OK, so yesterday we talked about the trifecta of exercise, nutrition, and sleep. Today, I’d like to give you a brief overview of 3 popular eating plans. (I dislike the word “diet” – we aren’t concentrating on calorie counting and restriction, but more about the break down of the types of food we consume.)
When I started CrossFit many years ago, Paleo was the big one that everyone was doing and what a lot of gyms were talking about and promoting.
Paleo eating is based on eating only the foods that our Paleolithic ancestors had access to and therefore ate. If you eat the foods your body is meant to digest and utilize for energy, you can eat as much as you want. The thought is that you aren’t going to overeat or get too many calories by eating too much broccoli.
Of course there is some debate as far as exactly what constitutes “Paleo”. In general, if it swam in the water, walked on the land, or grew from a plant (and you can eat it without processing it in any way) – eat it. This means you are cutting out processed foods – no dairy, no processed sugars, no legumes, no grains, no starches, and no alcohol.
Paleo has been around for awhile now and a quick search will find you Paleo recipes for anything you might be craving – pizza, brownies, and even bread. The essence of eating Paleo though, is that you are eating whole foods as close to their source as you can. Think about eating ingredients. Real food doesn’t have ingredients – real food IS the ingredient.
CrossFit very much supports Zone eating. It’s the only nutrition information talked about (and talked about in depth) at their certificate courses.
The basics of Zone is eating a balance of macronutrients – carbohydrates, protein, and fat. This eating plan allows you to eat whatever you want, as long as it fits into your macros. Want to eat bread? That’s cool – you can choose half of a slice of bread for your carbs at that meal. OR you can have 2 cups of broccoli. Which one do you think is going to keep you more full? Again, the idea is to eat whole foods, in the right portions, and overall in the right proportions.
In working with clients at the gym, I have never had someone tell me that they were hungry while eating Zone – as long as they are getting all of their macronutrients from good choices! It takes a large volume of fruits and vegetables to get your needed intake of carbs. But the good news is that you are also getting all the needed vitamins and minerals along the way AND feeling full!
Keto is a newer eating plan (and the only one I have not personally done.) The idea behind Keto is that you are eating very little carbohydrates and a lot of fat and protein. The lack of carbohydrates as an energy resource forces your body into ketosis (hence the name.) Once your body is in ketosis, it has to burn fat for energy instead of carbs. And burning fat might be your goal!
You will eat some fruits and veggies, as long as they are lower in carbohydrates. You will eat a lot of fat and protein. It’s a bit easier to technically follow a keto diet but not necessarily get the best food sources. As long as the food you are eating is low enough in carbs, you can eat it.
I recently had an athlete come if for a nutrition consult. He was drinking 2 liters of Pepsi Zero a day. Since there is no sugar (meaning no carbs) it technically kept him in a state of ketosis. I am sure we can agree, however, that drinking that much soda each day is not in our best health interest.
Keto may be a good plan for you short term to jump start a significant weight loss journey. I have heard that some athletes that need to cut weight before a big competition will also choose keto.
Which one is best?
I can’t answer that…it’s a matter of which one is best for you. And even then, it really comes down to which one are you most likely to follow as a lifestyle and not just a fad. The one you will stick with (and therefore see results from) is the one that is best for you.
Long term, Keto is the hardest to follow. Whereas Paleo and Zone can be long term lifestyle changes, Keto doesn’t necessarily promote the best eating options. (Keto is also a newer eating plan and there is still a lot of conflicting research on the long term safety of keeping your body in a state of ketosis.)
Zone involves a lot of weighing and measuring food and meal prep is integral to success with Zone. Paleo may be the easiest to start, as long as you have your list of foods to eat and what to avoid.
Really, it all depends on your goals and how much work you are willing to put into your food choices to reach those goals. There is an overwhelming amount of information available.
You might want to start by simply logging and tracking what you are currently eating. Then, find a Nutrition Coach and they can help guide you. They can look and see what you are doing really well, and some areas you can gradually make small improvements. Again, all of these changes will be based on your personal goals and what you are willing to do to reach them!