Peer into the locker of most professional athletes, and you’ll find a plethora of legal powders and pills promising larger muscles, speedier recovery and increased energy. Some of these magic elixirs even claim to improve reaction time and memory. Supplement companies make equally empty suggestions to the general public that may be even more egregious.
The supplement industry is estimated at a $30 billion per year. Because of their popularity in athletic circles, I’m asked which of these products I recommend more than any other question. My advice, as you might have come to expect, is to skip the manufactured, chemically enhanced, bottled and packaged substances in favor of real, whole foods.
In addition to being a major expense, supplements carry little proven benefit and sometimes side effects. For example the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate dietary supplements the same way they do over the counter drug, Essentially, the products we find at GNC and the like are not properly tested for safety and effectiveness before they’re placed on the shelves.
From the New York Times, “The FDA estimates that approximately 50,000 adverse reactions to dietary supplements occur every year.”
Even the most seemingly innocuous supplement, multi- or single-vitamins, isn’t needed by healthy adults. An article in the Annals of Internal Medicine summarized several studies:
Other reviews and guidelines that have appraised the role of vitamin and mineral supplements in primary or secondary prevention of chronic disease have consistently found null results or possible harms. Evidence involving tens of thousands of people randomly assigned in many clinical trials shows that β-carotene, vitamin E, and possibly high doses of vitamin A supplements increase mortality and that other antioxidants, folic acid and B vitamins, and multivitamin supplements have no clear benefit.
I fully comprehend that people love shortcuts. In the end, however, taking the time to eat appropriate quantities of foods rich in nutritional content like colorful fruits and veggies, organic, naturally-fed protein sources, and food from our oceans will provide all the vitamins and minerals our bodies need. Our systems recognize this nourishment as they have for ages.
That being said, cutting out all supplements is a difficult journey. I have cut out all supplements from my diet – except one. Meal-replacement bars are my easiest, most convenient way to find protein and calories on the go. I still travel with them at times.
During my teenage years, my father introduced me to the Clif Bar. This became a major dietary staple for me for many years during my baseball career. I’d eat 3 or 4 a day when I was looking to ingest as many calories as possible.
Today, I recognize how inflammatory sugar is and try to avoid it unless it’s naturally found in my food. Clif Bars have 23 grams of sugar and I no longer eat them for that reason. They are certainly better than grabbing a Snickers or Twix bar out of the vending machine, but that’s about it.
These days, the bar I eat is from a company called Advanced Athletics. It’s an acquired taste and they only come in two flavors, pumpkin and chocolate. These bars taste nothing like candy. In fact, they are not really sweet at all. They’re nutritionally dense, have no artificial flavors and are incredibly low in sugar.
If you’re looking to compare bars, they provide a helpful chart.
I know that even once we make the decision to transition to healthier eating habits, sometimes life gets in the way. During those times, I try to make the best decision I can within those constraints. My ultimate goal, however, is to find my way back to whole, unprocessed, real food. Let me know in the comments if you’re taking steps on this journey with me.
Gabe, Ironically, it’s Clif bars I also tend to go to when I’m on the go and can’t get a meal in. I do find them a bit too sweet. I sometimes will eat one prior to a long run along with half a banana to have some nutrition before heading out for a few hours. I’ve seen the AA bars but haven’t tried and they seem to have the sufficient amount of carbs one would need to top off the tank prior to a long endurance activity. And thanks for the tip on the hard boiled eggs. I always keep some in the fridge as my four year old daughter loves them. I will delve into them more often especially for post run recovery!
Gabe Kapler says
Great post as always. What are your thoughts on whey protein shakes in place of a meal replacement bar as an on the go option?
Gabe Kapler says
I’d try to prepare some real food like salmon or even canned tuna over the protein powders. But as a last resort, I totally get it!
Thanks for the reply. I think I rely too much on the shakes and need to make it more of a last resort and plan ahead more.
1) is the pumpkin flavor horrible?
2) the only other bar that seemed comparable was the jay robb bar. any input on that and his line of protein/products?
David Brown says
I would also like to know your thoughts on protein shakes??
What should you do if you don’t like the taste and/or texture of many of the colorful fruits and veggies that are best for us? Is there any way to get around that other than just forcing all of it down for the sake of being healthier?
I know you didn’t ask me, but when I read your question I felt compelled to answer. In my experience when you cut out the unhealthy foods in your diet and gravitate toward more healthful and whole food choices, your taste buds will adapt. You’ll begin to notice that foods are more flavorful and appealing to you. Don’t force down foods. Chew your foods and allow them to nourish you. Just my two cents.
I try to keep a bag of dried fruit and nuts ready for when I’m on the go. I’ve found the ingredients list in any bar to be discouraging.
Real food for real people. It’s really that plain and simple. There are plenty or protein and nutrient rich sources of food out there that there is no need to purchased processed preservative filled garbage. One essential element in the ability to eat whole foods on the go is to plan ahead. I make my own protein bars in fact. Many people I know make spinach laden protein shakes with tofu as the thickener. Some people find it easiest to purchase a bulk of food, prepare it, and separate it into containers so they are ready when they are hungry or when energy stores run low. How much of health, strength, and “looking good” do you think is related to diet vs exercise? Great articles, keep them coming 🙂
Gabe, 2 scoops of Whey Protein w/ 8oz of almond milk can’t be too bad for me, right? Given my genetics, I feel I only make the best gains and transformations when I’m at least incorporating whey protein into my diet.
I happen to love whey protein. I am very interested in trying to go with more natural sources though. Great advice. Love the blog. It is so much different from the advice that is typically out there
John Peters says
Here’s what works for me. Fruit early (preferably organic) – 2 oranges, apple, kiwi, banana. Plus almonds, brazil nuts. Then during day to hard boiled eggs, wild alaska salmon. Dinner – like Elaine in Seinfield – the really big salad w/ lots of greens, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, plus more eggs and avocado, salmon, chicken, brown rice, whole wheat pasta. Nuts and dried fruit all day to snack. I’m 50+ and play baseball and works here. (follow us on twitter – @londonmets2014 – UK’s largest baseball club)
BJ Kleibl says
Thoughts on One-A-Day multi-vitamin pills? That’s the only “supplement” I take and was curious as to your thoughts. Like yourself, I’m not a fan of said supplements.
Thanks for a reply!
I too have been a victim of the cliff bar as well for some time mainly from not knowing any better. I just put in an order for a box of each of the chocolate/pumpkin bars to give them a try. Thanks for the informative post & all around website.