An Honest & Professional Opinion
Being a nutritionist, I prefer to get as many nutrients from food as possible and always recommend to my clients and others to do the same. Supplements are there to do just that, to ‘supplement’ your diet, not to replace it.
Do I take any supplements?
I certainly do, and I’m also privileged to be sponsored by Hench Nutrition, but I don't rely on them alone. I’ll quickly tell you what I'm currently using - a 100% whey protein (Pro Expert), a casein protein (Drip-Feed Casein), a post-workout protein (Pro Active Whey), a pre-workout drink (Muscle Pump), an intra-workout drink (Amino Fusion), BCAA's (chewables are great), carnitine, omega 369, green tea capsules, multivitamin, a joint supplement, vitamin d3 and zinc. That sounds like a lot, but a few are just 'health' supplements, the green tea capsules are purely because I’m not a huge fan of hot drinks, protein powders aren’t always considered a ‘supplement’, and the rest are for performance. I think supplements are great, they're very convenient, reasonably priced and they do work. However, I will emphasise again, I do not rely on them alone - my diet is good and I get most of my nutrients from it, but there are always times where I can’t get what I need from food. I use supplements to top up my levels.
"So why take supplements?" you may be asking
As with pretty much everyone out there, I do slip from time to time with my diet, I've also had a few health issues which have required certain supplements, and when you place a greater demand on your body (gym/sport) then your body requires more.
Do you need supplements in order to be fit, strong and healthy? Not at all, but they can help. Even those who are simply maintaining their physique - training a few times a week and eating healthy foods - will still take one or more supplements to 'top up' their intake. It is possible to have side effects from supplements, but unless you take an excessive amount, it's unlikely to happen. For example, I take 2 vitamin d3 tablets during the winter months (live in England, not a lot of sun!) and 1 during the summer months (still England...). If I started taking 5,6,7,10 a day, then yes, it would most likely have an adverse effect on my body, but that would just be stupid.
A Common Misconception
The one main problem with supplementation is that people don't read enough about them before they start using them. They will see a fitness athlete take a few supplements and simply copy what they use. When you're first starting out with the gym you don't need a large supplement stack - a good whey protein will do just fine at the beginning. When you start progressing, that's when you can look at others - creatine, BCAA's, glutamine etc. However, I do highly recommend you read up about different supplements before taking them and introduce them one by one, otherwise you won’t know if they’re working or not.
So, the takeaway message is to focus on your nutrition first, then use supplements to boost your intake – don’t rely on supplements and neglect your diet.