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CrossFit DOES NOT mean Paleo

This is not a dogmatic nutrition post. I am not going to spend the next 500 to 1000 words shouting at you through the computer about why you should eat in a particular way, or why what you had for breakfast this morning is totally going to kill you/make you fat/smash your gainzzz/whatever. My only goal here is to dispel the notion that everyone who CrossFits treats carbs like the devil and obsesses over whether or not a caveman could have eaten the food on their plate.

I actually used to think this was the case, at least in theory. I had been around enough CrossFit athletes inside and outside of boxes to know that they did not all eat paleo. Of course, some did, and as with most nutrition plans, those that followed it well had great results. I remember one guy, Todd, at my box in Tampa who was probably 10-15 years older than I am, and still looked like he was maybe late twenties. He ate pretty strict paleo from what I could tell. However, others (myself included) sort of stuck one toe in the water. I didn’t want to drink the Kool-Aid so hard and just become a total “CrossFit Bro” in year one. Know what I’m saying? But still, in the back of my mind, I thought that everyone who was a “serious CrossFit athlete” was recommended to eat strict paleo style. When I went to Chicago to get my CrossFit Level 1, I was taught just how wrong that assumption was.

CrossFit Level 1 Training – Nutrition Section

I had looked over the itinerary for the weekend, and I was as excited for the nutrition portion of the seminar as any. I really enjoy learning about the way food can help and hurt our bodies, and I was excited to see how the CrossFit Seminar Staff addressed the legitimate concern that the paleo diet was severely lacking in carbohydrates for an athlete aspiring to perform at their highest. Unfortunately, as we sat down to start the lecture, I knew immediately I wasn’t going to hear about that. I actually wasn’t going to be preached to about the benefits of the paleo diet. I wasn’t going to be told how that white rice was going to kill me, or that I had to cut specific things out of my diet immediately. The truth is that CrossFit HQ doesn’t even propose to follow the paleo diet. Technically, the nutrition plan they espouse is the Zone Diet. Now, I have an entire list of issues with the Zone plan, namely that its so deficient in calories that many people simply under-eat, but still, it wasn’t Paleo. So what’s the deal??

“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit and a little starch.”¬†That’s the quote in the CrossFit handbook about how to eat. Doesn’t really go into that many details, does it? It gives a broad explanation of what CrossFit founder Greg Glassman believes is best to eat, but it doesn’t really give a restriction on caloric content, how much of each macronutrient, when to eat them, etc. etc. etc. Seems surprisingly lenient, actually, given what many people think of when they imagine CrossFit.

Why does everyone think CrossFit = Paleo?

People, in general, like to be able to follow a checklist. Life is a lot easier when we can act in black and whites. That’s why we follow specific lesson plans for school, processes for work, and nutrition plans that clearly indicate what you can and cannot eat. Even on If it Fits Your Macros, you’re told what you can eat. Namely everything. As long as it fits, you’re good! But there’s your constraint. It must fit inside of your allotted carbs, proteins, fats, and calories for the day. In my opinion, that is why CrossFit goes with Zone. That gives structure to an otherwise ambiguous sentence. Eat those things, but make them fit inside of the Zone parameters, basically.

However, what if we took that sentence and just ran with it, forming it to fit some scientific principles? I’ve gone over this in detail in many other posts, but the First Law of Thermodynamics applies to nutrition. This means that if you eat too many calories, you’re going to gain weight. I’ve yet to see anyone disprove this fact. Of course, finding out how many calories to eat is pretty tough. I recommend either going to a lab and getting your Base Metabolic Rate (BMR) taken, then adding approximately 300-400 calories for a standard CrossFit workout. Or, you can weigh yourself a couple of times per week for a few weeks while measuring your food and also get a good estimation. Either way, calories are always going to matter.

That being said, I also don’t believe that all calories are created equal. Many nutrition plans that are concerned with macro nutrients are only concerned with you getting that number. Doesn’t matter whether that is Twinkies and low-quality peanut butter or whole grains, vegetables, and meat. On the flip side, those nutrition plans focused on always getting quality food sources often don’t care if you’re overeating your fats by 40 grams per day (that’s 360 calories for those keeping track). So, what if we combined the best of both worlds? What would happen?

I’m sure many people have already done this, but for the month of March I’m going to do a little experiment. I’m going to follow the CrossFit statement about what to eat, and I’m going to follow science in terms of how much to eat. I’ll write another post detailing what I’m going to do, and then I’ll do a write up each week detailing how I’m feeling, how training is going in terms of performance, and any noticeable changes in body composition I’m seeing. Hopefully it will be interesting and we’ll all learn something.

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