I received this message from Bian of Potomac CrossFit. Many, many people find the carb levels of the base zone to be too many carbs too often. This may be heresy in some circles, but it’s the facts. In Mastering the Zone Sears presents a flow chart for dealing with the too many carbs situation. It is interesting that Protein Power: Lifeplan Recommends a carb level of between 50-150g/day based on individual needs and carb tolerance. This brackets about 99% of people with regards to their Zone recommendation. I’ve had a number of people judiciously following the Zone yet still presenting signs of hyperinsulinism such as high blood pressure. I had these folks cut their carbs in half and they magically begin to not only loose body fat, but also decrease blood pressure to a normal level. If I did not try to keep a modicum of crossfit style conditioning I’d eat little beyond meat, veggies and nuts. Some more fruit int he summer and call it good. It seems like I had a period of time where I did fine on low carb and CF but not any more. Adrian Bozman mentioned the same thing when he was playing with cyclic low carb.
The bottom line is to ALWAYS make this stuff work for YOUR goals and needs.
I wanted to second Sarena’s sliced yams recipe, that’s exactly what I used to do. Makes it very easy to cook up a bunch, then divy up into measured containers.
As an aside, I wished I’d listened to you a while back on the “Zone has too many carbs” point. I slaved away on strict 18 block zone for months. Lost a little weight, saw performance improve somewhat, but was still heavy (6?1, 215, approx 14-16 BF%).
I’m actually doing Atkins Induction right now just because I finished “Good Calories, Bad Calories” by Taubes and decided to give it a try since Zone wasn’t working for me.
I’m down 7 pounds in 10 days to 208. What’s weird is that my performance really hasn’t suffered much at all. I party chalk this up to substituting a minimum of one Oly Lift WOD per week.
I sent my experience to Max Lewin, CF Eastbay. He’s got a great blog (crossfitzonediet.blogspot.com) that I’ve been following for a while and he seemed to be having the same issues I was, doing Zone, not losing BF. So he gave it a try as well and had a big decrease in BF% but also a decrease in performance.
Sorry for the long post, but wanted to let folks know about me and Max’s experience. I’m going to go buy “42 Ways” rigt now.
I’d love to talk to you about elite level athletes diets (olympian diets), and their high reliance on carbs and not so healthy food, sometime.. but too long to do here.
But on a different note, what do you think of these articles that challenge yours and Loren’s research? http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/71/3/665
[email protected] that’s good shit there! Here is the conclusion from the first link:
In conclusion, it is likely that no hunter-gatherer society, regardless of the proportion of macronutrients consumed, suffered from diseases of civilization. Most wild foods lack high amounts of energy and this feature, in combination with the slow transit of food particles through the human digestive tract, would have served as a natural check to obesity and certain other diseases of civilization. Yet today, all non-Western populations appear to develop diseases of civilization if they consume Western foods and have sedentary lifestyles (24). Given these facts, in combination with the strongly plant-based diet of human ancestors, it seems prudent for modern-day humans to remember their long evolutionary heritage as anthropoid primates and heed current recommendations to increase the number and variety of fresh fruit and vegetables in their diets rather than to increase their intakes of domesticated animal fat and protein.
A number of folks in the dietetics community went bananas over Cordain’s research. He does NOT advocate domestic high fat meats. He recommends low fat varieties especially if the source is not grassfed. It is this very recommendation that gets the WPF/Fallon/Eng crowd whipped into a sat’d fat lov’n frenzy. Cordain’s position is that the preponderance of cals HAD to come from animal sources…he details this via the Ethnographic Atlas and he looks at the two really interesting pieces of info: The energy expenditure of HG’s and the available foods, both plant and animal. I’ve had a post on this cooking for a while, and it is a key section of the book but the main point is: we know HG’s had a very high activity level. We also know the energy density of the foods they ate…and it’s impossible to feed that activity level with a plant based diet. The !Kung of the Kalahari have periods of time when a nut called the Monongo are very available as are numerous varieties of melon and other fruit. Robert V. Lee (who lived among the Kung for more than 20 years) found that their reliance on animal products hit about 10% of cals during this time. During their winter however, which is dry and actually fairly cold (30*F and the Kung make no special clothing to deal with this time) they rely on animal products for more than 90% of their calories.
Milton (the author of the first paper) offers NO counter point to the hard data or the mathematical underpinnings of Cordain’s work. She is a dietician and I swear they ALL HATE Cordain because he’s an outsider that figured out their “science” and they can make neither heads nor tails of it. She concedes in the paper that the health of pre-industrial people is better in that we see none of the western degenerative diseases…then she just recommends business as usual!! It just makes my head want to pop off my shoulders!
If they really had a clue they would attack his numbers and the data…they don’t so they can’t. The damn dieticians just want to keep counting calories with not an ounce of interest in describing what they actually observe. It is criminal and completely devoid of academic rigor.
I appreciate the question, I’m going to throw this on the front end as a main post.
Haylie Protein says
Net Carbs are the only carbs that affect blood sugar and are the only ones you need to count when you do Atkins. Haylie Protein
“HAYLIE”- You are scaring me…you look like spam yet you had an intelligent response…is this the beginning of Skynet?!
Paul Beckwith says
Rob I would love to hear how you would prescribe a NORMAL DAY for me! I’m 6’4 255lb 16% and have a lean body mass fo 213. I’m at the gym all day and my day looks like this now.
530 shake comprised of 1-1/2 scoops of protien.
with a cup of strawberries and a half of cup
blueberries with 2 cups of whole milk!
11 zone bar with a cup of whole milk or a shake!
3 wod and OLY Lifting
Looks skinny! What’cha trying to do? Give me a call…Bobbi has the number. Are you guys going to come and stay with us this fall?
7 half a chicken 3 cups of broc salad and 2 cups of whole milk!
also Bobbi says Hi!
Ian Tilp says
I saw your interview on CF discussing IF and was intrigued. I decided to give it a go, though I couldn’t find, nor did I spend much time looking for the explicit instructions (where can I find them?). I was eating a strict paleo diet, non-measured, with all my eating between 1-7pm, and my CF WOD at 11:30, which was at the end of the fast. I was eating fruit in my first couple of meals after 1, and less fruit towards my night meal. On weekends I would open it up to eat throughout the day, and open it up only slightly, with some starches and maybe a few beers. I did this not so strict with more weekend cheating for a month, and very strict paleo for another month. During this time, I went from a somewhat flabby 205 to a tight 185 very quickly, which is where my weight leveled off, yet my body fat continued to drop. The eating was great – I gnosh on Walnuts and Almonds by the handful as my junkfood, eat delicious salads with generous amounts of olive oil and lots of avocados. I haven’t measured my bodyfat, but I can say that after 3 years of doing CF with brief episodes of zone with weighing and measuring, I am more cut than I have every been in my life, and would estimate my body fat is down to about 8%, which is awesome. I love the fasting, and my energy level throughout the day has been great. Last month my wife and baby got really bad colds; I was swimming in sickly snot and mucous,yet I never came down with it. My only complaint is that my performance in my workouts has slightly tapered off, which is the area I wish to address, though may be attributable perhaps to working out at the end of the 18hr fast.
I just went to my Level 1 CF Cert, and the trainers recommended I go to 17 blocks. I have done this for 2 days, yet trying to eat the 17 blocks within the 6hr eating period. All I can say is that it is a boatload of food to eat. I estimate I was probably eating about 10- 12 blocks a day with maybe 3-5x fat, and with less carbs in my later meals. I can already feel myself starting to bloat up. I’m glad to read this post, for it seems I was much happier on the IF/paleo diet, with the exception of the performance loss which may be attributable to the workout timing.
I really appreciate your work and will be attending your Nutrition Seminar when I can. Any help you can give is appreciated.
Sounds like you are kicking ass Amigo! If you were as low as you mentioned 10-11blocks 2-3x fat it’s not wonder you had a bit of performance drop-off! See if the increased blocks helps. If not just throw in a small snack prior to training…1 block protein, 1-2 blocks carbs and I think you will crank on that. Keep up the great work and please do let me know how the increase in blocks affects training and body comp!
Through my limited and personal experience, I have to agree that the Zone is high on the carb side of the diet. I think the Zone is an excellent way to get a person thinking about diet and wean one of the food pyramid, but in terms of health and well being, it is too forgiving. For me personally, as soon as I got onto the Zone, I immediately made improvement throughout the CF spectrum where I had previously plateaued. That is a good thing. During that same time-frame, my doctor brother-in-law began extolling the virtues of life in a ketogenic state and follows Barry Groves’ recommendations fairly strictly. His weightloss, lipid profiles, and health don’t lie. For me, that led to a further reduction in carb intake. The continuous improvement in all the CF benchmarks is still there. My carb intake is 10 – 15% of my diet (75% veggies/25% fruit), 30-35% protein and 50-60% fat. My body fat dropped from 12% to 6% and my blood lipid profile cut my triglycerides in half and doubled my HDL. My Fran time was 3:00 on the Zone and 2:57 on a more paleo-atkins-eades-taubes type model. Basically a wash. That is why I am glad to see you addressing the issue. I feel the Zone is a starting point and then it is in everyone’s best interest to reduce carb intake until it noticably effects performance(if that is a priority). Thanks for the site and the translating this to a knuckle-dragger level.
No Sir, thank you. Great info and great validation to what I’ve observed and experienced. I was looking around the Atkins site yesterday looking for this old food pyramid thing they had…I may try the Wayback machine. It was just qualitative but it went something like: Do induction and eat only low net carb items like spinach etc. As you reach goal weight, increase carbs up to your tolerance, with the emphasis on low glycemic load carbs. If you are exercising at HIGH INTENSITY, increase carbs to allow for recovery and performance. You may add starchier items and more fruit as per your tolerance…”
This is not verbatim but it was MONEY! It was the most information dense schematic I’ve seen on this whole topic. I’m going to really try to find that thing…Tell Andy I said hello and keep me updated on your progress!
very good point. I’ve been going all out with just the meats, veggies, and nuts since jan. Biggest result – my blood pressure plummeted from 145/83 to 118/65. I’m stoked. Plus, i lost two inches off my waist and gained some much needed muscle with crossfit.
i’m still tweaking things to find a sweet spot where WODs aren’t killing me
This is an interesting point: Make the insulin level low enough to lower blood pressure and folks tend to gain muscle and loose fat. I don;t think we will make a 240lb bodybuilder on this but it’s interesting none the less. When the WOD’s don’t kill you let me know! I’ve been at it nearly 8 years and I still feel like I’ve been hit by a buss!
Gourmet Nut Gifts says
Carbs and carbs alone, not fat, increase body weight. It doesn’t matter whether the carbs are from sugar, bread, fruit, or vegetables: They’re all rapidly digested and quickly converted to blood glucose. A short time after a carb-rich meal, the glucose in your bloodstream rises rapidly, and your pancreas produces a large amount of insulin to take the excess glucose out.
“Gourmet Nut Gifts”- You also scare me…spam, but with a message. Eeerie. Disquietening. Oddly arousing…
David Mathews says
Can you elaborate on how/why you did fine on low carbs and xfit for a while but needed to change? What were you considering low carb(grams) then and what kind of carb intake now?Thanks!
Honestly, I do not know why I had to change things. I was doing cyclic low carb, low carb days at ~30g. Every 3 or 4 days I’d carb up and that would be 200-300g in say 2-3 meals. I felt great on this…not too much of a carb hang-over at this intake level. If I kept it 150-200 I felt FUCKING AWESOME! Big energy, no lethargy, good digestion…no problem with blood sugar crash. I could not however hang with the 3-on, 1-off WOD. Too much glycolytic work. I think a modified program with more strength emphasis flys with a program like this. I will say this: the inclusion of carbs post WO defenitely improves my performance. I know this may be at odds with some adaptations for fat metabolism and health (Devany talks about this stuff occasionally) but as far as performance, it’s a winner.
My experience is that, if you stick to the basic Paleolithic diet of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, it doesn’t really matter that much what proportion of each you consume. Once you have tossed out grains and beans and dairy and all processed foods you can just let your body guide you.
Look at the example of the Kung above. At some times they ate a high proportion of animal products and at other times they ate a high proportion of nuts and fruit. My guess is that they were equally healthy at all times.
Anytime we try to count carbs or calories or any other dietary component we stress ourselves and add complexity. Easier is to toss out the foodstuffs of modern civilization and then try to eat a mix of high quality food that is as similar as possible to the foods our bodies evolved on.
I totally agree. Adopting a basic paleo diet will give one 90-95% of all the benefits any protocol will ever provide…not fuss, no muss.
Keith W. says
Wow, I was going to wait until I saw you in November to ask you about this, but now I don’t have to wait. I too have read Good Calories, Bad Calories and came to the conclusion that I am very carb-sensitive (perhaps hyperinsulimic) and the weight of evidence in favor of extremely low carb diets intrigued me.
My previous attempts at zoning have been met with problems mostly due to compliance. So I decided to not only cut sugar and grains from my diet but also almost all carbs. I guess you can call it Atkins (although I have never read what the actual Atkins diet is). So far I have felt great. I’m leaning out while eating copious amounts of bacon. 🙂
I do eat some green vegetables and the occasional fruit. Generally I just eat lots of meat and fat.
I’m glad to see there are some other people out there finding that this is working for them too.
I think you’ll notice several other comments in this thread mirroring your experience. Coach Glassman has called Atkins “The Zone for Sedentary people”. We ONLY need carbs for intense activity. Glycogen drives most crossfit activities but it is a battle for some to take in adequate carbs to drive that activity AND still be under the insulin radar. I simply do a bit more strength work in preference to the high volume met-cons. I can recover from this workload with fewer carbs. I may not set the CF world on fire but it works well for me.
Adam Kayce says
Just weighing in (no pun intended, although it would’ve been a good one)…
I’m having the same experience as Brian. I started serious CF training (i.e. out of my basement and into a gym) in March, and despite strict adherence to Zone parameters and 4-5 WOD’s a week, I saw very little fat loss. I did gain some muscle, of course, but my waistline didn’t deviate from where I began.
Then, two weeks or so ago, I cut back on the carbs, cut out all grains, and stopped worrying about the fat blocks so much. I’ve lost about six pounds… and this change coincided with me herniating a disc in my lumbar spine (thank you Deadlifts with tight hamstrings!), so my workouts have cut waaaaay back.
I can’t wait until my back is healed up, and I can combine this low-carb-Zone/Paleo-ish nutrition plan with real workouts again.
(oh, and I just wanted to say, I love the comments you’re adding to the posts, Robb…)
It is all individual but the baisc reality is if folks drop their insulin levels beyond a certain point they will:
1-Loose body fat, particularly in the midsection…and WITHOUT LOOSING MUSCLE.
2-Rarely if ever be hungry.
Many folks tackle the zone and are fucking hungry and do not start loosing body fat…that means there is too much insulin somewhere! Period. I wish it was more complex than that but it really just comes down to that.
Bummer about the herniated disk! The tight hammie thing is a real buggar and takes some time to fix. Standing work stations and staying the hell away from bicycles are the two main fixes. Stretching helps a bit as well!
Toby Shell says
I would like to start with saying thank you for all of your time and commitment to the crossfit community. I am very frustrated with the zone right now. I am 6’2″ 230# with about 19-20% BF. I weigh and measure everything and no cheat days. I started with 18 blocks strict for 5 weeks and have now switched to 16 blocks for the last 2 weeks. My body comp has pretty much stayed the same. I hear people say that body comp changes very quickly on the zone. Am I just not being patient enough? I am a crossfitter and an ironman triathlete following main site WODs and 6 crossfit endurance WODs a week. I am happy with my performances, 5 min Fran, 7 min Karen, 4 min Diane and times are dropping. But, I am not happy about the body comp and I am hungry all the fucking time. I guess I am looking for a direction in which to play with this. What will least effect my distance stuff (at least with CFE we dont go long too often). Should I half the carbs and up the fat? Sorry for the rambling, and any direction would be much appreciated. Thanks
I’m going to tackle this on the front page.
Caitlin McDonald says
Hi Robb, I was referred to this site from the Crossfit boards. I’m not sure what the protocol is for asking you questions, so I’m just going to ask it here. I’ve had PCOS for years, and I also have insulin resistance. This (among other things) contributed to a 60lb weight gain in under two years. My question: I am currently doing Paleo w/dairy, and I wonder if YOU feel paleo is as effective wi/IR as the Zone is. I’ve read a lot of opinions, but I respect yours so highly, I would love to hear what you have to say. Thanks for your time, and I love reading all you put out there!
First, thanks for the kind words. Second…Paleo for me is just about food quality, zone is a bout ratios/accuracy/precision. This considered, I do not see this as an either/or scenario but rather “what does one need”. In your situation you have some symptoms of hyperinsulinism (PCOS, weight gain). Hyperinsulinism means too many carbs…so I’d reduce the carbs! If you want to weigh and measure your food you can follow a Zone prescription but I’d cut your carbs in half and ONLY use low glycemic load carbs. You could also do essentially the same thing with a basic paleo plan…no weighing and measuring, protein and veggies at every meal…good to go. I would cut the dairy for a while…it can cause an inordinately high insulin response and stymie fat loss and the reversal of the metabolic problems.
Let me know if this makes sense and how you are progressing!
What’s even more strange about the “Nut Gifts” person’s comment is this: http://www.diabeteshealth.com/read/2007/04/24/5143.html
Wacky! Plagiarizing, quasi intelligent SPAM! The end-times are nigh…
I’m concerned about advice my boyfriend was recently given at a seminar in San Diego. He is a fellow crossfitter that is beginning to follow the zone diet. He is 29yo, 6’4″, 205lbs, 7% body fat, and he really wants to gain wait. He was told to drink a gallon of milk a day even though he is lactose intolerant. I’m no guru but this doesn’t seem right. Is this an effective way for him to gain weight or harmful?
Well, it IS indeed an effective way to gain good quality bodyweight. If the lactose intolerance is severe he can use a lactaid brand and or something like Goat’s milk. As to harmful…I would not try to down a gallon of milk/day for the long haul…years at a time for example. The hazard for many guys trying to get big is they never stop trying! They end up fat, un-athletic…they become Power lifters! So long as the body-comp is good and he is seeing his general athleticism increasing, he should be good to go. Kick him in the ass to chase PERFORMANCE. He needs a 2x BW back squat and a 3x BW DL…then that mass gain means something other than making it hard as hell to find clothes that fit.
Keep me posted!
Wow, what a great site. As the oldest dude at crossfit virginia beach my 59 year old hind=arts needs as much help as I can get! I have spoken with Cordain while living in Colrado and he is a stand up guy> Tons of grat information here which I will implement especially IF. Any thoughts on Hemp seed as an additional source of plant protein?
Well…hemp has a balanced n-3/n-6 ratio but It’s not really giving you a leg up in that regard since the n-6 is pretty high and the n-3 is short chain. Off the top of my head I guess it’s as good as any other nut but DO NOT CONSIDER THEM A SOURCE OF PROTEIN!!! It does not elicit a glucagon response…it’s a 3rd world protein. Good enough for vegetarians, not for you!
should have been dude, but there are days at crossfit where I feel like a dud! LOL
Fixed it for ya!
Beautiful! Now that is what I am talking about. Just bought Groves’ book. After reading the works ofCordain, Sears, Wolcott, Price. Man, lots of stuff to slog and deciminate! I apppreciate your blog, it accelerates the time it takes to get a clearer picture. I will stay tuned for any information that will help me stay with the 20-30 something year old cross fit maniacs. Gracias Robb
I am 5’11” and 192 lbs, somewhere between 10 and 15% bf. I follow the main page CF WOD’s in a 3 on 1 off schedule. For the last 3+ weeks I have shifted my eating from 16 block standard zone to strict paleo+IF. When I started this, I was 204 lbs. After reading a bunch of your posts, I have been doing much lower GI carbs and trying to keep my total carb intake under 100g. I feel much better, and my performance has gone through the roof. My only concern is not getting enough calories. Everywhere I have seen says “just listen to your body, if you are hungry eat” but I cannot do that. I have lost over 60 lbs with crossfit/much better diet and am terrified to go back to over eating. At the same time, I need to make sure I’m getting enough calories to recover. A normal day according to fitday is between 2000-2500 calories.
Simply keep track of both intake and performance. When you see performance slide and or you are at a level of leanness you are happy with, you MAY need to ratchet up the total cal content. For basic maintenance and leanness with good performance I find appetite is a fine indicator of what we need to do.
Let me know if this makes sense!
Thanks Robb, I guess I just need to trust myself a little more….thanks for a great site!
Brian PCF says
Robb, finally getting my butt in gear and taking your advice from this thread and “42 Ways to Skin the Zone”.
My stats on 1/2/2009:
m/6’1/30/222, approx 20% BF
I’ve been eating a very Paleo-ish/low carb diet for the last several months as well as Crossfitting on a 3/1/2/1 schedule every week. However, these stats were the day after I got back from 9 days in Southern Spain (read: Tapas and Vino Tinto).
While I booted it last night with a meal out that included some solid cheesecake (yummmm…cheesecake), I dropped to 210 in two weeks (weird) and my WODs have gone through the roof.
I haven’t taped my gut again to measure BF, but it’s noticeably trimmer.
I’m on a 17P/9F/41F block prescription. I will add one or two blocks of carbs post-WOD (usually sweet potato) if I crush myself in a WOD and feel I need it.
All the data is in very handy spreadsheet form at brianpcf.wordpress.com. And thank you for making a lot of sense.
This all looks super solid…not much I could add. Keep it rolling!
Brian PCF says
Robb, just wanted to send another update and make sure people know that this stuff works!
It’s Day 20 of my reduced carb Zone Diet and I’m down from 222 lbs to 206.5 lbs. I’d have never believed that anybody could lose weight this fast, not be hungry and still perform on the WODs.
I’m now even with or beating all the guys in my box who used to crush me.
For everybody else out there: Buy “42 Ways to Skin the Zone” and do it!
Thanks amigo, im going to throw this on the front page.
Hello from Italy! I am a 32 years old female and I have been very fat since my early childhood, then lost around 60/70 pounds just by NOT following doctors’ advice and simply eating whatever I felt I needed (and I did it without knowing why, and now I know why that was the smartest thing I could do). I have been working out for a long time but just started crossfitting 1 year and a half ago. I also started doing oly weightlifting and I love it!!!!
My problem is that I am trying to square two goals: I am trying to lose another 16 pounds or so and I have followed the paleo zone for 6 months now (i had milk until 3 weeks ago, now i am over that addiction too). I have lost some weight but I think I am still very insuline resistant so I tried to lower my carbs and I tried to follow your advice and have 50% of my carbs after my wo but I REALLY need to have carbs BEFORE (and i feel i need to load up since the day before a heavy, say oly weightlifting wo). If I don’t load up with carbs I simply…well…almost faint and I spoil the session OR I have to ingest some sugar, which I normally refuse to do.
Is that only a matter of time (and getting to ketosis) and I should go on with that or is it that I really do need the carbs and so I can’t lose weight AND oly weightlift? Is it that since I was seriously obese I don’t produce enough ketons to live on a low carb/if protocol?
Thanks for your wonderful blog and research and I hope to meet you in person very soon!
It can take months for some folks to kick over into fat metabolism…hang in there. Make sure to sleep and minimize dairy.