Fitness expert, international athlete, Olympic bobsleigher, Gladiator ‘Enigma’, sports model and presenter, personal trainer and ultra-FIT regular Jenny Pacey answers the question.

What are supplements?

Nutritional supplements are ‘engineered’ to make up for a deficiency and enhance the metabolic functioning of the body – they range from multi-vitamins and minerals, to protein powders and creatine. Often they are purchased for weight loss, and muscle gain, however, supplements can also boost the immune system and assist recovery from injury.

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Additionally pregnant women can benefit from a vitamin and minerals supplement to support their increased nutritional needs. And certain supplements are recommended for specific conditions, for example, calcium for osteoporosis and iron supplements for those who are anemic.

Making the right choices

Millions of pounds are spent on the research and development of supplements and the choice is vast. So how do you know which supplements work and which manufacturer to trust?

1. Use high quality supplements:

All pills and tablets are not created to an equal standard. High quality supplements are made with better Ingredients, which equates to better vitamin dissolution and absorption.

2. Chose a supplement form which suits you:

Health supplements are commonly produced in solid form. However, there are other choices available, such as liquid vitamins and minerals, spray vitamins, sublingual (under the tongue) vitamins, gel supplements – just find what suits you and tastes the best.

3. Consider the research and scientific backing:

Look at the research behind the product. Scientific excerpts are published in reputable peer-reviewed scientific journals, such as the New England Journal of Medicine (www.content.nejm.org). If you’ve got the time search through the archives on entrezpubmed (the website contains thousands of peer approved journal citations – www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed).

are supplements necessary_2

4. Should you check with your doctor before using a supplement?:

It’s a good idea too, particularly for certain population groups, such as older people. Dietary supplements may not be risk-free under certain circumstances. If you are pregnant, nursing a baby, or have a chronic medical condition – such as, diabetes, hypertension or heart disease, be sure to consult your doctor or pharmacist before purchasing or taking any supplement.

Also seek medical advice if you plan to use a dietary supplement in place of drugs or in conjunction with any drug.

5. Ask yourself if it sounds too good to be true?:

Do the product’s claims appear unrealistic or over exaggerated? Are simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study to sell a product? Sound health advice is generally based on a body of research, not a single study (see 3 above). Keep in mind science does not usually advance by dramatic breakthroughs, but by many small steps, slowly building towards a consensus.

6. Don’t be drawn in by the ‘quick fix’:

Use your common sense and be prepared to train hard alongside supplementing to achieve results and gains.

Table 1. Selected phytochemicals, their sources and benefits

To supplement?

Don’t get drawn in by all the hype, ‘such and such’ a supplement is not going to turn you into Fitness models Eleni Plakitis or Obi Obidake genetics, training and determination are of more importance.

Additionally, and as importantly, you can’t depend on ‘pills’ alone to provide your body with the nutrients it needs. Supplements don’t contain certain natural ingredients, such as phytochemicals, the non-nutrient compounds found in plant-derived foods (see table 1 left). A rich, varied and healthy diet should form the foundation for your everyday nutrition, however supplements can give you that little bit extra.

Pay attention to what you eat, train hard and select the right supplements and you’ll maximise your fitness and/or sports performance.

Do I use supplements?

Yes, these are my reasons:

– To create optimum training gains.
– To maximise recovery.
– To fuel my body to do its best.
– To develop my desired physique.
– To support my wellbeing.

An athlete or serious fitness trainer should combine supplements with:

– A well-balanced, nutritionally sound diet
– Specific supplementation support, in order to reduce your personal deficiencies or assist your personal goals.
– The right training
– Adequate rest

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