Pretty Much All Supplements Are A Load Of Shit

Been struggling to find any motivation to blog of late, so excuse me if this post is a little terse. I’ve got about 5 blog posts half-written, but just can’t be bothered to finish them off!

In a previous post, I mentioned how important it is for anything that I choose to believe in to have been backed up by cold, hard evidence. The greater the level of near religious zealotry displayed by proponents of something, the more suspicious I become. There are few areas with such little scientific fact on display, and so much rabid conjecture bandied about than the area of supplementation.

Fortunately, the dudes over at SpotMeBro (generally good lifting blog – follow it if you’re not already) have done all the hard work for me in this area. One of the founders of the site, having already launched the excellent “supplement bible” examine.com, has taken things a step further, and come up with what he calls the Human Effect Matrix. Basically, the dude has trawled through literally 1000s of scientific papers involving the effects of a wide range of supplements, investigating the strength of the testing methodology used, how strong an effect was noted, and how statistically significant the results were.

From this data, for most supplements in their database, he has been able to produce a rating from A to D for each supposed effect (raising testosterone, increasing lean muscle mass, increased power output, etc) representing the amount of evidence backing up a particular claim, with A being definitely true, B being possible, and C & D being pretty much no correlation noted. Additionally, the direction (up or down), and the strength of each type of effect is noted from 1 to 3, along with the editor’s comment (which usually contains the important bit of analysis).

Check out this page on Fish Oils for an example.

So, having had a look over some of the information, here are some things to note:

There is not a single verified natural testosterone booster

Link

None. Zero. Nada. Zip. The only single supplement with a strongly noted effect in this regard is DHEA, and that was in menopausal women. Tribulus, maca, horny goat weed, zinc – forget it all. It’s all a load of shit.

There is no known supplement that will help you build lean mass

Link

With the possible exception of creatine, and the effect of this appears to be strongly confounded with water retention.

There is very little point in taking fish oils for any kind of weight lifting benefits

Link

Taking a single, large daily dose of Vitamin D has more proven health benefits than taking a multivitamin

Link

Creatine is the single most important supplement you should be taking

Link

The evidence for creatine increasing your power output at the gym is so strong that it is used as the baseline against which other such supplements are measured. More power equals more weight and more reps, which equals more muscle tears, which equals greater strength/size gains. There’s literally no reason for you not to be taking this supplement if you weight train and are even halfway serious about it, it’s not even expensive.

The effects only become apparent after a saturation level is reached in the body, after about a week. For the first week, take 20-25g daily, and then 2.5-5g daily from then on. No need to take before. or after the gym – it is much more slow acting than that. Just take your daily amount first thing in the morning, and get into a routine of doing so, so that you don’t forget.

No need to cycle on and off, there are no verified harmful effects of taking it long term.

So there you have it – strong factual evidence that 99% of supplements out there are doing literally nothing for you as backed up by current scientific literature.

Now I’m sure there will be plenty of people saying “But waah, supplement x definitely works for me, I have noted its effect in an incredibly subjective, and non-scientific manner. What do you mean, where’s my evidence? I know I feel stronger/hornier/whateverer than before”. It’s not possible to say with 100% certainty that there they are definitely wrong – but the weight of a hell of a lot of scientific studies, which have had their methodologies appraised, is strongly against them.

Have a good weekend all.

Update

Since I first wrote this, the good guys at examine.com have come out with an ebook product that’s automatically updated every single month with all the latest information gleaned from reviewing the most recent scientific literature.

Check out my post on it, or head over and check out the book from here – Examine.com Supplement Goals Reference Guide. If you’re serious about getting your nutrition and supplementation right, it’s a must read.

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33 thoughts on “Pretty Much All Supplements Are A Load Of Shit

  1. I’m not big on the technicalities of supplements but all I take at the moment is an intra workout shake with creatine and glucosamine and then a post workout protein shake. Maybe in the future I will consider a natural test booster.

    • You should read up! It’s all on that site, in very simple, easily digestible format.

      From examine.com’s entry on Glucoasmine, the only effect with strong evidence was on osteoarthritis: “There appears to be a small decrease in osteoarthritis symptoms associated with glucosamine (as sulfate, not hydrochloride) which is somewhat unreliable but consistently
      outperforms placebo on meta-analyses. The magnitude of reduction, however, is somewhat minor but still comparable to acetominophen” – So looks like pretty much zero point taking that.

      Do you take creatine daily as per the dosing schedule I mentioned? You won’t be getting decent benefits from it otherwise.

      You must have missed the line where I said “There is not a single verified natural testosterone booster” in massive letters 😉

      • I wasn’t verifying them either, it’s surprising. But I know I wouldn’t have had the result I have now without the protein shakes, I make sure I have the first sip within 3mins of my last set, usually midway through a stretch down. I’m only taking creatine on days I workout. And the guy at the shop said glucosamine upped the immune system, but I feel I havent’ been getting sick because I’m more active.

      • Drinking protein is useful if you struggle to get enough in your diet from other sources like meat etc. I personally prefer to eat all my protein as it makes me more full up, although I appreciate this can get expensive.

        The anabolic window from working out remains in strong effect for a long time, gradually diminishing over the course of the following 8 hours. Provided you get your protein in within an hour or two, there’s really no need to ingest it within a very short time frame, certainly not within 3 mins.

        I’d suggest adjusting your creatine intake as per the recommended dosing schedule I mentioned. It is 100% verified by numerous scientific studies to work when taken in this way.

        Those guys in the supplements shops are worse than anyone, they literally have almost zero knowledge of what they’re talking about. The entire supplement industry survives on peddling snake oil to people. There’s no known interaction between glucosamine and the immune system, as you say, you’re just healthier from working out.

  2. Much appreciated. I took creatine in college when I was playing D1 basketball. The school’s head trainer, a MD, told all the players the same advice as what’s above. He added that the rest of the supplements could actually have some negative effects on your kidneys or liver. That meant we all took creatine, an it worked for most of us. Once you got about 3 weeks without using it you will notice you strength and gains are much harder to come by.

    • Interesting, it’s good that you can verify this with personal experience.

      The guys that have put examine.com together have spent an unreal amount of time and effort trawling through 1000s of scientific papers to investigate the veracity of all these claims made about the efficacy of various supplements, and put it all up there for free. It’s amazing, given the level of hyperbole that exists in the supplement sector, that almost none of them have any kind of proven measurable effect at all.

  3. I always enjoy walking by the “Natural Living” store. Natural living, it seems, means aisle upon aisle of pills in bottles. The fact that this store is opposite the fruit and veg shop makes the irony all the sweeter.

  4. Yep, pretty much everything beyond creatine, whey/BCAAs (only if you don’t get enough from diet), are pretty much a load of crap.

    I do vitamin D just cause I don’t get outside much…

    I was supplementing fish oil if I ate out at any place (cause they typically cook in vegetable oils), but since I don’t eat out much anymore there’s no need to.

    But other than that eating healthy, training right, and sleeping right will do the rest.

    • Spot on.

      Vitamin D is actually one of the best things you can take according to examine.com, there are a host of proven health benefits, much more than a traditional multivitamin.

      • Yeah, the main thing with vitamin D is pretty much only if you’re deficient… which I believe about 85-90% of people are or though. No one is outside enough anymore to get enough of it.

  5. Huh. Not surprising. Examine.com has been a recent new favorite for me.

    Anyway, if you aren’t lifting or doing any form of activity, isn’t pretty much any supplement going to be useless as a testosterone booster or what-have-you?

    Then a lot of it may be the result of lifestyle and not some magic pills.

    The only other thing I might ask then is: what if these supplements only do what they are claimed to do if your body actually needs to use them?

    Take vitamins and minerals for example. In this case, it may be beneficial for some people to use supplements, especially those who have a poor or deficient diet.

    • “It may be beneficial for some people” – if you can find any scientific evidence backing that up, then all the better. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any on examine.com

      Might as well save your money, eat right, exercise, and sleep well. And take creatine by the looks of it, since that’s about the only one that does anything!

  6. I take Vitamin D3 which seems to have lifted my mood a lot and I feel much better for it, being in the UK we don’t get enough sun and for someone who’s from an ethnicity that suffers from a deficiency of that in this country it’s a good supplement.

    • There was a correlation noted between vitamin D and mood on examine.com… but only in those that were already suffering from depression already.

      That’s not to discount the strength of the placebo effects in things like this however. It’s a demonstrable and powerful phenomenon. I came into work feeling a bit shitty this morning, and took 2000mg vitamin C, and even though there’s no real evidence it does anything, I perked up straight away.

  7. As there seem to be no proven or effective ways to artificially boost testosterone, maybe focus on natural activities proven to boost testosterone – as well as lifting, maybe up the cardio? I find even a 30 min jog a week results in harder boners, feeling more ‘bullish’, and so on. Maybe incorporate some concept2 rowing sessions, xtrainer and runs into your workouts, see how that goes.

    I’ve read that team sports (5 a side, that kind of thing) tend to lift testosterone too.

  8. This comment is enough for me not to take creatine:

    “Creatine has been shown to increase DHT (dihydrotestosterone) levels by 40% with a dosage of 5g per day. DHT is directly involved in hair loss in men, so long-term creatine usage could accelerate hair loss.”

    • Or you could just take finasteride/propecia every day, as you should already be doing anyway as a preventative measure if you are as concerned about hair loss as you seem to be. You can then have the best of both worlds.

      • You are seriously telling people to go on finasteride? Your hair might stay as long as you don’t mind that 4% chance your dick might never work again.
        WebMD Health News
        Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

        April 13, 2012 — The baldness drug Propecia and the BPH drug Proscar may cause infertility and more sexual problems than previously thought, the FDA warns.
        Propecia may cause loss of sexual desire, inability to ejaculate, and inability to reach orgasm. These sexual dysfunctions may continue for some time after men stop using the baldness drug.
        Proscar may cause loss of sexual desire. This may continue for some time after men stop using the drug.
        Both Propecia and Proscar may cause male infertility and/or poor semen quality. This side effect lessens or goes away after men stop taking the drugs.

      • In a word – yes. I am personal friends with the doctor who pioneered its use as a hair treatment, and am most likely better informed on the matter than anyone you care to name.

        To date, there have been 2 peer reviewed studies into the effect of Finasteride on libido, the first with approximately 1000 participants, the second with 3000. Both studies confirmed a 0.5% rate of decreased libido, which returned within 48 hours of discontinuing the treatment, since that is the half life of the drug in your system.

        Anything else is hearsay, conjecture and scaremongering, and has absolutely no basis in fact.

  9. >So there you have it – strong factual evidence that 99% of supplements out there are doing literally nothing for you as backed up by current scientific literature.

    it’s funny because it’s incorrect.

    I take BCAA to reduce fatigue -> http://examine.com/supplements/Branched+Chain+Amino+Acids/#thingstoknow

    I eat whey protein because it’s just not possible for me to eat so much stuff daily. it’s a supplement, not a main course ->http://examine.com/supplements/Whey+Protein/

    thought to link an article about aminos, but there is an article for each of them. see for yourself, they work. for me, they help to recover faster and to work better during training.

    there is no article about no-xplode, but there is one in russian sportswiki. no-xplode has a creatine transport system, which works great during training. also, it works like an energetic.

    your mistake is that you dont consider experience. when u have been going to the gym for a year or two, supplements are not so important. I’ve going to the gym for 7 years, and can’t work without them now.

    also, there is an article about creatine “load phase”, when you start to eat much creatine at start, and after that reduce it to 2-5 g daily. there is no need in load phase, level of creatine is the same if you would have taken just 5g daily. you just spend more money 🙂

    and DO cycles. 5-6 intake, 1-2 off. I like this -> http://examine.com/faq/do-you-need-to-cycle-creatine.html

    at russian site the research is cited, where verified info says that after 2 months of intake your muscles become not so sensitive to creatine.

    ↑ Guerrero-Ontiveros ML, Wallimann T. Creatine supplementation in health and disease. Effects of chronic creatine ingestion in vivo: down-regulation of the expression of creatine transporter isoforms in skeletal muscle.Institute for Cell Biology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, ETH-Honggerberg, Zurich. Mol Cell Biochem 1998 Jul;184(1-2):427-37
    ↑ Rawson ES, Persky AM, Price TB, Clarkson PM. Effects of repeated creatine supplementation on muscle, plasma, and urine creatine levels. J Strength Cond Res. 2004 Feb;18(1):162-7. Related Articles, Links

    and WHY not cycle creatine with your cycle in gym? cant get it.

    thanks about info about vitamin D, though I prefer to eat complex stuff like Animal Pak @ Universal Nutrition.

    • Thanks for the comments, but you’ve completely misquoted me.

      I don’t consider protein to be a supplement in the traditional sense like creatine, in the same way I don’t consider carbs and fat to be supplements. It’s a basic building block. Whey is a great inexpensive source if you can’t afford to buy your protein requirements in food form. It will not fill you up like proper food however. Nowhere on this page did I say whey is bad.

      BCAAs are essentially protein without the calories. I take them when I fast. Nowhere on this page did I say they were bad.

      I specifically advocated taking creatine. I recommended that dosing schedule because it gets you loaded faster. The link to the article on examine.com was also provided so people can read the other dosing schedule for themselves if they wish.

      None of which changes my initial statement that pretty much all supplements are a load of shit. “Pretty much all” does not equal “all”.

      Please read my post properly next time before telling me I am incorrect.

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      • No, there are an actual group of supplements that are made from fruits, vegetables, cacoa (some) and other natural substances and is usually sold in scoopable form. The one I take also has also has probiotics in it while also being a good source of fiber. One scoop has many servings of fruits and vegetables in it per dose. Check it out..

    • I personally take vit d, methyl b12, fibre, creatine and NAC, all of which have proven benefits. As for the greens, I’m sure they’re beneficial if you’re not getting what you need from your food.

      • I sell an Acne supplement that has NAC in it, that is an exciting detoxifying supplement that is being studied for it’s effects on depression and anxiety with good results from what I know according to pubmed studies. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18534556 I take b-12 in an injectable form as it helps with my asthma. I also take fish oil at 2000mg’s 3 times a day because it helps my Asthma. Creatine is great stuff, I learned that my body does not handle the monohydrate version but I love Dicreatine Malate. It has a consistency that is less like sand and more like powder, I think that is why I absorb it better.

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