Throughout the entire fitness community you will have a hard time finding a topic more controversial than dietary supplements. In one camp you will find those who swear by supplements and proclaim them a magical cure-all, while others shun the very thought of them, believing that healthy eating habits eliminate the need for any such products.
There are many misconceptions surrounding various dietary supplements: some believe that they are filled with dubious substances that might do what they promise, but might also cause great damage from unwanted side effects; others believe that they are only placebo medicine with no significant effects on your overall health; some others may use them to compensate for a lack of quality meals, believing they will introduce all the necessary nutrients and vitamins into their body this way.
As it is with most other things in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The main thing you should keep in mind is that supplements, just as their name suggest, are there to supplement your diet, not to replace it. Before you choose to start using a certain supplement you should try to gather as much information as you can, although the best thing would be to consult a doctor to see whether you are fit to take it, whether it will benefit you, and to get advice on the proper dosage.
Before we get into specific supplements and their effects and benefits, let’s cover the basics first and answer a simple question: what are supplements? In short, supplements are products that contain concentrated amounts of ingredients normally found in various foods in the nature. Due to this fact, in most countries (including USA) they are legally treated as food, not as drugs. This is the cause of a lot of concerns regarding supplements, since they are not regulated with the same scrutiny and caution as the pharmaceutical industry.
Another thing that separates supplements from drugs is that they are not recommended for any specific medical conditions (even though they have occasionally proven to be beneficial), but for general usage as a compensation for certain substances otherwise lacking in the body.
Now that we’ve got that covered, let’s take a look at some of the most widely used supplements to see whether their benefits justify their usage.
The most commonly used supplements, vitamins (especially multivitamins) are essential to our overall health. Even though every doctor will tell you to try to take vitamins the “natural” way, vitamin supplements can be an effective way to make up for a lack in your diet. In general, multivitamins carry no negative side effects as long as you stick to the once a day schedule.
The real question with vitamin supplements isn’t whether they are safe, but rather whether we need them at all. You can cover most, if not all of your vitamin needs through a balanced, healthy diet. However, vitamin supplements can come in handy when you skip on a decent meal, and, barring specific medical conditions, one multivitamin dose should have you covered. You should be extra cautious not to go over the prescribed dose with minerals and vitamins A, D, and E, because they are not water-soluble and excess amounts tend to cumulate in your body.
A field as broad and diverse as the field of sports nutrition supplements is difficult to cover in only a few sentences, but we’ll try. Sports supplements cover a wide array of products, from performance boosters to weight loss products. They can come in the form of powders, drinks, pills, bars and different formulas, and they can broadly be divided into these groups: amino-acids, protein formulas, fat burners and creatine. The latter is the most popular sports supplement, having been around for decades and proving itself effective in countless studies. Creatine has shown to boost the muscle recovery process with athletes practicing high-intensity, short-burst exercises, such as weightlifting or sprint, but its benefits for endurance and recreational workouts are close to none.
In general, medical and nutritional experts don’t discourage the use of various sports supplements, although the extent of their benefits and their effectiveness varies from product to product, and it is still a matter of much debate. Experts advise you not to trust products promising 20 pounds of muscle in a week or similar overnight effects, and as a general rule of thumb recommend going with products that have been on the market for a while and have a positive track record.
These products, usually sold as powders or liquids are designed to assist with your diet and provide you with all the necessary nutrients without the burden of excess calories. Experts’ opinions on meal replacements are no different than with vitamins or sports supplements – they are no replacement for a healthy nutrition, but they can come in handy in times of need, especially for those unable to eat normally due to illness. As for their efficiency in weight loss, don’t expect a miracle. Meal replacements can help you with calorie control, but they produce the best effects in combination with a strict exercise routine and a controlled diet.
This article only scratches the surface of this vast and expansive topic, since a more in-depth look would require a much higher word count. To summarize, here are a few things you should keep in mind:
– Supplements are not nearly as dangerous and harmful as some make them out to be, although the question of their effectiveness is still a matter of much debate
-Belief that diet supplements can fully compensate for a lack of a quality diet is false and potentially harmful. Supplements are there to help with your diet, and not to take its place.
-Supplements are not a wonder cure. Regardless of whether you’re looking to lose weight, build up some muscle or simply stay healthy, supplements can help you achieve your goals, but they won’t do your work for you.
-Make sure you carefully read the ingredients list on the label of any dietary supplement product, and inform yourself as well as you can. Consult a doctor if possible. If you’re unsure which product to choose, go with the one that’s been around for a while and has a good reputation.
Jenny Hahn is a freelance writer from Sydney, Australia. She enjoys trying out and writing about new ways to stay in shape, from workouts to sports nutrition supplements and healthy eating habits. You can find Jenny on facebook, google+ or twitter