Most supplements out there are questionable at best. You’ve likely heard that the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, which isn’t entirely true. The FDA does require certain standards, but these standards are less rigorous than the requirements around food items, and they’re less strictly verified. As a result, many of the supplements out there make claims without substantial evidence.

That’s not to say that all supplements are bad - in fact, supplements can be essential for various populations when treating specific health conditions or meeting nutritional needs that would otherwise be near impossible through food alone. But keep in mind, supplements are meant to be just that - “supplementary” to an already nutrient-dense diet and active lifestyle. That’s where the real benefits kick in!

Whether you’re a performance athlete, avid fitness enthusiast, or just starting on your movement journey, there are a few essentials that are both scientifically-backed and nearly universally beneficial for healthy individuals. If you’re looking for extra guidance around supplementation, I recommend meeting with a Registered Dietitian, who can provide personalized guidance around what is right for your body and needs.


Starting with arguably the most researched (and legal) performance enhancing supplement out there, creatine monohydrate is a naturally occurring energy source in the body. To understand where creatine fits into performance, we need a little biology lesson. The body gets energy for movement, growth and repair from the foods we eat, namely carbohydrate, fat and protein. But even after digesting these macronutrients, the body can’t use them directly to perform the task it needs to do. Instead, these food sources are used to create another form of energy, ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate).

Using fat or carbohydrate to make ATP requires a little bit of time to do. So when the body needs rapid and powerful energy, there is another way it can generate ATP - through the phosphocreatine system. To keep it simple, creatine-phosphate stores in the body donate their phosphate to regenerate ATP, allowing up to 10 seconds of really powerful energy production. But creatine stores in the body can also be limited, therefore capping energy production and resulting performance through this pathway. Since creatine is mostly found in animal foods, vegans and vegetarians are especially likely to be low on this vital energy source. Regardless of diet, though, creatine supplementation has been shown to be beneficial for almost everyone.

Taking 3-5 grams daily of supplemental creatine in the easy-to-use form of creatine monohydrate has been shown to improve creatine stores in the body, leading to faster all-out sprint times, increased reps of heavy lifting, and even improved endurance and recovery. Creatine requires consistent use to be effective, as the impacts are most pronounced when creatine stores are saturated. You’ll start to notice the difference after taking it daily for 3 weeks, or even sooner if you’re a vegan or vegetarian. Then continue taking creatine through the course of your training.

One common misconception about creatine is that it makes you gain weight. Creatine pulls water into the body, which may show up as a scale spike of 2-3 pounds due to this water retention. However, the water retention is different from normal “bloat” or inflammation, where water is held underneath the skin but above the muscle, causing a “puffy” appearance. The water retained from creatine is pulled directly into the muscle itself, actually accentuating the muscle size and definition, causing a leaner appearance and a more hydrated and healthy muscle. The spike on the scale also drops off within a few weeks of use.

Protein Powder

Most people get enough protein in their diet to survive. But as someone looking to perform their best or reach specific goals, the amount of protein you need is far higher than the bare minimum. For those looking to build muscle, consuming 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is most effective for muscle synthesis in combination with frequent, heavy and consistent weight training. If you’re looking to lose or maintain weight, or you’re an endurance athlete, protein needs are still higher than you might expect. Aiming for 1.3-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight will help with satiety levels, blood sugar stabilization, muscle repair, and lean body mass maintenance. Getting enough total protein throughout the day from a variety of sources can provide a complete and bioavailable dose of amino acids.

Although you can certainly get all the protein you need from food, it can be harder to do so without supplementation, especially at different stages of life. Protein needs increase during periods of growth and repair, but they also increase during the aging process. An increase in protein is necessary for older adults because the aging body processes protein less efficiently, so even healthy older adults need more protein than when they were younger to help preserve muscle mass.

Protein is also necessary after exercise, as this is when our bodies are trying to replenish glycogen (carbohydrate) stores and repair muscle fibers. During exercise, muscles deplete their energy stores for fuel and muscles get damaged and broken down. Consuming protein post-exercise can allow for efficient muscle recovery. Consuming 20-30 grams of supplemental protein in the form of protein powder or other easy-to-digest foods benefits nearly everyone. Plus, the protein requirements listed above are minimum amounts. It’s pretty hard to get too much protein!

A common misconception about protein is that you can only absorb 30 grams of protein at a time, and the rest either turns to fat or is passed through your body undigested. This is missing the mark. Studies show that to maximize anabolism (the process of muscle repair or growth) a healthy person uses about 20 to 25 grams directly for muscle synthesis. This is why it’s beneficial to space out protein throughout the day.

But what happens when you consume more than 25 grams of protein in one sitting? The protein doesn’t magically disappear. There is more to protein than just muscle growth and repair, including supporting hormones, immunity, connective tissue and appetite management. The protein is still absorbed, it will just go elsewhere in the body.

High Quality Multivitamins

I’m with you, multivitamins are far less exciting than creatine or protein powder. And like I mentioned before, they cannot erase the impacts of a nutritionally-deficient diet or a lack of exercise, adequate sleep, regular health checks or stress management. All these things are essential! But multivitamins can help fill nutritional gaps that are common in most people’s diets, whether or not you’re eating healthy foods. There are nutrients we don’t fully understand, like phytonutrients and zoo chemicals and even fiber, that you would miss out on if not eating adequate and varied sources of nutrient-dense foods. So make sure you continue to fuel yourself, even while supplementing!

Most people are going to be low on certain micronutrients day to day, and a multivitamin is an easy and reliable way to ensure levels don’t drop too low. More specific supplementation can be helpful after conferring with your doctor or Dietitian who reviews your bloodwork, but for most people, a multivitamin is a good way to get started. Especially when training hard, your body needs higher-than-normal levels of many micronutrients to facilitate repair and positive adaptation. It may be hard to eat enough to meet these heightened needs.

For those in a calorie deficit, there is simply less food in your diet, which means there are fewer opportunities to get all your vitamins and minerals in. Taking a daily multivitamin can help offset some of the reduced micronutrient intake that occurs when eating less food. The reason I specify “high quality” is because there are many inexpensive and often not third-party tested vitamins out there that tout exorbitantly high levels of common micronutrients, but may be lacking the ones that really matter or the forms that are more easily absorbed by your body. Choose a multivitamin that is third-party tested to ensure the nutritional panel on the bottle is accurate. For women past menopause, supplemental iron can be dangerous unless recommended by your doctor. So make sure you’re choosing a multivitamin for your correct age group and needs.