There is no doubt that the modern day world of fitness would be very difficult to imagine without a wide variety of supplemental product. They are so widespread that it often seems that achieving your health and fitness goals is impossible without them. You have your weight gainers, fat burners, protein shakes, energy bars, and any other thing you can think of that could potentially help you achieve those goals more quickly or more effectively.
Surprising thing in all of this is that there is a great discrepancy between the number of supplement users and the amount of knowledge regarding their effects, benefits and potential hazards. In short, a lot of people don’t even know what they are using. Products are recommended via word of mouth, people go for the advice of any random dude with a chiseled sixpack, and every once in a while you hear a cautionary tale about horrendous side effects from continued use of this or that supplement. Shady manufacturers sell shady products and it is really difficult to see the difference between useful and harmful.
All the while, we keep being told by doctors that natural food sources are preferable to supplements, and that, whenever we have a choice, we should most definitely opt for food. Is there something wrong with this picture?
Over the following lines we will try and examine what are the pros and cons of supplement usage over natural food sources. The goal is not to say that one is better than the other, but to try and draw the line between healthy and unhealthy practices.
Convenience: one major quality of dietary supplements compared to food is that they are extremely convenient. Instead of adhering to a strict, time-consuming dietary regime, you can simply consume a pre-packaged drink or a meal that contains all the nutrients you wish to cover, be it vitamins, proteins or anything else. You no longer have to worry about eating at just the right time, making sure that you include all the right ingredients or that the food is cooked properly. Since a lot of people can’t find the time to stick to a dietary program, dietary supplements make for a great alternative to cover many, if not all of your nutritional needs.
Substitution: due to allergies or specific medical conditions, some people are prevented from consuming certain foods. If those foods contain various beneficial vv, said people can therefore use supplements to make up for a lack of those nutrients.
Enhancement: Using supplements as an aid for your workout regime can actually help you achieve desired results in a shorter time. The important thing to keep in mind is that you need to be smart about what you use and when you use it, to avoid any harmful side effects from untested products and avoid excessive amounts of certain nutrients which could cause health complications.
Misuse: Many individuals use supplements in an excessive and uncritical fashion, believing that they are a complete substitute for food. Using supplements in such a manner can not only leave your body lacking a number of nutrients not covered by your supplements of choice, but it can also lead to segmentation of excessive amounts of certain nutrients, which can further lead to health problems involving kidneys, blood pressure, etc. The reason why doctors recommend natural food sources over supplements is that they contain various other valuable substances besides the nutrients we are focused on. For a complete, healthy diet you should go for natural food first, and use supplements to address certain specific needs.
Safety risks: Due to the fact that the supplements are legally considered as food and not medicine in a large part of the western world, there is a pretty big “gray area” that allows various untested and unverified products to hit the market. As a general rule of thumb, when in doubt always go with reputable brands with a visible and tested track record. Also, be careful where you get your supplements. If you’re in a position to buy from retail stores you’re probably good to go, unless you fall for brand new “under-the-counter” products discretely suggested by shady characters. However, if you’re ordering sports supplements online, make sure that it’s a reputable distributor, preferably from a country with similar rules and regulations regarding supplements as the country you live in.
Placebo effect: While certain supplements have a long track record of effectiveness and results, plenty others are little more than placebo, promising things they simply can’t deliver. While over-the-counter supplements are generally safe for use, the question of their effectiveness is a whole different matter. Always remember that your health and fitness goals will be primarily achieved through dedication, commitment and discipline, and that supplements are there simply to aid you in your efforts, not to do your work for you.