Mike Peterson, the farm manager for Mount Vernon Grassfed, isn’t exactly sure what happens during a workout at District CrossFit. But whatever those folks are doing, they’re working up quite an appetite.
Over the past few months, since the Sperryville, Va., farm began dropping off regular deliveries of sirloin steak, lamb shanks, pork belly and other cuts of meat, members of District CrossFit’s facility in Southwest Washington have become Peterson’s best customers. The reason: CrossFit athletes are gung-ho about the paleo diet, which attempts to mimic what cavemen ate. That means no grains, no dairy and no refined sugars, but a whole lot of grass-fed meats.
And Peterson is eager to please. Mount Vernon Grassfed’s pigs had been chowing down on a feed made with soy. Because that’s a no-no on paleo, the animals are on a new diet.
“This doesn’t feel like it’s a here-today, gone-tomorrow fad,” says Peterson, who recently added delivery service to Arlington’s Potomac CrossFit and envisions more CrossFit locations down the line.
Members of Washington’s CrossFit community aren’t the only ones hungry for something other than the Gatorade and protein bars typically found at gyms. Local food businesses have realized that busy Washingtonians want to eat well after a workout without having to schlep somewhere else to shop.
Sara Polon is pretty sure her dad was the first one to come up with the idea back in 2008, when she launched Soupergirl. Polon now operates a restaurant across from the Takoma Metro stop, but back then, she needed a way to distribute her vegan, low-calorie soups. Her dad suggested designating pickup locations, and fitness destinations were a natural fit.
The partnerships haven’t always succeeded, particularly at places with odd hours or inconvenient locations. (Want to really sweat? Try carrying a big soup order up several flights of stairs.) But Polon says her fitness pickup locations still account for some of Soupergirl’s most loyal customers.
“When you make a commitment to moving differently, there’s this natural trigger that gets you thinking differently about nutrition, too,” says Robert Morton, co-owner of Power Supply, which has quickly become the largest player in the area’s fitness food scene. Founded just three years ago, the fresh meal delivery service is now at nearly 50 locations, mostly CrossFit boxes that signed on for its paleo offerings.
Over the summer, Power Supply merged with Mindful Chef, a local company that specializes in vegetarian dishes and caters to yoga studios. So as of last week, customers can choose from three meal plans: paleo, mixitarian (“paleo-inspired,” but with legumes and grains) and vegetarian.
CrossFitters and yogis may seem very different, but their cultures are more similar than many people realize, Morton says. They’re both invested in what he calls “intentional fitness.” And they both nurture a community culture that helps spread the word when there’s something members want to support.
In the yoga world, for instance, they really like Goûter, a line of tonics made with alkaline water, organic lemon, coconut nectar, spices and herbs. Steve Mekowski and V Orban set out to create something like fresh juice, but with better nutritional value and a slightly longer shelf life.
The couple live in Columbia Heights and frequent Buddha B Yoga on U Street, so co-owner Valerie Grange suggested they try selling the drinks there. That was last summer. Now, Goûter is available at more than a dozen locations — mostly yoga studios, but also Pilates, barre and cycling gyms. The growth has kept Mekowski and Orban too busy to even put up a Web site.
“Their stuff is a magic elixir. It’s yoga in a bottle,” says Grange, who’s eager to introduce students to raw, vegan foods.
That passion persuaded Julia Gerard, 26, to spend the $6 on her first tonic. “I knew thought and care went into anything Buddha B would associate with,” Gerard says. She now knocks back four bottles a week. Her favorite flavor: Stretch, which is packed with anti-inflammatory turmeric. (“It’s the new kale,” Orban promises.)
Debuting at grocery stores, where a product has to compete with everything else on the shelf, would have made it much tougher to reach customers, Mekowski says.
The same goes for the breads and treats from Out of the Box Bakery, says founder Jennifer Lassiter. The CrossFit athlete and coach was an avid baker before jumping on the paleo bandwagon, and she wasn’t about to give that up. When her experiments with almond and coconut flour turned out to be pretty tasty, pals at District CrossFit begged to be her first customers.
Soon, she had orders at several CrossFit boxes around town — hence the name of her business.
“It’s a natural relationship because CrossFit is a lifestyle, not just a workout,” Lassiter says. “They’re already programmed to care about health. I don’t need to educate them about why our muffins are three times more expensive than flour muffins.”
Now folks can also find Out of the Box baked goods on the menu at Power Supply, as well as every location of Vida Fitness. Both the gym and its members like supporting local businesses, says Vida Metropole manager Richie Poe. “We offer things that push the boundaries of what members can usually expect at a gym,” he adds.
If that’s pushing the boundaries, Potomac CrossFit has blown them up. Owner Brian Wilson has an open-door policy for local food sales. “Our philosophy in general is ‘Ready, fire, aim,’ ” says Wilson, who welcomed Power Supply with just one rule: “I don’t want to have to clean or fix the fridge.”
Beyond Power Supply, Out of the Box and Mount Vernon Grassfed, Wilson also lets another farmer drop off eggs and other goodies. “There might be more,” he says. What he knows for sure is that between the food deliveries and the Arlington Courthouse farmers market that sets up outside the front door, his shopping list is covered.
That’s convenient not just for Wilson, but also for the people he coaches. Instead of repeatedly explaining the nuances of the paleo diet, he can say, “Just put that food in your mouth.”
Hanson Cheng, 32, who’d never heard of paleo, was happy to follow that order when he started at Potomac CrossFit this spring. Cheng signed up for Power Supply’s most comprehensive plan: lunch and dinner five days a week. “I only fend for myself for breakfast and weekends,” he says.
It’s been easy, says Cheng, who’s in his best shape in years. The deliveries come twice a week, and he’s already at Potomac CrossFit anyway. “After my workout, I grab my order and drive it home. It’s smaller than a bag of groceries,” he says. The packaged meals also save time on cleanup — his dishwasher now exclusively holds water glasses and forks.
Now that he’s gotten more comfortable with the diet, Cheng thinks he might be ready to make more meals for himself. For some guidance on that, he could turn to Noah Gabriel-Landis, co-owner of District CrossFit and an avowed “food snob.”
“There’s a change people want to make, and part of our responsibility is giving them the tools for that change,” says Gabriel-Landis, who views bringing in local food purveyors such as Mount Vernon Grassfed as an integral part of his job as a health coach.
“I order 200 pounds of beef, pork and chicken every three months. It’s certainly different than going to the grocery store every three days,” he says. “I haven’t set foot in a grocery store for six months.”
If he can get a community-supported agriculture program to start delivering to District CrossFit, Gabriel-Landis might never have to step into one again. Instead, he can spend his time exploring where his food now comes from: Sperryville.
A field day is in the works to bring CrossFitters to the Mount Vernon farm for a tour, a meal and maybe even a workout.
“We do have plenty of tractor tires here,” Peterson says.
Hallett edits the Fit section of Express.