What should you eat before, during and after a CrossFit Competition?

You’ve paid your registration fees, put in the extra work at the box, studied the WOD’s for the competition (If they’ve been released), but, how much attention have you paid to your Pre, Mid and Post Competition Nutrition?

Failing to plan is planning to fail, and you want to have all areas covered to give you the highest possible chance of success on the day!

Your body needs to be fuelled properly before an event. This process starts in the 24-48 hours prior to you even warming up on the day. Having a smart and well organised nutrition plan will prevent low energy, fatigue, muscle weakness, ensure your muscle glycogen stores are at optimal levels, avoiding hunger throughout the day and to help minimise any chances of muscle cramping.

Lets look at the three Macronutrients and their roles in this process:

Carbohydrate:

We have probably all heard of Carbohydrate loading, its aim is to maximise an athletes muscle glycogen stores prior to exercise. More glycogen stored in the muscles equals more energy for muscle tissue, and better production of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) which is vital for muscle contraction. Studies have shown that low levels of muscle glycogen will inhibit the bodies ability regenerate ATP, and in turn, resist fatigue. [1]  

Current recommendations suggest that for sustained or intermittent exercise, longer than 90 minutes, athletes should consume 10-12 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body mass per day in the 36-48 hours prior to exercise. For high intensity exercise shorter than 90 minutes, 7-12 grams should be consumed in the 24 hours preceding the event. [2] Post exercise, it is recommended that for maximal glycogen synthesis, 1.0–1.2 g/kg/hour is consumed for the first 4 hours, followed by resumption of daily carbohydrate requirements. [2] Additional protein has been shown to enhance glycogen synthesis rates when carbohydrate intake is suboptimal. The best forms of carbohydrate to eat during competition are foods that will digest quickly and be absorbed into the blood stream. Fruit, whole milk and starchy carbs are ideal, Vegetable matter will tend to take longer to digest due to its fibre content.

Protein:

Protein consumption prior to the event should be kept at usual consumption levels, for most this will mean 2.2 grams per kilogram of body mass. Protein consumption after exercise increases muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and helps negate any risk of muscle oxidation. Dose-response studies have shown that a minimum serve of 20 grams of high-quality protein is sufficient to maximise MPS following resistance and high intensity exercise. [3] MPS has been shown to triple approximately 45-90 minutes after protein consumption at rest. In one study feeding 20 g of whey protein every 3 hours was subsequently found to maximally stimulate muscle myofibrillar protein synthesis following resistance exercise. [5] On competition day, try and maintain protein intake to a minimum of 20 grams every 3 hours. Post competition, return to normal intake levels.

Fats:

Whilst fat is a fuel source, and its popularity as a fuel source has increased in popularity in the last few years, it is more suited for longer endurance based events, like a marathon. As CrossFit competitions are usually shorter WOD’s of 12-15 minutes or less spread over the course of a few hours, fat shouldn’t be relied on as a sole source of energy. Studies have shown that low carb, high fat “Ketosis” diets generally see a reduction in performance. [6] By all means, still include some fats on the day, (Peanut Butter springs to mind due to its convenience) but be aware that fat will take longer for your body to convert to energy than carbohydrate.

So, what about Branch Chain Amino Acids? BCAA’s definitely have a role in supporting your recovery on competition day and into your recovery post competition. Whilst some studies have shown that BCAA intake by itself doesn’t aid in recovery, the addition of protein to BCAA intake does reduce muscle protein breakdown and increase MPS. Pre competition day keep levels to your usual intake. During comp day try to take in 200 mg per kilogram, usually split into two doses. The day after competition, resume normal intake.

Hydration:

You can have all of your nutrition squared away, but your performance will be incredibly hampered if you are dehydrated! Fluid intake prior to and throughout the day is extremely important. The purpose of fluid intake during exercise is to regulate thermoregulation (keep you cool) and increase performance levels by maintaining optimal hydration. This can be closely linked to sweat loss, so you will also need to factor in temperatures leading up to and during the competition. Due to the many differences in human beings, there is no “one size fits all” response to how much you should drink. But, a good rule is to intake 0.033 mls per kilogram of bodyweight as a minimum at rest. This will mean you will need to increase your intake to support you during competition. An addition of an electrolyte will also aid rehydration and increase performance. Aim for 1.5 to 2 grams of electrolyte included in your water throughout the day.

So, what does this look like in real terms?

In the 24 hours prior to competition, eat well throughout the day. Maintain your hydration and increase your carbohydrate levels, especially with your meal the night before. This will ensure your muscle glycogen levels are at their peak. As a side note, this should be a REST day! Aim to work on some mobility, Don’t train!

The morning of competition, aim to eat a breakfast with a good mix of protein and carbohydrate at a minimum of 200-400 calories.  A serve of oats, some scrambled eggs and fruit is ideal. If, like some people, you are too nervous to sit down to a full meal, try and take this in in the form of a shake or smoothie.

Depending on how many WOD’s you are completing on the day, and the time taken between heats, you will need to take in a mixture of a minimum of 20 grams of Protein, plus at least 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of bodyweight post each event. Try and consume this within 5-10 minutes of your event finishing. For post event meals, favour fast digesting foods. Micronised Protein powder and easily digested carbohydrate sources like fruit or starchy foods. Make sure you stay hydrated as well, and keep on top of your BCAA and electrolytes if you are using them.

If you are at an all day event, try and time a midday meal, again, favour protein and carbohydrates, but include some fat. Due to the fact that you should have more time to digest this meal, like breakfast, aim for a minimum of 200-400 calories, and include some slower digesting animal protein like Chicken, Beef or Tuna.

Post competition, remember, recovery does not begin until you eat post-workout. Eat within 15-20 minutes of your last event, and hydrate as required. Aim for a mix of fast digesting proteins and carbohydrates with some fat.

Some points to remember:

Stay HYDRATED! (Look out for your buddies as well)

Don’t try any “new” foods or supplements on the day of competition. You want to be fully aware of how your body will react. Same goes for new lifters, speed ropes etc. Stick with what you know!

Avoid slower digesting carbohydrates and protein in between events. Make sure the foods you eat contain adequate calories, too. A wise man once stated, “If it takes more calories to eat than the energy you get from it, then its not worth your hassle”.

20 grams of protein minimum post events coupled with 1-1.2 grams of carbohydrates per kilogram of bodyweight.

BCAA used in addition to protein will help speed your bodies recovery and better prepare you for later events.

Be prepared well in advance, it is better to be left with too much food after a competition, than be hungry and without food during it! Pack your food ready to go the night before, and have your bag packed, with all necessary equipment and mobility tools, ready at the door. If you are keeping food in the fridge overnight, put a note on top of your bag to remind you to pack the food!

In conclusion, fuelling your body correctly in the lead-up, during and post competition will increase your performance and aid your recovery. With some good planning and organisation you will be giving yourself the best possible chance to perform to your highest standard.

If you would like to know more about how correct nutrition will increase your performance and improve results, or you would like to book a one on one Nutrition planning appointment, fill out the form below.

  1. N. Ortenblad, H. Westerblad, J. Neilsen Muscle Glycogen stores and fatigue.J Physiol. 2013 Sep 15; 591(Pt 18): 4405–4413. Published online 2013 May 7. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2013.251629
  • Burke LM, Hawley JA, Wong SH, Jeukendrup AE. Carbohydrates for training and competition. J Sports Sci. 2011;29(Suppl 1):S17–S27
  • Witard OC, Jackman SR, Breen L, Smith K, Selby A, Tipton KD. Myofibrillar muscle protein synthesis rates subsequent to a meal in response to increasing doses of whey protein at rest and after resistance exercise. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;99(1):86–95.
  • Atherton PJ, Etheridge T, Watt PW, et al. Muscle full effect after oral protein: time-dependent concordance and discordance between human muscle protein synthesis and mTORC1 signaling. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(5):1080–1088.
  • Areta JL, Burke LM, Ross ML, et al. Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. J Physiol. 2013;591(Pt 9):2319–2331.
  • Tellingwerff T, Spriet LL, Watt MJ, et al. Decreased PDH activation and glycogenolysis during exercise following fat adaptation with carbohydrate restoration. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2006;290(2):E380–E388.

Coach Matt Whittemore

AUTHOR: Head Coach Matt Whittemore has over 20 years experience in making people fitter and stronger. He spent 16 years in the Australian Army, working in various training roles, including years as a Recruit Instructor, working with men and women of of all backgrounds and ages to reach their full potential. Since discharging from the Army, Matt has devoted his time to making sure that the general population all have access to a proven training style that allows them to become fitter, stronger, faster and more powerful versions of themselves.




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