Ideally, a varied, balanced diet should provide all the nutrients in the right balance to maintain energy, vigour and a healthy weight. However, our busy, complicated lives mean that we often don’t have the time to truly nourish our bodies, and instead turn to high fat, high sugar convenience foods that lead to weight gain and nutrient deficiency. When you’re trying to lose weight and become healthier, supplements can become an essential aspect of your diet plan.
What Are Supplements?
You may have seen the seemingly endless array of pills, tablets, powders and bars filing the heath and supplement aisle of your supermarket or pharmacy. But what do all those supplements do, and are they really necessary?
In short, supplements are products containing specific ingredients designed to fill or ‘supplement’ a gap in dietary intake that can’t be filled by food alone. Different bodies have different unique needs, so the supplement requirements may be different depending on whether you’re male or female, your age, whether you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or whether you’re aiming to lose weight, build muscle or cut fat. Your supplement requirements will also depend on your dietary intake and goals. For example, vegetarians and vegans often need to take iron and Vitamin B12 supplements, as these nutrients often come from animal products. Similarly, people who avoid dairy often need calcium supplements, as dairy is most people’s main source of calcium in the diet.
The goal of supplements is basically to cover your requirements or enhance your intake of any particular nutrient you may need.
Macro and Micronutrient Supplements
There are many different ways to categorise supplements but thinking about them in terms of macro- and micro-nutrients is one of the simplest.
Macronutrients are the main nutrients in our diets, and include protein, fat and carbohydrate. Protein supplements such as protein powders and protein shakes are by far the most popular macronutrient supplement.
Micronutrients include all the substances we need in tiny amounts to make our bodies function correctly, most significantly vitamins and minerals. There are hundreds of different types of micronutrient supplements including vitamins, minerals, botanicals (active ingredients from plants), amino acids (specific types of protein building blocks, e.g. BCAAs), enzymes, and extracts (creatine and Omega-3s).
What Supplements Do Women Need For Weight Loss?
There are a number of supplements that women should specifically aim to include in their diet when trying to lose weight. Not only can these supplements help you lose weight and sculpt your ideal figure, they can also help improve your overall health, increase energy and promote healthy hair, skin and nails.
- Protein Supplements and Protein Shakes – Protein is the most important macronutrient supplement for women who are trying to lose weight. Protein shakes and powders are the easiest way to supplement your intake of protein in an easily digestible and quickly absorbed form. Protein shakes also have the benefit of containing minimal fat and carbohydrate, being convenient and great tasting, and include many of the other vitamins and minerals you need to stay healthy while losing weight.
What it does: Extra protein fuels your muscles and keeps you fuller for longer, helping you to lose more weight and build sleek, toned muscles.
How to take it: It’s best to choose whey protein as the most easily absorbed, delicious and thermogenic (fat-burning) protein. If you’re avoiding dairy, choose pea protein as an alternative. Take 1-2 protein shakes a day in place of regular meals or take a shake within 30 minutes before or after workouts to fuel and boost muscle toning.
- BCAAs – Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs for short) are one of the most important and unique supplements for muscle toning and weight loss. In general, amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, so all proteins are made up of amino acids. Branched chain amino acids are isoleucine, leucine and valine, three essential amino acids that the body can’t make and which we must consume in food or supplements. These unique essential amino acids have special properties that allow them to directly fuel and build muscle, reduce fatigue and even combat stress hormones.
What it does: BCAAs can help boost energy and extend the length of your workouts, build and tone muscle, boost fat loss, reduce fatigue and improve recovery, and reduce stress while improving feelings of well-being.
How to take it: BCAAs are best taken when you work out, so take a serving within 30 mins before or after your exercise session for more energy and better results.
- L-Carnitine – L-Carnitine is a naturally derived amino acid component that boosts fat-burning. Your body can make L-Carnitine in small amounts, but you can also get extra L-Carnitine from food or supplements. L-Carnitine takes fat and transports it directly into the energy centres (mitochondria) of your cells.
What it does: L-Carnitine accelerates your body’s ability to lose weight but helping your body cells to directly burn fat.
How to take it: Studies show that the best dose of L-Carnitine is between 500-2,000 mg per day. To take advantage of the fat-burning properties of L-Carnitine, take it 15-30 minutes before exercise.
- Caffeine – You might not think of caffeine as a supplement that you would take for weight loss, but two of the most important supplements for weight loss are sources of caffeine: Green coffee and Green tea. This is why green coffee and green tea are such popular supplements for weight loss.
What it does: Caffeine has been shown to help with weight loss by boosting metabolism and giving you a physical and mental energy boost so you can put more into your workouts and daily life while losing weight.
How to take it: You can always drink tea or coffee, however the problem with that method is that you never know exactly how much caffeine you’re getting. Taking a standardized dose as part of a supplement is a safer and more effective way to get the right amount to hit that sweet spot of being energised but not jittery. A 100-200 mg dose should fit most people, but start with a low dose and build up to avoid side effects and find the right fit for you.
- Chlorogenic acid – You’ve probably never heard of chlorogenic acid, but it’s one of the key fat-fighting substances in popular weight loss supplements Green Coffee and Moringa leaf.
What it does: Chlorogenic acid has been shown to slow down your absorption of fat from the food you eat. Chlorogenic acid also speeds up your metabolism, provides an antioxidant effect, and can help to lower blood pressure.
How to take it: Chlorogenic acid can be found in both green coffee extracts and moringa leaf extracts, so choose weight loss supplements with these ingredients to boost your intake of chlorogenic acid.
- Polyphenols – Polyphenols are antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress and inflammation while also helping to accelerate your metabolism and boost fat burning. In particular, the polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate which is found in Green tea has been found to help weight loss.
What it does: EGCG found in Green tea increases metabolic rate and boosts fat burning by keeping norepinephrine levels higher. Green tea can also help to improve muscle recovery and joint function.
How to take it: Drinking green tea is always a great way to up your intake of polyphenols, but for a reliable dosage to ensure you’re getting the right amount, choose a green tea supplement with an optimized polyphenol dosage.
- Multi-Vitamin and Minerals – Taking a multivitamin and mineral supplement is essential when you’re trying to lose weight. To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit by consuming less calories than you burn. Depending on the level of calorie restriction, you may not get an adequate intake of the nutrients you need.
What it does: A multivitamin and mineral supplement acts as an ‘insurance policy’ to cover your vitamin needs, especially for the water-soluble B group vitamins and Vitamin C. Vitamin D, Zinc and Magnesium are other important supplements for weight loss that should be included in your vitamin intake.
How to take it: It’s easy to take a single vitamin and mineral supplement each day and be sure to choose a protein shake that includes vitamins and minerals if you use shakes as meal replacements.
- Blood Sugar Stabilising Supplements – Keeping your blood sugar levels stable is essential when you are trying to lose weight. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can leave you feeling constantly hungry or stop you from losing weight no matter how hard you try. Blood sugar stabilizing supplements make losing weight much easier while keeping you healthy.
What it does: Blood sugar stabilizing supplements such as Banaba leaf extract, chromium, and lemon balm help to keep blood sugar levels even without letting them hit low’s which will make you hungry and high’s that lead to fat gain.
How to take it: Take these blood sugar stabilizing supplements once or twice a day according to the manufacturer’s instructions or as part of your inclusive weight loss supplement.
- Sleep and Muscle Recovery – Getting a good night’s sleep and recovering from your workouts is important when you’re on a weight loss kick. Not getting enough sleep leaves you groggy and unable to make smart decisions (such as how to eat healthier!), while also increasing your hunger hormones and slowing down your metabolism so you have a harder time losing weight. Muscle recovery is essential for toning muscles and preventing your body ‘burning’ your muscles for energy.
What it does: Tart cherry, lemon balm, and L-theanine help your body and mind relax and unwind so your muscles can recover and you get a good night’s sleep.
How to take it: It’s best to take these active ingredients as part of a dedicated sleep and recovery supplement for weight loss.
- ALA – Like polyphenols mentioned above, Alpha-Lipoic Acid (ALA) is an anti-oxidant, in fact it’s been called the “universal antioxidant”.
What it does: ALA can help improve sugar balance, while boosting weight loss efforts by preventing fat storage and increasing energy stored in muscle instead.
How to take it: Around 600mg a day is a great dosage to help you lose weight.
- Fibre – Fibre is not technically a nutrient, but it is something you should add to your diet if you want to lose weight.
What it does: Insoluble fibre helps you to feel full, while soluble fibre feeds friendly gut bacteria, reduces inflammation, and reduces appetite making weight loss more effective and easy.
How to take it: Choose a weight loss shake or supplement that contains fibre or take a fibre supplement daily.
- Fat Burners – There are supplements that directly work to burn fat and help you lose weight faster. One of these is Garcinia Cambogia, which contains the active ingredient hydroxycitric acid or HCA.
What it does: HCA has been shown to boost fat burning and reduce appetite in studies.
How to take it: 300-500 mg is a common dosage, with 1500 mg of HCA, a day being listed as the maximum. But it’s best taken as part of a balanced weight loss supplement.