The other day Kyle and I were approached by a guy in the gym, who had a “few questions” for us regarding nutrition and training. He outlined his nutrition, and told us what his goals were, and asked for some feedback. The first thing we both said was “cut down on your protein shakes!” He fought us, giving all these excuses as to why he needs to rely on drinks throughout the day, but our answer remained the same – they’ll never match the benefits you’ll get from eating REAL FOOD. Side note: if you already have the answer set in your mind, don’t bother asking someone else’s opinion – regardless of if they appear to know exactly what they’re talking about. Don’t waste their time fighting just to try and get them to say what you want to hear. Especially mid-workout, at four weeks from a competition.
Anyhow, I’m a firm believer in the fact that supplements are purely that – SUPPLEMENTS to a strong, balanced diet. I guess I should be totally clear on what I mean by “supplements”. Any product you can buy from a health and nutrition store which is aimed at improving athletic performance or body composition (e.g., muscle building) falls into this category. To me, vitamins fall into a different category (even though they’re technically health supplements), for the simple fact that they aren’t viewed as a performance booster, and aren’t as misused in that sense.
Do I use supplements? Definitely! Do I overuse them? Definitely NOT. During both the on and off season, I include one protein shake a day. That’s it – just one. Outside of that, I eat five complete meals a day, each with the right balance of protein, carbs, and fat for my specific goal.
What’s the problem with drinking most of your meals? Your body isn’t working for those nutrients. Protein powder is easily digestible, which makes it a great post-workout supplement to give your muscles exactly what they need quickly. BUT, it also means that your body doesn’t have to do much work to process and use it – giving your metabolism a break. Eating real food kicks your metabolism into action and makes your digestive system work for the nutrients, which is important for everyone.
Additionally, protein powders aren’t complete sources of nutrition – they’ve got some carbs and fat (very little of both), and that’s it. When you eat a meal, you’re getting a complete mix of protein, carbs, fat, and a huge variety of vitamins and minerals – both of which are vital to your overall health. Also, be aware of the sugar content in your protein – the highly flavoured ones can have a lot of sugar or artificial sweeteners in them.
Protein bars are another issue. I totally get the fact that they usually taste amazing (um, Quest Bars?? I could totally live off those), and they’re so convenient. But, do you know what’s in them? The majority of store-bought bars are loaded with preservatives, sweeteners, fat, and other junk. My suggestion if you’re in a situation where you’ll need them – make your own. They’re so easy, and you can control what goes into them to make them as healthy as possible (see my recipe page for my go-to bar). But if you’re going to buy them, stick to Quest Bars – by far the cleanest option on the market. And don’t eat them every day, or a few a day. Again, see above about eating real food instead.
Outside of protein supplements, I use a few other products to help my body in terms of muscle growth and recovery specific to my goals. However, prior to training for competitions, I didn’t use anything. I think that those who exercise for general health purposes are set with a proper meal plan and don’t need to rely on using anything else. Athletes who train at high intensities, frequently throughout the week, have very different needs. Keep in mind that supplements are expensive – if you don’t need them, save yourself the money!
Finally, taking vitamin supplements are a good idea if your diet is restricted in any way. During my off-season I don’t take anything (save myself the money, and it’s one less thing to remember), but on-season I slowly add more to my list as my meal plan changes and becomes more strict. I know what nutrients I’m falling short on though, so I can supplement appropriately. If you’re unsure if you need to be taking anything, you need to discuss this with your physician.
As always, thanks for reading! I hope this helped at least a little, or gave you something to think about. Have a healthy day!