Odds are good that if you’re a regular gym-goer, you have a blender bottle stashed in your bag. I mean, who doesn’t like vigorously shaking that clear bottle post workout, it’s kind of therapeutic. But, I thought it might be good to take a moment to dig deeper into the topic of supplementation and whether or not it’s right for you.
Start by asking, why are you consuming the supplements you currently take. Be honest too. Did you start because you saw a badass at your gym knocking some back? Or perhaps you saw a Games athlete post a glowing endorsement on their instagram about some product they claim is the secret to their success. Maybe it’s just a vague notion that “it’s good for you.”
And maybe that last one is true, but the thing is, I’m not sure that most people make the connection between their supplements and their diet. The reason it’s called “supplementing” in the first place, is because we’re supposed to be using these magical neon pink and green elixirs to augment our dietary intake.
Creatine… protein… omega 3 fatty acids… all are found in everyday foods. So, should you be supplementing with the substances? Well, the answer is, it’s entirely dependent on your current diet, your goals and your activity level.
What’s appropriate for the 20 year old CF monster isn’t necessarily good for the 40 year old mom looking to loose a little weight.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-supplementation. I am actually a big proponent of supplements (in fact, the picture below is from my pantry). However, I think as a whole, supplements are over prescribed and over used.
Whatever your reason for starting the supplements that you’re currently taking, you probably see them as a shortcut of sorts; perhaps to improved body composition or maybe to enhanced performance.
I’m not saying that those that go straight for the supplements are lazy… quite the opposite. I see them in the gym leaving their blood, sweat and tears out on the vulcanized rubber matting 4 or 5 times a week.
In fact, I think it’s really interesting that this “shortcut mentality” is much more pronounced when it comes to nutrition and supplementation. For exercise, newbies walk into the gym and see people snatching big weights, stringing together muscle ups and they say to me “I’ll never be able to do this.” The idea of a shortcut doesn’t even enter their mind.
With nutrition though, people easily fall into the trap of: 1) supplementing without regard to the rest of their diet 2) attempting to “out supplement” their bad diet or 3) joining the pack mentality and supplementing because everyone else is doing it.
Take protein for example, does it really make sense to supplement with protein if you have no clue how much of the macronutrient you’re getting daily through your regular diet?
The pharmaceutical industry and Western medicine probably play a large role in the development of this mentality. Within our society the notion of popping pills to treat symptoms is pervasive. Why clean up my lifestyle to treat my high cholesterol when I can just knock back a statin? Shortcut, right?
Whatever the case may be, if you’re currently supplementing, ask yourself this, what is the exact purpose of what you’re consuming? Is your answer generic or do you have very specific reasons? Spend some time thinking about this and truly being honest with yourself.
It’s my opinion that people need to retire their blender bottles until they’ve put in the work to get their diet in order. What does your diet look like right now? If the answer is, “I eat pretty clean” or “I’m Paleo” we’ve probably got some work to do before you’ve earned those supps. I guarantee getting your diet dialed in sans supplements will provide you much faster and sustainable progress toward attaining your goals.
Think of supplementing as a way to amplify the effects of a good diet.
What to Do
If you’re still with me, you probably want to know how to begin the journey of dialing in your diet. The first step is building a stronger awareness of what you consume. Have you ever tracked your intake for an extended period? So much information can be gleaned from a comprehensive food log. If you’ve never done this, it is eye opening. I find most people that tell me they eat fairly clean retract that statement after tracking.
What do we get out of tracking? In addition to building a dataset of daily calories and macronutrient breakdowns, we can also assess the quality of food consumed and how frequent the occasional cheat truly is. You’ll learn how much protein you’re taking in daily and then be able to determine whether or not supplementing makes sense.
Bonus points to those that track their energy levels and general state of being along with their food. Have you ever had an incredible workout where you seem to perform with superhuman levels compared to your normal ability? What meals give you indigestion? Do you find yourself with subpar energy levels occasionally?
All of this can usually be tied back into your diet, exercise, sleep and stress. Most of us are pretty good about tracking our exercise, but don’t consider these other factors. That is the reason that I propose you begin your road to improved health, body composition and performance today, by tracking your intake for one week.
Lucky for you, this has never been easier than it is today. Gone are the days of looking up the number of carbs in an a small apple in some enormous food catalog. Today, apps exist that directly scan the bar code on your produce or other foods and automatically log calories along with macronutrient breakdown. There are a few options, but I recommend myfitnesspal. You can use their website, their app or some combination of the two.
What are we looking for? That’s a post for another day, but just one note on this topic… most people are going to want to ignore the built in suggestions within myfitnesspal… we’re using that tool just for the data it provides not for dietary guidelines.
Supplements can be a very powerful tool. I regularly recommend them to people my clients. I simply feel it’s important to get your affairs in order with your whole food diet first. In fact, I’ve already discussed supplementing with things like creatine on this site and there will be many supplementation posts to come. Just promise me you refer to this post before rolling up to the gym with 14 tupperwares housing your pre-WO, mid-WO and post-WO concoctions.
If you take my challenge and log your food for a week, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about what you learned from the experience. Good luck!