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Nutrition for CrossFit & Functional Fitness Competitions: How to Coach Your Clients

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Are you nervous about coaching your nutrition client through a CrossFit or functional fitness competition? You’re not alone.

As a coach, you want your clients to succeed and feel great as they take on each event. And, because they’re relying on you to guide them it can feel like a lot of pressure (we get it)! That’s why we’re here with some tips to boost your confidence.

Imagine this...

It’s competition day. Your athlete had a restless night’s sleep. Nerves are high. They cannot decide which pair of leggings or socks to wear. They aren’t sure whether to send it on that Thruster chipper or leave some in the tank. Should they have oatmeal and protein powder for breakfast or an egg white quiche and some fruit?

It is your job to ensure your athletes are nutritionally prepared to give their best. While you may not be able to calm their nerves, induce restful sleep, or pick out their clothes, you CAN set the foundation for excellent performance through nutrition.

As with any nutrition plan, the approach needs to be nuanced and individualized for optimal results. Your plan needs to be based on the individual relative to their goals and the style of competition.

Before a CrossFit or functional fitness competition, we suggest having an open, candid conversation with your client to make sure you’re both on the same page about their goals.

  • Are they looking to perform at their very best? This may require them to let go of weight loss goals for a period of time to ensure they’re properly fueled for training leading up the competition and for the competition itself.
  • Are they looking to have fun while continuing to prioritize leaning out? If so, they may not be top of the podium, but they can still push hard, enjoy the experience and do their best.
  • Is the competition a multi-day, multi-workout in the style of the CrossFit games or is it an online qualifier featuring one workout per day for five days? This will influence when and if you increase macros for competition days.

All of these factors influence the nutrition you will prescribe for a client. So, let’s break down specific tips for coaching athletes through a CrossFit/functional fitness competition based on athlete type: recreational and competitive.

Nutrition for Recreational Athletes During Competition  

Most of your athletes will fall into the category of a recreational competitor. They’re likely still interested in losing fat with body composition goals superseding competition goals. For this reason, we recommend keeping clients on the same nutrition plan leading up to the competition.

The tips below will help you mitigate these effects as much as possible. But, it is still important to make sure you’re on the same page about expectations. Because losing body fat requires your client to be in a caloric deficit, they may still be able to perform well but will likely fatigue faster and recover more slowly.

Note: If your client is new to competition and has just started dialing in their nutrition, they 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 have to prescribe more carbohydrates leading up to game-day if your client’s main goal is still optimizing body composition over crushing their competitors. Stick to the plan you’ve been working with and hone in on basic nutrient-timing principles to maximize efficiency like [1,2]...

  • Focus 70% of their total daily carbohydrates within the window of two hours before the competition and two hours after the competition. For a single-competition workout like The Open, this will be enough for most individuals.
  • For leaner competitors (less than 15% for men and 25% for women), opt to have them consume a protein/carb shake as they warm-up. 15 grams of protein and 30-40 grams of carbs. This could look like protein powder with coconut water and a banana.

Nutrition for multiple-workout competitions (ex: local comps with 2+ workouts in one day)

Things become more complicated when a client is fueling for a Crossfit or functional fitness competition that features multiple workouts in a day. As a coach, the first thing you need to know is how many workouts your client is doing.

For each additional workout, increase their total daily carbohydrates by 30-40 grams. This gives them enough wiggle room to add a protein/carb shake or snack before each additional workout [2].

Why a shake? It can be effective for two reasons [3].

  1. It’s convenient! A client can throw bananas, protein powder, and a thermos full of ice-cold coconut water into their gym back and they’re good to go. No cooler needed! Because they’re only doing one workout, it won’t be an all-day event.
  2. Quick digestion. Their body will use that fuel effectively for their workout ASAP after drinking. Plus, the last thing you want to do is overload their gut with a complex meal to digest.

Need a few other tips to share?

  • Encourage them to stick to foods they’re comfortable with and have eaten around training before. This ensures that they’ll be able to digest it efficiently.
  • This is not the time for a client to try a new supplement or meal “just to see if it works”.
  • Ensure they have another quick-digesting snack or shake to eat/drink ASAP after each competition to kick-start their recovery. This is especially important if they’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 they need quick energy and optimal recovery. They can focus their higher fat foods in their meals after the event [3].
  • For an all-day event, encourage them to bring extra food! There is nothing worse than running out and having to rely on others.

Note: Are you working with a client who is looking to gain muscle (vs. those currently in a “cut”)? 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’s a good chance that as you grow as a coach, you’ll attract individuals that are either professional athletes or aspiring professional athletes. These individuals are highly motivated, typically at their “ideal” body composition to maximize performance, and are willing to make the necessary nutritional sacrifices to achieve their goals.

While the principals of nutrient timing during a competition hold steady from the recreational athletes, it’s necessary to employ another strategy to achieve peak performance.

These individuals should already be used to multiple training sessions per day and are likely already consuming mostly quality foods.

They also aren’t going to be in a caloric deficit because optimizing performance requires them to be at maintenance or sometimes, in an energy surplus. So, their bodies are primed and loaded with optimal sleep and recovery practices.

So, how can you give them the extra edge they’re looking for?

Appropriate Competition Fueling for Competitive Athletes

Your main focus with competitive athletes - outside of intra-competition fuel - is ensuring that their energy stores are topped off before the competition begins. Here are a few tips to make this happen:

  1. 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 a client’s muscle glycogen levels for peak performance. Prescribe a refeed day on each day of competition.

  2. Refeed day BEFORE competition. You will also need to prescribe refeed days BEFORE the competition. The length of the competition determines how many refeed days a client should have leading up to the competition. A good rule of thumb is one extra refeed for each day of competition.
    1. 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, totalling four refeed days.
    2. Example: A three-day competition requires three extra refeed days, totalling in six refeeds.

  3. Competitive athletes can follow the same intra-workout shake guidelines as recreational athletes. Have them consume 15 grams of protein and 30-40 grams of carbohydrates for every workout that’s being completed [2].
    1. If it’s just a single workout competition that day, they can have the shake while they warm up. If it’s a multi-event competition that day, have them consume multiple shakes.

Wrapping it up

Keep competition nutrition simple...your clients have enough to think about!

Most individuals who compete in a single-event (per day) competition won’t need a higher-level plan than simply eating 70% of their carbohydrates around the event and utilizing a liquid carb/protein shake pre-workout.

If their competition features multiple events per day, introduce an additional shake for each additional workout. When it comes to high-level athletes, refeed days can be an excellent addition to the plan. Prescribe refeeds on the day or days of the competition and additional refeed days leading up to the competition based on the length of the competition.

Make sure to remind your clients to have fun! At the end of the day, that is what it is all about for most of them and it can help to take some pressure off.

And, don’t forget to have fun yourself. There’s nothing more satisfying than enabling an excellent performance through sound, fundamental nutritional recommendations!

Still need some guidance? Check out these other WAG Resources:

If you’ve loved learning more about how to make sure a client is nailing their nutrition for CrossFit & functional fitness competition, check out the WAG Coach Certification and sign up for the presale list. We’ll teach you everything you need to know about how to work with clients to help them reach their goals - competitive or otherwise.

If you can’t wait to start learning, check out our Free Video Series with WAG Ceo and Founder, Adee Cazayoux. She’ll teach you how to get clients life-changing results as you build confidence in your coaching abilities!

References:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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/

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Posted by Michael Vanchieri
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Michael is a coach and blog writer for WAG. He also owns and operates a joint health practice in New York City. His passion is providing people with the mental and physical tools to live their lives to the highest degree of freedom possible.

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