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Sports Supplements: Meal Replacements
and Protein Shakes

Supplements, specifically sports supplements, seem to be overtaking the need for real food, but do you really have to take them and should you supplement or not?

Walk into any sports nutrition store or pharmacy and you are bound to be confronted with hundreds of various products, all claiming to be the best and all claiming that you absolutely have to buy them. So how do you know which ones to buy and if you really need them or not? There are protein shakes, meal replacement powders, fat burners, amino acids, carb blockers and the list goes on and on.

When a supplement is taken correctly it may be beneficial. It is important to understand that a supplement has been designed with the idea that it can supplement real food — not replace it. This means you cannot live on three meal replacement shakes simply because they are low in fat. It is important to realize that the human body requires real food. Your body needs real food in order to function, and when you eliminate real food from your diet, your body suffers as it cannot perform its normal functions. Digestion would be one of these important functions. When you only drink shakes, your body's natural digestion abilities will be at risk.

I'm not saying don't have a shake, but don't forget to eat real food too. Real, wholesome food provides nutrients and, more importantly, a source of fiber that is required for your body.

On the other hand lies convenience. If you're a hard-training athlete who needs to get in 5-6 meals daily, it's sometimes not possible to fit in the time and preparation that goes into making this amount of food on a daily basis. The on-the-go lifestyle of many active people can make the 5 to 6 meal a day strategy seem overwhelming and nearly impossible. After all, what athlete — no matter how serious his or her ambition — wants to carry around a chicken breast or a piece of fish, attempting to stick to a perfect nutrition plan? Very few.

However, despite claims to the contrary, supplements will not enhance performance, increase strength or endurance, provide energy or build muscles. As lackluster as it may sound, plain old carbohydrate is still the best energy enhancer on the market, and that is not likely to change. For optimal performance, eat a balanced diet of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats and low-fat dairy products. There is no supplement that can substitute for the real thing.

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