Understanding the benefits of supplements

Supplements should always have specific roles. Taking something that is not of direct benefit to your personal goals is a waste of money. So before you buy anything clarify what you want to achieve, make sure you understand exactly how you need support, what you need to improve and what would be most helpful.

A summarize by Bella Trost, world champion bikini model

I’ve found the most comprehensive answers in the UK based Awesome Supplements blog which guides you through how you should pick the right supplement for yourself. Here is a breakdown of the highlights of the article. Believe me this is really helpful!

First of all, supplements cannot make up the deficit created by poor nutrition, insufficient sleep, lifestyle stress, substance abuse or ineffective training. If your lifestyle is not generally good, your main focus should be getting that right first. You don’t have to live a perfect life – nobody does – but do get these lifestyle factors at least partly in place before looking to supplements. If you’re sleeping 3-4 hours per night, living on pre-boxed lunches and sandwiches, and you go to the gym (when they are open) to catch up with your friends instead of paying attention to your exercise, supplements are not the answer. The basics are always the first priority.

Secondly, supplements are there to optimize and improve, not to create results on their own. Supplementing with creatine, for example, won’t make you stronger, though it can augment the effects of hard training and proper nutrition. That means that you would progress without it – you just might progress a bit faster with it and so it could be a good investment once everything else is in place.

So with all that being said let’s break down into phases the purposes of taking supplements:

Phase 1: starting out and looking to cover basic needs

Phase 2: having more performance output in the gym or in a sport

Phase 3: pushing for results and maximum performance while recovering as quickly as possible

Phase 1:

These supplements are likely to be useful for just about everyone. Not because they do anything particularly ground-breaking but because they are relatively simple. These can be loosely grouped under ‘food supplements’ because they are dietary supplements designed to add nutrients to the diet that may be lacking or otherwise not optimal, and thus are necessary for maintaining normal functioning and health.

Someone adopting a plant-based diet for example, is more likely to be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals (iron, calcium, zinc, vitamin B12). Or someone in a calorie deficit is less likely to be able to maintain adequate micronutrient intake across the board simply due to low overall intake. Or those who are lactose intolerant may be lacking calcium. Finally, most people who don’t live in sunny countries and don’t spend time in the sun daily are likely to fall short of their vitamin D needs.

Using a good multivitamin is a good bet. It acts as a ‘safety net’ ensuring that no matter what, you’ve got the best chance of getting all the micronutrition you need.

Omega-3 supplements provide essential fatty acids. Unless you eat oily fish very regularly you are likely to have a very low intake of these, and while this is not likely to harm you significantly, supplementing with them has been shown to improve blood lipid counts, inflammation, recovery after exercise, and even symptoms of major depression.

In short, pretty much everyone would benefit from these supplements regardless of goals or health status, with the possible exception of people who have a highly varied and nutrient rich diet… which may not even be possible in practice. Unsure? Get a nutrient test or track your food intake on an app like MyFitnessPal for a week and observe your nutrient intake. Compare your values to the recommended daily doses. To check optimal level dosing the Awesome Supplement Team recommends using Examine.com as a reference point.

One more supplement that could be considered useful for literally anyone is a protein supplement, vegan or whey protein. Aiming for roughly 2.2g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is likely to maximise hypertrophy (the increase and growth of muscle cells) and a little more, 2.3-3.1g per kilogram of lean body mass (bodyweight minus fat mass) may be necessary to preserve muscle mass while you’re in a calorie deficit (in other words if you’re dieting to lose weight). Achieving this is entirely possible through normal dietary habits but at the same time there is no reason to avoid supplementation as it may make adhering to a higher protein intake far easier.

Getting 25-50g of your daily protein from a protein powder can make a muscle building or fat loss phase much easier but even those who simply want to lead a healthy lifestyle can benefit from it. Protein powders can be a breakfast option with a piece of fruit, blended into a smoothie as a meal or snack, used in cooking, or taken to the gym in a container for a protein boost. Or you can opt for a protein bar – however these are often high in calories.

Notice, it is often claimed that you need probiotics and enzymes to improve your health. Anything beyond an optimal intake of micronutrients, paying attention mostly to omega 3 fats, magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12 for vegan or plant based eaters is over-hyped marketing. This is why it works for 99% of people.

Article about Phase 2 and Phase 3 coming soon!

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