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In CrossFit’s original charter “What is Fitness”, we find this snippet in the “100 Words to World Class Fitness”:
Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar.
Simple. Simple is awesome because thinking is hard. The less thinking we have to do, the fewer things we can screw up.
But as human beings are prone to do, they began to ask complicated questions; how much meat? How many vegetables? Should I eat 11 cashews or 12 cashews?”
Weigh and Measure, Weigh and Measure, Weigh and Measure…..
So Greg Glassman responded by coming out in support of an eating strategy called “The Zone”.
Basically you weigh and measure everything you eat, grouping protein, fat and carbohydrates into things called “blocks” and then using those blocks to mathematically figure out how much and exactly what kind of food is needed to sustain a chosen amount of physical activity.
This was cool because it gave people numbers, math and discipline.
It became uncool because of the numbers, math and discipline.
People began to hate The Zone, because sometimes a guy just wants to eat an Oreo without having to break out a digital scale. Some people also believed that it didn’t place enough emphasis on the importance of eating quality food, so where one person though that eating cottage cheese was OK because it fit into their blocks, some people believed that consuming dairy products was using a dirty hepatitis soaked needle to inject protein into your bloodstream.
So Easy a Caveman Could Do It
Enter Paleo. Spurred on in part by a new focus on food quality as well as an epic Dave Castro vs. Robb Wolf “Your eating sucks!!!! – Nuh uh, your eating sucks!!!” throwdown at the Black Box Summit in 2009, people began to walk around the woods and forage for food in order to fuel their athletic performance.
The thinking here was that people are designed to eat only certain things. If you eat those certain things, you will be healthy.
Besides that, people loved Paleo because math sucks. Like, seriously. It sucks.
Weighing and measuring food doesn’t exist in Paleo Land because digital scales weren’t invented yet. Also, the emphasis was on consuming quality food rather than monitoring quantity.
If I wanted to eat 9 ounces of kale instead of 8, I could. SUCK IT, ZONE DIET. People were freed from the shackles of their mathematical prisons.
But, Paleo has rules. And as people interviewed more Cavemen (and woman) to find out what exactly they ate, more and more rules were added:
“Follow the rules or we’ll kick you out of our Paleo Club, and we won’t let you sit next to us at lunch,” they said. “You can eat potatoes, but not those potatoes,” they said.
Pretty soon Paleo turned into this big socially acceptable Renaissance Fair, holding annual conferences full of workshops on how to be a Paleo Policewoman, play “primally”, and walk like animals.
Also contributing to the decline of Paleo in CrossFit was the rise of the CrossFit Games. As people began to move away from general physical preparedness and into athletic competition, training volume increased, as well as the number of things one needed to be proficient at in order to not suck. This takes energy, and energy requires carbohydrates, and being awesome at sports requires enough carbohydrates.
People realized it was going to be hard to get enough carbohydrates on Paleo. A week of 10 pounds of sweet potatoes a day (paleo) would send most people into a five day coma-inducing ice cream and cake binge (not Paleo), so it was easier to look for a new way to eat than to live weighed down by the guilt of dietary sinfulness.
Nom Nom Nom Cake Nom Nom Nom
Enter IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)/Flexible Dieting. The basic premise here is that you need to figure out how many grams of carbs, protein, and fat you need per day, and then eat whatever you want as long as it fits those numbers.
This was great because people could have their constantly varied high intensity functional movement cake and eat it, too.
So it’s kinda like The Zone in that there’s weighing and measuring and numbers, and kinda like paleo with some freedom but a lot more sugar and yummy things.
Currently, there are some people in this camp that say, “NO!!! IFFYM doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want, it means to focus on quality food with some flexibility when you need it.”
What they are missing is that “If It Fits Your Macros” means to most people “YUM YUM YUM CANDY ICE CREAM AND DOUGHNUTSSSSSSS”.
The battle within the movement is raging between between posting pictures of giant bowls of fruity pebbles and people posting giant pictures of leafy greens.
No one outside the movement really know what the IIFYM gurus want them to eat, so they have begun looking for other alternatives.
I Am Better Than You
Enter “I eat for performance”.This movement is the most recent and is fueled by Dan Bailey’s cookie fetish.
This diet is awesome because as long as you end every sentence with “…because I eat for performance” you can have whatever you want and people will still think you’re hardcore.
“I can eat these circus peanuts, because I eat for performance.” See, hardcore.
This eating strategy is the anarchist’s free-market wielding eating strategy of the CrossFit world. It turns out that most full-time athletes are full time athletes because they work out a lot. This burns a lot of calories, and maintaining a high caloric intake is hard to get eating 100% clean. Maintaining the original prescription of, “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar,” becomes impossible to maintain in the face of 2+ hours of training every day.
Also, numbers are hard and calories and working out is awesome. In the time it took to weigh those olives, you could have pounded three Snickers bars and done 21 more thrusters 95/65. Less dumb and boring stuff like knowing your macros, bro, and more fun and cool stuff like squats and AMRAPs.
If Matt Fraser can eat Ben and Jerry’s every day, and Froning can have a jar of peanut butter (I tried this. It reminded me of the time I had salmonella and passed out on the bathroom floor.), then by golly, JUNK FOOD = GAINZ.
Unfortunately this gives people who don’t know any better two false impressions:
1) They too are elite and can eat whatever they want in the name of performance
2) Knowing what goes into their body is a waste of time
Cupcakes? Will eat, squats tomorrow. Pizza? The whole thing because I’ve got a fever and the only cure is more glycogen.
Me personally, my hardest training days are fueled by pancakes and ice cream. I’ll throw in a little chicken and rice because abs, but mostly pancakes and ice cream.
So the person who comes to hit a 10 minute WOD four times a week walks away thinking that the the only way to make progress in the gym is to eat a high-calorie diet supported by a healthy portion of junk food.
People that “eat for performance” will make sure you know that they don’t weigh or measure their food, they don’t count their macros, and that they eat food because it’s fuel.
They have attained the highest level of enlightenment – food is energy. Operating at such a high level of nirvana requires energy, and that energy comes from food.
What people that “eat for performance” aren’t saying is that they aren’t new athletes arriving at this eating strategy from square one. In most cases, (and this is purely anecdotal) these are people who have been surrounded by fitness and nutrition for years, trying many different things and testing many different ideas.
They aren’t weighing or measuring their food or macros because they already know about how much they need to be fueled based on long-term experience. They combine this experience with “eat more on hard training days, eat less on easier training days” and BOOM – here is eating for performance.
So what is the future for eating in competitive exercising? I think the pendulum will swing back towards more simplicity and more discipline. People will start to become more aware that different people need to eat differently, and they will begin to understand where they fit.
Paleo MIGHT work for you. The Zone COULD be your Golden ticket. IIFYM is POSSIBLY the bee’s knees.
The future for eating in CrossFit doesn’t matter, because your eating is what matters. You experience life and CrossFit in your body, and your body needs to be fueled how it needs to be fueled.
The best advice? Try everything for six weeks. Are you feeling awesome and making progress? Stick to it. Feeling crappy and getting bricked? Switch.