Nutrition Considerations for CrossFit and Power Athletes
Written by Charissa Sutliff
I want to share a few things that I invite people to consider and try when it comes to improving and upgrading their nutrition habits if they are a CrossFit or power athlete. I personally think education on nutrition is so important. Most people are probably aware that they could upgrade their nutrition in some way and that upgrading their nutrition and nutrition habits would improve their performance, as well as how they feel and function. However, there is a lot of information out there so it can be confusing. People may not know where to start or what to do. I also love the phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” so I think we have a responsibility as nutrition coaches to educate and share as much as possible to help people learn and understand and also help them on their journey to getting where they want to go.
The following are suggestions and things that I have learned from my own journey and experience and have found work as best practices for a majority of people and athletes. These considerations will mostly be for those wanting to get stronger and perform better.
One of the top nutrition considerations I recommend for CrossFit and Power athletes – especially if they are wanting to get stronger – is to EAT. It is imperative that you are fed. If you are under-eating, your body likely doesn’t have enough raw materials and resources for your body to recover let alone build muscle and get stronger. Coming from a bodybuilding background where being in a caloric deficit and dieting most of the time for the sport, fueling and making sure I am fed is the complete opposite of what I am used to. I am learning that dieting is not the friend of getting stronger. Caveat *There is a little bit of a balance in CrossFit as when it comes to gymnastic movements, as with being able to move fast, higher body mass can slow athletes down a bit* So if you are wanting to get stronger, put on muscle, make sure you are fed. As one of my co-workers used to say, “Big Momma’s Gotta Eat.”
Awareness and Knowledge
Being aware and knowing what we are eating and putting into our bodies is incredibly beneficial. As a bodybuilder I weighed and tracked my food for years. While I don’t think everyone NEEDS to do this, especially not for the rest of their life (that is not sustainable) I think it is incredibly helpful to learn about our own personal eating habits and also to learn about food. By tracking food using an app, you can learn so much about how many calories are in all the foods you typically eat as well as what macros make up those foods. I also believe doing this for a season is highly valuable because you are going to learn for the long haul. If you were to follow a meal plan where someone tells you exactly what to eat and how much, how is that teaching and educating you about food? It might seem tedious but think of it as a short little project that is going to help you grow and learn. Oftentimes bringing awareness to our eating habits and learning about food like this can help us to naturally start to make changes. Once you’ve learned, you can trust yourself to make wise choices and periodically come back and track once in a while to see what macro #s and ratios you are maintaining.
Eating the proper amount of carbs, protein, and fats is also another consideration and recommendation that I give to athletes. I have found for myself and as a best practice for most CrossFit and Oly athletes that 40% of their calories from carbs, 30% from protein and 30% from fat is best to help them perform for their sport. These sports are high intensity and high power so carbs are going to be the best source of fuel and protein is also going to help them build muscle as well as recover. Tracking your food can help you to see what you typically eat as far as these ratios and grams per macro go, and then you can make adjustments from there. Something I follow and usually have CrossFit and power athletes try as well is to keep their dietary fat intake below 30% usually somewhere between 25-30% because – while dietary fats are necessary for physiological functions – they aren’t always the best for performance. I work with a lot of athletes that come in that eat a majority of minimally processed whole foods however they eat a lot of avocado, olive oils, nuts, seeds…like I mentioned while these are “healthy” fats, and they have a place in our diets for health reasons, usually these athletes will perform better if we make changes and increase carbs and protein and bring those fats down.
Having a consistent feeding routine is also vital to feeling and functioning our best, and performing our best. Eating at random times, all the time with no consistency, our bodies don’t do as well – they prefer some sort of homeostasis. While you don’t need to follow a strict, ‘must eat every 3 hours or must eat at these exact times or else mentality’, having some sort of eating routine will help your body and performance. Find something that works with your schedule.
Of course, we can’t be fed or fueled well if we aren’t properly planning ahead of time. We won’t be able to eat the protein and the carbs we ideally should be if we aren’t making time to prepare some meal ideas, make a grocery list, go shopping for those items and then prepping them. Plan ahead and have some sort of weekly ritual to help set you up for success.
Imperfect consistent action is better than no action at all. Even 10% of increased consistency will make a difference in the long run, it may take take longer than if you were 50% consistent but just some level of consistency in healthy habits will yield results so commit to consistency showing up for yourself in your nutrition habits and gameplay and you will see results. Be committed to the process and keep going.