Fuel your workout
Fuel your workout
Coach Matt Merenich
When you walk into a CrossFit gym, much of what you’ll see and hear revolves around movement; a coach critiquing form, members comparing their times, PR boards, pull up rigs, Oly classes… you get the picture. CrossFit to many is the 1 hour of the day that is dedicated to functional movements, at high intensity, across a broad range of time and domains. And it should be! The skill work and sweat is what brings people into the gym, and it is by far the most fun way to exercise.
What you don’t hear very often – or at least, often enough – is talk about nutrition. Nutrition is not only extremely important to your lives in general, but it’s the catalyst to performance in the gym. There is a reason why the first 26 of the 100 words of CrossFit according to CrossFit CEO and founder Greg Glassman is dedicated to nutrition. Before any movement is mentioned, before any barbells are picked up, before you take a step in the gym, nutrition must be addressed as the top priority in your health and fitness. You can work out 5 times a week, do accessory work, put yourself on the line each workout, have the top time of any member, and have it be completely undone with what you have for dinner when you get home. Plain and simple, the food you eat has a direct effect on maximizing the time spent in the box; it can propel you to consistent gain and improvement or hold you back from your goals.
That being said, there are a lot of theories on how to approach nutrition. Where do you start? The goal of this article is to spell out the steps you should be taking to get the most out of your time in the gym.
The word “diet” is synonymous with “weight loss”, or the intentional cutting of calories in an attempt to lose weight. But a much more useful definition to diet is the composition of all the food you will eat during the day. It is quite literally the fuel you need to function. If we think of our nutrition that way, that each food we select plays a role in our health and performance, it’s easier to make better choices. You’re not eating vegetables because it’s low-calorie and considered “healthy”, you’re eating vegetables because they’re an amazing source or micronutrients and antioxidants that aid in recovery. And you’re not refraining from candy because my current diet cut them out, you’re refraining from candy because they offer little to no nutritional value and are eaten solely because of taste.
Simply put, there is no way to know how to change your diet and maximize results unless you track. Not weighing and measuring your food is like running a mile without keeping track of the time; you may have done better than before, but there is no clear-cut way to know other than a stopwatch. The basic things to keep track of: calories, macros (carbs, proteins, fats), and meals. That way you can record and tweak how much you eat and when to hit your dietary goals while maintaining performance during a workout.
3. Start small
Going cold turkey may work for some, but it’s unrealistic to think you can maintain that for a long period of time (more on this in the next session). You’re not starting Murph with an all-out sprint of a mile, it’s just not smart. Once you’ve tracked your food, analyze the biggest opportunities for improvement. If your calories are high, is there a certain meal or food that I can reduce or cut out that made up a big portion? If my macros are dominated by fat, which fatty foods can I keep? I’m really hungry when I walk into the gym, can I transfer some calories from dinner into lunch? Or even more granular, can I cut out sugar from my coffee? Do I need to eat 4 pieces of pizza, or can I cut that in half and eat veggies on the side? Do you want to split an order of fries instead of each getting our own? Can I turn a cheat day into a cheat meal? There are plenty of ways to slowly implement change that absolutely make a difference.
Any changes made during your journey to nutritional health should be here to stay. Only through consistency and longevity do the results of healthy eating come through. The goal should be to continue these habits past any 6-week challenge or any specific time frame; it should become a lifestyle change that is there for the long haul. Like bullet # 3 mentioned, small changes lead to results because they’re easier to maintain. Those small steps start adding up to bigger changes, and soon your well on your way to reaching your end goal. Physical results may not come for a week, a month, or 6 months, but mentally you will notice a difference within a few days. It took me 4 years to finally figure out the diet that works best for me, and trust me when I say there were ups and downs. Stay the course!
There will be times you didn’t get to the grocery store and have nothing to eat. There will be times you’re out with friends and have little say in where you go or what you have for dinner. And there will be times you didn’t bring enough to eat and are still starving after lunch. It happens! The best thing to do is be prepared. Limit these instances as much as possible, especially when you are in control. Meal prep is vital to your diet’s success. Sundays are my personal day to buy and cook what would normally take the most time up during the week: meat, lunches, sides, etc. So for lunch and dinner all I need is to reheat and eat. No mind games on what I should be eating, and no prep time that keeps me hungry. That’s all been done on Sunday. I just reheat and eat. It’s much harder to call the local sub shop knowing you have a healthy meal in the fridge that can be ready in 10 minutes. It’s also REALLY easy to order an entire pizza when there is nothing in the fridge and you’re starving and tired after a workout. Preparation will help you curb any major straying.
6. Eat enough
This may seem counterintuitive and relates to bullet #1. If I’m trying to lose weight and be healthy, I must need to cut back on my intake right? Yes, if you track your calories and find that you are eating way more than you need this is true. But while you’re cutting calories, you’re also probably changing the make-up of your meals – your diet – to foods that have more nutritional value to them. Instead of cereal or a bagel, you have some fruit. Instead of chips and fries with dinner, you have veggies and sweet potato. Awesome! But here’s the thing: your body is used to getting a lot more calories with the things you’re replacing than with the new items. An entire pound of strawberries in 150 calories. A whole pound! For comparison, your average bagel is 250 calories. A small order or fries at McDonalds is 230 calories. An entire bag of steamable broccoli is 150… see where I’m going? It takes a lot of the good stuff to equal the caloric value of the replacements. Make sure you eat enough so that you’re satisfied after any meal, especially the meals prior to and after working out. This is when your body needs the fuel the most, for activity and then recovery. Feed it! Eat!