Have you ever been inside of a GNC or other supplement store and felt like your brain might implode from the endless options of health products that all claim to be the secret to living a healthy life? It’s spooky. I can’t go into one of those places without my head spinning and trying to avoid eye contact with an over-eager salesperson. With the endless supplements out there, how can you know which ones you actually need? Well, as with most things fitness, I’m a big proponent of keeping things simple.
First things first, lets talk about what a supplement even is. I know a lot of people who don’t eat many fruits or veggies, load up on processed foods, and think that taking all these supplements will fix their health, but that’s not their job–supplements are meant to supplement your diet. So whatever vitamins, minerals, or other macro/micro nutrients you aren’t getting from food, supplements can step in and give you the added boost you need to look and feel your best. You can’t out supplement a bad diet. I’m going to say that again. You can’t out supplement a bad diet. It’s the cold hard truth of fitness, but there is no magic pill to get out of eating veggies and if there were, I’d be the first to tell you about it.
So what supplements should you be taking? I’m going to outline 3 that I think are a priority and one that is optional depending on your activity level.
First, let’s talk about greens. Less that 10% of people get their recommended minimum of 5 servings of fruits/veggies a day. I think we can do better. Obviously it is best to get all those nutrients from fresh, whole fruits and veggies, but for the days that feels impossible, or if you are traveling and don’t have as much control over the food you are eating, taking a greens supplement will help fill in the gaps. This one is a great option because it also contains bacteria strains that you can find in probiotics–it’s a great two in one to support your gut health as well as overall immune system!
The next supplement that I recommend taking is a fish oil. Fish oil is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, making it great for lowering blood pressure and triglyceride levels, and it has been used for prevention of heart disease, stroke, clogged arteries, kidney problems, diabetes, and more. New research is even showing it may have an effect on slowing down or preventing Alzheimer. That’s a whole lot of work for one pill and that’s not even everything that fish oil can do! Our bodies cannot produce omega-3s on their own so they can only be gotten through diet–namely eating fish and certain nuts/seeds. Most of us don’t eat enough of these foods to support the recommended amount of omega-3s in our diets (and eating too much fish can cause high levels of mercury in the body, which is not something you want). Fish oil doesn’t have the same risks of mercury consumption that eating fish has so I recommend adding this supplement to your daily routine. Make sure you look for one that has both EPA and DHA like this one (these are the types of omega-3s that provide all the benefits we just talked about).
I mentioned probiotics for a second when talking about greens, but this deserves a paragraph of its own. Hippocrates once said that all disease starts in the gut. Now, I’m not one to question the most well known doctor in the history of the world, but if you want a little more proof of why your gut is so important think about this:
- 70-80% of your immune system is in your gut
- If the lining of your gut is damaged, you can’t absorb nutrients well–even fruits and veggies won’t be able to give you the vitamins and minerals you need if you can’t absorb them.
Probiotics work to fix this problem by adding live bacteria to your gut. I know, it sounds gross, but your body is already full of living microorganisms that can either work for or against you–probiotics add more of the good guys so you can ward of the bad bacteria that causes health problems. This is the probiotic that I use, but whatever you choose, make sure it has at LEAST 5 different strains of live bacteria for the most benefit (this one has 34 strains).
Last but not least, let’s talk about protein powder. Protein is the most important macro-nutrient out there. More than fat or carbs, protein builds and repairs muscle tissue, is what makes your hair shiny, your nails strong, keeps your bones from breaking and is the building block of blood, cartilage, and more. It’s a big deal. The recommended protein intake for a sedentary person is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. If you think of that in food terms, a 150 pound person who doesn’t exercise probably needs 2 servings (8 ounces) of chicken breasts a day. For a more active person, that number goes up from 0.8 to 1.2 (or almost 10 ounces of chicken breast a day for a 150 pound person). That amount of protein can be a lot to fit in, especially if you don’t have a huge appetite or are busy running around all day so that is where protein powder comes in. I am always a bit wary of telling people to run out and buy a tub of this stuff because it can be easy for people to overdo it on their calorie goals and feel like they’re being healthy (especially if you’re eating most types of protein bars–that’s straight up candy), but if you are an active person (and I hope you are!) you might need to add protein supplements into your routine.
The world of health supplements can be overwhelming and it is the wild west of being able to make random claims that aren’t backed by fact or science. Focusing on what your body needs and adding in supplements that will support (not take the place of!) a healthy diet can boost your health, amplify your workouts, and make you feel like a whole new person.