CrossFit Diet For Beginners
CrossFit is an exercise program that can completely change your life, redirect your physical health, and bring you more in touch with your body. However, CrossFit isn’t simply about working out, CrossFit nutrition is a large part of weight loss and changing your body for the better.
CrossFit nutrition is similar to the CrossFit approach to training and working out. It requires some planning and record-keeping to make sure that your diet helps to optimize your physical performance.
We’ll give you the breakdown of everything you need to know to begin eating healthy to maximize your CrossFit gains.
What is the CrossFit Diet?
Many people begin with a CrossFit Diet to lose weight, improve their energy while training, and feel better with a healthier everyday baseline. CrossFit nutrition normally falls into either the Zone Diet or the Paleo Diet, both of which limit carbohydrate intake and emphasize whole foods, while steering away from processed foods and sugar.
The diet primarily consists of eating plants and vegetables, lean protein and meats, and healthy fats, such as nuts and seeds. You may also consume fruit in a limited quantity. Your biggest limitations will be starchy vegetables and added sugars.
While the CrossFit diet functions as a macro diet, it also asks participants to be aware of the nutritional value of the foods that they are eating. The ideal intake is for every meal to offer the most nutritional value from the calories consumed. This means eliminating foods that take up a person’s carbohydrate allowance while offering dissatisfying portion-sizes or no additional vitamins and nutrients.
The Essentials of the CrossFit Diet
- In general, CrossFit nutrition means avoiding dry grains, such as bread and dry cereals, as well as baked goods and pasta. When you do choose to eat grains, opt for whole wheat and fermented grains, as opposed to those made with refined white flour.
- Avoid sweets and dessert foods, including beverages sweetened with sugar.
- Alcohol consumption is considered an unfavorable carbohydrate according to the CrossFit Diet and should be measured and consumed in moderation if at all.
- Remember, it’s not all about what you eat. You can physically be affected by your frequency and timing of meals. Small adjustments to your eating cycles can mean a lot to your lifestyle and performance.
What to Eat
CrossFit nutrition is a combination of lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, and healthy fats. As long as you combine these components into your meal, you can be as creative as you like with the preparation. Here are a few of the best foods to get your diet plan started.
In general, you want to eat those vegetables that pack the biggest punch nutritionally. These will most often be your leafy greens and non-starchy vegetables.
Best Ones to Eat
- Bell peppers
- Green beans
- Romaine lettuce
What to Avoid
You will want to avoid starchy vegetables and legumes.
- Winter squash
- Potatoes and sweet potatoes
- Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils
Low-glycemic fruits are the best for offering vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants while also limiting the amount of sugar these fruits carry.
Best Ones to Eat
What to Avoid
Avoid high-glycemic fruits that contain more sugar than potential nutrients and benefits.
- Raisins and sweetened dried fruits
- Juices that contain the sugar of fruit in high concentrations without the added fiber, particularly sugar-sweetened juices
Healthy fats refer to monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These are good for your heart and overall health. Avoid saturated fats and trans fats.
Best Ones to Eat
- Almonds and nut butters
- Avocados and guacamole
- Olive Oil and olive oil-based vinaigrette to use as a dressing
What to Avoid
- Animal fats, such as butter
- High-fat dairy foods, including yogurt and creamers
- Vegetable or canola oils
While CrossFit relies on protein intake with all meals and snacks, not all proteins are magically good for you. Opt for lean and low-fat proteins as much as you can.
Best Ones to Eat
- Beef (lean and ideally grass-fed)
- Chicken Breast
- Cod Fish
- Cottage Cheese
What to Avoid
- Fatty meat cuts, such as non-lean beef, bacon, or sausages
- Dark poultry meat and poultry skin
What Are Macronutrients?
All the foods we eat fall into large categories called Macronutrients. Creating a diet plan and paying attention to your nutrition means consuming a thoughtful ratio of your macronutrients.
- Carbohydrates (4 calories/gram)- Carbohydrates are most commonly found in grains, such as breads and pastas, fruits, and starches. Carbohydrates break down into glucose or blood sugar, which the body metabolizes into short-term energy. Diets that are high in carbohydrates can cause high blood sugar and increased body fat.
- Fats (9 calories/gram)- Fats are found in oils, nuts, and meat. They are responsible for the body’s energy storage. However, not all fats are the most efficient use of the body’s storage.
- Proteins (4 calories/gram)- Proteins are found in meats, fish, eggs, and tofu. The amino acids in proteins are the key to building muscle and are therefore important for CrossFit nutrition.
What Are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients are much smaller categories of nutrition. These are most often vitamins and minerals, which the body needs to a lesser amount, so these are usually measured in milligrams.
Ideally, you should consume macronutrient meals that are high in the micronutrients you need. There are many micronutrients that the body cannot produce enough of on its own. A diet that isn’t meeting these requirements can use multi-vitamins supplements.
Common important micronutrients include:
- Calcium – required for bone and tooth density
- Iron – necessary for healthy blood and cognitive development
- Vitamin A – required for vision and organ function
- Vitamin D – helps calcium absorption and bone health
- Vitamin B12 – helps the body metabolism for more energy
- Vitamin B6 – helps the body more efficiently release sugars from stored carbohydrates to produce energy
- Vitamin C – an antioxidant that is necessary for creating neurotransmitters in the brain and collagen in the skin
- Vitamin E – an antioxidant that protects cells from damage while also boosting the immune system
- Zinc – facilitates wound healing
The Pros and Cons of the CrossFit Diet
The CrossFit diet should increase energy, limit body fat gain, and facilitate fat burn to lose weight while emphasizing muscle conversion.
- It’s flexible and aimed at customizing the best nutrition per day for your training schedule, body type, and personal goals.
- Low-glycemic carbohydrates enhance glucose stores (glycogen) in the muscles to increase energy during exercise.
- Eating protein in each meal, even non-meat protein, supports muscle growth and repair.
- Limited options make meal planning and prepping easier.
- This low-glycemic diet may not significantly improve athletic performance.
- It requires consistently weighing and measuring food.
- Some may find this diet restrictive since it eliminates some nutrition options including grains, starches, and processed foods.
- It’s may become more difficult to eat out or order food when on this diet.
- Since protein is consumed with every meal, it may be difficult for those CrossFit athletes with health restrictions on their protein intake.
Types of CrossFit Diet
For those who like more structure for their CrossFit nutrition plan, both the Zone Diet and the Paleo Diet are recommended to accompany CrossFit workouts. They can be customized and combined, so don’t be surprised when you come across a meal plan for a paleo-style Zone Diet. Additionally, you can find vegan or vegetarian adaptations of either diet.
The Zone Diet is a good place to begin. It balances lean protein, non-starchy veggies, seeds and nuts, and low-glycemic fruit while giving CrossFit athletes all the nutrition they need per day.
Barry Sears developed the Zone Diet in his book The Zone as a way of controlling blood sugar while minimizing inflammation. The system may appear complicated when you first look at it, but it works well as a daily practice.
Macros are broken down into the following proportions:
- 40% of calories should come from carbs
- 30% from protein
- 30% from fat
The Zone Diet measures its nutrients into blocks to make meal planning easier.
- 9g for a block of carbohydrates
- 7g for a block of proteins
- 1.5g for a block of fat
The number of blocks that each person should intake depends on sex, physical body size, and activity level. The average woman requires 3 blocks of each macro at meals, and the average man requires 4 blocks of macros. Additionally, it’s common to eat 1-2 blocks while snacking.
Simply put, divide your meal into thirds. One-third of it should be lean protein, such as fish, chicken breast, or low-fat dairy products. The other two-thirds should be healthy carbs, including your veggies and fruits. As for fats, you can consume small amounts of monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil, avocados, and nuts.
Just as with any diet, results don’t happen immediately. Try this diet for at least a month. Doing so will help you gain a baseline of data on how your body reacts so that you can begin to customize it to what’s right for your body.
Paleolithic diets eat whole foods to simulate the original nutrition of our hunter-gatherer human ancestors from thousands of years ago. It’s believed that the Paleo Diet, along with regular physical activity will decrease the likelihood of contracting ‘lifestyle’ diseases, such as obesity, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease.
- Preferred foods include meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices, and healthy fats and oils.
- Foods to avoid include processed foods, sugar, dairy products, grains, legumes, vegetable oils, and trans fats.
In general, the paleo diet eschews eating anything that is processed or created in a factory. Additionally, when it comes to meat, this diet will most often opt for whatever is grass-fed, pasture-raised, and organic.
Wondering what to drink during the day? Water is a given, but if you need to spice it up, paleo diets allow green tea and coffee, both of which contain antioxidants, as long as they remain unsweetened and without dairy.
What happens when you have a sweet tooth? In moderation, the Paleo Diet allows chocolate that’s 70 percent cocoa content or more, as well as antioxidant-rich red wine.
What to Eat Before and After Your CrossFit Workouts
Whether or not to eat before a workout varies between athletes. Some don’t like working out on a full stomach, while others need the pre-workout snack for energy.
Pre-workout is a good time to eat your fruit. Many also prefer a protein shake. If you prefer to consume a full meal before your workout, then opt for a balance of lean protein and carbohydrates, with a relatively limited amount of fats, allowing for quicker digestion and more energy.
Depending on how you feel before and after workouts, you might prefer to implement supplements, post-workout meals, fasting, or even a cheat meal, such as one that includes additional fat.
For those who need recovery food after a workout, proteins and nutritious carbohydrates are your best option to replace some of what you burned. Protein can come in the form of a protein shake and carb options for healthy eating include fruit, oats, or yogurt.
What About Supplements?
Supplements can be consumed daily or post-workout depending on your body’s particular needs. Some supplements give you the necessary micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals for health. Other supplements combine micro and macro-nutrients for performance to increase the rate of recovery.
Health & Nutritional Supplements
Your health and nutritional supplements should complement any micronutrients that are missing from your diet or body. These can help to support your organs, blood health, and the distribution of oxygen throughout the body and bloodstream, keeping you healthy and in peak physical condition for training.
Opt for multi-vitamins and individual supplements that support your personal state of health. Always check the amounts that you are consuming to remain at a safe level.
Supplements can also help you to recover from exercise and increase the rate of muscle growth. A speedy recovery not only means more training, but also a decreased risk of overtraining.
The best performance supplements combine micro and macronutrients. These might include:
- Whey Protein – Whey is a complete protein that combines both essential and non-essential amino acids for muscle growth and recovery with a quick absorption rate. You may be able to put it into a healthy smoothie.
- Branch-Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) – BCAAs are made from the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine, all of which the body does not produce on its own. These are used by our muscles for fuel and extra energy which preserve lean mass.
- Creatine – Creatine combines the three amino acids arginine, glycine, methionine, which you might find naturally in high-quality proteins such as fish or meat. Creatine gives your cells ATP for more energy while training.
Tips for Success with a Crossfit Diet
- Measure and record your intake. Also, be sure to evaluate your physical performance based on what you consumed recently. This way you can track what works best for you and alter your intake until you’re getting your ideal performance results.
- The CrossFit diet should always meet your caloric needs. This is important even for those who want to lose weight. You need the nutrition to perform your best during training. You should never starve yourself to fit into a specific version of the diet, and you are always free to alter parts of it according to your physical needs.
- Much like your ab machine and elliptical workouts, it should be manageable. Your version of the CrossFit diet needs to be something that you personally can keep up with. For many people, this means getting into a meal-planning schedule or rhythm. Consistency is important, so if it doesn’t seem like something you can keep up with, it’s time to modify the diet into something that you can.
Best CrossFit Apps
A good CrossFit app should help you find a workout of the day (WOD) while tracking your stats and records.
This app uses benchmarks and personal achievements to keep you motivated. It allows you to make and save your own workouts or take a photo of a favorite workout. It features flexible timers as well.
This popular app makes it easy to plan, track, and analyze your workouts, with a library of workouts to use and a profile that tracks your progress.
This app caters to your physical fitness level, by tracking your personal mobility score and helping you to choose workouts that will realistically improve your mobility.
Using CrossFit Videos
CrossFit videos aren’t just high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts and WOD videos. Many of them are educational, teaching you how to properly perform an exercise. Whether it’s the basics or a more complex routine, correct form and posture minimize the risk of injury.
CrossFit videos can be highly subjective depending on your preferences for an exercise video and your WOD needs. Keep in mind that what works for someone else may not exactly work for you.
What is the Difference Between a CrossFit Workout and a Regular Workout?
CrossFit is different from a regular workout in that it incorporates many areas of fitness at once. This allows for strength training, as well as cardio, with a flexible workout of the day (WOD) design. CrossFit athletes may target specific fitness needs each day. Over time, a full CrossFit regimen should strengthen and condition each of the fitness domains, including stamina, strength, flexibility, coordination, power agility, balance, accuracy, cardiovascular, and respiratory endurance.
What is the Difference Between a CrossFit Diet and a Regular Diet?
A regular diet for weight loss will generally emphasize nutrition. However, it allows the intake of grains and starches for fast energy. CrossFit nutrition, however, emphasizes lean protein for better muscular development and carbohydrates that come from fruit and vegetables high in micronutrients, as opposed to starch and grains. It doesn’t heavily restrict, since CrossFit recognizes that its athletes need their energy for high-intensity workouts. Additionally, the CrossFit Diet emphasizes the ability to alter the diet for body type and lifestyle needs.
What is the Average Calorie Burn per CrossFit Workout?
This study found that the popular CrossFit workout ‘Cindy’ burns on average 260 calories throughout the 20-minute workout. That’s a lot for 20 minutes!
Your workout of the day (WOD) will vary calorie burn, however. If you’re using an app to track your CrossFit progress, many of these will estimate the average calorie burn that you can expect from the workout.
Keep in mind that many CrossFit workouts will require you to slow down at certain points and develop new skills in your areas of weakness. This is referred to as regression. It may burn fewer calories, but the added skills development is very valuable for your overall strengthening and mobility.
Why am I Gaining Weight When Starting CrossFit?
It’s common for people to gain weight when they first start CrossFit. Most people are using muscles that they haven’t built for a long time. CrossFit forces these muscles to grow quickly, and since muscle weighs more than fat, this will mean weight gain.
The more muscle you have, however, the more calories you burn during a workout. So at a certain point, your new muscles will start burning calories as well, and you will begin to see weight loss results.
What Will CrossFit Do to My Body?
In the long run, those who are consistent with their CrossFit training find themselves slimmer with more muscle, making them very powerful. You might find that you have more energy throughout the day and you breathe easier as well. If you practice CrossFit in a balanced way, you will find your whole body toning and strengthening as opposed to certain target muscle groups.