The S-Word - Supplements
Yeah, it's a convoluted topic; mostly because there is a lot of BS in the industry, it's hard to know what is smoke and mirrors and what might help to change your life (or at least your body).
I get asked so frequently for information on what I take - if there is even a glimpse of supplements in the background of an Instagram story you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be inundated with DM’s asking me what supplements I take.
So I wanted to share what I do with a HUGE FAT DISCLAIMER - This is something I do for my body based on what I have learned through living in it for 30 years. I want to share what I do with the hopes that you will also go and do your research. Research that is based on the things that you've learned about your body already, coupled with sound evidence from studies on humans as well as advice from Dieticians and Nutritionists (registered ones, not weekend warriors or nutritional ‘coaches’)
I take the following on a regular basis:
Magnesium and Calcium
Probiotics (although this is usually on and off)
The 411 on the supplements I take
Below I have explained the benefits of taking each sup, along with my reasons for taking them.
I can’t stress this enough - please please please remember; a supplement is called a supplement for a reason. It’s not supposed to replace nutritious food - it’s supposed to supplement it, wherever needed.
I have a very, very active lifestyle, and I eat mostly a plant-based diet (with fish around my menstrual cycle for added iron and other nutrients). These supplements suit me, and they may not be suitable for you.
I will also mention that you are not what you eat, but what you absorb - another reason that I supplement is to hopefully give an extra boost to the vitamins that may not be adequately absorbed. If however, you have gut issues, those need to be addressed before you can begin to absorb the nutrients not just from your food, but from supplements as well.
I have divided the blog into two parts so that you are not bombarded with information. Take your time and please read the suggested further reading below.
Why it’s important?
Let's be real for a second here; the average person on a western diet is most like NOT protein deficient. I want to flag that because it's not necessarily essential for everyone. However if like me you are very active, train a lot, have a lot of strength and fitness goals, or would like to grow muscle (while possibly reducing body fat) then higher protein levels might be required.
If you are sedentary (in 2012 only 54% of women met the recommended starndards for weekly exercise in the UK); .8g protein per kg of body mass is enough to cover necessary daily requirements.
It’s important to note that protein isn't JUST for building muscle, it's involved in a lot of other critical physical processes (including maintaining a healthy immune system, rebuilding all kinds of tissue and hormonal health).
So personally, I'd instead encourage you to be less sedentary and consume more protein than to go with the government standards based on a very inactive population.
Protein is a macronutrient that can be found in tonnes of things from plants to animals. Animal-based proteins are sometimes deemed ‘ superior' because they are what’s known as ‘complete’ - meaning they contain all nine essential amino acids that your body requires (essential means that your body can’t produce it, itself). This can quickly be rectified, however, by combining plant-based proteins with different amino acid profiling to obtain your full 9.
This is important to be aware of when choosing a plant-based protein; you want to look for plant proteins that are a combination of different protein sources. Pea and Rice, for example, form a complete protein when combined because they complement each others missing aminos.
If you want to know more about protein, read my book: I go into detail about this vital macronutrient (I go into detail about a lot actually - it’s thick AF).
Why I take it?
The truth is that protein powder isn’t necessarily superior to full whole foods (unless you have trouble breaking down and digesting whole foods, remember, you are what you absorb).
What protein powder can help with is convenience and ease. It makes protein consumption a whole lot easier because you can add it to smoothies, smoothie bowls, oats, yoghurt, even baked goods (and no, heating it doesn’t denature it).
I consume protein powder because it helps me to keep those protein levels high on the go, post workout or in between meetings.
No, it doesn’t have to be reserved for pre/post workouts only, you can consume protein powder at any time.
I have a protein shake almost every day using some of these recipes.
Iron - Non-Heme and Heme
Heme Iron is bound with carrier proteins and is found in Animal products
Non-Heme is not bound with carrier proteins and is found mostly in plant-based foods.
Ok, so wtf does that mean?
Heme is better absorbed than non-heme based on that carrier protein.
Why it’s important?
It forms red blood cells - so yeah it's pretty essential.
It also helps to produce aerobic energy (which is why an iron deficiency feels so shit)
Makes up hundreds of proteins and enzymes; thus it contributes to many other functions.
Non-Heme - dark leafy greens, legumes and beans, whole grains, peppers, olives, potatoes and seeds (pumpkin especially).
Heme - Fish, Shellfish, Organ Meats, Red Meats, Dark Poultry.
Why do I supplement?
I became severely anaemic when I was vegan. I am recovering, however, because my diet is mostly plant-based* I do have to take an Iron Supplement to get enough.
I also exercise a lot which can affect iron absorption abilities as well. Exercise causes inflammation which increases the production of Hepcidin a key iron-regulatory-hormone. During inflammation, iron absorption is reduced which, if you’re already anaemic can cause problems. I am both anaemic and active, so it’s vital that I supplement, at the right times. Vitamin C and A are also essential factors in iron absorption, which is why a balanced and ‘rainbow’ diet is so important.
*I do eat fish around my menstrual cycle, purely to support iron*
Further reading on protein:
Further reading on Iron: