A Beginner's Guide to Supplements
Friday, January 20, 2017
LifeTime WeightLoss in Paul Kriegler, coach paul, supplements

Our health is determined largely by how well we nourish our bodies with the nutrients needed to support our physiology – through our food choices, eating habits and supplement use. And, let’s not forget the important nourishment that quality sleep affords us too.

We know that poor food choices, nutrient deficits and living in sleep debt are bad for us. We know we feel better when we upgrade the quality of our diet and get at least 7 hours of sleep each night, but what are we doing to better nourish ourselves?

The vast majority of North American adults (and children) fail to consistently eat a diet that includes enough of the right nourishing foods (fresh/frozen produce, minimally-processed proteins, healthy fats, minimal added sugars or trans fats, etc.).

Even if we did follow a healthy way of eating, it would be difficult to meet our nutrient needs with food alone due to diminished nutrient content of top soil, non-organic growing methods and long food transport ranges/time that cause nutrient degradation, among other factors.

When using quality products, supplements are a safe and effective way of providing a consistent, convenient source of nutrients we need to achieve and maintain more optimal health – in addition to our efforts to eat well. The importance of getting adequate, consistent supplies of vitamins and minerals cannot be understated.  A review of the utility and safety of multivitamin and multi-mineral use in Nutrition Journal concludes:

“Most nutrients act in all tissues, and all tissues need all nutrients; therefore, inadequate intakes may adversely affect every body system, but with more pronounced effects in some than others.[i]

Achieving or maintaining optimal health is a process, and an often dismissed (or overlooked) component of that process is a smart supplementation strategy. In my experience, starting a smart supplement program is the easiest behavior change for the most potential benefit.

Think about it, to significantly improve the quality of food in your diet means your grocery shopping habits, food preparation and meal time habits all need to change (all are very positive changes, but require considerable effort). Why not incorporate the easy step(s) while you tackle these more challenging adjustments?

Where does a smart supplement plan start and end?

I’ve seen hundreds of clients over the years suffer from the bad supplement advice of big-box retailers or slick marketing campaigns – spending all kinds of money on the latest over-hyped “fat burners” or what have you while not even taking a quality multivitamin. Talk about putting the cart before the horse…

Here’s how I approach all my clients’ supplement strategies in three simple layers.

Fill in the nutrient gaps first.

Our bodies are amazing machines when adequate nutrients – vitamins and minerals - are available to support energy production, healthy metabolism, hormone production/function, cell repair, and immune function.  “Filling in gaps” means something slightly different to each of us; generally this foundational layer is the most important, but often least ‘interesting’.

High-quality multivitamins and omega-3 fatty acids (from fish oil – plant sources of omega-3s are poorly converted to useful nutrients by humans) are essentials for all of my clients without question. As we’ve covered before, our diets are often inadequate as the sole source of vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Due to a number of modern lifestyle factors (lack of sun exposure, high-demand/stressful lives, etc.) many people require additional greens, vitamin D, magnesium, and probiotics to keep their bodies running near its peak potential. (Note: magnesium is a mineral that takes up a great deal of space in supplements, therefore the amount of magnesium that fits in a multivitamin formula is often inadequate for those who need more.)

Foundational supplements are those which someone should plan on taking for longer than just a few months. Products at this layer are literally complementing your dietary choices, so I tend to help clients fit these items into their grocery budget. These are not to be considered ‘extras’ or ‘luxuries’. The funds for foundational supplements are created by giving up one, two, or a few unhealthy dietary indiscretions each month.

I caution you against “bargain shopping” for foundational supplements. You’ll want to take these nutrients in forms that you can readily absorb and utilize, and formulating these supplements to exhibit high absorption and bioavailability simply isn’t cheap.

Capsules are more expensive than glued-together tablets but they’re more effective and better tolerated. Active ingredients that are in the forms the body readily uses cost more, but it means your body gets what it needs without extra processing. We’ve also covered this topic over on our Core 3 blog, which you can read more about here.

Use some 'supplements' for convenience.

The next layer of a good supplement program includes what I call “convenience foods in supplement form,”  largely protein powders or supplemental carbohydrates like Generation UCAN drink mix or snack bars. You could make the argument that greens food supplements fall in this category too.

Items in this layer of your supplement plan may or may not be ‘everyday’ items, but more intermittent parts of your nutrition and supplementation strategy.

These items may involve a little bit of ‘extra’ cost in your plan because, if you practice excellent meal planning and food prep, you can get plenty of the right types of protein and carbs from whole food sources. However, we live in a busy, on-the-go world and it often pays off to have a super quick option for a nourishing protein shake as a snack or meal stand-in.

Next to taking quality foundational supplements, the habit of making a protein shake at your busiest meal time (breakfast for most of my clients) is the next easiest behavior to change that can benefit your health and physique. Common breakfast choices in North America are notoriously high in carbs and low in protein, which appears to be a poor way to start your day (unless you want to be on a blood sugar/energy roller coaster all day). Higher-protein breakfasts are known to improve blood sugar control[ii],[iii] all day long, so keeping a jug of protein powder in your pantry is a really smart ‘supplement’ strategy if you want to be healthy and feel great.

The only convenience-carb ‘supplement’ I recommend is generation UCAN because it so uniquely supports steady blood sugars. But technically speaking, it’s a food product, not a dietary supplement.

Consider specialty products based on individual need or goals.

The third and final supplement layer I build with clients includes what I consider “specialty” products: supplements that we choose to implement for very specific reasons and specific timeframes (generally six months or less). There are a few different categories of “specialty” supplements; ergogenic aids, therapeutic nutritional supplements, herbal and botanical products or supplement “stacks” or protocols.

Generally, these select products are recommended by a qualified and experienced health and fitness professional, based on careful assessments or consideration of your individual needs. They’re used for limited periods of time (just a few weeks or up to 6-months) before re-assessing your progress and need for further therapeutic support.

Ergogenic aids are products or ingredients that are specifically formulated to improve physical performance (strength, power, muscle gain, endurance, etc.). Anyone following a strength training program for hypertrophy (muscle growth) or strength should strongly consider supplementing with creatine and amino acids at the very least. A great combination formula designed to support these fitness goals is our StrengthStack Kit: Pre-workout Complex with Branched-Chain Amino Acid Recovery.

Therapeutic nutritional supplements are typically concentrated doses of one, two or a few nutrients that are intended to support a particular area of physiology for up to six months. For example, if your labs indicate low iron, you’d supplement with iron for a few months and re-test. If your blood sugar control needs support, you may dose up with extra chromium temporarily. Maybe you need to boost immune health with additional L-glutamine, zinc, and vitamin C. You get it; periodic use of higher doses of specific ingredients for a therapeutic effect.

Some herbal and botanical ingredients also show a great deal of promise for supporting our health and vitality. They aren’t nutrients per se, (vitamins or minerals) but these ingredients or compounds have been used for hundreds or thousands of years because they appeared to have bioactive characteristics that support health, resilience or performance – even before modern science could demonstrate how. We’ve only recently begun to understand how and why certain plant-based compounds support our physiology. In the right scenarios, these types of specialty supplements can help people change their physiology faster than diet, exercise and lifestyle modifications alone. Some of my favorites are adaptogens (a class of herbs/botanicals that support resilience), glycemic control compounds (like berberine or cinnamon) and inflammation modulators (like curcumin).

Supplement “stacks” or protocols are product formulations that combine any or all of the above into a system or kit like our D.TOX, GUT.FIX, or StrengthStack kits. They’re intended to combine several synergistic supplements or ingredients together into a more convenient system.

How do you know which of the examples above fit your needs? The best approach to take is to do some kind of assessment to figure out objective or subjective reasons to try adding specific items. Connect with a Fitness or Nutrition Professional for a subjective myZone assessment and consider testing your labs to see which areas of your physiology are in need of fine-tuning.

Address the elephant in the room.

Our members (and employees) care a great deal about their health, not just enough to simply try to avoid disease, they want to achieve their peak potential of health, fitness and/or performance. They’re educated, health-minded and driven toward the best of everything, including supplements.

The supplement industry is known to have regulatory gaps, and there are companies that certainly cut corners and market products with cheap ingredients to turn a profit, but that’s not how we operate, especially when our health is on the line too.

As THE Healthy Way of Life Company and brand, it’s Life Time’s responsibility to provide our members with best in class dietary supplements – supplements designed by us, for us, and manufactured by the best in the industry.

Closing thoughts.

If you choose to supplement, be sure to follow a smart strategy. I can tell you from experience it’s the best way to approach this often-confusing part of your Healthy Way of Life. Remember to keep it simple and methodical and don’t put the cart before the horse:

I can’t tell you how much this thought process helps instill a sense of confidence in one’s nutrition strategy; building a strong foundation, making excellent nutrition easy and convenient, and cycling on-and-off therapeutic supplements means that you’ll be nourished far better than the average gym-goer.

[i] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4109789/pdf/1475-2891-13-72.pdf

[ii] http://www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v39/n9/abs/ijo2015101a.html

[iii] http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/4/734.full.pdf


In health, Paul Kriegler, Registered Dietitian, Life Time - Nutrition Program Development Manager.

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.

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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