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Proper Nutrition: Part I, an Introduction

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If you are new to the world of CrossFit, you may find that not only are your workouts challenging, but you have another big challenge to conquer once you’ve left the gym: your diet.

The typical American diet is far from nutritious.  If you are interested in what the typical American diet looks like, The Wall Street Journal has written about this topic frequently over the past decade.  In a 2004 article entitled “Eating Habits -- A Look At the Average U.S. Diet,” the WSJ reported some startling facts.  Not only do Americans eat out at fast food restaurants and eat snack foods far more often than they did in the past, but they generally stray away from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's "Food Pyramid" recommendations entirely. Take, for example, the aforementioned Food Pyramid.  In 2004, the USDA's daily dietary recommendations included the following:

  • Grains: 6-11 servings
  • Vegetables: 3-5 servings
  • Fruit: 2-4 servings
  • Dairy: 2-3 servings
  • Meats: 5-7 meat oz.
  • Discretionary fat: use sparingly
  • Added sugars: use sparingly

(Eating Habits -- A Look At the Average U.S. Diet)

However, “Eating Habits -- A Look At the Average U.S. Diet,” shares that the average American did not meet the Food Pyramid’s guidelines (except for discretionary fat and added sugars, in which case Americans far surpassed the Food Pyramid’s recommendations!)

  • Grains: 6.8 servings
  • Vegetables: 3.0 servings
  • Fruit: 1.6 servings
  • Dairy: 1.7 servings
  • Meats: 5.3 meat oz.
  • Discretionary fat: 62.1 grams
  • Added sugars: 22.9 teaspoons

(Eating Habits -- A Look At the Average U.S. Diet)

USDA Food Pyramid Crossfit

An early version of the United States Department of Agriculture's Food Guide Pyramid. Note that the Wall Street Journal findings in this article were published in 2004; the Pyramid was updated in 2005 and then replaced in 2011, so it looks different now.

In addition, The Wall Street Journal reported that in the average American household, 68.1% of all meals are prepared at home.  This number remained fairly steady since the early 1990s (that number was 68.9% back in 1990).  While it’s great that almost 70% of American’s meals are prepared at home, this means that 30% of what Americans eat is prepared by a restaurant or fast food joint, and the focus is not on proper nutrition at your typical burger place.

Thankfully, the average American diet seems to have improved since 2004.  Although America’s obesity epidemic is still a major issue, but in 2014 the Wall Street Journal reported that “Americans say they are consuming fewer calories and cutting back on fast food, cholesterol and fat.” (“Americans' Eating Habits Take a Healthier Turn, Study Finds Working-Age Adults Consume Fewer Calories, Eat Out Less”). 

In addition, the article mentions that “about 20% of the improvements in diets of those surveyed could be traced to Americans cutting back on fast food or restaurant meals.”  The article goes on to list other improvements that can be seen in the typical American diet.  If you are interested, you can read about it for yourself, but the article concludes that the typical American diet still has a long way to go before it can be considered properly nutritious.

So, back to CrossFit: given how off-kilter the typical American diet is, the idea of reforming your diet as you begin CrossFit can be overwhelming, to say the least. Thankfully, you can find some good resources for your nutrition online, both on CrossFit’s website and on other types of websites too.  Don’t worry – good information is out there and available to you!

Just as an introduction to a CrossFit-approved diet, CrossFit Virtuosity provides a good summary of the CrossFit-approved diet:

“The basic gist of the whole thing is: eat real food.  Base your diet on garden vegetables, especially greens, lean meats, nuts and seeds, little starch, and no sugar.  If it has ingredients you don’t recognize, don’t eat it.  If you can’t imagine its path from a farm to your plate, don’t eat it.  If that path must have included some sort of factory, don’t eat it.”

CrossFit Impulse also has some good thoughts on a healthy diet for CrossFit athletes (and remember, it is more about “nutrition” than the commonly-accepted definition of “diet”):

“…Most of all, you need to know that nutrition is not about following a diet. Proper nutrition is a lifestyle. Don’t try to fool yourself into thinking that you can get proper nutrition without altering your lifestyle. There is no easy answer or magic bullet. Only education and consistently sound choices every day will sustain a lifestyle of proper nutrition.”

Now that we have discussed the typical American diet and covered the facts that...

  1. You should be eating “real” food, and
  2. You should not obsess over following a “magic diet” but rather focus on incorporating proper nutrition into your lifestyle
...we can move on to some other specifics about a CrossFit-friendly diet.  Check back for our second installment of "Proper Nutrition with CrossFit!"

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  • eat eggs most days of the week: Veggie scrambles, baked eggs in lean Canadian bacon, spicnah, leek and mushroom frittatas, and my popular protein pancakes are just a few of my go-to

    Angel on
  • Love IC Crossfit!! Just started 2 weeks ago and HAVE to say that besdies providing amazing workouts every day, I feel right at home! Great job guys!

    Karina on

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