By the end of 2012, the nutraceuticals industry, including dietary and sports supplements, vitamins, herbal products, and genetically engineered foods, grew to more than $86 billion in the US alone. The explosion of growth in this market over the past decade has coincided with Americans becoming increasingly health conscious and looking for a quick and easy fix to their health problems. Whether people want to lose weight, gain muscle, or just promote better overall health, it has become a common practice to take supplements to improve the body.
Due to regulation procedures, it is not always known what is exactly in certain supplements. Therefore, it can be hard to determine which are quality, beneficial products and which are overpriced placebo pills. I have had time over the past nearly 8 years to experiment with taking various daily supplements and have had my share of good and bad experiences. I’d like to summarize my experience with several of the major supplement types.
Vitamins: As a little kid, I always used to take the chewable Flintstone’s Vitamins, which tasted like candy to me. As I got older, my parents started to give me a daily vitamin that would better fit my needs as a growing boy. The types of vitamins I take haven’t changed much since I was a teenager. A balanced diet should actually provide all the vitamins and minerals the body needs, but it can’t hurt to take a daily multivitamin. Additionally, I have always taken vitamin D supplements separately because of the limited exposure to sun in New England outside the summer season.
Sports Supplements: In an effort to put on size for basketball season, my Dad got me my first tub of weight-gainer in the 9th grade, called Heavy-Weight Gainer 900. The 600-calorie per serving mixture of whey protein and high amounts of simple carbohydrates (over 100 total carbs) was meant to be taken post workout to boost muscle recovery. However, I ended up rarely drinking the stuff as it tasted terribly and I could only stomach it when it was blended with chocolate syrup. By the time I was 18 as a senior in high school, I started to work out more seriously with weights and decided to try the post workout shakes again. This time, however, I made sure to pick one that was better tasting, lower in total calories, and with a lower carb to protein ratio. Settling on Optimum Nutrition’s Gold Standard Whey, my experience with whey protein was much improved and I began to take the supplement on an almost daily basis. I find whey protein essential to my diet because it provides a convenient food source available outside the dining hall that provides extra calories and clean protein, helping me building muscle mass and recover from my workouts without adding fat. I have since cycled between this protein and BSN’s Syntha-6 as my two favorite protein products, both based on taste and quality. More recently I have experimented with taking pre-workout supplements to boost my energy and intensity while working out. I have taken N.O. Xplode, a supplement containing caffeine, creatine, beta-alanine, and several amino acids among other things, on several occasions and found it to be highly effective at increasing intensity. However, I was concerned about taking some of the ingredients in the supplement longer term and have instead just switched to a caffeine pill pre-workout instead. With just the caffeine, I have seen nearly identical effects and am less worried about unknown side effects.
Dietary and Herbal Supplements: Within the last year I have become more health conscious, primarily due to my parents’ health issues related to their diets. After an analysis of my own diet, I realized I wasn’t getting enough good fats. After trying several liquid fish and flaxseed oils, I decided the taste was too bad and switched to the pill form of fish oil and whole flaxseeds. The omega 3 and 6 fatty acids in fish and seeds benefit the heart, fight chronic diseases, help with inflammation, and promote long-term health. Unless you are eating fish and nuts on an almost daily basis, it is likely that a typical diet can be improved with these dietary supplements.
My experimentation will continue, as I plan to take a form of creatine on a daily basis for the next several weeks to see how much the supplement benefits strength gains. One thing I know for sure is that I will always be looking to improve my health and diet through supplementation. Are there supplements anyone else can’t go without?