Protein Supplements

Appropriate Protein Supplementation

Protein, by far, provides the best benefit for athletes. For anyone new to CrossFit, the discussion of the who, what, when, where, and why of protein consumption and supplementation can get overwhelming pretty quick. Who needs to take protein; what kind of protein to take; when is the best time to consume; where is the best place to purchase; and, the ultimate question, why do you need it.

The scope of this is not to dive too much into the science of protein; debate the best protein powder around; determine who has the cheapest prices; provide supplementation advice for the competitor; or what type of protein Rich Froning consumes. Instead, it is to provide the individual new to CrossFit with enough information to get them started, gain muscle, lose fat, reduce weight, and help you reach your goals.

Who Needs to Supplement Protein Consumption

Is protein supplementation absolutely necessary? No. Will it assist you in gaining lean muscle, burning fat, and recovery? Absolutely!! But assistance should not be confused with a necessity. Truth be told, the average sedentary person, or the person who engages in a minimal amount of physical exercise during the week, probably doesn’t need to use a protein supplement. As someone who does CrossFit, you are not living a sedentary lifestyle, nor is your exercise program considered minimal. Thus, proper protein supplementation, while not a necessity, will help you towards achieving the results and goals you are looking to obtain.

What Kind of Protein Should You Take

This is, by far, one of the more important questions you need answered. While there is an abundance of protein supplements available, you should look for one that contains the ingredients necessary to provide you with an optimal level of nutrition to maximize your CrossFit training. More often than not, the average consumer of protein supplements relies on advertisements, or the recommendation of an ill-informed acquaintance. This is a recipe for disaster. The best advice I can give any person new to CrossFit, is to choose the protein that has the lowest ratio of essential elements you need, when compared to the extra additives. A good rule of thumb is to generally avoid lower cost proteins; designer proteins; as well as, with some exceptions, those sold in drug stores and supermarkets.

The highest qualities of protein supplements are those derived from milk. This includes casein and whey. There are, however, alternatives to milk proteins including soy, egg, goat’s milk, hemp and brown rice. Notwithstanding the differences in the alternatives to dairy based products, we will discuss the basic differences between whey and casein protein supplements.

Each protein supplement provides a unique benefit for your CrossFit training. Combining proteins can provide a synergistic effect which assists in the overall catabolic and anabolic pathways. In their simplest forms, think of catabolism as breaking down the proteins into amino acids, and anabolism as using the amino acids to build muscle fibers. Casein protein supplements digests slowly in the stomach, which allows a sustained level of amino acids in the blood. Whey is digested much more rapidly than casein, and contain a greater portion of branched-chain amino acids, which are the most abundant amino acids in muscle tissue and critical for muscle building.  While different, as discussed below, the benefits derived from casein or whey will depend upon the time they are consumed.

When Do You Need To Take Protein

If you ask a hundred people when, and what kind of protein supplement to take, you will end up with a thousand responses ranging from the “magic window” of up to an hour post workout, to within 3 hours after working out. The best advice is to take your protein supplement right after you train. Immediately post training is when your muscles have been broken down from your session, and require protein to rebuild. While you should strive to consume about 1-1.5 grams per pound per day, including those from whole food sources, don’t get caught up in the numbers. After a workout, 1 to 1.5 scoops of protein is enough to provide the necessary nutrients to your body. This comes out to about 20-30 grams of protein depending on the manufacturer.

Additionally, keep in mind that you want your body to maintain a constant stream of amino acids for muscle regeneration. Taking a protein supplement only after a workout is not enough to maintain these levels. In order to maintain consistent amino acid levels, you should attempt to consume some form of protein throughout the day. You don’t necessarily have to take a protein supplement; you can gain similar muscle building and fat loss benefits by consuming lean sources of protein. A good high quality protein supplement, however, is convenient, as opposed to doing a meal prep of five small meals a day.

Consuming a protein supplement prior to bed also has benefits. During your 8 hour “nap,” your body is still rebuilding, repairing, and burning fat. As a result, you should avoid having your body enter starvation mode during this time. The best course of action would be to consume a casein protein supplement prior to going to bed. Casein’s slower digestion rate, and slower release of amino acids, will provide your muscles with fuel while you rest, and keep your metabolism elevated. In addition to casein, you can consume a whole food source of protein prior to bed such as cottage cheese, as whole foods generally digest slowly. Along similar lines, consuming a whey protein supplement upon waking is advantageous because it refuels your serum amino acid stores quickly.

Where Should You Buy Protein

The number of protein manufacturers is varied. As stated above, you should purchase a high quality protein with as little additives as possible. When I refer to additives, I am referring to the actual ingredients, not the nutritional data printed on the label (added vitamins and minerals). Additionally, unless you are taking a meal replacement supplement, you should avoid proteins that are high in calories, as this is a good indicator that there are additional ingredients, such as sugars, that you do not want.

I’m partial to Stronger, Faster, Healthier (SFH), Optimum Nutrition (ON), Nature’s Best, and PurePharma protein supplements. While I have tried many protein supplements over the years, I like the taste of SFH the best. Additionally, SFH is derived from grass fed, free-range cows, which have never been treated with antibiotics or growth hormones. This aside, you can still derive the same benefits by consuming any high quality product, as there are no appreciable differences relevant to the average person training in CrossFit. So taste a couple of different products, and find the one, which best suits your taste and needs.

Why Should You Take Protein

Proper protein intake and supplementation benefits the body in a number of ways. First, it assists in recovery by providing the muscles with the building blocks necessary to repair, thus reducing delayed onset muscle soreness. Second, it assists in lean muscle production and fat loss. Third, proper consumption is imperative for you to realize your full potential relevant to strength gains.


Protein supplementation, when consumed properly, has a positive impact on strength gains, protein synthesis, lean body mass, and reduced recovery time. As the term suggests, protein supplementation should be used to supplement a well-balanced diet, and not to replace it. For the average person participating in CrossFit, whole foods can offer the same benefits as long as adequate protein is ingested. Supplementation, however, can be used to help meet the protein demands needed by the body during CrossFit, and can also help you achieve your goals sooner.