So Many Questions...
There’s always a lot of questions regarding supplements. Which one’s do I take? When do I take them? What benefit do they provide? Do I need to take supplements at all? Here I’m going to go through the list of supplements I take on a regular basis, and try and answer these questions for everyone. Keep in mind I am not a medical professional nor can I give out medical advice. These are just the supplements that work best for me and my body. Everyone is different and I am just providing you with the information I have gathered along the way.
Supplements I take daily:
Evening Primrose Oil
When I wake up, the first thing I do is make my way out to the kitchen to make a coffee. I take my probiotic, Rhodiola, and echinacea first. When my coffee is brewed I add a scoop of my collagen peptides, along with some coconut milk creamer and sweetener (on occasion).
This is the probiotic I take. It was chosen specifically for me by my local health food store owner so I don’t want to recommend any specific strains as they all do different things depending on your needs. I do encourage you to do your research if you’re having any gut issues because probiotics are absolutely not one size fits all. Here’s a link to a great website with lots of info to dig in a little deeper. If you just generally want an improved microflora of bacteria in your gut go ahead and get a probiotic that has a diversity of strains of bacteria. If you are having specific gut issues there are many varieties you can get which will target that problem. If you’re not sure what a probiotic is, they are live bacteria, considered to be “good”, which help with your health, most notably your digestive system (source). They can replenish the “good” bacteria in your gut and help regulate the types of bacteria found there for optimal health (source). Of course, the Dental Hygienist in me can’t talk about probiotics without noting their link to good oral health as well. Some strands of the bacteria have been shown to reduce the amount of “cavity” causing bacteria in the oral cavity, have improved peoples periodontal health and even helped with halitosis (or bad breath) (source). If you want to read more on these studies you can check out the link here. If you want to check out Amazon’s Top Rated probiotic supplements, I have them sorted here for you.
This is the Rhodiola I take. I started taking Rhodiola about 4 months ago when my Mom suggested it to me. It is an Adaptogenic Herb which helps your body adapt to stress. I have always been on the anxious side and continuously worry about getting EVERYTHING done ASAP and I’ve found the Rhodiola really just levels me out. I feel much more calmness in my life since I started taking it. It is also known to manage physical stress on the body (source) which is another reason I feel it is beneficial for me to take. Working out six days a week lifting moderate to heavy weights most of those days will definitely cause some degree of physical stress on your body and the Rhodiola helps to minimize these negative effects. If you want more information on Rhodiola and the other Adaptogenic Herbs you check out this article.
This is the Echinacea I use. It is a herb to help with immune support. I’ve always taken Echinacea when I felt a cold coming on but at the recommendation of my GP I started taking it on a daily basis during the cold and flu season. She put me on a “pulse therapy” regime. This means that I cycle taking the Echinacea, one month on (every day), one month off for the six months we are most likely to get a cold/flu. My white blood cell count is on the lower end of the spectrum (working out on a daily basis can do that) which means my immune response isn’t always the best. I found that I would often (more than a few times a month) feel a sore throat/cold coming on because my immune system was run down and since starting the pulse therapy I have not had a sore throat or cold. There is definitely conflicting research on the effectiveness of Echinacea but for me personally, it seems to help.
This is the collagen I use. It mixes really well into my coffee and you would never know it was there. Collagen is the protein in our bodies that is found in the highest amount and, as we age our natural production of collagen starts to decrease (source). I’ve only added collagen into my supplement lineup recently, probably about 3-4 weeks ago, so it’s to early to gauge the benefits yet (**update as of 11/10/18 – notice my nails are much healthier, my hair seems shinier and my gut health is most definetly improving with the use of the collagen and a digestive enzyme - will do a whole post on my gut health regieme in the future). Collagen has many proposed benefits including improved gut health, improved skin, hair, nails and teeth (again, great news for the Dental Hygienist in me) and is thought to help reduce pain in your joints and slow the degredation of those joints. It helps your body make its own proteins and is also thought to be good for the old ticker (source). I track my collagen as a source of protein in my macros as the brand I use has about 10 g per serving. Not only is it a quick source of protein (great in your AM coffee if you’re working out fasted), it also has the essential amino acids that our body needs but cannot produce on its own. The Sports Research brand is paleo friendly, gluten free and comes from grass fed, pasture raised cows. There are lots of different brands you can get and I know Vital Proteins is one of the most popular but it is super expensive to get in Canada compared to the Sports Research. One of the main reasons I take vitamin C is to help my body use the collagen peptides but I will talk more about that when I discuss vitamin C in detail next. Dr. Axe has a great article on collagen so I totally encourage you to head to his site and read it for more info!
So now onto Vitamin C! You can see the specific brand I use here. The reason I started taking vitamin C was because while researching collagen I learned, and many people are not aware of this fact, that your body needs vitamin C to be able to use the collagen you are taking and to synthesize its own (source). Once I realized that I started looking into vitamin C and decided on a whole foods form of the powder. This will ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck as there are no fillers or other ingredients in the powder other than Acerola cherries. I take 1-2 tsp daily added to my water. It is more beneficial to spread out your dose as vitamin c is a water soluble vitamin so any amount not able to be absorbed by your body will be pee’d out! Your money literally going down the drain! Along with its help in the use of collagen, vitamin C is a fantastic antioxidant, helps with immune function and helps with the absorption of nonheme iron (the iron aquired through non animal sources) which is harder for our bodies to use effectively (source). This would be a super important fact for all my vegetarian frandsss out there!
Before the Gym:
I almost always have a serving of pre-workout before hitting the gym. The one I use most often is C4, made by Cellucore and you can find it here. Right now I’m using the pineapple flavor and it’s delicious (pink lemonaid is also fab)! I like the C4 because it gives me a little extra boost to push through my workout but not so much so that I feel jittery and unsettled. The most prominant active ingredient in the C4 is Beta-Alanine. Beta-Alanine is an amino acid that is used to make carnocine which buffers the acid in the muscles during high intensity exercise (source). When the acid is buffered we do not make as much lactic acid and that allows us to exercise for longer before tiring. To get the benefit of making increased amounts of carnocine you do need to take Beta-Alanine for an extended period (around a month to start seeing the benefits) which is why I take my pre-workout every morning before the gym. You may notice you get that ‘tingling’ feeling on your skin when you consume Beta-Alanine, if this bothers you, you can lower your dose, but this sensation should stop once you’ve been taking it for a week or so as your body gets used to it (source). The other proven benefits of Beta-Alanine are increased muscular strength and power output, increased muscle mass, improved body composition (when combined with diet and exercise) and it works cooperatively with creatine (source). Conveniently, C4 has creatine in it! Ps, carnosine seems to help in anti-aging and is thought to be an antioxidant! (source). If you want to read more indepth about Beta-Alanine and carnosine, here is an awesome resource that will tell you everything you’ve ever wanted to know about it.
This next supplement has quite a bit of controversy surrounding it to say the least. That would be BCAA’s, or, branch chain amino acids. These are three amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) which are linked together to have a beneficial effect on one’s muscle tissue (source). BCAA’s are essential amino acids which means our body needs them but we cannot make them on our own. Now, it’s not the amino acids themselves (and proven impact they have on the muscles) that causes the controversy. It is the fact that these amino acids are found in foods that contain protein such as meat, eggs, and of course your protein powders, so is it actually necessary or beneficial to add more into your diet through a BCAA supplement? You probably do get an adequate amount of BCAA’s in your diet through food (if you’re eating enough protein) but what makes me choose to supplement with them is the timing for my muscles. I workout first thing in the morning and don’t usually eat before my workout so, to minimize the need for my body to break down protein for energy use during exercise I want to make sure I have just enough protein intake prior to. My BCAA’s along with my collagen in my coffee give me that protein. Could I just have a protein shake instead? The thing is, BCAA’s in supplement form, are free-form which means they require no digestion, and can be quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. They spike blood amino acid levels faster and to a greater extent than peptide-bound aminos in your shake, or eggs ect. (source). Most BCAA supplements say zero calories but I count my BCAA’s towards my daily protein intake. The supplement companies are able to say zero calories because the amino acids are not part of a whole food such as a chicken breast for example. To get my protein grams I just see how many grams of BCAA’s are in a serving and multiply the grams of BCAA’s by 4 calories (1 g protein = 4 calories) and that will give me total calories. I use lots of different brands and like to try out new flavors. If you want to check out some brands with pretty high ratings I’ve linked them here.
One of my favorite supplements is for sure protein powder. The options are literally endless and you can do SO MUCH with it! I love baking with it and throwing it into smoothies, or hot chocolate. You can make great protein lattes, add it to your oatmeal, I could literally go on forever about my love for protein powder. I won’t get into to much detail here about the science behind supplementing with protein powers because I think it’s personal preference. I don’t think there is any denying that taking a protein powder supplement will help you with your daily protein goal. If you prefer meeting all of your protein needs through whole foods feel free to do so but I just love the variety protein powders bring. The one thing I will say here is that when it comes to the different forms of protein powder, whey isolate is the quickest digesting so is great right after a workout. Casein is super slow digesting so a lot of people like to take it before bed and a mixed protein powder is great for anytime use. My favorite brands are definitely Quest, PEScience and Unico Nutrition for the flavored varieties. Quest also makes a great multipurpose baking mix and my go to vanilla for everyday use is LeanFit. As for timing, for me personally, I always have about a 1/2 scoop right after my workout (to make sure my muscles get a quick and easily digestible source of protein right away) then I will add it in where and when I want to throughout the day.
During the Day:
I take Evening Primrose Oil once a day. I take it with my first meal of the day and I use the same brand that makes my collagen. You can check it out here. Evening Primrose Oil is a good source of omega-6 and 9 fatty acids which are essential fatty acids our body needs but cannot make on its own. Evening Primrose can be used as a natural anti-inflammatory which is great for helping to reduce the inflammation in your body caused by regular exercise. It is also thought to help with overall hormonal function and many women swear by it to help alleviate symptoms of PMS although the verdict is still out on that. It has been shown to help with the health of hair and skin and is used to naturally treat eczema and other skin issues (source).
Speaking of omegas, next I will discuss omega-3. Omega-3 is the third essential fatty acid our body needs but cannot make itself. I use the Kirkland brand from Costco which is a fish oil supplement. If you don’t have a Costco near you, you can check out the one I use here. The omega-3 fatty acids in the fish oil are EPA and DHA. DHA is the fatty acid responsible for brain health and EPA helps to reduce inflammation in the body. Omega-3 helps to balance the ratio of fatty acids in your diet. A lot of times people can have a higher amount of omega-6 if their diets are rich in red meat, eggs, dairy and processed oil, but the body functions best when omega-3 and 6 are about equal (source). Omega-3 helps support heart health and can help to lower triglycerides, which is fat in your blood (source). If you aren’t a fan of eating fatty fish or just don’t get to eat it multiple times a week, an omega-3 supplement is always a good idea. Take your fish oil with a meal containing some fat as it is a fat soluble supplement.
The next supplement to talk about is Ashwagandha. I started taking this about 2-3 months after I started taking the Rhodiola. I was doing some research on adaptogenic herbs and discovered that it actually works synergistically with rhodiola, aka, they’re better together. I actually use Health First (same brand as my probiotic) Ashwagandha Supreme, which is not the brand in the picture clearly. The reason for that is, well, not gunna lie, I couldn’t find a picture of the Health First brand that would fit as perfectly as the picture that is there hahaha. You can head over to their website and check it out or you can head to Amazon and check out their highest rated brands. Traditionally, Ashwagandha has been used to enhance the neurological, immune, energy-production, endocrinal and reproductive systems. Health First uses KSM-66 Ashwagandha which, has been tested in a double-blind, placebo-controlled study to help assist humans in managing stress and anxiety. It has been shown to reduce serum cortisol levels and help with symptoms of depression. Again, as with Rhodiola it has been shown to help protect against physical stress as well. It can help balance hormones and has also been shown to increase exercise endurance (source – Health First Vol 1 Issue 31). I take my Ashwagandha about mid-day as it can give a bit of an energy boost! On another note, my Mom takes Rhodiola but when she tried taking Ashwagandha it made her migraines worse, so clearly it’s not for everyone. So far though, I love the effects.
Every evening I take my magnesium. Magnesium is a micronutrient required by our body to function properly that we need to acquire from outside sources. Magnesium, along with vitamin D, are the two highest deficiency’s in the developed world (source). Magnesium is known to help make new proteins from amino acids, so, if your supplementing with BCAA’s you want to make sure you are getting adequate amounts of magnesium so those amino acids are being put to good use. Magnesium has also been shown to help boost exercise performance and can also help fight depression. It can help fight inflammation and relax the muscles (source). Because it can aid in muscle relaxation it can be helpful for sleeping and also in relieving constipation. If you want to dig deeper into all of these studies you can head to this site and it will explain it all in detail. Here are some top rated brands to check out. I stick to the bisglycenate form as that was what was recommended to me by my GP and Naturopath.
Vitamin D is the other abundant deficiency in the developed world. If you live somewhere like me (East Coast of Canada) we can go days and days without seeing the sun so it’s not always possible to get adequate amounts from natural sources. I take my vitamin D with my fattiest meal of the day as we must remember vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, so it needs fat to be absorbed by the body. The vitamin D I use is in drop form as that is the quickest way (other than the sun) for your body to absorb it. You can check out the one I take here. Vitamin D is essential to healthy bones as it helps with the absorption of calcium, it also aids in immune function and helps to reduce inflammation (source).
Turmeric and matcha I take together in a tea that I make after dinner. I also add a pinch of black pepper to the mix because turmeric’s absorbancy is greatly increased with black pepper. It is also a fat soluble compound so if you added some coconut oil to your turmeric latte that would also help. Curcumin is the most prominent active ingredient in turmeric and it is known to have great anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects (source). The amount of pure curcumin in turmeric isn’t that high and you can get pure extracts which would obviously be more beneficial but I add about 1.5-2 tsp of turmeric to my tea/latte at night. I like the taste of it and like the comfort of the hot drink in the evening so even if I could be getting more benefit from taking the extract in pill form I’m ok with getting some into me this way! Some additional benefits of curcumin are lowering the risk of brain diseases, lowering your risk of heart disease and helping to fight depression (source). I buy my turmeric at my local bulk food store but I will link to some online here and if you would rather take the more concentrated pill form you can find some great ones here. I add matcha into my nightly turmeric latte because I really enjoy the taste of it and I don’t think you can go wrong with green tea in your diet! If you want the recipe for my matcha latte you can check it out here.
The last supplement I will discuss is Melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is produced by our brain to help regulate sleep (source). When taken in supplement form it can be used as a natural, non-addictive sleep aid as it helps you fall asleep faster (source). Supplementing with melatonin does not cause your body to produce less of its natural melatonin and has benefits above and beyond sleep which include being a powerful antioxidant. It may stop your body from gaining more fat, it benefits eye health, and improves mood as you are getting a better sleep (source). Melatonin also helps in suppressing excess cortisol which is one of the worst stress hormones our body produces (source). High levels of cortisol lead to whole host of health problems. I take 5mg about 3 hours before bed and then another 5mg when I’m ready to go to sleep. Everyone is different so if your wanting to supplement with melatonin you can start with a lower dose and see if that is effective before going higher. The one I use can be found here.
I hope this is a helpful page for all you ladies wondering about supplements. I did my best to present you with the current research and if you have questions feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment below.