Nutrition is the foundation of any effective fitness program, and is an equal partner to workouts, recovery and sleep in CrossFit’s equation for optimal fitness. However, When it comes to nutrition, the only thing upon which experts agree is that eating is a necessity. Beyond this, opinions diverge wildly.
CrossFit Sanitas offers periodic nutrition clinics, seasonal “Paleo Challenges”, and anytime advice and mentoring from Coaching staff. At CrossFit Sanitas, we look at nutrition along two dimensions:
- Food is fuel for a long, healthy life
- Food is one of life’s greatest pleasures
We don’t believe in deprivation. So any nutrition program must be pleasurable, as well as efficacious. Not to mention convenient, affordable, etc, etc. etc.
Let’s break it down with two of our favorite quotes about how to eat:
“Eat meat, vegetables, and nuts. Some fruits. Little starch. No sugar.” – Greg Glassman, CrossFit Founder
“Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” – Michael Pollan, Author
Learning From Darwin
Evolution provides some valuable guideposts to govern our nutrition philosophy. Specifically, our genome evolved in conjunction with a diet that was followed by homo sapiens for millions of years, and played a key role in the brain and body development that led to our ascent to the top of the animal kingdom. This diet included healthy amounts of meat and leafy plants year-round with intermittent periods of scarcity, seasonal fruit binges, and little else.
It is only in the past 10,000 years, a blink-of-the-eye in evolutionary terms, that the dawn of agriculture added grains into our diets. And in the last century, change has accelerated, with all manner of heavily-processed and de-natured foods entering the picture. Humans are nothing if not opportunistic, and we’ve adapted our palates to these “new” foods, which are cheap and easy to cultivate, transport and store.
Unfortunately, the human genome has not had time to adapt to processing these “new” foods efficiently. Simply put our endocrine, immune, and digestive systems are confused by foods like bread, pasta, cereal and soda. As a consequence, our bodies are unable to normalize blood glucose levels, acidity and inflammation in the face of these still-foreign foodstuffs.
The result has been an alarming increase in the incidence and severity of obesity, heart disease, cancer, asthma, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, Type II diabetes and a host of other “diseases of civilization.” This single trend, more than anything else, underlies both our obesity epidemic and the current health care crisis. By returning to a meat and veggies focused diet, we can reduce the likelihood and severity of these unnecessary diseases, and often eliminate them altogether, with untold benefits to the individual and society as a whole..
This evolutionary theory of nutrition was codified most prominently by Dr. Loren Cordain, Professor of Health and Exercise Science at CSU, in his “Paleo Diet” books.
The CrossFit community refers to this emphasis on meat, veggies, fruit and the odd sweet potato, and the exclusion of sodas, alcohol, juice, grains, sugars and starches, as eating “clean” or “Paleo”. There are vegetarian versions of “Paleo” as well, though these typically requiring relaxing restrictions on dairy and/or legumes, neither of which are endorsed under strict Paleo definition.
Many leading CrossFitters, including Caleb, our Coaching Leader, also subscribe to the Zone Diet, developed by biochemist Barry Sears, which advocates a mix of 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat, and provides a “block” system to track optimal intake.
An adder of “intermittent fasting” has recently been injected into the mix. Intermittent Fasting has been found to be particularly effective for weight loss. This approach, advocated by Art DeVany, Ori Hofmekler, and Boulder’s own Dr John Douillard suggests incorporating a gap of 16 hours between meals one or more times /week so that the body can focus on rebuilding at the cellular level, while at the same time learning to burn stored fat. Intermittent Fasting is not recommended on a day you CrossFit, it is best practiced on rest days.
A simple way to summarize all this is that most people eat too many carbs and too much processed food. To get healthy and lose fat, it is more important to reduce your consumption of processed foods and carbs, than it is to reduce your calorie consumption. Should you be skeptical, you can easily prove this to yourself with a two-week experiment during which you eat freely of home-cooked veggies and free-range meat, and cut out grains, starches and fruit. The results will surprise you.
Here’s a great food pyramid by retired Economist Art DeVany, who may be the fittest 75 year-old on the planet.
All this said, we know of almost no one (this writer included) who eats 100% clean. After all, food is one of life’s greatest pleasures and I do love me some “Two Spoons” Gelato on a hot summer day!
As with so many things in life, we have found that the 80/20 approach works quite well and is more sustainable than more draconian measures. In my own case, my body fat % dropped below 10% shortly after I began eating clean and CrossFitting. This was in spite of the fact that I was older, exercising less, and eating more than when I was distance running. I’ve seen friends and colleagues drop dozens of pounds while dramatically increasing their muscle mass (which is, as you probably know, heavier than fat). Give it a try and see what happens!
There are literally hundreds of Paleo Blogs out there, as well, many featuring great recipes. One of our favorites is “TheFoodee.com”
- Loren Cordain – The Paleo Diet
- Art DeVany – The New Evolution Diet
- Ori Hofmekler – The Warrior Diet
- Michael Pollan – In Defense of Food
- Barry Sears – The Zone Diet
- Mark Sisson – The Primal Blueprint (and “Mark’s Daily Apple” Blog)
- Gary Taubes – Good Calories, Bad Calories