What are supplements?
Supplements are vitamins, minerals, herbs, amino acids, plants or other parts of these substances that can be consumed for a wide variety of health purposes (1). For many years, bodybuilders, athletes, health enthusiasts and beyond have been taking dietary supplements to help improve their wellness. When used appropriately, supplements can be a great addition to a wholesome diet and an exercise program. The focus in the previous sentence is when used appropriately.
Supplement, by definition, is something that completes or enhances something else when added to it. With that being said, the appropriate way to use dietary supplements is to use them to compliment your diet and exercise regimen. Your dietary supplements should add to, not replace, the foods in your diet. You should rely on whole foods in their natural state for the majority of your nutritional intake.
There’s no science behind this statement, but I would say at least 95% of your fitness success will come from real food. Whether your goal is weight loss, gaining muscle or anything in between, don’t rely too heavily on the supplements you take. Real food equals real results.
What supplements should you take?
I’ve had a lot of clients, friends and family ask me, “What supplements should I take for [insert fitness goal here]?” My first answer is always what foods are you eating for [said fitness goal]? A bit snarky, yes, but a lot of your fitness goals can be met by tweaking your diet. The main reason I ask that question is because I want to make sure you have a basic understanding of what a moderately healthy diet looks like.
Let’s say you ask me what supps (all the cool kids call supplements “supps”) to take to gain lean muscle mass and I ask you about your diet. You tell me that you usually eat fast food 2-3 times a day “because you have no time to cook.” I’m going to assist you with your diet before I tell you what supplements to take. No amount of Mass Gainer Protein Powder, Creatine or Pre-Workout in the world can help you gain lean muscle if you can’t stop eating $5 Hot & Ready Pizzas from Little Caesars.
Those 3 supplements are what I’d refer to as advanced supplements. Advanced supps should be taken for a specific purpose by athletes, bodybuilders or individuals that exceed 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least 4 days a week. You don’t need a pre-workout to hit the elliptical for 30 minutes. And a post-workout protein shake probably contains double the calories that you just burned. Save those supplements for the next time you try to deadlift 400 pounds. See the difference here?
With that being said, there are some supplements that everyone can benefit from. I call them the essentials. While I definitely recommend implementing a proper diet and exercise program, the essential supplements can benefit even the most sedentary individuals. These are my top 3 essential supplements.
Multivitamins are incredibly useful and packed with tons of vitamins, minerals, herbs and more. Multivitamins can help you achieve the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) of all the essential nutrients when you use them in addition to a complete diet. When looking for a multi, here are some tips to help you find a useful product:
- Look at the Daily Value (DV) percentages,
- Most of the vitamins and minerals DV% should be at or near 100% except for Calcium and Magnesium. Those two at 100% DV would cause the pill to be too large to swallow (2).
- If possible, choose a multivitamin designed for YOU,
- A lot of brands will have products specifically designed for men, women, teens, pregnant women, seniors and more. Find the one that fits you the best and assess the multivitamin from there.
- Don’t be cheap.
- As with anything, you get what you pay for when it comes to supplements. Do your research so you can confidently purchase a product that you believe will help you reach your goals. Look for vitamins that are made from whole food sources, with little to no chemicals. Make sure you’re getting a product that contains most of the following: Vitamin C, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B9, B12, Biotin, Vitamin A, E, D2 or D3, K, Potassium, Iodine, Selenium, Borate, Zinc, Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese and Iron.
I’ve been taking Rainbow Light’s Men’s One for a while now and love it. It’s a food-based product with a great range of nutrients and even goes above & beyond with its use of superfoods and enzymes to enhance the digestive support and absorption of the vitamins. Rainbow Light makes several varieties of their multivitamin supplements. Find one that works for you and you’ll be so glad you did!
One could argue that a Fish Oil supplement is more important than a multivitamin. I wouldn’t have an issue with that claim. Fish Oil is extremely beneficial and has been linked to improved joint health (3), heart health (4), cardiovascular wellness (5), weight loss (5), brain function (6), improved immune system (7) and healthy skin (8). Seems like a good gig, right?
“How,” you ask? Fish Oil supplements are rich in Omega 3 fatty acids, which are beneficial healthy fats and oils. Guess what? You can also get Omega 3s naturally by eating Salmon, Cod, Halibut, Tuna or any other healthy seafood along those lines. There are literally plenty of other fish in the sea…
Back to this whole Omega 3 conversation. There could easily be a 5,000 word article written about Omega 3s, what they are and how you should use them. I’m going to keep it pretty brief and just overview the subject. Omega 3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids that are essential nutrients for health and wellbeing. There’s also Omega 6 and 9, but we don’t get into that today.
The most important and valuable Omega 3 fatty acids are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These are what you need to pay attention to when choosing a Fish Oil supplement. It would be ideal to find a product that has at least 1 gram, or 1,000 mg, of DHA and EPA combined.
Here’s the kicker. You have to beware of misleading labels that say something like “1,000 mg of Omega 3s!” It’s not just the Omega 3s we’re after, it’s mainly the DHA and EPA. Everything else is just icing on the cake, so to speak.
If you see a label make that claim, turn it around and look at the DHA and EPA content. A lot of times the product will absolutely have 1,000 mg of Omega 3s, like it claims, but only a small percentage of that 1,000 mg is DHA and EPA. That’s a problem. Do not pay your hard earned money on a Fish Oil supplement that has less than 1,000 mg of combined DHA and EPA. Please, if you take one thing from this article, make that be the one thing.
A trusted brand of Fish Oil supplements that I use is Nordic Naturals. They use 100% pure oils from wild caught fish and get their products third party tested for purity and freshness. Their Ultimate Omega product has 1,280 mg of Omega 3s, with 650 mg of EPA and 450 mg of DHA. That’s a combined 1,100 mg of DHA and EPA, which sounds like a winner to me!
This is by far my favorite of the three essential supplements! This blog post won’t do justice to how incredibly important a probiotic can be to your lifestyle. Probiotics can enhance immunity, improve your gut flora, decrease or eliminate gastrointestinal complications and so much more (9). I briefly touched on “good bacteria” in your body in my last article about Apple Cider Vinegar, but probiotic supplements bring it to another level.
When choosing a Probiotic supplement there are several components that come into the decision. What species or strain of bacteria in included? What is the dosage? How many of the organisms will be alive by the time you consume the last pill? It’s not just as simple as picking the one that Erin Andrews tells you to take in her commercials.
Let’s start with strains and species. Below are, in my opinion, are some of the most helpful probiotic strains to look for:
- Lactobacillus acidophilus – This probiotic strain is imperative for maintaining healthy intestinal walls. This will help you get the most out of your food and other supps, absorbing maximum nutrients.
- Bifidobacteria bifidum – Your intestines need this probiotic strain for digestion process that is free of complications, especially when consuming dairy products.
- Bifidobacteria longum – This strain has one job. Eliminate the bad bacteria that cause discomfort. It also helps break down carbohydrates you consume, without producing excess gas.
- Lactobacillus plantarum – This strain helps your body produce lactolin, which is a natural antibiotic. It can also help regulate healthy N.O. levels and decrease pathogens in your system.
Are you still with me? If so, let’s talk about dosage. How many strains should you take? Typically, I would recommend a product that has multiple strains, and billions of each strain. Yes, billions. These bacteria are measured in Colony Forming Units (CFU) and they come in billions. Maybe I like probiotics so much because it’s the only time I’ll ever to get to touch a billion of anything.
Depending on your activity level and lifestyle, your body can use anywhere from 4 to 10 billion CFUs just fighting off the daily hazards that you come into contact with. The goal is to replenish what you lose, so starting with a product that has at least 10 billion CFUs is a wise choice. This will not only replenish your gut flora, but help you develop an even stronger gut flora by forming a nice baseline of CFUs.
As you become more accustomed to probiotics, you can begin to ramp up the dosage. I currently take a time-released, 55 billion CFU product with 10 different strains of bacteria made by Trace Minerals Research. After trying several products on the market, I found this one about a year ago and haven’t looked back since. The company backs their product with a money back guarantee and I can assure you that they don’t have to make good on that offer, ever.
Side note: Don’t forget that you can get probiotics from your food. Great sources include Kimchi, Kefir, Kombucha, Sauerkraut, and Yogurt.
Now that you know a little bit about each of the three essential dietary supplements, you can go out and do your own research on what products may be best for you. I plan on doing a follow-up article on a few advances supplements that highly active individuals could consider to be essential. A few examples of these are Protein Powder, Creatine, Vitamin D and Amino Acids/BCAAs.
Until then, focus on the basics. Hopefully you learned a few bits of useful info and can apply this advice to your daily routine. Thanks for reading!
(1) “Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 11 May 2014. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. <http://www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/ucm109760.htm>.
(2) “Multivitamin/Mineral Supplements — Health Professional Fact Sheet.” National Institutes of Health. National Institutes of Health, 7 Jan. 2013. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. <http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/MVMS-HealthProfessional/#h6>.
(3) “Fish Oil Supplements.” Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. <http://www.arthritistoday.org/arthritis-treatment/natural-and-alternative-treatments/supplements-and-herbs/supplement-guide/fish-oil.php>.
(4) “FDA Announces Qualified Health Claims for Omega-3 Fatty Acids.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 8 Sept. 2004. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. <http://www.fda.gov/SiteIndex/ucm108351.htm>.
(5) “Combining Fish-oil Supplements with Regular Aerobic Exercise Improves Body Composition and Cardiovascular Disease Risk Factors.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1 May 2007. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. <http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/85/5/1267.abstract>.
(6) “Fish Oil Boosts Brain Power.” Yahoo Health. Yahoo Healthy, 16 July 2014. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. <https://www.yahoo.com/health/fish-oil-boosts-brain-power-91965585587.html>.
(7) “Nothing Fishy about It: Fish Oil Can Boost the Immune System.” EurekAlert! Federation of American Societies for Experimental Bioogy, 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. <http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-04/foas-nfa040113.php>.
(8) Kessler, Chris. “The Definitive Fish Oil Buyer’s Guide.” Chris Kresser. 24 May 2010. Web. 27 Jan. 2015. <http://chriskresser.com/the-definitive-fish-oil-buyers-guide>.
(9) Fuller, Perdigon. Gut Flora, Nutrition, Immunity and Health. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2008. Print.