Supplements – When They Are The Answer

There is a disturbing trend in the fitness / strength and conditioning industry to sell supplements to create another profit center for a gym. This is a big mistake and it’s going to be the next black eye to an industry that is still suffering the consequence of aggressive sales approaches and double dipping with pre-authorized payments.

In principle, I believe in supplements. They are needed for most people. We don’t eat enough fish to get sufficient amounts of fish oil and the good fats that it contains. Those who supplement with fish oil tend to enjoy great benefits such as reduced inflammation, reduced body fat, improved skin health and improved cognitive functioning. I would also say that most people would benefit from taking a high quality multi vitamin given that they don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables to consume the bare minimum amount of nutrients. In the case of those people who are trying to lose body fat or gain muscle, a high quality protein supplement is probably in order to boost protein intake or to replace the calories that have been eliminated due to diet. There are a few others that may be useful, but these three – fish oil, multi vitamin and protein – would be the stables.

You can, however, get by without any of these IF you get your diet in order. There were lean and muscular people before fish oil supplements and protein powders were created; the supplement industry has been around for a long time, but not as long as there have been healthy people. Supplements and the supplement industry is a relatively new player in the health field. In fact, and I’m not implying causation, the supplement industry has grown almost in line with the obesity rates in north America. Supplements do not necessarily cause obesity and when used correctly they won’t cause it but the industry exists BECAUSE of obesity.

The typical gym or health club approaches supplement sales in the same way they approach membership sales – they sell them by creating hope. If you join this gym you will lose 30 lbs and feel great. If you take this supplement, you will lose body fat and feel great. Some of them are even more aggressive with the sales of both and basically tell you that you CANNOT achieve your goal without working out at their gym and buying their supplements. The first claims is false in 99% of the cases – some gyms are better than others so if you join a good one that hires good trainers and staff, you will be more successful; but only because you are getting the guidance you need or the experience of attending the gym is so positive that you continue to attend the gym – the second claim (that you won’t be successful unless you take their supplements) is false in 99.9% of the cases. The truth is, you can be equally successful if you consume a good quality diet or you can be equally successful if you buy the same supplements else where.

My beef is that gyms that rely on selling supplements to boost revenue have lost their way. They have conceded one of two facts, either their services are not good enough to generate sustainable revenue or they don’t actually care about the services they offer and are in the business to make money. Both, when it comes to health and fitness, are not the way the business should function. First off, if your services are not good enough to generate sufficient sustainable revenue, you are in the wrong business. Second, if you are in the fitness business to make a lot of money, you are in the wrong business. Fitness and health promotion is tough. It requires more than skilled salesmanship, flashy marketing and overpriced supplements, it requires skill, knowledge/wisdom and empathy. If you can sell anything to anyone but don’t know how to get someone to do a safe split squat or lunge you need to stop selling the belief that you CAN teach someone these movements. If you can sell protein powder at a huge mark-up but cannot get someone to complete a food journal, review it and offer feedback, you need to sell something else.

There is a time and a place for supplements but that time isn’t always and that place isn’t anywhere. They should be taken to eliminate gaps in your whole food nutrition or when they are the only thing that will work. Whey protein after a hard workout to promote protein synthesis, a carbohydrate solution during intense exercise when solid food would not be digested correctly, fish oil with breakfast, lunch and dinner, a multi vitamin with breakfast and before bed. There may be some use for other supplements but one should proceed with caution when considering them and they should get their defenses up when someone is telling them that they are completely necessary.