I’m sure you all have heard the saying “you can’t out train a poor diet,” but what exactly does that mean? As you can see, nutrition is the foundation of CrossFit. All other aspects are built upon proper intake of food. “Eating poorly” can be described in multiple ways, but they all boil down to the same main idea. You are not taking in enough of the quality, natural sources of energy that your body needs to fuel a workout and to adapt to the stress of exercise. During a CrossFit workout, your body is using carbohydrates as its main source of fuel to power through the tasks at hand in most metcons and high intensity wods. It uses protein to maintain and rebuild your muscle, and fat for fuel during workouts of lower intensity and longer duration.
In CrossFit, most of the energy your body uses in a typical metcon or a heavy lift comes from the carbohydrate stored in your body in the form of glycogen. When you eat highly processed foods that contain ingredients such as enriched flour or sugar, your body has a very quick response and those sources of energy are absorbed rapidly and stored as fat instead of glycogen (workout fuel).
If your body does not have enough carbohydrate stored in the body as glycogen, during an activity with a high demand for energy such as a CrossFit workout, it will start to break down muscle tissue to obtain more energy from the proteins which make up your muscles. Whether you are trying to build muscle, lose fat, or maintain your body composition, muscle breakdown is a negative effect which is not providing aid to any of those 3 goals. Muscle tissue is already broken down during exercise due to the contractions that take place and cause small tears in the muscle, but we want to avoid any unnecessary further break down due to insufficient energy intake.
During exercise, if you are regularly consuming sufficient carbohydrates your body is not using protein for energy. Protein’s purpose during exercise is to preserve your muscle from breaking down by supplying them with the building blocks that they need to rebuild. If you are not consuming enough quality sources of carbs, then protein will need to be used as energy which prevents it from being used to spare muscle degradation. The average American should take in roughly 1.0g of protein per kg of body weight. If your goal is to increase muscle or even lose fat, you need a little more. Tissues are constantly being broken down throughout everyday living and need to be repaired. If you are not taking in enough protein before, during or after a workout, the amount that you are consuming will not be used to repair muscle that has broken down from working out, further hindering your muscle building, fat loss, or composition maintenance. Some good sources of protein include: poultry, fish, or lean cuts of meat.
Despite the common misconception that all fat is harmful, fat is vital to life! Fat is needed for many body processes including the synthesis of protein. During a CrossFit workout, which is typically “short” duration and high intensity, your body is using mostly carbs, but when the intensity of a workout is moderate, your body is fueled more by fat than carbs.
For example, a workout like Fran would require your body to use carbs as the prime fuel source. For a workout such as the one we completed last week: AMRAP 18 minutes, 800m run + 30 sit-ups, your body is going to be fueled by the fat you are eating more than the carbs because the workout is requiring you to hold a steady, slower pace instead of an all out effort sprint. About 15-35% of calories each day should come from fat. Some good sources of fat include: avocados, minimally processed olive or coconut oil, nuts and seeds.
The Take Away
One way to ensure that you are eating adequate amounts of each of the 3 macronutrients: carbs, protein and fat is to eat balanced meals that include a variety of different foods. For example, breakfast, lunch and dinner should all include a source of carbohydrate, a source of protein and a source of fat.
Along with those 3 meals should come 2 small snacks encompassing the same format of nutrition. A serving of protein will be about the size of your palm (3-4oz) and a serving of fat will be about the size of your thumb (1tbs). For carbs there are many options for sources and the most efficiently used sources are those that are whole and natural. For example, vegetables such as: broccoli, carrots, or salad greens like kale or spinach, whole grains such as: rice, quinoa, barley, and fruits, particularly berries. For whole grains, a serving will be that which would fit in your hand if you were to grab a loose handful. For vegetables and fruit, a serving would be measured by the size of a single fist.
For a balanced meal, combine one serving of protein with one serving of fat and 2-3 servings of vegetables plus one fruit or whole grain, and make sure you are eating one of these meals about 3 hours before CrossFit and about an hour after the workout has ended. For a snack, have 1 serving of vegetables OR ½ serving of fruit with 1/3 serving of protein and 1/3 serving of fat, and spread these snacks out throughout the day. Eating whole, natural foods can seem inconvenient but it is just as quick and easy to toss some carrots and a few walnuts into a bag as it is to grab a snack bar that is loaded with added sugar before you head out the door. With a little prep and a willingness to try, proper nutrition is a piece of cake. Aforementioned, nutrition is the foundation of CrossFit and if there is not a solid platform for the physical components to sit on, they all will suffer the consequences of an unsteady foundation.
I challenge you all to examine your food intake for 1 week. Next time you go to the grocery store, stick to the perimeter where you can find all of the fresh produce and meats. Limit items purchased from the isles, and most importantly, READ the label before you buy. If there are more than 5-10 ingredients and you can’t easily pronounce them, put it back!