YOUR BASIC GUIDE TO SUPPLEMENTS

Nowadays we are constantly bombarded by supplements and products purporting to be from the fitness industry and promising quick fat loss and muscle building results. Although many of these products do have some nutritional value it can be hard to tell which are legitimate and which are a complete scam.

How can you determine which products are legitimate?

Has it been around for long and is it safe?

The first step is to research how long a product has been on the market. If the product has been around for five years or more, then you can have some faith that it actually works. If a product is a scam it will eventually disappear from the market, as it won’t deliver results, leading people to eventually stop buying it. Many products are also categorized as dangerous about a year after being released into the market. One example of this is ephedrine-based fat burning pills, which were eventually banned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004. If a product has been on sale for a significant period of time and has not caused any health complications, you can rest assured that it’s safe.

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Check scientific evidence

Tom Venuto, author of bestseller Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle, recommends referring to scientific journals that document the results of a product, proving or disproving its claims. A good source of professional research is the National Library of Medicine. If your product has not been tested or has no scientific evidence to back up its efficacy, toss it away. Pay attention to your source of information. It’s important to note that it should be backed up by significant evidence, not press releases, magazine articles or industry professionals, who earn commission or profit by claiming that the product works.

View the facts from neutral sources

Another determining factor is to check for general information from neutral sources, which will not be swayed by monetary incentives. A good source is a fact sheet from the National Institute of Health, which offers a wealth of general information about supplements and products.

Fat burning products

Products that offer quick fat loss results mostly appeal to those looking for a quick fix - a fast, effortless way to lose weight. Claiming that pills, potions, creams or electrical machines can make you thin is a lot more palatable and appealing than telling people they’ll have to go on a diet and hit the gym. Many of these products are shams, which prey on the hopes and dreams of people who wish to have a better body. To quote Tom Venuto: “the track record for weight loss supplements is dismal, and the ones that work, barely work at all.” Although false advertising is illegal, it’s hard to keep tabs on online marketing and the overwhelming number of products available in the market.

The role of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Many of these ineffectual products are able to use disclaimers from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as long as their product is not harmful or viewed as a drug. While the fat burning products require further studies to prove that they actually work, some of these products disguise themselves as dietary supplements, which don’t require further regulation and do not need to prove their effectiveness. These products will only ever be removed from the market if the FDA deems them unsafe. Some products label themselves with the following text: “This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease," which makes their classification as a dietary supplement appear more legitimate.

Do not trust the media hype

It is impossible to trust the media to begin with. Many fitness models are sponsored and paid what is sometimes thousands of dollars to endorse their products. You might see a ripped model advertising a particular product and believe that this product will give you the model’s body. What you might not be aware of is that the model has in fact followed a vigorous routine of exercise and dieting to look the way they do, and that their physique actually has nothing to do with the product they are endorsing. Similarly, many fitness magazines and websites are paid thousands of dollars to advertise fat burning products, and it’s unlikely that they’ll publish anything that will go against their advertisers interests (even if their claims are false), or ask for any scientific proof or evidence to prove that the product actually works.

One of the most frustrating things I see are ads claiming that electrical stimulation with electrodes is a substitute for the gym, or that it will give you a six pack in weeks. Even worse - many people believe these ads and waste their time and spend hundreds of dollars only to see no results. It has been scientifically proven that electrical stimulation only works for rehabilitation and physiotherapy. It will NEVER raise your heart rate high enough to burn fat or damage your muscles enough to encourage muscle growth. If these ridiculous claims were true then everyone would be walking around with a six-pack. According to the Federal Trade Commission, “no electronic muscle stimulator device alone will give you ‘six-pack’ abs.” There’s a reason why the obesity problem is only getting worse. Many beauty centers have these machines, but they’re nothing more than scams.

The truth is you’re more likely to see results if you follow a clean diet and exercise regularly. You would be doing yourself a favor if you invested your time and money in going to the gym and buying nutritious wholefoods, instead of fat loss products. Although some appetite suppressants may help when you’re on a diet, they are only a temporary fix, not a long-term solution. The following quote from the Federal Trade Commission emphasizes the importance of hard work and dieting: “Whether it’s a pill, patch, or cream, there’s no shortage of ads promising quick and easy weight loss without diet or exercise. But the claims just aren’t true, and some of these products could even hurt your health. The best way to lose weight is to eat fewer calories and get more exercise. Don’t be hooked by promises, testimonials, or supposed endorsements from reporters; all you’ll lose is money.”

Some of the best supplements to take

Vitamins

When you’re following a restricted diet, taking multivitamins is a safe way to ensure that you’re fortifying your body with all the essential nutrients. Vitamin deficiencies can cause health problems in the long run and multivitamins are a healthy way to keep your body nourished and maintain the high energy levels needed to progress in the gym.

Essential fatty acids

As explained here, your body is unable to produce essential fatty acids, which are found in certain fats and must be ingested through food intake. Taking supplements containing essential fatty acids is another way of guaranteeing nutritional balance. Some of the best essential fatty acids are:

Flaxseed oils: a rich source of Omega 3 fats (plant based, therefore suitable for vegetarians)

Fish oil-based pills: another rich source of Omega 3 fats (animal based)

Muscle building supplements

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) pills or powder: these provide the body with essential amino acids, which promote muscle synthesis in the body. They help maintain and promote muscle repair.

Glutamine (pills): this is another type of essential amino acid, which builds, protects and repairs muscle tissue.

Protein powder: can be taken as a shake, mixed as a smoothie or even added to meals. Most protein powders are very low in carbs and provide the body with pure protein. Some of the most popular brands include Whey and Casein. Whey is quick-releasing and can be taken directly after a workout for fast absorption and recovery. Casein is slow-releasing and is only absorbed by the body after a few hours, which makes it ideal to take right before bed. Protein powder can also be consumed as a midday snack to keep hunger pangs at bay. There is no rule about how often or when you should take protein powder. Adjust serving sizes and frequency to fit in with your goals. For example, if you’re on a muscle gaining program you might take a couple of scoops of protein powder twice a day to help you gain size and meet your caloric intake.

Creatine: this supplement helps provide your body with energy and aids weight training workouts. It also helps you bulk up and build muscle. Finally, this supplement contributes to muscle gain and overall strength while ensuring that less recovery time is needed between sets. Many endurance athletes and bodybuilders take Creatine to support their intense workouts. It is taken as powder and mixed with water.

A word about protein bars

Many people eat protein bars thinking that they’re muscle-building snacks; however, quite often they are nothing more than candy bars with some added protein. Although a protein bar is still a healthier alternative to a chocolate bar, make sure the nutrition label does not contain the words “high-fructose syrup,” which consists of huge amounts of refined sugar. Some of the best protein bars on the market are Quest bars, which can be found in nutrition or health food stores. Quest bars use the naturally sweet herb Stevia instead of sugar and come in a variety of flavors.
Final thoughts

You can walk into a nutrition store and come across a whole world of products, none of which you need. As long as you follow a good diet tailored towards your goals and exercise regularly, you’ll see positive results. Some of the supplements listed here can be taken if you’re on a restricted diet and your goal is to get extremely lean, or if you’re looking to pack on some muscle and want some extra supplementation. As Tom Venuto says, “nutrition from whole food, strength training, cardio training and mind training – the four essential elements - are the keys to your progress, not supplements.”  

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