“What supplements you take bro?”
“Do you DO protein?!” (Like it’s up for debate as to whether or not we need to have a protein intake?)
Within the circles of mainly male lifters, you see an overwhelming majority ask these questions. Since when have supplements become the leading topic of discussion among male lifters?
There are multiple reasons to why people seem to be enamored by the often times heavily marked up supplements at retail stores. They are probably #2 after 3rd and 4th round drinks at a bar for regrettable purchases on your shiny new Visa card.
- They often come in shiny containers, using big, bold words that are meant to grab its target market and convince them why THIS product will solve many of the issues you’re having right then.
- We are a society that has a pill for everything, EVERYTHING. So it makes sense that you take a supplement that solves many of the roadblocks you’re having before, during, and/or after training sessions right?
- Going off the last bullet point, often times proper nutrition and programming can be overwhelming for many people. So supplements may appeal to those who appear to be in a rut with their goals and are not willing to invest in time to research or money/time to hire a coach. Overhauling years of bad habits in your training and nutrition is hard to fix overnight. It takes time, which many of us claim to not have. Supplements are quick and easy. They’re even flavored to taste good to make that even more appealing.
Since anabolic steroids have been made illegal without prescription, the landscape has changed substantially from the inside out. Since that time, all sorts of companies from garage-based supplement companies to large corporations have created a culture of powder consumers. All with a promise of “fixing” or “gaining” something (of course with a reminder in small words that this DOES NOT replace a well-rounded diet/exercise plan). Unfortunately, the supplements found in stores typically will yield a very small amount of benefit despite its oftentimes heavy price tag. This is not to say supplements cannot be a great way to give yourself an extra push in the gym and in life. But they get put on a pedestal despite very little return from many of them. More products are ineffective than are effective!
Oftentimes people on Instagram, Facebook, or at “fitness expos” (I quote that because LOL) who are professional body builders, figure, or bikini competitors promote these products and make claims that they use these as part of their routines. 99/100 these individuals are paid by the company in order to say they take them. They may actually even use it as part of their routine, but elite level IFBB Pros are using steroids, growth hormone, and other various illegal performance enhancing drugs to have their physique look that way. Those PEDs have been shown to play a major role in increasing muscle mass and burning fat. But they’ll credit their physique to something other than the drugs.
Not accusing these men of anything… but health expos are very rarely promoting ‘health’ and often times promote supplements that do the complete opposite of making you healthy!
How To See If A Product is Effective
How To Be A Skeptic
Buying supplements is like online dating. Everyone is going to say they’re worth it and it’s your job to find out whether they truly are worth it or not! Supplements work the same way, they all say they’re worth the investment. But it’s your job to see if the label/ingredients match the claims! Quick rule of thumb though, if it’s hard to understand just exactly what is in it, be skeptical. The more skeptical you are about supplements, the better off you and your checking account will be!
Products such as this one leave many customers in the dark as to whether or not it is effective and worth its relatively large price tag. This specific product to be left unnamed is found online on Amazon for $89.99 for a little over a pound. 90$ very easily is a week’s groceries for someone, over 1000$ a year! For something this price, further research should be done before purchasing. With a blend of ingredients like this product, we should see this replace food and having something food does not have (be careful of those claims!). Follow a few easy questions in your head before spending 90$ on a “recovery supplement”.
- A convenience factor, how long would it take me to get something equivalent from food?
- How long would it take to prepare this food/meal?
- Would finding a food equivalent be more expensive?
- Does this contain ingredients that are hard to find in food?
The compounds within the product itself are what make it effective. I use Examine.com to research the compounds.
Examine.com explores the thousands of studies done on many of these ingredients and delivers nonbias summaries of their effectiveness. It almost always provides the proper dosages and the most effective means to take it. It lays it all out for you, it even gives you a 1-2 sentence summary of everything! Pretty much spoon feeds it to you. They also have some good content on exercise programming as well, it’s more for the layperson, but it’s an excellent starting point!
“But I took X pill and I felt great, had great pumps, etc!”
The placebo effect can be a powerful thing. If you truly believe something is going to work, it may give you a false sense of effectiveness. I recognize this, and have felt the same way with certain supplements over the years. But when it costs you additional money, it’s a problem. In today’s day, it’s getting harder and harder to make ends meet. Why senselessly add something that gives a PERCEIVED benefit for $30-$50 a month? When you can improve your nutrition for a fraction of that and get all the TRUE benefits of overhauling that?
What Is In A Label?
The label on the back of a supplement will be something you must know. The labels go in two different ways normally to explain what is in the product. Here is a 4 minute long video explaining much of the issues surrounding this industry. From the documentary “Bigger, Stronger, Faster”.
Proprietary Blend Or Matrix
A supplement is allowed to put something as a proprietary blend or matrix, as a means to not disclose the entire amounts of each ingredient. All it will do is give the entire amount as a “blend”. The reasoning is that they are still giving the amounts as a means of listing the ingredients from greatest to least. Companies say this is their way of protecting themselves against consumers replicating their product. I would vouch and say that seems legitimate to a point. But how many people actually have that sort of time in their lives? Not many 🙂 For the handful that do use it for that reason, many companies use it as a means to mask the supplement, and under dose active ingredients and bulk it with fillers!
If a product claims to have X,Y, or Z ingredient, your new found knowledge on proper dosing/timing of a compound should be able to guide you through whether or not the product is worth it. From the label above, look at the order that it is in. Legally, whether it is a food label or a supplement label, the amounts must be labeled based on the amount put in. So in this case, the proprietary blend’s most commonly occurring ingredient is maltodextrin. You can then plug that into Examine.com and explore if the #s add up. Since maltodextrin is a carbohydrate, it’s relatively inexpensive. So this product’s price point should not be too high, as this should be taken only on a convenience factor in order to get some supplemental, easy digesting carbohydrate around workout time!
‘What You See Is What You Get’ Label
These are products that tell you exactly what is in their product and in what amounts. Here is an example of a product that gives you precise amounts.
This product, called “Tier 1” by Citadel Nutrition does not leave anything in the dark. And better yet, it gives you doses very in-line with what outside research agrees with. This one is a little bit of an outlier, but it displays how some companies do the right thing and deliver a great product!
Choosing A Supplement
Before purchasing a product you MUST ask yourself, “Will this directly make my life easier and/or improve on something I cannot get easily with food or better self care?”
- If you eat enough protein you do not need a Branch Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) supplement
- If you eat large amounts of red meat you may not need creatine
- If you eat enough protein (.8g/lb of body weight) you do not need glutamine
- If you do not sleep enough (7-9 hours a night) will a caffeinated product fix this?
- Am I having trouble getting enough protein in during the day to justify a convenient protein supplement?
Choosing A Protein Supplement
Whey protein is made from cheese production. Dairy has gone up in price in recent years. So whey protein supplements should have as well. If you see a protein supplement that is much lower in price from the rest of them, be cautious. Oftentimes companies will spike their protein with other amino acids such as glycine or taurine to bulk up the protein amount. Glycine and taurine, have benefits, but not in line with why you supplement whey protein.
If a company has slowly either…
- Gone up in price over time
- decreased the serving sizes
Chances are… the product is good. Companies have to make money, so in order to make money they either have to cut servings or increase price. So usually these companies make a conscience effort to never compromise quality. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s a quick little time saving tip when picking supplements.A few recommendations of this are Scivation and Optimum.
If it’s bought in a store it must be safe right? That is wrong. In fact, a product does not have to claim it’s effective or “safe” in order for it to be on shelves. If you watched the video above before getting to this part, The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) must definitively claim the product is unsafe in order for it be pulled from the shelves.
- Many harsh stimulants can be found in “pre-workout” supplements to give lifers that additional boost of energy. And low and behold they may test positive for a banned substance that gives off effects similar to speed. Even worse, many of these show up as positive drug tests, which can leave an employee out of a job or a college/pro athlete suspended for PEDs.
- Many pill bottles that are sold in stores legally may claim to give 30lbs of “hard, dry muscle mass”. Many of these pills are actually designer steroids that had a molecule changed that the FDA has yet to deem unsafe. So until it is banned, the unsuspecting public can take these products that are essentially steroids in pill form. If coupled with poor diet and alcohol, liver damage, bad lipid profiles, and hormonal disruptions may occur. Steer clear from these. If you are a fully grown adult and feel you need a hormonal boost to assist your routine, talk to your doc about hormone replacement therapy.
- Parents, be aware of what your kids are taking. It’s never okay for a high school kid to need a hormonal boost in high school, ever.
The supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. New products making new claims about how they can help you. The truth hasn’t changed with the industry. Hard training and sound nutrition will always trump any supplement on the legal market. It is very hard to undue years of poor training and dietary habits. So I can feel for the people that invest hundreds of dollars a month into supplements with the hope of fixing their bad routines in the kitchen and in the gym! In a few weeks I will share my list of effective supplements and my recommendations for products to buy that are the best for your money/time!