Crossfit, like any other sport, has become a huge marketplace for supplement companies to sell their products.
From BCAA sodas to CBD gummies to caffeine enriched chewing gum, companies these days are coming up with all sorts of new products in the hopes of making a profit.
But which supplements are truly worth your hard earned money?
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.
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.
To shed some light the “supplement question” we have broken down all the details of the most useful supps for Crossfitters. We’re now sharing them with you in this article.
What is Protein Powder?
Probably the most commonly known supplement, protein powder nowadays comes in all sorts of forms, from hydrolyzed whey to vegan protein powder.
Essentially it’s a fine powder that contains anywhere from 15 to 30g of protein per scoop ( = 1 serving ).
Why should you take protein powder?
Most individuals who lead an active lifestyle have a hard time reaching their minimum required protein intake. This is where protein powders come in: a quick and convenient source of protein.
You can prepare a quick shake after your training session and drink it on the go on those days when your schedule is extra packed.
You can also add a scoop to your dinner if you notice you haven’t consumed enough protein at your other meals.
The other benefits of protein vary based on which type you are buying.
As an example whey is a very fast digesting protein allowing for quick absorption after a session.
It can be a useful tool for athletes training multiple times a day who need to make sure they are recovering as quickly as possible for their next session.
What to look out for: always read the back label of a protein powder before purchasing it.
“Only protein” protein powders should clock in at around 120kcal and 30g of protein per scoop. If there’s less grams than that but calories are the same (or higher) it has likely been cut with fillers.
We recommend avoiding filler cut protein powders as they are giving you less value for your money. Ignore any magic promises they make, there’s no protein powder that will “help you get bigger” it’s just a sneaky way to tell you that they added sugar or milk powder to the blend to bulk it out for cheap.
How much: dosing will vary vastly between individuals. In general you should aim for a minimum of 20 to 30g of protein at each meal. If you can’t reach that amount a scoop of protein can do the job.
What is creatine?
Creatine is probably the most studied supplement currently on the market. It comes in pill or powder form.
Why should you take creatine?
It aids in performance by ensuring we max out our creatine storages. This means we can maximally benefit from the phosphocreatine energy system that is CRUCIAL in a sport like Crossfit. With a normal diet it is highly unlikely that we are able to reach our maximum creatine storages, that’s where supplementing comes in.
What to look out for: as long as the label says you are buying a product made solely of creatine monohydrate you are good to go.
Don’t fall for fake titles such “clean creatine” or “creatine for women”, they are just trying to upcharge their product although it carries no superior qualities to a basic creatine monohydrate supplement.
How much: 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.
Bonus facts: recent studies have shown it may have a protective effect in the elderly by increasing bone mineral density (when paired with resistance training) and by improving impared cognitive processing.
Be aware that you will tend to store some extra water when loading creatine: this is totally normal and not correlated to fat gain.
( … yes you’ve read that correctly)
What is coffee?
Do we really have to explain this one? Coffee is a beverage that is enjoyed in many forms across the world for its taste and its effects on the nervous system.
Why should you take coffee?
coffee contains a compound known as caffeine. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system making us feel more awake and focused. It is also one the most popular ingredients in preworkout blends. The differences between coffee and preworkout, however, are many, starting from the price.
An espresso shot clocks in as cheap as 0.9 euros, it’s hard to beat that price with quality preworkout.
Plus any preworkouts are formulated for bodybuilders and can actually hinder performance in Crossfit athletes.
On the other hand coffee only offers delicious flavor and that caffeine kick.
What to look out for: everyone has their go to coffee order and we are not about arguing against that.
Nonetheless, if taking it as a preworkout try to stay away from very sugary or milky options as you want to avoid sugar crashes or stomach issues during your training session.
How much: unfortunately we all have different levels of tolerance, or sensibility, to caffeine.
So establishing an effective amount can be quite tricky. For preworkout purposes the scientific consensus is estimated around 200-400mg.
Fun fact: overtime we develop a tolerance to caffeine.
However this tolerance can be easily reversed by temporarily decreasing your coffee/caffeine consumption.
This allows to maintain a steady amount of caffeine consumption instead of having to constantly increase your intake.
We recommend backing off the caffeine for about a week every couple of months.
If possible try to choose a week that is less stressful or when you are deloading from training.
This way you won’t feel as you need that extra kick as much as if it were a hard week of work or training.
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What is beetroot juice?
beetroot juice is an exceptional source of nitrates as well as antioxidants. There are many ways to consume beetroots but the most efficient are through juice and especially shots. We love Beet it shots for this purpose as many individuals have a hard time drinking beetroot juice given its peculiar earthy taste.
Why should you take beetroot juice?
Nitrates increase muscle efficiency and blood flow giving you an extra edge in aerobic based workouts.
What to look out for: look for supplements that offer around 5 to 10 mMol of nitrates per dose and pay attention if that dose is a shot or an entire glass.
How much: nitrates should be “pre-loaded” around 5 days before a competitive event/performance and taken in a dose of 5 to 8 mMol per day.
What is electrtolytes?
Electrolytes are just a fancy word for “salts”. They 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, also known as cooking salt, is made up of sodium (Na) and Chlorine.
Why should you take electrolytes?
When we sweat a lot we expel water and electrolytes, both of which are essential to maintain proper levels of hydration in our bodies. In most climates, for most of the year, 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, when the temperatures rise to an extent where we are sweating profusely throughout our workout, and maybe even during the day, hydration and electrolyte balance can become a more serious concern.
Additionally electrolyte balance can determine water uptake and hydration levels making this a vicious circle.
What to look out for: there are a variety of electrolyte supplements on the market.
he most commonly known are sports drinks such as Gatorade.
Unfortunately these drinks are often formulated to appeal in taste more than to offer true electrolyte replenishment.
They also can be quite expensive compared to what they are actually delivering on, especially when you could just make your own at home with a few simple ingredients.
Here a quick, easy and effective DIY recipe to get you through a hard session on a hot summer day:
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.
How much: 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?
A NON essential aminoacid commonly found in preworkout blends. Its reputation in the world of functional fitness fanatics and gym bros alike is tied to its skin “tingling” properties, a momentary symptom of paresthesia that, although innocuous, can take aback first time users.
Why should you take beta alanine?
Although it appears to not commonly partake in muscle protein synthesis this amminocid 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.
What to look out for: beta alanine is often found in preworkouts 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 take a preworkout blend daily just to supplement adequate amounts of this amino acid.
How much: current data recommends intaking around 2-5g/day starting 1 month before any big event you want to perform well in.