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The Basics of Supplementation Part 1

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As often as I get asked, “what should I eat?” I get asked about supplements. An overwhelming amount of marketing and misinformation has led people to thinking that powders and pills are the hack or missing piece that will allow them to achieve the performance and body of their dreams. This fallacy is a trap I’ve seen the confusion with people wishing to lose weight, gain mass and increase competitive performance. There is no magic substance that you can buy over the counter that will do the work for you. Even illicit substances cannot replace hard work. With that in mind, there are actions you can make to enhance your nutrition and training.

Before reading further let’s get clear and understand the definition of “supplements”. Strictly defined, a supplement is “a thing added to something else to enhance or complete it”. The goal of this article is inform you on basic supplements shown to help health and immunity; i.e. assist forming the foundation of long-term health and wellness.

Unfortunately, our modern diets, even when they nutrient dense, can leave us in need – we may need to supplement our real food diets to enhance or complete it. This can be due to multiple factors like not eating enough plant-based foods, the way in which food is farmed/grown and the environment in which we live (toxins, chemicals, lack of sleep, stress, etc).

Each person is unique with different needs and requirements, so please don’t take supplements randomly. Also note that when supplementing, quality is vital and you should be very careful about brands or sources.

The following list is not in any particular order, are relatively inexpensive, and what I use regularly.

Omega 3 is an Essential Fatty Acid. Your body needs these foundational Essential Fatty Acids, but cannot make them on its own. They must be taken through dietary sources. Unfortunately, our modern diet is often lacking in Omega 3. Fish Oil is high in EPA and DHA and is preferred by the body because your body doesn’t need to convert anything and it is essentially mainlined into the system. ALA (which is found in plants) can be converted into EPA and DHA. Therefore, plant sources can be an effective source of Omega 3s as well.

When high quality fish oil is taken in large enough amounts, it can provide the biggest return as far as supplements are concerned. The benefits include: improved cardiovascular health and function, improved lipid profiles (lower triglycerides), improved brain function and mental acuity, and its powerful anti-inflammatory properties without harmful side effects like over the counter products. However, like our recommendation regarding food, it is essential that you look for a quality supplement. Besides looking for the Current Good Manufacturing Practice seal, look for brands that use small, cold-water (near the polar ice cap so it is of higher purity) fish like anchovies or sardines vs. larger fish like tuna or those harvested in warmer waters. On the label, impurities are stated – look for those measured in parts per BILLION not parts per million.

 

Prebiotics and Probiotics

Our gut is home to 100 trillion microogranisms. Such a number is kind of hard to fathom! We’ve only recently begun to understand the extent of the gut flora’s role in health and disease. Among other things, the gut flora promotes normal gastrointestinal function, provides protection from infection, regulates metabolism and comprises more than 75% of our immune system. Dysregulated gut flora has been linked to diseases ranging from autism and depression to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes. Unfortunately, several features of the modern lifestyle directly contribute to unhealthy gut flora:

  • Antibiotics and other medications like birth control
  • Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
  • Diets low in fermentable fibres
  • Dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
  • Chronic stress

There are dietary solutions such as increasing fibre intake, consuming more fermented foods and drinking bone broth. If you choose to take probiotic supplement make sure you get a wide variety of strains, because different strains have different effects on the body. Prebiotics differ from probiotics. They can be thought of as a special form of dietary fibre that acts as a fertiliser for the good bacteria in your gut. Like nutrition, an individual solution is best. Find out what you need and apply a personal solution.

Magnesium probably one of the top three recommended supplements for athletes as it is an essential element in biological systems and most athletes are likely deficient. There are over 300 reactions in the body that rely on magnesium. Magnesium is needed to synthesize proteins, DNA and RNA. Magnesium plays a role in metabolism, and cells use magnesium to transport calcium and potassium ions across cell walls. Maintaining sufficient magnesium levels are important to integral processes such as nerve function, muscle contraction, and healthy bones.

Check your bottle to avoid digestion issues: Supplements based on amino acid chelates, such as Mg glycinate and Mg malate are much better tolerated by the digestive system and much more absorbable by the body the other (cheap) forms of magnesium such as Mg oxide or Mg carbonate

Vitamin D is more like a hormone than a drug. It is produced by the body when exposed to sunlight and most of us don’t produce enough (25,000 iu/day) even if we frequently are out in the sun. Without enough vitamin D in the body, calcium cannot be absorbed. Calcium is essential for signalling between brain cells and also in the development of bones and teeth. Low levels of vitamin D in the body may be associated with increased risk of cancer, low levels of immunity, increased inflammation, higher blood pressure, and the loss of muscle mass and strength. It also plays a role in testosterone production. Vitamin D also helps the brain to release melatonin so we can fall asleep easier – like when you’ve been out in the sun all day and are tired as soon as night falls. This is why Vitamin D is most effective when taken at night about an hour before bedtime.

 

Conclusion

As I stated, the idea behind supplements is not a hack to propel you forward without doing work. To be healthy you need to make conscious efforts to optimise your lifestyle, nutrition and training. The above items may be needed to complete or improve that package.

In my next piece we will talk about supplements that are focus on helping to enhance training and actually have data to support their use.

by Leigh Gant