Supplement manufacturers would like you to believe that supplements are the answer to all your health and fitness problems. Want to lose fat? Take this fat burner. What to gain muscle? Try this protein powder. Need more energy in the gym? This pre-workout will do the trick. But it's important to look at supplements for what they are...a supplement to your regular routine.
ARE YOU MOWING THE LAWN WHILE YOUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE?
Supplements are not intended to replace healthy eating and movement habits, but to supplement them, hence the name. Before you consider taking any supplements, I would first make sure that your exercise, nutrition, sleep and stress management habits are optimized. Then and only then can supplements help you at all.
If you're eating processed foods every day and not sleeping well, then there isn't a supplement in the world that will produce the kind of results that cleaning up your diet and improving your sleep routine will.
Precision Nutrition calls it "mowing your lawn while the house is on fire." You see, if you are mowing your overgrown lawn while your house is on fire, you aren't taking care of the priorities. The lawn may need to be mowed, but right now you have a bigger issue.
It's like asking for an engine tune-up on your car when you have four flat tires. An engine tune-up isn't going to solve the immediate issue at hand.
Address the major issues at hand first: Proper nutrition, regular movement/exercise, sleep, recovery and stress management. Once you build positive daily habits and routine around the most important factors in health and fitness, then supplements may help you.
I take a few supplements when I am short on time or resources. I always work to prioritize real food first and use supplements to fill in the gap when I fall short.
Protein intake is important in order to retain and build muscle. If you are trying to lose weight, you want to make sure you are eating adequate protein and doing some resistance training in order to maintain your muscle while you lose fat. It is always most ideal to get your protein from whole food sources, but when you are traveling or unable to cook, sometimes a protein supplement can help fill the gap. Protein powder in itself will not help you lose weight or gain muscle. You have to do the work in your nutrition and workout program. It's not a miracle, it's a convenience that can be helpful when you're busy or traveling.
Greens powder can help fill in the gap of whole food nutrition to make sure you get enough servings of vegetables each day. The first step is to aim to include one or two servings of whole food vegetables with each meal, but if you are traveling or do not have access to fresh veggies, a green powder can help you if you fall short. Real vegetables are better and the quality powders can be pricey. The one my husband bought was $50 for 15 servings if taken every day, that is $100 per month. Do you realize how much real food you could buy for that same money?
Creatine is one of the only supplements on the market to have clear scientific data on its effectiveness. It can help increase strength when used in combination with regular strength training. Again, nothing works unless you do.
The World Health Organization recommends one to two portions of fish per week because the omega-3 fatty acids in fish provide many health benefits and promote heart and brain health. If you aren't able to get omega-3 fatty acids from food a fish oil supplement may help. Real food first, supplements to um...supplement. got it?
There's a lot of conflicting information about multivitamins. Some say they are great to ensure you are getting the daily requirements of vitamins and minerals, while others say it is just expensive urine because a lot of the drug store/grocery brands are low-quality synthetic vitamins that are poorly absorbed. It's up to you to decide what's right for you. Eating a wide variety of colorful fruits and vegetables can help ensure you are getting the necessary nutrients for health. Your doctor can test for specific vitamin or mineral deficiencies so you can address those directly, rather than trying to cover all the bases with a multivitamin, which may or may not be effective.
My husband takes a pre-workout. I think this is wholly unnecessary, but he says it helps motivate him because he knows once he takes it, then he has about 30 minutes to get to the gym or else he wasted his expensive supplement. It works for him in a way that is unique. Does he need it to physically lift weights? Probably not, but it helps him mentally. If he is willing to spend the money on a dose of motivation, that's his choice. It's not right for everyone.
Just because we take certain supplements, does not necessarily mean they are right for you. I can't recommend any particular supplement for you. If you are considering adding a new supplement to your diet, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor about it first. Most are probably safe, but many on the market are simply ineffective.
ARE SUPPLEMENTS SAFE AND EFFECTIVE?
The FDA regulates supplements under different (lesser) standards than standard food and drug regulations, so it's possible that there could be a misrepresentation of the labeling on the supplements. In other words, it may not include the ingredients it says it does. It depends on the quality control and the integrity of the supplement company, which may vary greatly. FDA is responsible for taking action against any adulterated or misbranded dietary supplement product after it reaches the market. This means there is no guarantee that the supplement on the store shelf contains the ingredients that the label claims.
If the product has a 'nutrition facts' label or a 'drug facts' label that means it is strictly regulated by the FDA before it hits the store shelves. If it has a 'supplements facts' label, it is not. ConsumerLab.com is a third party company that tests supplements and reports variations from the labels. It can be helpful to look up the supplements you take to check if they passed their quality test.
Supplements can help fill in the gaps to make our lives a little easier, which is great as long as we understand they aren't miracle pills or magic beans. Do the work, stay consistent.
If someone (other than your doctor) tells you that you need to take a certain supplement, I would first consider the source. Are they are selling supplements? You can explore more on this topic in this article I wrote about how to cut through the BS in the health and fitness industry.
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