You probably know someone who is mad keen on their supplements…
Protein shakes, magnesium tablets, creatine, glutamine, amino acids, the list goes on. Frequent gym-goers and gym-talk-about-it-a-lot-but-rarely-walk-through-the-doors alike both seem to be obsessed with the latest and greatest supplements to help with their gainz…
And sure - we know that athletes use them (and who doesn’t want to look and perform like an athlete?!) - and we know that sometimes doctors prescribe them… so they have to be good for us, right? The more supplements the better, right?
On the other side of the equation, we have a burgeoning scene of paleo-diet-wielding, naturopath-visiting holistic health enthusiasts who advocate humans need nothing other then that which comes directly from Mother Nature herself.
So what’s the deal? Are supplements crucial to getting the most out of your exercise pursuits? Are they completely unnecessary? Are they an elaborate money-making scheme by the pharmaceutical companies? Somewhere in between?
Don’t feel too stupid, but the answer is literally right there in front of you, staring you in the face. Supplement. Sup-ple-ment. The very word itself answers all of your questions.
A quick Google search gives us a variety of definitions, but the first two really clear it up for us.
- a thing added to something else in order to complete or enhance it
- a substance taken to remedy the deficiencies in a person's diet
So, putting these two definitions together, a supplement, in the context we are discussing, is a substance added to your diet in order to complete it or enhance it; ridding it of any deficiencies.
So, are supplements beneficial to your training? Only if you aren’t already getting that specific substance/s in your diet in the first place!!
Let’s start with protein, one of the most commonly used fitness supplements, normally consumed in a post-workout shake of some kind. Is protein essential for muscle growth and recovery? Yes. Is it important to consume some in the times surrounding exercise (particularly resistance-based)? Absolutely. But do most of us already get enough of it in our diet? YES.
**reader puts down protein shake and starts paying attention**
Diets that are overly high in protein are just as dangerous as diets with too little protein. We only need approximately 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass, each day. That steak you just ate? Anywhere from 50 - 150 grams of protein. Chicken breast? Approximately 20 grams of protein per 100 grams. Spinach? 2.9 grams/100 grams. Rice? 2.6 grams/100 grams. Even that coffee you just had with milk in it? A couple of grams of protein. You tell me whether or not on top of your daily dietary intake you think you need two extra protein shakes with 30 grams of protein in each…
What about glutamine? Do you eat eggs, beef, beans, carrots, kale, celery?
Magnesium? Nuts, brown rice, wholegrain bread, pumpkin seeds, leafy greens?
Amino acids? Avocado, chia seeds, quinoa, soybeans, pumpkin?
Are you getting my point? (I only listed a handful of foods by the way, those substances and most others can be found in lots of animal and plant-based sources)
The best approach for your body to get the most out of your training is by eating a healthy, balanced diet of real food (and sleeping adequately and drinking lots of water), not by consuming every kind of supplement under the sun because someone on TV told you so!
Supplements should only be used as is absolutely necessary to make up something that is lacking in your diet, for one reason or another, or as prescribed to you by a medical professional. Or, in extreme cases, when you are legitimately training like an athlete, and need to boost your body with extra vitamins and minerals to assist performance (but trust me, every professional athlete has their diet down pat, first and foremost).
Otherwise, you are simply (and literally) pissing money down the drain.
P.S. We didn’t even bother mentioning steroids in this article because there was no way you ever thought they were a good idea (unless medically prescribed to you by a Doctor) … right?
P.P.S. Please do not treat this as medical advice - we are just trying to make a point. If you think you are deficient in anything, please go see your GP and talk to them about the best path forwards.