CrossKitchen: June 2009 Archives

803420760_46d42451cc.jpgWe (ok, I) spend a lot of time decrying the evils of sugar, but sugar is not everyone's weak spot.  My wife Rebecca, if confronted with a plate of hot crispy french fries or a bowl of ice cream, would typically reach for the fries first.  Crazy, I know.

But is that really any better?  When we wince at chips and fries, it is not typically the salt that we're wincing at but the deadly mixture of fat and carbohydrates - the same as the ice cream, really.  How bad IS the salt?  Should we be concerned about it?  What's a healthy amount to eat?

It's definitely trickier to find this information in the fitness community than it is with sugar.  If we equate sugar consumption with hyperinsulinism and salt to hypertension, sugar kills far more people than salt.  But it's not really honest to lay the blame entirely at the door of one or the other - there are too many complicating factors to make a realistic cause -> effect dichotomy here.

What does it do?

The body requires some amount of sodium to function.  It maintains fluid balances, helps transmit nerve impulses, and influences muscle contraction and release.  Your kidneys are the gatekeepers, retaining sodium for when you're low and releasing excess sodium from the body via urine when you're topped up.  If you consume more salt than your kidneys can handle, then it stays in the blood and--since sodium attracts water--causes fluid retention and consequently high blood pressure.

But how bad is it, really?

Well, it ranges from pretty bad to quite bad, depending on your genes.  If you're salt sensitive (and they say about half of Americans are), your blood pressure can go up by as much as 10% after a salty meal.  Left untreated, chronic high blood pressure can lead to stroke, blindness, heart attack and kidney failure.  And for the rest of us, studies show that salt still has a measurable effect on blood pressure.

Should we be concerned about it?

You know what works great to bring your blood pressure down?  Exercise.  Not being obese (ie, not eating sugar).  Eating well.  If you're doing these things, your blood pressure should fall in line.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't keep an eye on it when you go in for your checkup - if you're eating great and exercising and your blood pressure is still higher than it should be, then your salt intake is probably the first place you'll want to look.  If you're over 50, black or have a family history of heart disease, then you should be particularly vigilant.

What's a healthy amount to eat?

The FDA recommends a daily intake of NO MORE than 2,300mg/day - roughly a teaspoon's worth.  But that's the outside level - their target is 1,400mg/day.  The average american consumes over 4,000mg/day, so you can see why they're worried.

But that average american is getting 75% of their sodium from processed foods, which tend to be extremely high in salt (have you ever looked at the ingredients for a can of cream of mushroom soup?)  So if you're following the prescription to EAT REAL FOOD, then you're hopefully not eating all that much salt anyway.

Like sugar, our addiction to salt is a learned behavior that we CAN break.  Gradually reducing the amount of salt you use will cause your taste buds to readjust and, if you were overly salt-dependent, reopen nuances of flavor that you may have lost.

How do you cut back?

If your blood pressure is worrisome, or you just suspect that you've been eating too much salt, there are some easy steps to take to cut back.

  • Eat real food.  The less processed, the better.  For so many reasons.
  • Cut back on condiments.  Ketchup, mustard, soy sauce and others have staggering amounts of sodium in them.
  • Stop cooking with it.  Your food will taste bland at first, but then you'll readjust and stop missing it.
  • Use more spices. If your tongue is busy with all those flavors, it won't be missing the salt.
  • Be careful with salt substitutes - these typically work by having a little salt and some other stuff to add flavor, but the danger is that people will just use MORE substitute, winding up with the same amount of salt as before, and a bunch of other crap to boot.
  • Watch what you buy.  Cured meats and brined olives contain a ton of salt.  And don't get the regular chicken stock when the low-sodium variety is right there next to it.
Rubbing it in

Salt IS associated with high blood pressure, which does cause all sorts of nasty problems.  As far as I'm aware, however, that is the only problem with it, and as such it's relatively easy to monitor.  My advice is to be aware of it, keep an eye on your blood pressure, and work on keeping your salt consumption in moderation (as with all things).


At CFEB, we work hard.  Which is great, but it can have an immediate downside if certain precautions aren't taken.  To illustrate this point, after one particularly stuffy and sweaty session in the yoga room at Ironworks, my brutally honest wife and her oh-so-expressively crinkled nose informed me of a hard truth:  I stank.

Now, nobody enjoys being stinky (except maybe my parents' dog).  So I endeavored to remedy the problem with some good new-fashioned research on the internet:  what is body odor?  and how do you fix it?

It's a delicate subject, so I'll be both vague and blunt:  you've probably been a bit ripe yourself at some point or other, particularly when the weather is warm and the quarters close.  Forewarned is forearmed, as they say, so here's a bit o' beta on keeping the funk firmly where it belongs:  on your iPod.

First, a bit of biology

We all know the cause of body odor is sweat, right?  Well, not directly.  You see, there are two types of sweat glands on the body - eccrine, which are everywhere, sweat out an odorless mixture of water and salt.  Apocrine glands, however, are located in areas dense in hair follicles (underarm/groin), combine some fatty acids with their salt and water, and it is the bacteria that feed upon and break down the fatty sweat that cause the odor.  Yummy, I know.  So controlling body odor is more about battling bacteria than it is about stopping sweat.

Knowing is half the battle

The other half is doing something about it.

  • Use deodorant.  Might as well start with the most obvious one.  Most deodorants contain alcohol that turns the surface of your skin more acidic, making it less hospitable to bacteria.  Personally, I hate the smell of perfumed deodorants (since when does "fresh rain" smell like a hungarian bath house?), so I opt for the unscented variety.  I like Mitchum brand, but have heard good things about Trader Joe's brand.  If it irritates your skin, try baking soda or talcum powder, or use an antibacterial soap when you shower.
  • Skip the anti-perspirant, though.  These work by using aluminum compounds to temporarily block your pores, eliminating your ability to sweat.  This just doesn't seem like a good idea to me - fighting bacterial freeloaders is one thing, but disrupting your body's natural processes can have unintended effects, as can smearing metal compounds all over your skin.  Also:  it wrecks your clothes.
  • Workout in natural fabrics.  Synthetics like polyester and rayon can turn a mild "phew" into a full-blown "gah!," but cotton sucks to workout in.  The solution?  Merino wool.  It's a bit pricier, but its natural wicking and anti-bacterial properties make it something of a wonder fabric - you can wear it for days on end and then ride a crowded subway car without attracting a single dirty look.  It even comes in ultralight weights suitable for summer.  Gita and Ynez, our fashionistas-in-residence, recommend brand-names Icebreaker and Patagonia, but you can also find nice stuff by Backcountry and SmartwoolThe Backcountry outlet is a great place to pick some up for less, or keep an eye on CFEB's favorite super-discounter, Steep and Cheap.
  • Cut your hair, hippy.  OK fellas, I know that some consider the idea of trimming anywhere below the neck tantamount to wearing ultra-short cutoffs with a rainbow flag patch on the ass (not that there's anything wrong with that), but it's time to embrace your inner metrosexual.  Ever wonder why guys tend to smell so much more than ladies?  All that hair under your arms and *ahem* elsewhere provides an ideal breeding ground for the odiferous little bacteria.  Companies like Gillette and Norelco are hopping on the bandwagon with products specifically (and sometimes hilariously) targeted for men, so you're running out of excuses:  it's time to man up and trim down.  You don't need to go bare skin if you don't want to, but please:  if you can braid it, trim it.
  • Watch what you eat.  It wouldn't be a CrossKitchen article if I didn't lecture you about food, would it?  What you eat can have a definite effect on how you smell.  Both vegetarians and those who consume large quantities of meat tend to be stinkier than those with a more balanced diet.  Onions, garlic, curry, spicy food, coffee and alcohol are also prime culprits to be consumed in smaller quantities if you're a repeat olfactory offender.
I'm assuming here that I don't need to tell you the really obvious stuff (like "shower daily" and "wash your workout clothes between uses").  If I do, then you're probably beyond my help (in many ways).  But armed with these tips, even the muskiest malefactor can finish a long metcon smelling like a rose.  It has definitely helped me, if my wife's crinkled nose is any indicator.

54406887_032d65cbcc.jpgI like telling people that I'm fasting.  The blank, quizzical stares that meet this statement are always amusing.  I mean, who fasts?  The very idea calls up images of Ghandi, political protests religious self-abnegation or radical dietary desperation.  Clearly I'm not a monk or a radical, so what the hell am I doing not eating?

Intermittent Fasting (or "Intermittent Feeding," as some are now trying to re-brand it) is nowhere near as extreme as it sounds at first, and has some solid reasoning behind it.  It isn't a diet in the traditional sense, as it makes no effort to tell you WHAT to eat, or how much to eat - simply WHEN.  Lots of folks try to overthink it, but it really boils down to one simple rule:  Eat.  Don't eat for a while.  Eat.

How long is "a while?"  Well, that's up to you.  Probably at least 16 hours, and probably not more than 24.  A couple times a week, at least, but not more than five days.  The exact timing is really a matter of personal preference and your own schedule and needs, but there is a method behind this madness of minimums and maximums.

The biggest question:  Why?

So why would you do this to yourself?  Well, it turns out some pretty interesting and beneficial things happen to your body when you stop eating for a while.  Well, the definitive source on the matter is a long article by Scott Kustes called "What Happens to Your Body When you Fast?"  It's certainly worth reading in its entirety, but I'll paraphrase some key bullet points here.

  • Lipolysis.  Everyone loves burning fat, right?  Well, depending on your activity level, you'll typically burn through your body's glycogen stores in 16-18 hours.  When your body has no more glycogen to burn, it turns to gluconeogenesis (converting proteins to glycogen) and lipolysis (releasing bodyfat stores) for energy.  In other words:  you burn fat.
  • Hormone manipulation.  With blood sugar at baseline, the body has no need of insulin, so those levels are minimal and insulin sensitivity is improved.  ACTH, epinephrine and glucagon (which aid in stimulating lipolysis and muscle growth) go up.  Cortisol goes up, too, but not enough to really worry about. BHB (Beta-hydroxy butyrate) -  a ketone shown to be beneficial against Parkinson's and Alzheimers, insulin resistance and free radical damage - goes up, as does hGH (Human Growth Hormone), which is primarily responsible for tissue repair and hypertrophy.
  • Reduced inflammation.  A study of muslims fasting during Ramadan showed "significantly low" levels of IL-6, CRP and homocysteine (all markers of inflammation) during fasting, despite the inflammatory counter-effect of reduced sleep.
  • Longevity and healing.  Most of the studies here are on rats and mice, since IF is still a fairly new concept to science, but the upshot is that by forcing the body to look elsewhere than the gut for energy, you encourage cellular repair - a cell will turn to its own damaged or older proteins for energy.  Not good in the long run, obviously, but when you eat again the cell will be able to use the new resources to replace the older one it consumed.  At a macro level, that leads to higher resistance to Cancer, Heart Disease, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and simple old age.
  • Faster recovery.  As I've had it explained to me, "energy not spent on digestion can be spent on healing."  I don't know that the body's extremely complex systems and resources can be reduced to a zero-sum game, but it does make a certain amount of sense and is born out (anecdotally, at least) in practice.
  • Inefficiency.  Routine is the enemy of training. The body adapts extremely well to routine, which is why we are constantly throwing new things at it in CrossFit - by keeping on our toes and always mixing it up, we provoke the greatest response in our bodies.  The same goes for diet.
Not too much, though

IF, like training, is a measured stimulus intended to provoke a beneficial response.  A little damage is a good thing, as it leads to supercompensation.  But, like training, you can push the stimulus too far and do more damage than you intended.  Which is why it isn't really recommended that you fast for more than 24 hours, or why you shouldn't fast every day.  By all means, mix it up - keep your body on its toes! - but know that you are, in effect, hacking your body's natural processes and that can have unintended consequences.  (Having attempted a 24-hour fast, though, I'm not really too concerned about anyone overdoing this one.)

How do I do this?

The how is up to you, but here are a couple places to start:
  • Stop eating at 8pm.  Don't eat again until noon the next day.  There's 16 hours.  Try it twice a week to start, and up it to 4 days or so as you get comfortable with it.
  • Have a nice big early dinner at, say, 6pm.  Then don't eat again until dinner the next day.  I wouldn't do this more than twice a week, and I'd pick a busy day with a lot of distractions - nothing stimulates hunger like boredom.
  • Remember, you're supposed to eat as many calories as your current dietary needs dictate in the eating window.  IF makes caloric restriction easier, but it doesn't have to be about weight loss.  I've gained and lost weight fasting.
  • As always, quality matters.  IFOC (Intermittent Fasting on Crap) will not yield the results that a diet of real, whole food.  All that energy you're diverting from digestion will instead by spent by the body on filtering, processing, and generally just trying to figure out what the hell to do with the crap you've given it.
Can I eat <blank>?

No.  Fasting means not eating.  No juice, no milk, no pills filled with oil, no significant calories.  Black coffee or tea is acceptable, as is lemon in water (I hear that eases hunger pains).

My own experience

I found a noticeable performance increase when I started fasting, as well as improved recovery.  When I started doing it I was interested in weight loss, and after years of trying I was finally able to get under 10% bodyfat.  I've just finished a strength cycle where I ate insane amounts of food while doing IF, and gained a good amount of muscle with only a bit of extra fat.  (Now I get to ride the caloric restriction train again!)

I have never seen fat disappear as quickly as I did with the following protocol:
  • While still in a fasted state, do a brief HIIT (High-intensity Interval Training) workout.  This can be Sprint-8 (running or rowing), or just 50 burpees in hard sets of 10.  Something to spike your heart rate a few times.  This will burn through any glycogen you have remaining in your muscles after sleeping, and stimulate your body to release some fat into the bloodstream for energy.
  • Follow this up with about thirty minutes of easy cardio - something about 60% your max heart rate, so just light jogging or some biking.  Nothing too rough - all you're doing now is burning up the fat your body released.
  • By now your body will be struggling to keep up with your energy demands.  The longer you can wait until you eat, the more you'll burn, but be careful - you can bonk pretty hard.
  • Do this 2-3 times a week.

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

OK, I will admit that this is going perhaps too far in pursuit of low carbs.  But really, it's quite tasty, easier than pizza dough from scratch, and is very healthy.  It's also extremely high in fat, which is a GOOD thing in my book, particularly during times like these when I'm scrambling to try and shovel in enough calories to keep up with the damage we're doing to ourselves.

  • 2 cups cauliflower, steamed and grated in Cuisinart
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated
  • 2 eggs
  • few tsp spices (oregano, basil, parsley, fennel...whatever you like)

  • 1/2c marinara
  • toppings (2 sausages, veggie or otherwise, do the trick nicely)
  • the rest of the mozzarella
  • some parmesan

Preheat oven to 450 degrees farenheit.

Spray a cookie sheet with non-stick spray.

In a medium bowl, combine cauliflower, egg and mozzarella. Press evenly on the pan. Sprinkle evenly with fennel, oregano and parsley.

Bake at 450 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven. To the crust, add sauce, then toppings and cheese. Be sure your toppings are already cooked.

Place under a broiler at high heat just until cheese is melted. Serves 4.

Nutritional Breakdown
(per serving)

533 calories
32g fat (53%)
9g carbs + 7g fiber (8%)
43g protein (38%)

New Club Records

"Grace" 1:57, 2nd
"Fran" 2:57, 2nd


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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the CrossKitchen category from June 2009.

CrossKitchen: May 2009 is the previous archive.

CrossKitchen: July 2009 is the next archive.

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