Paleo vs. Zone: Nutrition For The Games

Original post and image courtesy of CrossFit Kernersville

The best type of diet is always up for debate in the fitness world and that includes CrossFit.  Watching the CrossFit games and listening to the athletes speak about nutrition is enough to prove this.  Zone, Paleo, eat whatever you want because you bust your a** in the gym everyday doing CrossFit…  It’s oftentimes hard to figure out what is best for you and your body and it can be overwhelming at times.  Especially if you are just starting out or have only received your nutritional education from Men’s Health or Shape magazine.

I’m of the opinion that it’s not as simple as picking a one size fits all approach because a lot of factors go into deciding what the best diet is for an individual.  Your weight, body type, male or female, age, activity level, workout intensity, type of workouts, genetic makeup, health conditions, etc.  As far as the basics go; Yes, everyone should eat more lean protein, a whole lot more vegetables and fruit, and a lot less sugar, simple carbs, and disgusting processed foods. Those are things that apply to everyone but a person’s diet as a whole should be tweaked according to how they feel and perform.

In CrossFit, two of the most promoted and well known nutritional plans are the Zone Diet and Paleo.  They are both lifestyle changes and both backed by ample scientific research.  They have their fair share of similarities but plenty of differences as well.  I’m personally more of a Zone follower, but some of the best athletes I have met are Paleo followers.  I believe in both, but also that you should listen to your body and do what works best for you.

Below I have (in a very condensed nutshell version) described both nutritional plans and some helpful links to find out more information about both.  As with all things you read, do your own research.  Try out both and see what makes you feel the best.


The Paleolithic Diet was first popularized in the mid-1970’s by Walter L. Voegtlin and has since been promoted by many researcher’s and author’s such as Dr. Loren Cordain.  It was then introduced into the CrossFit arena by Robb Wolfe and has since gained a lot of popularity.  The paleo diet consist of lean proteins (ideally grass fed beef, free range fowl, and wild caught fish), seasonal vegetables and fruits, and healthy fats such as nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil, and coconut oil.  It excludes grains, legumes (including green beans and peanuts), all dairy products, refined sugar, and processed oils. They do not recommend any foods that have been processed or altered; only natural, fresh ingredients.  Unlike most nutritional plans, paleo encourages a larger amount of protein and healthy fats and a lower amount of carbohydrates.

There is also NO limit on caloric intake or serving size.  The fruit intake is recommended at about 1-2 servings a day until the desired amount of fat is lost, then its up’d to 2-3 servings.  Because of the higher fructose content in fruit, it’s limited because it can spike your insulin levels and cause your body to store unwanted fat.  It’s also recommended to limit your nut and nut butters because of the high fat content.  While these are healthy fats, as with all food, too much of anything is bad. Other than these two things, if you are eating the correct type of foods, then you eat when you are hungry and you eat until you are full.

The paleo diet boast a lot of health improvements including weight loss, reduced acne, improved athletic performance, slower progression of autoimmune diseases, and reducing your risk of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and the vast majority of all chronic degenerative diseases.  Fortunately, the Paleo diet has stood not only the test of time, but also the rigors of scientific scrutiny.

For more info on paleo you can visits these sites:

The Food List

The Zone

The Zone diet was popularized by Dr. Barry Sears in the late 1990’s by several of his books.  The diet is based on a “40:30:30 ratio of calories obtained daily from carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats. Eating this balance of food, Sears’ suggest, is the way to stay in “the zone” i.e.. proper hormonal balance. He suggest that when your insulin and glucagon levels are neither too high or too low, then natural anti-inflammatories are released, your body does not store excess calories as fat but burns fat for energy instead. This eating plan also relies heavily on an even ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids.

This nutritional plan is broken down into blocks and what block you are in is determined by sex, age and activity level. The types of food eaten on this diet is a lot of fresh vegetables and fresh fruit for carbs, lean protein (chicken and fish), and healthy unprocessed fat.  The amount of protein recommended can also be increased based on your activity level; so for regular CrossFitters, this would be a much higher percentage than the average person. This diet encourages a lot of water, very little salt, and to stay away from processed foods.  (However, the zone offers protein bars and shakes)

A study was done by the Scientific American Frontiers, comparing the effectiveness of several popular diets, including the Zone;  after completing the test the participants on the Zone had lost fat while gaining muscle mass, reported the Zone as the easiest to follow with the least side effects such as fatigue and hunger.

Use this link to determine what Zone block you will follow:

The Zone Foods: or

In short, both diets have their benefits and similarities.  The Zone is a little more restrictive and rigid than Paleo but once you get an understanding to the Zone diet, it’s pretty easy to follow.  These plans both follow very basic principles and if you cut out all processed foods from your diet, and that is all you do, you will be much better off.  One of the first things I tell my clients is that their diet will have a significant impact on their results.  Most people are not elite athletes and cannot afford to eat 4,000 calories a day.  Paying attention to what you are fueling your body with is just as important and the exercise you are training your body with.  Good nutrition can improve your workouts and create better results in your strength speed and overall appearance. So if you decide against both diets, you can at least eat clean.  Eating clean means eating foods that are unprocessed or altered by man.  Stay to the outer edges of your grocery store is usually your best bet.

And on a side note:  Both plans suggest taking fish oil (omega-3) supplements to balance out your Omega-6.  There are very few supplements that I will stand behind and fish oil is one of them.  There are so many benefits and I can tell a difference in how I feel when I miss a few days.  So take your fish oil!!!

Some great info there on the two most CrossFit-friendly diets.  Tell us what YOU think in today’s comments section!

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Today’s Workout

Buy In –  Gymnastics fun – play around with forward rolls or handstand walks


Seven rounds for time of:

  • 1 Handstand Pushup
  • 10 Pull-ups
  • 25 Sit ups

Games Prep – upgrade to chest to bar pullups

Zone 3 – scale HSPU to 1 abmat
Zone 2 – scale HSPU as needed, scale to assisted pullups
Zone 1 – scale as needed

Cash Out – MWOD

5 way shoulder stretch


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