I got a lot of comments other day making me realize that I should blog more on supplements. I also need to do a better job explaining how they work. Using examples is often the easiest way explain things so today we’ll showcase the rising popularity of vitamin D as an example of why to take supplements.
The curious case of vitamin D is very simple. To live healthily our bodies require a certain amount of a bunch of nutrients. It’s pretty resilient, and can make do without things for a surprisingly long time but, at some point health begins to diminish without your vitals. Enter vitamin D, a “fat soluble” (meaning we can store it in our fat tissue) vitamin that’s essential for life and once was pretty much impossible to be deficient in since we get it from sunlight. All we have to do is spend a little time outdoors, soak up a few rays, and we’re golden.
There haven’t been many vitamin D famines in history. Historically you didn’t need to worry about it unless you were in a medieval prison, in which case you probably had more pressing matters. Even in cultures where the sun is gone for much of the year we were fine because we can store vitamin D in our fat cells. Nowadays, however, many people rarely see the light of day. Hmm, perhaps this explains the recent popularity of vampires in pop culture, but I digress. Even when we do venture into the elements we’ve often slathered on so much zinc oxide the sun hasn’t a chance to do its magic.
When you lack a vital nutrient, and then get it, the effects can seem wondrous. And this is why vitamin D is currently being coined a “miracle supplement.” The main reason for taking supplements is to replace nutrients that, for some reason, you are lacking. Given the bang-up job Big Food has done with destroying edible products and then serving us boxes of sugar “fortified with [random] essential vitamins” you can see their niche right away. But you should also be able to see that the better you eat the less need you have for supplementing your diet. Taking vitamin D is great if you need vitamin D. If you don’t you are wasting your money.
The biggest problem we have is deciding which supplements we need. Even if it were reasonable to have your doctor test for everything they could think there’s almost no way to find a deficiency without an acute symptom for them to target. This is why a multi-vitamin is highly suggested for most people and, especially those who are limiting their caloric intake. Taking a good multi-vitamin will ensure that you aren’t, at least, grossly deficient in most major nutrients.
Targeted supplements are harder to figure out. You need to analyze your lifestyle and try and guess what you need. If you’re on a training program it’s easier because everybody runs a similar template when exercising. You can anticipate nutrient losses due to exercise and plan for this, which is why sports supplements are popular. Once that’s done then you can then look for lapses in performance that will give clues to a deficiency, which you can then supplement for. Exercise is the great equalizer. Not only does it improve your health but it amplifies your health problems and makes it easier to figure out what is wrong, at which point you can fix it.
Supplement “results” are misleading. Marketers have spun them out of control with ridiculous advertising schemes, most of which are out right lies. Supplements only provide miracle results when you find something that your body is starving for a feed it that nutrient. They can help you perform better at functions you do, like exercise, which can improve your quality of life. This symbiotic relationship between exercise, your diet, and supplements is the most efficient way to get your body into peak condition. No supplement can do that on its own.
Someone thought Tony Horton was bashing creatine when he posted an article showing a 4% improvement, but 4% is massive. Most banned performance enhancing drugs don’t do much better than that. If you need to improve more than this then you need to exercise and eat better. But 4% at the top of your game is the difference between an Olympic champion and not making your Olympic team. The key is getting to the top of your game first, which takes hard work. No supplement will yield results unless you are willing to work for them. They are, as their name suggests, simply a supplemental part of your overall plan.