We’re going to analyse the most important aspects and influences of Carbohydrates in CrossFit
There are many factors influencing the sporting performance of a CrossFit athlete.
But those who are usually on the podium almost invariably rely on programming, adequate energy intake, and the issue that concerns us today: optimal carbohydrates intake.
Carbohydrates and high intensity sport
Despite the rise of low carb strategies, which have their place in many scenarios (mostly clinical), in sports modalities where high intensity prevails over sustained and lower intensity efforts, carbohydrates remain the kings of performance.
Except for a privileged few with stratospheric performance, when intensities rise above 70-80% of the VO2 max our energy metabolism is almost invariably dependent on carbohydrate oxidation.
And this is assuming that we’re talking about trained athletes
And it turns out that CrossFit is synonymous with high intensity. But beware. Let’s take up again the definition of CrossFit: “Functional exercises, constantly varied, performed at high intensity”. Now let’s stay with that “constantly varied”.
It turns out that in the last few years we are seeing tests in CrossFit that would fall outside the scope of “high intensity” and short duration.
Does anyone remember the CrossFit Games 2018 rowing marathon? Yes, 42 km rowing.
With this, we refer to the fact that CrossFit is taking a direction in which more and more demanding and different tests have a place
So let’s get to it.
How many carbohydrates are needed to perform in CrossFit?
The factor that best defines the amount of carbohydrates needed is the training volume and intensity level (1)
Starting from a high intensity level (we’re talking about CrossFit), we will consider only the volume of training. To make it more “cross-fit”, we’ll add the categories ‘Scaled’, ‘Rx’ and ‘Elite’.
We’re talking about people who have just signed up for a CrossFit BOX and want to improve their physical condition, being at the bottom of the learning curve and, therefore, having everything to improve. We’re talking about athletes who train no more than 3-5 hours a week.
For them, we can give recommendations that are very similar to those of an active person doing some kind of physical exercise (not necessarily CrossFit)
For more experienced athletes who are starting to take this CrossFit thing more seriously, who are starting to give up idle plans related to training beers, who are going to friends’ competitions and who don’t stop talking about their favourite sport.
This would be equivalent to about 500-800 grams per day for a 100 kg athlete. To give you an idea, 100 grams of rice contain 28 grams of CHO (one kg =280 grams)
They go to all the competitions, some manage to make an economic profit from this, they go to all the competitions and train in their little corner of the BOX, shifting kilos like beasts, for many, many hours.
The training volume of this kind of Crossfitter can reach up to 20 hours per week, as this sport lends itself well to dividing up the training sessions.
Many can cover training from up to 4 and 6 hours a day
CrossFit and type of carbohydrates
The amount matters, but the type also
Taking these huge amounts of CHO from only refined sources or processed products is not a good idea at all, and should be reserved for specific situations.
It is therefore an obvious fact that the athlete should try to eat most of his carbohydrates from unprocessed or under-processed sources. We’re talking about vegetables, fruits, legumes, roots and whole grains.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking, it’s not easy for someone who has to eat 6000 kcal per day of only this kind of food
When to include processed carbohydrates?
There are also situations where rapid replenishment of muscle and liver glycogen is required (2):
The faster the better
- Between two training sessions
- Between two HITs in the same training
- Between two WODs in a competition
- Between one day of competition and the next
- In extreme tests such as the previously mentioned rowing marathon, or all those exceeding 70 minutes (they exist).
Recharge glycogen quickly
In such cases, we would need to keep the following in mind:
Sports supplementation products that provide carbohydrates in liquid, gel or solid format can be accommodated.
As well as foods that would not fit into the “healthy diet”: rice pudding, chocolate milkshake, horchata, etc.
In these situations, when we are looking for a rapid glycogen repletion, we should look for intakes of >8 g/kg of CHO per day, in case we have one day to recover.
In case of having only hours, we would talk about at least 1.2 g of CHO/kg/hour during the first 4 hours after the test (3)
Carbohydrates during physical activity
As for the intake of intra-training CHO, when the training requires it (we’re talking about tests of >90 minutes), several studies advocate the intake of a 6-8% solution of 0.7 g of CHO per kg and hour.
However, in the case of CrossFit, we’ll rarely have to use intra-training CHO (although mouthwashes with CHO have shown improvements in performance, but this is for another post) (4).
The combination of GLUCOSE + SACCHAROSE or MALTODEXTRIN + FRUCTOSE seems to maximise the oxidation of CHO with respect to the intake of one type of CHO only.
In addition, amylopectin in some studies has been shown, due to its lower osmolality, to allow higher consumption (up to 100 g/hour) and improved performance (3)(5).
And they matter a lot in CrossFit. This doesn’t mean that more is better, or that you have to feed yourself rice pudding. But if it’s performance you’re after, you should be aware of your carbohydrate needs (you can also train CrossFit to lose fat, gain muscle or simply look better).
Let the best one win. See you in the next post.
- Cermak NM, Van Loon LJC. The use of carbohydrates during exercise as an ergogenic aid. Sports Medicine. 2013.
- Ranchordas MK, Dawson JT, Russell M. Practical nutritional recovery strategies for elite soccer players when limited time separates repeated matches. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2017.
- Currell K, Jeukendrup AE. Superior endurance performance with ingestion of multiple transportable carbohydrates. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008;
- Pöchmüller M, Schwingshackl L, Colombani PC, Hoffmann G. A systematic review and meta-analysis of carbohydrate benefits associated with randomized controlled competition-based performance trials. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2016;
- Oliver JM, Almada AL, Van Eck LE, Shah M, Mitchell JB, Jones MT, et al. Ingestion of high molecular weight carbohydrate enhances subsequent repeated maximal power: A randomized controlled trial. PLoS One. 2016.
- CrossFit, Tips for Nutrition
- The Best Supplements for CrossFit
- Post-Training Carbohydrates – Everything You Need to Know!