The Zone Diet is the oldest of the three programs and is also the only diet program endorsed by CrossFit. According to an article in the CrossFit Journal by CrossFit founder Greg Glassman in 2004, “…the Zone Diet, by Dr. Barry Sears is the best nutritional model for optimal performance. The Zone Diet amplifies and accelerates the benefits of the CrossFit regimen. CrossFit’s best performers are Zoning. When our second tier athletes commit to ‘strict’ adherence to Zone parameters they quickly surpass their peers.”
Although CrossFitters are typically stereotyped as Paleo-obsessed meat eaters, in truth, the recommended “CrossFit diet” is a strict adherence to The Zone.
What is the Zone Diet?
So just what is this Zone Diet that Glassman speaks so highly of? Like Whole30 and the Paleo Diet, Zone encourages making drastic lifestyle changes to decrease inflammation, manage weight, and become an overall healthier version of you. In fact, many could argue that Whole30 and Paleo-style programs find some roots in the Zone Diet. The program was created and trademarked by Dr. Barry Sears in 1995.
“The Zone Diet is not a diet, but a blueprint for how to balance a meal to optimize your hormonal response for the next five hours, thus allowing you to control the levels of inflammation in your body,” Sears says on the official website. “All you need is a hand, an eye, and a watch to follow this blueprint for life and to dramatically reduce your risk of obesity and the other major chronic diseases associated with diet-induced inflammation.”
Although Zoning includes eating a lot of the same type of foods you find in both Whole30 and Paleo – vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood, nuts and seeds while avoiding starchy and sugary processed foods – it’s a more fine tuned version that encourages considering what your food is comprised of and measuring it accordingly.
Simply put, you should divide your plate into three sections at meal time – one-third should be taken up by a low-fat protein while the other two-thirds should be taken up by colorful vegetables. You can find Sears’ illustrations here.
To perfect his measurement-based diet, Sears created Zone Food Blocks, which explain how to most efficiently use the three elements that make up our food: protein, carbohydrates and fat.
Zone Diet Terminology
Carbohydrate: A sugar or starch food molecule containing carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms used to transport energy throughout the body among other things. Carbohydrates can be split into two groups – simple carbohydrates, which can be found in high-sugar/starch foods and complex carbohydrates, the healthiest source of which are fruits and vegetables with lots of fiber.
Protein: Food molecules made up of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Protein serves all sorts of purposes from helping with your body’s immunity to providing fuel for activities. Protein can be plant-based, animal-based or lacto-ovo based. Fat: Also known as lipids, Fats are essential for proper body functioning and serve many purposes including energy and brain development. Although fat often gets a bad rep, many healthy fats are required for daily body functions.
Affordable Carbohydrate: To find how many affordable carbs a food item has, subtract the number of fiber grams from the total number of carbohydrates.
Body Fat Percentage: The amount of fat versus lean body weight your body has. You can find Sears’ handy-dandy calculator to calculate your own BFP here.
Zone Diet Blocks
According to the official Zone website, one Protein Zone Block contains 7 grams of protein. One Carb Zone Block contains 9 grams of carbohydrates and one Fat Zone Block contains 3 grams of fat. Using the number you received from the body fat percentage calculator, Sears encourages “Zoners” to use the food blocks to build meals that are Zone-compliant. Once you start putting this into practice, Sears says you should expect to see weight loss, more energy, clearer thinking and a wide array of other benefits.
Through the use of Sears’ plate diagrams, his body fat percentage calculators and his Zone building blocks, athletes can fine-tune their dietary patterns to maximize their performance. Whereas other diets focus on eating food because of where it comes from (moreover, where it doesn’t come from, which is a box) or put emphasis on eating whole or organic foods, Sears premise is simply to focus on foods that reduce inflammation.
Since his inception of the program, he has also added supplements to his recommended regime to maximize the effects of “being in the zone”. The supplements, which include Omega-3 fish oil and polyphenols, can be purchased directly on his website.
Dr. Sears has turned his anti-inflammatory diet into an entire company, marketing products such as Zone Pasta, Zone Bars, Zone Shakes, Zone Cereal a full skin care line and supplements. The company found its feet in 1995 after he published “The Zone” and watched it become a New York Times best seller. Now, the company has published over 15 books detailing everything from Zone recipes to his most recent publication, “The Mediterranean Zone” which deals with polyphenols.
Dr. Sears eventually went on to found the Inflammation Research Foundation in 2003. To this day, Sears still pays all of the expenses for the research produced by the organization, allowing all donations to be put towards research.
“More than 30 years ago I realized the future of medicine did not lie with developing new magic bullets for any particular disease but developing an overall dietary program to keep inflammation in a zone,” Sears says on the foundation’s website. “This would allow us enough of an inflammatory response to defend ourselves against microbial invasion and help heal our injuries, yet at the same time prevent excess inflammation from attacking our organs leading to the development chronic disease at an earlier age.”
Interested in getting in The Zone with Dr. Sears? Zone Labs website is a plethora of information and also has direct links to order his books, including “The Zone.” For more information on CrossFit’s official endorsement of The Zone, click here.
1. “Carbohydrates“. (2000). Accessed September 16, 2015.
2. Nordqvist, C. (2014, September 26). “What are Carbohydrates? What is Glucose?” Retrieved September 16, 2015.
3. Sears, D. (n.d.). “The Zone Diet.” Accessed September 16, 2015.
4. Sears, Barry. “Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition.” DrSears.com. Accessed September 16, 2015.
5. Sears, Barry. “A Letter From Our Founder.” Inflammation Research Foundation. Accessed September 16, 2015. .