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When it comes to living a healthier lifestyle, physical activity, nutrition, and recovery often come to mind.
Furthermore, one area of fitness that gets a lot of attention is supplementation. As of 2016, the global dietary supplement market is valued at USD 132.8 billion. These include products such as vitamins, minerals, fibre, fatty acids, protein, and much, much more.
While there are many beneficial (and convenient) supplements to purchase, there are also numerous products that are ineffective, sometimes dangerous, and even lack clinical research.
The supplements that I’ll be sharing with you today are ones that play an essential role in optimizing my day-to-day health.
At the end of the day, supplements are just a way to reinforce your health. You don’t need them, but they can certainly help fill the deficient gaps in your diet. It is ALWAYS best to get your nutrients from real food sources.
With that in mind, here are the six supplements I recommend for your fitness plan:
If your goal is to build muscle, then protein is your best friend—before and after your workout. Which is why I placed protein powder at the top of my list.
Protein is a very important macronutrient. It provides energy to your body, keeps you satiated, and it helps build and repair your muscles.
For a moderately active individual, like myself, my daily protein intake is between 0.8g/lb (1.8g/kg) to 1g/lb (2.2g/kg) of my body weight. With a protein powder supplement, reaching my daily intake couldn’t be easier!
What types of protein powder are there?
One of the great things about protein powder is the variety. Whether you’re a dairy addict, a vegan, or have a sensitivity to gluten, you will find something that fits your dietary needs!
There are four main types of protein powder—whey, casein, egg, and vegan.
Whey is a type of protein that is a by-product of cheese. It is the most popular protein powder amongst the fitness community—for good reasons, of course.
First, it is a great protein for muscle protein synthesis (which means quick digestion/absorption). Second, it has a very high amino acid profile compared to other types of protein. And thirdly, it is relatively cheap.
Whey protein powder comes in three varieties: Concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate.
Concentrates are the cheapest of the three. It is also processed the least. This means it has more lactose, fat, cholesterol, and unfortunately less protein per serving.
Isolates and hydrolyzed protein powders, while more expensive, have significantly more benefits. They are purer, have more grams of protein per scoop, absorb faster, and have a limited amount of lactose—which is awesome for those who have a dairy allergy!
Casein is a protein that is derived from milk. While whey protein is a fast-absorbing protein, casein is slow-digesting. Casein protein is commonly consumed before bedtime due to its anti-catabolic properties. This means it protects your muscles from breaking down!
Egg protein is exactly what you’re thinking. It’s egg whites in powder form. This type of protein powder is an excellent alternative for those who want to avoid dairy at all costs. Egg protein powder is also lower in fat and calories.
Vegan (plant-based) protein is the last category I will talk about. Without question, this is the protein supplement I recommend if you’re vegan/vegetarian or have an allergy to animal products.
In many cases, vegan protein powders have more vitamins and minerals compared to the dairy-based powders.
And the best part, vegan protein comes in many forms!
Creatine is another popular muscle-building supplement. It is also the most researched supplement in the fitness industry. Creatine is found naturally within our bodies and can be obtained through supplementation or animal meat.
Many studies have found that creatine can improve muscle recovery, increase strength, muscle mass, energy, and more.
To maximize the full benefits of creatine, most experts recommend ingesting 3-5 grams per day.
You also have the option to do a “loading phase” (20g per day for seven days) followed by a “maintenance phase” (3-5 grams per day) to saturate your muscles faster. I personally take 5g per day.
While red meat and fish are common sources of creatine, you will need to consume quite a bit to reach those five grams.
As a supplement, creatine is normally manufactured into powder or in capsules. There are also several types of creatine on the market. However, due to limited medical research, I only recommend creatine monohydrate.
Zinc is a mineral that is often neglected—and it shows. Around one-third of the global population is deficient in zinc. The primary benefit of zinc is to boost your immune system, repair your DNA, and regulate testosterone levels.
After a few weeks of supplementation, my skin was glowing! I experienced fewer breakouts, which has boosted my self-confidence in social situations tremendously. In addition, I noticed I almost never get sick (or catch a cold) anymore.
Zinc can also be found in a variety of foods. Foods that are rich in zinc include oysters, beef, pork, beans, seeds, and nuts.
Without a doubt, vitamin D is one of the most important vitamins for your body. It defends your immune system from infections, keeps your skin healthy, and it helps your body absorb calcium from foods.
This is another nutrient that people are commonly deficient in; especially for those who don’t live close to the equator. Almost 50% of the global population does not get enough vitamin D.
As a Canadian, I always take my daily dose of vitamin D. Sun exposure is very limited in Canada so I need any vitamin D I can get.
During the summer months, I strive to get at least 30 mins of sun exposure per day. A good book, music or a sport can make tanning more enjoyable!
Unfortunately, similar to zinc, most people aren’t reaching their daily magnesium intake from food. For developed countries, studies have shown that 10%-30% of the population is deficient in magnesium.
In regards to building muscle, magnesium has you covered! Studies have found that magnesium can increase testosterone levels for both sedentary and athletic individuals. When combined with strength training, magnesium can also assist in greater protein synthesis.
Foods that are high in magnesium include spinach, brown rice, beans, pumpkin seeds, and tuna.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The last supplement I recommend is an omega-3. Omega-3 fatty acids are known as polyunsaturated fats. These are good fats that help fight against heart disease, lower cholesterol, and improve cognitive function.
One of the reasons why I take an omega-3 supplement is to help heal my joints.
In the past, I used to experience a lot of pain in my knees after a leg workout. After a few weeks of supplementation, my joints are now pain-free and recover much quicker than before!
Another reason why I take omega-3s is to keep my skin looking young and healthy. I do whatever it takes to minimize my acne, haha!
And in some cases, omega-3s can promote anabolism (or a buildup effect) within your muscle tissue to help them grow.
Omega-3 fatty acids come from fish as well as vegetarian food sources. Some of these include salmon, sardines, mackerel, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, and seaweed.*
*Note: While plant-based omega-3 fatty acids are a great source of ALA (α-linolenic acid), they are very limited in DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). If you’re a vegan, then I highly recommend supplementing in an algal oil supplement as it contains both DHA and EPA!
What is a supplement?
A supplement is a product which contains a dietary ingredient that is consumed through the mouth. Supplement types include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and more. They are manufactured in the form of tablets, capsules, powders, energy bars, and liquids.
Do I need to take supplements?
Not at all! Supplements are only used to supplement your diet, not replace it! Real and wholesome food sources will always be the best way to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
How often should I consume a supplement?
It depends. Your diet is your best guide for identifying what your body is missing. If you, or your doctor, believe that you’re deficient in a vitamin/mineral, then I would certainly follow the daily recommendations on the product label. Consuming your supplement(s) every other day is also an option if you’re trying to save money.
Should I talk to my doctor before purchasing any supplements?
If you have a pre-existing health condition, I would highly recommend consulting a medical professional before diving into supplementation. Better to be safe than sorry!
Are supplements safe?
Most supplements are safe to consume. However, there is a lot of false marketing (weight-loss, detox, cleanses, etc.) that can cause negative health effects on your body. Always talk to a medical professional before consuming any unfamiliar dietary ingredient. You should also never mix supplements with prescription drugs.