We've all heard about CrossFit.
The super high-intensity interval training community involving all sorts of strength and conditioning workouts comprising various functional movements that target nearly every muscle in your body.
But it's not your typical workout.
CrossFit is promoted as both a physical form of exercise and also a competitive sport that incorporates elements of HIIT, Olympic lifting, plyometrics, powerlifting, calisthenics, and strongman, among others.
Since its establishment in 2000, CrossFit gyms have infiltrated the United States and have now popped up across the globe.
We know supplements are not a mandatory part of being a CrossFit athlete, but if you're taking the right ones, they can provide you a bit of a competitive advantage to power through your WOD like a champ.
Read on as we give you a rundown of the only supplements you'll need in your stack to maximize performance and recovery, whether you're doing your daily WOD or you're in serious competition prep mode.
The Top 4 Performance Supplements for CrossFit Athletes
1. Creatine + Beta-Alanine = The Power Couple
Creatine and beta-alanine is one of the best duos for CrossFit athletes for the simple reason that creatine boosts work capacity, while beta-alanine buffers lactic acid to prevent fatigue.
They enable your muscles to work harder for longer. But while muscle fatigue at some point may not seem like the be-all, end-all for everyday gym-goers, for CrossFit athletes, it can be a huge deal.
Here's why you need them.
Creatine is one of the best, if not the best supplement to increase energy, power output, peak performance, and strength—all key fundamentals for any CrossFit athlete.
Creatine's function is to increase phosphocreatine (PCr) muscle stores, which essentially increases the capacity of your muscles to work. The harder your muscles can work, the more weight you can lift, the more reps you can do, and the better results you can achieve.
Creatine does this by combining with phosphate to form phosphocreatine. During energy production, the degradation of ATP into ADP + inorganic phosphate (Pi) provides the energy needed to fuel metabolic activities; the energy given off during the hydrolysis of phosphate is used to drive physiological processes like muscle contraction. This entire process means adequate energy availability to power maximal effort anaerobic activities 1.
Essentially, creatine serves as a substrate for ATP regeneration. In fast-twitch skeletal muscles specifically, there is a large phosphocreatine reserve available for immediate regeneration of ATP during high intensity, short-duration work 2.
However, with prolonged high-intensity exercise, phosphocreatine levels start to decline, which of course means energy availability declines also (lack of ATP regeneration), and your body can't meet the demands of high-intensity exercise.
See where we're going with this?
Beta-alanine, on the other hand, is needed for one simple reason: it buffers lactic acid in muscles to prevent fatigue. More reps = more strength = better performance. It's that simple.
Glucose serves as an immediate energy source for working muscles during intense exercise, but lactate and hydrogen ions are produced as by-products during the breakdown of glucose.
As hydrogen ions accumulate in muscle tissue, it increases the pH (acidity) of muscles, and that lactate forms lactic acid.
Suppose lactic acid isn't buffered from the muscles. In that case, muscle acidity increases to a point where they lose their ability to contract (i.e., muscle cramps), and you lose all endurance and power.
Intramuscular acidosis is one of the leading causes of fatigue during intense exercise, and I'm sure you can see how this is problematic for CrossFit athletes.
But that's where carnosine comes in; carnosine is synthesized in skeletal muscle from the amino acids L-histidine and β-alanine, and plays a key role in regulating muscle pH.
If there isn't enough beta-alanine available to synthesize carnosine, lactic acid builds up, and fatigue sets in. As such, the rate-limiting factor of carnosine synthesis is the availability of β-alanine 3.
So, to avoid muscle cramps and muscle fatigue, supplementing with beta-alanine ensures sufficient substrate for carnosine synthesis, thereby enhancing muscle buffering capacity.
Omega-3 supplements are one of the most commonly used supplements on the market—not just for athletes—and there's a good reason for it.
When taken in large enough amounts, omega-3s provide one of the best ROIs as far as supplements go.
Here's what they do:
- Improve cardiovascular health and function
- Enhance brain function and mental acuity
- Improve lipid profiles
- Modulate immune function
- Regulate inflammation
- Improve joint health and mobility
While all these points are important, the last two are what we really want to focus on for CrossFit athletes.
Better blood flow, reduced inflammation, and enhanced joint mobility are essential for all athletes to enable them to train harder and recover faster.
And when used properly, omega-3 fatty acids can speed up your recovery to get you back into training mode.
Several studies show that omega-3 supplementation can enhance recovery and prevent strength losses following strenuous exercise by modulating levels of blood biomarkers associated with muscle damage and fatigue, reduce muscle swelling or soreness, and improve joint range of motion 4.
Most of the benefits are attributed to the anti-inflammatory and immunomodulatory properties of these fatty acids.
Where to find it: Performance Lab Omega-3
Performance Lab® Omega-3 offers a unique advantage to traditional omega-3 supplements in that it's 100% plant-based, vegan-friendly, and derived from algae—the original source of EPA and DHA.
It supplies safe, clean, and sustainable DHA+EPA naturally optimized in a 2:1 ratio without the concerns of conventional fish oil supplements.
It's ultraclean, containing no heavy metals, PCBs, or toxic contaminants; is environmentally friendly and sustainable, and traceable from start to finish.
Fulfilling your body's micronutrient needs is vital for your overall health and well-being as well as your athletic performance. CrossFit is challenging on the body—there are no two ways about it, and strenuous exercise can cause all sorts of nutrient depletions.
There's sufficient evidence supporting the link between low vitamin D and suboptimal muscle function.
Adequate vitamin D levels help reduce inflammation, pain, and myopathy while increasing muscle protein synthesis (MPS), ATP concentrations, strength, power, exercise capacity, and physical performance 5.
Studies report that adequate vitamin D levels promote greater isometric strength and vertical jump height in athletes, along with fewer injuries 6.
Vitamin D has also been linked to an increase in muscle protein and type II muscle fibers, as well as improved VO2 max and force and power production 7, 8.
Magnesium is another essential that rarely makes it to athlete's must-have supplement list. You typically think of magnesium as a relaxation mineral aiding with sleep, stress levels, and muscle relaxation, but most people don't realize that magnesium is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions in the body.
Specifically, it's required for the activation of enzymes known as ATPases, needed for the generation of ATP, the body's dominant form of energy used to fuel muscle contraction.
- A study of male athletes taking 390mg of magnesium per day for 25 days saw an increase in peak oxygen uptake and total work output during work capacity tests 9
- A sub-maximal work study found that magnesium supplementation reduced heart rate, ventilation rate, oxygen uptake, and carbon dioxide production during activity 10
- A study on active students demonstrated that 8mg/kg/day of magnesium increased endurance performance and decreased oxygen consumption during sub-maximal exercise 11
On the list of other critical nutrients for sports performance, we have B vitamins, calcium, iron, and zinc.
And while you can take these supplements on their own, a high-quality multivitamin offers a clean and convenient way to ensure you meet your nutrient needs, both for performance and recovery.
Where to find it: Performance Lab NutriGenesis Multi
At Performance Lab, we know that suboptimal nutrition limits performance. NutriGenesis® Multi helps to restore nutrients that may be missing from your diet to support healthy cell performance across all body systems.
NutriGenesis® is ultramodern nutrition technology unique to Performance Lab® that uses vitamins and minerals bioengineered with cofactors to boost absorption and maximize benefits.
NutriGenesis® Multi supplies 100%+ DV of 17+ essentials, tailored specifically to your needs, all delivered in NutriCaps® - prebiotic-infused and vegan-friendly for digestive comfort and peace of mind.
4. Co-enzyme Q10 (CoQ10)
CoQ10 isn't something you typically hear about in relation to athletes, but it should be. CoQ10, also known as ubiquinone, is found in high concentrations inside the mitochondria (the 'powerhouses') of cells, playing a critical role in ATP synthesis.
The common role that we hear about for CoQ10 is in cardiovascular health, helping to improve blood flow and function of the arteries, which for athletes is pretty important.
However, for CrossFit athletes, it's the energy-producing properties we're concerned about. Strenuous and heavy exercise creates oxidation in the body.
As an antioxidant, supplementing with CoQ10 may reduce oxidative damage markers and may also help reduce specific markers of muscle damage.
Many studies show CoQ10's involvement in several important roles throughout the body, including electron transport in the mitochondrial oxidative respiratory chain and thus ATP production; an essential antioxidant and supporting the regeneration of other antioxidants; influencing the stability, fluidity, and permeability of membranes; and stimulating cell growth and inhibiting cell death 12.
Because of these functions, acute supplementation of CoQ10 has been shown to increase muscle CoQ10 concentrations and lower serum superoxide dismutase (SOD) oxidative stress and malondialdehyde (MDA) levels during and after exercise 12.
It also may increase time to exhaustion. Basically, it works to support energy production to power you through all your training sessions and proper recovery afterward.
Where to find it: Performance Lab Energy
Unlike other energy supplements, Performance Lab® Energy works without caffeine for a smarter, cleaner, and healthier energy boost.
Featuring MicroActive® Q10, BioPerine®, BioPQQ®, Bio-Enhanced® R-Lipoic Acid, and Acetyl L-Carnitine, Energy optimizes cells' mitochondria for a surge of natural vitality in both body and mind.
And unlike energy pills loaded with synthetic additives, Energy is clean. No caffeine, no crash, no additives. Just pure revitalizing energy in 100% plant-based NutriCaps®.
The Top 2 Recovery Supplements for CrossFit Athletes
Protein + Carbs
High-intensity exercise, especially CrossFit, is known for causing micro-damage to muscle fibers, and without proper post-workout nutrition, your body can't properly repair the damage. Protein and carbs are staples to the muscle repair and muscle growth processes.
And while supplements aren't mandatory for CrossFit athletes, they can optimize recovery after high-intensity training sessions or competitions.
Protein forms the building blocks of your muscles, and without it, you won't recover properly, never mind gain muscle and boost strength. But aside from MPS, protein is also needed for:
- Building bones, muscles, and cartilage
- Repairing tissues after exercise or injury
- Immune cell formation (immunoglobulins/antibodies)
- Enzyme, hormone, and neurotransmitter synthesis
Protein is essential for your body, and without it, your entire body function will suffer, not just your performance.
Protein powders are a quick, easy, and affordable way to ensure your protein needs are getting met. It ensures that you have the building blocks required for muscle recovery and growth and to prevent muscle breakdown.
And carbs? They come in handy for three reasons:
- Replenish glycogen stores: Glucose and glycogen (stored glucose) are the primary fuel sources during high-intensity workouts. When muscle glycogen stores are depleted, your body doesn't have the energy it needs to sustain performance. While fat can serve as a fuel substrate, no other macronutrient can be broken down as rapidly as carbs to provide an immediate energy source. Post-workout carbs go immediately to filling up stores for your next training session or competition.
- Prevent muscle breakdown: Many people don't realize that restricting carbohydrates can accelerate muscle protein breakdown because of the role of insulin; insulin is required to shuttle amino acids into muscle cells to stimulate MPS, and when insulin levels are kept low with carb restriction, amino acids can't get into cells to do their job.
- Enhance muscle recovery: After intense workouts, your body requires nutrients for repair and recovery. If those nutrients aren't readily available in the bloodstream, the body releases cortisol, a catabolic hormone that is a significant part of your stress response, but also signals to increase blood glucose by mobilizing fuel stores. When those fuel stores are low, cortisol triggers muscle tissue breakdown to supply amino acids that can be converted into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. The net result is a loss of muscle tissue. Consuming carbs post-workout helps increase insulin to enable amino acid entry into cells, but insulin is also a hormone with potent anabolic effects to drive nutrients into cells to repair damage and stimulate growth, getting you primed for your next WOD.
Like we said, supplements aren't a mandatory part of a CrossFit athletes' diet, but they can be incredibly helpful to push you towards your goals.
If you want to make sure you're covering all of your bases for high-intensity training, Performance Lab makes the perfect stacks.
Whether you're looking to jump into the next competition, hit a new PR, or test out a new lift, these supplements are designed to optimize your body and help you achieve maximum benefit to improve your performance.
Fight muscle fatigue, improve endurance, increase strength, and accelerate recovery times with the Performance Lab lineup.
- RB Kreider, DS Kalman, J Antonio, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017 Jun; 14(18).
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- GG Artioli, B Gualano, A Smith, J Stout, AH Lancha Jr. Role of beta-alanine supplementation on muscle carnosine and exercise performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2010;42(6):1162-1173.
- PC Calder. n-3 fatty acids, inflammation and immunity: new mechanisms to explain old actions. Proc Nutr Soc. 2013;72(3):326-336.
- FD Shuler, MK Wingate, GH Moore, C Giangarra. Sports health benefits of vitamin d. Sports Health. 2012;4(6):496-501.
- MA Wyon, Y Koutedakis, R Wolman, AM Nevill, N Allen. The influence of winter vitamin D supplementation on muscle function and injury occurrence in elite ballet dancers: a controlled study. J Sci Med Sport. 2014;17(1):8-12.
- JJ Cannell, BW Hollis, MB Sorenson, TN Taft, JJ Anderson. Athletic performance and vitamin D. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(5):1102-1110. doi:10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181930c2b
- DT Dahlquist, BP Dieter, MS Koehle. Plausible ergogenic effects of vitamin D on athletic performance and recovery. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015;12:33.
- J Zierath, S Kaiserauer, AC Snyder. Dietary patterns of amenorrheic and regularly menstruating runners. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1986; 18(suppl):S55–6
- M Shechter, CN Bairey Merz, HG Stuehlinger, J Slany, O Pachinger, B Rabinowitz. Effects of oral magnesium therapy on exercise tolerance, exercise-induced chest pain, and quality of life in patients with coronary artery disease. Am J Cardiol. 2003;91(5):517-521.
- MF McCarty, JJ DiNicolantonio. β-Alanine and orotate as supplements for cardiac protection. Open Heart. 2014;1(1):e000119.
- M Cooke, M Iosia, T Buford, et al. Effects of acute and 14-day coenzyme Q10 supplementation on exercise performance in both trained and untrained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;5:8.