Unless your head has been in the sand, I am sure you have heard about the supplement battle. The war rages on whether we should add supplements to our diet or let food be our medicine. I will be right up front with you…I believe supplementing with vitamins, minerals, and targeted herbs to be beneficial. However, I prefer to let my food be the primary source of building blocks for my body. I think we need to focus on macronutrients first and then address the micronutrients.
Fighting the Supplement Battle
I have been planning on sharing with you the supplements I use, but just hadn’t gotten around to it. Then about a month ago, I commented on a thread in a Wellness group on Linkedin that was based off an article in the Atlantic, “The Vitamin Myth: Why We Think We Need Supplements” which brought the idea back.
The Atlantic article played right in to the avoid crowd side of the supplement battle and basically said that those taking supplements were less healthy than folks who didn’t. This was based on some faulty research and rationale which was addressed in the Linkedin post by some well researched individuals…however, the thread swung to the opposite side with several respondents saying we need to heavily supplement our diets to get all the necessary micronutrients. (I thought I stepped into a transhumanist discussion)
This is where I kicked the hornet’s nest and basically said my above philosphy that we focus on getting a wide variety of quality real foods (veggies, meat, etc.) So here I am on the macronutrient side against two Life Extension groupies saying supplement with micronutrients. The irony is that it was really like having the police and state troopers arguing over who gets to write a ticket.
We were on the same side, it is just a matter of whether you want to focus on the first 90% with food and fill in the last 10% gap with supplements. This is the track I think you should be on…join my side of the supplement battle 😉
If you think that you eat a wide variety of multi-colored veggies and food, than I am sorry to tell you that you are probably still missing a few things. Dave Asprey, the Bullet Proof Exec, gives 10 great reasons to add supplements to your diet, a few of which are eating the standard American diet, soil depletion, and nutrient absorbtion issues.
Just remember there is no reason to go hog wild. If you get too heavy into micronutrient supplemenation than you are just making expensive pee.
My Supplement Suggestions
Step 1: Spend money on the best organic and/or local vegetables, proteins, and then add supplements to fill in any gaps. The supplements that I feel are worth taking are a multivitamin/mineral, fish oil, Vitamin D, magnesium, a probiotic, and a digestive enzyme. For exercise I also use whey protein and creatine.
On a budget…here is your priority order: start with a multi, next add Vitamin D, next magnesium, and finally fish oil. After that is bonuses.
Read on for my rationale.
Firstly eat a healthy diet and use a multivitamin to round it out. A multivitamin is essential for individuals with gaps in their diet such as a vegetarian or vegan who will be missing out on a number of necessary nutrients that only come from meat or in supplement form. Generally, taking a multivitamin is not a substitute for taking the other four nutrients already mentioned (magnesium, vitamin D, and omega-3s) because individuals typically need more of these three than are included in most multis, and omega-3s are almost never included in multis. But, if you’re only able to take one supplement, a multi may be a smart choice.
You want to choose a multivitamin that fits your needs and is high quality. A quality product means that the nutrients in the vitamin will have proven bioavailability, that the product be encased in a coating that will break down rapidly in the body because this will facilitate greater absorption, but that the capsules or tablets won’t break open in the bottle before being ingested. Also, ensure that the raw materials in your vitamin have been tested for contaminants and heavy metals—these are not things you want in your vitamin supplement.
Vitamin D is all the vogue right now and it is deserved. According to Dave Asprey, Vitamin D is possibly the most important biohack. You absolutely need Vitamin D for immune function, bone health, muscle function, peak athletic performance, cancer prevention, reproductive health, and there are another dozen listed on Charles Poliquin’s blog the Top 25 List here.
Magnesium is right up there with Vitamin D in importance to your body systems. It is used in over 300 enzymatic processes, like those involved in ATP production. Magnesium is also necessary for proper transcription of DNA and RNA.
Do you want to improve sleep, than take magnesium? The list of benefits goes on and on and on. Magnesium regulates essential brain receptors…this is your memory and cognitive function. Guys need it to improve testosterone levels and lean body mass. Low levels of magnesium are also linked to diminished protein synthesis, and less strength gains from training. Bone disorders, diabetes, and chronic inflammation can also be prevented with adequate magnesium.
In addition to chronic deficiency in the Western population, the need for magnesium reserves in the body is the reason most people need to supplement along with getting it in the diet. Halibut, almonds, cashews, and green vegetables contain magnesium, but one serving of these foods will only provide about 15 percent of the U.S. RDA, a recommendation that is low.
Omega-3 Fish Oils round out my list of important supplements for myself and the general population. Health benefits from optimal omega-3 levels include decreased chronic inflammation and pain, better cardiovascular health, peak brain function, fat loss, improved insulin sensitivity, lower blood pressure, Alzheimer’s prevention, and athletic performance. Omega-3s can improve the health of every cell in the body. The key to omega-3 supplementation is to ensure you are getting enough, that you are taking omega-3s and not omega-6s, and that your overall fat intake is balanced in favor of omega-3s.
Charles Poliquin has a great post with 9 tips to rebalance fat intake.
Probiotic and Digestive Enzyme
Probiotics and digestive enzymes act as a powerful one-two punch for folks with digestive complaints and inadequate gut health. If you eat the standard American diet, than this is you. However, our understanding of probiotics has expanded beyond just digestion. Our gut health provides the first line of defense to our immune system and here is a post from Chris Kresser, 5 Uncommon Uses For Probiotics. It will blow your mind how important those little bugs are.
Athletes: Add These Two Supplements.
I know that there is debate whether to use whey or not (This debate is almost as big as the supplement battle). If it doesn’t upset your gut than use it. There are plenty of options now that don’t use artifical sweeteners and/or even come from grass fed cows. Whey protein post-workout is awesome because of the quick digestion. Whey supports protein synthesis and tissue repair more than casein protein. Pea or rice protein blends are alternatives if you are intolerant to whey, in which case, take additional branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) post-workout as well because pea and rice proteins don’t provide as many amino acids per gram. Another great vegan option is hemp protein which will also give you some essential fats as well. Be warned pea, rice, and hemp proteins do not mix as well and have a grittier feel in your drink (but you are really using them for a lifestyle choice anyway, right?).
Studies show whey protein leads to greater muscle gains and simulates protein synthesis more than casein, soy, and other protein sources. Due to its fast digestion pattern, whey protein is the best option for promoting recovery from intense training.
Whey is also preferred because it supports immune function and has an antioxidant effect. Plus, the lactose can be removed from whey, making it acceptable for people who are lactose intolerant. Be aware that many whey supplements will have added sugar or high-fructose corn syrup as sweetener—neither of which you want in your whey. If you are going to add carbs to the shake you want it to be a high-quality carbohydrate form that will replace muscle fuel rapidl
I know you may be thinking you get enough protein from your meals. But using whey protein is an easy, convient way for me to make sure I am getting enough protein. Life is busy enough with kids, work, and all the other responsiblities that pile up. Rather than adding an extra meal, I use a protein supplement so I can have time available to use in other life buckets.
Creatine is the first energy source called on by the body and it plays a primary role in energy metabolism because it is a more efficient source than ATP. It increases protein synthesis rates and initiates a greater anabolic response to exercise with lower cortisol. Numerous studies show creatine is an effective performance-enhancing aid.
Creatine is not only an energy source but it also functions as an antioxidant, minimizing the inflammatory response to training. In the long-term, greater muscle creatine content will minimize oxidative stress that leads to chronic inflammation and health problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and accelerated aging.
Plus using 3-5 grams per day is a safe and effective dose.
Leave the Supplement Battle Behind
There you go. You have my four go-to supplements, two extra, and if you are athletic through in the last two for a total of eight supplements.
My questions for you: Do you use supplements? And would you add any to my list?
To your health,
photo credit: National Archives