Back in the Zone – A Zone FAQ Sesh

A Normal Girl's Guide to the Zone Diet

As of today, we are officially back on strict Zone/mostly Paleo. We did the Zone Diet for a month last year and LOVED it, but have made lots of excuses to not keep doing it. Usually we tell ourselves that we eat “Zone-ish” anyway, but that has been so far from the truth in the past few months. So, here we are again–measuring cups and food scales at the ready.

Our goal is to stick with strict Zone/mostly Paleo for 5-6 days a week until the end of the Open. When we did Zone last year, we did it for 4 weeks and took the weekends off, but even with such a short period of time and with some big cheat days (like nachos on an ice climbing trip and a big, fancy dinner complete with multiple cupcakes at my grandma’s 90th last January), we still had awesome results. Which is great, because that means I can still have tacos a few times in the next 8 weeks and not feel bad about it.

Because we are going to be doing this for the next several weeks, and because I always get the same questions when I talk about Zone, I thought I’d just address a few FAQs now to get them out of the way.

What’s the point of the Zone Diet?

The Zone Diet was invented in the 90s by a sports doctor who came up with what he believes to be the optimal ratio of macros for your diet: 40% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fat. He got these numbers by researching and testing his theory on athletes, and called it “The Zone” diet because he thinks that eating this way will help you feel “in the zone.” So, in short, the point is to eat every meal and snack in those ratios.

What the heck is a “block”?

A block is the unit that the Zone Diet uses to portion out food. One block of Protein is 7g, one block of carbs is 9g, and one block of fat is 1.5g. A one block MEAL would have one of each of these blocks–so, in other words, each “Block” has 7g of protein, 9g of carbs, and 1.5g of fat. A 4 block meal would have 28g of protein, 36g of carbs, and 6g of fat. You get the idea. Obviously you can come by these combinations of macros in an almost infinite number of ways, which is what makes the Zone diet kind of awesome.

By the way, those grams refer to the macronutrient content of a food, not the WEIGHT. In other words, I am eating 28g of protein in a 4-block meal, NOT just 28g of chicken.

How many blocks do you eat each day? What does that look like?

I average 13-15 blocks a day, but my appetite varies a lot from day to day, so I try to focus less on eating the same number of blocks each day, and more on just making sure everything I do eat is zoned.

13-16 blocks looks something like this:

4 block breakfast: 2 eggs, 2 pieces of bacon, 1/2 cup of potatoes, 1 apple, 2tsp of almond butter
2 block snack: 2 string cheeses, 1 grapefruit, 6 cashews
3 block lunch: 1 chicken thigh, 3/5 cup rice, 1.5 tsp butter melted on rice
4 block dinner: 6 oz. salmon, 2 cups broccoli, 3/5 cup rice, 2 tsp butter melted on salmon and broccoli
1 block snack: 1 hardboiled egg, 1/2 apple, 1/2 tsp almond butter

Do you feel restricted?

I definitely don’t feel restricted when I’m zoning. In fact, I think it makes me feel more freedom with my food, because I feel more in control of my diet, and I know that my choices are working together in a cohesive plan.

Is it hard to get used to?

Yes and no. Basically there is an adjustment period of about 10-14 days where things feel a little tedious, but after that you can pretty much look at a piece of chicken for the rest of your life and know how about many ounces it is. I also quickly realized that the portions weren’t far off from what I was already eating, and it was just a matter of balancing everything out. When we first started Zone, we sort of eased into it–zoning just our dinners the 1st week, then adding breakfast the 2nd week, then finally lunch and snacks the 3rd week. If you want to try the Zone but are nervous about the extra prep time needed for weighing and measuring, I would definitely recommend easing into it like we did.

Is there anything you can’t eat?

Honestly, you could zone a Snickers bar if you wanted to. That being said, there are some foods that just don’t easily lend themselves to The Zone. Soups and smoothies, for example, are hard because the proportions of ingredients aren’t always easy to scale. And we mostly stuck to whole foods because they are way easier to measure, rather than trying to figure out the equation of ingredients in something. But if you’re dedicated, you can figure out a block structure for literally any food. We mostly stick to Paleo, but it is nice to feel like I can have a handful of tortilla chips or a cookie and as long as I also have a few bites of lunch meat and a few cashews, then it all fits.

What other questions do you have about the Zone Diet? Have you ever tried it? If so, did you like it? If not, would you ever try it?

For more Zone Diet resources, check out these other posts:
Paleo & Zone Diet Grocery Shopping List
My Go-To Paleo & Zone Diet Recipes
CrossFit Journal Issue 21 (aka the Zone Diet cheat sheet)

  • http://teaandkettlebells.com/ Simone

    PERFECT timing. I’ve been trying to convince myself to do Whole30 again and just fell apart in January with all of our weekend trips and now performance season. While I’m still hoping to do another one in the spring, I was thinking that zone might be a better project to tackle. Thanks for the tips!!

    (Though I have no idea how to even eat a 2 block breakfast, much less 3-4… I’m a bird in the morning!)

    • clairechapman

      Ha being a bird in the morning is not a problem! Some days I can’t imagine the thought of a big breakfast and I just drink tea, or eat 1/2 apple with almond butter and a slice of lunch meat. That is kind of what I love about zoning… it doesn’t really matter how much you eat (within reason), as long as what you are eating is in those ratios.

  • Abby

    How do you figure out how many blocks you are allowed in a day?
    And thanks for this! This really did come at a perfect time! And you made it easy to understand.

    • clairechapman

      You’re welcome! I started with the Zone’s recommendation of 10 blocks a day for a “small” female, but found that wasn’t enough food so I added a few blocks onto my larger meals to even it out. I think that most females, unless you have a crazy appetite, usually eat about the caloric equivalent of 2-3, maybe 4 block meals and 1-2 block snacks, so you can just start there!

  • Kacie

    Awesome info! I’ve been want to try the zone diet for awhile but there are a couple of things I can’t get my head around. I’ve read about some people swapping carb blocks for fat, do you ever do that? Also, I noticed that all the meat is usually measured according to it’s cooked amount, do you know if there’s any information about blocks of raw meat (for recipe purposes!) thanks :)

    • clairechapman

      Yes! I have done it where I swapped 1 block of carbs and replaced it with 3 blocks of fat–I really liked that approach, it was good for fat loss and also made it nice when I didn’t want to eat 5 cups of broccoli :) I don’t know about the raw meat equivalents, usually I just cook everything separately then put it together at the end!

  • Rebecca Tamm

    Thank you for this! I keep going back and forth about trying to Zone, and while I’m used to tracking macros, the thought of being so meticulous about Zoning sends me into a fit of anxiety. My CF coach keeps telling me that he thinks Zone will be good for me to lean out on, but I feel like it will take all of the fun/ease out of cooking for me. For example, when I’m cooking up some veggies, I just drizzle some olive oil or coconut oil in the pan, and I feel like my life will be ruled by measuring spoons!

    I saw a YouTube video from Matt Chan doing a Zone course for CF and said that people who are looking to lose more fat (which is what I am trying to do), for each block of carbs that you don’t eat, add in 3 blocks of fat. Thoughts on that?

    • clairechapman

      Yes! I actually did that last time I zoned and had a lot of success with it, although I tried to keep all of my carbs for meals that were just before a WOD. It’s also a great way to even out a meal if your carb source is a veggie or fruit, since those can require huge quantities and I just can’t fit 5 cups of broccoli in my body :)

  • Jacki

    Thanks for posting this. I tried a paleo Zone for a few days, and felt GREAT on those days. But the work of measuring got me off track. Mostly because I meal prep one day a week and I just don’t have enough containers to measure it all out (or fridge space).

    I’m also a little worried about becoming to obsessed with food, as I have been known to do with Whole30 or 21DSD. But the few days I tried it, not only did my body feel ten times better, but I learned just how much I was under-eating, in particular the non-starchy vegetables.

  • Nathalie Bermond

    Ahhh why is this Zone Diet so difficult for me to understand??? I swear I’m usually pretty bright. I don’t understand the difference here “In other words, I am eating 28g of protein in a 4-block meal, NOT just 28g of chicken.” How many WEIGHT grams of say chicken would you eat for dinner? Can you break that down for me?

  • Nicole

    It is actually called “The Zone diet” because you are using your diet to attempt to balance pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory hormones, keeping their levels in the right “zone.” That is from Dr. Sear’s most recent book. Just FYI :)

  • Andrea

    Thanks so much for the info! I was wondering how you count foods that are doing double duty, i.e. is Almond Butter getting counted with both Fat Blocks and Protein Blocks? Is a serving of lean beef getting counted with both Protein Blocks and Fat Blocks? Thanks in advance!

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