Supplements describe a variety of products which you can ingest to support your diet. They are not medicine and you can buy them in any grocery or specialist store. You don’t even need a prescription. Depending on your lifestyle, there are some essential supplements you can’t go without.
The supplement market in the UK means big business and is expected to reach USD 15 billion by 2023. There was an interesting survey conducted by the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) in 2016. Over half of its respondents said they don’t get all the vitamins and minerals through their normal diet.
Supplements should not be considered as a replacement for food. Your main nutrients should come from your normal diet. Before reaching for supplements you should always make sure you tweak your normal diet. Keep it as healthy as possible.
Whole foods contain other substances which work together with nutrients. This combined effect keeps you healthy. You won’t find that interaction in pill or powder form. There’s no point binging on fast food but supplementing with multivitamins.
Due to a certain lifestyle, you might not get everything you need from your normal diet. Be it because you are exercising a lot or you are struggling to sleep. In those cases, it is OK to look at supplements to get you where you want to be. Other circumstances include pregnancy, little access to sunlight or being elderly.
Supplements come in all sorts of shapes and forms: gummies, powder, soft gels, liquid, pills, herbs and oils.
In the UK, products sold as food supplements have to adhere to strict labelling regulation. Products sold have to include:
- the name of the category of any vitamin or mineral or other substance with a nutritional or physiological effect which characterises the product or an indication of the nature of that vitamin or mineral or other substance;
- the portion of the product recommended for daily consumption;
- a warning not to exceed the stated recommended daily dose;
- a statement to the effect that food supplements should not be used as a substitute for a varied diet;
- a statement to the effect that the product should be stored out of the reach of young children; and
- the amount of any vitamin or mineral or other substance with a nutritional or physiological effect which is present in the product.
Why are you taking supplements?
It’s never easy to estimate if you are getting all the nutrients and vitamins your body needs from your diet. People make that decision according to their gut feeling.
According to the poll mentioned before, 67% of people included take supplements for general health and well-being. A staggering one-quarter of people are unsure if they get the right amount of nutrients and minerals from their diet.
This makes sense though if you look at the influence the supplement industry has on us. Before the rise of the internet, people would go to their doctor and ask for advice. Nowadays, people get the majority of their information from the internet.
Most supplement ads play on our conscience and put false expectations into our minds. The latter is especially true for supplements in the fitness industry. A picture of a bodybuilder or a slim looking woman on a supplement ad implies that we are only missing that particular product to look like that. When, in fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
A second big misconception is a belief of supplements not having any side effects on higher doses. Overdosing with vitamins is more common than any other supplement.
If you are having a healthy diet but still add some individual vitamins on top in good faith you might experience side effects. Consuming vitamins in large doses can cause liver damage, nausea, diarrhoea and increased risk of cancer.
Do you even need supplements?
The main question you need to ask yourself is if you even need supplements. If your diet already contains whole, fresh, unprocessed food, the likely hood that you need additional vitamins is very low.
People tend to think that they are doing something good for themselves by taking supplements. “People feel healthier if they do something they believe makes them healthy.” says Dr Manson a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Nothing beats a well-balanced diet. Having said that, there are certain groups of people who would benefit from taking supplements. Such groups include people who are often working out and pregnant women for example.
But don’t go to the next grocery or specialist store and buy the next best thing. There are hundreds of thousands of different supplements available on the market. It’s best if you do your own research or speak to a health professional.
Here are three lifestyle situations where you should consider essential supplements:
Situation: You keep fit in the gym
There are so many supplements on offer for people who exercise it can become daunting quite soon. Not only is it important to know which supplement to take, but when to take it.
There are three main timing groups for workout supplements: pre-workout, intra-workout and post-workout. I’m not going to bore you with the details of each group as this would be another blog post.
For people who lift weights there are essential supplements you can’t get around:
One of the most common forms of protein supplements is whey protein powder. When you are working out you should consume somewhere between 1.5g and 2.0g of protein per kg of body weight per day. That’s up to 160g of protein per day for somebody with 80kg. For people with a busy lifestyle, this is not always achievable. As a result, they reach to protein supplements.
There are two ways whey protein can be made. Either as a by-product from cheese making. Or by separating whey from casein in milk. By the way, milk consists of 80% casein and 20% whey. Whey protein is also called a complete protein as it includes all 9 essential amino acids and thus digests super fast.
Casein protein can also be purchased as a protein powder. It differs from whey protein in that it digests slower and has a different amino acid structure. Casein is usually consumed to give your body protein to work on during the night, i.e. you’d take it before going to bed. Whey, on the other hand, is consumed within 30 minutes of you finishing your workout as it digests faster.
Branched Chain Amino Acid (BCAA)
BCAAs are made up of three essential amino acids: Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine. They are considered essential amino acids as your body cannot produce them. Hence, you need to either get them from your diet or from added supplements.
Most BCAA products come in a 2:1:1 ratio meaning with twice as much leucine than isoleucine and valine. Studies have shown that leucine stimulates protein synthesis best out of the three amino acids.
There are several reasons why you should take BCAAs when working out:
- They promote muscle recovery following exercise
- BCAAs are essential for building muscle after your work out
- Essential amino acids can support your immune system
There are a lot of opinions on when you should take your BCAAs. You are either in the “before your workout” camp or in the “after your workout” camp. Unfortunately, there is very little academic research on this topic available.
I take mine in the morning on the days I workout and this works perfectly fine. In my opinion, it doesn’t matter when you take them as long as you are consistent on the timing.
In contrast to other workout supplements, your body produces creatine naturally. Creatine is a form of cellular energy called creatine phosphate and stored in your muscles.
Your body produces and excretes creatine in small amounts on a daily basis. Hence the size of those storage facilities in your muscles is limited and you run out of fuel during workouts quite quickly.
That’s the reason why people decide to supplement with creatine. Added creatine can give you more strength during exercise to power through your workouts. As you are able to do more work in the gym with extra creatine in your body it can lead to faster strength and size gains.
As with BCAAs, there are several camps when it comes to deciding on when to take creatine. I take mine 30 minutes before a workout and have seen good results with it.
Situation: You are struggling to sleep
Your body produces melatonin, a hormone, by itself to make you feel tired. It also helps to regulate the circadian rhythms based on the light around you. If you are not getting enough sunlight during the day and you have issues falling asleep consider a melatonin supplement.
The good news is that melatonin has very few side effects so there is nothing to worry about. Provided you take it over a short period of time.
Valerian root is an ancient herb that has been used to treat insomnia for centuries. It is a natural supplement with slightly sedative effects which is increasingly popular in Europe and the United States.
Valerian root can be taken in pill form or as a tea before going to bed. In a research review published in 2015 80% of the participants reported better sleep when taking valerian.
CBD stands for cannabidiol and is a naturally occurring element found in industrial hemp and marijuana. It does not have psychoactive effects like THC.
There is not a lot of research available for CBD but there have already been some promising results. 66.7% of the participants of a study reported better sleep after taking 25mg of CBD each day for a month. It’s also a naturally occurring substance whereas melatonin is made in the lab.
Struggling to sleep even with supplements? Here are 9 ways to improve your sleep quality.
Situation: You are stressed
This is a plant which grows in the arctic regions of Europe and Asia. Its roots can help you adapt to stress when consumed and contain more than 140 stress-busting ingredients.
Research has shown (here and here) that extracts of Rhodiola Rosea are effective in improving life-stress symptoms as well as total mood. The plant is also safe to consume and well-tolerated with hardly any side effects.
Ashwagandha is an ancient herb native to India with a unique smell. It has been used in Indian Ayurveda for centuries to relieve stress and improve concentration.
A study published in 2012 suggests that Ashwagandha root can improve people’s stress resistance. It does this by effectively reducing cortisol levels. Cortisol is also known as the stress hormone.
If you are stressed but don’t want to turn to supplements just yet why don’t you try 10 ways to effectively reduce stress?
Supplements will never be able to replace nutrients and compounds coming from your main diet. Popping pills and powders is easy but will always be second ranking to a healthy and balanced diet.
Having said that, there are situations where a healthy diet just isn’t enough or you struggle to maintain it due to your lifestyle. Taking supplements in addition to a healthy diet will give you the best possible effect.
If you have any questions or doubts about any supplements, always talk to your GB or a health practitioner.
What kind of supplements are you taking? Have you had any bad experiences so far with any of them? Let me know in the comment section below and don’t forget to sign up to my blog to receive the latest posts.