Melissa Kafkas: “Eat to Train, Don’t Train to Eat”

At Performance360, we are a place of non-dogmatic practice. We have many members and coaches who follow a macro-based approach, we have many who follow a Paleo approach. We have vegans, vegetarians, and everything in between. While we do have strong beliefs over what constitutes proper nutrition for the human body, we try to center everyone around the idea that basic caloric needs are non-negotiable. Today, Coach MJ will talk about the successes she has had using a macro-based approach. 

I’ve heard it several times from many different athletes in the gym. They want to get stronger and to that I say, “Awesome.” That’s a great goal to have.

So you start tracking your lifts, you dial in technique and attend gym classes three to four times a week, maybe you attend open gym. That’s everything you’re supposed to be doing, right? While those are all important components of success, there’s often the most important factor that gets left out.


Food is fuel for the body and without the proper nutrition for your goals, you will very likely not obtain them.

Before becoming a member, I had been an NCAA water polo athlete and I was already in great shape endurance-wise. However, the overall strength that I desired was lacking. My mentality towards food in college went as follows: “Beer. Beer. Beer. Late night burritos. Stuff my face at the team dinner until I’m so full that I’m uncomfortable. More drinking.” I had zero knowledge about nutrition, and to be honest, I never really thought about what I was putting in my body since I was burning so many calories in the pool. After I graduated, my mentality shifted. I had to start working out on my own and if I wanted to enjoy that dinner and drinks with my friends that night, then I needed to make sure I worked out before. If I didn’t, then not only would I not enjoy my time out, but I would also beat myself up over it for the next couple of days and that’s not healthy. This idea that I needed to workout in order to enjoy that meal or that special treat, took over my thought process.

I was training to eat. 

Now fast forward a few years to my time as a member at Performance360. Getting stronger and putting on muscle was always a goal of mine, from the very first day I joined. It was a whole new world for me and I began to explore nutrition and develop an understanding of the value of food as a tool, not a reward. I dabbled in a few different dietary changes trying out a low-carb diet plan and also intermittent fasting. Both were great at helping me with fat loss and leaning out, but neither one was helping me get stronger. In fact, I lost strength and found myself hungry a lot of the time with each plan. This does not mean that either one won’t work for someone else, it simply meant that I needed to keep learning and expanding my knowledge to find out what would work best for me in order to combine my goals of both aesthetics and strength gains.

For me, I finally found this using a macros-based approach. I know, I know, this sounds daunting and what even is a macro? (It’s macronutrients for those of you who are not familiar, which include protein, carbohydrates, and fat). I unlocked a whole new world of knowledge about nutrition. I began to learn about food and it’s content, and the important role that an individualized formula and timing of protein, carbs, and fat calculated for the amount of energy I was expending on any given day, played a role in the goals I wanted to achieve. The recipe for off days, circuit training days, and strength days, all varied for my body’s needs. In just three months time, I had gained 6 pounds of muscle and lost 6 pounds of fat. That’s great and all, but more importantly, I was stronger! By dialing in on my nutrition, I was PR’ing left and right and had a ton of energy, but the biggest change for me?

I was now eating to train.

Don’t get me wrong, counting macros does take a certain amount of dedication, and more time and effort that your typical dietary adjustment. And to play devil’s advocate, I don’t strictly follow it all of the time because life happens and I would go crazy eating in such a specific way for a long period of time. But when there is a specific goal I want to obtain, like when I hit a 300 lb. deadlift or a 200 lb. back squat, dialing in my nutrition and eating right always got me there. It’s all about balance and the mentality that food should be looked at as a tool, not a reward or vice, nor should it be abused. With that being said, if you’re going out drinking every weekend, or eating out for your meals most of the time, you’re most likely not going to hit your goals in the gym. There’s a reason so many professional lifters and athletes succeed at what they do. They know and understand the value of food as fuel.

So, explore the nutrition world and find what works for you. I found success with Renaissance Periodization and I know a lot of members have found success using a similar approach with Coach Lenny. No matter what your dietary beliefs are, remember, eat to train. Don’t train to eat.

MJ Kafkas Performance360 Coach-M.J. Kafkas