When should I take supplements to help me get fit and when are they unnecessary?



With advertisements showing people transforming themselves from flabby to fabulously ripped everywhere you look, it will be easy to start thinking that it is impossible to be fit and healthy without sport supplements – and then confused again if a trainer advises you to start taking a supplement like whey protein or magnesium.

But by going back to basics it is possible to find some clarity.

According to a consensus statement by the International Olympic Committee that was published in the British Journal of Sport Medicine last year supplements in general target four issues: Managing micronutrients, supplying energy and macronutrients, boosting performance and supporting intensive training.

Nutrition first

In an article published on Dr. Josh Axe’s website expert say athletes should first take care of their diets before considering taking supplements. Their advice is to start by adding vitamins and minerals supplements to breakfast and add collagen, bone broth or whey protein to pre- or post-workout smoothies.

If you are still busy cleaning up your diet – then here are some handy hints. Most experts agree that supplements can’t make up for an unhealthy diet.  Start by adding vitamin and mineral supplements to your morning routine and consuming with breakfast to help maximize absorption.

A 2017 study published in the journal Nutrients found that the role of minerals, like magnesium, in fitness performance is often overlooked by both athletes and the general population and the body’s magnesium needs will increase as physical activity increases.

According to the study people who are on a strength training program and are deficient in magnesium will have decreased endurance.

All experts point out that not all supplements are made equally and it is worth the effort to find the best magnesium supplements and those for other minerals and vitamins by doing thorough research.

Experts also advise adding protein powders like collagen, bone broth or whey protein can be enjoyed as part of a post-workout snack or smoothie directly after exercising to enhance muscle growth and aid in recovery.  They emphasise that a nutritious diet containing foods like coconut oil, berries, coconut water, beets and chai is essential to optimise performance.

Foods like coconut oil, spinach, berries, coconut water, beets and chia seeds can help increase energy, keep your body replenished and act as natural recovery supplements for athletes.

Get tailored advice

Sport medicine experts advise against simply supplementing and say a complete nutritional assessment should be done before any decision is taken on supplement use. They add that performance is highly individualised and depend on an athletes’ genetics, microbiome and diet.

They added that the bulk of supplements being marketed today claim to enhance performance but studies only back up a few of these including caffeine, creatine and nitrate.

Activity specific

Not all supplements are beneficial for all types of activities. According to an article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a very popular supplement, whey protein, for example was found to be much more effective to increase muscle mass and strength when used in conjunction with resistance training.

For example, creatine has been proven very effective as a supplement for athletes performing short bursts of high intensity activity, like weightlifters and cross-fit participants. If your aim is to gain muscle the sheer number of supplements on the market is overwhelming and it might be useful to consult a detailed muscle supplement guide to make sure you are getting all the supplements you need.

Grant Tinley also explain in an article published in Healthline that a supplement like Glutamine can be used for more than one purpose and while studies showed that it does not contribute much to muscle building, glutamine supplements have been found to decrease muscle soreness and improve recovery after intense exercise and reduce markers for fatigue that is found in the blood of long distance runners.

Read the fine print

The Office of Dietary Supplements at the United States’ National Institute of Health has published a helpful list of supplements that have been tested and were found to work and those like deer antler velvet that does not. In their foreword to the list they warn that taking performance supplements cannot replace a healthy diet but add that some can add value to your exercise routine depending on the type of activity and its intensity.

They add that it would be wise to discuss the decision to start using a supplement with your healthcare provider, trainer or coach especially if you are a teenager. In an article published on Dr. Josh Axe’s webpage experts further warn that a “study” could mean that the supplement was only given to a few people and often does not test the supplement across a range of activities. They add that it will pay off to take a critical look at these claims. They add that consumers should only buy from trusted retailers, read ingredient lists carefully and follow manufacturer’s directions closely.