Do Dietary Supplements Actually Work?
It was a little while back but we got this message below.
It's a common question-
WHAT SUPPLEMENT SHOULD I TAKE?
Dear Mr. Kangaroo & Mr. Good Looking Loser,
I’m 21yrs old, and I work out at the gym 5 days a week. I bust my ass lifting heavy weights, eat somewhat ok despite the occasional cheat, but feel I don’t get the returns on what I’m investing. I'm trying to lose weight btw.
I want your help to decide what supplements I need, as I want to make sure I get the ones that really work.
I just need something that will quickly get rid of this weight.
I'll buy whatever you say man.
Thanks – Jason
But this is part of a much larger issue-
Our infatuation and addiction to dietary supplements, even buying more of the exact same thing after it delivers absolutely no results.
The Dietary Supplement Industry and the United States Government are the only 2 entities in existence that we give MORE-and-MORE MONEY to - the MORE-and-MORE they fail to provide results.
(I know there are a few others, just bear with me)
This seems perfectly rational to most people too.
What Are Dietary Supplements For?
We often forget (or don't know) what supplements are actually for.
(this is most common among teenagers and guys new to lifting weights)
Dietary supplements are meant to 'supplement' for nutritional deficiencies.
Typically, dietary supplements are meant to REPLACE the vitamins and minerals that you are not getting from your solid food diet.
- If you follow a low-carbohydrate diet, you will likely be lacking fiber.
It is perfectly sensible to 'supplement' with a fiber 'supplement'.
- If you are too busy to prepare quality fruits and vegetables (or on a shitty college meal plan),
It is perfectly sensbile to 'supplement' the fruits and vegetables with a greens 'supplement'.
- If you are SUPER ACTIVE (or muscular) and require more profile than average person,
It is perfectly sensible to 'supplement' with a whey protein 'supplement' if you can't eat your body weight in grams of protein each day.
If you have a deficiency in your diet (uncommon in developed nations) then buying a dietary supplement would make sense.
There are VERY FEW vitamins and minerals that cannot be had from simply eating 3 meals a day.
Additionally, there are VERY FEW compounds that you "need" that are outside what a good (and even average) diet can provide you. We'll touch on some of the supplements such as creatine, amino acids and handful of fat-burners that solid food just can't give you.
So, next time you are thinking, "Do I need ________ supplement?" or "Does ________ supplement work?"
Ask yourself, "Do I have a deficiency of ________?"
If the answer is "no," or "I don't know," chances are the supplement will do jack shit for you.
In a recent article, I discussed how Mr. Tampa, the guy I trained with for 2 years, used NO SUPPLEMENTS, not even protein powder.
Supplements Always Offer The Safe, QUICK FIX
If I had to say one thing positive about the dietary supplement industry at-large it would be-
Dietary supplements are generally safe.
Since most of them do absolutely nothing, they won't hurt you.
The industry targets people that are overweight. People that are overweight generally have no idea how diet and nutrition works (that's why they are overweight) and why they are the perfect audience to sell to.
Nearly all supplements are marketed as a "quick fix," sometimes it even says so,
"Lose 25 pounds in 25 days without diet or exercise!"
Some just have airbrushed and Photoshopped pictures of professional athletes, models or bodybuilders in order to suggest that those people got that way simply from taking the supplement or the supplement is a BIG part of their success.
In fact, we've grown so accustomed to it that advertisements like the one above that they don't even seem unethical. A lot of people will dismiss the sleazy, misleading marketing in hopes that the product somehow isn't sleazy or misleading.
A good general rule of thumb is-
Whatever the product promises, if it is non-steroidal, it does virtually nothing.
Sports Nutrition is a Business, Not a Philanthropic Non-Profit Charity
Even a lot of experienced guys like to support their favorite supplement company. Somehow they have an emotional connection to the corporation and that usually rips them off (based on expectations) even if the supplement is somewhat effective. I've seen guys screaming at each other at the gym about who made the best [insert product that doesn't work]. It's mind blogging.
It's a form of Stockholm Syndrome.
The sports nutrition industry is BIG BUSINESS. BIG BIG BIG BUSINESS.
In 2011, the industry saw over $3.6 billion worth of sales. If you could earn this sort of loot off selling lies and false dreams, you’d be laughing all the way to the bank too. But sports supplements weren’t always such a lucrative industry. Many years ago, supplements were only used to correct nutrient deficiencies in people who were sick in hospital or third world countries with limited access to food. In fact, supplements used to be considered medicine and there was little money to be made from selling supplements.
Do you need Supplements to Gain Muscle/Lose Weight/Do Anything?
Supplements are exactly that. A micro or macro-nutrient that supplements your diet. They provide additional support to a well planned and implemented diet and exercise regime. I can’t stress how important this is, as the majority of people who use supplements use them in replacement of a good diet. No matter how many supplements you take, nor how much weight you lift, without a good diet in place, you will NEVER see the results you want to see. It’s the truth, and you won’t ever find it written on a supplement bottle.
There is one main condition in which Good Looking Loser feels that supplementing is appropriate and beneficial-
For whatever reason, your diet would otherwise have a nutritional deficiency.
(You are missing a certain vitamin, mineral or macro-nutrient (protein, carbohydrates, fat).
You have made the effort to prepare 4+ solid food meals a but, for example-
- You are on a low-carbohydrate diet to lose weight and avoid grains so you are deficient in fiber.
- You eat 5 meals a day but don't usually have time to prepare vegetables.
- You are an athlete or a avid bodybuilder and your nutritional requirements can't be met with solid food.
- You are on a road trip, without protein or quality-food and buy some protein bars.
- You are in college, on a shitty meal plan and decide to supplement the vegetables with a more healthful greens supplement.
- You have just worked out and know the whey protein can reach your muscles before most solid food protein.
- You are allergic to iodine from fish and shellfish so you take an omega-3 fish oil supplement.
- For some reason you got tricked into eating the vegan diet, which is deficient in everything, including food.
Good Looking Kangaroo and I somewhat disagree on "self-inflicted" deficiencies.
In my opinion-
If you still eat 4+ quality meals a day and understand that solid food is almost always a better choice than a dietary supplement but LITERALLY DO NOT HAVE THE TIME or access to food, you should considered using a supplement to satisfy your nutritional voids.
In his opinion-
In nearly ALL cases, if you can't meet your nutritional needs with solid food, you need to show some fucking discipline and figure out how to do it. "I don't have time," means that you aren't committed enough to your diet and training. Figure it out.
But we both agree on the reasons that YOU SHOULD NOT consider supplementation.
(in these circumstances, supplements will nearly always be ineffective and waste of money)
- You don't understand that solid food is almost always the better choice.
- You believe that super cheap 'meal replacements' are of equal nutritional value because the nutritions
- You believe that 40g of protein from a processed protein bar is just as good as 40g from eggs.
- You have time but don't invest it in cooking solid food.
- Advertisements convince you that you have a deficiency in a compound you've never heard of.
- You wonder if a particular supplement will "make" you lose weight.
- You wonder if a particular supplement will "make" you gain weight.
- You haven't laid out your solid food diet and are hoping that a supplement "works".
- You don't LOVE the taste of certain foods so you totally refuse to eat them.
- You haven't research REAL user-feedback for the supplement and are basing your opinion of it on label claims.
- You are sedentary and don't exercise.
Most Supplements = Sawdust, Sexy Labels and a Huge Price Markup
I’m not suggesting that all supplements are a waste of $$$, but unfortunately the majority are.
If you really think about these supplements, and particularly from a marketing frame of mind, you will start to see why they appear so GOSH DARN attractive.
To get my point across, I’m going to pick on the biggest supplement company in the world – Muscle Tech. I logged onto their website and the first thing I was greeted by was a home page that boasts “THE CHOICE OF CHAMPIONS” with three ripped guys the size of the hulk posing shirtless.
Do you seriously believe these guys owe the majority (or even some) of their gains to taking some "super anabolic jacked creatine"?
Neither do I.
If the truth be known, nearly all guys featured on the labels of many of the sports supplements on the market probably use anabolic steroids to get to where they are (not that- that's "wrong"). But they’d have you think otherwise.
Now lets profile their best-selling fat loss supplement.
Bad Supplement: "Hydroxycut Hardcore"
I won’t bore you with a huge list of these supplements, but I will use probably one of the most popular supplements on the market as an example – Muscle Tech’s Hydroxycut Hardcore.
Hydroxycut Hardcore is a big supplement seller in the market. It’s classed as a thermogenic supplement, meaning it helps you to burn fat and lose weight. But as a Sports Scientist and Sports Nutritionist, I’m not fooled by the marketing claims on the bottle. I’m only interested in the ingredients, the dosages and the evidence behind the claims.
Lets take a look at each ingredient to see what this "Hardcore" formula really does-
If you’ve never heard of the ingredient, then it’s a warning sign it’s mostly likely going to be bull shit.
What Science Says
Researchers concluded that it fails to promote weight loss and this was at 2.5 times the dosage of coleus Forskohlii found in hydroxcut elite!
An amino acid found naturally in tea. Added to reduce the over-stimulation from the caffeine.
What Science Says
Studies show that it helps to reduce heart rate and blood pressure, both which are significantly increased with high caffeine intakes.
Significant doses of HIGH-QUALITY L-Theanine can help lower anxiety. There's only a small amount per serving and it's anyone's guess how good this shit is too.
Same shit you can buy from the supermarket to make hot chocolate.
Actually a good ingredient which has been shown to help to increase HDL (healthy cholesterol) and decrease LDL and triglyceride levels....in rats!
It’s benefits in humans is questionable but even if it does have health benefits, cocoa extract is cheap, and you’d be much better offer just buying it from your supermarket.
WTF is Yohimbe extract?
Something found in a native tree from central Africa. A critical review of several studies involving obese patients using yohimbe showed little weight loss benefits from the supplement. So little, that the researchers don’t even recommend its use despite it having no adverse effects.
Yohimbe is the popular substitute for Ephedrine. It works about 2% as good. It's funny that they call this collection of shit Hydroxycut "Hardcore" it's not close to that.
Caffeine Anhydrous & Green Coffee Extract
Caffeine stimulates your central nervous system and can help you increase your overall performance in the gym when used correctly.
It is well established that high (200mg+) intake of caffeine can increase thermogenesis and thereby assist with weight loss. However, caffeine is available from CVS for $4.49. The only good ingredient!!!
This supplement, like so many "Hardcore" products that don't have ephedrine, is complete garbage. It piggybacks off the former Hydroxycut which was a great supplement. Save yourself $40 and just buy caffeine tablets from CVS.
Bad Supplement: Raspberry Ketones
Although hydroxycut is bad, it’s by no means "dodgy," as we say here in Australia.
Dodgy supplements are the ones that make huge claims, usually contain celebrity endorsements and are somewhat of a fad. The best example I can give you of this is Raspberry Ketones.
Raspberry Ketones are all the rage at the moment.
Since hitting the market in 2012, and with the help of the celebrity endorsement of Dr. Oz – they have quickly become the latest fad weight loss supplement.
Raspberry Ketones are just plain dodgy, but people are too stupid to realize why.
The self proclaimed weight loss experts who created raspberry ketones claim that “it’s a fat burner in a bottle” – sounds appealing right?
They also claim it’s clinically proven and all that crap. But they fail to mention that the two studies they claim to have proven the effects of raspberry ketones were not even done on humans and that doses used are far below what's in the bottle.
Raspberry ketones are not the miracle fat burning pill they claim to be!!!
Supplements can offer you ergogenic benefits when used correctly and when the right supplements are used. Unfortunately the market is heavily flooded with too many supplements that just don’t work and are a complete waste of money. But irrespectively of good supplements, any true gains in lean muscle or weight loss are largely owed to the hard effort you put into your diet and your training regime. Too often, people lose sight of this as they are brain washed by the marketing claims by supplements. Sure they seem like something you need, but as I’ve emphasised above, most of them are generally CHEAP sawdust in a bottle with a sexy label and a price markup! Don’t be fooled!
Good Looking Loser says:
I actually have some experience "making" my own supplements. In my case, I sold formerly legal steroid precursors (I don't do this anymore). All you have to do is buy the raw powder, cap it and put it in a bottle. I even had my ex-girlfriend print me my own labels
- It took me an average of $2.74 to put the whole thing together.
- The these EXACT same supplement sold for $59.99 on supplement websites. A ~2220% (or 22x) mark up.
That alone taught me a lot about the sports supplement industry and AT LEAST my supplement WORKED.
The Placebo Effect
Many sports supplements are now quoting to be “CLINICALLY PROVEN” or “SCIENTIFICIALLY SUPPORTED” but this isn't always what it seems.
Much of the research quoted on these products is laughable at best as its often biased, flawed, uncontrolled and for all of these reasons not even published in any peer reviewed journals. Some companies even pay the "scientists" doing the research.
How likely is it that they arrive at a unfavorable conclusion?
There BIG DIFFERNCE between "reserach" and a REAL peer-reviewed academic study that is published in a medical journey.
"Clinically Proven" should mean jack shit to you.
But despite all of this lack of scientific evidence, people still buy these supplements and take them religiously and claim they are essential. Simply take a quick look through many of the body building forums out there and you will see many testimonials from people who swear supplements work. This is what we call the “Placebo Effect” – whereby someone takes a supplement which is known to have no beneficial effects, however the individual perceives they have had benefits from taking the supplement.All the supplements I recommended will be worth your money and will be super effective. Their specific purpose will be explained and you'll know exactly what to expect. I anticipate having SIGNIFICANTLY MORE articles on garbage & scams than recommendations.
If the supplement that you are curious about isn't recommended here- you can state your health/fitness ask me about it. I,
Good Looking Loser, is a certified sports nutritionist, personal trainer and I have wasted my time and supplement on $1000's of dietary supplements over the past decade. I'll probably be and to help you out and most likely tell you, "No."
What Bad Supplements Have in Common
There are literally hundreds, possibly even thousands of bad supplements on the market.
This is what they have usually have in common-
- Most of them do absolutely nothing because the compound does nothing.
- Even if the compound is effective, there is a decent chance that the serving size has no where near this amount and the product contains "filler"
- The advertisements are completely deceptive but we don't mind because we've accepted that industry is sleazy.
- The "Clinical Studies" behind the product is almost always corporation-funded and the "doctors" don't even have medical degrees.
- The supplement only works for a specific person in specific conditions with a specific diet.