Hey guys, for those that read the blog, I’m sure you’ve been wondering where the next nutrition post was. I promised an article per week and, sure enough, last week I was unable to post anything. Actually, I was on a cruise in the Caribbean for our honeymoon. However, to make up for leaving all of you in the dark, I decided to make this post packed with information. So put on your reading glasses, grab a fresh cup of coffee, and get ready to view dieting in a whole new way.
To begin with, there are thousands of diets out there to choose from. Some are medically recommended diets, such as the DASH diet for those with high blood pressure, while others have been termed the new fad diet at some point, such as Adkins, Zone, or Paleo. There are even crazy diets such as the Charcoal Cleanse and the Vision Diet. If you haven’t heard of these, they are definitely worth a Google. Needless to say, there are too many diets to consider trying to cover in this post. Therefore, I have decided to restrict this article to contain the most popular diets in the CrossFit community.
In the original “What is Fitness?” article, Greg Glassman, the creator of CrossFit, describes a theoretical hierarchy of development for an athlete. In this hierarchy, nutrition is the base and foundation upon which all other aspects of conditioning and skill can be laid. He goes on to describe his version of the most effective nutrition protocol. In the simplest terms, he states “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that support exercise, but not body fat.” This diet would contain moderate amounts of protein, carbohydrate, and fat. The description given by Glassman doesn’t get much more specific, but he does recommend a macronutrient ratio of 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat. Furthermore, he states that the Zone Diet follows these guidelines closely and offers the greatest precision and efficacy.
The Zone Diet was created by Dr. Barry Sears many years ago. He deemed the protocol as an anti-inflammatory diet based on his research. What is an anti-inflammatory diet? Dr. Sears describes a few main points of the diet that characterize it as anti-inflammatory. First of all, protein levels are kept at a level for a positive nitrogen balance. In simpler terms, you consume just enough protein to build back what your body is breaking down. Based off this level of protein, a moderate level of low-glycemic carbohydrates are consumed. Low-glycemic basically means the food does not cause a huge spike in your blood sugar levels. These carbohydrates help to stabilize certain hormones in the body that determine various functions such as blood sugar levels, fat breakdown and storage. Lastly, this is coupled with a low level of fat. The goal is to pack the greatest amount of nutrients in as few calories as possible.
While these guidelines still seem somewhat broad, Dr. Sears breaks it down further so that the diet can be more precisely controlled. Protein levels are based off lean body mass and physical activity, with carbohydrates also factoring in. However, he claims the average female should be consuming a mere 1200 calories per day and the average male only 1500 calories per day. Personally, I am quite skeptical of this claim as the classic formula for basal metabolic rate for an average male equates to over 1700 calories per day and that doesn’t include any activity whatsoever. Still, Dr. Sears has based much of the protocol on sound science. The belief that highly palatable food filled with fat and sugar has overridden the energy-balance system in the brain is very valid. This leads to an increased desire for even more of these foods, which creates a positive feedback loop. This belief was also part of the basis for the Paleo diet.
The Paleo Diet was created by Dr. Loren Cordain after he did a considerable amount of research in “Paleolithic Nutrition”. The diet attempts to mimic that of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. According to his research, Dr. Cordain found that along with the development of agricultural practices, many avoidable diseases also crept up. Food choice then becomes the main emphasis of this diet. Much like the CrossFit nutrition protocol, lean meats, vegetables, and healthy fats make up much of the food consumed. Fruit and vegetables should be non-starchy and have low glycemic indices. Due to the emphasis on food choice, many foods have either been termed Paleo or non-Paleo, and the Paleo diet as a whole, is sometime described as “eating like a caveman”. While there are many things wrong with both of these topics, I will not get into them now. Since, the carbohydrate sources in the traditional Paleo diet are much less calorically dense than others, the ratio of carbohydrates in the diet becomes relatively low while the fat percentage rises. Tipping the scale further in the direction of fat leads to the Keto Diet.
The Keto Diet is only recently gaining publicity despite it being around for hundreds of years. Keto is short for ketogenic. The diet forces the body into a state of ketosis. In this state, the body switches its main energy source from carbohydrates to metabolites of fat, called ketoacids. This is done by keeping carbohydrates in a very low range. Depending on the source, this range can be as low as 50 grams per day. For reference, this amount is slightly more than what is found in a bottle of Gatorade. Protein is also kept at a lower range than normal, as they are gluconeogenic. This means that they can be easily converted into carbohydrates. By keeping carbohydrates and protein low, the body is forced to fuel itself with fat. While this has shown to produce fat loss, the diet usually comes with a large deficit in caloric intake as well. Additionally, much of the weight loss early on comes from water shedding due to glycogen depletion in muscles and the liver. This must be offset with electrolytes to maintain an adequate fluid balance. Glycogen depletion in skeletal muscle also means burning out earlier on during more intense exercise.
The diets I have discussed so far all focused on either food choice or macronutrient ratios. Zone started with moderate carbs and low fat. Paleo dropped the carbs a little and raised the fat, while keto went to the other extreme with low carb and high fat. This is where the newest diet craze enters the picture: flexible dieting, or better known in the bodybuilding realm as “If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM)”. Flexible dieting focuses more on caloric intake. One specific macronutrient ratio isn’t required for all. Rather the ratio is determined by your activity and goals. Food choice also isn’t stressed. This is where the IIFYM name got its start. Foods that were normally considered off-limits or cheat foods are now allowed as long as it fits your macros. Now obviously eating candy for breakfast would still be frowned upon, but the main focus is hitting your prescribed caloric intake close to your macro set-points. This makes the diet very flexible to individual lifestyles, and therefore more sustainable in the long term.
This brings me to my favorite diet. It is my favorite for many reasons. The main one is that I don’t consider it a diet at all. It is more of a lifestyle. Secondly, it is specific to each individual person. In fact, this is where it gets its name, Personalized Nutrition. Lastly, it is applicable to anyone. CrossFit games athletes, bodybuilders, yogis, the weekend warrior, even those with no athletic background whatsoever can do this diet. It all begins with tracking what you are already eating. Whether we want to admit it or not, there is no starting or stopping a diet. Your diet is whatever you are currently eating. Therefore, we need to determine what your current caloric intake and macronutrient levels are. Depending on your current situation and your goals, a plan is created. This is the beauty of it. Each plan is different. There is no one path to greatness. There isn’t a secret recipe to get you ripped 6-pack abs. Everyone responds to certain foods in different ways. We all have unique hormone profiles. Hell, not everyone likes the same foods. With this setup, the plan is specific to what you need and are willing to do. The plan changes as your body changes. It is because of this that it is sustainable. You enjoy eating the way you do and feel better because of it, not to mention the results that come from it.
There isn’t a single diet that is best for everyone. From high carb to low carb, they all have their applications. The key to success is adhering to the diet and not jumping ship just because you gained half a pound in a day. Figure out a path that fits with your lifestyle and needs, and stick to it. Educate yourselves and ask questions. Don’t hesitate to comment on this post or send me an email, firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to help every one of you figure out your path to a happy, healthy life. Until next week, stay hungry my friends.