Weight loss with CrossFit - Part 2

In Part 1 of our "Weight loss with CrossFit"-series, we were talking about how CrossFit training impacts a diet. We concluded that the training contributes to the daily calorie output and can therefore lead to a negative calorie balance - the base of every weight loss attempt. 

We also came to the bottom line that the energy burned with a regular CrossFit training routine might not be very remarkable, and that the positive body feeling created through CrossFit might play a more important role in a diet than the calorie output. The main focus in every weight loss project should be set on the diet. Part 2 is about a few general concepts of a nutrition suitable for weight loss with CrossFit.


Most important: Calorie input

There are hundreds, if not thousands nutritional concepts for weight loss out there, general strategies such as Low Carb, Keto, Zone, Paleo, IF (intermittent fasting) and the like, and fee based programs like RP or Working Against Gravity. 

They all base on different allocations of macro nutrients (carbs, proteins and fat) and meal timing. None of them is nonsense. But before you go that much into details, be aware that the most important function of food is to supply calories. And this is also the number one factor to consider in a diet.

You can strictly follow Paleo and eat super organic, gluten, soy and dairy free, sugar free even - but you feed yourself with so much eggs, nuts and pork belly, that your calorie input goes through the roof. You will therefore gain weight in places where you not wish to do so (but maybe you skin quality improves after you leave out the milk, who knows). "Clean Eating" is not the key to weight loss.

But how many calories should I eat per day to loose weight?

That question is impossible to answer universally. We can only generalize the energy balance you should try to achieve for weight loss:

  • For smaller weight loss targets - like 2 to 5 kilos or so - and if you you are not in a rush, a deficit of around 200 calories is advised. 
  • If you start from a high body weight and want to loose quite a bit (like 8 kg+) and/or you are looking for faster* results, a 500 cal deficit will do the job.

And now it's simple maths: Calculate you daily calorie output, subtract the deficit applicable to you, and you get what you should eat in a day.

I hear you ask: How can I know my daily energy output? It is indeed a figure depending on different factors like gender, age, weight and physical activity. But there are lots of calculators in the internet that will give you a result in less than a minute. They will never be 100% accurate, more like +/- 10% precise, but at least they give a sort of idea and target.

So, again:

Target Calorie Intake = Calorie Output - Calorie Deficit


Here's the thing: A calorie deficit is sensitive

I believe that most diets fail because people are to laissez-faire with the nutrition, or better said they are not aware of how sensitive the calorie deficit is. They are not aware of how easily you can violate it. 

Let's take a small woman (woman are much more likely to stumble from one failed diet to another) of 1,62 m height and 58 kg bodyweight that wants to loose a little bit of belly fat (I am not saying she is anyhow overweighted at 58kg! But there might be some "love handles" or so). With an inactive lifestyle - working 8 hrs in an office, driving every way with the car - her calorie output will be not very high. Let's assume something around 1.600 cal. Going for a deficit of 200 cal, we are left with 1.400 cal to eat in a day. That is not much to say the least. Even assuming we have only 3 meals and no snacks at all, we are at appr. 470 cal per dish - the food volume will be very low. There are drinks served at Starbucks or even "healthy" smoothies at Boost that contain more than that.

Talking about drinks: With such a tiny scope left, consuming calories via drinks has to be a No Go. We would need to cut the real food even more which will lead to starvation - which guarantees the frustrating end of any diet. 

Also, food with a high calorie density has to be reduced to a minimum. This applies for anything high in fat (one gram carbs or protein deliver 4 cal, but one gram fat contains 9 cal!) - peanut butter, butter in general, bacon, eggs, nuts, fat fish and so on. Using the air frier to make food a bit more tasty? Not on 1.400 cal!

But in real live, this is exactly what happens: 1.400 calorie intake on Monday, Tuesday ... Wednesday, there is already a "little treat" in addition (a muffin of 350 cal), Thursday clean foot, only two cappuccino and a protein bar - there goes the deficit again! And Friday, well, it's already the weekend, right? 

Weight loss is hard work. It requires the ability to stick to rules, to resign, to create habits. Best tipp: Track you food and beverages - truly everything! See it on the paper (or in your smartphone app). Don't let yourself get along with cheating.


So it's only abut the calories?

IIFYM ("If it fits your Macros") is a thing right now. After people got caught in studies and details, talking about the acid-base-balance, no carbs after 6pm, following gurus and supplement sales persons blindly, IIFYM aims to be a countermovement that tries to simplify. It bases on the fact that only the calories make the difference between weight and fat loss or weight and muscle gain. So hitting your macros (which equals hitting your calories since only the macro nutrients provide energy) alone gets the work done.

Is that true?

Well, I personally think that IIFYM has a true core, but is often misapplied as a justification to eat rubbish. At least I don't believe it works for CrossFit. Maybe for low-intensity sports like the classical bodybuilding, jogging or yoga. But I have bad experiences with eating trash and then trying to go all out in a WOD - I just felt terrible. My body couldn't make use of its energy, I was sluggish and I didn't recover very well. IIFYM for performance - in my opinion: No! But make your own experiences. Maybe it is just in my head ... 


Nutrition for weight loss - a summary

Nutrition is the critical part of weight loss. Knowing you calorie output and the deficit you want to achieve daily is the basis of success. Yes, it requires to do some calculation, dealing with numbers and also scale your food and study nutrition facts on packages if you are new to the topic. But there are apps and informative websites about everything  - invest some time initially and you will soon be used to food tracking.

Be aware: The lighter you are and the smaller your weight loss goals, the lesser space to play around you have. This might mean no treats, nothing fatty, no drinks except water, unsweetened tea and black coffee. Weight loss isn't a joke. But if it was easy - everyone would do it, right? 



*To make a clear point here: There is no "fast AND healthy" weight loss. If anyhow possible, go for a slower, but more suistanable approach (I know, sometimes the wedding or beach vacation is around the corner ...). More than 2 to 3 kg per month are considered as too fast and might lead to negative effects like cravings, remarkable strength and muscle mass loss or lack of periods. Only extremly obesed persons (BMI > 30) might loose larger amounts per month or week.