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. This week we sat down with CrossFit Games athlete Lindy Barber. Barber has persevered through much more than your typical high-level athlete.
After breaking her back in 2011, she was told she could never squat again. Barber was diagnosed with three spinal diseases — spina bifida, scoliosis, and spondylosis — but came back to qualify as an individual in 2013’s CrossFit Games. Still, the grueling training took a toll on her body and she knew for career longevity she’d have to make a change. She found that as a member of Team CrossFit Mayhem Freedom, who she joined and helped repeat as Affiliate Cup Champions at last year’s Games.
Athlete Daily: What’s your general approach to nutrition—macros, Paleo, Zone?
Barber: I follow macros through a program called Renaissance Periodization, which essentially means I am measuring out my macronutrients for each meal. I started working with Coach Nick Shaw right before the 2015 CrossFit Games season and I saw really good [results] from that. Counting my macros and being able to increase my carbohydrates based off of workouts—not just having an exact amount each day—was enticing to me initially.
Athlete Daily: Did you always follow macros or have you changed your approach over the years?
Barber: “I used to follow the Paleo/Zone at the very beginning of CrossFit, all the way through the end of the CrossFit Games season in 2013. Once I decided I wanted to train for the Games and began to increase my volume, I lost a lot of weight very quickly.
I was losing all my strength and essentially just becoming a toothpick. I’m [nearly] 5’8” and at the end of the 2013 season I was 133 lb. So I was really little. If you look at pictures from the 2013 Games, I’m a beanpole. I [was] tiny.
I could run, I could pullups, but my body couldn’t handle all of the load and the heavy weights at that time and I think it was because I didn’t have enough mass on my little ‘skeletor’ frame to be able handle that amount of volume.
After that my coach just said ‘we need to change something, you need to gain some weight.’ That’s not to say I [started] eating pop tarts and bon bons, I was still adding in a lot of sweet potatoes, a lot of rice, English muffins in the mornings and definitely still some whole wheat bread.
Once I figured out my body could tolerate it, I started to add those more calorically dense carbohydrates that are fast-digesting to get in enough calories to keep me training throughout the day. Right now I [go between] 145-147 lb. and I feel much better at this bodyweight than I did at 133 lb. And I was SUPER lean. It’s aesthetically great, but I didn’t feel awesome and I wanted to perform my best and I didn’t feel like I was performing my best at that [lower] weight.”
Athlete Daily: So are you on a massing program right now?
Barber: I texted my [nutrition] coach and asked if he thinks it would be possibly for me to actually mass, get up to 150-155 and try to lift some seriously heavy weight. He told me that the way my body reacts to food and as quickly as my metabolism works, I would really have to stop doing cardio altogether and just lift a whole bunch of weight.
I was like ‘Uhhhhh I don’t think that’s possible, because I just moved down to Cookeville (Tenn.) to train all the time, and be a coach at their gym…So I don’t think Rich [Froning] is going to accept [me saying] ‘no I’m not doing any workouts today, because I’m trying to mass.’”
Athlete Daily: That is awesome. Sorry Rich, I’m not working out today. [laughing]
Barber: “Yeah I don’t think ‘Hey, I’m trying to mass’ is going to be an acceptable excuse.”
Athlete Daily: Ha! Rich Froning is getting in the way of your gains. Classic. Speaking of Rich, what did you guys eat after you won the CrossFit Games? Please tell me you pigged out.
Barber: “Back at the house, some of my teammates where taking shots of tequila. And then there was pizza, cheese sticks, salad -but I don’t think anyone touched it- Krispy Kreme donuts, and a chocolate cake, that was all there. I had pizza, cheese sticks, 2 glasses of red wine and a piece of chocolate cake.
It was an air B&B that we shared. So there was a lot of food around for everyone staying there, and then the night after the Games we just took all of it. If it was still around then it was fair game at that point. We ate a lot of pop tarts, there were Doritos that were gone, caramel popcorn…[laughs] a lot of things that were gone.”
Athlete Daily: So you mentioned needing a change in what you were doing. People seem to think there’s only one right way to go about nutrition, or that if so and so is following ___ I should be following it too.
Barber: “Nutrition is really hard in that it’s different for everybody and your body changes so rapidly, but, you have to figure out what works for you. And if it’s getting boring or it’s not working for you anymore then—in my mind—there’s no problem with changing or adding in or trying to figure out a new nutrition plan. As long as you’re aware of what’s going into your body. I was almost burned out from the Zone, didn’t want to do it anymore, so I needed that change [to macros] and, at the time, it was the right move for me.
There’s not one specific answer, because everyone’s bodies are so different and they’re going to respond differently. That’s the frustrating part of nutrition—that you have to be patient enough to see what’s working and to not be discouraged if something isn’t. There’s going to be something out there for everybody—whatever your goals are, you just have to have the patience to actually try out these things until you find the one that works for your specific body.”
Athlete Daily: What do your macros look like now?
Barber: “So my macro numbers change throughout the entire year based on the type of training that I’m doing. My protein stays about the same each day—I eat about three ounces of protein five times a day, plus my protein shakes. So, about 20-25 ounces [protein] total. My carbohydrates are based on when I am training and how I am training. Active rest days they’re around 90-120 grams and up to 200-300 grams on heavy volume days. My fat intake varies off the volume of my training as well. At this time of year they won’t be as high, but I still need to get those high caloric carbohydrates in my post training meal to make sure I’m recovering quickly.”
Typical Day of Meals and Training for Lindy Barber
(While preparing for the 2016 CrossFit Games)
Wake up 7:30-8:00am
Breakfast— (within 1/2-1 hour) 3 eggs, 2 pieces bacon, English muffin with butter or jelly (I eat this for breakfast almost every single day)
Training Session #1—9:30am-12-1230pm
Post workout shake— About Time Protein mixed with water and dextrose (carb supplement) for about 25g protein and 30g carbs, and 1-2 About Time Paleo fruit and nut bars
Training Session #2—2:00-5:00-530pm
Post workout shake— About Time Protein mixed with water and dextrose (my go to flavor is Chocolate Peanut Butter)
BIG meal #1—(6:00pm) chicken, lots of green veggies and some rice or a burger with sweet potato fries, (27-30g protein, 60gish carbs) I’ll have a big serving of cauliflower and rice or broccoli and spinach or another fiber-rich vegetable here, since I don’t eat veggies for breakfast very often)
Meal #2— Chicken, white rice and more greens. (30g protein, 40-50g carbs, whatever fats I have leftover) Sometimes all I can get down is cereal, so I’ll have two bowls of my favorite- Mom’s Best Cereal Oat and Honey Blend Cereal.
Athlete Daily Nutrition Series
Week 1 — CrossFit Games athlete Emily Bridgers
Week 2 — CrossFit athlete Christian Lucero
Week 3 — CrossFit Games Masters athlete Cheryl Brost
Week 4 — U.S. Olympic Team Weightlifter Morgan King
Week 5 — Human Improvement Project’s Gabe Subry
Week 6 — Weightlifter, GRID CrossFit athlete Marco Coppola
Week 7 — CrossFit Games athlete Lindy Barber
Week 8 — GRID and CrossFit athlete Jamie Hagiya
Week 9 — GRID athlete Andrew Rape
Week 10 — Olympic lifter Anthony Pomponio
Week 11 —CrossFit athlete Andrea Ager
Week 12 —Powerlifter Ewa Januszkiewicz
Week 13 — Weightlifter and Powerlifter Kris Pope
Week 14 — Weightlifter Travis Cooper
Week 15 — Weightlifter Cortney Batchelor
All photos courtesy of Lindy Barber