Fitness

Macronutrient Balance for CrossFit


Written by

by Mike Cahill

CrossFit is a unique community in that, in its’ infancy, it was built on health and wellness, and has now grown into ​a business with a split personality. On one hand is the CrossFit that is focused on everyday people who have jobs and lives outside the gym. On the other hand is CrossFit as a sport. It’s a a major business that is largely influenced by the competitive ‘elite.’  Reebok, Rogue, Inov-8, Progenex; the list goes on of sponsorships trying to cash in on competitive fitness. “The Sport of Fitness” makes up a small percentage of the CrossFit population. How they train, how they eat, and their overall lifestyle are all vastly different than those attending classes 4-5 times a week.  The confusion here is both groups fall under the same umbrella that is “CrossFit.” One side is made up of full-time athletes and the other side is made up of people full-time in something else. The group that makes up the majority of CrossFit is being mislead to believe that since The CrossFit Games champion does ‘this’ that ‘this’ will work for them. I am here to differentiate between the world of high-level competitive CrossFit, and the world of becoming healthier through CrossFit.

In life, having a goal is the key to success in anything. Understanding why you are doing something will allow for planning the best course of action. CrossFit is no different. The most important question one can ask themselves is if they are a part of CrossFit for health or in hopes of one day making it to The CrossFit Games. These are two different paths. One is a life of specificity and 100% devotion to the craft; the other is a life of balance.

The Regional/Games athlete trains 3-4 hours a day, 5-6 times a week. They are consistently eating to re-fuel for their next session. Their nutrition is a bit more carbohydrate heavy, a little less fat, and probably a bit more on the processed side of things. Their life typically resides in the gym, or if they are lucky, they rarely work at all. They eat for performance (i.e. not “Paleo”), sleep for performance, relax for performance, and pretty much do everything to improve performance.  Much of their stress comes from training. Their nutrition is made up of supplements of all kinds, replacement shakes, meats, higher dense carbohydrates (oats, potato, bread, rice), limited fat and vegetables because those slow down the process of insulin. Optimizing performance is all these folks care about when it comes to ‘CrossFit,’ and it comes with a cost.

The 99% of the population that makes up the CrossFit community have a full-time job, maybe a family, and other major stressors in life. Their main priorities do not and should not have training at the forefront of their mind on a consistent basis. Now I am not saying that you shouldn’t try to put as much energy into getting fitter, however for true health, there needs to be a balance of things. Health also comes with a cost and understanding your goal and where you sit currently with that goal, is the key. First and foremost, one must change their nutrition habits; but again, one needs to understand their history for their own jumping off point.  Eating a balanced plate of macronutrients (protein/fat/carbohydrate)

For optimal health, each person should know what BF% they are, allergies that might they might have, emotional foods that they might be cutting out, and overall lifestyle changes that need to be made.  The “Paleo Diet” is a great place to start, but as with many things, people have been mislead that they can eat any ratio of macros and lose weight.  The Paleo Diet gets us eating real food. Meats, veggies, healthy fats, and fruits should make up our nutrition, but having a balance is the key to promote muscle gain and fat loss.

1 gram of fat = 9 calories

1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories

1 gram of protein = 4 calories

So if we take the standard Paleo Breakfast, and we do a bit of math we see that there isn’t much macronutrient balance..

                                           Fat                           CHO                     PRO

Bacon strip (1)               7g (63cal)                0g                        4g (16cal)

Egg(1)                            5g (45cal)                0g                        6g (24cal)

Strawberries (1cup)        0g                         13g (52cal)              0g

So our 3 egg, 3 pieces of bacon, and 2 cups of strawberries breakfast would leave us with 324 calories of fat, 144 calories of protein, and 104 calories from carbohydrate.  For someone who is trying to lose some weight, this amount of fat calories is not ideal, nor is it ideal for someone trying to put on muscle.

A training plan should also mimic more of a balanced approach. High intensity anaerobic efforts are great for muscle growth and fat loss, but too much of it will mean too much stress (cortisol). Too much long slow aerobic work will decrease bone density, adapt the body to a slower caloric burn, and will promote muscle loss. There needs to be a blend of slow aerobic work, weightlifting, and short anaerobic efforts.

Where many who sit in the general CrossFit population go wrong is adopting a hardcore (but mislead) Paleo Diet approach, too many metcons during the week, and the idea that doing what the “elite” do will somehow put them on that level.  A low-carb diet will elevate cortisol, and if you add coffee and alcohol to the mix (which much of the community does), then we are talking even more. Adding in 5-10 metcons a week (I know those who attempt double days at 5am and 6pm) will increase cortisol even more, and we have not even touched on work/home life. Work stress produces cortisol the same way running sprints would. Here it is all too easy to see why some in our community are way too stressed, and why many plateau and even get worse. If general CrossFit participants adopted a bit more balanced approach to nutrition and training alike, the positives would far outweigh the negatives. Not doing high-intensity metcons all the time will allow us to appreciate it, and hit them with a bit more focus if we only did them 2-3 times a week. I think doing some hiking/biking/walking will help us recover as well as leveling out mood swings.

Eating a balanced macronutrient diet of nutrient dense foods will help keep insulin and cortisol in check. This will help with muscle growth, fat loss, and overall western civilization problems. A training plan, exposing us to different movements and energy systems will set us up for the most growth.

There is never a black/white ‘right way’ to doing things. Different training/diet philosophies will react differently towards different people. However, if we can play trial and error on ourselves and not take verbatim what a website says to be the truth and nothing but the truth, we are that much closer to finding “The Way”

 Mike Cahill is the manager of Torrance Strength and Conditioning, Crossfit TSAC. In his younger years he played collegiate football and rugby. After hanging up the cleats, Mike found CrossFit and has been coaching since 2008 as well as becoming a 3 time CrossFit Games SoCal Regional athlete. He currently programs for multiple CrossFit regional competitors. In addition to CrossFit, he trains a various group of athletes that include soccer, lacrosse, and football.
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