When it comes to CrossFit performance, saying you get “everything you need from food” simply doesn’t cut it. Yes, it is possible to get everything you need in the way of nutrients from the food you eat. However, there are certain molecules that have been shown to increase performance; and supplementation with these ingredients is going to give you an edge that food just cannot provide (assuming you’re fuelling well to begin with of course). Here are my top 3, backed by science, and all in group A of the AIS supplement grading system.
As far as value for money goes, this should be the first product in your basket. Creatine is used by the body to produce phosphocreatine, which is responsible for regenerating ATP (energy) during explosive exercise. Supplementing with creatine has been shown to boost muscle creatine stores meaning more creatine available for ATP regeneration [1, 2].
Its safety has been well established, and its efficacy in boosting power output, lean mass, and anaerobic running capacity is backed by seemingly countless studies over the past three decades [2-6].
Look for a straight creatine monohydrate product and shoot for around 5g per day.
Beta-alanine is used by the body to produce a dipeptide called carnosine. Carnosine is a pH buffer, responsible for dispersing excess hydrogen ions that produced during anaerobic glycolysis.
What does that mean? Well you know that burning sensation you get from lactic acid during continued sprinting or lifting? Carnosine helps to get rid of that.
Supplementation with beta-alanine has been shown to increase carnosine levels and improve performance in exercise lasting longer than 60 seconds [7, 8]. Some research has even shown an effect on lean muscle mass, however this needs further study to reach a solid conclusion .
Like creatine, beta-alanine supplementation isn’t timing dependant, however most people prefer taking it prior to working out due to the skin tingles (paraesthesia) it can produce. Look for between 2-4g per day.
There’s a reason caffeine is the world’s most loved drug; it increases adrenaline production, which in turn leads to increase alertness, energy, and performance.
The benefits of caffeine supplementation on endurance exercise have been established for quite some time . However, more recent research is suggesting it also has an ergogenic effect on repeated sprint performance, as well as power output [11-13].
Given that CrossFit requires repeated bouts of explosive exercise, it’s more than reasonable to suggest a similar benefit.
There are two key caveats to the argument of using caffeine to boost performance. Firstly, there seems to be a law of diminishing returns; extended use can limit the benefits, even if it doesn’t have a negative effect. Secondly, those sensitive to caffeine, and those individuals who have used excessively over an extended period of time, may experience negative effects such as heart palpitations and insomnia.
Pulling Them All Together
Creatine and beta-alanine can be taken anytime during the day, however it is somewhat practical to dose all three within an hour of hitting the gym or track. Creatine and beta-alanine can be purchased on their own and downed with water, flavoured amino acids, or a whey protein powder. Then just hit an espresso or caffeine dosed to your tolerance levels.
Even more practical however would be a pre-workout powder containing all three ingredients adequately dosed. There isn’t a lot of research on the safety and efficacy of pre-workout blends as such, however a study in 2014 found it was safe for a period of 28 days (that was the length of the study) .
Pre-workout blends are a great way to get all the benefits of these ergogenic ingredients without having to worry about carrying around all three.
1. Brault, J.J., et al., Parallel increases in phosphocreatine and total creatine in human vastus lateralis muscle during creatine supplementation. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2007. 17(6): p. 624-34.
2. Burke, D.G., et al., Effect of creatine and weight training on muscle creatine and performance in vegetarians. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2003. 35(11): p. 1946-55.
3. Joy, J.M., et al., 28 days of creatine nitrate supplementation is apparently safe in healthy individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2014. 11(1): p. 60.
4. Lamontagne-Lacasse, M., R. Nadon, and E.D. Goulet, Effect of creatine supplementation on jumping performance in elite volleyball players. Int J Sports Physiol Perform, 2011. 6(4): p. 525-33.
5. Spillane, M., et al., The effects of creatine ethyl ester supplementation combined with heavy resistance training on body composition, muscle performance, and serum and muscle creatine levels. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2009. 6: p. 6.
6. Branch, J.D., Effect of creatine supplementation on body composition and performance: a meta-analysis. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab, 2003. 13(2): p. 198-226.
7. Baguet, A., et al., Important role of muscle carnosine in rowing performance. J Appl Physiol (1985), 2010. 109(4): p. 1096-101.
8. Hobson, R.M., et al., Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino Acids, 2012. 43(1): p. 25-37.
9. Kern, B.D. and T.L. Robinson, Effects of beta-alanine supplementation on performance and body composition in collegiate wrestlers and football players. J Strength Cond Res, 2011. 25(7): p. 1804-15.
10. Ivy, J.L., et al., Influence of caffeine and carbohydrate feedings on endurance performance. Med Sci Sports, 1979. 11(1): p. 6-11.
11. Schneiker, K.T., et al., Effects of caffeine on prolonged intermittent-sprint ability in team-sport athletes. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2006. 38(3): p. 578-85.
12. Glaister, M., et al., Caffeine supplementation and multiple sprint running performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2008. 40(10): p. 1835-40.
13. Del Coso, J., et al., Dose response effects of a caffeine-containing energy drink on muscle performance: a repeated measures design. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2012. 9(1): p. 21.
14. Kendall, K.L., et al., Ingesting a preworkout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, amino acids, and B vitamins for 28 days is both safe and efficacious in recreationally active men. Nutr Res, 2014. 34(5): p. 442-9.