How to Fuel for the Open

CrossFit Open Nutrition Seminarby Haley Hughes, Registered Dietitian

I get asked frequently by clients how to fuel for exercise. Imagine that with having an office at CrossFit Helix, the best gym in town. It’s an extremely important question when focusing on health and performance goals!

Pre and Post Workout Fuel

Let’s start with, who should be concerned about what to eat pre/post workout?

  • Those who are physically active and exercising more than 60-90 minutes
  • Those who do intense exercise such as CrossFit, HIIT, etc
  • Those with goals of wanting to preserve/gain muscle mass or lose weight
  • Those with chronic disease or certain conditions impacted by exercise

Pre-workout Meals for Training or Competition

One thing to consider is the timing of the workout to determine what to eat to perform at optimal best.

  • 24 hours before: focus on eating balanced meals and making sure you’re eating enough calories to fuel an active lifestyle and workouts. This is especially important if training fasted early in the morning, fatigue or those who struggle with blood sugar control.
  • 1-3 hours before: a simple carbohydrate food or beverage with just a moderate amount of protein — preferably low fiber and low fat, as these take longer to digest and may cause digestive discomfort.

The amount of carbohydrates consumed can help maximize muscle and liver glycogen storage, sustaining blood glucose and energy levels, while protein is important to consume in recovery meals and snacks after a workout to repair tissue, growth and development. Fat is the predominant fuel source when at rest and during prolonged exercise, especially when exercise remains at a low or moderate (aerobic) rate.

Post-workout Meals for Optimal Recovery

Carbohydrates and proteins are again very important for optimal recovery after intense training. Depending on intensity, and multiple other factors, it will determine how much carbohydrates should be consumed for maximizing glycogen storage and preventing muscle protein breakdown.

Protein is as equally important that works together with carbohydrates to promote optimal recovery. Preferably from sources that are high quality such as: beef, turkey/chicken, eggs, low-fat/greek yogurt, cottage cheese, low fat milk. If plant based, there are good protein options as well, but may need to be consumed in greater quantities or paired with another amino acid source.

One of my favorite post workout snacks is a smoothie!

Here’s how to build a post workout shake:

Smoothies are a great way to add in some extra whole foods and you can absolutely make it a healthy option. You’re able to add in wholesome ingredients and keep the nutrients from your produce (unlike juicing where you lose the fiber). A healthy balanced smoothie can be a meal if you know how to do it!

  1. Pick a Liquid
    • I would suggest an unsweetened liquid to avoid added sugar or unwanted ingredients like milk, plain soy, almond milk, nut milks, coconut milk, water, brewed tea or coffee even! You’ll get enough sweetness and carbohydrate from fruit. Make sure to read those labels! For example, your nut milk may be contributing more fat or your coconut milk may have added sugar; it can be tricky.
  2. Pick a Vegetable
    • Leafy greens, squash, zucchini, jicama, beets, tomato, cucumber, broccoli, celery! Try some new veggies and change it up from the ol’ spinach and kale.
  3. Pick a Fruit
    • The choices are endless. I suggest keeping it to 1-3 servings of fruit per smoothie depending on body weight and goals.
  4. Pick a Protein
    • Milk or plain greek yogurt (soy or regular), cottage cheese, protein powder (unflavored preferably, limited ingredients)
      If vegetarian or vegan: nuts, seeds, oats, quinoa, and tofu can all be a source of protein but will often contribute to your carb or fat count.
      You typically do not need more than 25-40 grams of protein per serving depending on body weight and goals.
  5. Pick a Healthy Fat
    • Avocado, nuts, seeds, nut/seed butters, tsp olive oil, chia, and flax are all easy to blend in, to get those extra heart healthy fats. Watch your portion size! Fat can add up quickly in calories.

A Few More Tips:

  • Make your smoothie bags for the week and freeze them. Saves time in the morning.
  • Don’t overdo it on the fruit or other carb sources. Try to get a balanced variety of macronutrients to keep you full and satisfied.
  • Change it up! Use leftover veggies, a tropical frozen fruit or a different nut butter to keep things exciting.
  • Add some antioxidant flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, ginger, mint, vanilla
  • Get yourself a travel cup and bring it to work.
  • I invested in a high quality blender and am so glad I did! Not only for smoothies but soups, nut butters, hummus, purees, etc.

Head to for more smoothie and recipe ideas!

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