Nutrition Challenges

2018 Spring Challenge 3rd Place Sara Cronenwett!

Congratulations to 3rd Place Winner Sara Cronenwett! Sara has competed in previous challenges and this time really kicked it in with – 254 points, 3% loss of body fat, a whopping 2.5 inch reduction in the hips!

1. What advice would you give next season’s Challengers?
My advice to future Challengers is to take advantage of this month to try out new recipes and be creative with your meals. It’s much more fun to eat something you’re excited about – rather than just another piece of plain boring grilled chicken for lack of better options. There are tons of good paleo recipe sites, as well as what other Challengers post – so get the right goods at the grocery and spend your Sunday afternoon making some new items for the week!

2. What habits did you develop that will last beyond the 30 Days?
A few of the new recipes I tried are definite keepers – including the challenge friendly peppercorn salad dressing and the chicken salad (w bacon!) that use the avocado mayonnaise. I also realized in this challenge in particular how wonderful sweet potatoes are – and our work cafeteria has them available almost every day (can even buy a couple already cooked to take home for dinner or post workout snack, saving valuable time!).

Another habit I developed through the Challenge that is now part of my normal routine is bringing cherry tomatoes to work for an afternoon snack – I do it almost every day.

Lastly – I will try to keep up the 30 min of stretching each day… the best strategy for me is to stay and stretch at CFS after workouts, rather than believe “I’ll do it later in front of the TV”.

3. What was one obstacle you had to overcome during the course of The Challenge? How did you do it?
I seem to always have a week of work travel to conferences during the Challenge – where one is presented with lovely looking pastries at breakfast, all kinds of non-challenge-friendly snacks through the day, and plenty of alcohol options in the evening. I compromised (between the Challenge and the practicality & temptation) by sticking to the Challenge rules at breakfast (so painful to pass up!), lunch, and snacks, but allowing myself to cheat with wine and/or food (if no challenge friendly options) for the two client dinners and one team dinner I had that week. It was a practical solution.

2018 Spring Challenge 2nd Place Alex Hagerman!

Congratulations to Alex for finishing in 2nd Place! She is a CrossFit vet who has always performed well in previous challenges. Some impressive stats this time around: 257 points (the highest total this season), 3.2% loss in body fat and all while having surgery and finishing grad school!


1. What advice would you give next season’s Challengers?

My advice to next season’s challengers is to not be afraid to commit to the challenge, even if it “isn’t a good month” for you. I’ve made that excuse a few times but decided to do my second challenge this spring despite the fact that I would be going through grad school final exams, graduation (with a ton of family visiting for a long weekend), and oral surgery during the 30 days. To be honest I forgot about the surgery and didn’t realize how long I’d need to be on a liquid diet and how long I’d have to avoid exercise after the procedure. But despite all of these obstacles, I was able to stick to the Paleo diet (most days), get enough sleep, drink enough water, and do recovery every night. I wasn’t able to work out as much as I’d hoped, unfortunately it was probably never more than 3x per week.

I was worried that I wouldn’t see results because I wasn’t able to truly give it 100%. But surprise, surprise- the results are in- down 5lbs of fat mass despite not being able to work out daily! I’m actually glad that I did the challenge at a busy time in my life because it showed me that I can still treat my body well and get great results without stopping my life entirely to focus on a 30-day challenge. So, to future challengers and those considering the challenge- I’d say to just jump in and do your very best, but still live your life! It’ll surprise you what a few changes can do for you.

2. What habits did you develop that will last beyond the 30 Days?

During my first challenge I didn’t commit to regular recovery, so this time around it was very important to me to make a strong effort with the recovery aspect of the challenge. I used my recovery time to do stretching, foam rolling, and utilize the lacrosse ball on sore muscles to relax every evening/night. I hope to continue to do recovery on a nightly basis as much as possible after this challenge because it truly helped me relax before bed, allowing me to fall asleep much more quickly than before this challenge. I also hope to continue with drinking 12oz+ in the morning before eating breakfast or drinking coffee because not only has it become a habit, my body seems to crave more water overall, causing me to drink much more water throughout the day!

I hope to continue to be more aware of the foods I choose to eat, looking closely at labels to see if there are added sugars, soy, etc., and making more food from scratch. There have been quite a few favorite recipes Blair and I modified for the challenge and I don’t think we’ll go back to our old ways! Although I don’t think I can give up dairy indefinitely, but I am willing to try to limit it. I am also going to avoid gluten as much as possible; luckily there are many gluten substitutes that I enjoy just as much!

3. What was one obstacle you had to overcome during the course of The Challenge? How did you do it?

There were many obstacles I had to overcome during this challenge, including having both my family and my in-laws visit us for a long weekend to celebrate my graduation from grad school. Our two sisters stayed with us, and both sets of parents stayed at a hotel. We only have a 1 bedroom apartment, so cooking for all 8 of us and eating together in our apartment just wasn’t going to work.

Although we ended up eating out a decent amount while my family was visiting, I was always able to find challenge-friendly menu items. Luckily, we have a decent number of restaurants around here that have great options. I did use my cheat meal on my graduation day – and the pasta was so worth it! I also took the time to do my recovery and workouts despite feeling the need to host every minute of every day- some family members even joined me! I was very worried about this weekend at the beginning of the challenge but I’m lucky to have a very supportive and flexible family!

2018 Spring Challenge 1st Place James Baird!

Congratulations James for finishing in 1st Place! Some impressive stats: 249 points, 2.9% reduction in body fat, waist decreased by 3 inches!  Improvement of 2 minutes on the WOD and excellent advice and A+ transformation pics!

1. What advice would you give next season’s Challengers?
Take all aspects of the challenge equally seriously. Although the wods are graded with 5 points I would suggest that all aspects of the challenge (nutrition, exercise, recovery/mobility and sleep ) are equally important. Putting time and effort into each of the challenge components I have found worthwhile and revelatory. It’s not just about exercise and nutrition!

2. What habits did you develop that will last beyond the 30 Days?
I began to take sleep seriously as an element of health. I had been turned on to a Joe Rogan podcast with Matthew Walker, a sleep scientist, who highlighted the multiple ways in which 7-8 hours of sleep are essential for bodily and mental health and outlined the long term damage that lack of sleep causes. I often have the experience of waking up tired even though I’ve been in bed for 8 hours. For the challenge I purchased a sleep tracker that delivered the unwelcome news that my sleep was often interrupted and shallow.

In response I began to develop a night time ritual that involved shutting down screen time an hour before going to sleep and sticking to a regular sleep schedule. My sleep improved, though it remains an issue. Also, when I had two consecutive poor nights of sleep I chose not to exercise the following day to give my body a better chance to recover. All of these things I intend to continue.

3. What was one obstacle you had to overcome during the course of The Challenge? How did you do it?
I lost quite a lot of weight in the first seven to ten days and initially I felt quite weak at the gym. My body was beginning to learn to draw energy from fat cells rather than my bloodstream and it took a while to adapt. By the end of the challenge I felt fine and my wod retest was much better than I could have hoped for.

Persevering through the initial feeling of weakness required mental discipline, but since the challenge was only for 30 days I figured it worth the effort. As I said after the initial adaptation phase I felt much stronger.

2017 Fall Challenge 1st Place – Gabe Rincon

I joined Crossfit Stamford last December because I decided that one of my goals for 2017 was to get back into a more athletic shape. I can’t say all of the Crossfit exercises struck a chord with me from the very beginning; I’ve always enjoyed the more HIIT-focused workouts but many times I got frustrated with my limited capabilities in the Olympic lifting-focused WODs.

This past May I decided I was going to take it up a notch and began focusing more on my nutrition, quit drinking (only for a month though) and began focusing on improving my strength and endurance in the WODs. This decision was a game changer for me and the combination of these changes led to noticeable improvements in my strength, reduction in bodyfat and an overall improvement in my flexibility.

Participating in the 30 Day Challenge has really helped me accelerate these fitness and nutrition goals. Since I’ve always tended to eat pretty healthy during the week I actually didn’t find the food restrictions to be that significant of a change for me and I decided since the Challenge was only 30 days I would be extremely strict with the nutrition portion and never ended up having a cheat meal or drink. I definitely think the increased focus on eating a balanced, fruit, vegetable and protein rich diet continuously (as opposed to just the weekdays) has been the biggest driver of the gains I’ve made in reducing body fat.

I think the biggest surprise from the Challenge has been the improvement I’ve seen in my sleep. I love my job but it can be pretty stressful and a lot of the time that stress tends to pile up right when I get in bed which can lead to some restless nights. These past 30 days however I have found myself falling asleep much faster and staying asleep throughout most of the night. This has been very beneficial because I find myself with a higher level of energy the next day which has helped me be more productive at work and life.

The other part of the Challenge that I have found very rewarding is seeing the gains I’ve made in both endurance and strength over the past month. It has had the effect of creating a positive feedback loop because the better I’ve gotten in the workouts the more workouts I’ve come to and I find myself working out now 5 days a week vs my previous 3 to 4. I also think working out more has helped me find a consistent way to decompress from work which is really important for me. Being a very competitive person by nature, the fact that I find myself able to keep up with some of the really impressive Crossfit members in the WODs has also served as a huge motivating factor for me.

With the Challenge wrapping up, I am more motivated now to build off of my recent gains and use this roadmap to continue to improve my strength, endurance, nutrition and health.

2017 Fall Challenge 2nd Place – Cristina Broderick

I decided to take part in the CrossFit Challenge with two goals in mind: 1) of getting back on track with a basic paleo meal plan and 2) being able to participate in the daily WODs at the RX level. For the most part I have achieved both of these goals and am really happy to have participated in this fun CrossFit Community event.

What have you learned?
I have been eating 80/20 Paleo (with the exception of wine) since January of this year. Since that time, I have lost 18 Lbs. The Paleo lifestyle definitely is something that works well for me. I don’t feel deprived not having dairy, legumes or processed carbs. I have learned that the below apply to me:

I have a mild intolerance to dairy. Being half-Japanese, this really doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Dairy tends to cause inflammation for me and stomach discomfort.

I also have learned that my headaches/migraines seem to be directly related to my wine consumption. Shocking realization (joking). But good to know as I thought they were hormonal.

Cheat meals are a slippery slope and definitely reduce my will-power. On the days following my cheat meals, I definitely craved “non-paleo” foods and was lethargic.

I have a hard time with my workouts if I do not have some form of carbohydrates in the morning. I tend to try to add potatoes to my morning eggs on hard days.

Were there significant moments?
My most significant moment occurred at the ending WOD re-test. I didn’t hit my score for the Hang Power Clean and I was pissed! It made me think about why I had decided to take part in the challenge. Should I just give up then and there? Should I try and re-test to get a better score? Why wasn’t I able to lift the same amount? Over the weekend, I thought about these questions, the factors that go into a good workout (e.g. sleep, nutrition, etc.) and about the goals I had set for myself. I realized that just thinking about these factors was an achievement in and of itself.

Secondly, I was surprise when I had my body fat re-test and learned that I had loss 5.8 Lbs. of Fat Mass. I did not think that much change was occurring to my body, since I did not have the dramatic weight loss that is experienced when you first begin a Paleo diet. But this made me feel that the work I had put into the challenge (increasing my workouts to 4x a week and not drinking) had actually been worthwhile.

How have your habits changed?
My “paleo” meal plan pretty much went out the window over the summer with vacations and BBQs. I have been able to get back on track just in time to face the holiday season. Luckily eating this way is now pretty much a habit and not overly difficult.

I did however find it difficult to always get 8-hours of sleep. I realized is directly correlated to my energy levels and basic feeling of wellbeing the following day. I will certainly try harder to get 8+ hour of sleep each night going forward.

Additionally, I had never really given much thought to rolling-out at home or additional stretching. Before starting CrossFit, I mostly did Pilates. I think some of my flexibility has decreased, so I will definitely continue these additional minutes of manipulation at home.

Advice for new member signing up for next season’s challenge?
Just sign-up – regardless of if you think you have the will power or not. This is a great opportunity to make friends with other gym goers and coaches. Anytime you challenge yourself in a new way, and place yourself in an uncomfortable position with other people, bonds are made. This will only make your CrossFit experience that much more meaningful and enhance your commitment to bettering yourself. I, for one, am no longer intimidated to attend the noon class (instead of the ladies’ class). This feels like a battle won!

2017 Fall Challenge 3rd Place – Daniela Pellegrini

I never thought I’d ever see myself signing up to do The Challenge, and here I am writing my essay at the end of week 4. I started at Crossfit Stamford in May 2016. I saw results within the first three weeks of May, and soon became obsessed with bettering myself physically. I remember going to the gym 6, if not 7 days a week (which didn’t last too long), and obsessing over everything I was eating. I was so set on improving and seeing results, but I never took the time to understand that there was more than one way to do so.  \

Before starting the challenge, I always watched my diet during the week, and was much more relaxed about my eating habits on the weekends. No part of me was planning to sign up for the challenge. As a college student, I enjoy spending my weekends out with my friends. I knew if I signed up, I’d be saying goodbye to my social life, aka, going out to the bars and coming home late eating everything in sight. Part of me kept saying, “you’re so young, enjoy the food and drinks while your body can handle it”, but the other part of me really wanted to give it a shot. So I signed up the last possible day I could…procrastinator.

I totally consider myself a foodie. I love traveling to new places and trying new things. The thing is, my stomach is a bottomless pit and I can eat just about anything (it’s a blessing and a curse). The first meeting was super informative and I learned so much from it. I have never tried doing a paleo diet, so the first week was mostly a lot of research. The first week was by far the hardest because not only was I still learning about the diet itself, but I had just moved into a new home that didn’t have kitchen appliances yet. Most of my meals were spent at The Granola Bar (they’re super accommodating to diet restrictions), and Dig Inn. Lunch and dinner was always hard for me because of my crazy class schedule, this is where Kettlebell Kitchen saved the day. I wouldn’t get home from class until sometimes 9:30pm; by this time I was starving. I always carried around RX bars, Epic bars, and avocados for snacking. My dad was extremely helpful throughout this month, cooking challenge-friendly dinners that were ready for me on the stove by the time I got home (best dad ever).


The hardest part for me this month was avoiding sweets. Luckily, we don’t have any around the house, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t crave it! I kind of get a little crazy when I don’t have my chocolate, so I knew that would be difficult for me to avoid. I tried many recipes to satisfy my sweet tooth that were challenge-friendly, such as coconut ice cream and coconut cookies. Almond butter became my best friend, I think I just imagined it was Nutella the whole time and kind of ran with it. Something else I weirdly struggled with was having to drink water first thing in the morning. I’ve have always been well hydrated, drinking water all throughout the day. Something about chugging a full glass of room temperature water every morning was not something I looked forward to, it made me kind of nauseous, but hey I still did it every day!

For the past couple of months, I’ve been sticking to the same workout schedule. I attend the gym every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, while Thursday and Sunday are dedicated to rest days. I’ve learned this works for my body and my schedule. By the second week, I started to notice a difference in the mirror. I was less bloated and felt overall healthier. I found myself tackling more sport workouts using the rx weight, which is a big deal for me! I was more motivated this month to try and perform better at the gym, always challenging myself. Sleep was never an issue for me. I almost always get 8+ hours of sleep, now I was just excited that I got to give myself points for sleeping like a baby.

My goal for this month wasn’t really the cash prize at the end. It was more to learn about what works for me. I have decided that I am going to continue these eating habits, but add a few more things back into my diet, like plain greek yogurt and my overnight oats that I’ve missed so much! I saw more results this past month than I have in the past year, which is definitely why I want to continue. I improved on my WOD retest and am more than happy with the results.

2017 Spring Challenge 3rd Place – Brian Donofrio

After going through the Spring Challenge the past 30 days, I can honestly say that I had an awesome experience. My physical results were better than I had expected, but I think the most important thing for me was how much better I feel mentally and physiologically. Being a strength coach leads itself to having to be selfless and willing to sacrifice a lot for my athletes. Working long hours, having a ton of responsibility and trying to balance life outside of work left me with very little time to actually take care of myself and focus on my own personal wellbeing. This challenge was the perfect opportunity for me to lock in on my personal goals for physical and mental health, physique and athletic performance.

I was able to really give back to myself, allowing 8 hours of sleep a night, 30 minutes of foam rolling/stretching a day, scheduling in the time to work out from an hour to and hour and a half (sometime even twice) a day, making sure not to skip meals just so I could get more work done. All this has contributed to me being leaner, stronger, more focused and energized than I’ve ever been.

There were definitely some difficult times along the way in terms of discipline and focus. Going out with friends became challenging when forced to avoid liquor and only being able to eat from a limited number of things on the menu. But with that came the realization that everything is a decision, and the challenge helped highlight that there’s potential consequences to every decision. And it’s all about the priorities that you have and being able to focus on the big picture rather than the situation at hand.

Do I take the dessert now and doc myself a point for the day? Do I let this crappy meal choice negatively effect my goals of losing body fat? What will I regret more? Not having the drink with my friends or feeling lousy the next day from having a few too many? And that realization helped make the decisions for me, and made it much easier to adhere to the rules and allow me to progress towards my goals.

I’d say my biggest takeaway from the challenge is that if you want to talk about goals, then you need to have a plan in place if you ever want to accomplish them. I’ve been training since I was in 8th grade, and this was one of the first times that my main focus was a better physique (losing body fat) first and athletic performance second. And because of that, along with the help of the challenge guidelines, I was able to focus my nutrition, training, sleep and recovery habits towards reaching my goals, and I can honestly say that’s what I did.

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