Do You REALLY Need Supplements…Or Do You Value Your Wallet?

I’m not a big fan of supplements. But I am a huge fan of evidenced-based medicine, nutrition, and (as you probably can guess if you know me at all!) fitness and cycling. So it probably doesn’t surprise you that I read quite a lot about nutrition. Basically, what I’ve been told by the experts (though not by the ones selling the products) is that the more supplements you take, the more nutritious and expensive your pee will be.

I am often asked what supplements I take, or which ones I suggest my students or clients should take.

My answer is, “NONE!”

Unless you really have a crappy diet…but in that case, if you want greater health, the answer is to clean up your diet, not to pop some pills.

The fitness industry is, as you know, often full of trainers hawking various supplements. If it hasn’t happened to you yet, you may be asked by some of your students or clients about supplementation.

Too often, the supplement industry cannot pass the “evidence, please” criteria required by the FDA…but sadly, it is not a regulated industry, so they often don’t need to. Therefore, they can almost say whatever they want to in their marketing, and get away with “almost” anything. Sure, some get caught (as you will see in the linked article below), but not enough of them because there isn’t enough funding to regulate and go after the offenders.


I don’t want to get into a big to-do about it here. You may be angry at me already if you are a big supplement fan. I only want to share with you an excellent article I recently came across that seems to sum up what I’ve read in the scientific literature over the years.

Now, I’m sure there are those who need to take supplements, especially those who have a hard time taking in all the required nutrients they need, for whatever reason: allergies, distaste for or unavailability of certain essential foods, or excessive training (as in body building). That is between you and your doctor.

But…buyer beware. If your nutritionist/trainer/coach is the one benefiting financially from the excessive amounts of supplements you are buying from him or her…make sure you know the science behind the supplement.

This article by Dr. John Post, a sports injury expert, was sent to me by a triathlete I know. It is called Spend Your Money on a Coach (Or Your Boy/Girlfriend) Not Supplements.”

If you are a fan of supplements, or if you have any qualms about them or are wondering if you should be taking them, please read Dr. Post’s article in full. In his introduction he says the following:

I’ve never been a fan of supplements. I mentioned in a previous blog a story about my roommate in Kona one year who mixed up a dozen or so pills, liquids, gels and powders in a blender, ground them up into this grey slime reminiscent of Dan Ackroyd’s portrayal of the pitch man pushing a Super Bass-o matic 76—it’s pretty funny. And down the hatch. When asked which of these many supplements was responsible for his Kona qualification, he shook his head and said, “Who knows, but they can’t hurt me other than making me poor, right?” Well, probably not right.

Every year the sports world is once again surprised when one substance or another, take deer antler spray for instance, which is quietly sold to a subset of unsuspecting athletes who swallow the promises of those hawking the supplement as that which will surely give them greatness. Shortly thereafter, the product is exposed to either not do as promised. Or worse, as a result of shoddy manufacturing technique and testing, the athlete tests positive for a banned substance which, sadly was an impurity (at best) in this great “aid” to performance, and the unsuspecting athlete is banned from sport.

He goes on to post an entire article published in the New York Times last December about supplements. I believe you will find it interesting. The most poignant point in the NYT article is:

But the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate dietary supplements as drugs — they aren’t tested for safety and efficacy before they’re sold. Many aren’t made according to minimal standards of manufacturing (the F.D.A. has even found some of the facilities where supplements are made to be contaminated with rodent feces and urine). And many are mislabeled, accidentally or intentionally. They often aren’t what they say they are.

Years ago I used to sell supplements in a network marketing company. I wish I could go back and apologize to everyone I ever convinced to buy my product.

My recommendation, unless you are a certified registered dietitian, you probably shouldn’t be recommending nutritional supplements to your clients.

What do you think? Have you been asked by any of your students before? Do you know instructors who promote supplements?

Let me know in the comments below.


  1. I understand your concerns about vitamins and supplements. I used to think the same way, but I have found out a few things. First of all, most people do not eat right. It is not that easy to eat a variety of all the right things everyday, and it could be expensive and time-consuming to do so. Secondly, food in grocery stores can be processed to the point that it loses all nutritional value. “Fresh” food can sit on the shelves and not be harvested correctly to contain all the perceived nutritional value. Also there are many doctors and research scientists who support vitamins/supplements. Also I agree that a lot of
    vitamin/supplement companies don’t manufacture their products correctly, and that many of them don’t even contain what is on the label. That is a real concern, but I use a company who DOES care and performs hundreds of tests to make sure that their supplements/vitamins are made to the strictest FDA-like requirements. I do agree that people have to be careful, but I also believe that we can help ourselves quite a bit by supplementing.If we supplement correctly and carefully, we could avoid pharmaceuticals in the future. Bottomline: I think there are always two
    sides to everything.

    1. Author

      Thanks so much for your excellent input Katy! I appreciate it.

      You are right, there are some good companies out there, and there are some people who do need supplements. Feel free to share the name of the company if you want—I am sure there are those who would love to know.

      This is just a heads-up so that people will take the time to research the products they are interested in, and assess whether they really do need them. I’ve seen some of my students/clients/friends spend a lot of money on supplements they probably did not need.

      The company I used to represent had very sharp marketing materials, lots of scientific graphs, testimonials, etc so I thought it was legit, but now I know how to look for evidence-based research instead of relying on what they say in their marketing. I now know that many of the claims they were making (still make) are unsupported by science. And then Donald Trump purchased the company back in 2010…that’s when I left! 😉

  2. I took supplements for bodybuilding based on recommendations of numerous people. The damage to my liver, toxic levels of fat soluble vitamins and other issues , I’ve learned a valuable lesson. Just eat healthy natural foods , work hard and take time to enjoy the journey. You can’t rush progress or try to avoid hard work. But danger done.

  3. Jennifer, this really sums it up. If you really think you need these things to win, what happens to your pride in winning?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *