When it comes to CrossFit training, your diet is as important, if not more important, for reaching your fitness goals.
The human body can do extraordinary things when you combine smart training and sound nutritional choices.
Conversely, even the hardest CrossFit sessions won’t help you lose weight, gain muscle, or get fitter if your diet is on point.
Especially when it comes to appearance, diet plays a significant role in how you look and how you feel in the gym.
But diet is a complicated topic, and a lot of what’s available online is written with ulterior motives in mind like, “Sign up for my nutrition counseling!”
While there’s nothing wrong with that, it can make sorting through information difficult.
The goal of this guide is to help you cover your bases: to teach you about the principles of a good CrossFit diet, to give you an idea of where to start, to show you how to lose weight and gain muscle, and to equip you with
The truth is, your diet is an individual thing.
You’ll need to tinker and find what works for you. It takes time, but it’s the best investment in your health and training you can make.
This guide was built with that in mind.
What is A Good Crossfit Diet?
In the fitness world, diet is a tricky subject. We’ll cover several topics in this guide, but here the goal is to help cover your bases regarding nutrition.
Here are some guidelines for a good CrossFit diet:
- Meets your caloric needs– If you’re regularly getting after it in the gym, you’ll need to eat more calories than a normal person. Not eating enough calories may lead to initial weight loss, but eventually, will lead to a plateau and decrease in energy.
- Proper split of macronutrients– Tinker with your carbohydrate, protein, and fat intake until you find a balance that boosts performance.
- Adequate intake of micronutrients– Essential vitamins and minerals that help your body function and stay healthy.
- Aligned to your goals– Depending on your experience and goals, your diet should account for what you’d like to achieve (i.e. weight loss, better performance, qualify for a certain CrossFit competition, etc.)
- Balanced in a way that promotes longevity- Without a dietary approach that accounts for lifestyle and opportunities to “reap the rewards” of your fitness, you will find eating to be a miserable experience. This makes long-term fitness and health difficult to achieve. A good diet allows for days off and occasional treats or cheat meals.
What Are Macronutrients?
Macronutrients are the building blocks of which all human food is made from. It’s important for a CrossFitter to have an even split of macros to fuel their efforts and recover properly.
There are 3 macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fats. 1 gram of protein or carbohydrate contains 4 calories, while 1 gram of fat has 9.
Protein are the actual building blocks of your diet. They help to grow muscle, hair, and regulate many processes in the body.
Carbohydrates fuel our efforts. The body converts carbs into glucose so we have energy to complete tasks.
Fat regulates a number of hormonal processes in our body and keeps our nervous system healthy.
Not all macronutrients are created equally, though their caloric value never changes. For example, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (considered to be the “healthy fats” because they contain omega-3 fatty acids and saturated fats are perceived differently. In either case, they are both fats, meaning they contain 9 calories per gram.
What Are Micronutrients?
Micronutrients are things like vitamins and minerals that a healthy body needs to function properly. They are required for things like disease prevention, development, and well-being.
Examples include vitamin A, iron, iodine, and zinc. For example, a deficiency in iron can decrease cognitive and motor development.
You can get most micronutrients by eating a diet comprised of lean meats, vegetables, and fruits.
Crossfit Nutrition Guidelines
While there are plenty of guidelines to follow, you should base your diet on experience. This means trying different approaches until you find what works for you.
Basing how you eat off someone you want to look like is fool’s gold, because everyone’s body and genetic makeup is different.
However, there are a few proven approaches that most CrossFitters can adhere to and increase their fitness gains over time with.
One of those is to follow a 40c/30p/30f macronutrient split.
This means that an athlete’s caloric intake consists of 40% of carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 30% fat.
For example, if you used the standard American diet recommendations of 2,000 calories per day (though most CrossFitters likely need to eat more than that), you would consume 800 calories worth of carbohydrates, 600 calories of protein, and 600 of fat.
This works out to 200 grams of carbohydrates, 150g of protein, and about 66g of fat per day. You can then use a macro tracking app like My Macros to log your food.
There are plenty of macro calculators available online for free that take into account your age, training age, and weekly physical activity.
CrossFit Diet For Fitness vs Competitive Crossfit
Your diet will vary depending on your CrossFit goals and level of involvement with the sport. One major difference is that a competitive CrossFit athlete simply needs to eat more calories.
Compare that to someone going to CrossFit 3-4x per week. Neither is wrong or right, but both situations require different approaches.
Just like a car needs more gas for a longer trip, understand that the more you train, the more you’ll need to eat. Since carbohydrates are fuel, competitive athletes will likely need a lot more carbohydrates than an average gym-goer.
What Types of Crossfit Diet Exist?
Historically, CrossFit has encouraged a few dietary approaches. Here is a brief introduction to the 2 most popular, the Zone and Paleo diet.
Designed to reduce inflammation and balance hormones, the Zone diet uses block counting and a balanced macro split (30/30/40) to ensure you eat foods that keep you in a good “zone” for performance.
You can technically eat any foods on the Zone diet, but whole foods are easier to block out because they are easy to balance. Check out this full breakdown of the Zone diet for more info.
CrossFit and the Paleo Diet have stuck together since the very beginning of the sport. One reason for its popularity is that it very closely sticks to Greg Glassman’s original dietary prescription from the 2002 CrossFit Journal article titled, “What Is Fitness?”, which said:
“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
Paleo encourages a diet full of “food a caveman would eat”. It’s been a catalyst for weight loss for many CrossFitters.
Be careful, though. If you train hard or live an active lifestyle, you may need to add additional carbs to your diet. This Paleo For Athletes book may help you find a balance between competition and healthy eating.
The Worst Foods For Crossfitters
Balance is important, but eating highly processed foods regularly will make it difficult for you to achieve your fitness goals.
When you are setting PRs in the gym and training hard, your body needs “clean” fuel.
As a general guideline, keep processed foods to a minimum. If it comes out of a bag or has ingredients you can’t pronounce in it, eat it sparingly. You can also save less-than-optimal choices for your “cheat days”.
How Long Before Crossfit Workouts Should You Eat?
Eating before a workout is an individual thing. The answer depends on how you feel with food in your stomach before a workout.
Some people need it to feel good, others feel queasy if their stomach isn’t empty, so fasting in the morning works for them. Tinker until you find what works.
How long before your workout you eat depends on 2 things: when you workout and what types of food help you perform.
For example, some people take the 5am CrossFit class.
This would mean eating breakfast at 4:15-4:30 in the morning, which isn’t ideal. But, if you feel sick without eating before training, you’ll need to get up and do it.
A protein shake in this case may help so you aren’t cooking in the middle of the night.
The kinds of foods you eat before a workout will vary. Quick digesting carbs like bananas or oats are good for providing a boost of energy right before a training session.
Generally speaking, eating a small to medium sized meal 60-90 minutes before you workout is a good place to start.
Eat a balanced meal of lean protein and carbohydrates, and limit the fat intake. Fats take longer to digest and may make you feel sluggish come workout time.
What Should You Eat After Crossfit Workouts?
Plenty of contradictory research exists on the topic of “post workout” nutrition.
Some science says you have a 45 minute window to eat that will maximize the gains you make from the workout (this is where the “Window of Gainz” from Barbell Shrugged came from).
Some of the science says it doesn’t matter as long as you eat a balanced diet throughout the day.
Personally, I’d recommend you try to do both. Focus on eating quality foods throughout the day, but try to eat something within an hour of training.
Some protein to boost recovery and carbohydrates to replace what you just burned off are good choices. There are plenty of option for post workout supplements too.
Shoot for 25-50g of protein and 50-75g of carbohydrates after you train.
If you can’t stomach meat after a session, a protein shake works just fine.
Some easy to digest carb options include bananas, oats, Larabars, apples, and yogurt.
Crossfit Diet Meal Plan
To this point, we’ve talked very generally about your diet and CrossFit goals. Here’s a bit more of a “step-by-step” approach for you, so you can walk away from this guide with some actionable advice to start with:
- Figure out your macronutrient split. Either use a calculator or do research online to figure out your basal metabolic rate (BMR) and activity level. Don’t forget to account for activity level, because your BMR only factors in how many calories you burn at rest.
- “Map” quality food choices onto your macro split. Once you find your protein requirements for example, figure out roughly how much real food (think Paleo or Zone approved) that would take to achieve. What would 150g of protein per day look like in lean ground turkey and chicken breast?
- Shop for “Paleo approved” foods. Even if you don’t want to follow the Paleo guidelines 100%, starting with meats, fruits, and vegetables as building blocks is a good idea. You can then supplement with other decent choices like rice, potatoes, and legumes. Here’s a Paleo shopping list to get you started.
- Meal prep. There are a million meal prep guides and recipes available online. To get started, get out all your tupperware and get your crockpot ready to make cooking easy. Shoot for 1-2 meal preps for week, and as a general rule, always cook a little extra so you have leftovers in the fridge.
Crossfit Diet Plan To Lose Weight
The truth is, weight loss happens due to a decrease in overall intake of calories. Thermogenics determine how we lose weight.
Basically, you can’t lose weight without eating less or training more.
One thing to keep in mind is that weight loss is a slow process, especially at first. If you start counting macros but adjust every week due to impatience, it will be difficult to track what’s working and what isn’t.
Try to stick to the same macro count for at least 3-4 weeks before changing.
Eating at a deficit of 200-500 calories per day is a good place to start if weight loss is your goal. Remember, this number isn’t just your basal metabolic rate, but factors in your activity level and training, too.
Eating at a major deficit (500 or more calories) will only lead to fatigue and make it difficult to obtain all the needed micronutrients.
Crossfit Diet Plan For Muscle Gain
To gain muscle doing CrossFit, you’ll need to eat an adequate amount of protein. Protein is what your body uses to repair and grow muscle tissue, among other things.
One general guideline that seems to work for people is to eat between .75-1g per pound of bodyweight per training day. So if you weighed 200 lbs, you’d eat between 150-200g of protein per day.
Don’t skimp on carbohydrates and fat, either. The truth is, you need to eat at a slight surplus (200-500 additional calories) above your daily caloric needs to gain muscle over time. Be careful, however. Too many extra calories will just lead to gaining fat.
Supplements With A Crossfit Diet
A very popular question that many CrossFitters ask:
“Which supplements should I take to help me reach my goals?”
The answer? You guessed it– it depends on your goals. However, many CrossFit athletes take whey protein after a workout to promote recovery and fish oil at meals to help with inflammation.
Additionally, many athletes take a multivitamin to ensure they are getting their micronutrients.
A general rule about supplements is to treat them like dessert.
Make sure your nutrition is on point before you go adding expensive supplements to your routine, because they will be a waste of time if your diet isn’t already on point.
This guide reviews some of the top supplements for CrossFit, and explains some other supplements you might find helpful.
If you scoured through this whole guide, you can see how complex of a topic nutrition is for CrossFit athletes.
While there are no hard and fast rules, there are some general guidelines you can follow to achieve your goals.
Eat real food. Eat the right amount of fuel. Balance your macronutrients. Make sure you eat adequate micronutrients.
And of course, tinker until you find what works for you. Just like CrossFit, your nutrition is a journey that starts with you simply showing up and trying.
Learn as you go and be consistent, and you will achieve your fitness goals.