In case you hadn't noticed, CrossFit competitors are getting fitter, faster, and stronger—and I'm not just talking about the top-tier athletes. How can you compete in an ever-tougher crowd? Work harder in the gym, and take supplements just like the elite athletes do. That might give you just the competitive edge you need!
When you train for powerlifting or bodybuilding, it's all about strength or hypertrophy. But CrossFit tests your all-around fitness, including strength, power, and endurance. These top five supplements will help you kill your CrossFit workout of the day (WOD) so you can shine at the Open!
1. Creatine Monohydrate
No surprise here. Creatine monohydrate is probably the most effective performance supplement on the market. It's one of the most well-researched, consistently proving itself to be a safe way to increase muscle mass and strength levels, boost high-intensity work capacity, and improve body composition.[1-3] It's affordable, too!
When you first begin intense exercise, your body relies on phosphocreatine (PCr) to produce energy. Creatine supplements help to increase the amount of PCr your muscles store to make sure your body has the rapid energy source it needs to explode into high-intensity exercise, which describes just about every CrossFit workout.
Recommended dose: 20 grams of creatine per day for 5-7 days for a fast load, followed by the standard maintenance dose of 5 grams per day. If you're not in a rush to load your creatine stores, stick with 5 grams a day. The slower route still builds the creatine stores you need while helping you avoid the weight gain that can come with fast-loading.
If you know CrossFit, you know WODs. These workouts are famous for including a lot of high-intensity, compound movements that create plenty of metabolites, specifically lactate and hydrogen ions. Contrary to popular belief, it's not lactic acid that causes the "burning" sensation in your muscles: it's the build-up of hydrogen ions that can interfere with muscle contraction and lead to fatigue.
This is where beta-alanine comes in, helping to increase your body's stores of carnosine, which can get rid of these extra hydrogen ions and improve your exercise performance and training volume. Maybe that's all you'll need to crank out an extra round in your next AMRAP or shave a few seconds off your next Fran.
Recommended dose: 3-6 grams of beta-alanine per day for at least 28 days to maximize your ability to shed hydrogen ions. If you're not a fan of the tingling feeling beta-alanine sometimes produces in some people, split your dose into smaller servings throughout the day.
Whether you're a CrossFit athlete or not, you're wise to make branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) a part of your supplement stack. BCAAs taste damn good mixed with boring ol' water, which can make it easier for you to stay hydrated throughout the day. Sipping on BCAAs before or during workouts can also help speed up the recovery and repair processes after a tough session.[5,6]
Of the three BCAAs, leucine is the one doing the most muscle work. By promoting protein synthesis and suppressing protein breakdown, BCAAs help you recover from muscles damage as you train. Taking them before your workout can reduce soreness and fatigue.
Recommended Dose: 6-10 grams before or during your workout. Look for products that contain a 2:1:1 ratio of leucine:isoleucine:valine to make sure you're getting the leucine you need to maximize muscle recovery.
4. Fish Oil
When it comes to building strength and muscle mass and improving all-around performance, recovery is just as important—if not more so—than your workout itself. Fish oil, an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, is a key player in the recovery process.
Two essential fatty acids found in fish oil, EPA and DHA, can help reduce post-exercise muscle soreness and speed up the recovery process.[7,8] Those omega-3s can also help you maintain a healthy heart, support cognitive performance, and even help improve your body composition![9-11]
Recommended Dose: Take enough fish oil every day to get a combined total of 1.5-3.0 grams of EPA and DHA. To help with absorption, take the fish oil with a meal that contains some fat.
5. Protein Powder
You can meet your protein needs through whole foods alone. Or, if you have multiple workouts in a day or go straight from the box to work, you can try a more hassle-free approach. Nothing beats having a convenient, ready-to-drink source of protein, like protein powder, to jump-start the process of muscle building and repair.
But which kind of powder is right for you? Fast-digesting protein like whey is great to take post-workout, because it improves your muscles' ability to recover and adapt after strenuous exercise. Combination proteins like whey/casein, on the other hand, enable your body to maintain high rates of building muscle and low rates of muscle breakdown, which is pretty nice too.
Go with egg or beef protein powders if you follow a paleo diet. These can be harder to find than the other powders, but they provide the same benefits as milk-based whey protein.
Recommended Dose: 20-30 grams immediately post-workout, or use between meals so your body can continue to build and repair your muscles.
- Bemben, M. G., & Lamont, H. S. (2005). Creatine supplementation and exercise performance. Sports Medicine, 35(2), 107-125.
- Buford, T. W., Kreider, R. B., Stout, J. R., Greenwood, M., Campbell, B., Spano, M., ... & Antonio, J. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(1), 6.
- Cooper, R., Naclerio, F., Allgrove, J., & Jimenez, A. (2012). Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 33.
- Artioli, G. G., Gualano, B., Smith, A., Stout, J., & Lancha Jr, A. H. (2010). Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 42(6), 1162-1173.
- Howatson, G., Hoad, M., Goodall, S., Tallent, J., Bell, P. G., & French, D. N. (2012). Exercise-induced muscle damage is reduced in resistance-trained males by branched chain amino acids: a randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled study. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 20.
- Negro, M., Giardina, S., Marzani, B., & Marzatico, F. (2008). Branched-chain amino acid supplementation does not enhance athletic performance but affects muscle recovery and the immune system. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 48(3), 347.
- Jouris, K. B., McDaniel, J. L., & Weiss, E. P. (2011). The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the inflammatory response to eccentric strength exercise. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, 10(3), 432-438.
- Tartibian, B., Maleki, B. H., & Abbasi, A. (2009). The effects of ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids on perceived pain and external symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness in untrained men. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 19(2), 115-119.
- Breslow, J. L. (2006). n− 3 Fatty acids and cardiovascular disease. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(6), S1477-1482S.
- Fontani, G., Corradeschi, F., Felici, A., Alfatti, F., Migliorini, S., & Lodi, L. (2005). Cognitive and physiological effects of Omega‐3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in healthy subjects. European Journal of Clinical Investigation, 35(11), 691-699.
- Hill, A. M., Buckley, J. D., Murphy, K. J., & Howe, P. R. (2007). Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(5), 1267-1274.