Low Carb Diets And Crossfit – My Experience
‘Low carb diets and Crossfit workouts don’t mix!’ ‘You won’t be able to train intensely, get stronger, or build muscle if you eat low carb!’ These are claims that many trainers, coaches, and other fitness ‘experts’ make.
You may also feel this way too. I certainly did! But my nature is to look at hard evidence before I believe any claims or make them. Consequently, I read the research and took the findings into consideration. The older research showed ‘carbo loading’ was recommended prior to a lengthy workout; on the other hand, newer research showed low carb, high fat dieting produced better performance results. So, which is it? I decided to eat low carb,train hard doing Crossfit, every day and observe the effects, if any.
What was the outcome from eating a low carbohydrate diet (<75 grams of carbs daily) and doing Crossfit workouts? I got a lot stronger, built up my work capacity doing hundreds of kettlebell swings and MetCons, built muscle and lost 50 pounds of fat. Oh and I did have about 2 weeks of feeling moody, but bounced back with a significant increase in energy! It took me approximately 4 months to see this degree of progress. As you know, and I know, it makes a world of difference, not only seeing changes, but feeling them too! It makes committing to your goals quite a bit more realistic and easier! While I may veer off into the world of candy bars, once a week, the thought of feeling as good as I do, while eating low carb and doing intense workouts, has me hooked! I can now look beyond the instant gratification of carb loaded foods and willingly choose the increased endurance, and buzz of having energy all day!
Crossfit And Other Elite Athletes That Eat Low Carb
I’m not the only person having success with eating a very low carb, high fat diet while still training hard, daily. A simple Google search finds hundreds of thousands of people, many of them athletes doing extreme sports (Crossfit Games, strength training, gymnastics, soccer, etc.) who are also getting better results from eating this way. And making a lot more progress than those eating the commonly recommended high carb/low fat diet (as seen of the food pyramid).
Here’s a list of just a few Crossfit, and other elite athletes, that eat low carb.
- Crossfit Game Athletes – including 2015 winner Ben Smith and Julie Foucher, and Cole Sager, thrive, eating low carb foods, like fatty cuts of steak, eggs, flourless brownies, and even cauliflower pizza.
- Lebron James – went low carb in the off-season and then carried his team to an NBA final at 31 years of age!
- Norwegian Soccer Team Strømsgodset – switched to a low carb diet and won their league.
- U.S. Olympic Gymnast Stephen McCain – eats low carb now and states, “I used to think it was all about carbs, carbs, carbs to get the energy,” he said. “But over time, I realized I performed better when I kept that stuff in check.”
What The Research Shows About Low Carbohydrate/Ketogenic Diets & Sports Performance
Scientists are getting similar results from their research, comparable to mine, and the athletes listed above. There are two recently published studies worth mentioning in this article. After reading you’ll know exactly how a high fat diet, and minimal amounts of carbs can enhance your performance, in the gym, and on the court.
You’ll also learn just how much fat you can lose (by eating fat), and muscle you can add to your body eating this way.
Study 1 – Does A Low Carb Diet Affect Intense Workouts?
Whether you do Crossfit or any similar high intensity workouts, results from a recent study show that cutting carbs out of your diet and eating more fat won’t hurt your workouts and fitness.
In this study, elite gymnastic dancers followed a 30 day low carbohydrate diet. Their diet consisted of – meat, fish, olive oil, vegetables.
Before and after 4 weeks of low carb eating the women being studied performed a variety of exercise tests. They included – (hanging straight leg raises, push ups, parallel bar dips, pull ups, squat jump, and 30 seconds of continuous jumps).
The gymnasts, firstly, followed a high carb diet. Those results were tested. They then followed a ketogenic diet and tested the effects.The outcome from the study shows that the gymnasts, in both cases, increased their intensity at which they could train.
Study 2 – Can You Lose Fat And Build Muscle Eating Low Carb?
In this study, researchers had a group of college aged men eat a typical Western (high carb/low fat) or ketogenic diet for 11 weeks. During this time they also lifted weights 3 times per week.
Every participant in the study had their body fat and muscle mass measured before, during, and after the study.
Consider the results below. You’ll quickly see they speak for themselves.
- The volunteers eating a low carb diet gained almost twice as much muscle (10 lbs. vs. 5 lbs.) as those eating a high carb diet.
- They also lost almost double the body fat compared to the participants eating a Western/high carb diet (5 lbs. vs 3 lbs.).
As you see from my personal outcome, the athletes listed above, and the findings from these studies, eating low carb isn’t just okay for workouts, like Crossfit, it can actually be better for our performance and overall health.
Making A Low Carb Diet Work For You And Your Crossfit Workouts
The most important part of this journey while transitioning to this diet is to be patient. It’s going to take a little time (3-14 days), for your body burning fat for fuel, to convert.
You may feel a little sluggish,tired and even grouchy during this period. Don’t give up! The extra energy you’ll soon feel and accelerated rate at which you burn off fat and gain muscle, make it worthwhile and definitely worth those difficult days!
Here are some helpful tips, I’ve used personally, that you can do to make the transition easier. I’ve listed the most effective ones below.
Low Carbohydrate Diet Transition Phase Tips
- Don’t skimp on salt. Your body loses additional salt and other electrolytes when adapting to this diet. Make sure to add a little extra salt and eat potassium rich foods (Brussels sprouts, salmon, etc.) to replace them.
- Eat your fat. Don’t be afraid to eat fatty foods. Cook with butter, pour olive oil on veggies, and order fatty cuts of meat. This will help keep you full and minimize cravings for carb and sugar rich foods.
- Check labels. You won’t have to do this forever but it’s good to check labels to make sure you’re not eating too many carbohydrates (no greater than 30-50 grams/day).
- Skip diet sodas and other artificial sweeteners. Studies show they make you hungry.
- Ignore your feelings. Don’t let occasional bouts of hunger or cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods get you down. Remind yourself that this too shall pass and before you know it the cravings are gone.
- Drink lots of water. It will help to stay hydrated and feeling full between meals.
Recommended Supplements For Low Carb Diets & Crossfit
The right nutritional supplements will help you transition easier to burning fat as fuel. They’ll also make sure you’re able to put 100% into every workout. You may recognize many of these supplements from our article ‘The Top 9 Supplements Crossfit Supplements’.
- Creatine Monohydrate – in addition to building muscle, it can increase your strength and ability to recover faster between every intense set.
- BCAAs – act as a source of energy during your workout. They’re also shown to diminish cravings and prevent the brain fog that you can feel.
- MCT Oil – a natural sources of ketones, what your brain and body use for fuel when eating low carb. This gives your body the ketones they need for fuel until it’s producing their own.
- Beta Alanine – delays fatigue during intense workouts so you can train harder, longer.
- Fish Oil – delays fatigue when you work out, decreases cravings, burns fat faster, etc.
- ZMA – helps you get a restful nights sleep and recover so you can train hard every day.
Recommended SupplementBetancourt Micronized Creatine Monohydrate
Recommended Supplement – Clean Machine BCAA Powder
Recommended Supplement – MCT Edge – Pure & Sustainable Oil
Recommended Supplement – Prolab Beta Alanine Extreme
Recommended Supplement – Controlled Labs Oximega
Recommended Supplement – Optimum Nutrition ZMA
Now you know the truth about low carb diets and crossfit. It’s possible to not only train hard when eating a low carbohydrate diet, but you can also get stronger, build muscle, and lose fat at the same time! The more adapted you become, the greater the benefits.