During my time as a writer for LA Fitness, my knowledge of nutrition, fitness, and health topics has grown considerably. As a certified personal trainer, I usually feel comfortable sharing my insights on fitness topics. Yet, there are still questions that I need help answering. My latest query is this:
Are supplements really necessary in order to be successful in the gym?
Personally, I do not take any supplements, and I live a very active lifestyle both inside and outside of the gym. Instead, I choose to focus on maintaining a fairly balanced diet. I choose to eat foods that help fuel me while also allowing myself some “cheat days” – which I know some people disagree with – however, that’s what works best for me.
Because everyone is wired differently, my approach may not be what works for you. When it comes to creating a personalized fitness or nutrition plan, it’s best to speak with a personal trainer or registered dietitian. However, supplements are one of those things that I have found very confusing to educate myself on, mainly because I think of them like vitamins and I get my vitamins naturally, rather than taking a vitamin supplement.
Needless to say, I wanted to reach out to a few experts on the matter.
“Supplements are the elephant in the room when it comes to the gym scene. The first thing you should always do is to check with your physician and have them do the proper testing to see if you have any deficiencies. Depending on those results or documented family history, you may need to add certain vitamins or mineral supplements to your daily caloric intake. A common example would be pregnant women, who typically get put on prenatal vitamins along with additional iron supplements as they go through their pregnancy. However, if your diet consists of the proper amount of lean meats, fruits, and vegetables, most people should be in a position where additional supplements are not needed to keep up with the individual’s active lifestyle.
The more commonly thought of supplements in our gym world are the performance-enhancing types, such as steroids, creatine, and other performance-enhancing drinks, pills, or injections. While these supplements have been documented to show immediate improvements in one’s overall strength and performance gains, they traditionally result in long term negative effects such as hormonal deficiencies. I never recommend any member or client take these types of supplements unless they have been prescribed by their doctor. For instance, these supplements are sometimes prescribed by surgeons as part of the rehabilitation program after undergoing some kind of major surgery where the supplement will aid in the rapid growth and strength of muscles, which aids in the healing process. Again, these supplements should be avoided as much as possible, generally speaking. You can get all the ‘amp’ and ‘steam’ you need from a proper diet.” – LA Fitness Master Trainer, Geoff Fox
“Just as you can get in a good workout without ever lifting up a free weight or stepping on a treadmill, you can get good exercise performance without having to take supplements. A sound diet balanced in nutrients with good hydration supports general exercise goals for non-athletes just fine. Now, healthy adults that are already fit and toned, who fuel right and would like to take it to the next level may benefit from that extra push a sports supplement can provide. They might utilize creatine, glutamine or a protein powder high in branched-chain amino acids to start. Also, caffeine can be a boost to those training for endurance.” – Debbie James, RDN
“Supplements are a highly unregulated area with few randomized, placebo-controlled trials to warrant their effectiveness. For supplements in which we do have good quality data, they have been found to rarely live up to the hype. Furthermore, we want to be cautious and consider what medications one is taking because supplements can sometimes interact and change the effectiveness of medication. Always follow the directions of your doctor, particularly when it comes to taking supplements when you’re also taking medications. The big concern around supplements is that the label may not always reflect what is in the product. When it comes to “being successful at the gym”, everyone is looking for the edge. The thought is that supplements may help in getting to the goal faster. However, healthy eating and exercise should not be a goal but a lifestyle. Habits are what create lasting change and success. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts in this journey. At Kaiser Permanente, we believe the key to healthy living is to sleep more, move more, stress less and consider increasing how many greens you eat, such as a plant-based diet. That’s it. This is what research has repeatedly shown to optimize our health.” – Sean Hashmi, M.D., nephrologist and adult weight management lead, Kaiser Permanente Woodland Hills Medical Center
From our three experts, it looks like the overall answer is that supplements are not necessary in order to be successful in the gym, but they could be helpful for certain people, depending on your fitness lifestyle and goals.
However, supplements can be dangerous if you’re taking the wrong type. So, before you choose to take any supplement, be sure to fully understand what’s in it and how it affects your body.
A healthy diet combined with a balanced nutrition plan should give you the nutrients and energy you need to build a healthy body for yourself. However, this generalized advice may not apply to those with certain medical conditions, so always follow the recommendations of your doctor.