I’ve seen athletes go from meh to WOW in one year with changes to their nutrition. I’m not saying you can just eat right and qualify for regionals, but it’s probably holding you back from a top 20 (or 30) spot out of the open. This article will teach you how to use macros for CrossFit performance.
I see it time and time again. Athletes make it right up to the regionals bubble by following personalized programming from one of the numerous and amazing coaching companies out there… but can’t quite break the top 30-40 in the open year-after-year. It isn’t until they finally fix their nutrition that they break into the top 20…or 10 in the case of our man Nate Long.
Nate was already working his butt off with a coach and made big strides to finish 43rd in the Mid-Atlantic Region in 2016. At the time, he was following a dirty paleo diet without paying much attention to quantity.
After the Open, he committed 100% and we worked with him to start eating adequately to fuel his brutal training sessions. Where did he finish in 2017? 10th. Higher than Athletes who had qualified for the Games one year prior.
How Nutrition Improves CrossFit Performance
So why is it that nutrition can help jettison athletes from good to “how the heck can a human be that fit?”
In my opinion it’s 3 major factors:
- Proper nutrition means adequate energy to push through the volume of training it takes to be the best.
- Proper nutrition means the energy is there for proper recovery and adaptation to the training.
- Proper nutrition means decreasing the chances of overtraining or hormonal issues like adrenal dysfunction.
You’re Not Rich Froning…yet
Truly gifted athletes can get away with murder when it comes to nutrition. We see this over-and-over in the sports world. From NBA stars like Dwight Howard dominating the league on a diet of Skittles, to CrossFit Games repeat winners (*cough* Froning *cough*) mowing through boxes of cereal and doughnuts.
You can’t take cues from their diets and think “that’s how they got there, so I can eat like crap and get there, too!” These athletes have a degree of talent and a mental X-factor that is one-in-a-billion. It’s not the skittles, doughnuts, and Fruit Loops behind their achievements.
And, if you aren’t qualifying for the CrossFit Games within a year of walking into the box for the first time (see: Mat Fraser) you probably can’t just eat whatever you want, train hard, and end up there.
If you want to give yourself a real shot at busting through the bubble out of this (or next) years’ CrossFit Open and make it through to regionals, you damn well better eat, sleep, and recover like you want to be there. Writing the goal on your bedroom wall so you see it every day is one thing. Taking the right steps throughout that day is the real path to greatness.
Why You Shouldn’t Go Chasing Six-packs
Getting physical appearances out of your head is massive. If you have body image issues (I’ve been there) you can work through this with a professional.
It doesn’t help that every Dottir is ripped like wrapping paper on christmas morning, but that’s not why they’re perennial powerhouses. A six pack does not equal performance. From a performance perspective, there is nothing wrong with being a little thick.
Chasing a six pack requires some degree of deprivation, and you’re sure as heck shouldn’t deprive yourself of nutrients during the CrossFit Games season when every source of stress in your life will be at it’s peak.
Take it from me, a former regionals athlete, and coach to regionals and Games athletes.
- Your relationship stress will be the highest during CrossFit Games season because your partner, family, and friends drop on your priority list and while some will support you during this period of neglect, there will be moments when it’s reflected back at you and you’re torn between loved ones and the love of progress and winning.
- Your financial stress will be at it’s peak because you’ll be eating more food than ever, and since you’ll be busy, a lot of it will be at restaurants. You will be spending more on recovery modalities like massage, PT, and even coaching. If you’re also a coach, you might even have to reduce class or PT hours to fit everything in.
- Your physical stress will be at it’s highest as you just asked a lot from your body over the last year. You’ve trained through the nagging aches, pains, latent injuries, and bumps/bruises from failed box jumps.
- Pile on the stress of the expectations you place on yourself to perform day-in and day-out so that you can finally qualify for Regionals/Games.
Why would you pile the stress of a calorie deficit and low nutrient intake on top of all that just so you can look the part? That’s a recipe for a broken system and performance decline.
Nutrition for CrossFit Performance
So what do the nutrition steps on this path to greatness look like?
It depends on a number of factors, including what programming your coach is torturing you with at the moment. Although this is highly personalized for competitors, generally speaking:
- If you are in Open prep, you are probably getting murdered with metcons. Gotta’ maintain that muscle and strength you built in the off season and fuel the highly glycolytic training. You don’t need to be adding size right now so a nice maintenance level of calorie intake with high carb macro split is going to be your best bet.
- If you are in your off-season and building strength and/or size, you probably don’t need as much carbohydrate and can afford a calorie surplus to fuel mass gain.
If you are struggling with gymnastics volume and/or are overweight from your strength and mass building cycles, you probably need a small, targeted deficit while properly fueling yourself on training days.
- If you’re going to walk the nutrition section of your path to greatness without the support of a coach, here are some rough guidelines.
Calculating Macros for CrossFit Performance
Just because you’re training for what seems like all day doesn’t mean you can just eat #allthefood. It’s vitally important to get the right balance of macronutrients first and foremost, and then to make sure you are doing well with your micros.
Again, I want to stress that your energy and macro intake should really be custom tailored to your current training cycle. If you’re going to calculate your own macros, don’t use a calculator that isn’t designed for athletes. Start by experimenting with a calorie intake roughly equal to 20-22x your bodyweight in pounds (44-49x in kilos) as your ‘maintenance’ level.
- Eat your maintenance calories if it’s time to maintain, and increase your carbs if you’re doing a lot of intensity.
- Eat at a 10% surplus if it’s mass gain time, or 15% if you’re significantly under-muscled.
- Eat at a 10% deficit if you need to drop a bit, or 20% if you’re overfat and/or want a quick drop so you can get right back to maintenance (your coach should know you’re at this deficit and drop intensity or volume).
In general, you should eat a pretty consistent level of protein at 1g per pound (2.2g per kilo) of bodyweight or more. I found competitive CrossFit athletes tend to have higher protein intake requirements than other athletes or weightlifters alone.
Carbs & Fat
Carbs are your friend as a competitor. Again, the amount of carbs depends on your training. But between 2-3g (4.5-6.5 per kg) per pound of bodyweight is a good starting point.
You can also experiment with higher carb days and higher fat days. This will help your body adapt and efficiently burn both for energy.
The carb and fat balance also depends on where you’re at in your season, and the balance during your prior cycle.
Most people doing competitive programs are either:
- Carbophobes and still paleo, not fueling themselves properly.
- Carbophilies who figure they can carb back load, front load, and mid load with anything they please…because they earned it.
If you fall in category number one, see the previous section above on protein, fats and carbs. macronutrients.
I see that a lot of athletes who fall into the latter category eat very little vegetables or fruit, and mostly live off rice, carb shakes, and dessert. It’s great that you took that first big step, dialing in calorie and macro balance. Now it’s time to go BEYOND MACROS ?
I understand intimately when you are training 2-3 times per day for 2-3 hours per session, warm up, cool down, correctives….it’s hard to find time to eat. It’s also hard to eat enough nutrient dense foods, like vegetables (especially green ones) because they barely put a dent in your day’s massive calorie and carb totals.
Well, you know all those metabolic adaptations you want to happen? Micronutrients are co-factors to create more ATP, and clear lactic acid to keep your engine going . And maintaining those anabolic hormone levels? Again, micronutrients are important.
Time to step up your quality.
CrossFit Nutrition Action Steps
As you can tell, I am an advocate of matching your nutrition with your training cycle. This is massive. Learning how to take cues from your body and adjusting your nutrition intake is a massive step in your evolution to rise up in the ranks of competition.
Blindly throwing food in your mouth is a recipe for mediocrity.
As an athlete, you can take a DIY approach as I’ve outlined, but unless you’ve made nutrition changes in the past or have the education it can be hard to do this. It’s also tough to program for yourself. Why else would all these career CrossFit coach competitors outsource their programming to another coach?
It’s just easier to follow someone else’s lead.
If you want to get ranked higher in the open or increase your chances of qualifying for regionals or the CrossFit Games then let’s start with a conversation in how a specific plan for you would look like. Schedule a free 30-min call and let’s chat about your performance.
Oh, and you should learn how to sleep better and manage your stress levels, too 🙂