Your nutrition choices directly impact your athletic performance. So, proper fueling for CrossFit and functional fitness competitions can be the difference between performing at your best or feeling slow and like you can't kick it into the next gear.
It’s competition day. You had a restless night’s sleep, your nerves are high, and you can't find your lucky socks. You aren’t sure whether to send it on that Thruster chipper or leave some in the tank. Should you have oatmeal and protein powder for breakfast or an egg white quiche and some fruit?
While you may be unable to directly impact your nerves or sleep quality, and you may never track down those socks in time, you can set the foundation for excellent performance using your nutrition.
With any nutrition plan, the approach needs to be individualized for optimal results. Not only for your body and priorities (body comp change? Performance? Both?) but also for the timing and stimulus of the workout.
Setting Goals For Competition
Before a CrossFit or functional fitness competition, you need to get clear on your goals. This will ensure your actions and expectations align and minimize frustration.
- Are you looking to perform at your very best? You may need to delay your weight loss goal to ensure you're properly fueled for training leading up to—and during—the competition.
- Or, do you want to have fun while continuing to prioritize weight loss? If so, you may not find yourself at the top of the podium, but you can still push hard, enjoy the experience and do your best.
- Is the competition a multi-day and multi-workout, or are workouts more spread out (ex: the CrossFit Open with one workout per week)? This will influence when and if you increase macros for competition days.
All of these factors influence your nutritional approach. So, let’s break down specific tips for fueling a CrossFit or functional fitness competition based on your goals: recreational (you want to have fun but prioritize longer-term body composition goals) or competitive (you want to prioritize optimal performance).
Nutrition for Recreational Athletes During Competition
Most athletes fall into the category of "recreational competitors." This means you're still interested in losing fat, but body composition goals supersede competition goals. If this is you, stick with the same nutrition plan that has been working for you leading up to the competition.
If you prioritize weight loss over performance, you may still be able to perform well but will likely fatigue faster and recover more slowly. The tips below will help you mitigate these side effects as much as possible.
Note: If you are new to competition and have just started dialing in your nutrition, you may still feel great and crush it compared to past competitions. This experience will be different for everyone!
Nutrition for single-workout competitions (ex: The CrossFit Open)
You don’t need more carbohydrates leading up to game day if your main goal is optimizing body composition over crushing your competitors. Stick to the plan you’ve been working with and hone in on basic nutrient-timing principles to maximize efficiency like...
- Focus 70% of your total daily carbohydrates within a two-hour window before the competition and two hours after the competition. For a single-competition workout like The Open, this will be enough for most individuals [1,2].
- For leaner competitors (less than 15% for men and 25% for women), aim to consume a protein/carb shake as you warm up—15 grams of protein and 30-40 grams of carbs is a good start. This could look like protein powder with coconut water and a banana [1,2].
Nutrition for multiple-workout competitions (ex: local comps with 2+ workouts in one day)
Things become more nuanced when fueling for a Crossfit or functional fitness competition that features multiple workouts in a day. The biggest factor here is how many total workouts you're doing.
For each additional workout, increase your total daily carbohydrates by 30-40 grams. This gives you enough wiggle room to add a protein/carb shake or snack before each additional workout .
Why a shake? It can be effective for two reasons .
- It’s convenient! You can throw bananas, protein powder, and a thermos full of ice-cold coconut water into your gym back, and you're good to go. No cooler needed!
- Quick digestion. Your body will use that fuel effectively for your workout ASAP after drinking. Plus, the last thing you want to do is overload your gut with a complex meal to digest.
A Few More CrossFit and Functional Fitness Fueling Tips
- Stick to foods you're comfortable with and have eaten around training before. This ensures that you'll be able to digest it efficiently.
- This is not the time to try a new supplement or meal “just to see if it works."
- Ensure you have another quick-digesting snack or shake to eat/drink ASAP after each competition to kick-start your recovery. This is especially important if you're competing in more than one event.
- Keep fat low before and after the workout. Fat slows the digestion of the carbs/fats they eat, which is no good when you need quick energy and optimal recovery. Focus on higher-fat foods in your meals after the event .
- For an all-day event, bring extra food! There is nothing worse than running out and having to rely on others.
Note: Is your goal to gain muscle? The same principles apply. Load carbohydrates and protein around the competition and add in carbohydrates if there are multiple events in a day.
Nutrition for Competitive Athletes During Competition
There are a few people who may fall into this category:
- You are highly motivated, at your “ideal” body composition to maximize performance, and are willing to make the necessary nutritional sacrifices to achieve your goals.
- You may have a long-term weight loss goal, but you're okay with putting it on the back burner to reach your current competition goals—no matter how long that may be.
While the principles of nutrient timing during a competition are similar to those of recreational athletes, it’s necessary to employ another strategy to achieve peak performance.
Competition Fueling for Competitive Athletes
If your main goal is to optimize your performance, you're likely used to engaging in multiple training sessions per day and are (hopefully!) consuming mostly quality foods.
Leading up to a competition, you've probably spent some time at calorie maintenance (vs. a deficit) because optimizing performance requires your body to be primed and loaded with optimal calories for training, recovery, stress management, and sleep quality.
Note: If you have a competition coming up, want to prioritize performance, and are currently in a deficit, a 1:1 coach can help you determine how far out of your competition you need to bring your body back to maintenance and what that maintenance calorie level is.
So, how can you find an extra edge over your competition using nutrition?
Your main focus as a competitive athlete—outside of intra-competition fuel—is ensuring that your energy stores are topped off before the competition begins. Here are a few tips to make this happen:
- Refeed days FOR competition. A refeed day is a different set of macros that with moderate protein, low fat, and high carbohydrates with the intention of topping off your muscle glycogen levels for peak performance. Employ a refeed day on each day of competition.
- Refeed day BEFORE the competition. You will also need to add refeed days BEFORE the competition. The length of the competition determines how many refeed days you may need leading up to the competition. A good rule of thumb is one extra refeed for each day of competition.
- Example: A two-day competition requires two days of refeeds leading up to it, meaning a competition on Friday and Saturday also needs a refeed on Wednesday and Thursday, totaling four refeed days.
- Example: A three-day competition requires three extra refeed days, totaling six refeeds.
- Competitive athletes can follow the same intra-workout shake guidelines as recreational athletes. Aim to consume 15 grams of protein and 30-40 grams of carbohydrates for every workout you do .
- If it’s just a single workout competition that day, try a shake while you warm up. If it’s a multi-event competition that day, consume multiple shakes.
Wrapping Up Nutrition for CrossFit & Functional Fitness Competitions
Keep competition nutrition simple...you have enough to think about with the workouts themselves!
If you're competing in a single event (per day) competition, you likely won’t need a higher-level plan than eating 70% of your carbohydrates around the event and utilizing a liquid carb/protein shake pre-workout.
If your competition features multiple events per day, introduce an additional shake for each additional workout. Refeed days can be an excellent addition to your plan—add refeeds on the day or days of the competition and additional refeed days leading up to the competition.
Still need some guidance? Check out these other resources:
- Aragon A.A., Schoenfeld B.J. (2013). Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window? J Int Soc Sports Nutr., 10(1), 5. DOI: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-5
- Cribb P.J., Hayes A. (2006). Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc., 38(11), 1918-25. DOI: 10.1249/01.mss.0000233790.08788.3e
- Berardi J.M., et al. (2006).Postexercise muscle glycogen recovery enhanced with a carbohydrate-protein supplement. Med Sci Sports Exerc., 38(6),1106-13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16775553/