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Proof Before Promises

How to know which nutrition supplements are worth their price tag to optimizing CrossFit performance.


The ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians consumed the meat and organs of animals based on their physical attributes (e.g., strength, endurance, fierceness) and drank concoctions made from plants based on believed benefit to performance. Back then, the basis supporting the efficacy of these foods and supplements was theoretical at best, and trial and error was the rule. Things are a little different today because a supplement can be put to the test in research study to see whether it really delivers on the benefits it claims. This kind of information can help CrossFit athletes make smarter, more informed choices about the supplements they buy and the results they can expect.

Science Fiction or Fact

We live in a time when real science is being applied to better understand the world around us. The same can be said of sports supplements. Gone are the days when athletes would exclusively “buy and hope” based on exciting claims about dramatic improvements in muscle mass, performance, body leanness or other areas of health. Government mandates in the United States and many other countries state that marketing claims related to a product’s impact on performance and fitness must be substantiated by research studies. A quality study is conducted at a university, where the effects of a supplement are assessed against a placebo. Neither the researcher nor the participants should know which the participant is receiving, and the resulting research should be published in a peer-reviewed journal to ensure that the testing parameters, results and interpretations pass the scrutiny of fellow sports- and performance-nutrition researchers.

Proven Ingredients

As a rule, an efficacious product begins with proven ingredients that are used in the form(s) and at the levels that have been shown to be effective. Among the most studied and efficacious ingredients are protein, creatine, beta-alanine, HMB and certainly fluid and certain carbohydrates for more prolonged exercise efforts. For instance, 25 grams of high-biological protein such as whey protein isolate can be used shortly before or after a training bout to help maximize muscle protein production in hours that follow a strenuous WOD. Meanwhile, no form of creatine is more thoroughly researched or has been shown to be superior to creatine monohydrate. What’s more, at least 3 grams are necessary for most users. Daily gram intakes are also necessary for beta-alanine, HMB and fish oil.

Proven Brands and the Bottom Line

Over the last two to three decades, certain companies have invested in research to demonstrate the application, efficacy and safety of their products. However, most brands still do not conduct research and instead simply try to borrow the research done by other brands on similar formulas. Or a formulation may include a research-proven ingredient but in a lower level than what was used in research studies.

Meanwhile, over the past few decades, companies like Gatorade and EAS have set the bar high on product research. Other companies such as GENR8 (Vitargo), GNC (Pro Performance), Pacific Health (Accelerade) and more recently Dymatize Nutrition (PURxSUIT) have created admirable research platforms and market their products based on a research-proven scientific foundation. In addition, look for call-outs on the package regarding banned substance testing. The best marks to look for are NSF Certified for Sport, Informed Choice Trusted by Sport or BSCG (Banned Substances Control Group).

To conclude, the best course of action for any CrossFit athlete walking the expo area at the Regionals or the Games is to ask the people at the booth for finished product research on their products. Or use the company contact information on product packaging to inquire about research. Basically, if a claim on the package seems too good to be true, you need to ask for the research proof. The company should be able to give you the study abstract or a reprint of the published study if they have research support.