The CrossFit Open: How now is NOT the time to ‘eat clean’ – and similar workout nutrition.

Hey guys and girls, it’s that funny time of year, if you’re into CrossFit anyway, that people start getting a bit of a cold sweat on and fearing the 23rd February.

That’s not because CrossFit is disappearing, no.. It’s worse. It’s coming in all it’s self centered glory, FAST.

Now just because you’re not into CrossFit doesn’t mean you won’t get value from this, so hang with me 🙂 But the 23rd of February is the coming of the CrossFit open, a HUGE 5-week long, world-wide, online competition where every CrossFit athlete in the world can compete in the same workout, to be placed on that fabled leaderboard, and a LOT of people take part. The idea is to place top 100 in your country or region and get invited to the regional level competition, and eventually the Games if you’re that good.

The truth is me and you are not going to get that far, there may be some of you, but for 99% of us it’s an amazing opportunity to just place in the world and compare yourself and your fitness. I have no ambition to go to the CrossFit games, I’ve seen the way those athletes train and the life they lead from a second-hand perspective through my mentor, I’m not interested in that. My ambition is to possibly help people get there through nutrition and build an amazing business as well.

I’m starting to digress though… 🙂

The one issue I’ve seen a few times though with advice plastered on some sites for Open preparation is that you need to start eating clean, avoiding processed foods and dialling in all the alcohol, junk and eating stricter whole foods, maybe even take up paleo diet. I agree with the alcohol, 100%, but that’s my opinion,  I can’t stand the stuff. But everything else I don’t agree on.

When you start to ‘eat clean’ we tend to develop a tendency to avoid starchier foods and switching to leaner, less carby, paleo choices like fruit and vegetables and sweet potatoes. The bi-weekly trips to Wagamamas are cut, and those trusty high calories evening snacks are swapped for homemade dips and toast. BRILLIANT for weight loss, but let’s look at strictly what is is – a Calorie Deficit. The only time we want a calorie deficit is when we sign off that we’re happy to stave off performance, recovery and strength gains in return for better body composition and weight loss.

This holds true for people in a gym/sport/training environment too. If you’re happy to lose weight and not focus on strength and performance a calorie deficit is the only place to be. Calories IN have to be LESS than Calories OUT to lose weight and lean up. The opposite is true if you want tor recover optimally and grow and get hench. Paleo dieting mindset completely removes grains, starches and dairy from our diets. And in a time of such high carbohydrate demand, the easiest and most efficient source of carbs are actually those things we’re restricting. Oats, breads and starches (rice/potatoes) are SO easy and accessible that they act as an amazing fuel source for our workouts.


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But, as CrossFit athletes at this time of year, the open also brings with it a switch from training to competing. If you’ve taken part in an Open workout, when you’re being judged by one person it all of a sudden becomes a lot more competitive. Throw in your mates around you doing the same workout, all being judged too, as well as spectators watching you shouting your name, competition takes over and naturally pushing into 100%/110% effort range, where normally you MAY be cruising at 90% most days.

With this new found competitiveness, and more challenging workouts, our central nervous system is going to take a hit too, you will be hit a bit harder than regular workouts and may end up getting familiar with the dirty gym floor after the workout, you know you smashed it when that happens… 😉

Recovery and performance just DOES NOT HAPPEN with a calorie deficit though, be mindful.

Carbs are a necessary part of recovery, you saw my articles on the human energy systems didn’t you – check the bottom of the page! But those carbs are vital to restoring blood sugar and driving nutrients to our muscles, without carbs we limit the amount of glucose available for our workouts and instead tap into other inefficient fuel sources. When carbs are in abundant supply, and calories IN are higher than calories OUT, we have a position for recovery. Throw in that carbs are the easiest energy source to tap into as well and we’re starting to help our bodies that bit more mid-workout.

This doesn’t mean we can throw caution to the wind and eat all junk food we can get though, that’s bad advice. What I am saying, however, is that carby bit of Soreen loaf may be just the few additional carbs you need before bed, whereas previously you’d have avoided that when ‘eating clean’, flinching at the thought of ice cream.

Also consider the Open is larger aerobic in nature and we have a perfect recipe for a disaster if we limit carbs. See specifically my articles on the 1:) Glycolysis and 2:) Aerobic Energy system and their requirement to use carbs and oxygen for energy.

The perfect time to address your body composition or weight loss goals should’ve been sometime after the open last year where there was less of a need for performance, where in contrast, Christmas and the months before the open should’ve been the time to start piling on carbs, in a controlled manner obviously…

I’m going to write another article on how the Paleo diet became associated with CrossFit, so keep an eye out for that. But it absolutely has no place in when you’re looking for strength, performance and recovery. That transition to more whole foods and stricter snack choices just doesn’t correspond with the additional amount of carbs or calories we need right now.

As I said, this holds the same for anyone in a gym environment wanting to go hard. If you’re restricting your calories lower than what you burn in a day, you’ll never be driving strength and performance but instead be subconsciously driving weight loss and body composition, IF those planets are even aligned correctly. So keep an eye on your goals and realistically assess whether you’re in a calorie surplus or a deficit. You can only choose one: Strength/Performance or Body Composition/weight loss. Calories Surplus or Calorie Deficit, you’re choice… 😉

Wanna Charge Up those workouts…?

Check out those other articles I mentioned before:

Glycolysis Energy System

Aerobic Energy System

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