Make no mistake, the nutritional supplement industry is big business. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year as fitness enthusiasts try to gain that elusive edge to success. Some supplements are backed by competent research to show their effectiveness. Others may receive praise from hardcore trainees who’ll swear upon a stack of kettlebells that “this is the real deal!” Then, there are those that promise results too good to be true with eyebrow raising claims and suspect ingredients. Do we really need supplements and if so, which ones and why? While this answer can of course be very individual, there is an approach that should fit the budget and the fitness goals of most people.
While there are still those who advocate against the use of any additional supplements outside of what we get from our foods, that number is getting smaller all the time. Today, the majority of active, fitness minded adults do use some type of nutritional supplement regularly in addition to trying to follow a healthy diet. The concern is that it’s nearly impossible to consume optimal nutrients on a consistent basis (especially for someone who is physically active) without some degree of supplementation. With our regular food sources becoming ever more suspect in terms of quality, combined with the added day-to-day stresses life has to offer, what might have been good enough once upon a time can easily be seen as lacking today. While taking everything under the sun isn’t necessarily the best approach, there are a couple of basic options that should at least be considered if optimal health and fitness is your goal.
Multiple Vitamins/Minerals – If for no other reason that nutritional insurance most active people should have a quality multi vitamin/mineral on their list of supplements to consider. It can simply be too hard to get the ideal amounts of nutrients from our foods every day. This is even more true if you’re following a reduced calorie diet. It doesn’t need to be a mega-dosed super tab, but at least some type of balanced formula that will give you the RDA’s (recommend daily allowance) of a variety of important nutrients can be an option. The RDA’S we’re actually developed in the 1930’s as a minimal amount of certain substances needed to prevent specific disease in the average person (like scurvy and rickets).
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients that the body needs daily in order to perform hundreds of functions, including helping to convert food into energy and assisting in cellular repair. They can act as catalyst in biochemical reactions and contribute to the strength and structure of the body. Through diet and lifestyle, we can become deficient in some or get too many of others, so balance is the key. For an active person seeking better performance and health and “optimal” amounts of nutrients, it is easy to see why taking a quality vitamin and mineral supplement is the choice of many.
Protein Powder – Protein literally means “of first importance” and this is very true when structuring your meals. Protein (long chains of amino acids) is what the muscles are made of and having adequate amounts are important for building/maintaining muscle tissue, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels, and for optimizing your metabolism. Since it is ideal for most people to eat protein based meals throughout the day, it can be a challenge to get enough at one time or at the right time. Using a quality protein powder or meal replacement powder (MRP- which may include addition carbohydrates, healthy fats, fiber, and other nutrients) can make a fitness based diet a lot easier to follow.
Taking a protein supplement is a way to give you the amount of high quality protein you want/need without any additional calories in a timely and convenient manner. Having that protein shake while on the go can be the difference between staying with your diet plan or having to grab whatever’s available (or even worse, missing a meal altogether). It is generally considered ideal for people following a regular resistance training program to have at least 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight daily. If you find it difficult to get the amount of quality protein you feel is right for you through food alone, then the addition of a quality protein powder can make an important difference. For general use, a mixture of several sources of protein like whey, casein and egg that contains different protein types (isolates, concentrates, and hydrolysates) would be ideal. There are of course plant based, vegan options as well.
Following a fitness lifestyle can never be complete without a consistent focus on proper nutrition. While supplements should not replace healthy dietary practices, selected supplementation can be key in balancing out your nutrient intake which could help to improve your overall health and the ability to pursue your fitness goals.