When you’re feeling highly motivated to train and eat clean, it’s easy to get excited and stock up on all the supplements. Commonly, the more supplements an individual has incorporated into their nutrition regime, the less compliant they are with taking them. This often results in taking an ineffective dose, a lot of money wasted and feelings of confusion about the right path to take to reach your goals.
Before stocking up on every supplement, ask yourself -
Am I consistent with my training program?
Do I eat a well-balanced whole food diet?
These two aspects are the foundations to sporting success or fitness goal. Your training and eating habits don’t have to be perfect but if your answer is a definite no, then please note there is no supplement you can buy that is going to do the hard work for you.
Training programs need to be specific to your desired outcome. This is often the easier part. Nutrition and supplementation is a little more complex. It doesn’t matter what goal you have, keeping well hydrated is paramount. Water is the best choice.
Ensuring balanced nutrition for an active lifestyle requires a basic understanding of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates and fats. Macronutrients are found in whole foods in varying combinations but they all add up to provide energy. By manipulating our intake of certain foods, we can manipulate the quantities of protein, carbs and fats that we consume to enhance our sporting performance, body composition and active lifestyle.
Protein is well researched and provides the building blocks for growth and repair of muscle, brain cells, hair, skin, nails and hormones. Protein satisfies our appetite and gives a feeling of fullness (satiety).
Unfortunately, our body has no reserves of protein and we must consume adequate amounts, unless you’d prefer your body to breakdown muscle? I didn’t think so. This is best done by spreading your intake over the day. If you include a quality protein source at meals and snacks then you’re on the right track.
Quality whole food sources of protein mainly come from animal origins such as lean meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs and dairy products like milk, cheese and yoghurt. Plant proteins include tofu, tempeh, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds.
Carbohydrates are essential, they break down into glucose which is the only fuel for your brain and central nervous system. Yes, your body can make glucose from fat stores and muscle but not as quickly or efficiently. Carbs can be broken down and stored as glycogen in our muscle and in smaller amounts in our liver. We utilise these glycogen stores during training, both resistance and cardio.
Think of carbs as your fuel, you want enough from quality sources for training and sports performance but not in excess.
Quality whole food sources of carbohydrate are mainly plant-based such as wholegrain breads, pastas and noodles, grains like quinoa, brown rice, polenta, cous-cous and barley, all fruits and starchy vegetables and legumes. Milk and yoghurt provide carbs also but aren’t plant-based.
Fat has had a bad rap in the past but it’s not all bad. Fat is required for the creation of cells and hormones in our bodies, it provides insulation, protection of our organs and allows utilisation and storage of vitamins A, D, E and K. There are different types of fat, some better for our health than others.
Quality fats are mainly plant-based including olives, avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut and oil from these foods (particularly extra virgin olive oil). Salmon, fish and seafood are also great sources. However, the fats from red meat, palm oil and fried foods are less desirable because they contain or have been processed to form saturated and trans fatty acids which have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and conditions1.
Incorporating supplements is the next stage. At most, three different types of supplements will generally cover the basics and this will also depend on your individual health and fitness goals. I’ve found that people who have made the decision to get their nutrition and fitness on track are asking for one of three things; to gain muscle, to lose weight or to complete a long-distance event. I’ve broken down the basics of nutrition and supplementation for each of these concepts.
Remember, there is no quick fix, so focus on building healthy habits that are sustainable and that will see you ticking off goals.
Weight and Muscle Gain
Gaining weight is a common goal for males but also many females. Weight gain from building muscle is a great way to speed up our metabolism and it gives the appearance of a toned body from muscle definition.
The key to muscle gain (along with training) is to create an energy surplus with adequate protein. This means that you must consume more overall energy than what your body needs to maintain its current weight. So, eat more whole foods and eat them more often.
Daily protein requirements will differ between individuals. Generally, if 15-25g for females and 25-35g for males, is consumed at least four times per day, you should see muscle gain. For example, this can be achieved by eating enough protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner plus a post-workout snack.
True WPI90, WPC80 or VEGAN85 are great supplements to help you hit your targets. Another option might be POST which has additional carbs for recovery after training, or MASS which is specifically designed for weight and muscle gain.
Monitoring your weight on a weekly basis will show if you’re trending up or down, then adjust your intake accordingly. Note that with muscle gain comes a small amount of fat gain, which can later be lost, hence why many sports have a bulking followed by a cutting phase.
The process to solely gain lean muscle is slower with a strict and specific dietary plan and body composition monitoring that is a little more advanced than your bathroom scales.
Weight loss is the most common goal I come across and it’s the most controversial subject when it comes to nutrition. Generally, if you are very active you will need more energy to maintain your weight, if you hardly move then your energy needs will be lower.
Unfortunately, spot fat reduction isn’t real so shedding overall body fat is done so by creating an energy deficit. There are many ways to create an energy deficit in the diet and that is why popular diets such as paleo, keto, vegan, detoxes, fasting, DASH, Dukan and juice cleanses etc. have been associated with weight loss, some have their good points and some are plain terrible.
Alcohol and fat have the highest concentration of energy per gram. So, consider if you are having too much of either of these. Whereas carbs and protein are lower and equal at 4kcal per gram, which dispels the myth that carbs are fattening. However, carbs have a low satiety value (the feeling of fullness) so they tend to be easily overeaten.
You don’t have to track your energy intake to lose weight, it is one option and it’s a good way to become familiar with food volume, portioning and energy density.
Other simple options to reduce your overall energy intake include:
Limiting junk foods like biscuits, cookies, cakes, soft drink, take-away, donuts, pies etc.
Limit added sugar by reading the ingredient list on food labels. Sugar will be listed if it is added, particularly products like muesli bars, yoghurt, beverages, pre-made sauces and condiments. Go for no added sugar, natural no-calorie sweeteners like stevia, or try making the product yourself!
Eat more vegetables, at least 5 daily of different types and colour – this provides a range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre, which fills you up!
Drink more water.
Include protein at meals and snacks. This will help control your appetite by feeling full and prevent binging. True WPI90 or VEGAN85 are lean low-calorie protein, which are suitable options or PRO DEFINE and LEAN POST are specifically designed for training with a goal of weight loss.
Monitoring your weight on a weekly basis will show if you’re trending up or down, then adjust your intake accordingly. Aim for weight loss of up to 1kg per week to ensure that it is fat that you are losing, not muscle or just water. Greater weight loss in a shorter period of time can affect your metabolism, leading to a lower metabolic rate with a high chance of weight regain, hence the term yo-yo dieting.
Whether it’s a 10km fun-run, a half marathon or an Ironman triathlon, the primary nutrition principles are the same. Carbohydrate is the primary fuel source during prolonged exercise (>60min). When our muscle glycogen stores become near to depletion from prolonged exercise you will feel muscle fatigue and experience impaired performance, eventually having to stop exercising to refuel and recover. During a long-distance event however, you don’t want to become depleted and a supplement can be used to give your body and muscles fuel to go the distance.
True ENDURANCE is a carbohydrate and electrolyte blend that could be incorporated during prolonged exercise to top-up muscle glycogen and replace electrolytes lost from sweating.
If you want to have supplements during the big event, it’s a good idea to trial them in training. This can prevent any unsuspected or embarrassing gastrointestinal upset and familiarise you with the practicalities of consuming a supplement whilst moving.
If your training sessions are less than 60-75mins then an endurance supplement as an intra-workout is not essential but it can still be incorporated if you’re feeling a little flat. A general balanced diet should provide you with enough carbohydrate from whole-foods to fuel these sessions. However, a simple yet effective protein powder like True WPI90, WPC80, VEGAN85 or POST would be a good choice as a post-workout supplement to assist with recovery.
Take Home Messages
A quality training program and a balanced whole-food diet form the foundations in achieving body composition and fitness goals.
By manipulating our intake of the macronutrients: protein, carbohydrate and fat, we can enhance our sporting performance and active lifestyle.
Supplements can be incorporated as part of a healthy diet. A protein powder is a great start for beginners. True WPI90, WPC80 and VEGAN85 are versatile protein supplements suitable for people training to gain muscle, to lose weight or to complete a long-distance event.
Beginners may also want to include other supplements that are goal-specific such as True MASS or POST for muscle gain, True PRO DEFINE or LEAN POST for weight loss and True ENDURANCE for prolonged/endurance exercise.
It isn’t necessary to stock up on all the supplements. Up to three different types will cover the basics and remember that consistency in training and nutrition is key for success.
1. Clifton P and Keogh J. Dietary fats and cardiovascular disease: An Evidence Check rapid review brokered by the Sax Institute (www.saxinstitute.org.au) for the National Heart Foundation of Australia, 2017.