The shelves of beauty stores, health food shops and even the grocery store are full of supplements that promise to improve your health, trim your waist and more. But which of these are worth the money, and which are all hype? We asked dietician and bodybuilder Aaron Chacon from EVOLVE Medial Associates to help us sort through the marketing mumbo jumbo and figure out the scoop on supplements.
The claim: Increase strength and muscle size; improve brain function; help with recovery
Good for: All ages, even teenagers
Creatine gets the thumbs-up from Aaron, who told us it causes more efficient muscle contraction. He also said it’s perfectly safe for teenagers and older people because your body produces it naturally.
“Most proteins, especially red meat, contain creatine,” Aaron said. But don’t fall for the marketing hype — all you need is creatine monohydrate, not some fancy gimmick or twist on the formula.
“You’ll see labels that promise faster absorption, but they’re no better than just plain creatine,” Aaron said.
Some people claim creatine will cause bloating, but Aaron said any fluid retention will be intramuscular, so it won’t expand your waistline.
The claim: Help build muscle, prevent muscle breakdown and assist in post-exercise recovery
Good for: All ages
Aaron says protein powder can be a valuable tool in your supplement arsenal, but proceed with caution. Many companies make outlandish claims on their labels or use “amino spiking” to mislead customers about how much protein they’re getting.
“For most people, a whey protein isolate is where you want to be,” Aaron says. “It’s a protein that’s already broken down partially, so absorption will be easier.”
But not all proteins are whey isolate. You’ll need to carefully check the label to make sure yours is.
And as for when you should drink your protein shake, it depends on your goal.
“If your goal is to build muscle, I’ll have you drink a mixture of a carbohydrate powder and protein during the workout, and then have you eat a carb and protein meal an hour later,” Aaron said. “For someone wanting to lose body fat, they should have a shake right after their workout. And then wait an hour and have some carbs.”
The claim: Helps create ATP (a.k.a the energy chemical) in the body
Good for: All ages, but particularly older people struggling with fatigue.
“Energy is not abstract — it’s a measurable thing,” Aaron says. “It’s a chemical in the body called ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). But ATP supplements are a waste of money.”
You can, however, take a supplement that will help your body create ATP. It’s called D-ribose.
“It’s amazing. It started off for chronic fatigue patients but has now made its way into athletics and even the every day world,” Aaron says.
D-ribose is popular because it’s not a stimulant, so it won’t leave you with the jitters. Aaron says he takes it after a workout and before bed; he says it doesn’t keep him up at night and it improves his mood the next morning.
The claim: Can help calm nerves and give you a deeper sleep
Good for: People with sleep issues
Gamma-Amino Butyric acid (GABA) is one of Aaron’s favorite supplements because it helps put the brain in REM (deep) sleep mode.
“Your body’s stores of GABA can diminish from stress, environmental factors or even genetics,” Aaron says. And that’s not good, because GABA plays a key role in helping your brain stay in REM sleep — the ultimate recovery mode for your body.
Aaron says you’ll need to look for GABA that’s “micronized” because it will get into your bloodstream quickly.
You should take it 15 minutes before bed, but it won’t make you drowsy.
“It gives you that quality sleep, and you wake up feeling amazing,” Aaron says.
The claim: Make up for the vitamins you’re missing in your diet
Good for: Anyone, but do your research
Through Evolve’s micronutrient testing process, Aaron has learned that even when people take a multivitamin, they’re often still deficient in micronutrients. It could be an absorption issue in the gut, or a sourcing issue for a specific vitamin. For example, some brands use Retinolic Acid to source Vitamin A, but not everyone can absorb it.
Aaron says people should be on a multivitamin, but they should also get some blood work done to make sure they’re absorbing the ingredients.
“There’s no need to take an excess of things you aren’t deficient in,” Aaron said.
One exception: almost everyone is low on Vitamin D. Aaron suggests a D-3 supplement to get back on track.
The claim: Omega 3s found in fish oil can improve cholesterol and regulate inflammation
Good for: Everyone, particularly older patients with joint pain or young athletes who need to keep inflammation under control
Fish oil is a great supplement, but unfortunately the pills hocked by many brands are more like snake oil.
Aaron said there are three things to look for on the company’s website: where did they catch the fish, how did they get the oil out of it and how long did it take to get from that point to store shelves? Often there’s a 36-month turnaround, and the Omega-3s can start to lose their potency.
One way to check if your supplement is the real deal is to bite the capsule. Aaron says it shouldn’t taste like anything, and definitely shouldn’t taste or smell like fish.
He suggests buying a pharmaceutical grade fish oil from a doctor’s office to make sure you’re getting the real deal.
But the benefits of a good fish oil are real and measurable. Aaron said he’s seen clients with low HDL (good cholesterol) and high LDL (bad cholesterol) and their profiles have improved amazingly after being on a gram of good fish oil daily for just one month.
The claim: Supplements with these “good” bacteria will help keep your gut healthy
Good for: People who need gut regulation, or want to lose weight
There’s a theory in the medical world that your gut is like your “second brain” – meaning lots of important hormones are produced there. One important one is Seratonin, the “feel-good” hormone. Aaron even went so far as to say improving gut health can improve depression. But how do you pick the right probiotic?
Aaron said you generally need a pharmaceutical-grade probiotic to make sure you’re getting what is promised, especially since you’re dealing with living bacteria. Check the bottle and look for the phrase “guaranteed potency at time of expiration” (some brands say “guaranteed potency at time of manufacture,” and that’s not what you want).
And Aaron has issues with yogurts that claim to be probiotic. He says they use buzzwords to sell their dairy snack, which may have millions of bacteria, but with a good probiotic supplement you should be getting billions.
Another caveat: different strains of bacteria do different things. Some dentists like to promote one strain that helps dental health, for example. Aaron says the best way to determine what’s right for you is to talk to a professional (like the folks at Evolve, for example).
The claim: Helps manage the stress hormone
Good for: People with high anxiety
“Stress never leaves our lives,” Aaron says. “And maybe we can’t manage stress, but we can manage the hormonal output caused by stress, which is cortisol.”
An abundance of cortisol can wreak all kinds of havoc on our bodies, from weight gain to inflammation and more.
Aaron’s favorite supplement to keep it in check is Theanine, an amino acid derived from the green tea leaf.
It essentially puts a “cap” on your body’s cortisol production and puts your body in a calm, meditative state. Aaron said some patients use it for weight loss if stress is inhibiting their attempts to slim down.
He takes it before his morning commute.
It’s worth it to find out what you body has and has not, and to devise a nutritional and supplement plan with a professional.
Want more info or need Aaron to help you figure out the right diet and supplement plan for your lifestyle? Email Aaron for more info or to schedule an appointment HERE or visit Evolvemetoday.com.
Evolve Medical Associates is a wellness, med spa and cosmetic dermatology center located at 5821 Fairview Road in South Park, near Barclay Downs Drive. You can find them on Facebook HERE . Drs. Sudy and Youssuf offer a wide range of cosmetic, body contouring, vein, laser and wellness procedures, in addition to their “HCG Diet Done Right” program and these Core Restore Cleanse and Detox programs.