Should You Take Dietary Supplements?
by Erik Castiglione
The answer, as with most health and fitness related questions, is, “it depends.” As the name should imply, supplements are design to FILL GAPS in your diet; they are not meant to replace it. So, what are your gaps? Well, that depends on what your goals are, what you’re training for, and what your current eating habits are like.
But first, what do we mean when we say, “dietary supplement?” A supplement is anything non-medicinal product that you ingest which does not qualify as a whole food. They typically come in powder, liquid, or pill/capsule form. Common supplements include omega 3’s (fish oil), whey protein, casein protein, branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s), multivitamins, greens supplements, and creatine. Pre-workout supplements generally have some combination of the above, along with vasodilators to promote blood flow, and caffeine or some other stimulant. If you want to know more about each supplement and what they actually do for your body, check out examine.com.
If you’re here at CFR for general health and wellness, your dietary needs are different from those of a competitive athlete. You need to eat a balanced diet, which should consist of protein, green veggies, good carbohydrates, and good fats for most of your meals. FOOD QUALITY is more important than supplementation. If your schedule prevents you from eating enough during the day, or you have a hard time eating protein in the morning, then supplementing your diet with a protein shake would be a good idea. Similarly, if you’re training to lose fat and/or build muscle, supplementing with protein is a good idea. If you have a hard time eating something green with each meal, then a greens shake is a good idea. Fish oil is always a good idea – most of the meat we eat is processed in some way, shape, or form, which gives us omega 6’s, but not enough omega 3’s. Unless you eat 100% grass finished beef, free range chicken, and wild caught fish, I would supplement with fish oil. If you eat a balanced diet and meet all of your protein needs (with or without supplementation), you won’t need BCAA’s.
If you’re a competitive athlete, you’re most likely going to need to supplement your diet, both for performance and recovery. In addition to fish oil, you’ll need creatine daily, whey protein for post workout recovery (and/or to reach your macros), and casein protein so that your body can recover while it sleeps. If you train in the morning on an empty stomach, BCAA’s might be a good idea as well. As far as pre-workouts are concerned, cycling on and off isn’t a bad idea. Staying on too long can lead to decreased sensitivity, which would be detrimental on competition day.
If you decide to take supplements, it’s important to read the ingredients of each. Avoid anything that has a “proprietary blend.” These “blends” are unregulated by the FDA, and don’t really disclose what’s in the supplement. Enjoy the following clip:
Try to find protein powders that don’t have any additives, pure creatine monohydrate (it’s dirt cheap), and fish oil with a high concentration of EPA and DHA, as these are the Omega 3’s you really need. Time for a shameless plug: we sell protein, omega 3’s, and a greens supplement, all made by Athletic Greens. The protein is grass fed, the fish oil is 86% EPA/DHA, and the greens supplement is chock full of micronutrients and probiotics. Check them out!