The Harsh Truth about Workout Supplements

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If you are active in the field of health and fitness, you know how prevalent the peddling of supplements can be. It has gotten so bad that when I am partaking in other unrelated interests of mine, I see workout supplements and pre-workout powders aimed at members of those communities. The supplement industry is getting out of hand. While I do not perceive that I will be bringing anything new to the table, I do wish to give my harsh, unadulterated take on the topic.

To begin, supplements are marketed as being essential, but this could not be further from the truth. The purpose of supplements is to add to what you are already doing or fill in something you are missing. Advertisers proclaim that you need supplementation to maintain your desired physique when that is simply not true. While some supplements may help you reach your goals, they are not an integral part of the journey. In this article, I want to break down some of the common fallacies associated with supplements and explain exactly why many of them are a waste of time and money.

Not all supplements are the same. Some warrant more respect than others. While “fat-burners” are absolutely a scam, creatine is not. I do not want this article to be used as an anti-supplement manifesto. I want to help grant people access to the tools needed to navigate what they must do to meet their needs. Many people think a protein shake is necessary for growth. I will admit, I used to be one of these people. Protein shakes are not necessary at all. A protein shake should be used as a filler. Maybe you cannot get enough protein in your diet, or you simply do not have time to eat three or four whole meals a day and need a quick means of obtaining nutrients. In cases like this, a protein shake comes in handy. Unfortunately, this is not how most people implement protein shakes into their diets. This might take some people by surprise, but the anabolic window is a myth. Well, at least it does not exist in the way you may think. The anabolic window is the thirty minutes after a workout where the body craves protein. While the window technically exists, it is not nearly as relevant to whether or not your body will make use of protein. No matter how long it has been since your workout, your body will still metabolize protein the same way. The more important factor in protein metabolization processes (synthesis and degradation) is the total daily intake of protein. If you get the amount of protein, you need daily, you will get the results you want, assuming you do the other things required.

Weight gainers are much the same as protein shakes. They have utility, but people give them too much credit. For people wanting to gain weight, they are useful to a degree. Take, for example, a 1000 calorie mass gainer. This kind of mass gainer is a great resource, but often when people use a weight gainer like this, they do not take into account the calories they are already consuming. Weight gainers may lead to them overconsuming their goal calories, which would constitute the body storing excess energy as fat. While this is not detrimental to a fitness routine since you can cut the weight later, it may cause stretch marks and extra skin. And of course, while you can cut weight later, that is time you have to dedicate to losing fat when you could be working on gaining more muscle.

Creatine is a supplement that has fallen out of favor a bit as of late. It’s still widely used, there is just not much push for it. Creatine is one of the most researched supplements on sale but is not novel. As with most industries, the supplement industry does not focus on the tried and true, in favor of “innovation”. Translation: people get bored easily, so advertisers are always looking for something new to advertise to their customers. The drive for innovation can often interfere with evidence-based practice. Bang Energy says it contains “Super Creatine ‘’ which, according to lawstreetmedia.com, is “Creatyl-L-leucine, which is ‘fundamentally different’ and does not have the same beneficial properties as creatine. In an interview about what bang is, the interviewee contended that the term ‘super creatine’ used by the defendant (defending the use of Bang) for Bang is entirely false”. So, creatine and its many legitimate forms are under-marketed in favor of this nonsense. Creatine does not need to be taken in supplement form as it is common in fish. Unlike pre-workout, creatine has to be taken every day to fully saturate the body and get the full effects of creatine which may include fuller musculature, a performance boost, and better water retention. As a reminder, these effects are still minor. Unless you implement proper training, diet, and rest, consuming excess creatine will not yield your desired results.

Now we will talk about more of the egregious supplements. I have published multiple articles touching on fat burners so I will skip those. Over-the-counter testosterone boosters, ecdysterone, turkesterone, and any other “anabolic natural supplement” are more often than not, unfounded. These supplements do not have much in the way of objective data to support their anecdotal results. While this is good enough for most people not to take them, other people will base their decision-making on anecdotal evidence from their favorite fitness influencer. This is a problem because, in addition to not being properly informed themselves, many fitness influencers are not entirely transparent about what supplements they are taking. They are simply paid to promote certain products. In any regard, but especially when it comes to anything meant to be ingested, anecdotal evidence should be taken with a grain of salt.

Preworkout has been around for a long time and gets a spike in attention every once in a while. One of the more recent pre-workout fads was the “dry scoop” craze. In fact, as of writing this, it is unfortunately still popular. I will be fully transparent and admit that I, myself, have dry scooped. This was nearly a decade ago, long before the fad came to fruition. I was just a young, dumb, high school athlete following impulses, as teenagers tend to do. The issue now is that the fad has grown significantly because of social media. Preworkout is designed to be mixed in water to reduce some of the harsher effects and activate some of the agents within the powder. But is pre-workout even necessary? Many people would say so, but honestly, it is not. Now, if you enjoy pre-workout and feel it helps you stay energized for a high-intensity workout, by all means, keep using it! It just is not necessary. Some people are fine with just caffeine, and others (like me) don’t use anything. I used to use pre-workout when I was younger, but over the years have determined it to not be beneficial for me, personally.

Preworkout is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to supplements. It has gotten to the point that pre-workout powders aren’t even marketed specifically to the fitness community. For example, they are now being marketed towards gamers. It’s no secret that avid gamers commonly partake in their hobby into the early hours of the morning. But energy drinks exist, so why market a workout supplement to gamers? Maybe because many pre-workouts are not much different than your typical sugar-filled energy drink. The idea of this “scientific powder designed to improve performance” is appealing. Energy drinks typically don’t claim to affect performance, so it makes pre-workout supplements more advantageous. This is relevant because I consider this to be a logical indicator that perhaps you could replace most pre-workout supplements with an energy drink. On top of this, if you are familiar with the YouTube channel, More Plates More Dates, which often breaks down the chemical makeup of supplements and other common substances in fitness. He shows that many of them are underdosed or use proprietary blends, which means the company does not need to explain the actual dose amounts. Proprietary blends also plague protein powders and other supplements.

Influencers tend to push supplements that sponsor them, naturally. Now, I think there is a conversation to be had about the marketing of supplements, but I want to talk about something else. As I mentioned before, companies and the people sponsored by them often push supplements, but how many of them know what they are pushing? I doubt many do, they just see dollar signs. This is a rather dangerous trend. Influencers are called such because they have a strong influence on the public, especially young people. A recent SARM (a type of anabolic steroid) fad plagued social media and led to many teenagers taking it. Even one young woman decided to “test the effects of SARMs on the female body” as her reason for taking them. As noble as this sounds, there is a reason human studies typically have to go through Internal Review Boards. Human studies can be incredibly dangerous. IRBs exist to prevent unnecessary harm to people. Her conducting this experiment is incredibly dangerous especially if there is little research on the effect of SARMs on the female body. While this might be a step up from promoting suboptimal supplements, it is a slippery slope as supplements are typically not FDA-regulated. As stated previously, I find it unlikely that most influencers know what exactly is in the supplements they are selling and the effects they can have on a person’s physiology.

Fitness supplements are a highly nuanced topic. They can be anywhere from helpful, to useless, to detrimental if abused. Since product promotion is a financially driven operation, people will peddle supplements purely for their gain without knowing what it is they are selling. Supplements can be potentially beneficial for some individuals, but it is more important to address nutrition, rest, and training. Once you have established a healthy lifestyle, then you can venture into supplements. Supplements are called such because they are supplemental, not necessary.

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Quentin Washington

Quentin Washington

I am an exercise physiologist and online fitness/nutrition coach. If you like what I write here, check out my website: https://greathammerfitness.webflow.io/