By George Demetriou
"Never discuss politics, religion and nutrition", my father told me long ago.
Well...maybe he didn't mention nutrition, but he should have.
There are three basic problems with discussing the subject of nutrition:
Problem 1: EVERYBODY knows about nutrition. They've "heard" stuff. Read stuff. The muscle guy at the gym told them things. They watch Oprah and they've stayed at a Holiday Inn Express. What a person knows is etched in stone somewhere and is therefore not subject to change under any circumstances.
A woman "asked" me for nutritional guidance. She is in her fifties, overweight and in poor shape. I advised her that I am not a nutritionist, but can certainly point her in the right direction or so I thought. I asked her about her current diet. She went on to explain how old she is, how she doesn't have time, how long she spends at work and how she doesn't cook. She wasn't looking for advice as it turned out. She was looking for permission. Permission and justification to continue popping frozen dinners in the microwave and keep that as her steady diet. I told her the only honest thing I could at that point, "You're apparently not ready, at this time, to improve your health from a nutritional standpoint because you really don't want to." The discussion ended right there.
Problem 2: The emotional attachment to a particular food which may not be particularly good for you. Upon his request, I offered some advice to an overweight friend. I suggested he cut down or eliminate bagel consumption. He actually turned red and angrily stated, "I'm going to have my bagels no matter what." I told him I understood. A year later his doctor told him no more bagels--ever. He was diagnosed with diabetes. The possibility of death often helps overcome emotional attachment to things we should not eat.
Problem 3: There is a lot of information about nutrition out there, much of it bad. The idea that athletes need a ton of carbohydrates is still floating around. Many people in America consume way too much pasta and bread without understanding the affects. There's a lack of understanding about how much protein one should consume and what the difference between"healthy" fat and "unhealthy" fat is.
I've read several Zone Diet books, The Paleo Diet, The Warrior Diet, The Abs Diet and more that I can't remember right now. They're all good and all have something to offer, some more than others depending on your goals. After reading these and experimenting I have found that I have barely scratched the surface of having applied nutrition knowledge. I do recommend that CrossFitters, any athletes and people who just want to understand nutrition read the Zone Diet, the Paleo Diet and the Warrior Diet. These will give you an excellent understanding of what we should eat, why we should eat what we eat and when we should eat. They will provide a base for understanding how to eat. A base that everyone should have. The Abs Diet is an excellent resource for learning about the dangers of High Fructose Corn Syrup and Trans Fat. If you follow the first three books listed you'll be in no danger of consuming these substances.
Once you've become familiar with the concepts and terms in these books I suggest you visit www.robbwolf.com Wolf is a CrossFitter, a bio-chemist and has a ton of work and educational experience in the field of nutrition. He offers great advice to the CrossFit community and has a deep understanding of "tinkering" the Zone Diet. Wolf is an asset to the CrossFit community.
I also recommend visiting Arthur DeVany's website, www.ArthurDeVany.com. DeVany recommends what is known as IF (Intermittent Fasting). Before you dismiss the topic you should know that DeVany has 8% body fat, has a lean muscular body and is in his seventies....yes, 70s.
The Zone Diet is the "preferred" diet of the CrossFit community. It's been around a while, it's not a fad and it's used, with great success by high level athletes. There are numerous reports of CrossFitters who have improved their performance after adopting the Zone way of eating.
So...what to do?
Educate yourself. Regardless of what style of eating you'll eventually use you'll have to find what works for you. This will have to do with what your goals are as well as your uniqueness. In the meantime, while reading the recommended books and visiting the above listed, most interesting blogs you can improve your diet by drastically reducing or eliminating the following from your diet:
Bread- If you need to wean yourself try Weight Watchers Multi-Grain. It's half the size, carbohydrates and calories of most other breads. It contains no High Fructose Corn Syrup unlike most other store bought bread.
Pasta- Dr. Barry Sears(Zone) recommends treating carbs such as pasta like a condiment. The days of the whole plate of spaghetti should be over.
Bagels- Yes it's bread, but I give it it's own category because the bagel is recommended by so many "experts" as a healthy choice.
Cereal- Read the labels of most breakfast cereals....the amount of carbs and sugar is staggering and not conducive to weight management or performance.
Instant oatmeal- Loaded with sugar. The best oatmeal to use are the ones that take the longest to prepare and have little or no taste.
Sugar- Any sugar. Any "foods" with sugar. The closest you can come to not consuming sugar at all the better. Honey is NOT a healthy alternative as some would like you to believe. It' still sugar.
Processed Food- If you can "prepare" a meal by removing it from a package and heating it up for a couple of minutes chances are good that it's heavily processed and therefore unhealthy. Almost all processed food contains High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Fast Food- Chicken and fish are the better ways to go, but you should be suspect about anything that comes from a fast food "restaurant".
Soda and Juices- Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup.
Cake, Cookies, Candy- Sugar and High fructose Corn Syrup.
Fat cuts of red meat and organ meat: Cut sausage and meat with a high fat content.
Consume the following:
For protein: Chicken, Turkey, Fish including Tuna fish, lean cuts of meat, eggs(specifically from free range chickens) For protein, the more you can consume organic, free range or "wild caught", the better. Typical "farmed" cows, chicken and fish are fed the one thing we have an over abundance of in this country: corn. Corn fed anything means a reduction in the healthy fat content.
Whey protein- An excellent form of protein that one can easily supplement with. You can mix a scoop of whey in water to get a quick and easy 18-25 grams of protein.
Fruit and vegetables- Most people do not consume enough. No excuse, preparation is minimal. Minimize raisins, dates and bananas.
For Fat: Olive Oil, Avocado, Macadamia nuts, fish oil
Hydration: Drink water. Drink water. Drink water. If you're not consuming about a gallon a day you're probably dehydrated to some extent. Proper hydration is necessary for all the body's systems to operate at optimum capacity. Dehydration interferes with the body's ability to"burn" fat.
Supplements: A Multi-vitamin and Fish Oil.
A Very Brief Outline of the Principles, Concepts and Philosophies of the Above Mentioned Diets:
*Caloric Restriction research shows that it is healthy and people live longer. (All of the cited diets)
*What you eat should facilitate balancing the hormonal systems. (Zone)
*Our genes have not changed since the times of early man therefore you should eat as close to what man ate over 10,000 years ago as much as possible. (Lean meat, fish, poultry, fruit and vegetables)[Paleo]
*"The real cause of our growing epidemic of obesity is excess production of the hormone insulin. It is excess insulin that makes you fat and keeps you fat." (Dr. Barry Sears, A Week In the Zone, 2000)
*"Our genes are from the Stone Age and they encode both behaviors and human physiology for a Hunter-Gatherer body and mind. Many modern diseases are diseases of metabolism: Syndrome X, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and countless other diseases didn't exist among our ancient ancestors. These diseases are produced by clash of Stone Age genes and a modern life of chronic stress, routine patterns, little activity that's challenging and food that was never part of the long 3.5 million years of human existence." (Arthur DeVany, interview for T-nation.com, May/05)
Specifics: Putting meals together, the amount of meals per day and portion sizes are too individual specific to write about here. These will have to be determined by you after you become familiar with the diets listed. Coach Glassman of CrossFit recommends getting a scale and weighing your food, at least for a couple of weeks, so you will not be guessing. After a couple of weeks you'll know the weight just by looking at the food. If you are only going to have one big meal a day the portion size is not as important.
This is not a prescription or diet plan. This article was written to increase awareness and provoke introspection as well as encourage readers to educate themselves. Individuals may have to consult a doctor and/or a nutritionist. There is no one perfect plan for everybody. The above recommendations are a good way to begin if you're diet is not optimal right now. To optimize performance more research is needed and then each plan has to be experimented with, "tweaked" and "tinkered" with depending on individual goals, your body and your level of activity.
The bottom line is your diet is your responsibility. Seek out the information used by those who are getting excellent results. Seek out evidence. Find what works universally and what works for you.