Nutrition and Recovery
Katie Arnette, CF-L1, PN1
The foundation of our beloved sport, CrossFit, is nutrition. Nutrition is central due to the fact that eating will always be essential for all of us to live, yet the methods by which we do it will be different for each of us. When we go to the gym, we push ourselves to the limit every day. In order to see the highly coveted “gains” that we are all chasing, great care has to be taken in order to maximize our ability to recover so that we are ready to turn around and do it again!
First and foremost, it is important to discuss what components play into optimal recovery. I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t begin by highlighting sleep’s role in tissue regeneration. There are only two times when our body creates and secretes natural human growth hormone, and that is when we are in deep sleep and immediately after training. Clinical studies have actually linked sleep deprivation to suppression of growth hormone release, particularly in adulthood. An estimated 75% of our human growth hormone is released into circulation during deep sleep.1 So, let’s go ahead and establish that consistently getting 7-9 hours of sleep is ESSENTIAL for optimal results in the gym.
So now that we’ve discussed sleep, let’s talk food. It is amazing how many sources are out there online claiming to be authored by “certified nutritionists” (anyone can get certified by a random nutrition course online) that give people advice that actually contrasts with what is recommended by licensed professionals of Nutrition and Dietetics. So, take this as a friendly reminder to check your sources, and think critically about what you read!
Carbohydrates are the basis of all our diets, in fact, carbs should make up 45-65% of our daily diet. And ,realistically, with being active, you should aim to have 3-12 grams of carbs for every kilogram of your body mass. Obviously where you fall in that spectrum depends on how active you are daily. If you are a weekend warrior, I would recommend staying somewhere between 3-6 g/kg.2 If you train for longer endurance events, maybe think about adjusting upwards. As for exercise recovery, eating a meal rich in carbohydrates has been shown to not only help replenish muscle glycogen (your stored sugars used for energy when you exercise) but also helps spare muscle mass (GAINS). Continuing to eat carbs in the hours following exercise helps maximize the amount of glycogen you can restore for tomorrow’s workout.
Protein has a lot of jobs within our bodies. Protein works in tissue building, cell functioning (enzymes), body functioning (hormones, immune function, and fluid balance), and in desperate times it can be an energy source. Your proteins should be 15-35% of your daily intake. And that ends up being 1.2-2.0 grams per kilogram of body mass. For most of us, 15-25 grams of protein following training will be super for kickstarting tissue recovery.2 It is important to think about the quality of your protein, as there are different amino acids that make up proteins. A complete amino acid profile will have some of all essential amino acids, which is necessary for endogenous protein synthesis (GAINS). Leucine, specifically, is an amino acid that is great for muscle building, and it is found mostly in animal-sources protein. This means that if you follow a plant-based diet, you may want to look into supplementation if you feel as though you are leaving some progress on the table. Protein consumption can lead to dehydration in some individuals, so make sure you couple your balanced meals with water.
Fat is essential because it acts as an energy source, an energy reserve, provides protection for our bodies, and helps us carry vitamins. Believe it or not, fat should make up 20-35% of your daily diet, with a majority of those being unsaturated fats.2 We use fats as our sole energy source during low to moderate activity. This means that when we are sitting at work, walking the dog, and making dinner we are using fat as energy. When we strength train, do a WOD, or go for a jog, we are burning carbohydrates (highlighting why BOTH are needed). When recovering after training, carbs and proteins should predominate (in that order) but fat is good at keeping our digestion at a slower rate which can be helpful later on in the day when we are feeling hungrier because of training.
If you notice, ranges are given for all the macronutrients we need to consume within a day in order to thrive. This is because all of us are different, which means that slightly different combinations of these things will maximize each of our successes. Being precise and right on the dot for these percentages is great if it works for you, but being in the general ball park is amazing too, and can be better psychologically for some (me included).
In conclusion, I challenge you to choose foods that you love AND that serve your fitness goals. It is incredible to think about what you can achieve just by adjusting a few things within your lifestyle. Increasing your nightly sleep and building a more complete plate at mealtimes could be the missing piece that is keeping you from leveling up in your workouts! If you ever want to talk food and recovery, you know where to find me!
1 “How Sleep Affects Your Human Growth Hormone (HGH) Levels.” Tuck Sleep. Accessed November 14, 2019. https://www.tuck.com/sleep-hgh/.
2 Mikesky, Alan E. Practical Applications in Sports Nutrition. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2017.