Last year we put together a five week guide to CrossFit Open nutrition strategies, mindset, sleep, recovery, and training. Over the course of the Open, we'll be posting these with updated information, tips, and ways to have your best CrossFit Open yet.
When it comes to CrossFit, there are five areas over which we have control: nutrition strategies, mindset, sleep, recovery, and training. Last week, I wrote a four step guide to getting your mind right for the CrossFit Open season. This week, we’re going to tackle everyone’s favorite topic, CrossFit Open nutrition strategies.
When we say nutrition, what we’re really talking about is fueling your body in accordance with your desired goals. Therefore, before we can ever devise a nutrition plan, we have to have a goal we are shooting for. Most people fall into the camp of, “I want to look better,” which is a great goal. However, specifically related to the CrossFit Open, what is the goal for this five weeks? If you’re like 99% of the CrossFit population, this five weeks is the compilation of a year of hard work and sacrifice. While almost none of us are going to be moving onto the Games by placing top 20 in the world or winning the national title, it doesn’t mean the CrossFit Open is not a chance to test our fitness and see how much we’ve grown.
With this in mind, our CrossFit Open nutrition strategies need to be dialed in to support the goal of testing our fitness. I’m not saying you can’t look great and perform well (I mean, have you watched the CrossFit games or gotten on Instagram lately?). What I am saying is this: cutting carbs is not going to be your friend right now. If you are an athlete who has been functioning in ketosis and can maintain that status, carbohydrates obviously will not help you. This post is targeted at those who do not follow a ketogenic diet. If you are in ketosis, and am looking for some extra tips on how to optimize for performance, feel free to reach out. For our focus of this post, let’s think about this is three phases: the week of the workout, the day of the workout, and immediately after the workout. Put more simply, preparation, fuel, and recovery.
First and foremost don’t start changing everything you eat this week. Even if your nutrition has left something to be desired, this is not the time to start experimenting with new foods. Eat what you typically eat, because your body is used to those foods. Introducing new types of food can possible cause stomach and digestive issues, which make working out at a high intensity extremely difficult.
The goal leading up to the day is to keep your tanks topped off, and recover well from prior workouts. Your box is not taking the rest of the time doing recovery workouts (at least, they shouldn’t be) so you need to be sure you’re recovering well from the WODs the rest of the week. We’ll cover recovery in a later post, but from a nutrition standpoint this means replacing glycogen stores, rebuilding muscle, and lowering inflammation. You’ll be surprised how easily all three are accomplished.
To replace glycogen stores, you don’t need to carb load. Simply each good, clean carbohydrate sources in and around your workouts. Before the workout, a lower glycemic index carbohydrate such as sweet potatoes, oatmeal, or berries is a great option. These burn slower so you have more sustained energy. After the workout, don’t stress about drinking down powdered carbs or anything like that – simply get home, and have a healthy meal with faster acting carbohydrates. Options such as white rice, bananas, and honey all work well here. This is also the time to enjoy some more “fun” foods. Grab some Kodiak Cakes or make your own protein pancakes! Have some fun with it, and refuel your body.
You’ve been told 40,000 times that protein rebuilds muscle. Don’t forget this fact, now. Include 20-30 grams of protein each time you eat, and include a little bit of protein before your workout, as well. This is easily accomplished with a half cup of Greek yogurt an hour before your workout, and a protein shake following the workout. You could also have some chicken breast, lean ground beef/turkey, or egg whites + one whole egg as part of a complete meal.
Finally, you need to get inflammation down to recover well. Including a variety of fruits and vegetables in your diet helps accomplish this, as does healthy fats. Include lots of leafy greens (spinach, arugula, and spring mix) plus other green vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts) and either take fish oil or include olive oil in your diet. Your joints will thank you.
The day of your workout, your nutrition becomes even more important. You’ve been optimizing your CrossFit Open nutrition by following the steps above, and now it’s time to kick it into high gear. Here’s the good news: fast acting carbs can be your friend. When I say “fast acting” I mean simple carbohydrates like honey, or even sugar.
Leading up to the WOD, focus on your wholesome, traditional nutrition. Keep eating the sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and quinoa. Include protein at every meal, just like we discussed above. Then, right before you get ready to go, have a spoonful of honey or a swig of Gatorade/Powerade. You’ll be surprised the boost this can give you. Dried fruit is another good option. This ensures your glycogen stores are full, and you have all the fuel you’ll need to crush the workout. One word of warning, however: don’t literally eat this as you walk on the floor. Your nerves will be high, and you may have some stomach problems from it. Have your final pre-workout snack before you start your warm up and you’ll be good to go.
At the end of the day, the CrossFit Open workouts never go longer than 20 minutes. You’re not fueling a marathon, just making sure your engine has all the high-octane gas it can desire. Now go kill that workout.
Ok, you just pushed yourself to the limit with the Open workout. Now, it’s time to make sure your body is ready to get back to training, and to do it again next week. While there are recovery practices you can do, our focus is on what should be going into your body immediately following your Open workout. For your CrossFit Open nutrition in the post-WOD window, you want to focus on two macronutrients: carbs and protein, with a normal amount of fat. In the past, it's been widely believed that fat is not your friend post workout - it will slow down your digestion and uptake of key nutrients. That is no longer considered to be the case.
From an easy-to-understand standpoint, using Chipotle as an example is extremely beneficial. Chipotle, with only one of the cheese, sour cream, or guacamole, is exactly the way your plate should look after your workout. You want a fast acting carbohydrate such as white rice, with at least 4-6 ounces of lean protein such as chicken, steak, fish or pork, and a serving of fat. Adding some vegetables here is great, but really, your focus needs to be on carbohydrates and protein. Get those glycogen stores up, and rebuild your muscles with protein. Therefore, too much fiber can actually be a bad thing here. A side of vegetables is great, but for once I’m not going to recommend eating a salad. Pick a carb, pick a protein, load up your plate, and get to grubbing.
The macronutrient you are really trying to avoid right now, however, is fat. Fat slows down how quickly you will absorb other nutrients, and you’re trying to absorb them fast. Therefore, stay away from the guacamole or cheese with your tacos, and now is actually not a great time for a cheat meal such as a burger or pizza. If you’re wanting something more “fun” have a stack of pancakes but skip the eggs, bacon, and butter. It isn’t helping you right now. Fat is extremely necessary and has to be included in every healthy diet, but not around the workout.
Take some time to think about what your meals should be like leading up to your workouts. Your CrossFit Open nutrition strategies can be the key to giving you a great workout, or the obstacle holding you back. If you need help planning your meals, reach out to us. Nutrition coaching is something we’ve been using to help our clients reach their goals since day one.