Optimize Your Diet to Reach Your Fitness and Nutrition Goals - by Justin Sarubbi

Optimize Your Diet to Reach Your Fitness and Nutrition Goals.

Before I get started I just want to emphasize I am not a nutritional expert by any means. I just try and do what I think is best for me and am willing to share my story and experiences, hoping that it can help somebody else. The best piece of advice I can think of is to find what works for you. Do your own research and self-experiments, see what nutrition plan best suits your needs. The purpose of this article is to shed some light of some diets that other people from the gym and me follow. 

Paleo and Fat Loss

For most people at the gym the best approach seems to be a Paleo-ish plan. The Paleo diet as most people know it is, “Eat plenty of Vegetables, Meat, Nuts and Seeds, Little starch, and No Sugar”. This approach works great if your main objective is to lose weight. From personal experience I can say this diet helped me lose over 30 pounds and really improved my general health.  I used to prescribe to the 80 -20 Rule of 80% Diet and 20% Cheat. I do Crossfit because I am trying to improve my overall health, and I believe a strong diet is the most fundamental way of achieving this health. I also know that mental health is just as important. Constantly worrying about what you eat can cause a damper on life and will lead to unnecessary stress. That’s why I allowed myself a 20% cheat buffer where I can indulge on my favorite vices (ice-cream, pizza, beer). After following this approach for a while, I found I gave a little too much leeway and that number seemed to hover around the 65-70% range, and my performance and weight slipped up. I now like to prescribe to the 90-10% rule with trying to get in a few really healthy days of eating before I cheat. 

According to fitness expert Robb Wolf, he believes following a Basic Paleo Plan is an effective approach that will lead to lifelong Fat Loss. Here is an excerpt from his blog where he breaks down the basic plan:

Majority of meals look like this:

  • 4-8 oz of lean protein such as chicken, lean beef, turkey, pork loin or seafood.
  • Then add several servings of multicolored vegetables, either raw, steamed or lightly cooked.
  • Finally, round out the meal with good fats from Avocado, olive oil or a handful of un-salted nuts such as almonds, pecans, macadamias or walnuts.


Make sure to have 3-4 meals like this each day. Give it 30 days and then let us know how quick and easy it is to lose unwanted body fat, all without hunger and cravings. Until you reach your desired level of leanness, we recommend you keep your fruit intake to 1-2 servings per day and make these choices mainly from berries and melons. Keep in mind, you will be eating plenty of nutritious fresh vegetables, we just want you to see the fastest, most effective results you can. This is why we limit your fruit in the beginning to help you change your metabolic engines to a mode of “fat burning”.  Read More: Robb Wolf Meal Plan Blog

The Basic Paleo worked great when I needed to kick start my weight loss and metabolism. I lost more weight than I thought was obtainable, and was happy about the way I was looking. As I felt better and better about my body, I also was noticing my times in the workouts were also improving. I decided it was time to see what Crossfit competitions were like and I started competing.  With all the added work I knew I needed to change my diet to help aid in recovery and optimize my performance. After researching and executing a few diet plans I saw that most professionals around the Crossfit scene were talking about similar approaches with the basic idea below. 

The Basics to Optimizing Performance

  • Take the Basic Paleo Plan and Add additional Carbs that should be eaten only at Optimal Times
  • Break food into Macronutrients (Carbs, Fats, and Proteins), Adjust Food intake on your size, level of physical work, and body composition goals. 
  • Eat carbs around all your workouts. 
    • The goal is to fuel up before your workout 
    • Use carbs to recover after your workout.
      • Consuming Carbs within 30 min post workout will help optimize repair of muscle tissue and to ensure muscle glycogen is optimally replenished
    • transition between fats and carbohydrates so you can burn more fat when you're not exercising 
  • Two diet Examples provided below are the Flexible Dieting and Eat to Perform

Macronutrients

Before we get into the Diets let’s take a step back and discuss the Macronutrients that are used to fuel performance: Fat, Carbohydrates, and Protein. Nutrients are the substances that living organisms require to live, function, and thrive. Macronutrients are simply nutrients required in large quantities, which the body uses for energy. 

  • Protein – amino acids the body requires for a wide variety of functions. It is one of the building blocks of the body and is crucial for muscle growth and muscular repair.
    • Meat, Poultry, Fish, Seafood, Eggs, Dairy (except butter & cream).
    • Supplements: Protein Powder
  • Fat- the body uses Fat as a secondary source of energy; it maintains cell membranes, absorbs fat-soluble vitamins, provides cushioning for our organs and joints, and promotes healthy skin and hair. Essential fatty acids can’t be synthesized by the human body so they must be ingested by way of food. 
    • Red Meat, Pork, Fish, Olive Oil, Coconut Oil, MCT Oil, Other Oils, Nuts, seeds, Avocados, Full Fat Dairy (milk,cheese,yogurt, BUTTER, cream), Ghee, and egg yolk.
    • Supplements: Fish Oil, Putting Butter in Coffee
  • Carbohydrates- Provides energy for activities that demand energy.  The body uses this macronutrient most easily, so in order to perform well, you need ample amounts. Carbs are also used to fuel our brain. Leftover carbs get stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen, and then used later when energy is needed.  Carbs can be broken down into Simple and Complex. 
    • Simple Carbs – fast digesting and easily broken down for immediate energy. More commonly known as sugar.
    • Complex Carbs- substantially more difficult for our bodies to digest. Broken down gradually and released into bloodstream slower, these include fiber. 
    • Found in starchy foods (oats, quinoa, rice, yams, potatoes, corn, etc.), fruit, and veggies. My favorites are Sweet Potatoes, White Rice, and Quinoa. 
    • Supplements: Vitargo, Maltodextrin, Waxy Maize, Dextrose. 

Quantity 

Even though I don’t think weighing and measuring every meal is a good idea. I do believe understanding a general target goal for your nutrition, and monitoring your intake of food for a day or two to see what your Macros and diet looks like. One great tool for this is the My Fitness Pal App (more below) which can be downloaded for free onto your phone.  I am a dork and like to write down my workouts and food so I can look back on the data and see if I can find any patterns. 

  1. Flexible Dieting -This plan will work best for athletes who Wod around 4+ times a week who are looking quantify their results. 
    1. Cutting/Maintaining
      1. Calories- Multiply Weight X 11-14(depending on level of activity throughout the day). If you have less Body Fat you can eat more towards the higher number and visa-versa. 
      2. Protein- 1g per 1 Pound of Target weight (want to weigh 195 eat 195 grams of Protein)
      3. Carbs-1-1.5g  per 1 Pound of Target weight
      4. Fat- take Grams of Protein + Carbs then X by 4 (4 cals in a gram of P and C). Take that number subtract from total calories then divide that number by 9 (4 cals in a gram of Fat)
        1. Example: Target Weight 195: 195 + 243.75 (195*1.25)=438.75  X 4=1755

                                         2730 (195X14) – 1755 = 975 / 9 = 108.33

    1. Bulking 
      1. Calories- Multiply Weight X 11-14 (more towards 14)
      2. Protein- 1g per 1 Pound of Target weight (want to weigh 220 eat 220 grams of Protein)
      3. Carbs-1.5g  per 1 Pound of Target weight
      4. Fat- take Grams of Protein + Carbs then X by 4. Take that number subtract from total calories then divide that number by 9. 
    2. Justin Sarubbi’s Macro’s
      1. Calories (Total Daily Energy Expenditure): 2730
      2. Protein: Grams 195 / Calories 780 (28%)
      3. Carbs: Grams 243.75/ Calories 975 (36%)
      4. Fat: Gram 108.33 / Calories 975 (36%)


  1. Eat to Perform - For the Athlete who Wods 4-5 times a week and does additional exercise on top of that workload. Ideal for Athletes looking to compete and train for crossfit competitions or other events. ETP makes it easy to calculate your recommended daily amount of Calories and Macro’s.  Just fill out info regarding Height, Weight, Age, Activity Level, on link below and they will give you your numbers:
  2. ETP Calculator
    1. Justin Sarubbi’s Macro’s: 
      1. Calories (Total Daily Energy Expenditure): 3,312
      2. Protein: Grams 195 / Calories 780 (24%)
      3. Carbs: Grams 352/ Calories 1,407 (42%)
      4. Fat: Gram 125 / Calories 1,125 (34%)

As you can see by these two diet plans that they are both very similar but as your workload increases you want to add more Carbs. This is shown by adding almost 108.25 grams of carbs to compensate for additional workload.  Just remember that these numbers are just a baseline not an exact target. Play with the amounts and see which works for you. Keep a journal and log different days and see how you felt and performed in the workout, given your food intake. 

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Timing 

 I base the timing of my meals by how I feel. If I wake up and I am hungry I eat, if I am not hungry I don’t eat, it’s that simple. Meal timing for me is not important, what is important is Macro timing. It is optimal to consume your carbs around your training time. Proper Macro distribution is detrimental to success. 

  1. Flexible Dieting Plan
    1. Protein – try to distribute evenly between however many meals you choose to consume on a daily basis. For example if eat 150 g’s of protein and 5 meals a day eat 30 grams per meal. This doesn’t have to be exact but don’t eat 150 grams of protein in one sitting. 
    2. Carbs/Fat- Consume around training time. Pre and Post workout meals should be carb heavy. 
      1. PM Training- Carbs at night, start day with Protein and Fats then taper in protein and carbs right before you train. Continue eating carbs post workout until you hit your macros. (If you train at 7 eat carbs at 5 until bedtime).
      2. AM Training- Eat Carbs and Protein right before and right after your workout and taper it into protein and fats as the day goes on. 
  2. Eat to Perform
    1. The same premise as the Flexible Diet Plan. Use both fat and carbohydrates for fuel.
      1. High Intensity Workout Fuel with Carbs (Crossift, Olympic Lifting, running)
      2. Low Intensity Workout Fuel with Fat (walking, moving around doing you daily job)
    2. Rev up Carbs and Calories on Days you work out and scale them back on days you are resting
    3. This diet differs from Flexible Diet Plan because it uses the previous day to help you fuel for next day’s activities. 
      1. AM Training- Eat carbs around workouts. Optimally eat carbs the Night before to ensure that you’re fueled for your AM workout. 
        1. If rest day save carbs for Night to fuel for next morning. 
        2. If workout AM and next day is Rest Day taper off you Carbs as the day goes on, eating on Fat and Protein at night. 
      2. PM Training- Eat carbs around workouts. Optimally start eating carbs late afternoon and evening to fuel for PM workout. Then eat until you reach Macros or go to bed. 

Regardless of which diet, or any diet, you choose to partake in; the timing of your Macros can be a great tool to control your body composition and fuel for your workouts. If you want to read more about these diets, and the research behind them, you can find them at the links below:

Flexible Dieting

Eat to Perform 

Tips

Regardless of what diet you choose to pursue, here are a few tips that will help you achieve your goals. 

  1. Start Now - Don’t tell yourself I will start on Monday, next month, or the next day. Everything you put in your body serves a purpose, if you want to make a commitment for better health start right away. 
  2. Ease into It - You don’t have to go full Paleo. You don’t have to jump from 1200 Calories a day to 3000 (unless you want to). Try adding a little more to eat each day and see how you feel. Or try ditching some less optimal food each day until you are happy with your diet. Nothing has to be immediate, but know that little changes can add up and make a huge difference. 
  3. Record Data - Crossfit’s greatest trait is the ability to measure your fitness level. People can easily see what their old times, or lifts, were compared to their current. Recording data is a great way to measure your progress, and your nutrition should be no different. 
    1. Take a Before Photo - Take a photo before you start your diet and continue to take photos as you progress with your diet. If you think you look better, continue what you are doing. If you think you look worse, take a look back at your diet and try and change aspects, or find a new plan. 
    2. Log you Food Intake - When you first start a diet it is very important to monitor you daily food intake to get a baseline of what your average day looks like. I use the app My Fitness Pal (you will see my results below), it is a great tool to journal your daily diet. It will break down you daily food intake into daily nutrients so you can see what exactly you are consuming. I would also keep a notebook to jog down how you feel after eating certain foods, compared to others. If you feel good after you eat a meal, continue eating that food. If you feel bloated, or gassy stop eating it. 
    3. Create a Cookbook - If you like a certain meal, save the recipe. Having a list of go to easy meals at your disposal will save a bunch of time when you are looking for a quick meal. There are a bunch of good Note taking apps available for your phone, I use Evernote.  You have a limitless supply of recipes online, if you find one you like copy it and paste it into a Notebook, it literally takes 3 seconds. My general rule of thumb is to google what ingredients I have to cook with, then type “Paleo”.  Here is an example of my google search when I searched “Grassfed Beef, Kale Paleo”. You can see to the right that the first result gave me a list of 26 healthy dishes that contain Ground Beef. It is not a perfect system but it will get you results if you follow it. 
  4. Meal Prep - Life is the worst thing that could happen to our diet. We have so little free time that eating healthy gets shoved farther and farther down the priority list. Having meals prepared is a great resource to use when life throws you a curveball. Pick a day where you have the most time and take 1-2 hours to create meals for the week. So when that meeting runs an extra hour you don’t have to pull into a Drive Thru at your local fast food chain, you can just microwave some leftover chicken, broccoli and white rice, or whatever meal you choose. Prepping your food is a guaranteed way for you to meet your daily diet needs. 
  5. Don’t Stress Out - Committing to your diet is a gigantic step in the right direction. You are actively trying to better your health and yourself, and you should feel proud of that decision. If you don’t eat perfect one day, or binge eat some junk food, don’t beat yourself up over it, just make sure your next few meals are healthy and continue choosing quality foods, and you will be fine. I cheat every week, every week I have some Beer, Pizza, Candy, or Ice-cream.  I never eat perfectly any given week and I rarely feel guilty about it. Why? Because I know I work my ass off trying to eat healthy, and workout hard throughout the week, so I know I can get away with a few cheat meals and continue to achieve my goals.  Click on this link to read more about “Not Stressing Out.” 

I hope you found this article helpful, Please see below for some examples of Daily Food Intake for a few athletes at the gym. 

Justin Sarubbi- Competing Athlete trying to Maintain.

  1. Workload: Little Less Intense Training Day. 6PM Wod followed by  1 hour of Gymnastics Work
  2. Calories (Total Daily Energy Expenditure): 2,994 (3,312)
  3. Fat: Gram 135 (125)
  4. Carbs: Grams 291 (352)
  5. Protein: Grams 192 (195)
  6. Diet
    1. 8AM-11AM: Breakfast: 375 Cal, 29.6g F, 44g C , 5g P 
  7. Bullet Proof Coffee (Coffee with Butter, MCT Oil, and Butter): 228 Cal, 29.6g F
      1. Fresh Juice (Carrot, Celery, Beet, Apple, Lemon): 143 Cal., 44g C, 5g P 
    1. 3:00 PM: Lunch from Whole Foods: 837 Cal, 42.4g F, 54.9g C, 68.9g P
      1. Kale and Mixed Green Salad w/ Balsamic Vinegar: 156 Cal, 26g C, 8g P
      2. Sautéed Spinach w/ Garlic: 86  Cal, 4.4g F, 8.6g C,6.4g P
      3. Fajita Skirt Steak: 420, Cal, 28g F, 10g C, 42g P
      4. Mediterranean Chicken Salad: 175 Cal, 10g F, 10g C, 12.5g P
    2. 4:30 PM: Snack 1: 358 Cal, 8.2g F, 66g C, .5g P
      1. Fermented Coconut Water: 35 Cal, 7g C, .5g P
      2. Japanese Yam with Grassfed Butter: 303 Cal, 8.2g F, 54g C
      3. Muscle Fuel Pre Workout : 20 Cals, 5g C
    3. 7:15PM: Post Workout Shake/Snack: 130 Cal, 1g F, 22g C, 10g P
      1. Fuel for Fire Squeeze Gel
    4. 9:30PM:  Dinner: 897 Cal,35.5g F, 54.1g C, 82.9g P
      1. Tbone Steak: 560 Cals, 25g F, 77g P
      2. Cucumber and Tomato Salad: 119, 8.9g F, 8.3g C, 1.4g P
      3. Brown Rice: 218 Cal, 1.6g F, 45.8g C, 4.5g P
    5. 10:30:  Snack 2: 420 Cal, 18.6g F, 50.6g C, 20.1g P,
      1. Smoothie (Orange, Cranberry, Blueberry, Kefir, Almont Butter, Cocao Powder)

Analysis: You can see that my Calories, Carbs, and Protein are a little lower than the recommended value. I am completely fine with that, I didn’t work out as hard as I normally do so I ate a little less. I consumed 99grams of carbs from 8 AM to 4:30 PM. I had a little too much Carbs for breakfast than normal but I couldn’t turn down a fresh squeezed Juice. At 4:30 PM it was time to fuel for my workout so I ate a Yam and continued eating carbs the rest of the night. I added a Smoothie with some Fruit before bed to help get closer to my Macros. I ate 192.9 grams of carbs from 4:30PM to 10:30PM, so as you can see I try to keep most of my carbs around my workouts. 

Female Competing Athlete: Bulking

  1. Workload: Double Training Day
  2. Calories: 2,671
  3. Fat: Grams 69
  4. Carbs: Grams 292
  5. Protein: Grams 191
  6. Diet
  7. Breakfast: 645 Cals
    1. 3 Eggs, 3 Slices of Turkey Bacon, .5 Avocado, 1.5 cup of Broccoli, 1 Sweet Potato
  8. Lunch: 534 Cals
    1. 4 oz Grilled Chicken breast, 3 cups of Mixed Greens, 2 tbsp Blush Wine Vinaigrette, Nectarine
  9. Snack 1: 300 Cals
    1. Perfect Foods Bar
  10. Pre-Workout: 391 Cals
    1. Vitargo 
  11. Post-Workout: 260 Cals
    1. Recovery Protein Powders, Fuel for Fire 
  12. Dinner: 542 Cals
    1. 4 oz grilled Sirloin steak, Sweet Corn, 1.5 cup of Sautéed Spinach, 12 Almonds

Male Competing Athlete 1: Bulking

  1. Workload: Double Training Day: AM and PM
  2. Calories: 4,880
  3. Fat: Grams 170
  4. Carbs: Grams 374
  5. Protein: Grams 202
  6. Diet
  7. Breakfast:1,462 Cals
    1. 5 Eggs, 8oz Lean Ground Turkey, 1 sweet Potato (small), 2 cups White Rice, Coffee w/ Coconut Oil 
  8. Pre-Workout: 110 Cals
    1. Banana
  9. Lunch: 600 Cals
    1. 8oz Chicken Breast, 1 cup Almond Milk with Chocolate Syrup, Protein, and Waxy Maize. 
  10. Post-Workout: 380 Cals
    1. Met Rx Chocolate Chip Cookie Protein Bar
  11. Dinner: 1,278 Cals
    1. 8oz Lean Ground Turkey, 8 oz Kielbasa, 2 Sweet Potatoes (small), 1 tbs Coconut Oil
  12. Snack: 450 Cals
    1. Natural Granola, Almond Milk

Male Competing Athlete 2: Bulking

  1. Workload: Double Training Day PM
  2. Calories: 3,724
  3. Fat: Grams 130
  4. Carbs: Grams 410
  5. Protein: Grams 240
  6. Diet
  7. Breakfast:574 Cals
    1. 2 Eggs, 3 slices Bacon, Bagel 
  8. Lunch: 1000 Cals
    1. Tuna Club
  9. Pre-Workout: 200 Cals
    1. Energy Gel
  10. Post-Workout: 1150 Cals
    1. Protein Progenix Flow , 4 scoops Vitargo, 2 eggs, Greek Yogurt
  11. Dinner: 800 Cals
    1. Chipotle Double Chicken Burrito Bowl w/ Guac