There’s a lot of “stuff” out there about supplements.
Supplements promise a lot of things. Lose weight faster. Have more energy. Sleep better. Glowing skin. Longer hair. Better eyesight. They’re marketed as little magic pills.
But the supplement industry can be a dark rabbit hole. It’s not regulated by the FDA and there isn’t a lot of research out there to “prove” supplements are beneficial. The FDA regulates drugs, both prescription and non-prescription. Drugs are considered “unsafe until proven safe.” Supplements are not drugs. The 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) defined supplements as a category of food, which puts them under a different set regulations than drugs. Basically, supplements are “safe until proven unsafe.”
It’s a bit of a dangerous game, if you ask me. Walk into a store like GNC or Vitamin World, and you’re more likely to get a sales associate that, at best, recommends whatever supplement they’re using and, at worst, pushes whatever products are part of a promotion or need to be “moved” off the shelves. I’ve known some employees, usually at local stores, that tend to have a bit more knowledge than others, but it’s important to note here that supplement recommendations should from a health care provider or a certified professional. As a personal trainer, I’m allowed to give some advice within my scope of practice, but I always refer clients to their doctor for the bigger questions.
When it comes to my own clients, I recommend the following supplements.
- Fish Oil
I personally take a few additional supplements, per doctor recommendations/approval, which I’ll get into later.
One of my most popular posts is around what supplements I take. It’s a bit dated now, and I’m a lot more educated (always learning!), so I thought it was time to update my take on supplements.
First, the supplements I recommend to clients and why.
Creatine is one of the only supplements with research to back up its benefits. Creatine is a substance naturally found in muscle cells and helps muscles produce energy. Studies have shown that it can help increase muscle mass, strength, and performance. It’s also been shown to improve brain health. I’ve started taking it recently and I’m starting to see the benefits of it. Even if I feel like a “bro” scooping it out of my jar (ha!). Here’s a great article (with research!) on some of the benefits of creatine and why it’s important.
Chances are, you’re not getting enough protein from your daily diet. I’m certainly not, and I’m a strength athlete that pays attention to what I eat. Protein is a macronutrient, meaning your body needs it in large amounts. I’ve found people sometimes believe protein is only used to “get big muscles.” And while it certainly does help with muscle growth and repair, your body uses protein for so much more – making enzymes, hormones, and other important body chemicals, transporting and storing nutrients, providing energy… The body is in a constant state of turnover, and protein is essential for maintaining a well-running machine (your body).
I use protein powder to make sure I’m getting enough protein day-to-day. While I prefer most of my protein to come from food sources, protein powder helps me meet my macros – and stay away from a lot of the over processed protein bars on the market. I prefer Ascent protein powder – it’s very clean, most importantly, and also tastes great. It is a whey protein, however, and some folks prefer plant-based or casein protein. I always recommend Ascent, but encourage my clients to go out and find a brand they like – and to read the ingredients.
I’ll admit that I got on the Vital Proteins bus thanks in part to all the influencers posting about it when the company was in its early days. When I started buying it, there was exactly one kind to pick from. Now there is an assortment. But I still refer the tried and true unflavored collagen peptides. They blend well in my coffee and I do think they make a difference in joint health, recovery, and the health of my skin, hair, and nails. I’ve also mixed them into sweet potato breakfast bowls – so good.
We tend to not get enough omega-3s in our diets, unless we consume a fair amount of fish. Fish oil is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA which have been shown to reduce inflammation, increase blood flow, improve heart health, and boost the immune system, among other benefits. So naturally, I don’t care for fish and maybe eat it twice a year. I take capsules daily – I like the Now Foods brand – but many of my gym friends drink straight cod liver oil. I haven’t quite worked up the nerve yet, but they swear by it.
I put this in parentheses above because it’s not something I recommend as frequently, but tend to bring up if a client is having trouble sleeping or their stress levels seem high. One of my CrossFit coaches recommended it to me to help me get my sleep patterns under control and it was a difference maker. I use Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm and drink it nightly. Magnesium is a micronutrient (minerals and vitamins that the body needs in much smaller amounts), and also one we tend to be deficient in. I find it helps my stress and energy levels, too.
I take all of the above most days, but I also take a few more supplements. To be clear, these are not supplements I recommend to clients, but have been put on them by a doctor, or had my doctor’s approval. I highly recommend not taking any supplement just for the sake of it (going to keep driving that point home!).
Iron and Vitamin C
I have iron-deficiency anemia – my red blood cell count is low, to keep it simple – and have my entire life. I took a daily iron supplement through high school, but once I was out on my own in college, I forgot it was a thing. I was experiencing some minor health issues in the fall and my iron deficiency was brought back to my attention. It hadn’t gone away, I just hadn’t taken it seriously and honestly forgotten all about it. A low red blood cell count also contributes to me being hypoglycemic (low blood sugar), so it’s important that I boost my iron levels (and eat regularly – there’s a silver lining to every situation!).
Because iron can be hard on your digestive system, my doctor recommended vitamin C to help with absorption. Once we found the right iron dosage and vitamin c combination, I started to show improvement after a couple of weeks. I do try to get iron through my food, but I tend to prefer chicken and turkey over more iron-rich red meats, which means looking at sources like brown rice and peanut butter. In my case, supplementation via pill will likely always be a thing.
Admittedly, my beloved Red Carpet supplement isn’t “doctor recommend” but it is “okay’d” by my doctor. Red Carpet is Hum Nutrition’s black currant seed oil and sunflower seed oil supplement, which makes it a great source of Vitamin E. My hair is shinier and my nails stronger because of it. My doctor checked out the ingredients and gave her approval for me to continue taking it.
Again, the supplement industry isn’t regulated by the FDA. Read labels. Do indepth research. And most importantly, talk to a doctor or certified individual that can help you make informed decisions about what, if any, supplements you should take. Food should always be your first source of nutrients!