Over the last decade we have seen gym culture really hit its peak. More and more people are heading to the gym and working out in an attempt to become the very best version of themselves.
And for the most part, this is a very good thing.
People are actively trying to improve their health in a big way. They are working hard to change the way they look, improve their self-esteem, and simply become stronger, more resilient human beings.
In this manner, there is a whole lot to like.
However, with this increased interest in training has also come an increased interest in supplements.
And this increased interest in supplements has led to a number of companies preying on new gym goers by advertising numerous compounds that promise the word, cost quite a lot of money, but don't actually do that much.
In short, they are making money from peoples naivety and good faith -- which is pretty despicable if you ask me.
Which is exactly what led me to write this article.
So, without further ado -- some key signs that you are probably paying too much for your supplements.
They aren't evidence based
Just to be clear, when we say “evidence-based” we don't mean some guy at your local gym swears they are effective -- we mean that they have REAL scientific evidence to support their use.
There are a number of supplements on the market that have never been researched in any formal setting. As a result, we actually have no idea whether they are effective or not (or whether they are even safe, for that matter).
There are also a number of unique supplements that have been researched in animals and laboratory settings (mainly in cell-based studies), but are yet to be trialled in humans.
While this type of research can certainly give you some insight into how they work in a more mechanistic manner, they don't really provide any clear evidence that they produce real world outcomes (i.e. strength and muscle gain, or fat loss) in humans.
With this in mind, any supplements you buy should have evidence to support their use in real people, and demonstrating real outcomes. This is obviously important from a safety perspective, but it also guarantees that you are not wasting your money.
We would argue that any company selling supplements should be able to provide scientific references to back up their claims -- and if they don't, you should turn the other way, because you might be paying for something that at best is ineffective, and at worst, potentially dangerous.
They have over the top marketing
Good quality supplement companies tend to rely on two key things to promote their products:
- The scientific literature (which I have already touched on in detail), and
- A large body of positive customer reviews
If you are looking at a supplement that obviously spends a large amount of money on marketing, then there is a good chance that the extra cost associated is getting passed directly onto you.
Moreover, in my mind, this is typically a red flag that the company does not have one of the two (or sometimes both) things mentioned above, and they are trying to compensate for it.
So, with this in mind, try and avoid supplements that promise a little too much, and go for those companies that let their reviews do the talking.
They use proprietary blends
There are times where a supplement company will provide evidence for the ingredients that they use, and then when you look at the back of the label to find the dosages, there are none listed -- and all it says is “proprietary blend”.
This is a big red flag.
In short, a proprietary blend describes a combination of several different ingredients that sit within a supplement.
These are generally advertised as some sort of secret formula that the supplement company has developed to take your gains to the next level -- but nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, they are simply a loophole that supplement companies use to avoid listing how much of each individual ingredient is in their supplement. This makes it easier for them to use smaller doses of effective (and often costly) ingredients, while bulking it up with a larger amount of ‘filler’ ingredients.
As I am sure you realise, this means that the supplement becomes cheaper to make, while also rendering it much less effective -- even if it does happen to include some good quality evidence-based ingredients.
So, if you are looking at any supplement that contains a proprietary blend, take your money and go elsewhere.
They use the word “hydrolysed”
This sits almost entirely within the realm of protein, but it is one that really gets on my nerves.
When it comes to protein powder, most of them are sold either as a concentrate, an isolate, or in hydrolyzed form. To keep it simple, each of these describes the level of processing that it has undergone (each becoming more expensive due to the increased production cost).
Concentrate is less refined than isolate, which is broken down into smaller molecules that are easier to digest. As a result, isolate tends to get absorbed a little quicker than concentrate, while also containing more protein and less fat and carbs per serving.
Then we have hydrolysed protein.
In short, hydrolysed protein is a protein powder that has gone through an additional production process called “hydrolysis”. During this process, the protein molecules get broken down even further into a form that is more efficiently mixed with water.
Now, supplement companies will advertise that hydrolyzed protein is optimal because it allows for the amino acids that it is composed of to be absorbed at a much higher rate compared to other protein powders.
This is said to expedite the recovery process, increasing gains in size and strength.
But this is not really the case...
While it all sounds good in theory, the limiting factor for the speed of protein absorption is not the size of the proteins you consume. Instead, it is the number of amino acid transporters you have in your gut.
With this in mind, you could consume single amino acids and they would not be absorbed any faster than a normal whey protein isolate because your stomach simply cannot absorb them any faster.
This means that while hydrolysed protein powders are more easily absorbed into water, they are not absorbed into your body any quicker -- making them a complete waste of money.
They have heavy duty packaging
And lastly, we have the packaging.
Packaging is the biggest factor that feeds into expensive supplements.
Several companies provide their supplements in heavy duty tubs -- which are obviously going to be more expensive than the stand up plastic pouches that many smaller supplement companies provide.
For starters, because these heavy duty tubs are more expensive to make, you end up paying more for packaging.
But more importantly, they are pretty unnecessary. I mean, what are you doing with your supplements that they need to be stored in something that could survive an air-raid?
Don't they sit in the cupboard like everybody else's?
Anyway, I digress -- heavy duty packaging = heavy duty cost.
So why not avoid it?
If you are sick of paying too much for ineffective supplements, then we have got you covered -- using the tips outlined in this article you can make sure you never pay more than you need to for supplements again.
Print them off and stick them to the fridge so you never forget.