In response to the myriad questions I get regarding nutrition and food in general, I have concocted what I dub the food optimality nutritional continuum. The FONC, if you will. I’m bringing the FONC. Play that FONC-y music white b–okay, I’ll stop.
Anyway, as I have previously mentioned there are two primary objectives with regards to physique modification—either you want to get leaner or you want to get bigger—and specific goals can always be classified under one or both. Consequently, eating strategies lie on the same continuum.
Getting lean is simple, really; the only thing that makes it difficult is having your priorities out of whack (i.e., maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not at the top of the list). Getting bigger without throwing body composition and health out the window is quite a bit harder and requires a great deal of discipline.
Without further ado, here’s the continuum from most optimal to least:
1) Lean and/or grass-fed meats, fish, veggies, eggs
2) Fatty grain-fed meats
3) Protein supplements—whey, casein
4) Dairy—milk, cheese, yogurt
5) Nuts/seeds/avocado, fruit
6) Non-glutinous starch—rice, potatoes
7) Legumes—beans, peanuts
8) STWKY—flour, sugar
For leaning: focus on quality first then eat until satisfied (no longer hungry). Stick to numbers 1-3 with as much as possible coming from the 1 file. Insert 4-5 only as much as necessary to avoid being ravenously hungry. Avoid 6-8 at least 90% of the time.
For gaining: focus on quantity first (eat until you hate yourself) but try and make the foods as high-quality as possible—go for 1-3 when possible, insert 4-6 where useful, and avoid 7-8. This will minimize the addition of unnecessary body fat as you gain muscle. If you gain some body fat, get over it. You can always lean out later.
Eating big adds in less-optimal foods because the benefits outweigh the drawbacks; if you’re trying to get bigger, you don’t care if a food interferes with leaning out. Milk is probably the best example of this—it’s very useful for people trying to gain mass, but it hinders fat loss big-time. Basically, milk makes you bigger. If that’s in line with your goals, awesome. If not, avoid it.
The higher a food’s ranking, the more you can fill up on it without storing it as fat and the more nutrient-dense the food is. The lower the ranking, the more drawbacks are present relative to potential benefits. Legumes and stwky are useless for our purposes, since they have few if any benefits and myriad debilitating drawbacks. Note that legumes don’t really interfere with leaning out and they are quite filling, but they interfere with optimal health without contributing any benefits better than things higher on the list (unless you’re a vegan, but that’s not my concern).
Also, there’s a nuance here regarding protein. Try and get as much protein as possible from meat and egg sources; supplements can help bridge the gap if you’re lacking, but your body will respond better to the real deal. Shakes, supplements, and dairy can set off an insulin response that tells your body to store instead of burn—again, this is great if you’re trying to get big, but it’s counterproductive if you’re not. If it’s between pounding a shake and not meeting your protein quota for the day, take the damn shake since that’s a higher priority. Worry about recovery first.
I’ll give you one example for each category, assuming an afternoon workout time. We have leaning, clean bulking, and “dirty” bulking.
Leaning/clean bulk for women (ideal training day for T-Meg, if she works out in the afternoon)
Breakfast: 3 eggs, 6 oz 85% lean ground beef, 1 cup spinach, 1 cup broccoli, hot sauce, coffee w/butter & almond milk (45g protein, app 650 cal)
Lunch: In-n-out double meat protein style, extra lettuce (30g protein, app 400 cal)
Pre-WOD: protein bar (20g protein, 200 cal)
Post-WOD: protein shake (30g protein, 150 cal)
Dinner: 8 oz flank steak, grilled veggies w/butter (40g protein, app 500 cal)
Total: 165g protein, app 1900 cal
This would work ideally for a medium-sized female trying to stay lean while gaining muscle (130-150#). You can scale the food quantities up or down to meet your needs. A 150# male would adjust this to 200g protein per day (remember, men should use bodyweight plus 50 for their daily protein requirement) and about 2400 total calories—this can be achieved with an additional In-N-Out protein style triple meat.
As a side note, T-Meg actually likes to train first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. Weirdo.
Breakfast: 4-egg omelet w/bell peppers, spinach, 2 bacon strips, 2 oz ham, 2 sausage links, 4 oz 80% lean ground beef; 16 oz whole milk (80g protein, app 1100 cal)
Snack: 2 tbsp almond butter, protein bar, 8 oz whole milk (30g protein, app 500 cal)
Lunch: In-n-out 4×4 protein style (70g protein, app 1000 cal)
Pre-WOD: protein shake w/creatine & 16 oz whole milk (45g protein, app 550 cal)
Post-WOD: same as pre-wod (45g protein, 550 cal)
Dinner: 10 oz steak, baked sweet potato w/butter, grilled veggies (50g protein, app 1200 cal)
Total: 320g protein, app 5000 cal
If you’re serious about getting huge, this would be a normal day for you. Food quality is pretty high and there’s nothing from categories 6-8. Eating like this is NOT fun as you’re constantly full to the point of discomfort. This would work for a leaner 200# strength athlete in a mass-gaining cycle OR a skinny guy in need of 30+ pounds of extra mass.
Your body will fight you tooth and nail if you make a concerted effort to grow, while for the most part only your mind and your shitty ingrained habits fight your endeavors to lean out.
Key supplements that you should be taking: Vitamin D, multivitamin/mineral, B complex, fish oil. These all help with inflammation suppression, energy metabolism, and protein synthesis. Other helpful supplements: Vitamin C, zinc, L-glutamine, magnesium.
Y’all need to remember one thing: changing your body is not something you work on for only an hour a day. It’s a constant endeavor that requires continuous thought and influences everything you put into your body. If you lift heavy stuff and keep eating crap, you won’t realize most of the potential results that CrossFit has to offer. This isn’t just a gym—it’s a lifestyle, a way of eating and of being conscientious of your health and your body’s inner workings. It’s having a working knowledge of your anatomy and how your actions affect it. As far as we can tell, you only get one body and one shot on this rock, so do your best not to fuck it up.