Supplements: A marketers dream or worthwhile products?

Not so long ago (around 10 years) our protein, creatine and so on was 20% cheaper...

Due to the demand and growth of fitness related supplements over the past decade, it was decided at some point between 2010-2012 the government were going to add VAT to such products (wonder why!?)

But, are the pills you’re popping or the shakes you’re downing actually worth it?

Firstly, let’s define the word supplement. This may just be enough of an answer for some:


noun - a thing added to something else in order to complete or enhance it.

Quite clearly, supplements aren’t essential, they can however, enhance ‘performance’ - if you like. They may also be prescribed for those with a deficiency (this can only be done by a qualified dietician)

You can’t (and should never try to) substitute food for a supplement, neither should you heavily rely on supplementation unless your sport or field desires such. Supplements can be expensive, for very little gain, and if not used correctly can be dangerous! Some, are even banned in competition.

So what are the most beneficial and effective supplements that are actually worth investing in? If we had to whittle it down to 3, it would be:

Vitamin D - Now, more than ever, supplementing with this vitamin is of significantly high importance. Firstly, we’re not allowed outdoors to get it from its natural source (the sun), secondly, if you live in the UK, sunshine is very, very rare and thirdly, very few foods naturally contain vitamin D.

Vitamin D is essential for bone and muscle health and plays a vital role in our immune system. It is produced endogenously when ultraviolet (UV) rays from sunlight strike the skin and trigger vitamin D synthesis. It is also found in most animal products and fatty fish such as eggs (yolk) beef, salmon and tuna and can be found in fortified products such as soy, almond or oat milks.

Aim for around 20 minutes of sunlight p/day or if this isn’t at all possible, 10 micrograms of a vitamin D supplement.


Creatine - If you know anything about the human anatomy, you’ll know creatine is found within the body, naturally, where it facilitates recycling of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of a cell, primarily in muscle and brain tissue. It’s a compound that naturally occurs and stores in the skeletal muscle of vertebrae’s, therefore is found naturally in omnivorous diets (a typical steak can contain around 2g of creatine). As a supplement, creatine commercially came to fruition, specifically in the UK, in the mid 90’s through a company called EAS who introduced the UK to “Phosphagen” - Now, creatine phosphate is one of the most popular supplements on the market.

Whilst not essential (the body can produce and catalyse creatine through 3 amino acids: glycine, arginine and methionine) this organic compound is essential for enhanced muscle performance and the metabolism of skeletal muscle and supplementation will lead to a higher stored volume of creatine within muscles.

Aim for around 1-3g/day to maintain average creatine stores within the body.


Protein - The godfather of macronutrients. The holy grail of supplements. Any fitness enthusiast or gym-goers bag will have protein powder residue in its seams. It’s the most commonly consumed supplement and the most common and effective type is whey protein. Whey has a complete amino acid profile (it contains all 9 of the essential amino acids necessary for human dietary needs) and tends to have the best taste than the next 2 most popular types: Casein and soy.

Proteins are the building blocks of body tissue and they help to build and repair such. They can, in extreme circumstances also be used an energy source (although not recommended)

So enough of the nerdy stuff, do we need to supplement with protein? Technically, no. A well planned diet could ensure protein requirements are met. Consuming enough meat, fish, eggs, dairy and beans throughout the course of a day could ensure protein demands are being met, however, eating ALL of the above (and more and often) in a day can; A, be expensive and B, mean you spend all day cooking and eating. This is where a protein shake does become convenient, and that’s all they are, convenient, not essential. Your average whey protein shake will contain around 20g per serving where as 100g of chicken breast will contain around 30g.

Average protein requirements vary person to person and depend on weight and goal, however it ranges from 0.8g p/kg of body weight (maintenance) to 2g p/kg of body weight (strength/power based training) although studies have shown, protein consumption up to 3.5g p/kg of body weight is also safe!

So, a 70kg individual looking at maintenance would need to consume 56g protein a day, easily achievable through 2 chicken breasts, where a 90kg individual looking to increase weight and/or strength would need 180g of protein a day, the equivalent of 6 chicken breasts (not so easy)

But remember, a protein shake will often not have the added nutrients (both macro and micro) of a balanced meal!

To summarise. There are very few supplements we actually NEED! Even the ones mentioned above, aren’t essential in an ideal world.

Always think food first - aim to meet macro and micronutrient requirements by consuming whole, food produce!

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