Extreme Athletes And Their Extreme Diets

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2014RCFG_BS_DAY2_EVENT4_INV_018Photo: Courtesy Of Reebok.
When I was at the 2014 Reebok CrossFit Games a few weeks ago, I saw sweet potatoes being served to the crowd in no less than five different ways: baked, chipped, fried, mashed, and puréed. While at the games, we worked out, talked about working out, and then watched other people working out — we were there to see who would be crowned this year's Fittest On Earth. But, the undercurrent running through it all was food.

We know that healthy eating is as important to performance as the actual training is. And, just as CrossFitters have a unique fitness regime, they have an eating style all their own as well. Case in point: While I watched the men’s “sprint carry” event (which involves multiple 100-yard sprints, some carrying loads of 100+ pounds), I noticed the spectator next to me pull individual turkey slices, an entire tub of blueberries, and a protein shake out of his cooler — a reminder that this was definitely not Coachella or SXSW. And, a commonly overheard phrase of the weekend was, “Did you bring the peanut butter?"

For those of us who left our meals up to chance, the food vendors at the expo village were unlike anything we had ever seen. This was not the hot-dog-and-pretzel stand of a baseball game, nor was there the funnel cake and Dippin Dots often spotted at your average fair. Instead, the vendors touted foods that were paleo, natural, and local — and most menus were comprised of protein, more protein, and sweet potatoes. There were also bison meatballs served alongside whole coconuts that were cracked on the spot and served with a straw.
2014RCFG_MQ_DAY2_ACTIVATION_014Photo: Courtesy Of Reebok.
The food on every CrossFitter's mind that weekend? Bacon. This was probably because Reebok had created a bacon truck (pictured), that served up different BOD (bacon of the day, obviously) options to spectators — for free. There were also bacon concierges and bacon hype-men. Apparently, crisp pork belly isn’t just a favorite of the casual CrossFitter; the elite athletes love it, too. Four-time winner Rich Froning told me that he averages about a pound or two of bacon per week. He shared his “bacon explosion” recipe with Project Mayhem; it involves woven bacon layers, sausage, and BBQ sauce.

So, why are CrossFitters so obsessed with bacon? “For our whole lives, we’ve been told that bacon is bad,” explains CrossFit HQ trainer, former competitor, and “old-school” CrossFitter Josh Everett. “In conventional wisdom, you’re scared of fat and saturated fat; bacon has a lot of saturated fat. I think it’s just sticking it to the man, saying, 'I’m eating all this bacon, and look at my performance, and my body composition.' There’s nothing wrong with bacon.”

Testing out the bacon theory myself, I indulged in a few slices with breakfast and made a daily stop at the BOD truck. I can’t say it helped me "forge elite spectating," but it was delicious. “I think CrossFitters love bacon because they can love bacon," says Blair Morrison, owner of the CrossFit Anywhere boxes in California, and 7th place finisher in the 2009 games. "All of a sudden, it’s not the enemy anymore.” Morrison's meat-eating doesn't stop at bacon; the weirdest protein he’s had is whale steak. “It tastes a lot like a hamburger, but a little denser.” But, is it legal? “In Iceland, it is."
Untitled-1Photo: Courtesy Of Reebok.
What does it take to eat like a CrossFit champ? The newly crowned Fittest Female on Earth, Camille Leblanc-Bazinet (pictured), tries to eat clean as much as she can without being crazy. She weighs and measures each of her meals to know the ratio of protein, fat, and carbs; the goal is to understand “exactly what is going in to my body,” she says. Leblanc-Bazinet's meals “always look the same, and are pretty boring." Translation: protein with lots of greens (encompassing roughly one-fourth to half the plate) and, usually, those ubiquitous sweet potatoes. "Sometimes, it’s not fun to finish, but I’ll force myself,” Camille says. “I’ll think to myself, ‘I want to win the games, so I need to eat these greens. The girl who wins will be the one who eats her greens.’”

For breakfast, Camille has four whole eggs (we'll let you do the math on how many cartons that is per month) along with a protein shake, and sometimes vegetables. Her thoughts on bacon? “It takes too long too cook. I’ll eat it once in a while, at breakfast. I don’t stay away from it, but I don’t need it either.”

Froning, meanwhile, manages to remain a badass athlete with a “loose” eating plan. "I start the day with some Spark [a sugar-free energy drink] from AdvoCare, then train and drink a post-workout protein shake. I usually eat a small lunch — not planned or strict — and then eat a big dinner, because it's easier that way.” While Froning's feelings about bacon have already been established, vegetables are another story: “Bro, I don't eat veggies really. Ranch dressing on veggie trays is about what I do.” (That wasn't even Froning's biggest diet confession. This was: “I do not like asparagus or cilantro. I actually tell people I'm allergic so they don't put them in my food.”)

By the end of the event, I was convinced: Although frying up bacon on the regular may not be the healthiest idea for most of us, it's certainly become the unofficial meat-mascot of this sport.