Nothing is as confusing and ever changing in the world of sports and fitness as the question of supplements. Which should you take, and why? Which are essential, which provide only a minimum benefit, and which are a complete waste of time, money, and potentially your health? Should you be taking fifteen pills a day, or should you be trying to get everything simply from your food? What is the science behind the claims, and where should you spend your money? With so many questions, and with the range of available products ever changing, it’s easy to feel defeated before you even try to get a grips with it all. So this article is going to be a handy, simple guide to the most essential supplements that are scientifically proven to be of benefit to anybody who takes them.
First, let’s look at the question of their necessity. Do you absolutely have to take any one supplement? If you live a healthy, balanced lifestyle with plenty of sun and all the right nutrients in your diet, then no. You do not. But supplements can be-and usually are-essential to people who for one reason or another are unable to maintain that perfectly healthy lifestyle. Perhaps you travel too much, or don’t get enough sun, or don’t have the time to cook every meal. For whatever reason, supplements should be seen as just that-an easy way to supplement your basic diet so that you cover all your bases. So lets look at some of the key basics, and explore what their benefits can be.
Multivitamin and Mineral
Think of these as your general insurance plan. Odds are that you are getting enough of most of these vitamins and minerals on your diet, and that most of the pill is redundant. However, taking one of these a day is like placing a safety net beneath you, so that if there are any crucial gaps in your diet, these will make sure you’re fine. They won’t hurt you, and will correct and/or prevent any minor deficiencies. Remember: these cannot and should not replace any facet of your normal, healthy diet. Don’t think you can skip on fruits just because you take a multivitamin.
Are protein powders a supplement, or a highly refined source of food? Falling somewhere in the middle, protein powders have been consumed for decades now, helping people meet their protein requirements when they are either too busy and on the road to make full meals, or have diet restrictions that prevent them from consuming animal sources of protein. Convenient, quick to make and a source of high quality protein, these are a safe and easy way to supplement your diet.
Everybody knows that you need to get a certain amount of sun per day, but despite this not everybody does. Whether you work an office job that holds you past sunset, or live in a particularly cold and cloud part of the world, lack of sun can cause Vitamin D deficiency. Maintaining an adequate amount of Vitamin D can be crucial to optimizing sports performance. Be careful to not mega-dose, however; 2000 IU’s should be the right amount for most people.
You’ve all seen the Got Milk? commercials, but do you take them seriously? With an increasing number of people turning away from dairy to almost/soy milk substitutes or the like, people (especially women) are at risk of calcium deficiency (a survey found that many female gymnasts had osteoporosis similar to that of 60 year olds). Dairy calcium can improve general body composition, and about 1000mg should be consumed daily.
Fish Oils – Fatty Acids
Unless you are consuming large amounts of fatty fish each week, the odds are that you’re not getting your required dose of Omega 3’s. Americans in general have been found to have a huge imbalance of Omega3/Omega6, resulting in inflammation, an increased chance of cardiovascular disease and poor health. Consuming Omega 3’s is a crucial necessity for most people, and doing so has so many health benefits it would almost be silly to list them all. About 2 grams of EPA/DHA daily is recommended.
There you have it. Those are the most basic and essential supplements, with maybe glutamine and zinc/magnesium rounding them out. Consider taking these if you think your diet/lifestyle leaves you deficient, and remember: they are called supplements for a reason. Don’t bank on their being your primary source of goodness!