Vitamins C & E and Exercise
As Vitamin C (as with the B vitamins) is water soluble, it is not stored in the body and as such, for best effect, should be consumed throughout the day.
However, Vitamins C & E have a very unwanted effect when taken around or post workout.
One of the advantages of exercise is an increase in insulin sensitivity making nutrients taken in more easily utilised and less likely to be stored as fat. Plus, improved insulin sensitivity is of huge advantage to those with Type II Diabetes.
Some people have been known to advocate taking Vitamin C post workout to prevent DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness). However, studies have now shown that supplementing with vitamin C and/ or E post-post workout negated any boost in insulin sensitivity.
As such, anyone looking to maximise the benefit of their workouts should avoid vitamins C & E and any other antioxidant rich foods around the time of their workouts.
You see the problem?
Again, the combinations listed above are far from exhaustive, but these are some major, and commonly linked, nutrients that should be, wherever possible, kept apart.
However, what is abundantly clear is, with all these nutrients warring for attention, absorption and balance, the idea of combining them all in one ‘handy pill’ is ludicrous and a complete waste of money.
The importance of balance over volume
One of the biggest issues within the fitness industry is ‘Binary Thinking’.
Too often the answer being presented is that one thing is ‘bad’ and another ‘good’. The result, low carb diets, low fat diets, high protein diets, no salt diets, no sugar diets, all fruit diets and so on.
Ultimately there is very little, when it comes to fitness or nutrition, that is so black and white.
The true answer is always somewhere in the middle and varies from situation to situation and person to person.
Similarly, with nutrients, although some work well together and some clash, there is still a need for balance throughout the day.
And, to that end, there are several pairings that require that balance to be well managed for optimal effect.
Potassium and Sodium
Often salt gets tarnished with the ‘bad’ brush and something to be avoided at all costs. And whilst the average ‘table salt’, which is factory created, is not something you should be rushing to add to a healthy diet any time soon, salt (or sodium) is absolutely necessary as part of a healthy nutritional approach.
We need sodium to maintain fluid levels in the body.
However, where the stigma comes is down to the common levels of indulgence in most western diets.
Over consumption of sodium interferes with the natural ability of blood vessels to relax and expand. It also causes water retention, forcing an increase in blood volume and therefore high blood pressure (which could lead to a stroke or heart attack).
Potassium, on the other hand, encourages the kidneys to excrete sodium and therefore improves the situation.
Thus, it’s not just about the volume of sodium ingested, but rather how well balanced the intake of sodium to potassium is.
The ideal balanced level of potassium to sodium is approximately 4:1 in favour of potassium.
The issue is that, for most, it’s closer to 1:1 or worse.
So, the take home here is, aim to include more potassium in your diet, cut back on the salty snacks and, if you do have a day of indulgence on sodium rich foods (ready meals, salty snacks etc), look to up your potassium levels thereafter, to redress the balance.
Vitamin B12 and Vitamin B9 (Folate)
We have already covered the fact that these two vitamins make a good pairing, but there is also an issue of balance. And given their importance, it is worth looking at in a little more detail.
If you are a mum (or a dad that pays attention to details) you possibly already know about this combo. It’s something that is frequently highlighted when talking about nutrition around the birth of a child.
These nutrients work together to support many of the most fundamental processes of cell division and creation in the body.
However, to be absorbed and metabolised folate is reliant on Vitamin B12.
Unfortunately, this is a pairing that nature doesn’t tend to make easy, despite the reliance on one another, as they are predominantly found in very different areas of the food chain.
In general terms, vitamin B12 is found mostly in foods that originate in animals. Meat & eggs as well as dairy products being the most common sources.
Folate, on the other hand, is best sourced from sources that would likely make up a large chunk of a vegetarian or vegan diet, such as leafy green vegetables, legumes and beans.
Fortification has helped here
Now many breakfast cereals have added B12. However, that is not exactly the healthiest option for nutritional purposes and, because they are mostly consumed with milk, it can often remain an issue for strict vegans.
Vegans have an additional disadvantage here in that, even if the B12 is consumed in sufficient quantities, due to lack of ‘intrinsic factor’ (a protein produced by stomach cells that is required for B12 to be absorbed in the small intestine) which a 2010 study demonstrated was lacking in 52 percent of vegans, the deficiency will remain as the B12 will not be absorbed.
Again, the purpose of this article is not to make judgement on moral choices however, simply to point out that this is a particular area of concern that requires a lot of focus to ensure good health if you are looking to remove animal products from your diet and this is one area where supplementing (or even receiving injections) to remedy a deficiency might be a very good choice.
As one element relies fully on the other here, once again, a good balance is more important than individual quantities. Very small quantities of B12 are required for uptake of folate with a recommended level of just 2.4 micrograms of B12 required for an intake of the recommended 400 micrograms of folate.
Omega 3s and Omega 6s
Omega 3s have, in recent years, had a lot of good publicity in the food industry. Many products are keen to plaster their packaging with the ‘Rich in Omega 3’ label. And it’s brother, Omega 6, gets to carry the mantel of the ‘big bad’ in this scenario.
However, as with sodium and potassium, it is not that one is bad and the other good, it is the tendency in modern diets to over consume Omega 6 fatty acids in relation to the level of Omega 3 that causes issues.
Where a ‘healthy’ balance would be in the realm of 4:1 in favour of omega 6 (and anything closer to 1:1 would be a bonus), the average western diet is at least 12:1 and in many cases comes closer to 25:1.
Thus, the promotion of increased Omega 3 intake is certainly advice worth following. However, a reduction in the consumption of Omega 6 is similarly beneficial in bringing this ratio in line.
If the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ policy was to be believed, Omega 6 oils would be completely eliminated. But, if this occurred it would create just as great a problem as both are essential for proper function and health purposes. Thus, the labels of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are, as ever, misplaced.
Both are Essential
Omega 3 & Omega 6 oils are classed as EFAs (Essential Fatty Acids). From the name alone, the use of the word ‘Essential’ demonstrates their importance. EFAs are a must for any nutritional approach to be fully effective.
Omega 3 fatty acids are generally split into 2 forms, EPA and DHA. They are primarily sourced from oily fish, such as salmon.
ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) is also an omega 3 oil. But it is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds.
Having enough Omega 3 in your system is necessary for lowering triglyceride levels (elevated levels of which put you at greater risk of heart disease), improve stiffness and joint pain, lowering levels of depression and improved visual and neurological development, especially in infants.
Studies have also shown improvements in asthma sufferers, ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
But, most crucially, again, given their ‘essential’ nature, sufficient intake is required to simply function correctly.
Good sources of Omega 3s include Salmon, Mackeral, Sardines, Tuna & Anchovies.
Omega 6, as with Omega 3s, are ‘essential’ for healthy function in general. They also help in lowering LDL cholesterol and boosting HDL levels (see below) as well as improving the body’s sensitivity to insulin. And, in combination with Omega 3s, are useful for healthy heart function.
Again, the inclusion of sources of Omega 6 fatty acids is essential for healthy function and so to use the ‘bad’ moniker here is giving a very narrow view.
Omega 6 oils are found predominantly in vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, as well as seeds and nuts.
As mentioned, it is the ratio of Omega 3 to 6 that is of more critical importance.
A good target to aim for would be around 1:3 in favour of Omega 6s. However, as with sodium and potassium, getting hung up on measuring to that level is, for most, going to be counter productive due to the stressful effects it could bring when added to a busy lifestyle. Therefore, simply understanding both are beneficial, but lowering intake of Omega 6 and upping intake of Omega 3 is going to be beneficial, is all that is needed to ensure positive steps are being taken.
HDLs and LDLs (Cholesterol)
I’m not going to go too in-depth on this as it is a subject that could take up an entire article on its own.
And I touched on this when discussing cholesterol and eggs, so feel free to have a look over there for some further reading.
The main point is, there are two forms of Cholesterol. LDLs (Low Density Lipoproteins) and HDLs (High Density Lipoproteins). The former is the type you consume and the latter is produced in the body.
When most people refer to ‘High Cholesterol’ they are refereeing to high levels of LDLs (often referred to as ‘bad cholesterol’).
As ever though, it’s not that simple.
High levels of LDLs is not necessarily ‘bad’ if your HDL level is similarly high.
Unlike the other elements listed here, you can’t simply consume more HDLs though to balance things out. But there are food types that have been shown to keep things in balance a little more.
As already mentioned, Omega 6 consumption has been shown to lower LDL levels in the body and it continues to surprise people that eggs (including the yolks), despite containing LDLs have been shown to increase HDLs in the body to a greater amount than the LDL levels consumed and thus improve the ratio rather than making it worse.
The point I’m making here is that this is another way of debunking the idea of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ thinking and highlights that often the issue is more to do with balance than complete elimination of elements.
Niacin (Vitamin B3) and Tryptophan
This one isn’t so much a balancing act, but the two are interlinked.
Niacin (also known as Vitamin B3) is primarily known for its positive effect on cholesterol balance. Large doses have been shown to both lower LDLs and increase HDLs, resulting in a greatly improved ratio (assuming there was an issue in the first place).
Tryptophan is an amino acid and is one of the nine EAAs (Essential Amino Acids) that must be consumed as they cannot be produced by the body.
Whilst all 9 are crucial (and completely present in all meats and eggs) the reason for focusing on Tryptophan is that it supplies the body with Niacin.
Both nutrients are readily available in meat, such as liver (which has very high levels of Niacin), Chicken Breast, Tuna etc. A good non-animal-based source of Niacin is seaweed, but it is also available in potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips and pumpkin.
As it is so readily available, deficiency is not nearly as common as some of the other nutrients listed here, but it is another example of a link between nutrients showing that not everything should be viewed in a vacuum (or as simply ‘bad’ or ‘good’).
What supplements should I take?
The short answer, in a perfect world, would be none.
However, it’s not a perfect world and there are many reasons why you may look to supplementation to balance things out and make up for deficiencies.
The one thing that is clear from everything above, though, is it should never be a situation where you try to cover all bases in one go or look at individual nutrients in a vacuum.
Before considering any level of supplementation, it is always worth looking at your diet to see if there are areas that can be improved through food choices before jumping at pills and powders as, in almost all cases, nature does the job better.
Farmed foods are generally not as nutritionally rich as the wild equivalent.
Wild salmon, for example, has a much better Omega 3 to 6 ratio than farmed salmon.
Organic vegetables, whilst more expensive, contain more vitamins and minerals ensuring you need less of them for the same nutritional value.
Cruciferous vegetables (spinach, broccoli, sprouts etc) provide digestive enzymes that make absorption from all foods more efficient. So, including one of these vegetables with every meal can be a very simple route to improved uptake of all nutrients.
And, returning to balance, variety in food choices, with particular focus on a ‘rainbow’ of colours (natural colours, we’re not talking smarties or M&Ms here) can ensure a range of nutrients are being absorbed.
Not forgetting, where possible, to soak your grains whenever possible to reduce the blocking effect of phytates.
I’ve included a list of healthy food choices that should be high on your radar toward the end of this article.
However, specific goals or deficiencies, along with limited access to natural or high-quality food sources, can mean that some level of supplementation can be useful.
Let’s look at just a few.
Though, keep in mind, whilst the suggestions outlined below are based on evidence, there is never a one size fits all approach. Therefore a lot of this comes down to interpretation and opinion based on experience with thousands of clients and athletes, along with my own interpretation of the research available.
Which supplements should I take to lose weight?
Assuming you have the basics in place, such as sufficient water intake and healthy sleep patterns (without which, nothing is going to be particularly effective), it is important to note that healthy weight loss also relies on a balanced (there’s that word again) approach combined with physical exercise.
Not only that but, high levels of stress are killers of progress when it comes to weight loss. Lack of water or sleep is a stress, but similarly, an all-out attack on weight loss, at the expense of the rest of your life (work, family, fun etc) is not going to have the effect you hoped.
Plus, trying to rush the process in an attempt to lose weight fast is never a good idea and ultimately just another stress that is going to hamper long-term results.
However, assuming all those elements have been considered, the following supplements may be ones worth considering to maximise your efforts.