The world of exercise supplements is full of lies. There’s the obvious bullshit cashing in on pop culture and the gullibility of the masses, like the stuff endorsed by Jillian Michaels or “The Situation.” But there’s also the more subversive lies, the ones that are “backed by science” which sometimes manage to mislead even the most savvy exercise enthusiasts.
We all know that statistics are easy to manipulate, and studies are constantly surfacing that contradict older studies, yet many people still fall victim to misleading claims from supplement companies.
Because people want a shortcut.
Don’t Believe the Hype
All supplement claims are based more on hype than evidence. The next time you read a positive supplement review, check to see if the magazine or website that you read it on happens to sell the product or receive sponsorship from the product’s manufacturer. As for other claims? Don’t underestimate the power of the placebo effect. A lot of people tend to just see what they want to see. Besides, once you’ve spent your money on a product, it’s harder to admit you were mistaken.
There are a couple of supplements that might actually have some impact on your training (ya know, like, if you’re a pro athlete or something), so let’s take a look at the few that are even worth disputing. The first of them is something most Americans are already using.
Anyone who’s had a strong cup of coffee knows that caffeine can give you a temporary boost. Your heart speeds up, your pupils dilate and you feel a sense of heightened awareness. There are numerous studies that have concluded that large amounts of caffeine can help endurance athletes, but hey, studies can be shown to “prove” just about anything.
I’ve tried using caffeine before running but never observed any significant benefits from it, so I don’t anymore. If I’m putting a potentially harmful chemical into my body, it might as well give me some sort of benefit that I can feel.
Even though they taste bad and give most people a stomach ache, protein powders are among the top selling exercise supplements in the world. The rhetoric about how you’ve got to get tons of protein to grow is so powerful that it makes most people ignore the taste (and their irritable bowels) while they continue to shovel scoop after scoop of this crap into their bodies. Oh, and if you don’t have your protein shake immediately following your workout, you’ve just wasted your entire life.
Of course you need protein to synthesize muscle growth, but you can get plenty of it by eating real food. A 6-oz. steak has over 40 grams of protein, plus it feels a hell of a lot better in my belly than a shaker full of sludgy water.
Creatine is a substance that is naturally found in the body (it’s actually a fuel source used during muscle contraction), by supplementing with it, you’re simply stocking up on extra so that you don’t run out as quickly (I know it’s a bit more complicated than that, but I’m trying to keep this brief). Studies have shown creatine to be effective in producing short-term strength gains and it will give you “the pump” – your muscles will swell up and retain water, making you a little stronger and bulkier.
After the “loading phase” in which you’re directed to take creatine several times a day, you drop down to a simple once-a-day dosage. Even though my chest got puffed up and I added a few pounds to my deadlift while taking creatine, after several weeks when I cycled off (the long term effects of ongoing creatine use are still unknown and potentially dangerous), all of the strength and mass I gained while taking the supplement went away with it. That’s still more than I can say for the other supplements on this list though; at least creatine actually helped my strength while I was using it.
Amino Acids (Glutamine, BCAA’s, etc.)
Amino acids are often referred to as the “building blocks of muscle” so it would make sense that adding them into your beverage in the form of a powder would mean more muscle. At least that’s what I thought when I started supplementing with glutamine ten years ago. However, after several weeks the only difference I noticed was that I had less money in my checking account (it also made my smoothies taste chalky). Remember that steak with its real-food protein goodness? It has all the amino acids you’ll need.
See For Yourself
I came to these conclusions after my own personal experiments with supplements over the years, but if you’re the type of person who just has to see for yourself, there’s no substitute for firsthand knowledge. Obviously there are a lot of people who disagree with my views, as the exercise supplement business continues to be a multi-million dollar industry.