Using nutritional supplements is more and more becoming an accepted fact of life and more and more being considered a perfectly acceptable way to get a more nutritious diet.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with turning to supplements, and in our busy lifestyles where we find ourselves constantly rushed from place to appointment if this is the only way to get those vitamins and minerals then so be it – it can be cheaper, easier and often a more measured way to control the things you get throughout the day. Further, if you are an athlete – a bodybuilder, a runner or any other sports man or woman – then it's also a very good way to get those extra things you need in your diet.
If you have some kinds of special dietary requirements as a result of allergy or beliefs then this is a good way to make sure that you avoid certain things you can't eat while still getting a balanced intake of nutrients. And some things you just can't get from a normal diet.
However while supplementation is fine in theory – and often in fact beneficial – this is very reliant on your ability to take those supplements intelligently and correctly. If you aren't careful with the way that you take your supplements then you may find that they don't work at all, or even that they end up actually causing health problems instead. Here we will look at how to take your supplements smartly and how to avoid making mistakes.
When you start taking your supplements it's important to make sure you keep a tabs on each individual product you're taking. The easiest way to do this is to make a 'stack' which is a list of everything you're taking. A bodybuilder's stack may consist of: creatine, whey protein shake, tribulus terrestris and amino acids.
As well as making a list of your supplements however it is also important to keep track of all the other statistics surrounding your supplements taking depending on your goals. For instance, for a bodybuilder, it would be important to keep track of precisely which supplements are taking, and to at the same time keep a note of their performance. Simply keep a diary with your stack at any given time, and write alongside what your muscle measurements are like, what your routine is like, how much energy you feel like you have and any other related statistics. This way, if you change your supplement intake, you can then note how your experiences are affected as a result. You can then correlate your performance with your supplements and you'll know which are working and which aren't. If you are taking supplements for health purposes or due to some kind of medical condition (such as an iron supplement to help with anaemia), then you can make a note of how you feel and of any symptoms instead. This is called 'biofeedback' which is the process of measuring how your body reacts to certain stimuli so that you can develop a better intuitive understanding of what works best for your body.
However while you can simply list your supplements, it is also important to list not just the supplement, but also what actually goes into those supplements. While the name of the supplement might seem enough, it doesn't actually tell you anything about what you are consuming. If you take a vitamin tablet, then this might contain any selection of different vitamins and there will be some that you are missing – and that you should take extra supplementation to make up for. If you take a prohormone meanwhile then you might find that it includes a range of different herbs and ingredients – any of which you might be allergic to or prefer not to take. Most of these ingredients can usually be bought separately so you can create your own miniature stack to pick and choose the ingredients you find most effective.
Another thing to consider is that if you take lots of supplements – you can sometimes risk overdosing in certain ingredients. A common example of this is that many supplements contain vitamin B12 in their composition due to its energy benefits that make you feel as though the product is 'working'. If you don't make a note of all the B12 in your supplements and your diet, then you can end up accidentally overdosing and this can result in nerve damage.
Consider Your Diet
Likewise you also need to consider your diet and what you are consuming. If you drink gallons of milk a day for example, then you will get a high amount of calcium already – so you won't need to take a specific calcium tablet. If you eat a lot of green vegetables then there is no need to take extra iron.
Get a Blood Test
... Unless you have a deficiency that is. If you are concerned that this is the case and you have a low amount of B12 or iron in your blood, then a doctor will recommend a course of medication or supplementation to rectify this problem. If you are considering taking stronger supplementation such as ferrous sulphate, then you should get a blood test first.
Read the Instructions
When you take supplements it is important to read the instructions carefully and this means making sure that you find out whether you are using them optimally in the recommended manner. The instructions will likely describe many aspects of how to use the supplements and these are all important. They will generally include:
Timing: The time you take your supplements is often important. Energy supplements are often recommended for use early in the day in order to provide you with energy throughout the day. Supplements designed to help you build muscle or repair tissue will be taken usually straight after exercise or just before bed – both these are 'anabolic' phases for the body where it is focused on building and repairing tissue.
Other Food: Some supplements will recommend use on a full stomach or with food. This will help with the pharmacokinetics of your supplements making them more likely to be correctly absorbed and used by the body.
Loading: In some cases it is a good idea to 'load' your supplements. This means taking them in large quantities early on so that your body has a 'store' of the nutrients in the body.
Cycling: Other supplements require 'cycling' which means taking the supplement for a period and then going for further periods without it.
While you should heed the advice on the packaging of your products however, even more important is to do your own research and to read about other ways of taking the supplement that might be more effective, what the specific ingredients do themselves, and what other people's experiences of the supplement are. In some cases you might find information that is more geared towards your own goals, while in other cases you might even find some instructions promote miss-information in order to encourage buying. More to the point though – just understanding how supplements work will help you to get more out of them and to eat a diet conducive to their success. Be active in reading about biology, your condition, bodybuilding and whatever else is related to your supplements use – rather than passively taking the products without understanding them.
As well as reading about the ingredients and understanding how they affect your body, it is also useful to simply read reviews and to make sure you are taking the best products. Reviews will tell you not just how well supplements work, but also how they taste, how they mix (in the case of shakes) and how well priced they are – all of which should affect your buying decisions.
Don't Be Scammed
Reading reviews can also help you to avoid being scammed – but as long as you know how to spot a scam when you see one. Find a good reviews site that is well trusted and that isn't selling any supplements itself, and read around to find a few other reviews. Meanwhile reading on forums is also a good way to find out more about your chosen supplement from objective sources and multiple opinions (if there is no information on a specific supplement available then you can always start the post yourself).
Also try and avoid highly aggressive marketing and if anything says 'Get Ripped Abs in DAYS' or 'Eliminate Headaches Without Unhealthy Tablets' then consider these red flags. Advertising from trustworthy sources won't criticize other supplements or strategies, and they won't make unrealistic promises. Be aware that if it sounds too good to be true – then it probably is. Be careful where you buy from, and make sure your products are vacuum packed when you receive them.
Be Consistent and Careful
You also of course need to make sure that once you have your stack and you have your routine, that you take the supplement like clockwork and are careful not to miss days or accidentally take them too much. Likewise don't go through phases without taking the supplement and expect it still to work – it takes a while to see results and like anything you need to be consistent and careful in how you take them.
Do the Work
However no matter how good a supplement is – it won't work on its own without you putting in the time and effort to improve your lifestyle too. If you are supplementing to try and lose weight for instance then make sure that you also put in the time to exercise and cut your food intake. If you are supplementing to try and prevent a particular health problem then make sure you also follow any of the doctor's other recommendations. Don't expect silver bullets that will fix all your problems on your own, but rather be willing to put in the work too. This way you will maximise the effectiveness of your supplements and get the best results for your cash.