The tip of the pyramid is Supplements! In Part I, II, III, & IV, you learned the importance of balancing your intake & nutrients and proper timing for when to consume your meals.
Supplements top off the list because you just can’t out-supplement a poor diet. For example; If you’re not eating enough total calories each day, a scoop of pre-workout, BCAA’s, and a post-workout scoop of protein powder isn’t going to help you build lots of muscle.
Similarly, if your eating habits include highly processed foods, you eat out more often than not, and your caloric intake is higher than it should be, a couple skinny-tea drinks, detox juices, or multi-vitamins isn’t going to make you lose weight or be healthy.
Supplementing should be just as it’s defined: “adding an extra element or amount”. We should be using them for adding in nutrients as extra, on top of our regularly healthy diet. About 90% of your daily intake should come from real-food sources and that last small % can be from supplemental intake to help you reach your final goals. Life gets busy and we can’t always consume everything we need within that 90%, this includes not only our total calories but the macronutrients and micronutrients we need as well! There are supplements for “meal replacements” that can help you increase your total calories, some for specific macronutrients (like protein powder), and some for micronutrients (like multi-vitamins and ‘power greens’ powders). Before choosing which supplement to take, decide where you are deficient and why. We shouldn’t be just picking up a supplement and decide to start taking it because the Kardashian’s told us to…
Evaluate what you’re missing day-to-day (greens, proteins, calories, energy, recovery) and also why they’re missing (not enough time, poor preparation, dislike certain foods, busy lifestyle, high intensity training). Depending on what you find, it’s pretty likely that you can solve those issues by looking down the pyramid and choosing to improve a lower layer to solve that problem!
Supplements can help us stay on track to reach our meal goals and get plentiful vitamins and minerals. But some research shows that our bodies don’t respond the same way to a nutrient via supplement as it does to the real-deal. We are made to digest whole-foods, where structures and ratios of nutrients are perfectly balanced to allow our bodies to digest, absorb, and metabolize them to our best ability! With some supplements, only about 80% of what we consume is actually absorbed into our bodies for use. The remaining amounts just get eliminated. So out of the $50 supplement you’re taking in, it’s possible that you’re wasting $10 of it!
There are so many different supplements to “help” with so many different things. And the prices can add up because it is a market that benefits off of peoples’ insecurities, lack of knowledge, and willingness to pick the “quick-fix” option! Choose whole, real foods over a supplement as often as possible and you can save yourself some money while also receiving greater benefit over a powder or pill!
Out of all the supplements that are out there, research does support a few that do actually work, here are some of them:
Protein Powders: If a whole-real-food option is not available (meat, dairy, eggs, legumes), then getting a couple scoops in can help you recover from a workout, feel full throughout the day, or hit the last grams of your protein macronutrient goals.
Fish Oil: If no real-food sources (salmon, tuna, anchovies, sardines) are available (or desired…), supplementing with fish-oil pills can offer some Omega-3’s. This fatty acid is essential because your body cannot make it itself and it is important for healthy body functions. It promotes brain activity to improve memory and performance as well as reducing inflammation that can cause problems from general pain to illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis.
BCAA’s: Stands for “Branched-Chain-Amino-Acids”. Your supplement should include all three; leucine, isoluecine, and valine to be most effective. They naturally occur in protein rich meats but may be supplemented if needed. When taken during or after workouts, they help to promote muscle growth, performance, and recovery as well as fat loss by improving its use for energy.
Caffeine: Improves not only energy levels but also nervous system output (to improve performance), focus and attention, and fat metabolism. Pre-workout supplements often contain additional artificial ingredients so if the only desired effect you’re looking for is from the caffeine, try coffee or tea to keep it under the real-food category.
Beta-Alanine: By buffering hydrogen ions within muscle cells, it helps to decrease the acidity level – better known as the “lactic acid burn”. During high-intensity activity, this means improved performance because you’re able to go harder, for longer before the effects of lactate create feelings of fatigue. Beta-Alanine is present in meat, fish, and poultry, but only in milligram amounts. To feel the effects in training, supplementing in 4-6g may improve your performance.
Creatine: The fastest metabolic pathway is the ATP-Creatine system. It helps to produce energy for immediate, short, explosive bursts (for more on this, check out my first, shabby FeNom Vlog). Supplementing helps to regenerate ATP (the energy used for muscle contractions) which can benefit strength and power activity by improving energy turnover to create stronger bursts. Creatine is found in meats and fish as well, but smaller amounts again so supplementation can help improve performance.
Magnesium: This mineral can be found in many foods including nuts, oats, fish, green vegetables, and fruits. More recently, magnesium deficiencies have increased because of limited dietary intakes as well as a decrease of amounts in food itself from industrialized farming techniques. In the context of health & exercise, its benefits include regulating heart rhythms, proper muscular contraction and relaxation, promotes healthy blood pressure and is necessary to create ATP. There are many general symptoms for magnesium deficiencies such as poor muscular recovery, fatigue, aches, irritability, headaches, ect. Magnesium supplementation has been found to improve sleep quality and muscular recovery. A dose at night can help to relax muscles to promote a full night of sleep and wake up rested and physically recovered.
Remember, before ordering any vitamin supplements, meal-replacements, weight-loss pills, or muscle-growth powders, evaluate if you are truly deficient in whatever the supplement will provide and then try to figure out how you can fulfill that deficiency with real-whole-foods by looking down the pyramid. Some of the above mentioned supplements can’t be found in abundance in real-foods, in which case consuming them can be beneficial but only if we are training at the level and intensity to need and produce the provided benefits. Gauge yourself appropriately before buying in on any marketing techniques aimed your way! If you are looking for help deciding what you may need, Contact me!