Health: The real truth about supplements, by James Haskell
The subject of supplements is a tricky one and something that is debated continuously in health and fitness. Firstly, there are no quick fixes. At the time of writing this, and to my knowledge, there is not a miracle pill that gets you instantly in shape. As you will have read in my previous features for The Sloaney, my mentality is that diet is everything; well, at least 70% of everything we do.
You should always aim to get the maximum amount of nutrition from the food you eat. Eating clean, well and properly is the best thing you can ever do for your body. For those of you who hate the thought of working out or training, if you get your diet right, the benefits will be clear for everyone to see. You will be healthier, sleep better and even have nicer skin.
Everyone is different and we all have various daily demands and stresses. Naturally, this means nutritional needs differ from person to person. Anyone who tells you we are all the same and can live a generic lifestyle is quite frankly talking tosh.
I see supplements as the finishing touch to a good diet, or a method of getting nutrition on board in an easy, time-saving manner. Alternatively, they can be an important way of helping with deficiencies. Boosting training and performance are also key areas where supplements can play a role. However, if you try to use supplements as a replacement for a good diet, you will become unstuck pretty quickly!
My first experience with supplements was in the corridors of public school. Through lack of knowledge and some pretty over zealous advertising by companies that were targeting teenagers, the senior public school boys looked to supplements to get results, rather than their diet.
I remember the suggested use of Creatine (a supplement that occurs naturally in red meat and that helps recovery and muscle gain) was like the use of some anabolic steroid. Boys huddled in corners drawing up a shortlist of who they thought was taking it or deciding whether they should become involved themselves. It seemed an obsession, which was fueled by old wives tales of boys getting huge. Or their livers exploding.
In reality, it’s all a load of rubbish! Now, I have no doubt that overuse will cause issues but Creatine is misunderstood and certainly no miracle tool. I started taking protein shakes because I was training every evening at school with my trainer and nutrition was a struggle. Protein shakes were frowned upon by some of my peers, but this was something I ignored at the time.
It was a real challenge to get the volume of food on board that I needed to match my training. Gaining weight can be difficult but anyone who tells you they have a fast metabolism or cannot put on weight just isn’t eating an enough. It’s plain and simple. Back in the school days the catering staff would rather have thrown the food away than let the other boys and I have seconds. Judging by the size of some of them, I have my suspicions that they were actually munching it while no one was looking!
So, I had to fuel my training and recovery. The trainer would bring me two whole cooked chickens to eat after a session, but that is another story for another day…
Since my school days, I have shifted my focus away from supplements onto eating a really clean and healthy diet. My first port of call is always to try and eat healthy food. However, as you can see with my BodyFire range, I am not completely anti supplements and I do believe they have a place. Once you have your diet right and a good idea of what you are doing in relation to your fitness, I would recommend considering how they can help. If you are taking a stab in the dark, here are some of my top suggestions…
Which supplements and how can they help?
What? Omega 3 Fish Oil
Why? Healthy skin and reduced inflammation
The supplements I am currently taking include Omega 3 fish oils. While you may eat a healthy diet, you can still end up being deficient in Omega 3. Your body needs both Omega 3 and Omega 6 but we often have more Omega 6 than Omega 3. Therefore it is something I take in the morning and evening as it has a number of health benefits. For example, the oils play an important role in reducing inflammation throughout the body.
What? Vitamin D
Why? Boost your immune system
I try to take some Vitamin D as we don’t get a lot of exposure to the sun in this country. Vitamin D is great to take for immune boosting and recovery. Recent testing on my teammates at Wasps has proven many of them are Vitamin D deficient. It is something our current nutritionist feels is very important to get on board, so all the players are conscious to boost this.
What? Zinc and Magnesium
Why? For a good night’s sleep
ZMA (Zinc and Magnesium) really helps with sleep. If you really struggle with insomnia, you could take two before you go to bed. I find I have a much deeper sleep when I take it. Some people say there are side effects, including vivid dreams and increased libido, but I am yet to experience any yet.
What? Protein shakes and Branch Chain Amino Acids
Why? For muscle definition
Due to the volume of training I am currently doing at Wasps (twice a day as a minimum), I often need to take protein shakes post-training. These are a pretty simple whey protein (a pure protein form), as well as some carbohydrates, and I also add Branch Chain Amino Acids. BCAAs are key for building muscle and helping with recovery and tissue repair. They stimulate production of insulin, the main function of which is to allow circulating blood sugar to be taken up by the muscle cells and used as a source of energy. I take one of these shakes after a session during the day; however, the majority of protein and carbs I take on board come from the food I eat.
What? Virgin coconut oil (Tagaloa)
Why? Enhance digestion and give extra energy
This is not necessarily a supplement but nonetheless it is vital when embarking on a healthy diet. Tagaloa is my own version of virgin coconut oil that I have just launched through www.jhbodyfire.com. Coconut oil has a superb combination of fatty acids, which are massively important. Too many diets recommend dropping out the fats. Coconut oil is one of the most misunderstood fats of all time, with the assumption it is fattening to consume. Nothing could be further from the truth! The brilliance of Tagaloa is the versatility and you should always be cooking with coconut oil instead of olive oil. You can also use it as a substitute for butter and other saturated fat spreads. Another hint is to add it to your morning coffee as it is a tremendous source of energy. I couldn’t start the day without it.
Tagaloa also has a very high content of Lauric Acid and Monolaurin, which helps to support the immune system, killing bacteria and pathogens. People who are immune compromised or suffer from digestive problems should use coconut oil regularly as part of their balanced diet.
How should you introduce supplements?
If you are keen to add some supplements into your diet, start with one or two at a time. Try them for at least six weeks and then make an informed decision as to whether you feel they have worked and whether you feel any benefit. Remember that some of these supplements won’t give tangible results, but over time you should see some positive signs.
As I have said before, there are no miracles, but there are a few things (like the supplements I have recommended) that can assist with healthy living. However please never replace food with supplements; nothing is better than a balanced diet.
If you want to find out more about diet, training and nutrition, then please visit jhbodyfire.com