Who can resist the call of the sensationalized quick fix? The allure of popping a miracle pill to cure disease is how pharmaceutical companies have stacked up immense profits. BOO! HISS! DOWN WITH BIG PHARMA! Yet, a similar narrative is frequently spun up for those of us who cherish our health and wellness – “smash this shake, drink this tea, pop these pills, and you are on your way to a long healthy life coupled with a set of million dollar abs and an onion booty just like mine!”
If you are new to the supplement game, you are in the right place. I will be covering some of the nuts and bolts of dietary supplements, Power Athlete’s recommended supplement approach, then will present a tried and true path to the nutrient rich lifestyle that dreams are made of. Finally, I’m going to touch on how you should decide to invest in supplements, if you feel that you need to at all.
God forbid you are trying to supplement your way into a life full of vitality. Most will start investigating supplements because they are willing to spend a little bit more to feel a little bit better. You are tired, sore, lethargic, can’t concentrate; maybe you have gastrointestinal distress. Maybe you are trying to lean out or bulk up and whatever you are doing to get there isn’t working.
Or maybe you are performance oriented. You invest time in training and have very real goals, and feel the next step is to build a supplement stack to add fuel to the fire.
Or maybe you are too damn busy to focus on what supplements are meant to supplement. Enter what I will call the Healthy Lifestyle Stack, HLS for short.
In the training and bodybuilding space you might hear someone talk about a “stack”; it’s not what you might think:
A stack is what bros say when they are talking about using more than one supplement or anabolic steroid. Bros are always asking about the perfect stack.
The HLS consists of some really exciting stuff… Instead of stacking steroids or dietary and training supplements, we’re going to stack mindful stress management + regular exercise fueled by a nutrient dense whole food diet + sufficient sleep.
A supplement is something that completes or enhances something else. In the case of dietary and workout supplements the “something else” is the HLS. Did you think they were called supplements because they complete or enhance the absence of something else? If that was the case, they’d be called replacements or substitutions or something like that, and that sounds pretty dumb.
To be clear, we are not anti-supplement. We are anti-blind-selecting-random-supplements. Most people don’t have the HLS baseline to supplement, thus drastically compromising the efficacy of supplementation all together! So if you want to get in the supplement game, build your baseline by starting with 8 weeks of the HLS:
Eat a Nutrient Dense Whole Food Diet
Eat meat, fish, fowl, seafood, eggs, roots, tubers, bulbs, and leafy veggies with reckless abandon every week. Include a couple handfuls of fruit and maybe a handful of nuts & seeds every couple of days.
Dress your food with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, cook with butter/ghee, and coconut oil, and mix in some avocado every week or so.
Consume 1g of protein per pound of scale weight every day, find a way to mix in 5g – 7g of salt, slow cook meats and drink the broth, be brave and eat some organ meat every month, drink enough water to support your activity, and get super creative with herbs and spices to tinker with flavor and palatability.
Classify all your foods by color, and be sure to eat the rainbow every couple of days. We call this ROYGBIV.
Track how much you are eating and do not eat more than required to support your daily activity levels.
Do your best to avoid foods that have low nutrient density like grains, gluten, soy, alcohol, and sugar. FYI, when I say nutrient density I mean the ratio of vitamins and minerals relative to caloric load, which is dictated by the amount of protein, fat, and carbs in the food.
Get Regular Exercise
This means two days of heavy weight training, one day of 30 minutes of cardio, and one day of bodybuilding or HIIT training with sets to failure. This is the minimum! To really level up, be sure you are sprinting twice every week.
And get your ass outside for some of this! Especially if UV index is 3 or higher. Then you can pop off that shirt, soak up the Vitamin D, and enjoy a little bit of fresh air.
It really is that simple, but if you want world class training written and monitored by pros, you can get that here.
Manage your Stress, Mindfully
At minimum, commit 10 minutes a day to stress management. 20 is better. This comes in the form of meditation, box breathing or at least accruing mindful minutes throughout the day. And be sure you are surrounding yourself with people who care about you and want to see you succeed.
Get Adequate Sleep
Make sleep the priority. The strategies here are basic and will sound appalling to many of you, but this will drive the most significant improvements in well being.
Sleep takes priority over screen time. Start a daily sleep ritual; a routine consisting of things like blacking out phone/tv screens, drawing shades, killing lights, meditation, breathing exercises, and reading. Hit it every night, and target 8+ hours of sleep in a cool, pitch black room.
Supplementing the HLS
After interviewing dozens of the sharpest pencils in the nutrition and training space over the years on Power Athlete Radio, our recommendations for supplementing the whole food and exercise approaches laid out in the HLS above haven’t changed much over the past decade.
Consume BCAAs, EAAs, beta-alanine, and creatine to support your training efforts. This is a must if training is a priority.
Whey and casein are super convenient and efficient ways to take in a bolus of protein, but it is possible to fulfil protein needs with whole foods, so this will be your call.
If you can’t get in organ meats, consider a quality source of Vitamin K. If you are in a gloomy part of the world or can’t catch sunshine, smash some Vitamin D3.
And that’ll do it.
After 8 weeks on the HLS, supplementing as outlined above, reassess how you are feeling. If something is still off it is not the worst idea to explore a dietary supplement strategy.
Be smart. Your supplement choices should never be informed by the results of friends, mentors, coaches, or dare I say “heroes”, no matter how well intended and authentic their results were. Assuming what worked for them will work for you is a huge fallacy in the supplement space, and you risk pissing all the hard earned dollars spent on supplements down the toilet. Literally.
Required supplementation beyond the HLS will likely be hyper-individualized and should be informed through reliable testing. We like the Gutbio or Performbio by Onegevity for at home kits, or hit up your healthcare provider to get some blood work so you can actually see what’s going on under the hood.
The results of these tests will give you a great idea on what supplements could actually benefit you, and what other lifestyle interventions you may need to consider to level up your game.
Let’s hear it, what testing have you used to inform your supplement selection or training/nutrition approach, and how’d it work out?
Let me know in the comments.
BLOG: WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS: BETA-ALANINE SUPPLEMENTATION
BLOG: WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS: CREATINE
BLOG: FUNCTIONAL MEDICINE BLOOD WORK
BLOG: ANIMAL PROTEIN VS. PLANT PROTEIN
BLOG: MINDFULNESS IN THE KITCHEN
PODCAST: PA RADIO – EP 336: ONEGEVITY, GUTBIO – The Ultimate Gut Health Guide
PODCAST: PA RADIO – EP 294: ROBB WOLF – Fruit Flies, Carnivore Diet, and Fasting
PODCAST: PA RADIO – EP 207: CHERI MAH – Training Sleep Performance
John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER
Never miss out on an epic blog post or podcast, drop your email below and we’ll stay in-touch.