For the past 6 months, I’ve been infatuated with CrossFit. And when I say CrossFit, I specifically mean the CrossFit games and the competitive world of CrossFit in general.
See on the Boom Boom Performance Podcast I do Q&A Episodes and some of the most frequently asked questions have been regarding CrossFit.
“What are your thoughts CrossFit?”
“Is CrossFit safe?”
“How should one eat if they’re doing CrossFit?”
“Is CrossFit good for fat loss?”
The list goes on, seriously…
I’ve shared and shared our thoughts and opinions, until one day I got a question asking if I’ve personally ever done CrossFit and that is when I really started to get infatuated. Because the truth was, I had never actually done it at all but I had all the opinions in the world about it.
Which made me think about all the people who judged me in the past for being a “Fit guy” or for being “Addicted to the gym”. I’d hear this and my first comment would always be, “You just don’t get it.”
And the truth was, they didn’t. I am addicted to this lifestyle and the reason for that is simple, it makes me better. In every single aspect of my life, I am a better person now because of training and nutrition.
And here I was, judging CrossFit without knowing a damn thing about it.
So naturally, my first reaction… Netflix and chill! I spent the next 3 nights watching “The Fittest Man On Earth”, which at first triggered me because I thought “Who the f#%k do they think they are claiming to be the fittest in the world?!”
But then I watched it…
And realized, they just may be the fittest people in the world. Because the truth is, every single person in that arena is a freak of nature. An ultra-athlete who dedicates their lives to performing at the highest possible level and it shows. Plus, I couldn’t do half of the shit they were doing – not even the "easiest" things they did like double unders.
It was at that point; I had way more respect for CrossFit as a sport. Plus, it’s entertaining as hell! But it intrigued me to try it and so I did… I announced on the Podcast I’d be starting a 90-Day CrossFit Challenge.
I’ve learned a lot since I started going to Imperial CrossFit every single week like what makes CrossFit so great but, also what’s not so great
Putting a barbell on your back and squatting was somewhat unpopular before CrossFit came back and hit the scene. Especially with women, because lifting weights makes you bulky… or at least that’s what the myth amongst fit females was. CrossFit gave women a reason to lift heavy and everyone else to stop using the machines and get back to the real iron game.
Nobody can deny the fact that CrossFit created an insane tribe of people who will literally KILL for the sport and culture of CrossFit. And to be honest, it’s awesome. It gets millions of people fired up to train who may have never stepped foot in the gym. But now they have a home and a group of people who motivate them to be better every single day. That means more than ANYTHING when it comes to training.
I will definitely admit, most people push it too much in the intensity aspect when going into CrossFit… But it also reminded a lot of people what it means to actually push themselves. Since I jumped into CrossFit, I learned how hard I could actually be pushed. It made me much more aware of what isn’t enough and what actually is too much.
There is something about pushing yourself past your own limit that makes you more powerful mentally. It creates a different state of mind, a different level of certainty, and a different level hard work, which all applies to every other aspect of your life. And honestly, this goes for every brutal sport or extreme activity. I’m of the belief everyone should at least try some form of MMA, CrossFit, Obstacle Course Race, Triathlon, or any other extreme sporting event that gets you fired up but a little bit scared at the same time. Something about doing one of these events changes how you operate as a person in every other aspect of your life (Career, Relationships, Personal Development, Physicality…).
It’s true, a lot of people get hurt in CrossFit… but there is a valid excuse for poor coaching in general and that not necessarily being something we can blame on just CrossFit alone. Truth is, it’s simple to become certified and start your own affiliated gym, which just means idiots can start one and train people and THAT is more likely the reasoning for people getting hurt. If we look at some of the top movement specialists in the game, people like Kelly Starrett, they are heavily involved in CrossFit.
We also need to remember that Olympic lifting isn’t really designed for high reps and short rest intervals, it’s actually meant for the complete opposite of that. Low reps and long rest intervals. The reason is that they’re some of the most technical lifts in the world, which makes them potentially dangerous. But guess what? Football is pretty technical and dangerous too, which is why we play backyard flag football and not full tackle football with 250lb genetic freaks.
See flag football is a regression of pro football, which is what we should be doing in CrossFit until we can actually do the lifts properly. And if you do not desire to learn or compete, then maybe CrossFit isn’t for you (which is more than ok).
So at the end of the day, CrossFit isn’t inherently hurting people – any form of fitness can hurt any type of person, so be smart and learn how to do things properly before you jump into it (or any other form of training for that matter).
I spoke on why this actually helped the fitness industry as well… But we can’t ignore how it screwed a lot of people up. We all know the famous picture of the wooden plyo boxes and people lying around them, practically dead. That’s kind of intensity that should be done 10-20% of the time. Pushing ourselves is great; in fact, many Americans do not do it nearly enough and could use a bit more of it. But at the same token, many CrossFit enthusiasts got carried away and believed they could handle this type of training daily – not the case. Nobody can handle that level of intensity, daily.
When we train balls to the wall too often, we’ll last a matter of weeks and for some a few months but at a certain point our body will shut down, quite literally. Our central nervous system will get so burnt out that it’ll just stop our body from performing, moving well, and even being happy (depression is a symptom of overtraining and adrenal fatigue). Add to that, our hormones will go in the dump pretty quickly too.
Intensity is good, but balancing it is even better. So the key here is again, just be smart and prioritize recovery. The highest performing CrossFit athletes, who are typically the leanest and athletic looking, all focus heavily on recovery. Most of them go beyond the bare minimum and invest a lot of time, money and energy into their recovery protocols.
I saved this for last because this is the one that gets to me the most, plus nutrition is right up my alley.
Nutrition can be pretty different when we consider what it takes to perform at your most optimal level and what it takes to look your absolute best aesthetically. When it comes to performance, we need plenty of fuel and it needs to be readily available for when we’re training. We also need to highly prioritize recovery, sometimes even rapidly after training with a post workout carb + protein shake – less for glycogen replenishment like we once believed and more to blunt the cortisol response associated with extremely high-intensity training. Without taking care of workout nutrition in this way, with high-intensity trainees or athletes, you’re asking to damage the CNS and hormonal balance.
When it comes to aesthetics, we just need enough fuel to maintain health, hormonal function, and the muscle mass we already have. You have your period of time to focus on gaining muscle, while not burning fat, and then you switch gears by lowering calories in order to burn more body fat and cut weight.
The issue here is that 75% (or more) of people whom just want to be lean as their primary goal stay in a deficit.
This is an issue no matter who you are because if you’re chronically in a deficit you’re brewing up permanent issues inside your body – hormonal, metabolic, stress, potential muscle loss, and last but definitely not least, performance.
It’s my personal opinion, which is shared by many great nutrition coaches – people like my great friend and mentor, Jason Phillips – that you cannot commit to both CrossFit and a constant or long-term calorie deficit (aka, diet).
Top-level CrossFit athletes are typically being coached, so their nutrition is periodized properly and they very rarely, if ever, go into a calorie deficit. The only time would be if they literally need to shed pounds off in order to compete at a lighter weight and even then, they’re properly timing carbs during and around training and so dialed in with their nutrition/supplementation that they mitigate most of the issues associated with a low-calorie diet. Add to that, they’re in a deficit for a very short period of time if they do go into one.
So what am I really saying here? You cannot diet for extreme fat loss while expecting to perform at your highest level.
And this is exactly what the typical middle age man or women looking to get into CrossFit is expecting to do. They just want to get rid of the beer gut or baby weight, so they jump into CrossFit and start a paleo diet.
Within the first 4-8 weeks, they drop a significant amount of weight and body fat. They love it and now are officially in the paleo camp. But after about 8 weeks, it slows down…. After 12-16 weeks, they’re not even losing weight anymore. After 14 weeks they’re not even progressing in the gym. And within 20+ weeks they’re starting to feel like shit; having low energy, crappy sleep, food cravings every week, and they’re pretty hangry all the time.
This is just the timeline of low calories dieting. I’ve seen it a million times before, not just in CrossFit either. But in my experience, this timeline is shorter within CrossFit because the intensity is so much higher than typical training. The higher the intensity and frequency of training, typically the more important nutrition become – more calories in your diet, as well.
Paleo is a great diet, especially for sedentary individuals or people with autoimmune issues. The issue I have with it is that it’s tough to get all your calories in at times OR that many people who follow it neglect to track their calories and macros and at the end of the day, when it comes to both performance and aesthetics calories and macros are the most important thing.
So maybe I’m describing you and your fitness journey.
Maybe you hit this huge plateau, too.
Maybe you love CrossFit and will never stop training that way (I get it, I’m a huge fan as well).
Or maybe you’re at the very beginning of that timeline and you want to avoid any issues that may arise in the near future.
Take my advice; do not stay in a calorie deficit for too long. If you need to cut weight to perform better or you just really want to be leaner, then take a less aggressive approach and be patient. The results will last longer. And if you are going to get after it, don’t stay there long and plan a maintenance phase shortly afterward.
Check out the infographic below for specific details on how you should diet.
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So if you haven't given this sport a try, I would recommend it before judging what you think you might know.
This is a guest post from Cody McBroom is owner and head coach of Boom Boom Performance and Nutrition. He’s a Strength Coach and Nutrition Expert located in Seattle WA. He coaches people in person and online, internationally. His passion is helping individuals changing their lives through body composition transformation, as well as creating content across all platforms to help individuals and other coaches learn more about training and nutrition. For more of Cody, you can follow him on Facebook or Instagram.