1. Proprietary blends and poor doses
The knowledge gap
By far the most major problem in supplements today is the under-dosing of ingredients.
You, the consumer, probably have some of an idea about which ingredients work. But knowing the research-proven effective doses? That’s a bit tougher.
After all, where do you even find that kind of information? Hint: we have a list here!
Supplement companies know that most people have no clue how much citrulline malate is supposed to be in a scoop of pre-workout, or how much green tea extract is needed in a serving of fat-burner.
We get short-changed
This is where those companies pounce – is anyone going to notice if you include a full 6-8g of citrulline malate, instead of shortcutting to a measly 1.5g? Not your everyday joe.
At the same time, they’ve just cut 75% of their costs on the ingredient…and guess who paid for it? That’s right – you, with your own hard-earned money.
Although some supplement companies are now taking the high road and providing better-quality products, others (including many of major companies) are still up to these same old tricks.
These blends are magic formulas that companies just want to protect, right?
Maybe once upon a time that’s what they were used for. These days, however, it’s every supplement companies’ go-to tactic for hiding poor ingredient doses.
When listing a proprietary blend on a label, all the company needs to show are the ingredient names, and the overall weight of the blend. This hides all the individual quantities, so you never know which ones you’re getting enough of.
One thing you can count on is, it’s not going to the expensive ones that are dosed properly. Chances are, they’re not even giving you a full dose of any ingredients.
Always go for open-label formulas that show full, effective doses for all ingredients.
2. Fake results – the placebo effect
A lesser-known gimmick in many supplements is the use of placebo-effect ingredients.
They’re additions to the formula that don’t actually improve the usefulness of the product, but have physiological effects that make you “feel” like the supplement is working.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
Take for example, perhaps the most commonly used placebo ingredient in pre-workouts: Vitamin B3.
On the label, it looks insignificant – an added vitamin, maybe just included for general health reasons.
Although it is a great vitamin, the truth is that many supplement companies use excessive amounts of it due to one of its side effects – dubbed the niacin “flush”.
This “flush” refers to the blood rush to the face and ears that brings a very pronounced warm feeling – somewhat similar to the tingles you get from beta alanine.
The reality is, this warm rush does nothing to help you in your workouts, it just gives the illusion that the pre-workout is “kicking in”.
Diuretics in fat burners
Although some fat-burner ingredients have minor diuretic (water-loss) effects, some companies include additional diuretic compounds that have no purpose but to dehydrate you.
What this does, is produce the illusion of progress in the short-term and make you appear temporarily lean.
As you might already know, these fluctuations in water weight return to normal very quickly, and can even cause an unwanted rebound in water and sodium levels, making you appear worse once you come off the diuretics.
Even worse, the dehydration can actually hinder your fat-loss progress, since water availability plays an important role in losing weight, as well as a whole host of body processes.
3. “Special” forms of ingredients
With many major effective ingredients now being widely used in the same way by all supplement companies, it’s getting difficult to set themselves apart from each other.
One way that some companies deal with this is to offer “special” forms of certain ingredients, that don’t necessarily give any advantage over the originals.
For whichever reason, they claim that these new forms of old ingredients work better or faster.
But there’s a catch – they come with a hefty price tag.
Are they worth it?
Once again, the answer is more often than not a resounding “no”.
One of the most obvious areas where this tactic is used is in creatine supplements.
A seemingly infinite amount of studies show that creatine monohydrate, an inexpensive form of creatine, is super reliable and effective – put simply, it is proven by extensive research to increase power output.
Even so, time and time again we see supplement companies releasing their own creatine formula with a bunch of “new” or “special” forms of the compound.
These are often not backed by much research, but are somehow priced at twice the cost of a regular creatine supplement.
4. Exaggerated claims and flat-out lies
Marketing is out of control
In a highly unregulated market, there isn’t much control over what supplement companies can claim that their products do.
This ranges from loose statements about putting on ridiculous amounts of muscle or losing exaggerative amounts of fat, to more specific claims about the effects of certain ingredients.
Supplement benefits like “focus” and “pumps” have turned into loosely-used buzzwords, which no longer necessarily correspond to the actual ingredients in a formula.
We’re being misled
We’ve seen everything in the industry – one company’s pre-workout that promised “intense focus”, but contained no actual focus-enhancing ingredients, and another with a name that makes it sound like it’s a killer for nitric-oxide benefits for pumps and endurance, which had an almost negligible amount of such ingredients.
These are just the tip of the iceberg – don’t even get us started on weight-loss and mass-gainer claims…
So what can we do about it?
At the end of the day, even if regulations are tightened, there’s still only so much that they’ll do for us.
It’s up to us to keep ourselves well-informed.
Hopefully with more resources like Supps Simplified, the fundamental information we need to make smart purchases will be more easily available.
Make sure you look for supplements which:
– Have an open-label formula
– Provide complete, effective doses of ingredients
– Don’t make crazy promises about results
If you want to see if your pre-workout has effective doses of its ingredients, we have our effective dose list here, or if we’ve already reviewed your favorite product, you can search our homepage or pre-workout page to see our ingredient breakdown.
You can even skip all the nonsense and make your own pre-workout using our guide.
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