The supplement industry is a multi-million pound industry and provides a huge array of products, which usually purport to provide some sort of health or fitness benefit.

However, as it is an unregulated industry many companies make false or exaggerated claims for their products or have substances in them that although they have scientific evidence backing their efficacy, may not have a large enough dose to be effective.

Supplements are a mine field and it is difficult for the lay person to plough through the scientific evidence to determine whether the supplement is actually worth taking and spending your hard earned cash on.

In this series on supplements I will give you the lowdown on what is worth taking and what is not. I will look at vitamins and minerals, supplements for muscle building, joint health, boosting testosterone and libido, fat burners and pre-workouts.

First off, let’s look at vitamins and minerals.

Multivitamins are clearly the most popular and widely used supplements. However, they are also one of the most overrated. While it seems like a great idea to get everything you need in one pill a day, there are a number of flaws with most multivitamins.

The first major flaw is that a lot of multivitamins contain the bare minimum of each micronutrient, and not usually the optimal amount. In the case of vitamin D the optimal amount is in fact double the recommended daily intake (RDI) set by the Food Standards Agency in this country. RDI values are usually determined not to be an optimal amount, but the minimum required to prevent disease in sedentary people.

Secondly, your diet may include enough of any particular micronutrient rendering the supplemented amount superfluous. Most people’s diets are not deficient in some vitamins and minerals, but are in others. Many multivitamins provide too much of some, but not enough of those people are more likely to be deficient in.

Thirdly, there is limited room in a pill, so there is only so much you can fit in it. Since no one wants to take some huge pill, pill size is limited.

Finally, many multivitamin manufacturers often use the cheapest form of each vitamin or mineral. These cheaper forms often have less bioavailability, which is a fancy way of saying your body absorbs less of these cheaper forms. In the case of magnesium, the oxide form is often used in many pills. Both the oxide form and sulphate are not as well absorbed as the aspartate, citrate, lactate or chloride forms. So if supplementing with magnesium it is better to take the latter forms.

I should clarify, that despite these flaws I do sometimes recommend their use to some clients, if I feel it plugs a particular gap in their current diet. This would only be done on a short term basis until such time as there was an improvement in their diet.

So is there a better solution than a catch all pill?

I believe targeted supplementation is much more effective solution.

There are particular deficiencies that are common in many people.  Of course, it is difficult to determine if you are deficient or not, but if you are not eating foods that are rich in the following vitamins and minerals or not getting much sunlight, then it is likely you are deficient in these. They include:

  • Vitamin D – supplementation is particularly required, especially for those of us who live high up in the northern hemisphere and who are rarely exposed to direct sunlight (particularly in the winter). When supplementing make sure it is Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). I would recommend 1000-2000iu per day.
  • Vitamin K – supplementation should provide both K1 and K2. While most supplements use a form of K2 known as MK-7, but a better form is MK-4. Take 100-1,000mcg of vitamin K1 and vitamin K2.
  • Calcium – deficiencies are more common in older people, and those who don’t consume dairy products. For those not in those categories supplementation is probably not required. Take 500-600 mg of calcium two to three times a day.
  • Iron – iron deficiency is common in vegetarians. It is recommended that supplementation is overseen by your doctor, if you are anaemic or deficient.
  • Zinc – deficiency is only usually common in those who undertake regular intense exercise (especially if you lose a lot of sweat), or those who get regular infections. Take 30-50mg per day.
  • Magnesium –although present in many foods, it is hard to obtain enough through the diet. I discussed the best forms to take above. Take 400-500mg of magnesium per day. One of the best ways to supplement with magnesium and zinc is by taking it in form of the combination ZMA or Trandermal Technologies Recovery Spray.

So it is much better to try and determine where your potential deficiencies lie and try and address them rather than take the scattergun approach of taking a multivitamin, and although they do have the advantage of simplicity, they are not the most effective method of ensuring you get all the nutrients you need.