If you’ve been doing Crossfit for more than a couple of months, you’re probably going to start to think about how you can improve on your diet to help improve on your times. Nutrition is one of those things that when you first start Crossfit, you’ll be bombarded with all sorts of knowledge, but it won’t all be singing from the same hymn sheet.
For my first 6 months (it’s worth mentioning that I’m now into my third year of Crossfit), I didn’t worry too much about my diet. I was attending 2-3 classes a week (I was also still training judo and jujitsu at the time) and my main focus was getting used to the new movements. Whilst my diet wasn’t bad, it also wasn’t great. A few years before starting Crossfit I was over 250lbs and couldn’t do a single pressup. I lost a lot of weight through ‘standard’ gym going with a fair bit of running and also just cutting down my calories. Through this experience, I learnt how to lose weight, but I didn’t learn a thing about nutrition.
After the first 6 months of Crossfit, I wanted to make progress, and diet was the limiting factor. I’ve always struggled with vegetables (I’d like to blame my parents for not forcing them down me as a kid, but that wouldn’t be fair), so trying to find something that works for me has been hard. Talking to other members and researching online, it looked like Paleo might be a good diet to try. It focuses on eating whole foods, limiting your carbohydrates to vegetables and sweet potato (with very little of the latter), and completely removing any processed foods and grains, such as oats and pasta etc.
I could only stick with Paleo for 2 weeks before having to knock it on the head. I personally find the diet far too restrictive, especially for people who train. I think it’s a great basis of a diet, with a lot of good stuff in there and some great foundations to any diet, but it definitely didn’t work for me. My girlfriend and I both felt extremely lethargic for the entirety of the time on Paleo, and our workouts were also suffering. We simply weren’t able to fuel our bodies enough. But like I said, there are a lot of good fundamentals in there that you’ll also see in a lot of other diets, so it’s quite a good basis for people who don’t train, who can give it a try for a while and then start adding the odd piece of fruit back in here and there.
For a brief stint, I also had a look at going the Keto Adapted route. This diet is again similar to Paleo in that you want to get as much veg in as possible, and try to stick to whole foods, but emphasises the use of fats as your main energy store. The idea is to move your body away from using carbohydrates and glycogen stores as energy, and instead use your fat stores, thus encouraging fat loss and also sustaining energy throughout the course of longer workouts. This meant cutting sugar intake to less than 20-30g a day, which is actually extremely hard when you consider a single banana has ~12g of sugar. I actually fared better on keto and my workouts went well, but I didn’t get any stronger during this time. I also started to seriously crave some carbohydrates, and the draw was too strong to resist.
My diet now is my diet. I still have carbohydrates such as oats and potatoes with the odd bit of fruit, but I still steer clear of things like bread and pasta (although the occasional meal here and there is fine). I now eat more vegetables than I did before trying the other diets, and I also avoid sugars and ready meals and the like. And that’s really what I want to convey in this blog post. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t following Paleo, The Zone, Keto or whatever. They shouldn’t be the ideals, especially not if you’re training. At the end of the day, what works for you, works for you, and that should be your diet. That said, there are a few basics that really form the basis on all of these diets (mine included), that are a great foundation.
- Avoid sugar, especially refined sugars (limited fruit is okay by me)
- Avoid as much processed food as you can like breads and pasta
- Try and get as much veg in as you can without going completely insane
- Eat your meat
- Be consistent
- Don’t obsess
And really, the last 2 points are the most important here, even though they might be somewhat contradictory. Make sure your diet is pretty good 90% of the time, and don’t get so obsessed that you fret about that burger you had on a Saturday night out with friends. Whilst training is important, you’re probably never going to make it to the Games. So whilst you can eat to improve your performance, life is also about enjoying yourself, and the odd meal once or twice a week, really isn’t going to tip the scales if you’re consistent the rest of the time.