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Top Diets for CrossFit Athletes

Top Diets for CrossFit Athletes

There’s a lot of noise out there on diets.  It’s easy to get lost in it!  We’ll highlight the basics of some of the top diets CrossFit athletes follow. 

CrossFit is known for cutting through all the nutritional and exercise “BS” and embracing what actually works.  If you’re unfamiliar with the corrupt influences in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration; CrossFit’s founder Greg Glassman has been waging a campaign to pull back the curtain.  Large food companies have unfortunately misled the American public on the healthiness of sugar products and the effectiveness of the traditional Food Pyramid.  Luckily for us, more and more health and nutrition pioneers are paving the way for healthy diets.  Athletes tend to follow what works best. 

With more free knowledge at our disposal, CrossFit athletes and coaches have identified and followed top diets that fuel performance, health, and are genuinely enjoyable.  While many diets can definitely be a fad, we’ll cover the most common diets that CrossFit athletes routinely follow. 

Some of the most popular diet plans include:

  1. The Paleo Diet
  2. The Zone Diet
  3. The If It Fits Your Macros (IIFYM) Diet
  4. The Primal Diet

The Paleo Diet

Top Diets for CrossFit Athletes - Paleo

Fit for a caveman!

It’s probably the oldest diet of humankind.  The Paleo Diet gets its name from focusing on foods eaten by our ancestors during the Paleolithic Age.  For you history buffs, that’s about 10,000 years ago.  A good rule of thumb is - if it has to be processed, created in a lab, or made with hard to pronounce chemicals, its probably not paleo.  Eating Paleo literally means getting back to what humans lived on for tens of thousands of years. 

Paleo Diet Staples:

  • High fat and protein, but low carbs
  • Quality Meats (i.e. grass-fed beef) & Fish
  • Eggs
  • All Vegetables
  • All Fruits in Moderation
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Legumes
  • Limited Sugar Consumption
  • Limited or No Dairy
  • No Processed Food

The above is not a comprehensive list, but a good place to start.  To eat Paleo, you want to have 2/3 of your plate covered in plant-based foods and 1/3 in animal-based.  True adherents to Paleo also stick to non-GMO and organic where possible, though this can rack up your grocery bill quick.  There’s nothing wrong with going the more affordable route and buying non-organic.  After all, it’s better to get veggies than nothing at all.  Mainstream research is still non-conclusive about the benefits of organic vs non-organic.

Some Great Paleo Resources:

The Zone Diet

Top Diets for CrossFit Athletes - Zone


The Zone Diet was created over 30 years ago by Barry Sears, a biochemist who’s goal was to reduce diet-related inflammation.  The root of this diet is managing your blood sugar level and intake of "bad fats" to minimize your risk of chronic disease, diabetes, and to optimize mental and physical performance.  While very similar to the Paleo diet, the Zone Diet is more precise.  It recommends tracking your caloric consumption down to grams of protein, fat, and carbs and categorizing these measurements into “blocks”. 

Zone Diet Staples:

  • “Scientific” Diet
  • Count Calories in the form of “blocks”
    • 30% Protein
    • 30% Fat
    • 40% Carbohydrates
  • Eat 5 small meals a day
  • Low-fat Meats
  • Most Vegetables
  • Most Fruits
  • Healthy Fats (defined as Avocados, oils, nuts, seeds)

What is a “Block”?

  • Athletes must calculate their Block Requirements – a combo of lean bodyweight and an activity factor
  • 1 Protein Block = 7 grams
  • 1 Carbohydrate Block = 9 grams
  • 1 Fat Block = 1.5 grams

Athletes should first determine their Zone Block requirements (link in resources below).  From there, total blocks should be allocated according to a 30/30/40 split between Protein, Fat, and Carbs.  Blocks are then spread throughout the day fairly evenly, with larger meals for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and/or post-WOD.  While it takes some time to acclimate to thinking about portions as “blocks”, it is a very effective diet for those pursuing significant body composition changes or advanced athletes.

Zone Diet Resources:

The IIFYM Diet

Top Diets for CrossFit Athletes - IIFYM

Same Macros; Steak & Veggies or Flatbread

If It Fits Your Macros.  The diet people love to hate and hate to love.  The premise is; you can eat whatever you want as long as you consume a defined Protein, Fat, and Carbohydrate split that doesn’t exceed your target caloric intake.  Sound like a dream come true?  Check out some of the IIFYM food porn.  It really means you can eat pizza, cake, pasta, etc.  As long as it fits your macros! 

IIFYM Staples:

  • Calculate your Target Calories (to lose, maintain, or increase weight)
    • Protein Requirement = 0.75 – 1g per pound of bodyweight
    • Fat Requirement = Generally 25%
    • Carbs = Remainder of calories
  • No limits on food sources
  • No rules on meal timing

At its surface, IIFYM looks like probably the easiest diet a person could follow.  There are genuinely successful dieters and fitness athletes who swear by IIFYM.  Although, there’s definitely something to be said about getting your calories from fresh meats and vegetables versus pizza and donuts.  Ultimately, dieting is a personal decision.  If a particular avenue helps you reach your goals or makes discipline easier, that’s usually the best diet.  The worst you can do is pick a diet that’s unrealistic for you to follow.  Consistency and discipline is key. 

IIFYM Resources:

The Primal Diet

Top Diets for CrossFit Athletes - Primal

Stick with real, fresh foods

Believe in Paleo but miss cheese?  The Primal Diet is essentially a flexible Paleo Diet.  It was first labeled by in 2009 by Mark Sisson, an author and former distance runner.  The evolutionary science that created the Paleo Diet was brought a bit further up to modern day.  Instead of strictly sticking to the dietary habits of a caveman, the Primal Diet advocates quality and “real food”.  An easy benchmark is if it wasn’t available prior to the Industrial Revolution, don’t eat it. 

Primal Diet Staples:

  • High fat and protein, but low carbs
  • Quality Meats & Fish
  • Eggs
  • All Vegetables
  • All Fruits in moderation
  • Most Nuts & Seeds
  • Legumes
  • No Alcohol or Artificial Sugar (i.e. high fructose corn syrup)
  • Raw and Fermented Dairy Products
  • Natural Sweeteners

Mark Sisson breaks down the difference between Paleo and Primal; “Primal is fluid, not rigid ideology”.  If you have a pizza and a beer, just recognize you’ll probably feel sluggish in the morning.  Realize that nutrition, much like life, is a cycle and a process.  There will be ups and downs.  As long as you have a guiding set of good principles, you’re heading in the right direction. 

Primal Diet Resources:

What’s the Best for CrossFit?

Ultimately that comes down to your personal goals and what’s realistic.  Adhering to a diet doesn’t have to be a sacrifice.  CrossFit athletes and everyday people find success following many different diets, or none at all. 

From the list of top diets above, the best plan is to pick something that you can stay consistent.  Veering off the plan for a meal or two every few weeks won’t harm you.  The worst you can do is commit to something that will break down your willpower and cause you to give up altogether.  Fuel your body and your CrossFit results will follow. 

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