By Gino Escalante
So you want to be good at CrossFit? That’s great! I will assume that if you are reading this with that goal in mind then you have taken lifting classes already. You’ve also gone to gymnastics class, and endurance class, and mastered all of the fundamentals. You may have even climbed Mount Everest with a weight vest. You’re super. Whether or not you have checked all of your fitness boxes, there is one fundamental thing that should come before all of that. It’s the one thing everybody needs, but very few people achieve: dialing in your nutrition.
I know that everyone has a different path and different things work for different people. That is why I wrote this article: I want to share how I discovered what works best for me.
For those who don’t know, I grew up in Venezuela. For the first 12 years of my life, my mother cooked every single meal with fresh ingredients. This wasn’t something I grew to appreciate until I was an adult, and I cannot imagine the effort she put into it each day. I was a healthy, normal-sized child because of the quality of my meals at home.
Soon after, we moved to the United States. Let’s fast-forward to senior year in high school. I had a lot more control over what I ate, and my weight increased to 226 because of my food choices. Let’s just say that not a lot of that weight was muscle! Back then, I swam almost year round, but my diet and food choices were not working for me. It turns out that PB and J’s, cookies, chips, soda and pizza were not the pillars of nutrition I thought they were.
Once I went to college, I lost 46 pounds during my freshman year. The swim training was a lot more intense! I had to buy a lot of new clothing, and this was the first time I realized how much my weight affected me. Over the course of a few months, I had become a much better athlete and, better still, had started getting more attention from girls. Because of this transformation, I pinpoint this as the first time I made a conscious effort to eat better, or at least try to.
Over the next few years, I did what I thought was right with my nutrition. I looked at the food pyramid and ate my servings of grains, meats, fruits, and veggies. I worked out often, but my weight never really got where I wanted it to go. I was chubby, but not fat; muscular, but not jacked. This wasn’t about trying to back squat 500 pounds. It wasn’t about being adored by others, it was about what I saw within myself.
It wasn’t until I started CrossFit that things began to take shape. As obvious as it sounds now, the idea that what you put in your body affects everything else was a radical concept to me. The paleo diet had taken over at that time and I became a fanatic almost instantly (hopefully you didn’t know be back then, because I was incredibly annoying). Even still, between paleo bars, paleo cookies and all the other paleo nonsense, the miraculous changes I expected never came.
Don’t get me wrong, eating better has improved every aspect of my life. I sleep, breathe, exercise and live better because of it; but, when you work in a gym with people who can play chess on their abs, you set your personal bar a little bit higher. That’s when I discovered the keto diet.
I am not going to go into details, but this diet worked for me. It’s not the easiest thing to do, and it’s particularly unforgiving, but I enjoyed what I was eating. It seemed like I could finally move in the direction I wanted to. Unfortunately, after experimenting for a year or so, I found myself with the same habits. I was eating keto desserts, keto muffins, keto pancakes, etc. Regardless of how far I had come, it felt like I was never going to achieve my goals.
Last Thanksgiving, I went a little crazy. I ate, I ate some more, and then I had dessert. Then I had dessert again. I followed that with more dessert. Not only did I feel gross, I felt physically ill. My body was rejecting the food I ate. Think about the impact of that last sentence: my body was rejecting something that was meant to keep me alive. The poison was truly in the dose.
That is when I decided things needed to change. For years, I had preached the benefits to others without following my own advice. The Monday after Thanksgiving, I challenged myself to do 30 days clean. Not 99 percent, not even 99.9 percent. My goal was 100 percent clean eating. I wanted to turn the ass-kicking dial up to 11.
I lost almost as much weight between Thanksgiving and Christmas as I had the other 11 months of the year. Workouts? Improved! Mood? Improved! Sleep? Improved! The way my wife looked at me with my shirt off? Much improved!
In all my time doing CrossFit, this was the one instance I finally did nutrition correctly. I stopped taking shortcuts and looking for the easy way out. I repeated the process in January and almost attained the same weight I had after my freshman swim season. The differences now are being 15 years older and infinitely stronger. It was the closest I had come to time travel.
I know that I was not destined to be an athlete (I like ice cream too much). I’ve worked my whole life for things that seem to come so damn easily to others. But now, after years of experimenting, I feel like I have both the will and knowledge to propel myself to superstardom!
- You have to experiment. A lot. See what works for you and what doesn’t!
- Is there a middle ground? Sure! It depends on your personal goals. Unfortunately for me, the middle ground is closer to eating 90 percent clean all the time.
- When I look for shortcuts, my progress stalls. Just like with CrossFit, there are no easy ways. By now, you should now that!
- Be real with yourself. I never fully committed to this until I was ready to cut all the bullshit and force myself to do things correctly.
- I know that because I love ice cream more than the sun and the moon, I am going to struggle with this forever (or as long as my wife keeps looking at me that way!).