Today, I want to shift gears away from teaching specific CrossFit skills towards a different direction. I instead want to talk about eating, nutrition, calories, and macros for CrossFit. As we all know, fitness is much more than what happens within the walls of your gym. So I’m going to take a few minutes to share a personal story, in hopes of inspiring you to make positive changes - both inside and outside of the gym.
Life Before Tracking Macros For CrossFit
In 2017, my relationship with food was pretty terrible. I’d work long hours, hit a tough workout, get burnt out, then run to the kitchen and eat just about everything in sight. It was the definition of binge eating. I didn’t track my macros or calories, I hardly ate vegetables, I didn’t meal prep, etc. Due to the hunger urgency, many of my food choices were very suboptimal as I found myself frantically throwing together meals in the kitchen.
This was me:
And since I’m being honest with you guys, I’m not going to sugar coat the fact that my food choices were horrible.
I’d rationalize my binging by saying “Ben, you need calories!”. Which might have been true, but deep down I knew that I was making some poor decisions that were establishing bad eating habits.
So when I say “suboptimal” and “bad habits”....I’m not being dramatic.
I was eating ice cream for breakfast.
Here’s a very real example of a day in the life of Ben’s stomach:
- 6:00AM - Coffee
- 6:30AM - Protein Shake
- (workout 6:45-8:00AM)
- 9:00AM - Bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch (1 Ben bowl = ½ of the box)
- 12:00PM - Burger with side salad, maybe some fries
- (work at my computer all day, forget to eat)
- 8:00PM - Oven-baked Pizza with deli Turkey on top
- 9:00PM - 1 Pint of Talenti Gelato
- 11:00PM - Sleep
Not good. Not consistent. Some days would be worse. Some days I’d hardly eat anything, and then the next day I’d more than make up for it.
One day, seemingly out of nowhere, I decided it was time to change.
(Stick with me, we’re getting to the good part).
The Macros Mindset Shift
As an online coach, I have the luxury of being in contact with some of the brightest minds in the fitness industry - both inside and out the CrossFit® space. There are still hundreds of coaches I’ve yet to meet, but I’m very thankful for the small network I’ve gathered thus far. It’s an incredible bunch of people.So I decided that in order to change I needed to leverage my networks. I sat down and said, “enough is enough.” It was time to take control. It was time to show a little discipline.
But first, I needed to educate myself …
I read James Clear’s amazing article “How to Start Eating Healthy (And Actually Stick to It)”. I highly recommend you check it out as a great overview of short-term vs. long-term goals.
I also read my friend Andy Morgan’s free book here. (He runs rippedbody.com along with athletebody.jp and lives pretty close to me here in Japan!)
I highly respect both of these resources, but they each have slightly different approaches. This is important. Get multiple opinions. I wasn’t singling out one fad diet or one guru. Instead I was trying to get a broad education on “how” to eat right along with “what” to eat.
Notice I’m not using the phrase ‘going on a diet’. Diets are temporary, and when was the last time you heard of someone being ‘on a diet’ for several years? Probably never… because the notion of elimination and exclusion are very hard to sustain. Instead, I wanted to learn how to sustain an eating regimen that would help me reach my goals: getting lean and feeling great.
Once I had the “how” (track my food intake) and “what” (set target macros) figured out, I needed to decide “when”. So, I said “tomorrow.”
And that’s what I did. After geeking out over which foods I should eat and how to count macronutrients (protein, carbs, and fat) - I got to work.
I was hesitant to try the whole weighing, measuring, and counting thing, but my determination to clean things up outweighed hesitation. I was ready for the challenge.
Macros For CrossFit: How to Calculate Them
If you don’t know what macros (or macronutrients) are, check out a brief definition here.
Macros are carbohydrates, protein, and fat. The three play a large role in helping you reach your physique and/or performance goals… or not reaching them, for that matter. Let’s take a brief look at each one.
Protein helps our bodies recover, aids in muscle growth, and prevents muscle breakdown. As you may have heard in the past, protein makes you feel ‘more full’, as it’s the most satiating nutrient.
Based on the research I conducted, I decided to shoot for 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight. This is going to be situational depending on your current body composition… If you are obese or really, really skinny, you can set your protein intake to be the same as your height is in centimeters.
I chose to go the bodyweight route, which was 175lbs. So that means that each day my target was 175 grams of protein.
If I happened to do it by height (which I don’t need to because I’m not particularly obese or skinny) - guess what 5’9” is in centimeters? You guessed it... 175.
Fat & Carbs
Both of these guys are your fuel. Fat is also going to help aid in your hormonal regulation. Carbs are going to give you energy for your training sessions. This is important to note, especially if you’re aiming to lose fat. Your body will use the carbs as fuel, and therefore hang onto the muscle (which is exactly what you want).
On average (keep in mind, this is ballpark) a good macro breakdown for CrossFit® athletes is going to be 20-30% of your caloric intake as fat. Then the rest should be carbs.
For reference, here’s what my numbers ended up looking like:
- Protein: 175g
- Carbs: 310g
- Fat: 80g
Total Daily Calories: 2,660
Please understand that in order to calculate these totals, you need to have an understanding of your target calorie balance for each day. If you want to calculate your exact macros for CrossFit® training - be sure to check out an extensive article that we wrote on the topic. It walks you step-by-step through the calculation process:
Macros For CrossFit: Weighing And Measuring Food
Guess what? Despite my expectations, it turns out it’s actually crazy easy to track macro consumption with My Fitness Pal and a simple food scale. I promise, it won’t ruin your life. It won’t make you look like a slave to your food. It was super, duper easy.
I finally unboxed the food scale that was sitting on top of my fridge, dusted off my cooking measurement tools, and started tracking every single thing I ate at my house.
Old Ben: “I don’t weigh and measure my food - that is ridiculous and takes too much time.”
New Ben: “What gets measured gets done. It takes an extra 20 seconds to keep track. Suck it up buttercup.”
After 3 weeks of logging my food intake and tracking my macros, here are some things I noticed:
- I was MASSIVELY undereating most days which probably explains my body’s craving for huge binge eating sessions every few days.
- I used to eat way too much fat and not enough protein.
- In order to hit my dietary fiber goals (~20g a day was my goal), I needed to eat a lot more veggies (repeat after me: veggies are good).
- Discipline = freedom. Tracking my food intake (specifically macronutrients) has freed me of my binge eating habits. I still eat ice cream regularly, just not the entire pint at a time. I also get to eat it 100% guilt-free, knowing that I’m keeping track.
Here’s an example of a day in the life of Ben’s stomach, after my shift:
- 5:00AM - Coffee
- 5:45AM - 2-scoop Protein Shake
- (workout 6:00-7:30AM)
- 12:00PM - Massive Salad w/ ~300g of lean meat
- 7:00PM - Big dinner with green mixed veggies, carbs (potatoes or rice), and ~200g lean meat
- 8:30PM - 1 cup (not pint!) of Talenti Gelato, a few cookies, or lately - a small slice of pumpkin pie
- 10:00PM - Sleep
Applying Tracking Macros to Tracking Your Life
Think about it. The concept of tracking macros doesn’t only apply to food. You can apply the mindset of “what gets measured gets done” approach to all aspects of your life.
Want to learn how to write?
Write 500 words every morning, then track it on your calendar. Before you know it, you’ll be writing with ease.
Want to stop checking Facebook?
Keep a tally of every single time you open up the app on the back of your hand. There are also plenty of time tracking apps that will alert you when you’ve reached your limit for the day... iPhones even have a special setting for that now.
Want to get up earlier?Each night write down the exact time you’re finally laying in bed with electronics completely off. If you haven’t already, read my article about how I stopped hitting the snooze button, forever
Want to learn how to do bar muscle ups?
Follow a specific program and keep track of how many sessions per week you complete. Standing under the bar isn’t going to get you anywhere… but a plan certainly will.
Check it out:
Here’s a video that describes exactly how I’ve applied “what gets measured gets done” to my life.
If you can’t tell, my experience of macro and calorie tracking changed my life... not just with CrossFit®, but in general.
Since we’re officially in the holiday season when it’s easy to find ourselves falling off track… overeating… maybe having a few too many sugar cookies… I wanted to share this story to serve as encouragement.
You don’t have to fall off track. You can very much stay on track, or get on track, if you just make a few changes to your mindset. Remember, this mindset can apply to so many scenarios throughout your life. So make yourself a chart, map out a plan, and commit to it.
You don’t have to wait until next year.
As always, I hope that this inspires you to take action. And as always, let us know how we can help… whether it’s with making a plan, or with a certain movement, you name it.
Comment below and let me know one thing that you’re going to start tracking/measuring for the next 3 weeks (starting tomorrow, of course).
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Thanks for sharing!
This is a timely email! I wish you would have given a follow-up schedule (example) of day in the life of Ben’s food in stomach after all the things you changed for the better.
Hi Jodi – I updated the post so that it now includes that 🙂
How do you track macros and calories for home cooked meals? I get overwhelmed by all of the ingredients, amounts, etc. It is my biggest obstacle when trying to track my food intake.
Hey! Are you tracking in My Fitness Pal or some other kind of app? If you know the ingredients you are putting into the dish (and cooking yourself) then you just have to track each individual ingredient. It can take time, but if you repeat meals often, MFP lets you copy and paste entire meals to different days to save time.
If you aren’t cooking, try to estimate the best that you can. For example, if my husband is cooking, I look at the recipe and the ingredients and then enter half the amount that he used, since we usually split meals.
Also – there are a lot of macro-friendly recipes online that you can search for, that will actually list out the macros per recipe. I’ve gone that route before as well 🙂
I’m already tracking, but still not getting my dinner figured out, I’m eating out too often. I need to figure out my macros.
Interested in macro counting and found this article helpful as with a lot of your videos. Thanks for always explaining topics and sharing your tips in simple and easy to understand ways.
you bet Tina – thanks for reading!
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Thanks Hannah! Glad you found the information useful 🙂
Good post and good point. I’ve started measuring macros, based on your nutrition course which was/is excellent. Must give you a hard time on your schedule though. 7 hours sleep is likely not sufficient. 🙂
Ha! You’ve got me, Rich 🙂
Since releasing this article I have really worked on improving my sleep duration and quality!