There probably isn't a sport that is more known for its 6 pack abs than Crossfit. You stare at the top athletes with envy, and many of your comrades in the gym.
You've probably even seen some videos online about their diets, maybe adding cereal to their protein shakes while you are doing 2 green juices a day and a kale salad wondering wtf.
Mat Fraser even admitted that he had eaten enough Snickers for a lifetime and that he would crush king sized ones during competition season to help him stay energized.
How is it that these athletes have all this energy to do all of the activity they do, eat all the crap they seem to eat and stay lean AF.
And why is it that after 4 years of consistent exercise and attempted strict diets you still have a pot belly and haven't made much progress in terms of your max lifts.
Should you add snickers to your regular diet?
You definitely could ! But that’s not the secret. When it comes to good nutrition there is no one food that determines your overall weight or body composition.
The truth is , you are probably eating the wrong amount of calories coming from the wrong percentage of macronutrients and you are lacking in food quality (getting enough micronutrients) not to mention stress management and sleep quality.
Every time you try to diet to lose those stubborn 5 to 10lbs you do so restrictively denying yourself of energy and important nutrients leading you to poor performance and recovery and causing you to lose fat as well as muscle.
In other words, instead of focusing on getting strong and recovering adequately by eating enough from the right sources, you are eating a sub 1200 calorie diet. This means not only burning less calories in the gym, you are depriving yourself of gains, and sacrificing the ones you've already worked so hard for.
If you’ve tried paleo , keto or intermittent fasting you probably know what I’m talking about. Although culturally popular in Crossfit, top level athletes aren't doing these, because they simply do not allow them to perform at the high level required.
You might be thinking ! Well I did lose weight , I did feel good sorta. But in reality, regardless of the changes you saw, most of you are back at point 0, or maybe you are maintaining your weight loss but your Prs haven’t gone up in years. Plus for most people these diets are unsustainable long term.
THE CROSSFIT ATHLETES DIET
In the grand scheme of sports nutrition, the most important areas of your diet with regards to your success and performance as an athlete generally go in this order.
Calories (determine your weight)
Macronutrients (where the calories are coming from, protein, fat or carbs)
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals determine your health/recovery)
Meal timing / Supplements
Sleep quality and quantity
(The last two will affect how your food is digested and absorbed.)
So what are most athletes doing ?
Flexible dieting, plus a focus on food quality.
You might have heard of flexible dieting , maybe not. Here’s a quick summary.
Your total calories are calculated using an equation that takes into account your weight, height, activity level, age and goals. From there those calories are divided into a specific amount of protein, carbohydrates and fats (macronutrients). You then use a tracking app like “my fitness pal” to input your personal data and track your daily food intake. You weigh your food using a food scale then search the specific food in the app and adjust the amount to match what you consumed. Each amount of weighed food has a caloric value and tells you how many grams of each macronutrient it contains. The idea is to hit all of your macros within a few grams each day.
The calculations are never going to be 100% accurate but they will give you a ballpark as to where you should begin. The best way to learn about your specific needs is through trial and error. Being consistent for a period of time with a specific amount of then making modifications based on the outcome.
This method is very effective for a few reasons.
You get the right amount of energy based on your activity level to support your training.
If you are trying to lose weight the focus is on fat loss and muscle maintenance.
If you want to make gains you are ensuring the right amount of carbs and protein to get the most out of your training sessions.
The focus on food quality and variety will ensure you get the right amount of micronutrients to avoid deficiencies leading to poor recovery and illness.
The most important takeaway here is the top athletes ability to remain consistent. Their diet isn't something they just do when it's convenient, it is an inherent part of their success and therefore taken just as seriously as their training.
Keep in mind top athletes aren't eating to look good, they are eating to perform their best, looking good is just a perk.
There are definitely athletes that aren't weighing and tracking their food, Mat Fraser for example is one of them. But most of them have done so at some point in time, or they've gone through the process of learning about the caloric, macronutrient and micronutrient content of their intake and how to build meals accordingly.
These people aren't just doing shit without knowing the reason behind it, it's not guess work. They aren't taking tons of supplements daily because a friend of a friend who has a sub 3 minute Fran told them to.
*Personally I've found that my clients have an easier time estimating their portion sizes after they've used a food scale for a period of time.
HAVING ABS YEAR ROUND
"It's possible that the ripped trainer at the gym has better genes, but if you haven’t put in the same reps, it’s impossible to say if you have been dealt a better or worse genetic hand. Until you work as hard as those you admire, don’t explain away their success as luck."
James Clear, Atomic habits
Having abs year round doesn't come down to a diet you did one time for 2 months, it's what you are doing day after day , week after week , year after year. Physically healthy people with good performance and abs aren’t yo-yo dieting, their diet like their training routine is part of their everyday life.
These people have stopped searching for ways of fitting into the fad diet pop culture of Crossfit and instead learned the basics of good nutrition. They then adapted it to a way of eating that allows them to remain flexible but at the same time achieve their physical / performance goals regardless of the situation and the food available to them.
Mat Fraser has the basics of good nutrition mastered and although his calorie needs coming from carbohydrates are a lot higher than the average joe, most of his foods are high quality packed with nutrients. Things like Snickers fit into specific situations of high intensity high volume training sessions that require the onset of quick energy sources. Highly processed foods make sense because they are low volume, high calorie and quick digesting and can mean the difference between winning and losing.
Does that mean the amateur athlete with the 6 pack abs at your gym aren't indulging ever?
Not at all , flexible dieting or learning to build balanced meals allows you to include all types of foods in your diet. It also helps you better navigate all the false information created by food marketers and nutrition zealots.
Educating yourself empowers you to make your own informed decisions based on what you know works and makes sense in your everyday busy life.
If you exercise regularly and are interested in improving your performance and losing some fat, click on the link below and let's chat.
You can also sign up for my free nutrition guide to learn how to make balanced meals by clicking on the link below.