You’ve started CrossFit, and see others ripping through WOD’s in half the time you can do it. Perhaps they’ve found an elusive supplement that you weren’t aware of, and if you had access to this same thing, then you’d be as quick or as strong too…
In reality, its likely they have been doing CF for a number of years, and have actually been where you are, as the newbie, starting out, and just getting to grips with WOD’s. Years of solid work has built the physical capacity, and the foundation for their improvements.
Turning up, putting in the effort, and following your coaches advice, is the best way to start. Getting your diet right is a great step to improvement too. Getting these fundamental things right first, is where everybody should start. As for supplements, the clue is in the name, they are supplementary to your diet, and not the starting point for a good diet, or fitness level. There is certainly no magic pill, although there are certainly supplements to avoid, and ones that have solid research behind them, so let’s get into the good ones:
1. Whey protein and/or vegan protein
There is a lot of evidence that a high protein diet is beneficial for building muscle, gaining strength and losing weight versus a low, or moderate protein diet. Not only does protein aid recovery allowing you to train harder in subsequent sessions, it also stimulates muscle growth, which helps in muscle and strength gains.
It is easily digested, and absorbed quickly compared to many sources of protein, and can work out as cost effective, at 20g – 25g per serving. The high quantity of amino acids, available in whey protein, and particularly leucine, help to prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue and promote fat loss.
Activits performance whey protein (with whey isolate) – Learn More
Look out for manufacturers packaging though, with the addition of unnecessary ingredients, or a huge scoop size to inflate the amount of protein per serving. Protein per 100g is a good test of the amount included rather than the serving size. If the protein is 80g per 100g then its 80% protein. If you are seeing 60 – 70% then you should be looking for why that is the case.
There are a multitude of vegan protein options available now too, and you may prefer a plant based protein for ethical, dietary or other reasons. Vegan protein, is vastly improved from the early options, which while offering plant based protein, were often really quite unpleasant to drink! There is less research on the benefits of vegan protein, although that is changing, and there are definitely good reasons to try a vegan protein. As with the advice on whey protein though, still keep in mind, checking the label, and looking for what’s included before making your purchase.
Ultimately for most people, whey or vegan protein is about convenience. They can be added to smoothies, overnight oats, and other recipes, or just taken straight from a shaker with water, milk or your choice of alternative milk. They help to add extra protein to your diet, without much extra fat or sugar, and are a great addition to the whole foods you eat. Backed by plenty of research, they are a staple for many people involved in all types of sport, and for good reason, just make sure you read the packaging!
Creatine monohydrate is one of the most studied and researched supplements, and is best taken as monohydrate (do not bother with more expensive versions, promising more, it is monohydrate which has the data to back up its use). It has been shown to have many benefits, so lets get into what they are.
Creatine has been shown to have particular benefit for athletes involved in activities that require short bursts of speed, or increased muscle strength, and might allow an athlete to do more work during reps, or sprints, which could lead to greater gains in performance.
A detailed study in 2017, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, concluded that creatine ‘remains one of the few nutritional supplements for which research has consistently shown ergogenic benefits’. This means that it may enhance strength and power performance, so increased repetitions and power output, both fundamentally important for the CF, or the functional fitness athlete.
Another benefit of creatine is in relation to age, because as we get older, we start to lose muscle mass. Combining creatine with a resistance training program could help to reduce muscle mass loss, maintain strength, and even improve mental activity.
Some of the latest research advocates taking it after exercise, although others argue the timing is not as important as taking it continuously, with 3g – 5g per day being the optimum amount. Some people choose to have a loading phase where they take 20g for 5 days, but much advice now focuses on this not being necessary, and instead just taking the recommended daily amount.
3. A quality multivitamin
Probably the most widely taken of all supplements, and a multi billion pound industry, but with varying levels of quality, and differing results from research. It is likely that if your diet is good, with whole foods being eaten and a variety of fruit and vegetables, then you may have no need for a multi vitamin. That said, many people do have poor diets, and others who train hard regularly, want the ease of a multivitamin to supplement their diet.
Particular people can benefit from taking additional vitamins, such as vegans and vegetarians, who might benefit from more vitamin B12, which is primarily found in animal foods, and some vegans (but by no means all) may also lack calcium, zinc, iron and vitamin D. Older people may benefit from more vitamin B12, vitamin D, and calcium too.
Vitamin capsules and tablets, can absorb very differently, and often the percentage of vitamin absorbed, is much lower than stated on the pack too, so as with whey protein, actually taking the time to assess the product, and read the label, is always the best policy.
There are good quality multi vitamins available, and we should know…
Activits IgniteRX Crossfit Multivitamin – Learn More
Activits IgniteRX Vegan Crossfit Multivitamin – Learn More
The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), evaluated available literature on caffeine, and came up with a number of conclusions which are worth reading when considering using caffeine to boost performance:
- Supplementation with caffeine has been shown to enhance various aspects of exercise performance in most studies.
- Aerobic endurance appears to be the form of exercise with most consistent benefits from caffeine use, although there are variations between individuals
- The dose required to consistently improve exercise performance is 3-6 mg / kg of body mass. Minimal effective dose may be as low as 2mg / kg
- The most commonly used timing is 60 mins pre workout. The timing though does depend on the form of caffeine that is taken
- Caffeine appears to improve physical performance in both trained and untrained individuals
- Caffeine does show some positive effects for cognitive function, including attention and vigilance
- Energy drinks and pre workout supplements containing caffeine have been shown to enhance both anaerobic and aerobic performance
In short, there appears to be a clear link between caffeine and performance, although people do have different levels of tolerance to caffeine, and a pre workout with 200mg of caffeine, may be barely noticed by some people, but send others into overdrive! Test your tolerance first, before diving in, use sporadically, and reset your caffeine tolerance by going without, or reducing the quantity you take for a few weeks.
Supplements to avoid
We’ve mentioned some products that are worth considering, but what about the ones to avoid.
- Fat burners
Often packed with ingredients you have never heard of, and with no research backing up claims, weight loss is best done with a combination of diet and exercise, and avoiding these so called fat burners.
You are very probably already getting enough BCAA’s, especially if using protein powder, or on a higher protein diet. There is no conclusive research available that proves they offer a benefit. Save your money!
- Products you have never heard of
If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. It could be an invented name by a manufacturer. Do your research, and avoid…