Eating for CrossFit 101: How Much and What

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Hey! You do Crossfit! You can eat whatever and burn it off. Work hard, party harder, right? Well, not really. You still need a good nutritional plan. Everybody has a different opinion on how to fuel a workout, nourish the body and have optimal health. It’s easy for me to just tell you to listen to your doctor and/or nutritionist, but then this won’t be a good article. So, I’m going to tell you that I’m not a doctor and you should consult your medical professional before applying anything I write here. With that said, after years of research, experiments and tinkering, I do have a few ideas when it comes to nutrition if you do CrossFit. Here they are:

Let’s start with a few numbers. If you want to maintain your weight, start with 15 calories per pound of body weight. If you want to lose weight, decrease that number a little (e.g. 12 cal/lb); if you want to put on some mass, increase that number a little (e.g. 17 cal/lb). Before you stop reading here and bring out the calculator, you should know that everyone’s metabolism does not follow this basic equation. That’s why you may need to do some tinkering. Start with a number, weigh yourself, eat that number of calories for a while such as 1 week, weigh yourself again and adjust if needed. For example, take a person that weighs 200 lbs. If he wants to maintain, he can start with 200 x 15 = 3000 calories per day. Eat 3000 calories/day for a week. Weigh himself again. If he maintains, perfect! If he gains weight, he can go down to 2800 calories/day. If he loses weight, he can go up to 3200 calories/day. If he wants to lose weight, he can start with 200 x 12 = 2400 calories/day. Eat that number of calories for a week. Weigh himself and adjust if needed. If the number of calories you will eat that you calculated is way higher than your current intake (e.g. >400 calories/day), ramp up slowly. Add 100 calories/day to your diet each week.

Next up: Macronutrients aka macros. Carbs, fat and protein. Let’s get the easy one out of the way. Protein will provide you the amino acids that are building blocks of your muscles. I think eating about 0.5-0.8 grams per pound of body weight is sufficient. You will read about the magical 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight recommendation. But, have you noticed the protein powders that they are selling? You don’t really need that much protein. I would probably stay close to eating 0.8 grams/lb, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I eat a little less. So, a 200-lb person should eat about 160 grams of protein per day. Next up, the demonized macro: Fat! Dietary fat is crucial for optimal hormonal health. And it does not necessarily make you fat. That’s just like saying eating blueberries will turn you into a Smurf. It’s just not true. Because it’s critical for optimal health, we need to have a minimum amount if we don’t want any disruption. I find this number to be 0.4 grams per pound of body weight. Don’t forget that this is the minimum. Going with the same 200-lb person, he should eat at least 200 x 0.4 = 80 grams of fat per day. If your goal is weight loss, this number can come down a little, but be aware that your hormonal profile may not be at an optimal state. Lastly, carbs! Carbs for CrossFit are crucial. They replenish the muscle and liver glycogen that we need for the extra gear in our workouts. Every time we sustain a higher pace and demand energy from our muscles for more than a couple of seconds such as sprints, heavy squats, burpees, we utilize carbs. To find out how much carbs to eat each day, we can start at about 1-2 grams per pound of body weight. Or, we can subtract the protein and fat calories from our daily intake goal and find the number that way. For example, if the famous 200-lb person is eating 3000 calories/day, 160 grams of protein (160 x 4 = 640 calories), 120 grams of fat (120 x 9 = 1080 calories), then 3000 – (640 + 1080) = 1280 calories left for carbs. 1280 / 4 = 320 grams of carbs (which means about 1.5 grams of carbs per pound of body weight).

Enough with the numbers. Let’s get to what to eat. I’m not going to tell you not to eat donuts, muffins, loaded chili cheese fries, etc. because I’m sure know that they are not good options to maximize performance and health. Limiting processed foods to minimal to zero intake is a great idea. Without further ado, let’s get to it. For protein, eating chicken, fish, grass-fed read meat, turkey, eggs, pasture-raised pork are great options. The better the quality of the animal, the better it is for our health. This means that wild-caught fish is better than farmed fish. Grass-fed beef is better than regular beef. Pasture-raised chicken eggs are better than regular eggs. I think you see what I’m saying here. You are not just what you eat. You are what you eat ate. For fats, other than fatty cuts of meat and fish, avocados, raw nuts and seeds, and coconut meat are good options. We should also consider our cooking oil here. Avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil macadamia nut oil, grass-fed butter, ghee are all good options. I would stay away from other vegetable oils such as canola oil, corn oil because of their omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. They are simply pro-inflammatory. For carbs, vegetables should fill up most of the plate. But, we shouldn’t just eat lettuce and kale.  You should also include other colors such as peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, etc. Eat your greens but add more color to your plate. Other than vegetables, of course you have fruits. I try to stay away from fruits because I can’t stop eating them. They are so tasty. Technically they are the nature’s dessert. If you want, you can eat a serving or two each day. For people doing high intensity exercise such as CrossFit, eating rice, quinoa, beans and lentils as carb sources is a good idea. We can’t just eat 150-300 grams of carbs from vegetables. I mean we can, but we shouldn’t :) When you are eating grains and legumes, it’s always best to prepare them correctly before cooking. This means soaking and/or sprouting them pre-cooking. Oh! Before I forget, I should tell you that if you are like me, and you like a sandwich every now and then, Ezekiel 16:9 bread is the bread with the best ingredients I found.

I think this is a good starting point for eating for performance and health. Next up, I will probably write something about meal frequency, when to eat, and intermittent fasting. Or, maybe I will write about pre and post workout nutrition. In the meantime, if you want me to write about a particular subject, just let me know.