For a long time, supplement companies have made bank on the idea that consistently using their products can completely change your physique.
One scoop (or two if you’re reckless) promises to help you gain muscle, “burn” fat, and improve your performance, but unfortunately, it’s not so straightforward.
Supplements can be used to improve your performance and appearance however not in the way you may think.
Here is a list of the only supplements that are worth your money.
What Supplements Should I Take for CrossFit?
As Crossfitters we can’t expect to benefit from the same supplements that bodybuilders or endurance athletes take.
Our sport is mostly centered around 3 specific energy systems:
- the anaerobic energy system
- the phosphocreatine system
- and the aerobic system.
Each energy system is responsible for our performance during different durations and intensities of exercise.
So the products we take should be focused on maximizing the output of the systems whilst also allowing us to fully recover as quickly as we can.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a natural compound that’s primarily stored in the body muscle cells and used to create ATP, the energy-carrying molecule. Because creatine is naturally occurring in the body, it is a low-risk supplement. In fact, creatine can be found in foods like meat and fish.
At the same time it is one of the most inexpensive and most-studied supplements out there and luckily for us, it can be very effective.
When shopping for creatine, you’ll find that there are many different types.
How Do I Take it?
Creatine monohydrate is the most common form and the most studied, so if you’re looking to reap the benefits boasted by studies, this is probably the version for you.
Since creatine powder can be bought at a low cost, there are a few ways that companies try to get you to pay more like offering different flavors, additional ingredients “quick digestion” ingredients, and formats such as liquid, pills, and even gummies.
Save your money! When it comes to creatine, the fewer ingredients, the better.
Whichever form you opt for, make sure you’re getting the correct dose; start from 0.3 g/kg of bodyweight a day for about a week. Then you can maintain at around 5 to 7 grams a day for as long as you wish.
Make sure you take it together with a glass or more of water to maximize uptake.
Is Creatine Worth it?
Creatine has been shown to improve performance, explosiveness, and endurance in athletes. This is because it increases the body’s ability to produce energy rapidly which translates to being able to lift more weight resulting in the creation of more muscle fibers.
As incredible as it sounds, creatine isn’t a one-off supplement; it must be taken daily. If you’re taking it for the first time, it’ll be between 1-3 weeks before you notice its effects.
What is Caffeine?
Another well-studied substance, caffeine is one of the most widely used supplements in the world due to it’s effect on the nervous system. This is because caffeine is used by athletes, students, and anyone that wants to stay awake. Caffeine is also popular because it is found in so many foods such as chocolate, soft drinks, and even in fruits like guarana.
Caffeine is an effective stimulant but when abused, it’s possible to build up a dependence. With prolonged use we begin to develop a tolerance towards caffeine over time.
Eventually, we need a higher dosage to feel the effects with can lead to overconsumption or experiencing symptoms like headaches or trouble sleeping.
How Do I Take it?
The great thing about caffeine is that it is so widely available that it’s not even necessary to buy it as a supplement; an espresso shot clocks in as cheap as 1 euro!
Widely sold as pills, powders, and energy drinks, you can use up to 400mg of caffeine per day 30-60 minutes before training, but you should aim to reduce your intake during the rest of your day and on the days that you don’t exercise.
We recommend backing off the caffeine for about a week every couple of months to establish your sensitivity again. If possible, try to choose a week that is less stressful or when you are deloading from training.
This way you won’t feel like you need that extra kick as much as when you’re having a hard week of work or training.
Is Caffeine Worth it?
Simply put, caffeine can help you to train harder for longer. It boasts advantages for both mental and physical performance by boosting energy and increasing mental sharpness.
What creatine is for explosive or power activities, caffeine is for endurance activities.
Caffeine offers various benefits for high intensity training, but its ability to increase tolerance to fatigue makes it a powerful tool for those who train for extended periods.
Furthermore, caffeine has been shown to have a positive relationship with fat burning by stimulating lipolysis: the mobilization of fatty acid cells.
It also has a thermogenic effect which often makes it an ingredient in many fat burning supplements.
What is Protein Powder?
Proteins are molecules that your body need for building muscle mass. Intense physical activity (such as CrossFit) breaks down your body’s proteins
and ingesting protein stimulates protein synthesis, allowing new tissue to repair and replace the damaged ones. This is why protein is often taken during or after exercise to increase the impact of muscle growth.
How Do I Take it?
Most athletes should aim for 1 to 2g per kilogram of bodyweight each day depending on their goals.
Reaching your optimal protein intake through eating protein-rich foods can be difficult because it would meaning eating a huge amount of food without overeating other macronutrients (fats and carbohydrates), sugar, or salt.
That’s why many athletes drink protein shakes after training or throughout the day. It’s a convenient way to get concentrated doses of protein.
Look for a product that is at least 80% protein and that is easy for you to digest. Each serving should contain from 20 to 30g of protein.
There are many different varieties of protein supplements mostly categorized by the protein source (whey, beef, plant-based) and the way it is processed (concentrate, isolate, hydrolysate).
Whey concentrate is the most common option, and usually the most affordable whereas hydrolyzed proteins are known to be better absorbed by your body but with are sold with a bigger price tag.
Evenly distribute your protein intake across your meals throughout the day including a protein shake during or after your workout.
Avoid brands that dilute their powders with extra ingredients like excessive sweeteners, flavoring, and emulsifiers.
Is Protein powder Worth it?
If your goals include gaining or maintaining muscle mass, getting enough protein is crucial as it aids in recovery by speeding up muscle repair and glycogen replacement. It can be especially useful for athletes training multiple times a day who need to make sure they are recovering as quickly as possible for their next session.
Can you get your protein from foods instead of using protein powder? Yes, but if you’re trying to lose fat, it can be tricky.
There are many healthy and delicious foods that are high in protein however they also tend to include a considerable amount of fats and/or carbohydrates which can lead to weight gain.
By taking protein powder, you get more of the macronutrient that you need without having to consider unnecessary calories.
What are Electrtolytes?
Electrolytes are minerals that are essential to our bodily functions, such as potassium, sodium and magnesium. These minerals are commonly found in different salts; for example table salt, which is made up of sodium (Na) and Chlorine.
How Do I Take Electrolytes?
When we sweat a lot, we lose water and electrolytes, both of which are essential to maintain proper levels of hydration in our bodies. In most climates, this isn’t an issue as we are sweating in limited amounts and can easily top up our water and electrolyte levels through normal drinking and eating.
However, during the seasons when the temperatures rise so much that we sweat profusely during the day (and especially throughout our workout), hydration and electrolyte balance can become a more serious concern.
What to look out for: there are a variety of electrolyte powders and drinks on the market. The most commonly known is Gatorade.
Unfortunately these drinks are often formulated to appeal in taste more than to offer true electrolyte replenishment.
They also can be quite expensive when you consider that they’re basically just salt and sugar mixed together. In fact, you can easily make your own at home with a few simple ingredients:
1/4 tsp. salt.
1/4 cup pomegranate or apple juice (or 1 tablespoon of sugar)
1/4 cup lemon juice.
1 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut water.
2 cups cold water.
Additional options: sweetener, powdered magnesium and/or calcium, depending on needs.
Recipe taken from this website.
Are Electrolytes Worth Taking?
Electrolytes are truly not a necessity unless you are training in very hot and/or humid conditions.
This said, they can make a huge difference under these conditions.
There is simply no denying that our performance is severely hindered by dehydration and as we said this condition is heavily tied to electrolyte balance.
Amounts of salt needed to replenish any lost minerals can vary a lot depending on how much you sweat and what you are eating (some foods have 10 times more minerals than others so diet heavily plays a role here).
Overall it’s more important that you make sure you are properly hydrated and don’t cut out salt from your diet in the first place.
What is Beta Alanine?
Beta alanine is non-essential amino acid commonly found in pre-workout blends This is what makes you feel the “tingling” sensation, a momentary symptom of paresthesia that, although innocuous, can surprise or even scare first time users.
How Do I Take it?
Beta alanine is often found in pre-workouts but in order to supplement it properly we would recommend you take it on its own.
Pre workout products are often labelled as “proprietary blends” so that the brands that produce them can avoid disclosing the amounts of each ingredient included in the product.
It’s a subtle trick brands use to cut their products with cheap fillers while delivering an underwhelming amount of the “good stuff”.
It’s cheaper and more effective to just buy beta alanine on its own freeing you from having to spend extra on a pre-workout blend just to get an adequate amounts of this amino acid.
Current data recommends intaking around 2-5g/day starting 1 month before any big event you want to perform well in.
Is Beta Alanine Worth Taking?
Although it appears to not commonly partake in muscle protein synthesis this amino acid is both an antioxidant and essential to synthesize vitamin B5.
Most importantly, when it comes to performance, it aids in replenishing carnosine levels in muscle cells. Carnosine can help delay the effect of lactic acid in the muscles, therefore supplementing beta-alanine can delay the sense of fatigue, as well as improving aerobic and anaerobic performance.
This article is meant to talk about supplements, but I just couldn’t go without mentioning that there are two elements that are way more effective for improving your performance and changing your physique than any supplement listed above.
It’s not the answer that you want to hear but the reality is, recovery and nutrition are two of the most important variables that can help or hurt your training.
In fact, I would even be as bold to say that you shouldn’t worry about supplementation until you can commit to regularly getting enough quality sleep and nutrients to correctly fuel your training.
Remember that supplements serve the purpose for which they’re named. They are meant to compliment a progressive training plan, adequate recovery, and proper nutrition to fuel your workouts.
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