(A good read courtesy CF Hillsboro)

How many of you are stronger than you were a year ago as a result of CrossFit? Six months ago? One month ago? Our methodology of strength training at CFH is designed to elicit constant strength gains, so long as the athlete intakes enough calories to build muscle mass. Although CrossFit is not scientifically based, you don’t need me to tell you about the gains each of you has made during your time with us. One of the questions we’re often asked is , “How many calories should I be eating if I want to gain mass and get strong?” Well, go to Barnes and Noble and you’ll find an entire section on these two topics. So, if you have the time, then please, you can read and research until you go blind and develop carpel tunnel. I’m going to try to shed some light on both topics however to save you a little time.

I’ve written about this topic in the past, but it always good for me to refresh my writing juices.

When you first joined CrossFit, I bet you were amazed at how much stronger your grew within the first month. You may have even been frustrated on how much strength you lacked, considering the amount of time you were spending in your Globe-O-Gym. Simply put, you didn’t gain a huge amount of muscle mass during your first month with us. What happened was you allowed us to help you turn your breakers back on. See, your body works similarly to the electrical panel in your house. Your house can function if some of those breakers are turned off. Sure, parts of the house may be dark and or cold, but for the most part it can support the needs of your family. Catch my drift? Because of human efficiency, the body can shut down the sections it doesn’t use in order to preserve energy and maintain life. When it “adapts” to the implied demands of a sedentary daily life, some of the lights go bye-bye. When you come into the studio, we just do our best to turn those lights back on, baby.

See, the strength you initially gained was in large part due to neuromuscular reactivation. You kept turning those switches back on each day, and those switches fire up the ol’ beach muscles that were kicking back watching old episodes of I Love Lucy. This is a neuromuscular response and the reason you initially became stronger, not because you gained 5 pounds of muscle your first month.

But now what? You’re in the studio, you’re still losing fat, but you’re not making killer gains in your CFT’s like you once did. You’re training 4-6 days per week and yet your squat isn’t where you want it to be. Well, as you know, some of us in the studio are on a strength/hypertrophy phase. Our goal is to put on lean mass without adding additional body fat. Let’s assume that these people (and you) are post-neuromuscular reactivation phase. In theory, to gain 1 pound (.45kg) of body weight per week, you’d need to consume an additional 500 calories (at minimum) per day above your typical intake. Some people are hard gainers and require more calories than other people do to add weight. For example, in one landmark research study (Sims 1976), 200 prisoners with no family history of obesity volunteered to be gluttons. The goal was to gain 20-25% above their normal weight (about 30-40 pounds) by deliberately overeating. For more than half a year, the prisoners ate a ton, and exercised minimally. Yet only 20 of the 200 prisoners managed to gain the weight. Of those, only 2 (who had an undetected family history of obesity or diabetes) gained the weight easily. One prisoner tried for 30 weeks to add 12 pounds to his 132-pound frame, but he couldn’t get any heavier. Thus, it’s may actually be very, very difficult for you to eat enough high-quality calories to put on lean muscle mass.

Because your muscles become saturated with glycogen when fed 3-5 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight, and your body uses less than 1 gram of protein per pound under growth conditions, your primary dietary goal is to satisfy these requirements for carbs and proteins. Then you can choose the balance of the calories from a variety of healthful fats.

  1. Establish total Calorie intake =

          47 Calories x kg of body weight = _________________

          (pounds/2.2=1 kg)

      2.  Establish protein intake at 1.7g/kg/day =____________________

     3.   Establish carbohydrate cycle of 5-9 g/kg/day=____________________

          9g x kg of body weight =________________HIGH INTENSITY DAY

          5g x kg of body weight =________________LOW INTENSITY DAY

     4.  Allow fat to fill in the remaining calories

  • Fat is an essential nutrient contained in every cell of the body
  • Fat intake can be from 15-35% of the calories of the diet.
  • To get optimal levels of fat intake, carbs must be decreased and to get                            optimal levels of carbs, fat must decrease (protein is usually kept constant ~1.7g/kg/day of protein).
  1. REMEMBER to work with dietitians when starting a new meal plan! They know a lot more than I do.

     6.  How do you add CARDIO to a periodized diet?

  • Add Calories – at least 300-500 Calories a day when on a moderate cardio program

           (150 minutes/week).

  • Since we expend the extra energy, extra energy needs to be restored. This is the main reason why people find it extremely difficult to do cardio and build muscle at the same time (extra calories must be added to an already very high calorie diet).

 “How am I supposed to eat this many calories while on Paleo?”

Another great question. I know, I know. Paleo isn’t exactly a high calorie diet if you’re not eating avocados and coconut oil with every meal. I’ll be the first to tell you that getting stronger on Paleo is a challenge, in large part due to the restriction of dairy, grains, and sugar. The SIMPLE way of looking at it is to focus on eating only calorie dense foods frequently, if you’re choosing to follow Paleo while in the strength mesocycle. I will tell you that I avoid grains & gluten as frequently as possible, except whenever I’m near Voodoo Doughnuts or Cupcake Jones. I will occasionally have dairy, but as my blood is type O, I have a slightly easier time digesting those than type As and Bs. I should point out that some cheeses also destroy my stomach, so I recommend aggressive experimentation.

On a bioenergetic note, just because you are on a strength cycle does not mean that you will lose 100% of your VO2max/cardio ability. You are actually in your aerobic/oxidative training zone when recovering from each of your individual training sets. Notice how high your heart rate is after a set of push presses or squats. The better cardiovascular conditioning you are in, the quicker you will recover from your training sets. It all goes hand in hand!