The Best Pre & Intra-Workout Ingredients For CrossFit Athletes
If you're a competitive CrossFit athlete or merely looking to expedite your performance in your local box, using a pre-workout with proven ingredients can help ensure your body is working at peak capacity.
With instant access to thousands of research studies and user testimonials, choosing pre and intra-workout ingredients with proven track records has never been easier. Here are a few that you should consider in your routine.
Why A Pre-Workout Helps
As a CrossFit athlete, you rely on being able to produce large amounts of strength and power while also resisting fatigue. In terms of athletic ability, most CrossFit events require that you're ready to transcend the barriers of strength and endurance simultaneously, which isn't the easiest feat to accomplish.
Before training or a competitive event, using a pre-workout mixture of proven ingredients can help ensure that you’re on top of your game. Fortunately, you also can choose ingredients that can help bolster specific variables of athleticism, such as strength, power output, and fatigue resistance.
However, it’s essential to keep in mind that a pre-workout isn't going to make up for lack of preparedness. The intent of using these ingredients is to help improve the function of your body above what it can do on its own or at least maximize your ability.
For a competitive CrossFit athlete, using a pre-workout can mean seconds off your time or a few extra repetitions, which at the highest echelon can be the difference between victory and defeat.
Use Proven Ingredients
When choosing pre-workout ingredients, it's crucial to consider ingredients that have a proven track record of elevating performance and have sound evidence behind the claims of their effectiveness.
Indeed, not every ingredient in every pre-workout will have full studies showing effectiveness. However, it's a good idea to ensure that the main active ingredients do. Without evidence, you're only spending money and hoping for the best rather than knowing the ingredients are helping you train or compete at your highest ability.
Caffeine is easily one of the most common ingredients used to improve performance, both mentally and physically. In addition to blocking receptors in the brain associated with drowsiness, caffeine also has a stimulatory effect, directly increasing focus and athletic performance.
For the CrossFit athlete, caffeine has benefits that extend further than just helping you feel alert. Research shows that using caffeine can improve repeated anaerobic activity. This improvement means better performance during high-intensity weight lifting sets and even during sprints (1).
For example, in one study, researchers provided subjects with caffeine or placebo and exposed them to 12, 30-meter sprints separated by only 35 seconds of rest. When subjects were given caffeine prior, they had significantly faster sprint times for the first three sprints compared to their placebo counterparts (1).
While that might not seem too drastic, it could be the difference between a winning performance and a losing one.
Additionally, another study testing caffeine in trained CrossFit athletes showed that caffeine allowed for a greater number of repetitions to be performed during a CrossFit workout, relative to placebo. Essentially, caffeine directly increased CrossFit performance (2).
Found in Cardio Surge Energy, citrulline is an amino acid commonly used to increase the vasodilator, (an agent that widens blood vessels), known as nitric oxide (3).
When ingested, citrulline transforms into L-arginine, which ultimately results in an elevation of nitric oxide, leading to improved blood flow; commonly characterized as “the pump.”
While getting a pump isn’t necessarily the goal of every CrossFit athlete, using citrulline appears to change how our muscles metabolize energy for both anaerobic and aerobic events, as a side effect.
In one study, subjects with abnormal levels of fatigue were given citrulline for 15 days and exposed to a mild exercise procedure repeatedly across the period. The results indicate that as a result of prolonged citrulline use, subjects improved aerobic energy production and also had greater recovery of phosphocreatine stores after exercise (4).
These findings mean that citrulline use could potentially improve endurance performance but also replenish the energy needed to produce fast and forceful movements for repeated performance.
In a different study, subjects were required to complete 8 sets to failure using 80% of their one-repetition maximum on the bench press while either taking citrulline or placebo. When subjects used citrulline, their performance drastically improved (5).
After using citrulline, the participants appeared to have far superior fatigue resistance, performing significantly more repetitions at a high intensity compared to the placebo group for the final five sets (5).
In the studies highlighted here, citrulline allowed for more repetitions deeper into the workout, which means faster growth over time and potentially higher performance during the most demanding CrossFit events.
Beta-Alanine (or Carnosine)
Beta-Alanine is easily one of the most beneficial pre-workout ingredients that a CrossFit athlete could use. When ingested, beta-alanine converts to carnosine, which acts to neutralize acidity in the muscle as a result of longer duration, high-intensity activities (6).
For the CrossFit athlete, using beta-alanine is advantageous because research suggests it shines as a performance enhancer for activities lasting longer than 60 seconds. By neutralizing the accumulation of acid during more prolonged muscle contractions, beta-alanine use should allow for more repetitions or extended performance over time (6).
In one relevant study, beta-alanine or placebo was given to elite rowing athletes for seven weeks. Before and after the seven weeks, these athletes underwent all-out 2000 meter rowing tests to establish a baseline and to observe change over time.
While the changes only approached significance, the data showed that as muscle carnosine levels increased as a result of beta-alanine supplementation, rowers displayed faster times for the 2000-meter row. Considering that these were elite rowers, this improvement in just seven weeks is meaningful and could be more pronounced for those of a non-elite athletic status (7).
Do know that based on the current evidence, beta-alanine seems to be more effective over long-term usage. Essentially, your muscles need to have a high level of carnosine (converted from beta-alanine) for the supplement to work properly, similarly to how creatine works. While it has its place in your pre-workout, you should use beta-alanine daily to see its benefits.
L-Carnitine, which is also found in Cardio Surge Energy, is an amino acid most beneficial for sparing and aiding in the replenishment of glucose, which is one of the body's main sources of energy.
Studies suggest that using carnitine can lead to a glucose disposal effect, which means driving glucose out of the blood and into muscle tissue where it is used for contraction. This also presents a benefit in terms of replenishing the amount of glucose that's stored in the muscle for future athletic events (8).
Additionally, some research suggests that carnitine has a preventative effect on muscle damage. While some muscle damage may be required for muscle growth, damaging the muscle can also lead to reductions in performance (9, 10).
Mainly, if you're competing in an all-day or multi-day CrossFit event, preventing muscle damage could play a role in maintaining performance throughout the event.
Finally, one study testing carnitine with a graded endurance test in professional soccer players showed that when used, carnitine helped the athletes run for longer periods at a faster pace. Effectively, carnitine as a pre-workout ingredient improved endurance performance in elite athletes (11).
What About Intra-Workout Ingredients?
For many routine workouts, using an intra-workout supplement is not entirely necessary. Unless dietary intake is extremely low or the demands of the workout are very high, our bodies typically have enough energy to support workouts of moderate-intensity and length.
However, most CrossFit workouts can be very intense and last for long durations leading to a more rapid depletion of energy reserves. Additionally, if a CrossFit event spans across an entire day with breaks in between, replenishing glucose between those events can come down to a very short window of time and can play a significant role in continued performance.
Fast Digesting Carbs
The number one ingredient to consider for your intra-workout is a carbohydrate source that enters the bloodstream quickly and efficiently without leaving you bloated or at risk of crashing. In this regard, using a supplement with Karbolyn like that found in Glyco-Muscle Fueler is one of the best options.
Karbolyn is considered to be a homopolysaccharide, which is a long term for a string of sugars of the same type. Initial research shows that Karbolyn can be digested rapidly, replenishing stored energy faster than traditional sugars (12).
In fact, in one study conducted by the manufacturers, when Karbolyn was ingested and compared to the same amount of glucose (sugar), Karbolyn entered the bloodstream more rapidly and remained present in the blood two hours after ingestion. This was contrasted by glucose returning to baseline levels at this time point (12).
Mostly, Karbolyn seems to be an excellent choice for rapidly replenishing glucose, which is meaningful for CrossFit athletes that need energy fast for sustained performance.
Caffeine For Glycogen Replenishment
Briefly, it’s important to mention that in addition to being a promising pre-workout, caffeine is also a good idea as an intra-workout. Research indicates that when caffeine is ingested alongside carbohydrates, those carbs get stored in muscle, (as glycogen), faster than when taken alone (13).
If caffeine is ingested alongside Karbolyn, it's possible the results would be even more profound.
While the above ingredients are some of the most promising, according to research, there are a few other ingredients found in Cardio Surge Energy and Glyco-Muscle Fueler that can give you a competitive edge.
L-Tyrosine is a stimulatory amino acid, which eventually converts to dopamine and noradrenaline. In doing so, tyrosine might help you feel more alert and help you better deal with the stressors of an intense CrossFit workout (14, 15).
Amazingly, cinnamon isn't just a popular spice. This remarkable ingredient has been shown to help drive glucose into the muscle. This action can help with replenishing glucose stores during demanding workouts and in between events (16, 17).
If you're looking for a way to maximize your performance during training or events, using proven pre and intra-workout ingredients is the easiest way.
While it's okay to experiment with unproven ingredients, the bulk of your supplements should include those with sound evidence to ensure that you're gaining a performance boost or at the very least, maximizing your own ability.
- Glaister, M., Howatson, G., Abraham, C. S., Lockey, R. A., Goodwin, J. E., Foley, P., & McInnes, G. (2008). Caffeine supplementation and multiple sprint running performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 40(10), 1835-1840.
- Stein, J. A., Ramirez, M., & Heinrich, K. M. (2019). The Effects of Acute Caffeine Supplementation on Performance in Trained CrossFit Athletes. Sports, 7(4), 95.
- Flam, B. R., Eichler, D. C., & Solomonson, L. P. (2007). Endothelial nitric oxide production is tightly coupled to the citrulline–NO cycle. Nitric oxide, 17(3-4), 115-121.
- Bendahan, D., Mattei, J. P., Ghattas, B., Confort-Gouny, S., Le Guern, M. E., & Cozzone, P. J. (2002). Citrulline/malate promotes aerobic energy production in human exercising muscle. British journal of sports medicine, 36(4), 282-289.
- Pérez-Guisado, J., & Jakeman, P. M. (2010). Citrulline malate enhances athletic anaerobic performance and relieves muscle soreness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 24(5), 1215-1222.
- 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 acids, 43(1), 25-37.
- Baguet, A., Bourgois, J., Vanhee, L., Achten, E., & Derave, W. (2010). Important role of muscle carnosine in rowing performance. Journal of applied physiology, 109(4), 1096-1101.
- Galloway, S. D., Craig, T. P., & Cleland, S. J. (2011). Effects of oral L-carnitine supplementation on insulin sensitivity indices in response to glucose feeding in lean and overweight/obese males. Amino acids, 41(2), 507-515.
- Kraemer, W. J., Volek, J. S., French, D. N., Rubin, M. R., Sharman, M. J., Gomez, A. L., ... & Hakkinen, K. (2003). The effects of L-carnitine L-tartrate supplementation on hormonal responses to resistance exercise and recovery. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 17(3), 455-462.
- Ho, J. Y., Kraemer, W. J., Volek, J. S., Fragala, M. S., Thomas, G. A., Dunn-Lewis, C., ... & Maresh, C. M. (2010). l-Carnitine l-tartrate supplementation favorably affects biochemical markers of recovery from physical exertion in middle-aged men and women. Metabolism, 59(8), 1190-1199.
- Orer, G. E., & Guzel, N. A. (2014). The effects of acute l-carnitine supplementation on endurance performance of athletes. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 28(2), 514-519.\
- A Placebo-Controlled Double-Blind Pilot Study: Blood Sugar Response to KarboLyn® or a Glucose Drink During Aerobic Activity. (2015, March 25). Retrieved October 8, 2019, from https://allamericanpharmaceutical.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/2014-2015-KarboLyn-study-summary.pdf.
- Pedersen, D. J., Lessard, S. J., Coffey, V. G., Churchley, E. G., Wootton, A. M., Ng, T., ... & Hawley, J. A. (2008). High rates of muscle glycogen resynthesis after exhaustive exercise when carbohydrate is coingested with caffeine. Journal of Applied Physiology, 105(1), 7-13.
- Nakashima, A., Hayashi, N., Kaneko, Y. S., Mori, K., Sabban, E. L., Nagatsu, T., & Ota, A. (2009). Role of N-terminus of tyrosine hydroxylase in the biosynthesis of catecholamines. Journal of neural transmission, 116(11), 1355-1362.
- Deijen, J. B., Wientjes, C. J. E., Vullinghs, H. F. M., Cloin, P. A., & Langefeld, J. J. (1999). Tyrosine improves cognitive performance and reduces blood pressure in cadets after one week of a combat training course. Brain research bulletin, 48(2), 203-209.
- Anderson, R. A. (2008). Chromium and polyphenols from cinnamon improve insulin sensitivity: plenary lecture. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 67(1), 48-53.
- Qin, B., Panickar, K. S., & Anderson, R. A. (2010). Cinnamon: potential role in the prevention of insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. Journal of diabetes science and technology, 4(3), 685-693.