Mal O’Brien’s Full Day of Eating & Why She Doesn’t Track Macros

At the elite level of any sport — including CrossFit, where 20-year-old Mal O’Brien has built a reputation as perhaps one of its next great generational talents — performing well is about more than checking boxes.

O’Brien, who made history as the youngest Individual athlete to ever podium at the CrossFit Games in ’22 when she was just 18, is on temporary hiatus from competitive fitness. But that doesn’t mean she’s taking it easy on the weights or in the kitchen.

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On Jun. 26, 2024, O’Brien shared a “full day of eating” breakdown on social media. Let’s take a look at what O’Brien has on her plate these days and dig into why the 2021 CrossFit Rookie of the Year “doesn’t track macros.”

Mal O’Brien’s Full Day of Eating

O’Brien shared a six-meal “typical day’s” menu containing a variety of different food sources and flavor profiles. Note that she did not specify portion sizes or macronutrient content for her meal plan. We’ll take some guesses, but bear in mind that these are approximations.

Meal 1: Everything bagel, two whole eggs, coffee, water with electrolytes

Meal 2: Reign Total Body Fuel (pre and intra-workout)

Meal 3: 1st Phorm protein powder, greek yogurt, peanut butter, raspberries, blueberries, dry cereal

Meal 4: Burrito with turkey, tzatziki, lettuce, and fat-free cheese, pickles, sliced apple

Meal 5: Sirloin steak, jasmine rice, salsa, spinach, parmesan cheese

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Sweet Tooth: For dessert, O’Brien put together a bowl of “random things” from her pantry, including crackers and some chocolate.

Calories & Macronutrients

O’Brien didn’t specify portion sizes and, by her own admission, did not track the calorie or macronutrient content of her meals. That said, we can make a few educated guesses based on recommended nutritional guidance for athletes.

O’Brien weighed around 135 pounds at the Games in 2022. Assuming she’s roughly maintained her weight, we can estimate that she’s consuming between 100 and 140 grams of protein, which studies indicate is around the ideal range, based on body weight, for athletes who partake in strength training. (1)

Based solely on the estimated portion sizes of O’Brien’s meals, we’ll estimate her daily calorie intake lands somewhere between 2,300 and 2,800 calories.

A 2023 narrative review noted that athletes should consume between 20 and 35% of their calories from dietary fat. (2) If O’Brien lands in the middle of that range and gets roughly a quarter of her total calories from fat, she may be eating around 60-70 grams of fat.

Which leaves carbohydrates; based on these calculations, O’Brien should have roughly 300 to 360 grams of carbs on her plate each day.

Again, we’ll stress that these numbers are rough approximations and may not be reflective of O’Brien’s specific nutritional needs.

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Why Mal O’Brien Doesn’t Track Macros

O’Brien received a handful of questions about her diet from commenters on social media, one of whom prompted her for a specific breakdown of her macronutrients.

“I don’t track [macros],” O’Brien replied. “Every day is different; I eat a variety of foods and listen to my hunger cues and cravings.”

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She’s describing a practice known as intuitive eating. According to BarBend Expert and PhD Gabrielle Fundaro, intuitive eating is defined as “letting your body’s natural signals and impulses guide your eating habits instead of relying on an external structure or system like a guided diet or meal plan.”

Intuitive eating behaviors are closely aligned with (but not identical to) flexible dieting. So what does the science say about intuitive eating, exactly?

A systematic review from 2021 remarked, “Little evidence suggests that [intuitive eating] interventions influence energy intake or diet quality.” (3)

However, other data argue that practices like intuitive eating are more sustainable than rigid dietary protocols and provide more robust micronutrient intakes. (4)

“Flexible” dietary behaviors, rather than “rigid restraint” (viewing specific foods as ‘bad’ or ‘good’), are commonly shown to be more effective at helping people maintain or lose weight. (5)

O’Brien may not have her protein, carb, and fat boxes filled to the letter, but her flexible approach to fueling cardio workouts and strength training sessions is based in legitimate science.

Since O’Brien isn’t aiming to dive into a bodybuilding contest prep diet anytime soon, and likely isn’t prioritizing drastic weight shifts during her extended off-season, her full day of eating and flexible diet plan are right on the money.

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Phillips SM. Dietary protein requirements and adaptive advantages in athletes. British Journal of Nutrition. 2012;108(S2):S158-S167. doi:10.1017/S0007114512002516

Amawi A, AlKasasbeh W, Jaradat M, Almasri A, Alobaidi S, Hammad AA, Bishtawi T, Fataftah B, Turk N, Saoud HA, Jarrar A, Ghazzawi H. Athletes’ nutritional demands: a narrative review of nutritional requirements. Front Nutr. 2024 Jan 18;10:1331854. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2023.1331854. PMID: 38328685; PMCID: PMC10848936.

Grider, H. S., Douglas, S. M., & Raynor, H. A. (2021). The Influence of Mindful Eating and/or Intuitive Eating Approaches on Dietary Intake: A Systematic Review. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics121(4), 709–727.e1.

Helms ER, Prnjak K, Linardon J. Towards a Sustainable Nutrition Paradigm in Physique Sport: A Narrative Review. Sports (Basel). 2019 Jul 16;7(7):172. doi: 10.3390/sports7070172. PMID: 31315180; PMCID: PMC6681103.

Westenhoefer, J., Engel, D., Holst, C., Lorenz, J., Peacock, M., Stubbs, J., Whybrow, S., & Raats, M. (2013). Cognitive and weight-related correlates of flexible and rigid restrained eating behaviour. Eating behaviors14(1), 69–72.

Featured Image: @malobrien / Instagram

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