Limit Your Processed Food Intake, But Don’t Stress It Says CrossFit Nutritionist
Originally published in the CrossFit Journal in 2002, founder Greg Glassman defined World Class Fitness in 100 Words, leading with: “Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.” Almost 23 years later and the sentiment remains strong through much of the affiliate ecosystem — however, the suggested guidelines may shift and change over time with the growth of the sport.
“I think food quality should still be addressed with every client because the more they know, the better decisions they can make on their own. However, if you want to do it right, you have to meet people where they are,” said Tracy Tucker, a nutrition coach for Training Think Tank.
According to a recent Washington Post article, almost 60 percent of the calories that adults in America consume are from ultra-processed foods. When you consider that there are unprocessed and minimally processed foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts, meats, seafood, spices, etc.), an ultra-processed food is one that has been changed or created to be a specific artificial flavor, particular color, and/or hyperpalatable — easy to over-eat and common to crave.
A diet abundant in these less-natural food products (think: popular cereals, yogurts, breads, granola, frozen meals and the like), have been linked to cases of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and other serious health conditions.
However, keeping Tucker’s earlier advice in mind, this information doesn’t mean you need to rummage through your cabinets immediately and toss anything that didn’t come from the earth. Considering your specific goals, health status and other individual factors is important when deciding how to approach your dietary restrictions.
“Specifically CrossFit athletes; I think most would be surprised to hear that they could get away with eating a little more processed foods than they think,” Tucker suggests.
Tucker goes on to note that given that athletes typically have a requirement for a higher daily caloric intake, it can be challenging to consume all of that food from entirely unprocessed foods.
“Not only is it hard to eat (entirely unprocessed foods) because it’s not super hyperpalatable, but it can also cause some digestive discomfort,” Tucker said. “I’d simply encourage a little more balance, especially at certain well thought out times of the year. It can go a really long way. It might even keep you more interested in your sport and more so, in the game for longer.”
While even the most casual box-goer would likely pay more attention to their diet than the average person, it doesn’t disqualify them from falling victim to the food industry’s clever selling tactics. Ulta-processed foods are often conveniently placed on shelves, marketed heavily and given as samples. Keep in mind that swapping these foods out for comparable ones with fewer ingredients on the nutrition label is likely to produce better health outcomes over the long-term and is worth an effort, but don’t let it be your end all be all.
“I would say it’s more of a balancing act. Of course there are foods that don’t agree with certain people and some individuals have allergies and/or sensitivities, (and) we also know there are some food types that lead to health risks. However, I stress not putting labels on certain food items,” Tucker said. “So instead of demonizing certain ingredients or only encouraging people to buy ‘superfoods’, I attempt to show people you can have everything in moderation and doing so will probably help you to choose things that make you feel better and stick to your plan for a sustainable amount of time — instead of that quick fix you do that might work, but never lasts.”