My Foundational Five are the best supplements to help form a foundation of good nutrition, no matter what your goals may be.
Before I recommend the best muscle-building supplements, weight loss pills, or detox programs, I almost always recommend starting with the following five supplements.
Then, as you make progress toward your goals, you might consider adding to these five, but not taking something in place of them.
Of course, as potent as these supplements are, you still need to eat well, too.
As I often say…
If you’re serious about your health, consider making the following five supplement nonnegotiables each day.
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1. High-Quality Multivitamin
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.
A high-quality multivitamin provides the micronutrients necessary to avoid gaps that could cause your metabolism, and then your body, to break down.
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
This is a starting point. It’s not an all-encompassing list of what it takes to make the best multivitamin.
Read also: The Best Multivitamins For Men and Women.
2. Fish Oil
According to one survey, 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 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.
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: Deficiencies, Health Benefits, and Supplements.
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.
4. Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol)
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.
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.
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
5. Digestive Enzymes
Without digestive enzymes, you can’t break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Your food would pass through you undigested.
Along the way, the food would destroy the lining of your intestines, cause immune reactions and cause inflammation. Nutritionally, you’d starve, no matter how much food you ate.
Stress, aging, medications, and even exercise can compromise enzyme production. In addition, processed foods are devoid of many of the enzymes whole foods contain.
As a result, many of us deal with subpar digestion and absorption of the nutrients we need to look, feel, and perform our best.
A high-quality, digestive enzyme and acid supplement helps ensure you not only eat the foods you should, but you also break them down and make use of their nutrients.
There you have it. The five best supplements to support your health.
- High-Quality Multivitamin
- Fish Oil
- Vitamin D
- Digestive Enzymes
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.