Sports supplements are big news, with people drinking protein smoothies for breakfast, chugging sports drinks during workouts, and refuelling with protein after the gym. But which nutritional supplements do we really need?
The sports and nutritional supplement industry is growing quickly as our passion for fitness gathers pace. But it’s not just the bodybuilders, gym-goers and fitness fanatics who use sports supplements. In fact, it’s quite possible that your Mum, boss or next door neighbour drinks a protein smoothie for breakfast, is pondering the benefits of a greens powder, or take a handful of supplement pills every day.
Has it all gone too far? Or do we really need the newest products being developed by supplement companies every year?
Let’s have a look at the pros and cons of some popular types of supplements.
It seems as if everyone has a tub of protein powder in their cupboard these days. Whey protein is still the most popular and widely available, but you can also get non-dairy protein powders like brown rice protein, pea protein and hemp protein, as well as soya, egg protein and even beef protein. There’s no magical powers behind protein powder, it is literally a powdered form of the macronutrient protein. But it’s a lot more convenient and easy to carry around than a tin of tuna or a chicken breast.
Pros: Convenient, easy to transport, fast to prepare, offers a change in taste to savoury forms of protein, like meat and fish.
Cos: Not strictly necessary as we can get all the protein we need from protein foods like meat, fish, dairy, eggs, and pulses.
Greens Powders and Superfoods
Powdered greens, vegetables, fruits, berries and so-called superfoods are growing in popularity. These powders are packed with freeze-dried and nutrient-dense vegetables and other nutritious foods like berries, sea vegetables, grasses and fruits. They offer a convenient way to get a wide spectrum of plant nutrition into your diet in one go without having to buy, store, chop, prepare and eat mountains of varied veggies.
Pros: Convenient, quick to drink, covers all your nutritional bases.
Cos: The jury is still out on the exact health benefits, can be expensive, not everyone likes the taste.
Fat burners can come in pill or capsule form, or as a powder you make into a drink. The ingredients can range from common and natural ergogenics like caffeine, green tea, green coffee extract and guarana, to more unusual and potentially risky ingredients. In fact, some fat burners have such complicated ingredients lists (or feature proprietary formulas) that it’s hard to know what you’re taking. Fat burners are commonly taken by people looking to get very lean, usually bodybuilders or people influenced by the bodybuilding industry.
Pros: Can raise the heart rate and increase energy and focus so you feel more alert and able to expend more energy.
Cos: Ingredients aren’t always clear, can be unsafe, need to be careful with dosage, no evidence that fat burners burn more fat than caffeine and expending more energy does.
Meal Replacement Drinks
Meal replacement drinks, powders, smoothies and entire meal-replacement systems are popular as a lifestyle choice, particularly in the 30+ age group. The quality and cost of the drinks can vary wildly and the commitment needed from the consumer is usually high.
Pros: Can make it easier to get key nutrition like protein into your diet, convenient, needs very little thought, often leads to significant initial weight loss
Cos: No replacement for real food, can lead to deficiencies in fibre and key nutrients, doesn’t teach anything about healthy cooking or sustainable weight management skills
The Nutritional Supplements Everyone Can Benefit From
There are a few solid sports supplements out there that most people could benefit from. We rate them in order of importance.
Many people don’t eat enough healthy fats, either because they don’t appreciate their importance or because they cut fat intake in a bid to lose weight. Healthy, essential fats are important for hormone health, brain health and immune system health and can actually help us lose body fat! Fish oils are a good way to get precise doses of the important omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. We can also get these from eating oily fish, but it’s easier (and less calorific) to take a fish oil supplement every day. Quality is very important when it comes to fish oils so choose wisely and pay a little extra for quality rather than quantity.
Our bodies can only make vitamin D when we expose our skin to enough sunlight. This is tricky when we live in a climate like ours, and gets even more difficult if we work indoors, commute every day, or rarely get outside. Cover your bases by taking a vitamin D supplement. It’s a very important vitamin which our bodies struggle to make enough of without help.
Getting enough protein isn’t just important for muscly bodybuilders. We all need enough of this important macronutrient – after all, it is needed for the health and integrity of almost every cell in the body. We can all get enough protein from the foods we eat, but our typical diets leave us pretty low in protein. Keep a tub of protein powder in your cupboard and consider adding a shake to your day (perhaps as a snack or with breakfast) or stirring a scoopful into your porridge. It’s convenient, easy to store, and you can choose a flavour your taste buds will love.