Can you really use supplements to replace food? Ben Coomber asks the tricky questions that’ll give your health the upper hand.


Supplements to replace food – the cost

The supplement industry is booming. It’s worth $61 billion every year in the US alone. With such a huge amount of money being spent on pills, powders and shakes, it’s important to get some perspective on what these products are, what they’re not and more importantly, what impact they’ll have on your goals.

By far, the most lucrative and widely purchased products are vitamins, minerals and other “general health” supplements, especially multivitamin formulas that cover all bases. People take them with the hope they’ll improve their vitality, longevity and energy levels. This may seem a good idea on paper, but recent research indicated multivitamins might not hold up to peoples’ expectations.

What’s more, some vitamins use cheaper, far less bioavailable versions of vitamins, which means the case for a daily multi can look quite weak. A much more rational approach would be to first make sure your diet is varied.

It should contain significant amounts of different fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, organic meats and dairy products (if you tolerate them well). That should maximize your dietary micronutrient intake, increase your fi ber intake and keep you satisfied. If you take a multivitamin on top of a diet like this when you’re training hard you’ll then optimize your health.


Substitute meal-replacement supplements with food?

This leads us nicely onto the second most popular supplements: meal-replacement shakes. These products are touted as the answer to your fat-loss woes. The evidence is clear: if you follow one of these “diets” to a tee, you’ll lose a lot of weight – probably quite quickly – because of the enormous calorie deficit this eating pattern causes.

Sadly, shake-only diets have a bad track record for truly sustainable long-term weight loss and weight management. That’s because after you return to solid food you’re very hungry and you haven’t formed sustainable eating habits. You’ve likely not learned how to control portion sizes and food choices for optimal body composition.

This means you’ll put all the weight you lost back on, if not more, which can make you return to that shake-only diet. Rinse and repeat, over and over. Shakes don’t keep you full. That’s ideal for those looking to gain muscle because you’ll eat more, but it could be catastrophic for those looking to reduce their body fat.

One key success factor of any diet is staying full and energized, otherwise you get fed up of the diet and cheats and binges ensue. Most shakes are based around a source of whey or soy protein and these can’t compare to animal protein for nutrients and satiety. Meat is a rich source of zinc, iron, magnesium, B vitamins and (highly beneficial) dietary cholesterol and fat.

Supplements to replace food do not exist. While supplements have their place and are proven to increase gains and improve fat loss when taken either side of your workouts, it’s vital you take a step back and make sure your whole food diet is hitting all the bases before you start thinking about supplementing.

First seen in issue 18. Page 34 of TRAIN magazine