When it comes to fitness you want to make sure that your health is in tip-top shape. Meaning focusing on consuming nutrient-dense foods not only to attain fitness goals like weight loss or muscle building, but also for sustainable energy, to keep the immune system strong to fight off any illnesses, and to prevent any serious health issues in the future. In an ideal world, the food we eat would provide us with all the nutrients our body needs to work out and live everyday life... No dietary or nutritional supplements in sight. Unfortunately, that world does not exist. Despite our abundant supply of whole foods, research indicates that Americans are significantly deficient in many essential nutrients.  This undernourishment comes as no surprise considering the number of processed foods in the market. However, it’s not only an unhealthy diet that can lead to nutrient deficiencies, but even those following a relatively healthy diet could also benefit from taking supplements.
Before getting into why we might need supplements, let's briefly talk about what they are. A dietary supplement is a broad term used to describe a blend consisting of a concentrated dosage of essential nutrients, either vitamins, minerals, protein, or antioxidants. They come in different forms that include pills, liquids, and powders. The most important thing to know about supplements is that they are just a way to supplement any nutritional needs you may be lacking - They are not a replacement for food.
Although, some may not like the idea of taking supplements because of possible side effects or risks so they think a healthy diet with regular exercise will do the trick. That may be true, but there's more to it than that! Before ruling supplementation out completely, continue reading to learn more about why taking supplements might be a good idea!
Are exercise and diet enough?
Many would answer this question with yes! Everyone knows that eating a diet high in fast food and processed foods is what's unhealthy... But supplements aren't meant to fix unhealthy habits, they're meant to be used as an addition to your balanced diet in order to fulfill any nutrient needs. So although a well-balanced nutrition plan with a structured workout routine can certainly help keep your gut and immune system happy, and can even help with attaining certain fitness goals like weight loss and building muscle, you might still be missing out on nutrients that your body needs to prevent health issues and to provide your body the energy it needs to get through the day and your workouts!
Here are four main reasons that will make you consider adding a dietary supplement to your pantry:
Unhealthy soil and harmful chemicals produce nutrient-poor foods
You may not be getting as many vitamins and minerals from fruits and vegetables as you may have thought. That's because the method used to grow foods has a big impact on the nutrients they carry. And for those that don't know, modern intensive agriculture methods not only use harmful chemicals like pesticides, they also commonly use unhealthy soil which results in foods with lower levels of micronutrients. Studies conducted in the United States and the United Kingdom found that between 1950 and 1999 cultivated fruits and vegetables experienced declines of 5-40% in protein, calcium, phosphorus, riboflavin, and vitamin C content.  This research was conducted years ago, but it's still relevant to this day considering that methods still involve harmful chemicals and unhealthy soil.
Dietary supplements will help cover any bases that your healthy foods might miss. However, don't give up on whole foods just yet! A healthy diet should still be your main priority, so if you want to make sure you're getting the most out of your foods (and money) then consider buying organic. Studies show that organically grown foods (usually use better growing methods and healthier soil) boost levels of key nutrients in foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy products. 
Filling a nutritional gap
Unhealthy soil and harmful chemicals can impede your nutrient intake, but there are other reasons as to why people might need to fill a nutritional gap. Other reasons people fail to meet the Required Daily Allowance (RDA) can be due to strict dieting (ketogenic diets for example cut out all carbs), poor appetite, dietary preferences (being vegetarian or plant-based), and even environment. Supplementation is intended to bridge the nutritional gap and enhance the nutrient density of your diet to make sure that you are getting the right amount of nutrients for your dietary needs. For example, one of the nutritional deficiencies that quite a lot of people suffer from is vitamin D. It's common to have a vitamin D deficiency because the most optimal way to get enough of it is through sunlight. Many people are either indoors most of the day or live in a location that gets little sun year-round. In this case, good eating habits aren't enough so a supplement along with more sunlight can help.
This doesn't only apply to vitamins and minerals, this can also apply to protein supplements for gym-goers and lifters. Protein from natural sources is ideal for building muscle, but most people struggle to get enough protein in their diet this way. Taking a protein powder, made with good ingredients (like our Chocolate Cheesecake Whey Protein Isolate), can help you meet your daily protein intake so your muscles recover effectively to build muscle and strength.
Exercise increases nutrient needs
The Required Daily Allowance (RDA) on foods does not consider a person's individual situations, be it a health condition or activity level. So if you're regularly exercising, following the RDA might not be the best guideline for how many nutrients you need. Regularly exercising, especially high-intensity exercise like strength training, requires a lot of energy. This results in your body needing more nutrients in order to stay in good shape. The reason for this is because when you exercise your body uses up the energy and nutrients that have been stored in your body. There are many vital nutrients our bodies need for energy and to promote recovery, like amino acids, protein, carbs, creatine, etc. And for most people, it's just not ideal to eat a big nutrient-dense meal before a workout. That's why most use workout supplements like pre-workout, protein powder, BCAAs, and creatine. These supplements provide your body with the perfect dose of what it needs to either enhance performance or recovery. The key is to use them in addition to a healthy diet. Whole foods still provide your body with essential nutrients, but supplements like protein powder or BCAAs are packed with a few extra ingredients that you might not get enough of from food and that will help make your training more effective! The same goes for increasing energy levels! Food gives you energy, but supplements, like pre-workout, are packed with a few extra ingredients that you might not get enough of from food that will help make your training more effective!
Nutrient absorption declines with age
As you get older your body's capabilities to break down and absorb nutrients slows down. This happens because the production of digestive enzymes (help break down and absorb nutrients from food) naturally declines the older you get. Unfortunately, in this case, a balanced diet won't suffice. This is why older adults not only watch what they eat, they also take multivitamins and other necessary supplements to help restore their imbalance.
Are there any risks?
Every supplement has its own risks and side effects. With that being said, if you have any serious medical conditions or are on any medication, consult with your doctor before taking any type of supplements! Taking nutritional supplements like multivitamins, vitamin D, A, B12, magnesium, or even workout supplements, like creatine, can interact with medications and lead to serious side effects.
Now, what supplements should you take? Well, consider these factors:
- Activity level
- Underlying health conditions
- Food intolerances
Bottom line is, supplements are not necessary, but using them in addition to a healthy balanced diet and a regular workout routine can help fulfill nutritional needs that you might be missing. This can make all the difference in your training performance and your overall wellness and health! But do diligent research and consult with your doctor or nutritionist to get more information on the supplement you want to take and whether it's safe for you. And for those who want to take supplements for fitness reasons, take a look at our breakdown of popular workout supplements and what they're used for, it'll help you determine which supplement is best for your training!