Whether you’re a CrossFit newbie or a seasoned vet preparing for competition, it’s important that you’re following the best diet for CrossFit (or whatever high-intensity activity you’re doing). If your diet isn’t in order you’re unlikely to perform well during workouts, you won’t get the results you’re hoping for, and you’ll unknowingly increase your injury risk.
I do have a side note before we continue. I’m a huge proponent of doing physical activities that you love and that you are intrinsically motivated to do. If you’re only doing CrossFit for weight loss and you don’t truly love it, I’ve already covered why that’s a bad idea.
I don’t think you should be doing any physical activity as a “means to an end.” But, CrossFit is especially bad for that because of the high risk of injury.
Alright, let’s get started…
The Best Diet for CrossFit & High-Intensity Exercise: Laying a Foundation
CrossFit is a demanding activity. It’s going to take a toll on your body. This is especially true if you’re doing CrossFit four to five days a week.
All that demanding work requires plenty of calories, protein, and micronutrients. All three of those things are required for performance, repair, and growth.
This is another area where the weight loss peeps get into trouble. If you bring a calorie-restricted or low-carb approach to CrossFit, your performance is going to suffer. Your body composition changes won’t be as desirable either.
Whenever you’re engaging in a demanding activity, fuel that activity! Don’t starve your body of what it needs. The better you fuel performance, the better your results will be.
To lay a solid diet foundation, commit to eating real food first. Because CrossFit is so demanding, you’ll be able to get away with eating some processed, hyper-palatable foods. That doesn’t mean you should, though.
Processed foods are addiction-feeding (for those of you with poor relationships with food), nutrient-poor, toxic, and inflammatory. I call these ANTI foods.
Real foods are typically the opposite of that. But, it’s important to note that not all real foods work for all people. This is another reason why the ANTI model is so helpful. It allows you to grade foods based on what works best for you as an individual.
Now that you have a foundation for your CrossFit diet (real food), it’s time to answer some other questions.
How many calories should I be eating for CrossFit & High-Intensity Exercise?
It’s important to eat enough calories to fuel your CrossFit workouts from a performance standpoint. It’s also important to eat enough calories from a repair and growth standpoint. If you’re trying to add lean muscle mass, you need calories to do that.
The last thing I want to be doing with my time is micromanaging my eating. Counting, tracking, and controlling things is not fun. I want a body I love AND a life I love. It’s very easy to end up with a body you love and a life you hate.
Besides, the human body has an internal calculator and it’s far more accurate and responsive than any arbitrary calorie count could be. Learning to listen to your body’s signaling empowers you to be successful without being obsessive.
If you learn to listen to your body and you give it what it asks for, you will eat the appropriate amount of calories. As your CrossFit workload increases, so will your hunger. As your CrossFit workload decreases or plateaus, so will your hunger. All you have to do is respond accordingly with your meal sizes.
How many carbs should I be eating for CrossFit & High-Intensity Exercise?
Surprise surprise, the guy who isn’t a fan of counting calories isn’t a fan of counting carbs either.
I do think it’s important for you to look at the carb counts on foods in the very beginning of your journey so you can get a general idea of what you’re eating. But, if you’re good at listening to your body, that’s not 100% necessary either.
Just as you can tailor the number of calories you eat to your hunger signaling, you can tailor the number of carbs you eat to your CrossFit performance. There are three main factors to look out for:
- General sluggishness
- Lack of explosiveness
- Poor sleep
If any of these three areas are suffering, try increasing your carbs.
Don’t forget about our real food foundation, though. When I say “increase your carbs,” I don’t mean, “eat pancakes and pizza.” Reach for things like rice, potatoes, yams, fruits, berries, and other starchy veggies.
There is no recommended carb intake that will work for everyone. Only your body knows what it needs, which is why it’s so important to learn to tune in and make adjustments instinctually.
How much protein should I be eating for CrossFit & High-Intensity Exercise?
It’s hard to get anyone in the nutrition world to agree on what amount of protein the average human being needs. Since I don’t count, it doesn’t matter to me anyways.
I prioritize protein to keep things simple. From there, I adjust my fat intake or my carb intake depending on my activity levels. If I’m doing a lot of demanding activity during a given week, I’ll increase carbs and reduce fat. If I’m lower on the activity scale, I’ll decrease carbs and increase fat.
All the while I’m keeping an eye on how I feel, especially in workouts.
This type of approach does require a shift in thinking. While eating should be instinctual for everyone, there’s a mind-body disconnect for most people. We’ve domesticated ourselves to the point that we now need apps and spreadsheets to know when to eat and how much to eat.
Make no mistake, though, committing to real food and learning to eat instinctually make you very powerful. This process makes you happier as well because it removes you from the obsessive micromanaging that most people are doing.
By following the guidelines I’ve laid out, you’re going to properly fuel your CrossFit activities as well as your high-intensity workouts. If you’re a professional athlete, you may want to get more granular and obsessive about things. That’s not who I am, though, nor is it who I work with.
From a recreational standpoint, my approach offers the most upside with the least downside. If you need any help implementing this stuff in your own life, check out our online academy.