"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo



Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Island Time: Return to Puerto Rico, Part I

My patient was just sent home. 

I spray his empty run down with the hose, sweeping the hose from side to side with precision, starting at the front of the cage and proceeding towards the back, methodically sweeping the disinfectant suds and previous patient's hair towards the drain at the back of the run. 

My mind wanders and I am transported back to another place and time. I am outside, surrounded by vivid green, and it is so humid that sweat is trickling in thick rivulets down my back even when I am motionless. I am standing in Lucero's empty, stripped stall in my grandfather's yard. Lucero is secured to a nearby tree with a safety knot, within my line of sight so he can practice standing quietly tied as I finish cleaning his stall. 

This is my favorite part: the part where I hose down the stripped stall. The concrete floor is scrubbed clean and now it's time to remove the soap suds. I start at the front of the stall with hose nozzle at the highest pressure setting, spraying from left to right and right to left, creating a tidy wave in front of the powerful stream of water that pushes the suds away. 

Baldear. The art of using a hose. You may laugh, like I did at the time it was explained to me: because literally anything can be an art. ;) But my grandfather had quickly reined in my humor: he was serious. The term actually comes from Spain, like my family does, and it was, for example, the method that was once used to clean the streets of Madrid. My grandfather taught this skill to me, a pretty useful one that had been instilled in him by his dad when my great-grandfathers still owned their dairy farms and plantations: from an early age even plantation owners had to learn to do the grunt work of maintaining their property.

I thought of that, of the generation of men before me that had known how to do this, of the huge expanses of vivid green that was ours before I was born, and smiled as I finished pushing the last bit of suds out the back of Lucero's stall. The stall that sat smack in the middle of the last two remaining acres of all that land that used to belong to the Torrech family. 

I smile again now in the present, remembering as I push the last bit of suds in the run towards the drain. I then coil the hose so I can put it away on its hook on the wall, and turn around to reluctantly return to 2018 and the veterinary ICU where I now work. 

The back of my mind though, continues to tell me pictorial stories of volcanic mountains on every horizon, of pounding surf, of coqui tree frogs chirping in the dripping humid heat of dusk as I move throughout my day.

It’s been too long.
                                                       




—————

I bought the plane tickets two months ago.

I wrote this post, hit “Publish” turned around in my seat and told Carlos, “I need to go see the island.”

A huge grin spread from ear to ear across his face. “Let’s!” 

Carlos is Puerto Rican too. He knows the island even better than I do from spending his waking hours wringing every last bit of fun and adventure that he could possible extract from his time living in PR. He hasn’t been back in the same length of time as myself: 10 years.

I text Mom, “If we wanted to go to the island...would these dates work?” Mom and the aunts have pretty hectic schedules. 

Immediate response, “Let me double-check! 😁”

Two days later, the dates were confirmed, requested off at our jobs, and the plane tickets purchased. 

———————-

I have postponed visiting the island for many reasons. 

The first is that it means confronting that Lucero is not there anymore. Lucero was the last living link to my grandfather, and his death was doubly devastating because I lost the horse that was an extension of me and in the process lost my grandfather all over again. While I held my grandfather’s hand as he took his last breath, I did not get to say good-bye to Lucero. In fact, I didn’t know that he was sick enough to warrant euthanasia, and I didn’t know he had been euthanized until after the fact. 

That level of grief is hard to describe. He wasn’t just a horse. My grandfather wasn’t just a grandfather. Lucero was the magic of years of fierce dreaming and wishing brought to life. I willed that horse into being with every ounce of my childhood imagination, and the spirited colt that was brought to me was every single thing that I both consciously wanted in a horse and that I didn’t know yet I needed. He was my first dream to come true, born of a fire stoked by my grandfather. My grandfather made him come true for me, as he made every other wish I asked for come true while he was alive. He was our magician, our sensei, and one of the last of a dying breed of human being. 

Lucero was not a heart horse because he was an entity that was an extension of both Abuelito and myself. Owning, raising and training Lucero was crucial in shaping the person I would become, and it was because of him and through him that I got to know the amazing soul that my grandfather was. Lucero was the window through which I saw my grandfather. 



I left Puerto Rico the same year my grandfather died, exactly 7 months and four days later. 



Lucero was a bigger umbilical cord to ensure my periodically returning because, unlike my mother, I could not bring him to me in order to spend time with him: I had to go to him. Return visits to the island revolved around me being able to spend time with my horse. Our last trip to the island happened with the in-laws, and we went to Rincón on the other side of PR...I did not get to go home to see my horse, my house, nor my family during that visit. And then once Carlos and I were in school for nursing and vet tech, the span of years between visits to the island lengthened...and it weighed heavily on my subconscious that I had not gone back to visit Lucero. 

His death was a blow that ripped me apart...mainly because I had not known of his passing: unlike our other family animals, he didn’t come to me in dreams to say good-bye. I thought he had died thinking I had abandoned him...and I will never be able to confirm that or change it. 

The idea of returning to PR then became unimaginable.

Three different trips were still half-heartedly planned but something always happened that they got cancelled, and each time I felt no sense of urgency to reschedule. The island was itself and would always be there, alive and well, sandwiched safely between the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. 

And then Maria happened.

And I felt like the last bit of “me” that remained in that part of the world had been destroyed. My family was fine, but my land had been ripped apart, from stem to stern. The cities and roads and infrastructure had changed during my absence but the beaches and mountains had remained unchanging.

In the wake of Maria, even my beaches and mountains had become unrecognizable.

Nothing is quite as uniquely yours as a land where your family has lived in for close to 500 years, where there are streets and neighborhoods named after your great-grandparents. I might have been born on the mainland and my father might be Cuban, but half of my genetic code is 100% Puerto Rican, and nothing can change the fact that the entirety of my soul is 100% Puerto Rican.

“Yo sería borincano aunque naciera en la luna!”

And so after Maria I grieved all over again, this time because I had not gone back to visit before the storm. I had not seen the remaining familiarity before that, too, was changed.

But everything heals, including the trees and the land. 

And in the middle of that healing and the current political environment on the mainland, we are returning to visit. To set foot on my island again, to touch and smell and see its beauty once more. 

And to remember where I come from. 

It is time.















Monday, July 16, 2018

Photos from Puerto Rico: Family Contributions Edition

A handful of recent photos of the island taken by friends and family.

View of the San Juan bay as seen from Paseo de la Princesa.
Pic from the in-laws. (They visit PR several times a year.) May 2018.
Paseo de la Princesa.
Photo from the in-laws. May 2018.
The Puerto Rican single-starred flag flying next to the US flag on Paseo de la Princesa.
Photo from the in-laws. May 2018.
Palomo is my mom's outdoor kitty, one of several strays that she feeds who has claimed their house as his. Mom caught him, had him neutered by her vet, and set him free again. Here he is resting at the front gate.
Photo from my mom. July 2018.
Palomo is a loverboy.
July 2018.
What? Caribbean cats play with coconuts, didn't you know that? ;)
Also Palomo. Photo from my mom. July 2018.
My great-grandmother's lillies. They have been blooming for decades.
Photo from my mom. July 2018.
Red-tailed hawk takes flight from a light post in Guaynabo, my hometown.
Photo from my mom. April 2018.

View of the mountains from the house I grew up in Guaynabo.
Photo from my mom. May 2018.
Living room of the house I grew up in. My grandfather was a civil engineer. He both designed and built this house in the 1960s. He was building open floor plans way before they were trendy.
Photo from my mom. May 2018.
View of one of Mayaguez's streets.
Photo from Carlos's cousin. July 2018.
Mayaguez and its mountains.
Photo from Carlos's cousin. July 2018.
Street art in Mayaguez.
Photo from Carlos's cousin. July 2018.

Rio Piedras street art.
Photo from Carlos's cousin. May 2018.



Arroyo on the 4th of July, 2018.
Photo from my mom.
Lordemar Restaurant in Patillas. My mom and the aunts went there for lunch.
Photo from my Aunt Mary. July 2018.

Lordemar Restaurant in Patillas. Check out that VIEW!!! You can step off of the deck onto the beach itself.
Photo from my Aunt Mary. July 2018.

One of Guaynabo's many, many roundabouts.
Photo from my mom. May 2018.



Friday, July 13, 2018

On Strength, Endurance, and Food



I've been taking individual lessons in the Olympic lifts once a week with the head coach at the CrossFit box. 

And by Olympic lifts I’m referring specifically to the snatch.

And by the snatch I’m talking about just learning to hold a PVC pipe properly and get it up over my head.

You’d think that was easy, especially with no weight.

It is surprisingly not! The day after my first lesson, I was sore in muscles I didn’t think you could be sore from just doing an overhead movement. It was akin to when I switched from showjumping to dressage: I had to start over with riding, being placed on a horse on the lunge sans reins and re-taught to sit on a horse with an open hip angle, with more of my weight on my seat bones and a longer draped leg around the horse’s barrel.

This is such an awesome shot, taken by Carlos, of course. I had no idea he was taking photos.  We had done the WOD together prior, and he stayed to wait while I had my one-on-one session afterwards.
This photo is like the Karate Kid of Olympic weightlifting. The equivalent of "wax on, wax off." (It also allowed me to see what Coach was correcting: my glutes need to be more engaged so my back doesn't arch.)

Coach is excellent: my problem with the Olympic movements during WODs is that I want to slow down so I can think about what I’m doing...and you can’t really do that when you’re moving a barbell with plates at speed from the floor to the air above your head, no matter how conservative you’re being with the weight. The correct technique is reviewed every time we do these lifts in the WODs, but it is very different to have the one-on-one attention. 

During that first lesson, Coach broke the movement of the snatch into individual pieces and had me practice each one individually, slowly, until I had the two individual portions of the movement down to where I could maintain form for at least 3 consecutive reps. The two individual portions of the lift were:

a) getting the bar from the hang position to my shoulders
b) from my shoulders to the air above my head

We did not put the two portions together in that first class, as these can be taken as two separate exercises that I have been practicing as homework in the meantime.

While we were at it, she also had me work on some postural bad habits that date back from my showjumping era, which had made a slow comeback during my time working with Trainer, and that will have an effect on my ability to lift if not fixed. Did you know you can do a subtle hunter perch just while standing? Yeah, apparently I do that. *face-palm* Especially when standing up from the squat, which keeps me from doing a proper lockout.  I’m not surprised: in the Fitness industry, horseback riders are generally known for having tight hip flexors, and this is a direct result of that.


Case in point. Three different types of squat, three different weights, and three different lockouts. This would be why I only posted stills of myself squatting vs video: the first time Carlos filmed me, I was surprised when I realized I did this because it's such a norm, I don't feel it. I wasn't sure if I was doing it consistently because it had never been corrected, and it's hard to tell when you're facing a mirror head-on; I'd have to see myself from the side. The experienced lifters that read this blog will know what I'm talking about by looking at these pics above. But I'll explain for those that might not be as familiar with correct squat mechanics: it's not something that gets talked about unless you read about the subject or work with a trainer/coach/someone experienced.
The first pic on the far left and the middle one show what my lockout used to be. If you look again, you'll see that in both pics my knees and hips are flexed. This was supposed to be the full standing position of the squat. I was slightly better in the middle picture, where I was doing Zercher squats (you hold the barbell in the crook of your arms), which allowed me to stand straighter, but it was still incorrect. Now, on the far right, where I'm doing a front squat (barbell in front of my shoulders) you have a 95% correct lockout. (Glutes could still be more engaged, but I'll take it.)
It was a LOT to think about. It’s a LOT of new muscle memory to create that is completely unlike anything I’ve ever done before...which is why I find the Olympic movements so fascinating now that they are within reach. Coach was wonderfully encouraging while still correcting every last detail. I love that style of instruction, and I’m excited to have found this with her! 

There are no competitive goals on the horizon at the moment. I’m just focusing on trying out a whole bunch of new skills and seeing which ones I can start chipping away at to perfect first while giving my body time to get stronger so I can then attempt other things. It’s surprisingly like dressage in that you have to dominate a certain set of skills before you can (safely!) move on into the next. 


And the other reason why I didn't post squat videos: because I wasn't hitting correct depth either. Top left: sure I was moving 205 lbs. But that doesn't count when you can't get your thighs to parallel. You'd be eliminated in a powerlifting meet. Top right: hitting parallel with a recent back squat. Bottom left: just below parallel, same day as top right. (That is a really pretty squat  btw. :D It's awesome to finally be able to go, "That's me!") Bottom right: close, for me, to what they call "ass-to-grass," achieved here with a front squat. I've had to drop the weight being lifted way, way down (the green plates are 10 kgs, so 22 lbs each for a total of 79 lbs including the bar in all three of those photos with the green plates) but it was necessary in order to start over so I could create new muscle memory and develop the correct muscles in order to move heavier weight properly. Correct form is really important when lifting heavy if you want longevity in strength sports.

It’s cool to be excited about performance instead of appearances or a show of some sort. It is allowing me to enjoy the process again, which was what I had loved about prepping for my first bodybuilding show. It was always about the process. When I stopped enjoying the process, it was time to move on.

It’s interesting to look back on that series of posts a year later and see how much I’ve changed again from the person I was back then, how my knowledge base has expanded, and how my goals and perspectives have also changed after realizing I can physically do all of these things I never would have dreamed of trying prior. I'm glad I wrote that story out in as much detail as I did, because it reminds me of where I started. I loved that first show, the excitement and curiosity and the thrill of diving into something completely new and alien. It was so much fun...but it just stopped being fun the third time around. It opened up the doors to an entirely new and bigger world though. I wouldn't be where I am today if I hadn't one day decided to sign up for a Figure show because a fitness magazine fell open onto an article on competition prep right when I was wondering if I should do it. 

Funny how following signs can lead us to places we never would have considered otherwise! ;)

My workouts these days consist of WOD + Strength classes on my days off from work. (I explained both of those in this post.) On my weekday work days I try to do the WOD and then do an hour of Open Gym, which is where I train on my own. I’ll work on skills I want to improve (jump rope is one of the big ones...I last jumped rope when I was 10 years old. I sucked royally at it. It is amazing to be able to do a full two straight minutes of it now and not feel like dying...), do a workout incorporating some of that day’s Strength class movements (these are written on the box’s whiteboard at the beginning of the day so we have this option; the Strength classes are meant to both complement that day's WOD and fit in with the week's programming so I try to use them as a guideline), or do my own bodybuilding-type splits. Sometimes I go back to the regular gym for my own strength workouts, but I do love the CrossFit box with its open garage doors letting the outside sunlight and warmth inside. It reminds me of Trainer’s gym back in the day, and I also feel less “indoors.” I’m currently one of those regulars that goes in in the morning and often returns at the end of the day to do more. There are no mirrors inside the box and during Open Gym mornings it's usually just me and maybe one other person. I zone out to my music and get lost in the movement with the dumbbells or barbell. It's my "me" time and my own form of meditation. 

My love affair with the barbell continues. Since Carlos now gets to see me in action, he says my expression around anything involving barbell work is like a little girl who has just been gifted her first pony. 


 Open Gym early morning workout before going into Surgeryland. I was doing barbell rows (75# on the bar) as part of a pretty grueling self-imposed Back Day circuit; this was the last set.
The energy in the classes at the box is a really awesome thing, and it's easy to understand why so many people get hooked on this sport with the passion that they do. The largest group of more advanced members seems to consistently go in the afternoons...and there is something magical about standing with a group of women of all sizes and shapes who are pressing barbells with plates that sometimes are close to or more than their body weight into the air over their heads, while holding their own among some of the strongest men in the box. There are people from all walks of life here: there is no gender, no race, no size, no weight. You are defined by your willingness to just show up and do the thing. 


Epic shot taken by Coach of the Fourth of July WOD. It was all Olympic lifts for a full 60 minutes. Most of the box members showed up for it. Both Carlos and I are in this pic. :)
I still run somewhere between 3-4 days/week for anywhere from 3 to 5 miles (aka 25-50 minutes), depending on what we're doing in CrossFit. If we run during a WOD I'm less inclined to go for another run later, and that's okay. On some weeks I just want to focus on lifting and I don't run at all. I have some loose goals with running that I want to eventually achieve but none of it is written in stone. The only end goal is fun. It's not about burning calories or having to do x amount of cardio per day anymore. Also, it is kind of awesome to be able to flip off steady-state cardio: I'm back to doing my runs as intervals, where I'll outright sprint-walk-sprint-walk on some days. On others, I'll alternate running and walking. On some days I'll get a solid mile in at a time before I have to walk for a few steps to drop my heart rate again. On others I'll find myself jogging steadily in order to keep some halfway decent pace. And that's okay. I run because I like to run and it gets me outside and in the sun. That's all. 


Carlos was hanging out in the library balcony watching a band play on the other side of the creek when I ran by and he took this photo.
Plus, running is my favorite way of hanging out in our hometown. Sometimes Carlos comes with me and goes window shopping in the meantime (he is currently working out at CrossFit with me around 5-6 hrs/week, which is more than he's ever done!); we then meet up somewhere for coffee after I'm done. 

Some photos of downtown from recent runs:


One of Carroll Creek's bridges.
The Volt restaurant has the loveliest patio seating...the lights are my favorite part.
These were all along Carroll Creek one Monday morning after a First Saturday event.
Beautiful morning light on the sidewalk. I absolutely love being a city runner here.
My very own Narnia.

As for why I do all of this....I couldn't have said it better than the quote below. This is what it has turned into:

"From inspired to straight-up passionate. People outside our small niche call us motivated or well-disciplined. I'm not disciplined or have great willpower. This isn't something I ever struggle with. I choose to do this. I want to do this. I love this."
- Francesco Catalano, powerlifter and Hybrid Performance nutrition coach


--------------------------------

The current nutrition aspect has me in awe. I didn't even know that having a nutrition coach was a thing until just over a month and a half ago. I know the nutrition part of my whole fitness journey interests many of you a lot more than the workouts, so I'm going to dive into more detail here. 

I didn't write about the prep for my March show except for what I summarized in this post. It was so difficult, both physically and mentally, that I didn't want to put it in writing. The fun parts of it are all pretty much on IG. The diet for my first prep last year was doable, especially because we started cutting a good 12 weeks out from the July show and slowly decreased macros over the course of those three months leading up to the competition date. The lowest my calories got back then was around 1600/day while carb cycling (so I was still eating carbs one out of every three days), and if you recall, I was hungry.

The diet for the March show prep this year was so much more restricted, starting with the fact that I was allowed only 1200 calories/day. Feeling like you're going to faint during intense workouts from lack of carbs is not fun at all, but it became something that I got used to feeling and pushing through as the show date approached.

I didn't post any food pics during that prep because 1. the food was always the same, and 2. not particularly yummy because it was no carbs, low fat, and no salt. Lunch, for example, was 2 oz unseasoned oven-roasted chicken breast tenderloins (that was usually about 1.5 tenderloins) with 1/4 cup fat free cottage cheese wrapped in a romaine lettuce leaf. Lettuce wraps were my go-to towards the end when I was trying to make my food different without derailing the diet. The main problem was that I would eat and feel even hungrier. At times I outright dreaded eating because I knew it would just make the hunger a million times worse. 

The problem is that through all of that, I was still nitpicking at the mirror, upset that I was hungry all the time and still nowhere close to where I needed to be physically for this specific show. When it looks like you're progressing, it makes a huge difference mentally. It makes all that hard work feel like it's worth it. You're like, "Yeah, go me! I'm doing this!" But when you feel like all the effort is in vain because nothing is changing, when you are starving and cardio-ing your life away to achieve a look that is just not happening this time around, it is so discouraging.


Practicing posing while counting down the hours and minutes until I could have food again.
You know what? At the time Carlos took this photo, I looked at it and thought, "OMG I'm not lean enough for this show. I'm not where I should be at x weeks out." Seeing this photo now, I can see that I looked awesome. Not for this level of competition, but I still looked the best I could have possibly looked at the time with the amount of work I was doing and the imposed boundaries and limitations.
The show was on a Saturday. On Tuesday of Peak Week, I woke up cranky, tired and so hungry I felt like my stomach was going to chew a hole in itself. By then I had been going on three weeks of being so hungry all the time that I was waking up from hunger at night and lying awake from it. This is counterproductive to looking your leanest. Hunger + lack of sleep + prolonged low carb diet side effects = elevated cortisol levels = water retention & some muscle loss. My hunger during my first prep last year was nothing compared to this.

So I was really pleased when I saw the reflection in the mirror that morning, but at the same time angry because it was a look that in all honesty should have been sustainable...however, given the current methods to get there, it was absolutely not. So I snapped the photo below, thinking, "I have to capture this now because I will probably never look like this again."


Two days later, I was instructed to add a very specific amount of carbs back into my diet and despite following instructions to a "T", my appearance changed completely...and not for the better. I did not look like a Figure competitor three days out from stepping on the stage of one of the biggest spring shows of the East Coast. Instead, I looked like a Figure competitor 12 weeks out from her first show. I think I know what went wrong with this peak week, but it is a science-y bodybuilding prep-specific explanation that I'm not sure you guys are interested in reading about, so I'm going to save my breath. I'm happy to explain in the comments if anyone is really interested. :)

Needless to say, after half a year dedicating my entire life to preparing for this specific show and struggling through a prep that was the literal opposite of the type of prep I had been hoping to do for this sport, it was the most demoralized I've felt in a long time. 


I had added extra bling to the suit this time around.
I felt for a long while after the show that I had wasted six months' worth of time, effort and dedication on something that nearly sacrificed my confidence and self-esteem. 

I told you guys about Black Iron Nutrition and how they sort of fell in my lap. If you haven't heard of their founder, Krissy Mae Cagney, you can read more about her here. She is also the founder of Doughnuts & Deadlifts and Ello Supply Co. Her story and what she has pushed through to get to where she is at now, is nothing short of inspiring. 

I was going onto week #2 of working with my nutrition coach at Black Iron when Carlos and I went on the cruise with the in-laws. I woke up the day after we returned home and was shocked when I saw my reflection in the mirror. I took this photo.


And then went, "Wait a minute..." because it looked so familiar.

I pulled up that old Peak Week photo and put the two side by side.

The new photo looked familiar because I looked exactly the same now!!

Whut???!!!
Actually, if you look closely, I look better in the more recent photo: waist is smaller, arms are still defined but leaner. You can't see the changes in my legs in these pics but those are the most dramatic of all.
To make it even better: I weighed two pounds more in the more recent photo to boot. That's why you should never guide yourself by the scale alone. 
I broke into this huge idiotic grin because you know what the best part was? That I felt amazing. I felt strong and had energy, and I wasn't fucking starving!!! That reflection was just the icing on the cake!! The most ironic thing of all though? I looked as good as I had during Peak Week after returning from a freaking cruise trip where I had had fun and eaten all the fruits and veggies I could have wanted, and food with FLAVOR...and key lime pie, and enchiladas, and and and...

And I ate all of that while sticking to the macros my coach had assigned, in the proportions she had assigned them.

My theory that that look was 100% sustainable had just come true.

So how does this nutrition coaching thing work?

There are tons of options online for nutrition coaching and cost varies widely, as does the amount of actual coaching. IIFYM offers it, but my understanding is that it is not as personalized as other services (don't quote me on that; this is just going off of online reviews). RP Strength has been around for a while and seem to be pretty popular among the powerlifting and CrossFit communities. In3 Nutrition is another example. I follow Hybrid Performance's Stefi Cohen (she is a tiny 121 lb Venezuelan that can deadlift 485 lbs. And yes, she is a world record holder and is considered the first woman to have ever deadlifted 4x her body weight in competition. #badass doesn't even begin to describe her...) and seriously considered their nutrition coaching program.

Stefi Cohen
I went with Black Iron Nutrition because I loved everything I found out about them, their results are pretty impressive, the coaches' individual styles and personalities shine through, I loved the attention to detail and thoughtfulness in everything they've put out on the internet (it takes time and dedication to put in that level of effort), they were within my budget and...I loved this philosophy:









And also because of this, from Amanda Passmore's awesome blog:

The reason I wanted to join BIN is for this definition and the philosophy around food that Krissy espouses. We all need to eat for the rest of our lives, we can’t do crash diets or resets or highly restrictive eating philosophies forever, because they are exhausting and I believe, in the long term mentally damaging. I knew that my relationship with food was a negative one that was not supporting a long and healthy life, and I wanted to change that. So that’s why I came to BIN.

After a year of all of this competition diet madness, I wanted to eat like a normal person again. Except I didn't want the mainstream "normal" that involves fast food and sugar and junk as staples. I wanted MY version of normal, except better, because I had once known what it was like to feel like I could just keep going forever and I wanted that feeling back so I could continue to grow and improve.

So once you're in BIN and the coach of your choice has been assigned to you, you fill out a very, very detailed questionnaire about your exercise and eating habits, about your work routine, food preferences, personal struggles, athletic history (if any), experience with macros (it's ok to not know what a macro is; they'll teach you.) BIN says it's the most detailed questionnaire you will fill out in your life...they aren't exaggerating. Because food is so profoundly tied into everything we do, both on a physical and emotional level, especially as women, they take all of that into account when asking these questions. There is no right or wrong answer to these questions, and there is also no judgement: they want to know about you so they can help you, regardless of what your habits and goals are, be they a total lifestyle change, improved performance for the sport of your choice, losing weight after pregnancy, or just trimming down for a special occasion.

Then, once he or she has read through your answers, your coach touches base with you, introduces themselves, and gives you feedback on your answers. This is a living person that you will be communicating with on a weekly basis, which, after playing around with IIFYM and Avatar Nutrition, is something that I personally wanted. IIFYM and Avatar are fantastic for learning the macros game on your own, but I had reached a point where I wanted real feedback on what I was doing and what I should be doing. I was tired of playing it by ear.


I selected the coaches that specifically had experience CrossFit athletes themselves. One of them in particular, Jilda, drew my attention: there were several parallels between her story and mine, and it was her own transformation photo as a former client that made me take a second look at Black Iron. I had shown her photo to Carlos, "This! This is the kind of transformation I want! I want my version of it."

Guess who I was assigned? Jilda. :)

(And no, I'm not being compensated by them in any way to talk about them. I just had no idea this existed, am really impressed, and want to share the knowledge because this might help some of you out!)

A week after returning from the cruise trip, going onto Week #3 of working with BIN, I was suddenly ravenously hungry and tanking out energy-wise halfway through workouts despite being at 1900+ calories/day. (Mind you, this was almost 200 calories more/day and over 100g carbs/day more than I had been with Trainer at the end...) The answer? I needed to eat more! I was assigned new, higher macros for my high volume training days, mid-range macros for lower volume (aka only going to the gym once a day), with the lowest being for rest days, which I consider to be my weekends at work, since I don't have time to work out on those days. Fun fact: calories and macros even for rest days were higher than my overall macros prior...and I was never dropping below 200g of carbs/day. It was like someone had opened the refrigerator door and said, "Here. Have whatever you want."

This is what I wanted:

Toasted English muffin with 1 tsp ketchup on the bread, 2 eggs scrambled with basil and 1 Tbsp Parmesan cheese, split in half and placed over muffin. Drizzled Cholula sauce over egg, added a dollop of plain nonfat Greek yogurt, and 1/4 Haas avocado, sliced. 
Chili lime shrimp with brown rice, Cuban style black beans (my grandmother's recipe) and avocado.
Recipe for shrimp is here.

Shrimp and chicken sausage foil packets with asparagus, summer squash and diced peppers.
Recipe for the whole thing here.

I just wanted real food!!!

A typical workout day in meals nowadays runs something like this:

Breakfast:

  • Coffee with a cup of nonfat milk (I basically drink lattes at home)
  • Scramble with diced peppers and onions, 1 cup spinach, one egg, 1/2 cup egg whites, 1-3 Tbsp of some type of cheese (Parmesan or feta are my faves), 1/3 cup of brown rice or quinoa or farro, and 2 Tbsp salsa. Sometimes I put all of that into a whole wheat wrap to make a giant breakfast burrito. 


Intra-workout carbs (these became a must given the current intensity):

  • Hammer Gel or a handful of dry mangoes are the current faves. 


Second Breakfast (eaten immediately after working out):

  • 1/2 cup oatmeal made with 1/2 cup almond milk, 1 container of flavored Icelandic yogurt (I might sub the yogurt for 1/3 scoop of cinnamon roll-flavored casein protein powder on some days), a packet of Stevia, and 1 cup of fruit of some sort (I like peaches, berries or mangoes). All of that gets poured together into a container the night before and I eat it cold as overnight oatmeal the next day after training. I love love love it and it's something that I really look forward to every day. I got the idea for this creation from here.
Peaches and cream overnight oats.
Photo from Avatar Eats, where I got the idea for this recipe.

I have not had a post-workout protein shake in 3 months and it awesome. They are great if you need to supplement protein, and I drank those for an entire year, sometimes multiple times a day, but when I was starving towards the end of the March prep, they used to make me angry because protein shakes meant less calories I could eat (some people get full on protein shakes. I do not.) I promised to myself that I was not going to drink any more protein shakes after the show: protein could only come from real food from now on. I really like this current post-workout snack. My version of it has anywhere from 50-60g carbs depending on the fruit being used, 24g protein, and 7g fat.

Lunch

  • Varies greatly per day, but it's usually a protein (chicken, ground beef, ground turkey, fish; always marinated for 24 hours to give it flavor and then either sauteed on the stovetop or roasted in the oven), a vegetable (broccoli and brussel sprouts are current faves), and a starch (rice and beans, butternut squash, this summer squash recipe, sweet potato, or baked potato are currently in the rotation.)
  • A cup of fruit. Now that it's summer, I've been reaching for a variety of melons or peaches/apricots since these are in season at the moment.


Snacks
These get spread out throughout the day so that I'm still eating about every two hours. If this sounds like a ton of food, it's because it is. And yes, I do get hungry pretty much every two hours like clockwork, and there actually are days where I'm still hungry despite eating so much.

  • Low fat mozzarella sticks (two at a time)
  • 100-calorie nut packets (I like Planter's dry roasted almonds), though with the higher carb requirements I'm now able to play around with nut + dry fruit mixes like this one from Orchard Valley.
  • Larabars, RX Bars, Oatmega bars: I'll usually have two of these in an afternoon.
  • Greek yogurt. I like Fage and Chobani.

I used to bring homemade tuna salad (a can of albacore mixed with chopped cabbage, celery, carrots, 1 Tbsp relish, 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard, and a dash of black pepper) and hard-boiled eggs as snacks instead of the bars, but my protein requirements now are way lower than they used to be (135g/day now vs the previous 200+g), so I've moved away from those.

Dinner
I try to be creative here. Some of the current faves include spaghetti made with spiralized zucchini noodles and ground beef; the shrimp recipes above; pollo en escabeche, which is one of my mom's recipes (slow cooked shredded chicken with cabbage, roasted red peppers and onions); an assortment of stir frys that I tend to throw together with whatever veggies and meat we have in the fridge; a protein with a roasted starch, like butternut squash or a variety of root vegetables all cut into chunks and dumped together in a pan in the oven...it's a fairly endless list now, but those are some of the meals currently in rotation because they are easy to make and can be cooked in large volumes in advance so we have leftovers for later. My favorite online sources for recipes right now are Avatar Nutrition and Black Iron's. I love Clean Eating Magazine for flipping through physically for ideas.

Stir fry made with spiralized zucchini noodles, shredded carrots, onions and Cubanelle peppers cut into thin strips, and lean pork (fat trimmed off). I threw this together with some low sodium soy sauce, a spoonful of Hoisin sauce, a dash of apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup chicken broth, and shredded ginger. 


Dessert
Yes, I eat dessert. It's usually a serving of Enlightened ice cream. If you like Halo Top, you need to try Enlightened. ;) Nutrition facts are similar but Enlightened is SO MUCH BETTER OMG. They do NOT taste like diet ice cream and they have real chocolate and caramel in them. If I ran high on carbs throughout the day, I'll sub the ice cream for a cup of frozen fruit (like a banana) with half a cup of light Cool Whip and a maybe a Tbsp of mini chocolate chips.

This flavor is to die for. It is popcorn-flavored ice cream with chocolate chips and a caramel swirl. Other faves include their S'Mores (it is toasted marshmallow ice cream with graham chunks and thick fudge swirls), their Chocolate Peanut Butter (it has real peanut butter in it...in fact, it legit tastes like a Reese's peanut butter cup), Bananas Foster, Salted Caramel, and Cookies & Cream.

Yes, I'm a huge dork that gets excited about food, mmkay?


The end result? I've had energy to spare, and not just during workouts. I have been able to cut back on stimulants to get through my work days (that third cup of coffee, my mid-afternoon 5 Hour Energy), I've been sleeping better, my brain is sharper, my moods steadier, I have more patience. It's amazing what eating the right type of carbs in sufficient amounts will do for you.

I check in with Jilda once a week. I take measurements, weigh myself and send progress pics. My weight has been the same for the last two weeks while my measurements have continued to slowly drop by fractions of an inch at a time. I also have to answer a series of questions where I delve into detail on hunger levels, activity levels, energy levels, strength and endurance, how well have I been sleeping, and how well have I been able to stick to the macros and micros (micros = micronutrients, like sodium, fiber, vitamins, etc. This is flexible dieting but the healthy part of it involves paying attention to your micronutrients as well). I send all of that to her and then excitedly wait for her feedback. So far, she's been bumping me up on calories and carbs with each passing week. Since I came into this already knowing how to count macros, am familiar with both weighing and measuring food, and am pretty in tune with my body, we've been able to go into more advanced things: I'm encouraged to eat more intuitively. One of the cool things about all of this has been having so many of my questions answered. Example: if I have a really good day energy-wise but felt like I didn't eat enough for the activity level because I wasn't hungry, but then start out the next day feeling run-down...should I consider eating more that second day to encourage a faster recovery? In my case, the answer is yes. There have been so many questions like that, that I had wondered about and assumed the answers to. It's wonderful to finally have someone I can bounce them off of, that listens and understands, and that is there cheering me on.

My favorite part of this past check in with Jilda:
"With this amount of work, I eventually want you up [more in carbs] on your high volume days, that's how taxing it is. We're trying to build you up, not tear you down. ;)..." And then at the end, "Guess what? You get more food! Any questions/comments/concerns, let me know! But I think my reasons are pretty clear: you need the fuel, missy."

I could have kissed her.

It is...a huge change from before.


Seven weeks into working with Black Iron, I still look like this:


Which is really freaking cool, because my theory that that Peak Week look was sustainable without starving to death continues to be true.

As for transformations...the good kind of transformation takes time. And cardio and starvation are not the way to get there. 

Left: March 2017. I was working out 2x/day (30-40 min strength training with moderate weights on the gym machines, an hour of cardio) 6 days/week, riding around 3x/week, and eating around 1700 calories/day. This was my baseline before I started training for the show last year.
Right: July 2018. I work out 2x/day (20-30 min cardio most of the time -maybe once a week it gets bumped up to 50 min if I decide to aim for 5 miles in a run; the second workout is an hour of lifting) 5 days/week, currently not riding, and eating around 2100 calories/day average.
Fun fact: I weighed the same in both of these photos, but my waist is 2" smaller in the July photo. :D
You guys: if you really want to change your body, the answer is lifting heavy things, not cardio.

There's no pressure now though: I don't have to look a certain way by a certain date and I can look at my body again and love it for what it can do. It's awesome to have abs, but they are there because I'm engaging them in everything we do in CrossFit. (Byeee endless crunches!) My legs have more definition than ever before in my adult life because they are getting worked pretty much every day in some way, shape or form during these workouts. It's awesome to know that I don't have to strut them exposed in 5" heels across a stage in front of a crowd. I don't need boulder shoulders with overdeveloped rear deltoids anymore just because that's what a judge wants; I just need shoulders that are strong and flexible enough to lift a loaded barbell over my head.

Because the best part of it all is being able to do this again: 

My deadlifts are so pretty now, I've been posting this video all over my social media! :D
79 lbs here; this was part of a hero WOD, the PK. (It has all of my favorite things: running, deadlifts and squats!)

Now this... this was my first time pulling deadlifts that were more than my body weight in well over 6 months. I kept adding plates until it felt challenging but could still go for reps. I later did the math and I had been pulling 145 lbs. O_o This was at the end of a very long day where I had done a pretty brutal WOD (Cindy...with 50 jump rope every 2 minutes for 20 minutes. I managed 7 rounds of that), followed by a Strength class that included walking lunges, dumbbell straight-legged deadlifts and 10 minutes of jump rope at the end. I returned to the box in the afternoon because Carlos was going to be there to do the WOD and it was my way of showing solidarity; he has more fun when I'm around. I started out with paused front squats (I took two counts to drop into the squat, held at the bottom for one count, then exploded back up) at 109 lbs for 5 sets of 8 reps. Considering I've only been doing front squats for ~ 3 months, that's pretty good!  Then I finished with what I think was 4 sets of sumo deadlifts where I gradually increased the weight until I hit this weight...and then did the three sets of 5 reps at 145 lbs. (I'm at 133.8 lbs right now.)
Was I exhausted after all that? Nope. It was awesome!!!!!


And as always, I tell you guys all of this because I really do believe in this premise: