Eat a diet of meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar.
In its simplest form, the above phrase is what the CrossFit methodology dictates for the foundation of nutrition, but these same rules should be applied to our everyday lives, regardless of your exercise regimen.
When starting, or even thinking about starting a new diet, the seemingly limitless options can be unnerving. As you start this next step in your path to improve your personal wellness, simplicity is key. The last thing we want to do is overwhelm ourselves before we even get started.
When we look at some of the most popular or common choices within the current diet trends around the world, and specifically the CrossFit community, there is a lot of overlap. Some of the common themes we see across multiple diets are:
- Focus on lean proteins
- Lack of processed foods
- Minimal sugars, none if possible (don’t roll your eyes at me)
- Healthy fats are ok
- Hydration is important
- Fruits are acceptable, in moderation, and at the right time
I will dive a little deeper into the categories and subjects I’ve listed above to discuss and suggest things that have worked for me.
As we can see in the very beginning of the Crossfit prescription for a healthy diet, meat falls as the first item mentioned. In their purest and most ideal forms, we should try and eat organic, farm-to-table meats if we can, but for many reasons including cost and convenience, that is not an option. What we can control more easily is the type of meats we are choosing to eat, ideally the leaner the better. The options I have gravitated towards and have seen the best results with are turkey, chicken, and fish (we can also count eggs in here as well). These are all low in fat, high in protein and B vitamins. There is nothing wrong with the occasional piece of red meat (trust me, I love steak), but these three other sources will be much more well-suited for long-term success in your diet.
Processed foods have become much more prevalent in modern culture and have been one of the main instigators in the obesity epidemic facing the world today. Processed foods are convenient, generally cost-efficient, but always come with a price. By combining raw food ingredients with chemicals and other additives, processed foods divert from their purest form and work to remove the natural nutrients from the food we’re consuming. Some common processed foods we see in everyday life are: breakfast cereals, milk, bread, granola bars, pasta and dried fruits. These are just a few examples but I mention these specifically as we see them more frequently in many diets. Drawbacks of these food types include: added sodium (bloating and inflammation), added sugar (rapid weight gain and heart disease), nutrient loss (heat and other processes work to remove the natural nutrients = no nutritional value), and presence of trans fats (increased risk of high cholesterol and heart disease).
For many, this part of healthy eating is the hardest thing to kick. One thing I have always applied to these items is the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind”. If you remove these items from your pantry, and quit buying them at the store to have around the home for convenience, this will mitigate your risk of the temptation to indulge in one, or many, types of these foods.
There is some redundancy here from the previous subject, but sugar is one that cannot be overstated. Although there is naturally occurring sugars in many of the fruits we enjoy so much, those are not the ones I am focusing on here. The sugar I am referring to here is refined sugar that is added to “enhance” the flavor of so many things we love and enjoy regularly. Ignorance is bliss. Read the nutrition label and the ingredients. One common place for this is in the things we drink like soda, juice, sport/energy drinks, and alcohol. Drinking our calories is way more common than you think, and will derail any amount of healthy eating we could ever do. Continually eating and drinking sugar will greatly increase one’s risk for heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Those preceding three I just listed should be reason enough to strive toward cutting sugar from your diet!
For years people have been preaching that eating fat makes you fat, but that is simply not the case…when done correctly. These healthy fats are monosaturated fats and can be found in foods such as: avocados, nuts and seeds, eggs, and oils such as olive oil or avocado oil. Conversely to the effects of sugar, these healthy fats can help reduce the risk of heart disease. Healthy fats, in conjunction with protein, encourage more muscle growth and overall better body composition. In the correct quantities, healthy fats have several benefits to your overall health and won’t “make you fat”.
Hydration is Essential:
As you look around while you navigate through your daily life, you may notice several people carrying water bottles almost everywhere they go. This is no coincidence, as people are realizing the health implications of drinking an adequate amount of water and staying properly hydrated. The amount of water a person needs is subjective, and will be different for everyone, but one should aim for the minimum 6-8, 8 oz. glasses per day. I would aim for the higher number if you can handle the volume. One thing that can be overlooked when we’re trying to improve our diet, is how hydration will impact our eating. Often when we believe we’re hungry, we may actually be thirsty, and drinking water can satiate what could be confused for hunger. This has been a huge eye opener for me, especially in the mornings and mid-afternoon times, when snacking is easiest. My daily goal is to try and drink half of my bodyweight in ounces of water (roughly 100 ounces), excluding drinks like coffee or tea. Buy a decent water bottle, keep it full, and carry it with you throughout your day!
Fruits in Your Diet:
Fruits are a tough one, since we’ve grown up hearing that fruit is healthy and carries great nutritional value. While I won’t fight that aspect of it at all, there is a flip side in the amount of natural sugars contained in many of the fruits we enjoy. I have taken a few years off from eating fruit, and recently switched back to a moderate amount, but I am mindful of when I eat it. I try to eat fruits when my metabolism is working at a faster rate, or around when I work out, so I will tend to wait until late morning or mid-afternoon to eat the fruits I enjoy. I am very mindful of not eating fruit too late in the evening, close to bed time, as I don’t want to have too much sugar in my system before sleeping.
I cannot stress enough how profound of an impact nutrition has had on my life. Your diet will affect how you feel on a daily basis: how you age, your mood, how you sleep, your complexion…everything. Investing in a solid plan for your food and what you consume, is an investment in yourself and in your future. If you drink your water, eat your meats and veggies, get a good night’s sleep, and try to have as few unhealthy slip ups in your eating as possible, you will see change and start to feel better. I am not a doctor, nor a certified nutritionist, but these things I listed above have worked very well for me, as well as lots of others out there. The hardest part is just getting started!