The supplement industry has now become one of the most lucrative markets in the developed world. In the US alone, people hand over more than $30 billion dollars to supplement manufacturers annually. Even more startling are the projections for the industry’s growth: by 2024, some analysts think the dietary supplement market will be worth over $220 billion.
That is just the US. The likes of India and Brazil have a huge population, a rapidly growing middle class, and a very strong sports culture. This will put the global supplement industry market cap potentially into the trillions. With so many different products all clamouring for your attention, it can be very hard to pick out a winner.
Every pre-workout claims to be “revolutionary”. Every protein powder says it is your ticket to rapid gains. Every fat burner claims to be the best kept secret of the pros. But as you know, not all of these products can be everything they claim to be.
After all, a big supplement brand might say its latest protein powder is just what you need, but they don’t actually know you or what you need. Everyone is different, and everyone’s needs are different.
Choosing a supplement doesn’t mean trying to find the best one for everyone. It means trying to find the one that will best help you reach your goals. So how can you cut through the jargon and find the right supplement for you? Here are some key things to keep in mind when shopping for a supplement.
It is easy to get excited by what your favourite athletes or bodybuilders use, and by the flashy adverts and nice packaging. By considering these variables, you can ensure that you make the right choice and not just the choice the advertisers want you to!
Evaluate Your Needs
This one sounds obvious, but few people ever actually do it. Before you start shopping for supplements, you should take some time to consider what it is that you actually need to achieve.
For example, people who start taking weight training fairly seriously will typically start using some kind of protein powder. They want to speed up their progress, and they believe that a protein supplement is the first step they should take.
But they’re usually wrong. Very few people actually need to take a protein supplement. If you eat a typical Western diet, then one thing you are definitely not deficient in is protein. The typical recommendation for protein intake is about 50g per day.
For building muscle, the general recommendation is to consume between 0.5g and 1g per pound of bodyweight. For most people, that will mean consuming about 175g of protein per day.
Despite what the protein powder makers want you to believe, the vast majority of people need nowhere near this much protein, even if their primary concern is building muscle. Not only do you not need it, but most people get this much protein per day anyway.
A breakfast of oatmeal will give you somewhere in the region of 10g of protein. If you have eggs and toast, you’re looking at about 15g. A tuna sandwich and some nuts for lunch will give you another 50g. For dinner, a normal serving of chicken breast and potatoes will give you over 50g.
If you’re a vegetarian, then a standard meal of tofu and wheat noodles or beans and rice will give you the same 50g, along with lots of fibre and minerals. So in just 3 meals, we have 115g of protein. That is without snacks, without extra meals, and without counting in very large portions.
Getting up to 175g, which is far too much anyway, is not too taxing. You can just double up your portion sizes or add in an extra snack – a glass of milk and a peanut butter sandwich would work well.
The reason people usually underestimate their protein intake is largely because people think protein only exists in animal tissue. But those animals got it from somewhere, right? Things like beans, grains and nuts contain very large amounts of protein.
Foods like pasta and quinoa, often considered carbs, also contain protein. For example, 100g serving of pasta will give you about 7g of protein. So the person who instinctively goes out and buys a protein powder is probably wasting their money.If they had properly evaluated their needs, they’d realize that what they need is not more protein.
They could probably get much more out of a good pre-workout or a multivitamin than a tub of whey. Don’t just buy the supplement most other people do; figure out what you’re actually missing and go from there.
Generic Or Specific?
This is a tricky one. Many supplements are sold as being highly specific; they are supposedly designed exclusively for certain users with very specific requirements. The best example here is with “for her” products. The supplement industry is churning out specialist “female only” products at the moment.
As more and more women start frequenting gyms, and as the male market reaches saturation point, the manufacturers are obviously trying to tap new, emerging markets. However, the differences between these special “women’s” supplements and the ones already on the shelves are non-existent.
A good illustration is the female fat burner market. As this article points out, many fat burners sold as being exclusively “for her” are just the same product as the regular fat burner but with different packaging.
When there are differences between the two, they are completely arbitrary. There is nothing that makes a natural fat loss aid more suited to men than women or vice versa.
If a product can help a woman lose body fat, then it can help a man just the same. There are no herbal extracts or minerals that accelerate fat loss in men but not in women. There is no need to use different doses between the sexes. The products are sold as female fat burners for the simple reason that it helps with sales.
Another good example is the testosterone booster market. Many testosterone boosters are sold as being specifically for older men. They claim to do certain things that are of concern mainly to older guys; boosting libido, increasing “vitality”, and so on.
Yet if they actually do what they say on the label, boosting testosterone production, then there is no reason why they would benefit older men and not younger men. Others are positioned as the opposite: ‘hardcore’ bodybuilding supplements designed specifically for guys wanting to get ahead on the playing field or in the gym.
But again, if they really do so by boosting testosterone levels, then older guys will benefit all the same. This isn’t a scam. It isn’t wrong necessarily. A female fat burner can definitely be a great product; better than many “for him” products. A fat burner sold as exclusively for women can be an objectively quality supplement. But the stated target audience shouldn’t guide you. Look at the formula, not the label.
Avoid Proprietary Blends
Of all the things to think about when choosing the right supplement for you, this is probably the one that will save you the most time and money. Avoid proprietary blends like the plague.
A proprietary blend is when a manufacturer lists the ingredients in a supplement but not their serving sizes. The full ingredients list is shown as a single blend of ingredients, and all you are given is a total serving size for all of them together. So you know everything it contains, but no idea of how the formula is split between them.
You should avoid these things for a number of reasons, but the main one is the most obvious: manufacturers hide their formulas only whe they have good reason to. Manufacturers only ever use proprietary blends to hide some facts that they would rather the customer didn’t know. They often claim that they hide their formulas to stop others from stealing them. In most cases that is a blatant lie.
For one thing, there is never anything worth stealing from these formulas. We know what works and what doesn’t, and we know ideal doses. For another, there are lots of supplements that show each ingredient’s serving size on the bottle and they manage to keep making plenty of money year in, year out.
Nobody “steals” their formula. Nobody successfully rips off their brand. Instead, they make millions largely because of their transparency. So in the few cases where the manufacturers aren’t lying about their need to hide their formula details, they are instead being incredibly naive. In 99% of cases, the manufacturer knows that you wont buy their product if you see what it’s really made of.
If you could see the truth, you’d probably see that the cheapest, most useless ingredient takes up 90% or more of the blend. The more exciting and expensive ingredients will be there, but in tiny amounts. By hiding this fact, manufacturers can list all kinds of exciting substances on their ingredient lists while also keeping costs to a minimum. You then pay premium prices for a cheap, useless stack.
Think about it: if your stack is as good as you say it is, why not use the formula as a selling point? Because it’s garbage.
If you keep these three things in mind when you start shopping for supplements, you will inevitably save yourself a lot of time, money, and effort. Don’t just buy what other people are buying, buy what you need. Don’t opt for a supplement just because it says it is designed specifically for you; they’re always more general than the advertisers make out.
Don’t fall for proprietary blends; they’re only ever used when the truth would put off more people than the “protecting our secret blend” line will.