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Supplements are More Than Nutritional Insurance

Written by: Tom Nikkola – Director of Nutrition & Weight Management

There is no magic pill that burns fat and sculpts you into model form. The advertisements for such miracle products are often intriguing and compelling, and Ameriance spend billions each year on them. Yet, in the end, their promises often fall flat. Never fear, there are several quality supplements that can complement a sound nutrition and exercise program, and provide tremendous benefit for many people.

A Nutritious Foundation

Our bodies’ cells perform thousands of reactions every day. For these reactions to take place correctly, we need sufficient vitamins and minerals. While foods provide many of these nutrients, especially vegetables, fruit, animal proteins, nuts and seeds, most people simply don’t get enough in their diet. For example, the National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance (NFVA) 2010 Report Card, revealed only 6% of Americans eat the recommended amount of vegetables each day, and only 8% consume the recommended amount of fruit. The data shows the average person eats 0.69 cups of fruit each day and 1.13 cups of vegetables. To achieve optimal health, one should focus on eating 9-12 servings of produce each day. A lack of produce in the diet means a lack of nutrient intake. Low nutrient intake is associated with 1.3-1.6 times increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease.[i]

Even those who do get the recommended servings of vegetables and fruit may not achieve the levels of vitamins and minerals they once would have. Conventional and commercial farming methods and the chemical changes to food production in the last few decades have significantly changed the nutrient value of the produce we eat.

With these realities, using a high-quality multivitamin makes a lot of sense. A 2010 study in the International Journal of Obesity showed the use of a multivitamin led to reduced body weight, fat mass, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. It also led to an increase in resting metabolic rate (RMR) and HDL cholesterol (good cholesterol). Individual vitamins and minerals can also be beneficial. Vitamin D, calcium and magnesium are commonly recommended at levels above what can be found in multivitamins.

Combating Inflammation

Low-level, chronic inflammation appears to be a significant contributor to heart disease.[ii] Belly fat has been shown to significantly increase systemic inflammation. Beyond increasing heart disease risk, inflammation can affect other areas of our physiology, such as our immune function and our ability to manage blood sugar.

One way we increase the level of inflammation in our bodies is through our diet. Many of the oils we consume, such as vegetables oils and fat from conventionally farmed animal proteins contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, some of which contribute to inflammation. Because omega-3 fatty acids found in fish reduce inflammation and are harder to come by, their supplementation is recommended to maintain a healthy balance. 

Evidence increasingly suggests the bacteria in our digestive system plays a significant role in inflammation. Avoiding sugary and processed foods can help reduce unhealthy bacteria in our intestines, but it’s also important to provide the body with a variety of “good” bacteria. That’s why probiotics have become a popular supplement choice. You can read more about probiotics here.

Managing Stress

It’s hard to find someone today who doesn’t feel stressed out. Managing lifestyle factors, diet, getting enough exercise and sleep all play important roles in reducing stress levels. There is not a pill to solve the issues surrounding consistently high levels of stress, but there are supplements many people find to be helpful in its management. Some common supplements used for supporting stress management include Relora, 5-HTP or melatonin.

Some people find benefits with stress from herbs called adaptogens, herbs that have been shown to help individuals “adapt” to varying levels of stress. Though herbs are not used as commonly in the United States, they've been part of alternative medicine in many countries for thousands of years. Some of these include ginseng, cordyceps and rhodioloa rosea. However, as helpful as these supplements may be, they do not make the stress go away. If stress is really impacting an individual’s quality of life, it’s important to work with a professional counselor or coach to make lifestyle changes. Of course, it's importnat to discuss the use of any herbal therapy with a licensed professional, and avoid them when pregnant, using certain medications or facing certain health problems.

Enhancing Performance

Aside from enhancing general health, some supplements have been shown to help decrease fatigue, increase strength and power, increase the use of fat (and conserve glycogen) and enhance recovery. Some proven supplements include creatine monohydrate, caffeine (when used appropriately), protein and amino acids and pure glucose. However, people respond differently to performance-enhancing supplements. Even creatine, which is one of the most-researched and well-proven performance enhancing supplements has about a 70% response rate, meaning about 30% of people who use creatine will not notice a difference.

When deciding on the right product, it’s important to understand the purpose of the supplement, your own goals and needs, and get the support of a registered dietitian or sports nutritionist with plenty of knowledge in sports performance.

Supporting Weight Management

Weight management supplements might be among the most popular supplement category in the United States, at least from an advertising standpoint. It's hard to pick up a magazine of watch a late-nigh show without coming across several advertismenets for weight loss pills. Weight management requires more than just a boost in metabolism, though. When an individual's diet and exercise program are dialed in, supplements can play a role in supporting weight loss through other means. Some are geared toward better blood-sugar management, others target better control of cravings. Still others may indirectly support weight management by reducing inflammation or supporting healthy stress levels as mentioned above. To go through each individual supplement would require a significant amount of space, so we'll cover those in the future.

High-Quality Supplements

If you're considering using nutritional supplements to support your health and fitness program, be sure to check with a nutritionist, registered dietitian or physician trained in nutrition and nutritional supplements. If you're ready to start shopping for supplement, remember that you get what you pay for, and there are pleny of low-quality, ineffective products on the market.

The question is often asked about the products we carry at Life Time Fitness about the quality of our own products and the other brands we carry. These articles are intended for education, and not to promote Life Time products, but since the question is often asked, it's worth mentioning here. We're very selective with who we have manufacture our products, and are proud to say our nutritional supplements are made by Douglas Labs / Alcrea and Thorne Research. Douglas and Thorne are well-known for their product quatliy and testing procedures. It's important to us that our customers and members can feel secure in the Life Time Fitness products.

Aside from the Life Time Fitness products, we chose to add professional products like DaVinci Labs, Douglas Labs, Thorne Research and Vinco because of their oustanding brand reputations. We also added First Endurance as a sports performance line becasue of their reputation among professional endurance athletes. You can learn more about these products by talking with a fitness professional or checking out their respective websites.  


To cover all of the nutritional supplements available to enhance weight management, performance and longevity goals without creating a whole book. Achieving any of those goals should revolve around sound nutrition, exercise and lifestyle behaviors.

There are many nutritional supplements available. Overall, nutritional supplements are safe, especially when you look at products created from reputable brands and manufactured at high-quality facilities. Like most things, you get what you pay for. If products make promises that seem too good to be true, they probably are. As mentioned above, you really do get what you pay for as well. It’s always recommened to check with a physician, especially if you have any medical issues, and look for an experienced registered dietitian before you supplement your nutrition plan.

Share your thoughts and comments below.

See also:         Food Is More Than Just Calories "In"

                        Exercise Is More Than Just Calories “Out

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.

[i] World Health Federation. Low Vitamin And Mineral Levels Increase Risk of Cardiovascular Disease. Medical News Today. 18 Jun 2010.

[ii] American Heart Association. Inflammation, Heart Disease and Stroke: The Role of C-Reactive Protein. AHA Website.

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