[Image source: National Geographic]
The dietary supplement industry is predicted to be worth over one hundred billions dollars and is expected to double over the next five years. Once only for the body building community and elite athletes, dietary supplements are now a common item on the shopping list for business people, stay-at-home parents and weekend warriors.
Dietary supplements are no replacement for a poor diet.
I remember asking an exercise physiologist at an institute of sport about taking supplements. It was in the early 2000’s when the industry wasn’t nearly as big but it seemed like everyone in my circle was taking them to be bigger, stronger and better at sport. This was also a time when I was training really hard. His response to me was to make my own. He said, “get a bag of milk powder and mix enough with water to make a cup, and combine that with a banana and a tablespoon of honey. There, you’ve got your supplement”.
I was a little bit shocked and a big bit disappointed. I wanted to take the supplements my friends were taking to get the results the product was claiming I would get. How would milk, banana and honey do that for me? And if it could, why wasn’t I already receiving those benefits? After all, they were already part of my regular diet.
I realised later that he was suggesting that no supplement would do anything if I didn’t have my basic nutrition right first. Dietary supplements are no replacement for a poor diet. They supplement an already strong diet with nutrients that might be lacking for whatever reason. Secondly, he was suggesting that supplements are not necessary if you are getting all the nutrients you require from your food, especially for someone who was not an elite athlete looking to gain that 0.5% improvement in athletic performance.
Dietary supplements can be beneficial. Elite athletes looking for a slight improvement in their performance or individuals with a nutrient deficiency, for whatever reason, may benefit highly from supplementing their diet with some key nutrients. Knowing what nutrients are lacking, if at all, is essential though. The body cannot use nutrients it is already sufficient in and any excess is an expensive donation to your local sewage farm.
Over the years, I’ve become more and more aversive to anything that isn’t real food. I’ve become even more wary of supplements this year since having to complete several Australian Sports Anti-doping Authority (ASADA) training courses. This is my responsibility as a National Institute Network (NIN) employee. That’s the network made up of State Institute of Sports (SIS) and Academies (SAS) that work together with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) to deliver high quality training environments. That training really opened my eyes up to how unregulated the supplement industry can be and the false claims that can be made on product packaging.
Part of the reason the network marketing style of dietary supplements is so popular, and to an extent successful, is that it solves the problem that many people say they have with weight loss and being healthy — staying on track. When you start doing something new, you are essentially creating a new routine. If you understand how routines work you can understand how staying on track can be a challenge when it’s new. Routines where you take something away, such as food, are the hardest routines to stick. However, routines where you add something, such as a supplement, are much easier to abide to. When you start doing something, it is easier to stick with it as opposed to when you stop doing something.
Dietary supplements can be beneficial. In most cases, that is elite athletes searching for a minimal but important improvement in athletic performance or individuals who are lacking essential vitamins and minerals and who can’t get those nutrients from eating real food. Usually there is a medical condition that causes this. For now, I’ll be sticking with teaching people to eat real food, including lots of fresh or frozen organic vegetables, coupled with regular activity and educating them on the psychology of their routines because as the saying goes, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.
Why have you taken dietary supplements in the past?
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