Your coach has likely already been directing your training towards improved performance for The Open. And you can easily find info on how to physically prep and warm up for the workouts (check out Coach Donny’s guide). Here are my top three essentials from a NUTRITION perspective, to give you even more of an edge during these five weeks.
Because I like you, I made it more informative than just a list. If you simply want the “What,” feel free to skim through to the bulletpoints and plan on getting more of them. If you also want the “Why” and “How,” read all the fun stuff in between.
Yes, even more than that.
As a regular crossfitter, you should hopefully already be eating sufficient carbohydrates on a daily basis. This of course applies to both competitive athletes and anyone that takes classes consistently enough to want to participate in the Open.
And by “sufficient” I mean enough to replace the used up energy, and properly repair and recover for the next workout, ON TOP of fulfilling your daily health requirements. Those amounts will be different from person to person, and it either takes ongoing trial and error, or a qualified coach to dial you in. [Ahem…insert shameless plug here]
Chances are, you could probably afford some additional well-timed carbs on your training days.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. How about some words from Dan Garner, strength coach and nutritional consultant for professional athletes across the NFL, CFL, MLB, NHL, AHL, and UFC.
“Pre-workout nutrition starts when the last workout ends.”
If you want to make sure you’re at 100% on the day you decide to do the qualifier workout, start your recovery asap. Post-workout is the perfect window to capitalize on this.
Glycogen, the stored energy in muscles, drives performance. The better you replace that energy, the better your workouts will be. Lucky for you, resistance training and hard conditioning will:
– increase glycogen synthase (the enzyme that converts glucose into stored glycogen)
– enhance insulin sensitivity, especially for 4-6 hours post-workout
– trigger GLUT 4 translocation (which makes me sound really smart at parties, but it’s quite simple). Basically, the doors to muscle cell open much easier to accept carbs in.
Put some high glycemic index carbs during and after training. You’ll get a quicker rate of glycogen replenishment, and also more complete total storage. And even though glycogen drives muscle contractions, blood glucose is still the preferred fuel source of the nervous system. So, having some carbs in your system already pre-workout will delay local muscular fatigue and nervous system fatigue.
Less fatigue = more reps and faster times.
The entire body relies on electric currents to function. For our purposes we’ll focus on the muscles and nervous system. Everything relies on proper balance of electrolytes – solutions that conduct electricity. BALANCE being the key takeaway there.
It’s not a stretch to say that most people have IMBALANCES of Sodium-to-Potassium, and Calcium-to-Magnesium. Our bodies are much better at retaining sodium, but we go through potassium much quicker. And since magnesium is required for over 300 processes, it’s easy to come up short to meet all those needs.
How does all this affect you as an athlete?
Too much sodium, you retain water. Too little, you get dehydrated. Either of these will induce fatigue much faster.
The brain acts on a sodium – potassium pump. Imbalances will affect cognitive function ,concentration , and mind-muscle connection, to name a few. At the very least, it will slow the electric current powering the signals to the rest of your body.
Muscles use sodium and calcium to contract, and potassium and magnesium to relax. The more efficiently you can relax, the easier the next rep will be.
Proper balance will speed muscle recovery and reduce DOMS (that wave of soreness you get a couple days after a hard workout). You can get nutrients into the affected area much quicker, to recover, when the sodium/potassium pump is optimized.
Fatigue can result as an inability to activate muscle fibers. Even before the concern for glycogen depletion, we need to consider the ability to activate muscles, which is a function of the nervous system. “Decreased potassium, sodium, and calcium can cause neuromuscular issues” 2
Proper flow in an out of cells helps efficiently remove metabolic waste, which slows lactic acid build up.
Equally important, especially for athletes, is balancing chloride – bicarbonate ratio. We tend to get plenty of chloride (it’s the Cl in NaCl, aka table salt). Without enough bicarbonate to balance the pH effeciently, you will get more lactic acid buildup. This of course leads to a higher chance of fatigue and injury.
So, long story short, proper electrolyte balance will let you work harder, longer, faster, and with less fatigue.
Consider some extra magnesium throughout the day, and use a 2:1 ratio of potassium to sodium, especially before/after workouts. It’s still important to take in some sodium, since we sweat out a lot that needs to be replaced. Low sodium will cause muscle weakness, nausea, cramping, and faster lactic acid buildup.
My personal favorite product is Synerplex from KT Solutions, which has 30 years of research behind it to find the optimal ratios.
This could be an entire book on its own, so I’ll keep it brief. And yes, I know sleep is technically not nutrition, but LACK of sleep can very easily lead to under-nutrition. And it has way more impact to your performance than whatever metcon you did yesterday, so cool out.
During sleep is when you do most of your physical and psychological repair and rebuilding. Muscles, bones, endocrine system, neurotransmitters, etc. These sound like things you’d want firing on all cylinders for your workout.
Sleep is connected to every system in your body. If it’s compromised, your performance will be too.
Lack of proper sleep will:
throw off your cortisol curve, draining your energy when you most need it
keep you in a chronic stressed state
keep you catabolic, rather than anabolic
perpetuate more inflammation
elevate your resting heart rate
lower your heart rate variability
push you beyond your lactic acid threshold quicker
reduce cognitive function and neural drive
…need me to keep going?
If you haven’t already, and especially if you’re serious about putting up good numbers during the Open, make sleep a priority.
If I had to pick one more nutrition-related tip for better performance during the Crossfit Open, it would be supplementing with creatine. You can read more about HERE in the article I wrote for Position Weightlifting.