Q&A: How to Run a Nutrition Challenge

nutrition challenge

CrossFit MORA in Gilroy, California, offers a yearly Lean in Nutrition Challenge. Owner Andre Pulizzi shares the ins and outs of the challenge.

BP: What nutrition challenge do you run at CrossFit MORA?

AP: Our Lean in 2017 Nutrition Challenge was a 12-week challenge for our members to improve their overall health and assist them in reaching their health and fitness goals. The goals of the nutrition challenge are to improve diet, establish beneficial eating habits, educate on nutrition and to safely decrease fat mass while increasing lean mass. We also use these challenges as a support system and as an accountability tool for members.

Just like the Snatch and Clean and Jerk, learning how to eat properly can be difficult and requires some degree of coaching. Before we started these challenges, my wife and I tried a bunch of different “diets” over a 5-year span, trying to find one that promoted healthy fat loss while maintaining fitness performance. In the end, the Renaissance Periodization method gave us the results we were looking to achieve. Because of its basic principles, flexibility and template format which makes it simple to follow, we started educating our Lean in Challenge participants with these methods.

Members attend a seminar prior to the challenge where they start to get all the information and learn about nutrition and meal planning. They are asked to keep a food log — usually on My Fitness Pal or Fat Secret — the entire challenge. This way, when they need help from us, we can reference their logs.

Winners are decided by the greatest change in body composition, the most fat mass lost, and also the most lean mass (muscle) gained or maintained. The data collected during hydrostatic weighing include lean body mass, fat mass and body weight.

BP: How have you tweaked it over the years?

AP: The first time we offered the seminar we gave out way too much information that seemed to confuse our members more than help them. Our first seminar ended up being mini one-on-one sessions to make sure our members understood the methods.

The next few seminars we figured out a way to simplify the information, which helped in understanding the principles. Our current process is to start members with the 40:30:30 method — 40 percent carbs, 30 percent protein and 30 percent fat, keeping the Renaissance Periodization methods in mind. Once they are comfortable with that method, we show them how they can tweak macronutrients and calories to see what helps them best.

BP: Why do you use hydrostatic weighing?

AP: At one point hydrostatic weighing was the gold standard in finding body composition. With newer technologies, it is no longer the gold standard, but it still gives accurate results and is very accessible to us. We are lucky enough that Aeron, from Fitness Wave Nor Cal, is local and works with many of the gyms in the area. His mobile dunk tank and online appointment reservations make it simple for our members to schedule an appointment whenever we have him hanging out in the gym parking lot.

BP: What lessons have you learned in offering nutrition challenges? 

AP: Keep it simple. We try our best to make it easy for our members to follow our nutrition process and advice. Our goal is to be flexible and create the meal plan around the individual, not the other way around.

Keep it realistic. Our members are people who like to go out to a restaurant with their families or have a burrito with a friend, and we encourage it. We just ask them to track it in their food log and plan to account for it. Following a meal plan to benefit your health and fitness should not be a burden.

Make nutrition educational. We all have to eat, so teaching our members about what they are consuming and how to track and plan is key to sustainable meal planning.

Create a Facebook group for the challenge participants. Our members have shared some great recipes on this page which helps others get creative and have some fun with their meals. It is also a great place for support and motivation.

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at heather@peakemedia.com.