You will read thousands of articles, from thousands of sources – some reliable and some not so - on the topic of supplements which will improve general health and also those which will aid your training program. Dietary supplements are a contentious topic in the nutrition world, with some dietitians arguing that a balanced diet means you don't need to be popping pills, as all of the vitamins and minerals should be accounted for. Meanwhile, others point out that it can be difficult to get all the nutrients we need from our diets alone and advocate supplements as an easy alternative to keeping our bodies in peak condition.

So where do I stand people have asked me? My take on supplementation is that it is a very personal decision which can be helped by discussing your nutrition plan with your nutritionist and/or personal trainer. I am not a nutritionist so I can’t officially advise in any depth on nutrition. Sometimes we need a boost, a perk to sustain energy for a decent workout or simply a boost in vitamin C to fight of a cold. Our bodies are smart, smarter than most people believe and our bodies have their own defence mechanisms. The problems arise when we help it too much on a consistent basis. The result is that the body becomes more sluggish in defending itself.

The key is to listen to your own body and give it what it needs. Making the right choices at the right time is something many of us struggle with, and it can be a case of trial and error to really get it right. There is supplementation for various reasons such as for during the day of an event, so before, during and after an event. There may also be cause to use supplements in the short term leading up to an event too. There are some widely renowned supplements which we can take a whistle-stop tour to give you a general guide to some of the key topics.

1) Protein powders:

Not all protein powders are created equal. Make sure you select the one that matches your goals.

*For recovery, look for…isolate

Isolate is a powder containing more than 90% pure protein, whereas concentrate usually contains around 75-80%.

*For muscle, look for… glutamine

This amino acid plays an important role in muscle tissue repair. Take it within 20 minutes after training to boost recovery.

*For fat loss, look for…carnitine

This naturally produced compound aids the breakdown of fatty acids.

2) Vitamin D:

As with most vitamins, if you are getting enough vitamin D – from your diet and exposure to sunlight – you don’t need supplementation. But if you live in the UK, it can be difficult to get what you need from sunlight, especially in the winter months. It is worth checking your levels with your doctor all year round, not just in the winter. If your levels are low, so is your testosterone. Supplements can help re-balance this, with the knock-on effect of boosting training performance.

3) Omega 3’s:

To improve performance and build muscle a healthy physical state must first be attained as muscle can only grow when the right conditions are in place to do so. Omega-3 fatty acids may support blood circulation to allow nutrients such as protein and carbohydrates to reach muscle and exert their effects.Omega-3s may also assist fat loss through maximising metabolic rate and helping to form a foundation from which thermogenesis can occur. Joint lubrication and cardiovascular health are also major benefits to be derived from Omega-3supplementation if you are not getting it from natural sources such as oily fish in your diet.

4) Creatine:

Naturally produced in the kidneys, pancreas and liver, creatine is transported to muscle tissue. Though produced in the body, these levels are sufficient only for ongoing cellular function, not massive muscle growth. Pure creatine monohydrate is the most studied supplement for building muscle. It can give you the capacity to get through a few more reps in a workout, boosts your power output and increases water retention in your muscles, called cellular swelling, which can help with muscle growth.

Do I need supplements?

I am always happy to discuss my own nutrition. Personally I sometimes use a whey protein powder drink if there is no immediate food available when my body is crying out for replenishment and repair but generally I stick to natural wholesome foods and a balanced diet as that is a more sustainable approach. I have found that a useful list of questions for making decisions on supplements are:

  • Do I need it?

  • For what purpose?

  • Is use sustainable?

  • What is the correct usage and amount?

  • Does it get absorbed properly by the body?

  • What are the supplement ingredients and are there possible side effects?

  • Is there any danger of long term use?

  • Does it give me a crash and/or drop in mood after several hours?

Generally the absorption of natural foods and sources appears to be better than most supplements available. However, s we age we often need more of the vitamins and minerals too as the body becomes less efficient with natural processes. From age 35 and beyond Vitamin D is often found to be lacking, especially if genetically you are used to a lot of exposure to the sun. It is also common to find that Magnesium is deficient in more than half the population. You can help to prevent this by eating your greens and keeping active. Around 15% of the population lack Iron and Zinc and from age 70 there is a lack in Vitamin B12 in about 20% of that population.

We all want a body that functions at 100% but is this realistic and practical? And a question remains…do you really want to supplement your body all your life?

Please contact me for any further information or thoughts in order to assist you