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Fuelling for CrossFit with Natalie Bourke

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Fuelling for CrossFit with Natalie Bourke

According to their website; CrossFit is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. So, how do you know if CrossFit is for you? And furthermore, if you're already a part of CrossFit culture, how do you ensure your nutritional demands are in alignment with the intensity with which you're exercising?

These questions and more are answered by today's guest, Natalie Bourke. Natalie is a holistic dietitian and nutritionist, author, podcaster, speaker and fitness instructor who also happens to be a CrossFit enthusiast herself.

Today Natalie shares the virtues of CrossFit, how to adequately fuel to meet the physical demands of CrossFit and how to mitigate risks associated with such high-intensity, and varied exercise.

Whether you're dabbling in CrossFit yourself, or a practitioner aiming to support clients undertaking their own CrossFit journey, this podcast will give you the insights into approaching it logically and safely.

Covered in this episode

[00:50] Introducing Natalie Bourke
[01:57] What actually is CrossFit?
[04:57] Cautions and contraindications to CrossFit?
[07:31] Exercise is a form of stress
[08:57] Fuelling CrossFit workouts
[13:08] Do we need to fear carbs?
[15:33] How to teach the practicalities of portions
[20:21] Is the timing of nutrition important?
[22:35] The place for supplements
[27:21] How big of an issue are injuries?
[32:05] What to look for in a CrossFit coach
[33:52] Resources to learn more about CrossFit

Andrew: This is, FX Medicine, I'm Andrew Whitfield-Cook. Joining me in the studio today is Natalie Bourke

Natalie is a holistic dietitian and nutritionist, author, podcaster, speaker, and fitness instructor. She is part of the practitioner support team at BioCeuticals and runs Health By Whole Foods, a nutritional consulting business with a clinical focus on thyroid dysfunction, HPA axis dysregulation, or adrenal fatigue, and gut health. 

Nat is passionate about helping women build a healthy relationship with food and their body. She achieves lasting results with her clients using whole food nutrition, functional medicine, and holistic lifestyle advice. You can catch her fortnightly on The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast, with fun and quirky interviews that aim to dispel nutrition myths and guide listeners on a balanced approach to health. 

Her eBook, Healing Digestive Discomfort, is an industry-leading guide with accessible guidance for anyone looking to start improving their gut health. Welcome, Nat, to FX Medicine. How are you? 
Natalie: I'm great, thanks. How are you? 
Andrew: I'm really good, thank you. But I've got to say CrossFit is alien to me. I don't even know what it is. What exactly is CrossFit
Natalie: So, the best way to describe CrossFit is that it is constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity. So, it's incorporating things like gymnastics, Olympic weightlifting, running, rowing, swimming in some cases, when you get to the higher levels, and it's very functional and varied. 
Andrew: So, what, therefore, are the benefits of CrossFit? 
Natalie: So, there are a few benefits, and some of those benefits are relating to the type of exercise that it is. So we know that you know, high-intensity interval training, for example, has its benefits in terms of improving insulin sensitivity, and also it's a very efficient way of exercising. So, when people are very time poor, it's a great idea to use high-intensity training to get, I guess, the maximum benefit for your time spent in the gym. 

Another benefit would be that there's often a very big focus on performance as opposed to aesthetics. So, when you're going into a CrossFit gym, generally speaking, the focus is on, "Hey, what can you do?" As opposed to, "What do you look like?" And I think that can be really beneficial, particularly for females who are trying to escape that pressure of a conventional gym where everyone's looking at everyone and there's mirrors everywhere. 

And then the last benefit that I would probably say is that there's a big community feel in most CrossFit gyms. So, you know, that's obviously a generalization. It might not be the same for every single place that you go, but generally speaking, you're walking into a big family and most people, you know, know each other's name. 
Andrew: They know the journey. 
Natalie: Yeah, that's it. 
Andrew: I guess my memory is going back to something that Dr Michael Mosley did when he was checking for pre-diabetes. And there was a researcher, forgive me, all I remember is his accent, his Scottish accent. But is this the same as HIIT therapy or high-intensity interval training, or is there marked differences? 
Natalie: I'd say that high-intensity interval training is a component of CrossFit, but it's not all of what encompasses CrossFit. 
Andrew: Right. So CrossFit is HIIT and more. 
Natalie: Yes. 
Andrew: Gotcha. And so when you're talking about looking at insulin sensitivity and improving that, is this relevant for those people that are overweight, have metabolic syndrome and are starting out in a gym? Or is this really best suited for somebody that has already gotten used to their body being active in a gym situation? 
Natalie: So, I think like with most exercises, you can grade the exercises and the intensity. So, if done with a you know, a qualified CrossFit coach that understands exercise and understands the human body, which a lot of good CrossFit coaches out there will. Then all movements in CrossFit and all intensities can be adjusted to that person. So, I think it is for that type of person. You don't necessarily have to be trained in order to start a journey in CrossFit. 
Andrew: And so, therefore, what do you see as the biggest downfall? I remember looking into this sort of controversy about you know, the positives and the negatives. I remember a story from ages ago about a guy that's now a paraplegic because of what he did at CrossFit. But I get that, you know, the media will sensationalise something and target something. It could be something that he did incorrectly whereas others didn't. What's the situation here with regards to positives and negatives and injuries and all that sort of thing? 
Natalie: Yeah. So, on the injury front, I'd say that anything done under fatigue or when someone's under recovered is asking for trouble. And that could be in any sport. So I don't think that that's exclusive to CrossFit, and I think that the context matters. The context of the person and the context in which the exercise is being done. 

So, more so the detrimental, or I guess the negatives of CrossFit that I see most often, is that it's a very highly stressful form of exercise. And when you put someone in a highly stressful form of exercise on a daily basis. Which a lot of people are doing CrossFit, you know, five days a week, as their daily exercise. And they also have a full-time job, you know, they've got a family, you are kind of just putting one stress on top of another. So, in that regard, it can become just another stress as opposed to a beneficial stress. And particularly, when people aren't putting the effort into recovery, into sleep, into nutrition, and that's when I see it becoming a problem. 
I also see it becoming quite a problem in females. So, often what happens is they will be doing CrossFit, sometimes for the purpose of weight loss, sometimes just for the purpose of, you know, an activity of choice. But they tend to overtrain. So, we start to see problems with their periods, with their cycles, becoming irregular or disappearing altogether. And we also see problems with cortisol. So, a lot of people will start developing that typical, "Adrenal fatigue," and I'm quoting in air marks there, adrenal fatigue. 
Andrew: Thank you. 
Natalie: Yes, they'll be waking up at, you know, 2:00am. unable to sleep. They'll have energy fluctuations throughout the day. They'll often find it really difficult to lose weight, despite the amount of training they're doing. And because of that, they'll start to train more because, you know, the answer we're always given is, you know, "More is more is more… and it's better," whereas often it's less is more. 
Andrew: First thing, I'm so glad you said, "adrenal fatigue," in quotation marks because, you know, the more we learn about this, we really should be saying the "HPA axis, or HP axis" And it's very often the brain that has the volumetric changes in this when people are stressed. 

So, we're talking about chronic stress, and you mentioned cortisol upset. We're not just talking about reductions in fat so therefore they can't have a period, we're talking about stressful interruptions to their cycle, with regards to women. So, do they, therefore, tend to get the associated symptoms of stress, which is, you know, the breast tenderness and things like that related to prolactin. Where they haven't got the dopamine, that sort of prolactin inhibiting hormone, "The dopamine action?" 
Natalie: Yeah, yeah. I mean, some people do. It depends how far down the road they are. Often, probably the first sign physically that I see a lot is that kind of storage of fat around the mid-section. So, that's a very kind of, key indicator to me. And I'm not taking notice of it because of, you know, aesthetic reasons, but it's more of a red flag that, "Hey, this person is probably overtraining." Because I know that a lot of them are not eating enough to cause weight gain. What's happening is that in most situations, they're under-fueling for the amount of exercise that they're doing, and they're not putting any effort into recovery. 
Andrew: What sort of energy system is imbalanced here? And I guess we can ask, what sort of energy system is being used in CrossFit, when it's being utilised properly? 
Natalie: Yeah. So, I would say majority of CrossFit uses the glycolytic energy system. So, we're talking here about using glycogen and glucose for energy during these workouts. And you know, there is, to some extent, when you get to the longer workouts in CrossFit, you are using...you can be using fat for fuel. But for the most part, you're using glucose and glycogen, so stored glucose, for those sessions. 

And I guess the thing to point out here is that most people in CrossFit communities are following low-carb diets. Because that is essentially where the Paleo diet was popularised. Although Paleo definitely doesn't have to be low-carb, often people tend to just do that, you know, by mistake sometimes. And therefore, it's a mismatch between the type of movement, the type of exercise they're doing, and the type of fuel they're using to, I guess, fuel their sessions. 
Andrew: So, what, therefore, should they be eating if they're going to do it right? 
Natalie: Yeah. So there needs to be a consideration in terms of both carbohydrate intake and also protein intake. And with carbohydrates, it's quite difficult to give a specific number, because as I'm sure everyone listening can appreciate, we are all very individual. So, to give practitioners that are listening something to take away from this, I would say that for most of my female, I guess, 'gym junkies' or 'weekend warriors', I wouldn't allow them to go under 150 grams of carbohydrates per day. And often, they will be a little bit higher than that. And for males, I would say probably more up to that 250 to 300-gram mark per day. 

And in terms of protein intake, my recommendation, or what most of my clients are on, is something between 1.8 grams to kind of, 2.5 grams per kilogram per day. Now, you'll notice that that is quite significantly higher than the, I guess, recommended daily intake, which is 0.8 grams per kilo per day. However, you have to remember that that figure is based on sedentary people that aren't putting their body under a lot of stress, who aren't looking to maintain lean muscle mass, or build lean muscle mass and don't have that demand on them. 
Andrew: So, can I ask here, this is something that I'm constantly confused about, and that is basically the dietary advice that we're often given. And it changes, it vacillates. Is it Paleo? Is it Mediterranean? You know, you've got the DASH diet, you've got high-protein, high-carb, what...you know? The newest guidelines that have come out is basically with regards to cardiovascular health, at least, was that carbs really are something that we need to be careful of, and that fat is really inconsequential, same with protein. It's really the carbs that we need to be monitoring. However, I'm also very mindful that there are certain amino acids which are glycogenic. 
Natalie: I think the key here is individualisation and a match from what someone's lifestyle is like, what their current metabolic condition is like, and their intake. So, would I tell someone who has, you know, metabolic syndrome and is sedentary to be consuming large amounts of carbohydrates? Absolutely not. That would be contraindicated. 

But for someone who's doing CrossFit, you know, four to six days a week, is relatively healthy and doesn't have metabolic syndrome, then it would be doing them a disfavor and doing their health a disfavor to say, "You should eliminate carbohydrates." Because you're placing another additional stress on the body when they're already engaging in stressful exercise and who doesn't have, you know, some kind of lifestyle stress at the moment as well. 
Andrew: What mistakes do you feel people make when it comes to fueling their body for this activity? 
Natalie: Yeah. So, number one would be under-eating. Particularly in females, because a lot of people come into CrossFit with the goal of weight loss or body composition changes. And we're constantly fed that message that we need to exercise more and eat less. And often, that's taken to the extreme. 

So, I will see females coming into the gym doing CrossFit five days a week and eating 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day, which is drastically under what they would require. So, I would suspect that those people would need closer to 1,800 to 2,000 calories a day, even given their goals of weight loss, given how much exercise, high-intensity exercise, that they're doing. 

And when you're under eating and over exercising, you're putting your body into a bit of a starvation mode and they're going to want to hold on to every single calorie they can because, you know, it's under threat. And as females, we're here to reproduce and we're here to survive to reproduce. So, your body is absolutely going to become as efficient as it can at storing calories and preserving them. And so that's probably mistake number one that I see. It doesn't happen as much in males because they're much less concerned with calorie intake. 

The second thing I would say is low-carb diets in CrossFit is absolutely a huge problem, and both intentionally and unintentionally. So, intentionally in that we're all fed the message, as you've mentioned that, "Hey, carbs are bad. You shouldn't be having any if you want to change your body composition or if you want to be healthy." And so that's taken from a generalised statement and put into a not so general context of high-intensity exercise on a daily basis, and you're seeing a mismatch there as well. 
Andrew: You know what? Thank you for pointing that out to me, because it's something that we...we say something as health professionals. I just said it, and yet the word that came out of my mouth was, "Carbs is something we need to watch." The inference might be no carbs or extremely low carbs, rather than being cautious of too much carbs. So, this is a real balancing act, isn't it? 
Natalie: It is. 
Andrew: And I guess when you're mentioning these figures of calories and you know, weights of certain foods, grams per kilogram, things like that. How do we translate that into meal preparation? Into practical aspects of, "I should have this half of my plate as veggies, that quarter of my plate, and the plate should be X amount of centimeters wide, not three feet wide," which is my big problem. I love my food. I love healthy food, but too much of it. 
Natalie: So, there's a few different strategies. And I'd say that probably one strategy that is beneficial but needs to be, I guess, delivered with caution, is initially when you're educating someone on how to fuel for their lifestyle in terms of exercise, it can be beneficial to get them to weigh and measure their food and count the calories, or you do it for them so that they get a visual for themself of what it looks like. 

However, there is a big however there because the people that CrossFit attracts are the people generally, I'm talking about females here, that are quite type A personalities. We have a lot of previous eating disorders or a lot of obsessed with food type-personalities that come here. And so you need to be cautious with how you educate them to do that. 

So, my prescription to most people is do this for...either let me do it and I won't give you the numbers, I will just tell you how much. Or get them to do it for a few days so that they get a visual, and then you encourage them not to weigh and measure their food but to just trust that they're not going to be that wrong. 
The problem with telling people, "Hey, just eat as much as you're hungry for," in this context, is that often you see in females who are doing a lot of high-intensity exercise, either they have a really high appetite and they find it hard to get satiated, or you see a suppression of the appetite. Or they've already been eating such low calories and low amounts of food that to eat more just seems really anxiety provoking for them, unless they've been given, you know, "permission," to have more food. 

So, you have to re-educate them on what their plate as an individual should look like, and then from there make sure that you follow through with them so that they're not becoming really neurotic around food and weighing and measuring it, all of the time. But I'd be lying if I said I never use it as a tool to get them to the place where they're supposed to be. 
Andrew: That's a really responsible point you make. And I'm so glad you brought that up. Because I have seen issues, I know of issues where women have been given diabolically wrong advice from gyms, from instructors. I'm thinking of an example here in point, set this person down a path of a horrid eating disorder. And it's just a travesty that people don't understand this. 

So, I'm so glad that you make the points of a) under-eating can cause a retention of fat, that's number one, particularly in the face of high-intensity stressful exercise. But two, that you use this sort of thing as a tool for insight. So that they can actually get themselves well, rather than keeping themselves sick. 
Natalie: My history is that I had almost a decade-long eating disorder. So I know... 
Andrew: So you know. 
Natalie: Yeah. And I know the insights of how they think. So, for certain people, I wouldn't give that prescription. I wouldn't get them to weigh and measure their food at all. I'd be looking out for their health first and not giving them any insight to the fact that I'm getting them to eat more. I would just be giving them, "Hey, have a palm size of protein, have, you know, half your plate with veggies and have a couple of tablespoons of fat and you know, half a cup of starchy vegetables," for example. To get them away from weighing and measuring and being neurotic. Because the last thing you want to do is encourage more of that behaviour. 

But there is a place for it and it just requires some intuition on the practitioner's part as to the cost, you know, I guess the cost versus benefit of using that tool. And maybe it's a case of, "I'm not going to use it initially but I might use it a bit down the track when I see this person starts to become more comfortable with eating a bit more." And it's not always necessary. So, if someone's at the beginning of their journey, if you make little changes, you'll often see big changes. Whereas, it's different if you've got someone who's been training for multiple years and watching what they eat and you're trying to get changes happening, then yes, sometimes it requires a bit more attention to detail. 

Andrew: Yeah. What about with eating regarding timing of intake of certain nutrients? Is that important? 
Natalie: Yes. Absolutely and I'm glad you asked that. So, where it comes into importance is particularly with carbohydrates. So, after you exercise is probably the best time to saturate most of your carbohydrate intake. Particularly if you've got someone who has some kind of metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance, PCOS, for example. So, the reason why that is is because after exercise your body is essentially primed to absorb those glucose, those carbohydrates, and put them into your muscles and liver as glycogen. 

So, there's an increase in the expression of GLUT4 receptors which helps with that accelerated glucose uptake. There's also an increase in the expression of glycogen synthase. So there's an accelerated, I guess, form of glycogen storage happening as well. The reason why that's beneficial is because we want that glucose to be stored in the muscles and the liver for the next time they exercise. What we're trying to do is avoid it being stored as fat, essentially. 
Andrew: Yeah, yeah. Is there any way to preferentially store glucose in the muscle, rather than the liver? 
Natalie: So, I would say the best way is actually to make sure that post-workout you're using glucose as opposed to fructose, as your carbohydrate source. Because fructose will preferentially be stored as liver glycogen, whereas glucose is going to be stored in the muscles first and foremost. 

So, you know, using things like sweet potato, white rice, you can use powdered supplements in terms of like dextrose. I wouldn't use that for just someone who is exercising a few days a week and looking for that, I guess, glycogen repletion. I would more use that in athletes at higher levels or people really looking for performance goals. I prefer to focus on whole food. Like sweet potato, you know, rice, those kind of things when it's just your everyday weekend warrior. 
Andrew: So, you mentioned supplements and protein powders there. Is there a place for protein powders and sport supplements, and how far do you go down that track? And you know, I guess, forgive me for this label here, but I've got that sort of meat-head label in my mind. Versus, you know, the responsible user of supplements who uses judicious supplementation to add a little bit, but it's always food. I've seen both. 
Natalie: Yeah, absolutely. 
Andrew: How do you...when do you whey… and I guess, what benefits do you get when you choose one over the other? 
Natalie: Yeah. And look, as a foodie, as a whole food nutritionist, I will always vouch for food is fuel first. But I'd be lying if I said I never use supplements or that I didn't think that there was a place for them. 

So, I would say, let's start off with the protein powder. I do think that that can be really beneficial, particularly post-workout, for a few reasons. It's obviously a really convenient source of protein, particularly when you're using whey protein isolate. It's getting into the muscles very quickly, which is important for recovery, and also, as I mentioned, convenience. 

So, you know, not a lot of people are going to be taking chicken and sweet potato to the gym and sit down and eat it after they train. You're going to get more people being compliant with taking a protein powder and you know, some coconut water, for example, as some carbohydrate source, to have after their training. 

And generally speaking, the faster you can get that protein and carbohydrate combination in after training, the more ideal it is in terms of recovery. I wouldn't encourage someone to get neurotic about it. But it can be a benefit if you're struggling with recovery from your workouts. 
Andrew: I'm so glad you mentioned coconut water. And I guess coconut water is different from coconut oils. 
Natalie: Yes. I don't tend to use them post-workout. I am a fan of coconut oil, but in the context of post-workout, no. Because our primary goal here is to replenish glycogen stores, and we need carbs to do that. 
Andrew: And is this one of the reasons that you use the whey protein concentrate, isolate, whatever. Because you get a high amount of those glycogenic amino acids? Is that why? 
Natalie: Yeah, correct. Correct. And it's also quite broken down so you're going to get that rapid absorption. So, I don't use protein powders for everyone. If someone's training a few days a week, they're just doing it for general health reasons, or even if they have weight loss goals, generally I'll just use whole food. 

The other context though that I would use a protein powder in is if someone is struggling to meet their protein requirements. Because you have to, again, analyse everything as a cost-benefit analysis. Is whole food better in general? Absolutely. But is someone not meeting their protein requirements going to be beneficial to them? No. And in that case, you're going to get more out of giving them a protein powder supplement. 
Andrew: So, how do you make that choice? How do you make that decision to say, "Listen, it's time we add in a supplement here"? What's the tipping point? 
Natalie: So, yeah. I'll give them a chance to see how they go with just eating whole foods and, you know, get them to keep a food diary or if they have a really good memory, just hope that they can keep that. 
Andrew: Oh, yes, the patient memory thing. 
Natalie: That's it. It's a bit of a slippery slope. And I would calculate for myself how much protein they're getting. If I see that they're quite under eating protein, then that's when I would make the suggestion. Or if they're giving me the feedback of, "Oh, you know, I just couldn't get my post-workout meal in," or, "I was waiting two hours till I got to work," then I'd say, "Hey, let's try a protein powder, see how you feel, see how you perform, see how you recover," and go from there. 
Andrew: Do you see any problems from taking supplements? Have you seen it in patients where you've made that decision to instigate the use of protein powders and you've actually had a backflip on their health like, for instance, you know, weight gain, fat gain. Rather than lean muscle mass? 
Natalie: Yeah, kind of. So, it depends... The most common thing I see is if someone's using that protein powder outside of that post-workout window. We know that whey protein isolate can actually cause a spike in insulin. Which we obvious...we don't want outside the context of that post-workout window if someone's goal is to lose weight or to have balanced blood sugar. So in that regard, I do. 

Or if people just take it upon themselves to replace most of their whole food protein sources with the protein powder and go down the green smoothie bandwagon and just have them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then, again, that's a problem because it is much better to eat your food than it is to drink it, particularly when it comes to weight loss. 
Andrew: Absolutely. With regards to the problems of CrossFit, as I said at the beginning, there's a lot of controversy with CrossFit. I remember some guy, you know, being a paraplegic. I remember there's multiple instances in the media. However, I get that the media will tend to sensationalise an issue and pick on something without looking at the broad context. What's the reality of the problems or the injuries regarding CrossFit? How are they encountered? And what's their relevance when you place them in with other sports like football, for instance, high-contact sports? 
Natalie: Yeah. So, when you're looking at comparing them to other sports, the injuries really don't come out that much higher. And you really have to consider that how someone is performing that movement and the context of their recovery, when they're going into that is going to come into play. And also are they being coached right? Are they performing the movements right? 

I do think that one downfall of CrossFit can be when you get to higher levels or more competitive CrossFit, where you're seeing complex movements like Olympic lifting being performed at very fast rates and high intensity. Then obviously, the margin for error is much larger when you're doing something that's, you know, neurologically complex to complete and you're trying to do it under fatigue at a really fast pace and you've got the pressure of trying to win something. Then yes, I do think that that can be a problem. 

But when you're coached correctly in how to execute a movement properly, when you're sensible in the volume of training you're doing in terms of the context of your lifestyle, then I think that it's no more risky, so to speak, than any other sport that you engage in. 
Andrew: Is one of the important factors how people compare themselves? They want to be like their mate who is, you know, twice the size across their shoulders, you know, and they want to do that weight, rather than being their own best? 
Natalie: Yes, definitely. 
Andrew: How do you modulate that? How do you pull them back and say, "Whoa, this is about you, not him?" 
Natalie: Yeah. Look, I think that's a bit of a relationship between the coach and the athlete or, you know, gym-goer that needs to be developed. And any good CrossFit coach will pick up poor form and say, "Hey, you know, you're doing it incorrectly. Let's drop the weight and perform the movement again and get it done right." Because essentially, a movement performed correctly is going to be an efficient movement. And I think, you know, having that conversation with someone is important about knowing their limits and just pushing their limits, not comparing themselves to the person next to them. 

The other point that I'd really like to make in terms of when CrossFit is a bad idea, is if you've got a lot of stress in your life, if you have come off the back of any kind of significant stress, whether that be loss of a loved one, a highly stressful work situation, anything like that. Or you've, you know, just been...you've just come off being pregnant or something like that, then engaging in really highly stressful activity isn't the best way to go.  
Andrew: Convalescence as well, recovering from an illness? 
Natalie: Yes, absolutely. So, it needs...CrossFit can be extremely beneficial both from a social point of view and also from a physiological point of view, if it's done in the right way by the right person in the right stage of their life. 
Andrew: What about things like agility, flexibility, range of motion, rather than moving through one or a couple of planes of motion? I guess, what's going through my mind here is things like a deadlift or a snatch and grab, versus dancing, gymnastics, stretching. How do you incorporate this full range of motion and flexibility into...I guess to look after their joints in the long run? 
Natalie: Yeah. Well, gymnastics is a component of CrossFit and they often use gymnastics in most workouts, like there'll be a gymnastics component. There's also an encouragement to crossfitters to stretch and mobilise, foam roll, make sure they're doing those kind of mobility movements. So, again, though, that's the advice given by CrossFit coaches. Whether that's being done by time poor people or whether they're just going into the gym smashing themselves and going home, is their responsibility. 

So, educating them on the importance of that and also the importance of massage, of you know, chiropractic work, of sleep, of recovery. All those kind of things need to be communicated and emphasised. 
Andrew: Do CrossFit coaches teach gym-goers about the importance of all of these other components? 
Natalie: I would say some do and I would say some don't. 
Andrew: Right. So what, I guess, you know, we're talking about a CrossFit coach. How does one become a CrossFit coach and what are they coached on? 
Natalie: So, there is different levels of CrossFit coaching. So, I can't remember how many levels there are. But it is a separate qualification. It's not just like...it's separate to becoming a personal trainer, for example. You can become a CrossFit coach without doing personal training. And there are, as I mentioned, different levels. So, that's how you kind of become a CrossFit coach. And I think what they are trained on, what they're educated on, is how to execute the movements of CrossFit correctly. 
Andrew: So, somebody going into a gym first time, they want to do CrossFit, how do they know? How can they pick that that coach is good, bad, trained, certain level? What sort of questions should they be asking, you know, to find out, I guess, anybody who's going to lead them through their health? 
Natalie: Yeah. Any good CrossFit gym will have a Fundamentals Program. So, that's essentially a series of classes that are usually either individual or in small groups that coach people through the different movements. Because it's really hard to learn how to do a snatch when you're just standing in a huge class of people who've got heaps of weight on the bar and you've got no idea how they even got it above their head. 
Andrew: Crazy. Injuries plus. 
Natalie: Yeah. You need to be shown. So the first thing to look for is that they have a Fundamentals Program. Another thing would obviously be that they have a CrossFit qualification. And then, to be honest, the other thing is just to give it some time and see, is there an emphasis on...or is there at least a focus on recovery, on stretching, on mobility? Or is it just go in, smash yourself, go home? If it's go in, smash yourself, go home, leave. Don't come back. 
Andrew: Yeah. You're going to head down that road of being in one of those papers that was negative for CrossFit. 
Natalie: Yes. Yeah, absolutely.  
Andrew: So, for people who want to get into CrossFit, obviously they've got to learn more about what it entails. What sort of resources, apart from...I've got to say, please contact yourself. To lead them through responsibly and I would say obviously, people with any sort of hint of eating disorder, both the patient who has that and any practitioner looking after them, have got to be mindful of those particular issues facing that sort of patient, that sort of person. 

But for the general population, where can they get good resources? Where can they start? 
Natalie: It's a bit of a minefield, to be honest. I mean, you can head to Google and you'll get so many hits, it's not funny.  
Andrew: What are your favorites? 
Natalie: So, look, my favorites are probably, in terms of general information about what it entails, crossfit.com is where the information on what it is, is contained. But I don't think that anything beats going in and talking to your local CrossFit, I guess, place or coach and just having a discussion about how appropriate it is for them in that context. 

And you know, I guess there is a bit of a risk in who you talk to and you won't know until you have that conversation. But I do think that going in and trying it and seeing how you feel is a good idea. And having a chat to CrossFit coaches or just people that do CrossFit who have been doing it for a long time and can give you a bit of background into what trouble they've run into, or what are the benefits. 

So, it's all about giving it a go and being honest with yourself in terms of how you respond. 
Andrew: Natalie, thank you so much for taking us through the varied points of CrossFit, and indeed putting them in a responsible focus. Because there's so many people, as you have said, that do it improperly. They gauge themselves wrongly. They have inappropriate advice. I'm so glad that you raised that responsible advice with eating disorders. And for taking us through how to really lead somebody down CrossFit for better health, rather than just you know, as you say, smashing themselves in the gym. Thanks very much for joining us on FX Medicine. 
Natalie: My pleasure, Andrew. Thanks for having me. 
Andrew: This is FX Medicine. I'm Andrew Whitfield-Cook.

Additional Resources

Natalie Bourke
Health by Wholefoods
The Holistic Nutritionists Podcast
eBook: Healing Digestive Discomfort


The information provided on FX Medicine is for educational and informational purposes only. The information provided on this site is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice or care. Please seek the advice of a qualified health care professional in the event something you have read here raises questions or concerns regarding your health.


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