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How CrossFit Games & Team USA Athlete Kelsey Kiel Got Into Top Shape

"People don't even know what they can do until someone believes in them. Having someone else see potential in me was groundbreaking."

I am Kelsey Kiel and I am an ex-CrossFit Games athlete and current Team USA Bobsled athlete.

I went to the CrossFit Games three times on a team. I qualified as an individual in 2020, before the craziness ensued. Now, I get to put my focus on a new sport, which is really exciting. And it's been a lot of fun.

Just Your Typical Girl

I went to college at a small Division Three school in Western New York - Elmira college. It was so much fun. I wouldn't trade those four years for anything. I met some of my best friends and I was part of a really amazing soccer team there.

I was a mediocre soccer player and was a bigger girl. I wasn’t an amazing player but I brought specific things to the team. I could shoot the ball from like, half field and take both left and right side corner kicks. Both of my legs were strong. 

I say this to let people know that I wasn't a super skilled soccer player or paying attention to my nutrition. Fitness, nutrition, and CrossFit were nowhere on my radar in college.  Nowhere.

There was a lot of partying; we were maybe better drinkers than we were soccer players at some points.

It was a really good experience and being part of that program was a building block for what happened later in my life.

A Vicious But All Too Familiar Cycle

When I graduated from college, I was an assistant soccer coach at Rosemont College in Philadelphia to a team of eight-year-old girls. It was fun. 

I was also playing in three separate adult pickup leagues just to keep playing soccer when I broke my ankle. It was the first time I was ever totally sidelined. 

In college. I was lucky enough never to have any major injuries like a torn ACL or anything serious. I'd twisted ankles but I was never on crutches or on the sideline. Now, I was not only off of the soccer field but also out of the gym.

Here I was - an adult with a broken ankle. It was a really hard time for me.

The physical break helped me start to see what was broken inside. 

At the time, I was just very unhappy with a lot of aspects of my life. I used food as a coping mechanism. Working out also looked very different. I was going to Planet Fitness and running on the treadmill or doing the elliptical and doing abs. 

I didn't have a coach. I didn't have any direction. We didn’t have a strength & conditioning coach in college but I just used what I learned in college with exercising.

Deep down, I think that it was just kind of this vicious cycle of, ‘Okay, I'm gonna go to the gym,’ in order to justify eating Chick-Fil-A.

Trying Something New

When this all happened, my sister was stationed overseas in Africa. She came home and told me she’d been doing CrossFit while she was away. Since I’d started healing, she asked me if I'd go to a class with her. 

My first reaction was ‘Heck no, I'm not going to do that.’ 

I had just started going back to Planet Fitness and was comfortable doing my thing. But...my sister took me to class anyway. 

I was so bad at it. The workout was Helen. It starts with a 400-meter run. And I, a former soccer player, stopped during the run. I couldn't finish a 400-meter run. I completed the workout but I was walking on my 400s. 

I thought, ‘Okay, I don't understand this. But I want to do it again. Let’s figure it out.’

So I started CrossFit as a beginner just like everyone else. I was going three times a week because that’s all I could afford.

Then I moved into the city of Philadelphia and couldn’t afford to go to a CrossFit box. I no longer lived at my mom’s house with the magically refilling refrigerator. I had to buy my own food, pay rent, and do adult things so I took a little bit of a break.

I eventually found a gym in Philly, where I was once again going three times a week. Then I traded coaching their Bootcamp classes, for a better membership. I really liked it and was excited to be able to go more often.

For the first year or so, I was doing CrossFit to justify partying, eating, and drinking more than I should. It wasn’t until late 2015 where I did an individual competition. That's when I thought, 'Hey, I could be good at this.'

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The Power of Community

There was an athlete I was competing against who had a coach. I remember seeing them talking before each workout. I watched him talk her through movements and cheer her on from the sideline. I remember thinking that having a coach at a competition was a novel idea.

One of the workouts at this competition had rowing in it. I knew that I needed to get through the second round and get back to the barbell, but while I was on the rower I was just dead. I was really hurting. It was bad.

Out of nowhere, I heard a voice saying, “You better row girl.” I thought, ‘I don't know who this is, but he's telling me to row so I'm just gonna keep rowing.’ 

The voice happened to be the guy who was coaching the other girl there and he's now one of my best friends in the entire world. He remembered seeing me and seeing that, I didn't have anyone except for one of my girlfriends there cheering me on. So he told me to row and I did.

After that, I looked into his gym, where he was a coach, and decided to switch gyms.

I wanted to surround myself with athletes that were a lot better than me.

Looking back, it was one of the best decisions I made because it not only furthered me as an athlete, but it opened up unexpected doors.

Why Nutrition is Everything

Having a coach was a game-changer for me. 'People don't even know what they can do until someone believes in them.'  While we have to believe in ourselves, having someone else see potential in me was groundbreaking for me.

After the competition, I started hearing more about people counting and tracking macros. I read my now boss' book on flexible dieting and decided to invest in my health & nutrition when I switched gyms in late 2015.

At my old gym, I posted a picture of me back squatting with the hashtag "body by Chick-Fil-A" and I was serious too. I've always enjoyed eating vegetables, but I was also not discriminatory towards food.

I hired my now boss to be my nutrition coach. We started dialing in my food and nutrition and I started paying attention to what I was putting in my body instead of eating everything in sight.

Fueling Changes

I started my relationship with food by paying attention to what I was putting in my body. It was very eye-opening for me. 

I am in a constant state of working on reframing my mindset around food. Part of this is because I used to, and continue to, find comfort in food. In my old mindset, if I overate, I’d think I need to go “burn it off.” I had so many different ideas connected to food. 

Some of my immediate mindset shifts were around getting adequate protein. I think that a lot of people either eat way too much protein because they think they need like, their body weight times two in protein. While that's not necessarily true, most people aren't eating enough protein and they don't even realize it because they're not tracking their intake.

The next thing for me was realizing what portion sizes actually look like. As soon as I started weighing my food, I remember taking a heaping spoonful of peanut butter and seeing that it was actually four servings and not one!

It was also pretty groundbreaking for me to realize that if I had a slip-up and a surplus in calories, to not punish myself and learn that food is fuel.

Losing Too Much Weight

I've always been kind of like the bigger girl. I was just like “I want to get down to this specific weight.” But my training was also ramping up because we went through the CrossFit Open. Then, my team qualified for Regionals and then we qualified for the CrossFit Games. All of these things happened at the same time and very quickly. 

This meant I was forced to put in long days, with tons of training hours, because I didn't want to let my team down. I was just surrounded by these amazing athletes and I knew that I needed to work hard. So at the same time, I was dialing in my nutrition and maybe getting a little obsessive about it. 

I actually got down to a body weight that I don't think was healthy for my size. During the 2016 Open, we did an InBody Scan and I was at 7.8% body fat. I’d always thought “I just want to be little.” But, I got to a point where it wasn't healthy. I wasn't performing. I was tired. I was under recovered. My back was hurting daily and I was also dealing with joint issues. I remember thinking, this is not where I want to be.

And looking back at pictures, I now realize I didn't have the muscle I do now and I was just little.

My coach and I decided that I need to put on some healthy weight

It’s Okay to Not Be Little

Looking back at the 2016 Games, I definitely see the difference. My coach and I decided that I needed to put on healthy weight so that meant I had to take in more calories. 

Because I was so focused on training, I didn’t even mentally think about my weight at the time. Then when we started the 2017 season, I was maintaining around 170lbs and I felt so much better. My lifts were improving. I had more energy. I was sleeping better. 

There were so many positive things that happened because I put on weight. It helped me realize that it’s kind of fun. It also helped me want to become a nutrition coach. I’ve gone through the same things as my clients.

Something I hear a lot from my clients is “I want to lose 10 pounds so that I'm better at gymnastics.” And I get the thought process. “If I'm lighter then I can pull myself up better,” but it's just not always true. I remember when I went through that mentally and it's fun to coach my clients through this change in mindset because there's so much power in not always having the mindset of trying to shrink.

A New Me and a New Sport

I’m also learning a new sport. Learning an entirely different sport is hard.

I've been a CrossFit athlete for the last four years, and my body has looked a certain way for four years.

It’s been a mental shift to appreciate and be okay with my body changing -- again. I'm not training like I was when I was training for the Games. I was doing three hours of training in the morning. Then I'd break for lunch to get some work done and go back in for an afternoon training session that was just as long as the first. This was happening five to six days a week. It was non-stop training and I was eating 4000 calories a day.

Now, I'm not training like that anymore. Depending on the day, I might only have one training session. It could be a sprint session and a lift day. With this, my diet has changed to reflect that and I've also had to understand that I don't need as much food as I did when I was a CrossFit athlete. So my macros actually have changed quite drastically. 

Since Christmas, I've been in a caloric deficit because there’s a weight requirement for bobsled.

When you're racing with a pilot, you go down the track, and between your first run and your second run, while you’re both in all of your gear with the sled, you get on a scale. There’s a specific weight requirement that you have to be. 

If one pilot weighs 155lbs, then there’s a brakeman who's upwards of like 185-190. Whereas if there's a pilot that's more like 165 pounds, then the brakeman needs to be more like 160-170. So that leaves a difference in weight. 

kelsey kiel transformation

The Easiest Cut of My Life

I wanted to be more marketable as a brakeman in a way and be able to race with almost any pilot. So that meant I needed to be a little bit lighter. Thanks to Trifecta, this has been the best cut that I've ever done. I can’t even explain how Trifecta’s changed my life - especially right now.

I've been traveling and with Trifecta, I've been able to have a good routine. Even when we have to quarantine, I'm confident in the food that I have for that day.

I’ll get a few staples from the grocery store like oatmeal and Greek yogurt wherever I am. Then I have my Trifecta and I can put those things together to make my lunch and my dinner. Sometimes even my breakfast! It's honestly been so easy because I've had good-tasting food and I've had food that I like and I'm actually excited to eat every day.

Sometimes even just the thought of having to cook something stresses me out, so the fact that I can just open my fridge and get the food out is perfect. The macros are right there on everything and it’s so easy. 

Overcoming Myself

The biggest thing that I've overcome is appreciating what my body can do and loving myself for that. I think so many, especially women, struggle with societal pressures of how to look.

If I can show my six-year-old niece that it's cool to be strong and be able to lift weights, that's a big win for me. I want her to see that she can do anything she sets her mind to.

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