How to help your clients choose supplements

March 25, 2019 Amanda Carlson-Phillips

What’s the role of dietary supplements in a nutrition plan? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer; it depends on the individual. What you or your clients eat, drink, and supplement with should be based on needs and goals. Understanding habits, blood work, and personal preferences can help you create a more customized nutrition plan.

There are several reasons someone might benefit from supplements. These include a known nutrition deficiency; a medical diagnosis; increased physical activity; specific strength and power goals; increased stress; digestive issues; or an inability to consistently incorporate a variety of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, high-fiber carbohydrates, and healthy fats into daily meals.

When it comes to a supplementation plan, it's all about individual needs and goals.

49% of people in the United States report taking a supplement, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition.

To get started, look at goals, lifestyle, and the nutrients being consumed from food and drink. Is there an opportunity to upgrade eating or hydration habits? How about lifestyle choices? Let’s start there. Is nutritional status or nutrient status known? The old saying “You are what you eat” has been upgraded to “You are what you absorb.” Keep in mind that the body’s nutritional needs fluctuate with changes in diet, work schedule, stress, sleep, illness, and training levels or physical activity.

The key to successful supplementation: consistency.

When there are dietary deficiencies or specific times when supplements will help achieve goals, supplement intentionally and carefully. And once a supplement routine begins, it’s important to stay consistent. If the body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, over time a nutrient deficit will develop, and while it might not be felt right away, it will eventually become obvious.

Bottom line: Every person is unique. Consider needs and goals carefully before taking or recommending supplements. And remember the importance of fueling the body first and complementing a healthy diet with supplements to fill gaps, elevate performance, or support recovery.

Just like with food, avoid unnecessary additives, artificial sweeteners, and artificial colors in supplements.

The old saying “You are what you eat” has been upgraded to “You are what you absorb.”

Training levels or physical activity can impact the body's nutritional needs.

What to look for in supplements
Do you know what’s in the supplements you take? Forty-nine percent of individuals in the U.S. report taking dietary supplements (1), but 19% of supplements tested from U.S. manufacturers contain banned supplements not listed on the label (2). What’s more, 25% of supplements sampled from over-the-counter products in the U.S. contained steroids (3).

The supplement industry is under-regulated, and even well-informed consumers can be misled. Here’s what to look for when choosing nutrition products.

• Testing– Make sure supplements are third-party tested by a company such as NSF International, Informed Choice, or United States Pharmacopeia.

• Efficacy– Learn about the company’s reputation for producing results. Only buy from a company that has an established record of conducting business ethically.

• Quality– Look for a company committed to purity. Avoid artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, and unnecessary additives. See if the company produces its product in an NSF International good manufacturing practices registered facility. NSF verifies that the facility has the proper methods, equipment, and controls in place for meeting quality standards.

• Safety– Athletes should use products that are NSF Certified for Sport. This ensures that the products are free of more than 200 banned or prohibited substances.

1.Bailey RL, Gahche JJ, Lentino CV, Dwyer JT, Engel JS, Thomas PR, Betz JM, Sempos CT, Frances Picciano M. Dietary supplement use in the united states, 2003-2006. J Nutr. 141(2): February 1, 2011.

2. Geyer H, Parr MK, Mareck U, Reinhart U, Schrader Y, Schanzer W. Analysis of Non-Hormonal Nutritional Supplements for Anabolic Androgenic Steroids – Results from an International Study. Int J Sports Med 2004; 25(2):124-129.

3. Informed-choice, llc; research indicates nearly 25% of supplements are contaminated with steroids, stimulants and banned substances. (2008). Education Business Weekly, 29.

About the Author

Amanda Carlson-Phillips

Amanda Carlson-Phillips, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., is vice president of nutrition and research at EXOS. She ensures EXOS’ nutrition methodology inspires and empowers all clients.

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