The Anti-Prescription for Supplements

This is a quick blurb about supplements, but not in the sense that you might be hoping for. I know, set the disappointing tone early, right? So, let’s answer the obvious question first; Protein, Creatine, Omega 3. Those are the supplements I take, and those are the supplements that are generally useful and safe for a majority of the population of first responders and tactical oriented people. Any respectable or responsible professional will tell you that beyond those, a personalized blood panel is the best way to determine any deficiencies or needs and that the trial-and-error method can only get you so far. With that out of the way, what will the rest of this be about? Well, it’s about how to bake a cupcake.


The reason I like those three supplements is also the reason they’re not the most heavily marketed or most recognizable; they work. The caveat is that they work with long term commitment and consistency. Like most of the un-sexy things in our lives their overwhelmingly positive effects are noticeable, but only when looking at a trend of months and years. That is also why they don’t receive nearly the attention that the acute effects of other supplements do. You know what I’m talking about. The pump, the flush, the jitters, the marsupial pupils.


Those other supplements also cross a very interesting line with many first responders. They cross the line from supplement, to medication. And I mean that less in the literal sense of a prescription, and more in the figurative sense in that so many people feel as if they just cannot function without them. Typically, when these are in short supply there is an even higher level of frustration and anxiety than the diabetic who runs out of their insulin, or the epileptic who runs out of their Depakote.


And to be fair, this mentality is evergreen. I still remember being at a globo-gym facility back in the day and hearing the broscience highlight reels around me. Granted I was deep in the world of the bro also. But, as a 130lb, 5’6” senior in high school, I was more involved in the mega-gainer shakes and ice cream, peanut butter, protein, blender concoctions. Nevertheless, one late night a bro made the mistake of talking about how hungry he was at the beginning of the workout. The group he was with literally shamed him into leaving and going to McDonalds to eat. They insisted that the workout was useless, harmful, and he was already in a catabolic state and he might as well just leave. Granted, there may have been a sliver of truth to their claims, but let’s be honest that the gross amounts of hormones running through the average 18-year-old are likely able to overcome a few minor caloric deficits.


And as I sit here in my mid-ish 30’s I still hear the same mentality run rampant with the supplements. How it is just impossible to get a ‘quality’ workout, without pre-workout. How the training session was probably a waste because the protein powder was left at home that day. When we lose sight that supplements are exactly what their name says; supplements! Not medications, not necessities, not the very essence of success and life. They are, as Dr Scott Forbes describes “sprinkles on top of a cupcake.” The boring stuff like sleep, nutrition, stress management, and physical exercise make up the ingredients for the cupcake. Rest assured it can be an awesome cupcake with those quality ingredients alone. Supplements are just that little extra topper that’s nice to have, but certainly not a deal breaker.


Admittedly, I’ve also fallen into this mental minefield. Since beginning to take creatine more regularly about a year ago, I have absolutely had moments of regret that I didn’t have it on-hand after a training session. Lucky for me that one of the best advantages of protein, creatine, and Omega-3, is that by taking them consistently you develop a sort of therapeutic level and you can miss a dose or two without any real concern.


As an extra and equally important bonus to my three favorite supplements, each of them carries benefits that extend beyond the musculoskeletal system. They have each been shown to impact the endocrine, neurologic and cardiovascular systems. They are also effective on these fronts in the absence of exercise! Remember though, they are supplements. Extra little spice designed to enhance what you’ve already got. If you don’t take them, you’ll just be the standard level of awesome that you are today. Let’s be honest, if you’re reading this blog and follow the people who value it then you’re probably ahead to start with.


So, as we continue to be courted by new exciting packaging, flavors, and promises of the warm feeling of battery acid flowing through your cheeks, keep in mind that in the tactical world it all comes down to performance when you’re called upon. For us firefighters and paramedics it means that in the 60 seconds you have to get to the rig and push out, you may not have time to mix or even dry scoop your pre workout. In those highest of stress moments, all you may have to fall back on is that cupcake you’ve been baking day in and day out. Make sure it’s a good one.


Chris Marella is a lieutenant firefighter/ paramedic for a department with a 120k+ population in the suburbs of Chicago. As a full-time firefighter, trainer, and business owner, Chris has developed a well-rounded scope of fitness in the first responder world. His company, 4th Shift Fitness provides remote individual coaching, on-site seminars, and training sessions for fire departments and individuals in the areas of fitness, wellness, and nutrition. Lessons and skills that are transferrable and immediately useable are at the heart of 4th Shift Fitness.

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