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The Best Supplements for CrossFit

Better endurance for CrossFit

If an awesome workout and a great time for you involves a combination of Olympic lifting, an assault bike, and more burpees than you knew you had in you, then chances are you are one of the millions of individuals who participate in CrossFit. CrossFit is unique in the endurance sports because CrossFit requires an individual not only have excellent stamina and speed but also strength, power, and focus. Unlike running where the athlete can zone out as long as they keep their legs churning, lacking any single physical attribute can mean the difference between the fittest on the planet and getting a DNF.

Although proper training and nutrition have the most pronounced role in predicting performance, using the correct supplements at proper doses will give you an advantage over those not supplementing. This article will take an unbiased, in-depth look at three supplements and discuss how they can help you in the next CrossFit games. At least that's what the science says!

Best Supplement for CrossFit #1: Beet Root & Nitrates

 How to get better at CrossFit

 What does beet root do for CrossFitters:

  • Maintains High Level Power Output

  • Reduces Fatigue

  • Decreases the Energy & Oxygen Cost of Exercise

  • Increases Blood Flow

  • Improves Efficiency

  • Effective Dose: 500mg of nitrates (~1600mg of beet root powder) 30-120 minutes before exercise

How will taking beet root powder help you during your next WOD? The nitrates found in beet root powder enhance metabolic efficiency at the cellular level. ATP is the cellular energy currency. After taking beet root, the ATP cost of every muscle contraction is reduced. Saving ATP is an incredible advantage for CrossFit athletes doing multiple reps of exercises and running between sets, as such activities do not permit time to fully recover before you need to put the hammer down again!

Research on beet root supplementation has found that the ATP cost of muscle contractions are reduced by 25% after taking the supplement. This has been verified to increase VO2Max and exercise efficiency. When translated to tangible performance. Beet root supplementation improves time to exhaustion by 20%!

If you’re a research-savvy individual, you know that time to exhaustion is not the same test posed by the CrossFit games. The demands of AMRAP are not the same as ASAP. Even still, just a single serving of beet root has been found to improve time trial performance by an average of 3% for distances of 4 kilometers and 16 kilometers. Longer events experience a benefit as well. In a cycling time trial of 50 miles, the nitrates found in beet root decreased the time it took to complete the event by 1.2 minutes. To quell skeptics, the effects of the nitrates are supported, as 83% of the reduction in time to complete the event could be attributed to the increase in available nitrates in the circulation. The best part is, these results improve with time. Daily supplementation with beet root for at least one week produces greater improvements in performance!

Beet root pairs extremely well with caffeine (which we’ll talk about next!), and supplements that increase ATP production, like ElevATP. Combining the increased efficiency of beet root with the increased capacity for energy production of ElevATP is a match made in heaven.

Best Supplement for CrossFit #2: Caffeine

crossfit supplements

 How does caffeine help CrossFitters:

  • Improves Pain Tolerance

  • Delays Fatigue

  • Enhances Focus

  • Positively Affects Aerobic and Anaerobic Endurance

  • Mobilizes Fatty Acids

  • Effective Dose: 3-9mg per kg body weight 30-60 minutes before exercise

Many athletes still succumb to the belief that caffeine increases blood pressure, causes tachycardia, and dehydrates athletes. However, caffeine can actually decrease blood pressure and heart rate during exercise, and it will NOT cause dehydration. Caffeine is a diuretic, but when consumed as a liquid (coffee, tea, pre workout, etc.), the fluids ingested completely offset any diuretic effect. Caffeine is also the most effective supplement that increases endurance performance after carbohydrates. There are hundreds of published research studies demonstrating that pre workout caffeine enhances endurance exercise performance by 5-15%. If that’s not enough, caffeine also improves reaction time, pain tolerance, and attention, each of which comes in pretty handy during long workouts and competitions.

How does caffeine work, you ask? Caffeine has 3 primary mechanisms of action.

The most accepted mechanism is improved pain tolerance. This is a byproduct of the electrified feeling you get from caffeine. Caffeine competitively inhibits binding of adenosine to its receptor. When adenosine binds to the adenosine receptor, it causes sleepiness and relaxation. When caffeine is bound to the adenosine receptor, we feel awake, we have reduced pain perception, and improved attention and focus. By reducing pain perception, CrossFitters are able to continue exercising when, otherwise, lactic acid or hypoxic pain would signal the muscles to start closing up shop.

Caffeine can enhance skeletal muscle function by altering calcium uptake in the sarcoplasmic reticulum. That was a mouthful, and I apologize. The sarcoplasmic reticulum is essentially a subway system for calcium in the muscle. Calcium ions are the passengers in the sarcoplasmic reticulum subway, when the doors open and calcium is released, muscle contracts. Enhancing the function of the sarcoplasmic reticulum can help extend and sustain a single muscle contraction while also more precisely initiating and ending contractions in repetitive movements.

Lastly, caffeine’s most popular effect is lipolysis. Lipolysis is the breakdown of body fat stores. Via epinephrine release caused by caffeine, body fat cells release parts of themselves (fatty acids) into the blood stream. The greater fatty acid availability increases skeletal muscle uptake of those fatty acids, which are then metabolized for energy (ATP) production. This may spare glycogen for intense exercise, enhance endurance, and delay the onset of fatigue.

Caffeine can differentially affect different people because of our genes. A review of the literature on caffeine and more in-depth discussion on the genetics of caffeine can be found on our caffeine encyclopedia page. In brief, about 85-90% of people get a huge performance boost from caffeine; these are the fast metabolizers. The others are slow metabolizers. Slow metabolizers may need more time for the effects of caffeine to set in (60-90 minutes) and/or more caffeine for it to take effect. This is because some of the effects of caffeine are due to its metabolites. Other individuals may experience anxiety or restlessness due to a different gene, but slow metabolizers and those who get anxiety still experience performance benefit, albeit to a reduced magnitude. Those who are slow metabolizers AND anxious are the only people that the research has found to have a negative or null effect of caffeine.

Another brief statement on digestion kinetics. For about 40-50% of people, caffeine has a half-life of about 5-7 hours. In slow metabolizers, this is more like 9-12 hours, and in really fast metabolizers (~40%) it could be as short as 3 hours. This depends on the type of caffeine. Natural caffeine, such as in coffee or tea, peaks in the blood about 30-60 minutes after consumption and quickly returns to baseline. Caffeine anhydrous (supplemental caffeine) that is found in pre workout, soda, and energy drinks peaks after 1-2 hours and more slowly returns to baseline. That’s why we drink several cups of coffee per day, but one scoop of pre workout or one energy drink usually keeps us happier. Novel caffeine sources, like infinergy or PurEnergy, extend half-life of caffeine by ~2-3 hours.

Best Supplement for CrossFit #3: Beta-Alanine

supplements used for crossfit games

 

How Beta-Alanine improves CrossFit performance:

  • Buffers Lactic Acid

  • Enhances Endurance

  • Prolongs Time Until Exhaustion

  • Sustains Power Output

  • Increases Strength

  • Effective Dose: 3.2 grams per day

Beta-Alanine is most renowned for the tingles you get after taking it. I, for one, like the tingles. This is a harmless side effect known as paresthesia. The effect is due to the sensitivity of a certain class of neurons only found in the skin. It is NOT because of any sort of allergic response, irritation, or inflammation. The gene coding for these specialized neurons is called MAS-related G-Protein Receptor Family Member D, or MrgprD. Say it with me… Murghhh Purrrd. For those with highly expressed MrgprD genes, you may just want to enjoy the tingles for the performance enhancing effects of beta-alanine.

Lactic acid is generated when we’re exercising at high intensities. During less intense exercise, lactic acid is either not generated because glucose can be completely metabolized while we do not need extreme amounts of energy or the little bit of lactic acid that is generated can be managed in the lactic acid cycle. During CrossFit, we’re exercising at high intensities frequently, so we are very familiar with lactic acid. The accumulation of lactic acid negatively impacts performance because it drops the pH of the blood and cells, which inhibits their ability to function.

Training is one way to increase the ability to clear acidity, but the next most effective way to reduce acidosis is to increase intracellular carnosine by beta-alanine supplementation. You may be surprised to hear, carnosine supplementation is useless. This is because carnosine is broken down by the liver before it can get to the muscles. Beta-alanine is the rate-limiting precursor to beta-alanine, and beta-alanine supplementation increases carnosine concentrations more than carnosine supplementation. After carnosine accumulates, it binds free hydrogen ions to maintain pH and reduce the onset of that burning feeling. Some think that lactate is a necessary fuel for the heart, and while it is true that the heart can use lactate, it is not needed. It’s also very important to note that beta-alanine doesn’t reduce lactate generation, but increases the point at which exercise intensity causes a great accumulation of lactate. In other words, lactate is still formed, but we are more capable of dealing with it.

Supplementation with at least 3.2 grams of beta-alanine per day greatly enhances high intensity performance and repeated bouts of high intensity performance lasting up to 240 seconds. This translates into a few more reps before requiring rest and greater power generation on ergometers. Beta-alanine does not need to be cycled, and it works best when used over prolonged periods of time. Supplementing beta-alanine daily makes sure that intracellular carnosine concentrations remain elevated.

The Final Word on How These Three Supplements Will Help You Dominate Your Next Competition

 crossfit strength

Again, I have to stress that supplementation is #4 on the list of things you can do to help your performance. The first three are training, dieting, and sleeping. For each of those, get enough, but not too much. The same rule applies to supplements. Each of the three on the list are conveniently found and appropriately dosed in PerformElite - The Endurance Athletes's Pre Workout alongside 7 other great ingredients like Taurine, PeakO2, Choline, ActiGin, Huperzine, ElevATP, and PurEnergy. PerformElite was specially engineered to improve performance, particularly endurance and strength endurance without any frivolous BS. Give it a try to find out for yourself!

 

References

  • Anderson, D.E. (2013). Caffeine. In A.E. Smith-Ryan & J.A. Antonio (Eds.), Sports nutrition & performance enhancing supplements (pp. 201-223). Ronkonkoma, NY: Linus Learning.

  • Goldstein, E. R., Ziegenfuss, T., Kalman, D., Kreider, R., Campbell, B., Wilborn, C., . . . Antonio, J. (2010). International society of sports nutrition position stand: caffeine and performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 7(1), 5. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-5

  • Graham, T. E. (2001). Caffeine and exercise: metabolism, endurance and performance. Sports Med, 31(11), 785-807.

  • Hord, N. G., Tang, Y., & Bryan, N. S. (2009). Food sources of nitrates and nitrites: the physiologic context for potential health benefits. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 90(1), 1-10.

  • Hobson, R. M., Saunders, B., Ball, G., Harris, R. C., & Sale, C. (2012). Effects of β-alanine supplementation on exercise performance: a meta-analysis. Amino acids43(1), 25-37.

  • Coles, L. T., & Clifton, P. M. (2012). Effect of beetroot juice on lowering blood pressure in free-living, disease-free adults: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Nutrition journal, 11(1), 106.

  • Lansley, K. E., Winyard, P. G., Fulford, J., Vanhatalo, A., Bailey, S. J., Blackwell, J. R., ... & Jones, A. M. (2011). Dietary nitrate supplementation reduces the O 2 cost of walking and running: a placebo-controlled study. Journal of applied physiology, 110(3), 591-600.

  • Bailey, S. J., Fulford, J., Vanhatalo, A., Winyard, P. G., Blackwell, J. R., DiMenna, F. J., ... & Jones, A. M. (2010). Dietary nitrate supplementation enhances muscle contractile efficiency during knee-extensor exercise in humans. Journal of applied physiology, 109(1), 135-148.

  • Lansley, K. E., Winyard, P. G., Bailey, S. J., Vanhatalo, A., Wilkerson, D. P., Blackwell, J. R., ... & Jones, A. M. (2011). Acute dietary nitrate supplementation improves cycling time trial performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 43(6), 1125-1131.

  • Wilkerson, D. P., Hayward, G. M., Bailey, S. J., Vanhatalo, A., Blackwell, J. R., & Jones, A. M. (2012). Influence of acute dietary nitrate supplementation on 50 mile time trial performance in well-trained cyclists. European journal of applied physiology, 112(12), 4127-4134.

  • Liu, Q., Sikand, P., Ma, C., Tang, Z., Han, L., Li, Z., ... & Dong, X. (2012). Mechanisms of itch evoked by β-alanine. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(42), 14532-14537.

  • Trexler, E. T., Smith-Ryan, A. E., Stout, J. R., Hoffman, J. R., Wilborn, C. D., Sale, C., ... & Campbell, B. (2015). International society of sports nutrition position stand: Beta-Alanine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(1), 30.

  • Jäger, R., Purpura, M., & Kingsley, M. (2007). Phospholipids and sports performance. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 4(1), 5.



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