What is the Zone?


Most serious CrossFitters adhere to either the Paleo Diet, the Zone Diet, or some blend of the two. Balancing your portions and carb/protein/fat intake with the Zone is an incredibly valuable tool for both elite athletes seeking the best CrossFit diet and everyday people seeking weight loss.  

The Zone diet is primarily concerned with controlling your hormones.  Hormonal balance affects all important components of your wellness: body composition, energy utilization, blood chemistry, and much more.  

Food is a drug. This may seem shocking, but think about the definition of a drug.  Loosely, ingesting drugs causes physiological changes in your body.  Ingesting food has the same effect.  It can bring about positive or negative changes in your body.  Would you take 17 Tylenol capsules for a headache?  Would you consume expired, low-quality medicine?  Of course not.  

Then why should we expect different results when we feed our bodies 17 times our necessary food intake, and comprise our diet of low-quality processed garbage with no nutritional value?  You see the results of this lifestyle in America today.

The Zone Diet isn’t about eating “low-carb” or “high-protein” or anything like that.  

It’s a diet balanced in
• Protein (lean, natural meats are preferred)
• Carbs (mostly low glycemic-load fruits and vegetables)
• Fat (one of the most important macronutrients!)

With the right balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats, you can control three major hormones generated by the human diet – insulin, glucagon and eicosanoids.

Insulin – A storage hormone. Excess insulin makes you fat and keeps you fat. It also accelerates silent inflammation.

Glucagon – A mobilization hormone that tells the body to release stored carbohydrates at a steady rate, leading to stabilized blood sugar levels. This is key for optimal mental and physical performance.

Eicosanoids – These are the hormones that ultimately control silent inflammation. They are also master hormones that indirectly orchestrate a vast array of other hormonal systems in your body.

Intro to Zone Living
A One Block meal consists of one choice from the Protein List, one from the Carbohydrate List and one from the Fat List.

A Two Block meal consists of 2 choices from each list.
A Three Block meal consists of 3 choices from each list…and so on.

You can mix and match blocks as you wish.  If you aren’t very hungry when you first wake up, then a 2 block meal might be just right for you, perhaps with a 3 block lunch and dinner. Or maybe you prefer to start your day with 3 blocks and have a lighter dinner or lunch.

Here is a sample menu of a possible routine (times can be adjusted 30 minutes or so either way):
7:30 am      10am           1:00pm         3:30pm         6:30pm        9pm/9:30  
Breakfst      snack            lunch            snack             dinner          snack
2 Block       1 Block         3 Block         1 Block           3 Block        1 Block=11 Blocks

10 to 11 blocks of balanced food is about right for a small woman.  Feel free to experiment with your number of daily blocks and move them around as you see fit.  Every athlete is different.  The chart to the side will help you determine your block requirements.

You don’t have to set alarms. The point is to develop the habit of eating at regular intervals so your hormones are balanced all day. Eat within an hour of waking up in the morning, don’t go more than 4 hours without eating something, and eat a snack before you go to sleep so you have some fuel to dream on.

Buying a digital food scale is a great idea since it makes measuring blocks fast and easy. Use “tare” to make it even easier, and you won’t have to use math at all!  Put your plate on the scale and hit the tare button. It subtracts the weight of the plate and makes the scale read zero. Measure out one of the items. Hit the tare button and again it starts you at zero once more for the next item. Finally your plate will be full of all your foods, all measured individually, but all on one plate. Very easy!
After about a month you’ll be able to “eyeball” the food and you won’t need to measure precisely anymore…unless you’re having something new you’ve never measured into blocks.

Don’t worry too much about being exact; this isn’t a chemistry test!  

One last thing: Read the label on already prepared foods you like.
7 grams of protein = 1 block.     14 grams = 2 blocks.      21 grams = 3 blocks.
9 grams of carbs    = 1 block.     18 grams = 2 blocks.      27 grams = 3 blocks.
1.5 grams of fat  = 1 block.        3 grams = 2 blocks.        4.5 grams = 3 blocks.

For example, if you get a snack bar that says:
8 grams of protein
29 grams of carbohydrates
6 grams of fat

You should count this as a carbohydrate and not worry about the protein and fat in the snack bar. You must be careful not to micromanage your nutrients.  If you incorrectly count all of the macronutrients in this snack bar (~1 block of protein, ~3 blocks carbs, ~4 blocks fat) then you will end up underfed and driving yourself crazy.    

In the case of this snack bar you should just count it as 3 blocks of carbohydrates. Add 3 blocks of protein and fat for a complete 3 block meal.  This takes practice and can be frustrating at times, but the results will make the effort worthwhile!

I hope you feel as good as I do living “in the Zone”.  Below you can see some examples of Zone-friendly meals, including a 2, 3, and 4 block zone dinner that will perfectly complement your CrossFit diet!

2 Block Meal
2 eggwhites & 2 turkey links
2 small tomatoes or one large tomato
1 tsp cashew butter (1000mg fish oil not counted)

3 Block Meal
6.7 oz cottage cheese
.5oz (1/8 cup) rolled oats, 3.7 oz (1 cup) strawberries, & 2.4 oz blueberries
9 cocoa almonds

4 Block Meal
4 eggwhites, 2 turkey links, 1 oz cheese
2 cups strawberries & ½ oat pita
12 cocoa almonds

4 Block Meal
4.5 oz chicken meat & 1 oz cheese
1 whole oat pita
12 cocoa almonds

4 Block Meal
6 oz grilled fish
36 asparagus spears and 1 cup mushrooms
2 teaspoons of cashew butter

Finally, buying natural, paleo-friendly foods (shop the perimeter of the grocery store) and preparing for the week is a great way to ensure success:

Much of this information is derived and paraphrased from the Zone Diet website.  Please visit the website if you would like to download a copy of the food block list or talk to your coach if you have questions!