Chris Albert is a Marine Corps veteran and co-owner of Warrior Soul Apparel. He is also co-founder of Metroflex Gym, Long Beach and is a nutrition coach who has worked with pro-bodybuilders and personalities like CT Fletcher and Mike Rashid. To learn more about him, you can find his site at www.chrisalbertfitness.com.
Supplements have gotten a bad name in recent years, and not without reason. There are many snake oil salesmen peddling their wares on the market. People have become very weary of anyone trying to market nutrition products to the masses. There is, however, a great tragedy to all of this, and that tragedy is this: there are supplements that work and work really well. The problem is that, many times, these supplements simply do not capture your attention.
A Crash Course on the Fitness Industry and Marketing
I specialize in bodybuilding prep. Being in this field has been both a dream and a nightmare for me. It is a dream in that I get to work with a sport that I love and apply my knowledge to completely change the way people look. On the other hand, it is a nightmare in that bad information has infiltrated this field so widely and so deeply that, even when I propose ideas with heavily cited scientific backing, people still consider them “fringe” or “way out of left field.” This is because what most people know about bodybuilding or fitness these days is not based on science. Rather, it is based on influencers – or popular social media personalities, many of whom are either sponsored by supplement companies or who have their own supplement companies.
Of course this is not new. Back in the 90s we used to get our information from bodybuilding magazines that basically delved out the information their ad sponsors (supplement companies), wanted us to know. Today’s world is a bit different because there are no longer just one or two companies controlling the flow of information. Rather, we have hundreds of different views of how to get the leanest, strongest, and most muscular body possible. The difference now is that rather than some old white guys controlling the flow of information in the media, you’re the one who determines what views get heard. Well not you specifically, but the niche group you are a part of – people who just want to get “jacked,” “swole,” “shredded,” “cut,” and “aesthetic as f*ck bro.”
I am not writing this to make you feel bad about yourself or to say that your bodybuilding goals are a bad thing, but I am going to be honest. The big problem is not with the supplement companies themselves. Rather, the problem comes from you and your own uninformed demand. You want the best looking leanest body possible, and you wanted it yesterday. Your quest to get that body was probably inspired by a picture or video of someone who’s physique you admire. So rather than pick up a book on biology, or going to peer reviewed journals about muscle hypertrophy or fat loss, the modern world allows you to go straight to that person through his or her social media accounts. Because these people inspire you and you admire them, you trust what they have to say. Your own cognitive scripts predispose you to believe what you are told by people you trust, and because you trust them, you do not do your own research. And even when you do try to do your research, your go to resources are probably other social media personalities and blogs that are also sponsored by supplement companies.
Now keep in mind that I am not saying that all social media personalities are scoundrels waiting to take your money. Hell if that were the case, I would be in the same class of criminals. What I am saying is this: companies give you what you demand. If one of your favorite YouTube stars started slicing open live birds and eating their entrails for the extra protein content and telling you it was their “secret,” you can bet that there would probably be a few dead birds lying around. Well, maybe not, but you could bet that some company would develop some version micronized bird entrails to sell you, and if they got this person to put his or her name on it, quite a few of you would buy it. Don’t believe me? Two words: hyphy mud. Not saying it’s ineffective, but it’s basically a normal pre-workout supplement derived from one personality’s idea of mixing instant coffee and cola as a pre-workout . . . and people are buying it.
Your big take away from the section above should be an understanding that your demand creates the market for supplements. You can see this by walking down the aisles of any supplement store. You want to get jacked and cut so you see supplements with jacked and cut on the label. You don’t exactly know how much of each key ingredient will create the desired effect, so you find supplements with “proprietary blends” that do not include the amounts of each key ingredient on their labels. This, however, is not the big problem.
The big problem is that you buy according to what you believe your idols use, but you don’t buy what you actually probably need. The other week I began a consultation with a client. After I wrote his plan and gave it to him, he came to me and asked if he could not buy the vitamin D I’d recommended so that he could afford to buy his normal pre-workout. He wanted the pre workout for the immediate buzz it gave him to get through his workouts, but he negated the fact that satisfying a serious vitamin D deficiency (he lived in the northeastern US and tested low on his last blood test) could solve his problems in the long term.
The serious impact of your lack of information and rush to your goals is that you want immediate effects and disregard the idea of long-term gains. In turn, companies have responded by producing products that will give you your much needed fix for immediate and observable effects with little to no long term benefit.
How Do I Determine What Supplements I Actually Need?
With all of this negative talk about supplements, you might think that I believe that all supplements are useless. What I’m really saying is that most of you are only interested in useless supplements. There are actually supplements out there that could probably benefit you. How do you know which ones will have a positive impact on your health and fitness goals? Here’s how:
Step 1: Quantify Yourself
Far too often we start with the “jacked and swole” supplements without first examining whether or not we have a micro nutrient deficiency. We can load ourselves with the best supplement sources of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, but if we are lacking in key vitamins and minerals, chances are we won’t be processing or utilizing our macro-nutrients efficiently. Get yourself nutrient tested for deficiencies in vitamins A, B, D, copper, iron, and zinc. Additionally, get your hemoglobin a1c, insulin, and leptin tested as well. These tests can help you determine which supplements and diet changes your body actually needs before you go and spend all your money on that big tub o’ weight gainer.
Step 2: Examine Your Diet
Take a good long hard and honest look at your diet and lifestyle. If you’re eating meat every day, you probably don’t need creatine, but you do need to be taking live pro-biotics, a greens supplement, and eating lots of green vegetables. Experimenting with ketosis? You probably need to add coconut and mct oil. If you’re a vegan, then you definitely need to be taking vitamin B12. If you’re having trouble getting to sleep, then magnesium can definitely help. Stressed? Consider taking resveratrol or Chinese adaptogenic herbs.
There are far too many potential situations here for me to describe all of them, but this should tell you one thing: cookie cutter supplementation plans do not work. If you are taking something just because your favorite YouTube star takes it, then you’re potentially wasting your money and your time on products that you don’t really need.
Step 3: Learn, Experiment, and Apply
This will be the hardest step for many of you. If do not want to be taken advantage of, you need to stop outsourcing your learning processes. I’m not telling you to stop watching YouTube or reading blogs, but at least learn how to tell if someone is giving you solid advice or luring you in to spend your money. How do you do that? By putting the time in to actually research what they are talking about. Have they provided scientific references in their video or in a matching blog? If so, check those references. Look up that specific supplement and see what the CUSTOMER reviews say. Notice I capitalized customer. You don’t want reviews from other YouTube channels or bloggers because it is quite possible that they’re getting some benefit for reviewing the product as well. Once you start taking a product, take an honest assessment of your results. Keep records of yourself to measure these results. This takes effort, but it is a surefire way to see if something is working. Once you find something that works, stick with it and make it a permanent part of your regimen.
Step 4: Prioritize what you Need Over What You Want
The previous steps will tell you how to build the foundation of supplements that you need to get to your goal. Once you’ve determined your needs, spend your money on those first. After you have that covered and you have some extra money, then you can spend your money on Swole Matrix 5000.
Are All YouTubers Bad?
No. Most of them, even the ones who sell or promote supplements, are honest people who just want to spread good ideas. Some of them are good people who are misinformed as well. The problem is not with them. Rather, it is with you and your decision making process in choosing what you put in your body.
What are your thoughts?
I just basically gave you a very blunt and honest assessment of why supplement scammers exist and how you participate in pulling the wool over your own eyes. Now let me hear your thoughts. Put them up under the post for this article on my facebook page here: