It’s been 30 days of Paleo goodness, and I feel fantastic. My asthma’s under wraps. My jeans are fitting a bit looser, but not too loose. My shoulder and back muscles are a good bit more defined than when I came back from my New Orleans food debauchery trip. And I’ve mastered a couple of get-full-quick snacks (sweet potato shepherd’s pie, hard-boiled eggs, microwaved frozen broccoli) that will save me some time in the morning. On to another experiment. I’m more excited about this one than anything else I’ve tried since quitting the old CrossFit gym last year.
What kinds of exercise do I like? Lifting weights. Sprinting. The occasional brief conditioning WOD. So what brings them all together? An exciting program called CrossFit Football, which (from my extensive reading over the past few days), sounds like it’s meant for high school and college football players / power athletes, but it’s being used by those would would like to be at that same level of fitness. Like me! The program is the brainchild of former NFL player John Welbourn, who is mentioned fairly often on Robb Wolf’s podcasts as a shining example of a large power athlete who maintains amazing strength and muscle mass on a mostly Paleolithic diet. More on this in a bit.
What does CrossFit Football entail? And how am I going to attack the next few months on this program? Well as always, we break it down into three aspects:
A. Diet – from the source: “Eat with abandon: meat, fowl, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetables, roots, tubers, bulbs, herbs and spices as well as animal fats, olives & olive oil, avocados, and coconut (meat, oil, flour) and dairy.” So, a Paleo diet with lots of root veggies (including potatoes, perhaps) and natural high-fat high-quality dairy products, depending on your weight gain and strength gain goals. I don’t want to gain too much weight, so I doubt I’ll be drinking a gallon of milk a day. However, good protein (below) is expensive, so I think 50g of whey after a workout is going to be a regular thing.
What about other macronutrients? On various pages, Welbourn recommends 1g protein per lb of body weight, about 50% of calories from fat, and “20 cal/lb body weight for *weight gain*. So let’s start with protein. I weight 180, but my lean mass is 150. And my goal is probably to put on 10-15 pounds of muscle in the long-term. Let’s say 180g/day. 30g from eggs/bacon, 45g from half a pack of buffalo meat, 50g from either whey (workout days) or salmon (rest days), and the rest (55g) from a 8oz chicken breast. And 3000 calories/day is a good starting point to make sure I’m not too exhausted/underfed. 55% fat is 1650 calories, or 180g fat/day. And the rest is carbs, so 3000-1650-720 = 630g, or 160g carbs/day. I don’t want to go too much over 150g a day, so if I tinker with the fat intake a bit, it gets me to ~90g carbs on rest days and double that on workout days. On to the workouts –
B. The Workouts – the basic layout is this, a series of 4-5 workouts per 7-day period for an ‘amateur’ like me (meaning someone who doesn’t actively play football or have consistent weightlifting experience):
Day 1 – Squats 3 sets of 5 reps, Shoulder Press 3 sets of 5 reps, followed by a 5-15 min WOD
Day 2 – Deadlift 1 set of 5 reps, Pullups 3 sets to failure, followed by a 5-15 min WOD
Day 3 – rest
Day 4 – Squats 3 sets of 5 reps, Bench 3 sets of 5 reps, followed by a 5-15 min WOD
Day 5 – Power Cleans 5 sets of 3 reps, followed by a 5-15 min WOD
Day 6 – optional 5-15 min WOD, which I plan to defer, since I’m old and need to rest
Welbourn recommends starting well under your 5 rep max so you can build momentum with the first couple weeks and not get discouraged. To that end, I’m starting with squats at 225, press at 115, deadlift at 365, bench at 165, and cleans at 115. It’s a high volume program that expects you to increase the weight regularly (by 2.5-5 lbs per workout!), hit the conditioning WOD intensely, and eat a lot. Also, rest a lot. Which brings me to:
C. The Intangibles – Sleep, at least 8 hours a day but maybe more, is something that Welbourn encourages heavily. You can’t get stronger without a lot of rest. This is obviously a problem for someone with a full-time job like me. Also, I drink a lot of coffee, which is a great thing for fat loss, but not a great thing for sleep. So… what’s the first best way to change an outcome? Measure it. In fact, the rest of this year is going to be an exercise in data collection for me. I want to know: how much I eat, how much I sleep, how much coffee and booze I drink, my weight, my body fat, my strength gains, and what my cheat meals are. So I’m jotting down *everything* in a spreadsheet.
The questions that this will try to answer:
1. Can a high-calorie Paleo/Primal diet build muscle without packing on fat? That is, can we avoid the traditional pitfalls of bodybuilders and mass-gainers by avoiding cheap calories from weight-gain powders, concentrated grains, and sugary drink mixes?
2. Will meticulous data collection change some outcomes for the better and get me beyond some of my long-standing strength and body fat percentage roadblocks?
3. Can I stick with an actual workout program for more than 3 months without getting bored?