CrossFit is a principal strength and conditioning program that incorporates functional movements into a high-intensity workout. According to Greg Glassman, founder of CrossFit, and “The CrossFit Journal,” diet lays the molecular foundations for fitness and health. To build a solid molecular foundation, CrossFit promotes the Paleo diet — commonly referred to as the caveman or Paleolithic diet — for its raw, natural hunter-gatherer approach to nutrition consisting of wild plants and animals.
Paleo provides a balanced diet for CrossFit athletes that can improve performance with a reduced caloric intake. Consuming raw, natural foods on the Paleo diet, CrossFit athletes can also eliminate refined and processed carbohydrates that have been linked with coronary heart disease, diabetes and cancer. By consuming complex carbohydrates from vegetables and fruit, the Paleo diet controls insulin and overall hormone levels that can improve athletic performance during CrossFit workouts.
Traditional Paleo diet guidelines list several foods that are allowed and other foods that aren’t allowed. However, “The Paleo Diet for Athletes” by Loren Cordain, Ph.D. outlines several Paleo foods that are acceptable for athletes, such as CrossFit athletes. General guidelines for the Paleo diet include lean protein sources, such as lean beef, fish, poultry and wild game with a variety of fruits and vegetables. Foods to avoid include dairy products, sugars, refined carbohydrates, processed foods and starchy vegetables. CrossFit athletes can add certain foods such as pasta, bread and rice during periods of extended recovery between workouts.
With a focus on hormone control, the Paleo diet for CrossFit follows a “Zone” approach to breaking down macronutrient content into 40 percent of the calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein and 30 percent from fat. Protein content should range from about 0.7 g to 1 g of protein per pound of bodyweight. For example, a 200-lb. CrossFit athlete will need to consume between 140 g and 200 g of protein. According to “The Paleo Diet for Athletes,” carbohydrate intake can increase to as much as 60 percent of the total calories as a sporting event or competition approaches. During this time, fat content will range from 20 percent to 25 percent.
Nutrient timing is as important to CrossFit success as the selection of foods. Authors of “The Paleo Diet for Athletes” recommends eating about 200 to 300 calories at least two hours before an intense workout or race. Water will be sufficient for hydration during CrossFit workouts, but sports drinks can be used during long workouts. After workouts, a recovery drink containing carbohydrates and protein should be consumed within 30 minutes of the workout.
Following the Paleo diet for CrossFit can be difficult at first with the temptation of sugars, starches and processed foods. Travis Schefcik, CrossFit Level 1 trainer, gives several recommendations for how to incorporate the Paleo diet into the CrossFit workout program. He recommends educating yourself with Paleo foods and make a plan when you go grocery shopping. Start with a 30-day challenge and turn to fellow CrossFit athletes for support during the 30 days.