Supplements are a great way to ensure that you have enough amino acids, vitamins and nutrients to help you meet your health goals. That’s why nearly 75% of Americans have hopped onto the trend and now take some form of dietary supplement. Whether you want to build muscle, shed fat or even boost your brain health, there’s a supplement out there to help you.
But supplements shouldn’t be the sole tactic you’re using to help you reach optimal health. Studies show that the people who get the most out of their supplements have other healthy habits—including a balanced diet and regular exercise routine.
Here’s how your daily dose of movement and the food on your plate can amplify your supplement routine.
Why supplements alone aren’t enough
Let’s focus in on the word “supplement.” A supplement, by definition, is “something that is added to something else in order to improve it or complete it; something extra.” Dietary supplements should improve, rather than replace, a healthy diet. Although some can be more filling than others, a dietary supplement is not recommended to replace meals.
Recently, a writer from Men’s Health tried a week of eating only supplements. Besides feeling lethargic in the morning and a bit miserable, he noticed that he was almost at the point of “overdosing” on certain vitamins. Most excess vitamins, like Vitamin C, are washed out of the body with other waste. But some fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A and K, are stored in the liver and can cause adverse health effects when in excess.
When you take nutrition supplements, you also have to put in the hard work of exercising to rid yourself of the excess ingredients that could lead to stomach problems and other side effects. If you’re not eating healthy or exercising while taking dietary supplements, you may find that your supplements aren’t working as hard for you—because you’re not working as hard for them, either.
How diet and exercise boosts your supplement benefits
Just like supplements enhance the benefits of your diet and exercise, a healthy diet and exercise program enhances the benefits of your supplements.
Supplements aren’t miracle cures. If you only give your body what it needs in supplement form, it won’t move the needle as effectively. Diet and exercise keep your body undergoing the healthy processes that encourage muscle growth and fat loss.
Let’s zoom in on how our diets affect the way we process our food—and our supplements. A healthy diet is a well-rounded diet, not just one filled with supplements. A diversity of food creates a diversity of gut bacteria that helps to balance your gut and process food (and supplements) more effectively. And the gut has a huge impact on our entire immune system; 80% of our immune system cells live in the large and small intestines. Diets make their impact on the gut and digestive system fast. The right diet can give your digestion a major boost—and increase your supplement absorption in the process.
Exercise is also key to boosting the effects of supplements. Protein supplements without a workout could have adverse effects. An excess of protein gets the body ready to burn fat and build muscle, but if you’re not doing the exercises to actually burn off the calories in excess protein, the calories could turn into fat. Supplements without exercise can actually cause weight gain in some cases.
When there is a ton of excess protein in the body, the kidneys take on the role of breaking down this protein and stabilizing the body back to normal. Too much strain on the kidneys can cause a laundry list of illnesses and disorders, including kidney stones or osteoporosis. (But not to worry; it’s rare for this issue to step from too much protein alone.)
Supplements without a workout or healthy diet can be counterproductive. If healthy habits are a pyramid, supplements are at the top. Build a foundation of healthy habits before you add these to your daily routine, and see how diet and exercise can maximize your gains.
But there’s still value in supplements
That’s not to downplay the benefits of supplements. The right balance of diet, exercise and supplements can help your body reach its peak potential. In today’s uber-processed world, no one meal or diet plan is likely to have all the nutrients that you need to help your body through a workout and the recovery process.
Supplements shouldn’t replace meals, but they can be a more natural alternative (or even replacement) to prescription medication. The ingredients in supplements often deliver a boost of important nutrients that the body already produces. Ingesting these supplements allows the body to perform natural processes faster and more effectively.
The bottom line? You should be boosting your healthy diet and workout routine with the right supplements, not using them to replace other healthy habits. And with food in particular, the right diet can play a major factor in your ability to actually absorb the nutrients in your supplements—an absolute must for anyone serious about better health.