Nutrition for CrossFit exercise can be a real question mark for many people.
Most people who do CrossFit regularly are educated on the Paleo and Zone Diets, having some but not much success on either.
This is probably because the Paleo Diet can be incredibly low carb (unless you’re very smart with it) and the Zone Diet can often be too intricate and complicated for most people.
When these aren’t successful many people find themselves on a ‘Paleo-ish’ Diet. Eating mostly whole foods most of the time while indulging in carbs or ‘Paleo Treats’ fairly regularly to curb cravings and to give your body the sugar it is clearly dying for.
So where do we go from here? How much food and what types do you actually need if you’re training for 1 hour a day at your regular CrossFit class?
The first change you’ll probably want to make will be to eat more high fibre, low glycaemic carbohydrates with each of your meals.
“Won’t these carbohydrates make me fat and give me diabetes?”
Only if you overeat them and eat a lot of refined, sugary carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are your body’s preferred source of energy, especially for high power, intense training (like maximum lifts and short CrossFit Metcon’s).
Having low levels of carbohydrates in the body can also lead to decreased motivation to train, low energy levels during the day, and more cravings for sugary snacks.
“So how much do I need?”
The amount of carbohydrates you need depends on your current size, your goals, and your activity levels. The more you move around and exercise, the more carbohydrates your body needs to recover and fuel this activity.
If you’re trying to lose weight, prioritising your carbohydrates around your workouts only can be a really good way to lose weight while still having enough energy to train. This means eating high fibre, low glycaemic carbohydrates before and after (more after) your workouts only. Having protein, fats, and vegetables as the rest of your meals.
If you are trying to add muscle, then eating high quality carbohydrates with most if not all of your meals is definitely a good idea.
Workout nutrition in most literature says that a mixed protein and carbohydrate meal with low amounts of fat (to ensure fast digestion) should be ingested 1-3 hours before a workout, and 1-3 hours after a workout.
More carbohydrates should be taken in after your workout than before it, as this will be when the muscles need it most to replenish energy stores and to repair muscles.
For most people, this would look like a small to large lean protein source (think chicken breast/fish etc) combined with 1-2 cupped hands of starchy, high fibre carbohydrate (like brown rice, sweet potatoes etc). Include some mixed vegetables here as well.
As long as you have a meal like this both before and after your training, you will be eating sufficiently to fuel your workouts.
Your meals further away from the workout window will then be lower in carbohydrate and higher in healthy fats (nuts, avocados, olive oil etc.), as well as also including protein sources (meat/fish).
Again, remember that your current size, goals, and daily activity levels will affect the amount you need to consume. If you sit at a desk all day and then do 1 hour of CrossFit before driving home and sitting on the sofa before going to bed, and you are looking to lose a bit of weight, then having carbohydrates only around your workouts will be a great way to fuel your training without eating too much.
If you walk 2 miles to work where you are then on your feet all day, or a labourer, and then you do your 1 hour of CrossFit before walking home and going to bed, then your energy demands are going to be far higher than the other.
“So how many grams of carbohydrates should I eat per day?”
If you want to get much more specific, then depending on goals and body size, I usually recommend 1-1.5g of carbohydrate per lb of bodyweight for the average CrossFit enthusiast.
If you’re a 14 stone individual, this would be 196 – 294 grams of carbohydrates a day. Pair this with protein and some healthy fats with each meal (less in the workout meals) and you’ll be doing a good job in fuelling your training.
If you feel like this is too much after a couple weeks of experimenting, then simply lower the amounts. Only experimentation will find what truly works for you.
“What about supplements”
The only supplements I recommend to most people are whey protein powder (for post workout protein and to help increase protein intake as it’s cheap per serving), creatine (if looking to increase strength/size), fish oils (if you don’t eat lots of oily fish) and a multivitamin (just in case you have some days where you don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables).
If you’re training for longer than an hour, then drinking a protein and carbohydrate workout drink during and after is a great way to fuel your training, and recover stronger. Whey protein mixed with vitargo, maltodextrin, or cyclic dextrin are all great options.
However, ICON Nutrition do a great product for this; their Recovery powder is 2:1 Carbs to Protein, meaning one serving is 20g of protein to 40g of carbohydrate. This is perfect for long sessions and for your post workout recovery
Everything else out there really isn’t necessary, and the main thing is getting the basics right and focusing on the quality and quantity of your food intake.
Get the basics right, and follow the premise above surrounding workout nutrition, and you’ll be doing more than enough to meet your performance and composition goals.
If you have any questions please reach out to me on firstname.lastname@example.org.