What are the best supplements for CrossFit athletes?
With so many options, it can be overwhelming to know which ones to take!
In this post, I’ll share some worth your time and money if you want to look, feel, and perform better.
Do You Even Need Supplements?
Unfortunately (and despite what supplement companies might tell you), there are no shortcuts in health and fitness.
No supplement can make up for a crappy diet and chronic sleep deprivation. I’d rather see you look hard at what you’re eating and how well you’re sleeping before adding any pills or powders.
You can get most of the nutrients you need by eating a well-balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats. And seven to nine hours of good quality sleep will do more to build and repair muscles than anything you can buy on a shelf.
That being said, CrossFitters may need more of certain nutrients than less active adults. A supplement can help you cover your bases if you struggle to get enough of these nutrients through a healthy diet.
The Best Supplements for CrossFit Athletes
Of the hundreds of types of supplements marketed toward gym-goers, I only recommend two on a pretty consistent basis.
Protein helps your body repair and build more muscle—allowing you to perform, feel, and look better!
Everyone is a little different, but a good rule of thumb for CrossFitters is to aim for 0.7-1 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily.* Just so we’re on the same page, that’s 105-150 grams daily if you weigh 150 pounds.
Protein supplements aren’t necessary if you consistently hit those targets through your diet! But protein powder can help you reach your daily goal if you struggle to eat enough protein.
Creatine helps your body to create more ATP—your body’s preferred energy source during intense exercise.
Taking it won’t help you feel like Bradley Cooper in that movie Limitless, but it can help you eke out a few more reps when you’re feeling tired (and just FYI—it’s not just you. Most people can completely deplete the creatine in their muscles after just a few seconds of hard effort).
Hundreds of studies have shown that, with consistent use, creatine can help you put on muscle.
In fact, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition: “Creatine monohydrate is the most effective ergogenic nutritional supplement currently available to athletes in terms of increasing high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass during training.”
Can’t you get creatine through your diet? Sure, if you eat meat, fish, poultry, and other animal products. Your liver and kidneys also help you out by making about one gram a day.
But supplements can increase the amount of creatine in your muscles up to 30 percent.
I recommend this one to my athletes who want to get stronger (and especially vegetarians, who don’t get as much through the diet).
Other Supplements that Might (or Might Not) Help
Now that we’ve talked about the two supplements I routinely recommend to my gym peeps let’s talk about a couple that might (or might not) help.
These supplements have shown some promise but haven’t been studied as extensively as protein and creatine.
Here’s why that matters.
Beta-alanine helps the body make more of a substance called carnosine, which buffers against lactic acid in your muscles during short, intense workouts (hello, Fran!).
In theory, you should be able to work a bit harder when you’re not feeling the burn as much. Studies suggest that beta-alanine can improve muscle strength when combined with resistance exercise (and, of course, when taken regularly).
Taking it with creatine could also help you build muscle and lose fat.
However, Beta-alanine sometimes causes a tingly or prickly sensation under the skin, so some people don’t love taking it. You can lessen this common side effect by splitting your daily dose into three or four smaller doses taken several hours apart.
As its name suggests, pre-workout is a supplement you take before you work out.
About a million different formulations are available, but common ingredients include caffeine, sugar, amino acids, creatine, beta-alanine, and nitric oxide.
Taking a pre-workout could help you feel more motivated to work out, and it may also help increase muscle stamina (at least, according to this study). But in general, the studies are fairly mixed, possibly due to the differences in formulations.
I tell my clients to take a pre-workout that’s been third-party tested if they particularly enjoy taking it, but to stay away from formulas with caffeine before evening workouts.
Collagen is a protein your body uses to make connective tissues–including cartilage.
In the spirit of full transparency, research on collagen hasn’t quite caught up to its demand. We have enough data to know it’s safe for most healthy adults and has very few documented side effects, and some studies suggest that taking it daily may help relieve joint pain and stiffness.
I take this one daily for my arthritic knees (and bonus—my skin and nails look better when I do!).
How to Find Good Supplements
The supplements industry is kinda wild.
I was shocked to learn in dietetics school that the FDA has zero oversight before supplements hit the market. This means that a LOT of supplements out there have hidden ingredients and/or inaccurate nutrition labels.
Fortunately, there is a way to ensure that your supplements are safe, and that the ingredients and nutrition labels are accurate.
The best supplements for CrossFit are tested by an independent third party–like NSF Sport, Informed Choice, or ConsumerLabs.com.
You should be able to find this information on the product label. However, these testing agencies typically maintain directories of the products they test.
Hopefully, this post has armed you with some good info you can use on your next shopping trip. Share it with your favorite workout buddy (or that one friend who is spending WAY too much on supplements that probably don’t even work).
*Protein targets are slightly lower for larger athletes. A registered dietitian—like me!—can help you calculate a healthy and realistic target.
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