A few weeks ago, Coach Kate wrote a great post on eating for your goals, and in the past we’ve talked a bit about what it means to focus your nutrition on performance goals.

Today we’re going to dig a little deeper and take a closer look at what it really means to eat for performance. Whether you’re a weightlifter who competes regularly, looking to improve on last year’s CrossFit Open performance, or just someone who wants to run farther or lift heavier, you can probably benefit from focusing on tailoring your nutrition to your performance goals.

There are three main areas of focus when it comes to eating for performance: energy balance (overall calories), carbohydrate intake, and nutrient timing.  These are listed by order of importance: focus on your overall calories first, then your carbohydrate intake, then your meal timing. Once you’re a pro at these basics, it may then be appropriate to consider supplementation and other aspects of performance.


If your number one focus is improving your athletic performance, you should be eating at least maintenance calories. This means that you should be eating as many calories as you are burning throughout the day, and you should be neither gaining nor losing weight. If you’re in a calorie deficit (or eating fewer calories than you’re burning) and focusing on fat loss, you are not in prime condition to worry about peak performance because your body is not optimally fueled.

If you are a strength athlete and don’t have to worry about gaining weight, eating at a small surplus (200-500 calories per day, depending on your size) will help you increase your muscle mass and build strength more quickly. If you compete in a sport with weight classes, trying to stay as close to your weight class as possible in between competitions will allow you to perform at your best more consistently. Advanced athletes may cut weight to compete in a lower weight class, but are usually not able to perform as well as they do at a heavier weight.


Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel source for all activity. If you are focusing on peak performance, it’s crucial to make sure you’re eating enough carbs. For most people, 40-50% of daily calories from carbs is a good starting point for performance. For endurance athletes or athletes who train long sessions or multiple times per day, it may be beneficial to eat as many as 60-70% of daily calories from carbohydrates. As with all nutrition, there is no one size fits all so you may have to experiment a bit and get a feel for what is best for you and your training.

As an example: if you’re eating 2400 calories at maintenance, 40% of your total intake would be 960 calories or  240g of carbohydrate per day.


If your calories and carb intake are in good shape, you may benefit from focusing on nutrient timing - aka when you eat your carbs. Consuming about 30% of your daily carbs in the meal before your training can help you fuel for that day’s workout. Then eating another 25-30% of your total daily carbs in the meal immediately after your training can help you refuel and aid your recovery for your next day’s training.

So if you’re eating 240g of carbs as in the example above, that would mean eating about 70g of carbs in both your pre-workout and post-workout meals, with the remaining spread throughout your other meals and snacks of the day.

Again, keep in mind that nutrient or meal timing isn’t going to be as effective if your overall carb intake isn’t adequate, and your overall carb intake isn’t going to be as beneficial if you aren’t fueled with enough overall calories. Once you have these three basics down, it can be appropriate to start to consider your carb sources and supplementation.  

As you work on eating for performance, try keeping a list of foods that either work really well or don’t feel great for a pre-workout meal. High-fiber and high-fat foods are usually not the best before a workout because they are harder to digest, so aim for faster-digesting carbs like white rice and bananas as they are less likely to make you feel nauseated or sluggish during your workout.

When it comes to tailoring your nutrition towards performance goals, the scale, measurements, and progress photos aren’t always great indicators of progress as they are with fat loss goals. Instead, it is important to keep track of how your diet affects your performance by keeping a training log. Use benchmarks like time, weight lifted, or even a score from 1-10 for how you felt during your workout to see how your nutrition is affecting your training. Last but not least, be sure to communicate with your coach! We are here to help you align your nutrition with your goals, so let us know what those goals are so we can get you there.

Participating in the Crossfit Open this year? Check out our Fueling for the Open performance guide for more quick tips on how to structure your nutrition around your workouts. Not a Crossfitter but still working towards performance goals? There’s plenty of good stuff in there for you too, regardless of your training goals!