705,000,000. This is the number of results that pop up when you Google “supplements”. That number may be even higher by the time you’re reading this.
There seems to be a supplement for everything: weight loss, detoxification, muscle gain, antioxidants, anti-aging…you name it. Unfortunately the information available is not always credible and may come from a source that does not necessarily have your best interests in mind. Instead, you may find marketing tactics that fuel this multi-billion dollar industry, or well-intentioned people with limited expertise convincing you that the answer to your health goals are in pill, powder, or liquid form.
As a registered dietitian, I’m here to help you sift through the most common B.S. that lives among those millions of Google results and provide you with some food-based ways to meet your goals instead.
“Unlike medications, the supplement industry is not strictly regulated by the FDA. This means the safety and effectiveness of supplements cannot be guaranteed.”
Supplements remain a hot topic. In fact, “Should I take ‘x’ supplement” is a question I get on an almost daily basis. The answer is not so simple and differs based on the person asking. With that said, my initial answer tends to be the same: try to meet your nutrient needs with food first, and use supplements to fill any nutritional gaps, if necessary. Only after conducting a complete nutritional evaluation might I recommend a supplement.
It’s important to understand that unlike medications, the supplement industry is not strictly regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This means the safety and effectiveness of supplements cannot be guaranteed. So if you are considering a supplement, aim for a brand that has been tested by an independent third-party organization. This requires an outside party to test the product to make sure that what you see on the label is what you get, that it’s safe and free of contamination, and that your body will actually be able to break it down and use it.
Before recommending a supplement, I take a lot into consideration including a person’s: diet, goals, demographics, medications, lab results, physical activity level, and medical history. My main recommendations include multivitamins, protein powder, omega three fatty acids, and other vitamin/minerals. Riders also ask about “pre-workout” and weight loss supplements quite often, which I’ll weigh in more later. Again, it’s best to try meeting your nutritional needs with food first.
So here are five ways you can reap the benefits that you might get from supplements, from food instead:
Instead of taking a multivitamin, eat your vitamins and minerals.
Probably not the sexy answer you were looking for. However, eating a diet rich in whole grains, dairy or dairy-alternatives, varied protein sources, fruits and vegetables will not only help meet your vitamin and mineral needs, but will also provide antioxidants and phytonutrients that your body needs to promote overall health.
Instead of using protein powder, eat more protein-rich foods throughout the day.
We have a tendency to overestimate our protein needs, so chances are you don’t actually need as much as you think you do. Of course, everyone’s needs are different, so it’s always best to meet with a dietitian to find out how much you need to meet your goals.
Instead of taking omega 3s, aim for a serving of fatty fish at least two times per week.
Good sources of omegas include salmon, herring, mackerel and oysters. Don’t eat fish? Try snacking on seaweed instead.
Use caution around pre-workouts.
Most of them contain a mix of ingredients, many of which have not been proven to be safe or effective. The goal of a pre-work out is to give you energy. So, if someone is meeting their calorie needs and doesn’t have any nutritional deficiencies, I might recommend a specific amount of caffeine from coffee or tea, or discuss meal timing for an energy boost instead.
Avoid supplements promoting weight loss.
They have not been proven to work and may come with a long list of nasty side effects including anxiety, GI issues, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and more… all of which could negatively affect your riding. Instead, find ways to make lifestyle changes that you can stick with to promote healthy, long-term weight loss.
While supplements can come with risks, they may be beneficial or even necessary for some people when taken appropriately. If you’re interested in starting a supplement, it’s best to meet with a registered dietitian and your physician to determine if/which supplement(s) might be right for you.
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Natalie Gavi is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who is passionate about the power that food plays in health and athletic performance.