OK so there is a strong chance that this could get a bit rants so strap yourself in and I will do my best to wind my neck in as much as possible!
Right let's start with supplements! This word covers a variety of pills and potions that are designed to 'supplement' a healthy diet. For example, the average British resident cannot physically get enough Vitamin D from the sunlight if they stay here the whole year round..... we just don't get enough sun... therefore it might be worth us popping some decent sized Vit D tablets or sprays to keep us in tip top shape. This isn't 'in exchange' for trying to get the 20 minutes of sunlight or so a day that we are recommended - this is just to help us hit the right levels of Vitamin D in a circumstance where it would be hard for us to achieve this without outside help. The aim of the game is to get as much of all your micronutrients from your diet as humanly possible.
Most other supplements should be dependent on the person, their body and their goals. For example, a bodybuilder may take BCAAs and creatine amongst others to help with their training, but does the average person need to? A coeliac may be prescribed Vitamin B supplements by their doctor but does a non-coeliac person need to take them? Someone with arthritis may take glucosamine, Omega 3 etc but does everyone need to take them or can you fill up via your diet? I'm not answering no to any of these questions, but my point is, do your research and think about your life and your own goals. Do not take something blindly because someone else is, read and understand why you are putting it in to your own body. It is your responsibility to be educated on what you are taking,
Supplements are designed to add something to your diet that for whatever reason, you may be lacking in. They are not designed to be 'instead of' a food group. I think it's safe to say that the most popular exercise related supplement is a protein shake. I do indeed partake in the occasional shake or protein bar to top up my protein levels, especially after I have trained when I know I need to load the protein on asap but chances are I'm on way back from the gym and am a shaky mess. I don't have a protein shake 'instead of' my meals.... it is 'as well as' to help me achieve the 160g of protein that I need to consume every day to maintain my muscle growth. In order to hit that goal every day, sometimes when I am on the go with no fridge available, I make use the occasional shake/bar to help me hit my targets.
For me it is weighing up between how to get what I want via nature........ and then using supplements to help me reach me goals when nature can't quite get me to where I need to be.
Which brings me on to my next point, meal replacement shakes. And by meal replacement shakes, I do not mean vitamin drinks which are mean't to 'supplement' your current diet and to 'add' something extra to it. I mean when someone has specifically told you it's OK to skip eating and instead drink a shake. Usually in the form of an unqualified clown tried to make a few bucks via the sales of some Z-list 'nutritional' firm.
GP's may prescribe meal replacement shakes in the case of extreme weight loss/chronic disease. I am sure that for people who skip multiple meals a day that there is a benefit in consuming a shake rather than absolutely nothing. In ALL other cases, any company that tries to tell you their factory made product full of artificial sweeteners and animal dick is better for you than real food, needs a kick in the face.
YES these shakes will probably help with overall weight loss but these are the reasons why:
1. They decrease your overall calories intake just like ANY other diet. Of course you will lose weight if your total calories in is less than your total calories out. That's just maths.
2. You pay through the nose for it, so you are then more likely to place value on the product and to therefore maintain it for a period of time.... and as we already know substituting them is creating calorie deficit which will result in overall weight loss.
The reasons that replacing a meal with one of these types of shakes is pointless is:
1. Many are about as natural as a Kardashian's butt
2. They do not educate you and retrain you to see food in a different way. You still will not have dealt with any of your food issues when you decide to move back onto real food again - will you know how to limit your portions, eat enough protein, not overeat when you are feeling sad/out with friends/ just because its Friday. You can only sort these things out if you LIVE them and find workable solutions.... not by substituting food with a liquid because someone told you to.
3. Many contain low to zero levels of protein... that means it is NOT a complete meal. If you do not eat enough protein, then there is nothing in there to help preserve your muscle mass while you lose weight. Overall weight lost is a poor marker..... fat loss and muscle preservation is a MUCH better marker of how your nutrition is doing.
4. Eating too few calories (many of these 'knowledgable' reps recommend a diet of around 1200 kcal like something out of the 70's. Too few calories is not ideal when we consider that we want to conserve as much of our muscle mass as possible to keep our metabolism in tip top shape. That's why lots of extra slim people still look 'soft' even though they follow a low calorie diet - they do not have solid mass to 'fill' out their frame.
5. It's a quick fix - and one that will leave you with the metabolism of a hibernating bear , the nutritional knowledge of the rep who sold it to you and the mindset of someone who hasn't dealt with their emotional eating habits.
I realise that this last paragraph may come on a little strong so brace yourselves. If as a healthy adult, you are using a meal replacement for anything other than the extreme eating patterns I mentioned before, then you need to slap yourself upside the head and sort your shit out. Every reason you could possible give me as to why you need the shakes all comes down to two things; 1. that you don't have the balls to take control of your own nutrition or 2. that you arent willing to try to learn about it so you can make the right choices.
I realise this may sound harsh but I refuse to blow smoke up your arses when it's something that I feel this strongly about. As fully functioning adults we have absolutely no excuse to not understand what we put into our bodies. I am well aware that in terms of education we have had some really shocking information passed on to us over the years but we are in an age where the world is at our fingertips, we can look into things a lot easier simply by hitting the internet and reading articles by industry experts. YOU can do anything, nutrition is not as hard as it seems and ALL of us are capable of getting our head around it!
Anna is a qualified Personal Trainer, experienced Group Exercise instructor and a Master-Trainer for an international fitness brand. Owner of Vital Signz Dance. Creator of Always Moving Forward Instructor Network.