Author: Lauren Travers
Stepping foot into the supplement aisle of a chemist or supermarket these days can be more than a bit overwhelming. With the myriad of products on display, it can be near on impossible to know where to even start! Let alone the various Sports Supplement stores, Health Food stores and alternative medicine pathways available to us. So what exactly are supplements? Why do we need them? And what are the better options when it comes to choosing between different forms?
In today’s blog we will be ‘breaking down’ the world of supplements and deciphering the abundance of information portrayed in the media. By the end of this, you should have a much better understanding of the what, why and how when it comes to enhancing your health and fitness journey.
What are Supplements?
To be put very simply, supplements are any substance taken to ‘supplement’ the nutrients received through your dietary intake. So essentially, a substance which replaces or fills a hole in your vitamin and mineral requirements which cannot be obtained through the consumption of food. Therefore, they should never be relied upon as a direct ‘replacement’ for anything that CAN be obtained by consuming food; they are designed to be used ‘in conjunction’ with a healthy and balanced diet.
Supplements come in many different forms including but not limited to:
- Tablets and capsules ; water soluble AND fat soluble variants
- Effervescent Tablets (dissolve in water)
- Prescription and over the counter
- Tinctures and Oils
- Whole food supplements
- Injections and intravenous infusions
When is supplementation necessary?
As mentioned above, supplements are ONLY necessary when you have a deficiency of a nutrient due to an inadequate dietary intake. This obtains to all Macro and Micro nutrients required by the body. These include the Macronutrients – Protein, Fats and Carbohydrates as well as the Micronutrients – Vitamins and Minerals.
ALL required micro and macro nutrients CAN be obtained by the consumption of food. This is why it is so important to eat a varied diet with a broad range of different food groups every single day. Repetitively eating the same foods day in and day out, without paying too much attention to the nutrient components in those particular foods will eventually lead to a deficiency.
The main instance in which supplementation is required, is when an individual is ‘limited’ in what foods they can eat, consequently causing a deficiency in the vitamins and minerals contained in those ‘off limit’ foods. This also applies to cases in which food cannot be broken down or absorbed efficiently by an individual’s digestive tract. This can be the result of several psychological and physiological causes such as:
- Food intolerances and allergies – an adverse reaction or severe discomfort associated with the consumption of certain foods will prevent an individual from consuming particular food groups. For example, coeliac disease, gluten intolerance, lactose intolerance, peanut allergies, egg allergies etc.
- Malabsorption – a state arising from an abnormality in the absorption of food nutrients across the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This limitation can be of single or multiple nutrients depending on the degree of abnormality. This may lead to malnutrition and a variety of anaemias.
- Lack of digestive enzymes – A breakdown in pancreatic function called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency, or EPI, means you lack the digestive enzymes needed to properly digest food. As a result, your body can’t absorb the nutrients you need, and you can experience digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
- Those trying to conceive and pregnant women – one month prior to conception and three months after — folate has been shown to reduce risk of neural tube defects.
- Food aversions – often ingrained from childhood, many individuals can suffer from severe psychological aversions to particular foods. They physically cannot bring themself to consume certain tastes, textures or smells and doing so will often result in vomiting or gagging in reflex.
- Ethical Decisions – The decision to go vegetarian or vegan can be quite restrictive in the complete elimination of whole food groups such as meat, dairy and animal products. If these diets are not planned and considered carefully, they can quite often result in deficiencies in vital minerals.
- Dietary Choices – The choice of an individual to embark on a restrictive or ‘fad’ diet can cause a restriction from or complete elimination of certain food groups. It may often go hand-in-hand with heavily restricted calories to the point of malnutrition. Both of these can lead to deficiencies.
- Illness/Infection – Any illnesses relating to the gastrointestinal tract can cause extreme bouts of diarrhea and or vomiting. If this occurs over a prolonged period of time, often supplementation is required to maintain normal electrolyte and mineral balances.
- Specific Sports Goals – Not so much a deficiency, but certain high level sports and athletic regimes require an increased supply of certain macronutrients and minerals. When these cannot be sufficiently obtained through consumption of food (often quantities required exceed quantities of food able to be consumed) then supplementation is required.
“It is important to note that we all have specific nutritional requirements and health concerns at different stages of life, and it is ideal to choose supplements that target those specific needs,” Pharmacist and personal trainer Holly Vogt, The Fit Pharmacist, agrees.
So essentially, UNLESS you have a psychological or physiological disorder which is affecting your ability to consume a wide variety of different food groups, OR you are an elite athlete who is trying to improve their performance, there is generally no requirement to supplement your diet with anything except MORE of the RIGHT foods.
Supplements for Health. If, what, when and why?
So how do we determine whether or not we need to supplement, and if so, what are the best options to choose from the myriad of choices available?
Determining whether you require supplementation comes down to a combination of monitoring symptoms, and collaborating with a doctor or registered dietician to create the best supplementation plan for YOU as an individual. Self-diagnosing can not only be entirely ineffective, but also has the potential to cause unnecessary side effects and even toxicity if certain supplements are taken in the wrong doses. Not all supplements are required to be taken long term and dosages will vary depending on your specific needs.
There are 5 supplements however which tend to be widely accepted and promoted by Health experts and medical professionals. Here we will look at what they are, why they can be useful and when it is best to take them. Always consult with your doctor or medical practitioner before commencing a supplementation.
One of the key nutrients many of us don’t get enough of is long chain omega 3 fatty acids. These are commonly found in fatty fish such as Salmon and mackerel, as well as in walnuts and canola oil. According to Pharmacist and personal trainer Holly Vogt “There is solid evidence to show that omega 3 fatty acids are necessary for a healthy heart and brain, and play a role in reducing inflammation throughout the body. Fish oil is rich in omega 3 fatty acids which include eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). We cannot produce these in our bodies so it is essential that we receive them through our diet or supplementation,”. As Fish oil supps have become so popular, there is a large discretion between the quality of casuals available on the market. When selecting your fish oil tablet, ensure that you choose a supplement with a high concentration of EPA and DHA, and one that has purity and sustainability certifications.
Magnesium is an important nutrient which plays a role in over 600 enzymatic bodily reactions. These include metabolising food and converting it into energy, synthesis of fatty acids and proteins (building muscle), and transmission of nerve impulses. As you can guess from that last one, sufficient magnesium is very important in order to get the maximum benefit from your speedFit training sessions! Many studies suggest that a significant number of people do not get sufficient magnesium from their diet alone. As it is safe and readily available, magnesium supplementation is generally beneficial to anyone whom is undertaking strength based exercise. The recommended daily intake is 400–420 mg per day for men and 310–320 mg per day for women. Though these are generally well-tolerated, they may not be safe for people who take certain diuretics, heart medications or antibiotics. Supplement forms that are absorbed well include magnesium citrate, glycinate, orotate and carbonate. Foods containing the highest levels of magnesium are pumpkin seeds, spinach, swiss chard and dark chocolate.
Vitamin D is essential for strong bones, muscular and overall health. Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids responsible for increasing intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium, and phosphate, along with multiple other biological effects. Due to the nature of our ‘indoor lifestyles’ many people may not be getting adequate Vitamin D from sun exposure. Though only 15-20 minutes is required for fair skinned persons in Summer, this amount of time does increase significantly based upon the colour of your skin as well as almost doubling in winter time. Due to the high UV index of our Sun in Australia, often supplementation is a healthier way to top up Vitamin D levels required. Vitamin D is fat-soluble, which means the body can only absorb it when consumed with foods that contain fat, like avocado, chicken, or peanut butter. Vitamin D supplements are readily available at the pharmacy or health food store, and come in both liquid and capsule form, or may be mixed into other multivitamins, health shake powders, and other products. Be sure to check with your doctor to pick a responsible brand and dosage that works for you. Foods containing vitamin D include fatty fish such as Salmon and sardines as well as fortified milk.
Proteins are essential nutrients for the human body. They are one of the building blocks of body tissue and can also serve as a fuel source. Estimates suggest that about half of the human body’s dry weight is made up of protein. Many of the foods we eat contain protein, particularly meat, dairy and legumes like beans and lentils. These proteins are broken down during digestion to release amino acids, which are the building blocks of all proteins. Once inside the body, these amino acids are used to make new proteins including enzymes and hormones such as adrenalin. While most people can obtain adequate protein through their diet alone, certain individuals can benefit from protein supplementation — namely athletes or those who have an intense training regime. Whey protein is the best source as it is the most easily digestible and readily available form. This is what we provide after your sessions (SpeedFit Whey Protein Concentrate). However if you suffer from lactose intolerance or digestive complaints from dairy foods, try using a Whey Isolate protein powder, Collagen protein or plant based protein powder. Always opt for products which contain natural ingredients (protein source only) mixed with cocoa or vanilla bean and natural sweeteners such as stevia or xylitol.
Probiotics are live bacteria found naturally in the gut, as well as in select foods and supplements. Probiotics rarely colonise in the gut, but rather interact with resident microbes. As they pass through the gut, they interact with gut cells, immune cells and food substances, exerting their benefits. Not all probiotics are the same, and not all provide the same benefit to different patients. Most are from the genera Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium or yeast. It is best to find a product containing the strain(s) that have demonstrated the best evidence for the benefit you are seeking, hence we recommend consulting with a doctor to find the right product for you. Fermented foods high in ‘good’ bacteria include: yoghurt with live cultures (look for one billion probiotics per serve), kefir (fermented milk or water-based drink), fresh kimchi (Korean fermented vegetables) and fresh sauerkraut (fermented cabbage).
Supplements are only required when, and IF you have a deficiency in the essential Vitamins and Minerals that your body requires to function at optimal performance. All of the necessary macro and micro nutrients we need can be obtained from sunlight and the consumption of food, however in some instances supplementation is required to get enough of specific nutrients. FOOD is always the best option when it comes to obtaining maximum health, and supplements should only be considered under the supervision of a doctor or registered Dietitian, AND taken in conjunction with a healthy, balanced diet.
Stay posted for my next blog which will break down the products on the SpeedFit supplement shelf, and explain exactly what they are for.