My Experience on the Zone Diet
I have always been on a quest to find the right nutrition plan that would be the healthy, well balanced and optimize my performance as an athlete. It also had to be maintainable in this crazy place called life. I feel as though I have tried it all in terms of different diets and philosophies when it comes to my nutrition and finally came to the conclusion that the Zone Diet fits me best as an individual and as an athlete.
Let me start out by sharing my experiences with other diets and how I eventually came to find and settle on Zone, it was quite a process and I learned a lot along the way about myself and nutrition.
As I mentioned before, I have always been a health nut and conscious of what I ate; I always tried to make healthy decisions or, at the time, what I thought was healthy. A little background on myself, for those who don’t know me: when I decide to do something, it’s all or nothing, so I have followed these diet plans that I’m about to discuss to the letter..lol.
The Bodybuilding Phase
I would have to say, I really became serious in 2007, when I began to follow more of a bodybuilding type diet, which consisted of measuring and weighing food, managing portion sizes, cycling calories and eating six small meals throughout the day. I was also abiding by the whole bodybuilding type workouts as well (of course this was before I discovered my beloved sport of CrossFit). After probably 6-7 months of this diet, I became overwhelmed with the amount of food I was having to eat, the restrictions and the constant food preparation, food almost became a full-time job, it was exhausting!! Not to mention having to eat every 2-3 hours, (holy moly was that a chore) didn’t allow for much flexibility either. I had to bring food with me everywhere, gas station microwaves became my best friends…lol Yes, I obtained results from this diet, such as: loss in body fat and gained some lean muscle, but nothing that could really be maintained for an extended period of time, unless you made it your job.
The Undetermined Phase
From there, I slowly progressed into a whole foods type diet, trying to remain healthy by eating fruits, veggies, lean cuts of meat and poultry. At this point there was no measuring or weighing, no carb. or calorie cycling, no six meals a day, I just tried to eat in moderation. But I found myself still unhappy with my nutrition, often feeling tired, athletic performance suffered and had no energy. I’m definitely a person that needs a plan with a purpose. Their was this constant frustration I had in terms of find a good nutrition plan for me. I mean I read so many articles and books about different diets and guidelines, there is just way too much information out there for people to sort through. I can definitely see why so many are confused about what to eat and what not to eat!!!!
The Raw Vegan Phase of Straight Craziness!!!
I’ll never forget how I happened upon the diet of Raw Vegan. My husband and I were in traveling back from California in an airplane. During that long fight I had read an article in a, wait for it…..that’s right, a health magazine! I have to laugh about the amount of health magazines I’ve read, lord knows they all have something different to say!! Anyway, this particular article was on the topic of gluten and how athletes tend to perform better without grains in their diet.
This concept lingered with me and I decided to look into possibly trying a gluten free diet, well while researching this idea online, I happened across the Raw Food Diet and was sold!!! For those of you who may not be aware of the Raw Vegan Diet, simply put: The diet consists of unprocessed raw vegan foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds) that have not been heated above 118 degrees Fahrenheit, with the belief that foods cooked above this temperature have lost their enzymes and a significant amount of their nutritional value. Whereas uncooked foods provide living enzymes and proper nutrition.
Yep, crazy, huh? I will say the raw food diet does have it’s good points, but definitely nothing that should be done long term. There is a such thing as having too clean of a diet, because you become extremely sensitive to everything else. Not to mention when you stop eating certain things, such as: dairy and wheat, your body stops making the proper enzymes to break those items down. So if I didn’t have an intolerance for dairy or wheat before, I do now.
After two years of being a raw vegan, I decided It just wasn’t for me, I became deficient nutritionally in several areas and capped out in terms of my fitness progressing in performance. I’m sure I was partially to blame for that; the raw diet takes an extraordinary amount of work and needs to be followed to a tee, and even then you needed to take certain supplements in order to avoid deficiencies. I would just get stuck on the same two or three meals (salads, smoothies or more salads). It certainly cleaned all the garbage out of my system, including inflammation and toxicity, but after awhile my body needed more. So once again, I slowly transferred back over to a whole foods diet, which was a shock to the body after beginning raw for several years.
The Paleo Challenge
As you can imagine, after my strict raw vegan experience I pretty much went back to eating whatever I wanted, good, bad and ugly, which definitely took a toll on my body. It just goes to show, if you can’t maintain a diet long term by making it a lifestyle, then you’re on the wrong path, least that is what I have determined through my own endeavors.
Shortly after starting CrossFit, I discovered the Paleo diet, which made sense to me and was pretty much something I was already familiar with since primarily eating a diet consisting of whole foods. Paleo consists of avoiding processed foods and eating clean, preferably organic, food close to its natural state. Meats and vegetables are acceptable, as are some nuts and seeds, healthy fats and some fruit. Foods that are off limits; nothing processed, no grains, no dairy, no legumes, no alcohol and absolutely no sugar or artificial sweeteners.
Paleo is great for folks looking to clean up their diet, lose weight and overall feel better, without having to measure or portion out your food. It’s a great step in the right direction and I’ve seen it help many athletes achieve great results in regards to weight loss and performance. Specially if you’re coming off a Standard American Diet filled with processed and refined foods that only spike your insulin, create inflammation within your body, and store fat. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is one of the leading causes of the obesity epidemic. So Paleo is definitely a great place to start or even stick with long term.
For me the Paleo diet was okay, but I often found myself running out of gas during my WODs and felt as though my performance was not progressing. This was more than likely due to the fact I wasn’t able to get enough carbohydrates to sustain my energy, nor was there any rhyme or reason as to when or how much I ate. For me personally, I’ve always needed a plan or guide to follow or I’m all over the place; routine in terms of nutrition is a must for me!!
If you decide to give Paleo a try, I recommend you reading, The Paleo Diet, by: Loren Cordain. This book will help you understand the fundamentals of the Paleo Diet and will get you moving in the right direction.
Finally Found Zone
I discovered Zone through a compelling article written on the CrossFit Journal Titled, “Getting off the Crack.” The article was a story told by a CrossFit athlete and her own experience and struggle with finding optimal nutrition, which I was able to relate in so many aspects of her story, thus began my journey on the Zone Diet.
Some of you may be asking, “ What is the Zone Diet?” Well, I’m glad you asked!!! The Zone Diet is in my opinion a great nutritional platform for everyone, but especially for an athlete who is trying to optimize physical performance. The Zone Diet is precise and accurate, just like CrossFit, where everything is quantifiable; meaning everything is measurable, repeatable and observable. It’s hard to validate a program or workout if we don’t have a means to measure it with, and your diet should be no different. When it comes to your nutrition and knowledge, awareness is power.
Basically, the Zone Diet allows for you to dial in your nutrition in an effort to reach optimal health and performance, done so by weighing and measuring your food intake. The Zone Diet uses a Block as a unit of measure, to simplify the process of making balanced meals. A zone meal is composed of equal blocks of protein, carbohydrate, and fat, which consists of 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein and 30% fat.
What is a Block?
- One Block Protein = 7 Grams
- One Block Fat = 1.5 Grams
- One Block Carbohydrate = 9 Grams
***Refer to CrossFit Journal Guide for your Block Prescription and Food Charts****
Example: Here is a 4 block meal:
- 4 oz Chicken Breast = 4 Blocks Protein
- 12 Almonds = 4 Blocks Fat
- 1 Cup steamed veggies = 1 Block Carbohydrates
- 1 Apple = 2 Blocks Carbohydrates
- 2 Tbsp. BBQ Sauce = 1 Block Carbohydrates
To bring it all together, this meal contains 28 grams of protein, 36 grams of carbohydrate, and 4.5 grams of fat. It is simpler, though, to think of it as 4 blocks of protein, 4 blocks of carbohydrate, and 4 blocks of fat.
The premise of using equal macro-nutrient, which includes the right balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats, allows you to control three major hormones generated by the human diet – insulin, glucagon and eicosanoids, thus allowing for you to be in the “ZONE”. These hormones control insulin, inflammation and blood sugar levels, which can negatively affect the body if not balanced properly.
“Food is like a drug” says Zone creator Barry Sears, a biochemist, who outlined the Zone Diet in his book: Enter The Zone: A Dietary Road Map( a must read). You have to take the right dose at the right time. The key to weight loss and wellness is achieving proper hormone balance and keeping your blood sugar stable. If hormones are in check, this allows for our insulin and blood sugar to remain balanced, thus preventing inflammation in the body. High levels of inflammation is a chief driver of the obesity epidemic and disease.”
Main Points of The Zone Diet:
Determine your Block requirement. Example: my prescription is 14 blocks a day, I typically have three four block meals and two one block snacks, which equals my fourteen blocks for the day. Refer to http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/cfjissue21_May04.pdf for the block chart and food charts.
Use the Zone Food Charts, to determine block value amounts for the food you are eating. try and stick to favorable healthy choices. Food Charts can be found here.
Buy a digital scale so you can measure your blocks quick and easy. After about a month or so you should be able to “eyeball” your food without having to measure, but until then ensure you use the scale to measure. I use the OXO Good Grips food scale, it’s inexpensive and easy to use.
You’ll need a Journal to track your food and water intake. You can use anything: a notepad, smart phone App, or computer document. I highly recommend the WODBook, It has everything you need, such as: logging short term / long term goals, nutrition log, a place to log your PR’s in both lifts and the benchmark WODs. Great for us CrossFitters!!
Eat within a hour of waking and try not to go four hours without eating. You want to keep your hormone levels in balance and stay in the “Zone.”
Keep in mind everyone is different, there is never one set way, but the main point of this diet is balance. By being precise and accurate, you’re able to determine what your body needs more or less of only because you know exactly what you’re consuming. So you may start with a certain block prescription and end up adding more or less blocks depending on how you feel and activity level, etc.
I have been on the Zone for 10 months and can truly say I feel great in terms of my nutrition and have consistent energy levels, which has been such an enormous struggle for me throughout the years. I have also lost body fat; I’m the leanest I have ever been and able to maintain an optimal body weight that in not in constant flux, thus feeling mentally and physically better than I ever have before. My athletic performance has improved simply due to the fact my nutrition is balanced and dialed in allowing for optimal performance and recovery.
After being on the Zone for a period of time, you become significantly tuned in to your body’s needs and can tweak what you may require more or less of, this is due to the fact you know exactly what you are consuming. I determined after several months that I needed to up my fat blocks (x3), so if I was having a four block meal then I would multiply my fats blocks by three, so in that meal my fat blocks would equal twelve blocks. This is just an example of how there is never a set prescription for everyone, but allows for you to make your own Zone prescription as you become more familiar with the process and your body’s individual needs. This is what became so exciting for me as an athlete, I finally found a balanced prescription to optimize my performance and wellness creating a overall better quality of life.
Remember the weight scale in your bathroom should not be used as your guide to determine your weight loss or progress; throw that thing out, it will only frustrate you. Use your performance and the manner in which you feel to determine if a program is working for you. Ask yourself, Do you mentally and physically feel better? Are you able to push harder during your workouts? Are your clothes fitting loser?
I too used to use the scale as a gauge in my progress, which just set me up for failure, because as a CrossFitter the scale normal goes up the stronger you become, muscle is denser than fat. I finally figured out that I needed to focus on my performance and intensity, the rest would follow and it has!! You want to look better naked? Focus on balanced nutrition and intensity within your workouts, then the rest will follow. Don’t worry about the number on the scale, it means nothing, focus on improving your strength in lifts, progress in WODs and setting new PRs, those numbers don’t lie and are much more significant.
The Zone was the missing piece to the puzzle for me and a pinnacle discovery in my training. I started feeling better both mentally and physically, which allowed me to push harder within my training and performance, thus resulting in a leaner, stronger, happier, and fitter me!!!
An interesting little side fact, diet comes from the Greek language, meaning “way of life”. A diet should not be something we blindly follow, but should amount to obtaining wellness and a quality of life. So I encourage everyone to do your research and check out the Zone Diet, see if it’s for you!!
If you have any questions about my personal experience with Zone Diet or if you need help starting out, I would love to help!! It can be a bit overwhelming in the beginning learning the in and outs of the diet, but once you learn the basics, it’s pretty darn simple.
In the near future, I will be sharing some of my favorite Zone and Paleo recipes, so stay tuned!!!
Till next time, take care,