To take, or not to take? That is the question. Supplements have been a buzzword in recent years, and a focal point of public confusion.
The purpose of this article is to accumulate information from a host of reputable organizations so you may make an informed decision on taking supplements.
What Is a Supplement?
So what exactly is a supplement? They come in all shapes and sizes, from capsules, to drinks, to powders, and are sold in a multitude of places.
We have herbal supplements like:
Vitamin and mineral supplements like:
Performance enhancing supplements, or ergogenic aids, like:
It is a multi-billion dollar industry, and ultimately has very different standards than it's prescription drug cousin.
"Natural" Means Nothing
Herbal and botanical supplements often get the automatic okay in our minds because they are "natural". However, natural means just about nothing in an industry that synthetically creates their products.¹
The perception of a natural supplement product is that it is not artificially fabricated. This is highly ironic given that the vast majority of dietary supplements are synthetically created in a laboratory environment and likely do not contain any natural, plant-based or nonsynthetic ingredients. - Katie Ferraro, MPH, RDN, CDE
Don't believe me yet? In an alarming study in 2015, authorities, including the attorney general of New York, conducted tests on the top-selling store brands of herbal supplements in the four retail giants - GNC, Walmart, Target, and Walgreens - and found that four out of five of the products did not even contain any of the herbs on their labels and that pills labeled "medicinal herbs" often contained little more than cheap fillers like powdered rice, asparagus and houseplants.²
Last year alone, there were 22 "dietary supplements" recalled for various reasons, some because they contained salmonella, anabolic steroids, or undeclared ingredients. This has been a trend for some time now.
Go back 5 years to a 2013 report published by researchers in Toronto, and you will find the same pattern, in which 44 random herbal supplements containing "single herbs" were sampled and analyzed using DNA bar coding analysis, but less than half the supplements (48%) contained any of the herbs listed on the label.
Moreover, at least half of the supplements contained something that wasn’t even on the label (substitutions or fillers).³
Another irony, is that only a tiny percentage of the world's population stands to benefit from supplementation, but yet for some reason we still yearn so badly to feel superhuman that the global supplement industry rakes in over $100 billion dollars annually.⁴
There are countless supplements that claim wonderful benefits by using their product, and truthfully there could be benefits to using what they say is in their product, but unless you have the ability to run DNA analysis on it yourself (or scientists already have), we don't know if what they claim is in there is actually true!
It could be ground up doll hair for all we know.
Sadly, according to several reputable organizations, sound science supports the use of only a few dietary supplements whose labels claim ergogenic benefits. However, without a healthy diet in place, there is almost no justification for their use.⁵
According to AND, DoC, and ACSM, sound science supports the use of only a few dietary supplements whose labels claim ergogenic benefits . These organizations add that the best way to use supplements is as additions to a carefully chosen diet, that dietary supplements rarely have ergogenic benefits when not used in these conditions, and that there is no justification for their use by young athletes. - NIH
As previously mentioned, supplements are not a substitute for a proper dietary foundation and will not work as effectively if it is not in place.
Since we are in the category of "performance enhancement", I will briefly touch on the adequate daily amounts of calories, fluids, and carbohydrates for athlete:
Can you guess?
Sports with the highest percentage of users taking performance-enhancing drugs for men are ice hockey, wrestling, and baseball and among women are volleyball, swimming, and ice hockey. But the biggest target for adulterated supplements? Bodybuilders.⁶
The FDA notes that products marketed as dietary supplements for bodybuilding are among those most often adulterated with undeclared or deceptively labeled ingredients, such as synthetic anabolic steroids or prescription medications . As one example, some products sold for bodybuilding are adulterated with selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs); these synthetic drugs are designed to mimic the effects of testosterone. - National Institute of Health (NIH)
Did you just run to your bathroom or kitchen cabinet and side eye your collection of supplements? Give yourself some mental relief and see if it's actually effective by clicking here.
How did we get here?
In 1994, a law called the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act (DSHEA) was passed, which lightened the standards on supplements treating them as "food products" instead of drugs. The following are outlined standards and regulations on drugs vs. supplements:⁷
The DSHEA was designed to protect the American people, but in actuality puts responsibility back on the supplement manufacturer to simply honor the laws outlined.
There is no system in place for policing this other than the FDA, which will only take action if someone is actually harmed from these products. Basically, anyone who can grind up some herbs and come up with a good marketing strategy can sell a dietary supplement and make millions until caught.
This literally happens more than you think.
Do Your Due Diligence
By now, I hope you have come to realize that for the most part, supplements are a complete waste of time and money. I encourage you to be as informed about something as you can before buying and consuming it, and if you are already taking supplements, ask yourself the following questions:
The best option, of course, is to ask your physician or Registered Dietitian what they think. As a fitness professional, I (or any other for that matter) cannot recommend you supplements.
Please keep in mind the risk you take in purchasing supplements, you are always at the mercy of their honesty. Here is a list of claims to watch out for, all recommendations from the FDA.⁸
Why has it been hard to change?
The self-proclaimed "champion" of reforming the supplement industry is Senator Orrin G. Hatch, a Republican of Utah.
He played a large role in getting the DSHEA passed in the first place and within the past few years has fought against amendments to the current lack of supplement standards, arguing that there is nothing wrong with the current policies in place.⁹
According to a report by the New York Times, Hatch "has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the industry and repeatedly intervened in Washington to quash proposed legislation that would toughen the rules." Thanks guy.
Signs you may have goofed
We are all human, so if you feel you've been duped and your supplement is actually doing you more harm than good, check out this list of signs directly referenced from FDA.gov:
There is very little scientific evidence stating the need for humans to consume supplements.
For the vast majority, they are a useless waste of money, and the policies that are in place to currently govern the supplement industry are not only far too loose, but dangerous to consumers.
It is best to stay away, and obtain proper nutrition from a bulletproof diet.
1. Ferraro, Author Katie Ferraro Contributor Katie. "5 Reasons Why Most Supplements Are a Waste of Time and Money." ACE. Accessed May 22, 2018. https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/6513/5-reasons-why-most-supplements-are-a-waste-of-time-and-money
2. O'Connor, A. (2015, February 03). New York Attorney General Targets Supplements at Major Retailers. Retrieved May 16, 2018, from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/new-york-attorney-general-targets-supplements-at-major-retailers/
3. American Cancer Society. (2015, March 15). FDA regulation of drugs versus dietary supplements. Retrieved May 16, 2018, from https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/complementary-and-alternative-medicine/dietary-supplements/fda-regulations.html
4. Stulberg, Brad, and Steve Magness. Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Books, 2017
5, 6. "Office of Dietary Supplements - Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance." NIH Office of Dietary Supplements. Accessed May 22, 2018. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-HealthProfessional/
7, 8. Commissioner, FDA. (2017, December 22). Consumer Updates - Dietary Supplements. Retrieved May 17, 2018, from https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm153239.htm
9. US Senator Orrin Hatch. JOINT RELEASE – Hatch, Heinrich Urge DOJ to Enforce Dietary Supplement Rules - Press Releases - United States Senator Orrin Hatch. Accessed May 17, 2018. https://www.hatch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/keeping-supplements-safe-for-all-americans#2E709075-0958-4171-A73A-48EAF216E4A2
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Sheila Olson of fitsheila.com
Approximately 45 million Americans go on a diet each year, yet two-thirds remain obese. One of the reasons behind this epidemic is the fact that people get lured into trying a fad diet — sometimes more than once — that promises to torch calories and melt fat without changing your diet or hitting the gym. As the saying goes, slow and steady wins the race, and that means losing weight the safe way with a combination of diet, exercise, and wellness-focused discipline.
Address Mental Health
Mental illnesses such as binge eating disorder, night eating syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression should be treated in conjunction with a diet and exercise program. Studies indicate that there’s a link between mental health and obesity — depression can prompt obesity, and obesity can prompt depression. Along with focusing on losing weight and learning that food is for survival and not comfort, it’s crucial that underlying mental health issues are addressed in order to break the vicious cycle.
Manage Your Stress
Stress-related, mindless eating involves consuming food — sometimes in a large amount — even when you’re not hungry. Approximately 27 percent of adults in the US admit that eating is a form of stress management, while 34 percent say eating unhealthy foods due to stress is a habit. Not only do these actions create feelings of guilt and shame, but they also make it impossible to lose weight and keep it off. While seeing a therapist can help you manage your feelings, there are several wellness-based approaches you can take to manage your stress levels.
Make it Convenient to Work Out
Not having time is one of the biggest excuses people use to avoid working out. Make that excuse next to impossible by setting up a home gym equipped with cost-effective equipment, like adjustable resistance bands, a Swiss ball, and kettlebells. Check out local resale shops or online websites that sell previously-used goods to see if you can find these items at a lower cost. Instead of paying for an expensive gym membership, bring the instructor into your living room by downloading a workout app to help you with form, safety, and motivation.
Make Healthy Eating Fun
The words “balanced” and “diet” need not feel like a punishment. In fact, you can create endless combinations of tasty dishes and snacks utilizing healthy ingredients that don’t taste like rabbit food. Take up a cooking course, or scour YouTube for ideas. The more variety you have in your diet, the less apt you’ll be to slip.
To ensure safety, be sure to consult your doctor before starting any diet or exercise plan. This is particularly important if you have any underlying medical conditions where overexertion or food restriction may have a counter effect on your wellness. Remember, don’t beat yourself up if you have a slip up. Not only is it normal, but it can help you become stronger for the long term.
Without question, during a busy week squeezing in a workout can be a real challenge. Then factor in travel or needing to quarantine and it can feel like you're suddenly in a boat without a paddle. Here are nine quick tips I've learned over the years as well as some thoughts on how to succeed if you're trying to workout on the road or have to quarantine.
1. Make it a Priority
This is perhaps the most important piece. Write it in your planner or scheduler. If you have your heart and mind set on the fact that you’re going to get your workout in for the day, it will happen.
In a way it is like making time to eat. There are many ways to feed your body outside of actual food, movement is one of the things that your body craves, especially when it's either been cooped up in an airplane or in your quarantine space for hours upon hours.
Movement feeds us both by addition and subtraction. We add the things we want - strength, endurance, flexibility, energy - and a subtract the things we don't want - stress, anxiety, insomnia, jet lag, and so forth.
2. Know Your Schedule Ahead of Time
Know your itinerary for the trip, or your at home work schedule and life. This will make it easier to know when you can realistically fit in that workout.
Planning your workout into your day makes it harder to come up with an excuse not to do it. Consider it like scheduling a meeting, but with yourself.
3. Run a 5 Minute Search
Travel: while waiting for your flight, instead of burning time on social media, see what’s in the area you'll be staying. Does the hotel have a gym? Is there a better gym close by? Are there any green spaces?
See if there’s an image of your hotel’s fitness center online. Personally, I am not super fond of hotel fitness centers, so if there is a gym within driving or running distance get a day pass there.
Some gyms will even let your first few visits be free and you end up not having to pay a dime!
Quarantine: what type of odd objects do you have around your home? Is anyone selling equipment on Facebook Marketplace? Is the local Wal-Mart style store back in stock with weight equipment?
You don't need much, so find something that can be multi-purpose.
4. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate
Be a grape, not a raisin. If you are dehydrated like a raisin, you will feel more tired not to mention staying hydrated also makes you less susceptible to cold and flu germs, and who doesn't want a kick ass immune system right now?!
Travel: light headedness, fatigue, and joint and muscle stiffness can all be attributed to not getting enough water; thus, say no to that cranberry juice and yes to a cup of water on the plane.
Drink at least another 8-12 ounces as soon as you can once you arrive at the airport. A good general rule of thumb would be to drink 250ml of water for every hour flying.
Quarantine: make a concentrated effort to drink at least one glass of water between meals and a glass of water with your meal.
5. Prepare Your Snacks
6. Sign Up Online
Travel: many gyms will cater to potential new members by offering free day or even week passes.
On a recent trip to Seattle, there was an LA Fitness down from where I was staying. I simply signed up online and was given a 5 day guest pass that I could scan at the door.
No paperwork, no loop holes, just scan and go in.
Quarantine: there are countless online workout options out there for you. Structure and routine are absolutely key in long-term success, which are worth investing in. I will take this opportunity to shamelessly promote my own if you feel like taking that next step.
7. Intensity & Variation Over Monostructural Duration
Monostructural duration style workouts are long steady state style workouts such as running, rowing, biking, etc, which are FINE if you love that or want to throw it in every now and then. However, in my experience, variation is the spice of life not only for your mind, but your body as well.
Keep things interesting by constantly mixing up what you do. If you need ideas or want to follow one of the workouts that show up on my whiteboard, check out the Workout of the Week.
8. Accountability Buddy
If you are traveling or quarantining alone, tell your significant other you plan to workout and have them follow up with you on whether or not you did it or not. Or you could download any goal tracking app to help you stay on track.
Either of these accountability options can be powerful motivators for some people. For the lucky ones, maybe you travel with a business partner who is also interested in getting in a workout or two on the road. Use your resources!
9. Make Use of Green Space
Finally, you don't need a gym to get in an awesome workout and you certainly should not just stay in your house the entire two weeks of quarantine.
Go to an outdoor space where you can stay away from other people.
Bring your own jump rope with you, they can be used anywhere and really diversity your workout. Rouge has some really great options for a higher end jump rope, while Bemaxx has an affordable style that works great as well.
Given that the weather is to your liking, find a green space (i.e. a park, field, etc.), and do a workout outside! Too much inside air can make you crazy.
What better time to read (or listen) to a book than when you are isolating yourself from a pandemic? Tune into this week's episode of Positive Quarantine Vibes for some of Lili and Alysa's favorite suggestions.
Link to more books!: https://www.makeyourselfunstoppable.com/inspirational-quotes-books.html
Authors/Titles mentioned in video:
Camille Ravikant ("Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It!"
Ekhart Tolle ("The Power of Now" and "A New Earth")
James Doty ("Into the Magic Shop")
It is true that there are many ailments and diseases out there that cannot be helped because of genetic or environmental reasons.
However, the United States Center of Disease Control (CDC) states that up to 80% of chronic diseases can be eliminated with three simple lifestyle changes:
1) improved diet
2) increase in activity
3) quitting smoking
Chronic diseases, according to the CDC, are those that are ongoing and generally incurable, but are often preventable illnesses or conditions. Think heart disease, asthma, and diabetes.
Chronic diseases are the leading cause of death and disability in America afflicting 133 million Americans (45% of the population) and are responsible for seven out of every ten deaths in the US.
With this in mind, it should be no surprise that people with chronic illnesses are the most frequent users of health care in America. Chronically ill patients account for 81% of hospital admissions, 91% of prescriptions filled, and 76% of physician visits.
Out of the approximately $2 trillion spent on public and private health care in 2005, 75% went toward treatment of chronic conditions. So, if prevention is often the best treatment plan for these illnesses, why aren’t insurance companies investing in prevention plans?
Well, turns out they do. But only if you are medically referred by a doctor. Conditions that require treatment that insurance will cover personal training costs for include:
If you didn’t notice, half of those are chronic conditions and all of them are conditions that one already has to be afflicted with prior to insurance paying for personal training services. According to exercise.com, “[f]or a client’s health insurance company to pay for training sessions, the fitness plan must be medically necessary for their condition”.
Interesting… it seems to me that there needs to be more emphasis on what we can do to prevent these things instead of reactively treating them once a person finds themselves in pain.
Just some food for thought.
"A reminder is only a reminder if it's given before it's needed."