Proper nutrition is a lifestyle. Don’t try to fool yourself into thinking that you can get proper nutrition without altering your lifestyle. There is no easy answer or magic bullet. Only education and consistently sound choices every day will sustain a lifestyle of proper nutrition. Nutrition also shouldn’t become an obsession that inhibits your daily life. Everyone lets loose from time to time and shares some birthday cake or ice cream with friends. Finding the happy medium is the key to achieving your goals, and we want to help you find that medium. Start by educating yourself using the information below.
1. What should I eat?
First, transition to eating quality foods that our bodies are made to eat. This is the tough part for most people because grains, bread, and other processed carbohydrates are not in this group. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store for lean meats, fruits and vegetables, nuts, and seeds. We don’t recommend you worry about completely eliminating anything from your diet at first. Small, frequent, and sustained changes are the key to success in nutrition.
2. I’m eating quality foods. What now?
Next, we recommend eating those quality foods in proportions that will fuel your athletic activity and provide hormonal balance. The best way we have found to achieve this is the Zone Diet. The Zone Diet prescribes 40% carbs, 30% protein, and 30% fat for every meal. It also prescribes that you eat several small meals throughout the day. You can read a definitive guide to the Zone diet here.
3. My husband/wife will never go for this. What should I do?
This isn’t a nutrition question, but rather a question of leadership. First, sticking to any nutrition plan will be very difficult if your spouse isn’t on board. The simple task of preparing two different meals for two people is by itself contentious. Furthermore, when your spouse sees you making good choices he/she may question or ridicule your decisions due to feelings of guilty or inadequacy. Your spouse may also think that you are shoving a diet onto them because you are unhappy with them. These are difficult barriers, even if you do everything correctly. It’s important for loved ones to know that your desire is simply to improve your health and fitness. If after addressing these issues you still arrive at an impass then you may simply have different goals than your spouse or have a much greater desire to achieve them.
4. What about my kids?
Feed them the same quality foods, but don’t worry about regimenting total volume of food for a growing child. Just make sure they eat real food and get some protein, fat, and quality carbs (fruits and vegetables) at every meal. If you think they’ll protest when you serve them grilled chicken and vegetables rather than chicken McNuggets and macaroni and cheese, then we suggest you be a leader and stand your ground on what’s best for your child–not what satiates their desire or temper tantrum at that moment. Sometimes being a leader is tough. I promise, they’ll eventually get hungry enough to eat what you serve. Gerber wasn’t around 100 years ago, but humans were, and somehow we survived.
5. How do I cook all my favorite pastas, casseroles, and desserts and still follow a healthy diet?
You don’t. Eating healthy is a lifestyle change. Many things from your old lifestyle simply do not fit in your new lifestyle of healthy eating. But you don’t have to give up anything completely. Everyone let’s loose and has a cheat meal or dessert from time to time. But what you shouldn’t do is go crazy trying to modify all your favorite high-carb meals into something healthy, because it just doesn’t work. The underlying issue is breaking the emotional connection to food. Food is fuel. Just eat it and get on with life. Food is not a way to achieve happiness. Happiness is what happens in life when you’re not eating. If you get emotional fulfillment and gratification from food then it’s evidence of a hole in your life that you’re trying to fill. As a healthy way to set and achieve goals and spend time with like-minded people, CrossFit is part of what will fill that hole. But you have to start by realizing the situation and accepting that if you want to change then you’ve got to change. Your old dietary habits will just give you your old results.
6. How do I eat out?
Making healthy choices at a restaurant isn’t difficult. Plan your meal around your protein source. You want a quality portion of protein about the size of the palm of your hand. Then choose healthy carb options to match. Fruits and vegetables are great choices. For example, a 6 oz steak with a side of broccoli is an excellent choice. At a Mexican restaurant you might like fajita skirt steak with some rice and guacamole. This is a guide to some excellent advice on how to make healthy choices at restaurants.
7. What about alcohol?
Obviously, alcohol is very bad when used to excess. However, casual use can still fit into a healthy lifestyle. How much is too much? Only you can really decide. Most CrossFit athletes I know consume alcohol occasionally. I also know successful athletes that have beer every evening. And many other successful athletes completely abstain from alcohol. Overall, just make sure your alcohol use is for recreation, not dependency, and then fit it into your nutrition and training plan. Alcohol also affects your sleep, recovery, and body composition, so it’s always an area to examine if you’re not achieving your goals.
8. Do you recommend any supplements?
A couple supplements can definitely help you make faster improvement in your strength and body composition. But before we talk about them, read this and believe it: If your diet is crap, then you will get the most benefit by fixing your diet before you ever take a supplement. If your diet is crap, then no supplement can help you. If your diet is crap, no supplement will make you look “ripped.” Before you take supplements, fix your diet. With that out of the way, we recommend fish oil and creatine to pretty much anyone with a pulse. You may think creatine is just for bodybuilders or meatheads, but that’s just conventional wisdom talking. Science tells us that creatine is the single most effective, safest, and most thoroughly researched supplement in history–and it’s good for everyone. It will enhance your strength development with zero negative side effects. Creatine has even been shown to improve mental function in the eldery. Creatine monohydrate is one of the cheapest supplements available. It is so easy and so good for you, there’s no excuse not to take it. Seriously, buy some creatine monohydrate and start taking it every day. The second supplement that is a clear win on all fronts is fish oil, which we’ll talk about below.
9. What is fish oil?
The short story is that your body needs Omega 3 fatty acids for all of life’s important functions: thinking, tissue repair, everything. The human diet 40,000 years ago provided us with plenty of Omega 3s. Our modern diet provides us with very little, even when eating healthy as CrossFitters do. Fish oil is the single best way to get the Omega 3s that your body needs. Here is a great article that will explain the nitty gritty facts behind why we use it and how we use it. Give it a read for the full story. The short story is that fish oil is the single easiest step you can take towards a solid CrossFit diet.
10. What should I eat before a workout?
These last two topics are minor details that we recommend you don’t worry about until you have all your other nutrition decisions correct. If you are worried about pre and post-workout nutrition and timing but you’re still having a slice of banana bread and saltine crackers for lunch then you’re completely putting the cart before the horse. Get the basics right first and then let the details follow. So on to the answer…For optimum performance, in the 24 hours prior to a workout you should eat Zone proportion meals from clean food sources, just as we recommend you eat every day. The only real question is what volume of food should you eat prior to a workout, and the answer is unique to every athlete. Almost nobody prefers eating immediately prior to a workout, in the 30 minutes or less before 3, 2, 1, GO! Most athletes eat an hour or more prior to the workout. Some athletes find they must fast longer prior to the WOD in order to avoid nausea. However, your performance will suffer if you don’t consume some fuel before the WOD, so make sure you’ve eaten a quality meal sometime in the 1-3 hours prior. Only experimentation and finding what works for you will yield the answer.
11. What should I eat after a workout?
I get the feeling that many people think they can find the magic bullet here, and somehow by drinking the perfect blended concoction of unicorn tongue and Cinnamon Toast Crunch right after a workout they can ignore nutrition the other 23 hours of the day. Just like in most of life, results aren’t achieved through one masterfully planned and incredibly executed event, but rather through an endless string of small but intelligent decisions all day, every day.
The objective of post-workout nutrition is to optimize recovery by replenishing glycogen stores and providing protein to begin tissue repair. This improves the results of your next workout, decreases hunger throughout your day, and improves body composition. The two things you absolutely need after your workout are
- Fast absorbing carbohydrate (fruits, berries, sweet potatoes, rice, even sugar)
- Fast absorbing protein (whey protein or egg protein is preferable)
One easy way to get both of these components is through a post-workout shake using a recovery specific protein powder like Herbalife 24 Rebuild which we have access to at our gym. We want to make it easy for you to get proper post-workout nutrition, because that will amplify your results. For an average sized man your post-workout shake should contain at least 21 grams of protein and 36 grams of carbohydrate. Smaller or larger athletes can scale those numbers accordingly. You also may have to mix different products to get that particular carb and protein mix.
Much like pre-workout nutrition, take these guidelines, experiment, and find what works for you. And remember that post-workout meals are crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s on an already solid nutrition plan. They aren’t the focus of a solid nutrition plan.