In case no one has told you yet, you cannot out CrossFit a bad diet. Yes, you will get stronger and faster by doing CrossFit alone. You may even lose weight. But the real magic doesn’t happen until you support your efforts in the box with a solid foundation of nutrition. We have some simple habits you can start doing today that will take you to the next level of your fitness.
What you will discover:
Where to start has nothing to do with diet
Habits specific to your CrossFit workouts
The simple solution to eating healthy
Where to Start Has Nothing to do with Diet
Habit 1: Record what you eat and drink
I will be the first to admit that I hate keeping track of everything I’m eating and drinking throughout the day. Yet one more thing I “have” to do. Well, I don’t expect you to like it either. Although some people do. They feel empowered by the information it gives them.
Gathering this information is what I’m asking you to do, so that you can be empowered too. Let’s be honest with ourselves. We like to think we know exactly what we ate yesterday and we like to tell ourselves we’re eating nutritious foods and balanced meals. But are we sure? Not really.
The only way to know for sure is to write it down as it happens. Think of it this way. Do you remember the workout you did and the score you got from three days ago? Likely not. And that’s just one hour of your life. So, how are you going to remember what you ate last Saturday for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you didn’t write it down?
Why do I consider food records such a vital habit to nutrition success? You can’t track success without data. You can’t make appropriate changes without data. You can’t test the results of a change you’ve made without data. The food record contains the data we need to make decisions about us and our lives. See what we discovered when we tracked our daughter’s sugar intake here.
Now, for those of you with sweaty palms right now at the thought of a never ending food record, please take a few deep breaths. You will not have to record everything you eat forever and ever amen. I suggest writing it all down for at least a week. Taking the time to assess that week. And then figuring out where to go from there in regard to how often you want to touch base with what you’re eating.
Habit 2: Have a plan
Having a plan means a lot of things to a lot of people. So, let me clarify. After you know what you’re eating and drinking from assessing your week long food record, your plan is to strengthen any weak links you found in your diet. Basically, your plan is your step by step guide to correcting your nutritional weaknesses.
Let me give you an example. Say you look over your food record and find that when you get home from your workouts, you raid your pantry and eat a full meal’s worth of snacks before the meal you were making is ready. This is one of those scenarios where you typically don’t realize how much you’ve eaten. Start writing it down, and you’ll know. Your action plan could be to bring a suitable post workout recovery drink or snack to the gym to calm your hunger before you get home and allow you time to prepare a proper meal without the unwanted appetizers.
The steps to having a plan are simple:
Identify a solution
Write out the steps and resources needed to make the solution possible
Account for any roadblocks like time, money, or abilities
Put the plan into action
Habit 3: Keep changes small
Although we’d all like to be able to completely overhaul our diets overnight without a second thought, that type of drastic change doesn’t work for everyone. Most of us do better with small, sustainable changes.
Let’s use weight loss as an example. Have you ever met anyone that tried to cut their calories or their portions sizes too much? Maybe that person was you. I’ve been there. From personal experience, I can tell you I wasn’t any fun to be around. I can also tell you that my attempts at cutting intake were over within a week. I was miserable and sooooooo hungry. A better approach would have been to cut back 10 percent on my fat and carbohydrate instead. A small, but effective change, that doesn’t trigger a fight or flight response.
So, next time you are trying to change how you eat, think small but effective. If you eat a typical American Diet and want to try Paleo, start with just dairy or just grains or just beans first. When you know how to work around that, go to the next step. We break down the rules of Paleo here. Allow yourself a learning curve. Just make sure that next step is planned out and ready for you.
Habits Specific to your CrossFit Workouts
Habit 4: Eat for sustained energy
Every meal you consume should contain a good source of protein, fat, and carbohydrate. This habit becomes even more important the more you workout. Why all three? As a nutrition coach of CrossFitters just like you, I’ve talked to many athletes that complain of constant hunger after meals. Even in those that eat large portions. When I talk to them about what they typically eat, one of the three macros or one of our four food groups tends to be missing.
For example, the athlete eating a large plate of chicken, broccoli, and sweet potato doesn’t have any healthy, chewable fat. The athlete eating a plate of bacon wrapped scallops on a bed of green beans doesn’t have any starchy foods like fruit or potato. No wonder they’re hungry. When we push ourselves to the max like you do every day, your body needs protein, fat, carbohydrate, and fiber at EVERY meal.
Habit 5: Kick the pre and during workout shakes to the curb
If you are following habit number four and eating well throughout the day, your body has enough energy to make it through your typical CrossFit workout. If you find that you are unable to function without your pre-WOD shake, look at your overall diet first. That’s where you have a problem. The shake is a bandaid. We talk in more detail about pre-workout supplements here.
What did you eat last?
When did you last eat?
That’s where your true answer to a rock star performance will be found.
The same goes for shakes during the WOD. If a workout, even a high intensity workout, doesn’t extend beyond an hour, you typically don’t need anything other than water during that time. You can get all the extra protein and carbs you need when the workout is done and can focus your time and efforts on the WOD as opposed to keeping track of your drink container.
Habit 6: Don’t skimp on your post workout nutrition
After working out, our bodies are primed and ready to take in whatever nutrition we can throw at them. Post workout is not the time to restrict protein, carbs, fat, or salt. If you’ve adopted habit number four, you are well on your way to post workout domination. But we think there’s some room for to bonus points post WOD.
We like to take a two tiered approach. For starters, get some quick absorbing protein, carbs, and electrolytes as soon as possible. We prefer our 5/15 recovery shake. Next we suggest you eat a full meal within 90 minutes to an hour to ensure you maximize the post workout window.
If, for any reason, a full meal is not possible within two hours of working out, we suggest bringing food with you to the gym or drinking our protein shake.
Shakes aren’t your thing? A sweet potato, some sliced chicken breast, and some pecans could tide you over quite well. A chicken salad wrap and some fruit is another great option.
Full disclosure, after a workout, your body is better at absorbing nutrients for the next 24 hours, so don’t think all your efforts were for not if you aren’t able to eat within two. That said, have you ever worked out and not had a chance to eat or drink something right away? Dizziness, shakiness, and nausea often follow.
The Simple Solution to Healthy Eating
Habit 7: Make real food the focus of your diet
I purposely put this one last despite it being the most important habit of them all because, frankly, you’ve heard it before. I talk about real food and how important it is to our overall health daily. Today is no different.
You can dial in your meal timing, your macros, your sleep, and your stress levels all you want. But if you are not putting appropriate fuel in that engine we call our body, you will not reach your full potential. So, prioritize vegetables, fruits, lean meats and seafood, healthy fats, and unprocessed starch on your plate. These foods help move your dial away from sickness to fitness. Eating healthy really is that simple. Want to know more, go here for our 3 Vital Steps to Looking as Strong as You Feel Doing CrossFit.
So, what habits are you already doing and which ones do you need to adopt. Remember habit number three and start with one at a time. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you won’t get your nutrition perfect overnight either.