This is part of Athlete Daily’s series highlighting high-level athletes across the world of strength training and functional fitness, and how they approach diet and nutrition.
Learn what some of the best athletes in the world eat, how they fuel themselves and lessons learned along the way.
Though she may be little, she be fierce. That could not be more true of 29-year-old Emily Bridgers. At 5’1 134 lb, the former gymnast is one of the smallest female competitors at the CrossFit Games but still a serious force to be reckoned with. She finished in the top 10 in her first three appearances at the South East Regional (2011-2013) and has won every South East and Atlantic Regional since, in addition to finishing in the top 10 worldwide in the Open each year since 2012.
Bridgers, who takes one full rest day a week and one active recovery day, trains up to four hours a day year-round and ups that even more in preparation for the CrossFit Games. She finished 16th at last year’s CrossFit Games, her fourth consecutive trip as an individual. In just a few days she will take the floor in what she announced as her final year of competition. Here, Bridgers —who co-owns CrossFit Terminus in Atlanta— gives us a look at her nutrition and a typical day of training and eating.
Athlete Daily: Let’s talk about nutrition. What is your approach- Paleo, zone, macros, etc.?
Emily: “When I started CrossFit, I tried to eat mostly Paleo, because that’s what everyone else in my gym was doing. But now that I’m competing and training all the time, I know I need to eat more carbohydrates and not just through [eating] fruits and vegetables.
Going back to gymnastics, as you may know, gymnastics can cause you to be pretty weird about nutrition. [Things like] throwing up and you don’t really want to go through puberty because it’s going to make all your skills harder; and you’re always trying to be the smallest because the smaller you are the easier gymnastics is. Going into college [gymnastics] we had to weigh-in every week, and I wouldn’t say that I necessarily really had any issues but I definitely looked at fitness as a way to lose weight and food as, ‘How little can I eat?’
That was part of why I fell in love with CrossFit. It changed my whole mentality of both fitness and nutrition in terms of [CrossFit] is now something that I do to challenge myself every day. And food is something that I use to fuel myself and really they kind of went hand-in-hand. I liked the fact that I didn’t have to think as much about nutrition because it just became ‘Okay now I’m just going to eat when I’m hungry and I don’t have to obsess about food as much because I’m building muscle and using my body the way that it should be.”
Athlete Daily: So CrossFit really changed the way you looked at food in general?
Emily: “I remember before CrossFit I got to the point where I wasn’t even eating regular meals, because I’d wake up and I wouldn’t be hungry, and my metabolism was not functioning at all the way it was supposed to. I had spent so much time running and on the elliptical that I think my body was just used to storing fat and me starving it. Over time, through CrossFit, I started to eat more and more every year almost and with that, I continued to get leaner and leaner, and go through a slow progression of building muscle every year too.
When I started dating my coach [now husband, Ben,] he really made it a point for me to actually eat three meals a day, which I know sounds stupid; [and so] that was probably in 2012, when I started eating regimented, healthy meals. Then in 2013, I started to add in more chicken and rice, and then [over time] I just tweaked things here and there. I really just experimented with what works best [for me] going into my workouts.”
Athlete Daily: I think it would surprise a lot of people that you’re not keeping track of everything that you eat, being that you are such a high-level athlete and nutrition is very important for your performance.
Emily: At some point I’ll probably have to go toward macros..I was telling somebody this week [that] part of the whole reason why I fell in love with CrossFit is that I didn’t have to think about exactly what I was eating. In gymnastics I used to write down what I was eating every day and just [was] so obsessive and I just enjoy the freedom of, ‘Oh, I’m hungry I should eat something’. I think your body is trying to tell you that.
Also, my hesitance to it is [that] it seems like everybody that switches over to the macros gets really lean and I think that looks awesome; it’s cool when your abs are shredded, and I would love that, but I’m also one of the smallest athletes left at the CrossFit Games—I’m 5 feet tall—and if I leaned out and dropped 10 lb. I don’t think that would necessarily be my best performance.
I think that’s one of the major downfalls in CrossFit athletes is thinking about your appearance over your performance. And it’s hard, because there’s hundreds of thousands of people watching you. Ultimately [all that matters] is where you’re at at the end of the competition. It seems like the athletes that I’ve seen that are super lean they have a hard time staying healthy over the course of time.
Athlete Daily: Okay, so you don’t follow a regimented type of nutrition plan, just kind of going by feel, eating when you’re hungry or feel that you need to, right?
Emily: “Yeah, so over time, I’ve [become] very aware of how my body feels and what affects my body in certain ways. I don’t eat bread, but in terms in carbohydrates I eat a lot of white rice, corn [and other Paleo-friendly starches like sweet potatoes]. I also eat dairy, and recently just took some genetic testing that said I’m able to tolerate lactose which wasn’t surprising to me, because I’ve always been fine eating dairy.
I basically do the same thing every day [laughs]. People are always [asking] if I eat really regimented and I’m like ‘Well I don’t really think so because I’m eating what I want to eat.’ If I want to go eat tacos, I don’t think ‘Oh, I’m eating something bad right now.’ Generally speaking, yeah, I eat pretty much what I want to eat. With the exception [being] it would be nice to eat cereal and eat ice cream every night [laughs]. I just don’t eat the things that make me feel bad.
The biggest shift in my nutrition since CrossFit—and I’ve been doing CrossFit for six years now—is that I eat a lot more and a lot more often and I drink alcohol very, very infrequently.
If I have a client in my gym that wants to change one thing, I ask ‘Well, why don’t you try to give up alcohol for a month?’ And they’ll say ‘you mean even weekends?!’ And I tell them, ‘Well, yeah, you would be surprised at how your body feels [after] you do that.’”
Athlete Daily: So no alcohol. Got it. Are there any foods that you generally try to steer clear of?
Emily: “Bread—except for the occasional pizza, which I really only eat after Regionals and the Games.”
What I Eat in a Day- Emily Bridgers:
Wake up at 8:00am
Breakfast— Greek yogurt and a Paleo sandwich [consisting of a sweet potato biscuit and sausage] Or sometimes I’ll have eggs and oatmeal.
Training Session #1, 3 hours (9:00-12:00pm)
I’ll usually have some Progenex Build [carb supplement] with me as I train.
Post Workout— 2 scoops Progenex Recovery.
Lunch— (an hour or so later): A Paleo meal of either chicken, beef, or pork and two veggies—something like green beans and sweet potatoes or broccoli and cabbage. I’m lucky to be sponsored by a local Paleo meal service that provides most of my meals!
Training Session #2, for about 1-1.5 hours (3:00-4:30pm)
Post Workout— Another protein shake ( Recovery ).
Coach CrossFit classes from 4:30pm – 7:30pm.
While I’m coaching I’ll usually have a bar to snack on, like a Progenex Bar or Zone Bar, and especially during the summer months, I’ll sip on some green juice consisting of kale, spinach, and cucumber. Especially since it’s so hot here in Atlanta.
Dinner— Rice burrito bowl from Chipotle or another Paleo meal that I’ll add white rice to.