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:

  1. Am I taking a supplement (or supplements) to make up for an essential nutrient that may be deficient in my diet?
  2. What physiological system do I hope to target?
  3. 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.

For Example:

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:


Supplement Food Equivalent Recommendations
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:


Supplement Purpose
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
Phytoestrogens/Isoflavones Menopausal symptoms
Phytosterols Inhibit cholesterol uptake
Red Yeast Rice Cholesterol lowering
Curcumin Anti-inflammatory
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
  • Exercising
  • 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.


About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin