You don’t need supplements to live a healthy life. If you exercise regularly, eat a balanced diet, get sleep, and avoid stress, you will prevent health problems while gaining muscle and losing fat. But the right supplements can absolutely take your health and fitness to the next level. Life happens—sometimes you travel, sometimes you get sick, and sometimes you eat two pounds of french fries in one sitting—and it’s nice to have a little help.
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If you want a boost, read on for a list of health and fitness supplements you might want to consider taking. And if you want to avoid a wrongful death lawsuit, check out the supplements to avoid.
Most supplements that people “swear by” have as much scientific backing as the flat earth theory. Fortunately, fish oil has plenty of positive evidence behind it.
First, it helps your heart. The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and reduce the risk of death for people who have had a heart attack. Second, it can help cancer patients improve their quality of life. Third, fish oil offers anti-inflammatory benefits that reduce arthritis pain (and are safer than anti-inflammatory drugs).
If these health benefits aren’t appealing enough, consider this: Research shows fish oil boosts how much fat you burn while exercising. One study even found that three weeks of fish oil supplementation slashed body fat by two pounds.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Inside your gastrointestinal tract, you have more bacteria than you have cells in your entire body. And while there are (obviously) bad bacteria, there are also plenty of good bacteria essential for health, digestion, and fighting off sicknesses.
Many of us, however, don’t have enough good bacteria in our gut due to poor diets, stress, and even past illnesses. For those who don’t eat fermented foods all the time, try supplementing with probiotics—those that contain plenty of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacteria bifidum—and prebiotics, which feed the good bacteria.
Most supplements that people “swear by” have as much scientific backing as the flat earth theory.
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According to a recent study in the Journal of Nutrition, less than 3 percent of Americans get enough fiber. (Actually, most of us aren’t even close.) But good levels of dietary fiber are associated with all kinds of health benefits like reducing the risk of heart disease, diabetes, several cancers, and—of course—constipation.
The best way to get fiber is to eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and veggies every day. But for the moments you can’t, keep a fiber supplement close at hand.
A lot of what we think we’re deficient in is exaggerated—except for magnesium. Western diets tend to be low in magnesium despite the critical role it plays in the brain, heart, and muscles.
As for health benefits, magnesium supplementation can lower blood pressure (if you’re at risk), reduce depression, enhance exercise performance, improve sleep quality, and protect against Type 2 diabetes. And if you have a deficiency, adding magnesium to your diet can increase testosterone too.
If you lift weights and want to add more muscle, I strongly recommend some kind of protein powder. Everyone knows protein is needed for muscle growth; plenty of studies show that protein supplementation accelerates your muscle growth more than working out without it.
Granted, a chicken breast is probably better for you than a shake. But is a protein drink a simple and easy way to get everything you need for muscle recovery after a workout? Hell yeah.
Not So Good Supplements
Preworkouts are safe, just as long as you don’t take too much. As researchers from UNC cautioned, “Adverse effects… include gastrointestinal symptoms, cardiac arrhythmia, blood pressure increases, and potential effects on lipids and blood glucose.” (Death is also a side effect.)
But are they worth it? The evidence still is inconclusive. If you’re looking for a pre-workout boost, stick with the old fashioned cup of coffee or tea—it will give you gentle surge of energy without the heart attack.
Fat burners don’t actually burn fat: They suppress hunger, elevate your metabolism, and raise your body temperature so you burn more calories. They also commonly include ingredients like caffeine, carnitine, green tea, conjugated linoleic acid, and capsicum. (There’s decent evidence that capsicum, or pepper, is a life-extender when eaten alone.)
The evidence with fat burners, however, is dicey. Some research found a slight reduction in body fat while others cite dangerous side effects and urge caution. (Fat burning supplements are regulated as “foods” by the FDA, not “drugs,” and can contain hidden ingredients.)
My advice? Ditch fat supps and use the ultimate fat burner: diet and exercise.
Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS, is a fitness expert and founder of groombuilder.com.