Tag Archives: diet

N Equals 1: Supplements

I always get asked about supplements. What should I take? What’s the best? How about protein powder? Creatine? Pre-workout? Etc. Here’s the easy truth: you probably don’t need them. Here’s the hard truth: you are looking for a quick fix instead of doing the real hard work. That being said, you are probably going to succumb to the marketing at some point and try some supplements. That’s fine, but let me help you help yourself and empower you to not be a slave to the marketing machine and to make better decisions and obviate the need for supplements.

First, ask yourself why you want supplements at all. What are you trying to accomplish or correct with this supplement? “Supplement” is short for “Dietary Supplement” and that suggests that they should be used to get something that is not provided from your diet. So before you go spending your hard-earned money, try fixing your diet. Eat better quality foods and control the quantity of food that you eat.

If you are eating fast food and looking to take protein powder or creatine or some other supplement, don’t. Clean up your crappy diet. Whatever boost in performance is guaranteed by the supplement company can be matched and exceeded by simply eliminating fast food from your diet and cooking yourself some meat and vegetables. If you’re not willing to eat your vegetables, then buying supplements is a waste of time and money.

Still want to drop some money on supplements? Okay. How will you know if they work? You will need to conduct an experiment of n=1. You need to measure your progress in the gym. Get a journal and write down your workouts and how you performed. How much you lifted, how fast you ran and how many reps you did. You can also track other things like your weight, body fat percentage and how much you slept. Go to the doctor and get some blood work done. These are the types of things that you want to keep track of and measure before you take supplements in order to get a baseline, then again during the supplement trial, and, finally, after you stop taking the supplements to see if you return to your baseline.

Furthermore, how will you know whether any progress was the result of the supplements or something else, like eating less or exercising more? You will have to control certain variables so that they do not impact the results. At the very least, you must maintain a relatively constant daily calorie intake. To be more precise, you need to establish a baseline for how much of each macronutrient you are intaking every day. If you are not getting the proper amount of macronutrients in your diet, then that should be addressed before supplementation. You need protein for your muscles, carbohydrates for energy and fats for satiety. Eating too little will cause you to under perform and eating too much will lead to unnecessary weight gain. Finding the proper amount is a process that could take a few months, but it is worth more than all the supplements out there. It is only after you start tracking exactly how much protein, fats and carbs you eat during a day that you can then see how adding or subtracting something affects your performance.

I recommend doing the Zone Diet or Flexible Dieting and establishing a baseline for one month and then adding a supplement in for another month to see if there is any improvement and then discontinuing for several weeks at the end of the month. This will provide a contrast between your baseline and you on supplements. If you haven’t changed how much you’ve eaten and worked out for the month, then at the end you can measure the gains made by the supplement and also whether there was a drop in performance upon discontinuing use at the end of the month.

It seems like a lot of work, but there is a huge payoff. Doing the hard work of eating right will improve your performance and give you the keys to knowing objectively how you are functioning. It allows you to be objective about your nutrition and your performance.

How Would This Look If It Were Easy?

I love Tim Ferriss: the person, the books, the podcasts. He’s definitely put out some great stuff over the years. He asks great questions, not just of his interviewees on his podcast, but of himself. Sometimes in life asking the right question is really the trick. One of the questions that Tim asks of himself is “How would this look if it were easy?”

Don’t misinterpret this as an excuse to take the easy way out of things, but it is an inquiry into not making things more difficult than they have to be. I heard recount how he asked himself this question about doing podcasts. He had spoken with enough podcasters to know that it could be an extremely time-consuming endeavor to do a podcast, but then he asked himself how it would look if it were easy. So from choosing equipment to management to editing, Tim made choices that would allow him to put out a lot of good content with the least painful investment of time and effort. For example, he consciously chose to do long-form interviews with no editing. So once the interview is finished he tacks on the opening and closing bumpers and is done. Because most people lose momentum between the recording and the editing and find it hard to stay on a weekly schedule. He solved the problem by making an easy decision.

Look at your life and where you find yourself complaining that it’s too hard. Then ask yourself what it would look like if it were easier. Maybe you can simplify something to make it easier. For example, dieting is hard for many people. What would it look like if it were easy? Perhaps the solution is to subscribe to a meal delivery service that sends you healthy, pre-made meals. Some people find it hard to find the time to go to the gym. Maybe the solution is to get two friends from work and make a pact to workout at lunch every day. You can create a penalty if one person cancels, they have to buy lunch for the other two that day.

Solutions to problems come from asking the right questions. The wrong answer to the right question is better than the right answer to the wrong question.