I take supplements. Really I always have. My mother was a big fan of Dr. Adelle Davis, a pioneer of the nutritional revolution in the mid 1900s. Dr. Davis endorsed supplementing certain nutrients, a belief my mother then passed down my siblings and me. I see a lot of value in them.
I’m not here to tell you what supplements you SHOULD take. That’s a conversation for you to have with a doctor or registered dietitian. I’d like to encourage you to find professionals in the health biz who aren’t full of shit. How do you know if they’re full of shit? Ask yourself if they seem interested in helping you as an individual, if they listen to you and your concerns, and are willing to discuss their recommendations.
Anyhoo! This is a short list of my supplements I personally feel the most benefit from. Remember that these are the icing on my health and wellness cake— I prioritize the Big Guns like sleep, exercise, and a balanced diet. I’m not here to present data, which would be biased and regurgitated anyway. This is based on my own research as a consumer, and I share it with you because I’m frequently asked about it.
I am usually loyal to specific brands, but for many of these, I’ve found it doesn’t matter. I try to stick with ones that have been third-party tested and are widely trusted (NOW brands, for example, is my default for most of these).
Remember that if you have any allergies, medical conditions, or take medication, it’s crucial to make sure any supplements are safe for you.
I can legitimately tell anytime I run out of glucosamine. My knees always get achy. I’ve been taking it since my early 20s when I began running distance (and undereating). I can also tell when my clients aren’t taking it (when they normally do) for the same reason.
Why do I not assume it’s placebo? My senior pitbull who passed a couple of years ago could barely walk down the stairs from her arthritis. When she regularly had her glucosamine treats, she trotted downstairs like a puppy. I don’t think she was paid off by Big Pharma.
However, this is also a great example of a seemingly safe supplement that could be harmful if you don’t do your homework. Glucosamine is made up of shellfish, so do not take it if you have shellfish allergies. Also some research has suggested that it can be harmful to those who are obese, pre-diabetic, insulin resistant, or at risk for diabetes. But as a healthy adult, I have never experienced anything but positive side effects from it. It is a staple and I’m not loyal to any particular brand.
- Creatine Monohydrate
Forget the bro science that you’ve heard about creatine. It is the most studied and safest supplement out there. It can improve strength, speed, and power, increase lean body mass, strengthen the heart, and boost recovery during and after training. There is even evidence that it can combat depression and other psychological ailments, and has been shown to be helpful for those who have suffered brain injuries.
Creatine is found naturally in animal products, though most supplements are synthetic and therefore vegan. So if you are vegetarian or vegan you can especially benefit from it. Best of all, it’s all pretty much the same regardless of brand, so it’s cheap. If you’re concerned about gaining water weight, just drink some extra water, take in a little less salt, and also, I recommend getting the hell over it. Only you will notice and it can just as easily be chalked up to any number of things that contribute to a negligible amount of bloat.
I mix creatine into my intra-workout shake (protein + sugar like Skratch) and on rest days, I just add it to my coffee. I take NOW brand.
This article from Girls Gone Strong is one of the most informative and comprehensive pieces I’ve read on creatine (and not just for women).
- Protein Powders
This is another one of those things that really confuses me. People say they don’t want to get their nutrients from non-whole foods. But how many people do you know who eat mostly whole foods? If you’re one of them, congratulations. But most people who bristle when I suggest protein powder have the worst fucking diet on the planet. And by worst I mean inconsistent, cycle between binging and purging from weekends to weekdays, and never come close to their daily protein requirements. Vegans and vegetarians often understand that they often have to get a lot of their protein from supplements. Is it ideal? Maybe not. But have you seen the ingredients in a Beyond Burger?
There are tons of different options out there depending on your preferences and needs: whey, casein, dairy-free, vegan, egg white, Paleo, collagen, marine collagen, and on and on.
For close to 2 decades I’ve used Optimum Nutrition whey protein most consistently. I just like the taste and texture best, plus it’s affordable. I also use their casein protein as a nighttime snack, especially when I am dieting. Casein has a thick texture and best for baking. I mix mine with almond butter for a pudding that is pretty delightful.
I have tried many vegan proteins and they all have caused me GI discomfort, unfortunately. I haven’t given up on my quest for a more environmentally and animal friendly option though. My vegan and vegetarian clients like Vega Sport best.
For those of you who avoid dairy but aren’t vegetarian, Redcon1 makes animal-based protein powders called (beef protein isolate, etc.) MRE Lite which taste good and mixes well. There are also some egg white protein varieties, but I haven’t explored that much. Collagen is another option, but note that it’s not a complete protein on its own so make sure it’s not your main protein source.
Suffice it to say, if you need more protein in your diet, you have endless options.
- Fish Oil
As a child, my mother had us take cod liver oil by the spoonful. It was vile. But it’s been a part of my regimen pretty much my whole life for circulatory and brain health, and reducing inflammation. I’m also a total skincare junkie and I take fish oil religiously to keep my temperamental skin happy.
Vegans and vegetarians can supplement omega-3 fatty acids from plant-based sources like flaxseed oil.
I’m not loyal to any one brand, but I spend the most time reading labels and looking for high quality brands for this. I generally try to find pricey stuff on sale.
In moderate amounts, it increases stamina and endurance, boosts athletic performance, and decreases muscle pain and fatigue. Too much of a good thing can suck you into the Caffeine Insomnia Vortex, as I like to call it. But don’t underestimate the power of a caffeinated kick in the ass to power you through workouts when you really need one.
Good old fashioned coffee is my regular source, but I love a good nitro cold brew before PR attempts. I also like Nuun caffeinated electrolyte tabs and Optimum Nutrition’s Amino Energy. I avoid the big guns like Bang or pre-workout mixes because the overconsumption gets out of control fast. And also be sure to monitor how your consumption affects your sleep and amend accordingly. Sleep is the single most important aspect of wellness and no supplement can make up for it.
This is another one from my childhood, taken in the form of chugging a big ole glass epsom salts dissolved in water. Talk about vile. Fortunately we have a lot more palatable choices today. I have tried many different brands and forms, but Natural Calm is consistently the most effective for me. It’s an effervescent powder I mix into warm water, usually 1-2 teaspoons every night before bed as a part of my bedtime ritual.
I am a troubled sleeper and this is another part of my nightly arsenal. It works like a charm for me. It is non-habit forming and lower doses (3-5mg) have been consistently effective. It’s important to note that it’s also very beneficial to recovery. If you’ve heard about the benefits of tart cherry juice on performance, melatonin is magic ingredient in it. I’m just taking a generic brand right now because I needed it in a pinch, but when I can, I opt for Thorne Research. I don’t know why, it just seems to make me less groggy the next day.
I usually add this amino to my intra-workout shake (protein + sugar like Skratch) and to my Natural Calm before bed to aid in recovery. The way I run my body, I need all the help I can get. I was always ambivalent towards it, but after my disc herniation in my neck that compressed my ulnar nerve, I started taking it regularly as it has been shown to help with nerve function. I wanted to treat the issue as conservatively as possible and will do whatever I can to keep it that way. It’s inexpensive and I also just default to NOW brand.
People talk a lot of shit about CBD, but it has helped me with sleep, pain management, and inflammation. Also after my most recent concussion, it is the only thing that made me functional. And while it’s tempting to chalk it up to placebo, I give it to my elderly dog when she’s had strokes. She is able to bounce back much faster when I do. Quality does matter with CBD, I have found. Colorup Therapeutics is my favorite brand. It has no THC (not sold in a dispensary) and is legal nationwide.
- Vitex/Chasteberry and DIM
My period fucks my life up. I’ve had severe PMS (PMDD) throughout my life. These 2 supplements have been a lifesaver. There is a noticeable difference in PMS-symptoms including body and joint pain, breakouts, moodswings, athletic performance, and cramps when I take these regularly. I opt for Gaiam brand for Vitex because its been more effective for me. When I stop taking Vitex especially, my PMS gets progressively worse.
I spent half of my life on hormonal birth control starting at age 15. I thought I needed it to manage my periods and was terrified to go off of it. When insurance basically forced me to in 2018, I discovered how much worse HBC made every aspect of my life.
That’s my experience, but if BC helps you, awesome! Please keep taking it! But this experience is what ultimately made me feel much less inclined to chalk supplements up to placebo and blindly embrace something the medical community signed off on. If you want to learn more about different birth control options for you and your body, I recommend reading The Period Repair Manual. It does not vilify birth control, but is full of DATA that I wish I had known years ago.
But I am also increasingly aware of science’s limitations, bias, corruption, prejudice, negligence, and arrogance. Every institution has it, and science is no different. Science evolves; we learn new things all the time. Remember Copernicus was burned at the stake. If you think religion doesn’t still heavily influence medical science, just look around at the names of some of the most prominent hospitals. Or try to get an abortion. Perhaps if we acknowledged history (and even current statistics) just a little bit more, you’d know why people of color and other marginalized populations especially do not trust the medical community.
Anyhoo, supplements have done a lot for me and I find them to be a relatively easy and inexpensive way to feel good and perform better. They aren’t a magic bullet; it is absolutely necessary that you sleep regularly, drink lots of water, get plenty of fruits and vegetables, and eat balanced meals consistently. Supplements are the teeny tiny part of the top of the pyramid in terms of health and wellness.
I’ve learned over the course of my life as a consumer and on the lowest rung of the health industry ladder that dogma is dogma. I am pro-science: once I have access, I will get the COVID vaccine. I follow the guidelines of the CDC. If I had cancer, I would go to an oncologist and more than likely follow their recommendations, including chemotherapy. I take prescription medications for depression and anxiety and plan to for the rest of my life.
And again— do your best to find professionals who want to empower and educate you, who make you feel heard and seen, and who understand how cost-prohibitive basically any amount of care is in this system. I do whatever I can to advocate for my own health and encourage others to do the same. Control what you can so that you can maintain an independent, healthy lifestyle to the best of your ability.