9 Functional Nutrition Tips for Fueling your Functional Fitness
What you put into your body is one of the biggest determinants of how you work out. The best way to ensure that all of your hard work at your local Crossfit affiliate is paying off is to optimize your nutritional intake. Now that the Crossfit open is underway, it’s important to fuel your functional fitness to optimize performance, jump those boxes, decrease risk of soreness or injury and feel energized during and after your clean & jerks.  Your diet is the cornerstone of your fitness potential, mood, gut health, and metabolism so it will also decrease risk of the three Bs: burnout, bloating and breakouts. Keep in mind that these tips can be transferable to other fitness endeavors as well.
Crossfit Nutrition Advice
Crossfit recognizes how critical nutrition is for performance. That is exactly why coaches at your local box make recommendations that are usually consistent with a paleo diet. Crossfit founder, Greg Glassman explains the recommendations as: “eat meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat.”
While this approach will benefit many due to the reduction of processed foods and refined sugars, it’s so key to remember that nutrition isn’t one size fits all. Others may experience more benefit from a higher, more moderate intake of complex carbohydrates for the high level of physical intensity, others may benefit from eating more beans and lentils and less meat, and some may require additional sources of gluten-free grains like quinoa, brown rice, and amaranth to feel satisfied and keep weight on. This is where personalization is key.
Decrease Inflammation & Increase Recovery with Personalized Nutrition
In order to endure the physical demands of Crossfit workouts and ensure proper recovery, lower inflammation, decrease risk of injury and burnout, personalized nutrition is the name of the game. And while that’s where the WOD magic is, there are some nutrition tips that are universal for many. Below are my top nine functional nutrition suggestions that will help support your greatest Crossfit performance and recovery during the open season.
1. Eat Enough Calories
While many prioritize weight loss when they begin an exercise regime, it is important to note that calorie restriction is counter-productive for Crossfit (and most other) athletes. If you are looking to build muscle and improve athletic performance, you must focus on fueling your body so that it has the necessary nutrients to recover and grow. In any strength workout, your muscles fibers become damaged. While this sounds like a bad thing, this action causes your body to repair and replace these damaged fibers, increasing the number of them present and thus causing muscle growth. This process demands adequate nutrients, especially protein, to replace the muscle fibers, or else you risk wasting much of your hard work in the gym.
Furthermore, exercising depletes glycogen stores in the muscles. These stores are used as immediate backup fuel once you have burned through the energy from your recently ingested food. In order to keep muscles functioning at their prime and nail those muscle ups, you want to replace these stores after a workout.
Finally, calorie restriction can keep the body in a state of stress. That stress, compounded with the stress of working out, can cause hormone dysfunction in the body that inhibits recovery and can hurt your metabolism.
2. Eat Pegan Over Paleo
As mentioned, the Crossfit community is filled with devout Paleo enthusiasts—and for good reason. Just scrolling through the Crossfit website offers a plethora of testimonials to the benefits of this diet. While Paleo can be healthy, subscribing to more of a Pegan mentality tends to offer more flexibility, plant-based balance and nutrient optimization. I first discussed this approach to nutrition on my friend, Julie Foucher’s Pursuing Health podcast. While both diets are very similar with reducing intake of gluten, dairy, and added sugars, a Pegan diet places non-starchy vegetables at the forefront and recommends meat only as a condiment. This helps increase your phytonutrient and fiber intake which are two key factors for gut health.
Additional sources of fiber such as beans/lentils, gluten-free grains like quinoa and brown rice and non-gmo whole soy products like tofu or tempeh can also contribute to a healthier gut. With a focus on vegetables, your diet will be high in the antioxidants necessary to tame inflammation and enhance both performance and recovery.
The key is to identify what feels best for you. But try to avoid labeling any food outside of the paleo diet as ‘unhealthy’. A diet aligned with Mediterranean principles such as incorporating beans and lentils, high quality whole soy foods, and gluten-free grains have some of the strongest correlations to overall health in research.
3. Limit Alcohol Intake
It has been said many times: you can’t out-exercise a bad diet. Furthermore, you can’t justify unhealthy drinking habits by thinking your Crossfitting will even it out. This is something that I see often in clients that I work with. They are religious about their workouts and clean paleo diet but make major exceptions when it comes to alcohol consumption on the weekends. Like sugar, alcohol can serve as a toxin to the bottom when consumed in excess. Binge drinking causes inflammation throughout the body, as the organs attempt to detoxify from the alcohol. This widespread inflammation inhibits the body from recovering from workouts and increases the risk for many other health issues such as certain cancers, liver disease, and cardiovascular disease. In addition to hindering your recovery, alcohol can affect your performance by dehydrating your body and significantly impairing your sleep quality. You can still enjoy alcohol, but don’t view your workout as a free pass to binge.
The recommendations for men is no more than 2 glasses of alcohol per day and for women, no more than one. And you can’t save up your drinks for the weekend and think that it evens out.
4. Incorporate a Nutrient Dense & Protein Rich Smoothie After a Workout
After a workout, it is important to provide your body with the nutrients it needs to recover, and a smoothie is a great way to sneak in everything you need in a hydrating and delicious way. My post-workout smoothie formula includes 1 serving of non-starchy vegetables, 1 cup of fruit like berries, apples, or even banana, 1-2 tbsp nuts/seeds or nut butter, and a high quality protein powder with unsweetened nut milk (almond, cashew, etc.). Bonus points for adding fresh ginger or turmeric root to lower inflammation.
The antioxidants in fruits and vegetables are protective against the stress caused by working out and the carbs will help with enhancing glycogen stores. The protein can help immediately with muscle synthesis, and the fat is important for satiety.
I recommend protein powder that is NSF certified like this grass-fed whey protein. Whey protein has been shown to best stimulate muscle synthesis due to its amino acid content and high digestibility. But from a quality standpoint, choosing grass-fed is key.
5. Replace Electrolytes
Electrolytes are minerals that are involved in many different processes across the body. They are electrically charged particles, important for muscle contractions, hydration, and regulating the nervous system. Electrolytes such as calcium are involved in maintaining proper muscle contraction and sodium helps maintains the fluid balance in the body.Athletes are at risk of losing electrolytes, especially sodium and potassium, since these minerals are lost through sweat. However, it is very easy to replace these by eating foods that are high in both potassium and sodium such as dried apricots with grass-fed jerky or ½ avocado with tamari sauce and lemon.
An easy and natural way to replace sodium and potassium and fluids is with Nooma, an organic electrolyte drink that provides organic coconut water for potassium and sea salt for sodium with no artificial flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives. This is a superior choice to products like Gatorade, Vitamin Water and other hydration companies out there that are filled with added sugars, artificial flavors and/or junk.
6. Supplement with Magnesium
Magnesium is one of your most important minerals that is difficult to get enough of, especially among athletes who burn through it when working out. It helps maintain nerve and muscle function—including heart rhythm—and aids in energy production and storage. Magnesium has been shown to aid in exercise performance by increasing glucose availability in both the blood and muscles, providing your body with fuel to conquer the workout. Strenuous exercise causes a redistribution of magnesium throughout the body, and can cause more to be excreted through the urine. Finally, magnesium can help with muscle recovery by relaxing the muscles and reducing cramping. 
Foods that are rich in magnesium include avocado, almonds, cashews, brazil nuts, spinach, black beans, chickpeas, non-gmo tofu and dark chocolate. Supplementing is often necessary for replenishing magnesium levels. It’s best to look for a high-quality, third party tested supplement company that provides Magnesium Glycinate for the highest absorption and start with 200mg per day.
7. Boost your Omega-3s
Omega-3s have been shown time and again to be a key player in lowering inflammation. This mechanism is important for athletes as anaerobic exercise results in acute inflammation so the body can heal the tears in the fibers. Along with their anti-inflammatory processes, omega-3s have been shown to stimulate a rise in muscle protein synthesis by increasing amino acid availability and enhanced sensitivity to stimuli from nutrients.
You can increase your intake of plant-based omega-3s (ALA: alpha linolenic acid) via chia seeds, ground flaxseeds, hemp seeds and walnuts. But you also will need to consume EPA & DHA in your diet 2-3 times per week from fatty fish that are low in mercury such as wild salmon, herring and sardines. Many people also require additional fish oil supplementation from a high quality brand such as Puori Ultra Pure Fish Oil
8. Get that Sunshine Vitamin
Since most people spend more than 80% of their life indoors, vitamin D levels have reached an all-time low. This is bad news for athletes since vitamin D deficiency can impact the quality of training sessions, increase injury and illness, decrease immune function and contribute to muscle weakness. However, supplementing with vitamin D can be very a necessary part of increasing your deadlift weight. A few recent studies have linked vitamin D supplementation with increased performance on many measures of athleticism such as jump height and lean muscle mass percentages. If possible, try to get 15 minutes of direct sunlight every day (without sunscreen) to increase vitamin D levels. If this is not possible, supplementation of 2,000-5,000 IUs can provide the extra dose you need.
9. Prioritize Rest and Relaxation
The importance of getting proper rest cannot be emphasized enough. Poor stress management and constant overexertion can significantly impair your health and lead to plateaus in the gym. Take your rest very seriously and ensure that you are taking a day or two to allow the body to repair itself and, in turn, become stronger. It is in this time that the muscles fibers will repair, glycogen stores will be refilled, and cortisol and other hormone levels can balance out.
Athletes should prioritize sleep as not only does it aid in recovery, but poor sleep can lead to worse aerobic performance and disrupt hormones. Without proper sleep, cortisol—the stress hormone—will rise and human growth hormone levels can decrease, inhibiting tissue repair. Read more about how to improve your sleep quality.
While “no pain, no gain” is a mantra to which many subscribe, listen to your body to know when you need a day of active recovery. Some yoga or a long walk can help ease soreness in muscles while giving you time to recover from your hard work at the gym. This is also key for avoiding burnout in the long run. For more on this topic, I would highly recommend reading the book Peak Performance: Elevate your Game, Avoid Burnout and Thrive with the New Science of Success by Brad Stulberg and Steve Magness.
If you want to get the most out of the long hours spent sweating in your Crossfit box, you’ll want to incorporate these nutrition tips, in addition to prioritizing rest and recovery. Incorporating small tweaks can lead to great results when it comes to maximizing your athletic endurance, performance and capacity.
Foti contributed to this article.