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Diet Basics: A Template for Better Body Composition and Performance

By t. | In Articles, Nutrition | on March 4, 2013

Five years ago it was easy to explain the Paleo Diet, but somehow, in the last few years, the paleo diet, the simplest diet ever, has been complicated to almost no end.  It has frustrated me enough I have found myself almost avoiding discussing it.  The questions I get about diet and nutrition are less and less about how to get healthy, but more about how to cheat and what can we get away with.  I know how important healthy eating is to your success in the gym and in life, so I want to put the info out there in a simple, to the point way.

Robb Wolf is the best known Paleo guru.  His blog and podcasts are very informative.  Read his article “What is the Paleo Diet” for an in-depth explanation of the Paleo Diet.  While you are there, make his site a favorite so you can return to it and read as much of his work as you can.

[box_content][pullquote align="left" type="simple"]Paleo: The Simplest Diet Ever… Eat meat, nuts and seeds, dark green veggies, a few berries, no starch and no sugar. [/pullquote]In this article I am going to try to make it all very simple and line out a healthy diet template.  Consider it a foundational template anyone can begin.  It is a template I will guarantee to reduce your body fat and increase your performance in the gym.  There is a bonus…  you’ll experience a heightened level of cognition too.  That foggy brain will disappear and your focus will increase.  Much of that will be linked to the improved sleep you’ll enjoy.  How am I so sure?  EVERY SINGLE PERSON, without exception, I’ve ever known to have followed this way of eating lost fat and increased lean body comp.

These ladies eat Paleo and stay lean all year round.  They are also three of the most fit women in the world.

These ladies eat Paleo and stay lean and healthy all year round. They are also three of the most fit women in the world.  Coincidence?  Doubtful.

I have met a few people that said it didn’t work for them and it made them feel bad.  They lied.  They lied to themselves and didn’t really try it.  They were overweight and weak minded then and they are overweight and weak minded now.  It made them feel bad because they were experiencing the withdrawal symptoms of reduced insulin and serotonin.  Insulin and serotonin, their high sugar and carb, diet had been saturating their bodies and brains for years.  Those folks tend to aggravate me.  They have no control over their own actions and waste my time asking me questions about cheating their diets.  Anyone who tells me they “need carbs” is simply full of it.  There’s only one group of folks that need carbs…  they’re doing endurance events over 3 hours long.  Otherwise, you do not need starch (potato, sweet potato, rice, etc.) based carbohydrates.  This America Journal For Clinical Nutrition article by Dr. Eric Westman of Duke Medical University, “Is Dietary Carbohydrate Essential for Human Nutrition”, was published in 2002 and long before the Paleo / low carb argument went mainstream.  It explains why we do not need carbohydrates.

Let me be clear…  I don’t eat a Paleo Diet myself.  It is too broad.  I prefer to eat an Ancestral Paleo diet.  In other words, I eat the foods my ancestors would have had at their meals.  That means, as a person of northern European descent,  I eat meat, tubers, and vegetables.  I rarely eat berries and never bananas or citrus fruits.  They do not grow in the colder, northern climates of Europe so my ancestors would not have had them and therefore did not evolve to tolerate them as well as someone who’s ancestors are from a tropical climate.  Some would consider this a more restrictive form of the already restrictive Paleo Diet.  I say it is an optimized form of the healthiest way you can eat.  It’s a positive, not a negative.

So before we go any further, be honest with yourself…  if you consider eating healthy and improving yourself a restriction, you will always be unhealthy and overweight.  If you cannot take control of what you put in your mouth, you will not thrive.  Not in the gym and not at life.  If just getting by is all you want or you are Ok with being Ok, stop reading this now and have a caramel latte or an ice cream.  The serotonin will make you feel better about being overweight and help you accept your oncoming diabetes.   And as long as you feel good about the bad things you do, it will be ok by most of your peers too.

If you want to experience healthy results and better your body composition read on!

Do…

Eat Clean Foods From Organic Sources

CFW Instructor (formerly) Sara Clark went from 118lbs at 17% body fat to 135lbs at 13%.  Sara is one of CFW's best success stories and she didn't lose a single pound on the the Paleo Diet.  Read her story here.

Former CFW Instructor Sara Clark went from 118lbs at 17% body fat to 135lbs at 13%. Sara is one of CFW’s best success stories and she didn’t lose a single pound on the the Paleo Diet. Click the photo to read her story.

Stay away from processed foods.  If it didn’t come from the earth, don’t put it in your body.  Lean towards organic foods.  Organic foods have more nutrients and less chemicals.  Less chemicals is a good thing.  It confuses me when a person says there is no benefit from eating organic food.  So I ask that same person if he or she would like a sip of Round Up or Diazinon.  So far, no one has ever accepted.  I think it a decent assumption if it kills bugs and weeds, it must have at least a slight negative affect on our cells too.

Eat More Meat
Increasing your protein intake has many healthy benefits.  If you’re training hard, the amino acids in proteins repair the damage exercise causes causes to muscle tissue.  If improving body composition is your goal, protein fills up the tummy with almost no concern of fat gain.  The body is efficient and doesn’t like to work hard at anything.  Converting dietary proteins to body fat is just not something our bodies do not like to do.  A good way to determine how much protein you need is to multiply your body weight by .7.  That is approximately how much protein in grams you need each day to maintain healthy body mass.  Adjust the multiplier up to at least 1 for endurance training and 1.25-1.5 if you are strength training and/or doing a CrossFit style program intensely.  So if you are 140lbs, that means you need at least 98 grams of protein each day (140 x .7) to get by.  That is 4 large chicken breasts.  If you are training it is 120-200 grams you will need.  That is 5 – 8 chicken breasts.  So yeah, there’s no room for cake.

Eat More Grass Fed/Finished, Antibiotic Free Meats
Eating healthy isn’t just about the proper ratio of macro nutrients (protein, fats, and carbohydrates), those macro nutrients need to be clean and as natural as possible.  Meats raised on hormones, fed grains, and pumped full of drugs are nearly devoid of Omega 3 fatty acids.  These meats actually cause dietary imbalances and increase inflammation in our bodies.  Grass fed and finished meat are typically leaner and are far more healthy for us.

Eat More Veggies
You’ve been told this since you were a kid.  But have you ever actually tried it?  You can literally eat all the dark green veggies you can stand and you’d not gain any fat.  What you will gain is a gambit of nutrition.  The trace minerals and nutrients found in dark green veggies are present without many calories.  The majority of calories are from fiber.  Fiber is carbs but very low glycemic carbs (little insulin response), most of which cannot even be absorbed by the body, much less stored as body fat.  Again, all positives and no negatives.

Eat less Fruit
Fruits have a lot of sugar…  that’s why they’re sweet (Duh).  A banana has more sugar than a Snickers bar.  Eat only fruits with dark, thin skins.  They are highest in anti-oxidants and have less sugar.  They are called berries.  Still, do not eat them often.  Once a week may be too often for most of us.  Why is fruit so highly recommended by so many MDs and nutritionists?  Most American could benefit from eating less chips, sweets, pasta, bread, and other junk.  So replacing those things with fruit would be an improvement over their current diet.  But I’m not trying to give you a better diet than you have now…  I’m presenting you with the best diet.

Take Omega 3 fatty acids EPA/DHA.
Many would suggest Fish Oil be included in a list of supplements.  Since it is so important, I consider it a need in each of our diets.  I used to recommend we all take fish oil,  but I wanted to further complicate and confuse things for everyone and began recommending EPA/DHA.  I do it because I think it makes me sound more intelligent when I use less common, fancy words.  No.  I just don’t like the term fish oil.  It’s too broad, misleading and not at all what you actually want to ingest.  Fish oil is a culmination of the juices you could squeeze out of a croaker’s ass.  EPA and DHA are omega 3 fatty acids found in wild caught, cold water fish like salmon, cod, sardines, and anchovies.  Fish Oil is sold at Walmart, Walgreens, CVS, and other fine retailers that also sell school supplies, beach toys, holiday candy, and hemorrhoid creams.  EPA and DHA are found in high quality supplements produced by companies like Stronger Faster Healthier, Poliquin, Meta-genics, and Nordic Naturals.  They have the toxic, heavy metals (like Mercury) naturally found in cold water fishes removed from their oils by way of cold pressing, not solvents.  It makes them quite a bit more expensive products than the ones you can find on the shelves next to Preparation H, but VERY worth it.  Taking cheap fish oil is more unhealthy for you than not taking them at all.  Of course everyone wants to know how much EPA/DHA to take.  Start with 8-10 grams each day of combined EPA and DHA.  Note the serving size on the bottle is not enough.  Not one fish oil product’s suggested serving is enough fish oil to make any real difference.  Also, you should note the EPA/DHA is listed separately on the bottle.  To find out how much you should take of a specific product, you have to add them together, then divide the the total amount you need each day by that number.  That is how many servings of your fish oil you have to take daily.  Unclear?  Read this.

Eat meat and nuts (or avocado) for the first 6-8 hours of your day.
This one blows people away for some reason.  Yet it is the simplest way to increase your focus and reduce body fat.  By not eating insulin raising carbs all morning, you don’t get the foggy brain (carb coma) we all know too well.  The protein and fats in the meat, nuts, and avocado sets up our neurotransmitters for the entire day… in a positive way.  There’s little insulin produced during these morning hours so the body can still burn fat.  It’s kind of like fasting…  except you’re not hungry.  Read “What did you Have for Breakfast” for more info on this one.

Cook your own food.
If you prepare and cook all your own food, the chances are slim to none you will eat bread, candy, or any other non paleo foods.  Since baking has nearly gone away in favor of faster, more convenient ways to cook food, there are actually very few people who even know how to bake bread.  I don’t know anyone who makes their own pasta.  How about chips or crackers?  Not so much.  Bananas, apples, oranges?  No one cooks fruit unless it is a dessert.  Oh, just in case you are unsure…  chocolate is not a fruit.

If you do the very simple things I’ve listed above you are there.  It’s all you need to do.  Improved health, sleep, and performance will be yours.  If you cut out the foods that elicit insulin, you’ll lose body fat and reduce inflammation.  It’s the most simple “diet” ever.  These’s not a single doctor or nutritionist out there that can argue it is bad for you to stop eating processed foods and increase your veggies.  Other than wanting to eat junk food, you have no reason not to try it and nothing to lose but body fat if you do.

As much as I’d like to end this article here…  as much as I know it is all the info you really need to be successful, I am going to elaborate by adding in some healthy eating “don’ts”.   The reality is, they need to be explained or many of you will continue believing your oatmeal, whole wheat bagel, soy latte, paleo muffins, and bananas are actually good for you.

Don’ts…

Don’t consume grains…  especially wheat.
If you do only one thing for your health in your entire life, cut out grains.  Grains are undoubtedly responsible for many of the[pullquote align="right" type="simple"]“Perhaps it is time to carefully examine the issue of whether carbohydrate is an essential component of human nutrition.” – Dr. Eric Westman in 2002[/pullquote] increases in diabetes, migraines, heart disease, IBS, Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis, depression, and even autism.  There’s so much information out there about grains being detrimental to our health, yet our FDA, swayed by the very powerful agriculture lobbies, does nothing to restrict or regulate our consumption.  Nor do they do anything to educate on the disease links and deadly effects grains and the foods made from them have.  Not convinced?  Read the book “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis and this article.

Don’t eat soy.
Soy is a grain so I covered it in the previous paragraph, but with the marketing push it gets and inherit adverse risks to our health compounded by all the ladies I see in the mornings fresh out of the gym ordering it in their coffees, it deserves its own.  Soy was originally marketed to women as a replacement for milk, dairy, and meat protein.  The idea that fueled the marketing was that Asians ate soy and live long, healthy lives.  The problem is, Asian cultures eat fermented soy, not the processed soy presented for sale in the US.  Tofu?  It is concentrated soy product meant to replace protein.  It is not only toxic, Soy protein inhibit the bodies ability to absorb all proteins.  Read “Soy, The Protein Killer”.  In the least it is counter productive to.  It is far worse than dairy.  Soy contains compounds that mimic estrogen.  It lowers testosterone and is toxic to the pituitary and thyroid glands.  Soy adversely affects fertility in women and is linked to depression.  In many studies, animals, especially carnivores and omnivores, fed soy could not reproduce.  They also experienced elevated liver functions.  In a country of such means, why is the US the first great civilization to experience such high levels of infertility?

Don’t Eat Sugar.
Diabetes, obesity, inflammation…  frankly, if you do not know why you should eliminate sugar from your diet, you have big problems and this article isn’t going to answer all your problems.

Don’t drink alcohol.
I can’t see anyone needing much more of an explanation than I gave for sugar.

Don’t cheat yourself.
As the Paleo Diet has become more and more popular, so has its manipulations and bastardizations.  Now there is an entire industry built around the diet.  The info available on the Paleo diet was very simple.  If you are new to it and do a Google search you’ll find more info on how to cheat the diet than to follow it.  If you Google search Paleo treat or Paleo cheat you’ll get millions of listing for high carb, sugar filled deserts.  So we now have Paleo muffins and Paleo Ice Cream.  Sugar is sugar and unhealthy foods are unhealthy whether you make them from “paleo ingredients” or no.

Don’t eat Gluten Free.
But now we also have Gluten Free foods.  In most cases these foods are marketing gimmicks.  Food manufacturers replace Gluten with products with higher glycemic indexes and in some cases are just as bad for us.  It’s simply an appeal to our senses of wanting to eat healthy, but still eat whatever we want.  It’s marketing.  Dog shit poop in a pretty bag is still dog poop.

Foods that have gluten in them are typically junk foods… breads, pasta, cakes, cookies, and other “baked goods”.  They are no better for us when we replace the gluten with other chemicals.  Chemicals we no idea what effects may have on our health.  So don’t eat Gluten Free…  eat Paleo and gluten becomes a non-issue.

Don’t eat from plastic.
Plastic containers contaminate our foods with BPAs and other estrogen-like compounds.  Now, we all know estrogen is the Estrogen dominance fat storage.hormone that makes your wife insane, your sister irrational, and your mother emotional once a month (ladies, please note that I did not say it does anything to you, only other women you know, ha.).  It is also the hormone responsible for a toxicity and causes the body to store fat below the waste on women and around the breasts on men.  So unless pear shaped and man-boobs are hot to you, eliminating chemicals from your foods should be a priority.[/box_content]

I know it may come as a complete surprise, but being healthy means living healthy.  There are no cheats.  There are no compromises except the ones that compromise your health.  Man has yet to create a better food than nature has already provided.  Worse, in every case, we have created foods that are bad for us.  In the US we too often equate being lean with being healthy.  Obviously there is much more to it than that.  However, if you simply eat a clean, Paleo diet you will be healthier, and as bonus, leaner than you are now.

17 Comments to "Diet Basics: A Template for Better Body Composition and Performance"

  • Joe W. says:

    March 5, 2013 at 8:12 am -

    Great read T. This stuff works when I came to Crossfit I was 275 and thought I was fine because I was strong, now I am 215 and stronger. Don’t be a baby force yourself to make it a habit for a month and you won’t even think about French Toast.

    Plus where did you find a picture of Josh in a bikini bottom. Nice.

  • t. says:

    March 5, 2013 at 3:48 pm -

    Joe,
    All apologies for not using a pic of you. But you just fall somewhere between the pic of Josh’s bottom and your wife’s abs. Sorry buddy.

    Seriously, for all you skeptics just try to eat this way. If only for a month like Joe said… you will not be sorry. I see so many folks work so hard in the gym, but are unable to get results because they ate so badly. Give it a run and you’ll finally know what it feels like to be healthy and lean.

  • Brock Wilson says:

    March 6, 2013 at 11:18 am -

    The information is great, but the straight talk humor is what keeps me coming back!

    favorite line– “next to Preparation H”

  • Kristen Bechtel says:

    March 6, 2013 at 1:10 pm -

    This is probably the single best article I’ve read on the subject of paleo and eating clean, etc. It’s short, to the point and very informative. Not to mention it’s sarcastic and smart assed which is right up my alley.

    Amanda Welliver recommended I read this as my doc just suggested that due to auto immune issues I eat paleo. Thanks for giving me a jump start!

    Kristen

    1. taylor says:

      March 6, 2013 at 1:51 pm -

      Kristen, Not sure what auto immune issue you are dealing with, but you should check out my sister’s site Nutrisclerosis.com. All about total wellness for autoimmune issues.

    2. taylor says:

      March 6, 2013 at 1:53 pm -

      Kristen, you should also check out my sister’s web site Nutrisclerosis.com, its all about health and total wellness dealing with auto immune issies. Lots of great resources and info!

  • taylor says:

    March 6, 2013 at 1:47 pm -

    Great article Tony. Call me crazy, but I don’t think its hard to eat this way; or expensive. Those are two reasons, Im sure, people give for not doing it. After a few years of eating this way, it’s just second nature. Not hard AT ALL. Expensive? Thats relative. I, personally, don’t pride myself on eating the cheapest food I can find. I mean, hey, I love a good bargain….but thats for shoes, not food (confession#1: I do stalk the ‘almost rotten’ produce cart at the grocery). If you look at the pie chart of how my husband and I spend our income, I guarantee you the largest section goes to groceries (minus mortagage!). We spend this money happily, cause bet your ass its not spent on health bills caused by a shitty diet. I am 26 weeks pregnant. I have no problem sticking to a primal diet through all the changes my body is going through. Confession #2: My already exhisting sweet tooth has upped my fruit intake from less of an athlete, to more of a three toed sloth, but hey- no snickers bars here! I attribute this diet and keeping active to absolutely no morning sickness, no fatique at all, and not one ache or pain with this pregnancy, no loss of sleep, and only a 15 lb weight gain (so far). I commend Tony for writing these articles to help people with their diet (Im sure it has everything to do with the fact he owns the gym) because for me personally, I feel like I have eaten this way for so long, I feel so good, I have no issies–I could honestly care less what other people are eating. Just don’t make me eat it! It gets frustrating to hear peoples excuses. Even more frustrating to not hear excuses and then just hear complaints about how crappy they feel. So, good job Tony for repeatedly hammering it into peoples heads what to eat and caring about their health.

  • Tex says:

    March 6, 2013 at 5:24 pm -

    This type of limitation is all well and good for the sedentary person or the basic CF athlete conducting a metcon or basic strength component–one or the other, not both– only 5 days a week. For the athlete who is performing metcon, strength, and endurance all in one day, 6 days a week–the industrial athlete–the other carbs, berries and starchy fruits, come back into play just to survive the training. Not to mention, the added component of raw dairy just to get more protein to rebuild because of limitations of Paleo. Paleolithic man gathered and hunted, physical exertions to be sure, but he was never required to deadlift 225# 50x and run 5 miles all in the same day. He roamed varying topographies, usually moving no faster than a trot, occassionally fought, cleaned a kill, had help to move the kill, mended equipment and rested, until he died around 35… if he was lucky. He was not systematically punishing his body for 12+ hours a week through all types of energy pathways in order to be supremely fit for a combat deployment or his average job. Paleo man was essentially a long distance walker, who sporadically engaged in short bursts of rigorous activity. Of course only a venison flank and a beet would sustain him.

  • Tony M. says:

    March 6, 2013 at 6:28 pm -

    This post deleted… we only delete the most ridiculous comments.

  • t. says:

    March 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm -

    Tex… Note the article is titled “Diet Basics” and is about eating healthy to be healthy. It is presented to our “basic Crossfitter” member who is It is not about training for the CF Games or being an “industrial athlete”. Obviously the two differ greatly. As it is pretty obvious the intensity and volume our ancestors did differs greatly from what the new line of monsters are doing. Having that said, it is the only thing I agree with in your post. You are completely wrong about a strict Paleo not supporting that type of athlete. I know that to be the case because I do it and have done it for years.

    Doing all the work you described is very unhealthy. It leads to chronic adrenal fatigue, overtraining, acute and repetitive use injuires. There are few that can maintain that work load for extended periods of time. I know this also because I’ve personally experienced it, but also seen it in my top athletes. How many of the top CF athletes from the 1st Games are still even competing, much less placing well. But again, that wasn’t what the article is about.

    The more unhealthy your training is, the more you stand to gain from the most healthy diet. That’s sensible. So you don’t add more calories from junkier food (I consider most fruits and starches junk food) you just increase the amount of the healthy foods you would eat if you were just a “basic” Crossfitter.

    Also note beets and turnips have almost the same amount of carbohydrates per weight as a potato or sweet potato and about double that of a raspberry or blueberry. This is were many make the mistake you have. They simply do not know the nutritional content of many foods and how they compare.

    A few months ago, I was doing my typical strength, metcon, and endurance training (I only train 5 or sometimes only 4 days a week… I learned rest is important the hard way) and decided to do a half ironman tri. I didn’t add any junk food. I did fairly well for only training for 3 weeks for it (6h6m). I ate the same strict diet I outlined above. The next day I had no weight loss, I slept well, my resting heart rate was not elevated at all, and I was training again a day later. No issues.

    Furthermore, the nutrients missing from an athlete you describe’s diet quite possible cannot be gained from any diet. The food sources available today do not have dense enough nutrient content. They have to be gained from supplements. BCAAs (leucine being most important), magnesium, V-D3, Zinc, and anti-oxidants, to name a few, need to be onboard. This is an article, or ten, in and of itself.

    And while I wouldn’t fuss too much about my top athletes eating berries or even sweet potatoes (I’d guess they do on occasion) as long as they are lean (11% or less), I don’t see why you’d suggest diary as a good source of extra protein. Whey is ok for most folks. But so many people have intolerances to lactose, I would suggest getting tested before using large amounts of raw diary to supplement protein requirements. It is better to simply eat meat. Unless you’re requirements are well above 250 grams a day, there no reason not to get your protein from whole food sources.

    Finally, I don’t think it a good deal to group sedentary folks and “basic” CF’ers together. Honestly, that’s just irresponsible… I don’t care if you’re training 5 times a day 10 days a week.

  • Brock Wilson says:

    March 7, 2013 at 3:39 pm -

    Tony, I linked to this article on our WOD Blog. Please tell me if that’s any sort of problem.

  • Kristen Bechtel says:

    March 7, 2013 at 4:54 pm -

    Taylor, Amanda gave me that link too! I have two little girls and only gained 24 lbs all together with each pregnancy by watching what I ate and keeping active! Good for you girl! and Tony your responses are impressive and educated.

  • Katherine says:

    March 7, 2013 at 8:40 pm -

    What is your opinion on eggs?

  • Whitney says:

    March 7, 2013 at 8:54 pm -

    Eggs are a no for people with autoimmune issues. Eventually eggs from chickens that eat a completely natural diet (bugs, reptiles, meat, vegetation) can be reintroduced yolks first. Sometimes whites are never tolerated.

    1. Whitney says:

      March 7, 2013 at 9:00 pm -

      The reason is because the whites are a placenta trapping toxins from reaching the baby (the yolk). Egg whites from commercial eggs trap a lot from antibiotics to feces borne pathogens from rat turds deposited in the giant stores of commercial chicken feed.

  • t. says:

    March 7, 2013 at 9:09 pm -

    As long as you don’t have a sensitivity to them, eggs are nearly perfect. The high dietary cholesterol thing leading to disease has been debunked for a long time. So no worries there.

    However, eggs are the number food for sensitivities. You can get tested to see if you’ve a sensitivity. Or you can run a self test… eat them first thing after fasting all night and nothing else. If you feel bad or have a lowered cognition, I’d go without the eggs for a while and see how you feel. In some cases the cause may actually not be the egg, but the grain / soy meal the chickens that lay them are fed. But that isn’t an egg sensitivity, it’s a soy issue. Chickens are carnivors, not vegetarians by nature. They eat insects, mice, snakes and other chickens if let to their own range. Like cattle and all our farm raised food sources (and ourselves), we ruin them by feeding them cheap soy, corn, and wheat products.

  • t. says:

    March 7, 2013 at 9:29 pm -

    I was about to add the part about the whites being the worst part… the “net” that protects the yolk, but I see Whitney and I were posting at the same time.

    Whitney’s blog has a ton a great info: http://www.nutrisclerosis.com Check it out!

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