Welcome to Supplements Guide 101: your introduction and guide to nutritional supplements. Ever wondered what to take and why, or wanted to know what the research says about safety and efficacy?
Here's your one-stop shop for basic supplement information. Let’s go!
What are supplements?
In the context of health and fitness, when someone talks about “supplements,” they’re usually referring to nutritional supplements—items designed to increase your intake of a certain nutrient (or group of nutrients!) for the sake of optimizing your diet or your performance.
Basically, supplements were given a good name—they’re made to supplement what you already have.
Though the name is apt, it’s also somewhat vague, and can be referring to some wildly different things. So for this guide to supplements, I’ve picked some of the most widely-used supplements around.
Click below or scroll to learn more about each supplement!
- Protein Powder
- Pre-workout / Caffeine
Are supplements healthy?
The short answer: they certainly can be! Using supplements to add onto a healthy diet can enhance your health and performance in athletic pursuits. As with anything else, supplements can be misused, which is why it’s important to consult the latest research, as well as a medical professional, when considering adding them to your nutrition plan.
Are supplements necessary?
In some cases, yes! Because of various reasons, some individuals may not get enough of a particular dietary component within their normal nutrition plan. As a result, supplements may be recommended to balance out your intake.
Supplements can also enhance athletic performance; this is not strictly necessary, but it can certainly be beneficial to overall health outcomes.
Are supplements safe?
Because supplements are not required to have the same oversight from a third party before they hit the market, it’s certainly possible that you’ll encounter a low-quality supplement that fails to deliver on its promises and utilizes low-quality ingredients.
Accordingly, it’s that much more important to find supplement manufacturers you can trust for quality and consistency.
You’ll see a lot from Clean Simple Eats in this guide to supplements, because I’ve come to use and trust their products to fuel my everyday lifestyle.
How do I use supplements?
It’s important to follow manufacturer guidelines on each supplement. Better yet, use the guidance and supervision of a medical/nutritional professional when choosing to use supplements.
Guide to supplements
Below, you can find some common supplements and an introduction to their use, benefits, and resources to learn more.
What is protein powder?
No guide to supplements would be complete without a discussion of protein powder. Protein powder is just that: a powder designed to get you a large dose of quality protein. This comes from different sources.
A common source of protein for powder is whey, though there are other sources, such as casein, egg, and various plant-based protein powders.
What are the benefits of protein powder?
For a human diet, discussing the “benefits” of protein is kind of like discussing the “benefits” of oxygen. Protein is essential to our structure, our ability to grow and maintain growth, and to fueling our movement.
The benefits of protein powders are that they provide another way (outside of protein sources in our diet) for us to get the protein we need. While it isn’t a good idea to get protein only in its powdered form, these supplements can help you reach a level of protein intake that fits your goals.
Where can I learn more about protein powder?
My favorite protein powder
Clean Simple Eats Protein Powder is my favorite. Here's why:
- Highest-quality ingredients
- 20g grass-fed whey protein
- Mix & match flavors (that are actually delicious)
- No artificial ingredients
The code JORDO will give you a discount on all Clean Simple Eats products, including their protein powder.
What is creatine?
If you’re outside of the strength training and bodybuilding world, creatine probably sounds exotic. But did you know that this is another naturally-occurring compound in your body, whether you supplement with it or not?
Creatine naturally occurs in your muscle cells, and it plays a huge role in muscular strength and stamina. Any good guide to supplements should include a discussion of creatine, which is one of the most popular athletic supplements in the world.
What are the benefits of creatine?
One reason for the massive popularity of creatine as a supplement is that it is ergogenic—in other words, it can actually increase your performance in the gym (and your recovery after!).
Check out some of the sources below for more information on creatine.
Where can I learn more about creatine?
- Barbell Logic What Does Creatine Do?
- Barbell Medicine Creatine Video (under 5 minutes)
- Healthline Creatine 101
What are BCAAs?
BCAAs are branched-chain amino acids. Remember the importance of protein? Amino acids are the compounds that form the structure of proteins. Certain of these essential BCAAs can only be gotten from food, and the BCAA supplements are designed to make it easier to get those in your diet.
What are the benefits of BCAAs?
The best research about BCAAs suggests that they are especially helpful for hydration and muscle recovery. Some even suggest that BCAA supplementation may help with reducing muscle soreness, which can be crucial to stay on track with workouts!
Where can I learn more about BCAAs?
- Precision Nutrition: All About BCAAs
- Healthy but Smart
- Holeček (2018) (includes discussion of BCAAs as a supplement)
My favorite BCAAs
Clean Simple Eats' Hydration Drink Mix is my favorite way to get BCAAs. The electrolytes help me hydrate and BCAAs help me with muscle recovery.
- Supports Lean Muscle Mass (formulated to help build, repair and maintain lean muscle mass)
- Caffeine and Stimulant Free
The code JORDO will give you a discount on all Clean Simple Eats products, including BCAAs.
What is pre-workout?
As the name implies, pre-workout is a supplement designed to be taken before you start your workout, for the sake of energy, focus, and a boost to performance.
Pre-workout tends to utilize caffeine as the primary source of energy, so you‘ll find anywhere from 150-300mg per serving. In addition to the energy components, pre-workout blends tend to include Beta-alanine (an amino acid), BCAAs, and creatine.
Benefits of pre-workout
Pre-workout is intended to boost performance during the workout and aid in muscle recovery after the fact. Caffeine, besides providing an energy increase, has been shown to increase athletic performance.
The advantages of BCAAs and Creatine are discussed above, and taking them in one supplement provides a convenient way to gear up for some intense workouts.
Where can I learn more about pre-workout?
- This GNC article about common pre-workout ingredients and their uses.
- This Transparent Labs article about the same thing.
- This Aaptiv article about health benefits and risks of pre-workout.
My favorite pre-workout
Clean Simple Eats' Energy mixes into 8-12 oz. of water and includes caffeine, B vitamins, and come in a delicious variety of flavors.
What is collagen?
Collagen is another foundational protein in the body, responsible for healthy skin, joints, bones, hair, and nails, among other things.
Benefits of collagen
It is thought that supplementing collagen can contribute to many aspects of health, as the body’s ability to produce collagen decreases with age. Although it is a protein, collagen supplementation is not supposed to provide the same kind of muscle protein benefits as whey protein or other protein powders. Rather, taking it as a supplement seems to provide benefits to bone density, as well as skin, nail, and hair health.
Where can I learn more about collagen?
My favorite collagen
Clean Simple Eats' Super Collagen Mix has great unflavored and flavored options, making it very easy to incorporate into my supplement regimen. Each serving contains 9 grams of collagen!
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that can provide health benefits to our bodies. They are often called "good bacteria" because of they can help our digestive systems, destroy disease-causing cells, and produce vitamins.
WebMD explains "when you lose "good" bacteria in your body, for example after you take antibiotics, probiotics can help replace them. So probiotics can help balance your "good" and "bad" bacteria to keep your body working the way it should.
Probiotics are commonly found in:
- Fermented foods
- Dietary supplements
- Beauty products
There are several kinds of probiotics so it's recommended to consult your health care provider for daily dosage information.
Benefits of probiotics
- Help your body maintain a healthy community of microorganisms
- Influence your body’s immune response
- Can help treat conditions like:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Infectious diarrhea (caused by viruses, bacteria, or parasites)
- Diarrhea caused by antibiotics
- Might help with conditions like like eczema, urinary and vaginal health, preventing allergies and colds, and oral health
Where can I learn more about probiotics?
- WebMD Article on Probiotics
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
- Probiotics Article by Nourish WebMD
What are greens powders?
Greens powders are a convenient way to receive the benefits of green foods such as broccoli and artichoke leaf, wheatgrass, and others in a single beverage. While exact formulations vary from brand to brand, these products combine many greens and usually include some sort of flavoring.
Greens powders are usually targeted at people who may have nutrition gaps in their food intake. The greens in powdered form are said to provide some of the benefits of their whole food counterparts, such as improved digestion and gut health, higher energy levels, and a strengthened immune system.
Where can I learn more about greens powders?
My favorite greens powder
Clean Simple Eats Super Greens taste incredible (my favorite is the Peachy Greens flavor!) and provide a variety of green nutrients.
What is melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone made in your brain that helps your body know when it is time to sleep and wake up. Our bodies release melatonin as a response to darkness; it also prepares our body for sleep. It can also help keep your circadian rhythm timing regular.
A melatonin supplement is usually taken to help regulate a sleep cycle, because it can help people who struggle with insomnia, irregular sleep cycles, and jet lag. Because melatonin supplements are becoming so popular, it’s no wonder it makes it into this guide to supplements.
Daily dosage information is in this Web MD article.
Benefits of melatonin
- Regulates sleep cycle
- WebMD states melatonin is possibly effective for high blood pressure, cancer, endometriosis, insomnia, jet lag, migraines, sunburn, and anxiety before surgery
Where can I learn more about melatonin?
What is magnesium?
Magnesium is a mineral that is crucial for the body’s function because it helps regulate normal blood pressure, keep bones strong, and a steady heart rhythm. It is also required for the proper function of nerves, muscles, and many other parts of the body—seems important to include in a guide to supplements!
Low levels of magnesium can cause inflammation, which can be associated with major diseases like osteoporosis, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, clogged arteries and certain kinds of cancer.
The most common way to intake magnesium is through certain foods. Most foods that are high in fiber are a good source of magnesium. Examples from WebMD include:
- Whole grains
- Green leafy vegetables
- Dairy products
- Hard water
The recommended daily dosage of magnesium depends on age, sex, and other factors like pregnancy and breastfeeding. For example, it’s recommended a female 31+ take 320mg/day, and a female the same age while breastfeeding take 360 mg/day.
Benefits of magnesium?
- Bowel preparation - can help prepare bowels for medical surgeries
- Constipation - can help as a laxative
- Indigestion - Helps relieve symptoms of heartburn
- Seizures in women with eclampsia - can reduce the risk of seizure in these women
- Low levels of magnesium - can Increase magnesium levels
- Likely effective for cerebral palsy, seizures, and irregular heartbeat
- Possibly effective for asthma, colon cancer, diabetes, high cholesterol, weak and brittle bones, pain after surgery, and Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Where can I learn more about magnesium?
- WebMD Magnesium Overview
- WebMD Supplement Guide - Magnesium
- National Institutes of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements - Magnesium
What is zinc?
Zinc is a nutrient that helps your immune system and metabolism function. It is also important for healing wounds and sense of taste and smell.
People can usually get enough zinc from eating a wide variety of foods, though it’s good to keep it in this guide to supplements in case someone’s diet alone is insufficient. Food sources include poultry, red meat, chicken, red meat, some types of seafood, beans, nuts, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals.
The recommended daily amount of zinc is 8 milligrams (mg) for women and 11 mg for adult men.
Benefits of zinc
- Wound healing - Evidence shows this supplement can aid in wound healing.
- Shorten Length of Colds - Evidence suggests that if zinc is taken within 24 hours after cold symptoms start, the supplement can help shorten the length of colds. However, the use of intranasal zinc has been linked with the loss of the sense of smell, in some cases long term or permanently.
Where can I learn more about zinc?
- Mayo Clinic Article about Zinc
- National Institute of Health: Office of Dietary Supplements Article on Zinc
What is calcium?
Calcium is crucial for bone health, and also belongs on any good guide to supplements.
A risk factor of not getting enough calcium is problems related to weak bones. This relates to children not reaching full potential adult height and adults having low bone mass which is a risk for osteoporosis.
Because our bodies don’t produce calcium naturally, we must get it through other sources like those in this list from the Mayo Clinic:
- Dairy products - Cheese, milk and yogurt
- Dark green leafy vegetables - Broccoli and kale
- Fish with edible soft bones - Sardines and canned salmon
- Calcium-fortified foods and beverages - Soy products, cereal and fruit juices, and milk substitutes
Calcium recommendations depend on age and sex. For women 19-50, the recommended daily dosage is 1000 mg.
Benefits of calcium
- Bone Health - Helps build and maintain strong bones
- Heart, muscles and nerves need calcium to function properly
- Calcium might help protect against cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure (evidence is not definitive)
- Calcium supplements are usually helpful for these people (list from the Mayo Clinic):
- Follow a vegan diet
- Have lactose intolerance and limit dairy products
- Consume large amounts of protein or sodium, which can cause your body to excrete more calcium
- Are receiving long-term treatment with corticosteroids
- Have certain bowel or digestive diseases that decrease your ability to absorb calcium, such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease
Where can I learn more about calcium?
- What the Mayo Clinic Says about Calcium - Research about risks, types of calcium supplements, & how to choose a supplement