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Supplementing for CrossFitters

February 22, 2015

(All quotes included in this post are taken from www.examine.com)

Seeing as CrossFit is what I am most familiar with and most invested in, I thought I would write a post on the supplements I recommend for CrossFitters. I train primarily CrossFit, which consists of a lot of strength training, but also a very large percentage is anaerobic conditioning. CrossFitters train quite differently than your average strength athlete or endurance athlete, and because of this their needs are a little different. We constantly pull from our glycogen stores and these stores need topping up fairly regularly.


Get your priorities straight and avoid Marketing Bullshit

For starters, before you even think about supplementing, get your calories and macros needs sorted for your goals (or hire me to help you :). It might be beneficial to track your food intake for a little while as well just to make sure you are balancing your macronutrients properly for your needs.

Then if you want to go the supplement route, avoid the bullshit at all costs. I love supplements and I am a believer in the ones that work. However, you need to realise that a majority of the products that come to the market are overpriced crap that don’t have any science to back up their claims. Don’t fall victim to the marketing scams. I see this happen to so many people all the time! It’s crazy.

Supplements are only an extra and should be treated as such. They should never replace a well balanced diet. The people who are constantly on the lookout for the next new supplement still don’t understand the basics principles of nutrition and training. They are continuously looking for that miracle pill; that supplement that will magically give them all the results they are after. That’s just not going to happen. NOTHING will ever replace having a sound, balanced diet with plenty of vitamins and minerals coming from natural sources.

Whether or not to take supplements is a personal choice. You have both extremes of people: the ones who’s pantry is chock full of supps, and they swear by every supplement on the market. Then you have the “purists” who don’t touch supplements and constantly feel the need to tell everyone that they get their results by eating food only.

I personally sit somewhere in the middle of the two extremes. I am a big proponent of eating nourishing foods, cooking your own food and having a well-balanced diet. In saying that, I will be the first to admit that when you’re training every day, often twice a day, hitting all the different energy systems, and juggling a very busy life and work schedule, supplements can be pretty damn convenient. And there are definitely some ways that you can manipulate sources of muscle/recovery enhancers by using supplements, that can keep you going harder and longer too.

So on to my list of supplements that I believe CrossFitters can benefit from. Every supplement that I mention is backed by research, and I am including portions from the studies. I look to www.examine.com for all my supplement information. It is an extremely worthwhile website to check out if you have any questions on supplementation and would like unbiased data. I downloaded their e-book and it has been an excellent resource for me. In my opinion, the book is basically the most comprehensive and unbiased research analysis, ever, on every major supplement. While I realize that studies aren’t the be all and end all when it comes to giving us answers, I am a big proponent of promoting evidence-based information.

Protein/amino acids and Carb Powders:

Whether you enjoy training in a fasted state, on a full stomach or somewhere in between, the foods that you choose to eat prior to your workout will have an impact on how that workout will be. On top of that, how you are able to bounce back from tearing apart muscle tissue and taking a chunk out of your glycogen stores will make an impact on how much energy you have for the rest of the day, how well you recover from your training, and it can have effects on your following workouts.

This is where protein and carb powders can come in real handy. Whey protein powder is just an extremely convenient way to get your protein in. There are many good brands of protein powder you can pick from. I use the BSC naturals range WPI one. It’s mild and nice tasting and mixes well in anything.

“Whey is used as a protein supplement. It is very useful for hitting targeted daily protein goals. Whey is absorbed faster than other forms of protein, which means it also increases muscle protein synthesis used to break a fasted state.”

Pretty straightforward. Get your protein in especially if you train hard and often! It’s important.

Now onto carb powders. We rely on carbohydrates to fuel high intensity exercise (like CrossFit), but at the same time it is good to train your body to utilize both fat and carbohydrate as an energy source depending on your activity levels, so I wouldn’t overdo it on the carbs all the time, especially if you are after fat loss AND muscle building.

The times when I want to eat a pretty huge amount of carbs are the day before a very high training day (or compeition) and also during. For example, on Saturdays we train between 2-3 hours straight, often pretty high intensity. So I up my carbs the night before. I might have an extra carb serving with my protein drink the night before, and I sip on a carb/protein drink throughout the training session.

Rich Froning is known for eating a lot of peanut butter and jelly between workouts, which completely makes sense if you understand the energy systems.  I like to do a mixture of some form of modified starch like either Vitargo, maltodextrin, or dextrose blended right in with my protein powder; it makes a very convineient recovery drink after training. That will provide you with exactly what you need to begin restoring glycogen within your muscles after training.  As far as taste is concerned, dextrose is very sweet, whereas waxy maize, vitargo and maltodextrin are generally bland and flavorless.  The ideal ratio of carbs to protein is 2:1. You can also get pre mixed carb and protein powders (like Evolve Anabolic Injection for example, which is pretty popular). Really convenient for CrossFitters.


I’ve been taking creatine off and on for about a year now. I do notice strength and power benefits from it when I take it consistently for a few weeks. I think it is safe to say creatine is a good choice for CrossFitters. You can always try it and see whether you notice a difference.

Creatine helps with power, it benefits you in exercises that require explosiveness, like jumping, sprinting and heavy lifting. It also helps your body quickly replenish ATP in energetically demanding situations. ATP is the compound that your cells use for fuel, so in basic terms, creatine helps you workout harder and perform better in pretty much any athletic endevour.

“Creatine is a molecule that is produced in the body, where it exists additionally in the form of creatine phosphate. Creatine is also found in foods, mostly meat, eggs and fish. Creatine confers a variety of health benefits, including neuroprotective and cardioprotective properties. It also improves power output and is often used by athletes to increase high-intensity exercise capacity and lean body mass. Creatine’s main action in the body is storing high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine. During periods of stress, phosphocreatine releases energy to aid cellular function. This is what causes strength increases after creatine supplementation, but this action can also aid the brain, bones, muscles and liver. Most of the benefits of creatine are provided through this mechanism.”

Beta Alanine:

Beta alanine is often an overlooked supplement in the CrossFit world. I personally think it’s one of the more appropriate ones for CrossFitters, considering the research and the ways it can be beneficial. I have taken beta alanine off and on and as well. I like it as long as I don’t overdo the dose, as I don’t like the tingles I get from taking too much.

Beta Alanine can improve your muscular power output. It is also particularly effective in high repetition sports and also where there are multiple bouts of high intensity activity. Highly specific to CrossFit! It can increase your muscle mass and boost your anaerobic AND aerobic endurance. So this is fantastic for typical CrossFit metcons where we’re expected to perform well in both an anaerobic AND aerobic capacity. As well as that, it can also delay your muscular fatigue, which is always helpful.

“Beta-alanine has been shown to enhance muscular endurance. Many people report being able to perform one or two additional reps in the gym when training in sets of 8-15 repetitions. Beta-alanine supplementation can also improve moderate to high intensity cardiovascular exercise performance, like rowing or sprinting. When beta-alanine is ingested, it turns into the molecule carnosine, which acts as an acid buffer in the body. Carnosine is stored in cells and released in response to drops in pH. Increased stores of carnosine can protect against diet-induced drops in pH (which might occur from ketone production in ketosis, for example), as well as offer protection from exercise-induced lactic acid production. Large doses of beta-alanine may cause a tingling feeling called paresthesia. It is a harmless side effect.


Magnesium and Zinc

Supplementing with magnesium and zinc isn’t necessary for everyone, but deficiencies can be common. So if you choose not to supplement with these, it’s important to include foods in your diet that are naturally rich in these nutrients.

Magnesium is an essential dietary mineral, and the second most prevalent electrolyte in the human body. Magnesium deficiencies are common in developed countries. A deficiency increases blood pressure, reduces glucose tolerance and causes neural excitation. Magnesium deficiencies are common in the western diet because grains are poor sources of magnesium. Other prominent sources of magnesium, like nuts and leafy vegetables, are not eaten as often. It is possible to fix a magnesium deficiency through dietary changes.

Further evidence is needed to determine if magnesium supplementation can boost exercise performance, but there was one study done on triathletes:

“One study in Triathletes given 17mmol Magnesium (as Orotate) daily for a period of 4 weeks prior to testing (simulated Triathalon testing) noted that there was a significant increase in blood glucose, where the exercise-induced spike in glucose was 135.6% the level of placebo, a decrease in blood proton level (90% higher than baseline with Magnesium, rather than 98% with placebo), and improved blood oxygenation as indicated by less venous CO2 (66% in Magnesium relative to baseline, while it was 74% in placebo) and higher venous O2 levels with Magnesium (208% of baseline with Magnesium, rather than 126% with placebo).These biomarkers were paired with improved times on swimming 500m (88% of placebo's time), biking 20km (98% of placebo), and running 5km (92.6% of placebo).”

Zinc is one of the more common micronutrient deficiencies in athletes, vegetarians/vegans, and those who sweat a ton. For this reason, I think zinc deficiencies are particularly important for CrossFitters to keep tabs on.

“Zinc is one of the 24 micronutrients needed for survival. It is found in meat, egg, and legume products. Oysters are particularly good sources of zinc….Zinc is also very important for the functioning of the enzyme, hormone, and immune systems…Zinc is lost through sweat, making supplementation very important for athletes that don’t get a lot of zinc through food.”

I personally like taking magnesium and zinc before bed. Zinc and magnesium help with improving sleep quality and metabolism as well.


I prefer recommending nutrient dense foods for getting in your vitamins vs taking a multivitamin. In terms of how bio-available the processed form of these vitamins are, it just doesn’t compare to getting them fresh from whole foods. There is also the issue of the body struggling to process and absorb the vitamins and minerals in the processed form. If you feel you need more vitamins in your diet or you need to boost your immune system I would recommend supplementing with a probiotic and a greens powder or upping your fruit and vegetable intake. Get your digestive system working better, and you will absorb so much more goodness from the foods you eat.

This is a list that should cover around 95% of the supplement needs for most CrossFitters, in my opinion.  Again if you have specific supplement questions, head over to www.examine.com. You can search the name of any supplement, vitamin or mineral and you can also purchase their ebooks, which were helpful to me. They come highly recommended by me, mostly because they are an independent and unbiased organisation that doesn’t SELL any supplements themselves. They just focus on the scientific research, with no ulterior motives.

So there you have my recommendations on supplements for CrossFitters. What would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments!



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