4 Ways to Fuel for CrossFit

By Henrik Nilsson (TT Intern from UVM Exercise and Movement Science)

You hate that feeling of gastrointestinal pain or discomfort that can accompany a workout? Notice the heavy sloshy feeling in your stomach when you move? Do you feel like you are moving in water or that sensation of your feet feeling like cement? Due to the complex, high intensity and challenging nature of CrossFit movements, you may want to take special considerations to ensure your own readiness before attempting your headstand pushups or Olympic lifts. Here are four quick and easy tips and the reasoning behind them to get you ready to go.

  1. Hydrate well before your workout. This one seems obvious, but attempting to hydrate within an hour of exercise is almost sure to cause bloating. You can take small sips of liquid, before and during a Cross-Fit workout to quench thirst, but any water or fluid consumed within one hour before a CrossFit-styled workout (or during) can only be detrimental to performance rather than helpful because of the limited duration of the workout. If you are doing a long distance run lasting more than two hours, than hydration level right before and during can be a factor to performance. In general however, if you were dehydrated before CrossFit, don’t try to solve the issue by binging on water unless you are severely dehydrated. Instead, focus on rehydrating properly as soon as you are done at the gym. Fruits and vegetables are a great and healthy way to rehydrate. Remember that being properly hydrated helps keep your blood volume high thus allowing your heart to pump more blood with each stroke which is important in both your Cross-Fit and other long distance activities. Also most sports drinks are excessively sweet or don’t actually contain enough ions to make any difference in performance, don’t get ripped off! And yes, checking the color of your pee does work, just remember it is somewhat a measurement of your hydration a couple hours before you can actually check.   
  2. The four hour rule. During Cross-Fit, the short but high intensity bouts of movement cause a lot of motion. This is really only physics at work. It takes your body 1-2 hours just to move food from the stomach to the small intestines. In order to avoid most of the discomfort, allow your stomach and small intestines enough time to properly break down your food before exercise. Not only will this keep you from throwing up while rowing, burpees or doing handstand push-ups, but it will also allow your body two key advantages. You will have energy for your workout readily available, and you allow maximal blood flow to your working muscles. Think about it! Eating activates smooth muscle to digest food which need just as much oxygen and energy to contract as skeletal muscle, the only difference is you are not in control. Remember when grandma said not to swim right after eating? Well, she was right as usual!
  3. Watch out for excessive carbohydrates. It is true that if you are really low on energy, taking a gel pack or something similar may provide a boost for the average cross-fit member before starting a high intensity interval training session to increase performance. Due to carbohydrate metabolism, this produces energy for high intensity short duration activity just like what is required for certain CrossFit style workouts which may allow you to spare muscle glycogen to continue at the highest intensity for longer. Some individual are more tolerant than others in consuming carbohydrates or other foods before a workout.  Base your intake on the type of workout.  Skill Based or gymnastics you can decrease your carbs- opt for more veggies to replace grains.  A strength based with a short-medium length met-con is similar but be sure to have moderate cars, protein and low fat. you will be tapping into glycogen stores for both strength and metcon.  For a longer, chipper- Murph, Filthy Fifty or Hero WODS it is recommended that at least 30-60 minutes prior you eat something with higher carbohydrates (2-3g/kg body weight) and still consume moderate protein. Beware of putting random calories into your body that you are trying to burn!
  4. Don’t “sleep” on sleep. Another one that seems like a no-brainer. However, sleep is what allows your muscles to really recover. It is what allows motor patterns of new or old movements you learn at CrossFit to become stored in the brain. More immediate of an effect however, is how proper sleep has been linked to an increase in pain tolerance. As everyone knows, “good pain” usually accompanies CrossFit sessions. Being able to tolerate pain is paramount when trying to set a new PR, pushing through the last part of an intense workout, or simply trying to adjust the body to properly complete a movement. You can probably relate to this in your everyday life. The perception of pain when you are tired is always much greater than when you are rested. So in order to get the most out of your workout and hopefully allow you to sleep even better, get proper rest!