What is the optimal nutrition for CrossFit?
Welcome to our Outlier Nutrition for CrossFit Series! Outlier Nutrition is a much broader project we have in the works, but as we receive dozens of emails and questions about nutrition daily, I thought I’d start a series where I write about some of the areas we receive the most questions about. If you have a question, don’t hesitate to drop it my way, it does in fact make the writing process easier!
To begin, this is not an article for elite level athletes out there. Each and every one of you has special dietary requirements that far exceed the needs of 99% of the CrossFit community. You probably already have a nutritionist on retainer, or minimally have an understanding of your individual needs. Sorry guys, this one is for the majority that is faced with misinformation, countless options to choose from, or just feels lost in all the available information.
First, some background
We’re going to begin with a little background, and down a rabbit hole briefly, so bear with me. Whether you realize it now or not, you’ve heard of the recommended dietary allowances (RDAs), the dietary reference intakes (DRIs) and the acceptable macronutrient distribution range (AMDRs). These intakes and allowances are produced by the Institutes of Medicine in conjunction with the Food and Nutrition Board, a group of professionals that volunteer and work independently of government agencies to provide unbiased and authoritative advice to policy makers and the public at large.
Conventional recommendations provided by this group say individuals should take in the following range of calories from each of the macronutrients:
- 45-65% from carbohydrates
- 20-35% fats
- 10-35% protein
These ranges are set with the goal of reducing the risk of chronic disease while providing adequate intakes of essential nutrients for everyone. It’s important to note these ranges apply to the general, healthy population. They are set at a level of adequacy, and not for optimal performance.
With such ranges how is one to know what they should really take in? Well, the answer isn’t completely cut-and-dry. It’s largely going to depend on your goals.
For the sake of brevity, we will examine the two most common goals for CrossFitters.
You probably started CrossFit because you want to look good naked. Coaches across the world have heard this exact line thousands of times. Let’s say you’ve already taken the first step of joining a CrossFit community. You’re attending regularly, showing improvement consistently, and after every workout you diligently add your results to the whiteboard. But no matter what you do in the box, you look in the mirror and you’re not shredded like your heroes Jason Khalipa or Christmas Abbott.
So what gives?
Chances are you’ve embraced the spirit of the community, but you’ve yet to really hear what your coaches are telling you. As a trainer, our job is to tear you apart and rebuild you. At the box, you’re not getting better, you’re literally being ripped apart. This is how physiology works. Muscle fibers are stretched and torn with every exercise you do. Yes, you’re lifting more weight, your Fran time is dropping, but you’re being broken down daily. The “gainz” you are making are actually found at home through your recovery, and you may have guessed it by now, through your diet.
Your approach to nutrition shouldn’t demonize one macronutrient (aka carbs) over another, but instead look to optimize your intake of all foods. And how about your protein intake? For body composition, your protein focus needs to be on timing. The typical American diet is heavily imbalanced toward eating in the evening. Too many carbs first thing in the day with minimal protein, and too much protein for dinner with not enough balance. Strive to evenly distribute your protein throughout the day. There also appears to be some sort of optimal threshold for protein synthesis (read: keeping your gainz), that is between 25-35 grams per meal.
Current literature shows three meals a day may be the most beneficial for appetite control, satiety (fullness), and body composition. So while the “Bros” at the Globo gym say you need to eat every 2 hours, chances are you don’t. So, try eating three meals a day and aim for 30g of protein at each occasion if you’re looking to drop a little weight and tone up.
You’re a Fire Breather, so competing is where you’ve set your sights. You’re killing WODs, but feel exhausted for hours after the workout. Some days you literally feel like you’ve run into a brick wall. Your lifts are improving, but you’ve realized that one thing yet to come around is your nutrition.
You’re the easier fix. Chances are high that you’re simply under-eating for the amount of work you perform. As a whole, you are not normal, but that’s not a bad thing.
The good news is that the RDAs do not apply to you. You’re going to up most of your macros, but most importantly you’re going to up your protein significantly. You’re going to have to do a little work here, but for an athletic person protein intake should range from 1.2-1.8g/kg/day For a 180-pound person that equates to 98g-147g of protein per day. This amount is to reduce protein breakdown, support protein synthesis, and promote a positive net protein balance (again read: keeping your gainz). Yes, you may want both of these but unfortunately you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can only have one master at a time. That doesn’t mean they are mutually exclusive though.
If you concentrate on performance and properly fueling your body, the chances that you’ll improve your body composition are incredibly high. Just remember to eat quality foods in moderation, and be attentive to your protein intake. The results (GAINZ!) will come.
Want help optimizing your nutrition? If you’d like to talk to us about your nutrition and how we can help you reach your goals, give us a shout using our contact form or email [email protected]. We’d love to help you find your best self!