By: Joelle Emery
I started with RP in November of 2015. At the time, I was doing 5 days a week of CrossFit (multiple WODs and strength a day, with goals of qualifying for regionals), and was doing Olympic Weightlifting 3 days a week. I had recently qualified for the American Open as a 63 KG, which would be my third weightlifting meet, and was worried about making weight. I didn’t want to get all the way out there and not be able to lift, so I started to do a little research. I was at the time following a relatively strict Paleo diet, and had never even heard the term “macro.” I stumbled across RP’s website and looked up some athletes who followed it (it was much much smaller at the time). They seemed to have good reviews, I liked that the staff were educated in nutrition and that the plan would break down meal by meal for me, as my current nutrition looked something like: train all morning on an empty stomach, eat a huge lunch and a huge dinner with TONS of protein and fat and very little carbs. I signed up for 1:1 for 3 months and figured if it was terrible, I’d go back to what I was doing and not be harmed, just a little more broke.
A year and a half later, I’m still doing RP, with Dr. Jen Case, and have successfully gone through a cut down a weight class to 58kg, a mass to get back up to 63kg, a long maintenance period, and most recently, a mass up to 68kg and cut back to 63kg. Last summer and into the fall, I, unfortunately, experienced a few injuries, one right after the other. I was still competitively training for CrossFit and had added more lifting into my programming. I was dealing with a strained hip and back, and then a lot of issues with my left arm and shoulder. I was in PT to address some of the problems I had been having. I finished up PT and competed this past December in the American Open. I had a really disappointing meet, going 3/6, only hitting one clean and jerk, and totaling less than my entry total. My body felt tired and beat up, and I had been feeling weak in my training. I knew that this was partly due to the injuries I had been rehabbing from, but I was also still sitting as a light 63- my natural base weight is around 61.5. Here I am before lifting at American Open (please ignore my face in all pictures #ineedselfiework).
After a conversation with my coach, I decided I wanted to jump into a mass- I wanted to see if adding in some extra calories and weight could assist in my continued recovery, and also start to push my strength capabilities. I discussed it with Jen, and she let me know I’d have enough time for a full mass, 6 week maintenance period, and a cut to get back down to the 63kg I need to be for Nationals in May.
I was excited about massing. I mean, who doesn’t get excited about the prospect of eating TONS of food and getting really strong? I was still prepping for the upcoming CrossFit open, so my typical day of training was a WOD and strength, an extra metcon (or two), an extra strength portion, and then also Olympic Lifting. If it sounds like a lot- it was. I was maintaining my weight around 62 kg with about 3500 calories. The first few weeks of massing was what I expected- getting to eat a lot of food and getting stronger. I had put on about 2 kg and was weighing in around 64kg.
There wasn’t a big visible difference with those 2 kgs. My upper body had gotten a little bigger, but that was about it. After those 2kg were gained, I hit a stalling point and I had a hard time gaining weight- I put on a little, then in my next weigh in I’d suddenly be lighter than I was before. My calories kept getting readjusted and bumped up (this is where 1:1 is amazing)- at this point, I was pushing into the mid 4000 calorie range. I’m a relatively small person, I’m 5’2”. That was a lot of food. I felt like ALL I was doing was eating. It felt like I’d hardly be done with a meal and I’d have to eat again. I started just shoveling food into my mouth as quickly as I could before I’d realize I was full. My clients and coach joked that they rarely saw me without food in my hand (or mouth)
Even after starting RP, I had eaten relatively “clean.” Everyone has a different meaning for that word, but for me, I wasn’t eating a lot of processed foods, my carbs were mainly coming from rice or potatoes; however, got to the point where I simply couldn’t eat the volume of rice or potatoes I needed for my carbs. I started using pancakes, maple syrup, cereal, dumping jelly on top of food, and eating spoonfuls of oil or nut butter. Pro tip for harder gainers/people massing: just embrace it, you can go back to eating clean post massing- and never ever accidentally fall asleep and miss a meal so that you have to combine two. Don’t do it.
I was continuing to see strength gains in the gym and had started gaining weight again. I eventually hit 66 kg, putting me officially at the heaviest I have ever been in my life. This is when it got hard (my face says it all).
My clothes were tighter, my abs were disappearing. I started noticing I was visibly bigger. My upper body was getting bigger, especially my lats and traps (which were already big to begin with) and my legs started getting bigger too. For the majority of you guys out there, if you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking “Yeah! That’s the point, you’re getting big, good for you.”
It’s a whole different ball game as a woman. Getting bigger is not something society encourages for us- “small, lean, toned” are words that are constantly being tossed around women’s heads. Even as an athlete who embraces my muscles and body, and what it allows me to do, it was harder than I thought it would be to see the scale go up (even though that was my goal and I was working very hard to do it). It was harder than I thought it would be to see my abs start to disappear. Every time I had to wrestle in and out of shirts that no longer fit, I felt upset and wondered if I was making the right choice. To be completely honest, this was around the time I wanted to quit- I was probably 6 weeks in. When things get hard on the way to long-term goals, because they always do, there’s really only two options- to put your head down and push through or to quit. And often, quitting is far far easier. I had to keep bringing myself back to my “why” and my long-term goals. I had a constant internal conversation- “Right now I feel big, right now it’s hard, but I want to get stronger, I want to perform well at Nationals, I want to clean and jerk 100 KG” (my lifetime best had been 97 that I had hit a year previously, and not again since). So every time I stepped on the scale to email my coach and cringed that it had gone up, I visualized myself on a Nationals platform, hitting that lift, and how worth it that it would be.
I made it through another 3 weeks. I had hit 68 kg- I have no pictures of where I ended, I was avoiding mirrors at that point. The plan had been to go another 2 weeks, but the CrossFit Open was starting, and I didn’t want to change my diet in the middle of it, so we called it there and transitioned to maintenance. I wrapped up my maintenance period 6 weeks later somewhere around 67 kg- not quite as big as I had felt at finishing my mass, but still much different from what I was used to.
My cut back down to 63 was pretty smooth, and the reduction in food was actually welcome. One of the biggest things I noticed as I was cutting was that my legs stayed bigger- I’ve always struggled with growing my posterior chain, and it was the first thing I lost when I cut to a 58, but it seemed to stick around this time. Bigger legs=bigger squats, so I was pretty excited to see this change.
Same weight, pre-mass post mass, 5 months apart
I felt fantastic on my deload leading up to Nationals- it was a night and day feeling to my deload for American Open where I had felt beat up and tired. I weighed in for Nationals at a comfortable 62.59, which was a huge win- the heaviest I had previously been for a meet as a 63 was 61.7. I had my best meet to date. I went 80/100/180 and 4/6 missing my third lifts on my snatch and clean and jerk which were both lifetime PR attempts. The 180 total was good enough to place me 17 out of 45. That was a 13 kg PR from my Nationals total the year before (when I was a 58kg- finding the right weight class to lift in is a whole other blog post and topic) and it was a 8 kg PR from 5 months previous at American Open.
The look of hard work paying off- and maybe some crying about to happen (Photo credit to the amazing Hookgrip)
I’m planning on a long maintenance cycle since I have a meet in September and then another in December, and then another mass cycle after that. I’m currently sitting at 63.5 kg, which is perfect and will be an easy drop down for meets. I know a lot of people, women especially, worry that if they mass they will stay at their new weight, or they won’t be able to look the same that they looked before, but you absolutely can. To someone just looking at me, I really don’t think they can tell much of a difference between these two pictures (pre-mass on the left, post mass on the right, roughly same weight, slightly heavier on the right)
If you’re debating a mass cycle, it is hands down worth it- while it wasn’t always fun, and I complained a lot about eating so much (pretty sure a lot of people wanted to punch me in the face for that), that gains that I saw from it made it so worth the rough patches. I’m looking forward to seeing the progress that I continue to make and a second mass cycle paying off for next year’s Nationals. If you want to follow my journey of weights, food, and a really cute dog, you can find me on IG at trapsofanangrybear.