Exercises at CrossFit gyms are strenuous and fast.
They change daily and involve gymnastics, weightlifting and cardiovascular exercises, such as running and rowing, among other activities.
To do your best, you need to be well stocked. In fact, nutrition is seen as the foundation of CrossFit training and critical to performance.
The CrossFit diet is moderately low in carbohydrates and emphasizes the consumption of macronutrients from whole plant foods, lean proteins and healthy fats.
Here’s a closer look at the diet for CrossFit, including what to eat and what to avoid.
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What is the diet for CrossFit?
As a general guide, the CrossFit website recommends that athletes “eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruits, little starch and no sugar” and “keep their intake at levels that will support exercise, but not body fat” .
CrossFit’s more specific dietary recommendations are based on the Zone Diet , which was developed over 30 years ago by Barry Sears, a biochemist and author of The Zone.
The diet is designed to control blood sugar and minimize inflammation, which can reduce hunger and reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Reducing inflammation can also reinforce recovery from training ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 ).
To plan a balanced meal, friendly to the area and CrossFit, divide your plate into three parts and fill in with:
- 1/3 lean protein: Options include skinless chicken breast, fish, lean meat and low fat dairy products.
- 2/3 healthy carbohydrates: Emphasize colorful, starchless vegetables and low glycemic index (GI) fruits.
- A small amount of healthy monounsaturated fat: Olive oil, avocado and nuts are some options.
The CrossFit website recommends that you try the Zone Diet for four weeks, then adjust it based on your needs.
Notably, not all CrossFit coaches provide the same dietary advice. Some recommend the paleo diet , which omits dairy products, grains and vegetables entirely ( 5 ).
It is also possible to combine the two – eating a paleo-style zone diet. In addition, you can modify your diet to suit a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
The CrossFit website recommends the Zone Diet, which is designed to stabilize blood sugar and minimize inflammation. A typical meal is made up of 2/3 healthy carbohydrates, 1/3 of lean protein and a small amount of monounsaturated fat.
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The CrossFit-compatible zone diet advises you to consume 40% of your carbohydrate calories, 30% protein and 30% fat – but says elite athletes may need more fat.
To simplify the diet and ensure that you get the recommended proportion of macronutrients, food is classified into blocks of protein, carbohydrates or fat. These blocks also promote nutritional balance in meals and snacks.
What is a block?
A block is a way of measuring your protein, carbohydrate and fat intake:
- 1 block of carbohydrates = 9 grams of carbohydrates (excluding fiber)
- 1 block of protein = 7 grams of protein
- 1 block of fat = 1.5 grams of fat
The fat block represents the moderate amount of healthy fat – like salad – that you add to meals.
To determine how much of a specific food counts as a pack, you can consult the CrossFit website or books on the Zone Diet.
How many blocks do you need?
Your gender, body size and activity level determine how many blocks you need each day.
A medium-sized woman needs 11 daily blocks of each category of macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins and fats – while a medium-sized man requires 14 blocks.
CrossFit provides a food chart to help you count your blocks. Alternatively, you can use the Zone’s body fat calculator for a more accurate calculation.
Once you know the block count, divide your blocks evenly into meals and snacks to ensure they have a balance between carbohydrates, protein and fat.
A medium-sized woman needs 3 blocks of each macronutrient in meals, compared to 4 blocks per macronutrient for a medium-sized man. An additional 1-2 blocks of each macronutrient is eaten as snacks.
For example, a woman who needs 11 blocks of each macronutrient daily can eat:
|Protein||3 blocks||3 blocks||1 block||3 blocks||1 block|
|Carbohydrates||3 blocks||3 blocks||1 block||3 blocks||1 block|
|Fat||3 blocks||3 blocks||1 block||3 blocks||1 block|
To plan a 3-block breakfast, you would need 3 blocks of protein, carbohydrates and fat.
Referring to a block chart shows that 1/3 cup of cooked oatmeal counts as a block of carbohydrates. To get 3 blocks, you could eat 1 cup of cooked oats.
Likewise, 1/4 cup of cottage cheese counts as 1 block of protein. To obtain 3 blocks, eat a 3/4 cup of cottage cheese.
Finally, 3 almonds count as 1 block of fat. Therefore, eating 9 almonds would give you 3 blocks.
Weighing and Measuring Food
The Zone Diet guidelines recommended by CrossFit allow you to use the hand-eye method to estimate healthy protein and carbohydrate portions.
That means selecting proteins, like meat, that are the size and thickness of your palm (3 to 4 ounces cooked), and then making about two-thirds of your vegetables and a small amount of fruit.
However, you need to weigh and measure your dishes for at least a week to have a better eye for estimating food portions.
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Food to eat
In the Zone Diet , foods are classified as the best choices if they have a low GI and are low in saturated fats and omega-6. Higher foods in these indicators are considered more inflammatory and therefore classified as fair or bad choices.
Examples of best rated vegetables – which are generally not rich in starch – and their parts in block are ( 6 ):
|Vegetable||1 block of carbohydrate equivalent|
|Asparagus||180 grams cooked or 1 cup|
|Bell peppers||2 whole peppers or 2 sliced cups (184 grams)|
|Broccoli||1.5 cups cooked or 2.5 cups raw (230 grams)|
|Pod||1.5 fresh, cooked cups (187 grams)|
|Romaine lettuce||10 chopped cups (470 grams)|
|Tomato||1.5 chopped cups (270 grams)|
Examples of the best rated fruits are ( 6 ):
|Fruit||1 block of carbohydrate equivalent|
|Apple||1/2 medium size (91 grams)|
|Blackberries||1/2 cup (74 grams)|
|Grapefruit||1/2 medium size (123 grams)|
|Orange||1/2 medium size (65 grams)|
|Wait||1/2 medium size (89 grams)|
|Strawberries||1 cup cut (166 grams)|
Examples of best-rated lean proteins include ( 6 ):
|Protein||1 protein block equivalent|
|Pasture-fed beef||28 grams cooked|
|Chicken breast||28 grams, without skin (28 grams)|
|Codfish||42 grams cooked|
|Cottage cheese||1/4 cup (56 grams)|
|Salmon||42 grams cooked|
|Tofu||56 firm grams|
Examples of better classified fats rich in monounsaturated fat include ( 6 ):
|Fat||1 fat block equivalent|
|Almonds||3 whole (3.6 grams)|
|Almond Butter||1/2 teaspoon (2.6 grams)|
|Avocado||1 tablespoon (14 grams)|
|Guacamole||1 tablespoon (15 grams)|
|Olive oil||1/3 teaspoon (1.5 grams)|
|Olive oil and vinegar sauce||1/3 teaspoon (1.5 grams) of oil and vinegar, as desired|
In addition, people are encouraged to take an omega-3 supplement to help reduce inflammation.
Foods to avoid
Although no food is completely off limits, the Zone Diet encourages you to restrict or avoid certain foods, including:
- Fruits with a high glycemic index: bananas, dates, figs, mangoes and raisins.
- Juice: Juice sweetened with sugar and 100% juice, such as apple, orange or grape juice.
- Grain-based foods: Bread, dry cereals, crackers, muffins, pasta, pancakes and tortillas, especially if made with refined (white) flour.
- Starchy vegetables: pumpkin, corn, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes and legumes.
- Sweets and desserts: Donuts, cookies, candies, pie, cake and ice cream.
- Sugary drinks: Soda, lemonade and energy drinks.
Grains, starchy vegetables, dried fruits and sugary items use your carbohydrate blocks in a small portion. If you eat any of the above foods, it is crucial to measure and limit your portion sizes.
Here is an example of an 11-block menu, which would be appropriate for a medium-sized woman ( 6 ):
Breakfast (3 blocks of each macronutrient)
- 3 blocks of protein: 3/4 cup (170 grams) of cottage cheese
- 1 block of carbohydrates: 1.5 cups (270 grams) of chopped tomatoes
- 2 blocks of carbohydrates: 1 cup (148 grams) of blueberries
- 3 blocks of fat: 9 almonds (11 grams)
Lunch (3 blocks of each macronutrient)
- 3 blocks of protein: 3 ounces (84 grams) of grilled chicken breast
- 1 block of carburetor: 1 cup (180 grams) of cooked asparagus
- 2 carburetor blocks: 1/2 cup (99 grams) of cooked lentils
- 3 blocks of fat: 1 teaspoon (4.5 grams) of extra virgin olive oil to flavor the vegetables
Afternoon snack (1 block of each macronutrient)
- 1 block of protein: 1 large boiled egg (50 grams)
- 1 block of carbohydrates: 2 cups (298 grams) of cherry tomatoes
- 1 block of fat: 1 tablespoon of avocado (14 grams)
Dinner (3 blocks of each macronutrient)
- 3 blocks of protein: 4.5 ounces (127 grams) of roasted salmon with dill
- 1 block of carbohydrates: 1.5 cups (234 grams) of steamed broccoli
- 1 carburetor block: 2 cups (380 grams) of sautéed cabbage
- 1 block of carbohydrates: 1 cup (166 grams) of strawberry slices
- 3 blocks of fat: 1 teaspoon (4.5 grams) of extra virgin olive oil to cook salmon and cabbage
Snack at night (1 block of each macronutrient)
- 1 block of protein: 1 ounce (28 grams) of a mozzarella cheese stick
- 1 block of carbohydrates: 2 cups (184 grams) of pepper strips
- 1 block of fat: 5 small olives (16 grams)
Because of their low carbohydrate counts, some 1-block vegetable portions are large. You can eat a smaller amount if you wish.
For more ideas, check out the CrossFit website, where you can find meals, snacks for 2, 3, 4 and 5 people.
Eating low glycemic index carbohydrates – as recommended in CrossFit and the Zone Diet – is known to increase the stores of glucose (glycogen) in your muscles, which are used to fuel exercise ( 7 ).
However, it is uncertain whether a low glycemic index diet significantly improves athletic performance ( 7 ).
Although CrossFit’s founder and CEO, Greg Glassman, claims that his best performances follow the Zone Diet, published studies are limited.
The diet was not tested in a study with CrossFit athletes, but was used for a week in a study with eight endurance athletes. While the study failed to demonstrate a diet performance benefit, it was also very small and short-term ( 8 ).
A small amount of research on non-athletes suggests that the Zone Diet may have health benefits.
Its carbohydrate guidelines can be useful in preventing chronic diseases, such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes ( 9 , 10 , 11 ).
In a study of 30 people with type 2 diabetes who followed the Zone Diet for six months and supplemented with 2,400 mg of omega-3 daily, the average blood sugar decreased by 11%, the waist size by 3% and a marker inflammation in 51% ( 12 , 13 ).
Finally, the diet’s emphasis on eating protein at every meal and snack – especially at breakfast and lunch – is increasingly recognized as a way to support muscle growth and repair, particularly as you get older ( 14 , 15 ).
Although the evidence for the benefits of the CrossFit-recommended Zone Diet in athletes is limited, it can reduce the risk of chronic disease and preserve muscle mass with age. In addition, eating low glycemic index carbohydrates can increase glucose stores in muscles.
Certain aspects of the Zone Diet’s carbohydrate, protein and fat recommendations are potentially worrying.
First, some scientists question whether the moderately low number of carbohydrates in the diet is sufficient for CrossFit athletes. Keep in mind that research to assess this concern is limited.
In a nine-day study of 18 athletes, those who ate an average of 1.4 grams of carbohydrates per pound (3.13 grams per kg) of body weight performed as many repetitions in a CrossFit workout as those who ate 2.7- 3.6 grams of carbohydrates per kilo. (6-8 grams per kg) of body weight ( 7 ).
Therefore, the Zone Diet carbohydrate levels may be suitable for CrossFit athletes – at least in the short term. Whether it provides athletes with sufficient carbohydrates in the long run is not certain ( 7 ).
Second, if you have a health condition that requires you to restrict proteins – such as chronic kidney disease – the Zone Diet contains too much protein for you ( 16 ).
A third concern is the Zone’s strict limits on saturated fats – particularly its encouragement of low-fat or non-fat dairy products, such as fat-free cheese.
Research is increasingly showing that not all saturated fats are the same, and some saturated fats – such as dairy products – can have a neutral or even positive effect on health ( 17 , 18 , 19 , 20 ).
Just as you would for any branded diet, beware of the highly processed foods sold by the creators of Zone . While they may claim to be scientifically justified, many contain refined grains, sugar and other unhealthy ingredients.
It is uncertain whether the Zone Diet provides sufficient carbohydrates for all athletes. It is very rich in protein for people who need protein restriction and can be very strict in limiting saturated fat, particularly from dairy foods.
CrossFit recommends the Zone Diet, which stimulates the balance of lean proteins, starchless vegetables, nuts, seeds and fruits with a low glycemic index, limiting starch and refined sugar .
Although this diet has not been studied in CrossFit athletes, it is a healthy diet that can control hunger and improve blood glucose and inflammation.
Many resources, including meal plans and recipes, are available online and in books to help you follow the diet. You can adjust it based on your individual needs.