The important thing to remember about supplements is that they are just that – supplements. They are merely an addition to your diet, and in no way should they be used to replace meals or good nutrition.
Supplements are simply a matter of convenience. They fill in the gaps and make up for the shortcomings of an imperfect diet in a busy world.
But where do you start? There are so many health supplements on the market that it can be mind-numbing to figure out which would work for you. Some supplements can undoubtedly help you achieve your goals, but others have the potential to increase your heart rate and blood pressure, and some are just a downright scam.
It’s a billion dollar industry, and I don’t want you to waste your money on anything that you don’t need.
None of this is to say supplements are necessary; it is possible to obtain almost all of the benefits that supplements can offer through your diet alone. I recommend the Renegade Diet to make sure you’ve got all bases covered, but otherwise here’s how you can reap the benefits of supplements without ever popping a pill.
A good quality multivitamin is your insurance policy.
Taking a multi is undoubtedly the easiest way to make up for any potential vitamin and mineral deficiencies in your diet, and they have long been regarded as the best value product for you overall health. For most people taking a multivitamin is a great idea, but that’s only because most people eat low-quality food that contains very few nutrients.
The need for a multivitamin can be mitigated by a diet rich in a variety of nutrient-dense foods. Nutrient-dense foods are those that have many nutrients relative to the number of calories. Think about trying to get as many different coloured real foods on your plate at each sitting. Examples of nutrient-dense foods include:
The human body can’t produce omega-3 fatty acids on its own. It needs your help.
These are essential fats that must be obtained through your diet or supplements. The National Institute of Health lists fish oil and other omega-3 fatty acids as helping treat or prevent a grand total of 37 conditions including; reduced cancer risk, improved insulin sensitivity relief from joint pain, reduced fat storage, prevention of muscle loss and many more.
If you plan on supplementing omega-3, a product that allows you to take 2 g EPA and 1.5 g DHA per day is ideal. Surprisingly, research has suggested that the body absorbs omega-3s better from food than from supplements. This means you don’t need to shoot for the same levels of EPA and DHA from food sources to obtain the same benefits. You should aim to eat food sources of omega-3s regularly and at least 2 servings of fish a week.
Great sources of Omega-3s include:
- Flax Seeds
- Grass-Fed Beef
If there ever was a real ‘miracle’ pill, Vitamin D is it. If you want to boost strength and athletic performance, reduce fat storage, and keep your brain ticking over, having optimum levels of Vitamin D is the way to go.
It can be obtained through diet, synthesized in the body in response to sunlight, or supplemented (2000 IU per day is recommended).
More and more research suggests that people are deficient in Vitamin D because they don’t get enough exposure to sunlight (this is especially true here in the UK where I swear it’s been winter for 6 months). It is suggested that you get around 30 mins of exposure to sunlight each day with an uncovered torso – this varies from person to person, but 30 mins is a safe bet.
Other than from sunlight, some good food sources of the big D include:
- Fish (again)
- Orange Juice
Protein is essential for proper skeletal and muscular growth.
Your body continually needs it to repair from all the damage you do in the gym as well as normal wear-and tear on tissues. Protein should primarily be obtained from real foods such as chicken, turkey, steak and fish. But when this isn’t possible a protein shake can come in handy.
Whey protein is the most popular option. Whey contains an abundance of branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) as well the nine essential amino acids, giving you call the building blocks you need for muscle growth.
If are going to use protein shakes, I recommend Whey isolate. Whey is a dairy protein that is a by-product of the cheese making process. In its raw state, whey contains considerable amounts of fat and lactose (milk sugar). The fat and lactose is removed from the whey to leave you with ‘concentrate’ or ‘isolate’. Isolate is simply purer, containing less lactose (to which lots of people are intolerant) and fat.
Creatine (monohydrate) actually lives up to the hype.
Over the past 10 years or so it has been one of the most heavily researched supplements out there – its efficacy really can’t be denied. It’s benefits are numerous and include; greater muscle mass & strength (up to 8%), increased power output (more sets/reps) and improved recovery after exercise.
Creatine monohydrate is a natural substance found in foods like red meat and oily fish, but you’d have to eat a lot to reach the recommended daily intake of creatine (usually around 3-5g).
It is the only supplement on the list that is almost impossible to obtain through diet.
Typically, supplementing around 500mg will hit the mark. Here’s a guide to calcium and how much you need.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are among the nine amino acids that the body is unable to make.
They are found in protein sources such as meat or whey, and support everything from muscle growth to endurance training. The interesting thing about BCAAs is that they have an ‘anti-catabolic’ effect, meaning they help prevent muscle break down. In short, they suppress the use of muscle proteins for fuel, thereby sparing the breakdown of muscular protein.
BCAAs are of particular use to bodybuilders who want get down to incredibly low body fat, those who train for extended periods (endurance athletes), and those who are dieting or have extended periods between meals. Other than that, maintaining a regular intake of protein throughout the day is more than sufficient for most people.
Where Can I Go For More Information?
Supplements should be used in addition to good nutrition, not as a replacement for it.
Wherever possible you should choose real food and you’ll never really need to worry about specific doses. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Jason Ferruggia’s excellent book, The Renegade Diet, that contains a guide to supplements along with a complete guide to nutrition. It really does cover all bases, and is designed to make your life as straightforward as possible.
Any questions? Ask away in the comments!