If you’re serious about making changes to the state of your health or the shape of your body, there’s no doubt the internet will have read your mind (or at least your search history) and will be showing you adverts for all manner of supplements. Chances are you’ll have seen so many miracle claims you may wonder why the UK is not a nation of demigods by now – or if, maybe, the effects are overstated.
To help cut through the hyperbole to the real truth about supplements, we’ve spoken to a range of experts – including dietitians, doctors and sports nutritionists – to find out which products can be useful, which should be avoided, and how best to use them if you are taking supplements.
The Best Supplements
You’ll find more detail on each of the supplements below by following the links to our in-depth articles, but here’s a run-down of those that have some worthwhile features according to our experts and what you can expect from them.
It’s essential for bone and muscle health among other things, and the best way to get it is by exposure to sunlight. However, government advice in the UK is that all adults take a 10microgram vitamin D supplement daily between October and March, because that’s when the lack of sunshine at this latitude makes it hard to get enough vitamin D simply by heading outside. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the advice has been adjusted to recommend taking a supplement all year round, because many people are spending less time outside. Read more about Vitamin D
The most common supplement you’ll find in gym bags, protein helps your muscles to repair and rebuild after a hard workout. Generally, whey protein is used to help people hit a protein target of 1.4-2g protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day when training hard or looking to build muscle, though if you can hit this goal through your diet that’s the better bet owing to the additional nutrients you get from food protein sources. Another type of protein supplement is casein, and there are also vegan alternatives that use plant protein sources like peas, brown rice and soya. Read more about protein supplements
Creatine is used by your muscles to produce energy, and helps you to exercise for longer and recover faster. Creatine monohydrate is the cheapest form of creatine supplement you can buy and there’s no need to opt for anything pricier in terms of effectiveness. Be aware, however, that creatine has been shown to work only for some people in studies, with some suggesting it’s effective for just 50% of people. Read more about creatine supplements
This source of dietary nitrates can reduce the oxygen cost of running, or other endurance activities. There’s also some evidence that it can improve power and performance at speed as well, so it’s also become popular with professional football and rugby players. Concentrated shots are now available so you don’t have to chug full glasses of the stuff. Read more about beetroot juice
The Ones To Avoid
Branched-chain amino acids, to give them their full title, play a key role in muscle growth, especially leucine. However, assuming you eat a diet high in protein then getting additional BCAAs from supplements isn’t really needed. Even if supplementation would help, BCAAs are found in whey protein powder and our expert recommended sticking with that rather than a dedicated BCAA supplement. Read more about BCAA supplements
One of the most common supplements but one that’s just not worth it according to the dietitian we consulted. You certainly can’t make up for a lack of fruit and veg in your diet with a multivitamin because, for one, you’ll miss out on all of the dietary fibre that’s essential for good gut health. Read more about multivitamins
Omega 3 fish oil
Commonly taken to boost people’s omega 3 fatty acid intake, fish oil was long thought to help protect your cardiovascular health. However, a 2018 Cochrane review of 79 studies found that omega 3 supplements like fish oil actually had little or no effect on cardiovascular health. There are some instances in which a medical professional may direct you to take omega 3 supplements, but if you’ve received no specific advice from a reliable source, you might as well save your money. Read more about omega 3 fish oil supplements