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.