Paleo or Zone?
Written by Nuno Costa

Knowledge and application are two different things; most people know what to do when it comes to eating well, yet we still see a shortfall in the actual execution of it.

Let’s first review the CrossFit recommendation for healthy eating per Coach Glassman’s definition of World Class Fitness in 100 words or less: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruits, little starches and no sugars. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.” If you haven’t read the article “What is Fitness” do yourself a favor and read it.

Before I started doing CrossFit, I thought I was pretty fit. My triathlon background helped a ton – I was running, swimming and biking all twice a week, yet I couldn’t figure out why I still had some belly fat and I couldn’t seem to get back to having a six-pack abs. Once I got into CrossFit and understood that it wasn’t necessarily about how many times a week or how I trained, but that what had the most impact on my body composition was what I put into my mouth daily.

After getting into CrossFit in 2008, I started looking at what the recommended way of eating was and how to do implement it in my life. The CrossFit dietary recommendation in more details is explained here.

I can tell you from experience that I wasn’t really sure where to start, so I did strict Paleo for a little while. I went from being lean to being way too lean and realized with the amount of training I was doing it probably wasn’t going to be enough food. Typically, most people that start doing Paleo will cut most carbs from their diet; I did, in fact, cut out bread, pasta and in general most processed foods. What I realized is that I felt better than I had in a long time; all of a sudden my allergies were no longer an issue, I didn’t have a chronic cough and overall my energy levels were higher.

Not long after starting a strict Paleo diet, I started hearing about The Zone Diet. This type of diet was most insightful because it gave me the opportunity to learn about proper portions, which brought precision and accuracy to my diet. I did strict Zone for about 6 months and boom – my six-pack abs returned! Nowadays, I don’t weigh and measure my foods as strictly as I used to, but I apply the principles that I learned during that time when I did.

A Closer Look

So what’s the right diet for you – is it Paleo, is it Zone, is it a combination of the two? With Zone you can keep whatever foods you want in your diet, but you will need to weigh and measure them in order to make sure you are eating the proper portions. Zone brings about balance across your macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates and fats. Ideally we want 40 percent of our daily calories to come from carbohydrates, 30 percent from proteins and 30 percent from fats. This is significantly different from the modern western diet of high carbs and low to no fat, yet we’ve seen this work time and time again.

What about Paleo – what exactly is it and how do you do it? The main preface of Paleo is to eat real foods, eat what our ancestors had available, which means lean meats, vegetables and fruit, healthy fats from nuts, seeds, avocados, olive oil, fish oil and grass-fed meat when possible.  The main differences with most modern western diets is the elimination of certain food groups – dairy, grains and legumes and SUGAR and this is primarily because these foods groups can cause allergic or autoimmune reactions. Robb Wolf does a great job of explaining it in simple terms as well as its benefits – you can read it here.

What to Expect

Food is energy; we need it in order to do basic physiological processes. Whether you decide to do Zone or Paleo or maybe even a combination of the two – stick with it! The first month may suck since your body is adjusting to some major changes, but don’t give up. There’s not an exact formula for everyone; you are your own laboratory, which means you will need to see what works for you. Over the years I’ve made adjustments as needed in order to get things dialed in accordance to what my goals are. Regardless which approach you take be sure to record everything so that you have data on what works and what doesn’t and have markers such as body composition (body fat) and performance (benchmark workouts) be the determining factors on what to keep.

Once you’ve gone through the adaptation phase start to track how you are performing in your workouts, your energy levels, sleep, recovery from training as well as how you feel. You may even start to notice some changes in your body composition but don’t get frustrated if you don’t see them right away, as that may take six to eight weeks into the new diet to notice. Don’t give up – follow through with it and you may just find a lifestyle way of eating that you won’t have to call a diet anymore.

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