We moved into the apartment yesterday and are still getting things worked out. I actually got the internet to work this morning. I didn’t need to call a 12 year old for help. Yesterday i had a procedure to put in a “tunnel line” in my chest instead of a PICC line in my arm. This will be used to draw blood, set IVs, give meds etc instead of poking me multiple times every day. It’s just a pain to shower with. Tomorrow Sunday 11/12 I start chemo and have it Mon, Tue and Wed also. Then Thursday 11/16 I have the bone marrow transplant. I will be isolated at OHSU for 2-4 weeks while my immune system rebuilds itself. Then stay in Portland until 100 days from 11/16, transplant day to monitor me for donor rejection issues. Sorry if you’ve heard this a few times already.
Good luck to Jodi/Chelsea/KG at their competition today. Hope you had a chance to go watch it and cheer them on.
Carbs for CrossFit: What You Need to Know
In the world CrossFit, strength, endurance and coordination collide, requiring athletes to optimize programming and nutrition to perform at their best.
Whether you’re an experienced athlete aiming to qualify for a high-level competition or a newcomer eager to PR your first workout, carbohydrates are a vital component of any CrossFit nutrition plan and can help you take your performance to the next level.
Today, we’re digging into why carbs are important for CrossFit, how to calculate your carbohydrate needs, carb sources, and carbohydrate timing to optimize performance and recovery.
Why Are Carbs Important for CrossFit?
Carbohydrates are your body’s primary energy source for your CrossFit workouts. Although protein and fat help with muscle strength and sustained energy levels (respectively) carbs are the fuel to your fire come 3, 2, 1, go.
How Do Carbs Become Energy?
When you eat carbohydrates, they’re broken down into glucose and enter your bloodstream. If your body’s cells need immedate energy, that glucose is used to create ATP through a process called cellular respiration. Any unused glucose is stored as glycogen in your muscles and liver.
Where liver glycogen can be used to fuel many body processes and stabilize blood sugar levels, muscle glycogen stores can only be used within muscle to power your movement and recovery; it is a vital component of energy for high-intensity exercise.
Although muscle glycogen storage potential varies slightly from person to person, there is about 5x more glycogen stored in your muscles than in your liver .
What If You Don’t Eat Enough Carbs?
When you eat a meal mixed with protein, carbs, and fat, your body prefers to use carbs for energy before fat and protein .
If you don’t eat enough carbs to fill your glycogen stores, muscle can be broken down into its amino acid constituents, converted to glucose, and used as energy. This isn’t ideal when you want to keep your muscle as strong and full as possible. So, eating enough carbohydrates is important when performance is one of your main goals.
What Happens if You Eat Too Many Carbs?
If your muscle and liver glycogen stores are full and your cells don’t need immediate energy, excess carbs may be converted to triglycerides and stored as body fat.
How Many Carbs Do You Need For CrossFit
The exact amount of carbs you need for exercise depends on a few factors.
- Your goals: If you want to lose weight or have a leaner body composition, you likely need fewer carbs than if you want to maintain your current weight or put on muscle. In this case, meal timing can help you optimize performance as much as possible.
- Exercise intensity and frequency: The more you exercise and the higher intensity that exercise is, the more carbs you need.
- Genetics: Some people process and utilize carbohydrates more efficiently than others. Determining if this applies to you takes some experimentation.
- Food preferences: If you prefer higher fat foods, you may be able to get away with fewer carbs if you time your carbohydrates around your workouts.
But what about exact carbohydrate needs for CrossFit? Working Against Gravity’s Free Macro Calculator will help you determine your daily calorie and macro numbers based on your goals. If you want support from a pro, consider hiring a 1-on-1 nutrition coach.
Where to Get Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are mainly found in fruits, starchy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, sugary foods, and sweets. The infographic below will give you more specific carb inspiration.
Types of Carbohydrates
As you can see in the infographic above, carbs can be categorized based on their density. This refers to the amount of carbohydrates per gram of each food. Higher density carbs have more carbs per gram than their lower density counterparts.
Carbs can also be classified as “simple” or “complex”.
Simple carbohydrates are broken down quickly and are best eaten close to workouts. They’re usually lower in fiber and spike blood sugar quickly. Outside of workout times, try your best to pair simple carbohydrates with a healthy protein or fat source. Simple carbs include:
- White rice, pasta, and bread
- Maple Syrup
- Refined cereal and snack foods
Complex carbohydrates are higher in fiber and break down more slowly. For optimal health and performance, complex carbohydrates should make up the majority of your daily carbohydrate intake. Complex carbs include:
- Starchy Veggies
- Whole grains
Carb Timing for CrossFit
Once you’ve determined your exact carbohydrate needs with a calculator or with a coach, you can begin to dig into meal timing based on your workout schedule. The percentages below are a good starting point but can be adjusted based on feedback from your body, training sessions, and recovery.
If You Train Before Breakfast
- 40% carbs post-workout
- 30% carbs at lunch
- 30% carbs spread evenly throughout the rest of your day
If You Train in the Morning (After Breakfast)
- 35% carbs pre-workout
- 35% carbs post-workout
- 30% carbs spread evenly throughout the rest of your day
If You Train in the Afternoon/Night
- 15% carbs at breakfast
- 30% carbs pre-workout
- 30% carbs post-workout
- 25% carbs spread evenly throughout the rest of your day
Additional Notes & Considerations:
- These are general guidelines, not exact percentages.
- You don’t need to eat “pre-workout” or “post-workout” carb percentages in one meal. For example, the 30% carbs pre-workout when you train in the afternoon or night could look like 20% at lunch and 10% immediately pre-workout.
- Keep fat low in the meals or snacks surrounding your workout.
- Keep protein even throughout your day.
- Keep high-fiber food limited before your workout to limit GI distress.
- Eating a meal ASAP post-workout (aka the 40-minute gains window) is advantageous but not 100% necessary unless you’re training fasted. If you are training without any fuel in the tank, prioritize a quick digesting carb and lean protein source as soon as possible post-workout.
- Important Note: Meal timing is a more advanced macro tracking strategy. Consistent daily intake is more important than timing. If you’re new to tracking macros, start by dialing in consistency before diving into meal timing.
The TLDR on Carbs for CrossFit
Carbohydrates play an imperative role in fueling for CrossFit performance and recovery. When deciding how many carbs you need, there are many different variables to take into account from goals and personal food preferences to genetics and your unique training schedule.
This article is a great starting point as you dial in your macros and ensure you’re eating enough carbs to fuel your workouts. If you still have questions or want to offload the stress of wondering what and how much to eat, consider hiring a 1-on-1 coach.
WAG coaches have supported athletes of all levels—from new CrossFiters to Games Champions—with their nutrition and we’d love to help you reach your performance and body composition goals. Learn more about our membership options here.
- Jensen, J., Rustad, P., Kolnes, A., & Lai, Y. (2011). The role of skeletal muscle glycogen breakdown for regulation of insulin sensitivity by exercise. Front Physiol, 2, 112. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2011.00112
- Elia, M., Folmer, P., Schlatmann, A., Goren, A., & Austin S. (1988). Carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism in muscle and in the hwole body fter mixed meal ingestion. Metabolism, 37(6), 542-51. doi: 10.1016/0026-0495(88)90169-2.