What supplements do you actually need?
There are so many health, diet and fitness supplements on the market, that it can be confusing to know which ones we should take. To keep it simple, we will focus on two types: micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and protein. If your body goals are to lose weight or gain lean muscle then you should check out our other health and exercise pages for healthy, safe and sustainable ways to do this.
Do I need micronutrient supplements (vitamins and minerals)?
Micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) are essential for your health, however, it is difficult to track how much you eat in your diet. There are many different vitamins and minerals, which serve different purposes. They are also present in different quantities and the amounts we need to consume differ. You can learn more about micronutrients here.
If you consistently eat a healthy diet with plenty of different types of fruits and vegetables, then you may not need micronutrient supplements. If your diet is not that healthy, or if you have a medical condition* you may need to take supplements. If you are an athlete, weightlifter or regularly do intense exercise, you may also take them to meet the increased need of micronutrients.
*If you have a medical condition you should seek the advice of a medical professional.
Which micronutrient supplements should I take?
We recommend two types of micronutrient supplements:
Supplements for a specific vitamin or mineral based on your needs. You may need one or more specific vitamins or minerals if:
- you are an athlete, weightlifter or regularly do intense exercise and need to focus on a specific area. For example, weightlifters may need to consume more calcium (bone health), iron (transportation of oxygen), magnesium (regulates energy production and protein synthesis), Vitamin D (immune function and bone health) and Vitamin K (testosterone).
- you have a specific diet, which makes it more difficult to consume certain vitamins or minerals. For example, vegans may find it more difficult to eat enough iron, calcium or zinc, which are found in high quantities in meat and dairy.
- you have specific health or medical needs and your doctor recommends taking supplements
Multivitamins & minerals which cover all (or almost all) essential vitamins and minerals – if your diet is not that healthy or you have an increased dietary need for micronutrients, you may want to take a supplement which contains all or (almost all) essential vitamins and minerals to really make sure that you are getting enough micronutrients.
When choosing a micronutrient supplement, you need to check which vitamins and minerals it contains and the quantity or % of RDA (recommended daily allowance), NRV (nutrient reference value, or other value depending on the country. Remember that these values are based on the average of the population, so you may need more or less than this. The supplement you choose should contain 100% of this value.
Some supplements may be cheaper if they contain fewer vitamins or minerals. Consuming more than 100% of the RDA is safe (some vitamins and minerals can be dangerous but only when consumed in very high quantities) and any vitamins or minerals that are not needed will be excreted from the body.
If you are weight training, you will need to consume more protein (around 2g per kg of body mass per day) and EAAs (learn more about this here). It is possible to do this in your diet, although some people choose protein supplements as they can be a quick, easy and cost-effective way to consume high quality protein.
Types or protein supplements
The most common type of protein is WHEY PROTEIN. We would generally recommend whey protein, because it usually contains a high amount of protein, BCAAs and ECAAs (such as Leucine) and there is a lot of choice on the market. Remember that these are just supplements and you will still need a good diet and exercise routine to reach your body goals.
The main difference between whey protein supplements is the total protein content and the way they have been processed:
- Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC): Roughly 70 to 80% protein. It usually contains some lactose and has a relatively low amount of fat and carbs.
- Whey Protein Isolate (WPI): It is generally 90% protein, or more. It usually contains less carbs and fat compared to concentrate and can be digested and utilized faster by the body.
- Whey Protein Hydrolysate OR Hydrolyzed (WPH): This is even purer than WPC so it can be used by your body very rapidly.
- Whey Protein Blend: This is a blend of WPC, WPI and WPC.
There are other types of protein you can consider:
- CASEIN PROTEIN – Similar to whey protein, casein is a protein found in milk. However, unlike whey, casein is digested and absorbed at a much slower rate, meaning that your muscles have a more steady and prolonged supply of protein. Therefore, it is best to consume casein before sleeping so your body has a steady supply throughout the night.
- EGG PROTEIN – Similar to other animal products, like chicken and beef, eggs are a complete protein source, providing all nine essential amino acids. Like whey protein, egg protein has a high leucine content and is a good choice if you have a dairy allergy.
- VEGETARIAN (or VEGAN) PROTEIN – This is a good choice if you are vegetarian, vegan, or have allergies to other protein sources. In fact, if you are vegetarian or vegan, it is likely that you will need to take a supplement to consume enough protein, ECAAs and BCAAs. The most common of these supplements are pea, hemp and rice protein, which differ nutritionally, for example, pea protein is generally higher in leucine.
- CREATINE – Although Creatine isn’t a protein, research has shown that taking a creatine supplement can help increase your strength and power performance, as well as increase muscle size. Therefore, if you are considering a protein supplement, you should also consider creatine. Creatine can also be found naturally in meat and fish.
Which protein supplement should I choose?
When choosing a protein supplement consider these factors:
- Check for BCAAs & ECAA content. You need to make sure that you are consuming high quality protein. There are a number of different amino acids (amino acids make up protein), but we would recommend checking that the supplement contains leucine. Research has shown that we should aim to consume around 2.5g of leucine with each meal to maximise protein muscle synthesis. Therefore, you should choose a protein supplement which contains around 2.5g of leucine per meal.
- Timing – In the day, you will generally want to choose a protein which is released quickly and is available for your muscles to use, such as whey protein. However, if you want to give your body a slow and prolonged supply of protein, such as when you are sleeping, you should choose casein.
- Calories – Protein supplements may serve different purposes. For example, some protein supplements are high-calorie to help you bulk up. Others are low in carbs and fat and mainly just contain protein. We generally recommend protein supplements that are lower in calories, as you can get the rest of your calories from healthy and nutritious foods in your diet.
- Cost – Protein supplements will differ in cost depending on the protein type. For example, WPI will be more expensive than WPH & WPC because it is more refined. WPC, WPH and WPI will differ in the amount of calories and macronutrients they contain, and how quickly your body can use the protein, however, this is not going to make a significant difference unless you are a professional weight trainer or are on a very strict diet. Therefore, you should consider whether it is worth paying more money for a WPH or WPI protein supplement. It is more important that you choose a supplement with high BCAA & ECAA content (particularly Leucine) with the right calories and macronutrients.
Check out our other health and diet pages: