Nutrition’s Dirty Little Secret that Everyone Ignores

Ever changed your mind about what’s healthy to eat? I have personally had lunch with many top CrossFit athletes, including Games champions like Annie Thorisdottir and Jason Khalipa. Let’s just say they don’t exactly eat Paleo or Zone.

But wait! How can they start their day off with a scone, still look great and rank as a top athlete in the world? That’s not Paleo!

We’ve all been absolutely sure of the healthiest diet at one point in our life, the diet that is sure to produce maximum performance. If you’re like most people, what that diet consisted of has changed at least a few times. Almost all Box owners follow some sort of nutrition plan that they prescribe to their members.

CrossFit HQ will suggest you to, “base your diet on garden vegetables, especially greens, lean meats, nuts and seeds, little starch and no sugar.”

So who is right? Does anyone really know?

The scientific answer is — not really. While there are a large number of scientific studies on nutrition, they rarely fall into the category of “hard science.” In nutrition science, it’s especially impossible to create an ironclad, bullet-proof experiment. This is partially based on something Gyorgy Scrinis has labeled “nutritionism.” Nutritionism is the widely shared but unexamined assumption that the key to understanding food is indeed the nutrient. The problem with this approach is it involves breaking whole foods apart, until the broccoli is nothing but an assemblage of different nutrients, vitamins and minerals.

Unfortunately, nutritionism too often depends upon soft science and ends up causing Americans to indulge in one food fad after another. So instead, what you wind up with is a hypothesis supported by some, but not all, of the evidence.

What does this mean for us? In plain language, it means it’s really hard to tell exactly what happens to humans when we consume a certain food because we make terrible lab rats. There are hundreds if not thousands of outside factors that come into play that are very difficult to account for in a study following the scientific method.

Does this mean all is lost when it comes to nutrition? The honest answer is — no. We are still able to draw some conclusions from all the scientific and esoteric evidence out there, we are just very careful with the way we state it to people who look to us as nutrition experts.

Suggest to your members that they should keep a food journal to track what they eat. On days they perform well and feel great, they can look back and see what they should consider eating more of. On days they perform poorly or feel awful, they can look back and see what they should consider avoiding.

Would I personally suggest to an athlete that they should eat a nutrient-rich slice of double fiber bread instead of a “Paleo” coconut brownie? Absolutely. Would I prescribe a different nutrition plan to Jason Khalipa than I would to someone who is 100 pounds overweight? Absolutely.

Until we as a community can come together and be honest with ourselves that we aren’t 100 percent positive about nutrition, we won’t be able to have an open dialogue about what is and isn’t working for our athletes at all levels. Once we are able to openly have this dialogue, I truly believe we can take our human athletic potential to even greater heights.


By Greg Connolly

Founder and CEO of Amara Beverage Company and Nutrition WOD.