I don’t write much about CrossFit on my blog. Mostly it’s for fear of putting some readers off. I know how intimidating CrossFit can seem. I know the stigma of it being a “cult” or fad, just some crazy, intense, and unsafe programming that people seem to be obsessed with. And honestly, I don’t want to be misunderstood or discredited as “just another CrossFitter.”
But I also know that I love CrossFit. I know how effective it is, how it’s changed my body and allowed me to be in the best shape of my life. I know how empowered it makes me feel. And I know how it’s given me a home away from home and amazing friendships through its unbeatable focus on community.
And, I know how CrossFit attempts to emphasize nutrition more than any globo gym I’ve attended in the past. As a brand, CrossFit’s war on big soda has been encouraging. And I can’t help but smile when I hear interviews in which founder Greg Glassman talks about reversing chronic disease through nutrition and lifestyle.
Yet, sometimes when I look at what’s happening in the CrossFit community, it seems that nutrition is downplayed or even dismissed at times. Just recently I saw mention of a donut hole eating contest at a local gym event – seriously?!
It’s not that I expect my fellow CrossFitters to be perfect in their eating habits (I know I’m not). And I know that there’s a ton of misinformation floating around about nutrition out there, what with corporate and political interests polluting the literature. But still, here’s what I wish all CrossFitters (and athletes, and people in general) understood about nutrition:
Paleo is not about eating tons of meat.
The Paleo diet promoted in CrossFit is based off of the hunter-gatherer diet of our Paleolithic ancestors, and emphasizes regional and seasonal veggies and fruits, nuts, seeds, and wild meats. I supposed *technically* one could infer that Paleo is about what’s missing (grains, dairy, legumes, processed foods) rather than what’s included, and be perfectly content eating steak and Paleo cupcakes for every meal. But true Paleo is local, seasonal, and plant-based.
Speaking of meat – not all meat is created equal.
The vast majority of meat in the U.S. is industrially raised in confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. These animals are fed a mixture of corn, soy, and nutrient additives (regardless of what their natural diet may be in the wild), and pumped full of hormones and antibiotics. This, combined with the stress of suffering in an inhumane and cruel living environment, leads to tainted meat with a sub-optimal nutrient profile.
If and when meat or other animal products are on the menu, it’s best to opt for grass-fed, pasture-raised, or (in the case of fish) wild-caught.
Carbs are not the enemy.
In fact, unless you are aiming for ketosis (a state in which the body uses ketone bodies from fat rather than glucose from carbs for fuel), carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for the body. In the gym, this means that having adequate carbohydrates in your diet will enhance your performance. From a health standpoint, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all carbohydrates that provide essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fiber that nourish the body and prevent disease.
And on that note, not all carbs are created equal.
Of course, there’s a big difference between eating a donut or eating an apple to fuel your workout. Always opt for minimally or unprocessed carbs from real, whole foods.
You can’t out exercise a bad diet.
I think most of us have heard the saying “abs are made in the kitchen.” This is true, but it’s about more than abs. In reality, our bodies (and therefore our health) are a direct result of the environmental factors we expose them to, including the food we eat, the water we drink and bathe in, and the air we breathe. As environmental engineer and author Ellen Moyer writes in a discussion of quantum field theory, “it’s impossible to determine where one thing ends and another begins – our body and the environment, for example. We are not self-contained isolated entities.”
Which brings me to my final point – fitness and health are not the same thing.
Just because I can do 50 pull-ups or squat my body weight or run a 6 minute mile does not mean my body is at its absolute best. I can be strong and fit, and still be dealing with nutrient deficiencies, food allergies or intolerances, hormone imbalances, or leaky gut (just to name a few). Fitness is only one factor that plays into our overall health and well-being, not the be all end all.
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