The title of this post is an oxymoron, supplements supposed to be something used to supplement out diet, hence none should be necessary. But with todays dietary choices and time constraints that most of us have, it is very difficult to get proper nutrition. When Crossfit first started it was very anti-supplement, it was about eating well and having fun exercising. Now it seems that everyone is taking something, especially at the competitive level.
For those who do not know, I used to run a health food store. I have been in the game for many years and have seen the same fads come and go. I remember the first time that Garcinia Cambodia was claimed to be the "ultimate fat burner". It is sad to say, but with the regulations we have in Canada, if anything is going to work with drug-like effects, its quickly going to be taken off the shelves. The supplement industry thrives off our insecurities and lack of knowledge. Supplement A guarantees 25% better recovery, is it really that hard to get a little more sleep, or push yourself a little harder. Most of the numbers and research behind supplements have been done by the manufacturer anyway and is biased in their favour.
There are a few supplements I swear by. Here is the list, I also recommend a couple brands, because if you didn't know, many brands DO NOT live up to label claims.
1- Vitamin D3 - This is an essential vitamin for many major functions in the body, it acts as a hormone in the body.
- Calcium absorption
- Prevents SAD (seasonal afflictive disorder)
- It has been linked to a host of benefits
You do not need to take any of this if you exposing enough skin to 15 minutes of sunshine per day. Unfortunately in the cold months up here we need to supplement out intake. Most people recommend 2500-5000iu per day.
Update: Some great other benefits of vitamin D available here.
As for brands, it really does not matter, this stuff is so cheap that companies would not bother under dosing it.
This is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning you can build up a toxicity to it, I have never personally heard of anyone doing this. Next time you get a physical (you should be getting it done yearly) they can check it in your bloodwork.
2- Fish Oil - If you eat 9oz of wild caught salmon per day, you probably don't need this, but you probably don't eat that much fish. Our regular western diets are overloaded with Omega 6 fats, these are the bad fats, we need Omega 3 fats, which the majority of us are sadly deficient in. Cold water fish is an excellent source of this.
In Omega 3 there are two real essential parts, EPA an DHA. They are both important for different reasons. For children and the elderly DHA plays a very important role in cognitive development and strength. EPA is the more important one for athletes. This helps with insulin sensitivity (fat loss) and is an excellent anti-inflammatory. Basically you will hurt less and recover better. It also increased heart health and lowers blood triglycerides.
Fish oil has so many benefits that even big pharmaceutical companies have started making their own expensive prescription fish oil to try and cash in.
For vegetarians there is the option of chia seeds, flax, or borage oil, but these are inferior sources of Omega 3.
For dosage I would recommend 1 minimum of 1 gram of combined EPA/DHA per day, personally I take 10grams per day between salmon and fish oil pills. If you plan on taking a high amount, increase SLOWLY, or all that fat might give you the runs.
Fish oil comes in liquid or pills. If you plan on taking a very large dose, the liquid is a more economical choice, most of it is pleasantly flavoured. The pills are a more convenient choice for many.
For brands, pill stick with JaktRx, they make some of the most concentrated pills on the market, for liquid, Ascenta makes a great Nutra Sea product. If you can stomach it and want to get two birds with one stone, Green Pastures makes a fermented cod liver oil that is high in Omega 3 and Vitamin D, but the comments about the taste is that it pretty much tastes like rotten fish oil, which is what it is.
WARNING - fish oil does thin the blood, so if you are taking blood thinners or have a clotting disorder, this would not be a good choice for you, also inform your doctor if you are having surgery and are taking fish oil.
3- Curcumin - This is odd to see on a minimalistic list of supplements, but I feel this is one that everyone should be taking. Curcumin is the active compound found in the indian spice turmeric. Unfortunately you would need to eat a ton of turmeric to get enough curcumin.
Curcumin has a host of amazing benefits. If you have joint pain, it has been shown in studies to work as good as Celebrex, but without the side effects. It also as a unique anti-cancer benefits of preventing rogue cells from duplicating. This is actually being used in cancer research now. This is great for joint pain, and many athletes tend to reach for the pain killer bottle after a hard workout without realizing the side effects and dangers of taking painkillers. Curcumin also has antibiotic and antiseptic properties
For brands, looks for a reputable brand. Usually they have ginger or something called bioperine (pepper extract) to help with absorption.
Dosage - most studies have been done with a 4 gram per day dosage, which could be excessive for most people, unless you have a lot of joint pain.
4- Protein Powder - If you diet is spot on, this is not necessary, but many of us have issues getting enough protein. This is needed for recovery. It reduces muscle soreness and helps rebuild muscle so you can get stronger. Back in my bodybuilding days they recommended an obscene amount of protein, 1 gram per pound of lean body mass. For many this is excessive, besides, as crossfitters, we tend to need to eat more carbs to help with our performance.
Taking 1 scoop post workout, and maybe adding one as a snack through out the day will help you reach your goals if you diet isn't dialled in. Or perhaps you are like me and the thought of eating solid good after training makes me gag, so I just take down a quick shake instead.
For brands, JaktRx makes an high quality, excellent tasting protein. For those with dairy issues (WODRecovery is very low in lactose) or an aversion to animal based proteins, your next best option is a hemp protein and or pea protein.
Sorry for the long post, but it seems many people have been asking me lately about supplements. There are many others that can be added, but before adding supplements to your regiment, ask your self do you need them? Is your diet in check? Some of the other ones that are commonly used in crossfit are BCAA (branch chain amino acids), creatine, beta-alanine, caffeine, magnesium, melatonin, and fast absorbing carbs.