Do I Need Supplements When Doing CrossFitJan 13, 2023
By: Ken Roberts, MA, RDN, LD
"Do I need supplements when doing CrossFit?"
I hear this question a lot. I also see it throughout tons of online forums and social media groups. I've been doing CrossFit since 2006, and currently hold a Level 2 CrossFit Training certification. As a sports dietitian and avid CrossFit athlete I'll say there's a time and place for supplements. But first let's be clear what that "supplement" really means.
When you think of the word SUPPLEMENT, it is a noun that describes something that completes or enhances something else when added to it. Here's some examples:
If someone has low-iron, and had it tested by a lab then they might require a Iron Supplement. This person needs to complete her deficiency. They also might do things like not consume calcium at the same time, because the two minerals compete each other for absorption. They also might try consuming fruit with the Iron supplement or meal that contains iron, because Vitamin C in the fruit helps improve Iron absorption.
In this example there's a need to complete the deficiency. Low iron in our blood. We consume an iron supplement, and watch what we're eating to ensure we optimize iron absorption. After several weeks the person goes back to the doctor and has his/her labs checked again to see if they've improved. They may find that after a while the changes in their habits have also improved their iron levels, and the need for continued Iron Supplements are no longer needed. A qualified expert like a Registered Dietitian can help with this.
What about the supplements that we commonly hear being tossed around in CrossFit gyms? Let me first say that the supplement sales that are sitting on their shelf were bought by the Gym ahead of time. Meaning they NEED to sell them to replace their expenses. When you buy them, and keep buying them, they now have an additional revenue stream. I'm all about helping out your local CrossFit box, BUT do it with Coaching and more classes. Not with supplements that may not be needed.
Some supplements can improve the quality of your diet. WHEN your diet is lacking in variety and quality. This enhances your diet quality. This is where you see people taking protein and Branch Chain Amino Acids. If your protein intake is low and not meeting your needs then taking a supplement can be beneficial. Though most containers are 15-30 servings. If you are taking that 1-2x per day, that's going to add up in cost over time. Better source? From food. Every time!
What about Caffeine?
It's a stimulant, specifically used to stimulate the central nervous system. If used correctly it can delay the perception of fatigue, improve alertness, and improve reaction time. Keep in mind that this supplement is not a vitamin or mineral. It's a drug, and should be used with caution. The body can build a dependence on it. How much you can handle is typically 1-3g/kg body weight. Much more is not ideal.
Regardless of the supplement, before you buy ask yourself these four questions.
What is it and why do I NEED this supplement?
Can I get this same thing from food?
Is this supplement Safe and contain what it says it does?
When taking the supplement is it doing what it said it would?
Supplement are an extra expense. Sometime they are an investment, and sometime they are a waste of money. Ask yourself the 4 questions before you buy, and while you're using the supplements. Should you need assistance or have questions reach out to our Registered Dietitians to get your questions answered before spending money on a product that might not be needed, or might be unsafe for you.
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