Ahead of his December workshop at South London CrossFit gym DISTRICT Battersea, we sat down with our coach, Precision Nutrition certified James ‘Polar Bear’ Mcshane to pick his brain on why nutrition is so important.

Remember you can book events like this on the Wodify app. Just log in and select your preferred CrossFit gym location in Battersea or Wandsworth and scroll through the up and coming seminars.

Read on for nutrition secrets from James Mcshane (as featured in Men’s Health!).

James, tell us a bit about yourself and your experience in the CrossFit London gym industry

Well my fitness background was originally in bodybuilding, which was the focus of my training whilst in South Korea teaching English. I would typically work quite intense, 30-40 hour weeks and was introduced to CrossFit by a friend, who was a lot more relaxed with his work and training balance!

This led to me getting my CrossFit L1 as I was hanging around his gym – maybe a bit too much! – and he figured I could help out with some classes here and there if they needed cover; I’d never thought about coaching as a job before this, but the more I read around it the more I realised the transferable skills I had from teaching.

I came back to the UK where I gained some more experience by coaching at CrossFit Ivy in Feltham, before I moved to the Middle East and spent some time living in Saudi Arabia. During this time I did the CrossFit L2 (Which was then the Coaches’ Prep Course). I hadn’t had enough actual coaching experience to make the most of it, the standard and jump from the expectations of the L1 were big, but it made me more determined to rise to the challenge of perfecting my coaching practice. When I came back to the UK again, I realised I could combine my passion for teaching with my love for training and committed to coaching full time.

I worked at CrossFit Central London for a bit and actually shadowed a few of the coaches who I now work with, Jenna and Karl, and really tried to seek out all the information I could around training and CrossFit, specifically the science and components of good coaching, to try and improve my standards.

So talk to us about nutrition for CrossFit

I think CrossFit has always been a bit ahead of the curve with regards to nutrition, in terms of their research into different diets anyway – whether it’s applicable or not to everyone is a different matter, but they have been noticing trends ahead of time for a while and I found this true when reading through the CrossFit Journal articles recommended for the L3.

You can definitely find out a lot just by downloading their course guides online, even if you’re not completing the courses yourself.

However, it is definitely important to do your own research into whatever diet you are interested in, prior to starting it. A blog post about If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) isn’t going to be as thorough as reading The Renaissance Diet, and an Instagram post about the Paleo Diet isn’t going to be as good as reading Robb Wolf’s Paleo Solution. Again, I’m not advocating these diets per se, but it’s good to go to the source and know what you’re getting into rather than jumping around and not seeing results, blaming the diet rather than your application of it.

The Zone Diet in particular is a great introductory way to start paying more attention to your nutrition, and is covered a lot in the CrossFit Journal and the L1 guide, but by reading the book that Doctor Barry Sears wrote on it, you’ll find so much more information on his research methods and theories. That understanding makes adherence and consistency a lot more likely, because you know WHY you’re doing things, and for many people the why is just as important as the what and the how.

This works in a different way for me as a coach, as I like to study different diets in depth, even ones I may not think are that practical, so that I can discuss them with my clients and members in detail.

What is the Zone Diet?

The Zone Diet is a way of splitting up your food macros – 40% carbs, 30% protein and 30% fat and is a good starting point for people who want to start paying more attention to their diet. Everybody is different and different goals require different nutritional inputs, the Zone Diet allows you to adjust accordingly once you have set goals and feel more comfortable with it.

The way it breaks up those macros is really easy to follow, too. IIFYM (Mentioned earlier) takes this to the next level, more detail on weighing and measuring, but with additional accuracy comes additional stress, prep etc that may not work for some people.

Taking a step back from the Zone Diet there are prescriptions that don’t require weighing or measuring at all; for a lot of people that’s the level that they can adhere to and the consistency there gets the results, as opposed to trying Keto, finding it hard so switching to Zone, finding it hard, so trying Paleo etc… 

Is it important to have well defined goals?

Absolutely. Everyone is different and your diet must be adjusted depending on your goals. It is important to outline the conflicts that you may face with training and nutrition too. For example many people want to get shredded quickly but also build long-term strength at the same time.

It’s simple; it’s hard to have one goal that is to lose weight, but also one that is to add 20kg to your deadlift running alongside each other simultaneously. Well, you can but the trajectory for success is a lot longer due to the two goals being so opposed to each other that it creates conflict.

For example, body composition and performance are completely different goals and therefore require different nutritional inputs, which can confuse people and end up leaving them disillusioned with their diet or their results.

What advice would you give to someone looking to make changes to their nutrition routine?

Don’t try to overhaul massively at once when trying to make changes to your routine, be it diet or training. So don’t say ‘on Monday I’m going to meal prep for the next 2 weeks, and I’m going to go to bed 2 hours earlier, and I’m going to train for 2 hours a day, plus go to work’ when these goals can create conflict with each other. You’re setting yourself up to fail and therefore feel like you can’t do it.

Instead, say to yourself that you will go to bed 1 hour earlier a day, and you’re going to meal prep for the next day only. Do that for a week and then gradually increase the changes that you are making.

You need to ingrain smaller changes into habits before you try and take on these huge changes.

And finally, what can we expect from your nutrition workshop on the 13th?

We all have knowledge on what we should and shouldn’t do, beliefs around the message we’re sending with our food choices; nutritional, ethical, environmental, there’s now more to think about than ever!

In this talk we’ll define our goals, identify conflicts and work our way down to actionable daily behaviours that we can adapt to eating out, food prepping, the social scene, whatever life ACTUALLY throws at you!

As you can tell, he’s clearly a very studious man with a lot of knowledge! So make sure to catch James’ workshop on Friday, December 13th at 6:30pm and learn more about how to get a handle on your nutrition! Book your spot through the Wodify app today.

Like James’ style? Why not give him a follow on Instagram for all the latest from the Polar Bear himself.