Whether you’re a hobbyist or professional CrossFitter, chances are you get supplement recommendations quite often.  But even if you really know your stuff, it can be difficult to determine which supplements you actually need and which ones you don’t.  

That’s why we’ve decided to put together a list of some of the best CrossFit supplements currently available here in the U.S.  This isn’t a catalog of products that you must take but rather a list of non-banned substances that can help you to feel and perform at your best.  

We’ve broken things down into 3 basic categories: supplements for overall health and wellness, physical performance enhancers (ergogenic supplements), and mental performance enhancers (nootropic supplements).  

Health & Wellness CrossFit Supplements

No matter how experienced you are, if you’re body isn’t getting the nutrients it needs, you’re not going to be able to optimally perform or recover.  With all of the grueling work that goes into an average day in the CrossFit world, it’s absolutely essential that you’re replenishing all of the nutrients you’re burning up throughout the day. While you don’t have to take supplements to do that, many may find it difficult to meet their nutritional needs through their diets alone.  

⫸Protein Powder

What Is It? 

Along with carbohydrates and fat, protein is one of the three macronutrients found in the food we eat.  It plays a number of different functions in the human body but perhaps one of its most important has to do with rebuilding muscle tissues.    

How Does It Work?

The muscles all throughout our bodies are actually made up of proteins.  As living organisms, our muscles are always going through a state of flux — as old proteins become damaged, they’re broken down and replaced by new ones, which come from our diets.  This general process is referred to as protein turnover.  

Strenuous physical activity (like pretty much any CrossFit complex) can breakdown a lot of muscle proteins.  In order to repair the damage, however, the body needs an ample supply of dietary protein. Without enough, it’s just about impossible to maintain, let alone build muscle mass.    

While it’s true that you can meet all of your protein demands through your diet alone, if you’re eating a high-protein diet, which many athletes are, it can be difficult to get all of your protein through solid food.  That’s why almost every CrossFit athlete we’ve talked to is supplementing with some kind of protein powder.     

What Type of Protein Powder is Best?

Whey protein is the most popular protein powder by a mile, and for good reason.  In just about every study on protein quality in which it was included, whey protein was ranked as the best protein source.     

Dosing Recommendations

The National Institute of Health (NIH) recommends that 10 – 35% of your total daily calories should come from protein.  When it comes to building muscle, somewhere between 1 – 1.5g of protein per pound of body weight each day seems to be ideal, and for most people, that falls neatly within the NIH’s general recommendations.

  • What if Whey is Not for You?

    Whether whey doesn’t agree with your stomach or your ethics, there are other options if you’re in the market for a plant-based protein; however, there are some limitations you should be aware of. First, most plant-based proteins have significantly lower biological values compared to animal-based proteins and thus, may not be as effective when it comes to muscle building and recovery.

    Additionally, many plant-based proteins aren’t complete proteins, meaning that they don’t contain all 20 essential amino acids. That’s why if you’re going with a plant-based protein powder, you’ll want to make sure that you’re getting a well-balanced amino acid profile. In most cases, that means a blended powder that is a mixture of multiple plant-based protein sources.

    Amongst plant-based proteins, soy has a well-balanced amino acid profile, and at 74, it also has a pretty high biological value for a plant-based protein, however, it’s fallen out of favor as a protein powder in recent years mainly due to its high phytoestrogens levels.

⫸Vitamins & Minerals

What Are They?

Vitamins and minerals are also known as micronutrients.  Just like with macros, your body also needs micronutrients to stay up and running, just in much smaller quantities.      

How Do They Work?

While they may appear fit and healthy, the reality is that many CrossFit athletes deal with vitamin and mineral deficiencies on a regular basis.  All of those strenuous WODs can really deplete your body’s nutrients quickly, making it difficult for even the most healthy people to meet their vitamin and mineral demands through their diet alone.  

Ultimately, if you don’t have an adequate supply of vitamins and minerals, it can negatively impact both your mental and physical health, making it nearly impossible to perform at your best, whether we’re talking about in training or in everyday life.  Our physician here at Dioxyme frequently sees professional athletes in his practice and MANY athletes ultimately demonstrate significant vitamin and mineral deficiencies when tested. 

That’s why supplementing with things like vitamins B, C, and D as well as minerals like zinc, iron, and magnesium is just about essential for most CrossFit athletes.  Many multivitamins actually contain these exact ingredients because they’re amongst the most common deficiencies.

Dosing Recommendations

The best way to figure out if you have any vitamin or mineral deficiencies is to have your micronutrient levels tested by a professional.

⫸Fish Oil (Omega-3 Fatty Acid)

What Is It? 

Fish oil is another relatively popular supplement amongst CrossFitters.  It’s high in fatty acids like EPA and DHA, which play a vital role in a number of different bodily processes.  Even so, nearly half of all North Americans don’t consume enough omega-3s in their daily diets.     

Omega-3 deficiencies are also often accompanied by an excess of omega-6.  While it is an essential nutrient, too much omega-6 can lead to inflammation, which can impact both your performance and your recovery. 

How Does it Work?

Omega-3s play an important role in the recovery process, helping to repair your muscles after an intense workout. EPA is particularly important when it comes to repairing damaged muscle tissues; we recommend an omega-3 product that contains substantial amounts of both EPA and DHA.

On top of repairing damaged muscle tissue, research has also found that getting a healthy supply of essential fatty acids can help lower your triglyceride levels, alleviate joint pain, and even potentially improve your mood.   

Dosing Recommendations

Though many in the Crossfit world advocate very high doses (4-6 grams per day), medical and sports nutrition studies support 3-4 grams per day. 

⫸BCAAs

What Is It?

The proteins we consume in our diets are actually made up of amino acids.  A complete protein contains all 20 essential amino. 3 of those essential aminos — leucine, valine, isoleucine — are referred to as branched-chain amino acids due to their molecular structure.  BCAA’s are the primary amino acids used in muscle regeneration.

How Does it Work?  

When it comes to building muscle, the evidence for BCAA supplementation is mixed — most studies suggest that whey protein is better — but that doesn’t mean they have no benefit.  Plenty of evidence suggests that regularly taking BCAAs can help prevent delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  DOMS is most likely to occur when you’re training in ways that your body isn’t all that used to.  

Because there can be a lot of variation from one WOD to the next, that chances of running into some movements that catch your body off-guard are pretty high.  As a result, DOMS is something that many CrossFitters are likely to experience from time to time, especially in the face of new exercises or training approaches.   

Dosing Recommendations

BCAA dosing varies depending on the intensity of your workouts.  If you train for around an hour a day, 7-10 grams may be an adequate daily dosage.  If you are training for several hours a day, an increased dose of 15-20 grams a day may be more beneficial. 

⫸CBD

What Is It?

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, has exploded in popularity throughout the CrossFit world over the past few years due to its therapeutic properties.  CBD is a cannabinoid that comes from hemp. Unlike THC however, it has no psychoactive effects and is now legal in all 50 states.    

How Does it Work?

It’s no secret that CrossFit workouts can be excruciating, with many athletes experiencing pain and inflammation for hours and even days after an intense WOD.  However, more and more research is continuing to show that CBD helps to alleviate pain and inflammation in everyone from top-level athletes to those with debilitating illnesses. 

Dosing Recommendations

There is no universal recommendation when it comes to how much CBD you should take.  The doses administered in clinical studies have ranged significantly, from under 50mgs per day to over 2,000, with very few adverse outcomes reported.  

Even at extremely high dosages, there doesn’t appear to be many serious risks involved in taking CBD —  nausea and tiredness are about the worst things that can happen from taking too much.      

Several factors will ultimately affect how much CBD is the right amount for you, including your own individual reaction to the drug, as well as what condition you’re trying to treat with it.  

Ergogenic CrossFit Supplements

Come competition time, every CrossFitter wants to perform at their best, but in order for that to happen, you have to put in the time at the gym.  Those long grueling hours in the box are ultimately what’s going to take your performance to the next level.

Whether we’re talking about building size, strength or endurance, stepping up your game ultimately depends on making solid progress throughout your training program and that’s where supplementation can help.

⫸Creatine

What Is It?

When it comes to safe and legal performance enhancers, creatine has to be number one on the list.  It’s a naturally occurring compound derived from the amino acids methionine, glycine and arginine and has a number of useful applications in the world of CrossFit.   It’s also just about the most well-researched supplement out there.

How Does It Work?

One of the main benefits of taking creatine is that it helps to increase the amount of available energy in your muscles during high-intensity exercise.  Phosphocreatine is a precursor to the chemical adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which your muscles use as a secondary fuel source when they’re under lots of stress.  The more available energy your muscles have, the longer they’re able to work for at maximal intensity.     

On top of that, creatine also helps to increase the concentration of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) in your muscles when you exercise.  IGF plays an important role in the muscle-building process and numerous studies have ultimately found that those who supplemented with creatine, on average saw significantly greater gains in lean body mass compared to those who did not.

Dosing Recommendations

Loading phase: 0.3g of creatine per kg of body weight per day for 5-7 days.

Regular dose: After about a week, the dosage is stepped back to 0.03g per kg of body weight.  

⫸Beta-Alanine

What Is It?

Beta-alanine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning that your body actually makes it in small amounts.  Unlike other amino acids though, beta-alanine does not contribute to the synthesis of new proteins and enzymes.  

Instead, beta-alanine’s primary function is in the production of the peptide carnosine.  Your body mainly stores carnosine in your muscles but it can be found in small amounts in other tissues as well.      

How Does It Work?

Carnosine ultimately helps to mitigate the build-up of lactic acid and hydrogen ions during intense physical activity such as a CrossFit complex.  The accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles ultimately blocks more fuel from entering, reducing your work capacity until total failure eventually sets in.   

However, beta-alanine helps to increase your body’s production of carnosine, inhibiting the build-up of performance reducing byproducts thus improving your capabilities during high-intensity exercise.    

Dosing Recommendations

800mg – 3200mg daily

⫸HMB

What Is It? 

Β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate, or HMB as it’s colloquially known, is a leucine metabolite –this means that it’s naturally formed in your body as a by-product of the leucine used in regenerating muscle cells.  While it might be derived from a BCAA, it has its own separate and unique functions within the human body.  

How Does It Work? 

HMB works in a couple of different ways.  First, it helps to prevent muscle protein breakdown when you’re exercising.  HMB actually alters your muscles’ metabolism by inhibiting the accumulation of enzymes like lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), which play a direct role in breaking down muscle proteins.  

As far as activities go, CrossFit can be extremely catabolic, meaning that an intense WOD can often produce very significant whole-body muscle breakdown.  The issue is, we definitely want to limit the amount of muscle breakdown that occurs — the less you breakdown, the more you keep. 

On the other side of the protein turnover equation, several studies have also demonstrated that HMB may help to activate the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR).  mTOR plays an important role in triggering the replacement of old, broken down proteins with new ones. The combined effect of less protein breakdown and more regeneration ultimate equates to more muscle growth over time.  

Dosing Recommendations

Around 38mg of HMB per kilogram(kg) of body weight daily

⫸Phosphatidic Acid

What Is It?

Phosphatidic acid (PA) is a cell signaling lipid that is produced naturally within the human body — cell signaling is the process through which your body’s cells communicate with each other in order to coordinate their actions.    

How Does It Work?

PA also appears to play an important role in activating mTOR signaling pathways, which again help to coordinate protein replenishment and promote cellular growth. It works via different pathways than HMB so combining the two can produce even greater results. 

Your mTOR pathways are kind of like an antenna in a way — they’re actively listening for signals from muscle cells in need of repair.  When the signal comes, these pathways help to coordinate the transportation of nutrients like protein and oxygen to cells in need.  

Dosing Recommendations

250mg – 750mg daily

Nootropic CrossFit Supplements

For competitors at elite levels, the difference may be 90% mental.  The mental side of competing is just as important as the physical side; the difference between a podium finish and a pedestrian one could be as simple as a lapse of concentration in the big moment.  

Mental fatigue may actually have more of an effect on your performance than physical fatigue when you boil things down.  Even in your training, being tuned in and firing on all cylinders can help you push yourself harder and further.

That’s where nootropics come into the discussion.  The term nootropic refers to any substance that enhances the functions of your brain.  That could mean improved cognition, focus, memory recall, or in many cases, a combination of multiple cognitive benefits.  Not surprisingly, nootropics have become extremely popular in CrossFit, where every athlete is looking for that extra mental edge.

⫸Caffeine

What Is It? 

Caffeine doesn’t need much of an introduction.  It’s found in coffee beans and tea leaves, however, it can be produced synthetically as well.   It’s one of the most popular ingredients in pre-workout supplements and for good reason — there is plenty of scientific evidence demonstrating its performance-enhancing effects.  

How Does It Work?

Caffeine works in a few different ways.  First, it functions as an inhibitor, helping to block the chemical messenger adenosine.  Adenosine is one of the main chemicals responsible for making you feel tired. On top of that, caffeine also modulates certain neurotransmitters in your brain, helping to improve things like reaction time and athletic performance.       

Dosing Recommendations

Around 200mg per dose

⫸L-Theanine

What Is It?

L-theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid that’s commonly paired with caffeine.  Also like caffeine, it can be found in tea leaves. As far as food additives go, it is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.  

How Does It Work?

On its own l-theanine has a calming effect, helping to relax the mind; however, its effects get turned upside down when mixed with caffeine.  Once combined with caffeine, l-theanine actually works more as a stimulant, helping to improve concentration and alertness.  

Dosing Recommendations

100mg – 200mg daily

⫸Choline

What Is It?

Choline is a vitamin-like nutrient that’s both found in food sources and produced in small amounts in the human body.  As a supplement, it comes in multiple forms including alpha GPC, citicoline and lecithin, and acetylcholine.

How Does It Work?

Choline plays a couple of important roles in your brain.  First, it’s used to rebuild and repair neurons, helping to optimize the signaling process that takes place throughout your entire body.   Secondly, choline also helps to increase the body’s production of adenosine triphosphate ATP, which is one of the brain’s go-to fuel sources.        

Dosing Recommendations

250mg – 500mg daily

⫸Ginkgo Biloba

What Is It? 

Ginkgo biloba is an herbal extract that’s commonly featured in energy drinks.  It’s derived from the Maidenhair tree and its therapeutic and mind-enhancing effects have been known for thousands of years.  It’s also one of the most well-researched nootropics out there, with numerous clinical and experimental studies published on its positive effects.       

How Does It Work?

Ginkgo biloba helps to increase the flow of glucose and oxygen to the neurons in your brain, which has been shown to improve mental processes such as your cognition and working memory.  It also contains neuroprotective agents that help to mitigate the accumulation of inflammatory brain chemicals.

Dosing Recommendations

120mg – 240mg daily