I’m often asked, “What are the best supplements to support my health and fitness goals?” People ask for one of three reasons. They:
- Have never used supplements, and are utterly confused about where to begin.
- Take handfuls of supplements every day, and have pill fatigue
- Hope there’s a shortcut to their fitness goals by popping some pills.
Some want to know the best weight loss supplements. Others look for the best muscle building supplements. And still others are hoping there’s a cure for…you name it.
Before I take people down the path of finding the perfect natural product for a specific goal, I first help them understand the importance of building a solid base of nutrition, and complement it with the right exercise and lifestyle choices.
As I often say…
Anyway, before I recommend supplements for weight loss, muscle-building, brain health, or any other goals, I always start with what I call The Foundational Five. Here they are.
1. High-Quality Multivitamin
A high-quality multivitamin tops my list of the best health supplements.
Imagine building your dream home without using any screws, nails, glue, or caulk. You could use all the best wood, granite, and glass available. But if you don’t have the materials to tie it all together, your home won’t stand very long.
It’s the same thing with the value of a high-quality multivitamin. You could buy the best quality meat and fish, eat organic vegetables, and drink raw milk straight from a grass-fed cow. Yet, if you still lack the micronutrients necessary for a healthy metabolism, your body won’t hold up the way it could.
Keep in mind that when I recommend a high-quality multivitamin, I mean high-quality. Here’s what to look for in a high-quality multivitamin:
- Natural folate, not folic acid (labeled as Metafolin®, L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate, or methylated folate)
- Methylcobalamin instead of cyancobalamin
- Mineral glycinate chelates (i.e. magnesium bisglycinate, magnesium glycinate)
- Both K1 and K2
- Exceeds Daily Value (DV) for most micronutrients
- Efficacious doses of any extra ingredients to enhance the formula
Those are starting points to help guide you away from crap, and toward quality. It’s not an all-encompassing list of what it takes to make the best multivitamin.
I use and recommend:
2. Fish Oil
Fish oil takes the #2 spot in my Foundational Five, the most important supplements for health.
According to one survey I found, almost 63% of people knew they did not get enough omega-3 fats in their diet. However, only 26% of people supplemented with omega-3s.
Omega-3 fatty acids play an essential role in your brain health, as well as the function of almost every system in the body.
Like micronutrients, omega-3s are more than important. They are essential for health. High-quality fish oil is the best way to increase your omega-3 fatty acid levels.
The following are some of the benefits of supplementing with fish oil:
- Enhances fat loss*
- Supports healthy lipid and glucose levels*
- Increases protein synthesis and supports gains in strength and lean body mass*
- Supports normal inflammation levels*
- Enhances immune function*
- Supports cognitive / brain function*
- Supports a normal stress response*
- May reduce some symptoms of depression*
- Enhances eye health*
- May lessen chances of infant allergies if used during pregnancy*
The core of their benefit comes from how they affect your cell membranes. When your omega-3 levels are high enough, your cell membranes can easily transfer nutrients into the cell, and waste products or toxins out of it.
We use, and I most often recommend Thorne Super EPA.
3. Magnesium Glycinate
Magnesium glycinate, or bisglycinate, is #3 on my top 5 of the best supplements for health. The average person consumes a woefully inadequate amount of magnesium.
Magnesium plays a role in more than 300 enzymatic reactions.
As a result, the health benefits of magnesium cross the entire body. Magnesium:
- Is necessary for proper cardiovascular function*
- Supports normal inflammation levels*
- Supports normal blood pressure*
- Helps maintain normal blood sugar levels*
- Plays a role in energy production, assisting with the extraction of energy from food*
- Supports the proper utilization of amino acids, fat, or carbohydrates*
- Aids in the creation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)*
- Is necessary for nerve impulse conduction*
- Is required for the utilization of other micronutrients, such as B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E*
- Is necessary for muscle contraction as well as muscle relaxation*
- Supports bone health, along with calcium and vitamin D and vitamin K*
- Supports serotonin production*
- Is necessary for muscle contraction*
- Controls synaptic plasticity, which affects learning and memory*
- Calms the mind and helps support restful sleep*
Once you’ve met your magnesium requirements, there isn’t a benefit in taking extra. However, with the numerous effects magnesium has on your health, you can see why being deficient can be disastrous.
With numerous forms of magnesium available, it can be a little confusing to understand which form of magnesium to use. That’s why I wrote the article Magnesium: Health Benefits and Best Ways To Supplement.
The gist is, magnesium glycinate (or bisglycinate) is the most bioavailable, meaning that it’s the best absorbed. In terms of supplement ingredients, it’s also pretty large, which is why you won’t get enough in a high-quality multivitamin. You’ll need to supplement with it separately.
The two magnesium supplements I use and recommend are:
4. Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol)
Number four on my list of the five best supplements for health is vitamin D.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard about the health benefits of vitamin D, and how many people are deficient in this micronutrient. Actually, if you have been living under a rock, you’re going to really need vitamin D. Without any sun or supplements, you’re probably really deficient.
Vitamin D, or cholecalciferol, is more of a prohormone than it is an actual vitamin. This prohormone influences more than 200 genes.
Low vitamin D levels are associated with:
- Increased risk of the flu
- Insulin resistance and diabetes
- Heart disease
- Osteoporosis and bone fractures
- Atopic dermatitis
- Decreased production of adrenal hormones, including DHEA, androstenedione, and cortisol
- Decreased strength
- Increased body fat
- Low birth weight of newborns
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type I diabetes
The average person has a vitamin D blood level of only 16-25 ng/mL.
Standard blood tests will tell you that you should be above 30 ng/mL, which is still pretty low. The Vitamin D Council suggests levels below 40 ng/mL to be “deficient” and the optimal range to be between 40-80 ng/mL.
Supplementing with cholecalciferol is inexpensive, but not all vitamin D is the same.
Because cholecalciferol is such a tiny compound, it needs to be diluted before it’s put into a supplement. Most supplement manufacturers buy their vitamin D from a raw material supplier already diluted.
Here’s the problem…Most suppliers use lactose to dilute it.
Unfortunately, the lactose doesn’t need to be disclosed on the label.
Since the manufacturer orders vitamin D, not vitamin D plus lactose, the label only shows the raw material that was included. For those who have lactose intolerance, they can end up scratching their heads, wondering why they’ve eliminated dairy but still have gas, diarrhea, or upset stomachs.
The vitamin D we use, and I recommend, comes from Thorne. Thorne buys buys undiluted cholecalciferol, and dilutes it themselves. They dilute it with either the branched-chain amino acid leucine, or medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs).
To maintain optimal vitamin D levels, the Vitamin D Council makes the following recommendations:
- Children: 1000 IU per 25 pounds of body weight
- Adults: 5000 IU including pregnant and breastfeeding women
- Upper limit: 10,000 IU per day
The two vitamin D supplements I recommend are:
Probiotics round out my Foundational 5, the best supplements for health.
Your gut houses a world as mysterious and complex as that of the one living at the bottom of the ocean. We literally have millions of bacteria living off the food we eat.
Many of those bacteria produce byproducts necessary for us to maintain our health.
There are numerous health benefits of probiotics, some of which depend on the strain, and others of which aren’t totally understood yet. They seem to be helpful with:
- Reducing signs of endotoxemia*
- Symptoms of eczema*
- Relieving lactose intolerance*
- Enhancing mental health and wellbeing*
- Supporting metabolic health, including weight management*
- Dealing with Traveler’s Diarrhea*
- Reducing the occurrence of respiratory tract infections, especially in endurance athletes*
For general health, it’s probably best to use a variety of different, research-supported probiotic species and/or strains. In fact, I suggest using a few different probiotic formulas, and rotating them. In this way, you get more of a diversity of health-promoting probiotics.
The following are three solid probiotic supplements to start with:
There you have it. The five best supplements to support your health. A high-quality:
- Fish Oil
- Magnesium Glycinate
- Vitamin D
Of course, adding these supplements to your nutrition plan doesn’t excuse a diet of excessive carbs, low protein, and tons of processed foods.
Supplements are supposed to do just that…supplement, or complement a good diet.
You might look at the actual products I use and recommend, and think, “Jeez, those are more expensive than what I buy at Target, Walmart, or GNC.”
They are more expensive. Or, the other way I put it is this:
With this list in mind, you might wonder, “Do I need to take these five supplements everyday? What if I miss a day?”
If you miss a day, it’s not the end of the world. The issue isn’t really about missing a day here or there, but more about the habit of taking them regularly.
If you develop the pattern of taking them every day, then taking them becomes a habit. Once you develop the habit, they no longer become a bunch of bottles tucked away in a cupboard. They become a powerful part of your health and fitness program.