Supplementation and Nutrition
by Alex Nanephosy
What are supplements?
Supplements are products meant to supplement the diet. They are composed of a variety of ingredients such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs etc. Supplements are most commonly found in either two forms, in the form a pill or a powder. For example, vitamin and mineral supplements are found as pills or chewable gummies. These types of supplements act as an additional source for nutrients. Vitamin and mineral supplements are taken with the aim to improve overall health such as aiding in immunity, digestion and, preventing chronic disease. You may also take a vitamin and mineral supplement if you are lacking in a certain vitamin or mineral.
Most other supplements come in the form of a powder and are often used in the fitness industry. These supplements aim to improve athletic performance, help with muscle growth and strength, and promote recovery. Common examples of supplements found in the fitness industry are protein powders, creatine, and pre-workout.
We interviewed Kristen Chang, an Assistant Director of the Nutrition and Dietetics program at Virginia Tech as well as a registered dietitian and ironman athlete, on her opinions and knowledge about supplements. When we asked about her thoughts about supplements, Chang says that she has a food first philosophy. Individuals should first strive to meet their nutritional needs through foods before turning to dietary supplements. She also mentions that many supplements can be replaced with healthier and less expensive foods that impart the same benefits, such as cottage cheese being a quality source of whey protein. She stresses the importance of establishing a healthy diet, where you get most of your nutrients from foods first before adding a supplement. Despite Chang’s food first philosophy, she does believe that supplements can be beneficial. We asked Chang what, if any, supplements does she use. She told us that she uses whey protein and takes an iron supplement. Whey protein contains the amino acid L-Leucine which promotes recovery. Iron helps deliver oxygen to muscles and tissues preventing fatigue. We then followed up by asking her, what are some useful supplements that can be taken, to which Chang responds that multivitamins, iron, whey protein, and probiotics are a few examples of beneficial supplements. Chang, being an ironman athlete, recommends that the three supplements an athlete should use are whey protein, a caffeine supplement, and creatine. However, she does advise that supplements be used in moderation, strategically, and safely. She also advises that you look at the dietary quality of supplements and look/assess your own dietary needs first before purchasing them.
Should you use supplements?
Before taking any kind of supplement it would be wise to consult a doctor first to assess overall health and determine any health issues. It is also important to know that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements. So, before purchasing a supplement, we advise that you do some research beforehand, looking for credible sources and third-party testers. Some supplements contain a symbol or brand indicating that they have been third-party tested by a credible source, containing the correct dosages and ingredients that are safe to consume. Vitamin and mineral supplements can be a beneficial addition to your diet and should be used to promote health by being an additional source of nutrients if you currently lack a certain vitamin or mineral. Supplements such as whey protein, creatine, or pre-workout should be taken in moderation and should be used to increase performance, recovery, and muscle growth and strength. A healthy diet should be established first before taking supplements, so that most of the nutrients you consume come from foods first before supplementation. Supplements should not replace meals. When taken in excess, they can cause a negative outcome rather than a positive one, so moderation is highly advised.
K. Chang, personal communication, October 30, 2020
Office of Dietary Supplements - Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/ExerciseAndAthleticPerformance-Consumer/
Office of Dietary Supplements - Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2020, from https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/WYNTK-Consumer/
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