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Ask an Expert: Nutritional Supplements

Question: I’ve read a lot about nutritional supplements lately. Are they something I should consider adding to improve my health and fitness? If so, what is the best (and safest) way to start?

I get asked at least a few times a week about different supplements and exactly what people should or shouldn’t be taking to help them reach their fitness goals. In fact, I just got a message from one of my brothers who is digging back into a regular fitness routine and wanted to know what he should be taking. This is the same brother who I can pretty much credit for me being in the fitness field. He was always into working out when we were kids, and was the one who got me hooked on being active. He was my first “trainer” in a sense as he started me out on his good old fashioned Weider cement-filled plastic weights and included me in on all kinds of outdoor activities from playing frisbee (great way to incorporate sprinting) to playing neighborhood games of football, basketball, etc.

Anyway, here’s a recap of what I not only told him, but what I also share with anyone that approaches me for advice/recommendations when it comes to nutritional supplementation: Supplements are just that — a “supplement” to what you may not be getting through your daily nutrition program.

Personally, I choose to supplement. I fill the gaps if there are any, and I do my best to make sure that there never are any. I don’t waste my money on a cupboard full of products. My staples include a quality fish oil, a decent multi-vitamin, vitamin D, and whey protein. This suits me, my eating habits and my physical lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that this won’t change down the road if I shift my goals or change my eating habits.



For instance, for the past year or so I have incorporated Intermittent Fasting (IF) as part of my nutrition routine. This IF plan I’m on involves a daily routine of 16 hours of fasting followed by an 8 hour window where I focus on a couple of good sized meals and a couple of snacks. Because periods of fasting can trick your body into utilizing muscle as a fuel source (that’s why calorie deprivation diets do not work), I have added Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s) into my pre-workout routine each day to help preserve muscle. In this case, I adapted my supplementation to fit my person needs & goals.

The big problem with supplements is that many people think of them as a magic bullet. And who can blame them with all of the marketing ads that promote this pill or that powder as all you need to gaining muscle and losing fat. Sorry to break the news, but if you think supplementing is going to give you the body of your dreams you’re sure to be disappointed. Supplements are not bad, but you have to understand that they should serve some kind of purpose. A lot of people take supplements in hopes of the supplements serving the wrong purpose. Get your eating dialed in to 80% clean (at the minimum) and then evaluate how you’re feeling and how your workouts are going.

It’s best to have a chat with your trusted healthcare provider before altering your diet and exercise in any way, but my general supplementation suggestions for the everyday athlete are:

  • Take a daily vitamin. Consider it an insurance policy that assures you’re getting the proper amount of essential nutrients.
  • If you incorporate strength training into your workout routine, get a decent whey protein into your body immediately after working out to aid in muscle recovery and regeneration.
  • If you can’t get out in the sunlight on a regular basis, consider supplementing with vitamin D (I recommend taking this over the winter months if you live in a cold-weather location like I do.)
  • If you can’t get fish or other omega-3’s into a regular rotation in your diet, consider adding a quality fish oil supplement.

While supplements are everywhere these days and can be a great addition to a well-rounded fitness and nutrition program, always remember that a supplement is just that — a supplement to working hard and eating right!


Ken Grall a Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) through the National Strength & Conditioning Association, as well as a Youth Fitness Specialist (YFS) through the International Youth Conditioning Association. Learn more on the Meet Our Writers page.


Ask an expert: Workout nutrition

It never fails, halfway through my workout I end up lacking energy. I know I should have protein immediately following my workouts, but do you have any advice on what I should be doing and eating before my workouts to sustain my energy?  –Alec

Your awareness during your workouts is a great first step in making changes to resolve the situation. There are a variety of variables that can have that effect on your workout energy including not getting enough quality sleep, pushing too hard in a workout and not having enough recovery in your workout routine.That said, nutrition plays a vital role in maintain energy during and after your workouts.  A good first step is to keep track of what you eat for a week to gain a sense of the overall quantity and quality of foods you’re eating.

You can eat plenty of calories, but if your menu consists of too much processed, synthetic foods, it can leave you feeling drained and lacking energy. The more ingredients that are hard to pronounce on the food, the harder the body has to work to digest it and the more it lacks the vital nutrients it needs to live an energetic life.

Keeping a fuel log, whether online or on paper will help you get a better understanding of what you’re putting in your body. Focus on making small changes by switching out a few things at a time rather than revamping your diet all at once. For example, if you eat chips with your sandwich at lunch, add cut veggies like carrots or celery instead. Or add a piece of fruit to your breakfast and veggies to your dinner. The more you lean into a clean diet, the better you’ll feel. Simply put, garbage in = garbage out.

Total caloric consumption is also important as many fall prey to eating too few calories, which results in energy drain. A prolonged low caloric diet also puts the body in survival mode and shifts the metabolism thinking it needs to conserve fat.  Rather than focusing on counting calories, it’s better to invest in eating whole, clean foods throughout the day. For instance, eggs, blueberries and toast for breakfast, a salad with chicken for lunch and fish, veggies and brown rice for dinner. It’s a little like putting clean gas in your car. Your body will run better, feel better and move better.

Finally, we are all an experiment of one. Some perform best on a meal two hours before the workout. Some do better on a light meal an hour before the workout. And others still perform best with no meal before, or a glass of fresh juice. It’s best to experiment and log what works best for you.

If you are going to eat a meal, give yourself 1.5-2 hours to digest it before you workout and focus on consuming high quality carbohydrates, and lower in fat and protein. This allows the food to digest more readily and avoid having stomach issues due to having undigested food in your stomach. (Example: oatmeal with berries and nuts.)

If you’re going to eat a light meal, allow an hour before your workout and go for foods that have a higher concentration of water and carbohydrates. (Example: banana and teaspoon of almond butter.)

Also try working out on an empty stomach if your workout is in the morning. You may find that you have the most energy with nothing in your stomach first thing in the morning. Again, everyone is different and the best way to find out what works best for you is to experiment with timing, size of meal and the variety of foods.

Happy Trails.
Coach Jenny Hadfield

Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.

Breakfast: Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?

Fried egg with baconHow many times has someone reminded you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? It’s one of those health bromides that most everyone knows — and ignores. We’re usually in just too much of a rush in the mornings to do anything more than grab a pre-packaged or frozen something and call it a meal. Lots of us skip this meal altogether.

Not the best move, nutritionists tell us. But why is breakfast so important anyway? And what makes a “healthy” one?

Why is Breakfast Important?

As the name suggests, breakfast is about breaking the fast that you’ve experienced since your last meal the night before. Depending on your schedule, this could mean that you haven’t eaten in 10 to 15 hours, a huge gap considering that during the day we eat about every four hours.

Although we generally don’t think of sleep as an active time, your brain and body are still hard at work. Muscles rebuild themselves and recover from the demands of the previous day.Food is digested so the nutrients can be processed and stored; the heart and lungs continue to operate.And all of this is overseen by the brain, which is busy processing information collected throughout the day.

All of this activity burns up a lot of fuel in the form of glucose. So, when we stumble out of bed in the morning, our brains and entire bodies are at a massive caloric deficit.

When You Skip Breakfast

For some people, skipping breakfast is the result of simple oversight or disorganization. But others make the decision consciously, believing that it will help them lose weight.

In some cases, these deliberate skippers will then workout on an empty stomach, trying to force themselves into a fat-burning calorie deficit. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine explored the efficacy of this approach by monitoring the biological responses of exercisers who had fasted versus those who had eaten. The researchers found that the subjects who ate a light meal before exercising burned more calories, specifically those from fat, for up to 24 hours following the workout.

It should also be considered that when you skip any meal and go for long periods of time without eating, your blood sugar drops dramatically. Because you are more hungry than you would be otherwise, you are more likely to eat a large meal which will cause an insulin spike. This hormone response will actually cause your body to store more fat.

This Balanced Breakfast

Science and experience have shown the importance of breakfast, especially for the physically active person. But what is a healthy breakfast?

The exact answer to that question is fairly controversial in the health and fitness realm, but most experts agree that breakfast should account for about 25 to 30 percent of your daily calories.

This means that a healthy person following an active lifestyle and using a standard 2000 calorie diet should have a 500- to 600-calorie meal to start the day.

According to the IDEA Fitness Journal, an ideal breakfast should incorporate complex carbohydrates like oats and cereals, fiber from fruits and vegetables, and proteins from beans or nuts. IDEA suggests that breakfast should be no-to-low fat, so if you use milk in your oatmeal, cereal or smoothie, consider low-fat options or alternatives such as soy or rice milk.

A healthy breakfast will help set the nutritional tone for the day and get your body off to a decent metabolic start. Find foods that you can easily fit into your schedule and enjoy first thing in the morning. Also, consider your activity for the day and adjust your meal to fit. If it’s a training day, you’re going to want to eat more complex carbs than otherwise. Some easily prepared complex carbohydrate foods include starchy vegetables, beans and whole grains. If you’re typically rushing out the door first thingin the morning, why not try preparing something the night before? With just a little planning, you could have no-cook refrigerator oatmeal ready to grab and go in the morning.

In an upcoming post, I’ll share an easy recipe for healthy breakfast bars that’s been my fall-back breakfast option for a long time.

How have you managed to fit a balanced breakfast into your busy schedule? Please share your tips with us in the comments.


Build a Better Breakfast