Supplement Considerations for Weight Loss

(Co-written with Patrick Wold, Iowa State Dietetic Intern)

Protein Supplements

Protein is primarily responsible for building muscle tissue but is also needed for enzyme and hormone production. When eating a calorie restricted diet, preserving muscle mass is the goal, as muscle burns three times more calories per day than fat. Strive for getting in around 21-28 grams of protein at all meals and around 10-14 grams at snacks. More isn’t necessarily better, as what the body is unable to use at that time will be stored as fat, which then defeats what you are trying to pursue with weight loss.

1 ounce of meat/fish/poultry provides 7 grams of protein, as does 1 egg. 1 cup of milk provides 8 grams protein, and 8 ounces of Greek yogurt can provide around 21 grams of protein! Protein products may be unnecessary if you have the time to prepare your meals and are having a steady source of protein throughout the day. If this isn’t occurring, then having a protein supplement may be beneficial.

When looking for a protein supplement, always check the nutrition label. Many proteins products focus on athletic performance and have added ingredients to support high-intensity training and recovery. These more expensive products may not be necessary for those just trying to meet their protein needs. When evaluating the label, note the total fat, total carbohydrate, protein and the ingredients listed per serving. Protein supplements, bars or powders should provide at least a 2:1 protein to carbohydrate ratio. For example, if the product provides 14 grams of protein, the total carbohydrate should provide around 7 grams. Protein powders typically have a higher protein to carbohydrate ratio when compared to protein bars. Protein supplements focused on weight loss may provide higher amounts of fiber to help satisfy hunger over a longer period of time. Aim for 5 grams of fiber or higher if these products are chosen.

Thermogenic Products

Thermogenics focuses on increasing metabolism and suppressing appetite, both of which promote weight loss. Thermogenic products also promise a boost in energy, concentration and focus, primarily coming from caffeine—the main ingredient in these types of products.  Caffeine not only provides an energy boost but also helps the body utilize fat more efficiently as an energy source. Caffeine provides greater benefits for individuals who use caffeine less often. Other key ingredients often found in these products include Ephedra, Garcinia Cambogia, Glucomannan, Guar gum, and Hoodia, all which claim to suppress hunger cues and increase satiety, but otherwise have no effect on weight.


Multivitamins contain varied amounts of the vitamins and minerals that should be received through your daily food choices. When starting your weight loss program, certain vitamins and minerals will be decreased, because of reduced calories, food groups and portions consumed.

When choosing a multivitamin, make sure to look at the nutrition label. The vitamin should not contain any sugar, colors, preservatives, yeast, or fillers (such as cellulose, gelatin or corn starch). Try to find a vitamin specific for gender, age, or goal (such as weight loss).  If the serving size is for multiple pills or doses, take half of the noted serving twice daily. Vitamins may contain herbs or probiotics, but the amounts of these ingredients are often too small to have any benefit, so don’t spend the extra money on these types of products.