I don’t see a lot of middle ground when it comes to people that take supplements of some kind. You either have people that don’t take any or the ones that have something when they wake up, before the workout, sipping something during the workout, the post workout protein, and before bed casein. Since there are so many different pills, powders, gels, and oils there is a lot of things that can be talked about. I like to keep stuff as straightforward as possible though, so let’s just keep it to two general focuses; when adding in supplements should be considered and what supplements can actually be largely beneficial.

I’ve talked about this in the past in the Recovery (Part 2) blog, but just because supplements are called supplements does NOT mean they take the place of real food. This is the first and foremost thing to consider when thinking of starting to take supplements of any kind. Are you currently, or able to, meet your daily nutrition needs from real Whole Foods alone? If not then that should be the place to start. If you are, or are very close to it, then adding in supplements can help give you the little extra you need each day, or make it easier to hit more consistent numbers if the food you eat each day varies.

Other situations when taking supplements is helpful can be timing of your specific meal schedule and just how your body feels. Let’s take a nurse, for example, who works twelve hour overnight shifts. The 36 hours with this shift in the middle can be all over the place for when meals are had. They could have had a regular breakfast and lunch the day of, but then was at work during dinner. Eating at the hospital sometime in the middle of the night still likely means just under 12 hours since the last lunch. Following the shift would be breakfast time, but let’s be honest, sleep is the priority at that point so not eating till the afternoon is totally realistic, which is nearly another 12 hours. If they have to do it again that night then hopefully another meal is had before, but having a calorie dense supplement shake in this situation is invaluable just to keep calories up and it is easy to keep access to in a water bottle.

There are lots of reasons people take supplements other than just to get calories or specific macro nutrients. There even more reasons that companies will claim you should take certain supplements. There is also basically NO regulations on supplements, so which ones can actually help with what they say they will? A few simple rules I follow:

-If something says it does something that sounds to good it almost certainly is.

-A supplement should be called what is in it and not a catchy name. For instance if you’re buying Vitamin D then it should just say “Vitamin D”, not “Powdered Sun”.

-Lastly, don’t routinely supplement things your body naturally produces. A big one for this is DHEA because of “anti-aging” (reference first rule), but unless you have a medical issue producing needed amounts of something it can cause hormonal imbalances by taking extra that are very risky.

Supplements are a very wide ranging thing in our world of exercise and fitness, but usually people don’t know their actual intent in taking them because it’s just common place to have a protein shake after your workout. There’s nothing bad about taking supplements and they can be helpful for lots of things, but there should be a purpose before adding it into your regimen. Also make sure to do some research about what you’re looking for and what could help. For example, if you’re having joint pain a first thought is often fish oil, but fish oil is actually only proven to help with heart health. A few others that actually have facts behind them are vitamin D, especially with most jobs being in doors now and missing lots of sun in the winter her in Minnesota, calcium especially helps in older populations, and protein can actually be beneficial to.