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Is Coffee Bad?

 

This was the first question I received from a little nutrition presentation I did.  The audience turned to the questioner then to me as they were clearly thinking the same thing…. “Do I have to give up my sweet, precious, liquid gold?!”

The answer was “no, it’s not, but maybe yes, it depends…” This is the standard response for many health and fitness questions because everything depends on the person, goals and context – (be skeptical of those who say otherwise).

Yes! You’re an individual! And your processing of coffee is going to be different to that guy you know who makes a brew before he goes to bed. You might be like 50% of the population and have a variant of the CYP1A2 gene which makes you a ‘slow metaboliser’ of caffeine, putting you more at risk of hypertension, heart disease and impaired fasting glucose through excess coffee consumption. You might be taking oral contraceptives – this will double the clearance rate for caffeine, so you’re probably good with half a shot of espresso if you’re on the pill.

But coffee, let’s talk about the good:

  • It increases resting energy expenditure
  • It increases mental energy.
  • It enhances cognitive function
  • It increases neuromuscular function and coordination.
  • It has many antioxidant properties.
  • It Increases short term memory.

But we know this, right, the media loves headlines that boast the benefits of coffee, and there has been a lot of research documenting these pros. We must also remember that caffeine is a drug, and like all drugs it does have its drawbacks.

 

Enter Adenosine:

adenosine

So when we finish that yin yoga class, adenosine is produced and we feel like a space cadet. Take that same yin yoga class, but add an espresso half an hour before and we won’t have the same spaced out feeling. Why? because caffeine blocks adenosine production, up-regulating our own neurotransmitters such as dopamine and glutamate, and blocking our capacity to slllooww doowwnnn. So caffeine is not actually making us wired, it’s putting a brick on the brake pedal, allowing us to keep charging.

BUT I LIKE BEING UP AND ABOUT, HARD CHARGING, ALWAYS ON THE GO, DOING EVERYTHING AT ONCE…

 

Enter Context:

To work out the effects of coffee, we must factor in our external environment. Most of us live in a sympathetic/stress dominant society. High intensity exercise, smartphones, 12 hour workdays and the ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ mantra means that we’re often wired from dawn to dusk – no this is not good. Add caffeine to this sympathetic state and we can easily become over – stimulated where anxiety and jitteriness can override the cognitive benefits to the brew.

I can attest to this in my own life. Get me on a holiday and 2 coffees a day will really hit the spot but if I have the same amount when I’m in the city, running a business, studying and training heavily and that same amount might send me over the edge. Realising this has led me to avoiding caffeine in stressful times like exams or long work days, but enjoying it when I feel myself more balanced.

 

In a more practical sense, let’s look at when coffee can or cannot help you:

At Work

Studies show that coffee is good for ‘getting shit done.’ Not necessarily for creativity but for completing learned tasks that don’t require creativity or intuition. For unskilled, learned behaviour, e.g. data entry, you can get a lot more done, and probably have more fun.

Verdict: Use.

brain-healthy-food

The story is different when we need to apply abstract thinking and creativity. Studies indicate that caffeine will improve speed, but not necessarily skill. Though creativity is hard to measure in a lab setting, there’s some good evidence to suggest that moments of insight happen with the wandering mind. In my experience, moments of creativity occur when we’re in a float tank, after a yoga class, in meditation, and not when you’re forcing it. For me, jacking myself up with caffeine to inject some creativity often results in reverting to admin because we LOVE GETTING SHIT DONE.

Verdict: Avoid.

 

For Sport:

For power sports like powerlifting and weightlifting, caffeine can play a role but I’d limit it to competition days and times when you really need a pickup. If you require it to get you psyched for every training session then you should take a day off and go for a walk in the sun.

Verdict: Avoid as a ‘pick me up,’ use in competition days.

In high intensity sports like MMA and CrossFit, caffeine can be effective, but again, if you’re using it to get you psyched about a workout then it’s time to pause and reflect. I’ve been around CrossFit for awhile and I’ve seen many people rely on stimulants to get them through workouts, neglecting the messages their body is sending them and leaving them susceptible to injury and burnout. Further, they block the parasympathetic nervous system activation that’s essential for recovery, and they end up moving through workouts without any purpose or intent – kind of like a wounded warrior in a battle scene who’s throwing their sword around courageously but failing to connect.

Verdict: Use on competition days and avoid reliance on it.

In endurance sports like rugby, AFL, or triathlon I don’t think caffeine has a place in training or on game day. The effects of caffeine are too short lived to be beneficial for the whole game. In these sports we need to think about longevity, recovery, and getting up and going week after week. Caffeine could only be used for the last 20 minute push in a grand final, but we want to be relying on adrenaline and muscular endurance 99% of the time.

Verdict: Avoid except for the last 20 minutes in a Grand Final.

In Social Occasions

Coffee holds a special place in our culture, and for many it’s a beautiful tool for getting people together, and this is the more important than any of the above. I’m coming to believe that the healthiest thing that you can do is have a good community and quality relationships, so I won’t let any of the above get in the way of enjoying coffee for social reasons.

Verdict: Use

 

Summary

If you enjoy coffee and it’s helping you in some form or another, then go for it. If you’re operating from one espresso to the next then maybe it’s time for a few days off, or a yoga class. For athletes, I’d seriously look at the effect that coffee is having on adrenal function and performance, and use it sparingly. Again, the case of coffee comes down to bio-individuality; who you are, what your goals are etc.  One thing that we can all agree on though, is that you should always, at all costs, avoid decaf.

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Steve is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. While based in London, he works with clients around the world to restore health using fitness, nutrition and lifestyle protocols.

References:

Baird B, Smallwood J, Mrazek M, Kam J, Franklin M, Schooler, J. (2012). “Inspired by distraction: mind wandering facilitates creative incubation.” Psychological Science. 23(10).

Cornelis, El – Sohemy, Kabagambe & Campos. (2006) “Coffee, CYP1A2 genotype, and risk of myocardial infarction.” JAMA, 2006. 295(10).

Glade, Michael J. “Caffeine—Not Just a Stimulant.” Nutrition 26.10 (2010): 932-38.

Lifehacker: “What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain.” http://lifehacker.com/5585217/what-caffeine-actually-does-to-your-brain

Mackenzie, Todd, Richard Comi, Patrick Sluss, Ronit Keisari, Simone Manwar, Janice Kim, Robin Larson, and John A. Baron. “Metabolic and Hormonal Effects of Caffeine: Randomized, Double-blind, Placebo-controlled Crossover Trial.” Metabolism 56.12 (2007): 1694-698.

Martinez, Campbell Franek, Buchanan, Colquhoun. “The effect of acute pre – workout supplementation on power and strength performance.” Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. (2016): 13:29.

I’m too old for tumbling and gymnastics

To be a competitive gymnast, 2 years old is too late to start.

Actually, you probably need to be born into a gymnastics family and weened at the side of a tumble pit to be world class.

That obvious, but sucks for us normal people who fancy having a  back tuck, a handstand or a back handspring.

Why should being 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60, be a reason not to get loads of fun from a tumbling session.

Ok, let’s be honest! If you start late, you probably are not going to the Olympics. But stuff the Olympics, wouldn’t it be so cool to do a standing back tuck, a  handspring or a handstand.

Well, we have been teaching adults how to back tuck, handstand, bridge and do lots of cool stuff since 2008. We have invested in the specific equipment to make it safe, and we have the drills and skills to help you achieve these skills.

But you cannot just rock up to our level 2 tumbling classes and expect to throw a back tuck: you need to forward and back roll, handstand and learn how to jump. Really, so much of gymnastics and tumbling is about jumping.

That’s what we teach in our level 1 tumbling class, and starting next Sunday we have scheduled an extra level 1 class at 1 pm at railway Arch 3  Gales Gardens E2 0EJ, for the whole of June.

The aim of our level 1 classes is to get you basic skills and get you to our level 2 classes ASAP. Some will do 1 lesson, others 4 or 5. The teacher will guide you.

Stop dreaming, start living: book now

Click here

Paleo and CrossFit… Can They Coexist?

CrossFit and paleo, two concepts that have grown side by side for the past fifteen years. Two market driven movements that promote health, minimalism, community, and two movements that are as controversial as they effective.

Having high stakes in both of these (I coach crossfit and use a paleo template in my nutrition coaching), I have seen first hand just how effective, and also how damaging these approaches can be.

First, we should look at both movements in their rawest form.

CrossFit: A method of exercise that practices functional movement at high intensity.

Paleo: A way of eating that promotes eating fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, nuts and seeds. In other words, eating as minimally processed foods as possible.

paleo-foods

USUALLY, a standard paleo diet will be slimmer on the carbs and larger on the protein. Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t consciously smash your sweet potato and go “high carb paleo,” but most of us who go paleo will be leaning to the lower side of carb consumption (<150g per day) – that’s about 3 sweet potatoes.

Now, questions of doing paleo and crossfit; “is it optimal? Will it help me lose weight? Will it help me gain muscle? Will it save my life?” The answers to these are like so many in nutrition… “it depends.”

So it’s hard to give a definitive answer as to whether it’s right for you, but in an effort to reach a conclusion, I’ll give you three real life examples of people I’ve come across and you can make up your mind where you sit from there.

  1. “The Athlete.”

 

pexels-photo-348487 (2)

This girl is training 2 hours per day, 5+ times per week. She lifts heavy, goes fast, and is completely dedicated to making the sport. Her goals are to to put on muscle to lift heavy, but not too much that it interrupts her conditioning.

 

2. ‘The Superdad.’

What-Gift-Buy-Fit-Dad

He’s recently taken up crossfit and trains 3 times per week. He has a busy schedule with two kids and a full time job, but fitness still holds an important part in his life. His goals are to lose weight and stay strong to keep up with his kids.

 

3. ‘The Office Jockey.’

keith from the office

This guy has recently taken up crossfit as the doctor suggested it. He’s overweight, has insulin resistance, and has high blood pressure. This guy is also extremely sedentary, and hasn’t had regular movement or sunlight since school. He’s started training 2 times per week and goals are to lose weight, feel more energy and build some muscle mass.

 

Now, the verdicts.

1. Should the “Athlete” eat paleo?

No! Why? Let’s look at her schedule… She’s training around 2 hours a day and spends the rest of the time recovering and thinking about training… Glamorous?! She’s using her anaerobic system consistently, and this system runs on glucose (carbs), not fat or ketones. Fran doesn’t run well on fat.

Carbs such as potato, sweet potato, beets, pumpkin, as well as non – paleo foods in rice, quinoa, oats (gasp) and other whole grains should be a staple for these guys, whereas our first two friends should be more diligent with them. Protein should obviously be a priority as maintaining muscle mass is important, and fat should be adequate.

Nutrient timing is also important. Post workout carbs will help funnelling nutrients to the muscles so adding some dextrose to her Barefoot Health protein shake would be helpful.

But won’t all those carbs store as bodyfat? Carbs, insulin, fat storage right?! Not quite. When we’re doing this type of anaerobic training, we mostly store these carbs as glycogen, not body fat. A whole different set of rules applies to our “Superdad” or “Office Jockey”, so don’t do a Michael Phelps and eat 12 wheat bix for breakfast just yet.

 

2. Should the “Superdad” eat paleo?

Yes! Greg Glassman’s initial mantra of “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar” is a perfect fit for this guy. In addition to this, a little tinkering with carb timing and quantity is required here to make sure he’s keeping the belly fat off.  He should ensure he’s getting carbs post workout, and enough to support his activity – around 150g per day seems to be a good area to stick to. His plan also has some wiggle room… Since he’s pretty active, sleeps well, and has good community, sticking to a plan of 80/20 paleo/non paleo will work well and be sustainable and give enough room for a glass of wine over his grass – fed steak.

 

3. Should the ‘Office Jockey’ eat paleo?

Yes! Absolutely. It might just save his life. Most carbohydrates will not be friends with this man, and his diet should be centred around healthy fats, protein and veggies.  Why? Well he’s one of 2 million Australians with pre diabetes, and a continuation of his current lifestyle will land him will land him in a very dangerous state. Having extremely low glucose tolerance means eating things like cereals and wholegrain bread is lethal, as it’s jacking up our blood sugar, and we don’t have the necessary insulin function to maintain homeostasis. (cereal and wholegrain bread are both recommended from our chief authority on diabetes – shocked face).

Now, should this fella get into the gym, and I hope he would, he might want to add some post workout carbs in the form of sweet potato or pumpkin, but I’d recommend going between 50-100g of carbs in the short term to restore some baseline of health.

 

Wrapping Up

So the point here is to accept that we’re all the same but different animals with different nutrition requirements for optimal health. At a baseline we can all agree that a diet with heaps of veggies, enough protein and healthy fats is good for all. But digging deeper, we need to consider our genetics, activity level, activity type, hormonal profile and GI status when deciding what the optimal diet is.

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Coach Steve

Why you need to get an assessment?

Why you need to get an assessment?

 

As you guys and girls may or may not know I’ll be running assessments for the people who want them. But this raises a very pertinent question:

Why should you want an assessment?

Which is perfectly valid. You should really question everything and know why you’re doing stuff. What will the assessment tell you that is worth knowing? The easy answer is it tells you your strengths and weaknesses. At least relative to yourself if not in absolute terms.

Alas, easy answers are, as per usual, not good enough.

Knowing your why your goal is your goal and Key Performance Indicators

 

To get to understanding the reason to get an assessment we need to start with or figure out your “why” (not really related to Simon Sinek but also if you haven’t read “Start with why” you really should).

Why are you at CFLDN? What are you trying to get from your membership?

This can be anything, it’s your prerogative. Anything from just wanting to enjoy the community to competing at the games is a legit goal but have wildly different applications in terms of assessment. If you already know why you’re here congratulations for being ahead of the curve. If not, take a couple of days to have a proper think about it.

A goal comes with Key Performance Indicators (KPI), those things that are crucial to achieving the desired outcome. Then we have Secondary Performance Indicators (2KPI), those things central to the KPI’s. Tertiary Performance Indicators (3KPI), at which point you understand the concept.

This is where we come to the need, or not, of an assessment once you have unearthed what your goal is. Is your goal at all performance related? I’d define pretty much anything that includes the term “improve” as performance:

  • Improving body composition (losing fat and retaining/building muscle)
  • Improving Fran times
  • Improving strength
  • Improving mobility
  • etc. it’s not an exhaustive list.

If your goals are ANYTHING like this then you need to get an assessment to find out where you are. When you know where you are you then can see what KPI, 2KPI, and 3 KPI’s  you’re weak in and therefore where your training and programming needs to be focussed.

What the assessment involves:

This is what the assessment process will test so you can see that once that’s done we have a VERY complete picture of where you are.

 

Energy Systems: The ways in which the body produces the energy to work.

Aerobic System: The recovery system for higher output work. Also used for lower output and longer duration work. Primarily fat and oxygen as fuel source.

Glycolytic System: The short-term energy that’s used to fuel near maximal intensity work for upto 3 minutes-ish. Sugar is it’s primary fuel source but it’s also worth noting when Hydrogren + ions are produced as a by-product it inhibits muscle activity. So too much time in this energy system range and without a sufficient aerobic capacity to clear the H+ results in a very quick and significant decrease in performance

Phosphor-Creatine System: The MAX energy system. When your body needs to produce the highest output possible it needs the the potential energy that comes from the PCr uncoupling to provide immediate fuel. The reformation of PCr needs energy produced by the aerobic system. This means that if you want to consistently produce maximal effort outputs you need both a highly developed PCr system AND and highly developed Aerobic System

 

Strength:

Strength Endurance: A muscle or group of muscles ability to repeatedly produce non-maximal force

Maximal Strength: A muscle or group of muscles ability to produce the most force

Power: The ability to produce high force rapidly

 

Movement:

Low Threshold Non-Fatigued: Unloaded, slow, low skill movements without fatigue

Low Threshold Fatigued: The same movements under a state of fatigue

High Threshold: Movement which is fast, heavy, complex or a combination of any 2 or all.

 

(potentially) Mobility/Stability/Flexibility:

Joint-by-Joint

Muscles

Static Posture

 

Tying it all together


This is the important part. Once the assessment is done we can create a visual representation of where your strengths and weakness areCompare that to your KPI stream and then build an individual program for you that’ll address the KPI’s and build where needs it. Which brings us back round to the programming 101 and how to write programming by adaptation.

If you want to come book in for your assessment all you need to do is email me ( alex@crossfitlondonuk.com )

 

Programming 201

Programming 201

 

In the previous instalment we went over how to create the starting point to build your own gym program. Today we’re going to look at how you can use the data you collect to inform decisions about how to adjust the program going forward.

If you can take 10 minutes go back and read through the Programming 101 article to understand this in context. If you’ve already read it, well done, I’ll quickly remind you what the key points are so your memory is refreshed

  • Get assessed – hire someone or do it yourself. Figure out where and what your problems are
  • Know what adaption it is that you want to make – Have A, that is 1, clear goal.
  • Volume and Intensity – Make sure the total number of repetitions you do fall in the right zones (to start with) and the weight on the bar is in the right area to achieve the adaption you want.
  • Pick exercises that appropriately fulfil your desired adaptation goals, sets, reps and intensity. – simply put, pick exercises which fit the above criteria.
  • Keep going until it stops working.

Because you guys are manifold there is no way I can guess what your program looks like so instead I’m going to talk about the next step in terms of principles.

Let’s make a few assumptions:

  • You followed the structure I laid out for creating a program
  • You kept track of the data in a spreadsheet
  • You kept going until you stopped seeing your numbers increasing at the same Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

Which puts you at the point where you’ve kind of stalled. You’re not seeing an increase in the weights you’re using whilst maintaining the same RPE. We’ll work from this point.

 

Step 1: Take a transition block.

You’ve probably heard about this importance of “deload” weeks. That is regularly planned blocks of time where you back off from higher intensity work in an effort to manage fatigue. If you’re fatigued, you aren’t recovered, and you won’t recover as well workout to workout.

A transition block is a similar method of managing fatigue but instead of being at an arbitrary time, an arbitrary length, and an arbitrary decrease in volume/intensity you’ll look at refining it just as much as you do the developmental blocks.

Let’s take a step back and address how we control the block lengths.

In Programming 101 Step 5 was to stick with it until you stopped progressing. In other words, keep going until you find out how many weeks it takes you to stop seeing results from a certain training stimulus.

For example if we use an arbitrary 6 week developmental block where you train using the same stimulus (program) for 6 weeks it will work for some people. But what happens if you stop seeing improvements after 3 weeks, you adapt really quickly? The last 3 weeks are wasted time where you could have transitioned and almost completed another development block. What about if you would of kept seeing progress if you’d stuck to the program for 9 weeks? If you stopped after 6 weeks you’re missing out upon 3 weeks of potential gains.

Neither scenario is great.

That’s why I’m asking you to track the data and have an actual time frame which is personal to you. For the sake of argument lets just say we hit it on the head with the 6 weeks.

You have a 6 week window to peak adaptation. So you can work about 6 weeks before you plateau

We then take approximately 30% of the your window to peak adaption time as a transition block, 2 weeks in this case. If you took 9 weeks you would have a 3-week transition block etc. etc.

In terms of what happens on the transition block, the goal isn’t just to reduce fatigue. The key is to re-sensitise to the desired training stimulus. If you’re been working hard to create a strong signal to your body to grow muscle, then the stop in adaption means you are desensitised to that stimulus.

Whilst then we can manage fatigue through dropping the volume and intensity there is a call to change the stimulus as well. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, just something that allows the body to recover a little. For example, if you’ve been working purely on strength in the transition window you might look a little more at explosive power work or being more athletic overall, if you were looking purely at increasing size then your transition might be some kind of strength work?

Transition Protocol:

Length: 30% of window to peak adaptation length

For Strength goals reduce the average training intensity by 30%, the volume by 10%, and change training stimulus to a non-competitive yet different adaptation (power, hypertrophy, speed)

For Size goals reduce the average training intensity by 10%, the volume by 30%, and change training stimulus to a non-competitive yet different adaptation (power, strength, capacity).

Once you’ve completed the allotted time for the transition block you can go back into a development cycle (or peaking block).

NB – just because you’re changing the training stimulus slightly doesn’t mean that you can ignore the sports skill. If you’re a powerlifter or a weightlifter, then you still need the competition lifts (or close variation) in the transition block but you’ll just have them in a slightly different place.

 

Step 2: Making a new Development Block with changes

This means going through steps 1 through 5 again of Programming 101. The changes come however by making small changes based upon your training data. To understand what changes you should make comes down to understanding your weaknesses and where you’re failing.

In turn this comes down to the assessment step.

In “Programming 101” I mentioned how we take videos and observe lifts to find out where they fall apart and from this infer where what areas and exercises might be best. You should be running this exact procedure again.

Variables you might want to look at altering might include

  • Intensity ranges
  • Volume
    • Daily
    • Weekly
  • Exercise Selection (including variation)
  • Lift phase emphasis (eccentric focus, isometric focus, concentric focus)
  • Unilateral vs Bilateral

Etc. To get the most out of this you’ll need to spend a lot of time on it and on your spreadsheet (which is why you should really have a coach). With this type of data collection and analysis we must take something of a Bayesian approach. Bayesian inference, in a very basic way, says the more data we collect the higher the probability a correct inference can be made. Or, the more data we collect the clearer the picture becomes.

The classic example is firing photons at a “target” through slotted paper. At first the results appear random. They show up on the target in no clear pattern. But as more and more photons are “fired” the outline of the slots appears progressively more defined. Basically you’re more data increases your resolution.

In real words what’s this means is the more data we collect, the more development cycle you run, the better picture you can build up of what works.

Take a look this snapshot of training data:

This is a macro view of a few squat variations (we didn’t start running good mornings until later in the year) and their relationship with the competition lift.  As you can see this is a VERY small sample size but we can probably that in this situation pause squats help and eccentric squats help. Potentially blocks of paused squats FOLLOWED BY eccentric squats help more.

Now lets say we have 20 or 30 cycles of training data we’d have a very clear picture of what works and what doesn’t. Knowing this you can then program being able to make strong inferences to what will work. This being said the human body is an open system so just because you do “A”  and it works really well in January doing it again in November doesn’t ensure the same.

Considerations

This way of programming takes time and for the first few blocks isn’t any clearer than traditional programming. The key is consistency to one goal over time, collecting the data and making sure you then look at it to see what’s working.  If you see that every time you add in heavy deadlifts your deadlifts goes down then you know that may be high intensity deadlifts aren’t the key for building your deadlift no matter what people say. Likewise, if every time you add in a paused bench press you hit new maximal numbers then maybe you every time you plan to hit a new record the block before should include paused bench press?

If you really want to make the most of the effort you put into the gym you should make the effort to stick with the programming and learn what works for you. We live in an age now where no one has the time to do this which leaves you two options

  1. Make the time
  2. Pay someone to do it for you

If you have the expertise and time then it’s very much worth learning for yourself. If you don’t you should hire a coach whom understands the training process but remember when you hire a coach they’re the expert, but you are the boss. If it’s not what you want or how you want there is always another coach out there.