How to Strategize Supplements around your Goals for 2018

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We are all looking to be better versions of ourselves in the new year.  Whether you are looking to lose weight, meet a fitness goal, strive to new heights in your career, or improve your overall health, supplements have a lot to offer to aid in any accomplishment.

There are definitely some steps to consider when choosing the right regimen for yourself, and with all of the information available to us, it’s not easy to know where to start or how to get the best bang for your buck when it comes to supplements.

First, let’s be clear: key lifestyle factors (diet and exercise) are going to have the largest impact, and supplements are really only meant to give you that slight edge.  Some supplements you may not even “feel,” but they are helping you reach that goal nevertheless. Listed below are the ingredients we think might allow you to reach new heights in 2018. Be sure to check out our podcast episode on this topic.

Eating better - many people would like to improve their diets, and no matter how far along you’ve come in your nutrition journey, there are always new foods to try and creative ways of introducing more nutrients into your diet.

  1. Functional foods: One of our top picks is the functional food category. Functional foods are regular ingredients that have supplement-like effects on the body. They have the ability to exert some pretty interesting benefits on overall health. You can start by eating more fermented foods, mushrooms, fruits and vegetables, using more herbs and spices, and consuming teas on a regular basis. All of these benefit health in one way or another (which we’ll cover in later blog posts and podcast episodes) and should be included in your diet on a regular basis as long as you tolerate them well.

  2. Fruits and Veggies: If you have a difficult time eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, greens supplements can provide some additional nutrients that are lacking in your typical diet. Usually, these are made of different vegetable, herb and fruit juices that are dehydrated and simply rehydrated when ready to consume. We definitely recommend whole foods over these, but they can be a good option if healthy choices aren’t available all the time.

  3. Herbs and spices: These are important for providing nutritional value as well as antioxidants and unique benefits that are specific to one or two plants. Start seasoning your food more often with something other than salt and pepper. Your taste buds and your body will be pleased with the results. We have a tendency to liberally season foods to create new flavors and benefit health at the same time.

  4. Teas: Both regular and herbal teas have their benefits and can provide extra antioxidant protection to the body. Most teas will have benefits unique to the herbs or plants they contain, but as long as no contraindications exist between that plant and your medications or lifestyle, including them regularly can help add a little extra nutritional boost to your diet.

Improving Fitness - Also at the top of every list are goal relating to fitness.  Fat loss, building muscle, enhancing endurance, and the like.  Your preferred method should be something you love and can stick with—it almost doesn’t matter what it is.  But once you start, there are some challenges that commonly pop up.  Energy, stamina, and recovery, when gone awry, can stop anyone’s motivation if not addressed, and—you guessed it—supplements can help.

  1. Cordyceps: I have to share that when I first started taking this mushroom, I had hardly been running at all.  I was struggling with increasing my volume, as I just didn’t see to have it in me.  I tried cordyceps, and doubled my output that day!  My response was extreme, but certainly it showed me the power of this ingredient.  Fast forward to my current triathlon training, and I rarely go one workout without it, especially in the pool, as I feel like I can take in oxygen more efficiently.  Funny enough, that is exactly what the research shows: cordyceps supports the body in uptaking oxygen and extends time to fatigue.  Plus, it supports the immune system, something critical to do when ramping up the training.  I clearly can’t speak enough about it.

  2. Beets: You’ll notice from the podcast that Blake and I have very different athletic endeavors—he is taken with the power and strength realm and I prefer endurance.  Since the researched benefits of beets surround his activities, he benefits much more.  These nitrate rich vegetables are great for blood flow, however, so we both try and get them in whenever possible.  A wide variety of powdered forms exist now in case you think the actual vegetable tastes like dirt, but shaving some over a salad or as a side dish is our delivery system of choice.

  3. Quality Protein Powder: While a protein supplement isn’t exactly necessary, if you are struggling to consume enough protein to support your particular goals, then these can come in handy. Plant and animal proteins are both good options and depend on your particular diet. We like whey, egg white, and hemp proteins the best, but there are great options out there like mixed plant proteins which have become highly popular in recent years.

  4. Adaptogens: Herbs like rhodiola, ginseng, ashwagandha, and reishi are all great at supporting healthy stress responses. These act as “hormetic stressors” and essentially exert a small amount of stress on the body in order to help the body become better adapted to everyday stress. The first three all have research supporting their use in exercise applications to alleviate fatigue and lower excessive cortisol (your primary stress hormone). Reishi holds its benefits in the stress response as well, but I find that it works well for recovery by helping to promote better sleep.

Start something new - Many of us go into the new year with hopes of starting a business, taking up a new hobby, or simply doing more creative things in life. Personally, we have a business venture and this blog and podcast going for us this year and we need all the help we can get. We have a particular affinity for brain boosting supplements to help improve focus and keep motivation high.

  1. Lion’s Mane: It is extremely rare that a compound could support the body in regrowing nervous system tissue.  Lion’s Mane is a wonder of a substance—it increases the body’s production of nerve growth factor—an important agent in the nervous tissue growth process.  Blake has an incredible personal story that he will share when we do a full episode on Lion’s Mane, but until then, we highly recommend using it when the brain needs some help, especially over a longer span of time.

  2. Huperzine-A: Huperzine-A is an alkaloid of the huperzia serrata plant and is great for supporting cognitive functioning. It does this by acting as a natural acetylcholineestearase inhibitor, meaning that it helps to preserve acetylcholine in your brain, which is important for memory formation and recall. This supplement should be used with caution though, as side effects can kick in for some at dosages past 200 mcg and it can interact with certain medications.

  3. Theanine: This is a unique amino acid which only occurs in the diets of most people through the consumption of tea. It is highly synergistic with caffeine and offers benefits for attention, focus, and a calm state of mind. Theanine helps to increase alpha wave activity in the brain, which is the same state that is achieved through practices like meditation. We recommend that you either consume tea to obtain the benefits, or simply take a capsule with a morning cup of coffee. I personally love drinking green tea to get theanine along with the other health enhancing qualities of tea.

  4. Ginkgo: Ginkgo biloba is widely used for memory and focus due to the fact that it supports blood flow to the brain.  Not to be under-appreciated, a fresh blood supply full of nutrients can certainly sharpen your focus in the short term, which is why we think it’s great to stimulate some brain activity when you need a spark. Fun fact: gingko may also help improve altitude acclimation by dilating blood vessels and helping oxygen delivery.

Sleep - I share this goal with you—sleep is so tough to prioritize when we have so much going on, but it is absolutely necessary to get enough.  Gone are the days when I can get four to five hours on the regular—it will catch up to us, no matter who you are.  The most comforting thing I read recently is that it matters most the amount of sleep cycles one obtains over a week’s time, so it’s not about hitting that seven to nine every single night.  I have some workouts that demand I rise at 4AM and let’s be honest, I’m not going to bed at 8.  Making up those hours on opposite days is what I go for, and it works for me.

A note about sleep hygiene: it matters what is going on around you when you sleep!  Blackout curtains, white noise, devices out of the room, and a consistent winding down routine does absolute wonders. For those nights when you’re still wired later in the evening, these supplements are our top picks for getting some shut eye.

*Disclaimer:* we don’t support the habitual use of any type of sleep aid, even herbal or natural ones. These should be for occasional use as some people may become dependent on them, and using them too often may interrupt sleep quality.

  1. Valerian: It tastes absolutely horrible, but is common in sleep formulas and knocks most people out cold. Be sure you have plenty of time to sleep to avoid feeling excessively groggy in the morning. This stuff puts me out like a light.

  2. Lemon balm: This herb actually tastes pretty good and acts as a mild sedative. It is best used when a racing mind is keeping you up late, but may not actually reduce sleep latency (time it takes to fall asleep).

  3. Kava Kava: A root found primarily on tropical islands, kava is a natural muscle relaxer and has some anxiolytic (anxiety reducing) properties. Avoid using it for prolonged periods of time though, as liver damage has been noted with poor quality supplements and a specific skin condition called ichthyosis can occur if taken too often.

  4. Reishi: Blake’s (second) favorite mushroom. Reishi taken 30-60 minutes before bed is great for relaxation and easing the mind. It’s great for unwinding after a long and stressful day of work. It doesn’t taste great on it’s own, but mixed in hot chocolate, you can hardly taste it.

  5. Passionflower: Another great anxiolytic and sedative herb, passionflower seems to be best in tea or tincture form and seems to improve sleep latency to some degree. Be careful the next morning though, as the natural MAOIs found in passionflower can interact with your morning cup of coffee and may cause headaches.

Address Lingering Health Issues - Chronic illness is quite rampant all over the world and especially in developed countries. Most of us have some sort of health issue that we've not given the attention it needs, but it should be addressed before things get worse. Heart issues, blood sugar regulation, joint pain, and digestive issues are some of the most common afflictions of the modern world. The great news is that there are natural alternatives to addressing these issues, but seeking a great doctor should still be your priority. Get specific to your issue and do some research on what will benefit your particular problem.

  1. Heart health: Garlic is a great functional food or supplement to benefit many areas of the cardiovascular system. It has the potential to support better blood lipid profiles and acts as a great antioxidant for the arteries. CoQ10 (if you can afford it) can also offer some benefit, and to offset some of the high price, you can eat different animal hearts as a natural source (I know it sounds gross, but actually tends to taste like steak).
  2. Blood sugar: Support your blood sugar response and insulin sensitivity with spices like cinnamon. It not only makes foods taste good, but mainly helps to keep your cells from rejecting your own body's insulin. Be careful with consuming too much common cinnamon, as it can become toxic to the liver if taken in high doses over a long period of time. Alternate regular cinnamon cassia with ceylon cinnamon to help mitigate some of the toxicity.
  3. Joint Pain: Your joint issues can be addressed with spices like turmeric and ginger, two of our personal favorites. They are both anti-inflammatory in nature and offer an abundance of other benefits. The best thing about them is that you can either use them in foods or take a supplement if you don't like the taste or won't consume them regularly. Be sure to check out our next full research review on turmeric!
  4. Digestive issues: Bad digestion plagues most people, and it's often due to diet. While you figure out what foods work with your body, you can support better digestion with probiotics, bitters, and herbs like ginger and licorice. Probiotics are our first choice and can be obtained through capsules or fermented foods, but a combination of the two makes for a more diverse profile of beneficial bacteria for your gut.

We hope you enjoyed this post and that it gave you some insight into how supplements and functional foods can help support your new year resolutions for 2018. Let’s go strong into this year and don’t give up on your goals! The Herbal Equivalent will have more great content to come and don’t forget to like, comment, subscribe to the blog, and share this post with your friends and family. Be sure to check out our podcast episode on this here, or on iTunes and Spotify. Please email us at info@theherbalequivalent.com if you have any comments, questions, concerns, or would like to submit something to us. Check us out on Facebook and Instagram and always remember that H = Health!