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How to Eat for CrossFit A CrossFitter’s Guide to Nutrition – BarBend

Mar 13th, 2023

As a CrossFitter, you know how to train. You go hard, you go fast. You pace yourself and push yourself past the point you thought you could reach last time. But if you want to do all that sustainably, you have to let your body recover.

A crucial component of recovery and fueling your workouts in the first place is sleep and managing your stress levels. Another major component is nutrition. If you love CrossFit training but havent thought much about how to eat for CrossFit, you might be missing out on tremendous progress in your WODs (workouts of the day).

Whether youre competing in the Open or just against the leaderboard at your local CrossFit box, optimizing your nutrition is a big key to improvement. Here, youll learn how to eat and what and when as a CrossFitter. From macros to supplements, everything you need to know about CrossFit nutrition is just ahead.

Editors Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.

Although they seem to perform superhuman feats in their boxes and on the competition floor, CrossFitters are, in fact, human beings. As such, they have the same nutritional requirements as any other athlete adequate calories, macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.

But CrossFit training especially as you gain more experience and dive deeper into the sport demands a lot from your body. To set yourself up for success, consider putting nutrition at the forefront of your programming. Heres why.

CrossFitter, especially those at more elite levels who work out more than once a day, require more nutrients than the average weekend warrior. Still, research suggests that CrossFitters may not get enough calories and nutrients day to day. (1)

One study found that CrossFit athletes across different genders tend to consume less than the recommended caloric intake for their activity levels. (1)

CrossFitters also may not get enough carbohydrates to adequately fuel their workouts. This might be because CrossFit founders and early CrossFit coaches recommended that athletes take in low levels of carbs. (2) CrossFit coaches and trainers also have historically recommended the paleo diet, which tends to emphasize lower carb intake. (3)

These recommendations for lower carb intake are not universally followed by CrossFitters, of course. For example, five-time Fittest Man on Earth Mat Fraser likes eating white rice with every meal. But these potential lower levels are worth noting.

Many strength athletes (including CrossFitters) might be more informed about the benefits of protein for training, and therefore de-emphasize the importance of carbs in fueling their workouts. Carbs are going to keep you going through those long workouts and the days between your training sessions.

But its not just calories and macros that CrossFitters may not be getting enough of. Research has also identified deficiencies in vitamin E, iron, calcium, and folate amongst CrossFitters. (1) Pay attention to getting a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains in your diet to help offset the risk of nutritional deficiencies.

CrossFitters consistently train for both strength and endurance at the same time. Except when theyre fine-tuning a specific weakness, CrossFitters dont generally have training cycles where they focus on one energy system or type of training. Instead, this sport is about improving all areas of fitness, all at once.

As a CrossFitter, youll be looking to get good at opposite aspects of training. For example:

This might seem like an invitation for the interference effect to wreak havoc on progress. The interference effect refers to a phenomenon where concurrently training for endurance takes away from strength gains or vice versa.

Most athletes need not worry about the dreaded interference effect if theyre programming smartly, using progressive overload, and emphasizing recovery and nutrition. (4)(5) But since this sports workouts are so intense from both endurance and strength perspectives, CrossFitters need to focus on nutrition.

To fuel all of these goals at once, you need to make smart nutritional choices that will keep your energy levels steady while supporting you through the extreme bursts of power output that your training requires.

Without enough energy to fuel such intense, diverse workouts, CrossFitters risk nutritional deficiencies, injury, and burnout not to mention jeopardizing their progress.

If you glance into the shopping cart of the six-time Fittest Woman on Earth Tia-Clair Toomey, youre going to find a wide variety of foods. And thats what you want as a CrossFit athlete to make sure youre covering all your nutritional bases the same way you cover all your bases in training.

Heres a crash course on what foods can serve CrossFitters well in their diets. The aim here is to ingest a wide variety of micronutrients those vitamins and minerals that keep your body operating at peak functionality within ones macronutrient needs.

Macronutrients are split into three categories: protein, carbs, and fats. These are measured in grams (or estimated based on portion size) and make up your caloric intake. Micronutrients, on the other hand, are vitamins and minerals. Theyre measured in smaller units like milligrams.

Toss your favorites from each category into your grocery cart each week. Mix and match according to the guidance below to give yourself tasty meals day in and day out.

Note that foods dont contain only one macronutrient and micronutrient. Everything has a distinct macronutrient profile. For example, Greek yogurt has a lot of protein but also contains carbs and some fat. Take a look at each foods macros breakdown on the nutrition label to see where it fits into your goals.

The website of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a FoodData Central feature that lets you check out foods overall nutritional profile, including whole foods like fruits and veggies that dont always come with ingredient labels. Youll notice that many fruits and salad vegetables have a higher carbohydrate content.

If youre on the go a lot and worried about not hitting getting a diversity of fruits and vegetables, consider adding a greens powder to the mix.

To maximize your gains, its best to consider how much youre training when determining how much and what youre eating. If you train five to six times (or less) per week, youll require less fuel than someone who trains two or three times per day.

Each athlete also may have specific goals for their body. You might be looking to bulk up a little bit to support those heavy barbell movements. Or you might be looking to shed some weight to help you feel more prepared to tackle strict handstand push-ups and muscle-ups.

Even the most elite CrossFit athletes eat differently from each other. While four-time Fittest Man on Earth Rich Froning is known for measuring his macros down to the gram, five-time Games champ Mat Fraser famously used to eat a pint of ice cream each night (before he dialed in his nutrition and started winning Games).

Four-time Americas Fittest Woman Kari Pearce prefers an intuitive approach to her nutrition, letting her hunger levels guide her choices though she mostly favors whole foods, like Fraser.

Use the general guidelines specified here to take a customized approach to your nutrition that feels best for your body, experience level, preferences, and goals.

Your caloric intake requirements how many calories you need each day to fuel both your regular metabolic functions and your intensive CrossFit training will change depending on pretty much every factor you can think of.

Your age, how intensely and how often you exercise, your gender assigned at birth, and your current hormone levels are just some of the factors that will impact your calorie intake needs. Here are some of the levels youll be looking to hit, depending on your activity levels.

Athletes participating in general exercise programs an average strength training workout for a half hour three times a week typically can eat between 1,800 and 2,400 calories per day and be just fine.

If youre doing an intense CrossFit workout once or twice each week at your local box, you might be able to eat within this range. (6) Consider having more carbs going slightly over your maintenance calories on the days of training to ensure that youre keeping steady energy levels.

CrossFit athletes often train at a much higher intensity and more often throughout the week. When youre training multiple times a day or even just having longer workouts, youll have to eat significantly more calories to fuel your training.

Athletes who weigh between 50 and 100 kilograms (110 to 220 pounds) might need to eat as many as 2,000 to 7,000 calories each day when their training gets especially intense. (6) Here are some standards for when you might need to eat this many calories:

CrossFitters might want to err on the side of more calories than described in general recommendations since this sport is especially taxing on all the bodys energy systems. And if you weigh over 220 pounds, youll need even more calories (up to 12,000 per day) to sustain such high-intensity, high-volume training. (7)

To get a specific idea of how many calories to aim for each day, check out the BarBend calorie calculator.

Many strength athletes arent able to safely count calories due to a tendency toward and/or a history of disordered eating habits and other body image issues.

If youd prefer to avoid calorie counting, consider an intuitive approach to nutrition. Practice listening to your hunger cues. Plan to eat when youre hungry and stop eating when youre full. Pay attention to which foods tend to make you feel energized and efficient during your workouts and try to prioritize those.

For athletes who feel able, consider paying attention to an estimate of your macronutrient levels instead of (or in addition to) attention to calories.

Many athletes prioritize their calories first and macros carbs, protein, and fats at a close second. You might opt not to count your calories at all and instead hone in on your macro and micronutrients.

For CrossFitters, finding the right balance of macronutrients is going to be incredibly important. Theyll determine how much energy your body has to get you through grueling, seemingly impossible WODs.

Carbs might not have always been popular in the CrossFit world, but research suggests that these are vital macros before, during, and after high-intensity, high-volume workouts. (8) But exactly how many you need and what kinds of carbs depends on the types of workouts youre doing.

If youre training for a couple of hours a day five or six times a week, consider getting 250 to 1,200 grams of carbs each day. For CrossFit athletes who are doing long and intense two-a-day workouts, the need for carbs increases to 400 to 1,500 grams per day for athletes weighing between 110 and 330 pounds. (6)(9)

If you weigh on the lower end of this spectrum, start with the lower end of carbs. Adjust your intake as you do even more activity. Do the same process in reverse if you weigh on the higher end of this spectrum.

That might seem intimidating but aim to have most of these dietary carbs come from whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. If you need a boost during or right after intense workouts, you might want to turn to carbs from refined sugars, starchy foods, carb powders, and sports drinks. (10)

Strength athletes CrossFitters included are often well-versed in the protein, protein, and more protein approach to nutrition. If you train intensely a few times a week, you might want to look at 1.2 to two grams of protein each day per kilogram of body weight. (11)(12) This translates to 60 to 300 grams of protein each day for a 110 to a 330-pound athlete. (11)(12)

If you train at a high intensity and an even higher volume (more than a few times per week), research suggests upping your protein intake to 1.7 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. (11) This means 85 to 330 grams of protein per day for athletes weighing between 50 and 150 kilograms (110 and 330 pounds). (11)

To calculate those numbers specifically for your body and the nuances of your training routine, check out BarBends protein intake calculator.

Be sure to consider whether youre looking for muscle growth, fat loss, or maintaining the weight youre currently at when youre plugging in your stats.

Dietary fat intake levels can span across a wide range for CrossFitters. A lot of it will depend on how an athletes body processes dietary fat. For example, if you tend to feel sluggish after a meal thats high in dietary fat, you might want to avoid that peanut butter sandwich right before your workout.

But other CrossFit athletes may prefer a higher level of fat in their diet. For example, athletes might be attracted to the idea that diets with higher percentages of fat may help circulate testosterone more readily in the body. (13)

Regardless of individual preference, the general recommendation is that 30 percent of an athletes daily caloric intake comes from dietary fats. (14)(15) Some athletes who train with very high volumes can even safely consume 50 percent of their daily caloric intake as fats. (15)

If youre not able or willing to count calories, you can estimate your intake of fat by conceptualizing one or two thumb-sized portions with each meal.

For an overview of your macronutrient needs, check out BarBends macronutrient calculator. Youll input factors like your age, goal, and activity level and get a customized suggestion for each of your macros.

Remember to re-calculate your macros as needed based on your current phase of training. If youre gearing up for competition, for example, your training volume, frequency, and intensity will likely shift. Adjust your calculations to accommodate those changes.

If youre not able or willing to track your macros specifically, opt to use techniques for estimating your portions. This can help give you a ballpark means of figuring out if youre getting enough carbs, fats, and protein respectively.

You may opt to fill half your dinner plate with vegetables, a quarter of the plate with high-carb foods, and a quarter with protein. Or you might use your hand instead. Use a closed fist to estimate a portion of carbs. Use your palm to help you measure a portion of protein. Your thumb can be a handy way of calculating a portion of fats.

Broadly speaking, CrossFitters love their supplements. One study of nutritional habits in recreational CrossFitters found over three-quarters of participants take at least one dietary supplement. (16) Protein, creatine, and pre-workout were found to be the most popular supplements. (16) These choices make sense for CrossFitters.

Since its so filling, protein might be difficult for some athletes to get enough of in their daily meals without supplementing it in shakes.

Creatine doesnt just support muscle growth and recovery it also helps support mental focus during intense workouts. (17)(18)(19)

And pre-workout is all about boosting your energy levels, which CrossFit athletes may desire before diving headfirst into a high-heat WOD.

Supporting recovery, overall health, and developing muscle mass were the main reasons that participants took these supplements. (16) To further those goals, CrossFitters might also want to invest in a good greens powder to support micronutrient needs, since many athletes may run the risk of micronutrient deficiencies. (1)

To help you wade through the wide world of supplements, check out these articles to navigate which supplements to integrate into your CrossFit nutrition journey.

There is often much ado in the strength sports world about the importance of nutrient timing that is, when you consume your nutrients and how it impacts your body composition and training performance. Research suggests that what and how much you eat tends to be more important than exactly when you eat. (20)

This means that you dont have to sweat situations like, I need to down this chicken breast within 30 minutes of finishing my workout or more muscles will disappear. The specific timing is likely not going to make or break your next WOD.

That said, timing your nutrition to line up with your training can help optimize your results. (20) And for CrossFitters especially at an elite level everything becomes about getting that extra edge.

Plus, CrossFit athletes often train multiple times daily. In that context, it becomes more important to time your meals and snacks properly to keep your energy high.

When youre getting ready for a big effort, carbs might just be your best friend. But what youre eating carbs with and what types of carbs youre having may depend on when youre working out.

If youre working out in the afternoon, aim to get a full breakfast in the morning. Include carbs, protein, and fats. Ensure that a good portion of your carbs come from fruits and veggies.

Once you get closer to your workout say, one to two hours before fuel up with complex carbs and a little bit of protein. Consider some oatmeal with a small scoop of protein powder or a whole wheat peanut butter sandwich.

Right before your workout between 30 and 60 minutes prior youll want to turn to a source of quick energy. Unsweetened applesauce or a banana can work wonders here.

Research also suggests that combining about 50 grams of carbs with five to 10 grams of protein a half hour to an hour before your workout can optimize carb availability toward the end of an intense training session. (21)(22) If you take pre-workout, consider using a similar carb-to-protein ratio.

These little boosts can make all the difference when youre grinding through the end of a tough WOD.

Sometimes, CrossFit workouts dont end with your WOD. When your training session extends beyond an hour and especially after the 90-minute mark you will want to refuel.

To help maintain your blood glucose levels, aid your immune system, and prevent dehydration, fuel yourself with a glucose and electrolyte solution during your workout. (23) Fruit snacks can also work well here so make sure youre tossing some in your gym bag.

After youve left every ounce of energy out on the competition or gym floor, youll need to refuel. Especially if youre trying to gain muscle, aim to have a meal within two hours of completing your training. (24) Even though its ideal to consume this meal in the form of whole foods, having a protein shake can still be beneficial in refueling your muscles and kickstarting recovery. (25)

But youll be alright if you cant get to your protein shake right away. Refueling with a combination of 0.8 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight and 0.2 to 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight within four hours has been shown to support increased strength. (26)

Its not easy to train for CrossFit. It takes a tremendous amount of physical and mental stamina and grit to stare down the face of an intense WOD and emerge victorious on the other side of the clock.

To fuel all that effort, youve got to pay close attention to your nutrition. Though CrossFit nutrition is a nuanced beast, here are some of the key points to remember:

Now you know how to eat for CrossFit. But can you train like a CrossFitter, too? Check out these articles to scratch that CrossFit itch and dive into training.

Featured Image: ME Image / Shutterstock

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How to Eat for CrossFit A CrossFitter's Guide to Nutrition - BarBend

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