Supplements – waste of money or not?


Hello my friends,

In my Level 2 Nutrition course with Precision Nutrition, we were assigned Case study 19 – Go Fish.  Basically research and understand the lessons from the last 2 weeks and write 3-4 pages.

That’s the least amount I’ve ever written for a Case Study.  I normally go over the number of pages.

Yes, I’m wordy.

We had to do this particular Case Study on PN clients showing:

  • if we would recommend Fish Oil and Probiotics.
  • If we wouldn’t recommend Fish Oil and Probiotics.
  • Why?
  • Why not?

I was a believer of supplements for years until I learned how to get most nutrients through food.

Supplements are just that . . . “Supplements”.

Eat healthy and you’ll have all you need.  But, there are some foods we don’t eat, or don’t eat enough of.  Therefore we supplement.

I used to be on a wide range of supplements and it wasn’t until I stopped taking them (at the direction of my doctor) that I realized what they were doing to my body.  Some of it good.  Some of it not so good.

One in particular caused the hair on my legs and arms to grow quicker and gave me bumps or ingrown hair along my bikini line.  After a few weeks off them, I had less and less until poof!  Happy to say hasn’t happened in months.

The other was a sports drink tobe used during the workout.  I loved it!  It was fruit punch and yummy but after I had bladder surgery my bladder said “No way Jose”.  So at the suggestion of a nurse friend, I would have a replenishing drink with 10% of the recommended amount of my fruity drink but that didn’t last for long either.

Honestly, few supplements work.  Additionally, I don’t recommend any supplements until a client is comfortable with basic habits and doing those consistently.

Basic habits:

  • general nutrition (food quality)
  • adequate sleep
  • consistency
  • mindful eating

Additionally I’d look at the client’s:

  • regular exercise.
  • food macronutrient ratio for needs and activity.
  • low-intensity and dominant activities.
  • healthy physical and social environment that supports goals and values.
  • crucial limiting factors i.e. stressful job, an addiction, clinical depression, etc.
  • behavior that matches stated goals, values, and priorities.
  • focus and willingness to take action towards desired outcome.

I would refer out to other health care providers when needed.

The supplements in the study were Omega-3 and Probiotics.  Both of which I have taken in the past and more than likely would take again with some minor adjustments.

  1. Why Marine-based omega-3 fatty acids?
  • Recommended dosage:  3-9 g of fish oil or krill oil (plant based, algae oil, around 2 g) (This should equate to 1–3 g of EPA + DHA)
  • I would recommend it to all clients over flax or other plant-based (i.e. flax, walnuts, and chia) oils.  Those are rich in ALA but ALA has a poor conversion to EPA/DHA.  Marine sources (such as fish and algae) are rich in EPA and DHA.
  • The benefits include:
  • keep heart and brain healthy.
  • lower inflammation.
  • improve our cells’ communication.
  • keep joints mobile.
  • help stay lean.
  • help build muscle.
  • can improve blood lipids (i.e. triglycerides and HDL-C).
  • help reduce some symptoms of depression and anxiety.
  • help reduce some ADHD symptoms.
  • help regulate our metabolism and blood sugar.
  • G-Flux (the amount of calories “turned over), promotes the best energy balance point, which leads to a higher metabolic rate and a lean and healthy physiology.
  • because a brand, with studies supporting its effectiveness for mental health, could be helpful for depression.
  • However, I wouldn’t recommend to clients:
  • with fish/seafood allergy.
  • taking anti-coagulant or “blood thinner” medication.
  • scheduled for surgery.
  • with bleeding disorders.
PN fun factoid!  Omega 3 fatty acids, such as cold water fish, shellfish, and algae help keep cold-water marine life from freezing.  Because they stay liquid at low temperatures, Omega-3s are like natural antifreeze.

Why Probiotics?

Recommended dosage:  double the recommended dose on the label, or 1–2 capsules with every meal.

  • Containing wide spectrum of bacterial types:
  • different strains of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species.
  • Lactobacillus plantarum, best for inhibiting pathogens and promoting healthy gut function.
  • High CFU (colony forming units).

I would recommend it:

  • because it keeps gut bacteria and intestinal cells happy.  Antibiotics can kill gut bacteria. Supplementing with Probiotics builds belly bacteria back up.
  • because a brand with studies supporting its effectiveness for mental health could be helpful for depression.

Recommend it to all clients except those with

  • major immune-complications.
  • with digestive problems if there is added pre-biotics (form of indigestible carbohydrate) such as inulin.

So are Supplements necessary or just a waste of money?
The Trainer’s “go to” phrase . . . “It depends.”  Ha!

  • Everyone is the same yet different.
  • Some things work for others and not for some.
  • Depends on the factors listed above.

For instance, further research is needed with regards to your client athletes including:

  • need?
  • fit in to athlete’s big picture?
  • whether they already meet this need through “real food” or “real life” choices?
  • what evidence supports this supplement? quality of that evidence?
  • whether or not the supplement was tested in population including athletes?
  • their key behaviors needed before supplementation?
  • i.e. behavioral consistency first.
  • whether s/he can do this new habit consistently?

Supplements for athletes are much the same with regards to:

  • baseline of macro- and micro-nutrients.
  • gut and immune health.
  • repair, rest, and recovery.
  • simple wherever possible.

It’s important to cross check supplements with medications.  Meds can significantly affect health, progress:

  • hunger, fullness, and appetite
  • weight gain and loss
  • body composition and nutrient partitioning
  • digestion and oral health
  • fluid and electrolyte balance
  • metabolic and hormonal health (including glucose/insulin control)
  • exercise response and perceived exertion (including cardiovascular health)
  • recovery (including sleep)
  • mental and emotional health (including anxiety and stress management)
  • thinking and cognition (including the ability to remember and focus on your coaching instructions)

This more than likely would require a referral to a pharmacist or doctor.

And then there was extra credit . . . Did I need to do it?  No.  Did I do it any way like the overachiever I am . . . Yeppers!  Guessing that was a rhetorical question.

In addition to Omega 3s and Probiotics, I would recommend:

Protein powder as supplement to a solid “real food” diet:

  • whey protein, casein protein, or a whey-casein mix , i.e., milk protein.
  • egg white protein powder is another excellent animal-derived option.

Greens powder:

A green powder contains veggies, fruits, algae and/or grasses that have been compacted and distilled into powdered form. They typically contain an assortment of nutrient rich foods like barley grass, wheat grass, spirulina, chlorella, alfalfa, herbs, vegetables, legumes, and fruits.

I would recommend to:

  • new clients struggling to eat enough fruits and vegetables.
  • travelers who may need a non-perishable “veggie” supplement on the road.
  • Clients who want to boost the nutrient content of their Super Shakes.  Clients who can’t tolerate FODMAPs should choose an inulin-free formula.


  • Many new clients don’t eat enough nutrient-rich plant foods such as colorful fruits and vegetables. A greens supplement can provide a convenient, portable vegetable substitute. Greens also mix well into Super Shakes.

Depending on client’s need, I may recommend the following:

Creatine monohydrate for Vegetarians to make up for lack of meat:

Recommended dosage: 3–5 g per day. Preferably a product that is micronized or Crea-pure.


  • Plays a major role in the ATP-CP system, more creatine means more potential ATP, which translates into improved performance on short-duration, high-intensity tasks, such as weight training or intermittent power sports.

The Benefits include:

  • Can increase skeletal muscle free creatine (which makes up about 1/3) and phosphocreatine (which makes up about 2/3) concentrations, the naturally occurring energy pools that replenish ATP.
  • Uptake into muscle draws water into the cell. Over the long term, this cell volumization may increase protein synthesis and glycogen storage.
  • May also improve brain health.

What I wouldn’t recommend:

Supplementation for weight-classed athletes or physique competitors around competition time:

  • May cause water retention.
  • one of the most commonly tainted supplements.
  • Clients with fluid/electrolyte imbalance issues (i.e. clients
    on thiazide diuretics).
  • Because of the water retention problem, not to new female
    fat-loss clients.

Other possible supplements and strategies:

  • Magnesium helps relax muscles; many women in particular are deficient. Take 100–400 mg, 30–60 min before bed. Magnesium bisglycinate is ideal and less likely to cause GI upset. Magnesium-based Epsom salt baths, help with workout recovery.  Epsom salt baths are something I recommend “a lot”.  Yes, even to men.  I know the burliest of men that take Epsom salt baths when needed.
  • Hyperthyroid and hypothyroid clients struggling with insomnia. In both, thyroid activity keeps them “revved up”. L-theanine (found in green and black tea): As directed, in the evening has a calming, relaxing effect.

Before considering sleep supplements first:

  • Try a solid pre-bed sleep ritual and sleep, at least 7, preferably 8 or 9 hours per night.  Good sleep, consistently, beats the heck out of any supplement.

Even 30 to 60 minutes more sleep every night leads to better recovery; better management of blood sugar; fat loss; muscle gained more easily, and smarter decisions.

  • Explore the underlying causes behind sleep disruptions.  May have to consult health care provider to gather additional information.
  • Get bright light (sunshine if possible) during the “daytime” to help with circadian rhythm).  Also helps with Vitamin D and stress-intolerance.
  • Dim the lights during the “evening”.
  • Avoid low-carb diets if you have low cortisol and/or with high training volume.
  • Cut caffeine: Don’t consume any coffee past noon (or within 8–9 hours of bedtime) i.e. chocolate, cola, green tea, or other hidden stimulants.
  • Cut alcohol.
  • As always, consult a doctor beforehand.  Just because something is right for me or my clients, doesn’t mean it’s right for you.
  • Possible sleep supplement:  PN recommends Melatonin: 3–5 mg, 30–60 min before bedtime. I used to take that many years ago but stopped because it gave me wild & crazy dreams.

One thing I want to share is an excerpt from Coach Jay’s notes regarding the Case Study.

“I like that you not only tackled the bonus question, but you laid it out so beautifully. You cover a wide-range of supplements that can be helpful — but clearly state that each of these may not be helpful for everyone.”

“As you suggest with your broad perspective, we have to consider many things when assigning a supplement as a habit — each person has their own goals, physiological requirements and limitations, needs and wants, and behavioral tendencies.”

Needless to say, I sent his comments to my “dear” husband and my mentor, Tanner. (Yes, after I finished my “happy dance”.)

The DH was impressed and Tanner was (to say the least) happy.

Felt like a confetti type of day but unfortunately MFF in New York is hoarding all the unicorns and confetti. (just kidding)

Until next time . . . Stay peachy my friends.

Your Friend & Coach Jessica


Precision Nutrition:  Mood food – How to fight depression naturally with nutrition, by Camille DePutter
Body Type Nutrition:  No Meat Muscle – Vegetarianism and Fitness by Ben Adkin
Precision Nutrition: All About G-Flux By Ryan Andrews
Precision Nutrition: The benefits of Omega 3s, Coaching for Women         
Precision Nutrition: Supplements we Recommend, Level 2
Precision Nutrition: The benefits of Omega 3s, Coaching for Women         
Precision Nutrition: All About Fish Oil by Ryan Andrews        
Precision Nutrition: Supplements for sleep, Level 2

Disclaimer:  As always, consult a doctor beforehand.  My articles are my opinions and based on my comprehension of the material.