Fitness Supplements: When, How and What?

fitness supplements

Nowadays, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t take a vitamin or supplement as part of their diet, especially in the fitness community. Is more always better? Does higher price mean better quality? And how often should you change them up? If your head starts spinning each time you enter the vitamin aisle, read on. In this article, you’ll find answers to many of your questions.

Health and fitness supplements are legion, from the basics like fish oil and multivitamins, to more specialized sports products like glutamine and L-carnitine. Depending on your goals, many supplements can provide some kind of a benefit to your fitness and health.

WHEN SHOULD YOU TAKE A SUPPLEMENT?

This significantly depends on your health and fitness goals. The most important thing to remember is that a supplement, as its name implies, is meant to supplement a quality diet of wholesome, whole foods. It’s a way to optimize your intake of key nutrients and optimize your metabolic function. Be aware of that supplements aren’t substitutes for eating poorly.

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The most important thing to remember is that a supplement, as its name implies, is meant to supplement a quality diet of wholesome, whole foods.

WHEN SHOULD YOU NOT TAKE A SUPPLEMENT?

Anytime that you don’t understand how it works and what effect it could have on your body. It’s easy to be seduced by colorful advertising and courageous product claims, but everybody’s body chemistry is different. What works for you may not for someone else, and vice-versa. For instance, some women can’t tolerate the dosage of calcium recommended a day. Instead, they may need more magnesium. Failing to keep the intake of these two supplements in balance can result in achiness and disrupted sleep.

Another example is vitamin D. Some people believe that it’s okay to take 5,000 IUs a day because it emulates sunlight. But if someone is taking a dose that high or higher for longer periods of time without enough vitamin A and K2, imbalances will occur that may lead to conditions, such as osteoporosis.

SHOULD YOU STOP USING SOME SUPPLEMENTS FOR A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME?

Whether or not you cycle your supplements is dependent on the type of supplement and how the body responds to it. Again, it comes back to taking the dosage that’s appropriate for you based on your body chemistry.

You may not realize it, but some common supplements can have toxic side effects if taken in excess. Zinc is a great example. Too much can cause stomach pain, fatigue, fever and coughing, and even contribute to prostate cancer in men. And yet, it’s a vital trace element essential for human health.

To conclude, if your doctor or the product label warns you against taking a supplement for a prolonged period, take it to heart.

In other cases, it’s important to rotate the source of a nutrient. Eating the same form of the same nutrient for an extended period can lead your body to develop an intolerance that reduces how well your body can absorb it. Protein is a great example. Whether it’s poultry, red meat, or protein powders derived from either whey or vegan sources, it’s important to change it up.

iron supplements
Too much zinc can cause stomach pain, fatigue, fever and coughing, and even contribute to prostate cancer in men.

HOW OFTEN AND HOW HARD SHOULD YOU BE TRAINING?

Just because you may be taking supplements that can speed up weight loss with workout, or build more muscle mass with weight training, doesn’t mean you should spend more time in the gym. Your body needs time to replenish itself with the supplements you are taking. Keep your intense training sessions to about 45 minutes and allow for adequate rest days to avoid overtraining

HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

Supplements might not be prescription medications, but there can still be interactions. At the very least, one type of supplement can negate the benefits of one other. Some people are taking supplements along with medication or excess fiber, meaning you can’t absorb them well. It’s all too easy to start with a couple of supplements, then add more as you learn about others. Soon, you may find yourself taking a cocktail of them every day before breakfast. What’s better is staggering your consumption throughout the day. Consider which supplements are best to take before bed or in the morning, with food or without, or before, during or after an exercise.

WHAT SHOULD YOU FOCUS ON A LABEL?

Pay close attention to the list of non-medicinal ingredients. This is where poor-quality supplements will betray themselves with cheap fillers, binders, sweeteners and artificial flavors and colors. The next place to look is the list of minerals and vitamins and minerals for their sources. Cheap forms of minerals, for instance, such as those identified as oxides or carbonates, are often more difficult for the body to absorb. Again, everyone of us wants a good deal, but you usually get what you pay for. Quality supplements come at a premium, but what’s the point in wasting any amount of money on a product that doesn’t provide the benefits you expect?

fitness food
Studies have discovered that 90% of people can get the full and proper balance of vitamins and minerals through diet alone.

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO VALUE WHOLE FOODS OVER SUPPLEMENTATION?

Your first objective should be to rely on a quality diet of whole – some whole foods, including free-range eggs, grass-fed meats, organic vegetables, whole grains, and seeds and nuts. The nutrients from these sources should always take priority over supplements, regardless of their quality and origin. Studies have discovered that 90% of people can get the full and proper balance of vitamins and minerals through diet alone, assuming they’ve a clean and healthy one.

Whole foods are better than supplements for three main reasons:

  • Whole foods are complex, containing a wide range of the micronutrients your body needs for health.
  • Whole foods provide vital dietary fiber.
  • Whole foods contain other substances important to your health, such as phytochemicals, which may help protect you against cancer.

Of course, if you are doing demanding physical activities such as weight-training, which are forcing your body to adapt and change, the right supplementation at the right time isn’t only beneficial, it’s in fact necessary to your body’s recovery. So if you’re training regularly, you’re likely doing yourself a favor by sipping those branch chain amino acids during your demanding workouts, and drinking a protein shake right after (although it’s always rule of thumb to get cleared from your doctor first). Beyond that, supplementation depends on your fitness goals, level of physical activity and body chemistry. Err on the side of caution and don’t think that just because something appears to be good for someone else, is also good for you.

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Written by Camille Bennett

Camille Bennett is our nutrition expert interested in fitness diet and doesn’t run out of delicious ideas for healthy and nutritional meals.

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