Is “protein” the latest marketing fad?


At Clandestine Strength, we like to emphasize a well-balanced diet with adequate protein to promote a healthy metabolism and muscle growth. This isn’t revolutionary, but it’s a new enough concept that food marketers are starting to catch on. Protein, rather than standing in as the least-glamorous supporting actor of the macronutrient family, is now front and center, and “protein” has quickly become a buzzword in the food marketing world.

Protein pancakes. Protein cookies. Protein ice cream. Protein chips. Protein water. Protein cereal. Protein pizza. Name any food, and some food marketers somewhere have probably affixed “protein” to the front of the packaging, and now it’s selling like hot cakes (er, protein hot cakes).

Here’s our take. This isn’t always a bad thing. Setting all cynicism aside, making protein more convenient and readily available is the clear upside here. However, high-protein labels are no different than gluten-free labels, high-fiber labels, or just about any other label “X” you can imagine: just because it’s “X” doesn’t automatically make it a health food.

If you feel inclined to increase your protein intake, look to whole foods as sources of protein first. Secondly, look to a clean protein powder supplement. For 99% of the population (and this includes recreational exercisers that weight train), this is an adequate amount of protein. If you’ve got your bases covered on these two fronts, there should be no need to reach for the protein popcorn or the protein brownie. It’s best to save your money, as these products are often more expensive, too. Consuming a lot of high-protein “junk food” will also lead to the same caloric surplus that makes weight loss impossible, even though we’re led into the illusion that we’re making a healthy choice.

And if you are going to reach for the product adorned with “high protein!” splashed across the front of its packaging, check their math and read the nutrition label on the back, too. How many grams of protein are there per serving? Where is the protein coming from? Does the item also contain loads of sugars, additives, or other undesirable ingredients? If it passes the smell test, then live your life! Go ahead and eat it, but grab for these items sparingly. You’re doing just fine already!


What would be just slightly better?

Despite our best efforts, we are not always, 100 percent of the time, prepared with perfect, pre-portioned meals rich in nutrients and high in quality. Huh. Imagine that!

Sometimes, we just gotta make do with what we’ve got.

Maybe you’re at a less-than-ideal restaurant. Maybe you’re traveling. Maybe you’ve just had a really busy week. Whatever the reason is, it’s important you remember you’re not failing and you don’t have to ditch all your healthy eating efforts because you’ve hit a little bump in the road.

When ‘life stuff’ strikes (and it will), we recommend asking yourself the following question: what food option available to me right now would be just slightly better?

For example, if you’re at an Italian restaurant, think about swapping the spaghetti and meatballs for a chicken dish with marinara sauce instead. If you’re at a burger joint, think about going sans bun and milkshake but still saying “sure!” to the sweet potato fries. Maybe you can even sneak in a side salad and eat that first. Rather than going all-or-nothing on your diet, look at your food choices on a spectrum where your choices vary only in degree of helpfulness, but they’re not coded as success or fail.

This decision-making process — determining what’s just “slightly better” — can be employed just about anywhere. Even if your only option for sustenance is at a gas station, I’ll bet you can still find hard-boiled eggs, carrot sticks, a fresh fruit, and some water. And if those options aren’t available, choose the next slightly better option. Maybe that’s a protein bar, string cheese or beef jerky, some dried fruit, and…well, alright, you can probably still find water. And if those options aren’t available, keep going down the list from YAY! to COOL to FINE to IT’LL DO until you find something that works for you.

If you tuned in last week, you’ll recall that this isn’t the best strategy to use 24/7/365. But, if you find yourself in a bind and yet you’re still committed to making the healthiest choice available to you, then give this little question a try: What would be just slightly better?


The scone-undrum

Imagine you’re at a bakery. There are trays of cinnamon rolls, a lineup of fresh baked scones, chewy, oversized cookies by the platter, and rows upon rows of brownies and bars. So many choices. So many perfect, doughy, warm, lovely choices.

And then. You remember. That weight loss goal you had. The bake case has now become a minefield of confusion, of “lesser of two evils” thinking. Nearly the entire selection becomes suddenly out of the equation. You examine what options you’re left with. Do I choose the vegan brownie? The gluten-free rice krispy bar? The healthy-looking cranberry walnut scone?

You opt for one of the “healthy” choices. The experience? Not so great. That vegan brownie? Well, it’s alright, but it’s nothing spectacular. The rice krispy bar? Leaves more to be desired. And that cranberry walnut scone? Well, let’s put it this way, you don’t even like walnuts or cranberries.

You leave the bakery still dreaming about those giant cookies.

We do this all the time! We eat foods we don’t even really want, and then we still end up craving the foods we really wanted all along.

I would opt you go for the giant cookie. Or the scone. Or whatever baked good really tickles your fancy. The baked good that makes you exit those bakery doors on a flaky, puffy cloud of bliss.

I have several reasons (and just as many stipulations), but my biggest reason for recommending the cookie is this: The nutritional profile of the rice krispy bar/vegan brownie/health-nut scone will often break down to be about the same as the cookie anyway.

To find examples that illustrate this, I pulled a few items off Starbucks’ bakery menu:

8 GRAIN ROLL: 380 calories / 70g carbs / 6g fat

VANILLA BEAN WHOOPIE PIE: 360 calories/ 45g carbs / 18g fat

CARAMELIZED APPLE POUND CAKE: 400 calories / 68g carbs / 12g fat

The 8-grain roll sounds like it would be the obvious “healthy” choice, but take notice that it’s roughly identical in calories to both the pound cake and the whoopie pie. When it comes to weight loss, energy balance (how many calories you consume versus how many you expend) always rules. This law outweighs macronutrient split (the ratio of carbs, protein, and fat). And this law definitely outweighs how many different types of grains are used in the making of your breakfast roll.

My advice? Choose the whoopie pie! Or the apple pound cake. Not because they’re more delicious than the 8-grain roll (even though they are), but because not only are they more delicious, but they’re also within 20 calories of the multigrain roll. Truth be told, none of these options are necessarily health food options. You might as well just choose the most delicious one. And of course, if the multigrain roll is truly what sounds most amazing to you, then go ahead and choose the roll (we won’t judge…well, only a little).

You may even decide none of these options are really worth it. And that’s okay! Don’t get bogged down in false dilemmas, deciding between X and Y when Z (a cup of coffee and a sigh of relief) exists.

I’ll be posting Part II next week, where I break down what to do when the math doesn’t equate, as in, in no logical universe is this double layer chocolate cake comparable to a whole grain bun in calories or moral fiber. Stay tuned.


How to avoid gym burnout

Motivation can be a fickle friend. It’s there until it isn’t, and then you’re left wondering how you can possibly drag yourself along to keep going. If you find your motivation to work out waxes and wanes constantly, or if you find yourself in a particularly stubborn slump, here are our five tips to avoid burnout when it comes to your workouts.

  1. Understand that’s it’s not always about avoiding the slump. Sometimes you just need to name it and recognize its presence in the room. If you can acknowledge the burnout settling in, you might be able to lessen some of the effects. The more honest you can be with yourself and how you’re feeling, the smoother it can be navigate your way through it. A daily journal or log can be really helpful with this.
  2. Recognize the difference between motivation and discipline. The truth is, even the most committed and passionate elite athletes don’t always want to practice or train. Reconnect to your “why.” Discipline will always be more reliable than motivation.
  3. Focus on the areas you have control over outside the gym. Go to sleep half an hour early, prepare for tomorrow’s meals while making dinner, or take an extra ten minutes to stretch. You might just be lagging in the gym because your recovery has dipped a bit. Sharpening the focus on these areas can make the difference.
  4. Make sure you’re hitting those low-intensity steady-state (LISS) workouts regularly. This could mean a longer duration row, jog, or bike, or any low-impact exercise you can do at a conversational pace for 30 to 60 minutes. This is a great way to push the mental reset button while also aiding in recovery and increasing your aerobic capacity for when you do return to those higher intensity workouts.
  5. Remember, you don’t have to work out. You get to work out. Reframing exercise from a chore to something you have the privilege and health to do can go a long way in re-energizing yourself.

Wacking through the fitness marketing weeds


I think the internet is a really amazing tool. It’s helped propel a fitness movement into a full-scale revolution. In fact, I first started working out years ago only because I watched a YouTube video of Annie Thorisdottir working out and thought, “I want to do that!” Millions of people around the world have a similar story, and their lives have changed forever for it.

That is so cool and inspiring. And yet, the flip side is that companies trying to make a quick buck were also taking notice of this sea change. With so much information out there, and with everyone claiming to be a fitness expert, how do we filter what information to take in?

I’m not going to call out specific exercise programs or name shady companies claiming to be beacons of health. I will leave that to someone else more credible than myself. But I will share with you what yardsticks I use to measure whether the information I’m receiving is worth me trusting and absorbing. Sifting through all this information can be exasperating.

First, I wouldn’t trust an exercise program that capitalizes on your insecurities. For example, claims that home workout videos are superior because gyms are uncomfortable are seizing on your insecurities to use as incentive to buy their product. This reasoning is also typically targeted at women: “you see those free weights in the corner that all the guys hog and make you feel really uncomfortable if you try to use? Yeah you don’t need those. In fact…don’t bother going to the gym at all…buy this workout DVD and stay at home instead” only perpetuates this systemic cultural problem. If a woman wants to use those free weights, SHE SHOULD GO USE THEM. We as women need to be assertive and unapologetic about that. I’ve had my share of negative gym experiences. Whether the experience involves someone who isn’t very good at sharing equipment or whether you’re on the receiving end of unwanted stares, I can relate to feeling uncomfortable at the gym. But, there are also plenty of gyms built around a sense of community, inclusion, and egality, and I would encourage everyone I know and love to find one of those gyms before giving your money to someone all too eager to capitalize on those very real and valid insecurities.

I also wouldn’t trust a product that makes outsize claims. The biggest example of this I see are detox “fit” teas or “skinny” teas marketed on social media. These are money-making scams. Always stick to the basics first: sleep well. And if you can do that, make most of your meals balanced and containing whole foods. If you can do that, work out. But if a marketer (and yes, “marketer” includes reality TV personalities all the way on down the line to your neighbor who bought bulk cases of fit teas that they’re now desperately trying to get off their hands!) is claiming that this one magic elixir will solve everything, it’s okay to be skeptical and save your money.

As a general rule, any fitness or diet protocol that advertises you put in less effort and still lose weight/get fitter/get stronger might also be worth scrutinizing. Gyms that are $10 a month rely on the assumption you’ll barely show up, otherwise, their square footage alone wouldn’t be able to sustain such a massive membership base (imagine 10,000 people descending on your local gym all at once!). Think about it: they’re banking on you not showing up. Know that progress always comes with a sacrifice or priority shift of some kind; sometimes it’s time, sometimes it’s money, but, as the old economist adage goes, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Lastly, I find products and workout programs geared specifically for women and/or men to be suspect. I wouldn’t rule them all out entirely, but any supplement labeled “for women” often boasts that the product will “shape” and “tone” your body as opposed to building muscle mass. On the other side, products labeled “for men” will brag about the product’s powers of getting you “ripped” and “shredded” in no time at all. The difference isn’t in the ingredient list, but in the marketing. It turns out, this is a very effective marketing tactic for all types of products. Similarly, workout programs marketed to females that eliminate strength training because it isn’t feminine or because it will cause you to become too “bulky” are also making a dubious claim. Lifting heavy weights does not make you bulky. And the females on Instagram or YouTube that you do find to be “bulky” spend hours in the gym every single day, and they are likely consuming enough calories to feed a family of four. 😉 It didn’t happen by accident! So no, you won’t get bulky by lifting heavy. You will, however, get stronger. So, be wary of exercise protocols that recommend you not do something merely on account of being a woman.

So there you have it! I hope you find some of these tricks helpful in sorting through all the noise. I’ll close by saying most of what’s out there is inherently good and well-intended. I definitely didn’t write this to stoke fear and doubt, especially in an industry I care so much about. But, as with anything from pet supplies to ballot boxes, being a savvy consumer of information can go a long way and save a lot of time and frustration.




Holiday Thrive-ival Guide


With the holidays fast approaching, I am beginning to see a lot of “holiday survival guides” floating around the internet, where naturally you’ll learn how to protect your diet from the onslaught of pies and cookie exchanges and potlucks being hurled your way in the next five weeks. These guides undoubtedly have a lot of useful information, so useful, in fact, I even set out to write my own holiday survival guide.

And so I started writing it. I started thinking about all the habits that make the holidays a little less stressful. So I began to think about what my own Thanksgiving dinner might look like. I thought about filling my plate how I normally would. For me, that begins with protein and veggies. That’s my foundation, and whatever I decide to add to my plate beyond that, I really won’t fret over (I’m looking at you, mashed potatoes). I know I’ve already got my bases covered by filling my plate with quality protein and volume greens. This will help me make clearer decisions later, like whether I should have a slice of pumpkin pie and a bowl of ambrosia. Even if I decide, YOLO, I’ll know I’ve come to that decision having fed my body and my brain the right stuff to feel good and to make level-headed choices. Level-headed choices such as, heck yeah, I am definitely going for the pumpkin pie as well as the ambrosia.

And I thought about how this could be applied to pretty much any holiday scenario, whether it’s a work potluck, a holiday party, or even a late-night, post-holiday-shopping solo dinner. I don’t think too hard about what I should and shouldn’t eat; instead, I just think about eating consistent, well-rounded meals regularly throughout the day. Suppose you arrive at the office ready to keep your diet on track only to find your coworkers have brought for the annual potluck every doughnut variety imaginable, every casserole known to the Midwest, and every holiday cookie south of the North Pole. Well, I’ll bet if you started your day with a spinach omelet and and a sweet potato with butter you won’t be feeling ravenously hungry by the time those mid-morning doughnuts roll through. Eating whole, nutritious foods throughout the day is a way to “survive the holidays,” sure, but it’s also just your lifestyle, and your lifestyle doesn’t do seasonal work. Focus on the 90% of your holiday schedule that you do have control over, and don’t stress out too much over the 10% you don’t. Maybe even throw a little fun in there, too. We’re fortunate to even get to celebrate.

So although I set out to write a holiday survival guide, I found my manual so sorely lacking any concrete, hard-nosed instructions so much as to hardly be a guide at all. There are no answers to “can I have…” or “should I stay away from…” here. There’s no “survival” gear to shift into. Ultimately, you deserve so much more than to be in constant war over whether Temptation wins the battle or Self-Restraint, and this is true whether the halls are decked or not. The holidays aren’t a fateful time where good diets get derailed, because good diets don’t get derailed. Good diets are lifestyle habits that allow for change and creativity, and they don’t require a unique skill set, as well as a separate armor of self-control, during the weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. And so although I set out to write a holiday survival guide, I decided it’s better that you thrive.


Moderation is a lie

Alright, I’ll start off by saying moderation in your diet isn’t a lie: it can be real and valid. However, there are certain tendencies and write-offs associated with moderation that make true moderation pretty hard to achieve successfully, such as making the claim you’re incapable of making a change (“I could never cut out bread”) or the old adage, “today’s my cheat day” (spoiler: there’s no such thing as cheat days). So, while moderation itself may not be a lie, the assumptions and tendencies surrounding it might be, frustrating its practitioners by totally thwarting progress.

  1. Success utilizing the “everything in moderation” method centers around the assumption that we can clearly, neatly, and accurately define what “moderation” actually is. In the fitness community, I often hear people say they adhere to their diet 80% of the time, or follow an “80/20 rule.” But does that mean 80% of your meals are 100% adherent, or that each meal is 80% adherent, or some combination of both? What unit of measurement are we working with here? More importantly, how do we know where the 80% line in the sand is? Where the “lie” in moderation is might lie in this truth: moderation is a moving target and we are not very skilled at hitting it.
  2. I have a tendency to believe most people are actually tougher and more credible than they give themselves credit for. We tend to attribute too many of our not-so-great food choices to “well, everything in moderation.” I think what gets missed is any deeper reflection than that. And no, I don’t mean we should dwell and look down on ourselves for making that food choice…but rather ask ourselves if we’re even practicing moderation at all. Because moderation is so murky, so imprecise, a better question to ask before eating said not-so-great choice is… is it worth it? It’s okay if the answer is yes. Maybe it’s your mom’s fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Maybe the dish in question is part of a dearly held tradition or ritual. Maybe it’s your birthday. Maybe you just don’t have any concrete goals right now, and see no downside to eating it. The bottom line is, it’s special and you’re going to eat it. But maybe that question still bears contemplation. And if the answer is no, it’s really not worth it (maybe it’s your third beer, maybe it’s leftover Halloween candy and not even the good candy, you get the idea…), then I’m here to remind you, you’re tougher than you think you are, and I promise you, you don’t have to drink/eat it. “Everything in moderation” can go fly a kite.
  3. We have a tendency to resign to the idea that we could never (like, ever) eliminate a certain food from our diet. “But I love cheese!” or “but I always have a glass of wine with dinner, it’s just what I do” are fine defenses, but only if you’re not serious about your goals and priorities. If you’re ready to put a ring on it, then you may want to ask yourself if you’re defending precisely what’s going to get in the way of your progress. Trust that you are totally capable.
  4. For certain goals, moderation can simply make your goals harder, if not impossible, to reach. If you’re eating whole, nutrient-dense foods in an effort to just feel better, then throwing in the occasional slice of pizza is going to trigger an immune response. The metabolic effects of one slice and the whole pizza aren’t as far away from each other as you’d think. So if your goals include anything like fixing a hormonal imbalance, improving your psychological health, healing a leaky gut, or reducing inflammation, it might be helpful to consider cutting out those problematic foods (for many people this could include sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, alcohol, etc.) with 100% adherence for a specified period (30 days minimum) in order to let your body heal. No 80/20 funny business here.

“Everything in moderation” does nothing to change your habits long-term. It’s something we say to feel marginally better about our choices, but what if I told you it’s possible to feel great about your choices? This can be achieved by accepting that moderation is, well, kind of a lie. But we can create good habits. We can make clear choices, and we can be honest with ourselves about those choices. We can set healthy boundaries. And if that ends up looking something like moderation in the end, then so be it. But at least this time it’s real and valid.


Chasing the nutrition unicorn

The more I go digging for specificity in nutrition (“when’s the best time to consume fats?” “how soon should I eat after training?” “what’s the optimal protein source?”), the more I begin to realize that a general answer works for almost every specific question. For some folks, this answer will cause great frustration, because how can it be that simple? But, it’s worth stressing over and over and over again: none of this matters half as much as how consistent you are, and what your total daily caloric intake is.

If you’re wondering how much protein to have after you work out and if beef or chicken is better, but you’ve barely had 40 grams of protein all day and it’s 7 o’clock at night, then the marginal differences between chicken and beef or 24 grams versus 30 grams at dinner won’t matter much. Focus on your total protein intake for the day first. Once you’re consistently nailing it, we can start to play around with the details.

If you want to recover from your workouts optimally, and I’m sure you all do, remember your recovery already started before you even began your workout. In a sense, it started yesterday. If you’re walking into a workout having slept poorly and under-ate throughout the day, know that even a grassfed, pasture-raised, paleo dinner topped off with a protein shake and 40 minutes of ROMWOD probably won’t achieve what just plain, old-fashioned consistency could.

I like to think of it the same way I think of fashionable “detox” diet cleanses. These teas and juices profess to flush your system of toxins, restoring you to good health. But, recall your body is already its own master detoxifier. That’s what we have our kidneys, liver, skin, and intestines for. We eat nutritious, whole foods, strength train, drink water, and get in quality sleep in order to let our bodies function optimally, and any detox cleanse will never come half as close to reaching those same results.

Note, I am not equating juice cleanse scams to any of the aforementioned recovery protocols. Stretching, bodywork, a solid meal after training – those are all helpful and should be employed. But, be careful that your recovery implements aren’t reactive; eat nutritious foods and in the appropriate amounts throughout the day, not just after a workout when you think it’s most important. Understand that “I’ve ate like crap – I better detox” is nearly the same faulty logic as “My diet is a roller coaster ride – what should I do to not be sore tomorrow?”

You simply can’t manipulate and maneuver around an inconsistent diet through strategic, reactive dieting and detoxing. Your body is too smart! So why should your recovery be any different? You can’t outsmart your body into recovering properly if you’re only viewing your recovery on the other side of your workout. Your recovery is a 24-hour gig, not an encore. Be consistent. Keep your intake appropriate to your goals and your activity level (that’s one question that is worth tailoring to you: how much to eat!). Only then will you discover how truly slick your body is at detoxing and recovering. And maybe, just maybe…you won’t get a general answer from me.


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20160328 – New Friend Request

Every three minutes for 15 minutes:

10 Burpees

10 Kettlebell Swings (Russian)

10 Goblet Squats

10 Kettlebell Swings (Russian)

10 Goblet Squats

10 Burpees