Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Get To Know: Laura Pappas - Health Coach

Laura Pappas is a health coach serving the greater Philadelphia area and a coach at CrossFit King of Prussia. She has completed a half Ironman, several sprint triathlons, many 5k races, and competed on CrossFit KoP's team at the 2010 CrossFit Games in California. Laura's specific focus is individualized nutrition and can work with clients ranging from your CrossFit firebreather to your former couch potato just looking to be healthy. Check out the interview below.

Q: How long have you been CrossFitting? How did you get into it?
Since July 2008 (sheesh!) a few months after Tim and I got married.  Before CrossFit, I was an avid runner but was always looking for new exercises to try to "tone up."  I found CrossFit at my "globo-gym" where Aimee Lyons was running a class called "CrossFit", advertised as a bootcamp like class - I tried it and loved it, and have been hooked ever since :)

Q: What was your athletic background before CrossFit?
I was an athlete in high school playing softball and soccer during the school year, and travel softball over the summers.  I didn't start "going to the gym" until college.  My gym routine included the elliptical, stair master, light weight training that my high school trainer taught me, and stuff from magazines like Shape.  When it was nice, (not humid or raining and between the temperatures of 45 adn 80 degrees), I'd run outside - always about 4 - 5 miles same pace usually.  I didn't have any idea about intervals or really how to train for running.  Sometimes I'd time myself and run to a specific landmark that I knew via driving was about 2 miles away.  Sometimes I'd just run for 20 minutes and then turn around.  Senior year of college I got more serious about running and by serious I mean I signed up for my first race.  I did my first 5K in May 2003 - The Breast Cancer Race for a Cure in Philly, and had a really good experience.  I started doing more races after that, and started to talk to my then boyfriend, now husband, about how to train for running.  I have now done lots of races, 5Ks, 5-milers, 10-milers, and Half Marathons.  In 2006 I completed my first Half Marathon, 2007 I completed my first Sprint Tri without any technical equipment - e.g., I rode my mountain bike, and 2010 I completed my first Olympic Tri.  This year (2011) I tackled 2 Half Ironman 70.3 distance races - the Pocono Mountains and Miami Ironman 70.3.  My training has really come a long way and includes CrossFit twice a week to support a longer run, longer ride, and some interval or tempo workouts running, riding, and swimming.  I'm not sure what my goal is going to be for next year yet!

Q: What are some physical accomplishments that CrossFit has helped you achieve? 
CrossFit has really helped me learn what pain is and how to push myself harder.  I learned more about intensity, how to reach it, how long I can push there, and what you can do when you commit to training at those higher levels of intensity.  After really committing to CrossFit in 2009 I've noticed that it has contributed to improvements in my overall work capacity.  All of my running races and tris are easier and my times are getting better with less time spent training overall, and I'm continuing to get stronger and faster.

Other things that CrossFit has helped me with - being able to do a pull up (from a huge band to kipping and even butterfly pull ups!), having the confidence to lift heavy stuff, knowing that I can do things I thought were not possible before and having more confidence in myself and my body.  Practically, CrossFit helped me complete an AMAZING hike in Zion National Park a few summers ago.  I am terrified of heights and the Angel's Landing trail has a large vertical drop on either side (think 1000ft on one side and 1200ft on the other) of a pretty narrow cliff.  Knowing that I can do rope climbs and support my body weight gave me the confidence to do the hike.  Rationally, I knew if I slipped, or the chain broke... that I could hold my bodyweight, that I had a strong grip, and that I could climb up the chain to save myself.  On a related note, the combination of CrossFit and Paleo has made dramatic improvements on my overall health and body composition too - more on that later :)

2007 - As Mark Sisson would say, that's a Big Ass Salad!
Q: What was your nutrition like before CF? What is it like now?
Oh before CrossFit it was your standard runners diet: high carb, low fat, no red meat, but still ate lots of fruits and veggies too since that is how I've grown up eating.  After going on vacation I distinctly remember coming home and asking for broccoli because I was craving vegetables!  I ate LOTS of cereal, bread, pasta a few times per week.  I would eat a loaf of bread a week on my own, lots of yogurt, and fat free "desserts" like frozen yogurt which were really easy to over-eat.  Compared to what I eat now, I was a completely different person!  When I starting to do CrossFit, I started thinking about adding more protein to my food, and I switched my toast with jelly to toast with peanut butter, but not too much else.  I didn't start to tweak my food until Feb 2009 and that was motivated by CrossFit through the first "No Sugar Challenge." The only reason I did it was because I didn't think I ate lots of sugar and thought I might have a chance to win the prize.

Now I'm pretty strict Paleo - I eat whole foods, vegetables, fruits, nuts and some seeds - I still include things like salt, vinegar, and wine in my diet and I don't really believe in the limiting of eggs either.  I am always working on tweaking something - doing my n=1 experiments on myself to see how things affect my mood, energy, performance, etc.  Right now I'm working on tweaking things like fruit, dried fruit, nuts, alcohol, caffeine, intermittent fasting, etc...  What I do eat as part of my "regular" diet (not just an occasional treat) that may surprise some people is dark chocolate (85% -90%) and wine - these aren't everyday foods for me, I try to make them weekend foods, but I do have them more often than the occasional Paleo treat which I may have every 4 weeks or so.   I've been doing a "Whole 30" program, which entails really strict, clean, Paleo eating about 1 - 2x per year to stay on track and remind my body how it feels to be super clean.  I am finding though that things like having some fruit, keeping wine in moderation in my diet, doesn't dramatically impact my body composition or level of performance - these are things that I enjoy and keep in my diet.

2008 - just after starting CrossFit
Q: What are some goals for the future, either athletically or nutritionally?
Future Goals - Athletically: To get a muscle up and handstand push up, to confidently deadlift 200+. (For me, this may not ever happen without my mystery back rounding); to clean my body weight; and run a mile with a time of 6 something (in a 5K)

Future Goals - Nutritionally: This may sound silly to some but to be less strict with my food sometimes and be able to have a few bites of cake or whatever the celebratory food is at events/family occasions. To keep eating higher quality foods - grassfed, pastured, high quality eggs, etc.  To reduce nuts in my diet, this is something I'm constantly working on! 

Q: How did health coaching come about?
Once I started the Kick the Sugar Challenge, I started to get really interested in nutrition.  Everything that I thought I knew was being debunked by science in the Paleo world.  I took a leap of faith and started changing my diet and started noticing GREAT improvements and wanted to tell everyone about it.  Now I went from being that person you didn't want to get stuck to talking to at a party because I'd talk your ear off about CrossFit to a person you REALLY didn't want to get stuck talking to at a party because I'd talk about CrossFit AND nutrition!  However, people were asking me questions, wanting to know about my experiences, etc so I decided to start a blog - one place I could share my story, ideas, and perspective and could direct people to one spot instead of writing a million different emails about my experience.  Once I started blogging, lots of people started to ask me questions, I started doing more research, and I wanted to really understand what I was doing to and for my health and make sure that what I was recommending to my loved ones - family and friends - was sound.
I realized the health and nutrition was my passion, my face lights up when I talk about this stuff, and I "geek out" listening to podcasts on nutrition...you mean everyone doesn't do that??  I started attending workshops and reading tons of blogs and books to learn more about Paleo eating, how to train smarter, how to be healthy for real.  Through my explorations I found a few people that were doing something that I thought was interesting and looked like something I could do to help people.  I was fortunately supported by my company - Vynamic - who wanted to help support my passion.  I was encouraged by Dan Calista, the founder and CEO of my healthcare industry management consulting company to enroll in the Integrative Institute for Nutrition (IIN) distance learning program - with my goal to help build my expertise in the wellness area.  I graduate from the program on December 9th and have learned so much about a ton of nutritional theories as well as key information on how to effectively help others and help them make positive choices to optimize their health.

2011 CrossFit Open Sectionals - I think I took this pic..yep, yep I did
Q: Who could use a health coach?
Well that's tricky, really anyone that wants to look and feel better.  You could have a specific goal in mind, like losing 10 pounds, trying to prevent a chronic disease like Type 2 diabetes, or wanting to have more energy and enjoy life more.  The type of health coaching I'm doing isn't necessarily teaching you how to eat a Paleo Diet - you can learn to do that on your own - it involves me working with you to understand what works for you, using the concept of bioindividuality - there is not one perfect diet that works for everyone, and what works for one person will not work for everyone.  I do truly believe a whole foods and minimally processed diet is ideal, there is so much uncertainty surrounding all of this "franken-food" that we have -we are eating so many things that are chemically altered.  Some foods, like margarine, are only a few chemical bonds different than plastic!  For my clients we work step by step to take a look at your food, workouts, stress, lifestyle, sleep, goals, relationships, etc and work on all of those things to help make you the best version of yourself.  My goal is that at the end of my program you are empowered and self sufficient and know what you need to do to be healthy and be the best version of you.

August 2011 - domination
Chris here: I might be biased, since Laura is a good friend of mine, but I have seen her journey from CrossFitter to CrossFit coach and health coach, and I can say that you won't find a more understanding, good listener who works with her clients patiently and efficiently. As a high school counselor, I tell my students to follow their passions and Laura is doing just that: following her passion for nutrition, healthy living, and helping others. Be sure to hit up her website, Laura Pappas Health, and subscribe to her free emails and newsletters. She has recently teamed up with Larry Palazzolo of ScrawnyWOD and coach from CrossFit Delaware Valley to present various nutrition and health seminars around the Philadelphia area. If you are a gym owner or someone that wants these two to come in and do a presentation, don't hesitate to get in touch. 

-If you have any questions for Laura, post them here or email her
-Do you want to see more interviews? Who else would you like to see or who can you recommend? 


  1. Excellent interview

  2. Great interview Chris – I especially liked your commentary at the end, since one of the reasons I felt so receptive to Laura’s ideas and advice when she was helping me with my nutrition was that her PASSION for learning and helping others improve was so strong and because of that she’d go far beyond the expected DETAIL in explaining why different ideas might help me!

    I love the idea of interviews and I’ll suggest Aimee Lyons and Kerry Smith as possible interviewees in the future. I also think it would be really cool if you had a guest columnist interview you Chris, as obviously we know you from reading the blog but I think it would be a great for your readers to let them get to know you in a different dimension…


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