The Benefits of Flexible Dieting
In the CrossFit environment, where intensity and frequency of exercise is so profound, proper nutrition can make or break an athlete. People are slowly discovering a better definition of health and nutrition. As a result, public opinion on fad and alternative dieting methods reflect these changes.
A good example of this progression is CrossFit’s definition of proper nutrition:
“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.” —Greg Glassman
Anyone new to CrossFit will probably give this recommendation a shot; more so from a health standpoint rather than to drive performance, strength, and athleticism. I tried following this advice, but the restrictive nature of this nutritional method proved too difficult for me and, after two months, I stopped caring for it.
Because grains, dairy, and nearly all starches are outlawed by CrossFit’s dietary dogma, we are forced to consume carbohydrates via a ‘little starch’ and vegetables. I’m not too sure how many of you have looked into the carbohydrate content of broccoli or asparagus, but for every 100g of each, there are 7g and 4g of carbs, respectively. I encourage you to measure out 100g of each vegetable and then assess how this paltry 7g and 4g correspond to your daily carbohydrate requirements. You would literally have to eat 500g broccoli for 35g of carbs alone, and 1kg of asparagus to get 40g of carbs. Not a fun diet to be delving into if you need fuel for strength and performance.
CrossFit’s Paleo Inflexibility
One of the leading researchers of the paleo diet, Rob Wolf, was initially involved in the original nutrition tours that CrossFit hosted. His research matched Greg Glassman’s ideas in nutrition and quickly became a go-to diet for anyone looking to accelerate their performance in CrossFit. Both believed that processed foods had no place in society and pressed athletes to adopt a whole-food based approach in order to reduce illness, disease, and other negative effects from modern day food and agriculture.
To a point, they’re right. Diabetes, hyperglycemia, hypertension, and other diseases are often a result of too much of the wrong food. However, when optimal performance and strength are desired, a diet such as paleo becomes much more irrelevant and other avenues for appropriate fueling must be explored.
I’m not really slamming paleo. I can certainly see the benefits of somebody using this diet, and I’m not here to debunk anything. I believe that this type of diet goes hand-in-hand with differing ethical viewpoints, such as vegetarianism and veganism, for example. I completely agree with Wolf’s statement that paleo and vegan diets are really rooted in the same viewpoints, yet are merely an oppositional stance on nutrition at each end of the spectrum—neither should be seen as the “be-all and end-all.”
The Benefits of Flexibility
Due to their desire for optimal performance, many athletes have swiftly moved from the paleo regimen to a more flexible approach. This type of diet is something I prescribe in the form of our flexible dieting program. We set amounts of daily carbs, protein, and fats. More and more people are becoming aware of the inefficiencies of low-carbohydrate diets, and it’s becoming more accepted (and proven) that carbohydrates are indeed necessary for growth, recovery, and performance.
Clearly, everyone is different, and we have all developed our own tolerances to different foods and viewpoints, so why blindly accept that a trendy diet is the best method for you? I’m not preaching to the masses about flexible dieting, but I do want to highlight the fact that there is more than one diet for your goals. It’s a question of what your goals are, and what eating habits you want to live by.
Embrace Your Carbs
Our bodies are a product of science, and I’m a scientist by education, past profession, and self-interest. If you’ve read my past articles, you may have seen my pieces on the energy systems of the human body. It has been proven that the body reacts and uses carbohydrates, fats, and protein for fueling every process.
If you have any interest in your sporting potential or the ability to squeeze every ounce of fuel and progress from your discipline, then adequate fueling is a necessity. I challenge you to eat 1kg of asparagus and look at me with a happy, smiling face. From a strength and performance perspective, there are only so many carbohydrates you can get from your diet without tapping into easier options like oats, grains, starches, and dairy choices.
There are numerous ways to live life with healthy nutrition, but you need to decide what you want to get from your nutrition. Keep in mind that carbohydrates are always king for progress, and eating all the asparagus you can get your hands on won’t cut it.