Level 2 CrossFit Trainer
I Don’t Have A Degree In Nutrition, But I Do Know Why My Jeans From High School Fit Me Again (My Story)
By: Craig Nolletti (CrossFit Addict and Food Rebel)
November 20, 2013
When I was 14 years old I decided that I wanted to look like one of those superhero tough guys you see in the movies: The Terminator, Batman, The Hulk to name a few. I am 28 years old as I write this and I would very much still like to look like a superhero but I am equally as concerned with my health as much as I am my physical appearance. For the last 14 years of my life I have not missed a week of doing some sort of physical training and during those last 14 years I have experienced a LOT in regards to all things strength and fitness. I have witnessed women bench pressing over 300lbs, 135lb squats for sets of 100 reps, people doing jump ropes with someone sitting on their shoulders, a 315lb hang clean with 1 ARM and guys weighing 165lbs deadlifting nearly3x their bodyweight. These things may not impress some people but I am absolutely enthralled with what the human body can do if given the right nutrition and physical training.
Before you continue reading and wonder what the point of this story is I think it is important that you know my history and what I have experienced to get to where I am today. Some of the things in my history may very well be something you have experienced or are experiencing right now. Back to when I was 14 and in the process of turning myself into The Incredible Hulk. I began my journey into fitness by running. (Cause you need to run a lot to get a 6-pack right?) I started by running around my parents pond in the front yard and within a few weeks I was running down the road and then after that I was running around the block (4 miles), each day. I was completely hooked. I lost that middle school chubbiness I had and my self esteem increased. I couldn’t get enough of watching how my body changed and adapted to the physical stress I applied to it day after day. From running I went to lifting weights. I ended up with a small weight set and I would stand in front of the mirror in the basement and pump out set after set of curls hoping to see my biceps get huge. While I was in the process of turning myself into a superhero I began trying to eat better. With all of my running I had lost some body fat but I looked a lot like a marathon runner and not like Superman. I decided that obviously if I ate food that contained FAT then I would in turn get FAT. So I played it safe and ate some meat (only some meat since meat has fat in it), lots of granola bars (no fat at all), whole wheat bread (no fat, and wheat is healthy right?) and I made sure I was typically always hungry because I assumed that in order to be super ripped you needed to restrict calories and starve most of the time. This was my eating plan through high school. I put on “some” muscle and got stronger but I surely was not as lean as the guys in the Flex magazine or the superhero guys on TV.
I started college and I decided that it was time to show everyone on campus how big and strong I had gotten from my 4 years or so of lifting in my basement. Unfortunately when I stepped into the Field House at Ashland University I realized that my entire body did not carry as much muscle as most of the athlete’s right arms. (I didn’t realize at the time that the people I was training with were Olympic level throwers training with Judd Logan, look him up.) I was quite depressed after seeing the size and strength of the guys lifting and training in the gym. I knew I could either, quit, and try something else in life or figure out how these guys got so big.
I began doing some research on how to get big and I found that food was extremely important in muscle and strength development. I not only needed to eat quality food but I needed to eat a lot of it. I started training harder than ever before and eating way more food. I would eat anything and everything I could find. I also started using a TON of supplements including some Mark McGuire type supplements if you catch my drift. I gained a lot of weight and a lot of muscle to the tune 50lbs. I basically went from around 175lbs my senior year of high school to about 225-230lbs by the start of my sophomore year of college. As college moved along I continued to eat a lot, lift a lot and I started to feel my heart beat a whole lot harder when it wasn’t supposed to be working so hard (like laying in bed at night or sitting in class).
Despite my best efforts to ignore my health issues and focus on superhero status I decided I was not real healthy. My blood pressure was high from the supplements and ridiculous amount of poor quality food I was eating ($11 spent on the dollar menu was not out of the question, not joking), I was carrying around excess body fat and I was out of breath after tying my shoes. I decided I finally had enough muscle and I needed to get healthy, it was time to get ripped. I upped my cardio/ running and cut out any extra calories. I was eating super healthy: oatmeal, chicken, all natural granola bars, salad, whole wheat bread with turkey for sandwiches and I never ate too much.
My cardio was going great and I was still lifting weights regularly. I got smaller. I lost some fat but obviously I lost some muscle as well because I still wasn’t lean. I was just kind of a smaller version of what I was originally. I couldn’t figure out what went wrong because I was eating all the healthy grains and some meat and veggies but there was no 6 pack abs anywhere in my future. I was frustrated to say the least. It wasn’t long until I went right back into the world of getting big, eating big, and lifting big. I focused on power lifting and wanted to be strong. I devoted every Saturday to deadlifting for nearly 2 years and I hit a goal of a 600lb deadlift in December 2010. Lifting maximal weights week after week WILL take its toll on your body. By that time my various injuries started catching up with me I was hardly able to play basketball or run for that matter. I don’t know if it was maturity but I decided I needed to walk away from the eat big, lift big scenario and regain my health.
I decided to try CrossFit. The first workout I did was so hard that I honestly questioned if one of my lungs had collapsed at some point in my past because I couldn’t breathe…..at all. This workout was not like anything I had ever done. I truly thought something was wrong with me because I physically could not perform the workout. I immediately tried to forget CrossFit and go back to my old lifting ways. I briefly ventured back into the power lifting and pure strength world all the while trying to forget that CrossFit workout and write it off as something only small and weak people do for cardio. It wasn’t too long into my 2nd power lifting career that I finally threw in the towel, too many injuries and just not feeling good in general brought me back to CrossFit. I started seeing my body change in ways it never had before. I was able to do pull-ups for more than 3 reps at a time. I had an urge to eat better as well. This is where it gets interesting. Up until I started CrossFit I always thought that you would get lean and ripped from restricting calories and fat and by eating “healthy” grains you could assist your body in burning off body fat. I think it was half educating myself and previous experimentation with my diet that led me to try a Paleo diet.
My first experience with eating Paleo was extreme to say the least. I lost well over 10lbs in bodyweight the first week and then proceeded to lose about 30lbs more in the following month and a half. I was simply restricting my calories down to the bare minimum and I cut out all SUGAR, GRAINS, DAIRY and BREADS. I was blown away with how lean I got so quickly but I also lost a great deal of muscle at the time. The day I fell off the Paleo wagon was ugly and I can remember exactly what I ate to this day. I had lifted weights early that morning before work and I remember being weak and feeling small. I was frustrated and I was going to quit the diet. I stopped at the store before work and bought a Coconut Cream Pie and a gallon of chocolate milk. I consumed both before lunchtime. For lunch I had 3 Big Mac Meals and Cokes as well as a 6” Subway sub. Dinner consisted of a Digiorno pizza with 1lb of ground beef on top of it. I gained 12lbs that day and I yet again fell off the healthy eating bandwagon. You may not want to believe these numbers I gained and lost but I have no reason to make anything up. I have nothing to sell you or convince you of. This is just my story.
I proceeded to eat quite recklessly and I was back to my previous weight and physical appearance. Looking back on the diet now I realized I was restricting my calories far too much while eating Paleo and I needed more fats and proteins in order to maintain muscle mass and strength. This experience was priceless. For the few months following this incident I bounced around between CrossFit and power lifting and healthy eating and terrible eating. Eventually my training became much more focused on CrossFit and less on how many plates I could load on the barbell. I also found a style of eating that is now a way of life for me. I eat Paleo/ Primal style Monday- Friday and then loosen the guidelines up on the weekend which does a few things for me. 1. It is easy to stick with clean eating during the week since I am at work and can only eat what I bring with me. 2. Knowing you can eat whatever you want during the weekend makes it easy to eat clean all week. 3. The calorie/ carb surge during the weekend replenishes my glycogen stores and sends my metabolism into overdrive with the weekly reefed. It is crucial to find a food guideline or some basic rules to follow when you are trying to eat better. In my opinion a set “diet” or counting calories is fine and dandy but I have yet to meet anyone that does that as their lifestyle of eating.
So as my journey continues on with CrossFit at the wheel and a whole foods diet I can say that I feel healthier than I have ever felt and despite my strength not being where it was when I weighed 250lbs I would prefer to weigh 220lbs and be where I am. A few weeks ago I was running low on jeans to wear and I decided to grab a pair from my high school days just to see if I could squeeze into them (Don’t ask why I still have them)…..surprisingly the jeans not only buttoned but they buttoned with ease. Every day I go into the gym I have the confidence to beat a personal best or do something faster than the last time. The further I get into the world of CrossFit the more I realize that CrossFit is much more different than any other training regimen. Power lifting, bodybuilding, P90X, Insanity, they are all fine and dandy and have their place in certain people’s lives but I am completely sold on CrossFit. There is NOTHING like it and the results speak for themselves. I still don’t look like The Hulk but I do look better than I did when the dollar menu and I were close friends. If you are interested in a change both mentally and physically then you owe it to yourself to give CrossFit a try. I can’t wait to see where CrossFit and the community of CrossFitters worldwide will be in the coming months and years. Thank you CrossFit. Keep changing lives.