NO STRAIGHT ANSWERS • HEAD COACH XN'S BLOG

​Head Coach and Next Level founder Christian Matyi – a/k/a "XN" – gives notoriously complex answers to even the most simple of questions.  He'd always rather you "think more" than "know more." So you can only imagine what'll happen when there wasn't any question even asked . . . 

You never know what his many years of coaching will inspire him to claim as "relevant" to your progress. 

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You're not burnt out. You're in a bad relationship.

The thrill of the commitment can be invigorating, but like any well, it can run dry.  We mustn't keep trying to draw from it just because the first sip was so refreshing. If you want to "have it easy" and "just let it flow as it will," then you have to accept that it can flow right into the gutter.

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OUR OFFICIAL WORD ON PALEO DIETS (again): Clever but stupid.

More and more, Paleo-style dieting is seeping out of the fringes and into the mainstream.  No longer just a fanatical tool in the world of athletics, Paleo, "neo-Paleo" and "carb-cleanse" diets are graduating into pop culture touchstones for fad dieting.

 To be fair: lemmings enjoy sugar.  

To be fair: lemmings enjoy sugar.  

Which means more and more "regular people" are taking forays into this method of eating.  And while I have written similarly on this topic before, I couldn't hold my tongue while watching a new wave of idiots fall like lemmings off the carbohydrate cliff.  I must restate a simple and true fact of human dieting. (I'll get to it in just a second – bear with me.)

You see, what makes Paleo Dieting so convincing is that it is borrowing off of biological facts to describe it's content.  Facts are hard to argue, especially those wrapped in the bright-colored sugary shell of "science."  Once science becomes candy, everyone falls in love with it.  And this was Paleo Dieting's marketing success to the masses: it uses simple, bite-sized scientific facts to uphold it's rationale.  It basically is promoted as "how our bodies were designed to eat."  It looks at our biological design and draws conclusions based on evolution.  And therein lies the candying of the message: it's so yummy with facts it's hard not to dig right in.

Facts are hard to argue, especially those wrapped in the bright-colored sugary shell of “science.” Once science becomes candy, everyone falls in love with it.

However, as true as these facts are, they are only part of the story.  If you want to talk about "how we are designed to eat" and evoke our evolutionary track, then you can't just selectively pick from the candy bins only those sweet facts that uphold your story.  You have to assess all the facts when analyzing a design; anything less creates misleading conclusions.

The biggest overlooked "fact" in analyzing how we were "designed" to eat via our "evolution" is also the one that has always seemed – to this coach, anyway – the most glaringly obvious:

NO GREAT HUMAN ACCOMPLISHMENT
THAT LED TO THE BETTERMENT OF OUR SPECIES
WAS EVER ACHIEVED WITHOUT ADDED SUGARS.
PERIOD.

And I mean all our greatest accomplishments.  Whether it is Stonehendge or the Sisteine Chapel; open-heart surgery or the Mars rover; a Shakespearian sonnet or the internet where you are now reading this article; nothing awesome we humans have ever accomplished didnt also require tons of excess sugar to get done.  Including:

THE POSSESSION OF THE SCIENCE WHICH ALLOWED US TO LOOK BACK 
AND DETERMINE THE DIETS OF OUR ANCESTORS
RELIED ON TONS OF SUGARS TO INVENT.

PALEO DIETING WOULD BE UNKNOWN TO US
WITHOUT MILLENNIA OF HUMANS
INTENTIONALLY EATING NON-PALEO DIETING.

Our ancestors – the guys who ate Peleo – were the ones who invented non-Paleo, added-sugar dieting.  And thank god they did!  It was a boon to our evolution!  

While mass-production of carbs has caused us terrible setbacks, that is not the fault of the carbs themselves.

And this is a fact: to get ahead, we must use out ability to develop technology.  And while there are many worrisome woes to the industrialization of food, industrialization is different from applied technology.  While mass-production of carbs has caused us terrible setbacks, that is not the fault of the carbs themselves.  The application of technology – the use of refined tools – to enhance our diets is not the bad guy here; we are not going to get our best performance by shoving twigs into ant holes for a mouthful of bugs.  Avoiding crappily-produced (read: industrialized) foods is a good thing, but avoiding added sugars all together?  Yah, that idea didn't really work out for our ancestors either.  

Which is why they invented adding sugar.  And then all kinds of awesome started going down.  

And that is an evolutionary fact.  Just as factual as the face used to bolster Paleo Dieting.  Th problem is that thy are not as sugary sweet; these here are like the factual brussel sprouts to the M&M's ofd Paleo's science tray.  Of course they are easy to shove aside.  Way too much fiber to be any "fun."

 Mmmm!  Science!  So factsy!!!

Mmmm!  Science!  So factsy!!!

Paleo-style dieting is a trick of logic and marketing, not a boon of health promotion or a maximization of human potential.  Our potential was maximized when we used tools – one of the evolutionary traits which helps define our species – to change what we ate.  Then pyramids, The Beatles, Great Wall and airplanes, not to mention Olympics, marathons, baseball and bodybuilding, among many other cool things.

Paleo-style dieting is a trick of logic and marketing, not a boon of health promotion or a maximization of human potential.

Paleo is clever, but stupid.  It is a useful compendium of ideas on our biology, but a lousy prescription for maximizing human performance.  yes, the short term benefits have been extolled time and again through countless "after pictures."  But the fact of the matter is human betterment relies on adding sugar to our diet – judiciously and conscientiously, but absolutely.  

And no sweetening of facts will out-nourish the nutrients in that fact.

"The best bodybuilders are the best healers."

I have said this time and time again.  If you want to get stronger, faster, bigger and better looking, you need to spend more time understanding how to repair yourself, and less time worrying about how to do the damage.  

Everyone in these pursuits wants to know the "best way" to get strong.  Everyone wants to know the "best way" to diet.  And the way these ideas are represented is as something you do "to yourself," or something you "put into yourself."  They encourage you to look mainly at the input. But that is the wrong focus.  To get ahead, you need to better understand the results; you need to place the majority of your focus on the output, not on the input.  Once you understand the results, you can create a plan of managing those results.  And that plan is most often a process of healing.

Results come not from what you are able to do, but rather from understanding just what it is you’ve just done – and how to take care of it.

Sorry guys.  You can talk all you want about what you can "do" – how big you lifted, how tight you got your abs, how amazing you performed – but the results come not from what you are able to do, but rather from understanding just what it is you've just done – and how to take care of it.

The topic was brought up by Will from the team The Beast recently in a question he posed to me:

 

"Being the best healer has had me fascinated since you put it up. How do we improve our ability to heal? My guess would be through a clean diet, plenty of sleep, a lot of water, and proper training. Am I anywhere near the mark on this one?"

 

My answer was more or less a repeat of the above point.  (Excuse a little reiteration here, but I really feel that this concept can not be stressed enough.)

 

As with all things (and you have to see this one coming), it starts with observation. As much observation as possible. In other words: confronting each question with some sort of research:
"What needs to be healed?"
"In what specific ways has my body been damaged?"
"W
hat are methods other people use?"

It frustrates me that so many bodybuilding and strength athletes just refuse to lay claim to the most essential component to the process: "the best bodybuilders are the best at healing themselves, not the best at damaging themselves."

Everyone is busy bragging about what they can do, But few are discussing how they take responsibility for what they have done.

 

Healing the body is no small idea.  There are endless combinations of a multitude of systems at play.  However, the good news is there are basics common to us all.  Thorough rest, nurturing food choices and preventive warm-ups and cool downs are what immediately comes to mind.

However, the single biggest obstacle to healing is – you guessed it – your mind.  More precisely: the will of your mind.  

You are "convinced" of many things in life.  And once you become convinced of a thing, well, it is rare that you will go in the opposite direction of your convictions.  However, it is very possible that we are sometimes convinced of things that work against our ability to achieve our goals, yet we are unaware of the conflict because we are "convinced" we are doing right.

Know what I mean?

And so many athletes are simply "convinced" that they need to train harder, lift more, and workout more frequently.  They believe deeply – to the very fabric of their being – that they must do more.  

And doing more means more damage to the body.  

And then, because you are so busy doing more, you don't have the proper time and resources to heal from all that additional damage.  

Yet without healing, you will remain small or weak or slow or fat – or any other quality that you are trying to overcome.  

So what do you do next?  You start looking for more to do.  You start asking for more; more training ideas, more diet strategies, more weight, more effort, more work – more, more and more!  Rather than look at what you have done and how you could be taking better responsibility for the damage, you instead are convinced that the problem is you need to do something else; something more.

And you get stuck in that spiral.

You see how conviction works against us?  We get convinced of one idea, and then by operating under that idea we get stuck in a loop.  Only by confronting that conviction – and often perhaps shattering it and rebuilding it – will the cycle end, and we will begin progressing once more.

Conviction is the culprit behind the majority of slow progressions.  Our stubborn, confident, certain minds with it's glorious, golden and pristine thoughts is actually working against what we need to grow: better healing.

(Notice how I said "better" healing.  Not "more" healing.)

 More observation, less conviction.

More observation, less conviction.

So, as I told will, the first step is observation.  Not hasty, broad observation.  Not "I'm-convinced-I-already-know-what's-there-so-I-can-skip-this-step" observation.  Careful, thorough inventory-style observation.

  • What damage has your training done to your muscle cells?
  • What damage has your training done to your joints; your tendons and other connectors?
  • What damage has your training done to your nervous system?
  • What damage has your training done to your motivation, your interest or your enthusiasm?
  • What damage has your training done to your schedule?
  • What damage has your has your training done?

There are countless other questions you can ask to prompt your observational inventorying.  And with each question you have the root of more questions; each question gets more and more specific.  

And this is where research begins.  The better the questions, the more specific your study, and true more precise your answers.  (Not to mention you get more of them – not all "more" efforts are bad ones.)

Before you go looking for more, look at what you got.  Before you go looking to do more, look at how you can take better responsibility for what you have done.  You will quickly discover that the one thing common to all the questions is some form of better healing, not better assaults of damage.  And that healing leads to better growth, more strength, and probably a damn happier person.

The best bodybuilders are the best healers.  They are not always the most skilled lifters.  They are not always the most scientific eaters.  They are simply the best at healing themselves, and thus getting ahead.

I have said it time and time again.  

"What is your favorite pre-workout drink?"

It's rare that I give a straight answer.  And arguably, this post technically won't be a straight answer.  But it is one of those times where it is the closest you'll get to hammering me down to a precise answer.   

Can someone explain to me why the hell THIS would ever need  to be more caffeinated?!

It was inspired by Seth Carbonneau, who recently was asking around about people's favorite caffeinated pre-workout supplements.  Now, Seth is pretty much a super-genius and one of the most incredible body-machiones you will ever meet.  So you know he is going to take the information he found and grok it good.  That is why I felt like participating in his survey; when you know your answer is going to someone who will work with it, it becomes a lot easier to give that answer.  When someone is just going to blindly obey whatever you tell them, well . . . it kind of feels irresponsible.

I am often asked "So, XN: which is the best pre-workout drink."  And since Seth was talking caffeine, I can give a straight answer on that chemical first:

What is my favorite kind of caffeine? 

Caffeine is my favorite kind of caffeine.

Just straight up caffeine anhydrous. Powder form.

I control the amount. I control the timing. I choose the producers. And it is DIRT CHEAP. A half pound lasts well over three years and costs around $18 - $22.

The upside is experimenting with vitamin and mineral combos, with amino acids and NO powder, and even herbs. I can concoct all sorts of interesting pre-workouts. And while it sounds a little bit "chem set," in reality I can take in far less crappy chemical stuff. 

Caffene Anhydrous:
it ain't crack, but you sure do feel like it is sometimes.

However, there is a downside: caffeine tastes HORRIBLE.  It tastes like you just sucked toes that were stuck up a mule's ass.  The only thing I have found that masks the taste is ginger. (Lemon does a little, but still that raunchy caffeine aftertaste persists.)  Even when diluted, caffeine's taste is recognizable. Only chewing dried ginger after taking some seems to cut that caffeine taste of ass.  So that is the downside. If you ever see me shotgun something then frantically chew ginger, you know I got the caffeine in me. But while caffeine allows me flexibility, control and an amazing price point, it is not my favorite pre-workout.  

Now, my take on supplements is a whole other blog post (which I will get done some day, I promise).  However, without going into the long philosophies (did you expect short ones from me?), a vital factor to supplement choice is being as certain as possible know exactly what I am putting into my body, and where it is coming from.  A label on some bizarre tasting blue potion feels creepy to me.  

I want to be aware and mindful of what I put into my body.  Really, all physique athletes should be this way.  Think about it: you want a sense of control over your body so that you can accomplish great things with it.  Well, a sense of control is not marked by leaving things to chance.  It seems foolish to me to place my trust in random corporations who have no real stakes in my personal benefit, regardless of what their marketing rhetoric may claim.  If you want the credit for the work, and if you want the ability to accomplish the task, then start owning the input.  

In short: the more familiar you are with the foods you eat, the more you will gain a sense of control over the system as a whole.  The more confident you are in the process, the more confidently you can approach the tasks.  And don't waste my time whining about how hard or time consuming it is.  I am here addressing you with the presumption that you are intelligent, organized and passionate enough to make a little time to get where you want to go – and where you know you can go.  

And speaking of crystal meth – back when  . . .

Wait, we weren't speaking about crystal meth?

Well, pretend we are.  I'm just going to change the subject anyway, so don't sweat it.

Anyway, back when it was easier to buy fresh herbs in a store, I used to brew this AMAZING tea for pre-workouts.  One of it's key ingredients was the grassy herb ma huang.  Ma huang contains naturally occurring ephedra, which is a chemical used to create the bad, bad drug crystal meth.  (See the tangent now?)  In an effort to fight the crystal meth epidemic in our country, the government cracked down on the sale of ephedra-based products – which includes ma huang.  Even though it is literally just a grass and the chemical is naturally occurring (and not highly potent – roughly comparable to the stimulants in chocolate versus those in cocaine), the government shut it down.  And my ability to buy this herb went into history.

Ma Huang: The grass that powered hundreds of thousands of pounds . . . 

Which is a shame because it most directly answers the question "what is my favorite pre-workout drink?"  That tea I brewed was a conglomeration of herbs that I researched to produce an amazing little brew.  And I knew what was in it, so it passed muster on my supplementation principles of being responsible towards what I ingest.  That tea combined black tea (caffeine and anti-oxidants), ma huang (ephedra), white willow bark, marshmallow, licorice, mint, ginseng and a handful of other nifty herbs – some with potency, some just for flavor – which became a woody, delicious brew that gave me INCREDIBLE sustained energy with no crash.  I loved that tea.

We barely even knew ye, Harnett's,

But this was back in the early 90's, back when there used to be a store named Harnett's in Harvard Square near where I live. (It's now an American Apparel store – which is really the story of Harvard Square, isn't it?)  Harnett's was an herb and homeopathic store; Mr. Harnett was the brain behind the original Bread & Circus Markets, which was the predecessor to the Whole Foods Markets brand we know today.  Harnett's sold bulk loose herbs in all sorts of ways – powders, extracts and – my favorite as a tea brewer – loose leaves and roots.  One trip to Harnett's and I was set for a few months of crafty, healthy tea supplements.  

That was still, to this day, the BEST pre-workout drink ever. Then that ephedra shut-down that I mentioned happened, and ma huang became a no-no to buy. 

This is how I prefer to supplement shop.

Many of the science wonks would scold me, though, that the tea was not was "standardized."  Because tea is an inherently imprecise measuring system the anal-retentive bodybuilding hotshots would laugh at me because I was not getting standardized amounts.

To that I say: bullish*t to that. So what if it wasn't refined to an exact measurement? The body can't always PROCESS via exact measurements, so why are we so panicked if we feed it an imprecise ratio?  And it is only a stimulant tea anyway.  The point is: it worked, it was awesome, it was delicious, it was wholesome and made from natural ingredients that I could SEE.  It was the best damn pre-workout I ever had, I made it by my own hands, and it produced incredible results.

And now it is impossible to find.  Another victim to the process of government daddy-states,  But because of it's extinction from my repertoire, at least I can be direct with an answer for once. 

Ma huang, I miss ya. You too Harnett's. We barely even knew ya . . .

 

Reality check: Paleo Dieting wouldn't even exist without "anti-paleo" eating.

Before I speak one word on paleo dieting, let's get one thing perfectly clear:
THIS IS NOT AN ANTI-PALEO POST.

Nor is this a PRO-paleo post.

Nor is this post attempting to be binary in any way.  I am neither coming out in favor nor in admonishment of paleo dieting.  So please – please! – do not attempt to color me as having a standpoint of absolution on this topic.  

We good?

No seriously – ARE WE GOOD ON THIS?

You "get" that this is not a sour rant nor blind praise?

All clear? Yes?

Good.

And breathe . . .

Dieters love pyramids.  Probably because they're pointy and apparently have meat in the basement.

Now, the reason I need such an exaggerated disclaimer is that few dieters present themselves with  the righteous certainty of those who cling to the "paleo diet."  Paleo dieters are almost as bad as peanut butter lovers, among whom if you don't claim to live for their food of choice will all claim that you're somehow completely against the very existence of peanut butter and are the great enemy.  There is no middle ground for peanut butter lovers; if you do not yearn to smear it all over your nethers, then you hate it.  There is no such thing as peanut butter neutrality.  And it seems paleo dieters are very similar.  If you do not agree deeply with their principles, then somehow in their ears you are refuting them.  

Well, guys: I'm not.  I know you love to foist behind yourselves millennia of human experience which claims that you alone are eating "the way the body was meant to eat."  I know you feel the divine hand of Darwin has touched you above all others in our species.  And I know the rest of us "have it wrong: in your eyes.  I get it.  But really, I just wanted to point something out:

You may have sort of forgotten one vital organ in your evaluation of what a "whole body" is about.  More specifically, paleo dieting seems to overlook the brain in it's understanding of the human eating experience.

I am not saying that paleo dieting is bad for the brain.  Not at all.  In fact, the way paleo diets are run I would imagine it is rather good for the organic matter of the brain.  Paleo's emphasis on clean fats and robust protein could only service the neurology.  No, I am not arguing paleo dieting has forgotten the brain's physical health.  I am suggesting paleo dieting may have forgotten the brain's role in it's very creation.

"Oh, you know . . . just diggin' up bones, eatin' cupcakes . . . the usual sciencey stuff."

Check this out:

How do we "know" how paleolithic man ate?  Research, of course.  Anthropology, archaeology, genetic research and all sorts of sciencey stuff is what has helped us discern the eating habits of early man.  Myself, I sort of tend to side with well-vetted science.  So I buy it.  We got a pretty good clue as to what helped man evolve and survive and kick some major saber-tooth tiger ass.

However, where did the science come from?  Well, the technology used to determine these paleolithic standards involves all sorts of microscopes and chemical tests and fancy equipment, doo-hickeys and goo-gags to get the work done.  And all that gear had to come from a lot of humans doing a lot of thinking.

Likewise, the bankrolls behind all that science and technology bad-assery relied on a lot of people doing lots of math and running a lot of big think tanks.

Tut-tut!  Looks like science!
(See what we did there? See??)

And we know that this sort of science and money and research and exploration has been going on for a long time.  Thousands of years when you think about it.  From the Phoenicians through the  Greeks and Romans; through the Far East and in China; even across parts of the Americas, and certainly through Europe's Renaissance and Industrial eras; there has been a lot of thinking and studying going on.  And all that thinking and industry and science wonkery over the years allows us to see into the past and know what was up, all the way back to caveman times.

So, really, paleo dieting wouldn't have come to anyone's mind unless there was the ability to be scientific.  And that ability very much depends on not hunting and gathering.  Pretty hard to run lab tests on genetic strains when you got to forage for seven hours a day for some wild raspberries or spear a few carp before sunset.  One of the reasons the paleolithic men couldn't know what their own ancestors ate was that, well, them bison ain't gonna hunt themselves!

Paleo dieting could not exist without the onset of agricultural civilization.  And we know what horrible crimes arose from farming and cities.  That's right – you guessed it – farming led to (gasp!) non-paleo eating!

Oh, the horrors!

That's right.  The minute we stopped eating pale, we began developing the skills to discover how we ate before we stopped eating paleo.  The scientific discoveries on paleo eating rely directly on humans aggressively insisting on not eating a paleo diet.

"Man I could use a slice of pizza."

In other words: paleo dieting would not exist, even as a concept, without thousands of years of non-paleo eating.  Paleo eating was, in a sense, a failure of human evolution, not a success.  Sure it allowed some jungle daring-do and probably helped spear a walrus or two, but overall it limited humans ability to use their most vital evolutionary edge: their brains.

Our brains are what have allowed us success.  And like I noted before: paleo dieting was great if you want to live in a cave and never create telephones, baseball or archaeology.  But most humans sort of like the things their minds can create.  And indeed, like eating in ways that can help that happen.

The very industries which have allowed the spread of the paleo diet theories – the bajillion dollar "fitness" industry and the umpteen-bagoogle million dollar media industry – were the both the result of a whole lot of non-paleo eating.  My friends, you wouldn't have known paleo even existed unless millions of humans eagerly refuted paleo dieting.

And herein lies the logic flaw behind paleo diets.  They only describe the body as if it were not attached to the brain.  And our brain is sort of, well, what makes our species unique from others.  

Indeed, some scientists (so I've heard somewhere) actually believe it was the ability to make better food (read: the predecessor foods to non-paleo eating) which caused our evolution from homo erectus to homo sapiens.  In other words, what made "thinking man" was his ability to not have to eat like a paleolithic wretch.  Our evolution was caused by the very urge to not eat paleo, not by the adherence to such eating.  The more "desirable" humans for mating were actually the ones who would gradually evolve to make cinnamon rolls and pork dumplings, and not the goons who wanted to do burpees and eat raw mushrooms.

When evaluating the paleo diet it's vital to understand it's principles as opposed to convert to it's church.  Such dieting would have never existed without lots and lots of non-paleo eating habits.  The very foods and habits paleo dieting condemns are the same habits which allowed us a window into paleolithic eating to begin with.

I, palindrome, I.

It is a mobius of logic; a palindrome of dieting principles.  In order to come up with any argument in favor of paleo dieting one must engage in a whole lot of non-paleo dieting to arrive at the conclusion.

And this is what I share, as a coach, to the countless people who ask the flat, bland question: "So, XN; what do you think of paleo dieting?"

My answer is that the "thinking" is often not the part considered, and if we want to be purist about being human than we sort of have to uphold the brain's role in our construction of eating habits. I'm not saying that we should all go eat bread and bacon until we bust a spleen – that would be a binary notion, and we already cleared up that issue in the opener to this article.  I am merely saying that the principles of healthful eating with whole foods from natural sources is a phenomenal and vital concept for improved performance and healthy weight maintenance, yet can not unto itself sustain your own personal evolution into something other than, well, a caveman.

Which is why this is not an anti-paleo diet post.  This is an anti-cavement post, perhaps, but not anti-paleo.  It is merely pro-thinking; pro-homo-sapiens.  The brains which allow us to understand paleo dieting , and the great feats which gave us to tools to discover paleolithic man's habits rely on a whole lot of non-paleo noshing.

This is merely your reality check, folks:  paleo dieting wouldn't even exist without "anti-paleo" eating.