This may come as a surprise, but supplements are not only for guys looking to bulk up. Everyone can benefit from smart supplementation, and that includes women. Many have become sceptical of the dietary supplement industry, and mostly for good reason; however, this avoidance is simply born from a lack of information.
This branch of the health and fitness industry can be confusing, and downright misleading; therefore, the consumer must be educated before investing in a product that could be expensive, or more importantly, have an effect on their health. In any case, some supplements work and some supplements don’t. Let’s navigate this field that for many, may be uncharted waters.
Dietary supplements sport a myriad of uses, benefits, and categories, and are most definitely not one-size-fits-all.
Yes, as humans we have the same bodily functions that must be supported, and in general, can all benefit from certain staple supplements; however, here the focus is female specific.
Men and women differ the most significantly, not in the brain - however likely that may seem - but in the use of vitamins, minerals, and hormones. Society’s modern diet has brought about an ever increasing need to pay attention to what we eat and how balanced our consumption truly is. Most of the consuming masses have little idea what gaps these processed foods have created in their nutrient profile, and which of these nutrients they need to acquire exogenously. Further, women can benefit in vastly different ways from the use of certain supplements than men can, and of course, vice versa.
Some products are of high importance to women, and others are simply a wise choice for everyone. Here are some of the most important, and why.
Possibly the most well known supplement for women, iron is utilized for a few select functions in the body. Specifically, this mineral has three primary functions: assisting in the transport and storage of oxygen, assisting in energy production and cell respiration, and boosting the immune system by helping generate white blood cells to battle bacteria.
Iron has a strong association with blood, due to the fact it does its work in the bloodstream and is lost when we bleed. A high level of iron will give one increased energy, and save on calling in sick so often.
Increased energy is due to the higher level of oxygenation in the blood. Oxygen is used by the body’s aerobic energy pathway; therefore, more oxygen in the blood equals more sustainable energy. Most are familiar with the widespread use of the drug EPO in professional cycling. EPO signals the body to produce more blood cells, and blood cells carry oxygen; subsequently, flooding the body with far more energy than it originally had.
So why women? Iron is important to men and women; however, due to menstruation, women lose iron on a regular basis. This is the primary reason women are low in iron, but sadly not the only one. Iron deficiency can stem from a variety of factors, such as: a diet low in vitamin C, and also a diet low in red meats or broccoli.
Frequent dieting is also a generally women-specific contributor in iron deficiency. Uneducated, or crash dieting of course restricts foods, often to the extreme, due to a lack of information. Women - and men but not as often - subject themselves to periods of severe food restriction in the quest to drop a few pounds. While desiring to be in better shape is a great thing in itself, it should be backed by proper research and a sound program.
Obtaining iron through natural, whole foods is your best bet; however, women should consider covering their bases by supplementing with exogenous iron. Normally, women require about 15mg of iron per day, this should be doubled when pregnant. After menopause, this requirement is reduced to 10mg. Red meats, liver, broccoli, kidney beans, and potatoes are all excellent sources of iron; therefore, create a sound diet, then fill in the gaps when needed.
As was stated earlier, modern food production is geared toward mass quantities and less toward quality; however, it’s hard to blame them when imagining the money involved and number of mouths to feed. In any case though, nutrients are missing. Therefore, multivitamin complexes can be useful to fill these gaps, granted you adhere to a whole foods based lifestyle, paying attention to ratios and variety. I say lifestyle because “diet” can be a misleading word.
You don’t want to involve yourself in something that is not sustainable or healthy for only a short period. True health is shifting one’s eating habits in a such a way that it is enjoyable, sustainable, and geared towards longevity and quality of life. Nothing worthwhile comes easy, so take the time to build positive habits, and begin a journey into health and wellness. Don’t simply take another’s word for it, gather suggestions and then conduct your own research to find the best strategy for you.
Next on the list are as beneficial cosmetically as they are internally. Now, as a generalization, women consume less meat than their male counterparts, and have a higher likelihood of being vegetarian or vegan. I’m not condemning either of these lifestyles; however, those that choose these paths must pay far more attention to their vitamin and mineral levels.
B vitamins are primarily found in lean meats, eggs, and dairy products. These vitamins can also be obtained from legumes, and some grains; however, the quantity and bioavailability is lower than what is found in meats and dairy. Internally, B complexes aid in nervous system function, metabolism, and brain function. The benefit of an increased metabolism should be an obvious reason B vitamins are popular, making an easier time of keeping away excess body fat. Cosmetically, these substances contribute to healthy skin, hair, and eyes.
So add in a lean cut of meat to your next meal, aside from the valuable protein content, choosing the proper foods can help you keep your metabolism humming.
This substance may not be as flashy as B vitamins or multivitamin complexes; however, it is especially important for women. As many know, osteoporosis has proliferated the demographic of aging women, leading to disastrous results from minor falls or accidents. Our bones are there to protect us, therefore we need to protect them by providing the nutrients they need to withstand the hazards of life. Calcium not only supports the skeletal system, but also the muscular system. The process of muscle contraction requires significant amounts of this substance to operate smoothly. When there is a deficiency of calcium, or other nutrients involved, we experience muscle cramping.
In light of this, supplementing with calcium will support bone and muscle function. You can of course obtain calcium from whole foods; however, if you happen to be lactose intolerant, a calcium supplement would be a wise decision. This essential nutrient has also been discovered to be highly present in almonds, so take care of your healthy fat consumption while covering the bases for bone density and muscle contraction.
This nutrient is ubiquitous in pre-natal vitamins. During pregnancy, a deficiency in folate can cause far too many complications than one would care to know. Further, a diet too low in folate increases the individual’s risk for certain cancers. Folate’s primary functions are the production and upkeep of cells (namely red blood cells), balancing the nervous system, and contributing to healthy brain and emotional function. Yes, folate is quite important, so one would be wise to consume leafy green vegetables, fruits, and beans.
As one should know by now, green vegetables are always on the menu when it comes to improving health and quality of life. When extra folate is needed, primarily during pregnancy, folate supplements are not difficult to find. 400-600 micrograms is a safe daily dosage for this essential nutrient.
Just as the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for supplementation across genders and lifestyles, it can also be thrown out with regard to differing ages. A woman in her 50’s will have far different nutrient requirements than one who is 20. As one would imagine, the younger demographic is far more resilient, and can get away with much more nutritional negligence (however not recommended).
Three substances are stand outs for women nearing their 60’s: Vitamin D3, vitamin K2, and magnesium. These three nutrients are of course beneficial for women of all ages; however, they increase in importance with age. Vitamin D3 plays a critical role in the absorption of calcium, a nutrient that was discussed earlier.
The risk of osteoporosis rises with age; therefore, an increased consumption of calcium and D3 would be recommended. When the body runs into a lack of calcium in the blood, it turns to bones, transferring this nutrient away from them, subsequently compromising their strength. Vitamin K2 finds its niche in the equation by regulating where this absorbed calcium should be shuttled to. It’s amazing how many different players are required to accomplish bodily functions that we don’t think twice about.
Finally, magnesium. This substance is a natural muscle relaxer; therefore, the reason it’s a common treatment for muscle soreness; however, it has more uses. Magnesium can relax the heart - a large, constantly used muscle - reducing the risk of hypertension. Also, magnesium balances serotonin, and helps you fall asleep at night. These three substances in unison can improve bone density, reduce the risk of hypertension and heart attack, balance your moods, and reduce the tossing and turning at night.
Most benefits have been briefly illuminated throughout the text; however, a short summary will help solidify the important points. Iron, multivitamins, B complexes, calcium, and folate hold special importance for women, and vitamins D3, K2, and magnesium become more noteworthy with age. Many continue with their daily routines feeling “alright”, and think nothing more of their quality of life. There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling alright; however, life is meant to be maximized.
A well-rounded, and well-planned diet should be first and foremost in the routines of everyone looking to experience life to the fullest. Second to this, comes covering the bases with a supplement plan based on specific, personal requirements. You may not need to consume the same dietary supplements as your neighbor, so allocating a few minutes to self educating is quite useful, and will save money, let alone health complications.
Women should no longer adhere to the stereotypes such as: “protein supplements are just for men”, or “resistance training will cause me to lose my feminine appearance”. These both aren’t grounded in reality, and the opposite approach will lead to positive results.
If protein isn’t adequately represented in your diet, finding a whey protein supplement wouldn’t be a bad idea. Protein is a far more essential macronutrient than its carbohydrate counterpart, and aids in the maintenance of lean muscle; subsequently, the more lean body mass one has, the faster the metabolism.
Resistance training and supplementation have long gone hand in hand, for good reason. When you exert yourself in such a way as resistance training, your body requires more of the basic nutrients discussed above, including protein and food in general. Those participating in intense exercise (which should be everyone) need to pay closer attention to their nutrition and supplementation.
Now that you have the beginnings of nutritional knowledge, deciding on an exercise and supplementation program should be an easier task; however, this is just the beginning. Educating oneself on how to improve their quality of life for themselves and their family is an on-going endeavor.
One can always learn more, and independent research is the best way to avoid flashy, dishonest labelling, and exaggerated claims by companies looking for a customer. Supplements do work; however it is up to the consumer to find what’s best for their lifestyle. Eat healthy, whole foods, participate regularly in exercise (cardiovascular and resistance training), supplement wisely, and most importantly, enjoy life.