If you train in CrossFit, or know someone who does, then you’ll know the sport is no mean feat. Not just a training methodology, it’s a competitive sport that combines constantly varied functional movements with elements of Olympic lifting and bodyweight gymnastics performed at high intensity. It’s no wonder world class CrossFit athletes such as Mathew Fraser or Tia-Clair Toomey-Orr are crowned ‘the fittest people on earth’.
If you’re looking to improve your performance in CrossFit, then no matter where you are on your training journey, nutrition is key. The right fuel, in the right quantities, at the right times is essential to power through intense workouts and heavy lifts, whether that’s long aerobic chippers, anaerobic barbell sprints, 1-rep max Olympic lifts or complex moves on the rig.
So how can you optimise your CrossFit nutrition plan to support your training and recovery? At Veloforte we sweat the details when it comes to performance nutrition, and we’re experts in fuelling for success. Here’s everything you need to know to create a CrossFit diet plan that’s right for you.
Important nutrients, vitamins and minerals for CrossFit
From the rig to the barbell, when it comes to performing at your best in CrossFit, ensuring you have the right intake of macro and micronutrients is crucial. It can make all the difference between hitting PBs and seeing improvements in performance, or not. Optimum training, recovery and ultimately, results are not just down to the hours spent in the box, (CrossFit speaks for the gym) but how smart you are with fuel and nutrition, too.
Macronutrients are the first nutrient group to get right. The food groups needed in larger quantities, these provide your body with the most energy (measured in calories) to function properly. You also need to pay attention to the micronutrients – the vitamins and minerals that support your body’s important processes.
This is the body’s main source of energy in a healthy, balanced diet and the go-to fuel for exercise, particularly at high intensity. Carbohydrates provide 4 calories per gram.
The body converts carbs into readily-available glucose which is either used immediately as energy to power your training sessions, or stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver, your main fuel tanks.
The body can hold between 300 and 600g of glycogen and that can be enough for a 60 to 90 minutes training session.
Elite or competition CrossFit athletes, who might have longer sessions of 90 minutes or more, will need to top up their energy during the session. Veloforte Energy Gels and Chews provide a convenient hit of carbs from natural sources that won’t cause tummy troubles.
Replenishing depleted glycogen stores immediately after training is also important for effective recovery and muscle repair.
Essential for building and maintaining body tissue, protein contains amino acids, helps repair micro-tears in muscles and support muscle growth, to help you attack your WODs and weightlifting sessions more effectively.
Protein will also support the uptake of glycogen into the muscles, essentially refilling your fuel stores for your next training session.
Protein contains 4 calories per gram, but how much protein do you need for CrossFit training? Individual protein needs depend on a range of factors, predominantly body size, weight, age and sex. For muscle growth, the research suggests 1.6g to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.
You can get your protein from plants or animal sources but you should aim for combinations that provide complete proteins with all 20 essential amino acids. For example, hummus and pita bread, peanut butter on wholewheat toast or legumes with nuts and seeds.
Fat contains 9 calories per gram but all fats are not created equal. Saturated fats found in foods like cakes, biscuits, crisps and fatty red meat, can be harmful to health. But the body needs so-called ‘good fats’ – monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – to function properly.
Good fats help with the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A,K,D and E) that support recovery, energy supply and your immune system. They can also lower blood pressure levels, reduce cholesterol and cut the risk of heart disease. Food like avocados, nuts and oily fish are all good sources of healthy fats.
Vitamins and minerals
Taking care of your micronutrients – the vitamins, minerals and other molecules needed in minute amounts – is also important to support a healthy functioning body.
Vitamins are necessary for energy production, immunity, blood clotting and other vital functions. Minerals play an important role in growth, bone health, fluid balance and several other processes.
Vitamin D is needed to absorb calcium effectively, which helps to build stronger bones, and can support a healthy functioning immune system. It’s made in the body when we are exposed to the sun.
However, the UK lacks sufficient exposure to the sun at least from October to March, therefore most people in the UK are thought to be deficient. The UK government now recommends healthy adults supplement with 10ug/day between the months of October to March.
Iron, Zinc and Calcium
If you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, these are minerals worth keeping an eye on as the fibre in plants is thought to hinder their absorption in the gut compared to meat, fish and dairy sources. The best sources are dark green leafy vegetables, legumes and wholegrains, including fortified food products.
CrossFit nutrition and diet plan
Nutrition is the cornerstone of success in CrossFit, whether your goal is competitive athletic performance, health maintenance or body composition. If you're unsure about how to approach your nutrition and diet to fuel your training, CrossFit recommends, Dr. Barry Sears’ Zone Diet.
The CrossFit nutrition plan based on the Zone Diet suggests 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat. This macro split is thought to provide enough carbohydrates to fuel intense workouts, enough protein to maintain and build lean muscle mass, and the necessary fats to support the nervous and hormonal systems.
If you don’t track or weigh your food, you can plan your CrossFit diet by dividing your plate visually into thirds and fill it intuitively with:
- Lean protein, ⅓: Skinless chicken breast, fish, lean beef and low-fat dairy
- Carbohydrates, ⅔: Aim for a rainbow of vegetables, prioritising the ones with a low glycemic index (GI)
- Fat: A small amount of monounsaturated fat such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds
The Zone diet is based on a system of ‘blocks’. A block is a unit of measure used to help construct balanced meals.
- 7 grams of protein = 1 block of protein
- 9 grams of carbohydrate = 1 block of carbohydrate
- 1.5 grams of fat = 1 block of fat
When a meal is composed of equal blocks of protein, carbohydrate, and fat, the calorie breakdown is 40% from carbohydrate, 30% from protein and 30% from fat.
Your daily meals can be put together from a food chart that details favourable and less favourable foods and their quantities. So if you’re eating a one-block meal, you’d pick one food from protein, one from carbohydrate and one from fat. For a two-block meal, you’d pick two from each category and so on.
CrossFit diet plan example
Here’s what a sample four-block meal could look like:
4 oz (113g) chicken breast, 1 artichoke, 1 cup of steamed vegetables w/ 24 crushed peanuts and 1 sliced apple.
This meal contains 28 grams of protein, 36 grams of carbohydrate, and 12 grams of fat. It is simpler, though, to think of it as 4 blocks of protein, 4 blocks of carbohydrate, and 4 blocks of fat.
Best foods for CrossFit
While the hours spent on the box floor are the first step towards seeing your body adapt, grow and strengthen, the food you use to fuel and refuel is the ticket to make those adaptations happen.
Whether you choose to follow The Zone Diet or not, the general view for an ideal CrossFit diet is that you should ‘eat lots of green vegetables, lean meats, nuts and seeds, little starch, and no sugar.’ Sounds so simple, right?
If you think this sounds familiar to the ‘caveman’ or Paleo diet too, you’d be correct. CrossFit HQ supports the notion that modern agriculture and food processing have led to the rise in health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis, obesity and psychological dysfunction in modern times, linking a diet too high in refined or processed carbohydrate to bad outcomes.
So what should be on the menu? Here’s some good CrossFit food to add to your plate.
Green veg, such as spinach and broccoli along with dark leafy varieties such as kale, swiss chard or spring greens, are a source of nitrate that has been shown to support muscle function. They’re also a helpful source of fibre, vitamin C, magnesium, zinc and iron for energy metabolism, immune support and bone health.
Lean meat or plant-based protein
Protein is the building block of all the cells and tissues in your body and helps athletes build and repair muscles. But did you know there’s a difference between plant and animal protein? Animal protein is a complete protein, which means it contains all the essential amino acids that you can’t make in the body but can only be obtained through diet.
Plant protein is still valuable but one plant protein does not contain all the essential amino acids for protein synthesis in the body. So plant proteins need to be combined to make up a complete protein. For example legumes (also known as pulses) such as peas, beans and lentils with grains (such as oats, rice, wheat), nuts and seeds.
Nuts and seeds
A powerhouse source of essential fatty acids, plant protein and a spectrum of vitamins and minerals. We particularly love almonds because of their antioxidant and mineral content. Almonds in particular should be an athlete’s favourite; they have been shown to help enhance oxygen uptake in cyclists and they’re a rich source of magnesium, which is important for muscle relaxation. Other nuts to add to your weekly shop include pistachios for a source of potassium, a mineral lost through sweat, and walnuts for their omega 3 content.
A versatile accompaniment to your CrossFit diet, energy bars can be used as a pre- or mid-training top-up for your glycogen stores.
Every bar in the all-natural Veloforte Energy Bars range provides the perfect balance of nutrients needed for you to perform at your best. They also use healthy sources like dried fruit and nuts to boost your energy levels in a way that lasts and won’t upset your stomach.
Importance of hydration for CrossFit
Did you know that just 5% dehydration can result in up to a 30% reduction in performance. So if you want to perform at your personal best in the box, whether in training or on the competition floor, getting your hydration right is crucial.
When you’re dehydrated you fatigue more easily, you’re more prone to muscle cramps, and even feelings of faintness or dizziness. This can be particularly problematic if you’re working out for time or need to maintain technical proficiency in a lift when under fatigue.
Diminished fluid levels also make your heart work harder to pump blood around your body too, so a workout might feel more intense. CrossFit workouts are intense enough without this and adding to the suffering can hamper confidence as well as performance.
Avoid the misery, by adopting good daily hydration habits. The NHS recommends drinking 1.2 litres of water daily though athletes are likely to need more. Your own unique fluid replacement needs – during and post-run – depend on duration, intensity, temperature and sweat rate. As a rough guide: you need to consume one-and-a-half litres of fluid for every kilogram of bodyweight you lose getting to the end of a session.
Thirst and the colour of your urine (the lighter the better) provide good hydration cues. And remember that when we sweat we lose important minerals too.
So consuming electrolytes like Veloforte’s electrolyte powder can help support the body’s fluid uptake, balance and aid recovery. Not to mention livening up that plain old water with refreshing flavours.
How to create your own CrossFit diet plan
Whether your CrossFit goal is to increase strength by building lean muscle mass, to drop body fat, maintain body composition or simply to train harder, you need to fuel appropriately for your activity and training focus.
Here are the key nutritional considerations to support your CrossFit training goals:
1. What’s your training focus?
CrossFit is a mixed modal sport so to perform well, your nutrition must support your training cycle or session. These can have different focuses, such as strength, metabolic conditioning, barbell cycling, gymnastic skills or weightlifting technique.
Your energy output (e.g. aerobic for long chippers or anaerobic for low volume lifts and sprint workouts) will also determine your nutritional needs.
2. How much do you need to eat for your CrossFit goals?
The total calories you consume per day – made up of protein, carbohydrates and fats – will depend on your aims. Creating a small calorie surplus will allow you to work towards increasing lean body mass in line with your strength training. While a small calorie deficit will allow you to still perform at your best while reaching any fat loss goals.
3. When do you need to eat?
It’s not just what you eat, when you eat matters too. On CrossFit training days, allow a two-hour window before hitting the gym floor (or fasted if you are exercising less than two hours after waking up) to allow for food to digest and provide you with enough energy to train and perform.
Follow with your next meal or snack within 60 minutes of finishing the work. This should ensure you are effectively fuelled and then refuelled for recovery.
4. Are you refuelling sufficiently for recovery?
In your first meal or snack post-training, fat content should be low, as fat slows down digestion and after training, it’s important for protein and carbs to digest as rapidly as possible to reach the blood and muscles for refuelling, repair and adaptation.
5. Don’t forget a pre-bed snack
Including a high-fat and high-protein snack an hour before bed can provide a slow digesting overnight protein source. Because fat slows digestion, this will be helpful for overnight muscle repair and recovery.
Getting started with CrossFit nutrition
CrossFit training requires a unique blend of metabolic conditioning, power, strength, speed, agility, mobility and stamina so ignoring your nutrition or not fuelling enough, may mean missing out on strength and performance gains.
Here are a few key points to keep in mind when planning and prepping your CrossFit nutrition.
1. Think wholefoods
It’s easy to reach for high-sugar foods to fuel your WODs but wholefoods will support optimum health in the longer term. Think fresh vegetables – especially green ones – lean proteins, nuts and seeds. Avoid processed foods and high-glycemic carbohydrates.
2. Spread your protein
Did you know that protein can’t be stored in the body for later use (excess is simply converted to fat and carbs) so the most recent recommendation is to consume protein throughout the day, after training sessions and around every 3–5 hours over multiple meals. This ensures a steady supply for tissue growth and repair.
Veloforte’s new protein recovery shakes are a delicious and convenient way to top up after workouts.
3. Support high intensity training
If you’re competition training or training at an elite level and already quite lean (i.e. you don’t have fat loss goals) then upping calories through extra protein and carbohydrates while reducing fat, can support high intensity work, muscle growth and strength.
If on the other hand, you’re in an energy deficit for fat loss goals, consuming slightly more protein could help reduce the loss of muscle mass during weight loss.
4. Get the timing of nutrition right
If you’re working towards increasing strength or muscle mass, then you’ll need to zero in on the finer details of your nutrition plan. Refuelling with protein and fast-release carbohydrates straight after training will help replenish depleted glycogen stores and send nutrients to muscle cells for recovery.
Aligning your nutrition to your CrossFit training schedule and goals doesn’t have to be hard. With some smart nutrition along with Veloforte’s range of all-natural, real-food bars, nectars, electrolyte powders and chews, you can push yourself to your limits and reap the rewards you’ve been working for.