Take Ownership, Not Supplements
I Wanted To Be The Supplement King
I am fascinated by nutraceuticals - foods that contain benefits for health, performance, or recovery, beyond the basic nutritional value of the food. They are more frequently referred to as 'supplements'.
The idea that certain foods could be bundled up to create a 'super diet' is exciting – there is so much potential to get stronger, leaner, faster, and save the world while doing it.
The fascination began when I was 78kg and trying to add some muscle. I tried everything – except consistent training and nutrition, in hindsight – whey protein, creatine, L-glutamine, beta alanine, BCAA, pre-workout stimulants, casein protein, and probably a few others I can't recall. But despite my best attempts to supplement my way to weight gain, I would only gain a few kg and move to 81kg-82kg, and then move back down to where I began.
In 2011, I finally got the balance right – actually I trained hard and ate a tonne of food – and I was able to gain weight and move into the 90kg’s in about four months of solid adherence. Even though my supplement collection was at an all-time high during this phase, my training and nutrition had also never been so well implemented.
My supplement fascination continued in 2013, when I undertook a major research project into nurtritional supplement use in university-aged people, during my final year of study. The aim was to find out how many supplements they used, and where they got their advice for use.
A survey found that the majority used two nutritional supplements, and they mostly relied on their Family/Friends or Online Research for recommendations and learning about new products. Less than 10% of people who used nutritional supplements sought advice from a qualified professional. Interestingly, the people who did rely on qualified advice for nutrition supplementation took fewer supplements than others.
I thought these results were interesting, but I attributed the lack of informed recommendations mostly to the fact that the professionals - Nutritionists, Dietitians, and Doctors - focus on the basics and are extremely conservative with supplement recommendations, and of course they didn’t know what I knew!
Obviously submitting a survey on its own is not a major research project, so I had to put together a literature review to provide the place of my research in context with the literature (such a good term).
This was the first time I went deep into academic research on nutritional supplements and I learned a lot.
There were two main findings:
· Creatine, beta-alanine, protein (whey/casein) were among the few supplements with strong research backing. There were others establishing a research base (ie. beetroot juice). Even so, the performance impact of these supplements was small (1-5%) and on top of good training and nutrition. Essentially, they were the cherry on the cake.
· Supplements were inconsistently regulated across the world, due to the fact they fall in between a food and medicine, which makes them hard to determine which government department regulates them, if any. Supplements being filled with cheaper ingredients was an issue, as was contamination/tampering with performance enhancing drugs to either distribute the drugs or boost the perceived impacts on performance.
In summary, efficacy was an issue, as was the fact that you might not be getting what you expect.
The research lead to a mindset switch on supplements - not a full 180, but it added a bit more skepticism - and my approach became let's try quality supplements when training and nutrition is solid. I was a lot more conservative with their use.
Six months later, I was working with private clients to improve their body composition through training and nutrition manipulations. General population clients are the last people who need nutritional supplements, as there is often so many training and nutrition alterations that can be made for significant gains.
Despite this fact, they are the most-targeted group in supplement marketing, which means supplements are still one of the most common questions I get asked, by non-clients. ‘I’m taking XYZ for fat loss – should I be taking anything else?’
My response is usually ‘that might help a little bit, but the majority of results will come from training and nutrition’ but that falls on deaf ears. Most people would rather spend $300 on protein powder and thermogenics, instead of a consultation with someone who helps people achieve their exact goal for a living.
All The Gear And No Idea
Supplements are marketed on the premise that they can deliver a greater results and/or in a lesser period of time. To anyone wanting a result, be it fat loss or muscle gain, this will surely resonate and be tempting.
It’s the ultimate human dream – being able to take a pill and have an outcome appear either instantaneously or without any additional effort (fat loss, muscle gain, intelligence).
But instead of taking supplements, I think you should start by taking ownership.
If you are struggling to build muscle mass – take a step back and really see if you are training hard, eating enough protein/calories, and recovering between workouts. There is a big difference between three months spent wanting to gain muscle mass (ie. thinking about it) and actually putting in the work.
You might be like me, thinking you are putting in the work because you were training somewhat hard, but the diet is letting you down. It's frustrating putting in work and not getting the result, but that will continue if you are doing the wrong work.
The same goes for fat loss.
So many people are ready to 'try anything, because they have tried everything', despite the fact they have stuck to nothing.
They have been wanting to lose fat, they have been thinking about losing fat, but they haven’t created the energy deficit that is necessary to lose fat. More training or less food is required, and it's usually the one you don't want to do!
The only supplement we really need, myself included, is Vitamin O (the O standing for ownership).
When you take ownership for the reasons that are causing you to gain weight or struggle to build muscle, then you can begin to take actions to rectify and implement change.
The Reality of Recomposition
There are three things we need to do for results:
· Take Ownership
· Manage Energy Balance
· Facilitate Adherence.
If we can do all three, you will get results and maintain them.
The reason I talk about ownership, discipline, and structure on social media and articles, is that it is the first step. Without ownership, there’s not much point talking nutrition or training strategies, because you won’t implement them.
Therefore, my content is about making sure people know I value ownership and helping them get there.
Until then, you will find yourself leaving the supplement store full of dreams, only to be back there in the exact same shape in three months time.
FYI: My Recently Used Supplements and Recommendations
Supplements I have used in the past six months:
· Whey protein; casein protein.
Supplement I have had clients use in the past six months:
· Whey protein; creatine; beta alanine.
Supplement I have used previously and wouldn’t recommend:
· L-glutamine; pre-workout stimulants.