Supplements Are Marketed As The Magic Solution For Losing Weight Quickly And Easily. But Are They Effective And Worth The Money?
That's how much doe I was spending per month on supplements when I was first starting my weight loss journey.
For some people, $170-ish bucks a month going towards supplements may not seem like much, but for a 17-year-old high school student without a job and only a small savings account filled with old Christmas & Birthday money to his name, it was a fortune.
I wasn't buying 15+ supplements per month either...
I stuck to the "essentials" that online fitness forums and articles told me to get. Whey protein, pre-workout, fat burner, fish oil, creatine, BCAAs, and of course a multivitamin for micronutrient security.
(note: I'd also buy a CLA formula called "Ab Cuts" from the store every month for $30)
Were all of these supplements necessary? Definitely not.
Most of them were worthless, but some of them weren't all bad...
In fact, there's scientific research that can back up the effectiveness of some of the supplements I was taking. The problem, though, is that their ability to boost results isn't as magical or powerful as their marketing claims suggest.
The purpose of this article isn't to argue for or against taking supplements, but rather share my opinion on the best and worst supplements, and whether the marginal benefits of some supplements are worth the price you have to pay.
My hope is that after reading this, you'll be more informed about the actual potential benefits of using supplements, and if those benefits are worth the price you'll be paying for them.
In this article, you'll learn:
- The Supplement Industry's Big Fat Lie
- Why Some People Have Amazing Success Losing Fat While Taking Supplements
- Why You DO NOT need Supplements to Drop Fat
- The Three Best & Worst Supplements Available
The Supplement Industry's Big. Fat. Lie.
Note: I don't mean to demonize all supplement companies by using one blanket term, especially consider there are a few that make quality products which have science-backed ingredients (in the right doses) and don't promote unrealistic claims.
In the "Best & Worst Supplements" section, I'll give those companies that sell the "best" supplements their praise.
The Supplement Industry Big. Fat. Lie. is this:
"The quickest and easiest way to achieve your goal of losing fat, building muscle, or improving your health is to take supplements."
Just look at the way supplements are marketed to us...
They're showcased as "magic pills" or "miracle solutions" to our long-standing struggle with accomplishing our fitness goals. They make it seem as if taking their pill or powder will bring about the results we've been waiting for.
And it's natural to feel tempted by these claims.
Who wouldn't be intrigued by a supplement saying it'll provide a shortcut to our desired outcomes while simultaneously requiring less effort on our part to get there?
The truth, though, is that most supplements don't give any benefit or provide a shortcut to success. And even the supplements that DO have benefits aren't miracle solutions.
The benefits are minor at best.
Considering the Supplement Industry is making billions of dollars each year, I don't think that we'll be seeing much change in the deceptive marketing tactics used to sell supplements...
Then Why Do Some People Have Amazing Success Using Supplements?
You probably know or have seen someone on social media who has lost a significant amount of weight and gives credit to a specific supplement brand - saying that their product was the solution that allowed them to finally achieve their goals...
Not to take anything away from these folks because any amount of weight loss requires hard work and consistency, But I guarantee it wasn't the supplement they were taking that got them the results.
As I've talked about many times before in other articles, the ONLY way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit through eating fewer calories and exercising more.
And while there are many different ways to manipulate your diet and exercise to achieve a calorie deficit, taking supplements alone isn't going to make that happen.
The reason we see people getting dramatic results from taking supplements has little or nothing to do with the supplement itself, but rather how that person changes in response to using it.
Think about it...
When someone starts taking an expensive "fat loss" supplement, they want to get the most bang for their buck. As a result, they end up conscious or subconsciously making healthier choices throughout the day.
They pass on the extra helping of potatoes or opt for a salad instead of a burger...
They start taking walks at lunch instead of surfing Facebook...
They push a little bit harder in the gym...
They want to maximize the benefits they get from their expensive supplement
So in this sense, supplements can be effective for losing weight and achieving your fitness goals...
But it's not the supplement that's getting you results. Instead, it's the healthy lifestyle changes you're making in RESPONSE to taking the supplement that's moving you closer towards your goal.
Why You Do NOT Need To Take Supplements
Whether your goal is to lose fat, build muscle, improve your health, or a little bit of all three, the same fact remains...
You'll need to designing a diet and exercise plan to align with your goals.
For diet, it'll involve eating fewer total calories to lose fat, getting enough protein to build muscle, and consuming more fruits and veggies for your overall health.
For exercise, it'll involve moving more to increase your energy expenditure and cardiovascular health and lifting weights in the gym to build lean muscle and strength to boost your metabolism.
Losing weight isn't complicated. In fact, it's incredibly simple once you have your diet and exercise dialed in...
The problem is that it's not easy, especially in the beginning.
Losing fat and building muscle takes time, discipline, sacrifice, and consistency. Without those things, you won't get the results you're after.
This is another reason why fat loss supplements are so enticing to us. If a supplement can magically burn away fat and improve our health, that means we can continue with our regular unhealthy ways...
But unless you change your diet and exercise habits to promotes the goal you're after – and create consistency around those habits – you won't get results. period.
Then when are supplements useful?
There are some situations where supplements can provide benefits.
Vitamin and mineral supplements may be beneficial for people who are deficient. And there are some proven-effective supplements that can help you out indirectly.
Caffeine, for example, can provide you with more energy. Having more energy will increase your performance in the gym and inevitably lead to better results.
Then there's the fact that supplements can still provide marginal benefits when they're used alongside a well-designed diet and exercise regimen. The benefits aren't huge – maybe a 1-2% boost for the most powerful supplements – but for some, a small ~1% increase is enough to justify the money they're spending.
Your decision to buy a supplement (that's proven to work) should come down to the cost/benefit ratio. You need to decide if the benefits you get from taking a supplement is worth the price.
The Best & Worst Supplements
There are a bunch of things to look at when you're deciding if a supplement is good or bad. Things like scientific research, benefits, possible side-effects, and the cost/benefit ratio mentioned before should all factor into your decision.
I made a list of what I believe are the three best and worst supplements available using those factors above.
Feel free to follow my advice, but understand that whether or not you use a supplement should be based on your personal situation.
Note: My guess is that most people reading this are concerned with losing fat and/or building lean muscle. As such, these supplements are ones that you see marketed towards achieving those two goals.
There are so many different categories of supplements that it would take ages to go through all of them!
The Worst Supplements
In my opinion, fat burners are the worst of the worst when it comes to scammy supplement marketing. Not only do they make outrageously false claims about their ability to burn fat, but they are also some of the most expensive supplements out there...
The typical far burner comes with around 60 capsules and costs anywhere from $30-90 per bottle. Most of these fat burners say to take 2-3 capsules a day, meaning you only get 20-30 days worth of use...
The main reason fat burners work on occasion – other than from placebo – is that they are usually packed full of caffeine which gives you energy and can suppress your appetite temporarily.
If you want the energy and appetite suppression benefits of caffeine (on of my "best" supplements), then you're better off getting it from much cheaper sources like coffee, powders, or tablets.
Fat Burner Scorecard:
- Research - D (caffeine is it's only hope)
- Benefits For Fat Loss- D
- Side-Effects: D (lower is worse)
- Cost/Benefit: F -
Green Smoothie Powders
"Greens" powders and mixes have become more and more popular in the past few years, especially with the rise in juicing FAD diets and Netflix documentaries like Fat, Sick, & Nearly Dead!
To be honest, a lot of these greens mix supplements are actually healthy. They contain a ton of vitamins and minerals which are non-existent in most people's diet.
The problem is that greens powders are often marketed as powerful weight loss supplements...
But when people lose fat using these types of supplements, it's from reasons were talked about earlier. They aren't just swallowing a couple tablespoons of green crap every day...They're also exercising more and making healthier, low-calorie food choices.
Most greens supplements aren't cheap either. One of the more popular brands (Athletic Greens) is $97 for a month supply!
Greens Powders/Mixes Scorecard:
- Research - B (the vitamins and minerals are clearly beneficial for health)
- Benefit For Fat Loss - D
- Side-Effect - A (none)
- Cost/Benefit - F
CLA formulas are mixtures of fatty acids that supposedly cause your body to burn off fat stores and improve lean muscle mass. As such, they are heavily marketed towards people struggling to lose weight.
Unfortunately, there's little to no evidence that CLA supplements provide benefits for losing fat.And at roughly $20-40 for a 30-day supply, there's really no reason to waste your money...
- Research - C -
- Benefit For Fat Loss - F
- Side-Effect - A (none)
- Cost/Benefit - F
The Best Supplements
Like I've been saying over and over again, there's no need to take supplements. Even the ones I'm about to share with, which have scientific proof showing their effectiveness, won't provide humungous fat loss benefits and health benefits...
But if you're looking for a marginal 1-2% increase in results to go alongside the hard work you're putting into your diet and exercise plan, and there's some extra muhla burning a hole in your pocket, then here are the supplements I'd recommend you try out.
I don't think of caffeine as a supplement, but rather a way of life...
All jokes aside, I'm sure you're familiar with caffeine's energy-producing benefit. Especially considering ~80% of adults start their day with caffeinated coffee...
Most people know that caffeine increases energy and focus, but another lesser-known perk for fat loss is its ability to suppress appetite.
The fat loss benefit of suppressing appetite is pretty clear. A suppressed appetite leads to less hunger. Less hunger means you'll have less desire to eat and a smaller chance of going over your calories for the day.
There are many ways to get caffeine, but the three most popular are coffee, caffeine tablets, and pre-workouts. Of those three, coffee and caffeine tablets are the most affordable.
The problem with pre-workout supplements is that most are formulated using other less useful "filler" ingredients.
Luckily, there are a few pre-workout supplements that only include scientifically proven ingredients, and in the correct dosages. So if you are willing to spend money on a high-quality pre-workout supplement, this brand is definitely my go-to choice.
- Research - A
- Fat Loss Benefit - B+ (indirectly beneficial by providing energy and suppressing appetite)
- Side-Effect - C (too much can cause jitters, sleep issues, and anxiety)
- Cost/Benefit - A (for coffee and tablets)
I don't personally view protein powders as a supplement. I consider them a powdered form of food...
Nonetheless, protein powders are one of the most popular supplements marketed towards both fat loss and muscle building enthusiasts.
Some companies make claims that their protein powders are somehow better for building muscle or burning fat than other forms of protein, but that's a load of hogwash...
The benefit of protein powders is that they are a reasonably affordable (price per gram) and convenient way to get more protein in your diet. They're particularly useful for folks who struggle to get enough protein from regular food sources.
Do you know why protein is so essential while dieting?
THIS is my favorite WHEY protein powder
THIS is my favorite VEGAN/NON-DAIRY protein powder
Protein Powder Scorecard:
- Research - A (Protein builds da muscle... duh)
- Fat Loss Benefit - A (^^^)
- Side-Effect - A (none)
- Cost/Benefit: B+
Those are my top three for MOST people. However, there are a few other supplements that I recommend based on the individual and their unique goals.
Here's a list of other supplements that have promising research and may benefit you depending on your goals and possible health needs:
- Creatine (favorite brand) - has been shown to increase strength and muscle
- Vitamin D (favorite brand) - many people are deficient and can benefit from supplementing
- Fish Oil (favorite brand) - can help get healthy omega-3 fats if you don't regularly consume fatty fish.
- Multivitamin - not totally necessary, but might help fix small deficiencies in your diet.
Before I go, I want to direct you towards to best website I know of for learning about and comparing different supplements.
Examine.com is a no BS website dedicated to providing free science-backed information on pretty much every single supplement you could think of. They have hundreds of references and make it easy to analyze otherwise complicated studies.
If there's one thing to take away from this article, let it be this:
Supplements are NOT needed to lose fat and build the body and health you want. If you do decide to use supplements, make sure they are ones backed by research and understand that they are literally meant to "supplement" your diet and exercise, not replace it.