Who Should Be Taking Supplements?

Who Should Be Taking Supplements?

07 May

Who Should Be Taking Supplements?

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me about supplements, I’d have a lot of dollars. The market utilizes our culture’s “quick fix” mentality to sell supplements aimed at mitigating all the health and fitness issues we have, both inside and outside. This has led to a billion dollar industry that steals consumers money and more importantly, their GAINZ. So, let’s clear up some things about supplements. In this post, we are going to discuss their purpose, various levels of prescription (relative to goals), types and brands.

First, let’s break down what “supplement” means to help provide context before we start to dig into the details.

The Purpose of Supplements

Supplement (noun)

  1. Something that completes or makes an addition

Dietary Supplement (noun)

  1. A product taken orally that contains one or more ingredients (such as vitamins or amino acids) that are intended to supplement one's diet and are not considered food

This is an important distinction. Supplements act as a supporting piece. They are not the foundational aspect of one’s nutrition. The reason this is an important distinction is the market sells supplements with the intent of highlighting them as the rate limiter in your ability to get stronger, leaner, faster, and bigger. This is simply not the case. Supplements, when prescribed appropriately, can add value and support to one’s goals when their lifestyle and nutritional patterns are dialed. You can’t build a house on sand. If your foundation is weak your ceiling for growth will be drastically limited.

Having said that, it’s worth revisiting what those foundational lifestyle pieces (or the Basic Lifestyle Guidelines) are to give context:

  • 8+ hours of uninterrupted sleep each night
  • Going to bed and waking up at the same time every night
  • 60%+ of your bodyweight in ounces of water each day
  • Eating at the same time each day
  • Chewing your food, 30+ times per bite as a reference point
  • Moderating daily stress accumulated from work, relationships, emotions, internal, etc.
  • Having a clear purpose and aim for your life to give meaning and direction

This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it does include, in my opinion, the key pieces of the foundation needed for success in all aspects of life and fitness.

Once someone has these pieces in play and has shown consistent implementation of them for quite some time, ensuring they’ve become habits, then it becomes worth implementing supplemental pieces that can help further their growth. If your boat has a leak, you don’t put duct tape over it and head out to sea. You fix the structure, then head out into the stormy waters (I’m all about the analogies on this post).

Levels of Supplement Prescription

Now that we understand what role supplements take, we can discuss the varying levels of prescription relative to someone’s goal and function. For the purpose of this blog post, I have divided supplementation to three levels of fitness performance, however there are definitely arguments for other levels or crossover between these. The 3 levels I’m going to discuss are as follows:

Level 1 – General Population

     Goal: Health and longevity

Level 2 – Weekend Warrior

     Goal: Health while challenging their physical capabilities

Level 3 – Athletes

     Goal: Winning, performance, maximal physical potential

Level 1: General Population

Before prescribing supplements for those in the level 1 category, they need to be checking off, on the boxes listed above surrounding lifestyle and daily rhythm. Those pieces create the foundation needed to thrive. Once those pieces are in place and consistent, we can start to add supporting pieces to help further progress and add value to their health and fitness as a whole.

Level 1 Supplementations:


Multivitamin (includes Vitamin B complex)

Fish Oil

Vitamin D -liquid preferred

The focus here being reinforcement of their foundation to allow for greater physical challenge in their training.

Level 2: Weekend Warrior

People within this level have a specific competitive aim within their training. As a result, they have created a bit more routine and consistency in their life to cultivate greater

adaptation in their training. They will benefit from the Level 1 protocol plus a few additional pieces.

Level 2 supplementation:


Multivitamin (includes B complex)

Fish Oil (little higher dose potentially)

Vitamin D -liquid preferred

Whey Isolate or Goat Whey Protein Powder



The focus here is on recovery from training in addition to stable energy for daily living.

Level 3: Athletes

These people have structured their life to fully support training and competing. Their goal is to reach their maximum physical potential. All aspects of their life support this endeavor. Living long and prospering are not in the forefront of their mind. Competing against the best in the world and winning is the primary focus. Due to the added volume and stress from training, these athletes will benefit from additional support outside of their daily food intake. For nearly all, it is nearly impossible to get enough daily whole foods in their system, and digest it, to ensure adequate recovery. One of the reasons for this is the implementation of multiple training sessions per day. This places a hamper on digestion forcing athletes to aim for faster and easier to digest foods, carbohydrate powders as an example, to ensure their training sessions are not compromised from lack of available nutrients.

Level 3 supplementation:


Multivitamin (includes B complex)

Fish Oil (little higher dose potentially)

Vitamin D -liquid preferred

Whey Isolate or Goat Protein Powder


Pre and Post Workout Shakes (Protein/Carb based)

Carbohydrate powders





Others specific to their physiology and biology

The focus here is on recovery between sessions, maintaining solid gut balance and potential increases in output within training sessions

It bears repeating, 99% of people will receive ample help and support in their daily life, training and recovery by simply adhering to the lifestyle guidelines mentioned above. It is wise to ensure those pieces are implemented and consistent before moving into supplementation.

It’s also worth noting, there are other supplements, outside the scope of an athlete or coach to find and prescribe, that might be appropriate in some cases. In these instances, I would refer out to a functional medicine doctor who can help guide a client in areas outside of basic supplementation presented here.  

Types and Brands of Supplements

The brands I will list below are ones I’ve personally used and recommended to clients, friends, and family of mine. Dosage will be on a case by case basis so I will not go into detail with that. If this is something you are interested in, I suggest you seek-out a coach for further discussion around supplemental protocols relative to your goals. 


General rules of thumb:

Multi strains

Rotating sources every month or so

Genestra HMF

Douglas Labs

Klaire Labs

Designs for Health


General rules of thumb:

Vitamin B9 – needs to say tetrahydrate folate - brain ready

Need predigested folic acid due to poor methylation (most Americans can’t digest folate very well)

Vitamin B12 – Methylcobalamin

Chelates - gold standard for minerals (binds to amino acids)

No tea while drinking multivitamin due to tannins reducing absorption rate

More than 7mg magnanese -can become neurotoxin

Designs for health


Thorne AM/PM

Fish Oil:

General rules of thumb:

Keep in refrigerator

Quality sources makes a big difference

Take with Carnitine for better absorption (read: meat)

Cut one in half and smell to see if rancid

Pay attention to EPA/DHA values (those are the 2 you mainly want in the product)

Nordic Naturals

Designs for Health

Vitamin D:

General rules of thumb:

The further away you live from the equator, the more deficient you might be

Liquid sources are preferable

Daily sunlight when the sun is the highest in the sky can significantly boost internal vitamin D production

Designs for Health

ATP Labs

Protein Powders:

General rules of thumb:

Quality matters; isolates have a higher percentage of whey relative to a concentrate

Grass-fed whey is a better option

Goat whey has less lactose; sits better for some people

Beef Protein - most anabolic (quickly absorb / high insulin index)

Complete Essential Amino Acid 1g = 2g Whey

MRM Whey

Teras Whey

Teras Goat Whey


General rules of thumb:

Helps lower cortisol

Need higher dosages to see a positive effect on recovery

Powder is preferred

Optimum Nutrition


Carbohydrate Powders:

General rules of thumb:

Have to earn your carbs


Highly branched cyclic dextrin

Waxy Maize


Dextrose can spike blood sugar rapidly (can be too aggressive)

Oat starch powder – slower reacting

Liquid needs to be cold for better absorption

No Fructose

30% protein added (when used in post workout window for level 3 athletes)

True Nutrition

Revive Rx



General rules of thumb:

Plays an integral role in the Electron Transport Chain; decreases each year after 20

Will help with recovery and managing inflammation

Vital Nutrients



General rules of thumb:

Will help with strength and recovery

Works off saturation; best with loading phase (but not necessary):

30-40g per day in 7g dosages for 1 week; then 5-10g per day thereafter

Monohydrate works the best (clean powder, nothing added to it)


Optimum Nutrition


General rules of thumb:

Plays a role in over 300 enzymatic activities in the body

“-ates” are better than “ides”

Anxiety; low magnesium decreases your resilience to stress as it goes hand in hand with GABA as it binds to and activates GABA receptors

Poor blood sugar management - Mag is the mineral of insulin sensitivity. Low Mag status makes it very hard to control blood sugar levels

Low androgens

Subpar brain function

Low energy

Magnesium Threonate - most absorbable and highly benefits the brain memory, attention span, and sleep quality

Magnesium Malate - great for people suffering from low energy; tends to get depleted after working out

Magnesium Glycinate - Liver and muscle health

Magnesium Orotate – Heart health

Magnesium Taurate – Heart health

Pure Encapsulations

Designs for Health


General rules of thumb:

Essential for the production of androgens, IGF-1, and growth hormone

Zinc is synergistic to the absorption of all nutrients known to man (if you are deficient in zinc, you are probably deficient in a lot of nutrients

Zinc is essential to insulin management (Lack of zinc will impair insulin sensitivity -> poor storage of glycogen leading to more fat accumulation)

Zinc regulates dopamine production (dopamine drops if zinc is low -> low mental acuity and drive)

No zinc = low attention span (can’t focus)

Designs for Health

Pure Encapsulations


Supplementation can be beneficial, but it will not fix a poor lifestyle. A pyramid can only be built based upon how big its base. Honor and integrate optimal lifestyle behaviors, first. From there, look objectively at your goals. Then, identify where you sit on my scale (Level 1, 2, or 3). Finally, look to see if supplemental sources of nutrition can help you and if they are prudent. Start small, then build. And in case you forgot, remember my analogies ;)

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