From Cookie Crisp to the Crockpot: An American’s Food Journey

A quick note:  I am slowly migrating over to Twitter over the course of the next few months so please do me a favor, make me look cool and follow me here!

I’ve been on just about every form of diet imaginable over the last fifteen years of my life (excluding any diet that removes animal proteins.  Sorry my Vegan friends, playing sports and removing animal protein was never something I would have ever considered).

I’ve gone through phases where I’ve eaten a ton, barely eaten at all, dropped all carbs, stuffed-my-face-with-Sheetz diet, removed grains and dairy, been hypocaloric, isocaloric, hypercaloric and about everything in between.

I’ve done Zone, Atkins, Paleo, Primal.  You name it and I’ve done it wither in hopes to get results or in the name of research for my career.

In each instance I have experienced very different yet very real effects on both my health and body composition, and if there’s one thing I have learned over those fifteen years its that I believe there to be a right way and dozens of wrong ways to go about putting food in our bodies.

If you’re interested in my opinion then keep reading.  We’re going to take this back to high school when I disappeared if I turned sideways, roll through college where I put on 40 pounds in one year, enter the post-college phase where Pete Coors and Chiptole were my closest mates and then into my professional career where I started to wise up.

1996 – 2000: The “Homeless Shelter” Years

Cookie Crisp, Ramen noodles, white rice with A1 sauce, cheese quesadillas, Breyer’s Ice Cream shakes, 6 for $0.29 McDonald’s Hamburger, Fruity Pebbles.

What do all of these have in common?

If you said, “things homeless people would scrounge at the dollar store”, you would be correct.

You’d also be right if you said, “staples of Dave’s diet all through high school.”

I was a pretty good athlete in high school in no thanks to my elected diet of 100% refined, processed carbohydrates. Those meals are what I ate consistently for the better part of three years and I am not even joking for a second.  I will happily give you my mom’s email address if you don’t believe me.

My high school yearbook picture

In fact, let’s get ole’ Ma Anna Bruce on the horn.

“I tried substituting chicken in chile and tacos – didn’t go over that great.  I tried serving eggs for dinner – sometimes worked.  But, sadly, as a mother I have to confess David subsisted predominantly on cereal!  He and his brother went through a box a day –  I tried buying generic and low sugar, because they would eat anything out of a cardboard box. That, and we always had Big Batch chocolate chip cookies – I had a sweet tooth – and passed on a terrible habit! Fortunately, I think they still love me.”

(And to prove my mom wrote that, I didn’t even know ‘subsisted’ is a word.)

Of course we lova ya, ma!  You’re the reason I’m as awesome as I am today!

Now, I ate this way for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost I had about as much of a clue about nutrition as I do negotiating a Chinese merger.  My idea of proper sports performance nutrition was to eat as much quantity as I could for my $3 a day meal allowance at school.

This usually lead to two churros at break time, a golden retriever taco egg roll with white rice and a cookie for lunch, and the crucial 1 p.m. Veryfine juice from the vending machine to get me out of Trig or whatever else I was busy getting a ‘C’ in for a few minutes.

After practice?  I’d drive my ass over to McDonald’s and load up on as many hamburgers as I could and call it a day.  Those were the good ole pre-recession days of $0.89 gas and $0.29 hamburger promotions.

Remember these things?!

My second priority for diet was that it had to taste incredible.

Add those two priorities together and you get a malnourished, void of any muscle mass weakling who somehow earned a DI baseball spot with what must have been solely because of Harry’s genes (my father, a very good athlete in his day playing two sports at UVA.  Big ups, Har.)

My diet was so bad that I swear to you, my best friend Zach’s mom had a standing invitation for me to eat dinner at their house whenever I wanted.   Let’s go to the phones again and hear it from Zach via email.

“Mom always felt the need to feed her kids’ friends, especially when she learned about their eating habits.  You were a top priority as the after school/dinner refugee as the Cookie Crisp, Chef Boyardee, Campbell soup diet horrified her…by the way, when you get a chance look through some high school pictures, you were a freaking twig.  Hats off to you for playing D1 baseball because the canned food aisle didn’t do you any favors. You’ve come a long way.”

Could have done without the jab but we get the point.

I was 135 pounds as I entered college and had never seriously lifted weights or really understood the concept of protein. My diet of 80%+ refined carbohydrates left me literally starving for growth and muscle.  My body was ready to soak up nutrients and explode, I just didn’t know it until…

2000 – 2004: The “Holy Shit I Can Eat This for FREE?” Years

With the urging of my college coach who apparently was not pleased with my physical appearance when recruiting me, I saw a strength coach leading up to my first semester at University or Richmond.  It helped. A little.  I was still way too scrawny and basically begging to have my lunch money taken by stronger, bigger seniors who probably were repulsed I was placed in a college uniform when first seeing me.

“Hey, nerd.  Go get me some damn water.”

I was bracing to hear this repeatedly for a year, however something happened and it happened faster than I could say say, “sir, yes sir!” in a cracked voice.

Weight.  Muscle.  Size.  Mass.

My body started expanding and quickly.  Thanks to the glorious notion that is the collegiate dining hall, I could crush whatever I wanted for three meals a day.  Seconds?  You bet your ass I want seconds, jiggly arm lady serving up sassy mac n’ cheese!  Whipped cream to go along with those corn nuggets?


I put on 25 pounds in the first month of school via weight training and the aforementioned massive increase in caloric intake.  Fast forward to the end of my freshmen year and I had pulled a “Reverse Weinhouse”, adding 40 pounds and getting up to was 175 all in a shade under ten months.

This is where it hit me like a cold hard bench press slap of reality to my Cookie Crisp eating face…I can eat a lot and it will result in bigger muscles?  Sweet!

Unfortunately, I got a little drunk with my new superpower.

I was a lean, fit and fast 175 pounds after my first year and I thought that this was the greatest realization of all time. Eat whatever I want, whenever I want, in as much quantity as I want and I will just add muscle and improve my play on the diamond?

(Shirt pull.)

Wrong answer.

My third year is when Tubs McGee started to make a little bit of an appearance and I went up to 190 pounds, to date the heaviest I have ever been in my life.  And not a “man, you look awesome!” 190 pounds.  More of a “stop ordering Papa John’s on your SpiderCard for the love of GOD” awesome.

My strength plateaued that year and I put on probably a total of 20 pounds of fat via this new game called Beer Pong.  I was slower on the basepaths, my previously fast bat speed went to shit and the valuable quickness that I needed as a middle infielder was vanishing like blow in Charlie Sheen’s summer condo.

It was my senior year when the whole diet and performance combination started to really sink in and I started to actively seek knowledge on how I could cut weight without sacrificing strength.

Little did I know I was researching performance.

This was the first time when I started to be cognizant of my carbohydrate consumption and I made one simple adjustment.  I removed all processed carbohydrates from my breakfast, lunches, dinners and sober meals (my teammates to date probably still don’t know that I did this) and kept protein, fruits and vegetables high.  Still had the late night Sheetz and Papa John’s pig outs but cleaned up the daytime habits.

The result was a 12 pound fat loss and back down to my 175ish playing weight.

I was leaner, got my foot speed back and my quickness in the infield.  I started to play noticeably better and hit over .350 the second half of the season (which was too late to balance out the .175 and subsequent benching to start the season).

As I graduated college  I took this recent passion for how diet and training could change my body weight, performance, composition, muscle fiber breakdown and overall energy and…

2004 – 2007: The “You Sure College is Over?” Years

….partied and ate burritos.

Dammit.  That didn’t go as planned.

The one constant in my life since 2000 has been that I’ve always trained relatively hard, gone to the gym religiously and committed myself to routine.

Thing is that routine hasn’t always been savory. In these post-college years my diet fluctuated drastically with direct correlation to how often I went out with friends. The more I partied, the worse I ate and at age 23 I partied…A LOT.

Even though I still “went to the gym” I noticed I was gaining weight in a manner I didn’t like.  What the F?  I’m “working out, bro”.  How come I am gaining weight in the wrong areas?  I was putting on muscle but I was not lean, strong and athletic like I wanted to be.  I was puffy.  I had no interest in the “get huge” approach where I could bicep curl 50′s and leg press multiple dorks.  I wanted to be strong, but functionally strong and in a lean body weight range.  I wanted to be able to sprint a mile and sidestep ninjas and shit.

Problem was, I still didn’t really know a ton about training.  I had a good understanding of compound and Olympic lifts from our college strength coach, Jim Roney, and by ripping exercises from health magazines here and there but never really tried and experimented with anything other than that because I just didn’t know what was out there.

I continued to toil away in the ‘fairly muscular but feel like shit and not that strong’ area for a couple of years until I moved to San Diego, went back to school and learned of two things that would change my life.

  1. Circuit Training
  2. Clean Eating
2007 – Present: The “I Must Break You” Years

The past three years are where I really feel like I’ve dialed in my routine, fined tuned my nutritional approach and gained a much broader perspective on food content and how it not only effects body composition and performance, but longevity and your “thrivability” factor.

Do I just want to get by or do I want to fucking thrive?  That’s what I asked myself.

Ever since I started to incorporate strength-included circuit training on top of a zero processed carb diet I’ve been in the best physical and mental condition of my life.

I am stronger and more athletic than I was in my college playing days and I have the energy to sustain 14 hour work days for five days a week.

Take a look at my college vitals for everything, age 21.

  • 190 pound body weight
  • ~19% body fat
  • 250# bench press
  • 295# pound squat
  • ~45″ box jump

Now, at age 29 I should theoretically be going downhill in everything and should absolutely not be able to have my strength increase as my body weight decreases by 22 pounds, right?

  • 173 pounds
  • 9% body fat
  • 235# push press 
  • 210# hang clean
  • 315# squat
  • ~400# deadlift
  • 57″ box jump

This is meant to illustrate a very important point.

There is a reason that we opened a gym based on the diet we teach and the training we coach.

It works.

The one definitive conclusion that I am comfortable putting my name behind is that circuit training with a strength element on top of a diet based largely around animal proteins, vegetables and fruits is going to get you in the best health and performance of your life, and unleash the hard wiring we all have in our DNA to be lean and strong.  I don’t call myself a full on “Paleo guy” since I eat a bit more grain and dairy than traditional Paleo calls for, but I believe the principles to be spot on for health and performance.

You can eat a high-carb diet with crap like cereal and white rice.  You can even eat a perceived healthy diet with whole grains, dairy, protein etc.  Maybe it works for you and maybe it doesn’t.  The only thing you can do is try a range of alternatives and until you do that you really have no idea what works best for your individual body and goals.

I removed grains, dairy and other man made foods I didn’t need and saw my body composition improve, my strength increase and fat decrease and my health and energy take off like never before.

If you recall at the beginning of this obnoxious Tim Tebow-like memoir I stated,

“I believe there to be a right way and dozens of wrong ways.”

I believe this to be the right way, my friends.

At the end of the day it’s your life and your personal decision in which you’re entitled. You can either be “Homeless Shelter” Years or The “I Must Break You” years.  You can choose to be fit, lean and strong or choose to be passive, weak and timid.

Whatever you do, make no mistake about it.  It’s an active choice either way and like Andy Dufresne once said, “get busy livin,’ or get busy dyin.”

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1 Comment

  1. Fantastic article. I’m hoping this applies to a 57 year old because I’m about to embark on a strict 90-day Paleo nutritional plan along with the Performance 360 workout plan. Will check back in 90 days and let you know. Looking forward to the start of this journey, Mr. Thomas. Thanks for your words of wisdom.

    At 57, I cannot be a part-time Paleo guy. Starting January 9th and going until April 9th, I can be your experiment for the “older peoples.” Very insightful article, indeed.

    Thanks for sharing.

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