Should You Take Supplements?
Taking supplements is a controversial topic, to which there are proponents and opponents.
If you take supplements you should ask yourself:
- Am I taking a supplement (or supplements) to make up for an essential nutrient that may be deficient in my diet?
- What physiological system do I hope to target?
- Is there any peer-reviewed research demonstrating the efficacy of the supplement(s) I am taking?
Essential vs Non-Essential Nutrients
An Essential Nutrient is a nutrient present in our food, needed for normal physiological functioning. Examples include: Certain Amino Acids, Essential Fatty acids and Vitamins and Minerals. Phytonutrients also fall under this category (i.e. plant-based nutrients that play a role in optimizing physiological function and reducing disease).
Non-Essential Nutrients are food based nutrients that the body can make by itself, assuming adequate nutrition, or they are nutrients that aren’t needed for normal physiological functioning.
Non-Essential nutrients are typically used to target a physiological system in order to produce some desired effect, e.g. disease prevention, muscle repair, ergogenic aid, fat burning etc.
Are you taking a supplement (or supplements) to make up for an essential nutrient that may be deficient in your diet?
If this is the case, then you might want to ask yourself, why you are following that specific diet or what can you do to provide more balance.
Are you a vegan? If so, then you are potentially missing essential fats, B12, VItamin D, Calcium, Iron and Zinc.
Do you follow a Paleo Diet? If you are active, you may not be getting enough carbohydrates, which can affect your thyroid, metabolism, gut microbiome and ability to do higher intensity exercise.
Are you eating less than 1200 calories/day? If so, you are primed for micronutrient deficiencies as well as metabolic consequences.
Examples of Essential Nutrients for regular or occasional use:
|Protein (e.g. whey, egg, rice or other plant source)||Any dense protein food source. e.g. Meat, dairy, eggs, legumes, etc||Use whole Food sources when available. If additional sources are needed, use supplement that is as unrefined as possible and without artificial excipients.
Protein recommendations: 0.8 g/kg-2.0 g/kg (depending on activity, health, age and goals)
|Fish Oil||Cold water fish, e.g. salmon, sardine, anchovy||With concerns over environmental contaminants, occasional seafood consumption should be supplemented with 2-3 g of fish oil/day (If using algae oil, 1 g/day)|
|Green Supplement||Vegetables and Fruits||Use whole food sources when available. If 10 servings of whole food sources are consumed daily, then using a supplement is unnecessary|
|Multi-Vitamin and MIneral||Balanced and varied diet||Many North Americans are marginally deficient in one or more micronutrients. Taking a multiple a few times/week with meals is a good idea|
None-Essential nutrients can play a role in specific situations. In some cases, this involves using pharmacological or supraphysiological doses of a supplement/nutrient to manipulate biochemical pathways and physiological processes in order to produce therapeutic or performance enhancing effects.
Some Examples of my favorite Non-Essential Nutrients Include:
|Creatine||Ergogenic aid that helps regenerate ATP for high intensity strength and power activities|
|Beta Alanine||Ergogenic aid that helps buffer acid during high intensity anaerobic activities, which last from seconds to up to about 2 minutes|
|Caffeine||Ergogenic aid that can improve Central Nervous System output|
|Green Tea Extract (EGCG)||Ergogenic aid that can stimulate metabolism|
|Phytosterols||Inhibit cholesterol uptake|
|Red Yeast Rice||Cholesterol lowering|
|Alpha-Lipoic Acid||Blood sugar regulation|
|Berberine||Blood sugar regulation|
|Glucosamine Sulfate||Joint repair|
|Probiotic||Supports the gut microbiome and immune function|
|COQ10||Heart health. Antioxidant|
|Ashwagandha||Central Nervous System support. Stress relief|
|L-Theonine||Promotes relaxation; helps to moderate occasional stress|
|Elderberry||Immune support. Anti-inflammatory. Anti-microbial|
Supplements by definition are substances that complete or enhance something else when added to it.
My personal philosophy is that supplements can’t replace:
- Optimum sleep
- Managing stress
- Limiting toxic exposure from food, self-care products and other sources
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
If you have these mastered the above, then take a supplement, if you need to…
Berardi, J., & Andrews, R. (2015). The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition. Precision Nutrition Inc.