Is Supplementation Necessary for Good Health?
When people decide to put more focus on their health, one of the first things they turn to is supplements, hoping it will give them the extra boost they need to be healthy. This often causes an argument between those who are pro-supplement and those who feel you can get everything you need from real foods. Is one side correct in all cases though? Or is the situation more complicated than that?
In our opinion, neither side is 100% correct, and supplementation can have its benefits when used correctly. Some people won’t need supplements at all, while others will benefit greatly from it.
The biggest thing the keep in mind, is that supplementation is simply that – supplementation to an already healthy lifestyle. If your diet, exercise habits and sleep schedule is poor, then no amount of supplements will make up for it. If everything else is going well though, then supplements can definitely push your health and performance to the next level.
The tough part of figuring out what to supplement with, is that the supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, with a huge vested interest in getting people to believe that they absolutely need these supplements. In reality, a large majority of the supplements that are being pushed on consumers are likely a waste of their time and money, but there are some that stick out as being more than worth it.
Today we are going to be looking at several supplements that have benefits that you may want to explore. Keep in mind though, that each supplement will serve a particular need, which may not apply to you. For example, some supplements are excellent if you are frequently lifting heavy weights, and will be completely useless if your preferred form of exercise is cardio-focused. Also make sure to remember that if your diet isn’t in check, you should start by correcting that first before adding in any supplements.
We’ll start off with the ones that are applicable to everyone, before moving onto the ones that matter more to people who hit the gym on a regular basis.
Fish Oil – We are going to start out with fish oil, because it is one of the most common, safest, and highly recommending supplements around, no matter what your goals are. Fish oil is extracted from fatty fish, something that should be a staple of everyone’s diet. Fish oil contains Omega-3 fatty acids, which should be in balance with your levels of Omega-6 fatty acids. Keeping these two in balance is essential for reducing inflammation and managing metabolism.
Many people are quick to argue that you can get all the Omega-3’s you need from your diet, which is technically true, but not as easy as it seems. In order to receive the same amount of Omega-3 from food, you would need to eat fatty fish like salmon several times a week, if not daily. That can quickly become very expensive and cost prohibitive for the average person. Since fish oil is so cheap, it’s a great thing to add to your daily routine. Many people take 2-5 capsules 2-3 times daily.
Multivitamins – Multivitamins have taken a lot of criticism lately from people claiming those nutrients should come from real, whole foods. Those people are certainly right, you should be making an active effort to get your vitamins and minerals from real foods that you chew up and swallow, and not depend on your multivitamin alone to provide them.
At the same time, a multivitamin is a great way to ensure that you’re getting the necessary amount of all the right things. It’s not an excuse to stop eating your vegetables, instead it’s a good way to ensure you still get enough of the good stuff in case you weren’t able to get them all in from your food.
Magnesium – A good multivitamin will contain some magnesium, but not anywhere near the amount you need to hit your daily values. We get magnesium naturally from green, leafy vegetables, so if you eat a lot of those, you’re already getting some magnesium in. There’s one caveat to that though, and it’s a big one. Soil quality has decreased drastically over the last couple decades, and those same green, leafy vegetables don’t contain the same amounts of magnesium they used to.
Recent studies have shown that 75% of Americans are magnesium deficient, indicating that it may no longer be possible to get all the magnesium we need simply from our diet.
Supplements for athletes
If you hit the gym on a regular basis, lift heavy weights or participate in sports, then you’ll have different needs than the average couch potato (who could still benefit from all the above supplements). This is also where information becomes a lot less reliable, because the supplement companies want you to believe their supplements are mandatory to your health and success in your sport of choice.
Protein Shakes – We’ve all seen guys chugging down protein shakes after a workout, and swearing that it helps with their “gains”. While it’s true, it’s important to get enough protein when working out heavy, it doesn’t necessarily need to come from a protein shake. In fact, real, whole foods are a much better source of protein that a protein shake.
That said, real food takes much longer to prepare and can be harder to choke down after a tough workout. Because of this, protein shakes can be very convenient way to give yourself a quick boost of protein after a lifting session, without the hassle. Just make sure you’re still relying on whole foods for the majority of your protein. Using protein shakes for lunch or throughout the day is not what they’re meant for. For best results, use whey protein, and if you can afford it, use whey isolate instead of whey concentrate.
Creatine – Creatine is one of the most extensively studied supplements around, and has been proven to be completely safe. Creatine helps to build muscle and helps to let you push yourself a little harder and a little longer in the gym. Approximately 25% of people have no response to creatine however, meaning it’s not for everyone.
Creatine will also cause your muscles to fill with water. This will not only cause you to gain weight, but will cause your muscles to look bulkier as well. For some people, this is exactly the effect they desire, while for others, gaining weight and mass, whether in water, muscle or otherwise is not desirable at all. Keep your goals in mind before you consider supplementing with creatine.
BCAAs – An acronym for Branch Chain Amino Acids, BCAAs can be helpful for preserving and promoting the growth of lean mass. The three different BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine. A good BCAA supplement will feature all three, usually in a 2:1:1 ratio respectively.
BCAAs are generally taken before a workout, as well as during or immediately after. They can also help with muscle recovery, meaning you won’t feel as sore the next day and could be ready to go at it again even sooner than you would be without BCAAs.
People who prefer to train in a fasted state should definitely consider using BCAAs, as training in a fasted state quickly leads to muscle breakdown. The BCAAs will help to conserve your muscles while training in a fasted state, all while promoting more lean muscle growth. If you don’t train in a fasted state, BCAAs can still help, but are more of a luxury than anything. Just about all protein shakes have a serving of BCAAs included.
Glutamine – Glutamine is another amino acid and helps with muscle recovery, immune system function and some people even report improved sleep when using Glutamine before bed. Unlike BCAAs which are mostly used around workout times, glutamine can and should be used on a daily basis, even on rest days. Just like with BCAAs, all good protein shakes will also include a serving of glutamine.
How to know if you should start using any of the above supplements
The first thing to look at is what your goals are. If the supplements listed above fit within what you’re striving to do, then you might consider ordering a month’s supply to see if they have any effect.
We can’t stress enough though, that your diet should be in check before you begin supplementation. Just like you can’t outrun a poor diet, you can’t out-supplement one either. Don’t fall into the trap of believing you can eat poorly, just because you’ll make up for it by taking your supplements later that day.
Another good idea, is to not begin taking too many supplements all at the same time. Doing so won’t allow you to properly evaluate the effects each individual supplement has on your health, goals and performance. Try adding in one at a time, and then take a step back to consider what sort of effect, positive or negative, it’s had on you.
Once you know the effect a particular supplement has, you can decide whether to keep it or remove it from your “stack”. It will take a good deal of experimenting to figure out what the best combination is for you, and some people will decide they don’t need anything at all to reach their goals.
Best thing you can do is try out the ones that seem like they might influence your goals in a positive direction, and re-evaluate after a couple weeks.