There is a big debate out there on the internet (and otherwise) about whether you should use vitamin pills and other food supplements or if it’s just a form of expensive urine and a waste of your money, because your body can get benefits only from real foods and you can get enough of all necessary nutrients if you follow a healthy whole-food diet.
Much like you can find many studies on why a certain type of food is good for you and, at the same time, different studies explaining why it’s bad for you (except for unhealthy fats and sugars), so you can find many studies that are pro or contra using different food supplements. Thus the best thing to do is to first get educated enough and then try it out for yourself. It’s a philosophy in line with the Agile and Lean Lifestyle: go and see for yourself. If it works for you, keep it in your life, if not, discard it.
The fact almost everybody agrees on is that today’s food lacks many significant nutritional elements, especially vitamins and minerals. The food industry is trying to grow foods as cheaply as possible by using many pesticides, growth hormones, artificial soil and who knows what else. If you buy a home-grown organic carrot or a carrot from a supermarket, you can definitely taste a big difference.
I definitely think it would be much better to have undamaged, rich foods with all the necessary nutrients; but that’s not going to happen, we’re way past that point. There are 7 billion+ people to feed on this planet and if we want to produce enough food for everyone, we have to optimize production, even if that means poorer quality. The good thing is that we’re somehow taking a step back and looking for a balance between cost production and food quality, because people are becoming more health-conscious and are thus prepared to pay a premium price, even though by buying organic whole food you’re still far away from how nutrient-rich food used to be a century ago.
Food supplements are not the perfect surrogate for poorly grown foods, but they’re probably the next best thing for a modern human being. Especially if you lead a very busy lifestyle or you don’t own your own organic farm or something. If you’re exposed to a high level of stress or if you train a lot, you have even bigger nutritional needs that you have to fulfill to stay healthy. A pill is definitely a shortcut, but a shortcut that’s probably acceptable for most people, especially if you don’t have the time to grow and cook your own food all day or the money to buy the best quality there is on the market.
Therefore the main reasons for taking food supplements are:
- If you increase the amount of your exercise, you have higher nutritional needs
- Nutrition absorption declines with age
- We’re all more and more exposed to stress, toxins in water, air, food, stress, etc.
- Improper farming practices deplete the soil of nutrients and impoverish different foods, from veggies to meat (antibiotics for animals, how animals are fed, soil depletion, water depletion etc.)
- Specific diets can be low nutrition diets
As for me personally, I feel a little bit better when I’m taking the right combination of supplements; I am more energetic, more focused and don’t get ill that often. I’m still testing and experimenting in order to find my personal optimal combination, but there are still a few core food supplements I would recommend to anybody; these are the supplements that cover the basic needs of your body.
If I regularly take food supplements, I feel 10 % – 15 % better than if I don’t.
Before you consider taking any supplements, it makes sense for you to examine your diet, exercise regime and other health habits. You must be aware that supplements won’t make you healthy and aren’t needed for you to be healthy.
If you decide to use any of the listed supplements below, please do your own research of all the benefits as well as risks and downsides (you can use sites like examine.com). Nothing has only positive sides in life and you should treat your health very carefully. It’s definitely worth it to put hours of your time into research to figure out what makes sense to take for you and what doesn’t.
It also makes sense to first tackle unhealthy habits, like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, other substance abuse or excessive stress, before optimizing your diet with supplements. Last but not least, this article is not medical advice and I’m neither a doctor nor a certified nutritionist. If you have any health issues, please consult with your doctor.
Now let’s look at the basic food supplements you should be taking.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for your heart health and brain development. Supportive research shows that consumption of omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, and sharpens your brain function, boosts mood and reduces depression as well as regulates and helps normalize cholesterol triglyceride levels. The omega-3 supplement also has an anti-inflammatory function and can help you with sports injury. The acids help you keep your hair, skin and nails healthy. The best source of omega-3 fatty acids as a food supplement is fish oil. It’s important that your chosen supplement contains EPA and DHA, which are the two key healthy fats in fish. You should take between 1 and 3 grams of omega-3 fatty acids every day.
I regularly use Now Foods, Tri-3D Omega, 90 Softgels, which also have vitamin D added and don’t cause any problems for my stomach.
As already mentioned, I use Omega-3 fatty acids softgels with added Vitamin D. Vitamin D boosts your bone health and may prevent diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cognitive decline and other health conditions. Your skin makes vitamin D from the sun, but you can get a vitamin D deficiency if you aren’t exposed enough to the sun daily for whatever reason, especially in the winter (you should be exposed to the sun for 10 to 30 minutes daily). Vitamin D also helps with your calcium absorption. When choosing your supplement brand, look for vitamin D3, which is more potent than vitamin D2. D3 is what your body makes from the sun, while D2 is synthetic vitamin.
Magnesium is definitely the most important mineral for your body. More than 350 enzymatic functions that regulate your metabolism, sleep cycles and blood pressure require magnesium. Enough magnesium may help prevent cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, osteoporosis and headaches. Magnesium supports proper muscle function, cardiovascular health and energy production. It also plays an important role in muscle relaxation. Basically every organ in your body needs magnesium. If you’re put under a lot of stress, your magnesium intake needs to go up.
I use Source Naturals, Magnesium Malate, 180 Tablets, which is magnesium malate. Magnesium malate is a combination of magnesium and malic acid. Malic acid helps in the production of energy during exercise and works excellently together with magnesium.
Vitamin C is needed for the growth and repair of tissues in all parts of your body. Vitamin C is most famous for helping to cure common cold, which is a common belief not actually supported by scientific research. Nevertheless, it’s a very important antioxidant that may help prevent heart disease, prenatal problems, and eye diseases. It also helps to heal wounds faster. It plays important roles in healthy bones, teeth, gums and blood vessels.
You can easily get enough vitamin C by eating enough oranges, red peppers and kiwi. Still, if you train a lot, vitamin C can help you with faster regeneration and serves as an anti-oxidant.
I get a sufficient amount of vitamin C with Bayer Berocca. They’re in the form of effervescent tablets. Tablets also contain enough B-complex and zinc, so you can kill three birds with one stone. I use vitamin C especially when I train a lot. If you don't like effervescent tablets, Jarrow Formulas, Vitamin C, 750 mg, 100 Tablets may be a good alternative.
Vitamin B plays an important role for your overall energy, digestion, immunity, nervous system, food absorption and other metabolic functions. There are 8 different B vitamins and they play different roles in the body. Supplements containing all eight B vitamins are referred to as vitamin B-complex.
Here is the list of B vitamins:
- Vitamin B1 or Thiamine
- Vitamin B2 or Riboflavin
- Vitamin B3 or Niacin
- Vitamin B5 or Pantothenic acid
- Vitamin B6 or Pyridoxine
- Vitamin B7 or Biotin
- Vitamin B9 or Folic acid
- Vitamin B12
Vitamin B1 is especially needed for producing cellular energy from food and synthesizing DNA. It helps the body make new cells and is called an anti-stress vitamin. Vitamin B2 is a basic building block for normal growth and development of your body, it works as an antioxidant and is important for red blood cell production. Vitamin B3 supports over 200 chemical reactions in your body, including cellular energy production and fatty acid synthesis, and plays key role in cardiovascular health.
Vitamin B5 helps to support fatty acid synthesis and cellular energy production in the body, it’s responsible for the production of sex- and stress-related hormones. Vitamin B6 is needed to metabolize amino acids and is necessary for healthy nervous system, hormone levels and red blood cell function. It’s also a major player in mood and sleep patterns. Vitamin B7 may especially help in the health of hair, skin and nails, and supports healthy metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats, which is why it’s also called the beauty vitamin.
Most important for young women is B9 (folic acid), which keeps red blood cells healthy and guards against birth defects. Last but not least, vitamin B12 plays a critical role in the metabolism of every cell, especially affecting DNA synthesis and regulation and acid metabolism. Especially vegetarians and vegans can get B12 vitamin deficiency.
I get my B-complex with Bayer Berocca or, as an alternative, if I’m not using Berocca I use Thorne Research, Basic B Complex.
Your body needs zinc for normal growth and health. Zinc helps regulate both male and female sex hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, etc. It’s also used for boosting the immune system and treating the common cold. Many athletes use zinc for improving athletic performance and strength. Zinc also plays a key role in maintaining vision, and is present in the eye in high concentrations.
I get my B-complex with Bayer Berocca or, as an alternative, if I’m not using Berocca I use Thorne Research, Zinc Picolinate. Zinc Picolinate is a type of zinc supplement that supports absorption.
Coenzyme Q10 provides energy for your heart as well as helps to produce ATP, which is the major energy source for cells. It basically aids mitochondria during energy production. Taking coenzyme Q10 may help prevent heart attack, depression, migraines, male infertility and other health issues. It can also enhance the blood flow and protect blood vessels. Q10 is an antioxidant that helps energize cells in your body, is necessary for healthy cell function and prevents cell damage.
I regularly use Jarrow Formulas, Co-Q10, 30 mg.
Whey protein or Rice protein
After every training, I always use whey protein. Whey is nothing but a by-product of cheese production or, if you want it, milk isolate. It should be consumed within an hour of your training. It helps with muscle repair and recovery as well as boosts your energy, prevents depression and benefits your hair and skin. If you’re training hard, you simply need whey protein for faster recovery. It may also help regulate your blood glucose levels by improving the release of insulin.
I use 100 % all-natural whey protein that’s free of any artificial hormones as well as undenatured. Undenatured means that the whey is micro-filtered and not heated, so the protein stays purer (not in terms of concentration but process of production). If you’re a vegan, you can also use rice protein, I use it sometimes just for the diversity of tastes.
After every training, I use BioChem, 100 % Whey Protein, Powder, Vanilla or sometimes, as an alternative, Sun Warrior, Classic Protein, Raw Vegan Superfood, Vanilla.
The green drink
On days when I don’t eat enough fruits and veggies, I try to make myself a veggie smoothie and if I don’t have time for that, I use “the green drink”. The green drink is nothing but a blend of green vegetables, grasses and low-sugar foods. It’s a basic supplement that helps you to meet your daily veggie needs . It also helps to alkalize your body, especially if you eat a lot of acid foods like red meat.
Usually, the green drink contains a mixture of:
- Green Grasses: wheat grass, barley grass
- Algae: spirulina, chlorella etc.
- Vegetables: broccoli, kale, spinach etc.
- Superfoods: acai, maca, etc.
The taste is quite terrible, but hey, there must be some punishment for not eating enough veggies during the day. The best thing to do is to try to eat (green) veggies with every meal or at least one big salad per day, but if you somehow don’t manage to do that, the green drink is here for you. With time, you do get used to the taste, but if you don’t, you can find many recipes for different smoothies and juices to which you can add the green blend. Here, you can find more info on the green drinks.
I tried four different brands and this is my favorite one: Amazing Grass Green SuperFood. The good news is that it also contains probiotics and doesn’t taste that awful.
As I mentioned, my favorite green drink also has added probiotics, which are good bacteria found in the intestine that help you with digestion, gut health and enhancing your immune system. Probiotics help manufacture essential nutrients and limit the growth of yeast and unhealthy bacteria. Poor diet, excessive stress, pollution and antibiotic use can wipe out the probiotics and that’s why you may need to supplement them. If you don’t like the green drink, there are many other options for adding probiotics to your diet.
Most people drink coffee as a proven substance to enhance their endurance, power and focus. I prefer to use green tea for several reasons. It’s easy to abuse coffee, it messes with my sleep pattern and I drank lots of coffee when I smoked (it was like a ritual). In addition to that, there are many studies that show that green tea contains various bioactive compounds that can improve health.
Green tea is definitely an important antioxidant and just a strong enough stimulant to wake you up and brighten your mood without messing with your sleep pattern (if you don’t drink it in the afternoon or before sleep). Green tea also helps with fat-burning and improves physical performance. Green tea has been also shown to improve blood flow, lower cholesterol and help with other health issues.
Other supplements I use occasionally
If you train really hard and would like to develop muscles, there are also other recommended supplements most athletes use. I use them occasionally, particularly during the summer when I train almost every day. Additional recommended supplements for athletes and bodybuilders are:
- BCAAs that are three amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) that play an important role in protein synthesis and glucose uptake into cells. It’s a very important process when trying to gain muscle mass. They are especially useful if you’re working out on an empty stomach or while fasting.
- Glutamine is an amino acid used in the synthesis of protein, also supporting the production of muscle. Next to that, glutamine supports your immune system and regulates your dietary system. It’s especially used for preventing infections following hard training and for speeding up post-exercise recovery.
- Creatine helps with your cellular function. By taking creatine, your muscles retain more water and thus work more efficiently. The main point of taking creatine is that during periods of stress, creatine releases energy to aid cellular function, and that causes strength increase. It’s useful especially if you want to increase athletic performance and weightlifting.
- Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is a compound that helps to alleviate the effects of aging and prevents mitochondrial disease. It’s used as an alertness booster as well as helps improve insulin sensitivity. ALCAR can also help protect your body’s neurons.
- Casein, which is another milk isolate with a longer digestion time. Casein is considered to be a slow protein that athletes usually use before sleep to keep their muscle growing and regenerating.
As I mentioned, you should use it only if you train really hard. I will explain more about these supplements in another article. Nerd fitness is a good start if you would like to get more info.
It will cost you around $85 (75 EUR) per month to use most of the basic (Tier 1) supplements listed above (without protein powder half the price). If you feel better and don’t get ill that much, the investment is probably worth it, but you have to decide for yourself. Your body is a vessel for your soul and mind, so you should definitely take good care of it – with exercise, by eating healthy foods, getting enough sleep and sex, not being under too much stress and covering the basic nutritional needs.
|Food supplement||Approx. price per month|
|Omega-3 with Vitamin D (2g per day)||7.50 EUR|
|Magnesium malate||1.70 EUR|
|Berocca (Vitamin C, B-complex, Zink)||12.50 EUR|
|Coenzyme Q10||2.20 EUR|
|Whey protein (30g per day after training)||34 EUR|
|The green drink with probiotics||17 EUR|
|Total||75 EUR (85 USD)|
Calculation for Tier 1 Supplements
When you cover the basis, you should test and try other advanced food supplements that may help you even more with your better daily performance (for example, I also use TMG Trimethaglycine to protect DNA and reduce homocysteine and sometimes glucosamine for preventing joint pain and speeding up recovery). But to be honest, things get quite complicated at a certain point.
If you really want to progress after covering the basics, you need to do all the blood tests, research and read a lot and experiment. But to cover the basics, there isn’t much hassle. You can try Tear 1 supplements for a month or two and observe your energy level, moods and feelings. Test it for yourself and get the first-hand experience, see if you feel any better. If you do, persevere; if not, pivot.
You can go to iHerb and order all the supplements mentioned above. iHerb is the trusted webshop I use to order my food supplements.