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Food vs Supplements - which is better and why?

By Ben White

  • Food is good.
  • Supplements are good too
  • But which is better?
  • There is only one way to find out…
  • Which do you think is better? Answers in our poll at the bottom!

Let’s look into the positives and negatives of both!

positives and negatives of both!

We are always told the benefits of eating good quality whole foods but also that supplements play a key role in what we do and that we should use these as well.

So what’s better? Let’s take a look at some basic supplements that we all take and see where they come out.

Protein powders

Protein Powders

Protein powder comes in lots of different forms and flavours to suit what you need, there are of course pros and cons of taking these though:

Pros

Protein powders are a really quick source of protein and provide a quick digesting hit that you can take anywhere with you.

A big positive I find in taking these is that depending on the supplement company you use - they can actually be cheaper than eating whole foods.

Another slightly strange positive for me is that they come in sweet flavours which I find helps me when I am eating clean because you don’t get to eat the food they are modelled on. Protein powders also require next to no preparation which saves a lot of time.

Cons

The biggest downside to supplements is that they aren’t real food. By this I mean you don’t get all of the nutrients and other vitamins that you get from actual food.

When you eat, for example, beef, you get around 25g of protein per 100g serving which is roughly similar to that of most protein powders.

However, you also get plenty of vitamin B12, Zinc and Iron along with Creatine, all things you don’t get from protein powders. As another benefit, food is filling! It fills your stomach for longer which means you will feel you have more energy and will be able to perform better.

Which is better?

In my opinion, I will choose food over supplements for my protein intake every time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t use them.

I think they are very useful as long as you use them sensibly and don’t neglect whole foods as the main bulk of your protein intake.

In simple terms, food is better but supplements are helpful!

Multivitamins

Protein Powders

I don’t think I know anyone who trains and doesn’t take a multivitamin every day, it’s a super basic supplement which just becomes part of your everyday routine, but is it better than food?

Pros

Multivitamin tablets are super convenient, easy to take and pretty cheap.

They usually give you the full recommended daily amount of vitamins your body needs in one hit, plus you can get different tablets to suit what you need.

Most companies now will do multivitamins specifically for men and women to suit what they need - this means you should be able to get exactly what you need depending on you personally.

Cons

Multivitamins can't provide you with the added benefit of fibre, which is a vital ingredient to a healthy gut and again. Real food is filling and will do more for your body than taking a tablet.

Which is better?

In my opinion, food is better for you because of what it can provide to your body but you should be taking a multivitamin.

Because all of our bodies are different we all have different needs that sometimes food itself cannot give us, by taking a supplement every day like a multivitamin it means we are giving ourselves the best chance to fuel our body with everything we need along with our food.

Which is better

Creatine

Creatine is an amazing supplement - easy to take, relatively cheap, brings on some amazing improvements to your body and your overall performance, but is the 5g you should have a day better from food or powder?

Pros

Taking Creatine is super simple. Usually, to get your 5g it can either be one small scoop of powder.

Or to make it even simpler most pre-workout supplements have your daily intake of Creatine already put into them.

For me though the biggest advantage of taking Creatine as a supplement is because of how much food you need to eat to get your 5g, here’s a rundown:

  • Pork = 5g per Kilo
  • Red meat = 4.5g per Kilo
  • Herring = 6.5g per Kilo
  • Salmon = 4.5g per Kilo
  • Tuna = 4g per Kilo
  • Cod = 3g per Kilo

So as you can see you need to eat a LOT of food to get that Creatine intake from food alone.

Protein Powders

Cons

As with everything on this list a supplement doesn’t carry the nutrients of real food, but in this situation, the amount of food you would need to eat may mean it isn’t realistic!

I think though the biggest con for people is some of the negative impacts it can have.

The biggest thing to remember with Creatine is it makes you hold more water, which in turns means you put on weight (I tend to put on about 1.5 kilos in the space of two weeks when I start Creatine).

Another thing it’s known for is making you feel and appear bloated (this isn’t for everyone, however) but this should clear once you stop taking it.

On that subject, when you stop taking it – it usually states on the supplement to cycle Creatine but I don’t believe it’s necessary – you tend to lose all of the water weight very quickly and it can make your muscles look flat.

Which is better?

As with everything here, food is always going to contain more nutrients and other benefits than just taking a small scoop of powder every morning, in this case.

However, I will hold my hands up and say I would prefer to take the powder instead of eating a kilo of Herring every day!

My advice, choose a supplement which allows you to take in 3g Creatine per serving instead of the full 5g, then your daily protein intake should allow you to get the additional 2g you need. Best of both worlds really.

Omega 3/fish oil tablets vs Food

Protein Powders

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids are not produced naturally by the body so you must get them in another form, supplements are by far the easiest way to get these into your daily diet.

There isn't a set guideline on how much you should consume on a daily basis but as a general guideline, the average person needs around 500mg per day.

Pros

Despite the fact that this supplement is commonly known with keeping the elderly mobile it also is fantastic for athletic performance, as it is one of the healthy fats it has great fat burning qualities to keep you leaner.

Along with other benefits like healthier hair, skin, brain, heart and joints - basically, it's pretty good stuff!

Most supplements contain between 500mg - 1000mg a day so you get your whole allowance in one instant hit.

Cons

It isn’t fish (or seeds, or nuts, or really any other fatty foods).

You can actually get around 500mg of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids per 100g of oily fish like mackerel, not only do you get the fatty acids but plenty of protein as well.

Other foods you get plenty of omegas from are:

  • Pork = 5g per Kilo
  • Red meat = 4.5g per Kilo
  • Herring = 6.5g per Kilo
  • Salmon = 4.5g per Kilo
  • Tuna = 4g per Kilo
  • Cod = 3g per Kilo

All of these foods will help to build up to your daily intake but you will get plenty of other nutrients with these as well.

Which is better?

If you are eating plenty of oily fish and other foods listed above I would imagine you are getting your daily intake of Omega 3 and 6 so don’t need the supplement, but if you’re like me and don’t eat these foods every day then the supplement is a good idea.

The biggest thing to remember is that diets rich in omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to help to reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure, all of which will keep you healthier for longer, and isn’t that the aim with it all?

To Sum Up

The biggest thing to remember with dietary supplements is that they are just that, there to supplement your daily diet.

If your diet sucks, no amount of supplements is going to give you the results you want. Focus on real food as much as you can, then use supplements to fill in the gaps.

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