Fitness Supplements

Fat burners are a waste of money, plain and simple. If they work, it typically will only change the number of calories you’re burning by about 2%.

The supplement industry is huge. It’s projected to hit $349 billion globally by 2026. The largest segment is vitamins, which just happen to be the only supplement I recommend across the board. 

Most people want to take supplements to give them an edge or help them lessen the work when trying to lose or gain weight. Let’s cut through the fluff and discuss several common supplements people take when starting a new health program or after they are in the groove.

Protein powder

This is the supplement I get asked about the most. “Should I be taking extra protein powder?” and “When do I take it?” Protein powder is safe and effective and has its place in the nutrition world, though I don’t believe it’s a requirement or that everyone should be taking it. In general, eating whole protein will always trump protein powder, which is partially broken down already (duh, it’s a powder) so it is much less satiating than a whole foods protein. If you add some fruit and other goodies, it can easily up your daily calories by several hundred, so there’s a fine balance there. If you start tracking your protein and realize you are eating plenty of whole food protein, there is no reason to add in more with protein powder. However, if you have found that protein is lower than you would like or expect, protein powder can be excellent to help fill in your protein needs. 

My recommendation: Try whey protein if you don’t have any dairy issues. If you do, go with egg white protein or a plant-based mixture. 

Tip: More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better quality. 



Everyone makes creatine in their bodies, but you can take it in supplement form to help increase muscle size. In general, this supplement is not necessary and will add weight (bulk) but only while you’re taking it. Creatine is the most studied supplement out there, is considered safe, and does what it claims. 

My recommendation: If you want more muscle mass, give it a try. 

Tip: Creatine should be taken after a workout for the full benefit.



Data is mixed on whether these improve digestion or not, however, there is promising data that they may help reduce cholesterol, triglycerides, anxiety and even improve allergies. I still loosely recommend probiotics for clients that have digestive distress because they typically won’t make things worse and just might make things better. There are many different varieties, strains and dosages to consider. This will come down to trial and error and what your body can tolerate. 

My recommendation: Try them and see if you notice a difference in digestion, allergies and anxiety. If digestion is not better, taking digestive enzymes might be a better option. 

Tip: Look for brands with several strands of bacteria, not just one. 


Fish oil

It was all the rage several years ago, but new studies have shown that it doesn’t reduce inflammation as much as once thought or improve heart health. However, it has been proven to lower triglycerides, reduce hypertension and improve mood. Fish oil is usually referring to EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids. Because fish is the best source of EPA, it’s called “fish oil” though it can be synthetically produced and still be called fish oil. Because of this, quality is everything and many brands are misleading.

My recommendation: Try to get your fish oil from actual fish. If that’s not possible, getting it through a supplement is better than nothing. Do your research and make sure the product lists out the EPA and DHA omega-3s which should be at least 250-500mg. Just because it says “1200mg of fish oil” doesn’t mean it really is. 

Tip: Eat with a meal to avoid “fish burps.” 


Fat burners

A waste of money, plain and simple. If they work, it typically will only change the number of calories you’re burning by about 2%. That means if you’re burning 2,000 calories a day, you would burn 40 calories more with a fat burner. That’s about two tortilla chips. You’d do yourself a bigger service if you got in an extra 10-minute walk to burn the same number of calories and let your heart get a short workout. Additionally, fat burners are very rarely studied and have little regulation on what goes into them. 

My recommendation: Don’t chance it, regardless of brand or reputation.

This isn’t even scratching the surface of what’s available in the supplement world. I’ve highlighted a few basic options that I get asked about frequently. As I first mentioned, the only supplement I recommend to everyone is a multivitamin formulated for your age/sex (ie. women’s prenatals or men 50+). It’s like an insurance policy if your diet isn’t perfect, which is basically everyone, since even “clean eaters” might still be missing valuable nutrients. 

I’m not saying all supplements are bad (I take five different ones, three of which are on the list above). I’m simply pointing out that many are under-researched and unregulated and aren’t nearly as effective as they claim. Do your homework or ask your doctor if a specific supplement would be beneficial to you. Don’t take it just because it’s trendy or your friend started taking it and “feels great!” 

Please note that all supplement additions should first be discussed with your doctor or health care provider to make sure there are no interactions with current medications you are on. 



Leah Harding is a nutrition coach and mobile personal trainer. She specializes in helping people see food as an ally to reach their goals, both in and out of the gym. She previously worked out of Rincon Fitness and owned CrossFit Carpinteria/Foxwing Fitness. Contact her at with questions or with ideas for future wellness articles.

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