The 7 Best Nutrition and Diet Plans For CrossFit – What Should You Eat?
Most of us begin an exercise program because we want to look better and we want to feel better.
There’s no shame in that!
CrossFit is a great program to lose weight, get healthy and build the body and level of health you have always wanted.
But as I always say…
Weight loss, physique sculpting and physical health is 20% what you do in the gym and 80% what you do in the kitchen.
Because health and weight are 80% a result of what we do in the kitchen, let’s take a look at 7 of the best nutrition and diet plans for CrossFit.
Here are the 7 most popular CrossFit nutrition plans:
- #1 The Zone Diet – The Number One “CrossFit Diet”
- #2 The Paleo Diet
- #3 Intermittent Fasting – aka Time Restricted Eating
- #4 Ketogenic Diet – The Keto Diet
- #5 Macro tracking – Flexible Dieting, IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)
- #6 The Primal Blueprint
- #7 Slow Carb Diet - SCD
- CrossFit Diet FAQs
- Good Habits to Follow for any CrossFit Diet You Choose
#1 The Zone Diet – The Number One “CrossFit Diet”
Click here to see an awesome resource on how CrossFit interprets and implements The Zone Diet, plus many great Zone meal plans.
The Zone Diet is a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet devised by biochemist Barry Sears. The Zone Diet is closely followed by several CrossFit athletes and is the diet you will see Greg Glassman supporting.
Here’s what you need to know about the Zone Diet
- Eat five times a day (three meals and two snacks) so you feel satisfied and avoid overeating.
- Eat every five hours.
- Follow a specific macronutrient (carbohydrate – protein – fats) ratio 30–40–30 for your food intake.
- You can use your fist to measure the ratio. A fist full of vegetables for your carbohydrate source, a meat the size of your palm.
- The Zone calculates 2, 3, 4 or 5 block meals, based on your activity level. Snacks are 1 or 2 blocks. Here is a handy block calculator Zone diet resource.
What to eat or favorable foods
- Favorable carbs: Select nutrient dense carbohydrate sources that are high in fiber. Examples include all kinds of vegetables, leafy greens, low sugar fruits, oats, all kinds of beans and lentils.
- Protein: All kinds of meat and fish, eggs, cheese.
- All kinds of seeds and nuts and healthy oils like olive, coconut or avocado oil.
Unfavorable foods, limit portion size of these foods carefully
- High sugar fruits and juice: bananas, raisins, figs, dates, mangos.
- High sugar veggies: potatoes, carrots, squashes sweet potatoes.
- Breads, cereals, rice and noodles.
- Sugary condiments, alcohol, beer and candy.
The Pros of the Zone Diet
- The Zone Diet has a wide range of eating options and few food restrictions. You only need to remember to limit or avoid high glycemic index food aka: unfavorable foods.
- Following the basic principles of this diet is simple to an extent.
- The Zone diet includes a good balance of all macro nutrients.
The Cons of the Zone Diet
- There’s a lot of food measurement involved if you want to strictly follow the zone diet.
- Following this diet to the letter is complex and requires a significant amount of research, reading, computations and planning.
Is the Zone Diet Beginner Friendly or only for the Pro Athlete?
If you want to follow the zone diet casually, it’s simple to implement at the beginning. You can use your fist to estimate or you can use the plate to approximate by putting about a third of each (protein, carbohydrates and fat) on your plate.
Zone Diet resources
Zone diet meal plans
Want to see sample meal plans of three, four and five block meals from the CrossFit endorsed Zone diet? Check this out. This awesome resource includes sample menus for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.
Zone Diet Block Calculator
You will need this Zone diet block calculator to determine how many blocks you should eat at each meal.
Zone Diet Books
Do your research!
Books like Enter the Zone and A Week in the Zone are good starting points to learn how to use the Zone Diet to get the body and health you want.
Zone Diet App
This simple app for Zone Diet users calculates Blocks plus Proteins, Carbs and Fats. It also helps you create meals with the 600 foods preloaded in the app. You can add your own foods too, for even greater customization.
#2 The Paleo Diet
Our ancestors didn’t have access to sugary drinks, processed food and grains. Paleolithic humans were fitter, stronger and had more energy than the modern human.
Some would argue that ancient humans lived short violent lives. Others might say they only did so because they were exposed to harsh conditions, elements, war, predators and had no access to modern medicine.
Some proponents of the Paleo diet believe that along with CrossFit, a Paleo meal plan can enable you to have both the benefits of the vitality of the primitive human and the technological advantage of the modern man.
Do eat: Lean protein, grass fed meat, fruits and vegetables, seafood, healthy fats, nuts and seeds.
In moderate consumption, Canola oil and artificial sweeteners are acceptable.
Don’t eat: Dairy, Grains, processed food and sugars, legumes, starches and alcohol.
Pros of Paleo
- Paleo is a healthy and natural way of eating.
- Paleo helps you have more efficient workouts.
- The Paleo diet leads to stable blood sugar.
- Less stored fat in the body.
- The Paleo diet gives you balanced energy throughout the day.
- Clear skin.
Cons of Paleo
- Paleo can be expensive. Grass-fed beef and butter cost more than mass produced meat.
- Avoiding grains and dairy temporarily affects your energy levels at the early stages as some people experience withdraw symptoms.
- Paleo requires a lot of prep work and cooking at home – it’s hard to eat out on the Paleo diet.
- Paleo requires you to learn to cook, or your options will be pretty limited. You won’t be using packaged or canned foods on the Paleo diet.
Is Paleo beginner friendly or only for the serious athlete?
The Paleo diet is relatively easy to follow if you are already eating healthy.
If you have previously eaten mostly fast food and processed meals, you’ll find the Paleo diet moderately difficult to follow.
Success depends more on your kitchen prowess than your level of athleticism, unfortunately.
If you don’t cook and are not into food prep, you may have better success with a different diet.
Paleo Diet resources
Paleo Diet Forum
The Paleo Diet Subreddit is an active community with over 100k users. Learn about the Paleo diet, ask questions and get support by being a member of this thriving Reddit forum.
Paleo Diet App
Stupid Simple Paleo Diet Tracking & Guide
With this simple Paleo app you can track meals, progress, and goals. It allows you to scan and add food, warns you when you are approaching your macro limits and even helps you come up with meal plans.
Now that is helpful!
Easier Variation of Paleo – The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet follows similar rules to Paleo because it encourages the consumption of healthy fats, fruits and vegetables from natural sources and recommends avoiding packaged, processed, canned and fast food.
The difference is the Mediterranean diet allows dairy, whole grains and legumes in moderation, unlike Paleo.
Also, the Mediterranean diet involves no calorie counting or strict portion control which makes it easier to follow
The Mediterranean diet can be a good start as you transition into Paleo.
#3 Intermittent Fasting – aka Time Restricted Eating
Intermittent fasting, also known as time restricted eating, is most commonly defined as a 16 hr. period each day where no food is eaten, and an 8 hr. window where all meals are consumed.
There are other protocols and time frames too, but the 16 off, 8 on is the most common.
This means if you eat your first meal at say, 10 am, your last meal should be eaten before 6 pm. You can follow whatever schedule you like to start your first meal, as long as the fast is 16 hrs. and the eating window is 8 hrs.
Intermittent Fasting has several well studied benefits.
What happens when you fast
- Insulin levels drop significantly and insulin sensitivity increases.
- Human growth hormone increase exponentially which also assists in muscle gain and fat burning.
- Fasting gives your body time to focus on removing waste and cellular repair.
- You eat fewer meals and potentially take in fewer calories when you practice time restricted eating.
- IF reduces oxidative stress and inflammation.
- IF has anti-aging effects.
Pros of Intermittent Fasting
- Intermittent fasting thrives on simplicity. No meal change required. I still recommend you eat healthy though.
- You can pair intermittent fasting with whatever diet you decide to implement.
- Intermittent fasting is safe for most people.
Cons of Intermittent Fasting
- Intermittent fasting requires a good amount of discipline.
- You may need to skip breakfast or dinner, or be out of sync with friends and family’s eating schedule.
Beginner Friendly or Pro Athlete?
Intermittent fasting is already common practice among pro athletes.
Although intermittent fasting, can be intimidating, it is actually one of the simplest diets to implement.
Do you ever remember skipping breakfast? You won’t have to at the beginning.
You can simply, move breakfast an hour later and dinner (your final meal) thirty minutes to an hour earlier. Over time move it by 15–30 minutes to create a smaller eating window for yourself.
Eventually, you’ll have your 8 hour window.
Some prefer to have their eating window at the start of the day and some close to the end. If dinner is a social activity for you then move your eating window closer to the end of your day.
Just find a schedule that works for you.
It’s that simple.
Intermittent Fasting resources
The Bodyfast app is an app deigned to make intermittent fasting easier. The Bodyfast app allows for over 50 different fasting schedules, has a handy fasting timer, saves and tracks your personal stats such as weight and BMI, and charts your progress.
How to “do” Intermittent Fasting
#4 Ketogenic Diet – The Keto Diet
The wildly popular Ketogenic Diet is a way to replicate the benefits of fasting without actually fasting by limiting (or eliminating) the consumption of carbohydrates and sugar.
I recommend the Keto Diet for Pro Athletes and average folks alike.
Explain the Keto Diet to me!
Follow this ratio
- 75–80% fat
- 20–25% protein
- 5% carbs (preferably from green leafy vegetables)
Sample Grocery List – Popular Keto Foods
- Chicken Thighs
- Kale or any leafy green vegetables
- Heavy Cream
- Coconut oil or MCT oil
- The Keto Diet is safe and effective and has been used as a treatment for epilepsy for decades.
- You get to eat as much butter, bacon and cheese as you want. You can practically consume as much fat as you want until you’re satisfied. Eating fat can make you feel full.
- The Keto diet works well for sedentary folks. There are countless stories online of people losing 50 or even 100 lbs using the keto without exercise.
- Keto diet is a good choice for those with metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes or diabetes due to the low carb and low sugar.
- Keto diet can require a lot of discipline and willpower.
- It may be hard to say no to no fruit, no sweets, no bread and all the carbs your body is used to.
- In order to maximize the effects of the Keto Diet, cheat days are discouraged.
- Some people get the “Keto Flu” when they start the diet, as their body adjusts to using fat instead of carbs for fuel.
- Despite not having restrictions on the volume of food, over time, you’ll eat less with the Keto diet. Your breakfast is may be bulletproof coffee (coffee mixed with butter and coconut oil) and later in the day, you’ll have eggs, some vegetables and some meat.
- Over time it can get boring or be too restrictive.
Beginner Friendly or Pro Athlete?
The Keto Diet is beginner friendly, and according to reports, works well for those who are not yet exercising.
The Keto diet does require a lot of willpower and lifestyle adjustments.
If it’s your first time making dietary changes, I recommend reducing your carbohydrate intake to a significantly low amount and eating more healthy fats before eventually going full keto.
Keto Diet resources
The Keto Diet Subreddit forum has nearly 1 million subscribers making it one of the largest subreddits dedicated to a specific diet on Reddit.
Keto diet apps
The Total Keto Diet app is an easy to use app that has tons of Keto recipes to keep your menu fresh, a macro tracker, huge food database, shopping list and beginners guide.
#5 Macro tracking – Flexible Dieting, IIFYM (If It Fits Your Macros)
What are Macros and what is Macro Tracking?
Macros are the big picture view of nutrition. Macro tracking involves planning and tracking how much of each macronutrient you eat every day.
The Zone diet is similar to Macro tracking because the Zone diet prescribes a specific percentage of food should be eaten from each of the three macro nutrients.
Using Macro tracking as CrossFit diet, I recommend getting 40% of your calories from Protein, 30% from Carbohydrates and 30% from Fats.
There are three Macros:
Protein comes from meat, beans, peanuts, soy, eggs, cheese, yogurt, nuts and more.
Protein provides the building blocks your body needs to make muscle, skin, hormones, enzymes, blood and other structures in the body.
Protein from your diet provides 4 calories per gram.
Protein is not your body’s first choice for energy creation, but your body can use protein as a backup energy source if needed.
Carbs come from sugar, fruit, bread, grains, cereals, pasta, vegetables, beans, rice and more.
Carbs can provide important micronutrients and vitamins, but two of the most important things carbs provide the body are…
- Energy for the body
- A source of fiber
Unless you follow a strict carb limiting diet, your body primarily uses carbs as its energy source. Many athletes find it hard to follow a limited carb diet because some say a low carb diet also limits their energy.
Also, fiber is a special carb that your body really needs. Fiber does not have any calories, nor is it used for energy, but it is essential for keeping you regular and maintaining gut health.
Carbs (except fiber) provide the body with 4 calories per gram
Fiber grams can be excluded from the total carb count.
Fat comes from animal products like fatty cuts of meat, butter, cheese etc. Fat also comes from plant sources like olive, coconut or avocado oil. Fat is highly concentrated in nuts too.
Fat contains micronutrients and is an important source of fat soluble vitamins.
If you follow a low carb diet and enter ketosis, your body will use fat as the primary fuel source.
Fat is calorie dense, at 9 calories per gram.
Pros of Macro tracking
- Macro tracking leads to a diet of balanced macronutrients, by design.
- Macro tracking is pretty simple to follow and implement.
- Macro tracking does not specifically restrict any food.
Cons of Macro tracking
- Macro tracking requires you keep good notes and track everything you eat.
- You need to know the number of grams of each macronutrient in each food you eat.
Because Macro tracking does not tell you what to eat, it does not differentiate between the 39.5 carbs in a can of Coke vs the 40 carbs 2 sweet potatoes.
If you plan to use macro tracking, be aware of the potential pitfalls. I recommend this video by Simply Mander outlining common Macro tracking errors.
Macro Tracking resources
Macro Tracking Apps
Under Armor’s My Fitness Pal is one of the most popular tracking apps out there today. It deserves the huge following and popularity it has.
It is essentially the Facebook of diet and fitness tracking apps, allowing you to add friends, join groups and share food diaries.
It has a HUGE food database, making it really easy to track what you eat. You can also track your workouts, weight, and share your data, day’s food, and more with fellow MFP members.
#6 The Primal Blueprint
The primal blueprint was created by athlete Mark Siddon of Mark’s Daily Apple, and is based on the way our ancient ancestors lived and ate.
The primal blueprint diet is very similar to the Paleo diet save for a few distinct differences.
Here are the 9 rules of the Primal Blueprint
- Eat animals and plants. Meats, fruits, veggies and nuts. If it has a nutrition label, it is questionable. (Insects are allowed too, if that is your thing).
- Avoid sugar, grains, unhealthy fats, beans/legumes.
- Align your carb intake with your weight goals and activity levels (lower activity = less carbs).
- Move frequently at a slow pace. Get between 2–5 hours per week of moderate aerobic exercise.
- Lift heavy things! 1–3 brief intense sessions of full body functional movements should do the trick.
- Sprint. Go “all out” once a week.
- Get 8 hours of sleep at night.
- Get 15 minutes of direct sun exposure each day.
- Play. Find time to let go, disconnect, unwind and have fun each day.
Mark emphasizes the primal blueprint is a lifestyle, not just a diet.
About the Primal Blueprint
The primal blueprint seems pretty easy to follow so it’s a good choice for those new to dieting.
- You’re free to eat as much as you want as long as you eat whole foods like meat and vegetables (of various colors) while avoiding packages or canned food and carbohydrates from sugar, grains and legumes.
- There’s no calorie counting but should you choose to include fruits that have sugar, limit it to 100 grams of carbs from fruit and 150 grams of carbs total per day.
- Unlike the Paleo diet, you are not restricted to lean meats. You are free to eat fattier cuts of meat. In fact, it is recommended to have generous servings of fatty meat for dinner.
- Nuts (macadamia, walnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts not peanuts), seeds (sunflower), nut flour and nut butter are sources of healthy fat and snacks.
- Healthy oils include palm oil and coconut oil.
- High % Cacao Dark chocolate is allowed in small amounts.
- Limit caffeine. Tea is acceptable. White is best, green is good, oolong and black tea are okay.
- The Primal Blueprint acknowledges that sometimes processed foods are unavoidable. Instead of leaving strict compliance at the mercy of a person’s willpower, the primal blueprint allows some instant food for convenience in small amounts. Examples include jerky, dried fruits, some cheese, canned vegetables and tomato paste.
- The Primal Blueprint is also sometimes paired with intermittent fasting.
Pros of the Primal Blueprint
- Simple and easy to follow.
- No measuring.
- All you need to do is to periodically look at the list of allowed food and the list of food to avoid.
Cons of the Primal Blueprint
- Similar to Paleo, natural, grass-fed meat and organic vegetables can be expensive.
- Some dieters find the primal diet too restrictive.
Beginner Friendly or Pro Athlete?
The Primal Blueprint has a wide selection of allowed food.
Allowing fatty cuts of meat adds satisfaction making the diet easier for beginners to adhere to.
Primal Blueprint resources
Primal Blueprint Website
The creator of the primal diet lays out the details of the diet here on Mark’s website.
Primal Diet Video Podcast
Mark, from Mark’s Daily Apple, explains the Primal diet in this useful video.
#7 Slow Carb Diet - SCD
The Slow Carb Diet was made popular by Tim Ferriss in the book the Four Hour Body.
You can see elements of Paleo, Primal, Zone and Keto Diets in the slow carb diet. Some refer to the slow carb diet as a modified Atkins diet.
According to Tim Ferriss, the Slow Carb Diet is based on the minimum effective dose of the best eating practices needed to lose weight.
The Slow Crab diet removes the strict rules of other diets that cause frustration.
The Slow Carb diet leads to slower weight loss than Keto or Paleo but is easier to implement according to people who have followed the diet.
The 5 rules of SCD
- No starchy carbs. No bread, rice, corn, potatoes, pasta, corn etc.
- Stick to the same meals over and over. Keep things easy and simplify shopping by making the same meals.
- No liquid calories. No soda, milk, juice etc. Unsweetened coffee and tea is allowed.
- No fruits because they are high in sugar. Tomatoes and avocados are OK.
- Have a cheat day once a week and go crazy.
- Follows the best practice of all the diets 70% of all the rules.
- Not as restrictive as other CrossFit diets.
- Easier, simpler and has less failure points than other CrossFit diets.
- You get one cheat day a week.
- Weight loss may be slower than with other diets.
Beginner Friendly or Pro Athlete?
The slow carb diet is beginner friendly.
Slow Carb Diet resources
How to use the Slow Carb Diet.
This resource includes the rules of the slow carb diet, plus it shows before and after pictures and stories of people who have succeeded using the slow carb diet to lose weight and change their health.
CrossFit Diet FAQs
What foods do I absolutely have to avoid while doing CrossFit?
While there are no foods that you must avoid to be able to do CrossFit, there are two I really recommend everyone just stay away from.
#1 Sugar. Sugar has been linked to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, premature aging of the skin and more. Sugar depletes your body of Magnesium, spikes insulin and harms your body.
#2 Vegetable oils and Hydrogenated oils. These oils have been shown to harm the body. Use Olive, coconut or avocado oil instead and avoid packaged food, which is often filled with harmful oils.
Stick to real whole foods and you can’t go wrong!
Can I drink beer and progress in CrossFit?
It’s OK to cut loose every once in a while. A few beers here and there will not devastate your PR or affect your WOD performance.
Each person needs to decide for themselves what is best and be mindful how alcohol affects them and their performance.
For me personally, I limit drinking to about one day a week, and maybe 2 to 4 drinks. I don’t think it hurts my performance or causes weight gain as long as I eat well the other days of the week, but YMMV.
Can I do CrossFit and follow a low carb, Keto or Atkins type diet?
Many athletes do great on a low carb diet. It's true.
My personal experience as a CrossFit athlete led me to do a little research. I have tried low carb and Keto diets and really, really struggled. Especially with energy and motivation.
I came across this video from James Shultz Ph.D. about Keto diets and the science as it relates to athletes and it mirrors my experience.
Basically, the science he found on the subject shows that Keto works for Endurance athletes, like long distance runners, but not as well for high intensity athletes like those who use CrossFit, HIIT, Bootcamp, Powerlifting and Weightlifting.
This thinking is also in line with the diet that CrossFit endorses, the Zone diet, which prescribes about 30% calories from carbs and is NOT a low carb diet.
Can CrossFit help me lose weight?
Yes, Yes and Yes!
Here is a short article on why CrossFit works for weight loss.
Check out Patti’s story. Patti is a middle age woman who was morbidly obese. She broke her back at work and her Physical Therapist recommended she give CrossFit a shot. It changed her life and helped her lose weight, about 135 lbs of fat to be exact, and she was able to stop taking her diabetes meds too.
Can I do CrossFit at home?
Yes. You can follow any WOD from home if you have the right equipment. If you have NO CrossFit gear, here is a list that includes 7 WODs you can do from home using no equipment.
Why should I do CrossFit?
CrossFit has so many benefits beyond weight loss.
Check out this article to see some of the benefits CrossFit has for you.
What should I eat before my CrossFit workout?
Looking for a good CrossFit pre-workout or protein shake. I created this list to give you some ideas about what you can use before your next WOD.
Good Habits to Follow for any CrossFit Diet You Choose
Whether you decide to follow one or some of the rules of each of the CrossFit nutritional plans, here are a few key tips to improve your eating habits.
- Don’t think of a diet as restriction, think of it as a way of life.
- Bad eating habits took years to form, go easy on yourself and give yourself time to change and look past mistakes instead of giving up.
- Start with a few changes and gradually get rid of unhealthy foods by replacing them with healthy foods.
- Avoid sugar. Fat is not the enemy, sugar is!
- Don’t depend on processed food.
- Whenever possible, eat natural food or whole food.
- Don’t try to do it all at once.
In a nutshell...
The Zone Diet implements a balanced mix of protein, healthy carbs and healthy fats. The Zone diet is the one you most often see recommended by CrossFit coaches, including Coach Glassman.
Paleo is a natural way of eating based on the way early humans who had no access to processed food, ate.
Primal is a variant of Paleo that allows fatty meats and 100 to 150 grams of carbs.
Macro Tracking is a system where you track the grams of each macronutrient to make sure you are eating the right amount of each, not favoring one over the other.
Intermittent fasting encourages your body to use stored fat instead of food as energy for a period of time. By pushing your first meal to later in the day, you can reduce your eating window.
The Keto Diet enables you to experience the benefits of fasting without actually fasting by eating high fat and light to moderate protein intake and close to zero carbohydrates. Keto also causes you to use fat as a primary energy source all the time.
The Slow Carb Diet is a combination of the best practices from all the CrossFit nutrition plans that I presented but bypassed the most difficult rules that cause the most frustration, or failure points that led to quitting.
I want to hear what is working for you.
Leave me a not in the comment section below and let me know what diet you follow and why you think it works so well.
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Looking for the Perfect gift for the CrossFit fanatic in your life? I have compiled this list of the best CrossFit watches for 2023. Check it out!