I’ve been consistently training with weights for about twenty-five years. I do not regret all the hours I have spent in the gym—it has resulted in a healthier, stronger version of me.
But if I had it all to do over I would have spent much, much less money on bodybuilding supplements. I was naïve about the industry and all the garbage that was being marketed to young men. I always encourage young trainees to be very skeptical about supplements.
I’d like to share four of the worst supplement scams in hopes that it will help you to wise up and not fall for the hype next time you check out a bodybuilding website or nutrition store.
1. The “Proprietary Blend”
You’ll frequently see this term on the label of bottles of bodybuilding supplements. Companies are allowed to list the ingredients in their products without telling you exactly how much of said ingredients are in their formula. They can do this legally under the pretense of guarding their patented formula.
Here’s the problem: you never really know exactly what you are buying. Many companies, in fact, will put tiny amounts of several compounds in their “proprietary blend” to make it look more impressive. Industry insiders call this practice “fairy dusting.” The long, impressive list of ingredients is called “label decoration” by the same insiders.
Your supplement may have a long list of ingredients without an effective dose of any of them. This even assumes that said ingredients do anything in the first place—which is a huge assumption. The “proprietary blend” loophole leads to paying for more filler and less of the substances that are (supposedly) helping you to achieve better gains.
2. The (Real) Active Ingredient
Even “effective” supplements can be deceptive because of one ingredient that actually works. Let’s take caffeine as an example. Multiple studies have proven caffeine’s efficacy for mobilizing fat, controlling appetite, delaying fatigue, and even reducing pain during exercise. Guess what the active ingredient in most “fat burners” and “pre workout” supplements is? You got it—caffeine. You’d probably do just as well to buy some generic caffeine tablets at a fraction of the price.
Creatine monohydrate is another example—multiple studies have been conducted (over 500), with most of them (over 70%) concluding that it works. Some supplement companies have taken advantage of this by mixing creatine with a several unnecessary and overpriced ingredients. The resulting formula is “clinically proven” to add size and strength, but the trainee would have saved a lot of money if he had just used regular creatine monohydrate instead of “super awesome mass pump anabolic secret formula.”
3. The Celebrity Endorsement
Dr. Oz was recently called out for endorsing green coffee bean extract based on shoddy research. This isn’t first questionable supplement he has endorsed. But supplement companies have been using this method to promote their products ever since I can remember. The endorsement may come from someone with academic or medical credentials, or from a high-profile fitness expert.
The bodybuilding industry’s version of this is to have a steroid-using bodybuilder promote their supplement, as if 20-inch arms are made possible by ingesting the right type of protein powder. Always follow the money if you want to know what motivates such claims.
This may be the least common practice, but it is also the most dangerous. Some supplement manufacturers have resorted to putting banned or illegal substances in supplements in order to get quick results and build some “street credibility.” I’ve heard rumors of this quite some time, and I’ve seen quite a few recalls of supplements over the past few years for this reason. Some were even found to cause liver damage.
How do you avoid falling for scams like these? Here are a few easy steps:
1. Stick with a few basic supplements: a multivitamin, protein powder, fish oil, and creatine monohydrate are enough for most trainees.
2. Read labels carefully and know exactly what ingredients you are buying (and ingesting). I usually avoid proprietary formulas altogether.
3. Don’t jump on the bandwagon. A bunch of meatheads talking something up on a forum is no reason to start using the latest greatest “muscle builder.” Always wait a few years and see what the research says before trying a new supplement.
Read More: The Truth About Anabolic Steroids