How do you know which supplements to use?
Somewhere between 40-100% of athletes and active people use supplements. And if those people are getting their advice from social media, 90% of the time it is wrong!
How do you know which supplements to take? What about the dose? What about the timing? What if you take more than one supplement together–is that safe?
A dietitian can guide you in your supplement decisions.
A coach or trainer are not qualified to give you nutrition and supplement advice. Even a doctor or pharmacist may not be properly trained in supplements and their use. And my personal opinion is to steer clear of anyone selling supplements. Beyond the obvious conflict of interest and their strong financial incentive to sell you more supplements, there are NO worthwhile supplements that can’t be bought at a store or online (bonus: no MLM or “direct sales” pyramid scheme!).
A real-life example of this walked into my office the other day. We’ll call him “Steve.”
Steve was an avid recreational athlete. He was extremely active with long endurance training sets, plus strength training multiple times per week. He had gone to a “nutrition” store (I put that in quotes because most nutrition stores sell supplements, not food or anything really nourishing) to purchase supplements. And he had a LOT of them!
Here’s what Steve was taking. The bullet points below the supplements list key ingredients in each supplement.
Super B complex: $16
- B vitamins
Move Free Joint Health: $16
Whey protein isolate: $14
Max Muscle ARM: $60
- B vitamins
- Branched-chain amino acids
Creatine monohydrate: $18
2TX testosterone amplifier: $70
Max ZMA Natural testosterone: $25
- Vitamin B6
Titan Nutrition Reloaded: $70
- Branched chain amino acids
- Vitamin B6
- Beta alanine
Steve was spending a combined total of $328 per month on supplements! Woah! That’s $3936 per year!
Here’s the thing about supplements: They aren’t regulated! This means they can have contaminants, banned substances, fillers, heavy metals, and more.
In addition, there are many supplements that have ingredients, herbs, and other substances that aren’t well known or well researched. This means it could be useless or harmful.
AND many are not researched when taken together. If you are taking more than one supplement, unless it’s a well-known stack, it may be interfering with other supplements, may be harmful when combined with other supplements, or may be redundant.
Also, supplements can interfere with legitimate medication. Before taking or changing and supplement regimen, check with your doctor!
Ok, now back to Steve. Let’s take a closer look at each supplement.
Super B complex: Not necessary. He is getting B vitamins from food. If you have extra water-soluble vitamins in your diet, it gets excreted in your urine. He just has expensive pee.
Fish oil: This one is fine if you don’t eat fish regularly (like 3 times per week). It may be helpful for inflammation, heart health, and brain health.
Move Free Joint Health: This one can be useful for some people.
Whey protein isolate: Can be useful if you aren’t able to eat a well-balanced meal with complete protein post-workout. Not necessary with a well-planned diet, but it’s convenient if you are in a hurry or need portable protein. Contains branched chain amino acids, which are useful for muscle rebuilding, repair and recovery. There is a risk for contaminants if it is not a product that is NSF Certified or Informed Choice Certified.
Max Muscle ARM: Contains B vitamins, which Steve was already getting from both food and his B complex. Contains glutamine and BCAAs, which Steve was already getting in his diet and from the whey protein isolate. Creatine is helpful for muscle gains. So far the only useful thing in this supplement for Steve is creatine! Except…
Creatine monohydrate: Ha! Steve is already taking this! And in the correct dose and loading protocol. He doesn’t need another supplement with creatine.
Glutamine: Hmm…this looks familiar.
2TX testosterone amplifier: This one is tricky. Does he need testosterone? Has he gone to a doctor to get levels tested? Is the supplement even legitimate? Meaning, does it even have a meaningful dose of testosterone? And is this prudent? Low testosterone can result from overall calorie deficit. Steve may not be eating enough calories to support his intense exercise. Low testosterone can result from low vitamin D, low thyroid, overtraining, and lack of sleep. So addressing dietary and lifestyle concerns may help improve testosterone without a sketchy supplement.
Max ZMA Natural testosterone: As far as I can tell, this supplement only contains minerals that Steve is already getting in his diet and other supplements. The name seems misleading. And again, does he really need testosterone?
Titan Nutrition Reloaded: This supplement is the mother of all redundant supplements for Steve. He is already getting creatine from two other supplements. He gets BCAAs from his diet and two other supplements. He gets caffeine from his daily coffee. He gets vitamin B6 from two other supplements plus his diet. He gets potassium from his diet. Beta alanine is a sometimes useful supplement that may help with buffering lactate during intense exercise. So this one could be useful, but can be taken as a separate supplement.
What should Steve do?
Omit all the redundant supplements. This will not only save money, but likely be safer as many of the supplements’ effects are potentially unsafe at higher doses. If Steve follows this suggestion, he will save $260 per month, or $3210 per year! Woah! Well-worth that dietitian visit!
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~This is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be medical advice. Always check with your doctor before changing diet, exercise, medication, or supplements.
For more information, check this out!
Garthe I, Maughan R. (2018). Athletes and supplements: prevalence and perspectives. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28:126-138
Maughan RJ, Burke LM, Dvorak J, Larson-Meyer DE, Peeling P, Phillips SM…Engebretsen L. (2018). The IOC consensus statement: dietary supplements and the high-performance athlete. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 52:439-455
Peeling P, Binnie MJ, Goods PSR, Sim M, Burke LM. (2018). Evidence-based supplements for the enhancement of athletic performance. International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 28, 178-187