When first starting CrossFit, you tend to begin by getting your training dialed in. That means consistently showing up to class, week after week, and slowly building up your training volume. You might start with 2-3 days a week and then slowly start to add a fourth, fifth, and maybe even a sixth training day. You might even get a little obsessive about your training too. Trying to finding that perfect squat program, that Olympic lifting cycle that so and so does, or thinking you need to follow that special CrossFit competitor’s training from that elite level functional fitness blog. If not, maybe you just get really dedicated to your own box’s programming and follow it to the “t.”
In time, you start to realize how important proper nutrition is to your training and you might start implementing principles from The Zone Diet or the Paleo Diet to help maximize your gains in the gym. Even when you have both your training and nutrition dialed in, there may still be little gaps somewhere. That’s where smart supplementation can come into play to help you maximize your time in the gym by giving you extra energy for workouts and quicker recovery between sets, as well as increased recovery between training days.
Below we’ll cover a few simple, inexpensive supplements that every CrossFitter, young and old, should definitely consider adding to their health and fitness regimen. The following supplements are divided into two categories. Everyday Health and Performance. The Everyday Health category includes supplements that everyone should definitely consider taking for overall improved health and well-being. The supplements in the Performance category are supplements you should consider if you’re looking for an edge in the gym, like increasing your odds of improved WOD performance, strength and overall recovery. As with anything regarding your health, please consult your physician before taking any of the supplements mentioned in this article.
Fish oil has been discussed at length on numerous health and fitness websites. You can find the CrossFit Headway fish oil article HERE. For now, we’ll just give you a brief rundown of why you should be taking this potent fatty acid.
In the Standard American Diet (SAD for short), there is an over-abundance of Omega-6s, which are pro-inflammatory. When you switch to Paleo diet, you naturally eliminate the pro-inflammatory foods (like dairy, grains, and legumes), but now you need to help balance out the ratio of Omega-6s to Omega-3s. Why? Omega-6s are pro-inflammatory while Omega-3s are anti-inflammatory. Along with reducing systemic inflammation, Omega-3s help to control insulin levels and maintain healthy brain function, lower bad (LDL) cholesterol and raise good (HDL) cholesterol, slow the hardening of arteries, and help support the immune system. They’re also great for helping with joint stiffness and post-WOD soreness. 2-4 grams of Omega-3s daily are ideal for most.
The sunshine vitamin! Hardly any of us get enough sun on our skin, especially during the winter months. Vitamin D3 increases brain levels of glutathione, an antioxidant that plays a huge role in detoxifying the body of heavy metals. Vitamin D3 is also a potent anti-viral compound. Meaning, it helps support your immune system! It’s also great for bone and heart health and vital for healthy brain function. The best dietary source for Vitamin D3 can be found in fatty fish like salmon. Conveniently, a good dose of Omega-3 can also be found in fatty fish! Shoot to get 2000-4000 IU of Vitamin D3 daily. If it’s summer time, get outside and enjoy some natural Vitamin D from the sun, but don’t get burned!
Magnesium deficiency is not unusual for most people. A few factors come into play, but some common reasons for magnesium deficiency are not eating enough foods that are rich in magnesium or consuming too much calcium rich foods that deplete magnesium levels in the body. Stress, diuretics, antibiotics, oral contraceptives, insulin, and cortisone can also lead to low levels of magnesium. Foods thats are high in magnesium are broccoli, green leafy vegetables, squash, seeds and nuts (especially almonds), meats, chocolate (the darker the better), and coffee. Magnesium is important for CrossFitters because magnesium plays a role in more than 300 bodily functions. Inadequate levels of magnesium can lead to muscle cramps and early fatigue during workouts. Magnesium also aids in the transfer of ATP or energy within cells and protein synthesis. ATP is important during training (more on ATP later) and protein synthesis is important for optimal recovery after training. At CrossFit Headway, we like Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm Magnesium. The raspberry lemon flavor is super tasty! Just make sure to drink it at night before bed.
If you struggle to get down your veggies and fruits, you should consider adding a multivitamin to your daily supplement routine. Adding a multi will help fill in the gaps in your daily vitamin and mineral intake from food. We recommend staying away from the common grocery store brands and go with a more potent and reliable brand like Rainbow Light, Solgar, or Now Foods. When making the transition from a SAD (Standard American Diet), you are already at a deficit when it comes to adequate vitamin and mineral intake, so a good multivitamin will help to make the shift to the Paleo path a little smoother. Common deficiencies from a SAD are Vitamin D, magnesium, selenium, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and Iodine.
When shifting from a SAD to the Paleo diet, most people lack the necessary and natural good gut bacteria and digestive enzymes and as a result, have a damaged gut flora and poor digestion. This poor digestion leads to malnourishment and malnutrition because your body isn’t able to receive the nutrients from your food. If you’ve been eating a SAD, those necessary nutrients are few and far between to begin with! A good probiotic should contain multiple strains of lactobacillus and bifidobacterum. As for a good digestive enzyme, look for one that contains at least the following enzymes: Protease, amylase, and lipase. Again, brands like Solgar and Now Foods are great brands to start with.
Protein Powder – specifically whey protein (not paleo, but read on)
Your body uses protein as energy for cells and it is also used to build and repair muscle tissue. You need to refuel and repair the damage from your workouts and protein powder, specifically whey protein powder, is the quickest way to do so. Of course, there is no replacement for real food, but if you’re looking to get some quick nutrition into your system, whey protein is the way to go (no pun intended). As you might know already, we recommend About Time Protein. It’s all natural, lactose free, only has ingredients you can easily pronounce, a lot of flavors to choose from and it’s super tasty! About Time Protein also provides your body with a full spectrum of Branched-Chain Amino Acids. BCAAs are the building blocks of protein. If you’re going to use protein powder, no matter what brand it is, we recommend reserving it for post-workout nutrition only, unless your goal is to gain weight.
Somewhat related to protein powder are BCAAs or Branched-Chain Amino Acids. There are 3 BCAAs. Valine, Leucine, and Isoleucine. Again, BCAAs are the building blocks of protein. BCAAs are super easy for your body to absorb and are a great pre-workout and intra-workout supplement. BCAA powder mixes easily with water and are much easier and lighter on the stomach and digestive system right before or even during a training session. We like and recommend Scivation Xtend Intro-Workout Catalyst. There’s a ton of flavors to choose from. Green Apple Explosion is a very popular choice at CrossFit Headway.
Last but not least, we have creatine! Creatine, in the monohydrate form, has been around for many years and has been the subject of countless studies. Creatine is the precursor to ATP or energy for muscle cells.
Creatine can be found in read meat, but pounds upon pounds of meat would have to be consumed daily to equal the recommended dose of 5-10g/day. Without creatine supplementation, your ATP gas tank never really get full. Supplementing with creatine tops off your ATP tank. With consistent creatine supplementation, creatine can increase muscular strength, increase recovery, and reduce muscular fatigue. Creatine is so inexpensive, it’s almost silly to not use it, or at least give it a try and see what kind of results it can help you achieve. We use the creatine monohydrate from About Time and just mix 5-10g of creatine in with our post-workout shake or BCAAs.
Start by adding only one of the supplements mentioned in this article. Give it at least a month of using just the one before adding a second, third, fourth, and so on. It might even help to keep a journal and take note of how you feel and perform while on this new supplement. This will help you keep track of what supplement works for you and which one, not so much. When adding a new supplement, start from the Everyday Health category first. Once you are able to get yourself feeling better on a daily basis, you can then begin to shift your focus to also improving and maximizing your performance by beginning to experiment with the recommended supplements from the Performance category.
Just remember, your nutrition will need to be tweaked occasionally depending on your training volume, sleep patterns, and daily stresses, your supplementation regimen might also need to be tweaked every now and then. CrossFit training is a constant evolution and your nutrition and supplementation should be too.
- Alex Dichter
This is a guest post from Alex Dichter, Co-owner and Head Coach of CrossFit Headway in Huntingdon Valley, PA. Alex has been CrossFitting since 2008, has been coaching since 2011, and is CrossFit level 1 and Outlaw Barbell certified. You can follow CrossFit Headway on Facebook and Instagram
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