By Laura Smith
Supplements are a multi-billion-dollar industry, and unless you have been living in a cave for the past twenty years, you probably have numerous supplements that you have bought over the years after being advised to do so by friends or family, or possibly reading some information on the internet.
However, there’s a smarter way to go about this and to get the biggest bang for your buck. How? By skipping certain supplements that are not necessary in the beginning of your fitness journey, or even at any point on your journey!
Let me make myself clear – calcium is an important mineral for bone health. Osteoporosis and osteopenia are two debilitating conditions, so taking care of your bones is vital. Sure, there are studies out there that suggest taking calcium increases bone density, however the problem with those studies is that they always include other variables such as exercise and vitamin D. An osteoporotic bone isn’t just lacking adequate calcium, it also lacks magnesium, manganese, zinc, copper, and collagen.
So, why is supplementing with calcium usually a waste of money? Calcium is found naturally in dairy products, dark leafy greens and sardines. In addition, supplementing calcium by itself doesn’t actually help bone density significantly, even though that’s why most people take it.
Calcium works best with other nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin K2, and magnesium. The combination of all these forms a stack, which is when supplements work together towards a common goal.
So, in my opinion, the bottom line is, calcium deficiencies are rare, and can be easily fixed by slightly modifying your diet.
Fat Burning Supplements
You may have heard of fat burners – the magic pills that can make fat melt off your body, like ice in the Dubai heat, right? Not exactly.
Fat burners are supplements that are designed with ingredients that MAY give you an extra boost to help burn fat, but they can’t replace a solid diet and exercise plan.
Fat burners work in a variety of ways. They can boost energy, help curb appetite, promote fat to be used for energy, and even increase your metabolism and core temperature so you burn more calories throughout the day. But, if you take a fat burner and then feast on burgers, pizza, and bagels, you won’t be seeing fat loss any time soon.
Even the mildly effective fat burners (e.g. caffeine) don’t make THAT big of a difference. Fat burners are also likely to cause side effects like sleep disruption (since most of them are stimulants). That can backfire, since poor sleep can cause overeating the next day, high cortisol levels and reduced recovery, all of which can result in lack of motivation to head to the gym.
All of the these side effects negate any small benefit that fat burners may have. Bottom line: most fat burners don’t have a great cost to benefit ratio.
Having low testosterone is not fun – it can cause issues such as mental fog, irritability, lower libido, lack of body composition changes. So taking a testosterone booster may sound like a great idea. But unfortunately they simply do not work.
Supplement companies may tout studies showing their supplements increase testosterone. However, keep in mind – too many people think that libido and testosterone are the same. Some supplements marketed as testosterone boosters can actually help increase your libido, yet make no difference in your actual testosterone levels.
Glutamine is an essential amino acid that has many roles in your body. It’s found in muscle tissue, so meat products naturally have high levels of glutamine. Adding glutamine to muscle cells causes them to grow.
Unfortunately, supplementing glutamine does not work for muscle building, because little of the glutamine ingested makes it over to the muscles. The intestines absorb much of it for themselves, so supplementing glutamine is actually really good for your digestive tract, but it’s not going to drive your muscles to grow more.
It should be noted that whey protein is also high in glutamine, so if you eat meat products and drink whey, then you are good to go and can save your money.
Bottom line: supplementing glutamine for muscle building does not work, however it does work for improving gut health along with probiotics and digestive enzymes.
The benefits if whey protein are in no way being questioned. Whey protein is a superior protein source that provides many health and body composition benefits. This is a true statement that I am not going to argue with. There’s loads of research supporting the benefits of whey protein and it would be crazy for me to try and deny that it improves insulin sensitivity, suppresses appetite, has a high thermic effect, builds muscle, reduces oxidative stress, etc.
So you may be asking the question, why have I included whey protein on my list of supplements that are not needed? Whey protein is often used as a substitute for whole foods, which can prevent optimal nutrition being achieved. This can result in a lack of macronutrients, micronutrients, inflammation, poor gut health, and decreased physical performance.
One of the most common issues we face is bad digestion. By this I mean for one reason or another your digestive system is not able to make the most of the foods you eat. One of the most common food groups that we are unable to optimally absorb is dairy and whey products.
Too often whey protein is used as a meal replacement, not as a supplement. Additionally, some brands contain cheap fillers, artificial flavors and added sugars, which again can cause absorption issues, poorly functioning gut and inflammation.
So, bottom line regarding whey protein is that despite the countless benefits, it should not be used as a replacement for whole foods. Until gut health is functioning effectively, absorption is a major issue and whey protein can make things worse. My advice is to start with whole foods and progress to protein shakes and drinks.