Supplements: Top Recommendations

First, before we get into talking about various supplements, I have a few notes: 1. They're called "supplements" for a reason. The bulk of your nutrients should come from eating REAL food. Most of the time, I would argue, if you're eating a healthy diet chock-full of lean meats, fish, lots of vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts/seeds, eggs, and the ilk, supplements are not necessary. I do, however, live in the real world and recognize that sometimes it's not always an option to eat perfectly and so supplements can prove a useful addition.

2. I'm not a doctor. Don't take the information provided here and start adding stuff willy-nilly without consulting your real doctor.

3. Should you choose to supplement, do your research! Most of the information in today's post came from the smart people over at They have a plethora of supplement research so you can easily determine if the product the advertisements are claiming you "need" is legitimate or a waste of money. Also research the company you purchase from- ingredients matter!

Onward and upward! This is going to be a two (maybe three?) part series as I can't cover everything out there-- nor do I want to since does a way better job than I could hope to do. I will mention the main points of each common supplement along with a link to the research page in case you want to know more.

Whey Protein-

- 1 of the 2 proteins found in milk (casein is the other). It is actually a group of proteins categorized by their water solubility.

- One class of peptides (protein structure comprised of chains of linked amino acids) called immunoglobulins are bioactive in the immune system (in various ways). They can help bolster immunity. For example, the amino acid L-cysteine is involved in glutathione production- which is an antioxidant the body produces.

- Due to it's high content of the amino acid leucine, whey will stimulate protein synthesis (making more protein i.e. muscle tissue). Best results are found when whey protein intake is paired with exercise. Exercise breaks down protein during a work out and that breakdown stimulates the repair process (aka protein synthesis). Whey protein is a natural fit, no? However, it doesn't stop protein breakdown over the long term, so real food is needed to provide a continued supply of protein post-workout. Real life application: drink whey right after a work out, then have a protein-rich meal a couple hours later.

- Note that whey protein on it's own doesn't inherently stimulate and increase in protein synthesis, meaning your body will do it above and beyond it's normal rate, unless you're currently under-eating your protein needs.

- While it does not induce fat-loss, on a calorie-restricted fat loss protocol, whey appears to enhance fat-loss and preserve lean muscle

- Three types of supplemental whey: whey concentrate, whey isolate, and whey hydrolysate. Concentrate is the least processed and can contain anywhere from 35%-80% protein by weight; though the general standard for supplements is 80%. Isolate is roughly 90% protein by weight. Hydrolysate is the most broken down (via enzymes and acid) to produce very small particles; it's more easily absorbed thus resulting in faster protein synthesis. Is this necessary? Meh, maybe not. It would be best utilized for athletes who are performing 2x/day workouts and need quick recovery between them.

My thoughts: I love whey protein. I use it post-workout, mostly because I don't do well with solid food for a few hours after a workout so it's an easy whey (pun totally intended) to ingest adequate protein when my body needs it. I will also use it in a pinch- while traveling or during periods of time where I know I won't have access to decent food. Outside of those times though, I relegate my protein intake to whole foods. And for crying out loud, whey protein does not cause kidney damage!

I recommend it to athletes looking to put on muscle mass, as it helps with that, and clients who are on a fat-loss diet as it can help preserve lean mass on a calorie restricted diet (and it helps keep you full).

Fish Oil-

- Contains the omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaeic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), typically found in fatty fish (salmon, cod, sardines etc) and plankton (krill). Not to be confused with alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) a plant-based omega-3 found in flax and chia seeds.

- Another fatty acid group, omega-6, is highly prevalent in Western diets (from things like canola and soy bean oil and all the animals that eat it). It's not a bad thing per se, but the ratio of 3:6 needs to be kept in check- the recommended ratio is 1:1. Unfortunately, the typical ratio is anywhere from 1:6 to 1:10. Thus, the recommendation to supplement with fish oil to bring that ratio back in balance. (Note: if you eat fatty fish 2-3x/week, you probably don't need to supplement).

- Fish oil is one of the most researched supplements, almost ad nauseam, so here's a run down on the benefits that have the best scientific support: lowers triglycerides, improves depression, decrease ADHD in children, lowers blood pressure, increases HDL (the good cholesterol), decreases inflammation (all over). Fish oil also has many positive effects on the neurological, cardiovascular, and immune system. They're way too many, so I suggest digging into the article.

- Notably for athletic performance, fish oil seems to have an influence over glucose and fat metabolism in muscles. What does that mean? Muscles use either glucose (sugar) or fat for fuel, fish oils seems to make the transition between the two substrates fairly easy. This possibly makes fat a preferential fuel during activity which will aid in fat loss(more study is needed).

My thoughts: I like fish oil too. I've been taking it for almost ten years now. My doctor was pleased to find I was already taking it when I started treatment for Lyme, and I believe it definitely played a role in keeping my body from utterly tanking when I started treatment. Given it helps reduce inflammation and improves cognitive function, it serves valiantly in my treatment protocol. While I never "prescribe" it to anyone, I highly recommend it as an overall beneficial supplement to just about anyone.

Vitamin D

- Fat-soluble vitamin, the body makes it from cholesterol and sunshine. It's also found in small amounts in fish, eggs, and fortified dairy products.

- Definitely attain blood levels through testing before deciding to supplement. Since it's fat-soluble, D will stay around in the body longer than the water soluble vitamins, which could increase the risk of toxicity. Most people are not utterly bereft of D, but do not have optimal levels, therefore supplementation is often recommended. The generally accepted safe dosage is 1-2000IU/day (though I've seen up to 10,000IU/day if someone is really, really low). You want to get D3 (cholecalciferol) over D2 (ergocalciferol) as it's more useful in the body.

- There's still a lot of research that needs to be done to prove conclusively some of the preliminary benefits of vitamin D. Anecdotally, though, I noticed an improved mood when I started taking vitamin D.

- Noted benefits: decreased blood pressure, decrease risk of bone fractures, decrease in fat mass, increased cognition, and decreased risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes. It also has positive effects on athletic performance and overall mood.

My thoughts: I was low in vitamin D and it made a marked difference when I started supplementing with it. I've heard the same from multiple other clients, colleagues, and friends who started taking it regularly. I don't generally take it during the spring and summer (since I'm outside a lot more). Given it's wide range of health benefits, it was no surprise  that my doctor added it to my regimen (enough to get to adequate blood levels) for Lyme treatment.

Whew, I think that's enough for now. We'll hit a few more next week!