I had always taken vitamins, just as a precaution. Certainly I never noticed any real difference, as I tried to eat healthy foods regardless, but I thought for sure that they were filling the gaps that my diet might have missed. I used vitamins as a precaution to whatever I might have not gotten enough of that day in my regular diet. What I was missing, I never was sure, but vitamins certainly were making up for something, right?
I took a multi-vitamin and fish oil daily, religiously, along with protein powder and other various supplements that were touted to give me exactly what I needed. Surprisingly enough, I was feeling worse and worse the more supplements I was taking. I couldn’t narrow it down, but at that time I never would have suspected that my supplement regimen had anything to do with me feeling exhausted, fatigued, and chronically upset in my stomach. “I must have caught something” I would think, or “maybe I’m just getting older, I need to exercise more.”
It wasn’t until I actually started exercising more, and paying closer attention to my diet that I realized I was far off the mark. For breakfast I was consuming, what I thought to be the perfect pairings. I would make a fruit smoothie topped off with a large scoop of whey protein powder, after all how would I build muscle, or stay full for that matter without it? Along side the smoothie I was taking in a handful of various supplements that were stated to do everything from take away the pain in my joints, to give me more energy, and make me healthier and happier. Sounds like a perfect mix, right? I wondered why my morning trips to the restroom were uh, more than interesting on many level, but, again, my mind worked against me, “It isn’t the supplements, it must be the fruit in the smoothie!”
One day I was looking for a way to improve my overall fitness and found an article on fitness site I read regularly, by someone who had a much different opinion than the peers I was taking my cues from. Instead of a hulk stunt double, this guy looked a lot more like me. He was lean, strong, covered in tattoos, and what struck me the most was he was smiling. He didn’t have a tough guy posturing like the protein pushers on the websites, he looked more like the guys I used to go to punk rock shows with. I could relate, his name was Al Kavaldo. As I did a little more research, I found out a lot of the information I had been fed, along with the supplements I had been fed, was backed by science that had been bought and paid for by the companies that made the products. The science behind the supplements I was taking wasn’t science at all, and not only was I reading it, but I realized, I was the proof!
For the first time I was seeing exercise advice from someone who wasn’t selling anything. Here was a guy that had nothing to prove, nothing to gain and everything to lose when he said ditch the supplements and take in real, whole foods. I knew in my gut, literally, he was right. There is an old saying that goes something like “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”, and in taking supplements I was doing exactly the opposite.
I started looking, and looking hard. I found that most supplement companies were selling a product that was nothing more than a name, and believe me, the strength of a placebo probably is far stronger than any claims on a bottle. People, myself included look so hard for the easy way it, it’s hard to not want to believe that I can get stronger, bigger, healthier just by taking a pill, but even in typing that, I feel silly believing it.
What is true about supplements is that the claims made about them are based more on the hype around them and less on actual, independent, scientific evidence. Now don’t get me wrong, some supplements do contain things that work, it’s just that you don’t need all the sugar, and chemicals to get the punch. Many pre-workout drinks, high priced and sold as effective supplements contain nothing that is proven to work except for the caffeine. I learned this the hard way, spending most of my morning peeing out chemicals, and wishing I had just had a cup of coffee. Coffee is cheaper, has a host of health benefits, and doesn’t contain the toxins that many supplements do. Coffee has passed the test of time, and is ignored by many fitness enthusiasts because it’s hard to make a buck off of it. More recently I have seen a lot of the cross-fit crowd embrace coffee, and a whole food, paleo diet, and you can’t deny that they might be on to something.
I stopped taking my vitamins for a week. I thought, let’s see this for myself. Surely I would feel EVEN WORSE! I was surprised to find myself feeling no different, and progressively sleeping better and waking up more refreshed and alert. A week later, I took my vitamins again and started feeling exhausted and tired all over again. It didn’t make sense. A quick internet search led me to find others that experienced “toxic” effects from the vitamins they were taking. Could I have been wrong all along? If you think about it, we have evolved over time as a species that eats relatively simple foods with very small amounts of nutrients per serving. We aren’t built to process highly potent chemicals every day, even if they are essential vitamins and minerals. It made sense to me, I was giving myself too much of a good thing.
One supplement I was taking, and can not pinpoint to stomach ache, constipation, gas and bloating is an industrial waste product of the cheese industry. Why I would willingly take it into my body, I will never know, but can now only atone for. I fell for the rhetoric about needing a ton of protein to be strong. I thought I would never grow any muscle unless I gulped down a terrible tasting product that would magically saturate my muscles with strength and turn me into a he-man. Sometimes I am amazed at what I can convince myself of. I was worried about timing of my protein shake, and that if I didn’t drink it at the right time, I might as well have not worked out at all. It didn’t matter if I had to spend an hour sitting on the toilet afterwards, just as long as my muscle were growing. Don’t buy the hype. Of course we need protein, but you can get more protein that is much more easily absorbed by your body by eating REAL FOOD. Would you rather eat a baked piece of chicken, or a grassed steak, or some syrupy sludge from a workout shaker. I know what I would rather have.
Once I even tried taking creatine, despite a good placebo effect, I felt nervous and nauseous all day. Science, and I mean science by people who don’t work for a creatine company, leans more towards the idea that we already have enough creatine, and that any gains you might make will diminish after you stop taking it. That’s all I needed to know, aside from urinating 50 times in one day.
Now I am no scientist, and this is purely my opinion. I know many people feel strongly, and even stronger after taking their vitamin and supplement regiment. More power to you! I for one, can tell you I feel better, more alert and stronger after I ditched the supplements. My proof is in my reality. I am a believer now of natural, whole foods. I eat more vegetables, fruit and lean sources of protein. I drink a cup of coffee before my workout, and tons of water throughout the day. I’m no bodybuilder, heck, I would even consider myself an amateur when it comes to being fit, but I can do 100% more pushups today than I could a year ago, and that is good enough for me. I wake up now feeling great, refreshed and excited about my diet. I know that if it weren’t for me reading that article by Al, I might have never stopped taking various supplements and continued making myself feel worse. It makes perfect sense for me, and if it makes sense for you, give it a shot.
Good luck and good health!