Supplement Series Part 3: Do You Need One & How to Choose the Best One

We’ve reached the finale of my nutrition supplement series! Check out part one  & two  if you missed them. Here we go:

Do you actually need one?

Answer: Most people can get enough protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. from a well-balanced food-based diet, even the most intensely training athletes. Plus, food offers additional benefits not supplied by supplements including fiber and antioxidants. Fun fact: in terms of protein, most American’s already EXCEED their daily protein needs, making additional protein supplementation unnecessary.

Buuuuut, if you choose to take one….

Tips to choose the safest & best supplement:

1.) Read the labels & avoid these red flags:

  • Ingredients ending in –ol –diol or -sten
  • Products made by companies who sell banned substances
  • “Proprietary blends”
  • Tons of ingredients/unfamiliar ingredients
  • Products claimed to be an “alternative” or “natural”

 2.) Do your research ahead of time & rely on credible sources

The following websites offer critical, science-based reviews on various supplements. Some you have to create a user/password for and you have to pay (a small $3) fee for consumerlab.com, but it’s SO worth it for all the information you get. I use these sites a lot in nutrition counseling, specifically when I see athletes.

3.) Remember, more is NOT better

Contrary to the popular American mentality, more is not always better. Your body can only efficiently absorb and utilize a certain amount of nutrients at one time. Thus, consuming excessive amounts offer no additional benefits and could potentially cause harm. Specifically:

  • You can only absorb 20-30 grams of protein at one time, excess amounts offer no additional benefits for muscle growth. So, don’t choose a protein powder or creatine supplement boasting more than this.
  • Mega doses of vitamins and minerals are either stored (fat-soluble) or excreted in the urine (water-soluble). For example, you can only absorb 30-50% of your RDA for calcium at one time, the rest is peed out.
  • Choose a whey- or high-quality plant-based protein powder

Whey protein powder is superior to muscle development compared to other formulas because it contains the amino acid leucine. Leucin stimulates muscle protein synthesis for muscle repair and growth. If you avoid lactose, choose a high-quality plant based protein powder that contains all the essential vitamins and minerals. This article lists a bunch of great options.

There you have it! Overall, as I dietitian I find that the majority of healthy individuals DO NOT need to take supplements. Exceptions include those with a nutrient deficiency, vegetarians (who could benefit from calcium, vitamin D and B-vitamins), older adults, those with eating disorders and pregnant or nursing women. Like always, talk to a dietitian to find out whats right for you specifically!

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