The Best and Worst Foods for CrossFitters
When it comes to effective, efficient, calorie-torching, heart-pumping workouts, CrossFit tops our list for surefire paths to fitness prowess. And we're not complaining about all the eye candy of chiseled abs we see at the gym, either. But a high-intensity gym regimen is only part of the equation when it comes to healthy, sustained weight loss and sculpting lean, toned muscle.
"Given the intensity of CrossFit workouts, an essential component of a good CrossFit diet is protein. Protein stabilizes blood sugar, provides energy and the fuel for workouts. CrossFitters should aim for approximately one gram of protein per kilogram of weight, so an average 130-pound woman should have at least 65 grams of protein while a 200-pound man should have about 100 grams of protein," explains Dr. Tasneem Bhatia, MD, also known as "Dr.Taz," a weight loss expert and author of What Doctors Eat and The 21-Day Belly Fix.
And beyond the protein rule, there are other important foods to load up on (and avoid!) when it comes to enhancing your CrossFit success. Read on for experts' takes on the must-eat and must-avoid list for all you CrossFitters taking the nation by storm. CrossFit is often associated with Paleo; not everything on here is, so if you're curious about that diet plan, check out your complete plan to go paleo for a day!
First, The Best Foods for CrossFitters
These foods get your body functioning in an optimal, supercharged state that will have you flippin' tires in no time! Check 'em out and then keep reading to see what to avoid.
"CrossFitters need to keep their protein intake around 30 percent of their daily calories—and lentils add a whopping nine grams per half cup to your meal, with loads of fiber," offers Cat Smiley, CPT, author of The Planet Friendly Diet and owner of Whistler Fitness Vacations weight loss retreat in B.C., Canada. Super versatile, try them in soups, chili recipes, and more.
Banana and Whey Protein Smoothie
"Post-workout, you need to fuel and optimize recovery by replenishing glycogen stores and protein for tissue repair. Your body craves both fast-absorbing carbohydrates, like those in fruits and berries, and protein that's quick and easy to absorb like whey," comments Lisa Hayim, MS, RD registered dietitian and founder of The WellNecessities. Just make sure your whey protein powder is clean and not a laundry list of ingredients and additives. For some smoothie inspiration, check out the best protein smoothie recipes for weight loss!
You might have splurged on a tub of the stuff for shinier hair and smoother skin, but slipping it into your diet is a CrossFitter's definite must-do: "Coconut oil is an excellent fuel source for workouts. Although it's a saturated fat, the medium-chain fatty acids make it easily absorbable by the small intestine (not requiring the full digestive process)," explains Peggy Kotsopoulos, RHN, nutritionist, and author of Kitchen Cures.
"This means it provides increased energy faster than any other fat. The fats are converted by the liver into an immediate energy source, much like it would carbohydrates, but it's sugar and carbohydrate-free! Try a tablespoon of it before your workouts and you'll be amazed at the energy and endurance it provides."
Nuts and Seeds
Get svelte eating like a bird? You betcha. "Nuts and seeds are packed with nutrients and omega-3 fatty acids, which will fuel your recovery after an intense CrossFit WOD," advises Karla Williams, an avid CrossFitter and Healthy Kitchen Executive Chef at Hilton Head Health, a weight-loss retreat and wellness spa in South Carolina.
"Since nuts and seeds are calorically-dense, they're a great on-the-go snack or add-in to a satisfying smoothie."
The neverending Instagram stream of this tuberous veggie might have calmed down after the fall, but there's still plenty of reason to reach for this nutrition powerhouse: "Your body needs functional carbs for a boost of energy. Glycogen is stored in your muscles (and liver) through the digestion of carbs, and your body relies on muscles' glycogen for energy to carry you through your workout," explains Kotsopoulos.
"One of the best ways to fuel this is with sweet potatoes since they're complex carbs that are slow- releasing and thus will sustain you through your workout. Sweet potatoes help to balance blood sugar levels providing consistent, steady energy levels. They're also rich in B6, which combat the physical effects of stress the body goes through during a CrossFit session, and rich in antioxidants Vitamin C and beta-carotene, [which helps to repair] free radical damage caused by working out." Start drooling over these sweet potato recipes now.
Banana and Peanut Butter
Not quite in the mood to head to Smoothie-ville? It's okay. This nutrient-dense snack proves a boon for CrossFitters: "If you do CrossFit, your perfect snack is going to be a blend of carbohydrates, protein and limited amount of healthy fat," says Hayim. "The banana here is most important, as it is an excellent source of potassium, which is needed to help the heart and skeletal muscles flex and contract during your workout."
"Packed with protein, B vitamins, and good fats, eggs are a superfood for CrossFitters. An egg provides about 7 to 10 grams of protein. Starting the day with a few eggs ups your protein budget daily," says Dr. Taz.
"Brown rice is better for you than white rice, since it is not refined and bleached of nutrients. Also, it is easily digested and less likely to cause bloating and spikes in blood sugar," says Hayim. Make a big batch at the beginning of the week and use with different proteins, veggies, and sauces.
Welcome to Destination: Dream Food. The possibilities of this tasty spread are endless. "Add a few tablespoons of almond butter into your favorite smoothie or use as a spread or dip. One tablespoon of almond butter has about four grams of protein and eight grams of fat," says Dr. Taz. We all know protein is king for ripped 'n' fit folks, but don't forget the key role fat plays: "Fat is important for CrossFit as well since it is another great source of long-lasting energy."
Oatmeal is a stellar breakfast companion, is trendy when dressed up as overnight oats. For CrossFitters, though, it's an incredible must-have, too: "Oatmeal is a great pre or post-workout food as it delivers carbohydrates to the body efficiently without unnecessary sugars," shares Hayim. "It also happens to be excellent for muscle recovery."
Low-Fat Chocolate Milk
We saved the best for last, now didn't we? "Studies suggest that chocolate milk, which is high in carbohydrates and protein, may be considered an effective drink for recovery from exhausting glycogen-depleting exercise, like CrossFit," explains Hayim. Just remember to wipe off that 'stache.
Now, The Worst Foods for CrossFitters
You're training like a beast—but if you feast on these foods, you aren't doing yourself any favors. Avoid these like you would avoid a "skinny fat" reputation!
Pre-Workout Raw Veggies
"Avoid eating lettuce, cabbage, and broccoli before a workout," cautions Hayim. "According to the Mayo Clinic, these foods are common sources of gastrointestinal discomfort. While they may be considered healthy and high in fiber, they can cause discomfort during a workout, especially during an intense one like CrossFit." And besides, you don't want to be that gassy straggler in class, now do you? So not sexy.
"Avoid high-sugar carbohydrates, even if it's from a natural source," cautions Smiley. "White rice, potatoes and bread are a no-no as they are ridiculously high in the glycemic index, which will spike your insulin levels then drop them down, sending you spiraling through hunger valley looking for a sweet treat."
But don't go cold turkey when it comes to carbs. "Whole grains are complex carbohydrates, meaning they digest slowly in your body allowing your body to absorb several nutrients. When carbohydrates are digested, they are absorbed as glycogen that will replenish depleted muscular tissue after that extreme 25-minute AMRAP CrossFit workout.
The correct carbohydrate sources will provide CrossFit athletes with ongoing energy and stamina to get every repetition they deserve. Portion control carbohydrates and mostly consume whole grains, fruits, and vegetable-carbohydrate sources like quinoa, farro, sweet potatoes, beets and more," explains Williams. Find out the worst carb habits of all time while you're at it!
Let's be real, you don't need a lengthy explanation as to why these crispy, greasy globs are bad for you. So here's a succinct one: "CrossFit is an intense workout, which requires optimal nutrition to fuel it. Fried foods are nutritionally-void and rich in unhealthy saturated and trans-fats that deplete energy levels and leave you sluggish," offers Kotsopoulos. And lest we forget, these are foods that make you age faster, too. Yeah, we didn't think you were interested in that, either.
A little post-workout soup? Hold on. "These may be wonderful for making flavorful soups, but are loaded with an alarming amount of salt," warns Hayim. "During the hours your body is recovering, you need to focus on replacing your daily fluid losses. While a little bit of salt in the diet can be helpful for athletes, the salt in the bouillon can lead to dehydration that can ultimately impact your muscle contractions during a workout."
Okay, you know you shouldn't have frozen margaritas when CrossFit training, but even a glass or two of wine can disrupt your workout regime. "Nothing will slow you down quite like alcohol, with lasting negative effects on CrossFit training and performance," says Williams. "Alcohol has no nutritional value, meaning it is just empty calories. Also, it has been shown to hinder recovery and disrupt sleep, two very important factors in any training program!" For motivation to move away from booze for a bit, check out what happens to your body when you stop drinking alcohol.
Granola bars, pastries, and even crackers all should get a Donald Trump-status "You're Fired!" when it comes to your CrossFit performance. "Processed foods are loaded with sugar and artificial ingredients. The sugar will increase your waistline making those pull-ups, push-ups, and handstand push-ups even more difficult," says Williams. And, really, who needs that? "Also, these processed treats do not provide the nutrient density that whole foods deliver, leaving your body short of necessary nutrients to aid in recovery." So just skip 'em. Your body will thank you.
A handy on-the-go food, we know how tempting a bagel with an indulgent schmear of cream cheese can be. "Unfortunately, the high-carbohydrate, high-glycemic index of bagels leave most athletes drained rather than energized," says Dr. Taz. Thinking you should have one pre-workout to boost your energy? "Most current nutrition research is debunking the old myth of carbo-loading before workouts," adds Dr. Taz.
Movie Theater Popcorn
Catching a Friday night movie to avoid the bars and booze before a big CrossFit day? Go ahead, you deserve it, but be sure to steer clear of the popcorn. "While movie theater popcorn looks like the least threatening of options at the concession stand, it's loaded with salt and saturated fat from the butter. Indulging in this a night before your workout may cause bloating, and early muscle fatigue," cautions Hayim. You might be able to stop belly bloat fast, but your workout performance will still suffer.
You're working so hard to sculpt your abs; why ruin it with a fatty calorie bomb? "Loading up on heavy, greasy foods like hamburgers or french fries is CrossFit sabotage. The excessive amount of unhealthy fats is difficult to digest, making workouts more difficult," shares Dr. Taz. "Healthy fats, on the other hand, provide energy and help rather than block the digestive system." As for those killer abs, choose these best foods for six-pack abs.
It's tempting but treacherous. "Flavored yogurt doesn't assist in recovery or muscle building," offers Hayim. "It has two times less protein compared to Greek yogurt, and is loaded with sodium and sugar, which make you feel bloated and tired." If you've got a hankering for something on the sweeter side, try pairing unsweetened, plain Greek yogurt with sliced banana, a sprinkling of chia seeds, and a touch of honey for a balanced yet decadent treat.