Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.” (CrossFit Journal, September 2002, “The Garage Gym”, “World Class Fitness in 100 Words”)
I’m sure you’ve all heard that nutrition is the foundation for performance. In fact, nutrition is the base of the pyramid Crossfit founder Greg Glassman created, with met-cons, gymnastics, weight lifting and sport all being supported by it. What we put into our bodies greatly affects how we look, feel, and perform, but most athletes make nutrition secondary in their training. You all come to Union Square consistently, ready to work, wanting to take it to the next level and hoping to set PRs, but if you are also consistently feeding your body junk, I’m sorry to break it to you, but that just isn’t going to happen. So what should we eat? There are a few ways of eating that Crossfit promotes: Paleo or the “Caveman Diet” and the “Zone Diet.”
The paleo diet is based upon everyday, modern foods that mimic the food groups of our pre-agricultural, hunter-gatherer ancestors. The diet is based upon eating grass-fed meats, fish and seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs, nuts and seeds, and healthful oils (Olive, walnut, flaxseed, macadamia, avocado, coconut). Grains, dairy, potatoes, refined sugars and vegetable oils and salt are all on “the don’t-eat list” for the paleo diet. Paleo is extremely clean and if you follow the Paleo diet you are encouraged to eat as much as you feel necessary. It is extremely effective for weight maintenance or weight loss depending on the quantity of food you eat, and provides many long-term life benefits.
If performance is your primary motive, than you might want to look more closely at the Zone Diet. Historically CrossFit’s best athletes have adhered to the Zone Diet, and we generally find an increase in performance when athletes who did not previously follow it, begin to do so. IT requires a little bit of work on your part as directly adhering to it requires weighing and measuring your foods, and arranging your meals into equal “blocks” of carbs, protein and fats. The average CrossFitter, who works out once a day for approximately an hour, will be able to take their lean body mass and multiply it by 0.1 to determine how many blocks you should eat per day. If you are completing 2 workouts a day you would multiply you LBM by 0.11 to calculate your blocks. 1 block equates to 7 g protein, 9 g carbohydrate and 1.5 g fat. The foods you can eat in the Zone include all of those in Paleo but also allow for dairy, legumes, potatoes (preferably sweet potatoes) and occasionally starches.
Each of these diets require a bit of focused adherence. If you find they are both too much for you simply start to clean up your diet by trying to follow the Zone guidelines, which are a little more lenient on what you can eat, to the best of your abilities, and go from there.
As competitors, athletes are always looking for ways to take their performance to the next level and get on top. Athletes can get all the nutrients they need from good old natural, wholesome food. Many athletes turn to supplements, however, because they believe it is a better way to optimize their health and performance. It is important to note that no “super pill” is going to compensate for a bad diet. Supplements are meant to do exactly what their name states, supplement your regular food intake, not replace it. Take your diet as seriously as you take your training and you will see improvements in not only your performance but also how you look and feel. IF you feel a need to supplement your diet Creatine, Beta-Alanine, Glutamine, Whey Protein, and BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids) are the most studied, safest and most effective workout related supplements available; Omega3 fatty acids, most commonly attained from fish oil, is a highly effective natural anti-inflammatory, that we encourage our members to take as well.
What you put into your body greatly affects your performance. If you eat crap, you will perform like crap. But if you eat the right foods at the right time, you have a much better chance of taking it to the next level and setting some PRs. We all know that if the gas tank in your car were low you wouldn’t get very far and if it was empty you wouldn’t get anywhere at all. Well the same concept applies here. Several studies have shown that athletes who ate prior to participating in a high intensity workout were able to last longer and perform better than those who trained on an empty stomach.
So what should you eat before performing the WOD and how soon before? This is something that varies from athlete to athlete. Several factors should be taken into account such as when you will be training as well as the intensity and duration of the training session. The less time you allow before a workout, the smaller your pre-workout meal or snack will be. It is important to allow for adequate time to digest food. A general rule of thumb is to allow 3-4 hours for a large meal (600-900 calories) to digest, 2-3 hours for a smaller meal (400-600 calories) and 1-2 hours for a snack (200-300 calories), depending on your tolerance.
Your pre-workout meal or snack should predominately consist of carbohydrates with some protein because carbohydrates empty from the stomach quickly and become readily available to be used by the muscles. Fat takes longer to digest so a meal high in fat could cause GI upset during training. Muscle stores of glycogen, which is the storage form of carbohydrates in the body, are absolutely essential in performing endurance exercise at high intensity for any extended period. As CrossFitters, we are constantly working our bodies at this level so it is imperative that you fuel and replenish your glycogen stores appropriately so you can perform well at this level on a daily basis.
Properly fueling your body after your workouts is just as important as properly fueling before your workouts. During a strenuous workout, such as those we do almost every day, your body’s glycogen stores get significantly used up. It is important to properly replenish them to help you to recover from these intense workouts and set you up with the energy you’ll need for your next session. Your pre-workout meal will give you an energy boost but it does not replenish your glycogen stores. It’s your post-workout meal that really restores your energy tank but only when the right foods are consumed at the right time.
In order to fully replenish your glycogen stores you should consume moderate to high glycemic load carbohydrates within 30-45 minutes immediately after your workout. This is the only time that your body is most receptive to macronutrient uptake. It has been shown that the rebuilding of your muscle’s glycogen stores is 2-3 times faster immediately after exercise as it is a few hours later. Delaying carbohydrate intake for too long after your workout will reduce muscle glycogen re-synthesis and minimize your ability to restore your energy tank to its full capacity potentially leaving you more sore, and fatigued than usual. Just by eating at the right time you can completely avoid this problem.
Most people usually aren’t very hungry immediately after engaging in intense exercise and find it easier to drink their carbohydrates rather than eat them. Others may be able to consume easy-to-eat carbohydrate rich foods such as raisins, bananas, oranges, melon or apple slices. Some may however be able to tolerate a mini-meal. This is something you will have to experiment with to figure out what works best for you.