Fitness Series: Do I Need to Use Supplements?

Supplements have become a big trend in the outdoor industry over the last couple of years, and especially so in the hunting industry. But the big question is does the average Joe really need to take supplements?

First off, a supplement is just that – a supplement to your diet. If you are eating a healthy balanced diet and getting all the vitamins and minerals you need through your meals, you don’t need to supplement your diet. It is better for you to get your vitamins and minerals from the food you eat rather than a pill or powder. Many of us have often heard that we should be taking multivitamins. Multivitamins should be an insurance policy, making up for the little bits we miss here and there. It should not be our main source of vitamins.

I had someone described it to me well once. They said if you are eating healthy and taking supplements you are just paying for expensive urine. Your body can only use so much of each vitamin and mineral. Your body will generally release what it can’t use. Continuing to take excessive amounts of the nutrient can create a toxicity disorder. A simple multivitamin once a day, however, isn’t likely to cause toxicity. It takes excessive amounts (like 10 times the recommended daily value) of vitamins to cause toxicity disorders. So if you use supplements, just be sure you don’t overdo it. One of my pet peeves is the claim that taking extra Vitamin C will prevent you from getting sick. Taking extra Vitamin C has not been proven to prevent or shorten illnesses. On the other hand, taking extreme amounts of Vitamin C (doses more than 2,000 mg) may cause diarrhea, stomach cramps, and kidney stones among men with a history of kidney stones. If you don’t want to get sick, wash your hands and avoid people that are sick.

Pre-workout supplements are also very popular today. They are frequently just called pre-workout and you are supposed to take them before working out or doing physical activity. In a nutshell, pre-workout supplements simply give you more energy for your workout. They contain ingredients such as caffeine that boosts your energy levels. For the average Joe, eating a healthy, balanced meal 2 to 4 hours before working out will also give you energy for your workout. Pre-workouts alone won’t make you stronger. Working out harder and smarter will make you stronger. Energy bars are also popular to boost energy. Energy bars are essentially just cookies made with soy and fortified with vitamins, minerals, and fiber. High protein energy bars are especially popular on the thought that protein will boost energy. Protein, however, is not a quick energy source. It takes your body time to break protein down and use it for energy. Consuming more protein than your body needs also does not build muscle tissue. Strength training and working out builds muscle tissue. Whey protein has been shown to enhance exercise recovery in resistance training though. It is not as well researched in endurance training, but when coupled with carbohydrates it appears to be beneficial.

Will supplements make you a better hunter, fisherman, or outdoorsman? No, at least not on their own. Being in good physical shape will make you better. Supplements can help when used properly, but the average Joe doesn’t have to take supplements to be in shape. You have to get out, be active, and put in the work. You can take all the supplements you want, but if you don’t work out you will not get in shape. Conversely, if you work out and don’t take supplements you can still get in good physical shape.

If you use supplements, something to keep in mind is that they are not regulated by the FDA. Anybody can go into their garage and start making and selling vitamins and supplements. They can also promise pretty much anything they want without having research to back it up. I looked at a few supplements popular among outdoorsmen, and next to every claim was an asterisk. Below the claims was a statement that essentially said that it isn’t known if these statements are actually true or not. If a supplement is shown to have a significant or unreasonable risk of harm, then the FDA will work to remove it from the market. But this is only after it is already out there and people are using it. If you choose to use supplements, do a little research into them first. Look at the ingredients in the product. See if it has the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need. It is also good to look at the company making the supplements. The longer they have been around the more likely it is that they know what they are doing and that their products won’t cause issues when used properly. And don’t just take the word of the company, the people they sponsor, or their field staff. Talk to people that aren’t connected to the company. Talk to your friends, family, neighbors, or other average Joes that have used those supplements. Many of the big name supplement companies in the hunting industry have so many field staff members that you can’t throw a rock without hitting one. They can give good advice, but it will most likely be biased. It would be like asking somebody from Denver if they like the Broncos. Of course they’re going to say yes. The best advice is unbiased advice.

It may come across that I am bashing supplements, but I don’t mean to. I have simply found that the average Joe doesn’t have to use supplements to get in better shape. If you choose to use them, supplements can be a useful tool when used properly. I do, however, think they are getting overused. There are times when supplements such as vitamins must be used to support a healthy diet because of health conditions. For example, I know a handful of people that because of health conditions they cannot eat certain foods. (I’m not talking about eating gluten free. I’ll cover my thoughts on that in another post.) If they can’t eat certain foods, they must get the vitamins they are missing from somewhere. Therefore they take supplements. Professional and semiprofessional athletes also benefit greatly from supplements. Their training regiments put more strain on their bodies and require that more nutrients be added to their diet. They are putting their bodies’ through much more than the average Joe does with a normal workout or hike. The average person on a healthy, balanced diet doesn’t need to take supplements to hunt and fish and be in the outdoors. Supplements won’t make you healthy. Being active and eating right will.

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