The Zone Diets premise is to control your bodies hormones by maintaining a specific “40:30:30″ ratio of calories obtained from carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, respectively.
Consuming too many carbohydrates causes us to overproduce insulin, a hormone that tells the body to convert carbohydrates into fat and store them. Protein, on the other hand, has a contradictory effect to insulin by triggering the body to produce the a hormone called glucagon. Glucagon essentially tells the body to “let go” of carbohydrates.
The so called “Zone” is when we have insulin and glucagon levels balanced .
Furthermore, when we are “in the Zone”, a third set of hormones called Eicosanoids are released. These are anti-inflammatory agents that have a similar effect as aspirin to the body (without the negative side effects). Controlling inflammation is ideal for recovery.
Getting Started on the Zone Diet
The first thing we need to do is establish a system to easily measure and create meals that are balanced with this 40:30:30 ratio. We do this through “blocks”:
A block is a unit of measurement that equals 7 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbohydrates and 1.5 grams of fat.
Blocks can be expanded into what we call “mini-blocks” – which simply refers to each individual block of carbohydrate, protein or fat that when put together, make up a block.
Lets say you need to make yourself a 1 block snack. In exact terms, you need to eat something that will get you exactly 7 grams of protein, 9 grams of carbs and 1.5 grams of fat. So you go off and start reading labels, looking up nutritional information and doing all sorts of math trying to find this ratio… yeah, this is going to drive you crazy!
The easier way is to create meals is to pull up one of the many “mini-block” listings or spreadsheets out there that simply list foods and their quantities that are equal to 1 block. Then all you have to do is choose yourself a protein, a fat and a carb – and tah-dah – dinner! Basically, work backwards, pick your foods then make your meal, not pick your meal then struggle to find a way to balance the ingredients.
For example – looking at the CrossFit Journal Zone Meal Plan – our 1 block snack could be a hard boiled egg (1 mini-block protein), 2 cups of broccoli (1 mini-block carb) and 3 almonds (1 mini-block fat).
Here are some links to zone block food lists:
Excel spreadsheets that saved my Zone soul:
How Many Blocks
Next we need to determine how many blocks a day you should eat. There are several ways to get to this number!
First off, once we initially find your blocks, as with everything diet, you should experiment and find what works best for you and your body. You might need to add or subtract a block or two. You might also want to play around with how you group your blocks – instead of a 5 block breakfast and a 2 block morning snack, try a 4 block breakfast and a 3 block snack. Experiment!
Ok, back to finding how many blocks we should eat!
In its simplest form we can just use the following chart taken from the CrossFit Journal Zone Meal Plan article as our starting point:
Next up, we can calculate it off of our activity level and body fat percentage:
Or we can use a series of measurements:
Or we can calculate blocks based on how much protein we should be taking in every day. We recommend 0.8 to 1.2 grams or protein per pounds of lean body weight. 0.8 is minimum and will serve to maintain your current muscle mass, and 1.2 will help you gain muscle.
You can use this calculator for a general idea of your lean body mass:
Now simply multiply your protein requirements by your lean body mass and divide that number by 7 = your total blocks.
All of these methods should put you in the ball park, so go with whichever one makes you feel fuzziest.
Making it REALY Count
The Zone Diet is nice in that it really keeps you in line as far as what you are eating. If you want to feel like you ate a large satisfying meal, you can! You just need to pick the right foods. On the other hand though, it tends to work out that if you pick processed junky foods – those are going to be loaded with carbs (among other chemical garbage) and your blocks are going to fill up mighty fast!
However, there are a few tweaks that will really make it count:
- Do the Paleo Zone. Eat Paleo quality foods in Zone proportions!
- Eat to majority of your carb blocks as vegetables. Colorful, delicious, nutrient dense vegetables.
- Avoid entirely or keep dairy and grains at a minimum.
- Easy of the fruit. Especially if weight loss is you primary goal. Fruit is great and all, but it is loaded with sugar! If you really want some, eat a fruit based snack prior to working out.
- Eat foods that have a low glycemic: The glycemic index is a measurement on how fast food breaks down and releases glucose into the bloodstream – the faster food break down, the faster that dose of sugar hits your body, ultimately causing an spike in ones insulin levels.