This week we take a look at the last of the dieting priorities: Supplements. They sit atop the nutrition pyramid below, courtesy of Eric Helms. Their importance has been vastly overstated within the health and fitness industry, but that is not to say there is no place for them either. Let's take a closer look at where they fit in the grand scheme of things.
Supplement: "A thing added to something else in order to compete or enhance it" (Oxford English Dictionary)
Supplements should be used to to complete and enhance our current diet. It should not be used as a replacement for whole foods. Wherever possible, try to obtain all of your nutrition from whole foods. However, there are certain vitamins and minerals that we are often deficient in that we are better off try to obtain from supplementation.
So what supplements are worth taking?
- Creatine: Creatine is a molecule stored in phosphate groups (Creatine Phosphate). During periods of stress these phosphate groups are able to produce high amounts of energy in a short space of time. Creatine can be found in eggs, meat and fish. Creatine monohydrate is the cheapest and most effective form of creatine available as a supplement. There is a continuum of creatine response, depending primarily on how much creatine you naturally store. Creatine uptake is improved by insulin, so consuming creatine with carbs and/or protein can increase absorption. It is best to load creatine (20g for 5 days) and then take 5g/day thereafter. Ensure you stay well hydrated when supplementing creatine as fluid requirements increase on creatine.
- Fish Oil: Omega-3 fatty acids are a vital component of your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been shown to aid muscle growth and fat loss. An ideal ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fatty acids are 1:1 - 1:4, which is extremely difficult to achieve without eating fish. It is important to opt for high quality fish oil supplements as Fish Oil can often become oxidised. Good brands include Green Pastures, Jarrow Max, Vital Choice Wild Salmon Oil, Neptune Krill Oil, Athletic Greens. Overweight individuals should generally not consume more than 2g of fish oil per day due to the risk of oxidative damage to the fatty acids in an inflammatory environment. In leaner individuals 10g per day is the recommended dosage.
- Caffeine: Increases arousal, decreases RPE (rating of perceived exertion) and increases pain threshold. The result is that people generally enjoy their training more and some people are willing to push harder. To reap the benefits of caffeine you must be caffeine sensitive in the first place. Caffeine consumption can also cause withdrawals, even with just one strong cup per day. Symptoms of withdrawal include headaches, fatigue, loss of concentration, irritability, and decreased alertness. Caffeine has a 5 hour half life, meaning a strong cup of coffee (120mg) taken 10 hours before bed still leaves 30mg in your system.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Functions as a mild appetite suppressant. Dilute 1-2 tablespoons in a large glass of water after meals. It can significantly reduce the blood-sugar response of a high-carb meal and can assist in weight loss, with one study showing a weight loss of 1.2-1.7kg over 12 weeks.
- Melatonin: Melatonin is a key hormone that helps you sleep. It's effectively an internal messenger that tells your body it's bedtime. Supplementing melatonin improves sleep quality and makes it easier to fall asleep without significant side effects or addiction. The maximally effective dose is 3mg taken 30-60 mins before bed. Shift-workers and jet-lagged individuals may benefit from slightly higher dosages (5mg). Don't use melatonin as a band-aid - try to improve your sleep hygiene as well.
- Beta Alanine: Acts as a buffer against fatigue and metabolic stress. Therefore this supplement is most useful to take for activities lasting longer than 1 minute (so useful if doing high volume sets of 12 or more reps). 5g per day taken with meals should maximise your body's storage capacity.
- Magnesium: The second most common deficiency in developed countries. Deficiencies in magnesium can increase blood pressure and reduce glucose tolerance. The most prominent sources of magnesium are grains, nuts and dark, leafy green vegetables. Standard doses are 200-400mg per day. Best to take magnesium with food to improve absorption.
- Vitamin D: Is a fat-soluble nutrient that we obtain largely directly from the sun. It is also found naturally in fish and eggs. Vitamin D should be taken daily, with a meal containing some fat so that it can be transported effectively.
And so that concludes our look at the nutritional priorities when it comes to dieting for body composition. So if you ever find yourself getting bogged down the minutiae of the best time to eat carbohydrates, or whether you should take creatine, think back to the nutritional pyramid and get the important things in place first: -
1) Adherence & Energy Balance
4) Nutrient Timing