To Supplement or Not to Supplement?

If you have been to the gym or opened a mainstream fitness publication, you may have been inundated with advertisements of for herbal, sports nutritional supplementation products.  The term "supplements" is the more commonly used name.  With all that advertising, it would seem there is a shortage of nutrients in the world.  Or is there?  This entry has taken me  a while to write (and publish).  There may be some backlash with this entry.  I think it is important to be as realistic and sensitive to individuality as possible. This leads me to begin this entry with the question,

Q: Are supplements needed?

A: First, let me be clear that I am NOT a registered/licensed dietitian or sports nutritionist (yet) 😉 That stated, to answer this question within my scope, "no" and "maybe".

😳 Huh?!?

The difficulty in nutrition is the same as exercise programming. That is to say every body or in this case, metabolism, is different. To blanket answer, "yes" or "no" can be careless...some would even argue a form of malpractice.



My scenario to the answer, "no", is if an individual has access to the appropriate foods for him/her, this answer can apply. Supplements are supposed to be that, an adjacent aid when the proper food variety isn't available. I am not a believer in the soil is depleted to the point of needing additional assistance. I live in aggie (agriculture) land. I can reach out to authorities in the field. I keep flirting with the idea of doing the dietetics program through the Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA)  The IDEA is a combination of 10 Universities, in the middle of aggie land, (Colorado State, Iowa State, Kansas-Medical Center, Kansas State, North Dakota State, Oklahoma State, South Dakota State, University of Nebraska-Lincoln) working together to teach an online Masters of Science degree in Dietetics.

My point?  Though there may be a little depletion in the soil, it is not as dire as I've seen some marketing efforts report.  We are what we can absorb anyway...not necessarily eat.  I know too many healthy people that do not take a supplement and have "the look" of health (lean body). 🤔🍗🍏


In my "maybe" scenario, pending on an individual's lifestyle (athletic, high stress, little to no time to cook, financial budget), than supplementation could potentially be a helpful tool in supporting health, lean body mass and possibly athletic performance (if applicable). In accordance to research distributed by the International Society of Sports Sciences (ISSN), the supplements that have been proven to have a significant effect are,

Beta Alanine
Creatine Monohydrate
Protein Powder | (Essential Amino Acids - EAA)

As a non-L/RD, I'm not to sway someone to take anything 😳 We can give information to people as a Fitness Nutrition Specialist (FNS) and allow them to make the decision for themselves.

When Marketing and Science Clash

I do not agree with  certain advertising.  The main 3 are the use of "cleanse" and "superfoods" terms and the alleged severe depletion of farmland soil.  In reference to the marketing terms, there are no such things in scientific terminology.  Specifically, cleanse/detoxifications in medical terms relate to the functions of the kidneys and liver. If a "detox" outside of those 2 examples were occurring, it is most likely a stomach being pumped from poisoning.  Superfoods is a marketing term to emphasize a supposed medical benefit .  Anyone who chooses to eat fresh vegetables, fruits, protein sources daily would receive the same alleged benefits as these superfood products. The question is, will the person do that?  If not, then yes, you can see where a supplement could potentially be beneficial. Let's not kid ourselves with it being "super" though.  It is simply a replacement. 

Admittedly, I have been very strong on those marketing tactics. I understand the marketing strategy, as I've taught it,

1. Establish a Problem
2. Relate to the Frustrations and/or Empathize with the Customer
3. Have a Solution for the Problem
4. Make an Offer for Product/Service

In this particular case, if the soil is depleted, than here is your answer for what is missing.

For the record I am NOT anti supplement. I would rather see something more accurate in marketing. This is not to say the products are bad. I'm simply requesting more accurate advertising in what the products do. When enough attention to it is brought about, it can change. Case Study - THE DETOX DOSSIER

Always Question & Validate

I do believe in continually utilizing the scientific method and if something changes, a than a stance change should occur as well.  Case in point, though I'm not a fan of the word, "cleanse", the method does fall in line with the 5:2 fasting method mentioned in Dr. Freedhoff's 2018 review.

Informed-Sport is a certification program that regularly tests (monthly) dietary supplements for substances banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)  and confirms they’ve been manufactured under high-quality standards. Products that carry the Informed-Sport certification have quality assurance systems to ensure the safety and purity of their products. Not only are the products tested, but also the manufacturing facilities are audited to be sure cross-contamination between products is minimized or eliminated.

I have a food first mentality.  With that said, there can be lifestyle scenarios where consuming supplements can be beneficial (case by case scenarios). If you want more information on the products, I can send you the links.

The "Best" Way to Eat?  What Does the Research Say? 

The ISSN is the world's leader in providing science-based sports nutrition and supplement information. Our peer-reviewed journal (JISSN), conferences, and attendees are the key influencers and thought-leaders in the sports nutrition and supplement field.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition is the only non-profit academic society dedicated to promoting the science and application of evidence-based sports nutrition and supplementation.

International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Diets and Body Composition

  • Alan A. Aragon1,
  • Brad J. Schoenfeld2,
  • Robert Wildman3,
  • Susan Kleiner4,
  • Trisha VanDusseldorp5,
  • Lem Taylor6,
  • Conrad P. Earnest7,
  • Paul J. Arciero8,
  • Colin Wilborn6,
  • Douglas S. Kalman9,
  • Jeffrey R. Stout10,
  • Darryn S. Willoughby11,
  • Bill Campbell12,
  • Shawn M. Arent13,
  • Laurent Bannock14,
  • Abbie E. Smith-Ryan15 and
  • Jose Antonio16 
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2017 14:16

This is the study that drives marketers loco. Why? If the marketing is inaccurate (usually claiming superiority over other methods/plans), this study crushes the narrative.

Their conclusion - there are many roads to fat loss . They all have 1 trait in common, CALORIC DEFICIT. The “best” method for you is the one that you can sustain and be healthy with. 👍🏽

POSITION STATEMENT: The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) bases the following position stand on a critical analysis of the literature regarding the effects of diet types (macronutrient composition; eating styles) and their influence on body composition. The ISSN has concluded the following.

1) There is a multitude of diet types and eating styles, whereby numerous subtypes fall under each major dietary archetype.

2) All body composition assessment methods have strengths and limitations.

3) Diets primarily focused on fat loss are driven by a sustained caloric deficit. The higher the baseline body fat level, the more aggressively the caloric deficit may be imposed. Slower rates of weight loss can better preserve lean mass (LM) in leaner subjects.

4) Diets focused primarily on accruing LM are driven by a sustained caloric surplus to facilitate anabolic processes and support increasing resistance-training demands. The composition and magnitude of the surplus, as well as training status of the subjects can influence the nature of the gains.

5) A wide range of dietary approaches (low-fat to low-carbohydrate/ketogenic, and all points between) can be similarly effective for improving body composition.

6) Increasing dietary protein to levels significantly beyond current recommendations for athletic populations may result in improved body composition. Higher protein intakes (2.3–3.1 g/kg FFM) may be required to maximize muscle retention in lean, resistance-trained subjects under hypocaloric conditions. Emerging research on very high protein intakes (>3 g/kg) has demonstrated that the known thermic, satiating, and LM-preserving effects of dietary protein might be amplified in resistance-training subjects.

7) The collective body of intermittent caloric restriction research demonstrates no significant advantage over daily caloric restriction for improving body composition.

8) The long-term success of a diet depends upon compliance and suppression or circumvention of mitigating factors such as adaptive thermogenesis.

9) There is a paucity of research on women and older populations, as well as a wide range of untapped permutations of feeding frequency and macronutrient distribution at various energetic balances combined with training. Behavioral and lifestyle modification strategies are still poorly researched areas of weight management."

In addition, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, did an annual review of the latest trends in marketing. He breaks each one down in this article.

“Adkins” - No/Low Carb with calorie (kcal) budget

“Cleansing” - Low kcal consumption on certain day(s). In my opinion this should be renamed. Kidney & Liver are the cleansers. This method relates most with the 5:2 Fasting method mentioned in Dr. Freedhoff's article.

“Fasting” - No kcal consumption on certain day(s)

“Intermittent Fasting” - 16-20 hrs no/low kcals - consume according to macro budget in a certain window of time (4-8 hrs) | exact times vary |

“Keto” - No/Low Carb with calorie budget

“Vegan” - no animal products with cal restriction

Common Theme: Calorie Budget. Combined with lifestyle changes in physical activity, sleep,and stress management, sustainable fat loss can be achieved with ANY of these methods.

Am I Hypocritical?

I still do direct sales. However, I changed my method of doing so. If products are backed by scientific research, I share that info for potential consumers to make an informed decision.  Should they want to purchase what I do, I have no problem accepting a commission in this scenario. Welcome to the world of entrepreneurship while balancing the scope of practice.  At the end of the day, it is what the client can do long-term to sustain health that makes the choice, "the best" for the individual.

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