As much as I like to write fun, encouraging articles about getting bigger, faster, and stronger, there are times when I must take a stand against misleading products. As a writer, my job is to keep you informed so that you may further your own fitness journey. Sometimes, this involves discussing the negatives of the fitness world- namely the supplement industry. In a world where every new supplement is marketed as the new miracle drug, we must be wary of what we are actually getting. As such, we as consumers must educate ourselves so that we can spot a poor supplement. So, what should you be on the lookout for?
- Proprietary Blends
Proprietary blends are the current “hot topic” in the supplement industry. A proprietary blend is essentially a grouping of ingredients that only gives a serving size for the amount of the sum of these ingredients, rather that actually listing the amount of each individual ingredient that is included in the product. It looks something like this:
So why would supplement companies do this? After all, if the product is as great as they claim it is, why wouldn’t they tell us exactly what is in it? Are they worried that others could replicate the product? Not really; if this was an issue they could simply trademark the specific combination of ingredients that their supplement contains. So, why then would companies use proprietary blends? Well, the answer is actually quite simple. It’s cheaper for them to produce! By doing this, companies can actually include far less of the expensive ingredients, while making it seem like you are actually getting a full clinical dose! Now, I am not saying that the inclusion of a proprietary blend means that the supplement as a whole is no good. I personally have used supplements containing proprietary blends in the past and seen great results! However, the fact that the company refuses to share the details of the ingredient list says a lot about the quality of the product. It’s a shady move by the company that makes me question the quality of the supplement. As such, I am much more inclined to choose a brand with a high level of transparency, so that I may be sure of the exact amounts of each ingredient that I am getting.
- Serving Sizes
Serving sizes are an especially important number listed on the nutrition facts that are often forgotten. However, they reveal a lot about the quality of a product. Take mass gainer Russian Bear 5000 by Vitol.
I don’t mean to point fingers at this brand. It looks like a decent product; however, the serving size is misleading and illustrates my point perfectly. The product claims to contain a massive 2,600 calories. That’s great and all, but how much of it do you actually have to take to get that many calories?
Looking at the nutrition facts, you will see a ridiculously high serving of 5 scoops. Other than the fact that this shake will be nearly impossible to choke down, it will also be very costly. To get the most bang for your buck, people will often take a smaller serving such as a scoop or two. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s important to realize that you will only be getting a fraction of the nutrients that are listed on the product. Vitol is far from the only company to be guilty of this. In fact, many products will use these large serving sizes to exaggerate the contents of their product. Again, this doesn’t mean that it is a bad supplement, but it’s important to know what you are actually getting.
On the flip side, a small serving size also reveals a lot about a product. Take popular pre-workout supplement C4 by Cellucor.
Now, I don’t mean to call out a specific brand or product, however, C4 illustrates my point very well. A full serving of C4 is considered to be a 6.5 gram scoop. Let’s take a look at some of the ingredients.
As you can see, some of the main ingredients are beta alanine, arginine AKG, and creatine nitrate. A full clinical dose of beta alanine is considered to be 3.2 grams and 6.4 grams per day. A full clinical dose of arginine AKG is considered to be 1.5-3.5 grams per day. As for creatine nitrate, 1 gram is plenty of nitrates, however 5 grams per day is the full clinical dose of creatine. So let’s add up the minimum recommended doses of these three ingredients. 3.2 grams of beta alanine + 1.5 grams of arginine AKG + 5 grams of creatine= 9.7 grams. As you can see, the full servings of just these three ingredients total 9.7 grams, a higher amount than the 6.5 gram serving of C4! This doesn’t even begin to include the numerous other ingredients contained within the product. It also ignores the ridiculously long list of “other ingredients,” which is essentially a massive proprietary blend of its own. Clearly, you aren’t getting a full dose of a majority of the ingredients that are listed. Now, don’t go out and take 3-5 scoops of C4. If your wallet can survive this, your heart probably cannot with the amount of caffeine. The product is essentially caffeine and flavoring, with a few under-dosed helpful ingredients thrown in. Most pre-workouts with such small doses have similar ingredient profiles and do not provide enough nutrients.
Overall, it’s important to be observant of serving sizes. A small serving size may leave you under dosed in multiple areas, while a large serving size will have you going through a tub of protein powder (and your wallet) much too quickly. I don’t mean to rip on any of these brands; I just want to educate readers as much as possible. So the next time you buy a supplement, be sure to check the serving size. It will likely reveal a lot about the quality of the product.
- Check for Fillers
Many supplements out there are stuffed full of fillers and additives. Some common examples are starch, stearic acid, magnesium stearate, silicon dioxide, titanium dioxide, microcrystalline cellulose, simethicone, vegetable gum, propylene glycol, and talc. That’s a ton to remember though and most of that stuff goes way over most consumers’ heads. So let’s cut the fat, and keep it simple. Say you buy a protein powder that claims to contain twenty grams of protein per scoop. Take a look at the scoop size that is typically listed on the back. If you see a serving size somewhere around 40 grams, you’re probably not getting a very good supplement. At 20 grams of protein per each 40 gram scoop, 50 percent of the scoop is filled with additives, fillers, and flavorings. Assuming the product is made solely as a protein powder (not a mass gainer, meal replacement shake etc.) This is a problem. You’re paying for a protein powder, so why take a supplement that is only half protein? When picking a protein powder, try to get something that contains at least 70 percent protein per scoop. The closer you can get to 100 percent the better. The same goes for pre-workouts and other supplements. All the active, beneficial ingredients listed should total an amount near the total size of the scoop. If this is not the case, the product is likely low quality and full of fillers.
Hopefully this article will help you as a consumer to better navigate your local supplement store or website. I don’t mean to pick on any specific brands or products, but I would like to educate the public to the best of my ability. I hope that after reading this you feel more educated and prepared to choose your next supplement. Please comment below if you have any concerns about a specific product, or any question in general. Thanks for reading!