By Joe Lightfoot
Do you know anyone who’s unhealthy and has a good physique? I don’t, and I’ve spent the last five years studying medicine. In fact when it comes to the general population I very rarely see anyone with a good physique. Why?
It’s a sad fact that the general population isn’t healthy.
In order to look good with an athletic physique you must start with being healthy. Being healthy allows you to train longer and harder as your body is functioning efficiently. You’ll also be more consistent with your training as by being healthy you’re less likely to get ill.
If your goals are more performance driven then it’s paramount for you to be healthy too. Who do you think recovers better from a tough training session, someone who’s unhealthy or healthy? Performance always follows good health.
However, being healthy is hard, especially in today’s society. I’ve noticed if I walk down the street with a protein shaker I get more funny looks than a guy walking down the street with three bags of crisps in his hand.
If you’re active and healthy you are in the minority.
The average person just doesn’t get what being healthy, looking good and performing well is. If you pick a healthy option at dinner or say no to a refined, chemically enhanced dessert, someone might say, “Go on… live a little”.
No, you live a little.
Luckily health, performance and physique goals are often aligned, and certain things can help you achieve all three. One of these things is the supplements you take.
There are three supplements I’d recommend to anyone, regardless of whether their goals are health or physique related. I won’t bore you with the detailed research and science, instead I’ll just provide you with the interesting points and the information on how these supplements enable you to reach your goals and benefit your health.
This is the first supplement I recommend. From athletes to elderly relatives, everyone can benefit from fish oil. The list of positives seems to be never ending.
From a physique standpoint, studies have shown supplementation with fish oil increases weight loss and reduces waist circumference when compared to a similar diet without fish oil . More specifically, studies have shown that fish oil supplementation results in decreased body fat and increased lipid oxidation ; all of which are good things!
Health wise, fish oil has further benefits. Studies show it reduces the risk of having a heart attack dramatically, and supplementation is also associated with decreased levels of triglycerides and raised HDL (the “good cholesterol”) in your blood .
You may have also heard about the importance of the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 in the diet. This is because both omega-3 and omega-6 compete for certain enzymes within the body. These enzymes are important substances which initiate certain chemical reactions which are important for bodily functions. Too much omega-6 results in skewed cellular function, which ultimately results in inflammatory processes and disease. Increasing your intake of omega-3 restores the balance.
So, supplementing with fish oil is a no brainer; it improves both your physique and your health. But how much should you take? I generally recommend enough fish oil to reach 3000mg of combined EPA/DHA (the two important substances in fish oil – their quantities are listed on the container) a day; but general advice is exactly that, general. What may work for you may not work for someone else. Try taking a small amount and see how you feel. Take an extra capsule a day and see if it makes you feel and look better.
Did you know that Manchester is on the same line of latitude as Ontario, Canada? Research in Ontario has shown that to get enough vitamin D from the sun, even in summer, you have to walk around with your top off. Not really feasible if you work in an office!
Even if you live in the south of England, you probably won’t be getting enough sunshine to top up your vitamin D levels.
So what’s the big deal? Well, a deficiency in Vitamin D is linked to muscle weakness and increased body fat [4, 5]. Not the ideal scenario if you want to look good.
Furthermore, Vitamin D deficiency is also linked to multiple types of cancer, diabetes, dementia, heart disease and depression .
Take for example breast cancer, and this just doesn’t concern the females reading this; breast cancer affects men as well. Vitamin D deficiency is correlated with an increased breast cancer incidence. Furthermore levels of vitamin D at diagnosis of breast cancer are shown to be predictive of survival. Lower vitamin D concentrations are linked with a poorer prognosis . Vitamin D really is that important.
Fortunately, upping your vitamin D levels is cheap and easy.
A daily supplement is a wise choice. The advice on how much to take varies from 1000-4000ui, and some experts recommend even higher. One capsule of Myprotein’s Vitamin D3 is a great place to start though. It’s a fat-soluble vitamin so for best results take your supplement with a meal containing some healthy fat, for example olive oil.
I bet you all know about the physique benefits of creatine? Well, just in case you don’t, I’ll summarise. Creatine supplementation is associated with increases in lean muscle mass, power and recovery ability . Overall, it allows you to train harder and thus helps you to reach your physique and performance goals.
But what about the other benefits? It is suggested by some studies that creatine is an antiviral, and so may have a protective effect against viral coughs and colds. It may also be neuroprotective (it protects against diseases such as dementia), as well as protecting against heart disease .
Creatine has even been shown to improve brain function, with one study reporting that subjects who supplemented with creatine performed better in mental tests .
Just don’t go taking 50g a day thinking it’ll turn you into Einstein, OK?
So now what?
Health and performance doesn’t come in a bottle. If you are not eating unrefined nutritious foods, then supplements aren’t the answer. But for whatever reason, sometimes we can’t gain all the nutrition we need from our food alone. You shouldn’t rely on supplements, but wisely chosen, they address the gaps and deficiencies in our nutrition.
The bottom line
So it’s hard work being healthy, but definitely worth it. Invest in yourself, be healthy and watch your physique and performance improve, both in and out of the gym.
1. Thorsdottir, I. et al. Randomized trial of weight-loss-diets for young adults varying in fish and fish oil content. Int J Obes, 2007. 31(10): p. 1560-1566.
2. Couet, et al. Effect of dietary fish oil on body fat mass and basal fat oxidation in healthy adults. Vol. 21. 1997, Basingstoke. Nature Publishing Group.
3. Hill, A.M. et al. Combining fish-oil supplements with regular aerobic exercise improves body composition and cardiovascular disease risk factors. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2007. 85(5): p. 1267-1274.
4. Ward, K.A. et al. Vitamin D Status and Muscle Function in Post-Menarchal Adolescent Girls. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2009. 94(2): p. 559-563.
5. Gilsanz, V. et al. Vitamin D Status and Its Relation to Muscle Mass and Muscle Fat in Young Women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2010. 95(4): p. 1595-1601.
6. Melamed, M.L. et al., 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels and the Risk of Mortality in the General Population. Arch Intern Med, 2008. 168(15): p. 1629-1637.
7. Goodwin, P.J. et al., Prognostic Effects of 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Levels in Early Breast Cancer. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 2009. 27(23): p. 3757-3763.
8. Kreider, R.B. Effects of creatine supplementation on performance and training adaptations. Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, 2003. 244(1): p. 89-94.
9. Wyss, M. and A. Schulze, Health implications of creatine: can oral creatine supplementation protect against neurological and atherosclerotic disease? Neuroscience, 2002. 112(2): p. 243-260.
10. Rae, C. et al. Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double blind, placebo controlled, cross over trial. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B: Biological Sciences, 2003. 270(1529): p. 2147-2150.
Joe Lightfoot, BSc(Hons)
Joe is in his penultimate year of medical school at the University of Manchester. He also has a first class degree in anatomy and is a certified strength and conditioning coach. Joe is Co-founder of AntiEthos which aims to deconstruct and reassess popular opinion with regards to health and fitness.