A Gut Feeling

June 9, 2015

Draped Seated Woman, Henry Moore, 1957-58

“What is my perfect weight?” is a question which has vexed me ever since I started to train for competition. If you ask the weightlifters, they will tell you to train heavy, since more mass can push and pull more volume. If you ask the gymnasts, they’ll claim featherweight makes it easier to move through space. And the endurance people say, forget weight: body-fat percentage—fuel on board and the capacity to tap into it—matters most. So the answer, like everything else, falls to the individual athlete to decide.

My instincts tell me that I should lose 5 to 8 pounds before the Games. I don’t think it is an amount so great that my barbell PRs will suffer, it will make pull ups and track work significantly easier, and if I can do it by losing fat, not muscle, my endurance should be improved as well. But the only way I know how to lose weight is to drastically cut calories. In my case, that would be from 1800 per day — a number calculated by a test of my resting metabolic rate taken several months ago — to, say, 1200. Considering the intensity and duration of my daily workouts as I train for the CrossFit Games, this diet plan would almost certainly have me passed out on the floor at about 3:00 every afternoon.

I asked my coaches for referrals to nutritionists who might counsel me on optimal diet for performance and weight loss, and it was Sean Waxman who introduced me to his former classmate in grad school, Chris Talley, and his company, Precision Food Works. Chris has been working with elite athletes for years, using his experience as an aerospace physiologist (studying how to keep astronauts from losing muscle mass and bone density while in zero gravity) to come up with a unique nutritional approach to increase those same measurements for those of us who remain earthbound.

Chris’s work begins with an analysis of blood and urine samples, said to be the most comprehensive such evaluation out there. Mine looked at possible food allergies, cardiovascular health indicators, amino acids profiles, nutrients and vitamins, fatty acid profiles, and more, all of which affect rate of fatigue, mental and emotional states, metabolic syndromes, digestion, and toxicity. My report took almost four weeks to prepare .After carefully reviewing its 18 pages with Chris, the short answer is that it’s not that what I’m putting in is wrong; it’s that my body hasn’t been able to process it properly. My gut flora is out of whack.

That the microbiome—the countless tiny organisms that call our bodies home—plays an important part in human health has been a big story in the past few years, but I’d somehow missed the memo. Chris suggested a broad spectrum probiotic (with more than 35 live strains) to reinvigorate the beneficial flora in my intestines.

Another suggestion he made: stop wearing lip gloss. I apply the stuff at least fifteen times a day, and am constantly biting my lips in concentration while training, effectively eating it. My blood tests detected toxic metals in my system, and Chris hypothesized it might be from the cosmetics. If you look closely at the clear gloss, you can see tiny sparkles of chromium. Even these tiny amounts accumulate over time.  To clean it up, he asked me to toss some cilantro into my evening meal for about three weeks.

He strongly advised against changing my diet in any substantial way, being just 40 days away from game day, but predicted that these tweaks will have me running so much more efficiently that I will likely lose weight anyway.

Walking Man I, Alberto Giacometti, 1960

Walking Man I, Alberto Giacometti, 1960

Our bodies are machines, and I’m trying to fine-tune mine to the highest pitch I can before the Games. Luckily, these are easy fixes: an oil change, instead of an engine replacement.

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  • Reply v. Cathleen Cox June 9, 2015 at 5:48 pm

    Cilantro to get ride of heavy metals?! Who knew! I love this herb and will definitely up my intake. I found this helpful especially because I have often gotten supplement advise on such points from folks (chiropractors, acupuncturists, high colonic practitioners) who also sell the products they recommend, and I feel wary. Usually the supplements are both high priced and intended to be ongoing, basically forever. So I really value the food based approach. Thanks!!

    • Reply Sandy Hill June 9, 2015 at 6:20 pm

      You should be wary of taking the buckshot approach when it comes to supplements. What’s good for me might be unnecessary for someone else — best case — and worst is that it might upset your own balance. Adding more questions to the case for supplements is this article from the New York Times that says many nutritional supplements are fraudulent and contaminated with unlisted ingredients. But cilantro is an easy and delicious option which can’t hurt and may help reduce metal toxicity. I will post results from the follow up labs I will take after competing in the Games. Thanks, always, for your thoughtful comments. And stay tuned…

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