There are many different supplements marketed as performance enhancers in the world of sports nutrition. With athletes trying to find an edge, and opportunistic companies selling the latest fad ingredients, it is very difficult to discern what natural substances are supported by sound scientific evidence and which ones are the flavor of the month. The reality is that many of these “natural” products have little or no evidence supporting their effectiveness or safety. At worst, they may be adulterated with dangerous and banned substances. Despite the pit falls in the world of sports nutrition, good evidence is emerging to show
Delving into the world of nutritional supplements can seem like a daunting task. With so many options available, knowing where to begin can be difficult. The reality is that supplementation is not a one size fits all, and like anything we must assess our needs before jumping into a regime of nutrients, and vitamins, and adaptogens.
So how do you create the best supplement routine for yourself? These ABC’s of supplementation can help you get started.
- Assessment: It’s best to work with a qualified health care practitioner for a thorough assessment. Ideally, we would be getting most nutrients from our diet. Eating whole foods with bright colored vegetables. However, many people have restrictive diets, for religious reasons or other health concerns, which means certain food groups and their related nutrients may be missing. We need to consider our current state of health and what our health goals are. Do you already have a health condition that would cause a deficiency, dysregulation, or requires medications that also cause symptoms? Do you have genetic or lifestyle predispositions that increase risks of developing certain conditions? This can change the composition, dose and duration of your supplementation regime.
- Building: Begin by identifying long term vs short term supplements. This will depend on in you are taking a therapeutic or preventative strategy. Try to choose supplements with ingredients that will help manage your symptoms and also the underlying cause of the symptoms. For example, many natural sleep aids are designed to help you fall asleep but few help reset the circadian rhythm which may be causing insomnia. If it’s not clear make sure you do the research. Make sure the supplements selected are at the right dose. For prevention or treatment, the dose should be at least 100% of the daily value, meaning it’s comparable to what you should be getting from a well-balanced diet. Look for active forms particularly in B vitamins. Ask for absorbable forms from the minerals such as magnesium. This makes it easier to get all the nutrients from the multivitamin instead of excreting them right away. Determine which should be taken with food (like probiotics and omega 3’s) and which should be taken away from food (iron supplements). Make sure there are no interactions with current medications i.e., don’t take probiotics at the same time as antibiotics.
- Consistency: Supplementation can be a slow but steady path to better health. Particularly when we are re-establishing a long-lost homeostasis. So a single dose is often not going to cause a huge shift. Consistency is key- take the supplements at the right times (with or without food depending on the nutrients) and in the correct delivery mechanisms (softgels, capsules, or delayed release), You need to commit to regularly taking supplements for the recommended time frame or you may not get the most benefit. To optimise compliance, try the following:
- Get a tracker. Whether it’s an app or you track it in your bullet journal, create a schedule for yourself. Seeing it written down is incredibly helpful.
- If you miss a dose don’t scrap the whole program. Depending on the supplement you can either just add it to the next dose, or take it when you do remember but compromise the absorption somewhat. The point is that it’s better in your body than in the bottle. We don’t need to throw the kitchen sink out when there is a small leak. Don’t give up!
- Know when you need to stop. I see patients make the mistake of not checking back in and seeing if symptoms and causes resolve or thinking they need to be on a supplement forever. Supplementation is just that, an adjunct or kickstart to an endogenous (or an inherent) process in your body. Often, after we right an imbalance we can reassess and see if we still need to keep taking it, or if perhaps there is benefit to be had from a different supplement.