Nutritional supplements, I’d be willing to guesstimate (guesstimating because I haven’t actually checked the numbers) are a multi-million, possibly billion pound market each year. Every gym we go to, every training session we do, every magazine we read or with every trainer we train with, we see and hear about taking this brand or that version of supplement that’s going to get us that result we so desperately crave. But are we being misled?
Frequently we are sold these amazing products that promise to: help us gain extra muscle, improve our joint health and function, provide increased mental focus, allow us to lose weight drastically (if you’ve read my earlier article…. you’ll know this term makes me want to curl up into a little ball in a dark room and cry) or lift for that extra 3 reps!
Why and how did this topic come up? What do the ‘standard’ (most commonly seen/taken supplements) do to your body? What is my view on this extremely lucrative market in the industry?
Why the topic of SUPPLEMENTS?
Addressing the topic of supplements came up due to recently being asked questions such as: What protein should I buy? Should I use this supplement instead of food? Do I need to buy protein when I start training? People on social media keep trying to pyramid sell me this weight loss product, shall I try it?
What do they do?
Without going too wordy, and getting too deep in to the details of the HUGE array of different forms of each supplement, here are the effects of the most commonly used/asked about supplements in Layman’s terms:
Whey Protein– the most popular supplement on the market- promotes muscle growth and repair- fast absorption rate- best taken directly after training, after periods of fasting (sleep) or where you’re too busy to eat (providing it’s not as a meal replacement).
Casein Protein– same effects as Whey Protein but has a slow absorption rate- best taken before periods of fasting (sleep) or when you know it could be a while before you get a chance to eat a full meal.
Creatine– various different forms, general consensus is that the best form is Creatine Monohydrate- promotes muscle growth, will help improve strength, will increase anaerobic endurance, speeds up muscle recovery- currently no scientific evidence to support the best time to take creatine each day, but advised to take 2-5g per day and experiment with what works for you (bodybuilding.com)- alternative sources: red meat, white meat, fish.
BCAA’s– proteins are made of BCAA’s (Branched Chain Amino Acids)- they aid in the prevention of the breakdown of muscle tissue whilst training, will increase the speed of which muscles recover and can provide more energy for your muscles during a session- taking 4-8g of BCAA’s immediately before or during a workout will increase your level of performance.
Pre-workout– It’s difficult to explain what the average pre-workout will have in it, as for each brand will have a different ingredient list to the next brand. The general idea of a pre-workout is to give you rapid bursts of energy, an increase in mental focus, powerful ‘pumps’ (temporary muscle cell swelling), increase in the rate your body will burn fat as well as speeding up muscle growth…… Sounds brilliant right????? They do frequently come with some quite severe side effects. For me personally I avoid all pre workout supplementation, as most pre workout formulas provide a high concentration of caffeine, and my body is extremely sensitive to caffeine. So for me, a strong coffee always does the trick, but everyone is different, so if you struggle for energy during a workout then test several brands out to see what works for you- alternative sources/recommendation: strong coffee and 4-8g of BCAA’s.
Fish oils/Krill oils/Omega 3s– Omega 3’s are an essential fatty acid that the body can’t produce naturally, so we must ingest it. Omega 3’s are a strong anti-inflammatory, will aid in improving neurological function (nerves and the nervous system), effects mood regulation, can help to regulate blood cholesterol, will help increase bone density and strength, as well as promoting hormone production- It is estimated that currently, the average humans Omega 3 to 6 ratio is 1:15 (Kresser). Decreasing this down to 1:4 can reduce the risk of inflammatory disease by up to 70% (NCBI), and fish and Krill oil supplements are high in Omega 3 that will help even out this deficiency- best taken when consuming with a meal- alternative food sources: Mackerel, Salmon, Walnuts, Chia and Flax seeds, Tuna, Sardines, Egg yolks.
Supergreens- Supergreen supplementation are effective and can be of benefit to any individual that struggles to ingest plenty of organic vegetables– the nutrients in fruit and veg (or supergreen supplementation) help to reduce the chances of developing various diseases such as: CV disease, various cancers, high BP, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity (Precision Nutrition), will help to maintain a PH balance in the body and will also help top up the various vitamins and minerals that your body needs but will miss out on if you’re not a veggie fan– best taken any time other than directly AFTER training– alternative food sources: Broccoli, Spinach, Kale, Celery, Cucumber, Asparagus, Beetroot.
Fat burners- Fat burners can be an effective supplement if they’re combined with a strict nutrition plan! A lot of time and money is wasted on the average person buying this type of product and expecting fat to just fall off. ONLY when your nutrition is right can you really start to see and feel the benefits of this supplement. Fat burners consist of a bunch of different ingredients that are designed to speed up the process of which your body can burn through fat, boost energy levels, help curb your appetite and can in some cases spike your metabolism, meaning that your body continues to burn through energy (calories) throughout the day- best taken at times throughout the day when you aren’t nearing a meal, and try to avoid taking in the evening as most contain caffeine which will effect your sleep- alternatives: clean up your diet, incorporate 2-3 cups of green tea into your daily routine.
Multivitamin- There are a vast amount of vitamins that your body needs to function which can be attained through eating a varied and balanced diet, or through supplementation. You can often find supplemental vitamins in their individual form (A, B, C, D, etc.) or more frequently in the more convenient form of a Multivit. Vitamins have many roles within the human body including: supporting metabolism, aiding in food digestion, helping to maintain healthy eye sight, maintenance of healthy skin, bones and tissue, helps to create new red blood cells and DNA and is also needed to clot our blood- generally accepted idea with multivitamin supplements is that you take them shortly before a meal- alternative food sources: Beef liver, Poultry, Eggs, Fish, Milk, Sweet potatoes, Kale, Spinach, Cabbage, Carrots, Tomatoes, Red peppers, Kiwi, Broccoli, Cantaloupe melon, Orange, Sunflower seeds, Almonds, Cashews, Peanuts, Brazil nuts.
Magnesium- We’ve all heard of the term ‘vitamins and minerals’, well Magnesium is considered a mineral that your body requires to function optimally. It plays a role in regulating our heart beat, supports our metabolism and the function of our nerves, affects the way our muscles contract and also helps keep our bones healthy. Supplementing with Magnesium can also be used to boost athletic performance, prevent kidney stones, help to prevent hearing loss and treat sleeping disorders (LiveScience). From a personal point of view, when supplementing before bed, I know I get a much better, deeper and more relaxing sleep after taking a small dose- best taken upon awakening and before going to sleep- alternative food sources: Nuts, Wholegrains, Fish and Green leafy Veg.
What is my view?
Personally, I’m a believer that no one is ever too busy to prepare their meals. I’m also a believer that you shouldn’t need to supplement providing your diet/nutrition is consistent. So with these two points in mind, I always recommend to people who are new to training to sort their diet out first and give it a good go for a few weeks…… then if they realise they lack any specific nutrient, or can’t physically eat enough to gain all of the required nutrients (which is more common than you’d think), then start looking towards supplementation.
Another excruciatingly painful topic in recent times is these pesky pyramid sellers all over social media selling us these ‘magical new pills’ that contain 10 billion trillion nutrients in a tiny capsule, that promise if you take them twice a day they will get you to lose all of your body fat and resembled a young Arnie in two days flat (slight exaggeration). NEWS FLASH….. these people have no idea what they are on about and are only forcing this upon you to make money. It’s an embarrassing but unfortunately extremely common procedure nowadays. My advice- Invest in someone who works in nutrition, continually studies it and has potentially invested a lot of their time and money in gaining this knowledge.
- I personally believe that supplements should only ever be used to supplement your diet (the name is on the tin).
- Never use as a meal replacement as can you really trust what’s on the label? What is wrong with proper, fresh whole food?
- If you’re super busy, use protein shakes to top up your protein levels (to kickstart muscle recovery) until you can next eat a nutritious meal.
- Always consult someone first to determine whether you should take a certain product…. this may cost you money initially, but it will cost you a lot less than the expensive supplement you are about to repeatedly purchase unnecessarily.
- Research before you buy….. What is really in this magical cocktail of a supplement? Are they ingredients you’ve seen before or does it resemble a science experiment gone wrong?
- Avoid the processed foods. Keep everything natural, fresh and organic and eat the right amounts, then you won’t have to supplement.
I only take a handful because I know I’m deficient in some nutrients, even though my nutrition is nearly spot on now for my particular body type. My current supplement stack is as follows: BCAA (twice per day), Whey Protein (rarely-only when I’m really busy and know I won’t eat for a while), Omega 3 capsules/Fish oils (once per day) and Magnesium (twice per day). Due to the estimation that up to 70% of the UK’s adult population is deficient in Magnesium and due to its importance for a reported 300 bodily functions (VictoriaHealth), I would recommend investing in a high quality magnesium supplement.