CrossFit Weight Loss: The Myths and Facts

By Nicole Kurz | March 11, 2015
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If you Google “CrossFit and Weight Loss” about 1.9 million articles pop up.  And in my expert opinion (a.k.a I looked through the first few pages of Google search results), half of them are articles like this one that talk about gaining weight when you do CrossFit.

There are tons of articles out there, like this one, that point to dangers of CrossFit, and warn against using it as your fitness platform for your weight loss efforts.

Yet, for as many nay sayers who exist on the Internet, there’s as many or more of us who have lost some serious weight, and rediscovered their health and fitness through CrossFit.

So clearly, there are more variables than just vanilla CrossFit.

If you’re doing CrossFit to lose weight, there’s a few things to keep in mind to get the best results and trim your waist line, and your Fran time.

What You Eat is Kinda Important!

If you’re trying to lose weight, chances are you’ve heard that it’s 80% diet and 20% exercise.  I’m not sure if it’s good news or bad news, but that stat is totally true.

How you fuel your body daily has the most substantial and direct impact on your fat loss efforts.  It’s important to eat a diet rich in vegetables, protein and healthy fats that will fuel your workouts, but that has a lower calorie count than your daily needs.  It really, really does boil down to eating less than you burn in a day.  But quality is important to ensure your body is burning your fat stores, and not the valuable muscle that you’re working so hard to build in the box.

One common mistake that CrossFitters make is to overestimate our calorie needs. I am totally part of this group. After a particularly brutal WOD, or hitting a new PR on a lift, it’s easy to justify eating an extra piece of pizza, or drinking another glass (bottle?) of wine because you feel like you’ve done the work to deserve it.

Unfortunately, those justifications can add up quickly, and you’ll end up derailing your weight loss efforts.

Everyone has different ideas about the right nutrition for weight loss, and I’m not here to preach one way or another to you, my readers.  My advice is to simply follow a nutritional philosophy with lots of real foods as close to 100% of the time as you can.

For the average athlete looking to shed some pounds, it really doesn’t matter if it’s Paleo, Weight Watchers, The Zone, Fighter Diet, or one of the hundreds of others out there, the key is to following it consistently to see results.

You’re Going to Build Muscle Doing CrossFit.

If weight loss is 80% diet, then it stands reason the other 20% is exercise.  And while it might seem like cardio is the way to go when it comes to weight loss, doing too much can actually be detrimental to your efforts.

In this article by FitnessRx for Women, they summarize several detailed and complex medical studies that discuss the role of cardio and strength training as it comes to fat loss (they cite them at the end if you want the science-filled whammy versions).

The summary is pretty simple: doing too much cardio can cause your body to cannibalize your muscle for energy stores. So can working out while restricting calories.

Thankfully, in studies where the participants lifted weights, this didn’t happen. These folks saw increased muscle mass, faster metabolism and their body using their fat stores for energy.

I would so much rather that my body eat my fat than my meat, wouldn’t you?

CrossFit is an excellent way to ensure that you’re strength training your entire body, and the daily WOD is the perfect high intensity interval training (or HIIT) complement to ensure maximum fat-burning.

But be warned, lifting weights, especially heavy ones, means you’re going to build muscle and change your body composition.

Yes, even you ladies.

Though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Building muscle will rev up your metabolism and turn you into a fat burning machine. More muscle can also have some serious aesthetic value, giving your body a more defined look and feel.

But it’s important to be prepared for these changes to your body on the front end so that you have realistic exceptions and goals when it comes to CrossFit and weight loss.

Your thighs and booty might get bigger from squatting.  Your shoulders may end up more defined.  While the number on the scale might be going down, your clothes may fit more snug in certain areas because of the additional muscle you’ve built.

And it’s up to you to decide if that’s a desired result.

You Need to Personalize Your Programming.

CrossFit likes to preach that it’s for everyone, and really, it is.  It doesn’t matter if you’re 100 pounds overweight and haven’t exercised in years, an age-group athlete looking to add in some strength training, or a serious competitor looking to take your training to the next level. There are ways CrossFit can be effective for you.

That said, it’s up to you as an individual to understand how to scale and personalize the programing at your box to meet your weight loss goals.

If you’re a novice, chances are adding regular physical activity into your schedule of any kind will be enough initially to jumpstart your metabolism and kick up your weight loss efforts. Be sure to speak with you coaches about scaling options for the workouts, and aim to work hard enough every day that you feel sweaty and accomplished, but not so hard that you’re totally blown up and don’t want to come back. You’re looking to build a habit of fitness, and it’s up to you to find that sweet spot of challenging and manageable to begin that journey.

For more experienced exercisers, be sure you’re listening to your body and adjusting your workouts and intensity accordingly.  You should know what a truly hard effort feels like, and if you find yourself stalled in your weight loss efforts, take a moment to examine if you’re giving your best efforts in your workouts. It can get easy to get stuck in a rhythm or comfortable with a weight or effort level, but as your fitness improves what used to be “going hard” might end up just being a moderate effort if you don’t continue to challenge your body.

In the end, your weight loss success is completely up to you.

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