The 3 Popular Supplements that are a Waste of Money
Fat Burning Supplements
The human body is a finely tuned machine, having developed the ability to store extra calories as adipose tissue (fat) for times when food is scarce. Metabolism and fat burn are controlled within fairly tight parameters. So it’s no wonder that few legal options exist to burn any substantial amount of body fat.
Even the handful of mildly effective fat burners (such as caffeine) lead to much less weight loss than eating a bit less each day, or taking a daily walk. Fat burners are also fairly like to have side effects such as sleep disruption (which can mean higher stress and overeating … make you even heavier!) and cardiovascular effects.
Bottom line: most fat burners are a kitchen sink equation, full of things that have zero proof that they work (and may actually set you back by messing up your sleep).
Don’t mistake supplements that don’t work for nutrients you don’t need. Calcium is an important mineral for bone health, but supplementing it is usually a waste of money. Calcium is found naturally in dairy products, including protein supplements. Just one serving of casein protein provides 60% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of calcium!
Supplementing calcium by itself does not substantially improve bone density. You have to take it with other nutrients like vitamin D, vitamin K, and magnesium need to be taken alongside calcium to benefit bone health. The combination of all these form a stack, which is when supplements work together towards a common goal (don’t worry, I’ll discuss stacking in the future).
Calcium deficiencies are rare, and can be easily fixed by slightly modifying your diet. Calcium supplementation is largely unnecessary.
Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) is a molecule made by the cells to help the body produce energy. It is a very popular supplement because it’s marketed as an antioxidant, is supposed to be heart-healthy, and is claimed to have ‘bioenergetic health effects.’
CoQ10 is a very important molecule for people that have suffered a heart attack, since CoQ10 supplementation can reduce the risk of a second heart attack. It also may be useful for those on statin therapy, because certain side effects may be caused by statins reducing CoQ10 levels. CoQ10 may have an antioxidant effect, but current evidence suggests it is quite weak, making it an unnecessary supplement for people with healthy hearts.
So if you're not taking statins or haven't suffered a heart attack, or don't have increased risk for heart disease, don’t fall for the marketing: skip CoQ10 supplementation.
3 More Supplements that are a Waste of Money
Correcting low testosterone can be a life changer -- sudden gains at the gym, improved mood, once again feeling randy in the bedroom. But T-boosting supplements simply do not deliver on their promises, especially for those with normal testosterone looking to get even higher.
The problem is that supplement companies aren’t outlawed from cherry picking rat study results to fool you into thinking there’s good evidence for their T-boosters. Some T-boosters can in fact increase libido, but have no effect on your actual testosterone levels. So you may feel like something is happening, but it they’re not actually increasing your testosterone levels.
Even the rare supplement that has an effect on testosterone will have very minor effects. Prescription testosterone products from a physician can double or triple testosterone, while an effective supplement might increase T by 30% or so. So to maintain healthy testosterone levels, stick to what’s shown to work: steady doses of sleep and weightlifting, and enough food and fat to support hormone levels.
Glutamine is an essential amino acid that plays a variety of roles in the body. It’s found in muscle tissue, so meat products have high levels of glutamine. Adding glutamine to a muscle cell causes the cell to grow.
Unfortunately, supplementing glutamine doesn’t work for building muscle. The glutamine never makes it to the muscles because the intestines absorb the glutamine and only release a bit to the muscles (and only as you need them). So even if you supplement a lot, the intestines end up hoarding it for themselves!
So supplementing glutamine for muscle gains does not work. Supplementing glutamine IS good for gut health! Still, if your goal is to improve gut health, just supplement whey protein. It has high glutamine levels and is cheaper than just buying glutamine itself.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) are three amino acids that marketers claim improve muscular endurance and growth. The main amino acid is called leucine. There is evidence that suggests supplementing leucine in a fasted state (meaning you haven’t eaten) can improve muscle protein synthesis, which is part of the process of building muscle.
People interested in building muscle will experience more benefits from eating a high protein meal instead of supplementing leucine. Protein contains BCAAs anyway, so unless you are specifically training fasted, whey protein is a far more effective supplement than BCAAs.
BONUS: Carbohydrate Supplementation
Supplement stores are filled with fancy carbohydrate supplements promising enhanced glycogen replenishment. It is marketed that faster glycogen replenishment means better muscular performance … except that most studies don’t find much benefit from glycogen replenishment supplements.
Rest days should be a part of any workout program because glycogen will naturally replenish during rest. Unless you’re an extreme endurance athlete who prefers gel carbohydrate supplements to liquids, a simple sports drink will render a fancy carbohydrate supplement unnecessary.
3 Supplements that Absolutely Work
Fish oil is a popular supplement because it provides a variety of health benefits. Inside your cells, you have a ratio of omega-6 fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. The standard western diet is high very in omega-6 fatty acids, so supplementation of fish oil (a great source for omega-3 fatty acids) can balance the ratio, which improves overall health.
The most noticeable results from fish oil supplementation include benefits for severe depression, joint pain reduction (when supplemented by athletes in high doses), and a powerful triglyceride reducing effect. Fish oil’s effect on triglycerides is so potent that it is also sold as pharmaceutical grade fish oil, under the brand name Lovaza.
Vitamin D supplementation can improve mood and provide long-term protection against cognitive decline and bone deterioration. It stacks very well with vitamin K and magnesium. Stacking means that these supplements, when taken together, have a more powerful effect than taking the supplements individually.
Vitamin D’s effects are sometimes exaggerated, but that doesn’t mean it’s ineffective - it simply went from underused to overhyped. While it is not a cure-all, vitamin D is cheap, safe, and effective for long term supplementation. People in cold places or overcast areas should particularly take it.
Creatine is one of the most popular supplement among weight lifters, and for good reason. It’s basically a source of energy for your cells. Extra energy for your cells help you power through intense activity while also increasing the rate of muscular growth.
Creatine has a lot of evidence to support its safety (it’s found naturally in food), plus it’s cheap and can be supplemented indefinitely. Creatine is a compound with a variety of health effects, including benefits to physical performance, muscle growth, and liver health. Even better, research is indicating that because it’s a source of energy for your cells, it may even have neuroprotective and other helpful benefits!
N-Acetylcysteine (NAC) stands out from the crowd of antioxidants on the supplement store shelf because it’s actually effective when supplemented. NAC is needed to produce the antioxidant enzyme called glutathione, which exerts a general protective effect on the body.
NAC can also be supplemented for a variety of cognitive benefits, which include the treatment of drug addiction, reducing irritability and obsession, and protecting against cognitive decline.
NAC is also one of the few supplements that might actually remove heavy metals from the body. Though many detoxifying supplements are claimed to have this effect, NAC is one of the few that delivers.