Get Strong in 2019 Challenge Day 27: Do You Really Need Supplements?

Close-Up Of Pills On Table
Are supplements really necessary for weight loss or building muscle? (Image: Seksak Kerdkanno / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages)

It seems like every other week, a new supplement is on the market, claiming to reverse aging, make your hair and nails grow longer or help you lose weight. So what's the deal with these supplements anyway?

For the most part, your healthy diet should provide you with the majority of your nutritional needs — both macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein) and micronutrients (iron, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A, C, D, E and K, just to name a few).

But there are times when you fall short. And that's where certain supplements can help. We're not talking about the fat-loss pills you see on late-night infomercials, but the ones you'll find in the vitamin aisle of your local health food store. Depending on your current nutritional deficiencies, we've compiled some food sources and supplements you may want to consider adding to your diet.

Best Food Sources of Vitamins and Minerals

It's much easier for your body to digest food sources of these nutrients than taking them in pill form. So here are your best bets when it comes to eating your micronutrients.

  • Vitamin A: carrots, pumpkins, spinach, mangoes, sweet potatoes
  • Vitamin B-12: meat, poultry, fish, milk, cheese, fortified soymilk and cereals
  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, potatoes, broccoli, bell pepper, spinach
  • Vitamin D: fatty fish and fortified milk and cereal
  • Vitamin E: green, leafy vegetables and whole grains and nuts
  • Vitamin K: eggs, milk, spinach, broccoli, kale
  • Iron: red meat, poultry, eggs, fruits, green vegetables, fortified bread
  • Calcium: yogurt cheese, milk, salmon, leafy vegetables
  • Magnesium: spinach, broccoli, legumes, seeds, whole-wheat bread

Which Supplements Should You Add?

Sometimes you need a little help filling in any nutrient gaps. Luckily, there are vitamins, minerals and supplements to help you when you need it.

The supplements section in your pharmacy or grocery store shouldn't freak you out — provided you know what to consider and what to avoid. Just be forewarned, just because something is a supplement, doesn't mean it's healthy or that you need it. And if a claim sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

To get you started, here's a sampling of the best supplements:

  1. Omega-3 fats help lower cholesterol and may positively impact learning and brain health as well as reduce the risk of heart disease.
  2. Glutamine is an amino acid that supports digestive health and may help strengthen the immune system.
  3. Coenzyme Q-10 (CoQ-10) supports heart health, reducing high blood pressure and cholesterol.
  4. Probiotics boost the immune system and promote intestinal health.
  5. Vitamin D reduces inflammation, promotes bone health and boosts immunity — and the majority of Americans aren't getting enough.

When shopping for supplements, keep in mind that they aren't as strictly regulated as regular food, so it's vital that you scrutinize the labels. Any product worth your money should be certified by a trusted third party, such as the United States Pharmacopeia or NSF International.

Look for the approval symbol from either of these when supplement shopping. As with any supplement, you'll want to check with your doctor first before taking because they can interact with different medications.

What About Protein Powder?

After you've addressed your micronutrients, what about your macronutrients? For most people, it's easy to hit your carb and fat intake (hello, pizza!), but protein can be a bit tricky, especially if you work out a lot or don't like eating big chunks of meat with every meal.

Before you add a protein supplement to your regimen, first track your food intake for at least a week. Sometimes you may not think you're getting adequate protein, when really you're getting just enough.

If you do want to add a protein shake into the mix, strategize carefully, since you certainly don't want to go overboard with protein. Perhaps you only have one before or after a really intense workout or on days you're constantly on the go and don't have time for a healthy, sit-down lunch (note: these shouldn't be regular meal replacements unless you've talked with your doctor).

In that case, choose carefully. There are a lot of protein powders out there with unhealthy fillers or lots of sugar. And you have options — whey or collagen? flavored or unflavored? — so be sure to check out our guide to what to consider with protein powders (as well as a few of our recommendations).

Figure Out Your Supplement Needs

Track your micronutrients in the LIVESTRONG.COM MyPlate app so you'll know how supplements impact your health and what vitamins or minerals you might need.

We want you to be well — and well-informed — so you can be smart about your supplements, maximize your transformation and get the results you desire.

Read More on Which Supplements to Take

Still confused on which supplements to take and which to toss? Here are a few more helpful guides.

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