We’re often asked, “What are the best supplements to support my health and fitness goals?” People typically ask for one of three reasons. They:
- Have never used supplements, and feel completely confused about where to begin.
- Take handfuls of supplements every day, and wonder what’s really necessary.
- Hope there’s a supplement-related shortcut to their fitness goals.
Before taking people down the path of the best supplements for weight loss, muscle growth, or other health goals, we first emphasize the supplements essential for a solid nutrition foundation.
Of course, supplements alone won’t get you to your goals. You also need consistent healthy lifestyle habits, including following a great exercise program, getting good quality sleep, and eating a healthy diet.
In this article, we’ll cover The Foundational Five, the five essential supplements for optimal health.
1. High-Quality Multivitamin
Imagine building your dream home without using any screws, nails, glue, or caulk. You could use the best wood, granite, and glass available, but if you don’t have the screws, nails, caulk, and glue to tie it all together, your home won’t stand very long.
Micronutrients in a multivitamin are like those invisible, unsexy building materials.
You could buy the highest quality meat and fish, eat organic vegetables, and drink raw milk straight from a grass-fed cow. Yet, if you still lack the micronutrients necessary for a healthy metabolism, your body won’t hold up the way it could.
Keep in mind that when we recommend a high-quality multivitamin, we mean high-quality. At a minimum, a high-quality multivitamin should include:
- Natural folate, not folic acid (labeled as Quatrefolic, Metafolin®, L-5-methyltetrahydrofolate, or methylated folate)
- Methylcobalamin instead of cyancobalamin
- Mineral glycinate chelates (i.e. magnesium bisglycinate, magnesium glycinate)
- Both K1 and K2
- Higher-than Daily Value (DV) levels of many micronutrients
- Efficacious doses of any extra ingredients to enhance the formula
Those are starting points to help guide you away from poor-quality supplements and toward quality ones. However, it’s not an all-encompassing list of what it takes to make the best multivitamin.
2. Fish Oil
Fish oil takes the No. 2 spot on our list of The Foundational Five.
Omega-3 fatty acids play a pivotal role in your brain health, as well as the function of almost every system in your body.
Like micronutrients, omega-3s are more than important — they are essential for health. High-quality fish oil is the best way to increase your omega-3 fatty acid levels.
The following are some of the benefits that can come from supplementing with fish oil:
- Enhances fat loss
- Supports healthy lipid and glucose levels
- Increases protein synthesis and supports gains in strength and lean body mass
- Supports normal inflammation levels
- Enhances immune function
- Supports cognitive/brain function
- Supports a normal stress response
- May reduce some symptoms of depression
- Enhances eye health
- May lessen chances of infant allergies if used during pregnancy
Part of their benefit comes from how they affect your cell membranes. When your omega-3 levels are high enough, your cell membranes can easily transfer nutrients into the cell, and waste products or toxins out of it.
Life Time Omega-3 Fish Oil is sourced from sustainable fisheries off the coast of Chile. We only use oils from small, cold-water anchovy, sardine, and mackerel. It’s molecularly distilled to be sure it’s free of mercury, PCBs and heavy metals. In addition, the distillation helps remove fish odor and flavor. And one other unique benefit: it includes peppermint oil which can eliminate “fish burps.”
Magnesium plays a role in more than 300 enzymatic reactions — and the average person consumes a woefully inadequate amount. Magnesium:
- Is necessary for proper cardiovascular function
- Supports normal inflammation levels
- Supports normal blood pressure
- Helps maintain normal blood sugar levels
- Plays a role in energy production, assisting with the extraction of energy from food
- Supports the proper utilization of amino acids, fat, or carbohydrates
- Aids in the creation of adenosine triphosphate (ATP)
- Is necessary for nerve impulse conduction
- Is required for the utilization of other micronutrients, such as B-complex vitamins, vitamin C, and vitamin E
- Is necessary for muscle contraction as well as muscle relaxation
- Supports bone health, along with calcium and vitamin D and vitamin K
- Supports serotonin production
- Is necessary for muscle contraction
- Controls synaptic plasticity, which affects learning and memory
- Calms the mind and helps support restful sleep
Once you’ve met your magnesium requirements, there isn’t a benefit in taking extra. However, with the numerous effects magnesium has on your health, you can see why being deficient can be disastrous.
You can find many different forms of magnesium on the market, which can make it a little confusing to understand which to use. The two best forms of magnesium, however, are magnesium glycinate (which is what Life Time uses in its multivitamins) and magnesium malate.
In terms of supplement ingredients, magnesium is big, as in it takes up a lot of space. That’s why you won’t find mega-doses in multivitamins and need to supplement with it separately.
4. Vitamin D (Cholecalciferol)
You’ve likely heard about the health benefits of vitamin D, and how many people are deficient in this micronutrient. Vitamin D, or cholecalciferol, is more of a prohormone than it is an actual vitamin, and this prohormone influences more than 200 genes.
Low vitamin D levels are associated with:
- Increased risk of the flu
- Insulin resistance and diabetes
- Heart disease
- Osteoporosis and bone fractures
- Atopic dermatitis
- Decreased production of adrenal hormones, including DHEA, androstenedione, and cortisol
- Decreased strength
- Increased body fat
- Low birth weight of newborns
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type I diabetes
The average person has a vitamin D blood level of only 16-25 ng/mL. If you get your vitamin D levels tested, your doctor will probably tell you “you’re fine” as long as your levels exceed 30 ng/mL. However, that’s still quite low. The Vitamin D Council suggests levels below 40 ng/mL to be “deficient” and the optimal range to be between 40-80 ng/mL.
While cholecalciferol is inexpensive, not all vitamin D supplements are the same.
Because cholecalciferol is such a tiny compound, it needs to be diluted before it’s put into a supplement. Many supplement manufacturers buy their vitamin D from a raw material supplier already diluted. Here’s the problem: Most suppliers use lactose to dilute it. And, unfortunately, the lactose doesn’t need to be disclosed on the label.
Since the manufacturer orders vitamin D, not vitamin D plus lactose, the label only shows the raw material that was included. For those who have lactose intolerance, they can end up scratching their heads, wondering why they’ve eliminated dairy but still have gas, diarrhea, or upset stomachs.
The vitamin D we use in our supplements at Life Time isn’t diluted with lactose, just beware of cheap options found in other stores.
To maintain optimal vitamin D levels, the Vitamin D Council makes the following recommendations:
- Children: 1000 IU per 25 pounds of body weight
- Adults: 5000 IU including pregnant and breastfeeding women
- Upper limit: 10,000 IU per day
One final point on vitamin D: More recent research shows it’s best to also take vitamin K2 with vitamin D, which is what you’ll find in Life Time Vitamin D+K2.
5. Digestive Enzymes
Digestive enzymes round out The Foundational Five.
Without digestive enzymes, you wouldn’t break down protein, fat, and carbohydrates, and your food would pass through you undigested. Along the way, the food would destroy the lining of your intestines, and cause immune reactions and inflammation. Nutritionally you’d starve, no matter how much food you ate.
Unfortunately, stress, excessive exercise, genetics, and certain medications can all compromise the production of enzymes. On top of that, we need a highly acidic stomach to break food down and activate some of of the enzymes.
A digestive support supplement that includes both acids and enzymes can make a big difference in how you feel after eating, and in your ability to break down and absorb the nutrients in your food.
Digestive enzymes fall into three different categories, based on the macronutrient they act on:
- Proteases and peptidases: Convert protein to peptides and amino acids. They also act on other parts of the body to support normal immune function, inflammation levels, tissue repair, and blood viscosity. Common proteases and peptidases: Bromelain, Pancreatin, Papain, Peptidase, Protease, and Trypsin.
- Carbohydrases: Convert carbohydrates to glucose and fructose. Common carbohydrases: Alpha-galactosidase, Amylase, Cellulase, Diastase, Glucoamylase, Invertase, Lactase, and Phytase.
- Lipases: Convert fat to fatty acids. Common lipases: Lingual Lipase, Gastric Lipase, and Pancrealipase.
From my experience, most people don’t know how dysfunctional their digestive system is until they start supplementing with enzymes. Soon after starting, they realize that the discomfort and gas isn’t normal. Our Digestive Enzyme Complex formula is a full-spectrum digestive enzyme blend with added acids to increase stomach acid levels. You might be surprised by how much better you feel after trying it.
There you have it, the five best supplements to support your health include a high-quality:
- Fish oil
- Vitamin D
- Digestive enzymes
Of course, adding these supplements to your nutrition plan doesn’t excuse a diet of excessive carbs, low protein, and tons of processed foods. Supplements are supposed to do just that — supplement, or complement, a healthy diet.
You might look at the actual products we use and recommend, and think, “Jeez, those are more expensive than what I buy at Target, Walmart, or GNC.” They are more expensive. Or, the other way I put it is:
With this list in mind, you might wonder, “Do I need to take these five supplements everyday? What if I miss a day?” If you miss a day, it’s not the end of the world. The issue isn’t really about forgetting a dose here or there, but more about the habit of taking them regularly.
Once you develop the habit, they no longer become a bunch of bottles tucked away in a cupboard. They become a powerful part of your health and fitness program.