“Your thoughts determine your actions. Your actions determine your habits. Your habits determine your character. Your character gives birth to your destiny.” – Sandee Bee
I’ve been telling my CrossFit athletes that the 2015 CrossFit Games Open will be a life-altering experience, and I guarantee it will be for everyone registered. However, the improvement it brings to an athlete’s life can be substantiated extremely by using it to develop a few key habits throughout the five weeks. Whether you are a CrossFit athlete or not, read on to learn how to dial in your nutrition, refine your sleep patterns, recover from workouts and from life, improve your mindset, supplement your training, and be inspired by those around you. These practices will appreciably enhance your life if you let them.
If we practice a new habit long enough, it becomes automatic. Once a habit has become automatic, it frees up the space in our brain that used to make it require effort, and we can thus forge new practices. This is how we become better. When you were younger, brushing your teeth or washing the dishes might have seemed like a big deal, but (hopefully!) by practicing these things regularly they have become automatic and no longer take much thought or effort. You can now do far more complex things. What once was difficult is now easy. At the end of the Open, this will be true of some movements or workouts, but the evolution into your greater self need not stop there.
How many days of practice does it take for a new habit to reach automaticity? Studies show it takes 66. How many days are in the 2015 Open? Well, not 66 (32…), but what a great way to launch yourself into new behaviours in the areas of nutrition, sleep, recovery, mindset, peak performance, and community.
How to Make the Most of the 2015 Open:
1. Dial in your nutrition
Let’s face it; each of us could do better in this area, so I am going to give you two quick strategies that everyone could benefit from implementing.
- Get enough micronutrients by eating whole foods – get rid of the stuff that comes from a box, and eat the things that look the same way they do in a field (ok, your meat can be cut up 🙂 ). By eating whole foods (meat, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains like rice and quinoa) we ensure our body gets the vitamins and minerals it needs. Eat five to ten cups of vegetables a day, at least two to three cups of these being green. Potatoes and sweet potatoes do not count in this category (we will talk about those next). Though it is true toxins are berating our bodies, it is not true that you need to go on a special detox cleanse. By eating a ton of green vegetables, drinking fresh water, and resting you are ensuring your body is getting its vital nutrients and providing it with all it needs to detoxify itself. We need to have a healthy body before we should worry about having a strong one.
- Once consuming a plethora of green vegetables is a regular habit and you are ready to get strong, take in the majority of the carbs in your diet as starch. Swap that apple for a sweet potato (maybe not raw!). Eat more potatoes (sweet and regular), parsnips, brown and white rice, and oats. Air popped popcorn and rice cakes make good snack options. Starch is broken down in our bodies into glucose. Glucose is the main energy source for all cellular processes, and is stored in our muscles for energy in the form of glycogen. Fructose (fruit sugar) is not utilized the same and should be limited (cut fruit down to two-or-fewer fist-sized servings a day). If you ever feel physically exhausted or light-headed in a workout, there is a good chance you are not getting enough of these starchy goods – eat ‘em up. If you are afraid of carbs, eat some an hour before, and some as close to after your workout as possible. Carbs also make our muscles look fuller and more beautiful. Carbohydrates are your friend, but work on choosing whole food, starchy sources throughout the Open.
2. Refine your sleep patterns & practices
Sleep is our body’s time to repair and refuel for the next day. It is also the time when our endocrine system is able to regulate our hormones – the chemical messengers that control our bodily processes. Testosterone is essential for muscle growth and development, and optimal performance in both men and women. A lack of sleep leads to a reduction in testosterone and thus reduced performance and ability to recover, not to mention an increase in cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and a decrease in leptin levels (the chemical messenger responsible for telling our body to burn fat as fuel). It is clear a good night’s sleep is absolutely necessary for peak performance, and regularly sleeping well is essential to maximize the benefits from your training.
To improve your sleep, implement a nighttime routine. Operate in low light for the last hour before you sleep, and blackout your room until it is bat-cave dark. Our body produces melatonin (the hormone that makes you feel tired) only in darkness, and human growth hormone is also reduced in the presence of light. To fall asleep quickly, sleep deeply, and recover well, you need to be in the DARK.
Set a sleep goal for each week of the Open. If you are getting 6 hours right now, you might want to make it your aim to get 6 1/2 hours for the first week of the Open, 7 for the second, and so on, targeting 9-10 if you regularly train at high levels. If you do not hit your weekly goal, plan a Sunday nap to make up your missed hours. Your body, endocrine, and nervous systems will thank you, and you will perform better in your workouts and in life. Additionally, you may want to try the “Sunrise Alarm App.” I use this to wake me up. Melatonin wears off in response to light so we wake up less groggy.
If you are training at a high level, nothing will improve your workouts and recovery like sleeping more. Sleep, and use the Open to improve these practices.
3. Learn the importance of rest and recovery
Rest and recovery go beyond the number of hours our head spends against a pillow; they are about doing things that refuel us. Let’s face it, life is demanding! If we don’t take the time to replenish ourselves, we are going to feel rundown, and the chances of someone else taking care of you are slim-to-none. We need to put ourselves first in order to execute at paramount levels in our workouts, and in life.
Spend at least ten minutes per day refueling your tank, and at least one hour per week on yourself. Have a hot bath in Epsom salts. Do some meditation. Read a book. Really listen to some good music. Paint. Write. Play an instrument.
I am also going to mention the importance of proper protein intake here because protein is essential for recovery and muscle repair. You should get at least 1 g of protein per lean pound of body mass, more if you are more active. A good rule of thumb for a beginner is to make sure you are having some protein (meat, greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, eggs, egg whites) every time you eat, and have some (try Progenex if you don’t want to eat) shortly after your workouts. Protein is essential in higher quantities than you might think in the athlete’s diet.
Implement these recovery strategies and you will hit your WODs and everything else with renewed vigor; don’t, and continue to operate at mediocre. The choice is yours.
4. Establish a no-excuses mindset
Watch the documentary of the 2014 CrossFit Games to see the difference between how Rich Froning and Camille Leblanc-Bazinet think and train compared to other athletes. Camille regularly mentions “going to that really dark place” in her workouts, and Rich is “not sure if he likes winning more than he hates losing.” If you are training to be healthy, and not the Fittest on Earth, you do not need to know how to go to this place with Camille in every workout and you do not even need to have a competitive bone in your body, but you will certainly benefit from learning to push your limits during the Open.
Camille is 5’2” and 130 lbs, and she can clean and jerk 255 lbs. She does not see her size as an obstacle, and so it is not. Ask yourself what your obstacles are? Do you think you are too overweight? Too tall? Too old? Though we do all have some genetic potential, this only plays a tiny role in determining our success in CrossFit, and in anything.
Angela Lee Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania has determined that the number one factor that governs our success is not our genetics, not our class, not where we went to school, not how tall or thin or young we are, but it is our grit. Grit is the ability to push through difficult circumstances whatever they are, and to not give up.
Use the Open WODs to exercise your grit. Push through when you think you can’t anymore. Go to that dark place. Win against your old self. It is often our mind that limits us, and not our body. Get rid of the word “can’t” in your mind. Push past your limits in your workouts during the Open and this practice is sure to seep into every arena of your life.
5. Get into the greater CrossFit Community
The Open is bound to bring together the community at your own affiliate, but it can do so much more than that. You will be sweating alongside your brethren, but you will also be engaging in something that goes way beyond those walls. Post your scores regularly, and watch all of the announcements. Pick that person at your rival affliate who keeps finishing ahead of you, and beat them in 15.4. Go and try a WOD at another affiliate if you are visiting a different city for the weekend. Get to know the Games athletes, and be stirred by their stories (as they are just regular people like you or I who put in the work). Nothing pushes us like surrounding ourselves with as many people as possible that are on the same journey. Get to know people at every part of the fitness voyage throughout the Open, and these associations are sure to continue to fuel your future growth as an athlete.
Use the 2015 Open to transform your life. Implement strategies in all of these areas (even just one strategy for each of the following): nutrition, sleep, recovery, mindset, supplements, and community. You choose how much the Open changes your life. The best in the world harness events like this to launch them to their next level of greatness. Whether you finish 1st or 700001st in the Open, you can win.
 A compilation of studies on Beta Alanine: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3374095/