Should you include supplements as part of your plan to lose weight? What are the advantages and disadvantages? Matt Fitzgerald explores this topic.
Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
If any of the dozens of different kinds of weight-loss supplements on the market worked—I mean really worked—then two-thirds of American adults would not be overweight or obese. It’s that simple. When any type of supplement lives up to its promises, it does not remain a secret or a marginal product that consumers cycle on and off as wave after wave of suckers falls for the testimonials, fake science and celebrity endorsements, discovers it doesn’t do anything and moves on.
That’s why every weightlifter takes creatine. It works and everyone knows it. But as much as you hope you might discover some supplement out there that makes weight management easy, there is no creatine equivalent in the weight-loss market. In fact, the more you look to or rely on supplements for weight loss, the less likely it is that you will succeed in losing weight, not only because every product you try will fail to meet your expectations, but also because your “magic bullet” mentality will distract you from the measures that really work: eating healthy, training consistently, avoiding overeating and so forth.
That said, I do believe there are a few supplements that triathletes seeking weight loss should consider taking. It’s a short list, but some products can slightly enhance the results you get from the measures mentioned above in certain circumstances. These supplements are not magic bullets, nor are they necessary for the achievement of one’s ideal racing weight; however, each is worth considering.
Calcium plays a role in regulating a hormone that influences body fat storage. Studies have shown that inadequate calcium intake increases the risk of being overweight and that individuals who do not get enough calcium in their diets tend to lose weight when they increase their calcium intake. Adults should aim to get at least 1000 mg of calcium daily. Pregnant or postmenopausal women need 1500 mg.
While creatine is generally considered a muscle-building supplement and is mostly used by athletes in strength and speed sports, it can be useful to endurance athletes seeking to improve their body composition. Research has shown that creatine supplementation enhances improvements in body composition that result from weightlifting, so you should consider taking creatine at times when you are prioritizing strength building, as every triathlete should do during “off-season” breaks between race-focused training cycles.
Fiber takes up space in the stomach and promotes satiety without actually contributing any calories to the body’s metabolism. Naturally high-fiber foods, such as vegetables, provide more fullness per calorie than other foods. Men and women who maintain high-fiber diets tend to be leaner than those who don’t.
Most American adults fail to meet their dietary fiber requirement of 14 grams per 1,000 calories. While it’s best to get all the fiber you need from whole foods, a fiber supplement is an acceptable way to make up for any shortfall. Studies have shown that fiber supplementation causes weight loss in obese individuals. It’s not likely to have a noticeable impact on the typical triathlete, but it may yield a small benefit.
Green Tea Extract
Green tea contains a class of antioxidants known as catechins that, among other effects, increase fat burning. Studies show that green tea extract slightly increases fat loss resulting from a reduced calorie diet. This effect alone wouldn’t be sufficient to make supplementation worth considering for most triathletes, but since catechins have other benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, you might want to try a green tea extract supplement—or just start drinking green tea.
Studies have shown that a high-protein diet, in which roughly 30 percent of daily calories come from protein, promotes fat loss by reducing appetite. Getting 30 percent of your calories from protein is not easy without eating a lot of meat and/or fish unless you supplement. Whey protein supplements allow one to maintain a high-protein diet in a healthier and more calorie-efficient way than gorging on meat all day.
A 30 percent protein diet is generally not advisable year-round for triathletes, because it unnecessarily limits carbohydrate intake, and a high-carbohydrate diet is needed to support heavy training loads. It’s best to increase protein intake to this level during the off-season, when endurance training is reduced.
Matt Fitzgerald is the author of Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance (VeloPress, 2009).
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