By Wilna Appel, Head Coach and Owner of CrossFit PBM (Originally published in Fitness Magazine)
One of my female CrossFitters recently said to me; “I’m scared that I’m going to get huge from CrossFit. It feels like all my muscles are growing, and it’s not stopping! What’s going on with me?” My first response to this type of question is twofold; “Don’t worry, while you’re building some muscle, it is a good thing, but you’re also losing fat, which is even better. Secondly, tell me what you eat during the day?”
Most women are scared that by lifting big weights, especially doing Olympic weightlifting, gymnastics, powerlifting and other types of compound movement lifts they’ll get big and bulky. The good news is that this isn’t possible – without the use banned substances that is.
Women don’t produce the all-important anabolic hormone testosterone on the same scale that men do. They produce roughly 10% of what a man produces and therefore cannot build the same amount of muscle them.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone differs in their genetic make up, which plays a major role in our body composition (including fat storage), as well as the regulation of our testosterone and oestrogen production, not to mention our metabolisms.
Those who choose to follow a CrossFit lifestyle generally eat clean and train dirty, and we choose not to fill our bodies with substance that can cause damage. If you’re new to CrossFit and witness the movements used during our WODs it’s understandable that many women worry about the effects that this type of training will have on their physiques.
Essentail muscle mass
The truth is, any form of weight training will build some degree of muscle – but that’s a good thing. Adding muscle is important as it benefits us when as we get older. That’s because as we actually lose skeletal muscle mass with age, so the more we have to start with the better off we’ll be later on in life. Muscle mass is also essential for enhanced strength and function. It is also the most metabolically-active tissue in the body. Muscle provides us with a metabolic reserve, but when we lose muscle we lose this metabolic ‘reservoir’. This metabolic reserve is also essential in times of trauma – not starvation or famine, but physical trauma from car accidents, internal damage to organs, severe burns, cancer, sepsis or catastrophic injury. This is because muscle produces proteins and metabolites in response to physical trauma. This response is essential to the body’s efforts to recover and return to a state of homeostasis. So you should never fear muscle, but you also shouldn’t worry about building too much of it.
If you consider the CrossFit lifestyle in its entirety you’ll find that proper nutrition forms the base or foundation of everything we do. This means that nutrition is the most important part of any training regime. You can train as hard as you want, but if you constantly eat takeaways and snack incessantly you’ll never realise your goal. You’ll also balloon, but not from added muscle – from an extra layer of fat.
Nutrition is paramount
At CrossFit PBM we have a very simple definition of what a good nutrition plan looks like; Eat lean meats, vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, as little starch as possible and no sugar. This is possibly the simplest way of putting it.
We emphasise eating whole food sources that are unprocessed and unrefined, or foods that are processed or refined as little as possible.The easiest way of eating a healthy diet is sticking to the fresh isles of your supermarket. Any food that expires in the same week you bought is also a good choice as you know you are getting a nutrient-dense food. Nutrition affects all of us at the deepest level – the molecular level. Understanding that your diet will dictate your training will forever change your perspective. Sure, eating a piece of chocolate cake every now and again is acceptable, but if you can eat 100% correctly for 90% of the time you will achieve success.
Put more simply, over the course of a week you’ll have about 21 meals.
If 18 of those meals are clean and follow healthy eating guidelines 100% you’ll be able to still enjoy a few cheats and reach your goals. Life is supposed to be fun, you just need to enjoy it in a fit and healthy way!
With that in mind, always remember that it’s not CrossFit that will make you big, eating cupcakes will.
Author: Tanja Schmitz
Founder and Editor of Fitness Magazine. You’ll find her behind her computer or on her bike, dreaming up new ways to improve or create content for you.