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Pizza Power?!?!

Who does not love a good debate with their dad? I love my dad dearly. He has always been in great shape and lives to workout. He made his lifestyle around his workouts since he discovered powerlifting while in dental school in the late 60’s. His fitness program also included running workouts during his stint in the Army. He ran a 24.5 200m at the age of 40 while running a successful dental practice. My middle name, Conan, even pays tribute to Arnold!

Circa 1983 reading Conan comics with my dad
Circa 1983 reading Conan comics with my dad

Even now, at 68yrs young, he still gets after workouts that would have many 30yr old guys wet their pants. However, he has always needed improvement in one area: nutrition. As amazing a coach as my dad is, he is on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to his own nutrition. He lacks a proper calorie balance of proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats; not to mention the diverse array of nutrients that are vital for your health and athletic prowess.

His day starts out with a light breakfast in the morning followed by his daily workout; usually running sprints or lifting weights. This is followed by a post workout recovery of ice packs and a small lunch. He does not get enough fuel from the small amount of calories and nutrients he eats each day.

His body is performing like a Ferrari, a classic one, yes, but still a Ferrari. He was putting 87 octane in his fuel tank instead of 93 octane, running on an empty oil tank when he needed some Mobil Synthetic. So, it was great to see my dad take some of my advice for once after a recent trip to visit him in Florida.

Trying to knock some nutritional advice into my dad in FL after a sprint workout
Trying to knock some nutritional advice into my dad in FL after a sprint workout

I quietly sat by for a couple days and listened to my dad say his workouts were not what they used to be. I finally said dad, “You are crushing it for your age….you are crushing it for a guy half your age.” He quietly looked at me without saying anything, but his sad look said “Son, one day you will understand.”

I decided it was time to help him out with his nutrition program, just as he helped me set the foundation for my love of fitness. After all, he is the reason I ran track at the Division I level. He also set the foundation for my commercial success representing some of the biggest brands in the world. But how could I help a guy who is so set in his ways? Through bribery, trickery and a touch of nostalgia of course!

You see, my dad is a softy at heart. When my brother and I were young and my mom was not home, we would tell my dad, “Hey, it’s guys night, can we have a Coke with you?” Sure enough he would cave in and give us a Coke to share on those special occasions (fortunately, my mom knew something about nutrition and prohibited us from sodas and other sugary, processed foods).

I thought back to my childhood. Some of the best memories I have were watching college football games with my dad and brother on those cool, fall Saturdays. Our days started out with a morning workout and then we would watch football all day while we polished off a couple pizzas between the 3 of us. So, knowing nostalgia always works with my dad, when football season started I mentioned the old “pizza days!”

Now, the trick with my dad is to let him think he came up with the solution. I mentioned to him how I follow the paleo diet with a special “cheat meal” thrown in each week before a big lift day. I also mentioned how I carefully place these “cheat” meals, like pizza, in my program to shock my system. Eating clean 90% of the time allows me to utilize the influx of fats optimally. My body feels rewarded with the heavy doses of fats and calories. This enables me to go heavier and longer during harder workouts.

I was happy to hear a call from my dad shortly thereafter – he ordered a pizza after a running workout while he watched a football game last month. Progress cometh! The next day, I received an ecstatic call again from my dad after his morning weight workout. He said he lifted “like he was 20yrs younger!” Why was this? He had shocked his low calorie, low fat, empty high carbohydrate diet with a high calorie, high fat meal on his “cheat day.”

His body rewarded him with immediate results. Over the course of the next month following this same method, he increased his bench press from 10 reps at 190lbs (using a 4 inch lift in a power rack due to lack of a spotter at his house) to 20 reps at 190lbs!

You see, fat calories actually take longer to burn than proteins and carbohydrates. Especially the empty carbs that my dad eats. That is why fats are attributed a higher status in regards to burning calories (9 kilocalories = 1 gram of fat) vs proteins and carbs (4 kilocalories = 1 gram of protein = 1 gram of carbohydrate).

As you can see from this Men’s Journal article even professional endurance athletes are understanding the benefits of getting after fats vs empty carbs. Furthermore, check out this podcast with Garrett Fisher, 5th place finisher at the 2013 CrossFit Games, telling the boys from Barbell Shrugged about his love for pizza and calories (fast forward to around the 31 minute mark).

Now, do I wish my dad could follow a healthier nutritional program all around? Absolutely. Rome was not built in a day though. The last time we sat down to a home-cooked meal, he gave the brussel sprouts to the dog! I just have to figure out how to incorporate the need for fresh veggies into our conversations to make him feel like he thought of it.

I am not proposing you should gorge yourself on pizza here everyday. I am telling you that on special occasions (your well-deserved, once a week cheat day for instance) eating high calorie, high fat foods such as pizza can help you make great gains in your workouts! This is especially true if you generally follow an intense workout program along with a healthy, well-rounded nutritional program.

See, you can have your cake, er your pizza, and eat it too. Just make sure you earn the right to eat pizza by working out hard. Now, go eat some pizza tonight for big lifts and great workouts tomorrow!