When it comes to supplements for improving athletic performance, there tends to be a focus on muscle building, testosterone boosting, and strength gains. While some of these supplements are certainly worth incorporating for any athlete looking to optimize their performance, there is one area that often seems to be poorly understood and altogether neglected by both coaches and athletes when it comes to supplementation. Conditioning, or your “engine” as it’s commonly referred to in the CrossFit world, is indisputably an essential component of athletic development. If you have tried CrossFit for any length of time, you know that besides having enough strength to move the prescribed weights and the skill to perform any technical movements, your engine can quickly become the limiting factor in your ability to perform.
Of course, first and foremost, you should be following a properly structured training program designed by a coach who understands the intricacies of energy system development. It’s a complicated topic and following a haphazard mashup of random WODs won’t get you the best results. Assuming you have a good training program in place, what supplements are best for improving conditioning performance and optimizing your engine? While there are hundreds of products on the market that claim to help, in today’s article, I’ll cover three research-backed supplements that are proven to work.
Research has found that beta-alanine supplementation can help improve exercise performance during both anaerobic and aerobic events by increasing levels of a peptide molecule known as carnosine in skeletal muscle. Increased levels of carnosine in muscle tissue can help buffer acidic metabolic byproducts (i.e. hydrogen ions), maintain pH levels during exercise, and improve performance during high-intensity interval training [1,2].
A double-blind study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that, compared to placebo, beta-alanine supplementation in athletes performing high-intensity interval training had improved oxygen utilization, decreased time to fatigue, and increased total work output . A meta-analysis published in 2012 looked at fifteen different studies and found that beta-alanine improves exercise performance in events that last from 60 seconds to four minutes as well as events that have a time domain beyond four minutes . As you can imagine, all of these findings are especially relevant for CrossFit athletes.
If you’re a CrossFit athlete, I recommend taking anywhere from 3 to 6 grams of beta-alanine everyday as both the peer-reviewed evidence and my own experience suggests this is the optimal range. Taking more than a gram or two at a time can result in a temporary “tingling” or itching sensation on your skin. While some athletes don’t mind it, if you want to avoid the beta-alanine tingle, I would suggest splitting it up into 2 or 3 doses throughout the day. Another option would be taking a slow-release version of beta-alanine such as the one made by Thorne Research.
- Nicotinamide Riboside (aka Niagen)
If you remember your high school biology course, you know that the mitochondria are considered to be the “powerhouses” of the cell and produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Healthy mitochondria are not only critically important for your conditioning performance but your overall health and fitness as well. Increasing the number of mitochondria as well as optimizing their function means more energy available to your heart and skeletal muscles during exercise which means improved aerobic endurance .
Nicotinamide Riboside (NR) is a supplement that has been found to facilitate mitochondrial biogenesis, the formation of more energy-producing mitochondria . Nicotinamide riboside is a precursor to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+) which is a critical component of the metabolic processes involved in mitochondrial energy production. NAD+ is a key component of glycolysis, the citric acid cycle, and the electron transport chain, all of which are involved in mitochondrial production of ATP energy. Research has found that nicotinamide riboside supplementation can enhance mitochondrial function, oxidative metabolism, and endurance performance .
In addition to improving your engine at the cellular level, nicotinamide riboside offers other health benefits such as improving insulin sensitivity, extending cellular lifespan, as well as preventing degeneration of nerve cells [9,10]. If you’re interested in adding nicotinamide riboside to your supplement regimen, I recommend taking either 250 to 500 mg daily of Thorne’s Niacel product.
Recommended Product: Thorne Niacel-250
- Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ)
Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ) is a bioactive compound that has been found to increase mitochondrial biogenesis, reduce oxidative stress, and protect mitochondria by reducing damage to cell membranes [11,12,13]. Like nicotinamide riboside, PQQ can help improve energy production at the cellular level by optimizing mitochondrial health.
PQQ increases mitochondrial biogenesis through its effect on Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor Gamma Coactivator 1-alpha (PGC-1α). PGC-1α is considered to be a master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis and key regulator of energy metabolism [14,15,16,17]. PGC-1α has also been found to be activated by endurance exercise as well as cold exposure [16,17]. PQQ offers some of the same benefits such as increased mitochondrial density and energy metabolism. Other research has found that PQQ offers additional benefits including reducing markers of inflammation such as C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 . PQQ has also been found to improve cognitive function, improve memory performance, and stimulate production of nerve growth factors [19,20,21]. These benefits are relevant to CrossFit athletes, masters athletes, as well as anyone who wants to optimize their health.
If you’re interested in incorporating PQQ in your supplement regimen, I recommend taking 10 to 20 mg daily. If you’re looking for a product recommendation, I suggest the PQQ+CoQ10 product from Jarrow Formulas.
Recommended Product: Jarrow Formulas Ubiquinol Plus Pyrroloquinoline Quinone
I would suggest taking all three supplements as they each help your improve your engine through different mechanisms. Here’s the supplement protocol I give to my clients who want to optimize their conditioning performance:
3 to 6 grams of Beta-Alanine
250 to 500 milligrams of Nicotinamide Riboside
- 1 to 2 capsules of Niacel-250
10 to 20 milligrams of PQQ and 100 to 200 milligrams of Ubiquinol
- 1 to 2 capsules of Ubiquinol Plus Pyrroloquinoline Quinone
These supplements won’t replace a good training program and consistent hard work but they can certainly help give you an edge in your conditioning development. I encourage you to experiment and see what works best for you. Typically, I start my athletes on the low-end of my recommended ranges and work up from there.
If you’re interested in learning more about how to enhance your performance and optimize your recovery, check out my eBook on post-workout supplementation. Inside you’ll find a variety of recommended supplements, reference charts, meal timing suggestions, and goal-based guidelines. You’ll also get access to my private coaching group where I share the latest research, supplement reviews, protocols, and answer your questions.
Also Check Out…
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