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Do I need supplements?

Let’s get this bit out of the way first. Do you need supplements to be or stay fit and healthy? The answer is ‘NO’. You do not need them. Everything you need can come from the food that you eat. The only time you should consider supplements, are when you have a known deficiency that cannot be met for whatever reason from your diet or for pure convenience sakes. Therefore the following article mentions supplements that ‘may‘ be of use only because you are unable to supply your body with adequate amounts of a nutrient you need. It also mentions supplements  that I feel are worth a look at for the benefit of those that exercise or for age related help (although I do not personally endorse any of the products mentioned, unless stated by me on an individual basis).

If you want information about supplements for specific personal and medical reasons it would be best to seek professional help in the area you require. Always read the labels and warnings and about side effects, even naturally occurring supplements can have side effects. If you have or think you have a medical condition or are pregnant, always consult a doctor and/or a nutritionist first before taking any supplements.

The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and as such you will hear all the good things associated with the supplement (it’s called marketing). Any supplement you decide to take needs investigating first, do your research before making a purchase. Try to find real people reviews, long term studies, government studies, forum user reviews etc, but also be aware there are many fake reviews and sponsored research out there, it can be a mine field. One other thing to remember about supplements is that while one person can get benefits from a supplement, others won’t. This could be down to a number of reasons, such as your diet is already sufficient in supplying your body with the nutrients it needs to give you, or your body just can’t convert the supplement into usable nutrients and unable to absorb it. Buy from reputable companies and manufacturers and established brands only, be very careful here for health sakes (some supplements can actually be harmful for you, so be extra careful what and who you buy from).

Supplements can be a saviour for those time constrained, if you have no time to eat all the food/type of food you require, then this is your next best thing. But remember real natural food will satisfy you more, the nutrients will be better absorbed by your body and always be preferential to supplements. Stick to natural supplements, not some fancy man made concoction.

As the name suggests, supplements are just that, they are there to supplement your nutrition plan. If you feel you are lacking anything in your diet or looking to make some areas more convenient, then supplements may help. There is no magic pill or powder though, if you plan your diet properly you will get pretty much all you need from it.

The list below is a general list of the more popular supplements about. Most of these are naturally occurring substances that can also be found in various foods and remember, it is always better to get them from food first.

Supplements to help build muscle

Creatine – occurs naturally mostly around skeletal muscle tissue and helps promote lean body mass, muscle cell volume, workout recovery, increased glycogen storage and performance. Can also be found in meats such as beef. There are different types of creatine. Some people don’t seem to respond to its use, while others have found it to be one of the best supplements around. Ensure you drink plenty of water and stay hydrated when taking this supplement.

Beta-alanine – naturally occurring non-essential amino acid, which creates carnosine which in turn helps increase endurance and high intensity workouts by delaying the energy sapping lactic acid build-up, which causes muscle fatigue.

Whey Protein – is a protein powder that contains a full spectrum of amino acids. Quick digesting, said to increase protein synthesis post workout. Virtually lactose free. Use for convenience only or if you simply can’t get enough protein from your food. Be ware that there are some side effects for many people when consuming too much additional protein supplementation.

Soy Protein – this is another complete protein and is suitable for those that do not eat meat or dairy.

Branched-Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) – There are 20 amino acids, BCAA’s consists of just three – leucine, isoleucine, and valine. They are the three amino acids that are highly used in protein synthesis and help regulate protein metabolism, muscle energy and recovery and reduce muscle fatigue and soreness.

Glutamine – The most abundant amino acid that is also naturally produced by your body. It slows muscle tissue breakdown during intense exercise, help preserve muscle, improves the immune system and can lead to an increase in growth hormone.

Casein – is a slow digesting milk protein, ideal for providing protein over time and therefore ideal for bedtime, but equally and more increasingly used throughout the day and post workout as it can potentially boost muscle protein synthesis. Be aware that this protein can also increase inflammation in the body.

ZMA – not so popular of late, but worth a mention is ZMA a combination of zinc, magnesium aspartate and vitamin B6. It is suppose to help maintain hormone levels and help you sleep (essential for recovery). Some studies show it significantly increased their levels of testosterone and growth hormone, but if your diet is already sufficient in these minerals then it won’t make much if any difference.

Carnitine – (L-Carnitine)  popular fat-loss supplement, Carnitine is now known to enhance muscle growth. It can also increase blood flow and convert fat to energy. Can also be found in red meat.

Supplements to lose fat

These supplements are naturally occurring and I do not recommend those weight loss pills or any man made synthetic concoction that says it can help lose weight, regardless if they work or not, that’s up to you. Read all warning labels and be aware of fake tablets in this category.

Whey Protein – as mentioned above it is a protein powder that contains a full spectrum of amino acids. Quick digesting and said to increase protein synthesis post workout. Virtually lactose free. Most have very little carbohydrates or none at all. Protein can also help to suppresses appetite and requires more energy to digest and helps in building muscle when working out. Muscle has a higher metabolic rate than fat and so will burn more calories. However protein drinks do not fill you up as much as food.

Green tea extract – is an antioxidant, anticarcinogen and anti-inflammatory substance. It may increase fat oxidation and even stimulate brown adipose tissue through thermogenesis, which are special fat cells that can actually help speed up your metabolism. Green tea can also help the immune system, fight free radical damage, preventing heart disease, diabetes, weight gain and help lower cholesterol.

Glutamine – The most abundant amino acid that is also naturally produced by your body. It slows muscle tissue breakdown during intense exercise, help preserve muscle, improves the immune system and can lead to increase in growth hormone.

Vitamin D – many people are deficient in vitamin D and most people that are deficient in it are overweight. Vitamin D is necessary for the proper function of receptors around your body, including the ones that tell your body whether to store or burn fat. It can help absorb calcium, reduce depression and improve your mood, is good for bone and teeth health, good for growth, your heart, preventing diabetes, autoimmune diseases and cardiovascular diseases. Recommended – rarely do I say to someone take a supplement, but this one I will make an exception for. You can also get Vitamin D from being in the sun (watch for dangers from UVA/UVB rays however).

Carnitine – (L-Carnitine)  popular fat-loss supplement, Carnitine is now known to enhance muscle growth. It can also increase blood flow and convert fat to energy. Can also be found in red meat.

Alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) – is a naturally occurring compound that allows aerobic organisms to create energy through cellular respiration. It is also an anti-oxidant and has an essential role in the metabolism of the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats). It is easily ingested and absorbed. It can also manage insulin resistance and hyperinsulinaemia (where there is excess levels of insulin circulating in the blood relative to the level of glucose).

CLA – (Conjugated Linoleic Acid) – is naturally occurring fatty acid which can increase the metabolic rate, boost the immune system and maintain cholesterol levels. Our bodies cannot produce this, so we need to either get it through our diet (only available in small amounts) or therefore better through supplementation.

Supplements for gaining mass/bulking

We tend to forget that even at the older stages of life there are still those who are underweight and looking to put on overall size. To help put on some muscle and even weight in general any of the ones mentioned above in the muscle building group can help, plus the following:

Weight gain/mass gain powders – If you really are struggling to gain weight and eat enough food then these can be used to add extra quality calories. Stick to ones that provide good quality protein and carbohydrates. Try to avoid ones with too many simple sugars and added fillers, unless you’re just using it for a post workout drink.

Maltrodextrin  – is a polysaccharide that is easily digested. It can be added to your post workout drink as it provides your body with much needed carbohydrates to replace lost glycogen. Limit this to your post workout drink only and only if you struggle with adequate nutritional intake, as it is a highly processed, high glycemic substance.

Dextrose – is a glucose like simple sugar and like Maltrodextrin is easily digested and replenishes your lost glycogen. If I had to choose between Dextrose and Maltrodextrin post workout, I’ll take the Dextrose.

Finally –  if you struggle to eat after a workout, you can get all the carbs and protein you need by creating your own smoothie and throw in whey powder, bananas, kiwis, honey, milk (or casein) into a blender and get all the benefits of the nutrients they provide.

Other possible supplements that cover many areas

Nitric Oxide – is involved in many bodily processes, but most of all it can aid blood flow to the muscles for your workout. This gives you more energy during your workout, an enhanced muscle pump, and better muscle recovery and growth after the workout.

Multi vitamins and minerals tablets – If you are following a good nutrition plan, then in all likelihood you shouldn’t need to take these. However if you feel you may be missing something, then the occasional tablet may help you to cover that base.

Coenzyme Q10 – is a substance that occurs naturally throughout the body, but production slows down as you age. It is used for energy production to aid cell growth and maintenance and can also help lower blood pressure, bad cholesterol and protect blood vessels. It is also said to help with fat burning and to be a good antioxidant.

EFA (Essential Fatty Acid) – EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and (ALA – Alpha-linolenic acid) These are essential Omega 3 fatty acids that are mostly found in the form of fish oil in supplement form. They help reduce bad fats, boost good cholesterol, lower blood pressure, protect against heart disease and reduce inflammation.

Probiotics – said to be good for your digestive system and upset stomachs, they help break down and digest food. They have good healthy live bacteria and can also be found in yogurt and other dairy products (check labels for concentration, as there needs to me lots to survive the human digestive cycle).

Glucosamine – occurs naturally in the joints, but reduces as you get older. It helps rebuild cartilage and reduce inflammation in the joints.

Vitamin C – is a water soluble vitamin i.e. what the body needs is used and the rest is secreted with urine if not required, unless you consume very large amounts when it could become toxic, just like any other overdosed vitamin. Should be consumed through your natural diet daily as it is not stored by the body, but can be taken in the smaller dosages as a supplement. It is an antioxidant and helps fight against respiratory infections, arthritis, cartilage loss, helps to lower blood pressure, improves the immune system, blood vessels, heart health and skin and also helps with iron absorption.

B Vitamin Complex – The B complex is made up of all the B vitamins. B vitamins are water soluble like Vitamin C and therefore the body doesn’t tend to store it, which means you have to consume it daily. It is an important vitamin as it helps with getting energy from your food, oxygen to muscles, aids digestion, boosts good cholesterol and helps to improve your mood.

Zinc  – is an essential mineral that can be found naturally in some vegetables, meats, and seafood’s. It is needed for cell growth, testosterone production, protein synthesis, immune system function, body repairs and much more. It needs to be consumed daily.

Citulline Malate – is made up from the non-essential amino acid (citrulline) and a compound found in apples (malate). It is the precursor to nitric oxide, which helps with oxygen delivery and fighting fatigue and the use of adenosine triphosphate (ATP – energy used by muscles for contracting) during exercise.

Supplement to avoid

Most concoctions created with pure marketing hype in mind and usually has a seemingly scientific chemical name that means nothing. Most supplements where you should be able to get what you need from your diet. Most herbal supplements. All dieting and weight loss pills.

Many of the above have unknown and dangerous substances in them, often not even on the labels. Over dosing on some supplements including vitamins and minerals may also be toxic and create health issues.

Bottom line

I’m basically going to repeat myself here. Remember these are supplements, not replacements. Your nutrition plan should provide all that you need. The only time you should take supplements is when you know that you aren’t getting enough of something in your diet. Also always take it in the smallest dosages you can. And remember always buy from a reputable company.

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