Unfortunately, the supplement industry is built on deception. Companies want to trick you into buying ineffective/under dosed supplements for the sake of making a profit. You need to take the time to educate yourself so you know what to look for when purchasing supplements so you do not fall victim to outlandish marketing and untruthful labeling.
The first thing you should look at when deciding whether to buy a supplement are the ingredients listed on the supplement facts. You should be looking for ingredients that are shown to be effective in human research. It is not uncommon for an ingredient to show possible benefits in rat or in-vitro (petri dish) studies but then not pan out in human studies. You should always look for ingredients with actual human research backing their use.
The two best sites to research ingredients are:
PubMed allows you to search for actual studies on ingredients. You can type in a search term, like “citrulline malate supplementation,” and then once your search results come up, you can click “humans” under “species” on the left-hand side of the page to limit all search results to human research. This will allow you to read through available human studies to determine if citrulline malate is beneficial to supplement with. Reading studies can be intimidating due to the terminology and writing style they use. Therefore, I recommend checking out Examine.com for easier to read articles.
Examine.com provides unbiased articles and reviews on ingredients. Each article examines the ingredient’s benefits/effects along with the available supporting research. You can also search for frequently asked questions like “what is the best form of creatine” to read research-backed answers.
A New Ingredient Is Not Better
Companies love using new ingredients to hype up supplements, especially if they are the first to market with the new ingredient. They use taglines like “First supplement to contain ingredient…” or “new, never seen before ingredient…” to draw people in and buy the supplement simply due to its novelty. But just because an ingredient is new does not mean it is effective or worth using. New ingredients often lack research backing, perhaps only having a single rat/in-vitro study showing it to have any potential benefits.
This is the basic timeline of a new ingredient entering the marketplace. An ingredient manufacturer/supplier sees a rat/in-vitro study showing an ingredient to possess a potential beneficial effect (such as increasing fatty acid oxidation --> fat loss) and begins working to produce the ingredient. Once the ingredient manufacturer scales up production enough to distribute the ingredient, they email every supplement company contact they have about the brand-new ingredient that is now available. Despite lacking actual human research, companies jump at the chance to release a new ingredient. Some companies may even pay to have exclusive rights to an ingredient for a specified time. Take a moment and think about all the ingredients that were touted as the next supplement breakthrough that are no longer used and promoted… it’s quite an extensive list.
As part of determining what the ingredients are effective, you need to also research the proper effective dosage to take. The ingredient dosage you take should match the dosage used in human studies (also called the scientifically substantiated dosage). For example, if the scientifically substantiated dosage of an ingredient is 2500mg/day but a supplement only contains 500mg then that supplement is under dosed. You want to use a supplement that delivers the full 2500mg of that ingredient.
Proprietary Blends… Don’t Purchase!
Proprietary blends allow companies to list the total amount of all ingredients but hide the amount of each individual ingredient. Ingredients are listed in order from highest to lowest amount but the actual amount of each ingredient is not listed. Using a proprietary blend can allow companies to hide under dosed ingredients. If the product contains scientifically substantiated dosages, then there is no reason to use a proprietary blend. Some may argue that a company using a proprietary blend is simply trying to protect their formula’s intellectual property. I would argue that this statement is false because companies should be using dosages supported in research studies; companies do not have secret dosage data. If the ingredient dosages are not listed on a label, then you cannot determine if the product is adequately dosed and you should not purchase the product.
More Ingredients Is Not Better
Another tactic companies use to sell products is to include a TON of ingredient aka “the kitchen sink” approach. Companies do this in hopes that the sheer quantity of ingredients will be enough to entice you into buying the product. But remember, you want to use quality ingredients, that have supporting human research, at the dosages used in human studies. An adequately dosed supplement is better than an under dosed supplement no matter how many ingredients it has.
Companies may use small serving sizes to give the illusion of more servings. For example, if a supplement label shows 30 servings and each serving contains 1000mg of Ingredient X, but the scientifically substantiated dosage for Ingredient X is 3000mg, then it truly only contains 10 servings.
You cannot rely on products’ marketing claims to determine what supplements to buy; you must take the time to research ingredients before deciding what supplements to purchase and use. You want to use ingredients that have human research supporting their use and you want to use those ingredients in the scientifically substantiated dosage. If a supplement uses a proprietary blend or is under dosed, then do not buy it. Look for supplements whose formulas meet these criteria.
I have also included a video where I go over the above points: