I will always tout the advantages of consuming food over supplements, as the term itself suggests, it exists to supplement areas of one’s dietary needs that might be lacking. Our error comes in sometimes supplementing the wrong areas with the hopes of creating better results toward our goals, most often seen around fitness.
This comes in the use of pre-workout supplements, protein products, and recovery supplements—and their misuse. When eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods from all food groups and listening to your body’s natural cues, you are going to be receiving the adequate nutrition you need for life.
Let’s look at some of the most popular categories of products:
Pre-workout: These supplements can come in powder, chews, pills, or liquid form with the claim that they will “boost” your workout. They contain anything from a “proprietary blend” to caffeine, antioxidants, B vitamins, carbohydrates, and other ingredients said to improve exercise performance.
While some studies show the efficacy of those boosts, others do not. Similar effect can be replicated from consumption of a meal or snack containing some carbohydrates and a bit of protein, or having your morning cup of coffee prior to exercise.
Protein Products: Protein supplements are typically found in powder form and used under the guise that a person is unable to consume enough protein from their food consumption.
The recommended amount of protein a person should consume varies per individual by age, activity level, size, particular health condition, and a variety of other factors.*
The three most common protein powders are whey, soy, and casein, but there are also a number of plant-based protein powders on the market now.
Whey protein tends to be the most popular as it is a complete protein (meaning it contains the nine essential amino acids for our dietary needs). If protein is lacking in your diet for a variety of different reasons, protein powders can be a way to supplement that deficiency, but it shouldn’t be the primary source of this macronutrient.
Recovery Supplements: These have been popularized to eliminate soreness and increase muscle recovery after exercise. While some studies show that branched chain amino acids (BCAA) help reduce muscle breakdown and other products advertise to help the body rid itself of lactic acid, there is no long-term effect to these products.
Most often they come in powder or drink form, but there are some pill formulas as well.
After exercise, exertion, or illness, the best recovery is hydration and food with carbohydrates (to replace energy stores) and protein (to aid in muscle repair) along with continued gentle movement in regular intervals so stiffness does not settle into the body.
The danger in these products is that they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and some ingredients, while safe in normal amounts, can be harmful in high concentrations.
Outside of bodybuilding, endurance sports, and heavy exertion on a regular basis, these products can be unnecessary to our needs, and we sometimes jump on the bandwagon of popularized products due to empty promises—most people engaging in a 30–60-minute moderate-intensity exercise program do not need a combination of these products.
When we use these products and our body doesn’t need what we’re giving it, it is smart enough to get rid of through elimination. Over time, this becomes a costly waste of money for something that is not providing a nutritional benefit. Try experimenting with food first for your needs before supplementing with other products, your body and pocketbook will thank you.
*A certified nutrition professional is the only person qualified to give specific nutrition advice (licensure/law varies by state). Personal trainers, fitness instructors, health coaches, and other professionals have a limited scope of practice. Direct sales representatives will qualifications vary, vet their certifications beyond the title bestowed by their company.
Stephanie Lueras is a body-positive certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist and owner of Heart and Sole Fitness in Lake Havasu City. For information, visit heartandsolefit.com