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- Finally, read the hyperlinked info (in light blue). This is supplemental.
Why is Nutrition Important?
Nutrition is the foundation for health. The fuel that we put into our bodies powers not only our metabolism, but also, our workouts. Optimizing both nutrient quality and quantity will build the strongest possible foundation, and will be protective of health over a lifetime.
Just as one would never fuel a race car with low-quality fuel and expect it to perform well, no one can out-train a bad diet. Failure to thrive—in CrossFit or in terms of body composition—can likely be related to repeated poor nutritional choices. People often do not completely comprehend the dedication needed to reach their nutrition goals, namely, in the number of correct choices made every day. It is a long-term game of consistency, but it starts with a plan and first steps.
Food as Fuel: Hormones, Macronutrients and Micronutrients
When a person eats, the body either uses that food immediately for energy, or stores it for later use (either in the short term, as glycogen, or in the long term, as fat). This process is modulated by hormones—insulin (a storage hormone) and glucagon (a mobilization hormone). These hormones function to keep immediate energy, in the form of sugar, in the bloodstream for survival. If a person eats more than enough food to satisfy immediate energy needs, insulin signals the body’s cells to store excess energy, and if not enough is consumed for energy needs, glucagon signals storage cells to release energy.
Insulin, Glucagon and Blood Sugar Homeostasis (2)
The human body needs a certain amount of macronutrients (the big things in a diet–protein, carbohydrate, and fat), as well as micronutrients (the small things in a diet, vitamins and minerals), and those requirements are directly proportional to a person’s lean body mass, activity level, and gender. Every diet manipulates these variables in some way.
If the human body is overfed, particularly with processed foods (foods that are readily available in modern society, calorically dense, and highly addictive), the body will be forced to over-produce insulin. This state of elevated insulin levels—hyperinsulinemia—can lead to weight gain, disorders (such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, glucose intolerance, and obesity), and disease (type II diabetes, heart disease). (3) Poor nutrition will inevitably lead to sub-optimal results in the gym environment.
Eat for Quality
Our first prescription is qualitative—the first line of World Class Fitness in 100 Words: “Eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.” (4) These are whole, natural, unprocessed foods. They either grew out of the ground or at one point, were alive. Here are some examples of each food group:
- Meat: chicken, fish, beef, pork, lamb
- Vegetables: green vegetables, squashes, peppers, onions
- Nuts/Seeds: almonds, cashews, coconuts, avocados, oils
- Some Fruit: berries, apples, oranges, bananas
- Little Starch: potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, grains, beans
Eating in this fashion provides a high level of micronutrients—generally, the less processed the food and the more vibrant the color, the more micronutrients within the food. It also provides a loose quantitative balance of macronutrients, particularly with the qualifiers of “some” and “little.“
Why MPH No Longer Exclusively Recommends the Paleo Diet
The paleo diet, or the caveman diet, prescribes the wholesale elimination of certain food groups (grains, dairy, legumes) due to individual allergic or autoimmune responses to these food groups. (5) However, these responses are individual, rather than across the board. Often, there will be small allergic reactions (puffy eyes, nasal congestion, sore throat) to these foods, but these are mild enough not to warrant complete elimination of the food. If someone is concerned that he or she does have a legitimate food allergy or autoimmune disorder, he or she can take a blood test (the most accurate method), or can perform an elimination diet.
Paleo Diet Pros
The paleo diet is great for people who have allergic or autoimmune reactions to grains, dairy or legumes. It often forces a reduced amount of food due to its restrictive nature, which can aid in an overall caloric deficit.
Paleo Diet Cons
It is often unnecessary to restrict grains, dairy and legumes. With its food type restrictions, the paleo diet makes it hard to acquire enough carbohydrate, and often, leads to overconsumption of fat and protein as the individual tries to compensate and consume enough calories for energy. For the vast majority of the population, a balanced macronutrient approach—one that does not severely restrict or elevate a particular macronutrient—is the most effective one, and it is often easier to consume carbohydrates with small amounts of grains and legumes included in the diet, along with greater amounts of less calorically dense carbohydrates, vegetables.
When executed poorly, paleo gives people an excuse to consume copious amounts of carbohydrate and fat in paleo treats (examples: paleo cookies, paleo muffins, paleo pizza). These foods will lead to the metabolic derangement that was spoken of above exactly like their non-paleo counterparts, since there is no chemical difference between table sugar and sugar from other “paleo” sources (like dates or honey), once the body breaks it down into its simplest form, glucose. Paleo treats are loaded with fat, just like their non-paleo counterparts, and fat is the most calorically dense macronutrient. Eating a plate of paleo brownies will lead to the same insulin spike as a plate of regular brownies.
Eat the Right Quantity
First, the body requires a balanced macronutrient approach. Every meal should have these components: carbohydrate, protein, and (usually a little) fat.
The second line of World Class Fitness in 100 Words: “Keep intake to levels that support exercise, but not body fat.” (6) This means that overeating on a regular basis will lead to weight gain, and under-eating on a regular basis will lead to weight loss. Total calories in/out is the most important metric when the goal is body composition changes. From there, macronutrient breakdown is the second most important factor, and nutrient quality comes in at third.
If someone has a body composition goal, or is very serious about optimizing his or her fitness, he or she will need to not only eat high quality foods, but also track the amount of food that is consumed in order to optimize for performance, or any other health marker. Just like we record our results (workout scores, PR’s) in the gym, and then analyze those results to determine whether or not we are improving our fitness, we can also track our input (our food choices) to determine what foods and how much of them lead to the greatest results. We do this by recording what we eat, observing our performance in the gym, and then modifying our initial food intake.
One method that can be used to quantify the diet is the Zone. This is CrossFit’s recommendation for self-tracking, and it provides a balanced macronutrient approach and baseline prescriptions related to lean body mass and activity level. Please reference the articles below for more information on how to implement the Zone. If you need guidance with this method, please see Melody, as she has personal experience with it.
A second method for tracking that we recommend is Renaissance Periodization. This is a company of registered dietitians that provide meal plans and nutrition services, centered on both quantity and quality of food. Please reference the website below for more information. A few of our coaching staff have used this method with great success.
Compliance and Scaling
Behavior modification, particularly with a subject as personal as nutrition, can be challenging. It takes time to develop new habits surrounding nutrition, especially if others have been ingrained for a long period of time. There will be an adjustment period–one that will likely be uncomfortable, as the body adapts not only to new and different foods (and quantities of them), but also to altered nutrient timing.
To help facilitate these types of big changes, we recommend scaling any diet at first, just as we scale our workouts. For newbies to any nutritional modification, we first recommend three to four weeks working only the quality dial. This means “eating meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar” for that time.
Once that has been tackled, and in order to continue to see improvement, a person will have to move to the quantity dial. This recommendation is to “eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar” in Zone or other tracked quantities until the desired results are achieved.
A Note on Weight Loss:
If the goal is weight loss or body composition change, the ultimate goal is not to be in a caloric deficit indefinitely. We want to be consistent, and as compliant as possible, to achieve the desired end goal as quickly as is safe and healthy, so that we can enter an indefinite maintenance phase that allows for 85-90% focus on quality and quantity, and the occasional indulgence in treats or alcohol.
No matter what, we want your nutrition to be sustainable, rather than an all-or-nothing approach. Overall compliance across time will depend on a person’s goals and lifestyle. However, the results will always be directly related to input.
We offer personalized nutrition coaching! Go here.
(1) Glassman, G. (2002). What is Fitness. CrossFit Journal. Retrieved November 1, 2015, from http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ-trial.pdf
(2) Leach, C. (2013, July 17). Harnessing Hypos: Glucagon As An Everyday Tool. Retrieved November 12, 2015, from
(3) Kaplan, N. (1989). The Deadly Quartet. Arch Intern Med Archives of Internal Medicine, 1514-1514.
(4) Glassman, G. (n.d.). World Class Fitness In 100 Words. Retrieved from http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/start-diet.html
(5) Wolf, R., & Cordain, L. (n.d.). The paleo solution: The original human diet.
(6) Glassman, G. (n.d.). World Class Fitness In 100 Words. Retrieved from http://www.crossfit.com/cf-info/start-diet.html