How to Fuel in the Crossfit Open

The time is nearly here. For some it’s the first step to the Crossfit Games, for many it’s a chance to show off their year of fitness, and for most it’s a chance throw down with their community and test themselves in a competitive state. Yes, the Open means something different for each of us, but we should all go in with a plan and an intention to get the most out of the five weeks.

Firstly, five weeks is a LONG time. Emotions ride high and low, and collective stress hormones reach record limits upon Dave Castro’s weekly open announcement. For most, the Open is a significant stress, both mentally and physically. Cortisol (our main stress hormone) will peak and trough during the five weeks  and usually flatlines afterwards – hello sickness. This being so, we must manage our stressors in training and life if we’re to get the very best out of the event.

And how do we manage stressors? Well, nutrition is key, as is sleep. Rhythm is important too. Your body loves it, and it will hold critical importance for these five weeks.

But let’s start with the pre workout nutrition.

Pre Workout – To Fast or Not to Fast

You need to make the decision to go fasted vs some food. (A lot of food is a bad idea).

This decision is based on what sort of workout it’s going to be for you. Some of us will go lactic every week and be lying on the ground looking for Jesus, whereas some of us will keep mostly aerobic – be breathing heavily but largely coherent after the workout.

So which one am I? Well, if it’s a shorter, more lactic piece, like 17.5, you can look at doing it fasted as we’ll be doing quick contractions, and there’s more demand for blood to go to the periphery. We’ll also be running off adrenaline and cortisol for much of this, and being fasted will allow for a state of arousal to meet the intensity required.

If it’s a longer piece of muscular endurance, ie 17.4, it’s wise to have some pre workout carbs and proteins, and keep it light and easily digestible – around 150 calories should do. Some BCAA’s are also a great idea to delay the onset of fatigue.

This being said, you should have practiced fasted training prior so your body doesn’t freak out and have blood sugar dumps prior to go time. Again, rhythm, familiarity, all those good things.

Your pre workout meal doesn’t start 90 mins before go time. It begins days, weeks, and months before the big event where you body can adjust to the rhythm and fuel utilisation that you’ll be using. Honouring the mantra that your body loves rhythm, you should start a pre workout ritual, and use this same practice for game day.

This being said, you should have practiced fasted training prior so your body doesn’t freak out and have blood sugar dumps prior to go time.

In summary: 

Long and grindy with many contractions: Eat something light 90 mins beforehand and maybe some BCAA’s.

Short and Firey: Go relatively fasted to allow for blood to go to the periphery and away from the gut.

Post Workout:

Post workout meals are again dependent on what human you are, and the effect that the workout has on you. A general prescription for everyone is to calm your farm BEFORE you ingest any calories – don’t guzzle your protein shake while you’re still sweating. Instead, do a cool-down for 20 minutes (row, ride, walk) then go for something easily digested with carbs and protein – fats aren’t AS important.

As for quality and quantity of fuelling, that will again depend on what sort of workout it is. If you’ve gone very lactic, ie. 17.5, then you should look to replace your sugars with some fast digesting carbs as soon as you calm down. Then, look to get a solid meal of carbs, proteins and fats within 90 minutes. If you’ve done a more aerobic piece like in 17.2, there’s less of a need for quick repletion of sugars, and you can probably go for a square meal once your nervous system calms down.

In Summary

More lactic the workout, the more demand for post workout sugars. After you top up here, get in balanced meal with carbs and proteins.

The more aerobic the workout, the less need for post workout sugars, and instead you should go for a meal with enough carbs and proteins.

… A note on Pre – Workouts

Ahh pre – workouts, our go to when we need a quick hit. The aim of these weird chemicals is to illicit an adrenaline and dopamine response so you’re amped and ready. Now, if you’ve ever done the open, you know that you’re in a HIGHLY stimulating environment, and if you don’t get a natural lift from this then something is probably wrong with you.

For this reason I do not recommend pre workouts, especially if you’re training in the PM. It can lead to overstimulation, and impair your recovery for the next week – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.


Wrapping Up:

Sticking to the basic recommendations given above about fasted vs light meal for the type of workout is a good place to start.

Importantly, make sure that you feel good going into the workout. We all have different biological makeups and will respond differently to different factors, so choose an eating strategy that will work for you.

Thank you for reading.

Steve Hennessy-Maia is a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner and Crossfit Coach.
He works with clients from around the world to restore health, using fitness, nutrition and lifestyle protocols.
He is currently based in London.
*Disclaimer: This post is for information purposes only, and is not designed to diagnose or treat any disease. Always seek help from a medical professional whenever you undergo any dietary change.