Supplements: The Real Deal Or Marketing Magic?

Good Is Just Never Enough

As weightlifters, you are always looking to be better. Good is just never enough. When you begin your weightlifting journey, you will be confronted with literally hundreds of different supplements. I really mean this! You would not believe how many different supplements out there are within your reach. They will all be saying different things and promising different results, that it can sometimes, just all give you a really bad headache!

I can imagine that for you, supplements can seem like a very enticing solution to achieving your goals. After all, many of them, promise supposedly; higher levels of performance, enhanced weight loss, elite levels of strength and a gateway to quicker size. This all sounds really great! Well then, there you have it. If you can achieve all this with just supplements, you don’t need anything else. Or, do you?

It’s All In The Marketing: Marketing Mastery

I will be honest with you; if there is one thing supplements can do really well, that is, knowing how to get you extremely interested., I can guarantee you, one look on the label will always spark your curiosity. Amazing, supplements working before you even take them! But seriously, in my experience, that’s all it takes. One surge of curiosity, and you are likely to fall into the trap of taking all sorts of supplements. I don’t blame you, this has happened to me, and, it will also happen to you. With so many different supplements out there, it can often be hard not to get just a little curious about them. After all, being curious is all part of just being human. Acting on your curiosity however, can be a completely different story. This is when supplements can really become your worst nightmare. It can become a slippery slope.

“With so many different supplements out there, it can often be hard not to get just a little curious about them”.

So, why does this actually happen? Why do supplements generate so much curiosity and interest? What is all the fuss about? Well, if you have ever looked at supplements, most of them have a few luring qualities: backed by extremely successful, professional athletes, sold in beautifully designed packaging, said to contain ‘all natural ingredients’ (no worry of legal issues), scientifically backed and, the promise of superior results. Now, if you put all these qualities together, it becomes no surprise why you might become encouraged by supplements. At first sight, most of you will probably look and think, wow! These supplements really do seem to have lots of benefits attached to them. But, more importantly, you don’t see (at least not immediately) any negative associations. This is good, right? No negative stuff, so it’s safe to take and only good things can come from using these supplements? The perfect marketing recipe has been created to give you, what some might term ‘the holy grail’ of gains. One question I have however for you is, what if these positives are actually all negatives? That would kind of put the whole supplement industry on its head! It’s just a shame not many people want to talk about the negative aspects.

“The perfect marketing recipe has been created to give you, what some might term ‘the holy grail’ of gains”.

I hate to be the bringer of bad news (well, someone has to be the messenger!), but many of these positive associations with supplements, are actually bad. But fear not, because in the long run, this is actually good for you, your goals and, your overall health! So let’s look at these then. When it comes to supplements, an athlete almost always backs them. Note: I am talking about supplements in the fitness industry (e.g. things like test-boosters, fat burners), not your everyday vitamin c tablet! (Just to avoid confusion). Most of these athletes are professional weightlifters, at the top of their A-game. It’s important to realize though that these athletes, already look liked this! BEFORE they even became the figurehead of that supplement. In fact, at their level, I can tell you, over the counter supplements sit last on they’re to-use list! What you need to know is that when it comes to fitness supplements, the strategy is; first you become great and better than everyone else, and then you get to represent the supplement. In my experience, most people get this backwards! First take the supplement, then become like them. Unfortunately, many get sucked into this trap and think that if you also take it, you will get to their level (or at least pretty close). If only it was that easy!

If you want to prove something works, it’s a pretty good idea to have some science to back it up. Without it, convincing people something works is going to be a challenging task. Knowing the science can help shed light on the positives, potential negative side-effects and, the possible mechanisms of action. Taking any supplement without any science behind it is like dancing in the dark. You know something is happening, but you can’t see precisely what, how or why. Really, you are blind to it all. Would you feel comfortable playing with your health like this? When I say science, I mean good science, science that aims to thoroughly investigate an area of interest. By thoroughly, I mean plenty of large studies conducted, conducted by many groups, not just one, studies replicated in humans (not just animals) and, a judgment derived on the basis of the results from many studies, not just one single experiment. With most supplements, it’s actually the complete opposite! Most of the time founded on bad science. Most supplement companies will ask a person (or one group) to conduct the research (this is usually small) and most of the results will never really be replicated by other groups. Talk about potential bias! As a result, the only science you get, is that told by the supplement company itself. You never know, it could turn out to be good science, but that would become too expensive and a lengthy task. They just want their products out there! Some results are better than no results, right? Honestly, I am not sure my health would agree with that!

“Taking any supplement without any science behind it is like dancing in the dark”.

You might have noticed that most supplements have really awesome packaging. I don’t have a degree in graphic design, but I can tell you, whatever the packaging does, really does its job well: to catch the eye. Most of the time, you will see a few things: the expected results from taking the supplement, any scientific study results that support the supplement, the brand name and ingredients. Ultimately, the design of the packaging is there to hype the supplement up. Usually, better than what it really is. But hey, you need to be drawn to the supplement first before you can actually take it!

Do The Benefits Outweigh The Potential Risks

As you will probably realize at this point, I have talked about supplements in a pretty negative way. But, you are probably scratching your head and wondering if there are any benefits at all to taking supplements? After all, the role of supplements in fitness would not be that big if they were completely useless, right? Well, it’s difficult to answer this. Why? Most supplements are not backed by or the results replicated by extensive research. As a result, if people notice positive results, you can only really go on their word. You haven’t really got any good science to validate this for you. Also, you still don’t know whether the results are from the workings of the supplements themselves, or, simply through changes you have made in your general training, nutrition and recovery.

“Most supplements are not backed by or the results replicated by extensive research”.

I will be honest; I have tried plenty of supplements myself in my weightlifting path (protein powders, protein food replacements, fat burners, pre-workouts, nitro-boosters, the lot!). We all have to learn at some point! Now, some of you might be thinking ‘o, he is just angry that he has tried different things and nothing really worked, let’s blame this all on the supplement industry!’ Absolutely not, that is not my intention, but I can tell you, as well as being on the consumer side, I have also been on the producing side. With certainty, I can assure you, there is nothing in most of these supplements that optimal nutrition, training, recovery and dedication, cannot give you. Some supplements try to jump the gun with non-permitted substances added, but these most of the time, are quickly removed from circulation. Most of what you will find in supplements, you can also find in your nutrition (e.g. protein, amino acids, simple sugars, caffeine). The chances are then, if your nutrition and training are on point, these supplements will offer no added benefit. In fact, if you already have these in sufficient quantities, your body will see it simply as excess waste and get rid of it. Talk about wasted money!

“There is nothing in most of these supplements that optimal nutrition, training, recovery and dedication, cannot give you”.

Most of the time, I am pretty hard pressed to find any significant positives that justify me spending huge amounts of money on supplements and are worth it enough, to go for things that could potentially, have hidden negative consequences on my body. Protein powders, and branched chain amino acids can sometimes act as a nice addition if you struggle to get in enough protein, don’t eat certain foods, or just don’t have time. A pre-workout can be useful, if you need some quick acting energy/a boost before your workout (but even here, the energy crash afterwards is sometimes not worth it!). Creatine can also be a nice training partner for you to have, to push you harder through your workouts (it’s also one of the few supplements out there, backed by extensive years of scientific research! If you ask me, it’s the only one I really trust). When it comes to looking for positive results, those that can be offered by supplements (if any) can also be provided through a combination of optimal nutrition, training as well as recovery. The added benefit of deriving these results through the latter, means you are less likely to come across any potential, unwanted side effects that might come through supplements.

There Is No Weightlifting Miracle, Or Holy Grail

It would be nice if you could take a supplement, and the heavy lifting work would be done for you. As a weightlifter, you are eager to make those gains and break through new barriers. It’s no surprise then, that if there is even a slight chance something can help with that, you will take it. Unfortunately, even with today’s enormous supply of supplements, there are yet none that give you the enhanced size, strength and weight loss results promised. If you are looking for sizeable, sustainable and healthy weightlifting results, then nothing will ever outrun a great nutrition, training and recovery program (whether you are a professional athlete or not).

“It would be nice if you could take a supplement, and the heavy lifting work would be done for you”. It is true that some of these supplements can act to fill gaps in your nutrition, or give you a little energy boost. That in turn, may help to iron out any performance issues in the gym. But, in terms of actual raw action at the cellular level by these supplements, you will be hard pressed to find any. The good science, is just not there (yet). Whatever your weightlifting goals are, an optimal mix of nutrition, training and recovery will be the things that matter most to get you to them. Supplements can be used, but only to help fill in the gaps and get you closer to achieving that optimal mix. More, they will not do!

If you have any questions about the article or would like to discuss further some of the topics mentioned, then please feel free to leave comments down below. What supplements do you take? Do you feel they have made a difference to your weightlifting? 


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