Are Supplements Worth the Investment?
Here’s a dirty secret a lot of supplement manufacturers will never tell you: supplements aren’t nearly as effective as they’re made out to be!
Pretty harsh right off the bat, right? Well, let’s dig a bit deeper to find out the truth about supplements and what they’re actually worth…
Supplements aren’t all bad. In fact, many of them can actually be excellent for your health and improve performance in the gym while also providing you resources to assist with recovery.
Protein supplements can give you the amino acids your body needs to build and repair muscle. They’re a resistance trainee’s best friend! Remember that the best amount seems to be in the range of 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. More is not better, especially with this macronutrient.
Vitamin and mineral supplements can help you get more micronutrients if you’re at a nutrient deficit—a very common problem with our modern diet.
Energy supplements can boost your metabolism or give you a spike of stimulants (like caffeine or theanine) that help to raise your energy levels over the short term.
Fish oil supplements can provide your body with the Omega-3 fatty acids required for a healthy brain, cardiovascular, and joint function.
Ashwagandha – I like this for men, but a very specific strain such as TCycle Prime. It has been scientifically proven to provide benefits such as increasing testosterone in men, among other things.
The truth is that every supplement is designed for a specific purpose, and taking them can benefit you in many ways.
This is where we get into the hard truth about supplements…
The very nature of the word “supplement” should make it clear what they’re actually good for. The dictionary defines supplement as:
“(n) something that completes or enhances something else when added to it” and “(v)add an extra element or amount to”.
Supplements aren’t designed to give you the nutrition your body needs—they’re only going to enhance or add to your nutrition.
The truth is that a healthy diet should contain all or most of the nutrition your body needs. Most of the micronutrients—vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, and fatty acids—can be obtained directly from a natural source:
Vitamin C from oranges and citrus fruits
Vitamin A from carrots and bell peppers
Iron from red meat and dark, leafy greens
Calcium from broccoli and dairy products
Omega-3 fatty acids from flax seeds and fatty fish
Antioxidants from berries, beets, and red wine
and the list goes on!
Even your macronutrients can be derived from proper sources—protein from meat, dairy, and plant foods; carbohydrates from starchy veggies, oats, and grains; and fats from avocados, coconuts, and red meat—without the need for supplementation.
Supplements really only become “necessary” if you’re having a hard time getting certain nutrients.
For example, vegetarians often find that they have lower levels of Vitamin B12 than meat-eaters, due to the fact that Vitamin B12 is primarily found in meat. The only way to get Vitamin B12 on a meat-free diet is to a) eat B12-fortified foods like breakfast cereals, or b) take a Vitamin B12 supplement.
Do you see where this is headed? For a person eating a rounded diet (including the Vitamin B12-rich meat), there would be no need for the supplement. It’s only for those who are cutting certain nutrients out of their diet (meat, in this case) that supplements become necessary.
That’s just one example, and there are many more—take Canadians and Alaskans, for example, who need to take Vitamin D supplements to combat the low levels of sunlight during the winter.
However, each example illustrates the truth: supplements are useful for combatting nutrient deficits.
If you’re following a healthy diet with a proper balance of macro and micronutrients, you won’t really need supplements. They’ll be useful to increase protein intake around your workouts or give you that jolt of pre-workout energy, but you won’t come to rely on things like multivitamins or mineral supplements for better health.
The key is to focus FIRST and foremost on your overall nutrition. Look at your diet and eating habits to find out if you’re falling short in a certain area.
Perhaps you’re not getting enough micronutrients to be healthy because you’re not including enough fruits and vegetables in your diet. Focus on increasing that raw food intake before you start searching around for a multivitamin supplement.
Perhaps you’re not getting enough protein because you’ve cut back on your consumption of animal products. Find plant-based foods like beans, brown rice, quinoa, and soybeans to get more protein without the need for a protein supplement.
Perhaps your body needs more Omega-3 fatty acids. Try eating more salmon, sardines, tuna, flaxseeds, and walnuts before you buy fish oil supplements.
Proper nutrition is a matter of biology, and you’re not going to solve a biological problem by taking a bunch of chemical supplements.
Supplements are only designed to “supplement” a healthy diet—if you’re eating right, you won’t need a supplement to provide the nutrients required UNLESS there is an underlying medical condition. By fixing your diet, you can return supplements to their rightful place as helpful aids to ensure efficient nutrient intake, but you won’t rely on them for healthy nutrition.