You cannot and should not out supplement a bad diet. Why? Because I said so. Okay, I know, that’s not good enough. It’s because a supplement will not fix a bad diet. A better diet (one rich in real food) will fix a bad diet. Supplements are only meant to enhance not fix. Let’s take a deeper look into the whys of supplementing.
To supplement or not, that is the question.
I taught a few classes at my local Whole Foods Market a few weeks back and I had some interesting topics come up that I wanted to touch on here. The first one was about supplements. Boy, oh boy do supplements make people excited to talk about nutrition. As soon as you mention something someone could add to their routine, they are all ears, especially if it’s a pill, powder, oil or special potion.
I get it, it is much easier to think that one supplement will change everything than have to think about giving your whole diet/life an overhaul. Afterall, adding something to our routine is far easier than taking away food, drinks or completely rearranging our diet. If I could tell you to take a magic pill for good health, I would, but that’s just not how any of this works So, let me tell you what I told those who attended my classes:
“You cannot out supplement a poor diet BUT you can complement a good real food diet.”
Frankly, after I said it the first time, I thought how in the world had I never talked about this before. A supplement, while, yes is just that, something that completes or enhances, it is not the end all be all. It will not make you superhuman and it will not bring about world peace. It is meant to assist what you are doing, not fix it or make your woes go away.
However, many of us want our supplements to be the answer. I get it, it would be way easier if we could eat junk food, have abs and feel good all while eating donuts, pints of ice cream and leaving the veggies for some other day. It’s not that easy. So if it’s not that easy, let’s take a look at the who, what, where, when and whys of it all to hopefully clear the air.
Who should supplement?
This is going to be a trend, so buckle up. If you are someone who has never tried to improve your diet, then I am sorry but supplements are not for you. You may not want to hear this BUT you have to try a bit harder before you resort to pills, potions & anything you will be sold at your local vitamin/supplement shop.
If you are someone who reads something on the internet (if you’re reading this, you’re in the right place) and immediately thinks it is gospel, then supplements may not be for you. There are A LOT of sides to every story and believe me, you will find them all on the internet. If you think that cinnamon will cure your cravings and vitamin D will protect you from every illness, then you have a lot to learn young grasshopper.
The body is way more complex than any single supplement.
If your friend (or some self-proclaimed guru on the interwebs) is taking something keep in mind it may not work for you. Everyone has a different metabolism, digestive system and set of genetics. It is important to look into what is best for YOU not necessarily what is best for the person next to you. So, don’t just pop your friend’s pills/supplements unless you know it’s right for you.
Here are the people who are ready to supplement
(Note: this list is not exhaustive, it is just a start):
- You are already eating clean, real food and are looking to up your game.
- You are sick and need some extra help outside of food.
- You are an athlete looking to get the competitive edge and/or ways to get enough food in one day.
- You live in a place where it’s hard to get a certain nutrient & supplementation is necessary. (i.e. Upstate New York & Vitamin D in winter)
- You have had bloodwork and have deficiencies that are known.
- You are pregnant, nursing or thinking about becoming pregnant. Check out my friend Lily’s Book in that case (affiliate link).
What should you supplement with?
Oh boy, this is a giant can of worms that I’m not ready to open quite yet. There are MANY things you can supplement with, it just depends what your body needs and in what quantities. You can work with a professional (a good idea), you can experiment and then you can decide what works best for your life and your health.
I recently found this resource: Testing Nutritional Status: The Ultimate Cheat Sheet (affiliate link) by Chris Masterjohn and I think it could be a really good start for some of you. It is a cheat sheet for figuring out what may be the cause of some issues.
On the other hand, once you know what you need to be supplementing, do your due diligence. Make sure that what you are putting in your body is good quality. The last thing you want to be doing is taking something that detracts from your health instead of contributes to it. I recommend checking the website Labdoor.com for a third-party unbiased view on quality & value of certain supplements.
When does one supplement?
There are two sides to the when. When should you in your life/year and when should you take a supplement you have figured out you need during the day. For the first, it definitely depends on your health, where you live, and what your goals are. If you have nagging health issues (not fixed by diet & lifestyle) it may be time to take a supplement. If you live where it snows and the sun don’t shine, you may need a supplement. If your goals are extreme (i.e. elite athlete of some sort), time to supplement!
For the latter, read the labels! Some supplements do best on an empty stomach, others are better different times of day, and still, others need food to be digested. For example, Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin and requires fat to be absorbed.
Why would you supplement?
It depends (ha! had to).
You should supplement when you have tried all other means. Supplement when you have exhausted diet, lifestyle and environmental factors and need a little extra help.
The issue with our diets is that they are not perfect, no matter how hard we try. For the person who eats enough protein, fats & carbs to support lean body mass, activity, and health, they may require a bit more to optimize their health. This is a time when complementing your current diet/lifestyle with a supplement is okay and encouraged!
Another reason to supplement is that you are asking more of your body than most. This could be for instance an athlete who is training more than the average human and the body needs more nutrients to fuel, repair and heal. This could be a pregnant woman who has to not only feed herself but also grow a tiny human inside of her. These may be extreme examples but it goes to show you that extreme results require extreme measures.
How do you supplement?
With the help of a professional. I know I am biased but just because you read something on the internet or heard something on a podcast does not mean you should dive head first into supplemental overload. You all are uniquely different, so ask for help! This also means don’t be preaching about a supplement without knowinng the ins and outs of it, you may do more harm than good.
When you get that help remember that the supplement is not the end all be all. I recommend most of my clients go on a supplement holiday/vacation. That means they take some time off of each supplement they are taking. Why? Because we want to know if the supplement is necessary.
What if you are taking something that is no longer helping you? We will only know if we take a break from it. Same goes for those that are helping us. If we realize we feel better on than off than it’s a good signal we need to be on it.
I also recommend clients to get blood tested if they are unsure of if their body is responding to supplements. Taking vitamin D day in and day out is great for those that are deficient but what if we start overdoing it? (Yes most vitamins, especially those that are fat-soluble can be overdone). Test, don’t guess.
What do I supplement with?
Awww gee, I thought you would never ask 🙂 I don’t supplement with much. I currently use Magnesium (Natural Calm) daily, Vitamin D3 (2,500IU daily) during the winter months & fish oil a few times per week. I also use a protein shake (sfh or Ascent protein) on days that I workout and don’t eat enough protein. Reminder, this is what works for me and you need to evaluate (or have a professional evaluate) what you need before diving into what I do, we are all different.
What are you supplementing with these days?
What questions do you have about supplements?