Many of our subscribers are people who are active Crossfit practitioners. One of the biggest questions we get asked is what is the best diet and nutrition plan for Crossfit practitioners? Most Crossfit people tend to be on the Paleo diet and some of them are on the Zone diet. We’ll go over the both in this article.
Best Diet For Crossfit
The truth is that there is no best diet for Crossfit. At NutritionHacks, we believe that not one size fits all and that everyone has different diet/health goals. Some people are doing Crossfit to lose weight, some are doing it to gain muscle, and some just want to stay healthy. Regardless of what you’re doing Crossfit for, you should choose a diet that works for you and a diet that you can stick with in the long-term. The best diet is a diet that is sustainable in the long run. With that said, there are still other things you need to consider such as the amount of energy you will need to pump through your workouts and WODs.
I’ve heard people with success on Paleo and I’ve also heard people that have a lot of energy from the Zone diet. Some have performed well on intermittent fasting. As a start, you really need to try out the different types of diet to see which one fits you best.
The good thing is that if you’re cutting out the junk from your meals, then you will naturally feel great and shed off weight/gain muscles.
Determine your fitness goals
The most important thing when it comes to finding the best diet for Crossfit is to determine your fitness goals. Are you trying to lose weight or are you trying to gain weight? Maybe you’re just looking to maintain.
The simple rule of thumb is to eat 500+ calories a day in order to gain weight and eat -500 in order to lose weight. That will add up to roughly 3500 calories per week, which equals 1 pound.
No matter what type of diet you are on, calories do matter. Having your calories in check is a great start to determining your diet for Crossfit.
The next thing you want to figure out is your body size. Body size is separated into 3 main categories: endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph.
Endomorph — an endomorph is a person whose bulking period is marked by a large amount of fat gain in addition to muscle gain, and whose cutting period is marked by a long and difficult attempt at fat loss. These are usually the guys people consider “big bones” haha.
Mesomorph — Mesomorphs could be thought of as the “genetically gifted”. They are characterized by an athletic, strong, compact and naturally lean body. They have excellent posture. Often, their shoulders are wider than their hips and women tend to have an hourglass figure. Mesomorphs are natural born athletes and tend to be lean and muscular without trying. They generally are described as being of “medium” build. Most people in the world that look “average” are considered to be mesomorphs.
Ectomorph — These are the skinny guys. They are also known as hard gainers, meaning they have a hard time bulking up and usually have to eat a lot more than others in order to gain mass, but of course, it is possible.
Refer to this picture below to get a rough estimate of your body size:
So why does body type matter when it comes to choosing diet for Crossfit? It’s important because the general rule of thumb is that if you are an ecto, you should consume more carbohydrates. That is because your body burns out the stored carbs a lot faster than endomorphs.
After you’ve determined your body size as well as fitness goals, you would want to set a plan around that goal and eat accordingly to it.
Getting in the correct macronutrients
Macronutrients are important for everyone, but most importantly it is extremely important for people who are practicing Crossfit.
The macronutrients that you consume will determine your energy level and muscle gain/fat loss efforts. Without going too in depth, I’ll briefly go over each type of macronutrient and how it affects the body’s composition and performance.
Carbs or carbohydrates
Carbs are the body’s primary source of fuel. It’s the first thing your body reaches for when it needs energy. This is why you see a lot of professional athletes such as basketball players consume a lot of carbs. They need it to power through their workouts and training.
Without going too into detail, there are two main types of carbohydrates: simple and complex.
Complex carbohydrates digest slowly and keep you full for longer while simple carbs digest quicker. Good examples of complex carbs are oats, brown rice, starchy vegetables, and whole-wheat bread. Good examples of simple carbs are muffins, cookies, white bread, white pasta etc.
Carbs, in general, can be used post workout to give you the immediate fuel you need to recover from the workout. Some would consider that simple carb are considered bad carbs.
When you are practicing intensive Crossfit, chances are that you will need enough carbs for energy in order to survive pass the workouts. You can also use fat as energy over carbs, but I’ll go over that later in this article.
The next is protein. Protein is essential in any diet because it is what helps you build your muscles. It also helps with the recovery of muscles after a hard workout.
Protein is one of the key macronutrients essential for a healthy immune, cellular and hormonal function. One gram of protein provides four calories which are similar to carbs.
Without enough protein foods in your diet, you risk becoming deficient in certain amino acids. The result? You’ll experience trouble in building muscle mass, low concentration and memory, mood swings, unstable blood sugar levels and trouble maintaining or losing weight.
A huge mistake that beginners run into when trying to lose weight is cutting out the proteins. This can still result in a weight loss, but what happens is that you’ll also be losing muscles which will end up making you look more flabby.
Protein isn’t just important for muscles and body mass, but it also plays an important role in hair and nail growth. In addition to that, protein can help you feel full for longer, so make sure you consume your proteins.
According to the USDA, the recommended daily intake of protein for adults who are at an average weight and activity level is:
56 grams per day for men
46 grams per day for women
That is the bare minimum of protein that you should have every day. Of course, this varies depending on the type of diet that you are going for and your final goals. When you are looking to shed some fat, it is always important to up your protein to keep the muscles in shape.
Here is a list of protein heavy foods that are healthy and that you can be consuming
Pretty broad right? In addition to that you can also take protein shakes if you can’t hit your daily protein macros.
The last category is fats. Fat is an essential nutrient involved in many bodily functions. It’s crucial for cell signaling and communication in the body, it allows your body to absorb vitamins, and it promotes an optimal hormonal environment in the body. Unlike carbs and proteins, fats contain 9 calories per gram.
Boy, do fats get a bad rep. For years, people use to think that they’ll lose weight if they cut out all the fat in their diet. It’s not that simple. Here are some of the things that can happen if you don’t eat enough fat.
- Poor brain function — Your brain is primarily made up of fats. and requires a steady stream of fatty acids to perform optimally. Without fats, your mood will be down and you might not be able to focus as well.
- Imbalanced hormones — Cholesterol and other fats play a fundamental part in building cellular membranes and hormones. Certain kinds of fats, including cholesterol, also act like antioxidants and precursors to some important brain-supporting molecules and neurotransmitters.
- Overeating — Fats helps keep us full for longer. This is why low carb and high fat diets are so popular because they are able to eat less and feel full for longer.
With that said, there are good fats and bad fats.
Good Fats are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats:
- are shown to improve cholesterol levels
- may help reduce risk factors for heart disease.
- helps with reducing the risk of developing diabetes.
- are required to maintain a healthy immune system
- promote brain function and awareness
- protects the liver from damage and toxic
- can help with repairing gut problems
Some foods that contain healthy (good) fats are avocados, almonds, eggs, fish, seeds, olive oil, coconut oil, yogurt and more.
The “Bad Fats” are considered to be trans and saturated fats. Although, there has been new research saying that saturated fats aren’t necessary as bad as they are thought to be. Bad fats:
- Usually, raise LDL which is the bad version of cholesterol
- leads to a series of chronic and heart diseases.
- Leads to stroke
The bad fats are usually found in fried foods, battered foods, pies, cakes, chips, and much more junk foods. It’s best to avoid these as much as possible as they are empty calories and they aren’t good for your health in the long run.
As I mentioned above, you can use fat as a source of energy over carbs. Some people cut carbs to a point where they just have enough for their body and use fat as energy. This is the popular Keto/low-carb diets.
For more information on macronutrients and how you can count them with sample meals, check out the Macronutrients Book on Amazon
As you can see micronutrients play an important role in Crossfit because it determines body composition and your energy levels. You should play and test around with different macro splits to see which one works best for you in the long run.
The Paleo way
The Paleo diet is the most common diet that most Crossfit practitioners are on. Why Paleo?
Paleo is suggested for quality and can provide a great way to be healthier without having to measure calories or go hungry. Whereas, the zone is suggested for quantity and gives the most benefits in performance.
The paleo diet essentially allows lean meats, fish, veggies, some fruit, tree nuts (not peanuts) and seeds, little starch, and no sugar. This excludes all the stuff that can cause problems such as grains, legumes, white potatoes, dairy, and corn. Think about it this way, the things that are excluded are the food items that people are more often allergic to or just have issues digesting. White potatoes and corn just turn into sugar.
Paleo encourages everyone to eat healthy and cut out all the food that is bad for the digestive system.
Crossfit actually encourages everyone to eat better. When you know you’re going to be working out-eating an ice cream or drinking a coke does not sound appealing! Eating the healthy food, that is packed with goodness will carry you through any workout.
Paleo encourages everyone to eat more healthy fats so that they can get the energy they need to pump through the workouts. Healthy fats also don’t cause digestive issues like starchy carbs do.
A good way to add in more fats is by adding almonds, olive oils, eating fatty fish and more. Those are necessary for the body.
The downside to Paleo is that it can be hard to stick to because you’re essentially cutting out all the stuff that you’re used to eating such as rice, pasta, bread, and beans.
No worries, here’s a cookbook for Paleo recipes for non-Paleo foods that you crave.
The Zone Diet
The second diet that Crossfit people love is the Zone Diet. This one is a little bit more complex, but it is an energy booster.
The Zone Diet isn’t about eating “low-carb” or “high-protein” or anything like that. It’s a diet balanced in
• Protein (lean, natural meats are preferred)
• Carbs (mostly low glycemic-load fruits and vegetables)
• Fat (one of the most important macronutrients!)
With the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats, you can control three major hormones generated by the human diet — insulin, glucagon, and eicosanoids.
In case you don’t know what those three mean:
Insulin — A storage hormone. Excess insulin makes you fat and keeps you fat. It also accelerates silent inflammation.
Glucagon — A mobilization hormone that tells the body to release stored carbohydrates at a steady rate, leading to stabilized blood sugar levels. This is key for optimal mental and physical performance.
Eicosanoids — These are the hormones that ultimately control silent inflammation. They are also master hormones that indirectly orchestrate a vast array of other hormonal systems in your body.
The Zone diet is pretty straight-forward.
A One Block meal consists of one choice from protein, one from carbs and one from fat. It’s kind of like an exchange system in meal planning.
A Two-Block meal consists of 2 choices from each list.
A Three-Block meal consists of 3 choices from each list…and so on.
You can mix and match blocks as you wish. If you aren’t very hungry when you first wake up, then a 2 block meal might be just right for you, perhaps with a 3 block lunch and dinner. Or maybe you prefer to start your day with 3 blocks and have a lighter dinner or lunch.
Refer to the following picture for an example of the 2-block meal:
Pretty straight-forward! Another diet that Crossfit people love is Primal, which is a slightly alternative to Paleo. Most people on Primal can handle a good amount of dairy.
Tips for picking a good Crossfit diet
You are what you eat, but if you’re just starting off, you have to start slow and ease in slowly. This is because nobody can jump into a fully restricted diet right away and hope for results. Most of the time, this isn’t sustainable and you’ll end up jumping right back into your old habits.
To start out I wouldn’t start “cutting” things out I would start to view your food as fuel. When you make a meal, look at what you’re eating. Is that crescent roll giving you any good energy? Try replacing it with some veggies. Then after that, I would cut out pasta, rice, bread and sugar. You can replace each high-glycemic carb with a low-glycemic carb (like fruits or veggies) slowly as you get more into it.
This is a lifestyle change. Do it at your own pace that makes you happy, not angry that you can’t have bread!
It’s always important to test your body because not the same diet works for everyone.
To wrap it up, I would say that there isn’t a best diet for Crossfit, but what you eat should be determined by your fitness goals, body size, and personal food preference. At NutritionHacks, we work with a lot of Crossfit practitioners and everyone comes with us with different goals.
We create a custom meal plan for them that they can stick to based on their goals and preferences. That usually works out for them. If you need help with planning your meals, definitely check out our personalized meal planning service. You can try a one week plan to see what our nutrition coach can do for you.
The most important thing is to start eating healthy and all the diets that I mentioned in this post encourage you to eat healthy and make good lifestyle changes.
Changes that I would make today:
Cut down on added sugar: It might be hard to cut it all out at once, but that’s okay start small. Cut it out for one day and have it the next and it will slowly become a good habit.
Eat more vegetables: Vegetables are filled with good carbs, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They keep you full for longer so make sure you add a good amount of veggies to your diet. They are low in calories as well.
Eat protein at every meal on days you work out: Your body can store fat and carbs, it can’t store protein. In order to make the most out of your workouts, you need to make sure you have a steady stream of protein in order to build muscle.
If you complete the steps above, you’ll be performing well throughout your Crossfit workouts.
I would love to hear from you guys! What diet are you on? What type of diet has affected your Crossfit exercises?
If you’re interested in hearing about our latest updates with our upcoming project, please check out AdjustablePaleo.