Supplements designed to improve performance or enhance the results you get from your workouts have become a huge part of the supplement industry and new products come out all the time. Some of these products consist of a single ingredient, while most of them involve mixes or blends of many different ingredients that are supposed to work together to create even greater benefits than the individual ingredients alone.
There are certainly some standout supplements in this category, such as creatine monohydrate, but in general this category is filled with supplements that have minor benefits that are largely overhyped. Perhaps the biggest problem with these supplements is that every company seems to be trying to outdo the competition by taking a decent ingredient and adding many other ingredients to make a product that is supposedly better than the competition.
Take creatine for example, which is primarily used to increase strength, although it has other uses as well. Creatine was originally sold as a plain powder with no other ingredients and that product was and still is very effective. Since then, companies have made pills, serums, effervescent drinks, chewable creatine products, and more. Most of these products have been promoted as being better than the original creatine, because they have improved delivery systems, which allow your body to absorb more of the creatine you ingest.
Other products have worked to enhance creatine uptake within the body by adding other ingredients, most notably sugar. Researchers found that taking creating with sugar improves absorption, because sugar increases insulin and higher insulin levels result in better creatine absorption. Then companies started adding even more ingredients to the mixes, such as alpha-lipoic acid, which is supposed to further enhance absorption.
These “improved formulas” continued to develop over the years and naturally, the more ingredients that were added to the formulas or the more advanced the delivery system, the more expensive the creatine product became. Eventually, researchers found that while the newer creatine mixes did result in greater creatine absorption, the real world physical improvements were not statistically any better than those of the original creatine in the plain powdered form.
Companies have become so focused on promoting their products and trying to make them sound better than everyone else’s, that the end result is generally an overhyped product. With creatine, companies try to get people to pay 2-3 times the price or more by adding extra ingredients that don’t make the product much better. Regular powdered creatine monohydrate is definitely worth its cost (if you want strength), but the special or advanced formulas are overpriced compared to the original.
Creatine is just one example, but overpricing and overhyping supplements is something that happens all the time, especially with performance enhancing supplements. The marketing often makes people think their performance will improve overnight or adaptations from their training will occur twice as fast with the supplement than without it.
In truth, even when supplements are effective, the benefits are often much smaller than people expect. Therefore it is important to determine if the amount of improvement from a supplement justifies its price. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to figure out what kind of results you can expect from a product.
This is partially due to the fact that different people can respond very differently to any supplement, but another issue is that companies often use “proprietary blends.” These blends are mixes of multiple ingredients and they are trademarked, to protect the company’s investment in the blend. This means they don’t have to list the quantities of any of the ingredients in the blend. They only have to list the total amount of the blend, so you won’t actually know how much of each ingredient it contains.
This becomes rather problematic, because you usually pay a premium for products with blends of many different ingredients and the assumption is that every ingredient adds to the benefits you get from the product. In truth, it is often only a few of the ingredients that lead to the majority of a product’s benefits and you typically end up paying extra for a lot of ingredients that don’t really add much to the mix.
Of course, since there are so many ingredients, you won’t really know which ones are responsible for the benefits, which encourages people to continue buying that specific product.
Personally, I think it is better to stay away from most of the higher priced blends, at least if you want to save money. If you are interested in supplements to improve your performance, my advice is to figure out exactly what physical attributes you want to improve and then learn which ingredients are most proven for that type of improvement.
Then you can start with a supplement that contains minimal ingredients. These supplements are generally cheaper than large blends with the same ingredient(s) and more importantly, the fewer ingredients, the better you will know which ones are responsible for your results.
Another important tip people often overlook is that you should not start a new supplement when making significant changes to your nutrition or exercise program. Otherwise, if you experience positive results, you will not know if the improvements are due to the supplement or the other changes you made to your routine. It’s common for people to attribute improvements to supplements, when they are actually the result of something else, so it is a good idea to keep the rest of your program fairly consistent when trying new supplements.
On the whole, the performance enhancer supplement category contains many products that are useful to certain people in certain situations. There are not that many “must have” supplements and a large number of products are overhyped and overpriced for what you get.
People like to think of supplements as magical substances that will create miraculous transformations, but the truth is the vast majority of your results always come from your nutrition and training. However, performance enhancing supplements can give you a nice little boost in certain areas.
14 years of experience and education in health and fitness