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Supplementation Smarts 101

September 21, 2015 1 Comment

downloadWhile the summer months may be coming to a close, another season will be heating up momentarily. No, I’m not referring to the fall festivals or the holiday season or the impending winter weather ahead. I’m talking about the season of deceptive and misleading marketing. While another summer may be coming to a close, the companies that produce, market, and sell supplements are already ahead of you and thinking about your goals for next summer whatever they may be. Whether you contribute to the $27 billion dollar supplement industry or not, supplements have become such a household name that it is estimated more than 50% of Americans are using a supplement of some kind. Are we any healthier as a result or are we just paying blindly for that panacea in a bottle?

What’s In A Supplement?

That’s the million dollar loaded question. The word supplement simply means, “in addition to.” A poor diet or poor training regimen are not going to be miraculously saved by taking a supplement. Dietary supplements can range anywhere from vitamins, minerals, and herbs to protein powders, appetite depressants, thermogenic enhancers, and performance aides. The supplement industry is not regulated or kept to the same standards of the US Food and Drug Administration for prescription drugs. Does that make them less safe than prescription drugs? (100 people die every day from prescription drugs) Not necessarily. It does however mean that there are no standards in place to verify or prove that a supplement delivers on what it’s purported to deliver. Just this past year there was a case where dietary supplements sold to major retail stores were indeed not at all what they were supposed to be. I’m not here to debate whether a supplement works or not. There are some just as good as there are bad. I’m only here to pull the blinders off and shed some light on the deceptive and misleading marketing tactics used by supplement companies in the hopes of making you a more alert consumer. Here are my favorites in order:

All Natural

The term “all natural” carries with it a belief that a product has to be inherently healthy if it is all natural. There are a lot of “natural” products in our world not even remotely considered safe for consumption. Just take a look at the periodic table of elements for one. All natural does not mean a product is necessarily good for you.

Clinically Proven

It may have been clinically proven to work on a 150 lb. Caucasian, collegiate, athletic male but if you’re anything else there’s no guarantee that the benefits would be the same. Furthermore, most supplements are not one ingredient and despite the fact that some individual ingredients may have a positive effect, their effectives when used in conjunction with others is again no guarantee. Unforeseen interactions can take place as well as the cancelling out the effectiveness of other ingredients.

Proprietary Blend

Translation – “Our product is superior to other brands but we do not wish to share our secret formula because it’s total bs. We’ll just throw a bunch of really cool, technically sounding words to blow you away.” It’s the shadiest of all the marketing terms because there is no way to regulate or prove that and they know it. To the consumer, it sounds like a big time solution that you’d better get on board with.

Double-Blind, University Study

If it was studied at a university than it must be effective. Number one, check to see if the study wasn’t funded by the supplement company (happens all the time). Number two, request or research the studies the supplement company is claiming to use as their proof. Most times, you’ll see insignificant data to support their claims even if it did show some promise.

100% Safe and Effective

A supplement may be effective, but that doesn’t make it alright to consume or safe for that matter. Again, there are no strict regulations on supplements. There are some that may be effective but that doesn’t necessarily make them safe. Steroids are effective but does that make them safe? 100% is a bit of a stretch.

100% Money-Back Guarantee

Like your mama always said, “If it sounds too good to be true than it probably is.” It is impossible to guarantee that a supplement will deliver 100% on its promise. As I stated earlier, if you have poor dietary and/or training habits, there isn’t a supplement in the world that is going to reverse all of that. The supplement companies are banking on that. It can be guaranteed 200% and it wouldn’t matter. A supplement company can stand by and say that their product is 100% guaranteed of what they say it is, but they can’t guarantee that it will magically work for you, especially if you don’t follow their protocol.

Ads and Photos

Most of the men and women used in the promotion of a product are paid models; people who eat, live and breathe fitness. Some may use the product their endorsing; others are paid to endorse the product. People want to see a visual but that visual is highly deceptive.

The market is inundated with literally thousands of products – all making different claims; all making themselves better than the rest; all virtually saying the same thing. Taking a supplement is a personal choice. I’m not here to judge or suggest; only advise. Be a smart consumer and just be all the wiser than the supplement company is expecting you to be.

Til next time train smart, eat well, and be better.

About the Author:

Jeff Harrison is a fitness coach based in Pottstown, PA. He received a BS in Exercise and Sport Science from Penn State University and is an NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), NSCA Certified Personal Trainer (NSCA-CPT) and ACE Advanced Health and Fitness Specialist (ACE-AHFS). Jeff's articles have been published in peer-reviewed journals as well as consumer oriented websites and magazines.

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  1. Tracy D. says:

    Great article!!! Thanks!

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