If you are a CrossFitter, you’re heading into the Open this year. That means 5 weeks of grueling [but fun] workouts that are meant to test your past years’ worth of training. That means 5 weeks of increased stress, activity, and intensity. Are you changing your nutrition to match the new demands you’re putting on your body? Did you even know that was a thing?
Well fortunately for you, now you know the answer should be YES!
You live in seasons when it comes to your training. You have your in-seasons and your off-seasons. As you head into the Open, you’re beginning your in-season and your nutrition should be altered and changed to match demands from this new period of training.
This is the basis for Nutrition Periodization.
You may be familiar with periodization when it comes to your training. You have peak seasons or “in-season” and recovery seasons or “off-seasons”. Training periodization is what allows for adaptations and improvements in one’s training. You’re not meant to be at your tip-top shape 365 days out of the year. Your training needs to allow for periods of recovery and for periods of performance.
It’s pretty simple to understand when thinking of a professional athlete. Their training needs to be organized and structured so that they are at peak shape and performance when it comes time to compete. Take our CrossFit Games athletes, who compete in August. August is their peak season. They need to be their fittest and strongest selves come time for August. In the off-season, they’re not training to the same intensity as they do in the months leading up to the games. It’s all organized. Mat Fraser, because of his fitness level, is guaranteed essentially a spot in the Games. When it comes time for the Open to start, he’s still in off-season and is nowhere near close to his fittest self. Why? Because his in-season doesn’t start until August. He’s using as much time of the year to taper his training so that he can be peaked for performance during the Games.
Now for you, the Open is your in-season when you should be in peak condition to compete over the next 5 weeks.
Training periodization is crucial for many reasons. It protects athletes from injury and keeps them healthier longer. If athletes were performing at 100% 365 days out of the year, then they’d be burnt out almost immediately and their muscles and joints would be under so much wear and tear they’d be more prone to injuries. Secondly, it allows for adaption and improvements. In-season isn’t a time to work on weaknesses or build strength. That’s the off-season. In-season is when you’re doing what you can do exceptionally well. Off-season is when you’re tapering the intensity and building up strength and improving weaknesses.
Training periodization has been around for quite some time. Nutrition periodization, however, is relatively new. Nutrition periodization is the nutritional changes you make during the year to match the certain period of training you’re currently in.
Nutrition periodization, when combined with training periodization, helps you improve as an athlete while also staying healthy and happy!
It looks briefly like this:
Here, it’s time to compete. This means higher intensity, harder workouts, and larger demands on your body to perform these workouts with the added volume and intensity. You’re expending significantly more glycogen to fuel yourself for these workouts…which means you need to eat more to stay recovered and strong during this peak season. Two things matter here: performance and recovery. Your goal here is performance, not aesthetics or health, so you should not be in any sort of a cut or deficit as you head into a competitive in season because you’re cutting yourself short. During this period, fats are lowered and carbs are increased to give you the glycogen stores you need to perform at your absolute best. Fats are all for your health. When it comes to your in-season, fats slow you down. They slow digestion and they don’t provide a real benefit to training. They don’t provide the fuel for your training, so therefore, they’re lowered to minimal amount but still enough to keep your hormones happy.
This is when you’re not competing. Here is all about recovery and adaption—or improvement. You need your body to be fully restored during this off season so that you can improve and also prepare for the upcoming in-season. This is when aesthetics and health play a bigger role. In season, they’re pushed to the side for a bit because it’s all about performance. Off season, we’re resetting hormones and repairing any damage or burnout/fatigue created during the in-season. If you’ve ever been a competitive athlete, you know the toll it takes on you mentally, emotionally, hormonally, and physically. Therefore, all have to be restored. We’re also building strength here and working on weaknesses. Performance isn’t as crucial. Here carbs are lowered because you don’t have as high of a demand on your nervous system and don’t need as high of glycogen to fuel yourself on a day to day basis. Instead, fats would be higher to allow for the recovery process to take place.
Great…how does this apply to you going into the Open?
I mean, you’re not Mat Fraser so why does it matter? Only the top of the top athletes need to do this, right?
Not at all! Just because you’re not going to the Games doesn’t mean you’re not putting higher demands on your body as we go into the Open. How many times have you done an Open workout on Saturday to still be miserable come Monday…then you’re barely recovered for the next workout when it’s released?
Just because you’re not going to the Games doesn’t mean you can’t enhance your performance (naturally of course) and set yourself up for massive success. That’s the point of competing in the first place: to do your very best. That means bringing in some nutrition.
Periodizing your nutrition around the Open will not only help you perform better but also feel better so you can still hit up the gym Monday through Thursday.
There are 4 basic strategies to follow to optimize your performance this Open season:
1. Change up macros
2. Taper training during the week
3. LISTEN TO YOUR BODY
Change up macros
You don’t need to add a crazy amount of calories into your plan. I’d only increase your intake up maybe 100 calories. Instead you want to lower your fats to 45-60g and make up the difference with carbohydrates. Let’s say you’re eating 150P/175C/80F. During the Open, keep protein the same, lower fats to 60g, and increase carbs to 235-250g.
Remember, it’s about performance and carbs = better performance.
Taper training during the week
You want to still make it to the gym. Don’t be that person that only shows up on Friday or Saturday, kills yourself on the workout then avoids the gym all week because you’re either too sore or you’re saving all your energy for the Open workout. Say you do the workout Saturday and don’t repeat it. Come into the gym Monday and keep it light to loosen up junk or any soreness left from Saturday. Hit it hard Tuesday and Wednesday. Take Thursday or Friday off for a rest day and use the other day as a lighter, more active recovery-style day. If you do repeat a workout on Monday, then take Tuesday off, go hard Wednesday, and take either Thursday or Friday off and use the other day as that light, active recovery day.
Listen to your body
If you can’t walk or you feel like garbage during the Open, THEN YOU ARE UNDER-EATING and therefore, under-recovered. Eat more carbs. Start with 10g extra, then 20g, until you feel recovered. Don’t eat like an asshole. Eat whole foods and vegetables. Get the extra carbs from rice or whole grains, veggies, and potatoes (reg or sweet) NOT from ice cream or sugary carbs. Pay attention to your mental game. If you just don’t feel alright and you mentally feel worn out or torn down, you are under-eating. Give yourself some food!
Note on this as well, stay off the scale during the Open. You’re eating more to fuel your performance. You may see a pound or two jump up on the scale. Guess what. It’s not added body weight. It’s inflammation from the workouts you’re putting yourself through and the more you under-eat and under-recover, the worse that inflammation is going to be and the higher that weight jump is going to be. Remember, aesthetics isn’t the goal. It’s performance. Ignore the weight change during these 5 weeks because it will only hurt you.
Between the added activity and the added stress from these workouts and the hype leading up to the workouts, you may be unable to recover from your everyday nutrition and may want to expedite the recovery process. Feel free to take advantage of some refeed days. On Sunday if you’re feeling like a truck ran you over, then enjoy a day of 50-100g extra carbs. This will top off that glycogen supply and give you the boost you need to get your butt to the gym and to keep crushing it all 5 weeks.
*Note – you do want to avoid alcohol on refeeds because it ends up counteracting all of the positive benefits refeeds provide
There you have it. How to prepare yourself nutritionally for the Open. Stay tuned for tips and tidbits over the next 5 weeks on how to structure your nutrition for EACH workout. Only subscribers will receive these strategies so subscribe to my newsletters here.