CrossFit Diet - Athletes Eat And Train, They Don’t Diet And Exercise
CrossFit diet is one of the most discussed topics at the gym. There's paleo, keto, zone, vegan, vegetarian or primal, the list goes on.
For many, an introduction to CrossFit is the beginning of improved health and fitness through regular training and better food choices.
But where do you start when it comes to what to eat?
There's a wealth of information on diets for CrossFit throughout the internet; I've tried to collate the best for you in one place.
I'll preface what's below with something for you to consider. For true, long lasting results you cannot just change what you eat, it is a change of lifestyle & habits.
I speak with a little experience with some of the diets mentioned below. I've tried variations of them all over the past 5 years. Please bear in mind I am not a Dr/nutritionist, I am just passing on what worked for me.
Photo Credit: @katrintanja
Table Of Contents
- 1 Finding The Best CrossFit Diet
- 2 CrossFit And Paleo
- 3 The Zone Diet - Created By Dr Sears
- 4 A CrossFit Athlete's Diet
- 5 Create Your Own CrossFit Diet Plan
- 6 CrossFit Diet - To Conclude
Finding The Best CrossFit Diet
To find the best CrossFit diet for YOU will take some time and commitment on your part as well as a little experimentation.
Consider all of the following:
- Your GOALS (performance gains, increased strength, fat loss)
- Your likes & dislikes of different food types (fish isn't for everyone)
- Your bodies ability to process certain foods (think celiac, lactose etc)
- Meal frequency, is it possible for you to eat X meals a day?
Aligning all of the considerations above will help you introduce a diet that will satisfy your requirements, help you achieve your goals all whilst enjoying the process.
There are a couple of go to diets that many of the CrossFit community use. Whilst they differ very slightly, they all have one thing in common and that is an introduction of nutrient-dense foods throughout the day.
CrossFit And Paleo
So why is Paleo so popular with the CrossFit community?
Many years ago before farming and agriculture, the human race were hunter-gatherers. We chased our dinner and scavenged seasonal fruit & vegetables.
A force of lean, athletic bodies that moved with purpose. This era was known as the Paleolithic era lasting around 2.5 million years.
Lean, muscular, athletic, versatile & moving with purpose? Aren't they all common goals that many of the community are aiming to achieve?
Whilst we are no longer required to chase our dinner, many of the physical attributes of the Paleolithic man are still desirable today AND it is possible to eat many of the things that were available in their era.
Perhaps, with a little training whilst following the paleo diet, a lean physique, increased athletic ability and versatility to match that of the Paleolithic man could be achieved?
All About The Grains Bro
If the Paleolithic physique and performance are desired, read on!
Aside from exercise (or lack of), a huge difference between the human race of today and the paleolithic era is the consumption of grains.
The Paleolothic man/woman did not consume grains as part of their diet and this is what today's theory behind their lean & athletic physique is based upon.
Let me explain...
1. Grains are comprised of carbohydrates, like the list below.
2. When eaten our bodies digest these carbohydrates, turning them into glucose (a type of sugar, more on this here).
3. Our body then uses this glucose for energy as well as many other bodily functions (glucose is the brain's main fuel).
4. Any remaining glucose left over is then stored as fat.
A small list of grains that we consume plenty of would include bread, pasta, rice & corn.
If you're like me and wanted to give the Paleo lifestyle a try alongside CrossFit, the foods listed above have got to be kept to a minimum.
Now, what to eat and how much of it...
Applying The Paleo Lifestyle To CrossFit
The Paleo diet is a very relaxed form of dieting when it comes to selecting your meals and how much you should be eating.
Aim for a serving of protein coming from a wild/free range/grass fed source with salad or vegetables with every meal. That's it.
As you adjust to your new daily intake you will learn what your body requires you to eat each day. If you are getting tired & hungry then add in some extra calories using healthy fats. A small handful of almonds or some macadamia nuts is a favourite of mine.
Let's talk about what you're going to eat whilst on your journey to a leaner more athletic you.
Fresh Fruits, Vegetables, Oils, Nuts & Seeds
Recommendations are made that approximately 40% of your intake comes from fresh (raw where possible) nutrient dense foods such as:
- Vegetables - The more colours the better. Each as much as you wish with plenty of variety. I eat plenty of broccoli, asparagus, spinach & kale.
- Various Oils - Coconut is very tasty and great to cook with as it has a very high burning temperature. Avocado and olive oils are also great to include.
- Fresh Fruit - Contains some natural sugars as well as lots of antioxidants amongst over health benefits. If you are conscious of calories, choose fruits with fewer calories.
- Nuts & Seeds - Calorie-rich, often high in fats. Mix dried cranberries with macadamia nuts for a great snack for on the go.
The paleo gods prescribe that the majority of your energy comes from animal foods (upwards of 60%). Foods such as:
- Fish - My favourites are cod, haddock, hake, tuna and salmon. I also enjoy prawns and calamari. Aim to buy fish that is responsibly sourced (think of the dolphins).
- Fowl - Turkey, chicken, duck, pheasant all regularly appear on my plate throughout the week.
- Meat - Beef, buffalo, ostrich, venison, pork, lamb, the list goes on. Grass-fed, free range, but the best that your budget will allow!
- Vegetables - The more colours the better. Each as much as you wish with plenty of variety.
No Processed Foods
The Paleolithic man did not have access to processed food. There were no convenience caves, no golden arches or KFC. The food that you will consume will come in its natural form. Very tasty meals can be created by combining fresh, single ingredients.
Something for you to consider if you fancy giving the paleo diet a pop. There is very little dairy in the paleolithic way of life.
I added in dairy as its a source of protein and fats which my body was able to make the most of. I regularly used yoghurts such as Fage and on occasion "full fat" milk, mozzarella and butter.
Again, this worked for me, it may be different for you.
Be as adventurous as your budget/butcher/supermarket allows with your food choices. It takes a little while to adjust to eating like our paleolithic ancestors but its very rewarding once you begin to see/feel the results!
The Zone Diet - Created By Dr Sears
So, what’s all the hype about with the zone diet, particularly amongst the CrossFit community?
The Zone Diet, through food choices, will put your body in the zone.
The benefits of being in the zone as a CrossFitter:
- Increased performance
- Shredding body fat
- Maintaining good health
The zone diet through its block system ensures that you will have a balanced intake at every meal throughout the day.
Each zone meal will consist of 40% carbohydrates, 30% protein and 30% fat.
The 40:30:30 ratio is chosen with a specific goal in mind – to balance insulin and glucagon.
- Insulin - Promotes storing excess calories as fat
- Glucagon - Promotes the burning of fat
Recommended Read: How to manipulate insulin and glucagon to lose fat
For those new to CrossFit and perhaps not accustomed to "optimal" nutrition, the zone diet will provide structure and a base for you to begin with.
As you learn more about your body and the way it reacts to food types & consumption, you can begin to experiment with the ratios and find what is optimal for you.
The zone diet is a simple CrossFit nutrition plan to follow which, after time will become a lifestyle and part of your everyday routine (the real aim).
The zone diet can be utilised from your first day of improved nutrition through to elite level athletes (portion sizes may vary).
Zone Diet Blocks
The block system at first may appear confusing but once you have a good understanding it is in fact very simple.
To begin applying the block system to your day you need to find out how many blocks you require. Dr Sears has created a tool to tell you exactly that.
Zone Diet Block Calculator: Click Here
If it's your first time using the tool you will have to put in your email address at the bottom of the page. Don't worry, they haven't spammed the email address I used.
So... I had a go at using the calculator, entered my details and voila, this is what Dr Sears recommends:
Dr Sears' calculator comes in at 23 blocks of protein, carbohydrate and fats. I rounded this up to 25 of each as I have a demanding appetite.
To make things easy I divided the 25 blocks into 5 meals of 5 blocks. This can change based on your daily requirements. Three meals and two snacks is a popular way of dividing up your daily needs.
"What is a 5 block meal?" - A 5 block meal will consist of 5 blocks of carbs, 5 blocks of protein and 5 blocks of fat.
Now you have the tools you can begin to build your own CrossFit diet plan for your day. Let's see what I would require to hit my 25 blocks.
Zone Diet Plan
As I mentioned previously I would eat 5 meals each containing 5 blocks of protein, carbohydrate and fats throughout the day. This is what a day at 25 blocks would consist of:
- Meal 1 - 5 Blocks (Breakfast): A blended breakfast smoothie - 2 cups of milk, 3 tablespoons of protein powder, 2 cups of frozen strawberries, 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries, XL scoops of cashews.
- Meal 2 - 5 Blocks (Midmorning Snack): A fruit Salad - 1 & 1/4 cup cottage cheese, 1/2 cantaloupe/melon cubed, 1 cup of strawberries, 1 cup grapes, with a sprinkling of slivered almonds.
- Meal 3 - 5 Blocks (Lunch): Fresh fish & salad - 7 & 1/2 oz fresh fish (I love white flakey fish) either baked or grilled served with 1 & 1/3 cups of sautéd zucchini, flavoured with herbs. For the salad its 1 large salad with 2 & 1/2 tablespoons of salad dressing of choice, and 1/4 cup of black beans. For dessert it's 2 cups of fresh strawberries.
- Meal 4 - 5 Blocks (Afternoon Snack): Deli meat & cheese - 4 & 1/2 oz of deli meat with 2 oz of cheese. Serve with 2 & 1/2 apples and 5 macadamia nuts. A charcuterie board of sorts.
- Meal 5 - 5 Blocks (Dinner): Turkey & greens - 5 oz of turkey breast roasted, chop and steam 2 & 1/2 cups of kale, then sauté with: 1 & 2/3 tsp olive oil, garlic and crushed red peppers. To finish add 3 peaches for something sweet.
Try and make your meal prep as easy as possible. I use the following items in the kitchen to make it effortless:
Hopefully, that has helped explain how you can create your own diet plan using the zone diet blocks. If you need any help leave a comment below and I'll do my best to help.
A CrossFit Athlete's Diet
Thanks to the likes of Instagram and YouTube, the top athletes regularly share their meals, snacks and some of the supplements they consume on a daily basis.
Below I have compiled a list of some well-researched posts that will give you a great insight into what elite level athletes use as fuel:
A consistent across all of the elite athlete's diets is the majority of their foods will be nutrient dense and free of toxins.
Create Your Own CrossFit Diet Plan
Do you eat enough? My guess would be no as the majority (myself included) don't eat a sufficient amount of calories a day to fuel our training programs effectively.
Have a read below, I'll go through how you can work out your maintenance calories (the amount of calories required to fuel your day with no goal other than "maintenance").
If you are looking to burn fat then a good start could be to establish your "maintenance calories" and then take 10% away (calorie deficit). For muscle/strength gains you could take your maintenance calories and add 10% (calorie surplus).
Again, this has worked for me, experiment with yourself, log everything and adjust as necessary.
To begin you need to know how many "maintenance" calories you require. This varies from person to person and will change based on a number of factors.
Thankfully for us, there are some very helpful people who have created tools to work this out for us...
I'll explain EXACTLY how I would work out a structured diet plan using the tools mentioned and how to apply this to your chosen diet.
Step 1: Calculate the amount of calories you require every day based on your lifestyle, training, profession etc.
I used the calculator that I mentioned above. Try and be as accurate as possible. I work out a very rough body fat % estimate using callipers. Here's a link to the kit I used.
The most important result we need is your maintenance calories, pictured in the red box below.
My maintenance calories for an average day = 3328 kcals
Still with me? I hope this is making sense!
Step 2: Taking your daily maintenance calories and converting them to macronutrients (proteins, carbs & fats).
Regardless of your chosen diet, the numbers below are consistent across paleo, primal, zone, carb cycling etc and will help us convert your maintenance calories into food!
To keep things easy we'll use another calculator to give us our required macronutrients for the day. Use the tool below and drop in your maintenance calories and choose your macronutrient split.
This could be 40% carbs, 40% protein & 20% fat as an example. It's at this stage a little understanding of what you feel best consuming is very helpful.
I perform best with the majority of my calories coming from carbohydrates.
Here's what the calculator gave me as my macronutrient breakdown for a day. I adjusted the %s to what suits me best (I know this from years of cutting, dieting and experimentation).
The picture should be self-explanatory. I chose 6 meals a day. Adjust as necessary to your requirements. As an example, you may use the "low carb" option if you're following a paleo-esque plan.
Using the grams per meal column you now have something to aim for at every meal which is specific to your needs. Certainly worth 5 minutes of your time to work out, right?
Remember these numbers are "maintenance". You may wish to adjust if you want to drop some body fat or to build some muscle.
These numbers may well take you some time to adjust to. I certainly needed a couple of weeks to build up enough of an appetite to hit the numbers.
Step 3: Hitting your macronutrients and setting new goals.
With the data you now have, there are different ways you can go about hitting your targets.
- Build a meal plan - A meal plan combined with food preparation for every couple of days is a great way to hit your macros.
- Gradual changes - Using a free tool like MyFitnessPal (more on that below), monitor your food intake as it is and see how it compares to your recommended macros. If you're not eating enough, begin to increase portion sizes throughout the day.
Continuing the theme of making the most of free tools, I cannot recommend MyFitnessPal enough.
It's a free app with a HUGE database of foods all of which have the macronutrient breakdowns and is very handy for building meals with your required numbers or keeping track of what you eat to compare with your desired macros.
If you're serious about making a change then you'll need a lot of consistency & dedication alongside a structured nutrition plan.
CrossFit Diet - To Conclude
I hope that this post as helped answer a few questions you may have on CrossFit diet. If you have anything you require help with, drop a comment below and I'll see what I can do.
For a significant and noticeable change you will have to put in some real dedication. I always encourage people to take before & after pictures as judging your progression on the scales can be misleading and disheartening.
It's not easy but you can do it!
To your continued progression,