CrossFit-Specific Nutrition

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If you have ever done a CrossFit workout, you know that what you eat beforehand (and after) can either make or break you.

What you eat can be the difference between an amazing finish to a brutally long metcon, or one in which you might not even finish…

If you’ve ever experienced the highs and lows of a workout and know your nutrition is to blame, you won’t want to miss this read.

CrossFit is such a unique sport to train for – a mixture of strength and endurance, power and skill. In fact programming in such a fashion that results in progressive overload for both endurance and strength, Olympic lifting and gymnastics, aerobic and anaerobic energy systems is just as much an art as it is a science.

And while training is what stimulates the necessary adaptations, nutrition is what supports those adaptations. Even further, the specifics of the training determines the specifics of the nutrition required to optimally support it.

Nutrition for CrossFit is no different. Because it’s a mixed modal sport, CrossFitters must cover at least some of the nutritional requirements for both strength and endurance training. Rather than eating purely for strength training or purely for endurance, you are compromising at some point between the two extremes.

But how do we do that?

Traditional strength and conditioning would argue that it is impossible to make meaningful adaptations in both strength and endurance training at the same time. But, in fact, this argument has been proven wrong in the practical aspect for the past 10 years (when CrossFit was first introduced).

The same argument can be made about nutrition. How can one eat for strength gains AND endurance gains at the same time?

Traditional strength and power athletes (Olympic weightlifters and powerlifters) do not need as much energy and carbohydrates as would an endurance athlete (triathletes, marathoners, etc.).

This isn’t universal, but in general, endurance athletes will have the highest daily energy requirement due to the sheer nature of their high volume training demands (requiring a higher daily carb intake), while a strength athlete has the lowest daily energy requirement (requiring less reliance on carbohydrate intake).

Another conflicting argument is that strength and power athletes are concerned with muscle mass and strength (requiring a higher daily protein intake), whereas endurance athletes rarely attempt to carry much muscle mass (and thus tend to require less protein intake).

One way we can eat for multimodal training conditions (and thus support those training conditions for optimal adaptations) is to vary our nutrition along with our training.

This could potentially make for a very complex and unrealistic nutrition plan amounting to 10+ different macronutrient breakdowns depending on training types, recovery, weight goals, etc. But there is a way we can simplify t first, read on.

First determine your energy intake:

Energy in the diet comes from carbohydrates and fats. Daily energy intake will vary quite a bit based on daily activities. A rest day won’t require near the energy intake as two-a-day workout days. The same goes for different types of training which will have vastly different energy requirements.

So where do you start?

Determining TRUE daily energy requirements is often a bit of an estimate, but can certainly be fast-tracked working with a nutrition coach (or studying 5+ years to be one, which ever you have time for).

Here is a quick breakdown of Energy Requirement for CrossFit: (Note if you are a female, lean towards the lower value in the range, if you are a male, lean towards the higher value).

Rest Day: 13-15 calories/ lb BW
Medium Training Day (1 hr training): 16-18 calories / lb BW
High Training Day (1.5 hr + training): 18-22 calories / lb BW
For each additional hour of training: Add 2-4 calories / lb BW / hr

So if I use myself as an example, 145 lb female athlete, I would need roughly 1885 calories on my rest day to support my current energy balance. And in fact, this is what I eat on rest days.

Remember folks, this will be a trial and error process. Start with these values and go from there. If you are significantly UNDER this recommended value, read the ** below:

**If you are a female (or male) athlete and severely undereating compared to the values computed in the above equations, you are probably experiencing some sort of metabolic adaptation.

But essentially, you will remain weight stable at your current caloric intake (which is severely under the recommended amount), however you are typically unable to train effectively or adapt to your training load. As counterintuitive as it might seem, you will want to increase your calories to the recommended value above in order to lose fat, allow for training adaptations, increase energy and quality of training sessions, and improve your body composition.

As I mentioned before, energy intake will change drastically from day to day if you are training for CrossFit. The difference between the energy intakes in the above equations will mostly come from the differing amounts of carbohydrate.

For example, on days with higher energy requirements (like a strength session followed by a 45 min+ metcon), more carbs will be eaten. As opposed to days with lower energy requirements (30 minutes of gymnastic and skill work), which will need less carbs eaten.

Now comes the question: but how do I breakdown the calories for each day and each type of training session? Where should the calories come from?

That, my friends is the million dollar question and is also why I have a job 😉 If you’d like to know (and better yet, understand), the amounts of protein, carbs and fats you need to optimize your CrossFit training and body composition goals, I’m here for you.

After an initial consultation, you will have a nutrition plan that is specifically tailored to your CrossFit training and body composition goals.

Throughout the first couple months, you will be working with me to dial in your plan so that you can reap the adaptations you are creating in the gym (nerd talk for getting stronger and leaner).

I will also say that for all of you who are doing the Open this year (pssssst it starts this week 😉 you will want to get with me and make sure you are eating enough of the right macronutrients to support your performance throughout the next 5 weeks!

I can tell you right now, it would suck if you burned out, got sick or injured just because your nutrition wasn’t on point.

I hope this helps everyone understand the importance of specific nutrition for CrossFit and that there are realistic and beneficial ways to make the science work best for you in your busy life!