Intensity vs Volume: Get the basics right first!

It’s not about how much work you put in, but the intensity of that work every time

As a CrossFit coach and athlete (yes we all are athletes :-), one of the toughest learning’s I’ve had is the battle between volume and intensity. Every day I see athletes at the gym, doing extras, wanting more. I myself trained twice a day for a period of time to get fitter but I wasn't getting the results I was working for. I was left asking myself why?

Often the coaches get asked the question "Do I need to train more?" But is volume the answer? It could be, but there are some other variables you need to address before you can legitimately say that increasing volume is going to get you the results. There are three areas that need to be looked first:

  1. Nutrition
  2. Sleep
  3. Intensity

Once you have looked at these areas and all of them are optimised, if your training is still not progressing, then we can consider addressing the minefield of increasing volume.

In today's post we have a look at Nutrition.

1. Nutrition


If you look at the Theoretical Hierarchy of Fitness (left), you will see the foundation of everything we do is nutrition. Nutrition plays a critical role in your health fitness and proper or improper nutrition can amplify or diminish the effect of your training efforts. 

Effective nutrition is moderate in the macronutrients protein, carbohydrate, and fat and optimising these levels is the fast track to optimising health, preventing disease, increasing longevity, improved body composition and increased performance. When properly composed, the right diet can nudge every important quantifiable marker for health and fitness in the right direction.

In other words: if you want have a physical output you must be precise about your intake. "Close enough" is just not good enough or as Coach Glassman says, "If you want top-fuel-type performance, you need top fuel - you can't just piss into the gas tank."

For those who want general health and fitness, adhering to CrossFit's general nutritional recommendations will do a fantastic job of that,  "Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar." You don't need to do much more than eat whole, natural, real foods and cut down on the junk. If you eat that way 90% of the time you will be pretty healthy.

The Change Challenge started Monday is focusing exactly on above. The challenge is focusing on effective ratio's between carbs, protein and fat in way that works for you. Calories counting is important however it is shouldn't be your only focus. Do you know how much carbs you eat? Do you know how much protein you need to grow lean muscle tissue? For a lot of people it is pretty much about educating yourself first and  then understanding how your body responds. Don't forget that everytime you train and your body taps into your energy stores it gets more efficient about it and you will burn less calories.

(It is not too late to join Change Challenge, you still can catch up)


Before thinking more volume, ask yourself first:

  • Do you know (even roughly) how much carbs, protein & fat you have taken in today? 
  • How have you tweaked and adjusted your nutrition and are you optimising you nutritional intake?

If you don't have a clear answer to above start off with the below 3 steps to get your foundation right.



These tips are in order of importance and what will effect the biggest changes. Start with Step 1 before even considering Steps 2 or 3.

Step 1 Food Quality

CrossFit has become intertwined with the ‘Paleo’ or ‘Caveman Diet’. We agree with the principles of this approach and it is a great springboard for which to get your nutrition in shape.

It essentially comes down to cutting out the junk in your diet. Foods that are high in sugar, chemicals, additives and other nasties increase weight/fat gain, disrupt energy systems, bascially it screws up your horomal systems. Why does our hormonal system matter? It is what drives many (if not all) processes in the body, especially when it comes to controlling blood sugar, energy regulation and fat storage.

Greg Glassman has it spot on…”Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar….”

Combined with being one of the most effective methods for feeling awesome, crushing training and shedding some unwanted body fat, cleaning up your nutrition with a Paleo framework is the ‘easiest’ of our 3 steps to implement. Just eat healthy-sized portions of whole, natural and real foods and cut out the junk. It’s as simple as this…


Step 2 Daily Caloric Intake

The second part of the Greg Glassman quote (above) is “…Keep intake to levels that will support exercise but not body fat“. This will change depending on weight loss/gain goals, performance goals and type/intensity/volume of training.

Calories matter. If your goal is to gain weight/muscle you have to eat, a lot! This is usually a calorie number more than the calories you churn through in your day-to-day activities and training sessions. Conversely, if you want to lose weight/fat you need to eat less, and this generally has to be at a deficit of your maintenance level of calories.

Be mindful that this must be a controlled increase/decrease in calories. Gorging on food and taking in too much will lead to fat gain, while a drastic calorie reduction will often lead to a stall in weight loss, poor performance in the gym and even metabolic dysfunction.

However, it is not as simple as ‘calories in vs calories out’. The human body is not a predictable machine and there are countless internal and external variables involved in how our bodies operate. This helps to explain why calories cannot be balanced like your bank account, and why people never seem to gain or lose weight precisely as calculated by calorie targets.

Remember that food quality comes first (see point 1). It’s pointless having a calorie target if you get 2500 daily calories from bad foods!


Step 3 Macronutrient breakdown

This refers to the breakdown of your daily calories into grams of protein, carbohydrate and fat. Altering these numbers can have a large impact on body composition and performance.

Protein is commonly referred to as ‘the building block of muscle‘. Protein is used to rebuild and repair muscle tissue during stages of recovery and to keep our bodies functioning. You mostly hear people talking about how much protein they have, or how many shakes they can smash down. In reality most of us only need around 1 g per lb of bodyweight. Even if you want to gain muscle, more protein is not really going to the biggest difference.

Carbohydrates are the fuel for higher intensity activities, and its intake helps replenish tough workouts and also helps signal to cells to use ingested protein to build/repair muscle tissue. As such, some experts say that carbohydrates actually play a more important role in the muscle-building process than protein. If you do lots of high intensity training like CrossFit, you need more carbohydrates than those who do low level activities like walking, but the exact number can differ from person to person depending on their size, activity levels, tolerance etc.

Our last macronutrient is fat. Every single cell in our bodies is partly composed of fat and they are involved in many of the processes in our body. Thus, fat is vital for proper health and function of our hormones. For most of us we need between 60-100g per day, again differing depending on size, goals, training etc.

There are plenty of resources and macro calculators available on the internet that you can use, like this one

So forget about taking supplements. Taking a protein shake post workout will do NOTHING to performance and body comp goals if you are neglecting the 3 steps above.

I do understand we got busy lives and our main goal is keeping fit and not to win the CrossFit Games. Again the best way to approach this is either join Change Challenge and learn more about nutrition and life style habits or read a nutrition book, analyse your food intake and be honest with yourself. Just the smallest change in nutrition can have big impact on your fitness.