Should I take supplements to lose weight?

What about weight loss for women over 50? Over 40?

Do I need supplements for optimum health?

What’s the best diet for losing weight?

What about supplements for the menopause related weight gain?

I case you’re asking yourself similar questions then you aren’t alone.

As an online nutrition coach I am often being asked about which supplements are best to take to lose weight. My response is variable depending on what the persons goal is, what point they are at within the health and fitness cycle, and whether their nutritional intake from real food is being met.

Effective weight loss can mean different things to different people, and everybody should apply the basic principles outlined below no matter what their weight loss goal.


Should I Take Supplements To Lose Weight?


In order to decide whether or not I should take nutritional supplements in order to lose weight or not it’s important to put this into context.

If I decide to take a supplement I remind myself that it doesn’t have to mean ‘forever’. For example, if I am traveling or extremely busy with work and looking after my family I might decide at this time to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement or a greens drink – if I think I can’t access vegetables and nutrient dense food for a period of time.

The next consideration to remember is this – diet nutrition is high tech business with millions of pounds of research being spent on the latest fat loss supplements and flab melting fads. Wild claims and dubious science are promoted in order to sell products and make money.

Worryingly, the consumer often pays for ineffective if not dangerous supplements so it is essential to keep your wits about you and not to be sold by compelling marketing messages.

Out of the thousands of supplements available to the consumer, there are only five that I use and recommend as ‘essential supplements’, and only a small number of specialist supplements that may be beneficial in for more advanced situations such as sports performance or reaching the more extreme body composition goals.

For most of us these 5 essential supplements will help:

  1. Omega 3 supplement with high levels of EPA and DHA
  2. Multivitamin and mineral supplement
  3. Protein supplement
  4. Greens supplement
  5. Probiotic supplement


For most people getting the basics of nutrition right will reward them with effective weight loss, healthy body, and a robust immune system. Unfortunately the basics on nutrition are often not met by most of us, being eclipsed by the plethora of weight loss and fitness supplements that are marketed to us.

A common mistake made by those looking for improved weight loss or health is to look for a supplement to do the job. People concern themselves with exotic products rather than addressing the less glam basics first.


Do I Need Supplements To Lose Weight?


Hierarchy Of Nutritional Needs


Nutritional supplements seem to be an attractive option for those seeking to lose weight because of the message they send us. They are marketed to us to make weight loss a) easier and b) quicker.

Hold on a minute though. Before you get into the world of nutrition weight loss supplementation I encourage you to take a look at your current eating habits.

Considering nutrition to be a hierarchy of needs is a good way to develop a successful nutritional strategy.

You may be aware of food pyramids –  the ones you learn in cookery at school, or the ones found on sites such as the good food guide – but these have some fundamental flaws in them (for another blog post).

Consider the pyramid to have a wide base representing the most fundamental of nutritional needs, and an narrowing towards the top representing nutrients that are gradually more specialist towards the top.

The more specialist needs we see at the top should only be considered once the fundamental base needs have been met.


 Are Vitamin Supplements Necessary?

Base Layer 1 – The Fundamentals


The basic needs of nutrition can be met by including a balance of the macro nutrients: carbohydrates, fat and protein.

Firstly, the balance will vary with your lifestyle requirements and body type, but for fat loss it is advised to consume a combination of healthy fats, a moderate amount of protein with each meal, consume ‘whole food’ carbohydrates with a limited intake of processed grains and high sugar foods.

Secondly, a common deficiency for so many of us is hydration. Water is an essential component that get your system working optimally.

Next, consuming soluble and insoluble fibre from whole foods will ensure your digestive system works well, helping you to balance your blood sugar levels, and even help you to create a calorie deficit due the increased satiety and the fact that the energy stored in the food itself will be less efficient to digest.

Your fibre needs will be met if you eat:

  • Fruit
  • Green leafy vegetables such as spinach
  • Beans and pulses
  • Limit your intake of processed food


Limit sugar and refined grains which are considered to be anti-nutrients and actually contribute no nutritional value apart from energy, yet use up resources in the process.

Your next step – and where you may benefit from taking a multivitamin supplement – is to add protective element to your diet. Micro-nutrient rich foods such as variety of colourful fruits and vegetables should be eaten, and trying to include raw or lightly cooked foods is also helpful as the nutrient content may become denatured  by intense heat.


Should I Take A Multivitamin?

Layer 2 – Protection And Detox


Part of life is oxidation, and this is part of exercise too.

As a metal car rusts so do we, and when we talk of anti-oxidants we are usually considering ways of limiting or repairing the damage caused by the aerobic nature of our body functions – free radicals affect our health and well being.

Once the fundamentals are established you can consider tweaking your micro-nutrient needs to include anti-oxidants that are essential in combating free radical damage to the body including immune system. Repairing the body on a cellular level will help you lose weight effectively.

Consider the fruit and vegetables you do consume according to their anti-oxidant content. The richer in anti-oxidants the better able to combat the oxidative stresses placed on the body by air pollution and intense exercise, both of which place damage on the cells of the body.

Taking a broad spectrum multivitamin may add to the daily protection from free radical oxidation, and a regular intake of omega 3 oils, through foods or supplement form will also help.

Below is a table of high antioxidant food types. Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) is a method of measuring antioxidant capacities in biological samples. The higher the ORAC the more antioxidants are available. (US Dept. Agriculture; Brunswick Laboratories; JACS)

70% cocoa solid dark chocolate 13500
Pomegranate 10500
Dried prunes 5770
Red delicious apples 4270
Raisins 2830
Kale 2410
Blueberries 2400
Garlic 2320
Blackberries 2040
Spinach 1700
Brussels sprouts 1580
Strawberries 1540
Alfalfa sprouts 1450
Broccoli flowers 1290
Raspberries 1220
Beets 1170
Plums 949
Red bell peppers 810
oranges 750
Corn 720
Cherries 670
Onion 560
Eggplant 510
Cauliflower 510
Cabbage 480
Potato 460
Sweet potato 430
Leaf Lettuce 410
String Bean 390
Carrot 340
Yellow squash 280
Iceberg lettuce 230
Tomato 195
Celery 130
Cucumber 110

How To Lose Weight Without Supplementation

Layer 3 – Fueling Your Weight Loss With Real Food


Now you have a good general diet, an availability of macronutrients and micronutrients and a consideration of how best to protect our body from free radicals for health and immunity, it is time to consider what and when is best to eat to lose weight.

An optimum hydration strategy will be useful for those performing exercise – whether your goal is sports or weight loss.

Fluid needs are closely linked to air temperature and humidity, plus the intensity and duration of your exercise. If exercising aim to begin fully hydrated – a guide is to keep your urine a light straw colour, and re-hydrate immediately post workout.

If you weight yourself pre and post workout, add the mass of the fluid you consumed during the exercise to the difference between pre and post workout weights. Aim to consume 1.5 times this figure. Consume water not sports drinks for best weight loss.

Example; pre workout 75kg, post workout 74kg, drinks 500ml during workout = 0.5kg so a difference of 1.5kg. It is therefore advised to consume 2.25l fluids post workout.

If you are like me and love to eat carbohydrates it is best to consume them pre and post workout as you are highly insulin sensitive during and up to 2 hours post exercise, particularly if your training consists of high intensity intervals or resistance exercises.

However for best weight loss I suggest you stick to whole grain and vegetable sources of carbohydrates, and avoid sugar. Avoid carbs during your sedentary day all together.

If you consume carbs you should therefore consume your them during or immediately after exercise as this is when your body will best use it – absorbing it like a sponge, maximising your recovery and boosting your immune system.

If you burn 500 to 1000kcal in training aim to replace this with real food during the day but for effective weight loss it is suggested to create a calorie deficit. By consuming nutrient dense and calorie sparse foods this is more likely. Post workout try to include protein with your meal.


What Supplements Should I Take Daily?

Layer 4 – Fueling For Weight Loss – Diet Nutrition


Firstly I have to say that if you are after weight loss avoid sports drinks all together.

They are often composed of sugar and will do your weight loss efforts no good at all, will make it difficult to create a calorie deficit, and will make it difficult for your body to access fat stores for energy if an available source of sugar is present to use.

My advice for athletes is to use sports drinks to enhance your sport. Although nutrition and hydration needs can be met through food and water such as dried fruit, cereal bars etc, there are benefits of using special sports drinks.

They provide a ready source of easily assimilated energy which is essential if exercising for over 1hour in a bike or run race.

The stress on the gastric system is minimised and in the case of electrolyte drinks the essential minerals lost in sweat are replaced. The lack of fibre in sports drinks is also beneficial in longer races such as marathon or long course triathlon.

Recently a series of protein:carbohydrate drinks for use during training have been launched. These are particularly useful for sessions or races over 3h in duration as the branched chain amino acids (BCAA) that are catabolised in muscle during endurance events are ‘saved’ by the available BCAA in the sports drink.

Recovery drinks are also a revolution in the quest for swift recovery. In the field, recovery drinks allow athletes to consume a meal within the 15minute window of opportunity bu drinking a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein drink, that often contains vitamins and minerals too.

This 15 minutes post race or training session is so crucial due to the ability of the body tu use the materials we provide it. We are highly insulin sensitive, and any protein we consume with the carbohydrate will have the extra insulin to deliver it to where it is needed – the muscle – where repair will take place and glycogen will be replenished.

Best supplements for weight loss would include protein shakes immediately post workout but avoid ones laced with carbohydrates, sugar, and artificial additives.


Sports Nutrition Supplements

Layer 5 – Ergogenic Aids


If you have the first 4 levels of the hierarchy of nutrition needs sorted then it may be beneficial to invest in some supplements such as creatine.

However if you have not fully adopted the principles of real food nutrition there is no way that you will be able to rely on a supplement to realise your weight loss potential.

Unfortunately as with everything, there are no short cuts and although it may take time and effort the gains you will get from real food and hydration will far outweigh the gains from the specialist supplements mentioned – even if their adverts promise otherwise.

It is essential to walk before you can run when it comes to nutrition, and to get the building blocks in place before trying weight loss supplements is the key to success.


Essential Food Supplements For Weight Loss


So, should I take supplements to lose weight?

As always the answer depends. I do advocate the use of some food supplements though including antioxidants and omega 3, as well as mineral supplements.

In my experience, one of the reasons clients quit the weight loss journey is because they feel bad. The essential nutrition supplements mentioned above can help with weight loss because clients feel better, and so adhere to the program. Again, the strategic use of a multivitamin and mineral supplement along with omega 3 and perhaps a protein supplement can be helpful as part of a nutrition coaching program.

If you are seeking to lose weight, and feel that you would benefit from support, accountability and a clear path to follow, you might be interested in online weight loss coaching. If you’ve spent years taking pills, potions, crazy exercise plans, restrictive diets and the like, then perhaps it’s time to try sustainable coaching instead.

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