Rather than weigh in on a specific nutrition plan, I believe that athletes and everyday Crossfitters will find their best personal solution with the right mindset about nutrition.
The truth is that people out there are getting great results from Paleo, the Zone or some other form of clean eating. There are those who get great results from measuring their macronutrient intake and those who get results from not measuring at all. So considering the expansive variety of successful nutrition approaches, what separates those that work from those that crash and burn? When choosing between various healthy eating plans or performance-driven nutrition programs, your success might be determined more by your overall approach to the role of food in achieving your goals. That is not say that what you eat is not important, but that the plan you choose and how you implement it will be primed for success with the right mindset about nutrition. The wrong mindsets will lead to failure, regardless of how great a plan you have.
I think it becomes clearer if we draw comparisons between a nutrition plan and a training plan. There are things we would never do within a training plan and expect results. In many ways, nutrition and the results we can achieve with it follow similar principles.
Here are my top 5 nutrition mistakes that Crossfit athletes make:
1. Unclear priorities
If I want to improve my snatch, there are certain steps I’d have to take in my training plan to make that happen. My program would be markedly different from one designed to improve my bench press. Likewise, if my goal was to get fit, lose weight or be an active role model to my child, the program would be different. The first of these nutrition mistakes is not programming your nutrition as you would any other fitness goal. Without clear priorities, and linking your plan to your these priorities, you will be less likely to stick to it and worse yet, it is less likely to help you in your goals. Your nutrition is probably something that will evolve alongside your priorities.
When people are new to Crossfit, it is enough to aim for a shift away from standard, mainstream diet habits – cut the sugar, get used to meals without grains and begin to see refined, processed foods as the devil incarnate.
That change alone will, for the vast majority of average newbies, achieve a great deal of results in terms of body fat, muscle mass, better health and increased levels of fitness. If you are shifting towards higher fitness goals – a competitive, athletic aspirations or better body fat/lean tissue composition – your nutrition will need to be tailored to get you there. Proportions of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat), the timings of meals and variations in these throughout your program as you approach your competition will be different if you are aiming for triathlon, a strongman event or just a hot six pack. Decide on your priorities and make sure your nutrition is a cog in the wheel driving you there, not an obstacle in your path.
2. Nutrition Mistakes: Abusing the off-day
Rest days are a vital part of any plan, as are cheat days in your nutrition program. Days off help recovery and keep us balanced and sane. Yet the biggest problem with cheat days in many a Crossfitter’s diet is that they are not planned and implemented like a vital part of the plan. They are seen, instead, as an indulgent day, a time to rebel and drown in treats that feel well deserved after being so saintly in the kitchen. With this mindset, one cheat day easily turns into a string of cheat days and leads to nutrition mistakes. Just as your rest day is programmed in to allow you the best chance of success in the long term, your cheat day is part of plan. It is not exactly useful to you to see cheat days as a time to throw common sense to the wind. It is part of a larger plan and should be programmed as such. If you have days, events or holidays where you know you’ll be off your chosen nutrition program, make a plan for how to account for these.
3. Failing to evaluate and adjust
You wouldn’t follow a training program without tracking results, whether that’s a body fat percentage, 5k time or 1RM snatch. Nutrition can account for more of the changes you can create and have control over, so it is ludicrous to not consistently evaluate and re-evaluate their nutrition. People generally are notoriously poor at evaluating their diet. The average person thinks they have a healthy diet, but don’t. Even when obesity is an obvious problem, most people label their diet as healthy or mostly healthy.
The average Crossfitters thinks their nutrition is great, but is it? To really evaluate your nutrition, you need to know exactly what’s going on. If you never have before, it might be time to put your eating under the microscope with a food diary. Keep track of everything you eat and drink for 2 weeks, including the amounts and times. Note any bodily sensations and energy levels in workouts. It’s only with a hard, honest look at what’s going in will you be able to pinpoint where you’re going wrong. For the majority of people I work with, both athletes and clients looking to lose weight, a food diary produces “a-ha!” moments as the previously automatic, un-examined food behaviour is suddenly there in black and white.
4. Following the hype
You wouldn’t expect specific results from your training by just going with the flow. If I want to improve my snatch but spend too much time high-fiving over heavy bench press sessions, just because that’s what everyone else is doing, I’ll be ultimately disappointed. It’s certainly ok to say that being social is your priority and have fun doing it, but don’t be upset when you have a great bench press and a crappy snatch. The same goes for your nutrition. There will be little trends, supplements that everyone’s talking about, foods that are being praised or vilified, but you can’t be swayed by the hype. A solid plan, informed by what works for you (see notes on evaluating and adjusting above) is no match for flavour of the month.
5. Nutrition Mistakes: Expecting it to be fair and equal
Yes, it’s not fair that you have that niggly mobility issue that requires consistent attention while that new guy steams in and muscle ups without any warm up. But hey, life’s like that. It’s not fair. And ignoring, denying or fighting that will only land you in a lot of pain and problems. Your nutritional needs can be lumped into the category of unfair, too. There will be those who seemingly fill themselves with junk and yet seem to fly through the stages you’d like to be achieving. You’ll meet that one who can WOD right after a meal or beat you every time on a diet of jelly babies. You can either tell yourself that if it works for them, it will work for you. Or you can deal with the hand you’re dealt. If you know that jelly babies make you fat and sluggish, then your best bet is to stop trying to demand that nature gave you a different digestive system and start coping with the facts.
The wonderful truth of life is that you are completely unique. We can’t expect to eat the same as someone else and get the same results. For every nutrition plan, subtle tweaks will have to made to account for your individual make up. There are also these odd cases that seem unaffected by junk food and we can’t get caught up in wondering why we aren’t the same. We have to work with what we’ve got. The same goes for changes throughout a lifetime. Age, illness, lifestyle all have an effect on our nutritional needs and can lead to nutritional mistakes. It’s not fair, for instance, that old bodies don’t process McDonalds the same as young ones, but this is something you are strong enough to handle if you can stop struggling against reality.
I write with the basic assumption that you have made an effort to clean up your diet and avoiding nutrition mistakes since starting Crossfit. But I’m aware that this might be inaccurate. The hard honest truth is that won’t see the best results in your physique or your performance without attending to your nutrition. Thinking that you can out-WOD your junk food diet, not paying attention to your nutrition and cycling through times when you are “on” and “off” a plan will produce no results. You can work like a beast and have the tummy of a CareBear. Decide on your priorities. If you really want to see an improvement in your athletic potential, your body fat, your lean mass – take ownership of it.
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