Many of us intermediate or beginner Crossfitters don’t have a great perspective of what “enough” food really is—especially when trying to lose weight. The idea of sacrificing food can actually hinder fat loss, strength gain, energy levels, and overall health. With so many fad diets and eating trends flying around countless athletes are misled into eating far less food than they actually need to support high-intensity training. And while we might understand that inadequate food intake can negatively impact our performance in the gym, we simply aren’t used to eating enough food.
While a slight caloric deficit should cause steady weight loss (think 300-500 calories a day), much larger deficits elicit changes in your metabolism to keep your body in an energy balance and maintain homeostasis. The body—this dynamic, adaptable machine—wants to be safe and secure. Our bodies are always looking for stability, right? With survival as number 1, it is constantly regulating what’s going on in response to our environment. In other words, in order to conserve energy and direct calories to necessary functions for being alive, your body resorts to burning fewer calories, even as you’re training regularly. This means you will hold onto body fat despite eating limited calories and training like a mad man. People who chronically under eat are the ones who complain about not being able to lose that last “10lbs” or feeling fluffier despite seeing the scale move down a few notches.
When resources (calories) are scarce, the body prioritizes essential functions (like breathing, controlling its temperature, and heartrate) over things like rebuilding muscle tissue. Inadequate food intake makes it nearly impossible to increase muscle strength or add gainz. The lack of energy from under eating can drastically reduce your training power. When you’re under-fueled, it may feel like you’re training intensely, but your power output is actually much lower. If you can’t maximize your power when lifting, you won’t be able to achieve the necessary stimulus to promote muscle growth and rebuilding. What a bummer, right? Under eating can also lead to under sleeping which isn’t fabulous for recovery, either. I like to tell my kids at 9pm, “your body does its growing while your sleeping” and it applies to me and my muscle gains.
If you suspect you might not be eating enough to support your activities and goals, don’t despair! Once you start eating enough and bringing attention to eating enough, you’ll see rapid improvements!
Figuring out exactly how much food you should be eating is tricky, many factors come into play. While it might be impossible to determine exactly how many calories you need, you can estimate. There are easy on-line calculators that will give you a good starting point. I suggest Logging your food as precisely as possible. Weigh and measure! Unless you’ve had TONS of practice, eyeballing isn’t a great beginner method. use an app like MyFitnessPal. Then keep a journal for a few weeks recording your mood, energy level and weight. If you need to start significantly bumping up your intake, try adding 100-200 calorie increments every week or so in order to minimize weight gain or digestive issues. Calorie adjustments usually take some experimentation, but correcting undereating almost always results in significant improvements in health, energy, and performance. And once you’re feeling better, you can use a more intuitive eating style to continue making progress. It’s awesome to see the health improvements that come from a simple increase in calories when someone has been chronically undereating! Remember! Eating too little is just as dangerous as eating too much, don’t fear the carb, and reach out for guidance if you need it.