Nutrition is important. Everyone probably knows it, however it seems to be one of the lesser discussed and understood aspects of fitness. We tend to focus more on learning/mastering skills, setting new PRs and surviving tough conditioning sessions. Those things are important as well, however nutrition is the base on which the fitness pyramid is built. In fact, in CrossFit’s definition of “World Class Fitness in 100 Words”, nutrition is the first of 4 bullet points. From the CrossFit Journal article “What is Fitness?”: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake levels that will support exercise but not body fat”.
From the CrossFit Journal – “What is Fitness?”
Dialing in your diet is tough. It requires a lifestyle change as it is not a one-time per day event like working out. You have to be mindful of how you are fueling your body throughout the day. Everyone is also different – some people will respond to minimal changes and others may require a stricter approach. Also, some athletes’ digestive systems/bodies may not agree with certain kinds of foods. Let’s take a look at three broad levels of how we can improve our diets.
Cleaning up your current diet
Here we are not going to focus too much on quantity of food consumed or macronutrient balancing. The big idea here is to focus on quality and make better choices when grocery shopping. One of the best strategies when shopping for food at the grocery store is to avoid shopping in the aisles and focusing on the perimeter of the store. Typically, most of the highly processed, preservative added, artificial ingredient laden foods can be found in the aisles. These foods can be spotted by looking for the ingredients list. If there are ingredients listed that you cannot pronounce or need Google to find out what they are, you probably do not want to fuel yourself with these foods. Foods that we want to focus on are lean meats, fresh or frozen vegetables, low glycemic index carbohydrates (oatmeal, sweet potatoes, etc.) and healthy fats (avocados, nuts, and their oils).
Try a designed diet focused on food quality first rather than quantity
The two diets that we are going to touch on here are the Paleo Diet and Whole30. Both are diets that focus on the kinds of foods that you can and cannot eat and are very similar. On the basic level, the Paleo Diet is to eat in a manner that mimics our hunter/gatherer cave dwelling ancestors. Mostly lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats – from nuts, seeds, avocados, oils and meats – will be on the menu. The idea is to abandon the modern diet – eliminate dairy, grains, and legumes. If it was available to cavemen, then it is probably okay on this diet. Similarly, the Whole30 diet focusses on ditching the processed foods, dairy, grains, sugar, artificial sweeteners and alcohol. The Whole30 diet is designed to reset your metabolism, improve hormonal balance and reduce inflammation by eliminating foods that have been linked to disrupting these things. You would follow the diet for 30 days then could slowly re-introduce items that are not allowed by the diet to see how they affect you.
Track Quantity along with Quality
Here we will take a look at a couple of options that will take into account the quantity and macronutrient balance along with the quality of foods consumed. In second part of CrossFit’s definition of nutrition – “Keep intake levels that will support exercise but not body fat” – we notice that it is also a good idea to control the amount of food consumed. CrossFit recommends the Zone Diet. In a very short, birds eye definition of the diet, you will eat about 5 times a day with each meal/snack being balanced between protein, carbohydrates and fats. Quantities of food are broken down into “blocks” depending on their nutritional density. For example, 1oz chicken breast = 1 protein block. Depending on your body type/size, you will be allocated a certain number of blocks per day. If you are allowed a 4 block meal, you will eat 4 blocks of protein, 4 blocks of carbs and 4 blocks of fats. Another option is to look into a full diet template such as RPStrength. Templates are tailored to your goals (weight loss or weight gain for muscle building) and based on your starting weight. They break down each meal by the amount of macronutrients needed for each meal. Balance of protein, carbs and fats fluctuates meal to meal based on the timing of your workout – morning, noon, afternoon, evening. This option is good if you like a structured diet where you will know what and when to eat based on when you exercise and level of exercise.
- Start small – drink less soda and replace with water, skip the artificial creamer and sweetener for your coffee – small changes over time do make a difference
- Find a friend to do a 30 day diet challenge– you will be able to keep each other motivated and accountable
- Trial and Error – each person is different with different situations (kids, working odd hours, etc.) – find what works for you
- If you tend to eat out frequently or your culinary skills are not up to par, consider healthier pre-made meals such as Cornerstone Nutrition which can be ordered online and will soon be delivered to the gym!
- Consider batch cooking meals and portioning out for the week – it is a lot easier to forgo takeout food when you know you have a meal in the refrigerator ready to go