Who Should Take Supplements?

A common question I receive is “should I take this supplement?” A lot of people want to believe that supplements alone will allow them to achieve their fitness and health goals. My full opinion of supplements can be found in the supplements chapter of 2 Weeks to Health First Edition which is available for free here. But in summary, no supplement can fix an ongoing pattern of poor nutrition and exercise choices.

Taking supplements will not make up for a diet that lacks in whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, lean meats, and plenty of water. Also, no protein or creatine supplements will create muscle on their own without completing the adequate exercise. While supplements certainly have their place, I recommend to most of my clients to lay off the supplements and focus on getting their nutrition from real foods. However, there are times when people need to supplement in order to stay healthy.

Who for sure needs vitamin and mineral supplements? A pregnant or breastfeeding woman, a woman able to become pregnant, someone on a restrictive diet (vegetarian, vegan, cultural), someone with limited milk and sunlight exposure, someone with a diagnosed health condition that affects the body such as anemia, elderly adults, and someone who is unable or unwilling to consume a healthy diet (food intolerances or allergies). If you fall into one or multiple of these categories, talk to your doctor or dietitian about which supplements you may want to take. I do not recommend you take any supplements without first consulting a medical professional. For conditions such as these, neither myself nor any other personal trainer is qualified to prescribe these types of supplements for these conditions so it is important to see a doctor.

What is the worst that can happen if you take supplements without a doctor’s approval? Many prescription drugs as well as supplements are plant-based and may react with one another. It is not uncommon for someone to experience side effects after mixing certain supplements and medications. Always ensure your doctor is informed about what you are taking and they give you their approval. And if you aren’t required to take supplements from your doctor, focus on getting your nutrition from real food and use the money you saved from not purchasing expensive supplements on a gym membership.



2 Weeks to Health 1st Ed – Day 10: Supplements

This is day 10 of the first edition of the book 2 Weeks to Health, a 2-week course designed to kick start a healthier life. The expanded and reworked second edition is set to be released in the summer of 2018.

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” – Haruki Murakami

Dietary supplements can be tricky. There is so much marketing around dietary supplement such as protein powder, fish oil, vitamin C pills, etc., that it is difficult to know what to take and what not to take. Dietary supplements are something that requires a lot of science to get to the bottom of.

If you don’t care about anything sciency, the bottom line is if you are eating a healthy diet, unless your doctor or dietician specifically says to take a supplement for an illness (such as an iron supplement for anemia), then you do not need to take any supplements to improve your health. I am going to go down the line and discuss common supplements and why you should, or why you shouldn’t, take them.

First is protein, the most common supplement you will find in sports and fitness. Protein can be bought almost anywhere in several different forms. The most common are pre-made drinks, powders, and bars. We have already talked a lot about protein because it is one of the macronutrients. So wait a second, if you are trying to cut back on your macros and calories, why supplement your diet with more protein? Protein is needed to rebuild your muscles, and consuming protein after a workout helps with muscle recovery. But, if your protein supplement is putting you over your daily recommended protein value, then you should not supplement protein. A typical protein shake will have about 200 calories, 20 grams of protein, and plenty of sugar. Instead, I recommend planning your meals and workouts so that you can eat some of your daily protein after your regularly scheduled workout.

Amino acids are another supplement you will hear people talk about. Amino acids are the byproduct of proteins once your body breaks them down, so your body does not need amino acid supplements when you are eating enough protein. With all the crazy names of amino acids such as L-Cysteine and L-Lysine, it can get confusing which ones to take. Most people who decide to take amino acids resort to buying an amino acid blend that contains about 20 different amino acids. If you decide to take amino acids, it shouldn’t hurt your goals like protein can, but it might hurt your wallet. Especially when you’re first starting out, the results of supplementing amino acids may not make a difference to your fitness, but you are still paying for the product.

Many of the amino acid blends you can buy have caffeine in them. I am sure you know what caffeine is and its effects, but a lot of people take caffeine before workouts for the boost. My advice, do what you need to do to wake up and get a good workout. That being said, stay away from excess doses of caffeine. A lot of pre-workout powders have two or three times the amount of caffeine per scoop than a cup of coffee. If you drink ten cups of coffee (roughly 1000mg of caffeine), that could be enough to overdose on caffeine. So if your pre-workout powder has 400mg of caffeine per scoop, you need to be careful not to overdose. Some sources of caffeine, such as energy drinks and soda, should be avoided all together.

I brought up pre-workout powders when discussing caffeine, but I do not recommend you use pre-workout supplements. Pre-workout powders often have dozens of individual supplements in them at 2000% of your daily recommended value. In short, they are not healthy. If you want to have something before a workout to give you energy there are natural, healthier alternatives. I recommend eating some fruit before a workout, the carbs/sugar will get you going and give you the energy you need. I always keep a banana in my gym bag. If you want caffeine, you can drink your favorite coffee (hold the cream and sugar, you don’t want to ruin your carbohydrate and fat values) an hour before you go, or drink an amino acid blend that contains caffeine.

You will hear a lot about many other supplements while at the gym or reading nutrition websites and blogs. Multivitamins, vitamin C, Fish Oil, CoQ10, and Iron are a few you will hear about. If you have a healthy diet, you do not need to spend money on supplements. You should only take what your doctor or dietician recommends, because often time your body won’t need any supplements, and you will get rid of them in very expensive urine. Even vitamin C which is supposed to stop colds has been proven to not have any effect on shortening the symptoms of the common cold.

My common stance on supplements is that if you are eating healthy, you do not need them, they are just going to burn a hole in your wallet. Supplements are marketed to make you think you need them, but typically you don’t, especially if you are trying to lose weight. Only take supplements if your dietician or doctor puts you on a supplement plan. Be skeptical if your personal trainer tries to put you on a supplement plan, they are not trained the same way as dieticians. If you take everything yourself, you will probably be disappointed in the results. So save your money and buy some fresh fruit instead of pre-workout, and chicken instead of protein powder. If you think you might be lacking in some areas, there is no harm in taking a multivitamin, but you don’t need to try to get specific with your supplementation.

Hopefully you learned something about the hype behind supplements, and why they may or may not be for you. Tomorrow is a short lesson about setting goals, a somewhat obvious but important part of losing weight and getting healthier.