There are hundreds of websites that answer this question in a hundred different ways. And the answer to this question is different for each person at our gym. Some of you have participated in a clean eating challenge before; some are brand new to CrossFit and have never heard the phrase. This is an attempt to explain some terminology and hopefully help you reach your personal goals.
Basically, eating clean means eliminating processed foods, refined sugar, and alcohol (or significantly limiting it) from your diet. And diet is the food you eat, not some “fad diet”. Clean eating means eating healthy meals from real food that has fat, calories, and nutrients that fuel your body.
The idea is that if you only put real food into your body, your body functions better. Doritos and Pepsi have zero nutritional value- they don’t make you run faster or lift heavier, they don’t make your digestive system work better or your brain smarter. If you improve your input by eating meat (protein) and vegetables (vitamins and minerals), your output will also improve (lose weight, lower cholesterol, PR your snatch, etc).
Take this way of eating one step further and you get paleo. Eating paleo means eating clean but also eliminating grains, dairy, and legumes. Strict paleo limits oils used for cooking and encourages wild-game, grass-fed and free-range proteins. Water is the only true paleo drink- it should be from a natural spring and free from fluoride and other additives. You should also draw pictures on your cave walls.
The theory behind eating paleo is that our bodies have not kept up with the industrialization of food and we simply can’t process and digest grains, legumes and dairy properly. Our body doesn’t need them to function at an optimal level. Our bodies need meat and vegetables, some fruit, nuts and seeds. And water.
What does this mean for you? Here are some things to think about: is this your first attempt at cleaning up your diet? Or have you been eating paleo for awhile? Maybe you should start with eliminating processed and/or prepared food. Then after a few weeks, try removing dairy from your diet and see how you feel. Or, if you’ve been paleo for some time now, try reducing your cheat day to a cheat meal. Wherever you’re at on the clean eating spectrum, make sure you set yourself up for success.
Here are some guidelines if your goal is to lose weight: Limit fruit to 1 serving a day (natural sugar is still sugar) and nuts to 1 oz per day (nuts are good fat but still all fat), eat tons of green veggies, and resist paleo treats. Don’t go overboard on paleo cookies, muffins, or candy bars. They may be “paleo” but they won’t lead to weight loss. A general rule of thumb for everyone is to eat your serving of fruit or sweet potato after working out. Your body is depleted and can best process carbohydrates after a wod. Salt is ok in limited quantities and use coconut oil or avocado oil for cooking (use olive oil for salad dressing).
If you feel you’ve plateaued at the gym, try increasing your protein and/or carbs, or try eating more. Or less. If you’re in the tweaking stages you can make subtle changes and see how it affects your body over the course of a few weeks. Sleep more. Make your rest more intentional. Try yoga. Meditate. Keep a food log and see what you’re truly eating and fine tune your diet for better performance.
As with any diet, practical application to your life is a personal decision. Eat grass-fed meat if you like the flavor and can afford it. If you have access to all organic produce, by all means, eat organic. But don’t feel guilty or give up if you can’t. Make it work for your life. Making changes that are sustainable is the key to long term health. Pack healthy lunches instead of eating out every day. Swap coconut milk for coffee creamer. It’s not about a quick fix. It’s about learning what makes your body work better so that you live a long and happy life. The ultimate goal is to feel good, really good.