CrossFit Competition Nutrition – An Athlete’s Insights
Whether you’re a CrossFitter, soccer player, gymnast or American ninja warrior, fueling your performance will be a huge part of your ultimate success when your day of competition comes around. Many non-competitive athletes assume that the key difference between themselves and competitors is that competitive athletes train many more hours than them and that’s what sets them apart. Whilst it might be true that plenty more hours are spent practicing, training, honing their athletic skills and improving strength, the biggest differentiator is that competitive athletes include nutrition as a part of their training regimen.
Nutrition is not an after-thought, it’s not left to the last minute like you might cram one final topic in 30 minutes before a test. Although what you eat in the window 24 hours leading up to and during your day of competition is important, don’t forget that you will stand to gain the most from following a nutrition plan in combination with your training schedule.
With that being said, in this article I’m chiefly going to address nutrition around the day of competition based on my experience at the Wodapalooza Fitness Festival earlier this year. Once you’re in the final throws of preparing for competition, other than sleep, rest & strategy, nutrition is the single-most important factor to ensuring your optimum performance. So if you’re wondering what you should eat the night before a CrossFit competition or what you should eat for breakfast before you compete, then read on!
Check with the competition organizers (read the guidelines or details on their website) about what kind of a set-up there is for athletes. Most competitions will allow athletes to bring their own foods in. If you’re competing in something like a CrossFit event that has several different workouts throughout the course of a whole day, you’ll probably be able to bring in a small cooler of food. Don’t rely on the ability to be able to heat anything up though!
If your workout is a long duration event you’ll want to consider what meals you can eat either side of the event – can you prep your own breakfast where you’re staying? Is there a grocery store or somewhere decent to eat after the event has finished? – and also what kinds of foods are portable, easy to carry on you and consume on the go.
If your competition is in another town and takes course over a few days like Wodapalooza, or the CrossFit Games, then be smart, do your research and set yourself up in a hotel or Air BNB where you have access to at least a fridge and a microwave. Transport your food in a cooler so if you can take it into the arena you already know you have enough space to take what you need for a whole day of food. If you weigh and measure your food, then don’t forget to pack your food scale! Other practical things to take with you include:
- Shaker bottle
- Individual protein sachets
- Disposable silverware
- Handwipes or sanitizer gel
- Cool bag
- Ice packs
The most common concern around competition day is pre-workout nutrition. If you have multiple events on one day then post-workout will be an important consideration too but largely in the sense that you are refueling for your next event, so you’re really still concerned about your pre-workout nutrition plan. Although being fueled is arguably the most significant priority, also ensuring you are comfortable and don’t feel like puking mid-workout is, in my opinion, equally significant! Competition Day is not a day to be testing out how close to your workout you can eat or trying new foods. The festival food trucks are for the spectators, not the athletes! Keep your food choices relatively plain and simple.
In the last 2 weeks leading up to your event, you’ll want to run your training days like you might be going through a day of competition so you can test out your meal timing around your workout.
In terms of nutrient intake prior to the competition, carb loading will not be necessary. Even if you are performing in an endurance event. If you keep eating the same amount of food as you have throughout your training, then by virtue of the fact that you’re tapering your workout volume (which you should be doing in the final week), then because of the adjustment to your activity, you will naturally be carb-loading without even having to adjust your numbers.
You’ll want to keep your overall caloric intake consistent throughout the competition. Your training should have prepared you for the volume. Competition day does bring additional physiological challenges with it though, waves of adrenaline brought on by game-day nerves, poor sleep and/or additional activity from multiple warm-up sessions, cool-down sessions and simply walking the festival grounds can all stoke your metabolic fire and result in a need for more fuel. So pay close attention to how your body’s feeling and don’t be afraid to increase your intake.
If you’re feeling lower than normal on energy, then carbohydrates are the most commonly manipulated of macronutrients because they are our bodies preferred fuel source – especially for CrossFitters! For endurance athletes who may have shifted their bodies into a fat-fueled state then this wouldn’t apply. Choosing slow digesting carbohydrates – those with a low glycemic index – means your body will slowly release sugar into the blood stream for use as energy. These kinds of carbohydrates would be best had at breakfast or more than 1 hour before your event. Higher glycemic carbohydrates can be had in the 30-minute window before your workout or post-workout, because your body digests them more quickly, glucose is more readily available for your body to either turn it in to fuel, or shuttle it back into your muscles to replenish your glycogen stores.
If you feel like you need an extra boost of energy over the course of a competition weekend, then increasing your carbs would be the way to go. Alternatively, try taking a shot of espresso 30 minutes before as a little pre-workout booster!
Fat slows down the digestion process and also make us feel full. For this reason, it’s best for CrossFit style events or competitions to consume fat early in the morning and then later in evening, keeping it relatively low throughout the day. Of course this will also partly depend on when your events fall. If you have a large gap in the middle of the day between events then that could be a good opportunity to get some of your fats in.
Some people adjust their macronutrients during competition, switching out fat for more carbs. By all means this is something you can test, but again, make sure you test this prior to your competition weekend, and test it out at least several times to make sure you don’t notice any negative effects on your performance.
Personally, I didn’t go out of my way to switch things up, but if I was struggling to get my fat in at the end of the day around Wodapalooza, I would just leave some fat and make it up with my carbs so that I kept my caloric intake consistent. In reality though, it’s never too hard to get your fat in if you’ve been smart enough to leave yourself at least 20-30 grams of protein for the end of the day, you can do it. Otherwise, enjoy all that extra butter on your veggies! 😉
Protein intake will be pretty consistent with what you’re typically accustomed to. You’ll want to spread it evenly throughout the day. Don’t stress about necking a protein shake post-workout, but if you’re tight on time then a shake can be a perfect way to get your protein in. Keep in mind that whey protein is more quickly absorbed than casein so if you are taking a protein supplement then a whey-based protein would be my recommendation. The bottom line on protein is that timing isn’t super critical, just so long as you’re meeting you daily goal by the end of the day.
Competition Meal Ideas
1 hour or more pre-workout
Eat a normal pre-workout meal that consists of moderate and high GI carbs with a small amount of fat. Here are some ideas:
- Bagel with 1 tbsp peanut butter and honey
- Oatmeal with egg whites and almonds
- Toast with scrambled eggs and a side of fruit
In subsequent events
As well as immediately after your event, eat a regular meal between, or 30 minutes prior to competition consume high-GI carbs like:
- Rice cakes
- Fruit squeeze pack
- Fuel for fire
Lastly, a quick note on hydration. If it’s hot or humid or the climate is not what you’re used to, pay attention to how much you’re sweating and your thirst signals. When we sweat we not only lose water but we lose important nutrients like electrolytes too. Be sure to stay hydrated during the event by ingesting water as well as liquids that contain electrolytes. We would recommend avoiding electrolyte replacement drinks with added sugar unless you are participating in an endurance event and need the additional calories. My go-to are electrolyte tablets like nuuns that have zero calories and can easily be added to your water bottle.
If you found this article helpful, then make sure you check out our Crossfitter’s Guide to Nutrition for more information about fueling yourself so that you look, feel and perform like a CrossFit athlete!
Do you have any go-to meals, ideas or tips for competition nutrition? Comment below and let us know what works well for you!