What Should I Eat Before a CrossFit® Open Workout?

With the CrossFit® Open in full swing, athletes are doing everything they can to get a last minute edge over their fitness frenemies. One area in particular that has been getting a lot of attention this year is nutrition.

I’ve been asked repeatedly over the last few weeks, “What should I eat before an Open workout, and when?”

I do have answers for you, but first I want to point out that your training over the past year is what will determine the range of possible scores you will get on each Open workout. Your nutrition will determine where your score falls in that range.

If you properly manage your nutrition, you will get the best possible score your training will allow. If you improperly manage your nutrition, you will get one of the lower possible scores your training will allow.

To understand what proper nutrition looks like for an Open workout, it is important to understand the energy pathways your body uses to fuel the workouts.

What Are The Three Major Energy Pathways?

The three major energy pathways in the body are:

1. Phosphocreatine
2. Glycolytic
3. Oxidative

The three pathways don’t operate independently. Each supplies some percentage of the total energy for exercise, but each Open Workout will rely primarily on one of these energy systems. By understanding the energy systems used during Open Workouts, you will learn how to fuel yourself ahead of time.

Phosphocreatine Pathway and Open Workouts

The first pathway, the phosphocreatine, is used by the body during short duration maximal efforts. Think a max lift, or a 100-meter sprint, or any maximum intensity movements lasting less than 10-seconds.

Towards the end of 17.3, athletes are relying heavily on this pathway for energy as they progress towards the top of the snatch ladder and require more rest in between attempts.

You can fuel this energy system by eating foods containing creatine, like meat, or by taking a creatine supplement.

Glycolytic Pathway and Open Workouts

This energy pathway provides the majority of energy for high intensity movement lasting 30-90 seconds. Think an all-out 400m sprint, or attempting your fastest Fran.

This energy pathway relies primarily on carbohydrate that is stored in your muscles, and when it’s hit it’s limit your muscles feel heavy, like they can’t move anymore.

Open workout 16.3, a 7-minute AMRAP of snatches and bar muscle ups, is about as close as we’ve come in the last two years to a primarily glycolytic workout.

For these shorter “sprint” workouts that appear in the Open, you will want to make sure your muscle carbohydrate stores are maxed out.  To do this, you should start fueling up 1-2 days before you do the Open workout by eating starches like sweet potato, potato, or rice.

Eat roughly twice as much carbohydrate as you normally would leading up to the day you plan to attempt the Open Workout. To give you a visual guide, women should eat at least four fist-sized portions of starch plus two fist sized portions of fruit. For the men, eat at least five fist-sized portions of starch and two of fruit.

Oxidative Pathway and Open Workouts

This energy system provides the majority of energy for lower intensity movements. When you “pace” a workout and avoid “red lining” you are keeping yourself right at the intersection of your oxidative (aerobic) and glycolytic (anaerobic) energy systems.

This is where most athletes operate during Open Workouts. We saw with 17.1 and 17.2 that a steady, but aggressive, pace for 12+ minutes is what was required to get your best score.

The oxidative energy system runs most efficiently off of fats, but this doesn’t mean you should go out and crush an avocado and a fat-infused coffee pre-workout. You already have tens, if not hundreds of thousands of calories stored as body fat that this system can draw from.

The oxidative system also effectively runs on carbohydrate as well. Just like fueling the glycolytic energy system, the best way to make sure you have enough energy for an open workout like 17.1 or 17.2 is to fuel up on carbohydrates.

What to Eat Before an Open Workout

In addition to eating twice as much carbohydrate the day before an Open Workout, it is also helpful to make sure that you’ve eaten enough carbohydrates on the big day.

About two hours before you plan to complete the Open workout, eat an easy-to-digest carbohydrate meal, like quick oats with fruit. You can also get some additional carbohydrates in as you warm up by drinking coconut water, juice, or a carbohydrate supplement for extra insurance!

Editors note: This article is an op-ed. The views expressed herein are the authors and don’t necessarily reflect the views of BarBend. Claims, assertions, opinions, and quotes have been sourced exclusively by the author.