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Calories, what do I do with them?

by (5)
Updated September 16, 2014 at 8:12 PM
Created August 19, 2013 at 5:57 AM

I'm not one to say I do "Paleo", but I do eat fairly healthy. Chicken, Beef, Eggs, Dairy, Avocados, Veggies, Oatmeal, Brown Rice, Almonds. It's all very clean and I buy conventional, I can't afford organic. I eat very healthy.

I'm getting a lot of mixed answers so I thought I might come here.

I am one to do CrossFit most days of the week and I am about a 6ft Male. I'm actually trying to bounce back from getting a better body composition from an extreme dieting phase I went through where I lost way too much weight. I've been doing CrossFit for a couple years, but it seems that even when I was "thinner", I still could muscle weight around that I am CURRENTLY still muscling through even though I have gained some weight back.

My problem is I don't know how much I should weigh, how much I should consume. I have used many online calculators, I use MyFitnessPal currently to track calories, and it says I should be around 2500 calories if not more. I also work retail, so I walk around a lot. As one who does CrossFit almost on the daily, and isn't seeing strength gains and I feel I have reached a plateau, does bumping up to 2500+ cals/day sound right? People tell me that's too much, but I'm not sure and get so many mixed messages.

My abdomen used to be sucked in below my chest due to my extreme dieting from being obese and I lost weight (fat and muscle) quickly on severe calorie restriction, it still kinda is, but I'm left with trying to figure out HOW much I should intake to gain muscle.

I've tinkered with Paleo before, but could never commit myself to it.

What do I do? I'm kinda at a breaking point trying to figure this all out because I don't want to feel that I am dieting my whole life and fear getting fat again.

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8574 · August 19, 2013 at 10:30 PM

Also when I say post-workout I am not saying all in one meal, in case this is part of the confusion. Anyway I'm off to bed now it's 23:31 here.

Ca2c940a1947e6200883908592956680
8574 · August 19, 2013 at 10:23 PM

Depends on intensity and duration. If are going flat-out your anaerobic glycolytic system will have to kick in since your OXPHOS won't be efficient enough for energy demands due to lack of available oxygen. Fast-twitch muscle fibres are also glycolytic in nature. As I said it depends on the state of the person, before, during and afterwards. A guess but rock-climbing and bouldering: your legs may be more glycolytic than your arms, arms potentially recruiting greater slow-twitch, legs greater fast-twitch, one holding the other pushing. CrossFit against a clock? 150g PWO sounds useful to me.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86
7292 · August 19, 2013 at 9:46 PM

BMI tells you absolutely no useful info. People that have a so called healthy BMI can be skinny fat.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86
7292 · August 19, 2013 at 9:44 PM

You would only be that glycogen depleted if you can't burn fat effectively at all for fuel.

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19120 · August 19, 2013 at 2:34 PM

Right on - BMI is just body mass index, not fatness index ... sadly, it's often construed as a "fatness index". Also, the term "overweight" is only rarely used beyond it's colloquial meaning of "fat" as well - e.g. athletes that are aiming for a specific weight class and miss know they aren't fat, but are overweight.

Ca2c940a1947e6200883908592956680
8574 · August 19, 2013 at 2:27 PM

Well it depends on the state of the person before, after, previously and their upcoming needs. If 100g - 150g of carbs is useful to the average person for among other things protein sparring, than 150g to 200g seems even more useful to someone who is glycolytically active every day on around 150g of protein. It is also an easy recommendation (eat 2-3 cups of cooked starch and 1 to 2 bananas post-workout) for someone who sounds like he needs more calories to slap on muscle. Like I said he should track himself, and make changes as he goes.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46
41312 · August 19, 2013 at 1:20 PM

On the contrary, BMI is accurate for the vast majority of people! That's why it exists. Only athletes tend to have BMIs outside the norm, but body compositions that are quite good.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86
7292 · August 19, 2013 at 1:09 PM

BMI is not very accurate for a majority of people. Get some bodyfat calipers if you want a better assessment.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86
7292 · August 19, 2013 at 1:09 PM

Are you seriously recommending 200g carbs after a workout?

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 12:06 PM

BTW, it's pretty troublesome when you go out with friends that do no think in the same way... but honestly I'm not changing my view just because society dictates that if you go out at night you must drink alcohol, so for now I stick to my water at the expense of being seen as a weirdo hehe

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 12:03 PM

Chimay is a great beer IMO, I like belgian stuff, a Leffe Brune for example is one of my preferred beers hands down! but nowadays I haven't had any for a long time, I'm almost off the stuff permanently. Even if its good quality it's still a grain-derived product... since I'm pretty sensitive to grains for me I prefer to stay off even if I positively know I may have some with no major impact once in a while... but as I'm no beer lover I can just do fine with plain water, gaspachio or green tea so no problem for me :)

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 11:57 AM

Leptin can be measured in bloodwork but doesn't tell a lot because what seems to be critical is the leptin receptors at the hypothalamus, some signs of good leptin sensitivity seem to be a lean body status, a 'normal' sense on hunger (no cravings for junk food and at least some decent time without eating and feeling like thrash) and a good ability to stay lean if you overeat, as well as good sleep. You can dig into the work of Dr Kruse or Ron Rosedale if you're interested in leptin, they are very into it.

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266 · August 19, 2013 at 8:22 AM

As for the beer, yeah I wouldn't trust most stuff at a bar. I usually get a brand called Chimay, if I want to drink beer. It's unpasteurized, and is properly fermented, with no additives, etc. I've seen it all over Japan, and all over the US, so it may be in Spain. Anything Belgian is usually decent, or anything that says it's "bottle conditioned". I try to drink moderately, and stick to decent stuff if possible. Organic wine, unpasteurized beer, that sort of thing

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 8:18 AM

Random data: I tend to go long stretches without eating, for example dinner one night to dinner the next day, which is easy and I often do it just because I'm busy and I forget about eating, but going a whole day without eating is pretty much impossible for me. As easy as it is for me to not eat for 22 hours, it's pretty much impossible for me to go to sleep at night without having eaten a full dinner, due to being suddenly extremely hungry, and feeling like I missed out or something. No idea what this suggests

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 8:17 AM

Interesting point about leptin sensitivity. I didn't think of that. Any quick metrics for determining one's level of leptin sensitivity? How would I know if I'm leptin sensitive enough, and to what degree (e.g., whether I should do longer than 12/12 fasting)

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 7:44 AM

windows (with just 12h fasting happening from early dinner to early breakfast) might suffice for non-optimal people. And as for the beer thing... it could work out but at least here in Spain is pretty difficult to find that kind of beer, I can guarantee you what you could get on most bars and restaurants is bad stuff to say the least and looking for gluten-free beer on the supermarkets for me is no worth it because it's still suboptimal, so overall I feel it's better to stay off, but your milleage might vary...

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 7:43 AM

windows (with just 12h fasting happening from early dinner to early breakfast) might suffice for non-optimal people. And as for the beer thing... it could work out but at least here in Spain is pretty difficult to find that kind of beer, I can guarantee you what you could get on very bar is bad stuff to say the least, so overall I feel it's better to stay off, but your milleage might vary...

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 7:41 AM

I agree that fasting can be a great tool and I know it's very well researched and demonstrated that some fasting once in a while and a generally restricted calorie intake is correlated with longevity, but it also seems that to be able to reap the benefits of fasting one must be pretty leptin sensitive. If you fast but cannot get access to your stored energy reserves you're in trouble, and unfortunally that happens a lot on today's society when people is a sugar burner, so yep, fasting is great, but I'd focus first on being leptin sensitive and for this, eating on a 12/12h...

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 7:28 AM

I agree wholeheartedly on the hormone point. It's tragic to see so many people worrying about 'losing fat' when really it's not only about a healthy fat *amount*, but also about a healthy fat *distribution*. One person can have way more fat on them and look extremely healthy, but someone else has very little and looks sickly (skinny fat, bad distribution). This is the tragedy of anorexia. They correctly observe they still have fat on them that looks bad, but then they think 'lose fat', rather than 'change hormone balance so it redistributes to a healthy look'

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 7:23 AM

On gluten in alcohol: Why are you worried about that? If you get good, unpasteurized beer, you're looking at a really long fermentation process that breaks down the gluten and everything else etc

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 7:23 AM

You say don't restrict calories because it increases cortisol etc. I think for a lot of people, they either think it's 'cut calories!' or they think it's 'need a lot of rich food and nutrients for health!'. I think it's in the middle, where fasting is excellent for you, but only if you follow it up with a lot of rich food (bone marrow, bone broth, ghee, all sorts of stuff like that). I feel like most people who can motivate themselves to fast are the sort of people who would go back to eating and be worried about fat and calorie content. Instead it should be a mix. Fast, then eat rich. Repeat

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3150 · August 19, 2013 at 6:43 AM

It can get very complex so I'd just put it in a few words and you can dig more into the topic: do whatever you can to optimize your hormonal status, that's what you need to get a decent body composition over time. With good hormonal balance you can eat junk and do nothing and still being lean, but if your hormonal profile sucks, you can exercise and eat healthy and still be a fat-ass. So focus on this and things should settle with time and don't be hasty because a body recomposition to look awesome might take plenty of time, even years. Also don't be so worried about your progress because this can also get into your way, take a more relaxed approach, stress is bad, try to avoid it at all costs!

To jack up your sex hormones and metabolism I'd say that more intense lifts with longer rest times and lower reps with high weight will work better for you than CrossFit. I know there's a lot of variants in CrossFit, if I were you I'd try to avoid the Metcons (at least not do more than one a week) and focus on heavy lifts and I'd not spend more than 45 min in the gym.

I don't think that calories in calories out it's all about body weight balancing (I prefer to look at the hormonal effects every type of food exert on the body) but to make things easier we can asume that calories still matter somehow, so I'd aim for a slightly caloric surplus (yep, being calorie restricted will raise a lot your cortisol, that's stress for the body, if you're exercising intensely you don't want this) with decent protein intake (I'd say about 1.5g per body kilo/weight should suffice, some others will tell you that you can go even 2 to 2.5 for solid gains, might be true but health-wise there's trouble with so much protein (mTOR pathway over stimulated SEEMS to shorten lifespam long term) so you decide what you prefer high performance vs longevity...

If its a rest day, that day is where maybe you can aim to restrict some calories, I'd maintain protein and just eat lower fat and lower carb through that day, maybe not that much, just a little... if you were to compete in a contest you could consider high restriction but as from what you told us it just does not seem like it's worth it, I'd focus on a more steady and relaxed strategy thinking long term... it's a possible strategy, there are a lot and everyone has to find what works better for him.

If you have dinner pretty early on the evening (let's say at 7 to 8PM) you can go out for a walk so you get to bed with more changes to be burning fat and benefit this during all night until you get up, that way you don't have that much of a need to do cardio (which could be overkill if you also do resistance exercise) so you can have both strenght and aerobic activity with a more gentle approach for the body.

Sleep A LOT (aim for 8h a day) and try to cheat almost never on junk food, but if you want a feast, you might abuse a little bit starchy carbs specially after workouts... I'm not right now a pro-starches person (I favour a ketogenic diet) but in your context I think it might just work, even like this I'd make protein and fat my stapple for overall weekly scheme and add some dense carbs at selected hard days of training, post workout, If you have to do a metcon then a carb meal 3h before or so can be ok I guess. I'd cut out alcohol 90% of time and have it just as an occasional treat in a party or special dinner very once in a while.. favour wine and try to avoid gluten containing beverages... alcohol in general is a testosterone killer although very small amounts can be OK.

And try to avoid stress as much as you can, that's a killer, always.

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 12:06 PM

BTW, it's pretty troublesome when you go out with friends that do no think in the same way... but honestly I'm not changing my view just because society dictates that if you go out at night you must drink alcohol, so for now I stick to my water at the expense of being seen as a weirdo hehe

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 12:03 PM

Chimay is a great beer IMO, I like belgian stuff, a Leffe Brune for example is one of my preferred beers hands down! but nowadays I haven't had any for a long time, I'm almost off the stuff permanently. Even if its good quality it's still a grain-derived product... since I'm pretty sensitive to grains for me I prefer to stay off even if I positively know I may have some with no major impact once in a while... but as I'm no beer lover I can just do fine with plain water, gaspachio or green tea so no problem for me :)

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 11:57 AM

Leptin can be measured in bloodwork but doesn't tell a lot because what seems to be critical is the leptin receptors at the hypothalamus, some signs of good leptin sensitivity seem to be a lean body status, a 'normal' sense on hunger (no cravings for junk food and at least some decent time without eating and feeling like thrash) and a good ability to stay lean if you overeat, as well as good sleep. You can dig into the work of Dr Kruse or Ron Rosedale if you're interested in leptin, they are very into it.

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 8:22 AM

As for the beer, yeah I wouldn't trust most stuff at a bar. I usually get a brand called Chimay, if I want to drink beer. It's unpasteurized, and is properly fermented, with no additives, etc. I've seen it all over Japan, and all over the US, so it may be in Spain. Anything Belgian is usually decent, or anything that says it's "bottle conditioned". I try to drink moderately, and stick to decent stuff if possible. Organic wine, unpasteurized beer, that sort of thing

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 8:18 AM

Random data: I tend to go long stretches without eating, for example dinner one night to dinner the next day, which is easy and I often do it just because I'm busy and I forget about eating, but going a whole day without eating is pretty much impossible for me. As easy as it is for me to not eat for 22 hours, it's pretty much impossible for me to go to sleep at night without having eaten a full dinner, due to being suddenly extremely hungry, and feeling like I missed out or something. No idea what this suggests

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 8:17 AM

Interesting point about leptin sensitivity. I didn't think of that. Any quick metrics for determining one's level of leptin sensitivity? How would I know if I'm leptin sensitive enough, and to what degree (e.g., whether I should do longer than 12/12 fasting)

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 7:44 AM

windows (with just 12h fasting happening from early dinner to early breakfast) might suffice for non-optimal people. And as for the beer thing... it could work out but at least here in Spain is pretty difficult to find that kind of beer, I can guarantee you what you could get on most bars and restaurants is bad stuff to say the least and looking for gluten-free beer on the supermarkets for me is no worth it because it's still suboptimal, so overall I feel it's better to stay off, but your milleage might vary...

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 7:43 AM

windows (with just 12h fasting happening from early dinner to early breakfast) might suffice for non-optimal people. And as for the beer thing... it could work out but at least here in Spain is pretty difficult to find that kind of beer, I can guarantee you what you could get on very bar is bad stuff to say the least, so overall I feel it's better to stay off, but your milleage might vary...

048dd52752c45129c1212bfffb37ca72
3150 · August 19, 2013 at 7:41 AM

I agree that fasting can be a great tool and I know it's very well researched and demonstrated that some fasting once in a while and a generally restricted calorie intake is correlated with longevity, but it also seems that to be able to reap the benefits of fasting one must be pretty leptin sensitive. If you fast but cannot get access to your stored energy reserves you're in trouble, and unfortunally that happens a lot on today's society when people is a sugar burner, so yep, fasting is great, but I'd focus first on being leptin sensitive and for this, eating on a 12/12h...

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 7:28 AM

I agree wholeheartedly on the hormone point. It's tragic to see so many people worrying about 'losing fat' when really it's not only about a healthy fat *amount*, but also about a healthy fat *distribution*. One person can have way more fat on them and look extremely healthy, but someone else has very little and looks sickly (skinny fat, bad distribution). This is the tragedy of anorexia. They correctly observe they still have fat on them that looks bad, but then they think 'lose fat', rather than 'change hormone balance so it redistributes to a healthy look'

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 7:23 AM

On gluten in alcohol: Why are you worried about that? If you get good, unpasteurized beer, you're looking at a really long fermentation process that breaks down the gluten and everything else etc

5bd7f43c7da83282bcb78e3aa33832e0
266 · August 19, 2013 at 7:23 AM

You say don't restrict calories because it increases cortisol etc. I think for a lot of people, they either think it's 'cut calories!' or they think it's 'need a lot of rich food and nutrients for health!'. I think it's in the middle, where fasting is excellent for you, but only if you follow it up with a lot of rich food (bone marrow, bone broth, ghee, all sorts of stuff like that). I feel like most people who can motivate themselves to fast are the sort of people who would go back to eating and be worried about fat and calorie content. Instead it should be a mix. Fast, then eat rich. Repeat

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19120 · August 19, 2013 at 12:00 PM

This has been stated in the two answers above in a roundabout way, but I'd like to spell it out succinctly:

Strength is gained by both growing new muscle as well as changing current muscle composition - the catalyst for these changes is weighted resistance and the fuel is food.

When someone is trying to lose weight, I give them the general "eat less, but not too little..." speech. However, since you have already lost a lot of weight and are trying to grow, you need to make sure you eat more. You're a 6-foot tall male, doing Crossfit daily, and you eat less than 2500 Calories a day? That is not a recipe for strength gains -- this would barely quality as a recipe for maintenance.

Paleo or not, I would focus on eating more high quality foods. I'm a 5'9'' male, I lift heavy 7 times every two weeks, run once or twice in that period, and I eat 2500k for maintenance - I easily consume 3400 or more Calories when in phases where I'm gaining muscle and strength. I would focus on whole foods that are rich in protein and carbohydrates, and eat whatever fats come along with that or are needed for cooking.

Good luck!

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7292 · August 19, 2013 at 1:18 PM

An active male participating in the crossfit like you are saying should probably be eating at least 3000 kcal per day, maybe much more. If you are wanting to build more muscle and change your body composition, then I would recommend backing off the crossfit to no more than 3 days per week, and add some medium rep heavy weight longer rest workouts to your schedule, but do not do more that about 4 days of crossfit/lifting combined. And make sure to rest, muscles build while resting.

As to the fat loss, there are two primary ways, one easy one hard. The hard way is to restrict calories, and it works for a little while until your body gets tired of losing and then slows your metabolism. The easy way is to do things that fix the hormonal problem that caused the fat gain in the first place. Eat real whole foods, no processed carbs whatsoever. Eat a wide variety of meats, vegetables, including starchy vegetables, fruits, nuts etc. Think of eating as fueling your body. Eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full. Backing off the crossfit a little, and doing more heavy lifting will give you a better boost to your hormones for both appetite control and muscle building.

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8574 · August 19, 2013 at 11:29 AM

I would say a better course of action is to look at the two things individually...

  1. An easy estimation for calories: 16 x lbs body weight. This would be the minimum you would want and includes an hours exercise and general activity. For protein I would simply aim for 150g (not lower than 100g), and since you CrossFit daily eat around 150g to 200g of carbohydrate after the workout. Fill in the rest of the calories with fats. Give this a go for 2 weeks and see how you do, then change something. But you need to do something consistently first and then make an outcome based decision.

  2. The strength issue if not resolved by the nutrition should be something you discuss with one of the trainers at the box. If they don't have answers then you are probably in the wrong box. I've never done CrossFit but I assume there has to be some level of programming and progression with training, not just clock chasing.

Take some measurements, note down and choose a bunch of daily meals that you know the calorie values of and repeat for month. Check yourself at the end of 2 weeks, 4 weeks... and make a single change as needed. i.e. increase calories by 10%.

Ca2c940a1947e6200883908592956680
8574 · August 19, 2013 at 10:30 PM

Also when I say post-workout I am not saying all in one meal, in case this is part of the confusion. Anyway I'm off to bed now it's 23:31 here.

Ca2c940a1947e6200883908592956680
8574 · August 19, 2013 at 10:23 PM

Depends on intensity and duration. If are going flat-out your anaerobic glycolytic system will have to kick in since your OXPHOS won't be efficient enough for energy demands due to lack of available oxygen. Fast-twitch muscle fibres are also glycolytic in nature. As I said it depends on the state of the person, before, during and afterwards. A guess but rock-climbing and bouldering: your legs may be more glycolytic than your arms, arms potentially recruiting greater slow-twitch, legs greater fast-twitch, one holding the other pushing. CrossFit against a clock? 150g PWO sounds useful to me.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86
7292 · August 19, 2013 at 9:44 PM

You would only be that glycogen depleted if you can't burn fat effectively at all for fuel.

Ca2c940a1947e6200883908592956680
8574 · August 19, 2013 at 2:27 PM

Well it depends on the state of the person before, after, previously and their upcoming needs. If 100g - 150g of carbs is useful to the average person for among other things protein sparring, than 150g to 200g seems even more useful to someone who is glycolytically active every day on around 150g of protein. It is also an easy recommendation (eat 2-3 cups of cooked starch and 1 to 2 bananas post-workout) for someone who sounds like he needs more calories to slap on muscle. Like I said he should track himself, and make changes as he goes.

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7292 · August 19, 2013 at 1:09 PM

Are you seriously recommending 200g carbs after a workout?

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41312 · August 19, 2013 at 11:49 AM

How much should you weigh? Let BMI be your guide: BMI of 20-25 (normal weights) for your height: 150-185 pounds. Get a trainer, get a nutritionist if you're really having issues with weight and performance.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86
7292 · August 19, 2013 at 9:46 PM

BMI tells you absolutely no useful info. People that have a so called healthy BMI can be skinny fat.

Ebb10603524dd22621c1155dd7ddf106
19120 · August 19, 2013 at 2:34 PM

Right on - BMI is just body mass index, not fatness index ... sadly, it's often construed as a "fatness index". Also, the term "overweight" is only rarely used beyond it's colloquial meaning of "fat" as well - e.g. athletes that are aiming for a specific weight class and miss know they aren't fat, but are overweight.

32f5749fa6cf7adbeb0b0b031ba82b46
41312 · August 19, 2013 at 1:20 PM

On the contrary, BMI is accurate for the vast majority of people! That's why it exists. Only athletes tend to have BMIs outside the norm, but body compositions that are quite good.

C45d7e96acd83d3a6f58193dbc140e86
7292 · August 19, 2013 at 1:09 PM

BMI is not very accurate for a majority of people. Get some bodyfat calipers if you want a better assessment.

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