Let me start out with what this post is *not* about. It’s not about weight loss or diets, even though I’m planning on seeing some weight loss as a side effect of CrossFit, just as you would with any fitness program that will help you build muscle.
Instead, this is about what my husband/coach keeps telling me to focus on: “Feeding the machine.” It seems to be a healthier focus for me; not looking at what I can’t have, but focusing on what the body needs in order to function well. This focus works in tandem with focusing on fitness, rather than weight loss. I know you “can’t outrun the fork,” but I dislike that phrase as I have usually heard it as an excuse to blow off the exercise component of weight loss.
I’d begun looking at the issue of nutrition more in connection with my various illnesses. What they all have in common is serotonin, or the lack thereof. Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that affects sleep, moods, anxiety, food intake, sexual behavior, heart and blood function, gut function and the immune system. If your serotonin production is out of whack, you’ll have health problems.
One of the major factors can be your body’s ability to process folate. Not only is folic acid deficiency a fairly widespread nutrional problem, there’s a fairly common genetic defect that will keep you from being able to get enough folate, one of the B vitamins, which is a building block for serotonin. From what my docs have told me, the over-the counter (OTC) stuff won’t do you much good (whether because of the low dose or the problems with regulating the quality of OTC vitamins, I don’t know) and can even be harmful. But there are prescription versions which are formulated so that your body can use it directly when you lack the gene to break down enough into usable form.
The one I use is Deplin, and some of my illnesses got better as soon as I was put on it a few years back. The test for the genetic defect is pricey; Deplin is generally not going to hurt you in the short term and you’ll know pretty quickly if it’s working or not. When I told my mom about it, she asked her doctor, who hadn’t heard about the new research about folate, and decided there was no harm in trying it. Mom could tell immediately that her overall mood stabilized.
Then I figured out my food sensitivities, and got much more careful about what I ate to avoid GI symptoms. Now my fabulous pain doctor, Robert Nett, has me taking riboflavin, vitamin D and magnesium, other pieces of my nutrition puzzle.
Your nutrition puzzle is probably different. I encourage you to look into what vitamins you may need, though.
But supplements aren’t the answer to everything. I remember reading years ago, but can’t recall which of the countless diet books I read it in, that the most powerful drugs you put in your body are the foods you choose to eat. Of course, it’s hard to decide what’s the best food when the scientists keep arguing over whether eggs and salt are really that bad, and whether antioxidants are really that good. All they seem to agree on is that the current USDA food pyramid sucks.
So here are my observations: If drugs don’t work the same on everyone (for example, Zyrtec works for me, Claritin doesn’t do a thing, but it’s the reverse for my daughter), why should we think foods will be any different. You can eat corn, perhaps, but I can’t without regretting it later. That probably applies to overall dietary strategy as well as to the specifics, so I’m not going to get into an argument over which of the specific diet plans is best — what works for one person may not work for another. And, to paraphrase what Chris Kesser at “The Healthy Skeptic” says, don’t be a food fascist (more about the Paleo Diet later).
That being said, there are some things we do know:
- Complex carbohydrates from fresh fruits and vegetables have more micronutrients and are less likely to make your system get out of whack.
- To build muscles, the body needs a supply of protein.
- Processed and fast food are generally bad for you (although there are, as in most things, exceptions).
If you apply those simple rules to what you eat, your body will have more of what it needs when you work out. You can’t get fit without managing the quality of your food. A great take on this is the post called “Hold my beer while I PR this clean and jerk” in “Blood on the Bar.” In it, Dr. Joseph Doughty puts it pretty simply: “Eat more good than bad and you get the results.”
CrossFit recommends that you “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.” CrossFitters tend to advocate one of two diets: Barry Sear’s “The Zone Diet” and Loren Cordain’s “The Paleo Diet.” I’ll address them soon; what I want to leave you with is this: What are you eating? Do you know? If not, try logging it, either by hand or using an electronic tool like MyPlate. You’ll get a better idea of exactly what you’re eating, and then you can think about whether you need to make some changes.