Everybody wants quick results...
More often than not, we'll tell you to be patient... Stay consistent, and the results will take care of themselves over time.
But inevitably the question of supplements will come up...
Anybody attempting to improve their health & fitness will understandably want to make sure that their progress is as effective and efficient as possible.
And, mainly due to misconceptions and clever marketing, dietary supplements seem to be synonymous with 'shortcuts'.
The truth, of course...
There are no shortcuts.
And most supplements, are not only NOT a shortcut, but often completely ineffective altogether.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that all supplements are a complete waste of your money.
Before buying any supplement... first, ask yourself...
Can you easily get this nutrient by changing your diet?
This will always be the preferred option.
The point of supplements is usually to isolate individual compounds from foods.
Foods on the other hand, contain a variety of nutrients.
You could drink a protein shake (whey protein mixed with water) and digest 25g of protein.
Or you could have steak for dinner... still get 25g of protein, plus a healthy dose of iron, vitamin B6, B12 and fat (which will help with appetite control).
By trying to paper over the cracks of a poor diet, using supplements, it's unlikely that you will be covering all of your nutritional needs.
In other words, get your diet sorted first!
Then... if there are still nutrient deficiencies, for whatever reason, supplements might be a way of addressing these.
Even with the best intentions, ticking every box, when it comes to each individual nutrient, on a daily basis, is not easy.
Eating enough, both in terms of variety and quantity of food, may be a challenge (especially if you are restricting calories).
Plus some recommended nutrient intakes are easier to meet than others...
Vitamin D for example is relatively difficult to obtain through food alone.
The NHS recommend a Vitamin D supplement be taken during the winter.
Vitamin D would usually be produced from within the body, but requires sufficient sunlight to initiate the process. While you can eat foods containing Vitamin D, it would be difficult to maintain the daily recommended intake by doing this.
Specific allergies and food intolerances may also cause you to remove/reduce certain foods. You could potentially miss out on some nutrients that may usually be sourced from those foods. (eg. Shellfish and/or egg allergies may reduce your intake of Zinc).
Personal lifestyle choices could also necessitate supplements...
Vegan diets potentially reduce the intake of a wide range of nutrients. Meat and dairy are primary sources of iron, B-Vitamins, calcium etc.
The UK food supplement industry is continuing to grow.
Recent estimates value the industry at £906 million.
In other words, supplements are big business. And this is no accident.
It’s no secret that millions of people have low self-confidence, in terms of health, physical appearance, and physical fitness…
As a result, supplements, that claim/promise to provide seemingly straightforward solutions to these insecurities are clearly going to be appealing...
At the end of the day, if you are made to believe that swallowing a tablet or powder is going to produce results comparable to hours of exercise and a strict diet, that product is always going to sell well.
There is now a huge number of different supplements that you can buy, for every fitness/body goal imaginable.
And each one comes with it’s own set of “scientific” claims.
The reality is, those claims are simply a form of marketing.
The aim is simply to convince you to buy as many products as possible.
And they are often extremely good at it.
(This doesn’t mean that all supplements are useless!)
But in terms of significant results, you probably don’t need to be investing in too many.
A commonly used supplement is Branched Chain Amino-Acids (BCAAs).
Claimed Benefits: The 3 BCAAs (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are
considered especially important for repairing and building new muscle tissue
therefore a potential deficiency in BCAAs could be considered a major obstacle for anyone training with weights.
Whether that be to build muscle or as a method of training for fat loss, by supplementing BCAAs you can theoretically avoid that deficiency and increase muscle protein synthesis.
(This is all true btw)...
So you can see that it’s easy to describe the benefits of a nutrient in a way that makes the supplement sound desirable.
What the seller of the supplement probably won’t tell you, is that you could (and probably should) quite easily meet your required intake of BCAAs by eating adequate protein in your diet.
Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t eat enough protein and therefore might not be meeting their BCAA intake.
But this is a good example of where supplements can be misused. In this example, you’d ideally address the protein shortfall by including adequate high protein foods in your actual diet. If you are eating a low-quality diet, attempting to fill the gaps with supplements, rather than addressing WHY your missing key nutrients in the first place, is probably not the best way to go.
If you are meeting your daily requirement for total protein, you are almost certainly eating enough BCAAs.
The only exception would be if you are not eating animal proteins.
Animal proteins are ‘complete proteins’. Meaning that they always contain all of the ‘essential amino acids’ that your body cannot manufacture internally. (ie. you have to eat them).
This is not the case with plant based proteins. Vegans in particular will need to carefully select a wide range of protein sources to cover all bases.
Failure to do so (even if ‘total protein’ is adequate) could result in a shortage of specific amino acids (including BCAAs).
Again, this doesn’t necessarily mean that supplementation is automatically required. But, if for whatever reason, you can’t achieve adequate intake through your diet, then you may wish to take advantage of what would then be a valid and effective dietary supplement.
You could easily apply the above to most diet supplements. Ultimately, most nutrients can easily be obtained from food.
And in many cases, you’ll be eating adequate levels without even trying. In these cases, buying supplements is more or less a waste of money.
This is where you need a bit of awareness...
Make sure you understand what you are buying and whether you really need it.
Don’t rely on the fitness and supplement industry to educate you. They clearly have a financial incentive to sell as many products as possible.
And it’s very easy to get caught out.
Ultimately, they probably aren’t lying to you.
If the sales spiel consists of a list of benefits that each nutrient may provide, they’re (probably) telling the truth.
But again, that doesn’t mean you need it in supplement form.
On top of that, you will have noticed that supplement companies employ a large number of “athletes” and celebrities to endorse the products...
Visit a sports supplement website and the first things you’ll see are “special offers” and images of the “ideal physiques” that you are likely to be aspiring to achieve.
False Sense Of Security
Adding supplements can fool you into assuming that you have a healthy diet…
If you’re taking vitamins and other supposedly healthy nutrients you must be healthy right?
But at this point, you have not addressed what you are actually going to eat...
You still need to plan 3 meals (usually) plus snacks.
So it's easy to believe that this allows you to eat whatever you want.
The risk is… you’re assuming that you have covered all of your daily requirements via the supplements.
It would have been far easier to do this by simply eating correctly in the first place...
And in that scenario... you've actually eaten. Theoretically you appetite won't be demanding a day's worth of food.
Instead, you could now be eating a lower 'quality' diet, due to a false sense of security.
This could also actually cause deficiencies elsewhere in your diet…
For example, if you believe that you have covered your vitamin requirements via powders and tablets, you may feel that you do not need to eat as much fruit & veg…
The obvious downside…
You are now eating a low fibre diet.
Overlooking The Basics
Accurately assessing the requirements and deficiencies of your diet is not easy.
For most people, trying to do this and cover everything via supplements, is a long-winded way of achieving a result that can mostly be obtained by following a “healthy, balanced diet”.
Not only that, but some of the benefits of nutrition supplements can be achieved by much simpler methods other than diet…
Example: Instead of buying pre-workout supplements, try sleeping more, making more of an effort to hydrate before exercise, and a black coffee if you do need the caffeine.
Pre-workout supplements are often used to overcome the side-effects of poor lifestyle choices... leading to perceived fatigue during exercise.
A balanced and "healthy" diet, will contain most, if not all of the nutrients that your body requires.
If this is not currently the case... identify what is lacking in your diet first, and then figure out how to remedy those deficiencies (through food).
When, or if, that genuinely isn't possible/practical, dietary supplements might be part of the solution.
Ideally, if you are struggling to include all nutrients in your diet, a Registered Dietitian would be the best place to seek information regarding effective supplementation...
DO NOT solely rely on biased or unqualified advice... this includes "influencers", and supplement companies!
Remember... MOST supplements that are available to buy... are completely unnecessary for healthy people!