I'm often asked questions like “what supplements should I take,” “why should I take supplements,” and “do we really even need supplements at all.” After all, if you, like me, are following a healthy lifestyle, I'll wager that you probably eat plenty of plants, prioritize sleep, hydrate with filtered (or, dare I say at the risk of wearing my tinfoil hat, structured) water, and expose yourself to the sun as much as possible.
In other words, you, like me are probably what I call a “healthy, woo-woo geek”. You are an intelligent, well-informed person who embraces your softer side spirituality and also pride yourself on being passionate about health, nutrition, science, and fitness.
So why would you need to take supplements for health, fitness, and longevity? Doesn't nutrient-dense food, good water, and relatively clean living give you enough crucial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants?
I get the question: life is already complicated, there is a dizzying array of supplements to choose from, and the expense can add up fast, as can the clutter and confusion from eight billion bottles of capsules, tinctures, powders, oils, tablets and packets in your pantry. Things can get complex fast, and no one – including me – wants to spend their precious time counting and swallowing pills. I've definitely been overwhelmed by the amount of space that supplements can occupy (in fridges and travel suitcases), and the time and monetary expenses of tracking and ordering new bottles.
Moreover, supplements can be dangerous. I've dedicated podcasts to exposing the deceptive tactics that some supplement companies employ and explored controversial fringe supplements.
So in this article, I'm going to present you with some pretty compelling information (all research-based, mind you) to support the notion that supplements can indeed amplify the benefits of your healthy, woo-woo geek lifestyle, especially if you're a hard-charging, high-achiever like I profess to be. I'll provide scientifically-validated reasons that supplements help optimize health, performance, and longevity. Then I will outline the exact supplements that I take (and recommend to my family and friends), and give you a handy-dandy guide for proper dosing and timing.
Scientific Reasons Why You Need Supplements (Even If You're Doing Everything Right)
Let's begin with this: our modern, post-industrial, polluted, toxin-laden lifestyle demands more nutrients than food can provide.
That's right: the chronic stressors of modern life—whether it’s the iPhone screen interfering with your circadian rhythms and chronobiology or the never-ending work deadlines—increase your nutrient needs.
Every day, you face hundreds of toxins—pollutants in the air, degraded plastic byproducts in drinking water, chemicals in cleaning products, and pesticides in our food – which further increase our bodies’ needs for vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients are necessary to help shuttle toxins through natural detox pathways and prevent the formation of DNA-damaging free radicals. Even exercise is a stressor that increases your body’s need for nutrients.
Furthermore, if you're a hard-charging, high-performing exercise enthusiast (like many of the people reading this), your nutrient requirements far exceed the recommendations for the general, sedentary population.
To make matters worse, you're likely not getting the full array of nutrients from the food that prior generations enjoyed. Due to modern farming techniques and fertilizers, most soil is depleted of nutrients, which decreases the beneficial vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in conventionally-grown crops.
So perhaps eating organic is the ultimate solution? While some studies suggest that organically-grown foods contain more nutrients than non-organic, other studies conclude that there are no significant differences. Furthermore, for most of human history (and prehistory), our ancestors ate now nearly-extinct, dense cell-rich carbohydrates in the form of foods such as wild tubers, which provided essential prebiotics that helped probiotic bacteria flourish (in contrast to the refined “acellular” grains and white rice that comprise modern carbohydrates).
Along the same lines, the abundance of refined carbohydrates and processed foods create significant blood sugar swings and glycemic variability our ancestors also didn't deal with to as great an extent. A glance at a coffee shop display case or hotel breakfast bar that features bagels, muffins, and sugary cereals explains why many people need a snack a couple hours later just to make it through the inevitable mid-morning blood sugar crash. Blood sugar imbalances lead to chronic inflammation and may be responsible for up to 80% of modern diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (nicknamed “type 3 diabetes”), obesity, depression, and cancer.
Similarly, the meat, eggs, and dairy products commonly found in grocery stores deliver fewer anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, than those from wild or pastured animals. Speaking of omega-3 fatty acids, most Western diet munchers consume an imbalanced ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids, further predisposing us for rampant chronic inflammation.
To make it even more complicated, modern harvesting, shipping, processing, and storage techniques degrade the nutrient content of food. Plants grown with modern fertilizer can contain only 25% of the micronutrients of those grown using more traditional farming methods, and nutrients degrade as they are shipped and sit on store shelves. A fresh-picked apple is more nutritious than the apples you buy at the supermarket in winter, which were likely treated with 1-methylcyclopropene and could be up to 10 months old (according to an FDA spokesperson). And the very preservatives used to maintain “freshness” could impede the bioavailability of the food’s nutrients – and increase your body’s need for nutrients to process these synthetic additives. Similarly, many common medications for acid reflux and hypertension also inhibit nutrient absorption.
Then there are precious fat-soluble vitamins such as Vitamin D. Though the recommendations for sufficient Vitamin D levels are controversial, it’s safe to say that many Americans do not get enough Vitamin D. Even if we’re doing our best to get sun exposure – whether it’s a morning walk or going outside for lunch – it’s rare to get as much sunlight (and Vitamin D) as our outdoor-dwelling ancestors did.
Last but not least, our ability to absorb nutrients from food decreases as we age. Given the scientifically demonstrated longevity benefits of caloric restriction, it seems silly to argue that one could ignore calories and simply eat more food to obtain nutrients. This is another crucial area where supplements come in – a helpful boost for those of us wanting to live longer using strategies such as intermittent fasting, alternate-day fasting or caloric restriction.
But Wait – Our Ancestors Didn't Take Supplements, So Why Should I?
I love to use the wisdom of our ancestors to optimize my life, but I also believe in a healthy dose of “better living through science”—the ultimate marriage of ancestral wisdom and modern science.
In this case, the assumption that previous generations didn’t take supplements is simply not true. Ancient supplements include root, stem, and leaf teas targeted for specific symptoms, medicinal powders ground by mortar and pestles, and highly concentrated oil extracts. Just because these dietary supplements don’t look like the capsules and ridiculously-oversized tubs of powders doesn’t mean that they weren’t supplements.
Additionally, our ancestors certainly consumed dirt, which we now know contains a wide range of beneficial probiotics. Perhaps even more compelling is the notion that animals, ranging from insects to chimps, self-medicate and supplement by consuming specific plants. Furthermore, the methods that we use to gather, cook, and consume food are drastically different from those of our ancestors, leading to different degrees of nutrient availability and absorption.
For example, we generally eat only animal muscle and discard the collagen-rich connective tissues. Previous generations – as recent as our grandparents – simmered animal carcasses for hours, liberating collagen, gelatin, and fat-soluble vitamins from connective tissues. In a way, the soups our ancestors consumed are equivalent to the glucosamine/chondroitin joint supplements that line the shelves of GNC and the now-trendy bone broth that can be found at high-end restaurants. To learn more about ancestral nutrition, the Weston A. Price Foundation provides useful guidelines on finding and preparing nutrient-dense foods in ways that our grandparents would recognize.
OK, I'm Convinced… So What Supplements Should I Take, And Where Do I Start?
In the past year, as you can read about in great detail here, I’ve translated the knowledge gained from years of reading, researching and experimenting to co-found my very own supplement company, Kion. Kion supplements satisfy my own strict standards for quality and “scratch my own itch” as products that I personally use, endorse, and take myself every day.
The goal in creating the Kion supplement line—for both the existing products and some extremely unique formulations that are currently being developed using some of the best raw ingredients on the face of the planet—was to merge the best that modern science and ancient wisdom have to offer to enable you to optimize your body and brain.
For the Kion supplements that you are specifically about to discover and read about, Kion team members and I personally sourced each ingredient, designed optimal ratios, and controlled the manufacturing processes to ensure the highest purity, potency, and value.
So, without further ado, here is a list of supplements that my family and I personally take, along with their benefits:
Kion Aminos is a carefully-chosen blend of eight essential amino acids that can boost your energy, fuel your workout, and stave off cravings.
I first began using essential amino acids when I was racing Ironman triathlon and needed a fast, anabolic protein source that didn't have many calories and that I could take any time, anyplace for sleep, recovery, muscle growth, and a host of additional functions.
You are likely aware of the benefits of a protein-rich diet, especially for athletes, since muscle cells are built from protein. You're also likely aware of “collagen,” the latest darling of the supplement industry. You can put essential amino acids (definitely not to be confused with their inferior cousins branched-chain amino acids) into this category, and get the same benefits without the calories or added fillers found in supplements such as protein and collagen powders.
While essential amino acids are indeed the building blocks of proteins, they also perform many other important physiologic functions. For example, essential amino acids regulate genetic expression, including genes related to oxidative stress and immunity.
The amount of essential amino acids you need for optimal function is heavily influenced by your stress levels and workout intensity. While some amino acids can be synthesized by your body, other amino acids, specifically these essential amino acids (EAAs) I am talking about must come from food – and that’s why you eat complete protein sources such as, say, steak or eggs.
However, amino acid utilization (the percentage of amino acids that are actually used in your body) from food is significantly less than 100%. For example, your body can use approximately 48% of egg protein, less than 32% from meat, poultry or fish, and less than 18% from whey and soy protein.
With this utilization in mind, I designed Kion Aminos to have extremely optimal amino acid proportions. The amino acid utilization of Kion Aminos is a whopping 99%, and it’s absorbed by the body within 23 minutes, with nearly zero calories! No other protein source enables such efficient conversion of amino acids into protein synthesis – and it’s suitable for omnivores, Paleo enthusiasts, vegans, vegetarians, and ketosis lovers.
Kion Aminos are available in a tablet form (with no binders, fillers, stearates, coating, or dyes) or a dissolvable powder with refreshing cool lime or mixed berry flavors that are 100% natural and sugar-free.
Kion Flex has been carefully designed to take care of your joints. With Kion Flex, my desire was to create a veritable “shotgun” of nutrients I could mainline into my body when overextended or sore, without having to use three to ten different bottles.
Whether you’re an athlete, outdoor enthusiast, or looking to feel your best as you age, joint health is key to maintaining an active lifestyle. Being proactive with the health of your joints can reduce the risk of exercise-related injuries and allow you to continue to do the activities you love for a lifetime.
Kion Flex is a natural supplement for joint health that’s been proven to:
- Reduce mild, temporary joint discomfort from overuse
- Decrease exercise-related soreness and swelling
- Support a healthy inflammatory response to physical activity
- Promote optimal joint health, flexibility, and mobility
Kion Flex is the natural, trusted solution you’ve been looking for to enjoy the active life you love. Pick some up here.
With my own genetically tested propensity for type II diabetes, and my desire to not completely eliminate carbohydrates from my diet (what can I say – I dig Italian food, dark chocolate and red wine) I wanted something that would immediately lower my blood sugar after a meal.
Enter Kion Lean, a proprietary formula that combines the benefits of wild bitter melon (Momordica charantia) fruit extract (as Glycostat®), astragalus membranaceus root extract, and panax notoginseng root extract. (as InnoSlim®)
Panax notoginseng and Astragalus membranaceus have been shown to decrease glucose absorption and circulating blood glucose. That means fewer blood sugar spikes for you. InnoSlim® may also reduce fat accumulation by helping correct the metabolic issues that lead to weight gain.
In laboratory studies, wild bitter melon extract has been demonstrated to reduce inflammation in macrophages,protect against fatty liver disease, activate signaling pathways that support fat loss and longevity, and regulate blood glucose and blood pressure. I've tested my own blood sugar after a carbohydrate-rich meal for which I've popped two of these beforehand, and it gives me a night and day difference in my blood sugar levels, allowing me to return to ketosis extremely quickly after a carbohydrate refeed.
And because of that, this supplement is good not only for your waistline, but also for anti-aging. Kion Lean enhances longevity by regulating the blood glucose and insulin responses, leading to healthy liver function and healthy body fat levels.
I first began using colostrum when I wanted to protect my gut from the rigors of racing triathlons and endurance competitions in hot and stressful environments, especially when competing in events such as Ironman Hawaii.
But it turns out that colostrum is good for far, far more than simply sealing up the lining of a leaky gut or helping your stomach to feel impervious to the stressors of hard physical exercise.
As a matter of fact, this goat milk-derived colostrum in the form of Kion Colostrum is one of my favorite supplements since it contains a huge variety of macro- and micronutrients, including growth factors, growth-promoting hormones, lactoferrin (a protein that helps with iron absorption), and immune-modulating molecules such as cytokines and immunoglobulins. Additionally, a broad spectrum of enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals are in colostrum. Together, these compounds can effectively rebuild your gut, decrease intestinal permeability brought on by strenuous exercise, increase your VO2max, strengthen your immune system, and help build lean muscle mass.
And if you're looking to enhance your growth hormone levels without fringe injections or hormone replacement therapy, colostrum is, bar none, your best bet to get that done in a natural way.
Kion Omega Fish Oil
I've always said that “‘taking a bad fish oil is worse than taking no fish oil at all.”
So I'm constantly on the hunt for a joint-protecting, brain-enhancing, vision-assisting fish oil that isn't rancid, is sustainably sourced, and contains a powerhouse of antioxidants to keep the oil stable, such as astaxanthin and antioxidant vitamins.
Enter Kion Omega, a premium fish oil supplement that offers 1,000mg of EPA and DHA (530mg of EPA and 435mg of DHA). The fatty acids are also in triglyceride form rather than ethyl ester form, which boosts absorption even more.
Made from sustainably-sourced cold-water anchovies to minimize mercury content, Kion Omega is naturally preserved with the antioxidants astaxanthin and rosemary leaf extract (which have their own benefits for skin, athletic endurance, and cognitive function).
Kion Omega is also GOED (Global Organization of EPA and DHA Omega-3s)-compliant and processed in a GMP-certified facility. (Basically, this means that we have demonstrated a strong regulatory commitment and compliance to international good manufacturing practices.)
You basically just pop two Kion Omega softgels per day—again, preferably with food—for over 200% of your daily omega-3 recommendation. Because I actually feel amazing with higher dose fish oil based on my own personal experimentation, I personally take about 8g of fish oil (yes, a whopping 4 servings of Kion Omega) on days that I don’t eat fish, ideally with breakfast, since a fat-based supplement should be taken with a meal to maximize absorption. Of course, this is nowhere near old-school fitness icon Charles Polloquin's fish oil megadose recommendations for up to 40g/day, but it certainly packs a wallop in the cognition and recovery department, bigtime.
“Detox” is a popular health buzzword, and there are a lot of silly “detoxes” out there (think cayenne, lemon, and honey tea). For a simple cleanse I can use throughout the year, I turn to CapraCleanse. It contains over 20 ingredients that help your body initiate Phase I and Phase II detoxification processes, ultimately decreasing the toxic load you get from the chemicals we can't escape in the modern world.
Approximately 63 million Americans suffer from some type of digestive disorder, and constipation is usually a symptom. This lack of mobility of food through your colon can create a fertile breeding ground for parasites, Candida yeast, and pathogenic bacteria – and that's why I first started using CapraCleanse. It is comprised of a fiber blend of psyllium husk and seed, flaxseed oil, and inulin that can help move that mucoid plaque through your colon and simultaneously feed probiotic bacteria.
The elimination is further aided by CapraCleanse's colon blend of rhubarb root, marshmallow root, slippery elm bark, cape aloe, fennel seed, and fenugreek seed. These ingredients have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries and been validated by modern scientific methods. After the colon blend mixes with the fiber to push out colon buildup, the mineral blend of fermented goat milk mineral whey, magnesium citrate, and beetroot helps restore the integrity of gut cells.
Finally, the botanical blend of milk thistle extract, hyssop, ginger root, yucca root, rosemary, and turmeric aid digestion and provide regenerative compounds to rebuild your digestive tract during the detox and cleanse. CapraCleanse combines these powerful ingredients in carefully-chosen ratios to holistically restore intestinal mobility, detoxify, and enhance gut integrity.
You get the idea. This one covers all the bases for gut cleanup, without the complexity of an entire box of detox supplements.
Why? Frankly, it's one of the most researched and safe performance and cognition-enhancing molecules on the face of the planet.
Creatine plays a crucial role in the production of cellular energy by making ATP, a molecule needed by all cells in your body. An organic acid naturally produced in the body from other amino acids, creatine is found in foods such as meats, eggs, and fish, and is commonly deficient in heavily exercising individuals, the elderly, and people who eat a primarily plant-based diet. With increases in exercise or as a result of muscle damage, your physiological need for creatine is increased.
Creatine supplementation has been shown to support increased work capacity and power output of the muscle while promoting physical endurance and lean body mass gains. Outside of the athletic population, creatine has also been shown to lessen muscle breakdown and even to support cognitive function, especially in aging populations. Because creatine stores high-energy phosphate groups in the form of phosphocreatine, it releases energy to aid cellular function during stress. This effect causes strength increases after creatine supplementation, and can also benefit the brain, bones, muscles, and liver.
I currently use Kion Creatine. The creatine in Kion Creatine is derived from Creapure, which is a micronized form of creatine monohydrate that’s colorless and odorless. This form of creatine has highly enhanced solubility, so it mixes well with water, juice, smoothies or just about anything you toss it into.
Sleep Remedy + CBD
I get dozens of questions about which pre-sleep nutrients or supplements I personally use. After all, from mixes of apple cider vinegar and raw honey to phosphatidylserine to melatonin and beyond, the wide world of pre-sleep supplements can be quite confusing.
The first one, Sleep Remedy, is a formula created by a sleep physician and former Navy SEAL Dr. Kirk Parsley, who wanted to design something that would help extremely hard-charging, stressed-out folks settle down at night without the use of damaging sleep drugs like Ambien or Valium.
You can listen to my interview with him at “A Navy SEAL Physician Reveals How Hard-Charging, High-Achievers Can Fall Asleep Fast“.
The sleep remedy supplement contains simply very small amounts of the nutrients involved in the production of melatonin, specifically:
- Vitamin D3
- …and a very small dose of melatonin.
Since an increase in brain GABA levels is a key player in the initiation of REM sleep, Sleep Remedy also includes a small amount of a unique form of GABA called “phGABA” that, unlike most forms of GABA, can actually cross into the brain. Here's a study that just came out yesterday on the potent sleep aid and growth hormone increasing effects of just 100mg of GABA.
BioCBD+ is a water-soluble hemp extract blended with curcumin to increase absorption efficiency that offers relaxation delivery mechanisms that go beyond capsules. Here are just a few of the key studies on CBD and sleep:
- The nonpsychoactive Cannabis constituent cannabidiol is a wake-inducing agent (PubMed)
- Cannabis, pain, and sleep: Lessons from therapeutic clinical trials of Sativex, a cannabis-based medicine (PubMed)
- Effects of acute systemic administration of cannabidiol on sleep-wake cycle in rats (PubMed)
- Effect of Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol and cannabidiol on nocturnal sleep and early-morning behavior in young adults (PubMed)
- Cannabidiol, a constituent of Cannabis sativa, modulates sleep in rats (PubMed)
- Endocannabinoid modulation of cortical up-states and NREM sleep (PubMed)
- Intranodose ganglion injections of dronabinol attenuate serotonin-induced apnea in Sprague-Dawley rat (PubMed)
In sum: smaller doses of CBD provide you with a calm and relaxed focus that comes in handy during everything from writing to music to parties to workouts – very similar to what you would experience with THC, but without the psychoactive or paranoia properties. And if you combine these smaller doses of CBD with common natural sleep-inducing compounds like melatonin, magnesium, or lemon balm, then you can get yourself into an even more relaxed state. But larger doses of CBD (which are going to range based on the actual absorption of whichever CBD blend you are using) can be used all by themselves to enhance sleep or combat insomnia.
You can learn more about CBD in the most comprehensive article I've ever written on the stuff, which is at “A 100% Legal Way To Get All The Health Benefits Of Smoking Weed Without Actually Smoking Weed.” If you don't have the time to read all that, and instead want a succinct audio explanation of how CBD works, then take a listen to an extremely recent podcast episode I recorded with SmartDrugSmarts entitled “Cannabidiol: THC’s Legal Sibling“.
Finally, I'm often asked if I take a multivitamin. I do indeed (this one, to be exact), and have included the multivitamin information in the dosing and timing guide below.
Supplement Dosing and Timing Guide
Now that I've covered which supplements I personally take for optimized health, performance, and longevity, there are still more questions to answer to ensure that you're getting maximal benefit from supplements.
When should you take which supplement? Which supplements should be combined with each other or with a meal? And what's the proper dosage?
The timing and combinations of your supplement protocol can significantly affect how well your body absorbs and uses nutrients. I designed my own supplement routine based on data from the latest studies, including advice from resources such as Nutrition Expert from Healthspan, the Examine Research Digest, Suppversity, Alan Aragon's Research Review and my own master's degree in exercise physiology, biomechanics and human nutrition, to help you maximize your health and value from supplements.
So here’s a handy timing guide that takes into account the solubility and mechanisms of action of each of the supplements. This is what a typical day looks like for me in terms of supplements:
Morning, empty stomach
- Kion Colostrum – 2 scoops. I take up to 4 scoops during periods of heavy exercise. I am not too brand specific on probiotics and I “rotate” the probiotics that I do take. But I always stack probiotics with my colostrum, especially if I'm traveling and don't have access to a wide variety fermented foods.
- Kion Flex – 4-6 capsules, depending on how beat up my body is. If injured, I take another 6 capsules at night before bed, so my body can recover optimally during sleep. For this supplement to work best, take it on an empty stomach in the morning or evening.
- Thorne Creapure – 1 scoop (5 grams). I take this year-round. No cycling at all.
- At this time of day, I’ll also add 10 drops of oil of oregano to a glass of water if I’ve been traveling, have been around sick people, or need an energy boost. Honestly, my timing of oil of oregano intake varies widely – e.g. before I hop on an airplane, after I've been around a kid with a cold, before a book signing or extensive handshaking at a conference, etc.
- Kion Omega -2 capsules. To enhance absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A and D, fish oil should be taken with a large meal, especially meals that contain dietary fat. Breakfast is usually the perfect time for fish oil, unless you have a hard workout or race immediately following, in which case you don't want many oils in your stomach. In that case, take your fish oil with dinner.
- If traveling or needing extra nutrients due to heavy stress, travel, cold/flu season, fasting, etc.: the mighty, mighty Thorne Multivitamin Elite AM capsules. Read “A Quest To Discover The Greatest Multivitamin On The Face Of The Planet.” to learn why.
Mid-afternoon, pre- or post-workout
- Kion Aminos – 1 scoop in a glass of water or 5-10 tablets, depending on the difficulty of the workout. This supplement works best 30 minutes before a workout so that you go into your workout with high blood levels of amino acids. For long workouts, repeat the dose once every one hour of exercise. To avoid competition among other amino acids, try to avoid taking with much other protein. This one also works well before bed to support sleep, or at any time during the day if you are fasting. It can also be used for post-workout recovery. Sky's the limit on aminos.
- Kion Lean – 2 capsules. Take this supplement before or after your largest (or highest carbohydrate-containing) meal of the day to regulate the blood sugar response.
- Kion Flex (if my body is in need of recovery or excessively sore).
- CapraCleanse – 4 capsules with a large glass of water to “clean up my gut” while I'm asleep and give me a glorious bowel movement the next day.
- If traveling or needing extra nutrients due to heavy stress, travel, cold/flu season, fasting, etc.: the mighty, mighty Thorne Multivitamin Elite PM capsules. Read “A Quest To Discover The Greatest Multivitamin On The Face Of The Planet.” to learn why.
- 3-5 capsules BioCBD+ 30 minutes prior to bed (higher dosage on more stressful days).
- 1-2 Sleep Remedy 30 minutes prior to bed (higher dosage on more stressful days).
So that's it! I trust this guide gave you ideas on how to enhance your health, performance, and recovery without needing to pop a dizzying array of pills.
I get lots of inquiries about other supplements like greens powders, l-carnitine, high-dose Vitamin B, beta-alanine, sleep supplements and so on. I highly recommend specifically tailoring your supplement protocol to meet your specific goals, and also to use the comments section below to ask me your other specific questions. Ideally, you should choose supplements that address your own genetic results or blood biomarkers, and to learn more about personalizing nutrition and supplements to your genetics, listen to my recent podcast with Dr. Ben Lynch, author of “Dirty Genes”, or read my article about customizing your diet to you.
So what do you think? Which supplements have you found to be personally useful? Do you still think supplements are a waste of time and money? Do you have questions about other supplements folks have recommended to you? Leave your questions, comments, and feedback in the comments section below!