QUESTION: “Hi Dr. Neal, I wonder about the difference between dieting and lifestyle change, as far as fitness is concerned. And the use of supplementation — would it be required for certain people? Thank you.”
DR. NEAL: Thank you so much for taking the time to send in your audio question.
You know, I talk so much about lifestyle on this show but I don’t think I’ve ever taken the time to truly define what this means. So I really appreciate you asking.
What Does Lifestyle Mean, Exactly?
Think of lifestyle as just another word for habit. If we were to look up the word lifestyle in a standard dictionary, it would say something like: “lifestyle: (noun) the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture.”
As you can tell, this definition isn’t all that helpful. If we were to look up the definition in a sociology textbook, we get much closer to the meaning that I discuss on this show: the living conditions, habits, and behavior that are typical to that person.
Now, like the word lifestyle, the word “diet” has many meanings, too.
What’s a Diet, Then?
I’ll give you some examples. If someone were to say to me, “I’m going to go on a diet” this makes me think that what they’re about to do is going to be temporary. Now, if someone were to tell me, “I follow a vegetarian diet.” That’s very different. This doesn’t sound as short-term. It sounds more like a lifestyle. It’s all about the context. Now, of course, I would ask follow-up questions to get a better sense of what they mean and whether these statements imply something different.
Ok, so where does that leave us? A diet could be a lifestyle. If a person is following a vegetarian, or Mediterranean, or high fiber diet most of the time and that’s their usual pattern, then I would say it’s probably a lifestyle. But if someone is planning on changing their eating pattern temporarily, to lose weight for example, then I wouldn’t classify this as a lifestyle.
Now you also asked about supplementation. Is supplementation necessary when physical activity is part of your lifestyle? Or, to put it another way, if regular physical activity is a habit, do you need to supplement? Well, it’s hard to say without more information.
The American College of Sports Medicine says that, for most adults without pre-existing conditions, supplementing is not necessary. But let’s say someone has dietary restrictions, or has difficulty absorbing certain nutrients, then supplementation might be needed. It’s always best to discuss supplementation with your healthcare provider.
If someone were to take dietary supplements regularly – and it’s a habit – then, yes, that’s part of their lifestyle.
QUESTION: “I’ve read and watched a lot of videos regarding creatine. but most of them have been by men. I was wondering whether creatine affects women differently, or does it have the same effect as it does on men?”
DR. NEAL: Thank you so much for taking the time to send in your audio question. You’re absolutely right – the majority of information about the effects of creatine have been performed on men.
Luckily, I was able to find a recently published meta-analysis that looked at the effects of creatine supplementation on those that were identified as women at birth. A meta-analysis is basically a way to look at a bunch of previously published studies all at once. This is considered the “gold standard” in research.
It’s a great way to summarize the results of previously-published studies which is why it’s so powerful.
What does Creatine do?
Now before I get to the results of this meta-analysis, I should first mention what creatine does. Creatine has been shown, mostly in men, to improve athletic performance during short-burst, high-intensity activities like resistance training, sprinting, jumping and so on. Better performance during these types of activities may lead to more muscle growth.
What about Creatine’s Effects On Women?
Ok, so does this happen among women, too? According the results of this meta-analysis, yes. Creatine seems to help improve athletic performance during short-burst, high-intensity activities like the ones I just mentioned in women, too. Among post-menopausal women, specifically, creatine supplementation may be even more helpful. This is because creatine supplementation has been found to improve bone mineral density in post-menopausal women, specifically. This is important, because, after menopause hormonal changes lead to weaker bones in most women. So supplementing with creatine could be beneficial.
Now I have to mention that when it comes to supplementation, there are 3 very important things to keep in mind.
- Check with your healthcare provider before taking any supplement. You may be taking another supplement or medication that could interfere with creatine metabolism or vice versa. Or, based on your health history, creatine supplementation may not be a good idea. For example, those with pre-existing kidney or liver disease may do more harm to these organs by supplementing.
- If your doctor approves, be sure to find a quality supplement. What I mean by that is, find a supplement that is relatively free of impurities. About 30% of the supplements sold contain potentially harmful substances, like anabolic steroids and amphetamines.
- To help you find a supplement that’s relatively free of impurities, look for the USP or NSF symbols on the supplement packaging. Another great resource is ConsumerLab.com. Accessing Consumer Lab’s database isn’t free, so if you choose to visit that site, know that you will have to pay a small fee. If you’re a college student, your school may actually already have a subscription to Consumer Lab.
- Be sure to follow-up with your healthcare provider about dosing instructions. Does your healthcare provider recommend that you follow the dosing instructions on the packaging? Or, would they prefer you start more slowly? Or, maybe they say you can take more? It’s always a good idea to check with them first.