There was once a time when spending countless hours in the gym pounding the treadmills or rowing the length of the Hudson river was considered the best way to achieve fitness.
Throughout the years, we’ve seen various trends hitting the fitness scene. Some have remained, others have fallen along the wayside.
Then crossfit entered the arena and revolutionized the entire meaning of working out.
This type of challenging, high intensity training has a lot of fitness enthusiasts very excited. It’s created a stir across not only the US, but the entire world. Many have realized this is no fad regime and it has redefined the way people approach training.
Crossfit’s philosophy and success is down to the constant variety of exercises it utilizes to create a total body workout. You don’t need an entire gym full of hi-tech equipment for this baby.
Almost every gym-goer has some kind of go-to supplement, and crossfit is no exception. But with so many options available on the market, what are the best supplements for crossfit training?
I decided to find out a little more about this fitness phenomenon and discover what should really be in that gym bag.
History of Crossfit
Let’s start with a little background. Crossfit has been around for a lot longer than you probably realize.
It’s the brainchild of a guy called Gregg Glassman, who as a former gymnast and trainer used to coach the police force using a very similar approach.
This is where he discovered that instead of training one-to-one, group activities fuelled by the competitive streak in human nature increased people’s effort and performance. Hence what we now know as crossfit was born.
What is Crossfit?
The definition of crossfit is “a high-intensity fitness programme incorporating elements from several sports and types of exercise.” (source)
Crossfit uses a variety of disciplines to test all round fitness, such as:
Body weight training
Variety is definitely a core word. Each day the workout is different so could be a plus point if you lose attention easily.
What are the Downsides to Crossfit?
With any form of extreme, intense or rapid exercise, there is a high chance of injury if the moves are not carried out correctly.
In extreme situations there is an actual condition called rhabdomyolysis which is caused by muscle tissue gradually breaking down and releasing into the bloodstream which eventually ends up in the kidneys. (source)
If you are more of a lone ranger when it comes to training and the thought of a crossfit community fills you with dread, then jumping in head first into a “box” (crossfit gym) could possibly make you rebound straight out like Jack.
However there are alternatives. You can do crossfit on your own, but you may not experience the same benefits as you would in a group.
The Best Supplements for Crossfit Training
As we have established, crossfit is a fast paced and challenging work out, which will push you to the limits in every session. So what if you want to beat your personal best or take your fitness levels to the next step?
This is where considering the right supplements could make the difference between completing that extra “amrap” and smashing it.
Creatine is generated within the body from amino acids. Its primary home can be found in the muscles. You can also consume creatine through natural sources in certain foods such as red meat and fish.
The main benefits to supplementing with creatine are:
Gives you energy
Reduces potentials for injury/fatigue
Research suggests that by supplementing with creatine, athletes benefit by increasing muscular force and power. It also reduces fatigue in repeated bout activities and increases muscle mass. (source)
One of creatine’s main roles is to provide energy for muscles to help them function. As you know, the crossfit philosophy is to take on the extreme so when you start a demanding “work out of the day” your body is going to need lots of creatine to help replenish the stored energy used.
If your muscles have more energy, they should be able to sustain activity for longer. If you supplement with creatine, you’re theoretically giving your body’s powerhouse (aka muscles) that extra kick for improving performance.
One study reviewed the effects of creatine in three key areas:
The results concluded that resistance training increased muscle strength by 8%. When weightlifting and resistance training were combined, the muscle strength increased to 14%. (source)
So creatine could be more effective when you combine a variety of exercise disciplines instead of one specific sport. For all you crossfit fans out there this could mean an easy choice of supplement as it may be one of the most effective.
How to Take Creatine
The common preconception is most people think they have to consume a higher daily dosage (approx 20 g) of creatine initially for a short period of time to achieve maximum levels and achieve those gains in a faster time. The term is usually referred to as “loading”.
However, a study carried out on the effectiveness of creatine “loading” acknowledges that taking 20g per day for 6 days then reducing the daily dose to 2 g per day for a further 30 days would generate rapid creatine levels in the body. (source)
You could achieve the exact levels by consuming a consistent lower dose of 3 g per day for same period of duration. So at the end of the day, it’s all relative.
What to Look for in a Creatine Supplement
I am a total fan of the clean and natural approach. Why go all out in your WODs to improve your health then decide to use a supplement containing heaps of fillers? You should look for assurance it contains pure creatine monohydrate.
This means the creatine molecules have already been ground down into a finer powder so your body can absorb them quicker. It also helps to dissolve better when added to liquid.
A good option to go for could be:
Beta-alanine is an amino acid made in the body. Anyone who’s a regular at the supplement store will know this can only mean it’s got muscle written all over it.
The main benefits of taking beta-alanine are:
Delays muscle fatigue
Gives energy to muscles
Works best with short bursts of activity
As you start to exercise, your muscles build up lactic acid which then causes muscle soreness and fatigue. This is particularly significant in high intensive workouts as you are constantly pushing yourself to the limit.
Beta-alanine works by converting into an enzyme called carnosine which acts as a protective shield around your muscles to slow down that lactic acid build. (source)
The end result means you could maximise those gruelling WODs by pushing yourself harder and for longer.
In fact it has been proven that beta-alanine works at its best in short periods of strenuous activity. This is less true for low impact sports like jogging or swimming.
Recent studies suggest that the optimum time frame to get the best potential gains from beta-alanine is a period of between 60 to 300 seconds. (source)
In another study to determine the effects of supplementation, volunteers underwent a six week high-intensity interval training programme. Results proved that the intense activity played a big influencing factor in the carnosine levels. (source)
This means the harder you push yourself the harder beta-alanine works. If you ever needed an extra incentive to go harder, this could be worth remembering.
How to Take Beta-alanine
People tend to do a loading phase to enhance optimum levels in their body for a period of 30 days. A dose of up to 6 grams can be taken throughout the day. Beta-alanine isn’t workout dependent so it can be taken at anytime. (source)
Then to keep everything topped up, you can reduce the dose to between 1-2 grams per day, although research may suggest the most effective maintenance dose is 1.2 g per day. (source)
What to Look for in a Beta-alanine Supplement
Quality is always number one when it comes to any substance you are putting in your body. Always check the product has come from a reputable source.
Always look at which extra ingredients are included to see if any fillers have been included. Pure beta-alanine is the best option.
Think about whether a powder or a pill would be more suitable for your needs. Powder is more flexible than the capsule or tablet forms. But for convenience a pill couldn’t be easier.
Beta-alanine is considered to be a safe supplement to use but a common side effect you could experience is paresthesia, which is a tingling sensation in the body. (source) This is perfectly normal and it will usually weaken after frequent use of beta-alanine.
A good choice could be:
BCAAs are a popular go to supplement across the entire fitness network. They can provide huge benefits when it comes to physical performance.
This trio of branch chained amino acids are made up of leucine, isoleucine and valine and together they play an important role in boosting protein synthesis in the muscles.
The main benefits of taking BCAAs are:
Reduces muscle fatigue
Increases performance, strength and energy
Helps build muscle
Supports and encourages the recovery process
Aids fat loss
When you put yourself through a punishing crossfit session, it’s pretty safe to say your muscles are going to feel a few aches and pains at some point.
But if you start to fade halfway through your AMRAP how are you going to be able to push those boundaries? Studies suggest BCAAs effectively reduce muscle soreness and the sensation of fatigue (source), so that’s a tick in the box – no pun intended.
We all know that recovery is an important part of any fitness regime. If you feel like you’ve done ten rounds with Roman Reignsafter “the cindy” yesterday, then you are not going to achieve those deadlifts today.
BCAAs speeds up the recovery process by replenishing those muscles through the protein synthesis which also helps to build muscle mass too. So you should be able to train more frequently and hit those personal records faster.
What to Look for in a BCAA
The standard ratio is 2:1:1, with leucine (This guy enhances protein synthesis the most) being the largest proportion out of the three.
Start with the label to find out what is actually included, and make sure you can see leucine, isoleucine, and valine on the list. If your aim is to reduce your waistline, keep a close eye on the sugar and calorie content, you wouldn’t want to be guzzling down something with the sugar content of a soda would you?
BCAAs can come in powder or pill form. The route you choose is simply down to personal preference.
However, if you decide on powder, check out how well it dissolves and whether it tastes ok. Trust me, drinking a shake full of gritty powdery lumps that has a nasty aftertaste, really is not going to be on top of your agenda.
A good option for a BCAA could be:
Fish Oil/Omega 3
The potential health benefits of fish oil and in particular, omega 3 are almost endless. A essential fatty acids, namely EPA and DHA found in the oil are key.
The main benefits of omega 3 for crossfit are:
Promotes weight loss
Reduces muscle fatigue
Aids muscle growth
Strengthen and lubricates joints
Immune system support
Research suggests that adding fish oil to an exercise regime in combination with a healthy diet can decrease body fat. In fact the exercise actually enhanced the effects of the omega 3s. (source)
Fish oils could also help your muscles recover from those strenuous workouts. It has been proven that these fatty acids can help by increasing the oxygen efficiency within the muscles which results in reducing the effects of muscle fatigue. (source)
What to Look for in Omega 3 Fish Oil
Check the label to see how much pure fish oil is present and especially the ratio content of EPA and DHA as these are the most important. You don’t want to be taking something that contains more fillers than fish oil.
Whey Protein Powder
Whey protein is another very popular choice for crossfitters around the world. Many opt to consume whey because it’s an excellent source of protein with no end of benefits which could help to boost strength and improve performance and recovery.
Here are some of the benefits of taking whey:
Helps build muscle
Helps reduce recovery times
Fast absorbing into the body
Helps reduce muscle fatigue
Protein is the building block of muscle and when it comes to an intense activity like crossfit, the catabolic effort you put yourself through is like knocking down those metaphorical walls with a wrecking ball.
It’s been proven in various studies that whey has the greatest increase of muscle protein synthesis, especially in resistance training and also enhances recovery. (source)
This could help build, protect and repair those muscles to ensure you are fighting fit for that next WOD.
It also could be appealing to those who are looking at dropping a few pounds. Most people like to see quick results when it comes to weight loss, myself included.
Whey, being a protein, has the potential to reduce your appetite (source) which could help fend off the risk of post work out binging (let’s face it, we’ve all been there). It could increase your metabolism which helps you burn fat and clings on to that important muscle for you. (source)
What to Look for in a Whey Supplement
The standard dose is normally around 20–30 grams of protein
Read the label carefully to make sure any additional ingredients are useful or necessary for you.
L-carnitine is another amino acid and has been a staple supplement within the fitness community for quite some time. It’s mainly famous for its fat burning potential. Its primary job is to ferry around fats in the body so they can be converted and used into energy.
But there are other benefits of taking l-carnitine:
Helps transfer fat into energy
Helps muscle growth
Increases muscle strength
Reduce muscle fatigue
In fact, while l-carnitine is busy moving around those fat stores in the body, it’s also providing considerable benefits to other areas which could improve your efforts at the box.
l-carnitine reduces the amount of glycogen used by the muscles during intense activity by switching it with the fat stores it is merrily transferring around the body.
This double bubble means it not only increases energy with the fat burning it also conserves the muscles, which means you can go harder for longer. (source) So you could be losing fat and preserving muscle all at the same time. Win win!
What to Look for in L-carnitine Supplements
The dosage can be up to 3 grams for athletic purposes, but the most commonly available is around 1 gram. You could always take multiple servings if necessary.
Type of L-carnitine
There are various different forms of this amino acid, but L-tartrate is the most common in sports as it appears to be the most effective.
Multivitamins are probably found in everyone’s bathroom cabinet whether you’re a crossfitter or not.
If you follow a well balanced diet, then you should be able to get all your nutrients through your food consumption. However, multivitamins are a handy back up plan if you want to be sure you are getting everything you need and if you are fit and healthy that means you can train more frequently.
Some of the benefits of taking a multivitamin are:
Aids immune system
Replenishes used nutrients
Encourages overall health and wellbeing
Improve mental and physical condition
Additional nutrients should be an essential part of the kit for physically active people – especially those who take part in intense exercise like crossfit.
It’s common knowledge the more active you are the more nutrients your body uses, so it’s easier for athletes to become deficient.
A study on the effect of exercise and heat on vitamin requirements was carried out and it showed that in water soluble vitamins as much as 50 micrograms per 100 ml could be lost through sweat alone. (source)
What to Look for in a Multivitamin Supplement
The government issues guidance for the daily reference intakes on all the major nutrients so that’s always a good starting point. (source)
So there we have it, seven of the best supplements for crossfit training in 2023. Adding these to your stack can definitely help boost your performance in the box and get the most from your WODs.
If you’re a crossfit junkie and have a supplement in your stack that we didn’t mention and you feel you couldn’t get through a session without, let us know in the comments below. It is always great to get feedback from experienced readers.