CrossFit athletes: How the simple rules you’re breaking are inhibiting your progress

You’re kicking ass in the gym: mobilizing, warming-up, getting after it in metcons, crushing your barbell lifts and maybe even catching a yoga class or grabbing the foam roller occasionally. But the fact of the matter is you can only get so fit without nailing a couple principles located outside the walls of Magna. You’ve heard “you can’t out-train a bad diet”; it goes hand-in-hand with the lesser known phrases like “you need lots of good food to get strong” or “beer doesn’t count toward your water intake”.

These concepts are rooted in science and practice, utilized by our coaches and Games athletes alike. In many cases, people don’t realize they don’t feel optimal, until they feel better. Consider your current habits and note areas of improvement given the general guidelines below; a friendly reminder to adequately supplement your exercise efforts. Hold yourself accountable, and to a higher standard, to reach your fullest potential as an athlete (and a healthy human being).

Drink More Water

If you’re thirsty, you’re already too dehydrated. Aim to drink a gallon per day, and don’t count things like coffee, milk, or flavored liquids toward your intake. Getting plenty of H2O is critical for proper cognitive function, muscle and joint health, digestion, and not dying on the rower. If you’re struggling to get sips in, try these ideas: have water handy every time you have a meal/snack, set an alarm on your phone every half hour to drink 5 big gulps, draw lines on a gallon jug to set incremental deadlines, track your water in the MyFitnessPal app, or aim to fill up your Hydroflask a certain amount of times per day.

Then, Drink Less Alcohol

This seems like a given, but definitely a necessary discussion. Alcohol carries the second most calories-per-gram, just under fat. This substance dehydrates your body and depletes your organs of the energy it needs not just to exercise, but to build muscle and capacity. Although I’m not advocating for completely abstaining, be mindful that a best practice would be to enjoy alcohol in the same matter you indulge in birthday cake — for special occasions. If consuming alcohol is a regular pastime for you, cutting back even a little bit will make a world of difference in how you perform, how you feel and how you look.

Eat Pre and Post Workout

You need to give your body fuel to expend during training: plain and simple. A car doesn’t go very far without gas. Get some quality food in 90 minutes before you get to the gym, and play with what foods make you feel better than others (rice vs. potatoes before cardio, for example). Fat is a good source for strength and skill work, and carbs are your go-to for aerobic training/endurance.

Contrary to popular belief, gains are made during recovery, not necessarily while working out. During exercise our body is tearing muscle fibers and being exhausted of fuel sources. Gettingenough of the right stuff after training gets the rebuilding process going. The better you strategize your post-workout plan, the better you’ll feel in terms of soreness and energy levels the next day and throughout the week, and over time in regards to health and longevity. This meal should have lots of carbs, some protein and a minimum amount of fat because we want the body to cash in on these nutrients ASAP. Keep in mind that what works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work best for you, too.

Furthermore, I mentioned “quality” and “right” when discussing food choices. These terms are relative, but generally refer to things with less crap in them; meaning product labels with few ingredients, plant-based foods, lean meats, lots of veggies, whole grains, carb sources with little sugar, and healthy fat sources. Don’t obsess over advertising claims and health fads, like Organic or gluten-free. Strive to eat a variety of colors and nutrient-dense foods, primarily coming from things that can be grown or killed. (You can read more about my thoughts on eating real food from a previous post here.)

Then, Eat More

To create an understanding, without getting too technical: everyone has a Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), or how many calories you burn at rest/just walking around throughout the day. This number is influenced by a few things, one of which is how much lean muscle mass you have. So take that indicator, add in the amount of calories you burn working out, and consider that you need a surplus of calories to build muscle. It’s clear that many athletes are eating far below what that caloric total is, essentially starving themselves and simultaneously training at a high volume/intensity. Over the long term, this will make you feel terrible, inhibit progress, and wreak havoc on your metabolism.

Try tracking your food, even for the sake of getting an accurate look at how much you’re typically eating. Then, try having smaller meals more often, adding in calories/increasing your daily average slowly, and changing up where you get your nutrients from. Don’t force yourself to eat if you’re not hungry, but experiment to make sure you’re sufficiently fueling your body. You can also find out your BMR through the InBody machine at Nutrishop.

I hope you found these reminders of some simple nutrition rules helpful, and as always please don’t hesitate to reach out to myself, BK or any Magna Coach with questions or for clarification — we are always happy to help.

Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.
— Greg Glassman (CrossFit Founder, CrossFit Journal, World Class Fitness in 100 Words)

Note: This post was written specifically for members of my gym, CrossFit Magna, thus why it is referenced above. However, the subject is applicable to many other CrossFit athletes which is why I wanted to share it through this platform as well.