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 lose, 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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What is that terrible sound? Oh.. right, it's my alarm. It can't be time to get up, can it? It feels like I just fell asleep. Oh why not, another 7 minutes (hits snooze).
Typical morning conversation for you as well? If it is, and if you are hitting the snooze like I used to, please just STOP. This is completely throwing off your productivity and cognitive ability in the morning. More on that later.
Sleep, and rest in general are things we don't necessarily have to think about while doing, so we typically don't think about how to best optimize them beforehand.
They are not as passive as we may think; in fact, a lot of times we end up sabotaging our ability to properly recover because we don't think about either enough.
As a potentially widespread, undervalued asset to health and performance, taking and applying the science of sleep to our daily lives could be more life altering than many of us realize.
The Biology of Sleep
By the time we die, we'll have spent an astounding third of our lives asleep, despite our culture's promotion of a less is more attitude when it comes to sleep.¹
I myself often burn the candle at both ends, and have been guilty of buying into Margret Thatcher's comment of "Sleep is for wimps."
But, the reality is, it's actually not for wimps. It's for people who want to be elite and is an unavoidably critical aspect of human physiology.
Lack of sleep means functioning in a constant state of fatigue, causing:
Sleep to Remember
There is a natural phenomenon called the forgetting curve, where our brains forget 40% of the information just learned within the first 20 minutes of learning it. Discouraged? Don't be.
What scientists have discovered, is that while short-term memory is pretty pathetic in terms of retention, long-term memory is far more durable.
We can remember more information through a process called memory consolidation, in which information from our short-term memory is moved to our long-term memory.
This is enhanced when our bodies enter Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) and Rapid Eye Movement (REM) "deep" sleep cycles, both of which are entered into 4-5 times per night after two stages of "light" sleep.³
The Cruel Cycle of Stress and Sleep
Stress can both keep us from getting sleep and increase if we aren't getting sleep. According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 43% of adults report that stress frequently keeps them awake at night, and 21% report that if they do not sleep enough, they feel more stressed.
Very unfortunate to be the one who experiences both. Which, if that's the case, it's time to work on some stress management techniques to help with daily functioning and overall quality of life!
In fact, on average, American adults sleep 6.7 hours a night and only 20% report that their sleep is good or excellent.⁴
I used to think of sleep as a kind of linear thing, with a dosing stage, dreaming stage, and eventually ending in REM. Of course now that sounds silly when we focus on the meaning of a sleep cycle, which naturally implies something that repeats itself.
The typical adult will drift through 90-120 minute cycles, comprised of four different repeating stages.
Sleep Inertia: STOP Hitting Snooze!
When pulled from the midst of REM sleep, scientists have formally identified that temporary state of grogginess and mental fogginess, as sleep inertia.
Defined as a "transitional state of lowered arousal occurring immediately after awakening from sleep and producing temporary decrements in performance," sleep inertia can be blamed for your feelings of mental and physical dishevelment upon waking.⁶
This is due to higher levels of melatonin that is formed in our bodies during the REM stage. The longer we sleep, the higher those levels get.
Contrarily, when we wake up during non-REM sleep, blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity are slowed down, which helps us feel awake and alert much quicker.
So back to that bit in the beginning about hitting the snooze and it's slap in the face to our productivity.
The two hours prior to waking, our body begins to go through a thaw out stage that gradually helps us wake up more easily; however, if we hit snooze, our body thinks we are returning to another 90-120 minute sleep cycle.
Physically we can wake up, but mentally the cortical region of our brain cannot. It will take our brains up to 4 hours to come out of sleep inertia when this happens.⁷
Therefore, the initial amount of energy that is required to push yourself out of bed will have a higher return on investment than the extra energy you think you're depositing by snoozing after the alarm rings.
Also, the small act of getting up when you intended to the night before, deposits a coin of discipline into your mental bank. When enough deposits accumulate in this bank, it translates into other areas of your life.
It will suck in the beginning, there's no doubt. But, if change and difficult choices were easy, everyone would do it, and we would all be fit, rich, and beautiful.
How Much Sleep Do I need?
The average adult needs 7-8 hours of sleep, and adolescents need around 10. Yet, like anything, there is individual variance within this generalization.
I know people who function great on 4 hours, others who must have 8 or they are major crank-pots, and some who are chronically functioning in sleep deprivation (6 or less) and supplementing liquid naps to make up for it.
Bottom line, find what works best for you. If possible, go a week without setting an alarm, which for many of us this may need to happen on a vacation, and see how much sleep your body wants based on when it naturally wakes up.⁸
Making time for a full nights rest is not only highly undervalued in our society, but also scoffed at. Yet, there is no out talking the science that has proven sleep is a critical part of human physiology that should be taken seriously.
Sleep is not for wimps, Margaret Thatcher, it is for the elite.
1, 8. Foster, Russell. Ted. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep.
2. Aguirre, Claudia. Ted. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.ted.com/talks/claudia_aguirre_what_would_happen_if_you_didn_t_sleep?language=en.
3. Marcu, Shai. Ted, Ted, www.ted.com/talks/shai_marcu_the_benefits_of_a_good_night_s_sleep#t-267995.
4. American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/sleep.aspx.
5. "Stages of Sleep - Non-REM and REM Sleep Cycles." Tuck Sleep. Accessed December 13, 2018. https://www.tuck.com/stages/.
6. Tassi, P., and A. Muzet. "Sleep Inertia." Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports.
August 2000. Accessed December 12, 2018. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12531174.
7. Robbins, Mel [VNV]. The 5 Second Rule: The Surprisingly Simple Way to Live, Love, and Speak with Courage. S.l.: Post Hill Press, 2017.
It's that time of year again. The time of year we all start realizing that we either need to rollover or refresh some of our goals and ambitions.
Why do New Year's Resolutions end up just being a nice idea for 92% of the population anyways?¹
Setting targets is easy, actually striving to reach them is another story. You know what I'm talking about.
But who is to say that this isn't the time where we overcome some hurdles, turn on some lightbulbs, get serious, and make sh*t happen?
Make Time or Excuses
The most common self-limiting statement I hear in the fitness world, is "I don't have time for that."
Trust me, I get the whole not having time concept, but let's be real with each other for a second, what you should be saying is "It's not important enough to me." Right?
If something is important enough, taking yourself or a loved one to the ER for example, then you make the time.
Okay, yes. I understand that would be an emergent issue, but what I'm really saying is that things we need to do, like eat, go to work, sleep (for some of us anyway), take the dog out, and so on, are things we always have time for.
These are necessities. Things we must do for optimal human functioning. Hold up though, couldn't we now argue that with all the research coming out on how physical inactivity is one of the leading causes of death due to its links to cancer, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc, that exercising is a human need?²
That we are made to move.
That when we don't move, our bodies start to feel gross, even when we have chronic pain and think that rest is the answer.³
But if it's not important to you, meaning you probably don't understand the importance of it (you don't have a why), then you will not make time. And real talk again, it will catch up to you in one way or the other.
So what do you say you and I make a deal? The first goal for 2019 (no we wont' be using the word "resolution" around here), is to determine what is actually important to us and why it is important.
The next goal, determine when this fits for our schedule. Many times we don't realize that if we plan our days a little more intentionally, it frees up quite a bit of room for things we say we should do.
More real talk, you know as well as I do that if you don't verbalize this to someone, or financially commit to something, the chances of you actually doing and achieving what you would like to set out to do is far less likely of happening for more than a few weeks.
That said, our third goal is to find the person or thing that will hold us accountable. You know yourself, what will keep you motivated?
I'll share with you why it has been easy for me to stay motivated to workout. It has become automatic. But, it wasn't always that way. It was one of those things that it would happen if I had time or energy.
Now, it is just going to happen like eating breakfast or brushing my teeth. That will be an hour of my day, which by the way is only 4% of your waking time.
As an athlete, and even a few years after, I dreaded working out. It made me feel tired just thinking about it, and I felt like I had to do it to stay in shape and not get pudgy.
I now look forward to and love working out. What's the secret? I get to see people I enjoy being around, I get to release some stress from the day giving me a mental reset as well as physical reset, I don't have to think about what I'm doing at the gym, I can just go and do the work.
During a very emotionally stressful time in my life, the gym was like my sanctuary. It kept me sane. Had I not been able to get rid of that stress, I can't imagine the horrible alternatives I may have chosen.
Long story short, the hard work there then translates to other areas of my life. Such a win, and it can be for you too!
Let's Get Started
First step, write out those goals, friend.
Next step, pick your form of accountability. I can help.
Third step, establish your routine.
Fourth step, persevere dang it! Don't give up after a week because it's hard. You're better than that and know it.
Fifth step, keep coming back. Leave me a comment below, start a conversation, ask a question. I would love to help how I can, for as long as I can!
1. Diamond, Dan. "Just 8% of People Achieve Their New Year's Resolutions. Here's How They Do It." Forbes. January 02, 2013. Accessed December 28, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/dandiamond/2013/01/01/just-8-of-people-achieve-their-new-years-resolutions-heres-how-they-did-it/#1487c797596b.
2. Carlson, Susan A., E. Kathleen Adams, Zhou Yang, and Janet E. Fulton. "Percentage of Deaths Associated With Inadequate Physical Activity in the United States." Preventing Chronic Disease15 (2018). doi:10.5888/pcd18.170354.
3. Geneen, Louise, Blair Smith, Clare Clarke, Denis Martin, Lesley A. Colvin, and R. Andrew Moore. "Physical Activity and Exercise for Chronic Pain in Adults: An Overview of Cochrane Reviews." Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2014. doi:10.1002/14651858.cd011279.
Author: Kylie Viens, RDN
If we think of our body as if it were a car, we know our car needs adequate fuel to start and get us where we need to go. Our bodies truly are no different, as they need optimal fuel to “go”—not to mention, thrive and survive.
If you were to think of eating as a way of refueling, and base your decisions purely off of how your body would respond, would your food choices change? What if you had no tastebuds and an infinite amount of money. What would you eat then?
Having a healthy relationship with food is a very important and not commonly talked about issue in our society. The following article is one Registered Dietitian Nutritionist's brief insight onto the topic!
It's very normal for me to hear from my patients that when they eat better they feel better, and science continues to prove this reflection as having much validity.
The answers to what I've asked you so far are fairly obvious, but we are emotional and feeling beings, thusly not every food will provide us with the same sense of satisfaction.
All foods whether they are nutrient dense or not, serve a purpose—some for nutrition, some for the soul, and that's okay!
The 80/20 Rule
No one has a perfect diet (even dietitians!); however, there is a rule that applies to many aspects of life called the Pareto Principle, or 80/20 rule.
This isn’t a bad way to look at the big picture, meaning that if you can focus on nutrient dense foods 80% of the time, and enjoy your grandma’s homemade macaroni and cheese or brownies 20% of the time—there’s a good chance you will maintain a healthy weight and lessen your risk for chronic diseases.
You could also think of filling your plate following this rule!
A healthy relationship with food most certainly includes our comfort food favs as it helps us be in tune with what will both satisfy hunger and our tastebuds. Further, it is not absurd to eat outside of physical hunger, or something we should be guiltily beating ourselves up about.
There are many reasons as to why we eat other than just responding to our biological hunger signals.
In terms of emotional eating, food will not fix feelings of boredom, stress, procrastination, depression, sadness, anxiety, and so forth.
Although a normal reaction to reach for food, it is important to find healthy ways to cope with emotional feelings outside of eating.
Listen to your Body
Eating should be an enjoyable experience! Unfortunately, the society we live in today has made that more than a challenge for many. Eating should not create feelings of regret, remorse, guilt, or questioning one’s will-power!
Physical activity, meditation, talking to a friend or family member, starting an art project, and gardening are just some examples of “outs” for people without pursuing food to suppress feelings.
If you are interested in taking your commitment level up a notch, personal food logs can be a valuable tool for assessing not only the type and quantity of food and beverage consumption, but also our feelings before, during, and after eating a particular meal or snack.
*I have no stake in the recommendation of this book.
Eating healthy doesn't have to be such a puzzle or stressful part of your day. There are simple tips, like the 80/20 rule and eating intuitively that can help you make good decisions in regards to your diet.
Adriane Horn, earning a Bachelors of Science in Environmental Engineering
We are currently living in the Anthropocene epoch. This probably means nothing to you but allow me to explain its significance.
The Anthropocene epoch is denoted as the geological period in which human activity has had the greatest impact on climate and the environment. This literally means that our geological age is named after how much we influence the climate and the environment!
Unfortunately, this prodigious influence does not mean good things for the human population or our home planet. Between the exponentially growing population and the constant demand for more goods and services, we are fast approaching the earth’s speculated carrying capacity despite major advances in technology.
It impacts the health and quality of life for people of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Like it or not, this is actually one thing we all have to fight together, simply because it is a problem we have caused, and deal with, together.
What is Climate Change
The Webster Dictionary definition of climate change is:
A change in global or regional climate patterns, in particular a change apparent from the mid to late 20th century onwards and attributed largely to the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by the use of fossil fuels.
We have all heard about greenhouse gases and how they trap heat, causing the Earth’s overall temperature to rise and the ice caps to melt.
Well, I don’t know about any of you, but I have yet to feel any temperature increases because I’m still freezing and it’s May.
That is because climate change encompasses more than the warming of the planet. It also accounts for the extreme weather changes seen across the globe.
Think droughts, wildfires, hurricane clusters, and so on. Climate change basically means that the weather we typically experience on an annual basis is on steroids and hits much harder than normal.
Why Should we care
Aside from the fact that the weather is more hot and cold (literally and figuratively), and can become uncommonly nasty, climate change poses significant health threats as well.
There are countless ways climate change can affect human health, but a few significant causes include:
1. Spread of disease
2. Poor farming conditions
3. Overall Quality of Life
With this in mind, climate change needs to be a priority for global leaders, and unfortunately it would seem Mr. Trump does not care enough at this time, let alone believe it's even true. Perhaps it's not good for business.
What You Can Do
As you may know there are countless things you can do to decrease your carbon footprint. Yet, the crown jewel of pollution prevention is source reduction.
Recycling and reusing items is great, but it still requires energy to break down and separate recycled products into another usable form. Therefore, reducing consumption at the source is really the best way to prevent personal materialistic pollution and also, indirectly, help prevent fossil fuel consumption expelled during the manufacturing of the product.
1. Reusable bags
2. Avoid packaged, processed foods
Help yourself and other people we share our beautiful planet with by implementing some of these methods. The world thanks you!
“Ditch Your Plastic! 25 Reasons to Use Reusable Grocery Shopping Bags.” ReuseThisBag.com, 30 July 2018, www.reusethisbag.com/articles/25-reasons-to-go-reusable/.
Earth Policy Institute. (2014). Plastic Bags Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.earth-policy.org/images/uploads/press_room/Plastic_Bags.pdf