I'll start with the bottom line: you don't NEED supplements to burn fat or build muscle. The human body can function and make excellent athletic progress on nothing but quality food and proper training.
But you CAN use supplements to help the process along faster. The real key is knowing what works, what is garbage, and when an advertiser is simply trying to take your money.
Let me put it this way...in a recent muscle magazine, I counted 120 pages of full-page (in some cases 3 to 6 page), high-powered supplement ads. If you were to buy all these products, you'd be laughing all the way to the bank...laughing maniacally, because you'd have to rob it in order to pay for all those supplements!
There ARE good supplement manufacturers who make good products...they put in what they say they're putting in and don't try to fool you with advertising. But this article is about the BAD ones and it's more fun to talk about them...
So what sneaky tricks do advertisers use to separate you from your money?
1. Unprovable Testimonials
How many times have you seen testimonials like "I lost 10 pounds in a week" or "I gained 20 pounds of muscle in a month." These testimonials prey upon the desire in all of us for fast and easy results. Who wouldn't want results this quickly? After all, if this person did it, I should get those same results too, right?
To me, this is like a car commercial that uses special effects to catch your attention then has an official disclaimer like "car should not be driven underwater" or "does not imply resistance to meteor strikes." It looks and sounds cool but you know it's just not real - you want to believe but...
And believe me, I would LOVE to think that results like this are possible with just a supplement. But how do you prove that those results even happened? You can't. How do you prove it was due to that supplement? You can't. How do you know the person wasn't "on" something? You can't. And how do you get your money back when it doesn't work? You can't.
About 10 years ago, I did an experiment on myself to see just how much weight I could gain in a week (keep in mind, I was just aiming for total bodyweight, which includes muscle, water and fat). By going on a very strict diet and training program for 2 weeks then completely reversing everything and loading up, I was able to gain 25 pounds of bodyweight in 7 days. And I owed it all to the incredible new supplement I was taking called Hydrogen Dioxide (a.k.a. H2O).
Here's the full story on that: How I Gained 25 Pounds in One Week
2. Before and After Photos
Before and after photos can be very inspiring and offer proof that a product works. Or they can fool you like the time Homer Simpson opened a can of beer that had just been in a paint shaking machine.
Here's a before and after picture technique you can try at home:
Your Before Picture:
- slouch as much as you can
- let your gut hang out and down, push it out if you can
- bow your shoulders in, hunch your back over, and bow your knees in
- stand directly square to the camera so you look as wide as possible
- frown or look miserable
- have a messy, unflattering hairdo
- wear the most unflattering clothing you can find - make sure the clothes highlight every bulge
- don't flex or tighten up anything - make yourself feel as flabby as possible
Your After Picture:
- stand up straight and tall
- suck in your gut and flex your abdominals
- keep your shoulders back
- look happy and wear a big smile
- stand slightly sideways (tilting your body at angle makes it look thinner)
- wear flattering clothing and have your hair neat
- flex all your muscles and keep everything tight
You can make quite a change in yourself pretty quickly!
3. Pay An Athlete To Get Fat Then Pay Them To Get Back In Shape
It is a little-known fact that some supplement companies have been known to actually pay well-trained athletes to stop training and get fat. Why? To get a really awful-looking "before" picture.
Then, when the athlete starts training hard again, eating right and, of course, taking their magic supplement, they get into great shape very quickly. The goal is to convince you that it was the supplement that was the key to the transformation, not the fact that it was a well-trained athlete in the first place. But an average person is NOT going to be able to make a transformation like this, no matter how good the supplement is.
When you're already a well-trained athlete, you can make dramatic changes to your body extremely quickly (as evidenced by my own 25 pounds in a week weight gain I talked about above). To me, it's like telling a professional boxer that he can only punch with his face for a few rounds. When he starts up with the fists again, he's going to make a pretty rapid improvement!
4. 6 Page Special Ad Reports
Have you ever started reading an article in a magazine only to realize partway through that you're being sold a supplement? These styles of ads are VERY common - informative enough to make you believe it's the magazine itself writing the article but, lo and behold, the best solution to the topic in the "special report" is the supplement they're trying to get you to buy.
Note to supplement companies: even a good product can be wrecked with too much slick advertising.
5. Misrepresenting Legitimate Scientific Studies
Here's the set-up: take an ingredient that showed some positive results in an isolated scientific study that has nothing to do with actual weight training, e.g. malnourished toddlers in Lithuania showed an increase in lean tissue when given nutrient "X".
Now assume that the same results will also happen in a 200 lb healthy male athlete. Tell people that nutrient "X" is backed by scientific studies. They know that you're not going to actually READ those studies!
Here's the kicker... now include 10 mg of it in your product when the effective dose in the toddlers was actually 1000 mg!
And here's a fun way to kill an afternoon: call up these companies and ask them to send you copies of the studies they've used to prove their supplements are effective. I've done that...they don't stay on the line very long. Oh, they've sent me "studies," but where I went to school, legitimate scientific studies don't generally include price lists.
6. Name Your Product Similar to a Drug and Claim It's "Almost Illegal"
Luckily for them, it's not illegal to be useless. If the only thing a product has going for it is a mashed-up name similar to a drug, pack up your underwater car and go driving through a meteor shower. It's going to be a long day.
7. Proprietary Formulas
I have no problem with people keeping the lid on the specifics of an effective formula to keep others from copying it. But when that is used an excuse to include next to nothing of the active ingredients that actually do anything...
You see, I don't want to pay for a pill that is 95% methylbullcrapsomethingorother and 5% active ingredient. When the phrase "proprietary formula" is used, the manufacturer doesn't legally have to say exactly how much of each of the ingredients is in the formula.
The best part is when the scientific study they used to prove their product works shows a dose of 5 grams is needed to be effective and their serving size/pill size is only 1 gram...AND they have 10 other ingredients listed as being in the pill.
8. Professional Bodybuilder Testimonials
Because I'm quite sure that a pro bodybuilder weighing 280lb at 4% bodyfat really gained all that muscle from a couple of scoops of some fruity powder that is supposed to give you a better pump.
9. The "Latest" Supplement
There was a time when the AMC Pacer and the Gremlin were the "latest" cars to come off the assembly line. Just because something is the "latest" doesn't mean that it actually works.
The current craze: Nitric Oxide (a product that is supposed to increase circulation to muscles, resulting in a greater "pump"/blood flow to the muscles for increasing muscle growth). Let me put it this way...I've tried it, I've researched it and don't waste your money on it.
The only way it'll work is if you mix it with something else that DOES work (like creatine, for instance). Then you're just paying extra for the privelege of combining the two supplements.
You want a better pump? Drink more water - that's what blood primarily is. The better hydrated you are, the greater your blood volume will be. Need proof? One of the primary dangers of diuretic use for reducing water levels to show muscles better is thickening of the blood, which basically is reduced blood volume. The more water you have in your body, the greater your blood volume will be and the stronger your pumps will be.
Heck, if you REALLY want to build muscle, half your day should be spent sloshing around because you've drank so much water!
10. "Eat What You Want And Still Lose Weight"
Chances are, a product like this contains something to speed up your metabolism (most likely a herbal stimulant) and/or something to block the absorption of fat or carbs. You will probably lose weight but you may be a nervous insomniac with debilitating cramps and greasy diarrhea. What a great way to promote good health!
Bottom line, I have no problem with supplements or supplement ads that are legitimate. What I do have a problem with (and you probably gathered this from the article) is the way people are manipulated through clever advertising into spending their hard-earned money on useless products. It gives weight training a bad name makes even good products look suspicious.
You see, a supplement can only do so much - it can only SUPPORT what you're doing with your weight training and nutrition. If your training program or nutrition don't work without supplementation, no supplement is going to fix that.
I use supplements every single day. They can help tremendously in your training, especially when you use supplements that are effective and have proven to be so! There are plenty of good supplements and good manufacturers out there.
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