*Disclaimer: Nutrition WOD is not affiliated with CrossFit, Inc.
What You’ll Discover
- Specific nutrients you need to improve power and performance
- Recommendations to help determine your specific needs
- When to supplement with these nutrients, and when supplements may be a waste of your money
- Best real food sources of these powerhouse nutrients to maximize your food budget
We all want to be stronger, faster, and able to do more work with less physical effort. That’s one of the reasons we love doing WODs. Time spent in the box helps us increase our work capacity. In other words, doing high intensity workouts makes us more powerful, and that’s cool.
That work comes at a price. The physical demands of training and competition require increased energy and nutrient intake to sustain high levels of performance. The following nutrients play crucial roles in improving your power and are often consumed in less than ideal amounts by most athletes, particularly those that restrict entire food groups or overall energy (calorie) intake.
Eat Protein to Get Lean
Protein is the macro of choice for most athletes, and for good reason. Dietary protein provides the substrates our bodies need to build muscle, tendons, and bone. The more muscle we have, the more weight we can move around, the more power we apply to any task at hand.
Most of us have no problem getting the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 0.8 grams of protein per kg body weight. For a 165 pound person, that equates to 60 grams of protein a day. We must realize though, that these protein recommendations are “adequate” for a normal healthy person. These recommendations are not “ideal” for a highly active athlete.
Current data suggests that the dietary protein necessary for muscle growth, repair, and adaptation is closer to 1.2 to 1.6 g/kg body weight.1 In times of injury or energy restriction, protein needs can go as high as 2.0 g/kg body weight to preserve lean tissue.2,3 Although most of the research bases protein recommendations on body weight, we prefer to use fat-free mass (FFM) or lean body mass (LBM) for ours. Why? Because body weight doesn’t differentiate between a 165-pound person that is 15% body fat versus one that is 30% body fat. We prefer our recommendations to be more personal than that.
We recommend 1.0 grams of protein per pound of FFM. From DEXA scans to handheld devices to a good old measuring tape or calipers, the means of determining body fat percentage are endless.
When coaching our athletes, we make sure they pick one and stick with it to better track changes. Once you know your body fat percentage, you can determine your FFM using the following equation:
(Body weight) x [(100 - BF%) / 100] = FFM
So, a 165-pound person with 20% body fat would have 132 pounds of FFM and require 132 grams of protein a day. If that same 165-pound person had 40% body fat, they would need 99 grams of protein.
Keep in mind that when it comes to increasing work capacity, the timing of protein intake and quality of protein source are equally as important as the amount of protein consumed, if not more important. Muscle synthesis is enhanced for at least 24 hours after exercise when your body is more sensitive to protein intake.4 The critical window for maximizing gains is within 2 hours where you want to get at least 30 grams. Our top choices for protein rich foods include wild caught fish/seafood, organic/pasture raised meat and poultry, nuts, seeds, beans, and leafy greens. Include a variety of each of these foods in your diet and nutrition lifestyle to maximize your work capacity.
Burn More Fat and Recover Faster with Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids have earned their title as nutrition powerhouses time and again. As athletes, benefit from omega-3s in multiple ways. For starters, omega 3 fatty acids reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and increase the time to recovery.5 They get you back to full force sooner than later. More opportunities in the gym, more opportunity to increase work capacity.
A good omega 3 status also encourages the body to spare glucose/glycogen while breaking down fat for energy instead.5 When your body becomes more efficient at burning fat for fuel, you have more energy to move heavy objects a greater distance. You improve your work capacity.
Ideally, we recommend you get your omega 3 fatty acids from wild caught fish and seafood. They are some of the best sources of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which are the forms of omega 3 fatty acids that the body uses to function. Specifically, salmon and sardines are your best seafood choices supplying 1.3 grams omega 3 per 4-ounce serving and 1.5 g per 3-ounce serving respectively. Not a fan of seafood, grass fed and finished beef would be your next best choice contributing 1 gram per 4-ounce serving.
You can also find omega 3’s in plant sources in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA can be converted to EPA and DHA by the body. This process can be negatively impacted by high intake of omega 6 fatty acids found in seed oils and by poor nutrient status including low intake of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin C. That said, flaxseeds and walnuts are your best sources of plant based omega 3’s supplying 3.2 grams per 2 T and 2.7 grams per ¼ cup respectively.
For those of you who prefer to supplement with omega 3 fatty acids, or who don’t regularly eat the foods we recommend above, it is one of the few supplements we recommend. Try and purchase pharmaceutical grade supplements to reduce the risk of consuming high levels of heavy metals and PCBs. We recommend 1-2 grams of EPA/DHA daily for most.
Lift More Weight with Water
Water is hands down the most important nutrient for athletes to thrive.
Proper hydration is key to success in athletic performance. Water losses of as little as 2% body weight can severely impact aerobic and high-intensity performance and reduce cognitive function and ability to complete sport specific skills.6,7 Without appropriate water stores, you will tank and your performance will suffer.
As athletes, we tend to work hard at high intensity and usually not in the coolest of environments. I mean, the number of boxes that don’t have air conditioning far outnumber those that do. If I had to guess, I’ll bet most of you reading this blog have a nice picture of a sweat angel somewhere on your phone. Am I right?
Knowing how much to drink to stay hydrated is easy. The first rule of thumb is to drink when you’re thirsty. Unfortunately, not all of us are in tune to that cue from our bodies, so let me give you a few other tidbits of advice. Check your urine color every time you pee.
You want your urine to look a pale color like lemonade.
If you’re treading into iced tea territory, drink some water. Please.
For daily water intake, the quick and dirty recommendation is to drink half your body weight in pounds as ounces of fluid. For example, a 150-pound person would need 75 ounces of fluid a day. More will be needed to compensate for sweat losses during and after your workouts, but it’s nice to have a starting point.
A Healthy Dose of Vitamin B Rich Foods to Energize your Diet
Exercises stress most of the metabolic systems in our bodies. These systems require micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) to function properly. The more we exercise and stress our systems, the more micronutrients we need to get from our diets. When we restrict intake to lose fat and lean out, we decrease our supply of micronutrients. So, if you workout to lose weight, you could be at risk for deficiencies. The B vitamins thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), and pyridoxine (B6) are particularly susceptible to a deficiency in athletes.8
The B vitamins are known for the integral roles they play in energy production. B2 is particularly good at converting fat to energy while B6 converts carbs to energy. Nothing wrong with having a favorite macro to work with, right? Vitamin B1 produces red blood cells that carry oxygen to our muscles when we need it most. All good things for an athlete to have working well.
Ideally, we want you to boost your intake of B vitamins through food choice. In fact, supplementing with vitamins does not show a benefit to athletic performance if the diet is already adequate.9 Luckily, B vitamins are plentiful in a variety of foods. The table below shows our top recommendations for B1, B2, and B3 as they provide the most bang for your buck.
|Thiamine (Vitamin B1)||Riboflavin (Vitamin B2)||Pyridoxide (Vitamin B6)|
Asparagus 1 Cup
Black Beans 1 Cup
Sunflower Seeds 1/4 Cup
Spinach 1 Cup
Crimini mushrooms 1 Cup
Yogurt 1 Cup
Sweet potato 1 Cup
Spinach 1 Cup
Sunflower seeds 1/4 Cup
For those of you with chronic stress outside of the gym, adrenal fatigue, or eating high protein diets with poor intake of other foods groups like non-starchy vegetables, nuts and seeds you may want to consider supplementation with a B-vitamin supplement. If you have the means to get tested for micronutrient deficiencies please do so. Work with a dietitian/nutritionist to ensure your diet supports vitamin B repletion and are taking a supplement using the most bioavailable forms of B vitamins available.
Vitamin D: The Coach Every Body Needs
Much like a good coach walking through the box cueing athletes to keep their knees out and to stop rounding their backs, vitamin D travels throughout the body coordinating complex processes like growth and metabolism. Most of us know that vitamin D plays an integral role in bone health, but vitamin D status also has a direct impact on muscle mass, strength, and performance.10 Making sure we have sufficient stores of vitamin D ensures we are able to build muscle and maintain our ability to apply force to an object.
Unlike most of the nutrients discussed thus far, vitamin D is not as prevalent in our food supply. Salmon and sardines provide the most vitamin D per serving. Eggs and shiitake mushrooms provide some too. Thus, most of us rely on supplements and good ole’ fashioned sunlight to keep our vitamin D levels in check.
To make sufficient vitamin D from sun exposure, the Vitamin D Council recommends exposing your bare skin to sunlight for “around half the time it takes for your skin to turn pink and start to burn.” If you have light skin, 10-15 minutes may suffice. Darker skin can require up to 2 hours. Make sure to expose large areas of your body like your back, not your face, and go out during the middle of the day when sun exposure is highest.
For those of you who live in higher latitudes, have darker skin and can’t find 2 hours of every day to spend outside with your shirt off, or work at night or inside during the days, you may want to consider supplementation. To know how much to supplement with, we recommend having your doctor check your vitamin D status at your next blood draw. Any results less than 50 ng/mL indicate supplementation would be a good idea. We recommend 1000 to 5000 IU daily based on your results. A dietitian/nutritionist can help you determine the correct amount for you.
A Dietitian’s Take
A healthy diet (aka solid nutrition plan) and consistency in the gym will guarantee regular improvements in your work capacity. Jack LaLanne once said that “Exercise is King. Nutrition is Queen. Put them together and you have a Kingdom.” Make time for both and allow yourself to move more weight over a further distance in less time than you ever thought possible.
As an athlete, you put high demands on your body and it requires additional nutrients to comply. Focus on eating a variety of real foods as needed. Be aware that supplements are not the answer to your problems and may only be beneficial if you are deficient in a particular nutrient. And don’t forget to drink your water!
- Philips SM, Moore DR, Tang JE. A Critical Examination of Dietary Protein Requirements, Benefits, and Excesses in Athletes, Int J Sport Nutr Exer Metab. 2007;17:S58-S76
- Mettler S, Mitchell N, Tipton KD. Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010; 42(2):326-337.
- Wall BT, Morton JP, van Loon LJ. Strategies to maintain skeletal muscle mass in the injured athlete: Nutritional considerations and exercise mimetics. Eur J Sport Sci. 2015;15(1):53-62.
- Burd NA, West DW, Moore DR, et al. Enhanced amino acid sensitivity of myofibrillar protein synthesis persists for up to 24 h after resistance exercise in young men. J Nutr. 2011;141(4): 568-573.
- Mickleborough TD. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in physical performance optimization. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2013;23:83-96.
- American College of Sports Medicine, Sawka MN, Burke LM, Eichner ER, et al. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(2):377-390.
- Shirreffs SM, Sawka MN. Fluid and electrolyte needs for training, competition, and recovery. J Sports Sci. 2011;29(suppl 1):S39-S46.
- Manore MM. Effect of physical activity on thiamine, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 requirements. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000;72(2):598s-606s
- Lukaski HC. Vitamin and mineral status: effects on physical performance. Nutrition. 2004;20:632-644.
- Bischoff-Ferrari HA, Dawson-Hughes B, Willett WC, et al. Effect of Vitamin D on falls: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2004; 291 (16): 1999–2006.