Athletes: Keep Food First over Supplements
The theme for National Nutrition Month is “Go Further with Food.” This is a theme that athletes should pay close attention to. Often, athletes are looking for that next thing that will give them an edge over competitors. In doing so, some athletes turn to powders, pills, shakes and other supplemental potions, thinking these are the best options for recovery, muscle gain, weight loss, enhanced immunity or a myriad of other outcomes. However, real food is the better option. Here’s why:
1.) The marketed outcomes of supplements are often based on theory and testimony – not science.
There are millions of processes that happen in the body over the course of a day. Supplement companies love to pick a metabolic process, pull out a nutrient utilized in the process, and try to convince athletes to supplement with it. One example of this is L-carnitine, which facilitates the influx of long-chain fatty acids (i.e. fat stores) into the mitochondria of cells in order to be utilized for energy instead of using stored carbohydrate, or glycogen. Because of this fact, supplement companies encourage supplementation of L-Cartinine to “enhance fat burning” and “spare muscle glycogen” during exercise. Yet, no studies have shown this theory to in fact happen when L-Carnitine is supplemented. While it may make sense in theory, it doesn’t pan out when put to the test.
Related: Common Nutrition Myths Debunked
2.) Supplements are often packed mainly with fillers, providing very little of even the useful ingredients and increasing risk of positive drug tests.
Using fillers is a trick used by companies to make production of the product cheaper, while still being able to advertise the ingredients that have proven results. In addition, some supplements are contaminated with banned or dangerous substances since they are not regulated by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) before hitting store shelves. Drug-tested athletes need to be wary of this point. By instead eating real food, athletes can be confident in putting only safe nutrients into their bodies.
3.) Until you have the foundation of a solid diet, even proven supplements are of little worth.
Even the best supplement does little to improve a diet based on high intakes of sodium, added sugars and saturated fat. First start with a foundation of whole-food nutrition like whole grains, lean proteins, low fat dairy, fruits and vegetables and healthy fats. Then add in sports nutrition techniques and tactics (timing of intake, sleep, etc.). Only after those two areas are looking good on a regular basis should supplements be considered. Besides, supplements are expensive compared to real food. So, take the money you would have spent on supplements and invest in solid food.
Try these real food swaps:
|Vitamin and mineral supplements||Low-fat dairy, meat, poultry, fish, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, whole grains||General Health|
|Protein powders and shakes||Low fat chocolate milk and 100% tart cherry juice||Recovery|
|Creatine and other “gainers”||Meat, poultry and fish for natural creatine; smoothies made with Greek yogurt, nuts and seeds for added calories||Muscle Gain|
|Pills and powders touting weight loss capabilities||Low-fat/high-protein dairy including Greek yogurt, cheese sticks and milk, and plenty of fruits and vegetables||Weight Loss|
|Vitamin C, Vitamin D and probiotic supplements||Darkly colored fruits and vegetables (Vitamin C), low-fat milk (Vitamin D) and yogurt and kefir (probiotics)||Enhanced Immunity|