Paleo Diet vs. Zone vs. IIFYM: Eating for Performance...and Abs

Abs aren’t just made in the gym, they’re made in the kitchen!About 10 months ago, I started on a food journey. No, not a restaurant crawl, but a food journey.

I already had the exercise part down since since I'd been doing CrossFit for 2+ years (5-7 times/week), but I wanted to experiment with what I ate to see how it made me feel. I also wanted abs… but who doesn’t.

Paleo Diet

I started by trying the Paleo diet for about a month. This way of eating eliminates all refined sugar, grains, trans fats, high glycemic carbs, processed foods, dairy and legumes. Everything that tastes good huh? 

However, this was a great place to start because it made me learn how to cook from scratch using more nutritious foods. The problem was that it felt restrictive, and I had less energy. My performance at the gym also stayed stagnant during this time so I wasn't seeing any gains. This just wouldn’t work…

Zone Diet

My next thought was to tryThe Zone Diet. I was able to eat 3 meals and 2 snacks a day, each consisting of 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbs. Since no food was off limits, I thought I could definitely do this one!

But once I laid out all of my containers and portioned everything into them, I realized this was way too difficult to maintain. I knew the Zone Diet was bound to make me implode, so I spared myself the stress and moved on.

IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)

Then everyone at my gym was talking about this new “flexible dieting” plan, IIFYM, where you track macronutrients, protein, fats, and carbs. Targets for each day are calculated according to age/gender, body composition, activity level and goals. The plan focuses on balance and no foods are off limits. The objective is to preserve muscle and encourage fat loss without decreasing energy. Even better, there was an app I could use to help track everything!

When I first started, the numbers I calculated made me drop a lot of weight, but in turn I was very tired and unable to hit my usual lifts. Some of the bodyweight movements got better (i.e., pull-ups) since I was lighter, but my strength had dropped. At that point, my coach adjusted my target macronutrients, and I was able to maintain weight while lifting heavier. 

I used what I'd learned from earlier in my voyage and started to track track track those macronutrients. I wasn’t hungry, I wasn’t tired, and I was ready for what life brought me. Do I always hit those numbers each day? Of course not! If I want ice cream sometimes I’m going for it! I do find that if I stray too much from the plan, I feel stuffed, starving or sluggish. But IIFYM taught me how to utilize food for fuel, muscle, training and enjoyment. You put good in, you get good out.

Here is a sample menu of what I eat each day:

  • Breakfast: hardboiled eggs (2-3), banana

  • Snack: all natural applesauce

  • Lunch: oven roasted turkey breast, fruit (whatever I have at home), some trail mix

  • Snack: protein bar (Quest bar) before the gym

  • Dinner: chicken with vegetables, and if I have enough calories left, toasted coconut chips (my favorite new snack)


So what have I learned from the Wortman food revolution?

Before, I ate for convenience disregarding ingredients and often eating something prepackaged or sweet. I now love to make my own food since I can control ingredients and adjust flavors and seasonings to my taste. I've also learned how to cook wholesome, nutritious, easy to make food in 30 minutes or less.

It's been fascinating to experiment with food to see how it affects the way I look, feel and perform. Finding the right plan is very personal and can take some time, but it's worth it. 

Marnie Wortman

Marnie Wortman

By Dr. Marnie Wortman, PT, DPT, ART, CF-L1