Let's talk about supplements for a little bit. I find that at the beginning of the year, like now, the questions about supplements run rampant. What kind of multivitamins are the best for my health goals? What should I take as a pre-workout to help me burn more fat during a workout? What shake can I drink in place of food to quickly lose weight? We are constantly looking to add in supplements to help us achieve our goals, but here's the thing - why aren't we focusing on what we're missing and why we feel these supplements are needed?
The definition of supplement is :
noun | ˈsəpləmənt |
1 something that completes or enhances something else when added to it: the handout is a supplement to the official manual.
• a substance taken to remedy the deficiencies in a person's diet: multivitamin supplements.
• a separate section, especially a color magazine, added to a newspaper or periodical.
Let's look at the second definition - a substance taken to remedy the deficiencies in a person's diet. That's what we're taking about here. And I'm going to argue that we often look for supplements to fill in the gaps of both our nutritional and movement diet.
Let's start with nutritional. If you're wanting a multivitamin, why aren't you able to get those micronutrients in? There's a good chance that you're getting you macronutrients of protein, carbs, and fats in just fine, but I'm guess that your diet isn't as varied as you need it to be and that is why you need to supplements. One of the main reasons that we need supplementation is because our macros are a bit out of balance and we're eating the same foods over and over again. Now, I'll agree that there are some things that really need to be supplemented - Vitamin D being one of those because we're just not outside enough to allow our bodies to make adequate levels of this key vitamin. But the rest? Look at your plate. Is it full of colorful vegetables? Or are you at least eating most of the colors of the rainbow each day? If not, start there. Colorful, fibrous veggies are one of the easiest way to fill in the gaps that we're missing in our micronutrients. And I'm not talking about down a few "veggie pills" - eat the food! Our bodies actually gain nutrients through breaking down the fruits and vegetables that we eat and it causes positive reactions in our bodies that supplements just can't reproduce. Then protein - meat or plant-based, you to need to make sure you're getting variety here as well. If the foundation of your plate are these colorful produces and protein options, then you're really off to a good start. Adding in a bit of healthy fats and whole grains as you body needs them is what rounds it out. Just follow the advice of the wise Michael Pollen - "Eat Real Food, Mostly Plants." You do that, and your need for these supplements goes away.
Now let's look at your movement diet. I get questions all of the time regarding what pre-workouts should be taken in order to get better results in the gym. Pre-workout drinks often contain 3 things - caffeine, BCAAs, and creatine. The supplements give you these ingredients in a very concentrated manner, but really, very few of us are exercising in a way where the supplements are going to give us any advantage to our goals than simply getting using food-based options. Both BCAAs and creatine are amino acids that we can derive from food, specifically meat. So simply using better pre-workout meal fueling strategies are going to give you similar benefits while saving you some money. Unless you're really looking to strength train at near max levels, or are performing endurance training that is lasting for hours, the performance and recovery benefit claims by these products just don't apply to you. Use pre and post workout meals to give yourself the natural recover and add you your intake of needed micronutrients. And the caffeine? Most of the research available suggests that a simple cup of coffee about 30-60 minutes before a workout will give you the same fat-releasing and performance benefits as the commercial options. Again, save your money on the supplements and grab a $1 cup of joe. Spend the savings on higher-quality meat and produce instead.
Back to movement. Many of us look at our bodies and our goals and wonder why we're not seeing any change. Let me ask you the hard question - how are you moving throughout your entire day? Our movement can be broken down into similar macronutrients as food - Cardio, Strength, and Flexibility. But in additional to these big moves, there are the smaller ways that we move that effect how we feel physically (the injuries, aches, and pains), and also how our metabolisms are functioning.
Most of us get the big 3 in, but just like our food diets, these movement macros are often out of balance and we are missing the subtle micro-movement nutrients that are needed. Maybe we're big on cardio, but shy away from any strength. Or we do strength and cardio, but don't spend any time of flexibility. The thing is that we need all three, but just as in our food diet, the amounts of these needed to maintain balance is going to differ between people. What I need in my macro diet is going to be different that you. However, if all I'm doing is spending the 30-60 minutes a day getting my macro movement in, then I'm missing a whole lot of other movements needed for me to reach my goals. Doing cardio for 60 minutes and then being sedentary for the rest of the day can really be compared to just eating chicken or just eating broccoli during your day and nothing else. You're getting too much of a good thing.
Instead of focusing only on your daily workout, you need to start looking at how you're moving during the rest of your day, and you need to change it up. Don't just sit or stand at your desk at work. Find flexible solutions that allow you to stand, sit in a chair, sit lower on the floor, walk, lay on your stomach (I get that this may not be possible at work), etc. If your work environment doesn't allow for creative desk options, move your focus to home and when you're not at work. Start moving to the floor to do things like folding laundry, watching TV, etc. Take phone meetings on the go with a walk. I will often use recording features for these walking meetings in case I need to go back and review something that was covered. Get creative. You need more movement that doesn't necessarily fall into one of the exercise macro bubbles. You need to hang, climb, crawl and roll. You need to watch your kids play and start incorporating those movements back into your life. As you do that, you'll see that your metabolism naturally turns on and does more because you're asking it to - you're giving it a reason to add fuel to the fire. You'll notice that the aches and pains of aging are so bad anymore. You'll just feel better and you'll have money to go try new adventures because you're not spending it all on a cabinet full of silly supplements.
If you aren't getting enough of these movement micronutrients, then you will need to add in some movement supplements, like Restorative and corrective exercises to help ease the deficit. But just as taking a vitamin signifies a need to increase your natural sources of a vitamin, corrective exercise (or the need for chiropractic adjustment, massage, or physical therapy) signifies that you need to adjust your lifestyle to include more natural sources of movement to fill in these deficiencies.
Here's the thing, movement and nutrition don't have to be hard. You don't have to follow a specific protocol or take a specific supplement, even though everything you read is telling you differently. Just be real. Eat real food. Move in real ways. We talk about the importance of being authentic, well, bring that over to your food and movement life. Live authentically 100%. I have some other ideas on this that I'll share in another post. For now, I'll just end with the idea of keeping your health real and simple.
When you start being pulled towards buying a supplement that promises an amazing health benefit, I want you to step back before you buy and ask yourself these 3 questions:
- What is this supplementing? What is the promise?
- Can I get this promise naturally through food or movement?
- Am I willing to venture down the real path and leave the path behind?
If you answer "no" to either 2 or 3, then move ahead with your purchase. Otherwise, stay authentic in your health. You can do this.
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