If you’re a functional fitness beginner asking a serious athlete for advice on how to get stronger, improve performance, and live a healthier lifestyle—it’s only a matter of time (probably about 5 seconds) before they bring up nutrition.
Because any fitness training without proper nutrition to support health, recovery and performance, won’t be nearly as effective as it could be.
So yes, nutrition is imperative—but there’s one problem:
It’s hard to suppress those cravings and stay disciplined when it comes to measuring what will go in your body.
The solution is simple:
Find a diet that helps you stay disciplined and healthy while bolstering your athletic performance.
Thankfully, CrossFit endorses two diets that are designed to do just that, The Paleo Diet and The Zone Diet. Today, we’re going learn all about both diets, and discuss how you can implement them to live a healthy lifestyle.
Let’s get started!
While there is no “Functional Fitness Diet,” The Paleo Diet and The Zone Diet are the most used by athletes and the most endorsed by gyms and the organization. The diets are very similar when it comes to their objective:
They both strive to promote a healthy lifestyle and help athletes become more aware about what they put into their bodies.
But the two diets are very different in the ways they go about that goal.
The Paleo Diet focuses on the quality of food whereas The Zone Diet focuses on quantity and proportion of foods.
Let’s explore both diets, along with their benefits.
The Paleo (or Paleolithic) Diet originated out of a variety of 20th century studies that analyzed modern, grain heavy diets, and their effects on the overall health of individuals.
Dr. Loren Cordrain, an expert on the evolutionary basis of disease, popularized and marketed the diet in his 2002 book, The Paleo Diet.
The diet focuses mainly on promoting the consumption of quality non-processed foods that are found in nature, similar to how our paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors would have done.
Paleo diets are heavy in meats and vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits, and they prohibit processed grains, most starches and sugars.
The objective of the diet is to support energy for exercise and recovery while decreasing the opportunity for body fat to be formed and stored in the body.
In addition, eliminating certain food groups that would not have been available to our ancestors, such as dairy, grains, legumes and sugar, The Paleo Diet aims to decrease allergic and autoimmune reactions.
Here’s a great Paleo Diet cheat sheet from The Paleo Recipe Review:
Ultimately, The Paleo Diet isn’t so much about measuring quantity as it is about choosing quality ingredients from specific food groups, while avoiding others. Clean eating is paramount.
Rather than focusing solely on ingredients, The Zone Diet, which has risen in popularity in recent years, focuses on macronutrient groups and their proportions.
The Zone Diet plan starts by identifying three key macronutrients—protein, carbohydrates, and fat—that are necessary to form a healthy diet.
It then combines specific proportions of these three macronutrients into “blocks.”
One block is composed of:
Based on a person’s gender, weight, height and fitness goals, the diet recommends consumption of a specific number of these evenly distributed blocks per day.
The average female should consume about 11 blocks per day, while the average male should consume about 14. Obviously, a meal can be composed of multiple blocks. It would be a bit tough to eat 14 equally proportioned and properly measured meals per day.
Here’s a great visual representation of the zone diet plan from zonediet.com:
By dividing nutrition up into optimal quantities of macronutrient-proportional blocks, The Zone Diet is less strict than The Paleo diet when it comes to ingredients and food quality, but stricter when it comes to measuring out quantities and proportions of the food being eaten.
While The Zone Diet still stresses the importance of eating healthy, clean foods, these food options aren’t limited to the ones our Paleolithic ancestors would have found in the wild. In fact, as long as dieters adhere to the block size, proportion and number that fits their body and their goals, they can eat whatever they want!
In this sense, The Zone Diet is better for individuals who struggle to completely curb their cravings for grains, dairy and sweets. In moderation, those food groups are allowed.
But dieters who are wary of measuring and meal-planning—and think they may lack the discipline to do it consistently—may struggle with The Zone Diet, as it relies heavily on weighing and planning.
There’s no reason you can’t infuse the hunter-gatherer clean eating ethos into a diet based on food blocks and proportionate consumption of macronutrients.
In fact, the health benefits of both diets could compound to give you even more energy while getting rid of minor allergies and intolerances.
However, keep in mind that it may feel like a lot of work to strictly adhere to both diets.
If you’re a functional fitness beginner, or just someone who wants more energy and a healthier lifestyle, it doesn’t hurt to choose one of the two diets and stick to it.
If you’re a more advanced athlete and you’re attuned to what your body needs in order to recover and maintain the energy for competitive fitness, you can take a stab at a combination of the two diets.
At the end of the day, whether you choose to adopt a diet that’s popular in the world of functional fitness, or a different diet, it’s important to remember that fitness and nutrition are not isolated disciplines.
They are one. By taking care of your body with exercise and nutrition, you are increasing your energy and performance along with your health and overall quality of life.
As developers of gym management software, we do most of our work on the fitness side.
We build software that creates better gyms so that those gyms can create better athletes. We empower athletes to consistently challenge themselves and improve.
Even so, we know that health and fitness improvement can be stalled without proper nutrition.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned veteran, make sure you’re focusing as much energy on taking care of your body as you are on improving it’s athletic performance—because at the end of the day, those two things are one and the same.