Supplements should never be used to substitute real food.
Take supplements in their simplest form.
Vitamin D is a very important nutrient that has many important functions.
Omega 3 fatty acids are deemed essential for cognitive function.
Creatine helps to increase lean mass, strength, and muscle morphology.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is required to synthesize serotonin the “happy hormone"
A supplement is defined in the Oxford dictionary as "A thing added to something else in order to complete or enhance it". Nutritional supplements shouldn't be a divisive issue they should be used to SUPPLEMENT your diet, and they can never be used to substitute real food, or even worse as an excuse to eat or justify a bad diet. However, I believe that in the modern world food itself is a lot less nutrient dense than the foods consumed by our ancestors making the argument for supplementation stronger.
Should I take supplements?
This question does not have an absolute yes or no answer and could be debated for hours on end. I am of the opinion that although everyone should make a concerted effort to eat as much “nutrient dense real food” as possible, everyone can benefit from employing some simple supplementation. Certain demographics are more vulnerable to deficiencies than others and may require specific supplementation which is well outside the scope of this short blog.
Personally when I take supplements I take them in their simplest form. Creatine is just that, creatine! Protein is protein and so on. There are supplements out there that promise to make you lose 7% body fat, gain 14kg of muscle while also increasing performance, the usually have an ingredient list longer than your arm containing words you can’t pronounce. My advice would be to stay away from them. Below I have listed 8 supplements that I take and I believe could be beneficial to almost anyone, particularly those of us that train. I have also done my best to explain why I think they can be of benefit.
Vitamin D is a very important nutrient that has many important functions including the regulation of calcium homeostasis and normal mineralization of bones to avoid adult-associated osteomalacia (softening of bones). It has been suggested that it also plays a role in protecting us against multiple diseases and conditions such as cancer, type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
Vitamin D deficiency has also been associated with muscle breakdown and therefore muscle weakness, so if we are looking to maximise the benefits of the time we spend in the gym, it’s something we should be wary of.
The reality is that although there are many sources of vitamin D in the western style diet, most of us are not able to meet the recommended daily intakes for vitamin D due to poor consumption of these sources which including liver, oily fish and mushrooms.
Vitamin D is also produced by human skin when exposed to sunlight, however in Ireland particularly during winter months limited sun exposure will prevent most of us from naturally producing appropriate amounts of this essential nutrient.
General recommendations are for individuals younger than 70 years to take 600IU of vitamin D with older adults consuming 800IU. Hence, taking a supplement with 400 to 1000IU of vitamin D is safe if you are unsure about the adequacy of your dietary intake of vitamin D.
Athletes and gym goers should consume more than this: up to 2000IU of vitamin D per day to achieve high serum 25(OH) D concentrations that are necessary for optimal functioning of skeletal muscle. Omega-3 fatty acids are concentrated in the brain; hence, are deemed essential for cognitive function.
Despite the need for more research to investigate the efficacy of this nutrient, some studies have indicated the beneficial effects of omega-3 fish oils on positive health outcomes among people with cardiovascular disease.
Also, the omega-3 fish oils have been shown to promote optimal cellular function and lowers LDL cholesterol in the body through a dose-dependent mechanism (National Institutes of Health, 2005).
Due to the easy oxidation of these fatty acids the general recommendation is sticking to around 500 mg – 1000 mg of Omega-3 EPA/DHA per day.
And for all my aesthetically minded friends, despite the fact that evidence is still scarce, omega 3 fish oils have been shown to possibly be beneficial in reducing muscle atrophy during periods of immobilisation, and subsequently stimulating muscle synthesis in older populations (The Irish Sports Council, 2013).
In their study, Cooper et al. (2012) highlight the essence of using creatine supplements to enhance performance in sports. Creatine helps to increase lean mass, strength, and muscle morphology for individuals who routinely engage in resistance training.
Cooper et al.’s (2012) meta-analysis indicates different studies that indicate a positive correlation between creatine supplementation and anabolic effects during recovery, enhanced exercise performance, and strength performance.
A general recommendation is to take 10g daily, split into two 5g servings, although you will see so many different recommendations out there!
The only time I would opt for protein powders over real whole sources of natural protein is when it comes to peri-workout nutrition. This being due to the fact that protein powders are easily digestible and provide the necessary amino acids to the needing muscle’s fast and effectively.
Whereas there is conflicting literature as to the need of the protein powder supplement, I recommend that my clients make protein powders their ally. I’m sure while almost everyone is aware of the anabolic benefits of protein powders, not everyone will be familiar with the other benefits. A study highlighted by the Etcheverry (2011), protein supplementation is associated with a better immune system and reduced hospital visits, reduced blood pressure, better muscle and joint health, and improved cardiovascular
A general recommendation is to take 25-40g of protein 15-30 minutes pre-workout and then take the 25-40g as soon as possible post-workout.
Turmeric gained its credibility in health from folk medicine, where it was used to alleviate the agony from liver conditions, depression, and medicine. Despite the fact that there is insufficient evidence to support these ancient claims, the potential health benefits associated with turmeric cannot be overlooked.
Turmeric is a spice of interest due to the widely recognized curcumin compound that is associated with a myriad of health benefits including alleviating digestion issues and preventing the occurrence of type 2 diabetes and heart attacks.
Turmeric has also been shown to alleviate pain in bone and joint issues due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin boosts levels of the brain hormone BDNF, which can help to prevent certain degenerative processes in the brain.
Turmeric is an unproven treatment, though it has years of traditional use and some preliminary convincing research. There is no standard dosage.
Although healthy individuals should be able to meet their daily recommended allowance of magnesium through their diet, not everyone will. Magnesium has a wide range of benefits and has been associated with increasing testosterone levels and muscle protein synthesis, something most reading this blog will be.
For those interested in fat loss, apart from the benefit of more muscle mass a deficiency in magnesium has be associated with decreased insulin sensitivity, which is far from optimal.
A general recommendation is to take 500mg 1-2 times daily alongside a clean diet.
Zinc is another important mineral whose benefits include strengthening the immune system, the eyes, and alleviating conditions such as diabetes, asthma, eczema, and high blood pressure. Coupled with exercise, zinc supplementation mobilizes resting testosterone resulting in high levels of serum total and serum-free testosterone. And as you know, high serum testosterone means more lean mass. Low levels of zinc have been associated with male infertility.
Zinc also improves the metabolism of melatonin which is a key hormone for good quality sleep. A general recommendation is to take one 30mg tablet one hour before bed or with your last meal.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is required to synthesize specialized molecules such serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter and actively involved in many body processes such as regulating mood, anxiety and depression. . Serotonin is often referred to as the 'happy hormone'.
Tryptophan can also have a positive effect on sleep quality.
A general recommendation is to take 500mg of tryptophan an hour before bed.
I AM NOT A DOCTOR OR DIETICIAN NOR DO I TRY TO BE ON THIS BLOG. THE INFORMATION SHARED IS MEANT TO BE INFORMATIVE AND ENTERTAINING. ALWAYS SPEAK TO A HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL BEFORE MAKING CHANGES TO YOUR ROUTINE.
Cooper, R., Naclerio, F., Allgrove, J., & Jimenez, A. (2012). Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update. JISSN, 9, 33. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-33.
Etcheverry, P. (2011). Protein supplements: the good, the bad, and the ugly. California: Kaplan Higher
Irish Sports Council. (2013). Fish Oils. Retrieved from http://www.instituteofsport.ie/s/Fish-Oil-
Klein, S. (2014, Oct. 18). 6 health benefits of turmeric. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/18/turmeric-health-benefits-curcumin_n_5978482.html
National Institute of Health. (2013). Magnesium. Retrieved from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-HealthProfessional/
National Institutes of Health. (2005). Omega-3 fatty acids and health. Retrieved from: https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcidsandHealth-HealthProfessional/
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). Zinc. Bethesda: Therapeutic Research Center