We can’t escape it. On a daily basis we are being challenged to be healthier, fitter, stronger, and more youthful. If it isn’t social media, it comes as direct peer pressure. Are supplements the answer? Certified nutritionist and health coach Dr. Shady Labib of Shady Labib Nutrition and Nutivate online nutrition coaching tells us what we need to now, and dispels a few myths in the process.
What do you need to know when considering using supplements?
- You don’t need supplements unless you have a measured deficiency or a specific need. The necessary tests, such as blood picture etc., should be carried out before supplements are prescribed or recommended.
- We have seen a frenzy of people loading up on supplements without knowing what they actually do and the impact on their bodies. We need to de-mystify the subject.
- The supplements market is not regulated by the FDA and most of the claims used on packaging and brochures are misleading, with the sole purpose of creating profit for the companies.
- Research has proven over and over again that nutrients from food are much superior to supplements. A supplement should always be secondary to a healthy diet, not a replacement. Science has proven that the quality of nutrients from food is much more effective when it comes to health and longevity.
- Before use, people need to know why they need a specific supplement, if at all.
- If a supplement is recommended by a medical professional, the use has to be clearly defined.
When do you actually need supplements?
- A deficiency exists: There are hundreds of supplements in the market. But again, they are only beneficial for people with specific recognized needs, namely a vitamin or mineral deficiency, such as a Vitamin B12 deficiency in vegans or to support athletic performance.
- Special cases: Elite athletes can sometimes be deficient in glutamine, an amino acid that gets burnt quickly for example in marathon runners. As they can be susceptible to colds, and respiratory problems glutamine can be very beneficial. There are also a few supplements that could protect the muscles from breaking down, and prevent injury and reduce sickness.
- Convenience: The third factor is convenience. When life gets hectic and regular balanced meals go by the wayside, whey protein is very useful in filling the gap. This doesn’t mean you should skip healthy regular meals though, and we all know a few people who seem to have an aversion to vegetables. Say hello to vegetable powders and supplements, a good way to ensure that the essential nutrients are part of the meal plan.
Four important supplements that fitness enthusiasts are likely to need:
Whey protein. There are several misconceptions about this, but it is generally safe when used in recommended amounts, unless you have a liver or kidney disease. And don’t worry about the theory that it causes women to ‘bulk up’. That is not the case.
Creatine, for power athletes who need an extra boost to reach their targets.
Don’t forget that Omega 3 is very important in any diet, as it has multiple benefits, including reducing blood triglycerides, a contributing factor to heart disease.
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). These are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAA supplements have been shown to build muscle, decrease muscle fatigue and alleviate muscle soreness.
How are supplements often misused?
People often take supplements without being aware of the specific use for each. They take inaccurate dosages, and incorrect supplements for the purpose they require. For example, creatine, which is often used by people for sustaining energy when running long distances, instead of as a quick power boost.
Stimulant supplements, which often contain caffeine are often used prior to working out. This can be risky as they raise the blood pressure and heart rate, which can lead to serious consequences.
Should a doctor be consulted before using supplements?
Most over-the-counter supplements are safe when used correctly, but in the case of pregnancy or specific medical conditions it is important to seek medical advice.
If a person is following a healthy, balanced diet, are supplements necessary?
Definitely not, so long as you are following a full balanced, healthy diet, although with a vegan diet certain supplements can be required. It is always advisable to do annual blood tests and to monitor vitamin and mineral levels. Of course, if any deficiency is detected, make sure to consult your doctor.
A final word of advice:
There are a lot of misleading marketing scams out there, so don’t be fooled by them. The main focus should be on following a healthy diet, and consulting a nutritionist or dietitian if you think supplements might be needed.
About Dr. Shady Labib:
Dr. Shady Labib holds an MSc in Clinical and Public Health Nutrition from University College London (UCL) and is a registered associate nutritionist (ANutr) in the U.K.
Dr. Shady Labib Contact information:
Address: 6 Mohammed Galal St., branched from Iskandar Al Akbar St., Korba