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Before nine-time individual CrossFit Games athlete Sam Briggs started CrossFit, her usual breakfast was a giant bowl of cereal. The lunch was the same: another giant bowl of cereal, often containing three different kinds of cereal all mixed together.
“I did not really know anything about nutrition,” Briggs explained.
Zone Diet Days
After several years of knocking grain back, Briggs was introduced to the Zone Diet – the diet CrossFit founder Greg Glassman long supported and promoted – when she started CrossFit in 2009.
Zone Diet, popular by the book Zone costs, by Dr. Barry Sears, involves tracking zone blocks. Each zone block consists of a protein block (7 grams of protein), a carbohydrate block (9 grams of carbohydrates) and a fat block (1.5 grams of fat).
Although she does not remember exactly how many Zone blocks she ate each day, Briggs signed up for a 30-day Zone Diet Challenge, her gym offered and diligently ate the exact number of Zone blocks she was told to eat each day. . At the end of the 30 days, she took a “cheat week”, but quickly realized that the Zone Diet was a better way to eat than her old grain diet.
“It was my first introduction to presumably how we should have eaten, as opposed to just having cereal for 80 percent of my diet,” she said, laughing. So Briggs continued to follow Zone for close to two years, and her condition quickly improved.
The Paleo era
In the months following the publication of Robb Wolf’s book The Paleo Solution: The Original Human Diet in September 2010, the Paleo diet quickly spread its tentacles through the CrossFit community.
Like thousands of other CrossFit athletes, Briggs jumped aboard the caveman diet, promoting eating most animal protein, healthy fats, fruits and vegetables.
“I did not eat bread, thought rice was the devil,” Briggs said of her thoughts at the time.
Although she no longer thinks this way, the Paleo diet worked for her. Briggs rose rapidly through the ranks as an athlete, placing fourth at the 2011 CrossFit Games and winning the Games in 2013, all the while eating almost no carbohydrates other than sweet potatoes, she explained.
In fact, she continued to follow the Paleo diet until the end of 2014.
Macro counts craze
After three plus years of eating Paleo, in 2014, Briggs began introducing a few more things into her diet, such as oatmeal and rice, “but I still didn’t make bread for a long time,” she said.
So in 2015, Briggs went home to the UK and started eating “British food” instead of American food and suddenly dropped 10 kilos even though she ate the same amount of food that she had in the US.
Her solution: Having a huge tablespoon of peanut butter for every single meal just to keep the weight off.
“That was when I first started working with a nutritionist just to see if we could… gain some weight again, just because I had a hard time eating healthy (and) being a healthy weight for the amount of exercise (I) did,” she said.
Her nutritionist suggested that she start counting her macronutrients. This caused Briggs to consume 400 grams of carbohydrates, 200 grams of protein and 100 grams of fat a day.
Eating this way helped Briggs become the heaviest and strongest she said she has ever been. In 2015, Briggs weighed 145 to 150 pounds in 2015, compared to where she normally sits, closer to 135 pounds.
“Everyone’s body is different, but also our body changes, our needs change as we get older, and we do things differently, so do not be afraid to (change) things (and) experiment.”
The Vegan Experiment (with a little fish)
In 2017, Briggs decided to change that and “experiment” by following a vegan diet for a year.
She thought she might crave all kinds of animal food, but she did not. It did not take long before she felt “much cleaner,” Briggs said. “I was definitely full of energy and reacted really well to it, and I didn’t feel like anything … so I liked, ‘Well, my body obviously doesn’t need (animal food).'”
That same year, Briggs spent some time in Australia training with Kara Saunders, who made a lot of fresh fish that she got from the fishmongers, Briggs explained. Saunders fish were too hard to resist, so Briggs switched to following a vegan diet throughout the day, but included fish for dinner.
After a few months, Briggs began to lose unwanted weight again. “I adapted a little to the diet, and then I lost weight quite naturally,” she explained. “And then one day I just really wanted some chicken.”
The same thing happened quickly with beef. One day, “I was really crazy about a burger,” she said. And just like that, her year-long plant-based experiment came to an end.
Puts it all together today
Since giving up her vegan experiment, Briggs now follows a more intuitive way of eating, both in terms of what she eats and how much she eats.
In general, however, Briggs is an “addict” and eats the same thing for breakfast every day: oatmeal with protein powder, dates and almonds for breakfast. Lunch is usually chicken, salmon, cod or tuna and-which she is being prepared from Trifecta Nutrition: Organic meal delivery – with a salad she makes herself. Dinner tends to be red meat, some more starchy carbs and vegetables, such as mushrooms and asparagus.
“I love bison patties from Trifecta at the moment… .I want to mix a little bit of rice in with the sweet potato… a little trick to make the sweet potato a little thicker, ”she added.
In the past year, Briggs has also tracked her blood glucose levels and how they are affected by her diet and exercise. This has led her to drink carbohydrate drinks before and during training, which she said has given her much more energy during a long workout, and help her still be able to “give 100 percent at the end of a three-hour training session. … it has been a big change for me last year, ”Briggs said.
“I love bison patties from Trifecta at the moment …. I mix a little rice with sweet potatoes … a little trick to make the sweet potato a little thicker.”
At the age of 39 and 12 years of experimentation, Briggs is able to avoid tracking her food as closely as many athletes do because she is very consistent with what her body needs and she knows how to adapt her nutrition according to the time of year and her amount of exercise. For example, she eats more red meat during strength cycles as it allows her to maintain her body weight.
Even though that’s how she eats now, Briggs is adamant that there is no perfect diet. What worked for her in 2013 is not necessarily what works for her now, and what she does now may not work for her in five years.
From Zone Diet to Paleo, to macro counting to being plant-based, Briggs has learned important things from every way she eats, having tried since she started CrossFit in 2009.
The Zone diet taught her about balanced nutrition and got her away from eating grains when given the chance, while following a Paleo diet “was a little perfect” in 2013, she said. But as the sport evolved and athletes began to train more volume and more intensity, Briggs’ body needed more carbohydrates, which macro counting helped her embrace. Finally, she learned to be vegan to stop stressing if she does not have meat for every meal.
“Before I became vegan, it was like, ‘Well, how do you survive, how do you exercise if you don’t eat meat? And it was as if I was actually doing pretty well. I competed at the Games that year fully vegan and it was fine. I did not die without meat, ”she said. “I know now that I can get everything from plant-based things.”
Ultimately, being so open with different ways of eating over the years has helped Briggs develop a healthier, more relaxed relationship with food.
“One of the biggest things that I’ve changed things over the years is that you learn different ways of eating, and then you are not so afraid of different things,” she said. And she encourages others to do the same. “One size doesn’t quite fit,” she said.
She added: “All human bodies are different, but also our bodies change, our needs change as we get older, and we do things differently, so do not be afraid to (change) things (and) experiment.”
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