As a CrossFitter, you know how to train. You go hard, you go fast. You pace yourself and push yourself past the point you thought you could reach last time. But if you want to do all that sustainably, you have to let your body recover.
A crucial component of recovery and fueling your workouts in the first place is sleep and managing your stress levels. Another major component is nutrition. If you love CrossFit training but haven’t thought much about how to eat for CrossFit, you might be missing out on tremendous progress in your WODs (workouts of the day).
Whether you’re competing in the Open or just against the leaderboard at your local CrossFit box, optimizing your nutrition is a big key to improvement. Here, you’ll learn how to eat — and what and when — as a CrossFitter. From macros to supplements, everything you need to know about CrossFit nutrition is just ahead.
- Why Is Nutrition Important for CrossFitters?
- What Should CrossFitters Eat Every Day?
- Calories for CrossFit
- Macros for CrossFit
- Supplements for CrossFit
- Nutrient Timing for CrossFit
- Your Takeaways
Editor’s Note: The content on BarBend is meant to be informative in nature, but it should not be taken as medical advice. When starting a new training regimen and/or diet, it is always a good idea to consult a trusted medical professional. We are not a medical resource. The opinions and articles on this site are not intended for use as diagnosis, prevention, and/or treatment of health problems. They are not substitutes for consulting a qualified medical professional.
Although they seem to perform superhuman feats in their boxes and on the competition floor, CrossFitters are, in fact, human beings. As such, they have the same nutritional requirements as any other athlete — adequate calories, macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
But CrossFit training — especially as you gain more experience and dive deeper into the sport — demands a lot from your body. To set yourself up for success, consider putting nutrition at the forefront of your programming. Here’s why.
Supporting Overall Health and Performance
CrossFitter, especially those at more elite levels who work out more than once a day, require more nutrients than the average weekend warrior. Still, research suggests that CrossFitters may not get enough calories and nutrients day to day. (1)
CrossFitters also may not get enough carbohydrates to adequately fuel their workouts. This might be because CrossFit founders and early CrossFit coaches recommended that athletes take in low levels of carbs. (2) CrossFit coaches and trainers also have historically recommended the paleo diet, which tends to emphasize lower carb intake. (3)
These recommendations for lower carb intake are not universally followed by CrossFitters, of course. For example, five-time Fittest Man on Earth® Mat Fraser likes eating white rice with every meal. But these potential lower levels are worth noting.
Many strength athletes (including CrossFitters) might be more informed about the benefits of protein for training, and therefore de-emphasize the importance of carbs in fueling their workouts. Carbs are going to keep you going through those long workouts — and the days between your training sessions.
But it’s not just calories and macros that CrossFitters may not be getting enough of. Research has also identified deficiencies in vitamin E, iron, calcium, and folate amongst CrossFitters. (1) Pay attention to getting a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains in your diet to help offset the risk of nutritional deficiencies.
Combating the Interference Effect in CrossFit
CrossFitters consistently train for both strength and endurance at the same time. Except when they’re fine-tuning a specific weakness, CrossFitters don’t generally have training cycles where they focus on one energy system or type of training. Instead, this sport is about improving all areas of fitness, all at once.
As a CrossFitter, you’ll be looking to get good at “opposite” aspects of training. For example:
This might seem like an invitation for the interference effect to wreak havoc on progress. The interference effect refers to a phenomenon where concurrently training for endurance takes away from strength gains or vice versa.
Most athletes need not worry about the dreaded interference effect if they’re programming smartly, using progressive overload, and emphasizing recovery and nutrition. (4)(5) But since this sport’s workouts are so intense from both endurance and strength perspectives, CrossFitters need to focus on nutrition.
To fuel all of these goals at once, you need to make smart nutritional choices that will keep your energy levels steady while supporting you through the extreme bursts of power output that your training requires.
If you glance into the shopping cart of the six-time Fittest Woman on Earth® Tia-Clair Toomey, you’re going to find a wide variety of foods. And that’s what you want as a CrossFit athlete — to make sure you’re covering all your nutritional bases the same way you cover all your bases in training.
Here’s a crash course on what foods can serve CrossFitters well in their diets. The aim here is to ingest a wide variety of micronutrients — those vitamins and minerals that keep your body operating at peak functionality — within one’s macronutrient needs.
Macronutrients are split into three categories: protein, carbs, and fats. These are measured in grams (or estimated based on portion size) and make up your caloric intake. Micronutrients, on the other hand, are vitamins and minerals. They’re measured in smaller units like milligrams.
Toss your favorites from each category into your grocery cart each week. Mix and match according to the guidance below to give yourself tasty meals day in and day out.
- Leafy greens (kale, spinach, collards)
- Brussels sprouts
- Bell peppers
Note that foods don’t contain only one macronutrient and micronutrient. Everything has a distinct macronutrient profile. For example, Greek yogurt has a lot of protein but also contains carbs and some fat. Take a look at each food’s macros breakdown on the nutrition label to see where it fits into your goals.
The website of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a FoodData Central feature that lets you check out food’s overall nutritional profile, including whole foods like fruits and veggies that don’t always come with ingredient labels. You’ll notice that many fruits and salad vegetables have a higher carbohydrate content.
If you’re on the go a lot and worried about not hitting getting a diversity of fruits and vegetables, consider adding a greens powder to the mix.
An Individualized Approach
To maximize your gains, it’s best to consider how much you’re training when determining how much — and what — you’re eating. If you train five to six times (or less) per week, you’ll require less fuel than someone who trains two or three times per day.
Each athlete also may have specific goals for their body. You might be looking to bulk up a little bit to support those heavy barbell movements. Or you might be looking to shed some weight to help you feel more prepared to tackle strict handstand push-ups and muscle-ups.
Even the most elite CrossFit athletes eat differently from each other. While four-time Fittest Man on Earth® Rich Froning is known for measuring his macros down to the gram, five-time Games champ Mat Fraser famously used to eat a pint of ice cream each night (before he dialed in his nutrition and started winning Games).
Your caloric intake requirements — how many calories you need each day to fuel both your regular metabolic functions and your intensive CrossFit training — will change depending on pretty much every factor you can think of.
Your age, how intensely and how often you exercise, your gender assigned at birth, and your current hormone levels are just some of the factors that will impact your calorie intake needs. Here are some of the levels you’ll be looking to hit, depending on your activity levels.
Calories for Training Once or Twice a Week
Athletes participating in general exercise programs — an average strength training workout for a half hour three times a week — typically can eat between 1,800 and 2,400 calories per day and be just fine.
If you’re doing an intense CrossFit workout once or twice each week at your local box, you might be able to eat within this range. (6) Consider having more carbs — going slightly over your maintenance calories — on the days of training to ensure that you’re keeping steady energy levels.
Calories for Training at High Frequency, Intensity, and Volume
CrossFit athletes often train at a much higher intensity and more often throughout the week. When you’re training multiple times a day or even just having longer workouts, you’ll have to eat significantly more calories to fuel your training.
Athletes who weigh between 50 and 100 kilograms (110 to 220 pounds) might need to eat as many as 2,000 to 7,000 calories each day when their training gets especially intense. (6) Here are some standards for when you might need to eat this many calories:
- Training at high intensity for two to three hours, five to six times a week
- Training at high intensity for three to six hours (split between one or two workouts), five to six times a week
CrossFitters might want to err on the side of more calories than described in general recommendations since this sport is especially taxing on all the body’s energy systems. And if you weigh over 220 pounds, you’ll need even more calories (up to 12,000 per day) to sustain such high-intensity, high-volume training. (7)
To get a specific idea of how many calories to aim for each day, check out the BarBend calorie calculator.
If you’d prefer to avoid calorie counting, consider an intuitive approach to nutrition. Practice listening to your hunger cues. Plan to eat when you’re hungry and stop eating when you’re full. Pay attention to which foods tend to make you feel energized and efficient during your workouts and try to prioritize those.
For athletes who feel able, consider paying attention to an estimate of your macronutrient levels instead of (or in addition to) attention to calories.
Many athletes prioritize their calories first and macros — carbs, protein, and fats — at a close second. You might opt not to count your calories at all and instead hone in on your macro and micronutrients.
For CrossFitters, finding the right balance of macronutrients is going to be incredibly important. They’ll determine how much energy your body has to get you through grueling, seemingly impossible WODs.
How Many Carbs Should CrossFitters Eat?
Carbs might not have always been popular in the CrossFit world, but research suggests that these are vital macros before, during, and after high-intensity, high-volume workouts. (8) But exactly how many you need — and what kinds of carbs — depends on the types of workouts you’re doing.
If you’re training for a couple of hours a day five or six times a week, consider getting 250 to 1,200 grams of carbs each day. For CrossFit athletes who are doing long and intense two-a-day workouts, the need for carbs increases to 400 to 1,500 grams per day for athletes weighing between 110 and 330 pounds. (6)(9)
If you weigh on the lower end of this spectrum, start with the lower end of carbs. Adjust your intake as you do even more activity. Do the same process in reverse if you weigh on the higher end of this spectrum.
That might seem intimidating but aim to have most of these dietary carbs come from whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. If you need a boost during or right after intense workouts, you might want to turn to carbs from refined sugars, starchy foods, carb powders, and sports drinks. (10)
How Much Protein Should CrossFitters Eat?
Strength athletes — CrossFitters included — are often well-versed in the “protein, protein, and more protein” approach to nutrition. If you train intensely a few times a week, you might want to look at 1.2 to two grams of protein each day per kilogram of body weight. (11)(12) This translates to 60 to 300 grams of protein each day for a 110 to a 330-pound athlete. (11)(12)
If you train at a high intensity and an even higher volume (more than a few times per week), research suggests upping your protein intake to 1.7 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight per day. (11) This means 85 to 330 grams of protein per day for athletes weighing between 50 and 150 kilograms (110 and 330 pounds). (11)
Protein Intake Calculator
To calculate those numbers specifically for your body and the nuances of your training routine, check out BarBend’s protein intake calculator.
Protein Intake Calculator
How Much Fat Should CrossFitters Eat?
Dietary fat intake levels can span across a wide range for CrossFitters. A lot of it will depend on how an athlete’s body processes dietary fat. For example, if you tend to feel sluggish after a meal that’s high in dietary fat, you might want to avoid that peanut butter sandwich right before your workout.
But other CrossFit athletes may prefer a higher level of fat in their diet. For example, athletes might be attracted to the idea that diets with higher percentages of fat may help circulate testosterone more readily in the body. (13)
Regardless of individual preference, the general recommendation is that 30 percent of an athlete’s daily caloric intake comes from dietary fats. (14)(15) Some athletes who train with very high volumes can even safely consume 50 percent of their daily caloric intake as fats. (15)
If you’re not able or willing to count calories, you can estimate your intake of fat by conceptualizing one or two thumb-sized portions with each meal.
For an overview of your macronutrient needs, check out BarBend’s macronutrient calculator. You’ll input factors like your age, goal, and activity level and get a customized suggestion for each of your macros.
Remember to re-calculate your macros as needed based on your current phase of training. If you’re gearing up for competition, for example, your training volume, frequency, and intensity will likely shift. Adjust your calculations to accommodate those changes.
If you’re not able or willing to track your macros specifically, opt to use techniques for estimating your portions. This can help give you a ballpark means of figuring out if you’re getting enough carbs, fats, and protein respectively.
You may opt to fill half your dinner plate with vegetables, a quarter of the plate with high-carb foods, and a quarter with protein. Or you might use your hand instead. Use a closed fist to estimate a portion of carbs. Use your palm to help you measure a portion of protein. Your thumb can be a handy way of calculating a portion of fats.
Broadly speaking, CrossFitters love their supplements. One study of nutritional habits in recreational CrossFitters found over three-quarters of participants take at least one dietary supplement. (16) Protein, creatine, and pre-workout were found to be the most popular supplements. (16) These choices make sense for CrossFitters.
Since it’s so filling, protein might be difficult for some athletes to get enough of in their daily meals without supplementing it in shakes.
And pre-workout is all about boosting your energy levels, which CrossFit athletes may desire before diving headfirst into a high-heat WOD.
Supporting recovery, overall health, and developing muscle mass were the main reasons that participants took these supplements. (16) To further those goals, CrossFitters might also want to invest in a good greens powder to support micronutrient needs, since many athletes may run the risk of micronutrient deficiencies. (1)
To help you wade through the wide world of supplements, check out these articles to navigate which supplements to integrate into your CrossFit nutrition journey.
- The 8 Best Supplements for CrossFit (2023 Update)
- The 14 Best Whey Protein Powders (2023 Update)
- The 16 Best Pre-Workout Supplements (2023 Update)
- The 15 Best Creatine Supplements (2023 Update)
- The 12 Best Greens Powders You Can Buy (2023 Update)
There is often much ado in the strength sports world about the importance of nutrient timing — that is, when you consume your nutrients and how it impacts your body composition and training performance. Research suggests that what and how much you eat tends to be more important than exactly when you eat. (20)
This means that you don’t have to sweat situations like, “I need to down this chicken breast within 30 minutes of finishing my workout or more muscles will disappear.” The specific timing is likely not going to make or break your next WOD.
That said, timing your nutrition to line up with your training can help optimize your results. (20) And for CrossFitters — especially at an elite level — everything becomes about getting that extra edge.
Plus, CrossFit athletes often train multiple times daily. In that context, it becomes more important to time your meals and snacks properly to keep your energy high.
Pre-Workout Nutrition for CrossFit
When you’re getting ready for a big effort, carbs might just be your best friend. But what you’re eating carbs with — and what types of carbs you’re having — may depend on when you’re working out.
If you’re working out in the afternoon, aim to get a full breakfast in the morning. Include carbs, protein, and fats. Ensure that a good portion of your carbs come from fruits and veggies.
Once you get closer to your workout — say, one to two hours before — fuel up with complex carbs and a little bit of protein. Consider some oatmeal with a small scoop of protein powder or a whole wheat peanut butter sandwich.
Right before your workout — between 30 and 60 minutes prior — you’ll want to turn to a source of quick energy. Unsweetened applesauce or a banana can work wonders here.
Research also suggests that combining about 50 grams of carbs with five to 10 grams of protein a half hour to an hour before your workout can optimize carb availability toward the end of an intense training session. (21)(22) If you take pre-workout, consider using a similar carb-to-protein ratio.
These little boosts can make all the difference when you’re grinding through the end of a tough WOD.
Intra-Workout Nutrition for CrossFit
Sometimes, CrossFit workouts don’t end with your WOD. When your training session extends beyond an hour — and especially after the 90-minute mark — you will want to refuel.
To help maintain your blood glucose levels, aid your immune system, and prevent dehydration, fuel yourself with a glucose and electrolyte solution during your workout. (23) Fruit snacks can also work well here — so make sure you’re tossing some in your gym bag.
Post-Workout Nutrition for CrossFit
After you’ve left every ounce of energy out on the competition or gym floor, you’ll need to refuel. Especially if you’re trying to gain muscle, aim to have a meal within two hours of completing your training. (24) Even though it’s ideal to consume this meal in the form of whole foods, having a protein shake can still be beneficial in refueling your muscles and kickstarting recovery. (25)
But you’ll be alright if you can’t get to your protein shake right away. Refueling with a combination of 0.8 grams of carbs per kilogram of body weight and 0.2 to 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight within four hours has been shown to support increased strength. (26)
It’s not easy to train for CrossFit. It takes a tremendous amount of physical and mental stamina and grit to stare down the face of an intense WOD and emerge victorious on the other side of the clock.
To fuel all that effort, you’ve got to pay close attention to your nutrition. Though CrossFit nutrition is a nuanced beast, here are some of the key points to remember:
- Due to the intense nature of the sport, CrossFitters may be at risk of not getting enough calories, carbs, and micronutrients. Pay attention to your intake levels and be sure to eat a diversity of greens.
- Especially if you’re training upwards of four times a week, you may need between 2,000 to 12,000 calories to maintain your energy each day (depending on your exercise volume and intensity level and your body type).
- Experienced CrossFitters who train for a couple of hours more than five times a week may need between 400 and 1,500 grams of carbs and 85 to 300 grams of protein each day.
- CrossFit athletes might want to invest in additional supplements to further optimize their performance. Popular choices include protein powders, creatine, and pre-workout. Greens powders may also be helpful to combat potential micronutrient deficiencies.
- Aim to emphasize carb intake shortly before your workout, adding a bit of protein to the mix if you’re eating one to two hours before.
- Mid-workout, have some glucose and electrolytes in your water (or munch on some fruit snacks) if you’re going longer than an hour or 90 minutes.
- Ideally, refuel with a protein-and-carb-rich meal within two hours of working out. Having carbs and protein at a roughly 2:1 ratio within four hours of your workout will also help support your goals.
More CrossFit Content
Now you know how to eat for CrossFit. But can you train like a CrossFitter, too? Check out these articles to scratch that CrossFit itch and dive into training.
- How to Design CrossFit Workouts for Building Muscle
- How to Design CrossFit Workouts for Speed and Power
- The CrossFit Fran Workout Explained and Scaled for Every Skill Level
- The CrossFit Angie Workout Explained and Scaled for Every Skill Level
- Gogojewicz A, Śliwicka E, Durkalec-Michalski K. Assessment of Dietary Intake and Nutritional Status in CrossFit-Trained Individuals: A Descriptive Study. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 Jul 2;17(13):4772.
- Glassman G. The CrossFit training guide. CrossFit. J. 2010:1–115.
- Maxwell C, Ruth K, Friesen C. Sports Nutrition Knowledge, Perceptions, Resources, and Advice Given by Certified CrossFit Trainers. Sports (Basel). 2017 Mar 24;5(2):21.
- Schumann M, Feuerbacher JF, Sünkeler M, Freitag N, Rønnestad BR, Doma K, Lundberg TR. Compatibility of Concurrent Aerobic and Strength Training for Skeletal Muscle Size and Function: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2022 Mar;52(3):601-612.
- Fyfe JJ, Bartlett JD, Hanson ED, Stepto NK, Bishop DJ. Endurance Training Intensity Does Not Mediate Interference to Maximal Lower-Body Strength Gain during Short-Term Concurrent Training. Front Physiol. 2016 Nov 3;7:487.
- Kerksick CM, Kulovitz MG. Requirements of protein, carbohydrates and fats for athletes. In: Bagchi D, Nair S, Sen CK, editors. Nutrition and enhanced sports performance: recommendations for muscle building. London: Elsevier Publishers; 2013.
- Heydenreich J, Kayser B, Schutz Y, Melzer K. Total Energy Expenditure, Energy Intake, and Body Composition in Endurance Athletes Across the Training Season: A Systematic Review. Sports Med Open. 2017 Dec;3(1):8.
- Cermak NM, van Loon LJ. The use of carbohydrates during exercise as an ergogenic aid. Sports Med. 2013 Nov;43(11):1139-55.
- Burke LM, Hawley JA, Wong SH, Jeukendrup AE. Carbohydrates for training and competition. J Sports Sci. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S17-27.
- Jentjens R, Jeukendrup A. Determinants of post-exercise glycogen synthesis during short-term recovery. Sports Med. 2003;33(2):117-44.
- Bandegan A, Courtney-Martin G, Rafii M, Pencharz PB, Lemon PW. Indicator Amino Acid-Derived Estimate of Dietary Protein Requirement for Male Bodybuilders on a Nontraining Day Is Several-Fold Greater than the Current Recommended Dietary Allowance. J Nutr. 2017 May;147(5):850-857.
- Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Feb 27;15:10.
- Dorgan JF, Judd JT, Longcope C, Brown C, Schatzkin A, Clevidence BA, Campbell WS, Nair PP, Franz C, Kahle L, Taylor PR. Effects of dietary fat and fiber on plasma and urine androgens and estrogens in men: a controlled feeding study. Am J Clin Nutr. 1996 Dec;64(6):850-5.
- Kerksick CM, Wilborn CD, Roberts MD, Smith-Ryan A, Kleiner SM, Jäger R, Collins R, Cooke M, Davis JN, Galvan E, Greenwood M, Lowery LM, Wildman R, Antonio J, Kreider RB. ISSN exercise & sports nutrition review update: research & recommendations. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2018 Aug 1;15(1):38.
- Venkatraman JT, Leddy J, Pendergast D. Dietary fats and immune status in athletes: clinical implications. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2000 Jul;32(7 Suppl):S389-95.
- Brisebois M, Kramer S, Lindsay KG, Wu CT, Kamla J. Dietary practices and supplement use among CrossFit® participants. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2022 Jul 4;19(1):316-335.
- Delpino FM, Figueiredo LM, Forbes SC, Candow DG, Santos HO. Influence of age, sex, and type of exercise on the efficacy of creatine supplementation on lean body mass: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Nutrition. 2022 Nov-Dec;103-104:111791.
- Wu SH, Chen KL, Hsu C, Chen HC, Chen JY, Yu SY, Shiu YJ. Creatine Supplementation for Muscle Growth: A Scoping Review of Randomized Clinical Trials from 2012 to 2021. Nutrients. 2022 Mar 16;14(6):1255.
- Roschel H, Gualano B, Ostojic SM, Rawson ES. Creatine Supplementation and Brain Health. Nutrients. 2021 Feb 10;13(2):586.
- Arent SM, Cintineo HP, McFadden BA, Chandler AJ, Arent MA. Nutrient Timing: A Garage Door of Opportunity? Nutrients. 2020 Jun 30;12(7):1948.
- Carli G, Bonifazi M, Lodi L, Lupo C, Martelli G, Viti A. Changes in the exercise-induced hormone response to branched chain amino acid administration. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1992;64(3):272-7.
- Cade JR, Reese RH, Privette RM, Hommen NM, Rogers JL, Fregly MJ. Dietary intervention and training in swimmers. Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1991;63(3-4):210-5.
- Maughan RJ, Noakes TD. Fluid replacement and exercise stress. A brief review of studies on fluid replacement and some guidelines for the athlete. Sports Med. 1991 Jul;12(1):16-31.
- Aragon AA, Schoenfeld BJ. Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Jan 29;10(1):5.
- Vliet SV, Beals JW, Martinez IG, Skinner SK, Burd NA. Achieving Optimal Post-Exercise Muscle Protein Remodeling in Physically Active Adults through Whole Food Consumption. Nutrients. 2018 Feb 16;10(2):224.
- Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, Stout JR, Campbell B, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, Kalman D, Smith-Ryan AE, Kreider RB, Willoughby D, Arciero PJ, VanDusseldorp TA, Ormsbee MJ, Wildman R, Greenwood M, Ziegenfuss TN, Aragon AA, Antonio J. International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Aug 29;14:33.
Featured Image: ME Image / Shutterstock