#097: Eating for Performance: Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan (TYR Wodapalooza 2023 Series)

Tuesday April 11, 2023

Nutrition is said to be the number one ingredient in performance. It’s also the hardest to achieve, maintain and too often get excited about. Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan is changing the way we think about what we consume. 

In this final TYR Wodapalooza 2023 episode, Fran Racioppi and Jessie Graff sit down with Jenn live from the Modballs booth, to recap the weekend and dig deep into all aspects of what…and how…we eat. They cover silencing the inner critic, the difference between eating for nutrition and fad diets, structured vs unstructured eating, what happens when we skip the fat, and why undereating is often counterproductive to our goals. 

Plus they dig into some Modballs sharing how the these nutrient-packed 20-gram energy balls are replacing conventional energy drinks full of the words you can’t pronounce. 

Follow Jenn Ryan on Instagram at jenn_ryan. Get involved with CrossFit at crossfit.com. Follow Jessie Graff on Instagram and Facebook @jessiegraffpwr

Click here or use code JED for $10 off your first order of Modballs. Subscribe to us and follow @jedburghpodcast on all social media.

Listen to the podcast here


Eating for Performance: Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan (TYR Wodapalooza 2023 Series)

Jenn, welcome to the Jedburgh Podcast guerilla style.

I love this.

We’re improvising here. We took over the ModBalls booth. They told us that we had to do a show over on the stage, but here’s my opinion. Jesse and I finished our episode on the stage. Tell us we can’t.

You guys are breaking the law.TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

Rules are meant for other people.

I agree. I’m good with that.

The important thing about rules is to understand why they were designed. They’re usually for safety. If you have the skills to do something safely, then the rule maybe wasn’t meant for you.

This feels safe. I’m in a safe place.

We’re safe here, for sure.

I feel good about it. Thank you so much for sitting down with us. We have lots to discuss. We’re going to talk about nutrition. We’re going to talk about your career. We’re going to talk about longevity in not only athletics but certainly in CrossFit. We got out of the ice bath, which was my first time there. I owe a case of beer. That’s the rule. If you admit to it being your first time for anything, you owe a case of beer.

I don’t know if I support this rule.

Jessie has had a few firsts this weekend.

That is probably true. I make a point of having many firsts and trying many things.

That’s a lot of cases of beer.

She’s not going to take the beer, so we’ll get her protein shakes or something.

I got you guys a lot of coffee. 

That’s true. We’ve got a lot of coffee. It’s been an awesome couple of days. We’re on day four. We’re wrapping up here in a couple of hours. You have been competing but have suffered unfortunately a slight injury to withdraw. We’re not going to focus on that because that doesn’t matter. We’re focused on tomorrow. Let’s talk about for a second the experience here at Wodapalooza. You’re a seasoned vet. We have to admit that it’s the first time for both of us here, so we owe you a beer. Talk about what it’s like being here, being back, the experience, and why it’s so unique in the industry.

This atmosphere is amazing. Being in this downtown Miami outdoor facility that they put together is phenomenal. There is no other CrossFit event like this. The community comes together, especially at night under the lights here in downtown Miami.

That’s the coolest part.

You’ve got the dancing thing lady lit up on one building, and then the lights everywhere and the Miami music. You feel like you’re at a nightclub fitnessing. Whether you’re a spectator or an athlete, you feel that energy. No matter how tired you are, even if you’re competing at 8:30 PM, it doesn’t matter. When you step out there, there is no other CrossFit event. Even at the games, being in the coliseum is amazing. This atmosphere is phenomenal.

TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

“You feel like you’re at a nightclub just fitnessing.”

You should see the long discussions that we had around what our branding was going to change to and what we’re going to incorporate for all of these episodes that we’ve done here. Since I was so hard on, “I want the Miami theme.” I’m like, “I want the neon lights. I don’t know what it looks like. Someone has to tell me what it looks like, but I need neon lights. I need something with a palm tree. We have to embody what this atmosphere and this feeling is.” It so lived up to the whole experience.

Let’s talk about you for a couple of minutes. We had the opportunity before coming here to sit down with Don Faul, CrossFit CEO, and talk about his vision for CrossFit. He took over in August 2022. We talked about where it’s going, why it’s so important, and the community that sits around it. Talk for a few minutes about why you’ve embraced CrossFit the way that you have throughout your career, what it’s done for you, and what you’ve seen that impact across the fitness community.

I believe I’ve embraced it because I’ve always wanted to be an athlete. Growing up, I was always involved in team sports. I was always playing a sport, but I never found my niche. I was never great at one thing, and I was always searching for something. Even in my twenties, I was exercising. I was fitnessing. I loved fitness. I don’t think I was doing it for the right reasons. I was trying to be something I wasn’t.

When I found CrossFit, I fell in love with it because it was all about your performance. It didn’t matter how you looked. It didn’t matter what age you were. It didn’t matter your gender. It didn’t matter what your background was. If you could show up, do the work, and you were a hard worker, it was going to pay off. For me, I’ve embraced this whole CrossFit community and CrossFit as a sport because I’ve been able to change my outlook on everything about myself and about other people by focusing more on what we can do and my performance or how grateful I am for my body because of what it can do instead of what it looks like.

Especially as young women, we are focused on fitness and exercise to figure out what we can look like and focus on that. CrossFit has taught me and what I’m able to teach other young women and men to focus on is what your body can do. That creates this confidence that I can’t even compare it. My confidence level in myself is not in an egotistical type of way but in a healthy way. I have a healthier mindset about myself than I ever did growing up and all the way through my early 30s. CrossFit lifts people up. Everyone is about building each other up, supporting each other, and focusing on what you can do. That is so amazing to have that type of support from people.

TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

“CrossFit has taught me…what my body can do.”

I love hearing that that’s something people get from CrossFit, too, because that was such a huge shift in my life as well. I had that when I was a kid and I was in gymnastics and pole vaulting. It was all about performance and what I can do. There was this period of being a young adult, especially in stunts, where there was so much pressure to look a certain way and be a certain size.

As much as I was still working on skills, so much of my training was about, “How do I fit this mold of looking the right way?” It can be so soul-sucking. It takes the joy out of fitness. With Ninja, I was able to shift back to, “How strong can I get? Look how amazing it is. I beat myself from last week. I beat myself from the week before again. I keep getting stronger.” It builds this confidence. Ninja isn’t for everyone, but it seems like CrossFit is something that is so accessible.

I agree with you. It is accessible. Not everyone has to do what the competitive athletes are doing, but you can still be an athlete going in. If you’re going in and doing the workout with other people, you’re still being an athlete. You don’t have to look a certain way. Teaching people to be strong and feel strong is awesome.

TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

“Teaching people to be strong, and to feel strong; is just awesome.”

Ever since I started coaching in CrossFit, I would encourage people of all ages to get into a local competition. For that mom who is still trying to find herself or that dad who maybe is the man who misses college or high school sports, when you get out on that floor, it doesn’t matter if it’s an in-house, your own local gym competition. I have seen that change people. They are out on that floor and suddenly, people are cheering for them. If it’s a team event, their teammates are cheering for them. I’m getting excited talking about it.

It brings out the coolest emotions and feelings in someone who maybe feels like they’ve lost themselves, didn’t have any other value, or weren’t sure why they were doing things. You see it in them when they’re out there. If you ever have a chance to go to even a local competition and see these first-time people or the people who don’t consider themselves athletes or competitors, it’s neat. You can see it happening out there. You can see the mom who hasn’t had this chance in forever. You can see the person who played high school or college sports and missed it and they’re getting that again. It’s so cool because you feel it, too. That’s neat.

You’ve always been a person who wanted to help people. What was that journey of finding, “How am I going to help people right now?” You were a nurse for a while, right?

I was. I became a nurse, but I’m not practicing at the bedside. I stepped away from that, which was a nice feeling. I miss the crazy peers that I had in the ER.

What kind of nurse were you?

I was an ER nurse. I started in 2009. I stepped away from the bedside a few years ago.

It’s one of the most difficult jobs. People forget so many times about the importance of ER nurses and ER docs. I truly believe they’re the best because the variety of things you see in any one shift is across such a spectrum. It requires not only medical skills but strong emotional and mental strength. Thank you.

Thank you. You get and see it all in the emergency department. I’ve been blessed to work in level-one trauma centers and ERs in the middle of a crazy, hectic big city. You have to have a lot of compassion and empathy for what you’re doing. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get a little frustrated like everyone, but I had to learn patience. That was hard.

I don’t know when I made the turn to wanting to help and care for people. It’s interesting that you asked that because when I was in nursing school, I remember my grandmother saying to me, “I never pictured you as a nurse.” I don’t know if that was a bad thing. I’m not sure if I was always a self-care person. I don’t know what she meant by that. She meant she was surprised that I was going to be caring for other people, but it was what I wanted to do. I thought that was my calling and my way into helping other people with health. That was my first love. It was health and fitness. Back in my early twenties, CrossFit wasn’t a thing at the time. Even nutrition coaching and all of this stuff wasn’t a big thing,

When did you discover that and realize you wanted to transition to helping people outside of the hospital?

I believe it was when I started coaching CrossFit. I moved out to San Diego on December 2012. I started coaching at CrossFit Pacific Beach along with being a nurse and I started realizing how much I loved it. I loved being hands-on with the people who wanted to better themselves. I felt more valued. Sometimes, people who come into the ER don’t want to better themselves. I’m there for their acute care, which is fine. We need that, but I didn’t feel valued.

When you’re helping people who are coming to you to be better, you start to feel a lot more value. I found more confidence in myself. I found that I was valuable to other people in that way. I enjoyed the hands-on, so I started doing personal training sessions, and then people wanted some help with nutrition. I wanted to learn more about the dietary side of health when it came to performance and body composition, so I started digging into nutrition and found that I could help people with that.

It almost does sound selfish, but in helping others and taking care of other people, I felt good about myself in a way that used to mean I could only feel good about myself if I looked in the mirror and saw what I liked or if I put on a size double zero from Abercrombie. That was how I judged my self-worth. That wasn’t helping anyone else.

When I could hear that I was helping someone else or when I could see someone else’s happiness, it was like, “This makes me feel good.” If making myself feel good means making other people feel good, that’s a much better feeling than making yourself feel good by the way you look in the mirror. It’s so much different. That’s where I found the value of CrossFit and the value of helping other people.TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

I’ve noticed that. If I’m injured and in a position where I can’t be pushing my limits and I’m not feeling good about how I’m improving myself, I start to worry more about how I look. It’s realizing that I need to have that self-value from how I’m having an impact. There are a million different ways that you can value yourself, but if you can base it on something that’s helping the world, it takes so much of the focus off of the silly, less important things.

It is challenging from an emotional side of things to dig into bettering ourselves and figuring out what does make us happy and the why. Instead of focusing on ourselves, it is a little easier to focus on others and then that makes us feel good. What I compare that to sometimes as a parent, oftentimes like mothers who I work with, they grow up, go through their twenties, and have the same feelings a lot of women do. It is these self-image issues and questioning things. You have children and you’re able to throw yourself into all of that and not focus as much on yourself. We become caregivers.

Men do the same thing. We become caregivers where it’s like, “My value is put in someone else.” We do it sometimes to not have to focus on ourselves. When we are valuable to someone else, it makes us feel good and we can shift away from some of those negative thoughts about what we used to think made us feel good. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I also think I have to self-reflect.

When I feel good about myself from helping someone else, I have to remember that when I don’t have anyone else or when I have clients, who may be having a bad day, I’m like, “Is this my fault? Now, I’m going to feel bad about myself.” I also have to remove that from it. I should say, “You are still valuable. You are still of worth. Do not feel bad about yourself.” That’s similar to parenting sometimes, too.

One of the terms that you put on it was the importance of silencing your inner critic. When we talk about development and we talk about whether we’re building ourselves, our teams, our family, our business, or becoming an athlete, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing. It has to start with that. I talk a lot about humility and the ability to look inside and take an honest assessment.

We also can’t beat ourselves up all the time. We were talking about this because I was unhappy with one of my performances. I beat myself up all night. We got to understand the context, but that critic lives inside of us. When we talk to the highest-performing athletes, it’s constantly in the back of their heads where they’re saying, “What else can I do? What didn’t I do?”

You can go out there and have an amazing workout or performance, and then come back and say, “I didn’t do this. Next time, I got to go do it.” Talk about that in your own training and as you’ve progressed through CrossFit and through your career. We were talking about you in the team division taking sixth.

It was the team elite division.

How have you incorporated that thought process into your own training? 

You bring up a very good point amongst not only elite athletes but anyone who has driven in any area of life. It can be a blessing and a curse. That’s why people become so successful. We’re not complacent. We don’t rest on our laurels. We’re always thinking about doing something else. I have a hard time taking a compliment. That probably comes from maybe not a lack of confidence but my own drive to always feel the need to be a perfectionist and be better. It used to affect me, whether that was in training. If I had a bad day or if I didn’t have a perfect day, I was putting myself down. I was stressing over it. I didn’t do this or that. That can start to affect your happiness in the sport or anything in general.TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

When I do something well, I try to celebrate that, whether in training or competition. I’m also looking at, “Here are the things that I could probably fix,” but trying to look at it from a positive standpoint. To bring up an example, on the clean and jerk, we had three attempts. It was a 20-second lifting window with a 90-second rest. You have three attempts.

I opened at 205. My plan was to go 205, 215, and 220. I missed the first jerk at 205, so I went back down to 195, made it, and then went up and hit 210. My coach texted me afterward. He was like, “That was amazing. That clean looked so easy and money. Your handstand hold was amazing.” That was a PR max freestanding handstand hold for me. That clean and jerk, while it wasn’t what I wanted to hit because it was not what I had planned, I’ve not ever made a jump from 195 to 210 on a clean and jerk in competition before and felt that I was confident enough to do it. Normally, my mindset after having missed something like that would’ve been, “I didn’t do things great. I can’t do this. I’m too little. I won’t have confidence in myself,” but I did and I made that jump.

When he gave me that compliment, my first comment back was, “I missed my first jerk at 205. That was terrible.” In my head, I was like, “That’s not the right thing to do. Take the compliment. Your coach who’s known you since 2016 will tell it to you like it is.” He was giving me a compliment. Instead, I couldn’t take the compliment. I could only find what I did wrong.

That is something to still reflect on. I haven’t perfected that mindset yet. It’s always a work in progress. I don’t know if that’s always going to be a part of someone who is an elite athlete and always trying to better themselves. It’s something I can work on, but I do go back to it. I fall back into those old ways sometimes of thinking, “I didn’t do enough. I need to be doing more.”

On a particularly bad day where you find many things that you could work on, what are some of the small victories that you have to remind yourself of that you can feel good about? TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

It is mindset during a workout. I do tell my own teammates, the people I train with, or even myself during a hard workout or if you’re feeling bad going into it and you’re not going to be able to hit the certain calories on the machine or something. I’ll say, “Do what you can to get something out of it. What can you get out of it?” You’re like, “Can I get transitions out of this? If I can’t do the movement on broken or if I’m not able to do something, what can I improve on today? Where is my mindset?”

When things aren’t going well or I’m feeling crummy, it’s telling myself, “What can you do to get better? This is going to happen in a competition, so what can you do that’s different than someone else?” I’m then deciding, “I’m going to get the calories that I can on a machine. I’m going to push my transitions. I’m going to try to do this movement on broken.” It’s things like that that I’ve learned over the years to try to focus on as opposed to the negatives.

What do you mean by transitions?

Transitions between movements. If you’re practicing an event, a workout, or doing a workout that’s programmed for you, are you purposeful in moving from one thing to the next? You’ll hear it talked about often by the announcers in CrossFit from an analytical perspective. Even your coaches will talk about, “These transitions can make up time.”

TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

“Are you purposeful moving from one thing to the next?”

Especially on the competition floor, when pieces of equipment are spread out, sometimes, those runs back and forth become an added movement. That can add seconds. If you are purposefully moving from one thing to the next, it’s a change for you. If you’re not lollygagging or you’re not feeling sorry for yourself between the movements, you have a purposeful transition between movements. That’s a big win. If you can practice that in training, it carries over to competition because you know, “No matter how bad this movement is sucking, I need to remember I’ve got more of this workout. I need to purposefully move to the next thing.”

I’ll give you one more in that. That translates into a lot of things you do in life. I talk to executives and I coach executives. One of the things I tell them all the time is when you go from one meeting to another meeting, so often, what we do is we pick up our phones, put our heads in the phone, and run into the door in the next meeting. I always say stop at the door for 5 seconds or maybe 3. Take that quick pause and say, “What am I going into this meeting? Who’s going to be in there? What am I doing? What’s the goal?”

If you can ask yourself that one thing, even if you don’t think about it that long, and then you walk through the door, you will enter with purpose. You’ll enter with focus, whereas if you run in and it’s like, “What’s going on? What are we doing? I’ll put my phone down.” Your head’s still behind. That translates that intention. That deliberate attitude translates into so many different things that you do in life. Can we talk about nutrition?

Yeah, let’s do it.

You were telling me your misconceptions when you first became interested in nutrition. That’s so applicable to so many people who want to get healthier. They’ve heard about some diets and they start following this thing that may not be right for them or may not even be accurate. How can that be counterproductive for your health? What have you discovered along the way?

It started many years ago. My dietary journey started as a teenager. The whole low-fat or fad was going on in my teens, so I dug into that. Going through my twenties, there was Atkins, low carb, and then low fat again. I was trying to figure out, “Is it the fat that’s not good for me? Is it the carbs that are not good for me? Is it eating way less in general?” I went through all of it and none of it was right for me. None of it fit because I was still unhappy and stressed out about figuring out, “What do I need to do for myself?”

I found that once I started focusing more on fueling myself for performance, I was realizing how food can make me feel better. It was not just from the emotional dopamine hit from comfort food, but how eating enough of the right foods can help my energy levels performance in the gym. I was like, “I’m stronger. I am starting to look the way that I wanted to, like a strong woman.” That was a big turning point.

I struggled for a long time. I struggled with an eating disorder from a very young age until probably the age of 37. That’s a long time trying to figure things out. It has all come full circle, me helping other people in that journey and trying to decipher what is the right approach. There are so many different approaches out there, and people want to try every single one. I don’t judge that. I did a lot of that, too. None of it served me well besides becoming experienced in all the wrong things.

As far as diet, doing things to an extreme can bring extra challenges. Can you tell us a little about why a very low-fat diet is counterproductive, or how it can be harmful?

Sure. It can depend on the person’s context on their goals, what period of time they are in their life and their years, and what their athletic goals are. On a very low-fat diet, the issue with that is the precursor to our hormones is cholesterol. It’s from dietary fats. The body can make some of that on its own, but we need some dietary fats to help support our hormonal profile. It’s important.

When I see people who are consistently eating extremely low-fat diets for a long period of time, they’re not supporting their sex hormones, which are testosterone, estrogen, or progesterone. You’re not supporting all these things that we need that for. Some dietary fats can be helpful for inflammation, too. You’re going to see that when people do low fat, they also end up being low calorie quite often. That starts to add up as well.

TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

“When people do very very low fat, they also end up being low calorie.”

For short periods of time, that happens for those who are into physique sports. That’s fine. That does happen, but remember. When you’re seeing a lot of those people who get on stage who end up down to almost traced fats and are not adding any extra fats for a time, ask them how they feel. Ask them about their lab work and their hormonal profile. It is completely tanked. That’s how it goes. That also goes along with the fact that they’re eating low calories with probably high output. It’s not one thing. It doesn’t have to be low-fat. It’s a plethora of things that will add to that.

You also are going to have some CrossFit athletes who are eating very high calories of their carbohydrates because that is the primary preferable fuel source for the body. If they’re eating a lot more carbohydrates and moderate protein, then fats might be a little bit lower. If they’re keeping it extremely low for a long period of time, we can start to see some hormonal issues. It’s not the isolated extremely low fats. It’s the combination of everything. Those are your calories, how you’re recovering, and how much activity you’re doing. It depends on the context. I wouldn’t say it’s that one thing of low fat. We have to remember that fats are not bad for us. Fats are not scary. It’s important for us to have dietary fats.

[bctt tweet=”Fats are not scary or bad. It’s important for us to have dietary fats, too.” username=”talentwargroup”]

What are some of the important functions of fat for your brain, your body, and your cells? Why do we need some fat in our diet? What are the best healthy sources of fat? We don’t want to be going out and getting deep-fried foods necessarily, but where can we get healthy? If you are aiming for optimal health and you thought that you needed to be super low fat, where do you want to get those healthy fats, and what do they do for you?

Healthy fats I tend to recommend for people are going to be fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. I love chia seeds and hemp seeds. Walnuts are wonderful. Brazil nuts are a great source of fat. Brazil nuts have selenium. That’s going to help testosterone. That’s going to help support your thyroid. If you’re looking for certain oils, I’m usually recommending flax seed oil, avocado oil, or extra virgin olive oil. Those are good oil sources if you are looking for that.

They’re good for cooking.

There is coconut oil.

That’s my favorite.

You don’t have to do a plethora of coconut oil. There’s a lot out there. I won’t call myself an expert in this whole area or debate, but I don’t think we need to load up on all kinds of coconut oil. Not too long ago, that was a big rage. They were like, “Eat scoopfuls of coconut oil,” and everything. Moderation of all of it is important. There are other fat sources.

I had heard for a little while that coconut oil was bad because it has saturated fats, but saturated fats are important, too, in moderation. 

That’s the thing. It’s the same thing as I was saying with, “With low fat, is that the only issue?” It’s not always. It’s probably everything else in combination with it. It’s the same thing with coconut oil. If you’re having a little bit of it, like a serving of it a day or two servings, it’s not the worst thing in the world. Is it the best thing in the world to have only 100 to 200 grams of fat from coconut oil a day? Maybe probably not, but it depends on the person. It depends on everyone’s dietary needs. I like to have variety.

The healthiest gut microbiomes, they did a study on it. Was it 36 to 40 different foods a day? I wish I could remember this because I learned about it. I read it over and it was very interesting that a variety of food that you can get within a day is helpful for your gut microbiome. As much as we like to think, “I don’t want to follow something in particular. I don’t want to only eat these foods,” a lot of us fall into the same probably twenty foods a week. Think about it.

I challenge a lot of people that I work with to venture out like, “Let’s try 2 or 3 different foods this week. Let’s get some variety.” If somebody likes coconut oil and I’m seeing that 2 or 3 times a day on their food logs, that’s not a bad thing. I’m not going to be like, “You’re never going to make progress.” My challenge to them is, “Let’s try to add another source of fat,” or, “Where else can we switch this up for overall health benefits, taste, flavor, and altering things.”TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

I get stuck in the same pattern because I like my food to be easy. I’ve got my standard broccoli, peas, corn, spinach, and kale. Those are my go-to vegetables.

That’s fine. That’s beautiful. What I would do is say, “Take one of those.” I’ll teach people if they’re tracking something, like, “I have my easy go-tos, so I know what I’m having.” That’s perfect. There are so many foods that are so easily interchangeable. You can swap them out. Instead of carrots, maybe you’re having beets. Instead of broccoli, maybe you’re doing cauliflower or broccoli slaw. It’s such an easy swap. Is it going to make or break someone’s health? No, but there are little variations in some of the micronutrients you’re going to get. What a wonderful way to do that.

I can, to some degree, improve my performance by switching up. I’m keeping that same ratio roughly but switching out one vegetable for another.

That’s that food quality situation when you’re looking at overall performance and body composition. Calories are king. That’s going to be the overlying thing you’re looking at. You also have to make sure you’re keeping everything else internally functioning smoothly. That’s when we start taking a look at food quality. Altering some of the foods you’re taking in to make sure you’re getting enough of various micronutrients to keep all of these processes functioning well in the body is where that comes into play. That could improve performance and body composition.

[bctt tweet=”Alter some of your foods to make sure you’re getting enough micronutrients. That keeps all your body’s processes functioning well.” username=”talentwargroup”]

Can you talk about structured verse unstructured eating?

Structured eating, in my opinion, is very beneficial. Typically, when someone is starting out, they haven’t had a lot of practice in nutrition. Their meals are all over the place. Their eating is over the place. Maybe they’ve never tracked anything before. It’s very important to help someone find a structure. That might mean, “Let’s plan 4 to 5 times of eating a day. How many times do you like to eat a day?” If they’re like, “I eat like three times,” I’m like, “That’s great.”

What they’ll tell me is, “I eat those three times, and then I’m grabbing things here. I’m grabbing things in the afternoon.” There’s no structure. They think there is structure. They’re telling me there is structure, but that’s why they can’t achieve their goals of improved health, body composition, or performance. It’s because they don’t know what they’re taking in. They think they know. They’re going to try to tell you they know. When you look at the food log, things are all over the place, so they don’t know.

I’ll start these people by saying, “I don’t even need you to hit specific numbers. I want you to plan out five times of eating a day. We’re going to plan something balanced.” You’d be amazed at how much better people feel. When things are unstructured, it’s like the rest of life. It’s very chaotic. Structuring a breakfast, not that breakfast is the end-all-be-all because you don’t have to eat it, but if you can start your day the same way all the time, who doesn’t feel like the rest of the day is going to be all right? Helping someone create that structure sets them up not only for overall health but for the rest of their life in general.

TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

“When things are unstructured,
it’s like the rest of life, it’s very chaotic.”

I’ve found that, though. I used to spend so much time thinking, “What am I going to eat?” I eat the same thing all the time, so I don’t have to think about it, but I also need to have a little more variety. I can follow the same structure with interchangeable pieces. 

If people understand that, that’s what you can fall back on. It’s very hard for people to fall back on, “You have to hit these calories or these macronutrients,” when someone’s traveling. When life gets super hectic and crazy and you’re like, “I don’t feel like logging. I don’t feel like tracking,” things feel so crazy. What I will tell people is, “Structure a meal. There is nothing wrong with creating a plate of a protein, a carbohydrate, a veggie, and a fat source.” You can’t make it a whole lot easier than that.

Get yourself a list of 5 or 6 from each of those. If you’re out to eat or on vacation, pick something off of a menu or at the store from each of those categories. Make a meal out of it 4 or 5 times a day. I don’t even care what the portions are. It doesn’t matter in those small timeframes. It’s you knowing you’re keeping structure. That is a structure. It’s not as structured as certain portions, sizes, or amounts, but once someone doesn’t have any structure, and you’ve probably heard this before and maybe done it yourself, it is a freaking free for all. It leads to a whole day of being a free-for-all and then a week of a free-for-all. If you have some sort of structure to pick from, even a loose structure, it’s so much more freeing. You can say, “I’m happy with this. I did.”

Can you tell us a little bit about the dangers of undereating? One of the big ones, for me, is knowing how much it can slow down your metabolism, but functionally and long-term as well. 

That’s going to be within context. It’s going to vary depending on individuals. Some of us are a little more resilient than others. When someone’s eating lower calories and doing more exercise, you’re creating this deficit. When you’re doing it for a short period of time, there is probably going to be less of a long-term adaptation.

When I get a client who has been exercising for hours a day 6 to 7 days a week and trying to eat well under their caloric needs, that’s when I’m starting to see some of the issues with metabolic adaptation. Their feedback to me, and probably what they’re noticing themselves, is going to be low energy levels, waking up feeling completely unrecovered no matter how much they’ve slept, or the inability to sleep. They’re eating low calories and not having any hunger. They have no libido. Their mood and motivation are low. Those are some of what I wouldn’t call dangers, but those are some of the consequences and signs of the fact that you are probably not giving your body what it needs for how much you’re doing. Those are the types of adaptations you’re going to see.

The next piece to that is you have to remember that when you are bringing your calories down, you are teaching your body to function off of that lower amount of calories. The body is very smart. At first, someone might lose some body fat. They might lose weight. The body’s got to respond because it’s in a deficit. You’re burning more energy than you’re taking in. The body’s smart. It wants that homeostasis. It wants to stay where it is. It doesn’t want to let go of that wonderful body fat because there are more calories and more energy in that.

[bctt tweet=”When you bring your calories down, you are teaching your body to function off of that lower amount of calories.” username=”talentwargroup”]

The body’s going to slow down various processes. Your thyroid is going to start to talk to the rest of the body. It’s going to slow some of those functions down. You start to adapt to that over time. The longer you do that, your body is going to slow itself down. If you go from eating 2,000 calories a day at the same energy output or the same amount of exercise and you say, “I want to lose some weight,” you go down to 1,700 calories a day. That is a calorie deficit.

What happens? We end up plateauing. Your maintenance, which used to be 2,000 calories, is down to 1,700, even though that was a deficit. It’s not any longer because your body’s gotten smart. It’s like, “I’m slowing things down.” You either have to increase output or decrease calories. People tend to do both. They’ll go down to, “I’m 1,500 to 1,400 calories.” It’s a deficit again.

At a certain point, your body notices that as maintenance. You’re going to plateau because your body has lost some of that fat. It’s slowed things down even further to say, “I don’t want to lose any more of this.” If you keep going, the problem is that if you sit down there that low, that becomes your maintenance. That’s not a danger, but a consequence and effect of trying to eat lower calories to be in a deficit for an extended period of time.TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

The consequence of that is you’re going to start to get that negative feedback from your body. This is probably going to happen, no matter what, if you’re in some kind of a calorie deficit trying to lose weight. You need to be able to recognize that and know how to get yourself back out of it so that you can also reverse yourself back up. You don’t want to sit there forever. You may not be able to go all the way back up again because if you’ve lost weight, your maintenance is going to be down a little bit more.

How do you prevent that? If you are eating too many calories for your output and it is healthy for you to lose weight, if you’re in that position, how do you lower your intake without lowering your metabolic rate?

It’s going to happen. It’s not always a bad thing as long as you’re keeping it in perspective. Typically, you want to see a dieting phase go from anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks. That’s an average. You could go a little less. You could go a little more. Within that timeframe, you might be utilizing things like a diet break. Maybe you’re taking a week or a couple of days of going back up to maintenance. Sometimes, I’ll do that with people, and then I’ll see them drop back down once we go to that deficit again where they had plateaued.

Once I take a week and say, “Let’s bump you back up. Let’s up-regulate everything. Let’s give your body a break,” they’ll drop again more. People think that’s counterintuitive. They’re like, “That’s going to stall my progress.” It’s like, “Now, you’re down. We don’t need to keep going down yet. Let’s try this.” You could do like re-feeds. You could give yourself a couple of higher-calorie days throughout the week. These are some ways to go about it, but you still have to be moving through your diet phase. That’s the premise and your timeline. You need to give yourself that.

What I’ll see a lot of people do is they’ll go for six months trying to be on a diet, but the problem is they can’t manage this 1,000 calorie deficit they’ve put themselves in because they want to go from doing 30 minutes of exercise 4 days a week to 1 hour and a half of exercise 6 days a week. They’re like, “I’m eating less, too.” They try that for 6 months, but for 4 of the 6 months, they can’t handle it or they can’t stick with it. They’re yo-yo-ing. They’re always on a diet. How many people do you meet that they’re always on a diet, unless they’re not, and then they’re paying zero attention to anything?

You have to know what phase you are in. If you can periodize that and give yourself 12 to 16 weeks for a dieting phase, you’re still going to hit some of those adaptations, but you can pay attention to the feedback from your body and know that it’s happening. Maybe you give yourself a little bit more, like a re-feed or a diet break, so that you can stay with it.

Being purposeful with your approaches is important instead of saying, “I’m always on a diet. I’m always trying to lose weight.” Those are the people who yo-yo, or they never make progress and they’re spinning their wheels. When you do that, your maintenance is going to come down. Once you hit the body composition you’re happy with, then you start to reverse that back up slowly. You can build that metabolic rate back up again. Those are your maintenance calories.

When you say slowly, what’s a good factor to go by? Are you thinking 100 calories a day increase/decrease, whichever direction you’re going in? 

Yeah. It depends on the direction you’re going in. It depends on the person. Some people have a very adaptive metabolism. That means they will adapt quickly. Some people have to go to a larger deficit or a larger surplus to start seeing changes. That’s something you have to learn with your own body. Typically, when you’re reversing back up if everything’s okay and you’re not completely bottomed out, and that’s paying attention to your feedback from your body on how you’re feeling and what you were eating before, you can start to slowly start adding 100 to 200 calories every couple of weeks.

You’re then paying attention to feedback. Are you going to see the scale go up? You might. If you’re lifting weights, that’s what you want to be doing. When you start taking more calories, you want to be lifting some weights because you’re sending the signal to your body for these calories coming in, “Let’s put that towards building muscle.”

Let’s talk about ModBalls and what the 75 grains are doing for you in your training, how you’re using it, and how it is a strong and, in many ways, a better alternative to other thing products out there to get energy and consume energy.

When I first took a look at ModBalls, I was impressed. When I first read the ingredients list, I thought, “There are so many ingredients on here.” That’s what a lot of people ask me. They are like, “There are a lot of ingredients in here. I was always told the fewer ingredients the better.” In context, if you read the ingredients list, it reads like a superfood list. It’s everything you’d want to be putting into your body. It’s not all these words you can’t pronounce. It’s not all these fillers. These are great food sources you want to eat and put in your body.

When I look at it, I’m like, “This is how I would make an energy bar at home. I would want to add all these things.” I encourage other people and myself, too. This is why I love it. I encourage them to utilize it as something that is going to, first of all, help balance their blood sugars. If you’re someone who gets hangry or you try to go a long time without eating, or something like that, this is perfect. It doesn’t have a lot of fake ingredients in it. It’s not a lot of fillers. It doesn’t sit heavy in your stomach.

TJP - E097 with Performance Nutrition Coach Jenn Ryan

“This is how I would make an energy bar at home. I would want to add all these things.”

For me, if I have a long training session and it’s been three hours or so before I’ve eaten, I can start to feel my blood sugar drop a little. I want something, but I don’t want something heavy sitting in my stomach. I’ll pop one of these in and it’s perfect. I feel better. I feel energized. I’m ready to keep working out. That’s what I’ll encourage a lot of the people I work with to utilize. You don’t need something heavy.

If you start to feel like, “I’m getting hangry. I’m starting to feel blah,” pop a ModBalls. This is going to give you a little bit more energy. It’s going to help balance those blood sugars, and you’re going to feel better overall. It’s more micronutrient-dense than popping in some gummy bears. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a time and place for these simple sugars, but I would rather prefer that I would eat something like ModBalls instead.

We’ve got bean sprouts, lentil sprouts, broccoli, cucumber, kale, cabbage, parsley root, onion, cauliflower, asparagus, and garlic.

There’s so much.

It’s all in there.

Can I stay lazy and get my micronutrients from this?


I had a male athlete. He doesn’t like a ton of variety. He likes his plain foods and not a lot of veggies. I’m like, “Where’s the color? Where’s the stuff?” That’s fine in different parts of the season. I recommended to him, “Why don’t you have two ModBalls a day?” That’s my way of secretly getting him a few more micronutrients to eat some of those foods. First of all, the peanut butter ones taste like trail mix, so people love them. Even the pickiest of eaters, I feel like you can get to eat them for a little bit more micronutrient quality in their day.

I listed a ton of vegetables that are in there. You don’t taste any of them. When I first tried one, I got scared. I was like, “This tastes like candy. Is this okay? I don’t know about this.” I’m also obsessed with getting a ton of vegetables, but I’m lazy about getting the variety. I’m excited about the fact that I can continue being lazy with my cooking.

Many of the other protein and energy bars out there that you see, if you read the ingredients label, you’re going to see a lot of palm oils or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, but not on here. You’re going to see the fat sources that you want, like MCT oils and coconut oil. I believe there’s the flax seed in there.

It’s exactly what you listed before. There is pumpkin seed. There is almond pistachio and flax. I always hear such good things about flax, hemp, and chia seeds.

From an overall perspective, I truly believe the calorie content, the macronutrient ratio, and the micronutrients are a very good source of food for someone to be taking in. Whether you are an athlete or the general population trying to get fit, change your body composition and improve your overall health. It’s probably one of the better grab-and-go items that I’ve ever seen.

[bctt tweet=”Pay attention to the calorie content, macronutrient ratio, and the micronutrients in the food you eat.” username=”talentwargroup”]

I’ve been crushing them all week. As we close out, the Jedburghs in World War II had to do three things every day to set the conditions for their success. They had to be able to shoot, move, and communicate. Those were their foundations and their habits, if you will. What are the three things that you do every day to set the conditions for success in your world?

The three things I do is when I get up, I immediately go outside. I take my dogs outside and get outdoor light. Even not having them, I immediately walked outside to see the sunshine and light on my face. That’s number one.

I keep hearing about that value in setting your clock or circadian rhythm.

Having dogs is a blessing to do that. I have to get out there. The second one I do is I always have my morning drink. It could be a favorite flavor of green powder. Mine is a chocolate one. There is nothing magical about a greens powder. I set my morning like that all the time. I travel with it. That’s what I do. I travel with one thing that I start my day out with, and that is something very simple. It’s got to be something like a chocolate thing in the morning. If I start my day without the green powder, it’s the chocolate salt LMNT. This is not to throw another company out there, but I’m saying that’s what I do. I keep it the same no matter what. I start my day out like that.

The third thing I do is have the same breakfast every day. I’ve had the same breakfast every day for about 5 or 6 years, and I travel with it. I do buckwheat cereal. I buy a new one and I travel with it. I even traveled to Brazil with it a couple of years ago when I competed at the CrossFit championship down there. It’s that with blueberries. Even that time, I took dried blueberries with me.

I am a creature of habit, and that’s what makes me successful. I put protein powder in it and a little bit of almond butter. Those are the three things I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. I take all that stuff everywhere with me. I don’t take my dogs all the time, but I still go outside. For the other items, I’m so weird because I pack that stuff. I make sure that I have that so I can start my day.

I’d say it’s working.

Thank you.

I appreciate your time. Thank you so much for sitting down with us. You’re truly an inspiration to so many who are out there coming into this sport who want to progress or who want to come in and do some great things for themselves, their communities, and their organizations. Thanks so much for leading the way.

Thank you so much. I enjoyed this.


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