Supplementing Health: Things to do BEFORE Visiting GNC*

Over a year has passed since my initial contact with athletes from Dominican High School, a private Catholic school on the north side of Milwaukee, WI. It’s been a great experience working with the high school athletes from several sports and I’m excited to be kicking off the start of the school year as their Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator. Since starting my personal training career (back in 2005 as the 11th CrossFit affiliate), I learned very quickly from my mentors at the time the motivational power of the blog. It recognizes results, gets people talking and helps to generate excitement over the hard work being done and the achievements being made. Since there are certain issues in displaying pictures of scholarship bound athletes on the website of a private business, I took the route of creating a Facebook fan page dedicated solely to the students at the high school. This way I could provide good informational links, share some motivational material, post their pictures of their workouts, etc. without any conflict of interest. The fan page went live in August of 2011.

It only took a little over one month before it happened. One of my pet peeves. A person became a fan of the page and immediately made a post in regards to a service that he wanted to promote to the parents, coaches
and students of the high school. Don’t get me wrong, I know people need to promote and advertise, but for some reason it seriously irks me when they come to a website or Facebook page uninvited to do so. In my mind it immediately reduces their credibility and brings doubts to the quality of their product/service, not to mention their manners and integrity. These same feelings were intensified when I clicked on the ‘store’ link of their website and saw only nutritional supplements being sold. On top of it all, there was virtually no information on the website as a whole pertaining to their dietary approach or nutritional viewpoints. All of this added up, at least in my opinion, to a business that was promoting athletic success through the consumption of their nutritional supplements. Not that this is necessarily the case, but the thought of heavy supplementation without taking some precursory steps is wrong on many levels. You’ll spend a lot of money and have very little to show for it.

Does this mean I don’t believe in supplementation? Nope. When done properly, supplementation can have a great effect. But it’s no miracle cure and can’t act as a band aid to cover a festering wound consisting of bad dietary, sleep and fitness habits. It’s like holding up a gauze pad in front of an approaching speeding semi-truck and saying, ‘Come on through!!!’ Here are some huge steps you can take to optimize your performance/health significantly without ever visiting the local supplement store. Once you get these steps in line, then smart supplementation can be used to its full benefit (hey, I just thought of another article topic! Woohoo!). Oh yeah, and I’m not charging ANYONE ANYTHING for this information. Sorry folks, nothing for sale here. In fact, adopting some, if not all, of these principles might actually save you some dough, especially when the possibility of future health care bills are concerned….

Protein – are you getting several servings, from a healthy source? If you have any athletic aspirations whatsoever, this is your number one priority. Protein will fuel muscle maintenance and growth, contribute towards stronger bones and immune system activity and helps promote fat loss. Ideal sources include grass-fed beef, wild caught fish and cage-free chickens (and their eggs). These sources not only provide good protein, but will have the most favorable fatty acid ratios. Please don’t get me started on soy. If you’re a serious athlete (and male, especially) avoid it like the plague.
Carbs – are the majority of your carbohydrate sources coming from mostly vegetables and some fruit? They are the most nutrient dense, fiber containing source and don’t have any of the gut irritating qualities that many grains and legumes have. Pursuing your carbohydrate sources using this guideline will likely have no issue in meeting the USRDA’s requirements for most vitamins and nutrients. The daily level of carbohydrate intake should correspond to the amount and type of overall physical activity – those engaged in high intensity efforts over extended periods will require more than those that aren’t. Remember, lots of veggies, some fruit. Please don’t get me started on gluten containing products. If you’re a serious athlete (or even if you’re not), avoid them like the plague.

Beverages – are you drinking only water (MAYBE some occasional joe (you know – the coffee WITHOUT all the crap in it) or tea)? Beverages outside these categories will likely contain a good amount of generally useless calories, won’t do anything to satiate the appetite and most often contain, if not sugar, then artificial sweeteners. And don’t get me started on high-fructose corn syrup. If you’re a serious athlete (or even if you’re not) avoid it like the plague.

Sleep – are you getting enough? (oh wait, I’m addressing high school kids, right? Just shake your head ‘no’, OK?) Sleep is hugely important. Remember that the way you get stronger, faster, more explosive etc. doesn’t happen during the workout. It happens during your recovery period, when your body learns to adapt to the stresses of training. If you’re not getting enough sleep at night, you’re shooting yourself in the foot from an athletic standpoint. Everything from hormone levels to aerobic capacity to exertion perception levels to muscle repair can be negatively affected from inadequate rest. Getting your rest in a completely dark room will help immensely in the quality of your sleep and its potential benefits. This book is a great place to learn just how important this aspect of your life really is.

Are you taking your fish oil? I know, I know – you’re thinking, ‘Wait a minute, I thought this was an article on steps to take BEFORE shoving supplements down my throat.’ Well, when it comes to fish oil I can’t think of many people who shouldn’t be taking it. Remember in step one where I briefly mentioned fatty acid balance? In modern day society we’ve managed to achieve a very unhealthy balance between the omega 6 fatty acids and the omega 3s. Outside of heavy adherence to a paleo diet with optimal meat sources, it’s difficult to impossible to restore healthy ratios without some concentrated source outside of normal dietary intake. And please don’t get me started on flax seed oil. You don’t necessarily have to avoid it like the plague, but there are much better ways to go about achieving the goal of reducing inflamation.

Anyway, there you have it, folks. Five steps, a little diligence and a HUGE transformation in health and wellness all without popping one pill (OK, that’s working under the assumption that you’re fish oil is coming in non-pill form). I’m hoping that you remember these guidelines when it comes time to deciding whether or not to supplement. This way you’ll not only get the most out of life, but any money you do decide to spend on supplements will be more worth it, because you’ll have your ducks in a row (and it’s probably OK to eat the ducks too! – provided they have not been corn/soy fed, that is).

*And actually, I’d avoid GNC (yes, like the plague). Our friends over at Elite Nutrition offer a MUCH better value, especially when you take into account the discount offered to members of CrossFit Milwaukee!!

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