CrossFit advocates a specific diet. When we say diet, don't think weight watchers or fat cleanse or any 2 week diet fad out there. Our diet is a way of eating that gives you complete control over your body, your muscle growth, your body fat, your energy levels. Our diet is a performance based diet. Wouldn't it be nice if there was a pharmacy where you could go and get a pill to lower your body fat percentage, or get a pill to give you more energy. Well, there is. It is your refrigerator.
At CrossFit, we advocate the Paleo/Zone diet. Paleo foods in Zone proportions. The first step is to go Paleo. Eat only what a caveman could have eaten. This mainly means no sugar and no starch. And that means no bread. No bread, no bagels, no pasta, no rice, no chips, no potatoes. And yes, Twinkies and donuts are included in that list. It doesn't matter if the bread is whole grain organic super bread grown on a commune in Humboldt and made with purified water filtered through crystals or wonder bread made with child labor in China. Your stomach isn't politically correct, it breaks all starch down to sugar. Sugar means insulin and too much insulin is the cause of an army of medical conditions.
After you have gone Paleo for a while and watched your body fat drop, your energy levels stabilize, and your performance ratchet up, start eating in Zone proportions. The Zone is 40% carbohydrates (not starch), 30% protein (preferably lean), and 30% fat (nuts, olives, and avos, for example, not the deep fried platter at the local sports bar).
There are many ways to tweak and play with the Zone and Paleo diets. Only experience will find the best for you. Start with the basic prescription outlined above and go from there. Talk to any of the coaches, we are all constantly experimenting to find the perfect performance diet.
Let us start with the truism that eating a healthy diet will inevitably be more expensive than eating a diet of junk, empty calories, and monotony. In theory, it is possible to survive on cheap foods for a few dollars each week. In fact, that’s how millions of people live every day. Most grains, sweeteners, and mystery meats are available at dirt cheap prices, for various political and agricultural reasons that need not be explored here. If you’ve spent enough time on the CF nutrition forum, you will agree that the improvements in your performance and your appearance are worth the extra expense. You should also consider that a healthy diet might save lots of money in medical and dental expenses further down the road.
The point of this document is to show you how you can minimize the costs you spend on a quality diet with proper planning, research, and storage space. It is tailored toward people who follow a paleo or mostly-paleo diet, but the same principles apply to people who choose to eat modern agricultural foods too.
Before you start considering how to save money on a particular diet, you should figure out what sort of diet suits you best. The most important considerations will be your estimated caloric intake, your approximate macronutrient ratio, an idea of foods that you choose not to eat, and your available storage space.
For people who have caloric intakes that are high (I’m arbitrarily declaring this to be 3000 calories and more), your goal should be to maximize your calories per dollar ratio without resorting to processed foods or ruining your macronutrient ratios.
To this end, I find it helpful to divide my shopping into macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. Of course, most foods contain a mix of macronutrients, but we can still place them into categories based on which nutrient they provide the quantity of. I’ve discovered two key generalizations that have helped me plan my shopping:
These two generalizations lend us some insights on where, what, when, and how much to buy.
Most people have a single supermarket where they do their shopping. If you live in a town with one supermarket, you might not have much of a choice. However if you live in an urban or suburban area, you’ll have a few choices. If so, don’t make the mistake of buying everything you eat at a single store.
Look to see if there is an ethnic supermarket in your area, especially one that caters towards Asian, African, or Latino populations. The best foods bought here are carbs in the form of fruits and vegetables. If you are lucky, you can get fresh produce for less than id="mce_marker"/lb. In addition, you may be able to get healthy foods in ethnic supermarkets that you’ve never had before, such as coconuts, yu choy, or duck eggs. What other savings you get here will depend on the specific market, so be sure to look in every aisle when you go here. Avoid buying brand names at an ethnic or low-income supermarket, as they will be likely more expensive than at mega supermarkets. Ethnic stores are hands-down the best places to buy spices and seasonings.
For bulk, non-perishable items, the best places to save are the large department stores like [Costco]. This is where you can get most of your fats, and some of your carbs. Department stores will often sell bags of almonds and walnuts for prices that cannot be beaten by any other type of store. Strive to buy no less than 1 lb at a time. While not a paleo food, peanut butter has some of the highest calorie to dollar ratios of any food – often close to 1000 calories per dollar. If you choose to eat peanut butter, try to avoid the peanut butters that contain some of the “bad” oils. Instead try to get all-natural peanut butter or the ones that have flaxseed or palm oils added. Buying oils is an economic choice at department stores, as many will sell large containers of olive oil, canola oil, and coconut oil. In the canned and boxed goods aisle you can find deals on packaged fruits like raisins, cranberries, pineapples, peaches, and pears. Be aware that many of these products contain added sugar or corn syrup. You can drain and wash canned fruits to eliminate most of the sugar. Trail mixes can be very cheap, although they will mostly contain peanuts and raisins – foods that can be bought more cheaply separately.
Specialty health-conscious stores like Whole Foods are a mixed bag. In general, they are not places to shop for the person who is keen on saving money. However, there are some things worth buying here, such as bulk nuts and nut butters. The prices on seafood are often fairly reasonable, but also consider that many of the seafood products were frozen and then thawed. In other words, you might be better off buying frozen seafood if it’s cheaper.
Solid protein sources are going to be the hardest thing to find, because they are the most expensive and the quickest to perish. If there is a seafood market in your area, that may be the best place to save money on protein sources. Ethnic supermarkets may have seafood sections at excellent prices. In the absence of a dedicated seafood department, many places will sell bags of frozen seafood that will be cheaper than fresh seafood, yet similar in quality.
Meat is a tricky subject, because generally speaking, the cheaper the meat, the lower quality it is. A standalone butcher may sell meat at competitive prices, but they are not as popular as they once were. Mega-supermarkets will generally sell the same type of meat at prices that are cheaper than at smaller supermarkets, although some independent and ethnic supermarkets will sell prices that are even better. When comparing prices be sure to notice the fat content and the specific cut of each package. Generally speaking, ground pork or 73% lean ground beef will be the cheapest meat you can get, but it also contains a significant amount of fat.
If you’re interested in buying grass-fed beef, the most economical choice would be to buy in bulk (hundreds of pounds at a time) from a local farmer. Some organic supermarkets will sell it in small cuts, but it will be prohibitively expensive.
I’ve yet to find a consistent trend with purchasing gallons of milk. Believe it or not, some convenience stores sell milk cheaper than grocery stores. Your best bet is to check the prices on all the stores around you. If you’re like me and drink almost a gallon of milk a day, a 50 cent per gallon difference between two stores makes a difference. Eggs, too, vary in price depending on the location.
Whey protein doesn’t exactly count as quality food. However, it can actually be cheaper than most natural sources of protein. Department stores, pharmacies, and online retailers are the best places to buy plain whey powder.
Generally speaking, most foods that come in a package will be cheaper when bought in bulk. This includes meats, nuts, oils, fish, eggs, milk, cheese, spices, and condiments.
It is always to your advantage to buy non-perishable foods in the largest possible packages.
Most fresh produce is charged by the pound, so there is usually no advantage in buying 1 oz of spinach versus 2 lbs. Some fruits, like blueberries and strawberries, will be cheaper and more readily available when they are in season.
One way to shop is to buy your non-perishable goods once per month, and buy your perishable goods at the beginning of each week.
If there is a sale at your local market, take advantage of it by stocking up on the good. If it’s a perishable item, you can freeze it for up to 6 months. Some supermarkets will lower their prices on a shipment if it fails to sell in time for its expiration date, so be on the lookout for things that have been sitting on the shelf for awhile.
Those who have lots of practice eating Paleo have usually found ways to keep things interesting and tasty. But when it comes to condiments and sauces it can get a little tricky. When you read the fine print, most things that seem like they should be Paleo end up having things like soybean oil, gluten, high fructose corn syrup, and other nasty stuff in them.
The other night while shopping for ingredients for Paleo Shrimp and Avocado “sushi” I hit the soy sauce isle in search for something to replace soy sauce. One person had mentioned Braggs, but upon further investigation it was made with soy proteins. I scoured and scoured and just as I was about the give up I stumbled upon the one lone bottle with just two simple ingredients: Coconut sap and sea salt. This stuff worked great and in all honesty, had it come in a soy sauce bottle I’d have never known the difference in taste. Try it out the next time your recipe calls for soy sauce.
Breakfast seems to be the meal that I get the most questions about from people starting the Paleolithic diet. Breakfast is the meal where grain is most ingrained (no pun intended) in us–cereal, whether hot or cold, pancakes, waffles, grits, toast, French toast, muffins, bagels, hash browns and home fries, and more. It just seems like breakfast is the hardest meal to eat Paleo.
Here are some tips that I use when it comes to breakfast.
Eggs are key. They are quick and relatively easy to make, and they lend themselves to a wide variety of preparation. And wide variety is the main point. Eggs can be prepared in a bunch of different fashions–hard boiled, over easy, fried, poached, etc. I usually scramble my eggs for one big reason. You can make scrambled eggs many different ways. And again, variety is what we are after.
A lot (about 3-4 a week) of mornings I have six eggs, four whole and two whites. Yes, it can get old. You need to get creative. You can change the taste of your scramble by using different spices. Salt and pepper, Creole seasoning, basil and oregano, Tabasco and Tapatio, for example. And garlic, lots of garlic. Different kinds of oils give unique tastes. Olive oils are available with different infused flavors, and I like the oil from a jar of sun dried tomatoes. If you are Paleo+dairy, different cheeses also impart different flavors. I usually throw in a vegetable or two. Mushrooms, a little onion, chopped up sweet pepper, olives, maybe a marinated artichoke heart or some sun dried tomatoes. Salsa and pesto (albeit not together) are great additions. That is a bit of variety right there and it really doesn’t take much time to prepare.
The key, in my mind, to a good scramble is the meat. When you are lifting heavy and training hard, you want more protein than six eggs. I like to throw some meat into the scramble. I might dice up something leftover from last night’s dinner (always cook enough for leftovers), such as steak or chicken. If there isn’t any available leftovers, I like canned crab and salmon, smoked salmon or lox, and shrimp (especially marinated). This stuff can be expensive, but it goes a long way if just used for breakfast scrambles. It tastes great and the price is worth it if it means you can eat Paleo for breakfast day after day.
A quick word about the egg itself. I buy my eggs in large bunches from Costco because I am poor (duh, I run a CrossFit box), but if you can afford them, organic free range eggs are just awesome. You get more white and the taste is great.
Between the above two paragraphs there is a lot of room for experimentation and creativity just with scrambled eggs. I also like turkey bacon (the Trader Joe’s stuff is addicting) and chicken sausages. While the turkey bacon is fairly lean, sausages can be kind of fatty and they will often have cheese in them. Other breakfast staples are grapefruits and apples.
If you are Paleo+dairy, breakfast is even easier. Cottage cheese is probably the quickest breakfast to make. I like mine with lots of berries. Greek yogurt with berries and a touch of honey makes an appearance now and again too. Be warned, dairy in general, but especially in the morning or evening will bulk you up.
One of the biggest complaints I get about Paleo breakfasts is that they are so repetitive. I hope that I have been able to show that this really isn’t true. Also, Paleo or not, breakfast is the most repetitive meal of the day and most people eat the same old thing for it most of the time anyway. So, give some of the ideas above a try.
Gluten is bad.
Most of you know this. In a nut shell, gluten contains an antinutrient that kills off the microvilli in your intestines. You need these microvilli, as they are covered with enzymes that help digest food and transport nutrients to the blood stream. When the microvilli are killed off by gluten you end up with something called Celiacs disease which makes it impossible to absorb fats, minerals, and many vitamins. There’s good chance you know someone who has this particularly bad intolerance to gluten.
Even if you don’t have full blown Celiacs disease, gluten causes pretty bad gut damage that leads to “leaky gut syndrome.” Large food particles make their way into the blood stream and once they are there they are attacked by antibodies, essentially manifesting as all sorts of autoimmune diseases. There have even been links to schizophrenia and congestive heart failure, autism, and a whole array of other things.
Thank goodness, many of us know this and thus have taken on a Paleo lifestyle- and with amazing results in energy levels, performance, and recovery. Not to mention, everyone looks great. But still, there are many foods out there with hidden ingredients in them that may contain gluten that you didn’t even think of. Check out celiac.com for a huge list of everything that contains gluten.
You might be surprised.
Sometimes the hardest thing about changing your diet is that your family and friends aren’t that supportive. When you dine with them, they cook/order unhealthy foods and encourage you to eat it. Plus, at your job you may be constantly tempted by all of the treats that get passed around. What can be done?
When I started Paleo years ago, most people around me asked lots of questions trying to figure out this crazy new diet. As the first weeks passed there were plenty of comments:
“Did cavemen eat that?”
“What, you cook your meat? Don’t you think cavemen ate their meat raw?”
“Why can’t you have any good grains, like brown rice? That seems very wrong to cut out something so healthy!”
“No beans! What is wrong with beans?”
Overall, eating Paleo can be rather painless, but the social aspect can be challenging at times. I have found a couple of things to be very helpful when dealing with all those people around you who want you to cheat or are irritated by your crazy diet.
For me it is this, “the Paleo diet is meat, vegetables, fruit, and some nuts and seeds and that means no dairy, no sugar, no grains and no legumes.” I said that same thing over and over. If anyone really wants to know more, I am happy to go on, but really, hardly anyone actually wants to know all the minute details of my food plan.
Just as important to clearly communicating the Paleo diet is actually living it. Let’s be honest-how many of your family members and close friends are going to be that supportive if they see you cheating all the time? If you don’t take it seriously, they won’t either. Unless you draw your food lines and stick to them pretty consistently, those around you will always figure that today, this meal, this treat, is an acceptable cheat.
Food is such a central part of our social interactions that people will expect you to eat what everyone else is eating, what you used to eat. You can’t dismiss this social pressure! People want you to enjoy what they have prepared. They want you to enjoy what they are enjoying. People also get nervous when you are making healthy choices and they aren’t. Knowing this and being prepared for this pressure makes it easier to stand your ground. Others can and do adjust to your new way of eating, but it can take time. Those who actually like you will see how much this matters to you, support you and even start to make sure you have Paleo food.
(Thanks to Robb Wolf, Jocelyn Forest, and Leah Lutz for the info.)
Courtesy of Crossfit Los Gatos