There are two main diets that CrossFitters use, Zone and Paleo. Sometimes there is controversy over which is best, and they both have benefits and pitfalls. Each diet can be successfully used for weight loss and/or performance gains. Each diet is an anti-inflammation diet and will help you live longer, less affected by disease.
The Paleo diet is a favorite among many CrossFit boxes. It is simple. Very simple. You eliminate bad foods and make food choices based on quality. You can eat as much of the good choices as you like as long as you are very strict otherwise. Good choices include proteins like eggs, chicken, turkey, beef, pork, fish and game; carbohydrates in the form of fruit and vegetables; and good fats like avocado, nuts, seeds, and olive oil. Bad choices include grains- yes any grain to include corn, legumes (peas and peanuts are legumes), any processed food or dairy.
The Paleo diet works very well if the bulk of your diet is lean meat and a huge variety of vegatables with small servings of fruit and moderate servings of fat. An excellent Paleo meal would include a palm-sized portion of protein, 2-4 cups of veggies, a table spoon of fat and a cup of strawberries.
Unfortunately, it is super easy to abuse Paleo. Many people will fruit and nut up. If you are doing Paleo wrong, the majority of your day is spent snacking on bananas with almond butter, the only veggie you eat is a sweet potato, and the only meat that graces your plate is bacon. None of those choices are prohibited, technically, but none of us would advise that diet.
The good, basic food choices of Paleo will keep your insulin low, your cells working well, and you aging gracefully, an excellent example of an anti-inflammation diet. Good Paleo will contribute to weight loss also as it should increase your intake of low-calorie, nutrient dense vegetables and the increase in protein will help you with fat burning. Bad Paleo is neither good for your overall health or good for weight loss.
Technically, the zone does not restrict your food choices. It asks that you make sure that each meal is balanced with 40% Carbohydrate, 30% Protein, and 30% Fat. The Zone has been well researched and has shown that the diet can decrease overall inflammation associated with chronic disease and aging. In addition, the Zone is the diet that CrossFit Headquarters officially sanctions. In addition, it is easy to adjust the diet to make sure that you are reaching weight loss goals.
Great! I can eat whatever I want and still have good health. Well…not exactly. You can eat whatever you want, but it has to be Zoned. Zoning requires you to find out how much food you need, and weigh and measure that food throughout the day to ensure that you have not only the correct proportions of carbs, protein, and fat but also to ensure that you have only the amount of food you should have for your body type, activity level and weight loss goals. There is a steep learning curve to the Zone and it takes a monumental effort for about three weeks as you learn your Zone blocks and the Zone blocks for all the foods you consistently eat.
The Zone works very well, but if you are not making good food choices, it is easy to be hungry. It can feel like a traditional diet especially if you are trying to lose weight by zoning Oreos and bacon. If you are making quality food choices- like lots of good vegetables, you will not be hungry on the Zone as most Zone blocks for veggies are almost negligible. If you have the dedication to follow the Zone, you come out will a much better understanding of the metabolic value of all the food you eat, better performance and you can easily reach your weight goals. Unfortunately, the Zone is very challenging for new CrossFitters.
Basically, if you are interested in your overall health and your weight, you should always be ‘dieting’. I don’t mean dieting in the traditional starvation sense. I mean that you should really, truly consider everything you consume. You should be aware of the how your food choices affect your health and performance. Most of you have had a taste of at least one of these diets. No matter what diet/lifestyle you choose, you will have to do it the majority of your life. You cannot eat donuts and pizza everyday and expect longevity and a high quality of life (zoning just donuts and pizza is difficult). If you have not tried either of these diets, you should try them both, experiment with mixing the two. Sometimes you need to go super strict to learn about food in general and how it affects you, and then sometimes you need to find an excellent place to live whether that is strict Paleo on weekdays with cheat days on the weekend or Zoning with alcohol.
My personal favorite is Zoning with clean eating choices. We stuck with lean proteins, turkey, chicken, fish and eggs, we allowed legumes, and dairy in the form of yogurt, cottage cheese and feta cheese, and we had whole grains (gasp) like oats, brown rice, and quinoa. Of course, we had a large variety of vegetables and fruits. When you are in the Zone it is easy to keep it going (after that first three weeks of learning curve), but when you get out of the Zone it is easier to just make Paleo choices. Both diets have treated us well, and Chuck and I actually have some individual differences. We have experimented with lots of diets, and in general, it is a good rule to try a diet by the book for at least 30 days before making personal adjustments (this gives you the opportunity to see the resulting effects on your body. But the most important step is to realize that your food choices all need to be conscious. You work hard in the gym and you can complement that with a good diet, and paleo, zone or paleo-zone are all good choices if you avoid the pitfalls discussed above. Don’t worry if you do not know where to start, we have more diet challenges, nutrition seminars, and cooking workshops planned to help you.