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Do we need supplements in our diet?

By Darren O'Toole | In Health, Nutrition | on August 11, 2015

Supplements are big business. Everyone wants a quick fix and in the UK, and more specifically, London, where a large proportion of people are money rich and time poor, supplements are viewed as the easy nutritional choice. Of course they are aided by clever advertising invariably listing the faces and bodies of fitness models showcasing their rock hard pecs, chiselled glutes and six packs that you could grate cheese off. The small print which should mention that these bodies were achieved with minimal or no assistance from the product on sale is unlikely to register with mass consumers.

So are they all a waste of time? If I believe so, then I am a hypocrite as I willingly part with my well-earned pennies to stock up the titan that is Holland and Barrett. The supplements that I purchase will be discussed a little later. My true belief is that supplements have a place in most people’s diet. Recent studies suggest that the American supplement industry was awash with products which didn’t contain the main ingredient that it was looking to sell. Therefore my confidence in the industry isn’t quite as high as I’d like. Nonetheless, good quality products can boost your health and your performance.

Now this doesn’t mean that you now rush out and purchase the nearest Herbalife tub going. If you’re really really lucky you could even get to sell their stuff….. A joke amongst Personal Trainers is that if you want to spot a bad trainer, it’ll be the one needing to sell Herbalife instead of their own service. I’m somewhat inclined to agree. An aside, but the danger amongst personal trainers selling this product is that it is effectively a pyramid selling scheme. Yet our clients respect and listen to our advice regarding nutrition. Therefore our advice should be based on research and personal experience, not trying to make a quick profit at the expense of the clients that we should be looking to help.

A supplement should be exactly what it says…it should supplement your diet. It should be something that you consume if you are not quite getting enough from your regular eating patterns. The first question should be whether you can adapt your diet to avoid the need for supplements, but if you can’t, then their addition can be important. The supplements which I use to boost my health and performance are listed below.


Echinacea is an herb used to fight common colds. Echinacea seems to activate chemicals in the body that decrease inflammation, which has been suggested to reduce cold and flu symptoms and is believed to evoke an immune system response. The last thing I want as a freelance trainer and a running enthusiast is to get ill therefore this is a key supplement for me in the prevention of illness.

Branched-chain amino acids

These are essential nutrients that the body obtains from proteins found in food, especially meat, dairy products, and legumes. They include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. BCAA improve exercise performance and reduce protein and muscle breakdown during exercise. As a runner keen to not lose all of my limited muscle bulk during endurance training, BCAA are a very useful supplement for me.

Glucosamine sulphate

To prevent joint wear and tear associated with a heavy running period, particularly concrete running, I take glucosamine sulphate tablets. They essentially provide an additional ‘cushioning’ on the joints which can make a significant difference once you start hitting mileage of 50+ per week.

Protein powder

Ok, why am I having this when surely I can add more meat to my diet? I often use protein powder for immediately after a workout so to limit the breakdown of my muscles and to speed up their repair. I could absolutely go and consume a chicken breast instead, however following a workout; I crave liquid as opposed to food. Therefore with milk and water, I can begin my rehydration and recovery within just a couple of minutes of my workout finishing.

Prior to purchasing any supplements – whether they aim to improve your sporting performance, increase our fitness levels, lose weight or simply boost your health, decide: will this supplement actually help me? If the answer is yes, then your second question should be: Can I adapt my diet or eating patterns so that I can consume this in a better way? Only if this is not possible, would supplements be the best option for you.

About the autor

This blog article has been written by Darren O’Toole, founder and lead personal trainer of Dynamic Fitness Training. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram or connect via Linkedin.

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