Why Crossfit Athletes Shouldn’t Aspire to Be Shredded

1 Mar

Being Strong is favorable as it relates to being athletic and being “shredded” often can compromise your strength goals.  The “Metabolic Flexibility” method we teach in the Science Lab is a good hybrid for High Intensity athletes.  Click here for Details.

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It might surprise many of you to know that many CrossFit athletes don’t have uber low body fat percentages.  To the casual observer, Rich Froning seems absolutely jacked.  This is true, but Rich isn’t shredded.  He’s not walking around at 5% body fat or something similar to what body builders aspire to on competition day.  Rich is probably 8-12%, and I can assure you that he gives absolutely zero thought to those numbers.  To be good at CrossFit, you have to have a high-functioning metabolism.  You need to eat, and that makes it difficult to keep your body fat really low.  This isn’t a critique of physique competitors; I have brought guys down to single digit body fat before, but I can assure you that performance wasn’t there goal.  Many of them are models.  This is what happens when you get really lean:  your body starts to view your muscle as a viable energy source, so you are in a constant state of tearing down and building up.  Most CF competitors actually carry more fat going into the Open workouts, lean out a bit for Regionals and then get in a favorable state going towards the CrossFit Games.  I would say the window probably looks like 8-16% body fat.  What does 16% look like?  Something like this:

Tim Tebow

If You’re Trying to Get Stronger

I tested at 16.6% about 6 months ago and I had visible abs (I was adding muscle).  To have that look where your obliques are super defined and your bottom abs are showing, you need to be closer to 8-10%.  This matters very little for our sport.  When you are trying to gain muscle and strength, it isn’t necessary to go nuts with the food, get fat, and then enter a perpetual dieting cycle.  I would guess I am about 12% at the moment.  I weigh 165 pounds, and each percent of fat equals 1.65 pounds, so the difference between 12% and 17% for me is roughly 8 pounds.  That’s not a lot, especially when you consider that your metabolism is purring along at the higher percentage, so it’s much easier to mobilize fat in that situation.  Trust me, at no point in that cycle was I shy to represent the SOGO army (suns out guns out, even when the sun ain’t out).  This is a short article, but I see a lot of people focused on the wrong thing, thinking that extreme restriction is the path to better performance.  Unless that performance is graded on how many veins you have in your quads, the opposite is actually true.


  • Compared to bodybuilders and physique competitors, athletes generally maintain higher body fat percentages.
  • As you get leaner, your body starts to view your muscle as a viable source of energy and performance is put at a detriment.
  • Eating for performance goals rather than aesthetics will put you in a balance where you’re strong, powerful and still relatively lean.
  • By maintaining a body fat percentage in the mid teens (for men) and mid twenties (for women) you can ensure that your workouts are productive, and still look great because you’ll carry more muscle.

19 Responses to “Why Crossfit Athletes Shouldn’t Aspire to Be Shredded”

  1. Adam March 29, 2013 at 4:20 am #

    This article is very interesting to me. I think I have a body type that’s pretty similar to Tebow except a bit more fat and probably less muscle. What kind of strategies would you recommend to get that type of physique?

    • Paul Nobles March 29, 2013 at 10:58 am #

      kind of the basic stuff, lift the big three (squats, deads and bench). Fats and proteins throughout the day and carbs at night similar to the carb back loading book we sell on the site.

      • Adam March 30, 2013 at 12:59 am #

        Would you recommend keeping carbs pretty clean like sweet potatoes and fruit or add other non paleo type stuff?

      • Paul Nobles March 30, 2013 at 9:18 pm #

        yes I would and only occasionally stepping outside of the box. Also you don’t need crazy carbs as a Crossfitter. I only do 200g most days with 300-350g when I am eating for joy occasionally.

  2. Anna-Katrina April 1, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    I love all the info on your blog! Question about the above post: you mention that 1% BF is equal to 1.65lbs when you weigh 165 lbs. is that a ration anyone can use? Women too? It seems too good to be true for my situation. I’m 30, 175# 5’9.5″ and have a lot of muscle but still a lot of fat. My % through measurements a few weeks ago was 25ish. Sooo what do ya think? And I feel like I perform well FYI any suggestions or info is very much appreciated.

    • Paul Nobles April 3, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

      for you it would be 1.75 175 multiplied by .01.

  3. Naomi April 1, 2013 at 8:13 pm #

    Im an average build 5’4″ woman. My weight has a ten pound window. 120-130 pounds. If I get too close to one or the other I either look too skinny or alittle too thick around the middle. WHen I am wanting to look skinny I up the protein and cut the carbs. Although I like this look, it really doesn’t do my attitude good. I get uber bitchy and irritable. The only thing that fixes this is….carbs. Is it because I am a woman? Or am I that sensitive to drops in blood sugar? How can I counter this without adding the carbs and getting closer to that 130 number?

    • Paul Nobles April 3, 2013 at 12:36 pm #

      You can’t, you are getting bitchy because your brain likes carbs. You just need a consistent carb approach that is more in the 125 range that maintains your muscle. Possibly adding creatine for muscle retention as well.

      The low carb thing is really only pulling the water out of your muscles and emptying your fat cells which you are promptly filling right back up when you add the carbs back in. A much better approach is to keep carbs in with a more moderate “gradually awesome” approach.


  4. Michelle April 1, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    I totally agree with this – just going off my own unscientific experiment, my performance has been improving and improving & my energy level is high. Some muscle is popping out as a result, but I still have that layer of fat there. This is okay with me, as long as I’m kicking ass in my workouts, ya know? It’s a good balance. I feel like the fat is fueling my fire. And just for reference, I am at about 75% paleo, 25% off (little cheats for sanity’s sake, plus daily intake of dairy because it doesn’t bother my digestive system AND I consider it a whole food and great source of energy). AND I’m happy and not stressed about what to eat, which helps me relax and subsequently kick ass in the box. Thanks for this!!

  5. Amanda April 1, 2013 at 9:04 pm #

    Thank you, Paul!
    I am a female, 25 years old, 130lbs about 16% bf but I want to get to 12% for Summer (just for fun!)
    I crossfit 6x a week and lift weights targeting different muscle groups 3x.
    What do you suggest me to do to get to that physique without any metabolic problems?

    • Paul Nobles April 3, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

      Just being honest, Crossfitting that much it’s going to be hard, does your box offer strength classes?

  6. carleen April 1, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    Interesting and just what I needed to see! I am in recovery from an eating disorder, I’ve been CrossFitting for a little over 2 years now, and Crossfit has changed my life completely. Although I am able to embrace my strength and understand eating for performance, yes I still aspire to have the rockin abs like the top games ladies that I look up to so much.
    As much as I want to lean out and feel comfortable ripping my shirt off, I know that if I was leaner right now I may lose strength…I have also experienced what u talk about as during the open we have a lil more bf, and come regionals leaned out. When I went to regionals last year I got a lot of comments about how lean I looked! I wasn’t trying at all…

  7. Jonathan April 1, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    Quick side note, Tebow scores highest athleticism out of all NFL quarterbacks.

    • Paul Nobles April 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm #

      for sure

  8. Norm April 3, 2013 at 5:56 pm #

    Paul, awesome info…I’m 54 – 6 ft 235 lb. (large frame)lost about 80 lbs, 2 years doing crossfit and mostly paleo.I hit these plateau’s then gain some, then get strict again(Paleo challenge at the box) lean up, then plateau. I’m thinking, I’m too much protein, not enough fat/carbs. I’ve been experimenting (cpl weeks)with adding carbs before bed on wod days (3 to 4 x a week). I think I read where you said carb back loading is not recommended for CF’rs. I also do proein shake within the 1st hour of the wd. I’ll eat sweet pot or raw red pepper before bed.. thougts? I’d lke to et to 225, but seem to stick around 230/235.Thanks again.. keep it coming!

    • Paul Nobles April 4, 2013 at 11:51 am #

      Carb back loading is great for Crossfitters, just not the apeshit carbs Kiefer recommends (that was him that said the thing about Crossfit, he has clarified it a million times and works with Crossfit athletes). My guess is those last few pounds of fat aren’t mobilizing because you are eating too little food. Remember what got you there won’t bring you the rest of the way. You should really consider joining the science lab, it’s cheap, we have your answers and it supports the content on this site.


      • Norm April 4, 2013 at 8:59 pm #

        Will do Paul, thanks.. I could use a good recovery supplement… I don’t recover like I used to. I was looking at the sweet potato recovery.

      • Paul Nobles April 5, 2013 at 11:13 am #

        I feel like it’s made a pretty big difference for me in a relatively short period of time.

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