Supplements Part 2: Food vs. Supplements

Last week, I was listening to a client talk about the supplements he takes.  There was so crazy stuff that even gave him a rash!  It really showed me how eager we are to take anything to supplement our workouts or strong medications when we are sick.  Take Vitamin C for example: in the 1970s, Linus Pauling claimed that taking Vitamin C could prevent getting the common cold.  As a result, Vitamin C has become widely mistaken for a cure or aid for the common cold.  Repeated peer-reviewed scientific research has shown no substantial difference  in recovery time between those who supplement Vitamin C before or during a cold versus those who did not.  And yet, we all push Vitamin C (in the form of OJ or Emergen-C).  On the other hand, does it hurt?  It buys us some peace of mind because we feel like we are doing everything we can to get better.  Feeling sick stinks!

So, what are some popular types of supplements out there?  Are there equally effective sources of food?  Here are some of the types of supplements out there and what they are advertised to do:

(1) Branched-Chain Amino Acids
– Science Info: Three of the essential amino acids have branched-chains: valine, leucine, and isoleucine. We do not make these in our bodies
– Supplement Claims: Provide energy and help with muscle repair and recovery
– Some Food Sources: meats, fish, beans, milk, eggs, seeds, nuts, legumes, vegetables, cottage cheese, and soy

(2) Glutamine
– Science Info: The most abundant amino acid in the body. It is non-essential, which means our bodies make it!
– Supplement Claims: Provide energy and increase strength performance
– Some Food Sources: meats, fish, dairy, wheat, and beans

(3) Protein (Whey & Casein)
– Science Info: Protein is a major macronutritent which helps which many normal bodily functions (too many to list!)
– Supplement Claim: Help build big muscles
– Some Food Sources: milk/dairy, meats, fish, nuts, legumes, soy, etc

There have been some studies that show some potential aid, but the results have varied and inconsistent.  What does this mean?  Be careful when taking supplements: read the labels because not all manufactured supplements are the same and there may be other additives.  You’ll also notice that there are so many natural occurring sources of these “supplements” in our food already.  By eating a balanced meal which includes a good variety, you can get all of these “supplements” in our food; additionally, by getting them from our food, you’ll be getting other things you won’t get from taking powdered supplements: fiber, water, other macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.  Lastly, remember that they are supplements to our normal food intake and exercise: working out hard and eating well should be your focus.  Supplements should be just that…extra.

Be safe, friends.

Thomas Ngo
Dietetic Intern
NASM Certified Personal Trainer


One Comment Add yours

  1. Leng says:

    Hey Thomas!

    Great article! Yes totally agree. People always ask me about supplements and I say the same thing–try to get your nutrients from your diet as best as you can. If you feel you must take them then read the label carefully. Also a while ago Consumer Reports found levels of heavy metals present in Muscle Milk and Isoflex (maybe more). Yikes!

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