Monday, March 23, 2009 by Daniel

Introducing CrossKitchen

NOTE: Cross-posted at CrossFit East Bay

Hi guys! Max has generously agreed to give me weekly space for a feature on nutrition that I'm dubbing "CrossKitchen." It is my intention to use this space to provide you with some of the information that I've picked up in my nutritional research - things like recipes, DIY tips, articles and anything else I can think of to help fuel your fire. If you have any ideas or requests, please let me know! -Daniel

Trimming the Fat

Good weather is just around the corner, and like all good CrossFitters and Rockclimbers, we will all soon be stripping down to our skivvies in public at the faintest pretext. It is what we do. But if the long, cold, harsh California winter has left you with an unwanted layer of fat to protect you from the elements, you may be looking to tighten up a little before emerging from your Polartec cave. I'm here to help.

The Number One Rule you must Always Obey

"Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not too much." - Michael Pollan
"You can't shit in the tank and expect good mileage." - Coach Glassman

Get used to hearing this, 'cause I'm going to harp on it a lot. If you're into needlepoint, you might want to stitch it up and surround it with little broccoli flowers: EAT REAL FOOD.

Everything else I'm going to go into here is a technique, but this is the bedrock on which it all rests. If you ignore everything else I say, listen to this. It makes all the difference in the world. More on this at a later date.

All diets boil down to two things

All successful diets cover two bases: caloric deficit and hormone control. Most people know all about the first and nothing about the second. OK, yes, it is good to take in a little less than you burn. But it is far more important to keep your insulin in check and to maximize your HGH response. Two advantages of high-fat, low-carb diets is that they increase satiety, thereby causing you to eat less, and they decrease insulin sensitivity, the greatest cause of obesity. If you can keep your insulin and cortisol levels down and your HGH and glucagon levels high, fat should just melt off your body. The trick is figuring out how to do it.

For more information:
Diet Round-up

Here's a quick rundown of the pre-packaged diets that have seen success across the CrossFit community.

The Zone

If there is an official diet of CrossFit, it is the Zone. The basic premise behind it is that if you can eat all your meals in portions of approximately 30% fat, 30% protein and 40% carbohydrates, you will put your body into an optimized performance "zone" that burns fat and builds muscle. Personally, I am not a huge fan of the Zone (I can't be bothered with all the weighing and measuring it requires), but I cannot argue with its record: many athletes around the world have seen appreciable performance gains and fat loss when zoning, and nearly all of the CrossFit superstars (Nicole, Greg A, OPT, etc) zone.

For more information:

Brainchild of Professor Loren Cordain, the basic premise of the Paleo diet is this: humans evolved over many thousands of years on a fairly specific hunter-gatherer diet. The relatively recent advent of agriculture has introduced a whole new generation of foods that our bodies are not "designed" to eat, and which consequently do us harm. Grains and sugar are strictly forbidden, dairy and legumes are discouraged. Basically, if you can't pick it up or chase it down and eat it, you shouldn't. This is probably the second most popular diet among CrossFitters, particularly those who find the Zone fussy (although it should be noted that you can do both Zone and Paleo at the same time - many do).

For more information:
Intermittent Fasting

More philosophy than diet, IF can be boiled down to this: "Eat. Don't eat for a while. Eat." This particular topic is near and dear to my own heart, so (again) I'll go into it in more detail at a later date. But the basic premise is this: occasional fasts of 16-24 hours are highly beneficial to the body in numerous way, including (but not limited to) insulin control, calorie control, increased recovery, performance and mental acuity, etc etc. Fasting means FASTING - nothing with more than 5 calories passes your lips, and intermittent means INTERMITTENT - some folks do it five days a week, some just one, and some whenever they feel like it, but you should definitely not do it all the time. It is possible to do Zone, Paleo AND IF all at once, but at that point I'd start accusing you of being orthorexic, and the mockery would commence.

For more information:
The Anabolic/Ketogenic/Velocity/Warrior/Atkins Diets

There are minor variations among them, but they all follow a consistent theme: by lowering your daily input of carbohydrates to under 30g, you will put your body in ketosis, whereby you are no longer deriving your energy from glucose like the rest of us, but rather from ketones manufactured from fat by your liver. This also has the effect of turning your body's focus to its fat stores for energy, particularly since all that fat and protein you're eating has increased your satiety such that you're on caloric deficit. Some people report remarkable success on these diets, but they seem (to me) to be in the minority. They also tend to be really heavy to begin with. Personally, I think these diets can work well in the short term, but are not very sustainable and tend to kill your metabolic conditioning. There's also a danger of yo-yoing with such an extreme diet. And if you're vegetarian, forget it.

For more information:
Diets that suck

You know this already. Any diet that requires you to buy their branded "food" (ie, slim-fast). Any diet that pushes the old-fashioned high-carb, low-fat philosophy (yeah, ok, it works for some people, but they are few and far between). Any diet that relies on limiting your choices so severely that you could never hit caloric surplus ("I can eat whatever I want, as long as it's pickles and muenster"). Any diet that uses fancy chemistry to bypass food's inherent natures (ie, sugar-free soda, no-carb pasta, etc). Any diet that focuses exclusively on caloric deficit with no regard to hormone control (this can work, but isn't great for athletes). Any diet that promotes starvation.

You are a beautiful snowflake

Everybody is different. What works for me may not be the best option for you. It will take some experimentation and documentation for you to determine your own optimal method of weight loss. Since everyone needs to do it from time to time, and it typically sucks, it's in your best interest to figure out the most efficient method for yourself. That said, here are some tips and tricks from my own experience:
  • Eat real food. Quality trumps quantity.
  • Write it down. Keep a food log. Fitday is an extremely useful tool, but it can be a bit high-maintenance. The easiest thing is to add a food component to your own workout log (you are keeping a workout log, right? RIGHT?). Blogger is free and easy, and if you give us the link we can all leave snarky comments when you break down and eat an entire box of Thin Mints. A notepad and pen is also cheap and easy. Just the simple act of writing down what you eat will make you more aware of what you're putting in your body, which is invaluable.
  • Set reasonable goals. Don't crash diet. It never works. You might knock off ten pounds in one punishing week, but you'll burn yourself out and, in a fit of drunken rebelliousness, gain back twelve pounds in one night of gluttonous self-mutilation. Plus, you'll mainly be losing water, and the elevated cortisol will burn your muscles and kill your performance. I recommend a goal of ONE POUND PER WEEK. It's nice and maintainable, and easy to remember.
  • Find a metric that works for you. If the numbers on the scale send you into a panic of doubt and self-recrimination, don't use them. Get a tape measure and use your waist measurement. Stand in front of a mirror naked, grab your bouncy bits and jump up and down - less jiggle, more better. Learn how to use bodyfat calipers, or get yourself tested.
  • Cheat. You will get out what you put in. If you are 90% strict with your diet, you can expect to reap 90% of the reward. 90% is really, really close to 100%. If that 10% difference is the difference between sticking to it and dropping it for being too hard, I'll take it. When you cheat, cheat hard, but be aware that you're setting the rules aside for this one meal, and get back on the horse when you're done.
My own snowflake story

Before CrossFit, I lost 40 pounds by simply eating less and cycling more. I bottomed out at 12% bodyfat, though, and couldn't get below that for about a year. Ultimately, I found that the following plan works extremely well for me, and can get me below 10% whenever I want it to:
  • A diet that is approximately 50% fat, 30% protein, 20% carbs, ~2500 cal/day
  • Fasting 4-5 times/week, 16-20 hours per fast
  • Morning workouts while fasted:

    • High-intensity intervals (either Sprint-8 or sets of 10 burpees), followed by ~30 minutes of very mild cardio (ie, running at 6mph)
I'd be happy to share more info with anyone who's interested.

Whew! That was a mouthful (so to speak). I hope you found something useful in there - if not, hopefully next week. If you have any questions or notes from your own experience, please share them in the comments.


Bill said...

Great, great post, Daniel! Thanks!!

Kate said...

Looking forward to more of these posts! :)

Jenn said...

Great post, Daniel. Diet is one thing that I have not really given any attention since I started CF. Zone always seemed a bit too OCD for me and I haven't learned enough about Paleo to make a decision.

Of course, anything I do diet-wise has to take my family into account. Hubby would be happy with leaving all the diet planning to me, but I'm not sure how I would adjust any of these plans for kids.

Ynez Arce said...

My name is Ynez and I (try to) eat (mostly) real food.

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