The answer is probably not.
Today, I want to “learn ya” about the proper peri-workout nutritional protocols that EVERYONE should be following to maximize your gains in and out of the gym. Let’s get started.
CF Nutritional Needs Analysis
The first thing we must do to determine how to properly fuel our body for Crossfit is to do a needs analysis. A needs analysis will tell us what type of stimulus these workouts give our body, and through that we can determine what type of fuel (protein, carbs, fats) supports that type of performance. Obviously then we can create a nutritional prescription to perform and recover well.
Crossfit is a high intensity training program, plain and simple. We all know the pace we keep in a 12 minute AMRAP is not a pace we can continue to hold for hours on end. This proves my point. In a more scientific term, it is predominantly powered by the glycolytic energy system. This system runs on glucose AKA sugar AKA carbs. What does this mean? YOU NEED TO EAT CARBS! Carbs are stored in your muscle as glycogen (broken down into glucose) and are used up when you do a high intensity workout. In order to properly recover from such a workout and replenish your glycogen stores, you need not shy away from carbs, they are your friend!
Another aspect of fueling properly that many do not think about is the effect that a given workout has on the central nervous system (CNS). The CNS controls everything from how well your muscles work together to your energy levels throughout the day. Most people only recognize the replenishing of nutrients into the muscle when thinking about post-workout recovery, but fail to reset the CNS properly. You may have heard of the terms “fight or flight” and “rest and digest”. When you workout, you are in the fight or flight state. Your body and CNS literally think that you are being attacked by a bear, as our physiology has yet to catch up to the fact that we now exercise for pleasure and not because our life depends on it. To reset the CNS back into the rest and digest state, we need protein and carbs! If you don’t provide the body with these nutrients ASAP after a workout, the recovery process cannot begin! If you come to the gym every day, I hope you now realize how important post-workout nutrition is.
Certainly we know that some workouts are harder and more demanding than others, so how should that affect our nutrition? I’ll give you a few examples:
Example 1: Longer AMRAP, lower intensity, more aerobic in nature
- This type of workout still uses a lot of carbs, but it is important to understand that the lower the intensity, the more that fat will provide the substrate for energy. Sitting still in an office all day will be fueled primarily by fat. The CNS demand will not be as high in this type of workout. A quick dose of protein and a normal amount of post-workout carbs are recommended. I will discuss what a “normal” amount of carbs is in the application section.
Example 2: Short AMRAP, sprint pace, very intense
- Think 18.2. This type of workout will fry your glycogen stores AND your CNS. Many people take days, even up to a week or more to recover! It is safe to say that your working muscles’ glycogen stores will be emptied and your CNS will be in such a state of shock that the recovery needs will be increased tremendously. Protein and extra carbs are the prescription here.
Example 3: Strength training only workout
- Typical bodybuilding workout, or a Tuesday class at Outbreak. Being that strength training is powerful and heavy by nature, it will still be fueled primarily by carbs. The CNS demand won’t be nearly as much as the previously mentioned sprint workout however. Protein and carbs still essential!
Now that we know what types of exercise are fueled by what, let’s dive into how to apply this knowledge.
I mentioned above that during the post-workout window (the time between your workout and your first meal), protein and carbs are the recommended fuel sources. But how much? Let’s consider the definition of a “normal” amount to be 1:1 to 2:1 carbs to protein. So if you have a scoop of protein powder with 25g of protein, you should include 25g of carbs as well. I would recommend a 1:1 ratio for any regular gym-goer who isn’t training competitively and is going to the gym solely for health and fitness. Elite athletes and people who are very experienced in strength and conditioning are the ones who should be following a 2:1, 3:1, or even a 4:1 ratio for their post-workout nutrition.
So we know the quantity, but what about the quality of the post-workout food? This is honestly much less of a concern immediately following a workout, as your body is ready to soak up any available nutrients. A fast digesting protein powder such as whey is your best bet here. A fast digesting carb is also ideal. Powder is also recommended here too, and recently the best option has proven to be highly branched cyclic dextrin. Don’t get scared by the name, it is literally just powdered carbs that get into your blood stream very fast. If you don’t want to go that route, anything from candy (!) to bread to coconut water to white potatoes work just fine. And no, it won’t go right to your waistline, your muscles need it more!
So When Should I Eat Fat?
You may be wondering “so when the heck do I eat fat, or do I need it at all?” The answer is absolutely yes you need it! Timing is critical though as fat is a slow digesting macronutrient, so it is important to NOT eat it during the pre- or post-workout meal. Around our workout, we want nutrients to rapidly absorb into the blood stream and fat will not allow that to happen. Not to mention it will pull blood and water into the gut instead of to working muscle where we really need it! Literally any other time of day is acceptable to eat your fat.
Fat is very important for regulation and production of hormones, energy during normal daily activities, and millions of other processes in the body. Mainstream media has scared us into thinking that fat is bad, but that’s only half true. Healthy fats (unsaturated and saturated in moderation) are VERY important in maintaining a healthy metabolism and recovering from tough workouts! So don’t skip the fat!
Hopefully this blog gave you a somewhat simplistic idea of how you should be fueling yourself for your workouts. Of course there are many circumstances where we would alter things, but in general the guidelines I gave today are safe to follow. If you would like to learn more or to let me worry about your nutrition, email me at Paul@crossfitoutbreak.com and ask about our Outbreak Nutrition program!