Americans are stimulated out of their damn minds. According to a 2013 Gallup poll 50% of Americans take some type of vitamin supplementation. If you ask most of them what each individual vitamin and mineral does they wouldn't be able to tell you, they just know they need to have it. I know perfectly healthy individuals who eat a well balanced diet that still take a multi-vitamin "as insurance". Why not though? If you have the money you might as well spend it on your own health. Does a multivitamin really help as well as people think they do? Today we're going to take a look at some of the reasons why a multi-vitamin isn't everything its cracked up to be.
Synthetic vs. Natural Source
Your vitamin may claim to have the listed ingredients, but are they in their entire part? Synthetic vitamins have a much longer shelf life and are cheaper to manufacture. If your supplement doesn't state "100% natural" or "100% animal/plant based" there is a good chance it includes synthetics. Even only having 10% of the vitamin coming from a natural source allows a company to label its product "natural". Some synthetic vitamins are well accepted by the body while others are not. Vitamin E in it's natural form is absorbed twice as well as it's synthetic form. More research needs to be done on the bioavailability of synthetic nutrients.
When looking at the ingredient list check to see how they're labeled. Whole vitamins and minerals should be listed as just their name like "Vitamin C" rather than Ascorbic acid. If it is listed as anything else it is likely synthetic.
As an example, take a look at this supplement below:
You'll notice that every vitamin has a name in parentheses next to it. This means that each one is likely a synthetically made version of the vitamin. Now chemically speaking, synthetic is the exact same same as a natural vitamin. Some vitamins and minerals vary in absorption when compared to their synthetic counterpart. There have been no long term studies on longevity when comparing synthetic vitamins with their natural ones. So it is still unclear whether synthetic vitamins are absorbed as well as their natural form. Another point is when you take a natural vitamin the body will break it down and decide where to use it. Vitamins do multiple things in the body and some synthetic counter parts are only a single piece of the whole vitamin. Take vitamin A for example: Vitamin A is responsible for healthy cell growth (Retinoic acid), Vision (Retinal), and tissue membrane health (Retinol). Some synthetic multivitamins only use one form of vitamin A and the body can't use it for the other functions. So when possible avoid a vitamins synthetic counterpart.
Here is a list of vitamins with their synthetic listed name:
- Vitamin A: Acetate and Palmitate
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): Thiamine Mononitrate, Thiamine Hydrochloride
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Riboflavin
- Pantothenic Acid: Calcium D-Pantothenate
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine): Pyridoxine Hydrochloride
- PABA (Para-aminobenzoic Acid): Aminobenzoic Acid
- Folic Acid: Pteroylglutamic Acid
- Choline: Choline Chloride, Choline Bitartrate
- Biotin: d-Biotin
- Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid): Ascorbic Acid
- Vitamin D: Irradiated Ergosteral, Calciferol
- Vitamin E: dl-alpha tocopherol, dl-alpha tocopherol acetate or succinate
Daily Value Needs:
In most of these supplements you will see astronomically high amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. Most of the time going above 100% of our Daily Value. Take a look the same supplement above and look at the percent daily value amounts. You'll see they're all well above the daily amounts. When it comes to Fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) this is not the case and I'll explain why. B vitamins get flushed out daily while fat soluble vitamins are stored in adipose tissue. Seeing as you get a lot of these nutrients from your diet as it is, concentrations this high are not necessary.
- Avoid having Fat Soluble vitamins in your supplement.
Are You Deficient?
You eat food right? Well there is a good chance you get most of your nutrients from the food you already eat. You'll be surprised to hear that all these nutrients are not that hard to find in every day food...
For example do you consume any of these foods on a weekly basis?
- Vegetable oil
- Some kind of green vegetable?
- Go outside for 10 minutes a day?
If you answered yes to these then you already get plenty of fat soluble vitamins. All of these foods contain A, D, E, and K. Since these vitamins are stored in the body you are definitely covered. So this eliminates the need for supplementing your fat soluble vitamins. Let's ask some questions regarding your B vitamins.
Do you consume any of these foods on a daily basis?
- Fortified cereals
- whole gains
- starchy vegetables
- Some kind of green vegetable?
- Maybe some fruit?
If you eat more than one of these food groups above a day then you're getting plenty of B vitamins and your risk of a deficiency is INCREDIBLY low. Most foods come jam packed with tons of B vitamins, just look at your food labels. As an example take a look at Frosted Flakes (my personal favorite cereal) food label.
You'll see it almost resembles your multi-vitamin label. Only difference is these percent daily values aren't outrageous. Now I don't condone eating sugary cereals for your nutrients, but I'm just proving a point that vitamins are everywhere in food and you're already likely getting enough.
- If your diet already includes a variety of sources you're likely getting enough vitamins.
Does Taking a Multivitamin Help You Long Term?
Most of the time I ask people why they take multivitamins its the same answer. They always say its insurance. So the logic is by replacing any missing nutrients they're going to live longer and better lives. Sounds good in theory right? Does it hold up in the literature though? Let's take a look.
- A 2013 study that followed 160,000 Women over 8 years. Half of the participants took a multivitamin and half did not. It was concluded that taking a multivitamin had little to no influence on risk of cancers, cardiovascular disease, and total cause mortality.
- One study looked at male cognitive retention with supplementation of a multivitamin. From 1998 - 2011 6,000 male physicians took a multivitamin daily or a placebo every single day. They found no difference in the multivitamin group vs placebo.
- Another study looked at multivitamin/mineral supplementation in relation to overall mortality and incidence of chronic disease. They concluded no overall benefit of taking a supplement. They found that there is even an increased risk of some cancers with supplementation.
Based on the studies I found it does not appear so. Your cognitive ability will not increase and your risk of all cause mortality will not decrease. So do you think it would help in the short run?
Competition for Absorption
When taken all together some minerals and vitamins will compete for absorption. This will reduce the actual amount you take in and will end up passing it out. As a rule of thumb here are some vitamins and minerals that don't go well together:
- Magnesium and Calcium are both usually taken in high doses compared to other minerals (several hundred milligrams compared to a few milligrams). These minerals should be taken at different times of the day if taken.
- High doses of Zinc have been shown to cause copper deficiencies.
- Fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) when taken together can compete for absorption with each other. They are also absorbed much better when taken with a meal that contains fat.
Special Populations to Consider
There are some groups that may struggle with getting certain vitamins and minerals in. In these cases supplementation of a single nutrient may be something to consider. Here are some examples:
- Bariatric surgery patients: Overal absorption rate is severely decreased.
- Vegetarians: Fat soluble vitamins more prevalent in animal products.
- Vegans: Vitamin B12 only found in animal products.
- Pregnant women: Folic acide is essential for prenatal development.
- People who work inside for long hours: Because you need vitamin D.
- Athletes on a calories restricted diet: B vitamin requirements will be high and calories requirements will be low.
- People who have been on antibiotics long term: Intestine will be damaged.
People are too quick to look for shortcuts in life. People survived just fine before multivitamins existed and they will continue to survive. Before considering buying a multivitamin/mineral supplement consider these points:
- Is it synthetic or natural?
- Are the daily value needs reasonable?
- Are you even deficient in anything?
- Are there ingredients that can compete for absorption in it?
- Are you a special population that can benefit?
My overal opinion is that you do not need a multivitamin/mineral supplement. Even as insurance I don't believe you need one. In some cases you may be doing more harm than good to yourself. I ask you to check the list of foods I placed above and try to eat these foods on a weekly basis. For more information on this topic I will leave you will this all inclusive analysis of current research on multivitamins you can find here
I'm pretty out of the loop with most fads these days. I try to spend majority of my time offline so it takes a little bit for things to catch up to me. I recently heard about new companies that created protein powders out of collagen and started making millions...
What I've come to realize with most things is that you can get a study to tell you what you want to hear. So sit back and let me tell you what I've come to learn about collagen as a protein supplement. The main concern I'll be addressing here is should you supplement with collagen protein as opposed to whey protein. I know collagen has it's benefits for cosmetics and joint health. So does that justify choosing it over a whey protein powder? Lets find out!
What The Hell Is Collagen?
Collagen is a protein just like whey. It's made up of amino acids but is missing a few (whey has them all). Collagen is higher in glycine, proline, hydroxyproline, and arginine, all of which help our body's connective tissue, skin, hair, nails, and gut health. It makes up 70% of the protein in our skin and a large amount in our cartilage and joints. It also decreases as we age which is why your skin begins to wrinkle.
Supplementing vs. Diet?
When you eat collagen your body doesn't use it as it is. The collagen is broken down first and then the amino acids are reassembled into collagen and used where necessary. So by taking a supplement you would encourage the body to create more collagen if it needed it. Your body may already have enough amino acids that it needs to make collagen. To give you an idea here's the amino acids found in high amounts in collagen powders and here's some food sources that also have them:
Found in leading collagen protein supplement
- Glycine: 3,000 - 3,500mg
- Proline: 2,000 - 2,500mg
- Hydroxyproline: 2,000 - 2,500mg
- Arginine: 1,500 - 2,000mg
Foods High In Each:
- Chicken breast (basically any meat): 3,000mg
- 1 Cup Spinach: 1,500mg
- 8oz Beef: 3,000mg
- 1 Cup asparagus: 1,700mg
Hydroxyproline: (formed in the body by proline)
- 8oz ground beef: 600mg
- Turkey: 2,800mg
- 1 Cup spinach: 2,800mg
Will Supplementing Collagen Help My Skin?
Most collagen supplements are creams that are meant to fill in wrinkles and provide elasticity in the skin. It has been unclear whether orally taking collagen will have the same effect and to this date there are not many studies on it. One study I found in the US national library of medicine was done on mice. They gave aging mice a pill of collagen peptides or proline. After 8 weeks they noticed benefits in the laxity of skin from the collagen and proline group. They concluded that supplementation from collagen could benefit the health of skin, but to see the results may take a year or two. I have not found a study comparing a diet rich in these amino acids vs supplementation. So until I find that study I don't feel confident saying supplementation is necessary, but it doesn't appear to hurt you. Some claim that collagen supplementation will help relieve join pain. I have not found any conclusive studies on this issue either. One study on college athletes did conclude that over a 24 week period they saw a reduction in join pain. The study only had 97 people and the results were based on how they felt so it had it's limitations. It is not something to be overlooked though.
So Should I take Collagen Protein Instead Of Whey???
It depends on your goals. Most collagen protein powders are low in Leucine, the amino acid most known for its ability to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. So if your goal is to get so big you can't fit through doors I would not advise collagen protein. So to the average person looking to build muscle I would advise just sticking to whey. If you goal is to lose weight and be healthy I would advise you to not buy a collagen powder and get your nutrients through diet.
Even with supplementation you can't tell your body where to put things. So if you chose to take a collagen supplement it will be broken down into amino acids and it is entirely up to your body to decide where to put them. I have not seen any harm of taking a collagen protein supplement so I have no reason to advise against it. They are usually a lot more expensive than regular protein powders so be aware of that. There have been promising results in some studies on joint and skin health but not enough to fully convince me. If you are an athlete who has joint issues, or an older person with wrinkled skin I would say give it a shot and see if it can help you.
Today I'm going to share a tip with you that will save you some money (feel free to donate it to me). BCAAs or branched chain amino acids are one of the most popular supplements in the fitness industry. This is due to the fact that people believe their muscles will eat themselves without them. This is in fact not the case. Let me explain why.
What They Do
They are nothing more than three essential amino acids named Leucine, Valine, and Isoleucine. They are essential because your body can't produce them on their own and are obtained through diet. Of the three Leucine is what made them gain popularity for it's role in muscle protein synthesis. Here's what they do:
- Leucine: Promotes muscle protein synthesis by activating the enzyme mTOR.
- Isoleucine: Promotes hemoglobin synthesis and regulates blood sugar levels.
- Valine: Helps prevent the breakdown of muscle by supplying muscles with an extra glucose.
BCAAs blew up in the fitness scene mainly because of Leucine and it's role in muscle protein synthesis. One study found that consumption of Leucine increased protein synthesis. So people thought that consuming more would lead to more muscle growth. While it is true that it will signal more muscle growth, any amount of Leucine past 2-3g won't do you any good, that is when it's benefits peak.
Where Can I Get Some Of That Leucine?
- 150g of chicken breast contains 6.6g of BCAAs and 2.9g
- 150g of salmon contains 6g of BCAAs and 2.7g
- 1 egg contains 1.3g of BCAAs and .5g of leucine (who only eats one egg though)
- 25g of whey protein contains 5g of BCAAs and 3g
- 1 Cup of White Beans contains 1.3g
- 1 Cup roasted soybeans contains 3g
- 1 Cup green beans contains .1g
- 100g quinoa contains .25g
What About Training Fasted?
Most people I know who take BCAAs do so because they train first thing in the morning. The logic follows like so:
- In the morning liver glycogen levels are low, your muscles use glycogen for energy
- Your body will convert amino acids into glucose to fuel itself
- If there are no amino acids the body will break down muscle protein and convert it to amino acids which are then converted to glucose
Thankfully your muscles can store glycogen as well and these levels are not drained at night. You will have ample supply of energy in your muscles ready to be used. So just make sure to consume 20-30g of protein post workout to refill what was lost.
Do I Need It?
Unless you're burning 1000 calories in your morning workouts then I would say no. If you are on a no meat or low meat diet I would look into it. You may still be getting plenty from your sources of protein. In any case, your diet should supply enough BCAAs to last you.
If you workout early in the morning, and you don't eat much the night before, and you have a pretty intense workout ahead of you. Then I would say go for it. It may not be necessary but it definitely won't hurt you. Much like a multivitamin, if you have the money and aren't sure if you are getting enough from diet it won't harm you at all. It's your life though! If you want to take them feel free.
Meal prepping is not just for bodybuilders. Really, it means you are someone who plans your meals out for the week ahead. You either prepare them in advance or are prepared to make them with ingredients you brought with specific meals in mind. This eliminates the guessing game of eating and is no different from anything else in life: without a goal, you won't know what to aim for. You get stronger by having a workout plan with measurable goals. You get healthier by knowing what you're eating and how much and a calorie range in mind.
By now you've probably realized that you can't out train a bad diet. You may also be trying to make gradual small changes to said diet. You may not know where to start or what to cook. Meal prepping to me used to mean brown rice, chicken, and broccoli every single day. This is not a way to live and definitely not realistically. We will take a common sense approach to this as the average person lives a busy life and doesn't have time to make a complicated meal. Here are some of the benefits of meal prepping:
By making a list of what you eat and only eating that you will eliminate unnecessary snacking, and money spent on things you don't need.
Some people love cooking, it's their favorite part of the day. This was not the case for me. I loved my time more than anything so cooking was what I looked forward to least. I prefer to set aside time on Sunday, watch a podcast or show, and get my cooking out of the way for the week. Coming home from work and not having to stress about what I was going to eat was liberating.
By cooking your own food you will know how much you're eating. There is no added sugar or fat. If you want to have a snack or eat out one day you can figure out where to cut calories from your normal meals and fit it in.
Neat-o, But How Do I Do It?
Simple, you find easy whole foods that can be made quickly, or in bulk. You follow a simple rule I tell all my clients. Each meal should have a lean protein, healthy fat, and some kind of fruit or vegetable. Breakfast can be made quickly in the morning or overnight. Lunch, unless you're eating a deli meat sandwich, will also need to be made in advance. Dinner is the most complicated meal and one I focus on the most when meal prepping!
BUT, Make Sure You Know Your TDEE
TDEE means (total daily energy expenditure). It tells you how many calories your body burns each day. Make sure you know this so you know how many calories all your meals should be. This can be found here.
Okay, Now Show Me Some Meals...
Oatmeal + granola + fruit
Omelette + Veggies + Meat
Smoothie Bowl + granola + chia seeds
Rice Cake + Banana + Almond Butter
Mixed Greens Salad + Chicken + Sauce
Ground Turkey + Rice + Side of Asperagus + Sauce
Lasagna with Ground Beef + Cauliflower + Marinara Sauce + Turkey Pepperoni + Cheese
Turkey Wrap with Deli Turkey Meat + Tortilla + Hummus + Spinach
Stir-fry with Vegetables + Chicken + Sauce
Stuffed Peppers with Ground Beef + Rice + Onions + Marinara Sauce
Chicken Soup with Chicken + Potatoes + Carrots + Broth
Salmon + Sweet Potato + Green beans
Carrots + Ranch
Banana + Peanut Butter + Rice Cake
Well Now What???
Now you get to work. Set aside time during the weekend to go shopping. Only by what you need. Prepare your dinner and lunch for the week. Place it in containers, and go to sleep ready for the week. You don't have to cook boring food. Get creative here, this is meant to be fun! Just remember the magic rule: Lean protein, healthy fat, and a fruit or vegetable. Of course your can always reach out to me if you need help setting up an eating routine that works for you!