Lifestyle, Humour, Health & Mindset

The Gain Train Dilemma

The Gain Train Dilemma

I don’t like the phrase “strong is the new skinny” and not because I don’t think being strong is awesome (because I do), but because I think creating ideals related to body image makes things tough on everyone. I also think that strong is an adjective that describes a state of physical being, and not a LOOK. I think people have the right to look however the fuck they want to look—strong, skinny, lean, shredded, masculine, feminine or maybe a little soft around the edges.

In the real world things are pretty simple, girls want to be skinny and ‘toned’ and guys usually want a lean shredded physique or some variation of muscle and limited body fat. But in the world of competitive sports and CrossFit, things get a little more complicated.

The Dilemma –

I want to be strong, but I want to be slim. I want to be strong enough to squat 250lbs, but I want to be light enough to do a muscle up. I want to be slender and fast, but I want to have energy and feel powerful. I want muscular legs, but I want to rock skinny jeans! If my relationship with my body had a status on Facebook, it would most certainly be labeled as ‘it’s complicated’. Unfortunately for me, we all know what ‘it’s complicated’ means…. I am totally fucked.

There was a point in time where I made the clear and decisive decision to get skinny. I restricted my calories, shifted my diet, cut carbs and ate a lot of celery and not much else. I got really skinny and subsequently weak AF. BUT, I liked how I looked. I got a lot of attention, the compliments came rollin’ in and I could fit into all of the really cute ‘small girl clothes’. #sizeonewhaaaaa

One summer I almost didn’t make Team B.C. for basketball because they said I needed to put on some weight. That was a pretty harsh reality check for me and I had to decide what was more important. Obviously it was a no-brainier and a future basketball scholarship was on the line—I decided to stop being such a douche and start eating again. I put on 20lbs in hot minute and was back to my normal, ‘athletic’ physique in no time. The sad reality was, I couldn’t be skinny and successful at my craft because, that wasn’t my body type and to maintain that weight took a toll on my energy levels, strength, stamina and even cognitive function. However, that was me. There are many very slender and petite athletes who are miraculously strong! #skinnydoesntmeanweak

Decisions Decisions –

It’s a decision many athletes are faced with…are we comfortable putting on lean body mass, wearing bigger pants, busting out of the shoulders in our shirts and seeing a higher number on the scale in order to make gainz in the gym or maintain a certain level of performance? For most women, the answer is no.

I will be honest, for me, it’s a battle everyday.

In order to gain muscle, the body needs fuel—and an abundance of it. In order to shed fat after building this muscle, the body needs a caloric deficit and perhaps more tedious cardiovascular-type exercise. To try and embark on a mutual compromise between bulking and cutting typically brings compromising results in either direction. A good old fashion Mexican stand-off if you will.

Moving Forward – 

CrossFit is a great mix of heavy lifting and HIIT, so the ability to gain muscle and simultaneously get lean should be possible. For some people it comes easier than others, they can eat whatever they want and still see results. This could be a combination of many things including genetics and training age. But
for others, the struggle is real. I fell slightly short in the genetic ab lottery, but consequently I don’t tend to gain a ton of weight in my legs and ass. #commonassgrow

Just when I think I know what I want, I get thrown for a loop. I decide – yes, I want to slim down a little, then I miss a lift and BOOM, so upset….I must eat all of the food, fuck what the scale says.

I am clearly still trying to find a balance, so I don’t have all the answers. I think what it comes down to is how you feel. Are you putting on weight but feeling strong and powerful? Are you putting on weight but feeling slow, heavy and sluggish? If you are feeling the latter, maybe it’s time to take a closer look at food quality and timing? Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a little steady state cardio now and again? Or maybe you should check-in with those macros and see where you might be falling short. Biofeedback and how that aligns with your goals is the important thing to focus on.

At the end of the day, it’s your choice. If getting strong is important to you, than it’s important to eat enough to maintain those energy levels and support muscle gains. If you feel like shit and can’t perform body weight movements you once could, maybe what you are eating is not right for your body at this moment in time.

It’s your decision but be smart about it and embrace it! If you are an athletic female, don’t compare yourself to regular girls. You are NOT a regular girl. You can do shit regular girls can’t do and you should be pumped about it. (Note to self – be pumped about shit I can do when I am envious of small regular world girls in adorable clothes). Whatever decision you make, be confident and walk around like you own the place because, like my pal Gwen always says, your shit is bananas B-A-N-A-N-A-S.


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8 thoughts on “The Gain Train Dilemma”

  • Great article Kelly. The balance between food and performance is a daily trial!

    My problem with the ‘Strong is the new Sexy’ has always been ‘where does that leave me?’. Amongst my CrossFit peers I am not strong. However, if there was an AMRAP of love for the sport, I think I would make top three. Love and passion for the sport will leave you feeling sexy as hell (really, you should see me in my long jeans). Finding a place in the diverse world of CrossFit, with food fuckery all around, I am just glad I have friends who are equally glad to ignore the ‘motivational’ posters and forge our own way.

  • Strong and lean are not mutually exclusive and the road to gymnastics is not weight loss, it’s consistent training. Why don’t we treat food as the fuel that it is instead of something we wear on our bodies. What I put into my mouth doesn’t rematerialize directly on my body, although that seems to be that mental horror of eating for many people. Your body is a complex machine that is a product of ALL influence including physical activity as well as rest and recovery, body composition as well as nutrient intake, and maybe even mental game 😉
    AS for being skinny, if you are not strong (haveawesomemuscles) you are weak (greatchoice-eyerollfacepalm) and fat (ifitsnotmusclewhatareyoumadeof).

  • “I think creating ideals related to body image makes things tough on everyone. ”

    Yup, this exactly. I can workout 8 hours a day and if I don’t eat properly I will gain weight. If I want to lose weight I have to eat perfectly. PERFECTLY. It’s so damn frustrating. Thanks for such a great post on the subject! Like every single time you eat you have the chance to make a healthy choice we all also have the chance to think good thoughts about our body every time we look in the mirror. Practice makes perfect right!

  • Great article Kelley!

    My two cents:

    We are now in a world where the number on the scale is now one of many to quantify our self worth (and probably the least relevant at that). The beauty of this sport is how many stats we can run on ourselves, and watch them improve time and time again. Our lifting numbers, pull up numbers, run times, row times, handstand walking distances, etc should all be much more relevant to how we look at ourselves, as opposed to the number on the scale.

    • I know, I agree Jeff! 🙂 Easier said than done though…you’re a boy, you don’t know the struggles.

  • I’m reading this article for the 2nd time because you’re just SO bang on Kel! I had such a great weekend competing and hitting badass PRs and awesome shit, and then yesterday someone said to me “Wow, you’re really bulking up hey?” #facepalm… No girl wants to be called bulky – but I do love being strong! Such a battle 🙁

    • Quinn, the fact that someone would say that to you makes me infuriated!!!! You look strong, and bad ass and great 🙂 It was probably a girl who is super jealous and intimidated by what you can do, so they are trying to bring you down with a comment like that. I feel ya though, after seeing pics of myself this weekend, it’s hard for me to want anything but to slim down. Finding a balance is what I need 🙂

      • Yep, the pics from this weekend certainly didn’t help hey? Maybe nobody looks good in the middle of a WOD 😛 But thanks Kelley 🙂 – you are looking super jacked yourself, and isn’t it just ironic that I was thinking you looked great in your pics and I wish I looked like that? Oh the struggle! It is all about balance!

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