Nutrition for Crossfit: Is Paleo Really the Best?

Best Nutrition for Crossfit

By Taylor Robbins, C.S.C.S
Crossfit is one of the largest and fastest growing fitness movements of our age.  And with so many people participating in it, I figured I’d write an article discussing nutrition for crossfitters.  
Although there are Crossfit peeps who are on ESPN and competing in the games, these people are less than 1% of the Crossfit population.  For the rest of those doing Crossfit, it is a vehicle to better body composition and better health.  With those goals in mind, how should one eat while doing Crossfit?

“Just eat Paleo,” the coach says.  
“Ok…I’ll try that.  Sounds good enough.”  
And then, 6 months later, you are still carrying the 20 extra pounds of fat and love handles you thought would be gone while on Paleo.  
Let’s discuss how nutrition can be more catered to the ‘normal’ crossfit participant and not the genetic freak eating 80 pounds of bacon every day with a sixteen pack.
First of all, it’s always very difficult to ‘generalize’ nutrition.  The easiest way to exemplify this is the whole carbohydrate debate.  We either hear, “Carbs are horrible for you and will make you fat,” or we hear, “The recommended percentage of your calories that come from carbs is 40%.”  Wait, so some people say eat no carbs and some say eat tons of carbs, who is right?  
Well, both!
We always need to look at body type, phenotype (ethnic/geographical background), and physical activity.  Here are two examples of proper carbohydrate intakes that work but are polar-opposite to each other.
Example A- The fat ‘couch potato’ from the northern Alaskan eskimo tribe:
This guy will gain 10 pounds of fat just looking at an emoji of a cupcake.  Why?  Well, his ancestors have been eating high protein and high fat diets with very little carbs.  Plus, he has horrible insulin sensitivity due to excess body fat and zero exercise.  This means a low carb diet will do very well for him.  
Example B- However, a Pacific Islander who hunts for his own food and is so lean he could grate cheese on his abs, needs more like 200g of carbs a day, coming mostly from sucralose and fructose sources like fruits.
We see here that optimal nutrition for body composition and leanness can be both high carb and low carb.  It is simple situations like this that make nutrition much more specific.
So far, we see that Paleo, or at least how it’s positioned as being low carb or low starch intake, may not be best for all Crossfitters.  Those who are more lean, have an ethnic background which metabolizes carbs well, will need more carbs to sustain muscle tissue, performance, and a low body fat percentage.  Contrastly, overweight people with a genetic background of low carbohydrate intakes should have a lick of a pineapple every 8 months.
Next, Paleo says no to most dairy products.  This rule stems from the idea of lactose intolerances.  However, it is arguably the process of manufacturing dairy products today that make them so harmful.  Most dairy is heated at extremely high heats, thus killing necessary enzymes which allow it’s utilization in the body to be successful.  Furthermore, the separate parts of the fatty chains are separated and then placed back together.  This is how 1% and 2% milk or fat free milk is made.  In this case, it makes sense to stray away from dairy.  However, if in raw form, meaning all enzymes are still present, butter especially can be a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and can help decrease the glycemic index of carbs like potato and yam.  Lowering the glycemic index of carbs is a good thing for those trying to decrease body fat because it keeps the hyperglycemia reaction from happening, which perpetuates fat gain.
So, go ahead and partake in raw butter and even raw milk if you’re feeling up to it.  Otherwise, Paleo plays it safe and says to just stay away from dairy.
Lastly, Paleo seems to preach that high fat is no problem if it’s healthy fats.  I completely agree…if you’re Rich Froning.
The reality is this: most of the cells in our bodies use fatty acids for energy; the mitochondria in our cells feed on these energy substrates.  But, you only can add back tons of fat and deserve all those fats if you are lean and exercising like a monkey on cocaine.  For all of you doing one class a day and trying to get back into shape, I’m sorry to inform you but 3 tablespoons of coconut oil with 7 eggs won’t help you get lean and lose weight.
Before some of you get your panties twisted in a bunch, I partially agree that calorie counting is not an end all be all.  I often preach the idea of 100 calories of steak digesting and reacting differently than 100 calories of twinkies.  But, weight loss is still about being in an energy deficit, and fats being the most energy dense foods on the planet makes it difficult to lose weight if you’re plopping a tree of avocados on every meal.
Similar to carbs, you must deserve your fats.  The more muscle mass you have, the less body fat you have, and the more physical activity you do, the more fat you should eat.  But, one Crossfit class a day and being 35 lbs overweight does not justify 250g of fat a day.  Moderate your fat intake until you begin to see a drop in fat and weight.
Let’s conclude the nutritional strategy for those participating in Crossfit.  First, Paleo is almost right.  But here are our recommendations if you want to lose weight and ultimately get into better shape:

  1. Eat plenty of protein: .7g-1g per pound of body weight
  2. Deserve your carbs: if you’re lean, enjoy plenty of starchy carbs like white rice, potato, yams, and taro and low glycemic fruits post workout.  If you’re more on the fat side, moderate your carbs and understand your body type and ethnic background.  20-120g of carbs a day.
  3. Fats are fine if rich in saturated and monounsaturated form.  Coconut oil, butter, avocado, and animal sources are fine.  If you want to lose weight, you will need to moderate these as well until you begin to see weight loss.
  4. Eat veggies as you like

I hope this was helpful and if you want specific nutritional help or counseling, feel free to contact us or join in on one of our free programs.

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