Every month at Industrial Athletics starts with our CrossFit Fundamentals Program. It is our introductory class that teaches everyone the basic movements and lifts that we use in CrossFit. Inevitably, I have one participant who is ramped up and ready to dive in. By the end of the Fundamentals Program, this amped up participant starts to talk with me about diet and supplements. Then the question comes, “What supplements should I take to burn off this fat and put on muscle fast?” There is almost a look of disappointment when I tell him/her that 85% is diet and only 15% is supplementation. Diet is the most important. If you are not eating correctly, there is no workout in the world, and no amount of supplements, that will sustain a long term healthy lifestyle. Supplements are a “SUPPLEMENT” to a healthy diet. However, for those who have dialed in their diet, here is a short guide on supplements:
Perhaps the most important supplement is Protein Powder. Assuming you are receiving the vitamins and minerals you need from your diet, a hard working CrossFitter needs some extra protein right after a workout to help rebuild the torn down muscle tissue. This added protein will aid in recovery and the building of lean muscle mass.
Picking a good protein depends on a lot of factors. First, you want to find a whey protein isolate. Look at the ingredients. Are there a lot of “fillers?” These will be the words you don’t know that sound like something from your chemistry class. You want a protein powder with no more than 10 ingredients, most of which are natural. Look at the nutrition label. You want a powder that has about 20-30 grams of protein per serving, 1.5-5 grams of fat, and 1.5-5 grams of carbs.
Sometimes, we receive questions about certain brands. The brand is not super important. Just because the protein powder is put out by a big name company doesn’t mean it is the best. You are often paying a lot for that name. Go back to the paragraph above and follow that guide. You will probably find a good quality powder for less than you expect.
Every so often, I get a question about protein powder for women vs. men. That often depends on your goals. Protein powder designed specifically for women exists. However, it is often designed for body builders and fitness competitors, i.e. combined with some kind of fat burning supplement. The same goes for muscle builder proteins designed for men. They are often stuffed full of excess fat and carbs.
Also known as Omega-3 oil, fish oil is thought to help in the reduction of free radicals. Our diets are full of Omega-6 oil that is often found in grains. It is believed that Omega-6 causes silent inflammation in the body that leads to different syndromes later in life. Omega-3, naturally found in fish, reduces the Omega-6. I find that it also helps me recover and keeps my joints from aching.
Similar to protein powder, it is important to find a good quality fish oil. Once again, that doesn’t mean expensive. Look at the label to check the amount of Omega-3 per serving. The general consensus is 2000mg-4000mg per day. The more quality supplement will have a higher mg count per serving.
Not all Omega-3 is created equal. Check the label for the break down of Omega 3. You are looking for EPA and DHA. You may also see ALA, ETA, and DPA. The higher the quantity of EPA and DHA, the better it is.
If you are one of those people who doesn’t love vegetables, you may need a multivitamin to supplement your vitamins and minerals. These include calcium, iron, B6, B12, etc. Generally speaking, most multivitamins will have very similar ingredients. While there is not a lot of science backing the quantity needed of each vitamin or mineral, we do know things like women often need more iron and calcium. You may want to increase your vitamin C during flu season. This has caused the market to produce different types of multivitamins. Shop around, look at the ingredients, and compare the quantities of each vitamin and mineral. Bottom line, find an affordable multivitamin with words you have heard: iron, calcium, the vitamin letters, potassium, magnesium, zinc, etc.
I add pre-workout to the end of this simply because it is all too often seen in CrossFit. We see the red and blue liquids in protein shakers almost every class. Pre-workout is a supplement that should be used sparingly. It has its place and it can be beneficial to maximize performance. However, when used too often, it can become addicting. If you cannot workout without first drinking your pre-workout, you should consider other changes in your life, like increasing your sleep, adding some dense carbs to your diet, or adding the supplements laid out above. I would recommend never using it. However, even I have used pre-workout to aid in competitions.
This is not an exhaustive list of all of the beneficial supplements on the market. We didn’t talk about BCAAs, for example. Pay attention to your diet first. If you are eating a well balanced diet of Proteins, Fats, and Carbs, then you are prepared to add some of the above. Once you see how these supplements affect your performance, then you may start adding more specific supplements designed with specific outcomes in mind. If you have questions about supplements, let us know.