These days, I walk past a pharmacy and the first thing my eyes fall upon are rows and rows of supplements of every nutrient existing in nature, vitamins, minerals, amino acids, protein; you name it and it’s there. Especially protein supplements. Whey, Casein, Creatine, Soy Protein, Pea Protein, Isolate, Concentrate… Meh!
In the recent past, the trend of supplementation has accelerated like a forest fire. Everyone who goes to the gym, or even has a gym in the vicinity of their house, has a shelf in their pantry entirely dedicated to supplements, irrespective of whether they workout or not. For the average adult, supplements have become as much a part of life as food or water.
But the important question here is, why? The primary purpose of taking supplements is to get a more complete nutrition in terms of daily nutrient requirements. Supplements come into play (or rather, SHOULD) when your diet cannot supply you with all the nutrients that your body requires for healthy functioning. Then why this sudden fanaticism?
Where did the trend first start?
Dietary supplements were first introduced in the market for commercial purposes in 1994. But the sudden jump in sales and popularity has only occurred in the past decade as people have become more obsessed with body-sculpting and become more health conscious. Tracking macros, counting calories, eating 1g protein per pound of body weight; these are all recent trends that have arisen with the increasing fixation with body aesthetics among the masses. Those days are long gone when supplements were treated as medicines; for some people these days, supplements are all that they live on.
Who really needs them and why?
If you are someone whose diet cannot supply you with certain nutrients no matter how hard you try, or how many changes you make to your diet, then you need supplements. If you have a medical condition that requires you to take supplements, then you qualify too.
Think about this, who inspired us in the first place to introduce supplements as a necessary staple in our diets? No, I am not talking about your chiseled neighbor. Who are the people who inspired the use of supplements among everybody?
Athletes, and celebrities.
Yes, these two categories are the culprits. But are they really, considering the fact that they actually need them?
Athletes are professionals, and they need to train almost as much as they need to breathe. Everyday. They train for an insane amount of time, and the intensity of that training is so high that to maintain their physique they absolutely need to take supplements. No person, however big an appetite he may have, can eat meals big enough to compensate for the kind of stress athletes put their bodies through every single day. Even though they eat like elephants, they still need more replenishment, and that is provided to them by supplements. Supplements are also more way more convenient for them since they can have them on the go, in between training, anytime and anywhere; something that is not possible with food.
Celebrities (we are talking about models and actors here) need supplements as much as athletes do, though it is for an entirely different purpose. Models are supposed to look good on screen because well, they are models, and they have extremely tight schedules, what with all the traveling and all the shooting. Time management and maintaining their body aesthetic are two things equally paramount for them. Their schedules are so packed that it is not uncommon for them to not even have the time to grab a proper meal. Apart from this, they also have to be extremely careful about what they eat and how much they eat to maintain their physique, especially actresses and female models. Hence it is common for them to eat very little throughout the day and ensure that they do not consume too many calories. Keeping all these things in mind, they derive the nutrition they need from supplements, which not just provide their body with the nutrients their scant diet doesn’t, but are also convenient for their jam-packed schedule.
Pay attention, we are talking about absolute need here. So unless you are a “Victoria’s Secret” model, suffering from a critical medical condition, or Usain Bolt, you probably don’t qualify for this category.
What about us then?
Frankly, we don’t absolutely NEED them. People have had great health and a great physique without ever needing supplements in the past. Supplements are only a recent development in the health industry and we were getting along pretty fine before they came. The “1g protein per pound of body weight” is just a dietary extreme adopted by those who want to build muscle for competition purposes or if they are athletes. No human being NEEDS that much protein, even if one is looking for six-pack abs. A well-rounded healthy diet with all the food categories in proper proportion does the job very well.
There is a lot of talk about every calorie being different and what is bad and what is good, but eventually it all boils down to thermodynamics. You eat less calories, you lose weight. You eat more, you gain weight. To have a lean body, you need to limit your calories to just about as much as you really need, and you need to consume enough protein to maintain the muscle you have. And honestly, if you want an exact figure of how much protein to consume, 0.5g per pound of body weight is good enough for you. Even if you want to be hard and chiseled and sculpted all over.
If you don’t workout on a regular basis, then you shouldn’t even be thinking about supplements. And if you are working out consistently and working towards a leaner, sculpted body, then all you need to do is eat the right amount of every food group, all colors, all textures and all flavors to make sure you get all your nutrients. As long as you’re eating clean, eating enough and eating within the caloric limit, you’re really good to go. And yes, you don’t need to become a saint and give up all the pleasures of life. You can still have donuts and pizzas, just don’t overdo it. MODERATION IS THE WAY TO GO!
The final verdict?
Look, nothing in this world is absolute, so you can’t label anything to be good or bad. Everything has its pros and cons and it’s all a matter of personal choice. Supplements aren’t bad for you and if you think you need them and want to incorporate them in your diet, go ahead. If you don’t, then that’s your personal choice too and you shouldn’t judge the ones that do consume supplements.
Good nutrition is the only thing essential for us, and there’s only one thumb rule to it (apart from eating within a caloric limit); stick to the least processed foods. The closer a food is to its natural form, the more nutritional benefit you will derive from it. There really is no other rule you need to follow for good nutrition to complement your physical efforts.
Nature never intended for us to use supplements to fulfill our nutrient requirements, because it has created enough foods for us to never fall short of nutrients. Supplements should be treated as a technological advancement, a convenient option, not a necessity in anyway.
Eat healthy, eat in moderation, and stay active to maintain a good health. Everything else shall take care of itself, like it did for people before 1994. Cheers to good health!