Supplements - Are they worth your money?

I used to take a lot of supplements when I was younger. I worked at a health food shop and spent most of my pay on supplements, including vitamins, herbs, protein powders, fat burners, amino acids, etc. I thought that if I didn't take all these supplements, I wouldn't perform well in the gym or recover well, and then I wouldn't reach my goals of being strong and skinny. The issue here was that I didn’t realise the effect the supplements were having on my body. I thought I was doing the ‘right’ things, giving myself the extra support it needed but when I reflect back, I probably wasn’t.

Whilst studying nutrition, I was taught to take this vitamin/mineral/supplement for this symptom. It was very much like the medical system today where doctors prescribe a pill for a certain condition. However, when the pill causes other symptoms, you end up taking more and more pills without actually looking at the cause of the condition you are trying to treat. People think that because they are taking supplements and not prescribed medication, that this will help resolve the symptoms but without looking at the cause this is not the case, and it didn't work with me.

My skin became very bad when I was around 23 years old. I had adult acne and it became progressively worse as I got older. I had fairly good skin growing up with the occasional pimples but nothing as bad as it was in my late 20's. At this time, I was taking a lot of supplements but I didn’t think that they were causing my acne as I thought all of the supplements I was taking were good for me. But in reality, my body actually had to process a lot at the time - all the nutrients, additives, preservatives, colours, flavours,  fillers, etc that are in supplements, and it was having trouble and this was showing up in my skin. All I wanted was to be thin and have nice skin but I didn't realise that my efforts to be thin by taking all these supplements was actually affecting my body in a bad way. Not only was it causing issues with my skin, but I was also diagnosed with Endometriosis when I was 26 years old.

A friend referred me to see Anthia Koullouros - a fantastic naturopath - who turned my nutritional beliefs upside down. She opened my eyes into how I should be eating (like our ancestors) as opposed to what I had been taught whilst studying nutrition. After doing an assessment, Anthia told me I was fat and protein deficient. I couldn’t believe it as I was having protein shakes twice a day but my body wasn’t absorbing it.

I stopped taking all of my supplements (except for protein powders as I thought they were good for me) and started to eat real organic whole foods, with lots of good healthy fats. Within a few weeks, my skin improved so much. The last supplement I was worried about letting go was protein powder and I continued to take it but my skin had not cleared up fully. It was my mum who told me to stop taking it, saying that it was affecting my skin but I was still worried about stopping it, worried that I wouldn't be having enough protein. Mind you the protein powder I was having was very pink in colour and had a lot of artificial colours and flavours (not very natural!!). I finally decided to listen to my mum and after stopping it, my skin cleared up completely. I no longer had to worry about wearing makeup to cover my bad skin, and I finally felt comfortable and confident in my own skin.

To this day (and it has been quite a few years since then!!), I don't take many supplements. I haven't touched protein powders (although there are some really good ones on the market now with good ingredients). My aim is to get all of my nutrition through organic wholefoods as I believe the nutrients in the food are much better absorbed in its whole natural state as opposed to having a supplement which the nutrients are extracted and put together.

Some supplements can be beneficial but we should not be dependent on them. Ensuring we have the 6 foundation principles as a good basis are essential (sleep, movement, hydration, nutrition, thoughts, breathing). The only supplements I do take now are:

  1. Fermented cod liver oil - to ensure I get enough vitamin D (as well as going out in the sun everyday). I used to take this everyday but now I take every now and then as I know my vitamin D levels are at a good level. I find it also helps build up my immune system and stops me from getting sick.

  2. Restore - helps to heal any gut issues by improving cell to cell communication in the body. I have noticed a huge difference in my body after taking this supplement.

  3. Magnesium threonate (I take this at night before bed to help relax my muscles).

People think that if they take certain supplements they can eat poorly but a supplement won’t correct a bad diet. Just like you can’t out-train a bad diet. Having protein shakes as a meal replacement is not sustainable and it is far better to eat whole foods to get your protein as the other components of the food help you to absorb the protein better. Protein shakes are also highly processed and have other additives added to them.

Having to rely on supplements or to think you need to have them to perform better in the gym is not a good idea. Some people believe they need to take ‘pre-workout’ before they train otherwise they won’t be able to train as hard as they like. But if this is the case then we need to look at diet and lifestyle factors, e.g. are they eating enough whole organic foods for the level of activity they are doing? Are they getting enough rest and recovery after the training sessions? Are they training too often without enough rest periods in between? Are they getting enough sleep? Also, what ingredients are in the pre-workout? Do you notice a difference in your training with the pre-workout compared to a session without it? Could other diet and lifestyle factors also be at play here? If you can’t train without having a supplement to get you through the session, then there is an issue. You should still be able to train hard without having taken any supplement providing all your diet and lifestyle factors are all in balance.

If I could have given some advice to my younger self working at the health food store it would be to eat whole organic foods and save your money. Supplements can be useful but you should not have to depend on them for the long term. You should be able to get all the nutrition you need from your food. Eat a wide variety of foods, eat a rainbow and rotate your foods to ensure you get a wide variety of nutrients. Make sure you get enough rest and good quality sleep, and move everyday. I find now that I feel better than I ever did compared to when I used to take heaps of supplements and there is more $$ in my pocket to spend on other things I love doing. I find that I can train hard and I recover well. If you need any further information let me know.

Let me know what supplements you take and how they make you feel.


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