Co-director of training and CrossFit Games Director Dave Castro talks candidly with The Paleo Movement Magazine about his background, how he came to be one of the most recognized names of CrossFit, and his feelings about the relationships between the Paleo Diet, Zone Diet, and CrossFit.
I graduated from high school in 1996 and shortly after starting college dropped out and enlisted in the Navy. I went straight into the pipeline for becoming a SEAL and graduated in 98, class 215. I then spent the next 12.5 years at various SEAL Teams and spent the last 3 of those years as a BUD/S instructor.
During those 12 years I was exposed to a variety of training and nutrition methodologies and principals. I became an early student of how to train and how to eat for performance even before finding CrossFit. In my line of work the right fitness program and nutrition program could be the difference between coming home and not.
Pre CrossFit, in the SEAL Teams, the recommendations were the typical high CHO (carbohydrate) diets and the normal gym routines. Back and bi’s, chest and tris for strength and for cardio long distance swims and runs. Diet recommendations included a lot of pasta and bread for the “energy” we would get on our long missions.
I had done 3 deployments to Afghanistan pre CrossFit. After I found CrossFit I did 2 to Afghanistan and 1 to Iraq. The difference in my physical fitness and health between the pre CF deployments and the post CF deployments was huge. The learning experience was even better, I had the ability to practice zone and paleo principles in the worst of environments. One of the most interesting things I learned from this, was how easy the Zone actually is. If I could do strict zone while deployed to Iraq, how hard could it be to do, or prescribe to someone, in the comfort of their own home.
In 2005 I met Coach Glassman at CrossFit Santa Cruz. I started spending a lot of time training there and in 2006 I started working with him and the L1 staff. It started off small, moving gear around at seminars, and being essentially a runner or ball boy for the team, but then eventually grew to more of a managerial role. I never said no to a request to work and I always worked hard, both of those paid off.
I basically spent every weekend of 2007 -2008 traveling with Greg and teaching L1 seminars. I was 100% a student of Greg’s and of CrossFit. I immersed myself in the continual education process that was (and still is) spending time with Greg. Greg is by far the most brilliant person I have ever heard lecture on the topic of performance nutrition. Nobody understands it better than he does.
During this time I was also still active duty and teaching BUD/S. Monday – Friday I would be at my Navy job, training new SEALs in shooting and tactics and for fitness using CrossFit, and on Saturday and Sunday I would be on the road teaching CF L1 Seminars.
I decided to leave the military in 2009 and devote my time to CrossFit. I had hit a junction in my career where the only way I could stay in the Navy would be to go back to a SEAL Team and be operational. Operational meaning I would have to train for and deploy overseas. If I did that I would not be able to work for CrossFit anymore. My other option was to leave the military and continue to work for CrossFit. At this point the CrossFit Games were growing faster than we imagined as was the Seminar Department So I made the tough choice to leave the SEAL Teams and devote my time 100% to CrossFit. I will forever be proud of what I accomplished as a SEAL and what the SEAL Teams had done for me, but moving on was the right decision.
The connection stems from the measurable observable and repeatable aspect of the diet. You can monitor the macronutrient ratios that you put into your body and how it affects your performance. You can make course corrections off of knowing exactly what you are taking in. Its not random, its precise. The Zone provides an easy platform for being precise and accurate with your diet.
Someone who is not keeping track of their quantities and just eating randomly can be doing CrossFit and they will see success. The success then might begin to slow, and the first thing the athlete or coach should do should take a look at the diet. Take a look at their food log.
If they don’t have one, you have to start somewhere. You could prescribe them a baseline Zone diet and have them stay on it for 2 weeks strict. If their performance starts to lag, after 2 weeks, we assess what is going wrong and where we need to make corrections. Maybe they need more blocks, maybe they need more CHO, maybe they need more fats. We make an adjustment and stick with that adjustment for another 2 weeks and see what happens. This is how to be precise and accurate with your diet. We are watching their fitness numbers for feedback on if its working or not. Those numbers should be our sole indicators for why we are eating the way we are.
Paleo concepts have been around CF for longer than I have been involved. Paleo concepts have always been at the heart of our nutrition recommendation. We support paleo methods of eating.
Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch no sugar.
The Zone Diet promotes eating Paleo-like foods. The zone is very Paleo-friendly. The biggest difference is that the Zone offers accountability to what you put in your body in regards to ratio of macronutrients balance. You monitor your macronutrient balance so that you will feel and perform at your best. in CrossFit we assess this through our numbers. Through our workouts. If our strength is increasing and if our times on CrossFit workouts are dropping something good is happening with our diet. If not, we might need to make a change.
“CrossFit HQ to Paleo” the relationship is not rocky. But from this interview, I feel like I am being made aware that maybe from “Paleo to CrossFit HQ” it is.
If you walk in to many of our over 7,000 CrossFit affiliates you will see Paleo prescriptions, Paleo teachings, Paleo challenges at many of them. Paleo is part of our culture. We embrace it, and promote it. So is the Zone diet. We embrace and promote that too. In CrossFit we use what works, what gives us measurable and repeatable results, both of those help us do give us those results in our fitness.
As a growing company you can’t have someone on your team who is creating conflict and not supportive of the team.
The reality is, we should have fired him much sooner.
Our best expression of a nutrition recommendation looks like a Paleo-Zone diet. The Zone gets the macronutrient balance and the precision to our diet we need, and Paleo principles provide us with the quality foods we need (giving us the micronutrients we need among other things).
Our baseline recommendation for nutrition is the following.
Eat meats and vegetables nuts and seeds some fruit little starch and no sugar. When we take it a step further we add intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat. Taking it further, we put those foods into Zone prescriptions.
Paleo helps people find CrossFit, but from what I see many more people find Paleo-like diets because of CrossFit. People go to CrossFit gyms and start CrossFit. And then hear about Paleo principles. The same thing is happening in weightlifting. People get into CrossFit and then find the sport of weightlifting as something they can actually try and compete in.
We currently do not offer a seminar just dedicated to nutrition. We do offer nutrition education via the CrossFit Journal (journal.crossfit.com) and the CrossFit main site (crossfit.com). We also have courses with segments where we lecture on nutrition at the following seminars, the L1 Trainers Certificate Course, the Coaches Prep Course, and the CrossFit Competitors Course.
The Zone and Paleo communities can co exist, there is not a struggle or conflict between the two.
Let performance results dictate your intake. For optimal performance, treat eating like you do your workouts, measure and record everything. Eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar.
Karen Pendergrass is the Author of The Sustainability Diet; Founder and Executive Director of The Paleo Foundation, Certified Paleo, Paleo Approved, and Paleo-Friendly Food Certification Labels; creator of the International Paleo Movement Group on Facebook, and creator of The Paleo Movement Magazine.