Note: supplements are in no way required for optimal health, as I believe one should be able to obtain every nutrient needed to be healthy through food alone. That being said, there are a few supplements I recommend taking with an explanation as to why.
The reason I suggest supplementing with fish oil is because unless you are eating cold water, oceanic fish like wild caught salmon and sardines several times a week, you are probably not obtaining an adequate amount of omega-3s and are thus likely deficient.
Omega-3s are essential polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). Essential, meaning our bodies cannot produce them, and therefore must be acquired through diet. Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly the long-chain forms EPA and DHA, have garnered quite the popularity in the last several years and for good reason. Found most abundantly in the human brain, the roles EPA and DHA play in preventing everything from cardiovascular disease to depression to arthritis are founded on sound and reputable scientific evidence. The thing is, the average American is severely lacking in omega-3 while over abundant in omega-6, with some people having 20:1 omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio, which many studies indicate that it’s causing harm. (Omega-6 is a sibling of omega-3 and, although it is essential, it performs different functions. Think of omega-6 as pro-inflammatory and omega-3 as anti-inflammatory.) An ideal ratio looks more like 1:2 or 1:4 of n-6 to n-3 fats.
The foods that have the richest source of omega-3 fats EPA and DHA are marine life, which is why I suggest taking fish oil as your supplement to attain them. You can also acquire omega-3 fats from sources such as flaxseed, but it is a different type of omega-3 called ALA. ALA is converted to EPA (but not DHA, which is even more important) by the body, but in a very inefficient manner. Go for the direct source and ingest supplements that have high levels of EPA and DHA and save your body the trouble of having to convert ALA to EPA.
If you’re worried about PCBs, mercury, and other contaminants, I can assure you’re putting yourself at a greater risk not consuming these essential fats than by consuming them. Plus, many of the quality fish oils undergo an extensive purification process that eliminates any potential contaminants. If you’re worried about developing ANY of the following medical conditions, take some fish oil to help prevent it: heart disease, cancer, depression, Alzheimer’s, psoriasis, acne, and arthritis to name a few.
When purchasing a fish oil, look for the EPA and DHA content on the Supplement Facts Label on the back of the product. For example, the fish oil I take has a total of 684 mg of omega-3s PER CAPSULE. 274 mg are in the form of DHA and the remaining 410 mg are in the form of EPA. Many brands serving sizes are 2 capsules, which can be kind of tricky. So try to pay attention to what you’re actually getting.
Always keep in mind that eating fish is better than supplementing, so try to increase your seafood intake. If that’s not going to happen, take the easier route and take an omega-3 supplement.
Dosage: An ideal amount is 1.5 grams of DHA and 2 grams of EPA per day.
There are many brands ranging from poor to great quality, but here are a few that are trustworthy in both liquid and/or capsule form:
Brands: Now Foods Ultra Omega, Carlson, NutraSea Original Liquid, Source Naturals, Barleans, Finest Pure, Nordic Naturals or even Kirkland from Costco, which has the content I described above, is reputable.
Cost: Price ranges from $15-$40 for 1-3 month supply.
Here is a definitive guide for purchasing fish oil.
Ah, the sunshine vitamin. Ever wonder why you get that feeling of pleasure when the sun is beaming down on you? Neither have I, but I can only assume it is wired into us through the works of evolution to help signal to us that the sun is good. It is no wonder we visually associate health with a tanned individual as opposed to someone who is pale.
Absolutely critical to health, vitamin D, which is actually a hormone – a prohormone – is unfortunately deficient in over 50 percent of Americans! This of course is due to our modern lifestyles and misinformed dermatologists suggesting we slather on thick layer of SPF 5000 before any exposure to the outdoors.
Vitamin D deficiency is considered by many experts to be playing a significant role in the incredulous rate of disease in our country. As you may know, vitamin D deficiency can cause rickets. However, this much overlooked vitamin plays a vital role in preventing diabetes 1 and 2, many cancers, fibromyalgia, insomnia, osteoporosis, arthritis, poor dental health, and many other chronic conditions and mild ailments. Furthermore, vitamin D has been shown to increase strength and athletic performance. Entire books have been dedicated to the benefits of this lowly vitamin, it’s that important. And not only that, but the newfound interest of vitamin D and its benefits were featured in New York Times Top Ten Medical Breakthroughs in 2007.
Vitamin D can be obtained via two sources: the sun and food. Unless you’re eating liver several times a week, you’re most likely not getting enough. If you get a good amount of sun exposure throughout the months in which the sun is close enough to the earth that your body can manufacture it, your blood serum vitamin D levels should remain adequate all year long (in Nashville you can’t produce vitamin D in the months November- February). However, if you’re not able to get out in the sun during the spring and summer months, taking vitamin D via supplemental form is very important.
It’s recommended that you try to obtain all your vitamin D through direct sunlight during peak hours in the warmer months, but not everyone is capable of doing that. Try getting a decent amount of sun exposure in the warmer months. An hour of direct sunlight onto the skin during its peak hours can produce upwards of 50,000 IUs! Not to worry, you cannot overdose on vitamin D via sun exposure.
I recognize that I’m advocating that you expose your unprotected skin to the sun, which some folks may find absurd and unsafe. That’s because it’s actually very beneficial. Exposure to the sun can do a tremendous amount for your health and well-being – without increasing your risk for skin cancer. What you should NEVER do is let yourself burn. Expose yourself to the sun and develop your tan INCREMENTALLY and SENSIBLY. As spring roles in, expose yourself for 10 minutes a day or whatever your skins threshold is before turning pink. Gradually increase your tan. The tanner someone is, the harder it is for them to burn, the better off they will be. Having a tan is the body’s natural defense against burning. Burning is where the danger is. But even if sensible sun exposure frightens you, just supplement instead.
Up until recently, the recommended intake was 400 IU/day. However, they have recently increased their recommended intake due to a substantial amount of evidence suggesting its benefits. A safe and reasonable amount for people to take is 2,000 – 5,000 IU per day. Some people require a low end of about 1000 IU a day and some people require about 20,000 IUs per day. As with everything, there is biological individuality and variability, and so some tweaking of intake may be necessary. Studies show that the average adult would need to take over 10,000 IUs a day for at least 5 months before having to be concerned about toxicity. However, a person’s blood serum Vitamin D levels should range from 40-60ng/dl no matter who you are. Again, the only surefire way to know how much you need to take is to get tested, and is currently one of the most ordered assays in the country, it’s that critical.
Make sure to get vitamin D3 in gel cap, liquid, or tablet form. If it’s in tablet form, be sure to take it with a meal containing fat, as vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, meaning it requires fat to be absorbed properly.
Dosage: Depends on the person and the amount of sun they get, but 2,000-5,000 IU is a safe a reasonable amount.
Brands: Now Foods, Kirkland, Carlson, Source Naturals, Thorne Research
Cost: A six month supply will likely only set you back about $10. Very inexpensive.
Click HERE for a great lecture by Dr. Holick on all you need to know about the sunshine vitamin.
There are few compounds in the body more important than Magnesium. So important, it has over 300 enzymatic functions. And, much like omega-3s and vitamin D, most Americans (nearly half!) are deficient in this critical mineral. Besides the 300 or so enzymatic reactions, magnesium is key in preventing all sorts of ailments. For example, irregular muscle contraction (important for CrossFitters), insulin resistance, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers, bone density disorders, can all be the result of lack of magnesium intake.
Nuts, fruits, dark green vegetables, and some fruits are all good sources. However, modern agriculture has depleted many of the nutrients and minerals from our soils, which has led to a smaller amount in the plants we consume. Also, our paleolithic ancestors used to drink water from streams and lakes and rivers, which is very high in magnesium. However, with today’s current water cleansing and filtering systems, only a trace amount of magnesium is left in tap water, much too little to be of any benefit, though you can purchase mineral water that contains magnesium, but again, it is a very small amount.
The recommended intake via supplemental form is 400 mg a day. Make sure you purchase a kind that is in a chelate, citrate, glycinate or any kind that ends with an “ate”, because they are absorbed the best. Like the two supplements I recommend above, it isn’t very costly, and for many of you totally worth it.
Also, I suggest taking magnesium about an hour before bedtime because of the relaxing and sleep inducing effect it has.
Dosage: 400 mg daily
Brands: Source Naturals, Now Foods, Natures Way, Kal and then there is Natural Calm, a stevia sweetened (assorted flavors) fizzy drink that is actually really damn good.
Cost: A 3-4 month supply will cost you around $20-$25.
***I have found that Amazon.com or other online sources have the best prices for most supplements.
Popping a good quality multi-vitamin with your first meal is a good precaution to prevent any vitamin or mineral deficiencies you may have. Is it necessary? It may be, and may not be. Better safe than sorry.
Green Pasture Fermented Cod Liver Oil/Butter Oil Blend
This stuff has garnered A LOT of attention recently among the paleo/low-carb/primal crowd. Loaded with fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, quinones, EPA and DHA and other goodness, this stuff is great. I have heard people rave about the benefits it has on the health of their skin and hair. However, it is quite pricey, and tastes terrible, so if you decide to try it, I’d suggest buying the capsules. Unless you’re like me and can tolerate the fermented (read: rotten) fish liver taste in your mouth.
Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
BCAAs, L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, and L-Valine are the building blocks of protein, which are required for muscle protein synthesis and thus muscle hypertrophy (growth). It also enhances athletic performance and speeds up recovery. An excellent pre and post workout supplement if you are training on an empty stomach.
The brand that I personally use is Scivation, which comes in many different flavors and is calorie free. But there are many brands out there that can suit your need. Look for any that are calorie free.
Scientific studies have proven time and time again how effective creatine is for enhancing performance and aiding muscle growth. Creatine monohydrate is probably the best of the varieties.
Whey is good for pre and post-workout, as a means to attain your protein needs for the day. Though, depending on your goals, I would advise not making it a staple of your diet. Chewing your protein is better. Opt for whey protein that is free of soy and added sugars.
This stuff is excellent for a high source of protein pre-bedtime, as it takes far longer to digest than whey and will keep you satiated for longer.Opt for casein that is free of soy and added sugars.
Caffeine has proven to enhance athletic performance, decrease appetite and fight off many diseases. Drink your coffee!