I remember an old pharmaceutical ad that extolled the virtues of better living through chemistry. It was something heady like, “without chemicals, life itself would be impossible.” Of course the stoner community seized upon this slogan immediately and before long, the particular Pharma company in question became the butt of a lot of jokes.
In the fitness world there are tons of supplements (most which are NOT sanctioned by the FDA) that promise everything from weight loss and weight gain to increased energy and increased libido. But do any of them work? And at a price tag of often hundreds of dollars a month, are they worth the money?
To be honest, while most of the supplements available at your local health food store won’t hurt you, they aren’t going to help you much either. No pill will make you lose weight. No cream will tighten your muffin top. And no powder or potion is a substitute for regular exercise and good nutrition. But there is hard data on a few supplements that suggests you will benefit from taking them. Here are the ones I take regularly and recommend.
VITAMINS: A good multi-vitamin is often referred to as an insurance policy. While it’s true you can get all the vitamins and trace minerals you need from your diet, taking a daily vitamin ensures you have all your bases covered. (I tell my boyfriend he just needs a dose of vitamin ME). Choose a multi-vitamin that is appropriate for your age and gender. (Men need far less iron than women, older individuals will benefit from more selenium and ginkgo). I buy a generic version from the local drugstore.
In addition to a multi-vitamin, consider an additional dose of vitamin B complex and vitamin D. I take a Methyl Balance formula which is a combination of B vitamins that promotes optimal methylation. Methylation has an optimal effect on many biochemical reactions in the body that regulate the activity of the cardiovascular, neurological, reproductive, and detoxification systems. These include those related to DNA production, neurotransmitter production, detoxification, histamine metabolism, estrogen metabolism, eye health, fat metabolism, cellular energy, and liver health. Think of methylation as the mechanism that allows the gears to turn!
Vitamin D is the other vitamin I take in higher doses. My doctor has me taking about 50,000 IUs a week, which works out to about 7,000 per day. Your body will produce Vitamin D from sunlight and can derive it from dairy products, but because most of us are avoiding too much sunlight, and many diets advise us to avoid dairy products, Americans aren’t getting enough vitamin D. Some estimates suggest as many as 42% of all Americans are vitamin D deficient (source). That percentage doubles among African Americans and dark skinned people. Symptoms of a vitamin D deficiency include fatigue and tiredness, depression, back pain, slow wound healing, and bone and hair loss. Vitamin D deficiency is a medically diagnosed condition and your doctor can detect it with a simple blood test. Take your vitamin D!
CREATINE: Creatine facilitates recycling of ATP, the currency of the cell. Recycling occurs by converting ADP back to ATP. When you perform resistance training exercises and your muscles start to burn so much that you can’t lift one more repetition, you have depleted your ATP supplies. When you wait a few minutes, your body recycles and you can lift again. Data suggests that Creatine supplementation speeds and enhances muscle recovery, allowing you to lift sooner and more often.
PRE-WORKOUT SUPPLEMENTS: I use a pre-workout much like you might use a cup of coffee in the morning. They function as stimulants to get to going. Most of them contain caffeine or Guarana (check the label because some contain ridiculous amounts) and Creatine. Other ingredients to look for are BCAs (branch chain amino acids) and Niacin, a vasodilator that really helps you get a pump on!
WHEY PROTEIN: Far and away, the best supplement to be taking is whey isolate protein. Derived from milk, whey protein is considered a complete protein as it contains all nine essential amino acids. Numerous studies show whey protein contributes to lean muscle development while helping to metabolize fat. Whey protein is known to lower cholesterol and blood pressure and early research suggests it may have anti cancer benefits as well. I recommend a protein rich diet to most of my clients (as much as 1 gram per pound of body weight) and whey protein as a clean, lean way to get there.
Certain supplements are a valid addition to your exercise and nutritional program. Faith and love may be the vitamins of the soul, but if you don’t make time to exercise, you’ll probably have to make time for illness.
Philip Hitchcock is an independent, Certified Personal Trainer specializing in “Fitness after 40,” Resistance Training and Weight Loss. He maintains his own client base and is also the exclusive trainer for the Four Seasons Hotel. Check out HitchcockFitness.com