CrossFit has a progress, not perfection approach, but your pre-workout covers both.
You want the perfect product that helps you progress as effectively as possible. This means fuelling up for your WODs with an eye on what CrossFit needs a pre-workout to do.
Today, we’re going to take you through what you need to look for in a pre-workout for CrossFit – as well as some of the products that are most popular or effective. This will leave you with a better knowledge of what to look for and how to organize your pre-workout nutrition for CrossFit.
- Pre-Workout: The CrossFit Way?
- Types of Pre-Workout for CrossFit
- Constantly Varied: Challenges of a Pre-Workout for CrossFit?
- How are We Judging Pre-Workouts for CrossFit?
- Popular Products: A Review and Comparison
- Final Thoughts and Our Picks!
Pre-Workout: The CrossFit Way?
We’ve heard before that Pre-workout isn’t the CrossFit “way” and that all you should need is a black coffee and some more bravery.
This might sound cool when you’re at the box and need to be the tough guy – and it’s certainly a way of separating yourself from the bodybuilders – but it doesn’t really work like that.
This type of attitude misses out on many of the amazing benefits that a high-quality pre-workout supplement provides. Anyone who thinks CrossFit just requires a coffee has missed out on the nutritional science behind a pre-workout for CrossFit.
After all, a high-quality pre-workout supplement is so much more than just a caffeine boost. If you want to sound hardcore, that’s up to you, but missing out on pre-workout means a worse session and less nutritional support for your goals.
The CrossFit way is about ‘being more human’ – and nothing says more human than being well-prepared for the variety of challenges ahead of you.
With that in mind, we’re going to cover what a perfect CrossFit Pre-workout supplement looks like and what challenges it has to help with.
Types of Pre-Workout for CrossFit
There are a variety of products on the market, and we can split them into two categories: pills and powders.
Powdered pre-workout supplements are the most popular because they can easily be combined with water. This makes them more effective in hydrating before/during a workout, as well as providing greater freedom for dosing.
Pills or tablets tend to be pre-packaged measures of pre-workout powder in either a hard tablet form, or a capsule full of powder. This is easier to deal with if you don’t want to consume additional water or you’d like to avoid weighing out scoops of powder.
The powders come with better choice and tend to be more plentiful for the value, while the pills are more convenient if you’re on the go and might not have the time to put together a pre-workout drink!
Pick whatever suits your lifestyle – both formats have similar effects when you match the serving size.
Constantly Varied: Challenges of a Pre-Workout for CrossFit?
If you’re a powerlifter, you want to be able to get the most strength from your muscles but you’re a runner you’ll need to optimize your endurance.
But what about CrossFit, where you might need to do both of these things?
This is what makes a CrossFit pre-workout supplement special and why it has its own article! The varied demands of being effective at CrossFit come with their own varied pre-workout needs and they require a product that is tailored to these different demands.
This is why you’re going to need to pay attention to the products themselves and which one best fits the countless nutritional benefits you’re simply not going to get from a cup of coffee.
1. Similarities to Other Pre-Workouts
The obvious overlap between CrossFit pre-workout supplements and others is that they need to improve wakefulness and focus.
The psychological improvements are mostly the same and they’re just aimed at the human challenges – turning up to a hard workout after a long day of work or study.
Whatever your workout style, this is going to be a shared experience we can all relate to and its why pre-workouts are so popular.
2. Strength and Power: Performed at High-Intensity
Most CrossFit workouts include a significant strength portion; everything is built on top of strength and stability, so you need to find a pre-workout that accommodates this.
This means you need to keep your eyes open for Creatine – the most important and effective strength- and power-boosting ingredient for pre-workout. This isn’t just about getting jacked (though it never hurts) but also improves your capacity for hard work at higher intensities.
If you’re looking to perform your best at high-power movements or push through that tough 5-rep back squat, this is what you need. Creatine also cuts time to exhaustion and has a bunch of health benefits.
3. The Burners: Constantly Varied Metabolic Conditioning
This is the real tough one for most people: the mid-range workouts where you’re pushing yourself the whole time. These are your usual 5-15 minute MetCons that leave you gasping and sore.
They’re arguably the most characteristic part of CrossFit training and they come with a bunch of unique demands. A good pre-workout can really give you a leg-up when you’re struggling.
Carbs Fuel High-Intensity Workouts
To start with, you need carbs to get the most out of your body during this time. They’re the key fuel source for any exercise between 15 seconds and 15 minutes – a pre-workout with a small amount of carbs is enough to improve performance and reduce feelings of fatigue.
Carb absorption is even higher when combined with creatine intake, so it’s a great 1-2 combo to keep yourself nourished and fuelled.
This might mean shaving seconds off your benchmark workouts when using a product that combines the two.
Citrulline: The King of Rounds and Rest!
You can also see benefits during these workouts with a nitrogen-booster like citrulline malate. We’ve covered citrulline before, but the key benefit for CrossFit is boosting your recovery between sets and rounds.
When you’re doing time-per-round workouts, or just trying to catch your wind more effectively, a pre-workout with citrulline can be a great help. More nutrients to tired muscles means better performance and may even provide better recovery/growth!
4. High-Performance, High-Endurance
The final requirement for a CrossFit pre-workout supplement is bolstering your work capacity.
There are workouts that really push you to keep grinding through – long workouts called chippers, the pre-set ‘hero’ workouts, and your classic run/row/cycle pieces.
A perfect Pre-workout would cover these and support you from power to endurance. There are a few ways it might do this.
Beta-Alanine: The Ultimate Endurance Supplement
While this overlaps with the mid-range category too, there’s no question that beta-alanine is the perfect endurance supplement.
By reducing the build-up of lactic acid in the muscles and combatting the sensation of fatigue in the brain, it is perfect for reducing central and local fatigue.
We love seeing beta-alanine combined with creatine and caffeine for the best effects: this allows you to over every distance and duration, as well as ensuring that you’re effectively protected from fatigue at every level.
Electrolytes: Minerals but Cooler
Electrolytes is just a fancy word for the salts your muscles use to stay healthy and energized during a long workout.
They’re things like calcium, potassium and even sodium. These are crucial for long workouts where you’re going to use up your body’s stores and sweat out others.
You become vulnerable to cramping when electrolytes are depleted, and poor electrolyte balance in the muscles is associated with muscle damage.
A pre-workout supplement that provides healthy electrolytes can reduce these problems and keep you working harder for longer!
5. Mental Power Beyond Caffeine
While caffeine may be something that a CrossFit pre-workout shares with other kinds of workout supplements, it’s not the only way mental performance impacts workouts
Cholinergic compounds are interesting brain-support ingredients that improve Acetylcholine balance. This is a compound that regulates mood and even has a role in the health of the nervous system.
Since training efficiency is all about neuromuscular performance, it’s important to keep nerves healthy. Combining cholinergic compounds with caffeine and other fatigue-dampening compounds provides benefits to your overall wellbeing and performance.
How are We Judging Pre-Workouts for CrossFit?
We’ve outlined a perfect product, and the categories it needs to deal with, above. Obviously, the ingredients themselves and their effectiveness for your workout performance are the main criteria. A better product is going to be the best choice.
However, a lot of products manage these well. What else can we use to separate them and compare them?
- Value is obvious: if two products have the same benefits, but one is half the price, that is going to be the best choice. You want a great product at a great price – you can’t overlook the financial side of a pre-workout supplement.
- Extras – or secondary ingredients – are always great. They’re the kind of non-essential compounds that show a brand is really committed to giving you the best experience and helping you achieve your goals.
- There are a wide variety of secondary ingredients, so we’ll discuss them one by one, but they can really separate first and second picks.
- Concentration and purity overlap a lot. Concentration is how much of the active ingredient you’re going to get per serving, while purity is how much of the product is filler. The higher concentration usually means higher purity, but these are crucial for overall quality and value!
- Customer reviews and reputation also play a part in the value of a product. A trustworthy, FDA-approved company is always better since you know what you’re getting – it’s crucial to have control over what’s going into your body.
Popular Products: A Review and Comparison
1. Naked Energy
We have talked about naked products before, but they continue to thrill us with their branding and approach.
They’re a no-nonsense product that relies on effectiveness and ingredients to sell products. They’re not flashy, they just make a product that does what you want.
The caffeine content of this product is almost perfect at 200mg, more than manageable but effective for combatting fatigue and improving your focus. Combined with creatine and beta-alanine at effective doses, we’re really happy with the fundamentals of their pro-endurance, anti-fatigue blend!
You’ll also get a huge dose of important vitamins to support your health and wellbeing. This includes vitamins C and B complexes. There’s rarely a bad time for more essential vitamins!
The main problem we have with this product is poor choices on the complementary compounds.
For example, choosing arginine over citrulline is a real problem: arginine is far less effective, being broken down in the digestive system before being absorbed, meaning far less effect on performance.
2. Progenex Force:
Progenex is a name we all associate with CrossFit – they’ve enjoyed a lot of success as an official affiliate in the past.
The ingredients paint a picture of a product that does all the basics for endurance: citrulline, beta-alanine, caffeine, the whole nine yards.
The problem is that, despite being called force, this pre-workout contains no creatine! This isn’t a huge deal if you’re already supplementing creatine but given its ability to improve rehydration and carbohydrate absorption for energy, we’d expect it to be in this product.
Instead, we get the far less effective inclusion of BCAAs – compounds that have been shown to be mostly-useless. They might mildly bump your resistance to fatigue, but nothing compared to creatine, and nowhere near as effectively as compounds that are already in the product!
This seems like a simple oversight and would be better spent with a high-quality strength-endurance ingredient, since CrossFit involves a mixture of heavy lifting and endurance training!
3. PRE WOD
This is a product that wins all of its main bonuses in the area of mental support, with many high-quality cholinergic compounds.
While they’re not directly linked to performance, they can help prevent nervous system fatigue and support better focus. When combined with the 200mg of caffeine in this product, we can guarantee you’ll feel a little more human after you’ve had your PRE WOD.
Once again, despite its many benefits, this product doesn’t provide the effective dose of creatine – or any at all. This is sad because it gets everything else right – it uses citrulline instead or arginine, has a healthy mixture of caffeine and betaine.
Again, Creatine is key to more than just strength – the lack of strength-endurance ingredients is a concern. This also means a loss to carb-metabolism and cell health, which are awesome for health.
4. Cellucor C4 Pre-Workout
You might not have associated Cellucor’s C4 pre-workout with CrossFit initially.
While it has a reputation as being a great bodybuilding pre-workout, this product actually fits the vast majority of what we outlined above as being great for a CrossFit pre-workout.
For example, C4 packs a big punch with beta-alanine and creatine, as well as a healthy dose of caffeine to get you fired up. It combines these with brain-boosting compounds like tyrosine and L-Dopa, as well as a strong vitamin blend.
We’re not seeing any citrulline, which is a mild concern since citrulline malate is great for energy production and short-term recovery. However, this is probably the least important of the key ingredients we listed at the start of this list.
The cost and servings in this product are really reasonable compared to the market. Its great value compared to some products, and it provides all the benefits you’d look for in a CrossFit Pre-workout, even if it’s not known for it.
If you’re willing to step outside the popular CrossFit Pre-workout products, C4 might be a great choice!
5. EVLution ENGN Shred
EVLution provides a well-rounded alternative to popular CrossFit supplements, despite having all the hallmarks of and dealing with the psychological demands that CrossFit places on the body.
This begins with the combination of fantastic mental enhancement ingredients. The min to muscle matrix is a great blend of cholinergic and mental-sharpness compounds to improve your focus and help you get ready to train after a long day.
These are combined with caffeine from coffee beans and green tea extract, which combine for a great focused, calm sense of preparedness.
The problem is that it overlooks a number of essential physical performance enhancers we’ve come to expect on this list. Things like creatine, beta-alanine, and citrulline are all absent.
These essential ingredients have been replaced with CLA (an omega-6 fat that doesn’t boost workout performance), a number of sexual health/libido boosters (we’re not sure why), and a fat-burner in the form of cayenne pepper extract.
This pre-workout might make you feel better and perk you up – in more than one way – but it won’t make you a better athlete or support your performance in the box.
6. NF Sports Pre-Workout
A popular brand from beginners to games competitors, NF has made a habit of providing high-quality, reputable supplements.
NF Sports pre-workout supplement is also likely to be the best balance we’ve seen on this list so far. It provides all of the key ingredients we’ve already discussed – from creatine to cholinergic compounds – and balances them beautifully.
While the performance blend is a proprietary blend – and we’re not sure quite how much of each compound you’re getting – they’re all there. This is a real shame because, if we knew the doses, we’d just be able to recommend it more highly and point to the overall benefits.
As it stands, this is our favorite pre-workout and we’ve saved it until last. Packed with electrolytes and B vitamins as well as containing all of the key ingredients, NF Sports pre-workout provides the most well-rounded pre-workout supplement for CrossFit that we’ve seen.
Final Thoughts and Our Picks!
A great pre-workout for CrossFit has to reflect the constantly varied, functional demands that you put you on your body.
This is why we’ve focused so much on the quality and combinations of key ingredients. The secondary ingredients help us separate out the good from the amazing, but the key ingredients let us know that a pre-workout is worth your time in the first place!
From the products we’ve reviewed above, its clear that individual pre-workouts are going to focus on different things – but we think NF Sports’ Pre-workout has taken the lead.
This product provides something for each of the key demands of a CrossFit pre-workout and doesn’t miss out on anything we’d consider essential. We’d like to see more transparency on the ingredient dosages, but overall it is ticking all of the boxes we discussed at the start of this article!
C4 provides a great alternative for anyone who is willing to venture outside of the CrossFit culture and learn from others.
This product isn’t central to the CrossFit culture and you might not get the recommendation from your friends at the box, but it can make for a great alternative. With a balance of the key ingredients and a pro-health stance – with additional vitamin support – the results will speak for themselves.
Overall, this is our pick for the simple fact that it provides the most comprehensive, upfront coverage of the most important features of a CrossFit pre-workout supplement.