Supplements: To Take Or Not To Take?
Since 2013, Australians have been spending $1.5 Billion per year on supplements. 75% of these purchases were on health and well-being products.
Other types of supplements include vitamins, minerals, weight- loss and muscle- building products.
Doctors and nutritionists believe the steady growth of the supplement industry reflects the changing attitude of Australians toward adopting a more holistic approach on health and wellness.
But there are pros and cons to using supplements.
Arguably, the most difficult component of a holistic health and wellness program is also the most important: Nutrition.
Depending on your fitness goals, a nutrition plan can be restrictive or imposing.
Calories from food are our primary source of fuel. If you’re trying to lose weight, you are probably exercising under a calorie-deficit.
It is difficult to maintain focus on a workout program if you are running low on energy.
Supplements that contain caffeine, Vitamin B6 or B12 and Biotin or Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are effective energy boosters to use when you are on a calorie- restrictive diet.
If your training is intense, supplements provide a quick and easy way to increase the amount of macros and vitamins you need to support your program.
Oftentimes, our schedules at work, school or with family can make it difficult to adhere to a nutrition plan.
Supplements are convenient for getting your precise macro-nutrient ratios and daily dose of vitamins.
If you are trying to build muscle, the main focus of your nutrition plan is to obtain your macros from clean sources and under the correct ratios.
A supplement such as Whey Protein is a convenient way to get in a meal with a 2 to 1 protein to carbohydrate ratio and minimal fat.
You can store protein powder in a carousel container used for baby powder or a zip-lock bag if you’re on the go.
All you need is a shaker and filtered water. Vitamins can be kept in a tightly sealed pill box.
Numerous tests and studies have shown there are supplements that can enhance performance.
These tests are conducted by respected institutions under strictly controlled and monitored conditions.
Included among the popular supplements that have a reputation for enhancing performance are:
Creatine – Produces forceful contraction through production of ATP or Adenine Tri- Phosphate, an immediate energy source for muscles.
Beta Alanine – An amino acid that synthesizes carnosine which functions to remove lactic acid. End result is a prolonged delay in muscle fatigue.
Caffeine – Increases awareness and focus by stimulating CNS (Central Nervous System).
BCCA’s – Improves recovery time.
How popular are these supplements? There are brands that make supplements with all of these ingredients combined!
Using supplements can greatly support your nutritional plan which in turn can benefit your health and fitness program.
But some people have grown dependent on them. It gets to a point where they cannot perform at their best without the use of supplements.
They forget these are designed “to supplement” and not replace whole foods or a well thought- out nutrition plan.
In extreme cases, the use of supplements becomes abused and the results can have tragic consequences.
Most commercially available supplements are synthetic which means they are made with artificial ingredients.
All you need to do is read the label. Ingredients include artificial colours, artificial sweeteners and artificial flavouring.
Our bodies are not made to assimilate synthetic ingredients for a prolonged period.
The human physiology reacts to extended use of supplementation by holding water. Synthetic ingredients may be difficult to excrete and excess materials can become toxic inside the body.
Some supplements particularly vitamins can be very expensive. The high price is the premium you pay for convenience in a bottle.
This is especially true for highly-specialised supplements that can enhance performance.
A canister of Pre Work Out (PWO) powder will typically cost $30+ but will last for only two to three weeks.
PWO’s contain Beta Alanine, Citrulline Malate and Creatine.
It is one of the most popular types of supplements in the market. It is often used by people who want immediate strength gains in the gym.
Should You Use Supplements?
There are many experts that either advocate or protest the use of supplements.
Those that advocate the use of supplements maintain their value while those that protest claim supplements and vitamins don’t work.
While supplements have their place in a health and wellness program, the decision on whether you use them or not will depend on a number of factors:
Before starting any exercise, diet or supplement program you should always get medical clearance from your doctor. This is especially true for pregnant women.
You could have allergies to certain vitamins and minerals or you could have deficiencies that supplementation can fix.
How long have you been exercising regularly? How much exercise time do you average every week?
Generally, if you have been exercising regularly for less than two years or if you average less than 150 minutes of physical activity every week, you do not need supplements.
Your daily requirement in macros, vitamins and minerals can be provided by whole food.
Vitamins and mineral supplements are generally safe for teenagers and younger children as long as these are cleared by the Pediatrician.
But performance- enhancing supplements such as whey protein and creatine should not be considered until they are in their 20’s.
Performance enhancing supplements could increase testosterone production and result in premature closing of growth platelets before the child completes the full growth cycle.
If your work or study schedule compromises a regular eating schedule, having a one or two meal replacement shakes every day would be a good idea.
Meal replacement shakes are formulated to precise macros and fortified with vitamins and minerals.
It is certainly a better choice than a bag of chips or a chocolate bar.
As mentioned, supplements can be expensive. If you have other obligations to attend to, do not prioritise supplements in your monthly budget.
Stick to eating whole foods, fruits and vegetables. You can get the same benefits without breaking your bank account.
If you decide to use supplements, read the directions on the label carefully and follow them to the letter.
Remember, these are supplements not “magic pills” or the proverbial “lightning in a bottle”.
A word of caution on the instructions regarding the use of these supplements:
You may come across an advisory stating the supplement is “safe to take year- round”. Please take note Cons #2, “Synthetic”.
Even when taking supplements that are considered safe such as whey protein, it is a good idea to cycle off the product for at least two months after you finish the first container.
The success of a health and fitness program can never be found inside a bottle. Success is the product of hard work, dedication and consistency.