Even if you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, you may still be deficient in key nutrients. If that’s the case, supplement with these important vitamins.
Multivitamins are the most common of all dietary supplements. They’re also one of the most debated. Why is there so much controversy surrounding them? They’re just essential vitamins and minerals in capsule form—so what’s all the fuss about?
- Magnesium. While clinical deficiency is rare, not consuming the optimal amount isn’t.
- Potassium.This is the most common deficiency, and not one that supplements can easily compensate for, since you need several grams a day. So eat your veggies!
- Zinc.Deficiency is especially common among athletes and vegetarians.
- Vitamin D.Particularly problematic for people who don’t live near the equator, or who are “allergic to sunlight.”
Protein supplements are often shrouded in health myths, which is a shame, as they have some advantages, from both a biological and a practical point of view.
Powders are the most common form of protein supplement, with whey being the most popular type. Whey and casein are both derived from milk protein (which is 20% whey and 80% casein). If you are neither lactose intolerant nor vegan, whey is an easy choice, for it is cheap and very anabolic (good for building muscle). Casein is more expensive, less anabolic, but more anti-catabolic (good for preserving muscle). Since casein digests slowly, it is often seen as the ideal protein to consume before going to sleep.
Whey and casein aren’t overly processed, which goes against the common preaching that protein supplements are “unnatural.” To produce casein and whey, milk is simply divided into curds and whey via an enzymatic treatment similar to the one traditionally used to make cheese. Casein and whey powders are just the dehydrated end products of this process. Unlike whey, casein clumps easily when rehydrated, which makes it suitable for puddings or thick shakes.
Whey and casein are basically dehydrated milk without the fat or sugar. By no means are they nutritionally balanced, so they should never constitute the bulk of your diet; but sometimes you simply need or want additional protein. Rather than yet another chicken breast, it’s easy to see why a protein shakeeasy to make, easy to flavor—is an attractive choice.
Ergogenic aids are supplements that provide a small boost at the gym, thus helping you shed fat and build muscle. A few proven and safe ergogenic aids you can use to test the waters are:
- Creatine,for events that are power-based (such as rowing or weight lifting).
- Caffeine,for both powder-based and endurance-based events (especially if you don’t consume caffeine on a regular basis). To help take the edge off caffeine and improve focus, you could use caffeine in conjunction with the amino acid theanine.
- Beta-alanine, for events that are moderately endurance-based, such as crossfit. This supplement isn’t as likely to have a strong effect as the previous two.
Another group of ergogenic aids is known as nitrates. Isolated nitrates aren’t found in dietary supplements, however, due to regulations against sodium nitrate in high quantities. So to benefit from the short- and long-term endurance boost nitrates provide, you’ll need to increase the amount of leafy green vegetables and beetroot in your diet. You could also find an extract (typically beet juice or powder). As it stands, some people have taken to shredding lettuce (high in nitrates, low in taste) or beetroot in a blender, and they drink the resulting juice about an hour before going to the gym.