healthy eating habits crossfit

The CrossFit Open and Nutrition: How, When and What to Eat

Perform at your best by nailing your nutrition for the Open.

Do you know how to eat to be primed for each CrossFit Open workout? The CrossFit Open, a three-week virtual competition for CrossFit athletes around the world, begins on March 11. The training is done and all there is left now is to perform.

Your nutrition on game day and the window before and after can have a big effect on your results, so we spoke to Dr Mike Molloy, founder of M2 Performance Nutrition and nutrition coach to over 40 CrossFit Games athletes, to break down how, what and when to eat to be primed for 21.1 and beyond.

For Athletes Whose Main Goal Is to Have Fun

If you approach the Open like any other day of working out – except this time you have a score sheet and a judge – and your main goal is to have fun, approach the week like you would any other and don’t change anything from your normal routines.

Staying on track with what you usually do can reduce stress or nerves induced by competition, so all you have to do is make sure you’re recovering as much as possible from each training session.

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For Athletes That Are Likely to Redo Workouts

Maybe you’ve signed up to the CrossFit Open to perform as best as you possibly could and plan your entire weekend around it. Keeping to your routines still applies.

“If you normally do your workouts at 6 a.m. in a fasted state, do your CrossFit Open workout at 6:00 a.m. in a fasted state,” says Dr Molloy. “Don’t all of a sudden decide for the first time ever that you’re going to eat breakfast before you work out – that wouldn’t go very well.”

If for some reason you’re only able to perform the Open workouts in the evening but you’re used to working out in the morning, do a couple of workouts in the evening in the four weeks leading up to the Open to figure out your nutrition plan: what is it like to deal with your nutrition later in the day, how can you appropriately fuel your workouts?

Get a feel of what it is like to work out at a different time and work out how you want to work with your nutrition. Training is the time to sort details out, competition not so much.

“We’d like to train like we compete to an extent, with our nutrition at least,” says Dr Molloy. “Don’t do anything new, don’t go making crazy changes. Before your first Open workout, don’t all of a sudden accept a pre-workout from your gym buddies; it’s a terrible idea.”

“Just stick to your routine and know that this has set you up well to do the best in that workout.”

CROSSFIT OPEN NUTRITION FOR HIGH LEVEL ATHLETES

Nutrition Changes for Athletes Who Normally Train Two or Three Hours A Day

If you’re the kind of athlete who is used to training around three hours every day, the Open will constitute a big change. Many high level athletes drop their training volume dramatically the week before and throughout the Open to allow for optimal performance.

Instead of long sessions, your focus moves entirely to a single workout. Your training will go from high volume at moderate intensity to a relatively low volume but at really high intensity.

“There’s a different way that you have to eat for that,” says Dr Molloy. Because your training volume will have decreased significantly – especially if you’re planning on redoing a workout, as you’ll take your training easier – for a whole three weeks, think to yourself if your total caloric requirement has decreased substantially as well.

“I actually see a lot of people that don’t really approach this the right way and gain weight through the Open. One, because they’re probably training less, and two, they’re probably stressed out like crazy and eating more food and worse food as a result of it,” says Dr Molloy.

“Take a moment and think to yourself: ‘how much am I really working out this week compared to how much I’m usually working out?’” recommends Dr Molloy. “Maybe, if it’s a lot less, pull back on your calories a little bit. Nothing crazy, again, we don’t want to be eating too little, but you can definitely overdo it with your food over those three weeks.”

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10 Great Tips for Success in The 2021 CrossFit® Open

PRE-WORKOUT NUTRITION STARTS THE DAY BEFORE

CrossFit workouts tend to be very high intensity: they’re not notoriously long – typically no longer than 25 minutes – and they make you hurt a lot. Because of this, there are a few pointers you can take into consideration when it comes to your pre-workout nutrition plan.

“Pre-workout nutrition starts the day before,” says Dr Molloy. “Make sure you have three really solid meals, high quality foods, that you’re well hydrated, and that you get to sleep at a reasonable hour – especially if you’re likely to spend half the night awake praying, being anxious and trying to outsmart the workout.”

WHY?

Anything that’s high intensity is fuelled exclusively by glucose; exclusively by carbohydrates, fats really don’t matter. The energy for this type of training comes from glucose within the muscle itself, very little is coming from the bloodstream or the liver, but from pre-existing muscle stores.

This is because you’re going so fast, the body doesn’t even have time to influx carbohydrate to replenish the supplies.

“Over the course of these pre-workout meals what you’ve done is you’ve made sure that those muscles supplies are topped up,” says Dr Molloy. “That they have plenty of glycogen, so that when you hit the gas pedal on the workout, your body has all the fuel that needs to give it everything it wants.”

It takes over 24 hours to replenish glycogen stores, so to ensure you’re topped off you should eat enough the day of the workout and the day before.

NUTRITION ON GAME DAY

If you’re doing the CrossFit Open workout in the evening, make sure that your first meal of the day has a good balance of protein, fats and carbohydrates. Don’t make huge changes, but stick to your normal routine as much as possible.

For lunch, you’ll have to be careful about when and what you eat, because there may still be food sitting in your digestive tract as you’re getting into the actual workout.

“For this meal, I like to keep things relatively straightforward and simplistic,” says Dr Molloy. “Somewhere between 150 to 200 grams of lean protein mixed with a nice, easy to digest carbohydrate option. In general, this meal might be a little bit lower on the fat side – nothing crazy, we don’t need to go zero grams of fat – so that the food has a nice, easy time digesting and there’s nothing that’s going to upset your stomach.”

Lean protein options include:

  • Ground chicken, beef or turkey
  • Lite tofu
  • Peas and lentils
  • Salmon or tuna

Easy to digest carbs include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Regular potatoes
  • White rice
  • Quinoa

Around an hour and a half before the actual workout, you could consider an easy to digest snack such as:

  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Rice cakes
  • Bowl of oats

Any option that is already processed to a point where your body will easily digest, break down and absorb the food is good.

Consider the Timing of Your Last Meal

You don’t want to go into the workout feeling too full, so Dr Molloy recommends not having any really big meals within two hours of your CrossFit Open workout, otherwise you might end up seeing the food again after the workout.

“Mental stress slows your digestive track down,” explains Dr Molloy. “If you’re on edge and stressed out, your body has to prioritize actions that are necessary for your survival: blood flow to your muscles, oxygen to your lungs. Eating and digesting the food that you had three hours ago is actually a really low priority in that situation, it’s not necessary for you to survive, so the food just kind of sits there like a brick.”

If you typically feel really stressed by the CrossFit Open or similar situations, give yourself a little bit more time to digest than normal, as it’ll help your body go through that process, and make your foods really easy to digest. This might not be the time for a huge serving of vegetables.

Perform your best!

© Marin Veraja

Work on relaxing your sympathetic nervous system – breathing work and meditation work well for many athletes – so you’re pushed back to your parasympathetic nervous system. This is likely to help your appetite throughout the three weeks of the Open.

Ultimately, try to stick to your routine as much as you possibly can, as this typically leads to the best results during the Open workouts.

“People get themselves so wrapped up in these workouts that they completely change everything about their lives for two workouts a week,” says Dr Molloy. “In that lack of routine everything feels foreign: they don’t know how to eat, they don’t know how to sleep, they don’t know how to warm up, they don’t know how to cool down.

“I’ve found that the athletes that do the best and meet their expectations or exceed them typically just stick to their routine. They’ll go to the gym, they’ll workout, they’ll eat the same, they’ll recover the same on the other days. They just don’t worry about lifting the most weight on their back squat, or about going as fast as possible on their 5k run, they just get the work done.”

Good luck!