You can never be too strong....right?!
There are three main areas that you need to focus on when trying to get stronger.
- If you do not train in the correct way then how are you expecting to get stronger? If you have the correct stimulus any extra food you eat will probably be converted to body fat
- You need to provide the body with enough building blocks to stimulate growth. We often see people under-fuelling or having an imbalance in their daily/weekly/monthly intake. We want to be anabolic not catabolic
- Just because you are trying to get stronger or build muscle doesn't give you free reign to eat poor quality foods. Pro-inflammatory foods will halt your progress.
Muscle respond to demands
Muscle respond to the demands we put on it. Ask your muscles to lift loads, and they’ll respond by getting stronger. Ask your muscles to help you watch 4 hours of Netflix you will be on the path to being weak and skinny-fat.
Intense training (such as heavy weight training) damages muscle, which then remodels to prevent future injury. It gets more resilient. There is also a huge neurological component but a little out of the scope of this article.
Muscle respond too calories
Restrict calories and you risk muscle loss and metabolic slowdown. Under-fuelling your workouts will cause further stress on the body as it has to find the calories from somewhere to fuel the exercise.
Not supplying the body with enough means the body has to use its own stores. Counter productive to what we are trying to achieve. Increasing calories too much in the hope that it will add even more muscle usually ends up you adding more body fat. So by using the guide provided we have ensured that you are in enough of a calorie surplus to promote muscle and strength gain alongside a sensible training protocol.
Muscle and strength increase can be a long term project and in some cases (depending on numerous factors) 0.5 lb per week of muscle gain can be seen as a great success therefore the process cannot be rushed simply by adding more and more calories.
Ensuring your body has a constant supply of protein throughout the day is essential for optimum muscle growth. Protein is made up of amino acids which are the building blocks of your muscles and body. As for carbs and fats they play the important role of being muscle sparing, meaning they are used for energy production before our body turns to using valuable protein. Hence why they should never be dramatically decreased. Carbs also play a vital role in the transport of protein to the muscle in order to aid muscle growth.
To build strength and muscle we want to PROMOTE muscle protein synthesis and REDUCE muscle protein breakdown. This is what we mean when we say being anabolic opposed to catabolic.
Regular feedings to stay in a positive protein balance in essential. You only need small - ish amounts (roughly 6g of essential amino acids to stimulate MPS).
Eating a pre bed meal is also an area to consider as we will be in a fasted state through the night.
What do we mean by anabolic environment?
Anabolism is basically the formulation of useful compounds. It is an environment that allows for growth of new muscle tissue, strengthening of tendons and ligaments alongside enhancing neural pathways. Catabolism means to break down muscle tissue.
To create an anabolic environment there are a number of considerations in addition to just calories and macros
Omega 3/6 ratio
The most anabolic hormones are testosterone and growth hormone. We need to support these through specific foods and supplementation.
Low testosterone is common in the CrossFit athletes we have worked with due to the sheer training volume and underfuelling. For women very low body fat levels can often block progress in gaining strength.
Growth hormone is released at specific times of the day - most notable in the first 30 minutes of sleep. If we improve our sleep we get a double whammy of increasing testosterone levels and utilising growth hormone.
Cortisol and insulin
Cortisol is a hormone that is involved in the production of energy, our response to stress and inflammation. Insulin is our storage hormone meaning that it will take nutrients from the bloodstream and store them in muscle or fat tissue. We need both
However, consistently elevated cortisol can cause too much stress on the body, lead to overtraining symptoms and blunt our progress. As with insulin, spikes at specific times are great but we do not want high circulating insulin for prolonged periods
Factors to consider
Eating a poor quality diet loaded with pro-inflammatory foods places further stress on the body. As we have said we want to provide the body with the best chance to grow and adapt. 700 calories from a good steak and wedges or 700 kcal from a couple of doughnuts?!?
Deficiencies in micronutrients can play a big role in impairing your performance as they play vital roles in the growth and repair of body tissues, metabolic reactions, oxygen transport, oxidative metabolism, immune function and being key antioxidants. Poor quality food is also void of these. It is much more than a calorie balance.
Hormonal balance is essential and this will be covered in the habit series.
You can't have your cake and eat it as they say, a common mistake made when trying to build muscle and strength is continuing to incorporate too much cardio alongside your main base of training as ‘you don't want to get fat’. This is detrimental as you start to negate the additional calories you are consuming to gain muscle in the first place leaving you in a plateau or worse yet a calorie deficit meaning you have blown your muscle building potential out of the water.
Ensure you are training for the correct stimulus
Calorie surplus over the day/week/month
Take advantage of the anabolic window (45 minutes after a training session) and consume 0.5g/kg/bw of protein and 1g of carbohydrates.
The next meal should contain a mixture of protein, carbs and fats - along with all the veg!
Regular pattern of eating. Every 3-4 hours
Around 1 hour pre bed have a meal containing at least 0.5g/kg/bw of protein
Remove any foods that create more stress on the body. Limit the biscuits, doughnuts, crisps and battered fish :)
Limit fasted training
Below is a PDF with specifics for building strength. Use this in addition to your nutrition plan.
One of the fundamentals to being a good CrossFitter is being able to push through tough workouts. Having a good “engine” will transfer into other areas of life as well as helping you crush your performance.
Numerous factors are involved when working on building aerobic and anaerobic capacity. This guide will provide PRACTICAL guidelines and areas of focus.
There are so many aspects of Crossfit "fitness" that must be considered. It is not so different to team sports where there are multiple components required to perform. We need to be strong, mobile, powerful and have a good endurance. However the endurance side of CrossFit can sometimes be overlooked in terms of importance.
Quick science lesson. There are three main energy systems that we use. In CrossFit we need will use a blend of all three.
The primary energy system used will depend on the type of activity. We will focus on aerobic and anaerobic energy systems in this section.
The alactic system will be covered in the weightlifting, strength and gymnastics sections.
Improving our engine doesn't just mean that we need to do long, low intensity exercise. We want to improve overall aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Areas of focus are to -
- Improve capacity for long cardio based workouts
- Improve recovery times between interval based workouts
- Improve the intensity we can hit in met-cons
As you can see we use a mixture of energy systems even when doing short intense workouts.
Strategies to improve aerobic capacity
When we work with clients trying to improve their engine we speak about "ADAPTIVE" and "PERFORMANCE" focused sessions.
Adaptive sessions - These are used to improve our bodies energy production mechanisms. They should be lower intensity and performance shouldn't be a focus. These are the sessions where we may use a "train low" strategy. Usually these will involve the rower, assault bike, ski erg, skipping, running, swimming, burpees etc.
Performance sessions - These are we try to push the boundaries. These sessions will be a higher intensity or involve dumbbell, barbell or gymnastics movements as well as machine based exercise.
We use the different sessions to reap the benefits of training in a low glycogen state and in a fed state. The reasoning behind this is to -
- Help increase your bodies ability to use fat as an energy source.
- Increase mitochondrial biogenesis (Fancy way of saying making your cells be able to produce energy more efficiently).
- Use glycogen super-compensation to maximise energy levels.
Now this is going against most of the advice we give on the membership site in terms of fuelling for CrossFit!!
However this is advice for specific sessions and should only be implemented in certain situations.
Training low refers to training with low carbohydrate availability. Perhaps the most popular way is training without breakfast. However, there are many ways to train low with each method having different metabolic effects. Below is an overview of the methods available. We will discuss the specific effects and the evidence in more detail in future content.
Low carbohydrate availability refers to a situation where the body is deprived of carbohydrate in some way. We have relatively small carbohydrate stores: 300-900 grams in the muscle and 20-90 grams in the liver. The exact amounts depend on the diet and current muscle mass.
Without delving too deep into cellular biology, just understand that mitochondria are essential to our energy metabolism, they play a very important role in aerobic capacity and fatty acid oxidation. We want more mitochondria!
+ Low carbohydrate diet
A diet which is low in carbohydrate and more energy has to come from fat or protein (usually a combination of both). Depending on how extreme the diet is, and how hard training is, both muscle and liver glycogen will be lowered. The effects of this method are entirely dependent on the severity of training and the severity of diet. Over a longer period adaptations will occur in fat metabolism, but de-adaptation may occur in carbohydrate metabolism.
We do not advise this for CrossFit. We need carbohydrates for high intensity exercise. People often get it wrong when doing a low carb diet, they restrict fat as well. Which ends up making it a low calorie diet.
If you are training for marathon or long bike ride then going lower carb but higher fat may be helpful. We cover this in the endurance sports section.
+ Training twice a day
A common set up for more serious CrossFit athletes. The first training session aims to reduce muscle glycogen. This is then followed by little or no carbohydrate intake before the second workout. This workout will then be performed with low muscle and low liver glycogen. This method has been used successfully to obtain adaptations in the muscle that favour fat metabolism. It is advised to use this method once or at most twice a week and additional recovery time may be required.
How you choose to structure your training session is completely up to you. We do not suggest going long periods between sessions. So maybe aim for a 7am first session then 11am or 12pm for the 2nd session. If doing this be aware that the second session shouldn't have a performance focus.
+ Training after an overnight fast
Training is performed before breakfast on an “empty stomach”. It is common to drink a coffee (without milk or sugar) an hour before the start of training but no calories. This is common for those that train early morning.
Just be aware of the intensity of the session. Read the training times article.
+ Long training without carbohydrate intake
Workouts of several hours are conducted without the intake of carbohydrate intake. The start of this type of training is with normal muscle and liver glycogen stores. However as these run low and they are not being replenished with ingested carbohydrate it may be more difficult to maintain the exercise intensity. This may cause some additional stress and that stress may enhance the effects of training. Because the quality of training may be compromised, it will be a trade-off and perhaps this is a method that should be used when quality of training is not essential.
+ No carbohydrate during recovery
Normally it is important to consume carbohydrate for improved recovery. However, by withholding carbohydrate for an hour or a couple of hours after exercise it may be possible to get greater training adaptations. We suggest doing this after more aerobic style workouts opposed to any strength or met con style WODs.
This is advised to do the day before a rest day or in a morning session when only training once.
+ Sleep low
One method that that has been proposed in recent research is training in the evening and not consuming carbohydrate until the next morning. This method may exaggerate some of the training adaptations.
This is not advised if you are training the next day but may be a useful strategy to employ if you are training late. We sometimes get clients to have a smaller portion of their dinner at 5pm then hit the training session at 8pm-9pm and have some protein post workout.
Times to use these strategies are -
- Active recovery day sessions.
- Early morning sessions 6am / 7am.
- Second sessions of the day after hitting a hard session in the morning.
- Commuting to work by bike
- Sleep low in the evening when a rest day is to follow.
REMEMBER USE THESE STRATEGIES FOR ADAPTIVE SESSIONS ONCE OR TWICE PER WEEK. IF IT IS A HIGH INTENSITY OR PERFORMANCE BASED SESSION DO NOT EMPLOY THESE.
Performance based sessions
The other strategy we want to implement is to perform our training sessions in a "fed" state. This allows us to train at a higher intensity to improve our aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
Alot of CrossFit is performed at or around the anaerobic threshold.
From a nutrition perspective we should be going into the majority of our sessions with fuel in the tank. Yes that means carbohydrates. The way we have set up your nutrition plan in the site will take care of this...if followed!
We need to be fuelling to be able to increase our exercise intensity, otherwise we will performing at a sub optimal level. We need to provide the stimulus for increase exercise capacity.
We have all had the moment when our body just says nope, I cannot lift that or do another 30 seconds on the assault bike. We often attribute this to build up of lactic acid. However this isn't quite correct. As this article is nutrition focused if you want to read more about lactic acid here is a good article for an overview. READ MORE HERE.
Nutrition strategies for anaerobic performance
- Go into the session in a fuelled state. Eat carbohydrates 90 minutes - 2 hours before the workout.
- Ensure you refuel post workout with protein and carbohydrates.
- Ensure you are hydrated. This can have a huge effect on performance.
- Check out the performance section of the supplement page.
A principle we use is "to fuel for the work required".
We are not saying to do all aerobic low intensity sessions in a fasted state or all high intensity session with a bucket load of carbs pre workout. Identify what you want to get out of the session and fuel accordingly.
+ Further resources
Aerobic capacity guru Chris Hinshaw - worth a watch 👉🏼
A weightlifting class isn’t a crossfit class and therefore has its own nutritional considerations to benefit the athlete.
Weightlifting is probably the one area of CrossFit that has tried and tested methods of nutritional programming. It has been around long before CrossFit and in this section we are primarily focusing on weightlifting as a stand alone class.
Olympic weightlifting is a discipline that demands (alongside mastering the intricate technical aspects of the snatch and the clean and jerk lifts), EXPLOSIVE POWER. A little recap on energy production.....
ATP is required for ANY muscle contraction or force exertion
- ATP-Phosphocreatine, allows up to an average of 12 sec maximal effort
- Glycolytic, relies on blood glucose and stored glycogen to to create ATP through glycolysis
- Oxidative, can produce ATP through either fatty acids (fat) or glucose (carbohydrate)
ATP-PC is produced from the amino acids glycine & arginine so protein sources rich in amino acids are essential. This system will be used whenever you explosively use energy i.e. in a weightlifting session BUT it has limitations as it fatigues very quickly.
Glycolytic, the pathway that converts glucose into energy which come from carbohydrates. This system will be used at times when we are performing more than 1 rep in a set for example.
Of course there are many WODs that include a large volume of snatch and clean and jerk movements which will recruit other energy systems but this section of the specific training sessions page is going to focus on how to train and fuel this energy system.
If you’re training for explosive power, you should: (a) limit sets to 10-15 seconds and (b) ensure there is adequate rest between sets (1-2 minutes). If the exercises last more than 15 seconds, you will be tapping into other energy systems and if your rest period is too short, you won’t be able to generate full force because you’ll still be fatigued. Even if you don’t feel fatigued, your nervous system needs more recovery time than your muscles. You’re aiming to perform each set at full output, not a sub-maximal level. This is how you adapt your nervous system to improve its ability to rapidly develop force.
Olympic weightlifting is very, very technical and it’s therefore essential that Olympic lifters are alert both in training and in competitions. Particularly as the bar gets heavier, if your positions are out by a centimetre this can cause you to miss the lift!
This means we need to be in a optimal physical and mental state to lift.
NUTRITION CONSIDERATIONS FOR TRAINING
Going into a session "under-fuelled" is not something we advocate for lifting. Now we are not saying that fasted training shouldn't be used, but we need to have fully stocked glycogen levels to ensure optimal output.
If you lift very early then the pre workout window is very small. Caffeine is something we suggest (coffee or supplement form) as it as been shown to increase power output and reduce fatigue.
The day before becomes very important and you should ensure adequate carbohydrates are consumed to allow for glycogen stores to be fully stocked.
Post workout we follow the pH Nutrition 3 phase recovery protocol refilling of glycogen stores is essential due to depletion from intense training. If you do not have a pre workout meal / snack then post workout nutrition becomes more important.
Afternoon / evening training
There is some research suggesting that we are stronger in the afternoon and evening. It is to do with circadian rhythm and hormone balance. Something we will cover in our hormone module. Our advice - just train whenever you feel best!
One KEY area with training later in the day is the pre workout snack....or the lack of it. We too often see people go into evening lifting classes trying to chuck heavy weights around only to have eaten their last meal 6 hours prior!
ARE YOU MAD!
We need to fuel the tank. Weightlifting isn't a gentle jog in the park.
Use these two options :
- Afternoon training have a snack of protein and carbs 90 minutes pre training. Good option is coconut water, 1 banana and handful of pumpkin seeds.
- If you train in the evening - have a meal of low GI carbs 2-3 hours before training so that you have time to digest and use this food as fuel. Do not go into this session underfuelled. We often ask clients who train at 7pm or later to eat their main meal before and have a snack after.
Intra- workout nutrition is an area that can really help with maintaining focus and ability to crush the WHOLE session. In our supplement section we advise using a cyclic dextrin. This is not needed for the majority of us but if you feel fatigued during the later part of sessions then it may be useful. Our cut off for most athletes is to use if the session is going to be over 1 hour long.
Fuelling for a weightlifting session is something that is indivdual. It is also down to the type of session. We ave clients who would maybe only do 20 reps in a whole session. Other may do snatch, clean and jerk and strength accessories in a session lasting over 2 hours.
FUEL FOR THE WORK REQUIRED.
POINTS TO CONSIDER
Both weight gain and weight loss can be beneficial, weight increase can mean muscle increase which means strength increase (can take time if not wanting to sacrifice body comp). Body fat loss can mean better quality and speed of movement. It can also improve your power to weight ratio.
As we always speak about identifying where your primary area of focus is and align nutrition to this. It could be that you are overweight and body fat loss will result in better performance gains opposed to trying to focus on purely strength.
We recommend experimenting with your pre, intra and post-workout nutrition in line with the guidance on this Membership Site (in particular check out the Timing of Training Article to find what is optimal for your weightlifting performance. Remember - avoid too much sugar, processed foods and pre workout supplements. You don’t want your body to be preoccupied with digesting and being far too wired when you should be focused on lifting!
If you are looking to take part in weightlifting competitions, make sure your competition day nutrition is tried and tested. Don’t try anything for the first time on the day! We’ll be posting content on nutrition for Olympic weightlifting competitions and weight-making soon!
We have an interview with Sam Franklin (weightlifter and nutritional therapist) that provides some insight into making weight for competitions. READ HERE.
Gymnastics is an area that a huge number of us will struggle with. It is very high skill but once we master a few of these movements our CrossFit performance can skyrocket.
I am sure we have all been there in a workout when we have tripped every 5 skips or stood and looked at the bar wondering where another muscle up is going to come from!
When we work with clients who want to improve their gymnastics we ask one question.
What is your blocking factor?
A blocking factor is the primary reason that is preventing you from making progress with gymnastics movements. There are usually 3 areas that will help you improve your gymnastics.
Power to weight ratio
Technique (sorry we can’t help with this!)
Identifying which is going to make the biggest effect on your gymnastics will allow use to guide your nutrition choices.
POWER TO WEIGHT RATIO
Power to weight ratio sounds complex, doesn’t it? But in reality, it’s simply the amount of power you can output per kilogram of weight. Simple.
So by dropping some body fat (non usable weight) we have to lift less weight on each rep. Imagine having 3 kg less on each double under or handstand push up!
To drop body fat there isn’t anything that we need to specifically change in terms of your nutrition plan. However we can think about the TYPE of session that we are performing. If the session is very low intensity or you are learning a new skill still (so the actually volume will be low) we can set our diet up more towards a REST DAY. This would be what we call an ADAPTIVE SESSION.
When we are hitting a session that is going to be a lot of volume (i.e if you are good at pull ups) we class this as a training session and need to keep our intake consistent with a training day. This would be what we call an PERFORMANCE SESSION.
Adaptive sessions should be performed with a mindset of practice and improvement opposed to top end performance. Performance sessions are where we gun it! You cannot hit every session with a performance focus.
If you feel that your weak area is strength related then ensuring you are going into session fuelled and ready to crush the session is essential. We need to provide the body with the stimulus to grow from training but fuelling and refuelling is crucial. If you are under fuelling your sessions you are fighting an uphill battle to get stronger!
Going into these sessions not having the energy to push through means that you run the risk of not being able to create enough overload to the body to improve your strength.
Follow the advice in the strength bias and the timing of training series.
Gymnastics requires an incredible amount of concentration and uses more of our smaller muscles. Therefore fatigue often happens quicker than when we do a burpee or deadlift. Anyone been close to face planting on a handstand will know what we mean!
Using an intra-workout drink containing some carbs and/or amino acids can help offset this and allow you to keep the consistency all the way through the session.
BCAA’s have been proven to reduce central and local muscular fatigue and reduce time to fatigue in different sports and activities.
Carbohydrate intake during workouts can help with reducing fatigue and improving performance. This can be done via a carb drink or with a mouth rinse (for those trying to lose body fat). READ MORE HERE.