At the CrossFit Level 1 (L1) Seminar Course, all participants are taken through a wide range of topics relating to wellness. While this course is a coaching certification, and therefore focused on teaching someone how to coach CrossFit movements safely, there is also a large portion of the class focusing on nutrition. Nutrition is a broad category which can mean many things, but in the L1 course, it means eating for health and performance.
At CrossFit, their nutritional prescription is, "Eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no added sugar." Others may say, "Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants." These sayings stick because they are catchy, easy to remember, and give a suggestion of both type of food and how much. At Summit, we like to tell our nutrition clients to shop on the edge of the grocery store, eliminate processed food whenever possible, and eat in a quantity suited to your goals. But, just like the CrossFit saying, this is slightly ambiguous, and leaves room for interpretation. How much is "some fruit," for example? What does eating in quantities suited for your goals even look like? These are valid questions, however, you don't necessarily need to consider them when eating for health.
To make this perhaps simpler to solve, think about when you started working out. You probably didn't write anything down, or record how you performed in that days workout. You probably asked your coach, "ummm...what weight should I be using if I don't know my 70%?" fairly often. And you probably still became more fit. This is like eating for health. If you eat REAL food, the kind that comes from the ground, swims, runs, or flies and eliminate the processed foods, you are eating for health. Your biomarkers will improve. You'll lose weight. You'll have success. But it may be somewhat slow. We speed it up by eating for performance.
Eating for performance, technically, can happen without eating for health. To go back to the exercise example, let's say you don't do constantly varied functional movements done at relatively high intensity (CrossFit) for your exercise. Instead, you want to get a sub-6:00 mile, and only that. You start training on pure endurance. You neglect your strength and mobility, and you achieve your sub-6:00 mile. Great...but you may find some injuries starting to nag at you. You may find next time you try to back squat you no longer can do weights you used to use for warm ups. This is like eating for performance and forgetting about the health part. You decide you want to gain muscle, so you start eating everything in site. You follow the "see-food" diet, and if you see food, you eat it. In a few weeks, you check in, and you have gained muscle! But...you've also gained a few pounds of body fat in the process. If you gained muscle in order to lift more weight (performance) you achieved your goal. But now you've negatively affected those biomarkers, and you're less healthy than you were before. How do we get both?
The "holy grail" of nutrition is eating for both health and performance. How do you do this? You combine the above strategies into one cohesive unit. You hire a coach, and you get a nutrition plan which lays out both WHAT you should be eating (hint: real food that comes from the ground, swims, runs, or flies) and HOW MUCH you should be eating. How many grams of carbohydrates do you need daily to support your exercise? How much protein do you need to aid in muscle gain or muscle retention? How many grams of fat do you need to support bodily functions and cell function? If you know the answers to these, and you're willing to commit the time to it, eating for health and performance will get you the best results, quickest.
There are times to eat for health, and there are times to eat for health and performance. It's debatable whether there is ever a time for you to eat JUST for performance. The argument would be during a competition, and at no other time. The health impact of simply eating whatever you can find in order to hit a set macro nutrient number robs you of the vital micro nutrients in real food, and in the long run will negatively impact your performance. There are seasons of life in which you don't have the desire to weigh and measure your food - I get it. I go through it, as well. During those times, eat real food until you feel satisfied, not stuffed. There are other times when you want to buckle down and really get on top of your nutritional choices. Leverage those to see your goals truly come to life.