Prepping for Success: Nutrition Before & During the CrossFit Open
How exactly can you prep for the unknown? By focusing on the foundational elements to optimal performance, #1 being quality nutrition.
The Open season is upon us, bringing with it the excitement, fun, and camaraderie of five weeks of Friday Night Lights! While all of us focus on the community aspect of The Open, many of us also view this as a time to test our physical abilities, see how far we’ve come from the year before, or how we stack up against others in our age group, state, or region. You might try to get that first pull-up, muscle-up, PR a lift, or maybe just push a little bit harder than usual in the heat of the moment. This is everything The Open is meant to be! With only a few weeks to go until 19.1 is announced, NOW is the time to be getting your mind & body prepped to handle the next 5 weeks of unknown, yet sure to be intense Open WOD’s.
At CrossFit Bear, many of us are in an ideal situation coming fresh out of the #800gchallenge, which helped to up the quality and nutrient density of our diets for the past 4 weeks. My biggest piece of advice here is if you were doing the #800gchallenge- keep it going! Your body has by now adapted to the extra fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients and antioxidants that came along with all of those fruits & veggies! These play a vital role in energy production, recovery, and repair we need during the intense workouts to come! You might not have to be as strict about weighing and measuring every gram, but now that focusing on your food quality has hopefully become a habit, do your bod a favor and stick with it during the next 5 weeks! If you didn’t participate in the challenge, all is not lost...you can help boost your Open performance by adding more nutrient dense foods (like fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains) to your day, while cutting back on processed foods (like chips, crackers, candy, fast food, basically anything packaged super attractively, placed at eye level and arm’s reach in the grocery store!).
Making the shift to QUALITY foods is key. Equally, if not more important during intense competition time is ensuring your food QUANTITY is on point. Now is not the time to be worrying about your abs, going keto, fasting, or experimenting with any other type of food restriction. This is also not the time to start eating whole pizzas or hitting Five Guys on the regular. Eat enough quality foods to fuel your workouts and support recovery. For CrossFitter’s, CARBS fuel our workouts and initiate post-workout recovery. Make sure you’re keeping enough quality carbs, like starchy veggies (think potatoes, squash, etc) and whole grains like rice and oats, even beans in your diet- especially post workout! There’ll be plenty of time to get your beach bod ready when The Open ends in March!
Another thing to consider is WHEN you’ll actually be doing the Open workouts, especially if it’s something different than what you’re currently used to. Are you usually an early bird, but will switch to evenings to do the workout with the Friday Night Lights crew? Cool...but your nutrition needs to reflect that change. It may be a little inconvenient, but in this week leading up to the open, I’d recommend dropping into a few evening classes to see how your body reacts. How do you have to adjust your breakfast and lunch so you feel good heading into a later workout? Ideally, if you’re working out in the evening, your breakfast should be your largest meal of the day, well balanced with protein, quality carbs, and healthy fats. Lunch should also contain a good serving of lean protein and quality carbs, but go lighter on fat, so you’re not still digesting or feeling overly full for an afternoon WOD. Now is the time to experiment with certain foods and combinations to see what allows you to feel your best.
Speaking of food experiments....the day of an open workout IS NOT...repeat...IS NOT the day to try ANYTHING new- whether it be food combinations, drinks, or any other supplements. Everyone’s body reacts differently, and what may work amazing for a friend might wreak havoc on your digestive system and that’s just not something you want to chance heading into a tough WOD. Stick to what your body knows, and what you know works FOR YOU.
If you’re schedule just doesn’t allow you to be part of the Friday Night Lights crew, and you’re getting it done in the AM, your last meal on Thursday night now becomes your most important meal of the day! This meal should be a little larger than usual, and should contain ample portions of protein, healthy fats, and lots of quality carbs. I’d recommend doubling up on your typical carb portion for this meal. You most likely will not have time to eat a full meal in the morning prior to the workout, and this will be your fuel to get you through the WOD. A low-fat balanced meal or shake post workout also plays a key role in initiating recovery for fasted AM exercisers as well!
Finally, the TYPE of workout can also influence what your nutrition looks like the day of the WOD:
If it’s something requiring lots of gymnastic or bodyweight movements (something like Cindy, or multiple MU’s, PU’s, double unders, or box jumps for time) you’ll want to feel fast & light, so going into a workout like that in a semi-fasted state might actually feel good. Leave a few hours (say at least 1-3 depending on personal preference) between your last meal (which should be lean protein and carb based) and the WOD.
If the WOD is a heavy, more grueling lift...like finding a max, multiple sets of heavy deadlifts, etc., you’re going to want to feel strong, and that usually means feeling full. I’d aim to eat a light, but well balanced meal (with lean protein, carbs, and a SOME fat) within 1-2 hours prior to workout time. Again, the “know thyself” rule applies here too. If you know eating 2 hours before a workout agrees with you, but aren’t sure about 1 hour...stick with 2!
If the WOD is a combination...pairing a fast couplet or triplet, with a heavy lift (flashbacks of those db squat cleans & burpees right into a max power clean), going in well fueled is a good strategy too, however, I’d recommend keeping this pre-workout meal/snack free of any added fats that would slow digestion, or cause you to feel overly full. Think lean chicken & white rice, anywhere from 90-120 minutes prior to workout.
Once all is said and done, and you left it all on the floor, your next priority becomes recovery. A few points here:
Carbs are necessary for post-workout recovery.
Faster digesting carbs work best to stimulate recovery and lower cortisol levels (white rice, white potatoes, chocolate milk/almond milk, rice cakes, dextrin powders).
The more intense the WOD, the more carbs are needed to calm the CNS (central nervous system) and begin the process of refueling depleted muscles.
For novice or lower intensity athletes, a 1:1 ratio of carbs: protein is usually sufficient.
For seasoned, or highly competitive/intense athletes a higher carb:protein ratio is recommended. Anywhere from 2:1 up to 4:1 can be needed for optimal recovery.
Friday night & Saturday should not be viewed as “I just worked my as* off, so I deserve to eat/drink everything in sight” days. Food QUALITY should be top priority in your post-workout meal(s), and weekend meals, as this is what is going directly to muscle recovery and repair, prepping you for the next week of training! A lil extra on the plate is cool...beer, pizza, wings & an ice cream chaser is not.
Hopefully these recommendations are useful in helping you map out a nutritional strategy to prepare you for a successful Open season! I’ll be anxiously awaiting the announcement of that first WOD right along with you guys, and can’t wait to see all of the awesome things we accomplish as a community at CrossFit Bear this Open Season!
As always- contact me with any nutrition questions or concerns at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and don’t forget to follow me @behealthybyhabit on Facebook & Instagram!