Whether you’re a top-tier CrossFitter or just your average everyday hobbyist, you’re probably aware that nutrition plays a big part in your ability not only to perform at your best come training and competition time but also to achieve real, measurable progress towards your goals, whatever they may be.   

But what exactly should and shouldn’t you be eating if you want to put yourself in the best possible position to succeed in the world of CrossFit?  To answer these questions, we’re going over everything you need to know about the CrossFit diet, from CrossFit HQ’s official take on nutrition to the ins and outs of customizing your diet to work best for you.  

Is There an Official CrossFit Diet?

When it comes to your diet, CrossFit HQ recommends spending the first 4 weeks of your nutritional journey on the Zone diet in order to develop a sound understanding of your nutritional needs and establish a baseline from which to work from.  

The Zone diet involves divvying up your macronutrients in a precise way, with 40% of your total daily calories coming from carbohydrates, 30% from protein, and 30% from healthy fats.  Additionally, it also requires that each of your meals has a precise ratio of 0.75g of protein per 1g of carbohydrates.  

Grains and starchy carbs are only to be eaten in moderation on the Zone diet and you’ll also be avoiding high glycemic index (GI) foods, as well as foods that have been shown to increase inflammation.   

Making Adjustments is Recommended

While Crossfit HQ does recommend that you start off on the Zone diet, they also stress the importance of tailoring your diet to meet your own specialized needs once you’ve got a hang of things — starting out on the Zone diet is meant to teach you the importance of tracking your food intake and performance output.  

Closely monitoring what you’re eating and how you’re performing in your training will ultimately allow you to make adjustments to your diet until you see the kind of health and fitness outcomes that you’re looking for.  In other words, through experimenting with things like what kinds of food you eat, as well as how exactly you split up your macronutrients is the best way to find out what works best for you from a dietary perspective.  

In the long run, some people may find that the basic Zone diet prescription serves them well and decide to stick with it, while others may ultimately come to the conclusion that they want to make some adjustments. 

While the severity of those adjustments can vary significantly, many CrossFitters do ultimately end up moving on to other diets (or creating their own customized diet) once they’ve developed a better understanding of what their nutritional needs are.  

What Is The Best Diet For CrossFit?

While it would certainly be convenient if there was a one-size-fits-all approach for CrossFitters, ultimately the best CrossFit diet is simply the one that works best for you.  There are a number of different diets that can potentially translate well into the world of CrossFit, though no matter what diet you do choose, you’ll need to have a solid grasp on things like your macronutrient and calorie intakes in order to see success.  

What’s going to work best for you will ultimately depend on things like what foods are and aren’t on the menu, as well as how your macros are divided up — as long as the diet includes healthy foods and an adequate distribution of macronutrients, it can potentially be a good CrossFit diet.  Below is a list of a few different diets (other than the Zone diet of course) that may potentially translate well into the world of CrossFit.

Paleo Diet

The paleo diet is based on the nutritional habits of our paleolithic ancestors who lived over 10,000 years ago before the advent of modern-day agriculture.

While there was a lot of variation in terms of what our ancient ancestors’ ate, one consistency is that there were certain things that none of them ate — things like processed foods, grains, and dairy products, in particular, simply weren’t around in prehistoric times, which means that they’re also not on the modern-day paleo diet menu.  

Instead, the paleo diet is centered around whole foods like meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds, which translates perfectly to the world of cross fit, where eating to support your overall health should definitely be a priority.  Research has time and again demonstrated that the paleo diet is closely associated with a lower risk of several adverse health outcomes, such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.(1)(2)(3)(4)

It’s important to point out, however, that the paleo diet does not provide any kind of specific prescriptions as far as macronutrients go,  so you’ll need to come into it with a plan as far as your macronutrient intake is concerned.  That’s why it’s recommended that you start off on the Learn diet — to develop a sound understanding of how to manage your macronutrients — and then move on to personalizing your diet to meet your needs.  

cross fit diet

Mediterranean Diet 

Just like with the paleo diet, that the Mediterranean diet has also been associated with countless health benefits.  From helping to promote brain and gut health to aiding in weight loss and cardiovascular disease prevention, researchers have demonstrated numerous ways in which the Mediterranean diet can help to support your overall health.(5)(6)(7)(8)

On top of that, research has also demonstrated that it’s a pretty easy diet to follow — most studies involving the Mediterranean diet have had high adherence rates.  In comparison, the trials involving the Learn Diet have tended to have lower adherence rates, which suggests that it’s more difficult to stick to.  At the end of the day, you don’t only want your diet to be healthy, you want it to be something that you’re actually able to stick to in the long run.  

The Mediterranean diet is based around the eating habits of people living around the Mediterranean sea — particularly Italy and Greece — during the 1960s.  The modern Mediterranean diet stresses the importance of healthy, whole foods and forbids processed foods of any kind. That includes foods and beverages with lots of added sugar — like high fructose corn syrup — as well as oils, grains, and meats that have been highly processed.  

On top of that, the Mediterranean diet also prescribes a low intake of saturated and trans fat intake, preferring for most of your fats to come in the form of unsaturated fat, which can be found in things like fish, nuts, and certain fruits like avocado.

Main every day foods include vegetables, whole grain cereals, and certain dairy-based items.  Weekly foods include things like fish, eggs, white and red meat, along with beans and legumes.  

Also like the paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet does not specifically address your macronutrient intake, so you’ll need to pay extra special attention to things like your protein intake on the Meditteranean diet in order to get the most out of your training — again, it’s recommended that CrossFitters gain some experience tracking and monitoring their macronutrients before moving on to something like the Mediterranean diet. 

IIFYM Diet

The If It Fits Your Macros diet, or IIFYM for short, has become an incredibly popular diet in the world of CrossFit.  Also known as the “counting macros diet”, IIFYM is based on the basic idea that as long as you have an adequate and balanced distribution of macronutrients in your daily diet, there are A LOT of different things you can potentially eat and still have success on your diet.  

While it is an incredibly lenient diet, it’s also centered around knowing how you’re going to divvy up your macronutrients.  Because there’s no one macro split that’s going to be ideal for everybody, you’re going to have to have some basic knowledge of your macronutritional needs to have success with IIFYM.

On top of that, while you can technically eat whatever you want as long as you hit your macro goals with IIFYM, you’ll certainly want to develop a sound understanding of what foods you should and shouldn’t be eating not only to support your overall health but also to bolster your performance in training and competition.  

Personalizing Your CrossFit Diet

So at the end of the day, there’s no one-size-fits-all CrossFit diet that is going to be ideal for everybody.  Instead, once you have a solid understanding of what your health and fitness goals are and how your diet ties into those goals, you can begin to adjust aspects of your diet until it becomes finely tuned to your own individualized needs.  

Getting Your Calories Squared Away

The first step in personalizing your diet lies in establishing your daily energy needs, which is ultimately going to inform how many calories you take in each day.  In order to do that, you’ll need to know what your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is.  TDEE is an estimate of how many calories your body burns off in a day taking into account things like your activity level, age, weight, height, and gender.  

You can easily estimate your TDEE using an online calculator.  Once you know how many calories your body burns off in a day at your current weight, you can begin adjusting your calorie intake to reflect your goals.  If your goal is simply to maintain your current weight, then once you’ve figured out your TDEE, you have your daily calorie target.  

Weight Loss and CrossFit Nutrition

If your goal is to lose weight, however, you’ll need to adjust your calorie intake so that it’s less than your TDEE.  In other words, in order for weight loss to occur, you’ll need to be consuming fewer calories than your body burns off in a day.  

While it can be tempting to drastically reduce your calorie intake in order to lose weight, you only want to go with a 20 – 35% energy restriction, meaning that you’re taking in 20 – 35% fewer calories than your body required to maintain your current weight.  If your calorie restriction is too extreme, your body will start cannibalizing muscle mass along with fat, which over time can lead to significant reductions in your training performance.  

crossfit diet

CrossFit Nutrition and Building Muscle

Building muscle, on the other hand, takes the exact opposite when it comes to your calorie intake.  In order to maximize your muscle-building potential, you’ll need to be consuming more calories than your body burns off in a day but not so much that some of those calories end up getting converted into body fat.    

Adding somewhere between 250 – 500 extra calories to your TDEE is the best way to minimize fat gains as you’re bulking up — it’s enough extra calories to support the muscle-building process without going so far overboard that you wind up gaining substantial amounts of body fat as well.  

Ironing Out Your Macro Split

Once you know what your caloric needs are, you’re ready to start divvying up your macronutrients.  You’ll need a good distribution of protein carbs and fat in your diet not only to support your overall health but also to bolster your performance in the gym.   

But if there’s no one-size-fits-all macro spit that’s going to work best for everybody, then where do you start?  Well, while there’s no one single split that’s going to be ideal for everybody, there is a set of standardized ranges that organizations like the National Institute of Health suggest should meet the basic needs of most adults.    

Tinkering around within these ranges is the best way to figure out what works best for you on an individual level while also making sure that you’re continuing to support your overall health.  

Carbohydrates

The NIH recommends that somewhere between 45 – 65% of your total daily calories should come from healthy carb sources.(9) In the world of CrossFit, meal timing is also important, and carbs, in particular, should be eaten strategically — they should be used primarily to fuel your performance in the gym as well as your recovery afterward. 

For optimal performance in the gym, you’ll ultimately want to focus on consuming plenty of complex carbs before your training — they provide you with a longer, steadier supply of energy in comparison to simple sugars, which produces quick spikes and crashes. 

Protein

No macronutrient is more important than protein when it comes to supporting the overall health and function of your muscles.  The NIH recommends that somewhere between 10 – 35% of your total daily calories should come from healthy protein sources.(10)

And when you’re involved in a sport that’s as physically demanding as CrossFit, you want to be especially sure that you’re not skimping out on dietary protein, especially if your goal is to build muscle.  In the world of bodybuilding, a decades-long practice has been to consume 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight, which for most people should fit neatly within the NIHs recommended range.  

Fat

While dietary fat is often demonized, you actually need a healthy supply of it in your daily diet to maintain the healthy function of all of your body’s major systems.  The NIH recommends that somewhere between 20 – 35% of your total daily calories should come from healthy fats.(11)

Choosing The Right Foods

When it comes to CrossFit, getting your macros dialed in is a good start, but in order to really maximize the overall health and performance benefits of your diet, you need to be eating the right kinds of foods.  

No matter what diet you choose to go with, you’ll want to favor healthy, whole foods and eliminate high GI foods, highly processed items, and foods that have been shown to have pro-inflammatory effects.  

On top of that, you’ll also want to include plenty of fruits, vegetables, and a variety of different protein sources in your diet to makes sure that you’re not just getting enough macronutrients but also that you’re getting a substantial supply of micronutrients to support the overall health and function of your body.