Supplements: Useful or a Waste of Money?

Walking into a store like Complete Nutrition or GNC can be totally overwhelming. There are stacks on stacks of protein powders, vitamins, pre-workout, and pills that promote weight-loss. It may be tempting to splurge on these products in the hope that the right concoction will be exactly what you need to get your perfect body. But are supplements actually going to help to get you there?

Below are the four things I conditionally recommend to my clients depending on their needs and dietary habits.

Protein Powder

While not necessary to your post-workout recovery, it certainly is handy. Because we should be consuming 25g of protein within an hour after working out, having protein powder on hand is a great way to make sure you delivery those nutrients to your system on time. However, a meal or a snack that is high in protein works just as well, so really it’s about convenience.

When choosing a protein powder, look for one that has 20-25g protein per serving and 2g of sugar or less. In terms of type of protein, the worst one to get is casein, which can promote tumor growth in large amounts when you are exposed to carcinogens. Whey is typically the most common, however those who are lactose intolerant or those who are looking to consume less animal products would probably want to choose something different. I personally use a plant based protein. My favorite is Vega Protein and Greens. It’s sweetened with stevia and comes in Chocolate, Vanilla, Natural, Coconut Almond, Berry, and Tropical (my least favorite by far).

Pre-Workout

Pre-workout is kinda like a kick in the pants to get your workout started if you are feeling low on energy. People also claim they end up having a better workout in terms of strength and speed after taking it. In the past, I tried it out, but I never felt like it did anything for me personally.

However, I’ve had other clients and trainers say that it’s a super important step in their gym regiment to start off with their pre-workout, especially for those who are typically low in energy. The important thing here is to check your ingredient labels. A lot of companies will load large amounts of additives in their product, and as they aren’t regulated by the FDA, you don’t always know what you are getting. Again, out of all the products I’ve tried, I’d recommend Vega Sport Energizer because their labeling and ingredients are straightforward and without fluff.

BCAAs

BCAAs, or Branch Chain Amino Acids are essentially proteins that help your muscles recover after a workout. By supplementing with these, you can help to reduce rate of protein break down either after a hard workout or while you are dieting. In the past, when I was eating large amounts of animal protein daily, I didn’t see any difference when using BCAAs. However, since I’ve gone mostly vegan, I’ve noticed that using BCAAs helps with muscle fatigue after workouts and helps me maintain my muscle stores even when consuming less protein overall. Thus, I typically only recommend these if a client isn’t eating large amount of protein in their diet or if they are trying to lose weight.

Multi-Vitamins

Multi-vitamins can be really helpful if you find it hard to eat a balanced diet. Unfortunately, it can be really difficult to make up for a nutritional deficiency and adding a multi-vitamin to your daily regiment can help those who don’t get enough from the foods they are eating.

That being said, a vitamin can never totally make up for a bad diet. Our body actually processes vitamins and minerals that are inside of foods better than a pill. Also, many foods have complimentary vitamins that help to absorb one another, while vitamins can have counteractive ones, such as Iron and Zinc that compete for absorption. Thus, if you eat healthy, it is unlikely that you need to take a multi-vitamin. However, if you struggle with eating enough or eating poorly, it may be good to supplement with until you change your eating habits.

Below are the things I recommend to every client because most of the population is deficient:

Vitamin D

Living in Michigan makes nearly everyone vitamin D deficient. If you live somewhere with season change or you don’t get outside enough during daylight hours, you should heavily consider supplementing with vitamin D. Vitamin D helps our bodies absorb calcium, allowing for healthy bones. Vitamin D helps lower your risk of breast, colon, and prostate cancer. Vitamin D can also help with depression and anxiety. It also helps to keep your immune system functioning top-notch. In fact, scientists are now reconsidering the daily requirement for vitamin D, stating that we may need more than was once thought.

Potassium

Our bodies need a lot of potassium. A lot. 4,700 mg to be exact. And it can be quite difficult to get it all from our diet. Even if you eat 3.5 ounces of a banana (360 mg), sweet potato (480mg), spinach (470mg), salmon (410mg), edamame (430mg) and avocado (490mg) every single day, you’d still only be at 2640 mg for the day. So supplementing with this vitamin can be a good idea. Why is it so important? Potassium is an electrolyte that is heavily involved in all muscle contractions in the body. From your heart beating, to lifting weights, to typing on your computer at work, potassium plays a large role in making your brain and muscle fibers communicate. It also helps ward off osteoporosis, kidney stones, and high blood pressure.

Iron

Women need 18mg a day while they are still regularly having their cycle, more than twice the amount men need (8mg). When pregnant, this need increases to 27mg. People who are vegan and vegetarian also need to consume more iron, about 1.5 times the amount as meat-eaters because the type of iron found in plants is not as easily absorbed by the body.

I see a lot of my clients with excess fatigue, light-headedness, and breathlessness, and when they finally go to their doctor and get their blood tested, they find that they are anemic. So it is important to eat lots of beans and greens, cook with an iron skillet, and pair your iron based foods with vitamin C, which helps your body to absorb the iron. If all that fails, check with your doctor to see if they recommend iron supplementation (do not supplement with iron unless you have actually been tested as iron overdose can be harmful).

Probiotic

It’s hard for your body to feel good if your gut isn’t happy. Scientists have recently discovered that we have a “second brain” in our gut that regulates many hormones, parts of your nervous system, and can be responsible for the development of disease if not taken care of properly. Because the western diet is so heavy in processed foods, alcohol, sugar, and dairy, our guts can become breeding grounds for the wrong kinds of bacteria and yeasts. We also have a high rate of antibiotic use, which can wipe out the good intestinal flora.

All this is a tickling time bomb that causes poor nutrient absorption in the gut and can cause fatigue, hormone imbalance, gastric distress, and many other uncomfortable symptoms. Thus, it is important to supplement our gut with healthy bacterias to keep our digestive system happy and healthy. In turn, this allows for better health, regularity, and can even promote weight loss.

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