I suppose this is aimed a little more at the CrossFitters out there. When I initially started CrossFit and eating Paleo, I went with the CFHQ recommendation of eating Zone proportions several times a day. While I did start to get lean, quickly, I was beat all the time! Since then I have just started eating Paleo, paying semi-close attention to my macros.
Why follow The Zone? Does it boost performance? Is it truly optimal for an athlete?
The Zone is a bunch of pseudoscience. If it is useful at all, it is in getting people to become aware of macronutrient ratios (thinking in Zone blocks). But, remember, before the Zone, athletes simply thought of their food in grams and accomplished the same thing.
The Zone prescribes a 40C-30P-30F ratio for fat loss via caloric restriction. It claims to provide optimal control over insulin levels for most people. This is a laughable claim. If the Zone works at all, it is probably because 40% of calories as carbohydrate is actually superior to the SAD (50-70% carbs). Also, the "preferred carb sources" list is far superior to most of the junk that people eat on SAD.
The Zone, as described above, doesn't serve most athletes well. Carbs are too high, fats too low, and the fat/caloric restriction just hammers you after a while. Robb Wolf advocates cutting some of the carb blocks and replacing them with fat blocks in a 1C:3F ratio, which can shift the macronutrient ratio more favorably toward moderate carb (10-25%) and fat (45-70%). (Keep in mind that the only reason he did this was because CFHQ was so bent on promoting the Zone in the first place -- or at least, that's my understanding. If Robb had had his way, he would have simply dropped the Zone nonsense altogether and focused on food quality, with macronutrient tinkering for more advanced athletes who need it.)
Then there's the "Athlete's Zone" that essentially doubles the fat blocks, or more. Some are at 3x-5x fat (and in some cases, even greater than that).
When you take into account these modifications, now you're sitting at something like 15C-25P-60F (%, not blocks), give or take. This is a far cry from 40-30-30.
If you want to weigh and measure your food and tinker with macronutrient ratios, go ahead and do that. If you want to use Zone blocks to do that, that's fine. Just don't buy into the idea that the Zone or even the Athlete's Zone is grounded in science. It is useful as a way to think about macronutrient ratios, and as a way for you to easily track and modify your intake. (Add 2 fat blocks every week and see how it affects you.) But you don't need the Zone to do this.
The Zone is a reasonable accounting system. There is no magic in the 40-30-30 number or even the 2x-5x fat blocks. Figure out what works for you.
And stay the hell away from any food product that has the Zone stamp on it. That stuff is pure garbage.
I took the nutrition "certification" via crossfit and started out with the same concept. Zone/Paleo and have quickly moved to just the Paleo side. Dr Sears lost me when he said there was no caloric difference between a "twinkie" and an "apple". I felt good on the Zone/Paleo but feel tremendously better on unlimited to satiety eating that just eating normal natural foods ala primal/paleo provide. My energy levels are super high, my pr's are constant (prior to eating a paleo I was just maintaining most of my lifts and WOD times) and I have even leaned out a bit more. The neurotic behavior that comes with weighing and measuring food is insane. The ability to provide an athletic boost via a "balance" or a "zone" effect are not backed up with any type of science...a simple basic A&P class will put to rest any questions. Any trainer who tells you to go "fuel" with "5 blocks" of anything is sadly mistaken.
HQ made a huge mistake when Robb quit. He was one of the best SME guys they had (besides Rip...who also left), growing pains I know. Get out of that small box that HQ puts you in and look around at some other sites for fitness. Main site is NOT the way to train or eat. You'll end up over trained (cortisol issues and injuries) and unnourished. The volume is way to high. Try MEBB, or OPT's blog, or the performance menu or CF football for a 3 month period and I dont think you will go back.
I was done with the Zone when I heard Dr. Sears say that he'd rather people eat twinkies in zone proportions than use the Paleo diet. The Zone is an overcomplicated diet plan that has little connection to the human ancestral diet.
I think the zone had it's time and place in history, let's not forget the point of the zone was to get your body into "the zone" by releasing Eicosanoids like aspirin does. I think it was the first mainstream diet book to really talk about the hormonal effects of food.
And, most of us that followed it found it to be an incredible burden and that we were hungry ALL OF THE TIME.
It has evolved some for athletes (most notably because of Robb Wolf's 42 ways to skin the zone) but Crossfit HQ have really stuck to their guns in keeping it as THE crossfit nutrition program...I firmly believe not because it is the best, or what most use, but because it SEEMS more scientific/data driven because you are weighing and measuring and that, after all, is the basis for a lot of our crossfit WODs, always timed, always measuring and tracking and comparing.
It really drives me nuts because there is way, way more peer reviewed science behind paleo than the zone, and you can get better results without weighing and measuring. It is way to easy to fall into trap of weighing and measuring junk (a twinkie as the obvious example) instead of just eating an apple that obvious common sense would tell you is much better.
In terms of paleo zone vs. zone...you are much better off at just getting really good at figuring out paleo satiety for yourself instead of going through "measuring and weighing hell" for the week or month you can stand it.
I've got to say that I tried Zone, hardcore, for a few months. It worked really well for my dad, so why not me? But I spent those months constantly exhausted and nauseated. I have no explanation as to why, since I was eating better -- but Primal gives me SO MUCH MORE.... and less. Whats less? Less obsession, less counting, less micromanagement, less worry, less stress. And less weight on my body :)
I find that the problem with the CFHQ Zone recommendations based on your size and gender is that they are too little food.
If you're leaning out nicely but not recovering well, add fat blocks. HQ says that their elite athletes get to the point where they are using something like double or even quadruple the fat blocks. That's what they told us in the Cert Sessions, anyway.
I actually do really well on Zone proportions with a bit of extra fat (like 1.5 times - at least at present) and very poorly on a low-carb diet (<75g carbs per day). I've done low-carb diets for extended periods of time, and I just don't make strength gains on a high-fat diet. I have no idea why, but now that I have something that works for me, I don't care why.
I've tried (and failed) to use The Zone twice. The first time I was ALWAYS hungry and the second time I was always sick at my stomach. (I used Zone recipes nearly every meal.) My biggest beef was ALWAYS the weighing and measuring. I never understood why it bothered me so much until I went Paleo but now I know why - CAVEMEN DIDN'T WEIGH AND MEASURE.
To be honest I think that the real reason why Crossfit pushes The Zone so much is because it does allow you to have all that crap food as long as it's in those specific amounts. Crossfit is scaleable for EVERYONE so I think they want to be seen as supporting a diet that will be adaptable for EVERYONE. Your average person isn't going to care that bread could eventually kill them as long as they can have their McDonalds. The Zone finds a way to let them have it. I'm assuming that the hope is that if you can get them thinking about macro portions that eventually you can get them to eat more good stuff and less bad stuff. But chances are it's not going to work that way. They'll just get tired of being hungry and go back to eating the same SAD they had been before. That was my experience. What pushed me to go full paleo was nearly dying from grain-induced metabolic derangement. A lot of people don't get the second chance I did.
What Crossfit and Dr. Sears don't realize is that people don't need another "pal" to tell them it's ok to eat crap as long as it's in "moderation". They need someone like Robb Wolf who cares enough to smack it out of your hand and say, "Don't eat that crap! It'll kill you!"
As for performance, all I can say is I made a lot more gains when I was eating a standard body builder's "clean" diet. The Zone really screwed me up when I was Crossfitting. I haven't done any Crossfitting since I've been sick, but now that I've been Paleo for a few weeks I'm finally feeling like I might actually be able to get back to it.
I will NEVER Zone again.
I like the Zone. I feel great and have lots of energy. I eat mostly Paleo (occasionally primal cause cheese is too good to give up). If it doesn't work for you then, of course, don't do it. Some people do great on more protein, or more fat, or more carbs. I personally don't mind the measuring, the first couple of weeks it's a little bit of a pain, but once you figure that out you're good to go, really. I don't really bother too much if I'm making a big bunch of food; I'll just make a stew with a TON of protein (leftover turkey, bacon, lamb, delicious), some veggies, and a large dollop of lard (making some homemade lard today!). I can see why some people don't like it or think you don't get enough food (especially if you're using less than ideal carbs for your meals). I'm not even sure if some of those Zone products are worth it. The way one of my coaches put it once: "zone is about the amount of food you're eating, and paleo is about what you're eating." So mix the two, in my experience, and you've got a GREAT combo! Healthy real food in proportions that work for you. It can't hurt to try it, honestly. Good luck with whatever you choose!
Personally, I never understood the hype behind the zone. DOesn't make much sense to me and although I have read the instructions for zone, there has never been any explanation as to why this is supposed to be good for you. All the cross fitters I know follow more of a paleo/primal style type diet.