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The Rise and Rise of the Health Food Shop

Dragon Power Martial Arts and Fitness nutritionist Neil Woudberg spills the soya beans on the stores feeding Cape Town's health conscious

This is an old feature. For more up-to-date expert help on exercise, weightloss and nutition, read two of our features about the personal trainer who trains the team, Neil du Plessis:

Everything you’ve ever wanted to ask a personal trainer

Imagine your boss paid for your fitness and meal plan?


Health food shops first became popular in Cape Town during the 1990's when specialised sports nutrition stores began to emerge to accommodate serious athletes and they became more accessible to the public in 2000. The Mother City's beaches and mountains are a playground for outdoor sports enthusiasts and attract a calibre of models and celebrities that most aspire to look like. With an abundance of gyms to choose from it's no wonder Capetonians are reaching for the supplements.

Dragon Power Martial Arts and Fitness nutritionist Neil Woudberg opened his first sports supplements store, Max Nutrition at the Canal Walk Shopping Centre, in 2002 after his personal training clients started to enquire about the best supplements to gain muscle or burn fat. Through meticulous research and a course in applied functional nutrition Neil has developed an understanding of how supplements operate once inside the body.

"Health food shops stock performance enhancing supplements including creatine, fat burners, minerals, specialised anti oxidants, gluten-free products and organic food that can't often be found at the supermarket," says Neil, "One of the first things that people ask about when they start training at Dragon Power is what supplements to take and where to get them from. As they continue training they might need to change supplements in order to suit the health goals that they are trying to achieve."

Protein Shakes and weight loss supplements

Protein shakes were the fastest product to fly off the shelves at Max Nutrition because they act as a convenient meal replacement for people on the go. Complex carbohydrates including white rice and potatoes are bad news when dieting as the body turns energy into fat quickly so people often substitute them with protein. However, Neil advises that you read the small print when choosing a diet supplement.

"Some performance enhancing or weight-loss products contain caffeine which can lead to increased blood pressure. Caffeine is counterproductive in overweight people who are taking diet supplements for fast results because their blood pressure is already high. Similarly younger generations seeking Arnold Schwarzenegger sized muscles may be taking too much creatine which can also increase blood pressure and become toxic in the excretory system."

Is organic food better for you than conventional food?

Based on his research Neil believes that organic food is far healthier than its conventional alternative. The soil in which it is grown is free of mass-produced pesticides so these do not get absorbed into the fruit and vegetables. When grown in pesticide-free soil produce will contain a higher concentration of minerals and vitamins.

"If pesticides are damaging plants then surely they must have negative effects on the human body. We are living things, after all."

What to look out for in wheat and dairy-free produce

Being careful with wheat and dairy-free products is also advisable. If you eat too much wheat or dairy you can actually develop an intolerance. For example, if you're eating Wheatabix for breakfast, a bran muffin for a mid-morning snack, a sandwich for lunch and pasta for dinner you may exhaust your enzymes so much that they will simply stop absorbing wheat.

Although it may contain more calcium soya milk actually contains more fat than regular milk and if it has been genetically modified this can lead to weight-gain.

Natural versus chemical

"Homeopathic supplements certainly don't have any negative effects due to their low dosage and it's less harsh on the system to opt for a natural alternative. I would rather take these supplements than something that is stronger, genetically modified and could cause damage to the stomach lining."

Do your research and seek advice from a professional

Those who are considering a healthier lifestyle but don't know where to start should first think about what they want to achieve be it loosing or gaining weight, boosting energy levels or to substitute something that is missing in your diet. For instance, if you are a vegetarian you should opt for Vitamin B12, amino acids, iron and other minerals typically found in meat.

"As there is no official body who regulates what goes into supplements it's a case of trusting the manufacturer and trying the product out. If you don't feel the product working then you should consider an alternative."

Health food shops feed Cape Town's health conscious with specialist and effective products and supplements that you can't find at the supermarket. You'll encounter experts, like Neil, who can offer credible advice on why you should take one supplement over another.

"It's a myth that you can replace all of your meals with supplements as you still need to eat healthily," concludes Neil, "Besides achieving a good balance it's advisable to become educated via your own research."

For more information contact Neil Woudberg at Dragon Power Martial Arts and Fitness Centre +27 (0)21 465 9888

With thanks to the Wellness Warehouse, Kloof Street, for images.

By Lisa Nevitt

Just reading this makes you feel healthier. Check out our Sports Section for more inspirational stories.

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