People are like cars; all kinds of makes and models. The old, rusty, neglected rides need a little work before putting the pedal to the metal. The show cars sparkle from their squeaky clean tailpipe to their untouched bumper, but lack exposure to functional use. Race cars are built for speed, semis are made to haul, and convertibles give us a good time. There are all sorts of colors and sizes and manners in which they are cared for by their owners. I think of CrossFitters as all-terrain vehicles. Maybe not the fastest, but we can cruise. Maybe not the strongest, but we can tow. And maybe not the flashiest, but our top can drop with the best of ’em. It only makes sense that a variety of vehicles require a variety of fuel options to achieve peak performance, and athletes are no different. A family sedan may not handle diesel well, and an electric car would starve at a gas station. And so we explore why for most, a Paleo nutrition plan is the best fuel for the sport of fitness.
The Paleo nutrition plan, also referred to as the “Caveman Diet,” is a combination of fresh fruits and vegetables, grass-fed hormone-free meats, along with fish, eggs and nuts. It’s hard to imagine, but before the agricultural period of our species, a Paleo diet was the only option. But once grains and processed foods were introduced, we became creatures not of nature but of convenience. Packaged products became the foundation of our diets, and we gradually lost our handle on health. Studies by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention show that in just the past 25 years obesity in youth in this country has quadrupled. And other diseases correlated with obesity, including heart disease and diabetes, are seeing a drastic increases as well. I am 30, and I grew up with tons of canned produce, noodles and breads and treats like chips and fruit snacks (sugar, sugar and more sugar). My parents grew up with significantly more fresh produce, farm-fresh meats and whole foods. And their parents, products of a farm environment, grew up with gardens and minimal pesticides and hormones. So logic would dictate that our dietary habits and lack of nutritional knowledge are contributing to our nationwide obesity epidemic. This is not new information, but preventative education is minimal, so making a cultural change is difficult.
The bulk of our society has some work to do on their diet. And CrossFit gyms across the world have taken it upon themselves to educate their members to make necessary changes. Participating in demanding workouts almost daily and making progress in one’s physical fitness requires energy, endurance, lean-muscle-mass development and appropriate nutrient, fat and caloric intake. Many CrossFitters have seen the best results and greatest gains from adhering to a primarily Paleo diet.
Dr. Brooks Newton, sports-medicine DC, CrossFitter and Paleo-eater, explains, “The Paleo plan introduces a low-glycemic load (foods that don’t rapidly increase blood sugar) and high-micro- and -macro-dense foods (nutrient-dense foods like proteins and fresh produce) by elimination of processed foods. This stabilizes blood sugar levels, contributes to fat loss and increases energy levels.”
Audra Wolfe, co-owner and trainer at CrossFit 8035 and a sports-nutrition consultant adds, “It’s not necessarily about the Paleo diet. It’s simply eating real food. It makes you feel good and function better. It’s not that complicated.”
Personally, I had a difficult time embracing this whole-food theory. Genetically I was blessed with a thin frame, so watching my diet was not something I ever felt compelled to do until I realized that my daily calorie deficit and excessive sugar intake were seriously hindering my abilities in the gym. This observation was based on the fact that my strength gains were piss-poor and I felt like barfing after just about every workout…so it seemed my body was rejecting my morning meals of coffee and Splenda, my lunch of cheese and crackers, and my evening indulgence of peanut butter toast and lemon bars. Who knew?! I knew I needed to take steps to set an example to my members and athletes. I knew the answers to all the questions, but I’d never applied them to my own eating habits. I was an all-terrain vehicle with a sugar-flooded engine. A change was in order.
I turned to Audra Wolfe to hold myself accountable. I was not a cooperative student and dug my heels in as she revoked my rights to favorites like muffins and pizza. For two weeks, I whined about my meals of meat and veggies and let her know with regular text messages and emails. Candy-corn withdrawal left me with a throbbing head and some serious fatigue. Until day 15. I woke up from an amazing night of sleep with a skip in my step. A twinkle in my eye. And a tasty fried egg on my plate and some coffee with almond milk…with no complaints. For the past seven weeks I have committed myself to the Paleo nutrition plan without many exceptions. I feel better and look better than I ever have. I achieved personal records in my deadlift, front squat, overhead squat and clean at week six. I got my first band-free ring dips without a problem and strung together bunches of butterfly pull-ups.
My all-terrain body is thanking me for fueling it with exactly what it needs: healthy whole foods. On paper, I knew for years that Paleo made sense, but actively living it has been an eye-opening experience. My prior eating habits often left me feeling a little like a rundown pickup. My mileage was high, my maintenance was low, and it just a matter of time before I went up in smoke. But these days, I feel like a well-oiled machine prepared for anything that comes my way. I take care of myself with the right fuel and care, and it’s making a world of difference in my CrossFit performance. Not to mention my husband appreciates my “body work.” So scrape off that rust, tighten those lug nuts and refuel with the good stuff.
— Abi Reiland Co-Owner, Trainer at CrossFit 8035