slightly increasing you weight.  A slight increase looks like 5 pounds or so.  10 pounds is probably too aggressive.  After this period, your work capacity will have increased.  Your muscles will be full, and you have now earned the right to eat less for a short period of time.  Every person is different, but after you’ve taken the time to rehydrate your muscles and get your metabolic function in order, you can start to under eat in short bursts.  For every month from that point forward you can take one week to get a little aggressive with calories and carbs to speed up the process of dropping body fat.

Lisa Cartwright in Pictures (9 Weeks Progress)

Metabolic Flexibility for Fat Loss is a document we wrote specifically for people that train CrossFit, Olympic lifting, and powerlifting.  Lisa has been a very active “Lab Rat” since joining the Science Lab and as you can see, her progress is mind-blowing.  Get Met Flex for Fat Loss.

For various reasons, I prefer data over pictures.  At this point, though, many Science Lab members have only had the opportunity to have one body fat test performed.  There are other ways to track progress, including photographs, and that’s why Lisa’s pictures are going to get a pass.

We’ll get a Q & A with her up shortly, but I know a little bit about her story from our interactions within the Science Lab group on Facebook.   She comes from a pretty low carb background.  In the process of changing her diet and putting performance first, she GAINED 6 lbs.  over a 9 week period.

For some people, this probably sounds like a good reason to freak out.  ”6 lbs!?  Why would I want to gain weight!?”  Well, the before and after shots speak for themselves:

Lisa Cartwright

Click this image to view a full-sized version.

I think it’s pretty obvious that Eating To Peform has changed a lot for Lisa  She’s made some extreme body composition improvements in a very short period of time.  Her success brings to mind an important point I’d like to make:

Although we’ve helped Lisa get moving down the right path, she deserves all of the credit here.  It’s not easy making the mental pivot required to accomplish what she’s done.

For many people coming from a carb-depleted background, extreme progress in a short period of time is possible (though admittedly Lisa’s progress is pretty nuts).  Let me also say that she has decent work capacity, which is a big component of what we teach.

This is Lisa in Her Own Words

“I think the main thing that I want people to know is that this isn’t a start/finish photo.  It’s a progress pic.  I’ve done several “lose weight fast” diets in the past (as recently as January) that appeared to be successful, but the finish photo usually represented the end.  I could never maintain, and unfortunately, I always seemed to be back to the start photo in no time.  You always hear about not dieting but developing a lifestyle. I feel like I’m finally able to do that with ETP and am excited to see further progress.

For the past 2.5 years or so I have been trying/struggling to keep my weight off.  I tried the HCG 500 calorie diet. With that, I got to where I thought I wanted to be on the scale and fit into smaller size clothes, but I still wondered why I wasn’t happy with the way my body looked.

I was smaller, but in many ways I still looked the same. I think they call that “skinny fat!”  After that, I transitioned to a low carb style of eating and maintained that on and off for a while. I swore by it when I wanted to drop some weight quick and spent the next year or so yo-yo-ing back and forth.

Enter CrossFit

I started CrossFit in October and shortly after gave the Advocare 24 day challenge and Paleo a try.  It was a fantastic program and I saw incredible results in just 3 short weeks, but i still struggled to keep it off and was back to my start weight yet again.  I recognized that my eating was at the core of my weight loss/weight gain problem, but I was at a loss for a solution.

Recently I saw that our box owners and several members had liked the CrossFitters Eat To Perform page, and I liked it as well.  It led me to Paul’s blog and I began reading every article he wrote. I loved how much it made sense to me and was based on science.

I was also intrigued at the idea of not only losing fat, but getting stronger and better at CrossFit.  Plus I have to admit, the thought of eating carbs again made me a tad giddy!!  So I was all in!

Results with Eat To Perform

I almost immediately started noticing that I seemed to have more gas in the tank for pushing myself during WODs.  Even better than that was the fact that the lbs. on my strength excercises and lifts kept getting bigger every single week.  Before, I had kinda just gone up and down and never made any big progress.

I think the fact that I have gained 6 lbs. while becoming visibly smaller says it all!  It’s been a significant component.  In fact, the way I was feeling at the gym and the strength gains I made were the only thing that kept me from ditching ETP and going back to the low carb eating.

I knew if I did that, it would help me to quickly lose some weight before summer got here, but I also knew my performance in the gym would suffer as well and I just wasn’t ready to go back to that.  I really wanted this to work.  Finally, I started seeing fat loss, and I knew it was a result of better performance in the gym.

It never crossed my mind before to eat to fuel my workouts!  I ate to lose weight….period!  Now I eat according the Metabolic Flexibility guidelines. I have increased my calories by 600 to fit with the level of my activity and started eating more carbs.  Throughout the day I eat my proteins and healthy fats, leaving the bulk of my carbs to be eaten around my workout when they are the most useful, which is typically at 5 p.m.

I drink a 4:1 carb:protein shake about an hour before my workout and drink another shake with Vitargo and protein in it immediately post workout. Later my dinner consists of a protein and a starchy carb…Usually a sweet potato, but I’m going to try to give white rice a try.  Lots of people at ETP are having luck with that.

Eating this way has completely changed my thoughts on food.  Now when my family wants to go out to eat pizza or Mexican food, I don’t feel guilty the next day.

I think “Man, I’m gonna kill my workout tomorrow”!”

“What’s Your Genetic Potenial?” for Women, by Julia Ladewski

Danielle Horan

Julia coaches the ladies class in the Science Lab.  She talks a bit about her various titles in this article.  When you buy “Metabolic Flexibility for Fat Loss” you get a subscription to the Science Lab classes and  access to a private support group.  Click here for more information.  

As performance athletes, we all have goals; some are within our grasp, and some might take us years to achieve.  It is our job to control the variables that will determine our success.  When considering what it’ll take to achieve our goals, we tend to think of either getting closer or further away from the end. What we tend to misunderstand is that there are times when we need to just stabilize.  Our initial progress may make it look like we’re on the fast track, but without stabilization, down the road it will slow us down.


Picture this:  you go into the gym and you break your overhead squat record.  After you’re done celebrating, consider why that just happened; was it the training, the extra caffeine in your pre-workout, getting all worked up as your favorite training song came on the radio, or the weight gain?  There are a few different variables here that could be coupled together to explain that broken record.

Now, on the flip side, what if you go in and get smashed with less than 90% of your record?  There are just as many variables to account for why you may have missed.

After breaking a record, it’s a great time to take a small step back and let your body adapt to that new stressor you just placed upon it.  I am not saying you need to take a week off or go on vacation, but don’t start training at that new training max right away.  Let yourself recover.

When you start your next training cycle, you will now have a greater potential for more reps/sets with same percent of the old training max.  This also allows your nervous system to adapt.  Too often, we feel like we’re on such a roll that we push too far, too quickly.  If we stabilize and let the adaptations set in, we end up better off 2, 3, even 6 months down the road.


With nutrition, we need to stabilize as well.  Rather than the typical “bulk” and “cut” cycles we see over and over, as strength athletes we need to keep the variables of our nutrition constant (at times) while we ramp up intensity or volume in our training.  We can then enjoy a gradual, natural change in our body composition without the worries of eating too much or too little.  The focus is placed on performance without a worry of being a few pounds heavier on the scale, because we are breaking records in the gym.

They Broke the Mold

We have all heard the phrase “They broke the mold when they made you.”

Well, it’s the truth.

Just because another person added 50 lbs. to their squat doing a certain workout doesn’t mean that your experience will be exactly the same.  Just because this person lost their love handles eating one meal every third day does not mean it is the best option for you.  This is where controlling the variables can help you find what works best.

We often want to throw out everything and start over when fixing the weak link could propel us to new records.  Drastic changes are not always right.  If you follow one of the popular training templates out there and things become stagnant, maybe you need to add more calories to get over the hump.

Altering that single variable could make all the difference.  If you only manipulate one variable of your nutrition/training while keeping everything else constant, (stabilize) you can dial everything in perfectly.  If you change too much at once, you’re playing a guessing game trying to determine “what did what.”

What “They” Say We Should Be

The problem with the fitness industry (well, one of the problems) is that information flies around so fast.  If I’m a person fairly new to this training thing, and I see people at my gym and at the CrossFit games just killing it, I assume I need to be just like that.

Doctors use BMI measurements (which calculate weight in relation to height) to determine body composition.  Six years ago, when I was hitting some of my biggest numbers in powerlifting, I was 138 lbs. (at 5′ 3″).  Calculate my BMI with those stats, and I was borderline “overweight…”  Yet I was strong, healthy, I had a good blood profile, and I was walking around at 17-19% body fat.  I was performing extremely well in the gym, getting pregnant, having kids, and loving life. I was happy with what my body could do.

Now, I’m 2 days out from a physique show.  I’m the same 5′ 3″ but I’m now 120 lbs. That BMI calculation puts me right in the middle of the “ideal” weight, yet at 9.4% body fat, I missed my period last month, I’m tired all the time, lethargic, and achy.  My strength is down, but thankfully most of my muscle is still there.

Is every woman at 5′ 3″ is supposed to weigh 120 lbs?  I don’t think so.  My build is different than yours, which is different from the next person, and so on and so forth.

We need to stop lumping everyone into the same bowl.  Even at the same body fat percentage of 15%, not every woman is going to look the same.

Focus on doing.  Focus on building.  Focus on being the best version of YOU that you can be.  Your body is smart; give it a chance to grow and perform.  It will adjust to homeostasis if you let it.  In doing so, you might just realize that the best version if you is yet to come.

Eat To Perform Nutrition and Performance Challenge


To be a part of this challenge you will need to be a Science Lab member (you get Met Flex for Fat Loss) and we will provide support along the way.

The CrossFit community is always up for a challenge.  Whether it’s training or nutrition, we like to push ourselves into new territory.  It’s very common to see boxes doing 30 day Paleo Challenges; this has it’s good and bad points if you ask me.

The problem is that that the focus tends to be contrary to the goals of what CrossFit is all about: to increase performance by building/maintaining muscle and having awesome workouts.  It’s very common for people to say to me “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s great but I have X amount of fat to lose so I need to restrict my calories.”

Oh really?  Do you have more than (say) 65 lbs. to lose?  Because that is the exact amount of fat I lost, and I didn’t do it with a calorie-restricted approach.  This is where they reply, “I don’t count calories, I eat Paleo.”  Just because you don’t count calories doesn’t mean you aren’t eating less of them.  That is ultimately the goal of the Paleo Diet…To eliminate the foods with “energy density” and focus on “nutrient density.”

This works well for sedentary people folks, but it isn’t a great fit for athletes.  How do I know this?  Because Dr. Cordain, author of “The Paleo Diet,” wrote a follow-up book called “The Paleo Diet for Athletes.”  Almost no one has bothered to read it.

Left to their own devices, people have found a way of eating that might be better than gorging on Ben and Jerry’s every evening, but it isn’t in-line with their performance goals.

Eat To Perform is all about taking concepts we’re familiar with and effectively applying them to various goals and scenarios.

Setting Up the Challenge

Basically, there will be three forms of body fat testing allowed for the challenge; they are outlined in this article.  Just to be clear, your “body fat” test is actually a “lean body mass” test.  The challenge is to gain muscle and set Personal Records (PR’s).  I can already hear people saying “But I have X amount of fat to lose!  Count me out!”  Returning to that way of thinking is the very reason your potential is limited (though I will concede the point late in the article so bear with me).

The simple fact is that if you focus on the other two goals (gaining muscle/setting PR’s) fat loss happens without much effort.  Certainly, there has to be some level of restraint, and we will talk a bit about that as we go.

How Long is the Challenge?

The challenge will run for 3 months (roughly 90 days) with a 21-day optional “Whole Foods” period.  This is what I mean by whole foods; basically meats, veggies, moderate starches, and some fruit (sound familiar?).  So why is this part of the challenge optional?  In short, I am tired of seeing challenges meant for 25% of the folks in the gym.  The entire gym population can participate in this challenge because the only thing stopping someone from eating entirely Paleo is supplements.  From where I stand, supplements can play a very valuable role in the health equation.

This is especially true for people that are lean, as well as people that are kind of “on the fence” as far as body composition goes.  For these people, “eating clean” 100% of the time can lead to fat retention because their body doesn’t undergo adequate protein synthesis. (These people can end up losing muscle mass.)

What Happens After the 21 Days?

Most people have heard of the 80/20 rule where you eat 80% whole foods give yourself 20% of “wiggle room” for stuff slightly outside of the box.  I think one of the biggest mistakes that we can make as health advocates is to demonize foods as “good” or “bad.”  The simple fact is that if you do it mostly right with occasional moments of “eating for joy,” that is probably a better approach.

Studies seem to indicate that people who allow for some wiggle in their diet tend to be able to adhere for life.  It’s the die-hard, 100% folks that struggle.  If you don’t understand why that is, let me give you an example.

Oftentimes people want to look at 80/20 on a day-to-day basis; they have some “junk food” every day but eat mostly whole foods.  I prefer to reserve a few days of eating for joy each month where I have pizza and ice cream on Friday nights with my family.  Monday-Thursday are pretty close to 100% clean.  The resultant outcomes of these deviations from eating clean tend to be personal records and happiness.

It’s simple math:  the more energy you have inside you, the more energy your body can release.  To that end, I make a strong argument for NOT following cheat days with days of extreme restriction.  It’s unnecessary.  It can make your cells more inflexible, and it causes more stress that you have to recover from.


Speaking of recovery, I desperately want to make this part of the deal…But I won’t go there right now.  Just know this:  rest is favorable for many reasons, not the least of which is that it makes you feel like a caged animal chomping at the bit.  It makes you hungry to train and allows you to focus on your goals, so don’t forget to take some time to relax.

A Concession to the Fat Loss Folks

I told you this was coming:  If you stick with me and try my approach, I think you are going to be surprised how much fat you actually lose, but let’s say that by the end of this you still have some fat to shed.

In that instance, I’ll offer a three week challenge specifically for fat loss but you have to first try it my way to ensure we have the best chance of meeting your goals.

So I Have Some Good and Some Bad News

This is going to take some time to organize, so the goal is to begin August 1st.  that doesn’t mean that you should delay becoming a Science Lab member until then.  For a lot of people, what we teach is a new approach to eating and “Metabolic Flexibility for High Intensity Athletes” isn’t something that your body figures out over night.  I think there is a lot of value in joining, becoming a member of our club, and starting down the bath to becoming better right now.

The ultimate goal of this challenge is to get box owners involved on a lot of levels, but if your gym isn’t interested, that’s fine.  We are going to provide training resources, food ideas, and virtually anything that will make the challenge more fun.  We will have prizes, but certainly nothing anyone would have enough incentive to misrepresent results to obtain.

I look forward to seeing you in the Science Lab.  Thanks for reading!

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes