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Supplements vs. food: What’s really necessary?

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If you’re interested in sports and nutrition, chances are you’ve heard of dietary supplements. Almost any micro or macronutrient that you need, is available to you in the form of powders or capsules.

In sports, dietary supplements are an extremely hot topic. And…. a highly debatable one. Muscle development, regeneration and a boost in performance are just some of the advantages that manufacturers advertise. But what exactly are dietary supplements? Are they really necessary? And which natural foods can we eat instead? Read more to find out.

What are dietary supplements?

Just like it says on the tin, dietary supplements are there to supplement your normal nutrition. Available in powder or capsule form, they can contain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fatty acids and fiber as well. Dietary supplements which solely consist of protein are also found in sports.

Do we really need supplements?

People need micro and macronutrients such as proteins, vitamins and minerals for the body to function, and perform at it’s best. If we follow a healthy and balanced diet, we will obtain all the important materials that our body needs. In this case, taking dietary supplements wouldn’t be necessary.

However, in some cases there may be an increased need for certain macro or micronutrients which, despite a balanced and diverse diet, cannot be covered or can only be covered with great difficulty. In this case, the use of dietary supplements makes sense. An example is folic acid, a B vitamin that is required in increased quantities before and during pregnancy. Folic acid supplements are recommended by doctors to protect the growing baby from complications.

If you’re an athlete, then you too could have an increased need for certain macro and micronutrients. Due to physical activity, you’ll need more of these nutrients than people who are not as active.

Pros and cons of using dietary supplements

Dietary supplements contain nutrients in a highly-concentrated form. Therefore any intake recommendations and requirements are met pretty quickly. Taking dietary supplements can also have a psychological and motivating effect. But not all that glitter is gold. Dietary supplements are expensive and, if used incorrectly, can lead to side effects. Overdosing on individual nutrients upset the balance of nutrients, thereby harming the body. Furthermore, relying only on the use of dietary supplements to improve performance,  there is the risk of neglecting other factors that are important.

All the micro and macronutrients that dietary supplements contain can also be found in natural foods. Here we will present you with 3 dietary supplements and which foods you could choose instead.



Iron, a component of red blood cells, plays a role in transporting oxygen. Red blood cells become increasingly-destroyed through high mechanical stress, for example during high intensity training. Iron is an essential building block for creating new ones. Therefore you, as an athlete, should ensure that you include enough iron in your diet. But this doesn’t have to be in the form of supplements.

The following foods contain iron: Meat, green leafy vegetables, parsley, dried lentils or carrots

Caution: There are substances that hamper iron intake, such as oxalic acid, which is found in spinach, although spinach contains a rich amount of iron. However, oxalic acid prevents the body from absorbing the entire amount. So it’s not just important for food to have a high iron content; the quantity that the body can actually absorb is essential as well. In contrast, Vitamin C and amino acids work to support iron intake.


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Creatine is the most well-known dietary supplement in sports. Creatine is synthesized in the liver and kidneys from amino acids glycine, arginine and methionine. Creatine improves muscle development and plays a general role in our body, when energy needs to be supplied quickly. The body is able to synthesize about half of the creatine itself. The other half must be ingested through food.

Creatine sources: Meat and fish, mainly red meat such as beef and lamb


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Zinc, a component of numerous enzymes in our body, is responsible for functioning cell metabolism. Large amounts of zinc are lost due to increased sweating during physical activity.

Here’s how you can meet your zinc requirements: Emmental and Edam cheese, oats, oysters or pumpkin seeds

Caution: Overdosing on trace elements can lead to serious side effects such as nausea and vomiting. Furthermore, there is a risk of copper deficiency, since zinc binds to copper, thereby inhibiting its absorption in the body.

Supplements isn’t an easy topic. Before deciding to take them do the research. Find out if they are really necessary for you. And remember, all these supplements can be found in natural food. A healthy, balanced diet is always a winner.

We want to know what experiences you have had with dietary supplements. Leave us a comment.