CrossFit Nutrition: What to Eat Before Working Out

by Dr. Alexander Rinehart, DC, MS, CCN, CNS

crossfit nutrition

CrossFit is a high intensity, scaleable workout used by endurance and powerlifting athletes alike.

With such high demands on the body, you might wonder what a typical CrossFit athlete eats for breakfast…you might be surprised.

I recently had the privilege of speaking to 100 CrossFit athletes at a free seminar.

Each member handed in a log of their breakfast that morning.

What Should I Eat Before a Workout?

As you might guess, a high-intensity, interval workout necessitates a quality meal not only before the workout, but also following the workout.

As a post-workout meal (protein shakes, bananas, and water) was provided, I was interested in seeing how well the athletes had prepared for their workout that morning with breakfast.

I tried not to list breakfasts that were close repeats from other entries.

The task: I want you to analyze the strong and weak points of the breakfasts listed and make suggestions on how to improve them. Any trends? Any groups or types of foods seem to be missing?

BE SURE TO COMMENT BELOW WITH YOUR THOUGHTS!

Here’s a look at some of the breakfasts consumed that morning:

A:
7:30am: Cup of coffee with half and half, 1 packet of sugar
8:00am: 4 Egg Whites (scrambled), 1 slice of American Cheese, 1 Slice of Whole Wheat Toast
8:45am: Blended Fruit Shake (1 cup strawberries, 1 cup of blueberries, 1 cup of almond milk, 1 tsp peanut butter)

B:
2 Multi-Grain Waffles, 1 small apple, 1 Tbspn Pumpkin Butter, 2 Tbspn Peanut Butter, 16oz. Green Tea

C:
3 Cups of Coffee with 2% milk (50% Decaf), 3/4 cup Greek yogurt (2%), 1/2 cup berries (Blueberries/Raspberries), 1 Tbspn Sliced Almonds, Cinnamon

D:
Protein Shake, Banana

E:
Coffee, Greek yogurt, Shake: Rice milk, Whey protein, Banana

F:
Coffee, 2 Poached Eggs, Oat bread toast with Jam, Handful of Raisins, Water

G:
Handful Brazil nuts, 3 Eggs in coconut oil, 1 apple

H:
Paleo oatmeal: walnuts, pecans, flaxseed, cinnamon, ginger, almond butter, banana, eggs, almond milk, pumpkin seeds, blueberries, strawberries

I:
Expresso, slice of Gluten-free  bread with chopped hardboiled egg, beets, sea salt and olive oil. Grapes, almonds, protein shake, omega-3 and flaxseed oil

J:
Egg-white omelette with broccoli 1-tspn Frank’s Red Hot, 1 cup coffee

K:
2 Scrambled Eggs, 1 small apple, 1 cup black tea

L:
Coffee, 1/2 bagel

M:
Everything bagel with honey and cream cheese

N:
Strawberries, blueberries, almond slices in almond milk

O:
Scrambled eggs, 2 pieces of bacon, water, coffee

P:
1/2 cup of oatmeal, 1/2 cup of blueberries, 1 cup coffee, 16 oz water

Q:
Oatmeal with low-fat milk and 1 scoop whey protein, coffee with milk, fish oil, multi-vitamin

R:
pre-workout: Banana and water, post-workout: Protein bar and water

S:
Larabar (almonds, unsweetened coconut, virgin coconut oil), Coffee with Cream

T:
Scrambled eggs, Kale, 1 cup Raspberries

U:
1 Egg (scrambled), 2 pieces nitrite-free bacon, 1/4 avocado, 1 cup steamed broccoli, black coffee sweetened with agave nectar, water

V:
3 Eggs with garlic, 1 cup kale, 1 cup coffee with whole milk

W:
3 eggs, 1 cup broccoli, 1/2 cup peppers, 1/4 cup avocado

X:
Yogurt, coffee

Y:
Fresh vegetable juice (carrot, parsley, celery, beet, ginger)

Z:
3 Eggs, 1 cup spinach, 1 cup raspberries
We often feel frustrated and overwhelmed when it comes to deciding “what should I eat?”, especially when you are pushed for time.

PLEASE SHARE YOUR COMMENTS, SUGGESTIONS, & FAVORITE RECIPES!

*Remember*: this exercise is not to cast judgement or poke fun – there is a real person behind each log who could very well be reading this post.

How Do I Meet Protein Needs THROUGHOUT the Day:

Breakfast is the most important, yet sometimes most difficult meal of the day.

This is because mornings are likely when you feel the most stress to just gulp something down before heading out the door…

If it’s just coffee and a pastry, you’re in trouble.

If you do not eat anything before getting to work, you’re in trouble.

You might be like most people and not eat a source of quality protein at the start of your day – again, you’re in trouble.

The average person can optimally absorb some 15-20g of protein in a sitting. This is about 2-3 eggs with a healthy heaping of vegetables, or a palm-sized portion of meat with liberal vegetables.

The two exceptions are:

1.) Increased body size which may have your needs at 20-25+ grams in a sitting and

2.) Consumption directly following a workout when your ability to absorb protein and carbohydrates is higher than at any other point in the day.

Keep in mind that you are also getting some protein from vegetables, nuts, and other things that you are likely including into your food and workout plan.

Protein is important, but excess at a sitting can cause bloating, gassiness, and in some cases, kidney distress.

Because of this, make your food more filling by really bulking out the vegetables and greens.

  • For active people, you want roughly 1.2g of protein for every kg of body weight.
  • For athletes, you may need 1.5g of protein per kg of body weight.
  • Take your weight in pounds, divide by 2.2 pounds/kg, and then multiply by 1.2-1.5g protein/kg body weight.

Protein Needs For 220lb Person:

For a 220 pound person like myself, that means I should have roughly 120-150 grams of protein in a day to maintain weight.

Typically this comes out to:

  • 3 main meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) at 20-25grams of protein (60-75grams total)
  • 2-3 small meals or “snacks” at 15-20g of protein (20-45grams total)
  • A recovery shake/meal directly following a workout of about 20-35g of protein.

If I wanted to gain muscle up to 230 lbs., my protein needs only really increase by 5-7g/day which would mean 1g/protein extra on my meals and 2-3g more on my recovery shake/meal.

In English, that’s only a difference of roughly one egg, or an extra handful of nuts spaced throughout the day.

Protein Needs For 150lb Person:

If you are closer to 150 pounds, your protein needs are roughly 82g-102g/day, this could mean three main meals at 15-20g/meal (45-60g), two-three small meals/snacks at 10-15g/meal (20-45g), and roughly 15-25g protein for recovery following a workout.

You’ll find that many protein supplements are geared for 15-20g servings, but some may be geared at 30-40g or higher so read your labels!

Protein Guidelines Need Context:

There can be a lot of subtlety as you can see by the ranges, and of course the number change depending the person, the time of day that they workout, and their health & fitness goals.

You can also play around with a few grams of branched chain amino acids, creatine, and others as long as it’s being directed in a safe manner, with adequate fluid intake, and for the right reasons.

I always resort back to what’s natural for the body before getting too crafty.

Trust that the body has all the tools it needs without having to turn to expensive and questionable regimens.

I’m a guy who likes to work with general recommendations and keep the tight specifics to those looking at top 3-5% of results or fitness performance.

Otherwise keeping these general guidelines in mind is enough to let you know that yes your protein needs are increased, but it’s important to space protein THROUGHOUT the day, and bias your needs for directly after your workout.

Unless you’re a big-time body-builder, you do NOT need 50gram+ protein shakes, in fact you’d likely be doing yourself more harm than good.

Again, it’s important to read the labels on your protein and adjust your serving sizes accordingly.

NON-Workout Days:

On NON-WORKOUT DAYS, your needs will be on the lower end of the scales listed, on workout days, your needs will be on the higher end of the scales listed.

Additionally, on both workout, and non-workout days, you may also play around with a small snack between dinner and bedtime to keep blood sugar stable and prevent wasting lean muscle tissue that you’re working hard to build in the first place.

Keep in Mind:

If you are feeling bloated, gassy, or constipated, protein intake is either too high, you may have low stomach acid, you may be over-exercising, you may be experiencing an imbalance of healthy bacteria in your gut, or a combination of it all.

Visually, I typically figure that about 70-75% of my plate should be vegetables and greens, and 25-30% should be protein.

To protect your ability to manage stress, I personally recommend only 1-2 very high intensity workouts in your weekly plan unless training for a specific competition.

As always, these recommendations are no substitute for medical or training advice, check with an appropriate professional for customization of your specific needs.

Stress and Exercise Series (Highly Recommended):

Part 1: How to Cope With Stress Brought About by High Intensity Exercise

Part 2: Why is Post-Workout Recovery So Essential?

Part 3: What to Eat Before and After Working Out

Resources:

Protein Content of Common Foods (USDA)

Paleo Plan

Everyday Paleo

The Paleo Diet for Athletes: A Nutritional Formula for Peak Athletic Performance

 

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