Hey y’all. I was asked to put together some information on a few of the top competitors heading into the recent CrossFit Games. Somehow the three articles never made it to the site but I think there are some interesting points so I’m going to throw them up on the blog. Enjoy!
Feeding The Machine:
How the CrossFit Rockstars Feed and Water for optimum Performance.
If you have ever followed Formula 1 or drag racing the topic of fuel comes to the fore quite frequently. In this context it seems obvious that top performance is as much a function of the fuel used as the engine, aerodynamics, tires and pit-crew. Interestingly, this analogy does not hold well for the fueling of human performance. Air/fuel mixture, hydration and food quality seems more often than not left to chance with the notion that harder, longer training is the key to progress and victory. This seems to be true for the average performer anyway…he or she cannot be bothered with silly details like food quality, optimized nutrient ratios (protein, carbs and fat) nutrient timing or recovery. Train hard, eat “pretty good” and be content with average performance. For some the milk-toast average existence is worse than a root canal without anesthesia…while watching Oprah. These folks will settle for nothing but their best effort and not surprisingly they know that food may hold the “secret” to better performance and recovery, the difference between 1st and last place, the difference between milk-toast and winners circle. This series will look at some of the top contenders for the upcoming 2nd annual CrossFit Games. What you may find most interesting about these elite competitors is how very much they have in common and how relatively small are their differences when it comes to fueling the machine.
Gabe “Dutch” Lowy
Owner: CrossFit ATM
I met Dutch for the first time at the Level 1 CrossFit cert held at GSX Athletics in Fort Worth, TX. Dutch is a tough, dedicated athlete as evidenced by the following benchmarks:
Cindy: 34 rounds
Mary: 14 rounds
Helen: 9:02 (450m run)
500m row: 1:37 2000m row: 7:21
I had the good fortune of hanging out with Dutch at this event and we were able to work some OL’s and talk a bit about nutrition. Dutch sounded pretty dialed in on his eating but like all top competitors he was looking for any edge that might be gained from his nutrition. He was also trying to fix a mid afternoon energy slump that felt like low blood sugar. I had Dutch keep track of his food and email that to me…good, bad and ugly. Here is that first email
“I am pretty uniform in my eating. I am strict zone with anywhere between 4 and 9x’s the fat per meal. I am currently eating lots of fruits (oranges, apples, pears, peaches) as my carbs but have no connection to them.
A typical day looks like this: (Not too much variety between days)
6AM 2 blocks:
1 apple (medium gala)
Half cup of cottage cheese (lactaid brand, I am lactose intolerant)
Handful of almonds. About 27 (9 blocks)
9AM 2 Blocks:
2 oz deli turkey
1 orange (large navel)
Handful of cashews. About 21 (7 blocks)
10:30AM 2 Blocks
2 oz deli turkey
1 apple (gala Medium sized)
Handful of almonds. Between 15 and 25. (sorry I haven’t counted nuts
since I started the zone over a year ago)
1:45 PM 2 blocks
2 oz deli turkey
1 orange (large navel)
2:45 PM 2 blocks
Half cup Cottage cheese
1 pear with peanut butter. (There is no telling how much PB I
use… I just sit down with a spoon and a knife. Probably a quarter of the
5 PM 2 blocks
2 oz deli turkey or ham
Handful of cashews or almonds
8PM 4-5 Blocks (usually closer to 4)
4 Oz Chicken breast
Assorted steamed veggies ( 3-4 cups)
Sprinkled with italian dressing or EVOO and maybe some crushed
About a cup and a half of soy milk.
9:30 – 10 PM 1 Block
Half an apple
1 oz of turkey
Half handful of almonds
My Crossfit workouts have been great. I make it through even the 20 minute plus sessions with little trouble. I am a handball player as well and play three days a week at 3PM. I have been having some trouble with what feels
like blood sugar. I get half way through the first game and become lethargic, light headed, slow. My concentration then goes out the window. I usually eat 2 blocks about 15 -20 minutes before playing. It is hard to get Crossfit workouts into days where I play just from a time standpoint. I am working from 6-9 and then go straight to school till 3 then to the courts to play handball. I have to be back here for work at 5:15 till about 8. I am going to try to fit training in between classes MWF. T TH I only have one class so I am going to train hard those days.”
A few things bear mentioning: This is a blistering schedule which includes school, work, CrossFit and a competitive sport. Dutch manages to navigate all of this and prioritize his food. Not an easy thing to do but it’s critical if one is to not only survive this schedule to say nothing of thrive! His performance is great but he mentions some blood sugar related foggy-headedness later in the day, particularly during handball. The Zone is by no means a high carb diet but I have noticed some people (myself included) run into blood sugar issues with the Zone if it is approached as prescribed. It can be too many carbs, too often. Sleep can and does play a major factor in blood sugar management so here is my response to Dutch:
”Looks great...how much do you weigh? Looks like you are running about
17-18 blocks, good body comp and kicking performance. Two main issues
are controlling blood sugar during handball and (as always) recovery.
Something I have found to be helpful is repartitioning up to 1/2 of ones
carb blocks to the post workout meal. Let’s say you are 18 blocks, that
would put you at say 4-5 blocks of protein and 8-10 blocks of carbs. I
would make those carbs come from mainly yam or sweet potato to optimize
muscle glycogen repletion and not top off the liver too much. You can
then puff up the fat content of other meals to finish out the day on
average where you are right now. We should see improved recovery and
less blood sugar swings. If you are doing a double day you can split
that carb feeding to both post CF and post handball. If the CF WOD is
just strength work like a back squat-1111111, I would just spread the
carbs as normal.
I find there is a fine line with the Zone and CF. One needs enough carbs
to perform at a high level yet it is almost enough to mess with blood
sugar. The small snack you are taking prior to handball seems like a
good idea. Keep cranking on that and see if this other tweak helps
things at all. ALSO!!! Sleep can be a huge factor in blood sugar swings.
Sounds like you are keeping a blistering schedule and if the sleep is
skinny that can really mess with blood sugar levels...how much rack time are
Dutch was not getting much sleep but that’s not surprising considering the schedule he is keeping. I admonished him to get as much sleep as he could without getting fired from his job or dumped by his girlfriend! He expressed some trepidation about saving the lions share of his carbohydrates till post workout but he jumped in and did it and noticed improved energy and recovery immediately. Here is an email from a few weeks later:
I am sitting on a bus on my way back from Springfield MO. I was at the national collegiate handball tournament where I finished in the top 16. As with anytime you lose I feel like I should have won. That is not the point of this email though. Even though it was difficult I was able to keep with the nutrition plan you suggested. I kept carbs low until I competed then would get a couple extra carb blocks with my next meal. I felt great (besides losing). I was worried about the crash coming halfway through a game and it never happened.
I am having a hard time during a normal week getting the bigger meal after training cause I am usually pressed for time and sweet potatoes don’t travel very well. If you have any suggestions of what I can fit into a backpack and drag to school I would appreciate them.
I am also starting to dabble in the kitchen and wonder if you have any good links for recipes you use. I luckily haven’t burned down my house yet which would be bad for business, since the gym is in my garage.”
I think it’s safe to say Dutch has enviable numbers whether we are talking max effort strength work or classic CrossFit WOD’s like Fran. He is also nationally competitive in handball and like I mentioned before, he keeps a hell of a schedule. His food was pretty squared away in that he was using Zone ratios while choosing higher quality foods ala-paleo eating. The only glaring hole in the game I could see was a lack of sleep that is nearly impossible to fix given the demands of his schedule. A minor tweak we made to his eating was the repartitioning of about ½ of his carb blocks to the post workout meal to take advantage of enhanced insulin sensitivity. This improved his recovery from both CrossFit efforts and hand ball while normalizing his blood sugar and thus preventing the bonks he was experiencing mid-afternoon.
It’s important to note we did not run with shakes or other magic potions. Digestion, recovery and insulin control have been uniformly inferior with liquid food as compared with things like yams and sweet potatoes. A few recent studies have confirmed this observation and I’ll talk about those in a later CFJ article. Stay tuned for that and the next installment of Feeding The Machine!