Can You Out-Supplement a Poor Diet?

why you can't out supplement a poor diet

You might have heard the phrase; “You can’t out-exercise a poor diet.”

No matter how much exercise you do, if you’re eating nothing but junk food, you’re still going to put on weight and live a very unhealthy life.

The same goes for supplementing.

The idea that one can rely solely on supplements to provide their body with all the nutrients they needs, while consuming a diet of processed foods, is just not plausible.

There are many factors that contribute to overall health (i.e. sleep, exercise, healthy eating, supplementing when needed, minimising stress, etc.) and they’re all necessary to achieve a healthy state of being.

Naturally, we as human beings find it easier to focus on improving areas we’re already good at rather than focus on bringing another area up to par. For example, many people spend hundreds of dollars on supplements each month, but “can’t afford” to purchase real, organic, healthy foods; instead buying processed, pre-prepared meals and snacks.

According to Wellness Mama:

– You can’t out-exercise a bad diet
– You can’t out-supplement a bad-diet (this is a big one!)
– You can’t out-diet lack of exercise
– You can’t out-diet lack of sleep
– You can’t out-sleep a bad diet
– You can’t out-diet lack of exercise
– You can’t out-diet too much stress
– You can’t out-exercise too much stress
– You can’t out-supplement too much stress
Etc, etc etc

While healthy eating makes up 80% of weight loss/healthy weight maintenance, it’s definitely not the only area that needs focus…

why you can't out supplement a poor diet
why you can't out supplement a poor diet

Why Supplements are Needed in our Diet

Our food no longer holds the same nutritional value that it did back when our ancestors roamed the Earth. Fresh food used to be able to provide all the nutrients we needed, but in today’s world, food is grown using chemicals in nutrient-deprived soils, picked before it’s fully ripened, and then transported, kept in storage, to finally be placed on supermarket shelves, ready for purchase.

On top of this, our diets are no longer rich in natural, fresh fruits and vegetables, organic meats, and seafood. A staple diet often consists of processed pre-made meals and snacks filled with artificial ingredients and preservatives.

To help counteract this problem, manufactures have fortified their food products with synthetic forms of iron, calcium, folic acid, iodine, thiamine, B12 and many other nutrients to prevent serious public health issues related to conditions arising from nutrient deficiencies.

This may seem like the perfect solution; continue eating poor, nutrient deficient foods and just supplement our way to good health. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that…

why you can't out supplement a poor diet
why you can't out supplement a poor diet

Why Nutrients from Food are Better than those from Supplements

If you think about it, if you were to solely eat protein shakes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you’d be getting plenty of protein and a few other nutrients, but what about all the other vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, probiotics, enzymes, etc? So many other vital nutrients needed by the body to thrive would be completely cut out.

Shawn Stevenson sums this up well in his book, Eat Smarter, when he says, ‘Real food doesn’t just have one isolated nutrient, it has an abundance of micronutrients along with cofactors and biopotentiators that make them work better in our bodies. Synthetic, man-made supplements and processed “fortified” foods simply can’t do what real food can.’

Wholefoods come with a range of vitamins, minerals, fats, protein, phytochemicals, etc. Plus, they contain nutrient pairs. These are nutrients that need one another for proper absorption in the body. An example of this is iron, it’s absorbed much more effectively when paired with vitamin C.

More on the topic, phytochemicals are an important component in food that help with conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers (among other things).

According to The Conversation, ‘Vitamin and mineral supplements do not provide the benefits of phytochemicals and other components found in food, such as fibre.’

Furthermore, wholefoods contain many different forms of vitamins and minerals. For instance, vitamin E occurs in nature in eight different forms (alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocopherol and alpha-, beta-, gamma-, and delta-tocotrienol) – but supplements often contain just one of these forms.

Another thing to keep in mind is that many multivitamins (and other supplements) on the market, can be for the most part, a waste of money.

They usually aren’t able to raise micronutrient levels to the sufficient levels your body needs to function optimally. They may raise levels slightly, but not as well as they could. It often has to do with the formula created by the manufacturer. (See here for more information on choosing a multivitamin).

As stated by The Conversation, ‘The doses present in multivitamins are typically low. After all, you can only pack so much of each nutrient into a multivitamin pill, and often it is not even close to the recommended dietary intake.’

It’s important to note that taking too many supplements is also not good for the body. This can actually cause liver injuries, as the liver is responsible for metabolism of all the supplements you take. Shawn Stevenson explains this further:

In a program funded by the National Institutes of Health, it was found that liver injuries linked to supplement use jumped from 7 percent to 20 percent of all medication/supplement-induced injuries in just a ten-year time span. Again, this is not to say that supplements can’t be great for you. This merely points to the fact that your liver is also responsible for metabolism of all of the supplements you take as well. And popping a couple dozen different supplements each day can be a lot for your liver to handle.

Shawn Stevenson, Eat Smarter

Vitamin and mineral supplements can’t replace a healthy diet, but a high quality multivitamin can help if your diet is inadequate. If you feel you could be lacking in certain vitamins and minerals, it’s recommended to look at changing your diet and lifestyle along with supplementing, rather than straight supplementation.

To perfectly sum up this point, Shawn says, ‘Through food, you can receive the right amount of these nutrients with additional cofactors that make them work better in your body, plus better help to prevent overconsumption and toxicity (even from helpful nutrients like copper). Synthetic supplements simply don’t work the same way. Food first is the golden rule.’

why you can't out supplement a poor diet
how to choose a multivitamin

As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor before trying or using any new products. I am not a doctor. All opinions expressed are my own personal thoughts and feelings of the products mentioned. Check with your doctor or health practitioner if you are uncertain about trying out any of the products, recipes or tips mentioned in this post.

What are some of your healthy habits? Share in the comments below.

Lots of love,

🖤 Vanessa


Wells, Katie. (January 8, 2019). Why You Can’t Out Supplement A Poor Diet. Wellness Mama. Retrieved from

Crowe, Tim. (September 12, 2016). Health Check: can vitamins supplement a poor diet?. The Conversation. Retrieved from

Vitamin E. (Updated: March 26, 2021). NIH. Retrieved from

Klerck, Ray. (November 10, 2015). Can You Out-Supplement A Bad Diet?. Body Building. Retrieved from

Ducharme, Jamie. (April 8, 2019). Vitamins and Supplements Can’t Replace a Balanced Diet, Study Says. Time. Retrieved from

Wiegman, Stacy, PharmD. Can multivitamins make up for an unhealthy diet?. Share Care. Retrieved from

Ligos, Laura, MBA, RD, CSSD. (May 2, 2018). You Can’t Out Supplement a Bad Diet. The Sassy Dietitian. Retrieved from

Vitamin and mineral supplements: when are they needed?. (February 4, 2019). My Dr. Retrieved from

Stevenson, Shawn. (2020). Eat Smarter. Little, Brown Spark. 1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104. Print.

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