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In the average modern diet, a person consumes much more of omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3 fatty acids. But before the agricultural revolution, the ratio between these two was very similar. This change has led to an imbalance that can contribute to increased levels of inflammation.

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The idea behind supplementing with omega-3 is to restore this balance. There is some scientific evidence that points to omega-3 supplementation reducing both triglyceride levels in the blood and inflammation throughout the body, making it a popular supplement in recent years.

You could obtain more omega-3 by eating fatty fish at least two times per week. But, like with protein powders, many resort to supplementing for practical reasons.

Omega-3 is often obtained by consuming fish oil. Recently, krill oil has become popular as well. Some studies suggest that the fatty acids from krill oil are better absorbed by the body than those from fish oil. Additionally, krill is lower in the food chain than fish, which leads to lower concentrations of toxins.

A growing number of studies show that omega-3 supplementation has benefits while the side effects are limited. So, if you don’t eat a lot of fatty fish, chances are your health would benefit from supplementing with omega-3.

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Vitamins and minerals

Many individuals are low in certain vitamins and/or minerals. The most common deficiencies are vitamin D, vitamin B12, zinc, and magnesium. If you are serious about improving your performance, consider ordering blood work to check your vitamin and mineral levels and identify specific deficiencies. I did this a few times, and the tests revealed that my D and B12 vitamin levels were too low.

After supplementing in response, I have felt my energy levels increase, both inside the box and also in daily life.

What you should not do is take multivitamins. If you follow a reasonably healthy diet, you probably already receive most vitamins and minerals you need from food, and the effectiveness of multivitamins has not been demonstrated. So stick to a targeted approach and only supplement with what you actually need.

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Supplements you probably don’t need

The supplement industry constantly develops new products. Over the last few decades, countless new supplements have become popular for a short time. Most of them fade into oblivion once the scientific literature and athletes’ experience together conclude that they provide no benefit. But creatine was one exception, popularized in the 1990s by a supplements company and withstanding the test of time ever since. So some of these new compounds may provide real benefits. We just don’t know enough about them yet to be sure.

There are a few supplements in the CrossFit universe that fall into this category. The following are the most common:

• HMB: This is a naturally produced compound that has been demonstrated to increase muscle size and strength as well as enhance recovery from a workout. The compound does this primarily by inhibiting the breakdown of proteins in muscles. It is used medically to prevent muscle loss in older adults and is becoming increasingly popular with athletes. Studies have not found any significant side effects, even from long-term use. However, the compound is metabolized from leucine, a branched-chain amino acid (BCAA), which appears to be more effective in promoting muscle growth than HMB.

• BCAAs: Branched-chain amino acids have been demonstrated to be beneficial for muscle growth and repair. But some studies have shown that supplementing with whey protein, which contains all the essential amino acids, including the BCAAs, is as effective or even more so.

• Glutamine: A naturally occurring amino acid, glutamine mostly seems to aid performance in athletes deficient in it due to either low protein intake or very high workloads. Additionally, it is already included in whey protein.

• Beta-alanine: This is a version of alanine, which is an amino acid. Is has been shown to increase muscular endurance, but the effect is small and the research is not extensive. Additionally, the compound is prevalent in animal foods, so another way to increase it would be to eat meat or dairy.

• Melatonin: Taking melatonin is a safe, nonaddictive way to promote sleep. However, the body regulates melatonin production on its own, so supplementation should only be considered when traveling or working night or evening shifts.

• Nitric Oxide: This compound can increase muscular endurance and strength. It is popular to include nitric oxide in pre-workout drinks. However, the precursor to nitric oxide is arginine, which is already included in whey protein and can also be obtained from foods such as nuts, fruit, meat, and dairy.

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Many will disagree with the preceding list. After reviewing both the literature and the debate on all these supplements, one thing is clear: there is little consensus on most of these products. Views range all the way from considering all supplements as unhealthy because they are not real foods, to recommending most or all of the supplements I’ve mentioned, plus others not included on this list.

So do not think of the text here as an authoritative source on what to supplement with. For you to make an informed decision, you need to read the opposing views and decide on your own.

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