4 Supplement Scams You Should Avoid

I’ve been consistently training with weights for about twenty-five years. I do not regret all the hours I have spent in the gym—it has resulted in a healthier, stronger version of me.

But if I had it all to do over I would have spent much, much less money on bodybuilding supplements. I was naïve about the industry and all the garbage that was being marketed to young men. I always encourage young trainees to be very skeptical about supplements.


I’d like to share four of the worst supplement scams in hopes that it will help you to wise up and not fall for the hype next time you check out a bodybuilding website or nutrition store.

1. The “Proprietary Blend”

You’ll frequently see this term on the label of bottles of bodybuilding supplements. Companies are allowed to list the ingredients in their products without telling you exactly how much of said ingredients are in their formula. They can do this legally under the pretense of guarding their patented formula.

Here’s the problem: you never really know exactly what you are buying. Many companies, in fact, will put tiny amounts of several compounds in their “proprietary blend” to make it look more impressive. Industry insiders call this practice “fairy dusting.” The long, impressive list of ingredients is called “label decoration” by the same insiders.

Your supplement may have a long list of ingredients without an effective dose of any of them. This even assumes that said ingredients do anything in the first place—which is a huge assumption. The “proprietary blend” loophole leads to paying for more filler and less of the substances that are (supposedly) helping you to achieve better gains.

2. The (Real) Active Ingredient

Even “effective” supplements can be deceptive because of one ingredient that actually works. Let’s take caffeine as an example. Multiple studies have proven caffeine’s efficacy for mobilizing fat, controlling appetite, delaying fatigue, and even reducing pain during exercise. Guess what the active ingredient in most “fat burners” and “pre workout” supplements is? You got it—caffeine. You’d probably do just as well to buy some generic caffeine tablets at a fraction of the price.

Creatine monohydrate is another example—multiple studies have been conducted (over 500), with most of them (over 70%) concluding that it works. Some supplement companies have taken advantage of this by mixing creatine with a several unnecessary and overpriced ingredients. The resulting formula is “clinically proven” to add size and strength, but the trainee would have saved a lot of money if he had just used regular creatine monohydrate instead of “super awesome mass pump anabolic secret formula.”

3. The Celebrity Endorsement

Dr. Oz was recently called out for endorsing green coffee bean extract based on shoddy research. This isn’t first questionable supplement he has endorsed. But supplement companies have been using this method to promote their products ever since I can remember. The endorsement may come from someone with academic or medical credentials, or from a high-profile fitness expert.

The bodybuilding industry’s version of this is to have a steroid-using bodybuilder promote their supplement, as if 20-inch arms are made possible by ingesting the right type of protein powder. Always follow the money if you want to know what motivates such claims.

4. Spiking

This may be the least common practice, but it is also the most dangerous. Some supplement manufacturers have resorted to putting banned or illegal substances in supplements in order to get quick results and build some “street credibility.” I’ve heard rumors of this quite some time, and I’ve seen quite a few recalls of supplements over the past few years for this reason. Some were even found to cause liver damage.

How do you avoid falling for scams like these? Here are a few easy steps:

1. Stick with a few basic supplements: a multivitamin, protein powder, fish oil, and creatine monohydrate are enough for most trainees.

2. Read labels carefully and know exactly what ingredients you are buying (and ingesting). I usually avoid proprietary formulas altogether.

3. Don’t jump on the bandwagon. A bunch of meatheads talking something up on a forum is no reason to start using the latest greatest “muscle builder.” Always wait a few years and see what the research says before trying a new supplement.

Read More: The Truth About Anabolic Steroids

98 thoughts on “4 Supplement Scams You Should Avoid”

  1. OR, you can just eat sensibly, have a decent gym routine and lift hard and build gains with out all that crap.
    Seriously if you really have to take a pre or post supplement, drink some Chocolate milk or regular milk. nice doses of protein, vitamin d which helps synthesize testosterone

    1. True, you don’t need supplements, but they are convenient at times.Most important is nutrition (i.e. caloric intake). If you eat too little no amount of lifting hard is going to matter. If you eat too much, you’ll get fat as you get big. It’s fairly easy to calculate your macros (in theory) for gains, maintaining, and cutting. I have no problem getting into the gym, the real work is hitting those macros every single day. The only supplements I use is whey, for protein, and caffeine (if you can call that a supplement) to kick any tiredness before a lift.

      1. You don’t need supplements when you are young but you will need them when you get older. Certain micro-nutrients which your body produces in abundance when you are young are reduced as you get older (taurine, co-q10 etc.). Also, various environmental insults to your body can only be addressed by recourse to anti-inflammatory and/or anti-oxidant supplements.
        Btw, nutrition and caloric intake are not the same thing. If you are eating non-toxic food you can’t eat too much, you cannot get fat and you don’t need to worry about macro-nutrients. Worrying about calories and macros will lead you down the garden path.

        1. Agreed.
          For example as men get older they need more magnesium – around 400 mg. daily. Most men do not get that amount from diet alone.

      1. Milk promotes an acidic environment in the body which leeches calcium from the bones. Very little osteoporosis in cultures that don’t consume milk after being weened. Yes, feeding cows hormones and chemicals will find its way into the milk.

    2. OR you can do what you describe AND use effective supplements and build even better gains.
      With respect, regular milk is awful. Never drink it.
      Don’t listen to anyone who says ALWAYS use supplements. Also, don’t listen to anyone who says NEVER use supplements. Neither of these people know what they are talking about.

    3. Yeah, phosphate loading the crap out of your kidneys with creatine is fun!
      Think of all that extra energy you’ll be burning while you’re forming kidney stones, but at least you can bust them up with a little vitamin C, right?
      Lookin’ good, yeah!
      Well, at least when it doesn’t hurt to pee …

  2. people do not realize that flax seeds have protein and a ton of fiber to (40% daily intake), prunes have both fiber and protein. Yogurt and Kafir are both high in protein. The whey proteins are ripoffs. Your bones can only handle so much muscle, all the guys pictured on the boxes are all on roids.

    1. yeah I think there’s a lot of truth to that.
      If meat and all that were so important, wouldn’t dr’s recommend more servings per day?

      1. Watch your balance of protein vs. the cholesterol intake from meat. Also check out other sources of cholesterol reducers (e.g., olive oil) or cholesterol inhibitors to include in your diet.

        1. The connection between dietary and circulating cholesterol, is sufficiently tenous to render caring about the former almost entirely irrelevant. Lifestyle/exercise has much bigger effect on cholesterol profiles than how much egg yolk and meat you eat. And genetics has a bigger effect than both of those combined..
          On the other hand, cholesterol is a prime component of/precursor to sex hormones. So for natural lifters, getting enough of it, is more important than worrying about getting too much.

        2. Bullshit. Dietary cholesterol has no relation to circulating cholesterol.
          Don’t ever listen to someone trying to sell you drugs.

        3. cholesterol that is too low is BAD. I invite all you guys to do some research on this. 200-250 range is better than 160.

        4. Ive read that high circulating chol has to do with inflammation in the body, its a coping mechanism implying something is outta whack.

        5. unless you have a deficiency, your body shoukd be capable of producing all the cholesterol it needs. and excess cholesterol is not readily removed from the system.

    2. Who’s this genius?
      The protein content of the average prune is about 2 percent, so to get 50 grams of protein you’ll need to eat 2500 grams (5.5 pounds) of prunes. Have fun on the crapper.
      …and you do realize that the protein in both yogurt and kefir is a mixture of whey and casein, right? So if “whey proteins are ripoffs” then yogurt and kefir must also be a ripoff.
      Congrats on making yourself look like an uneducated fool.

      1. If someone wants to go with prunes we’d find out if a person can shit himself to death. 😀

  3. The only supplement I take with any regularity is vit D, and only during the winter when I don’t go outside. Everything else comes from food.

  4. I had a novice weightlifting friend who heard that science diet dogfood had growth hormone which was unregulated in animal feeds. So we tried some on a cracker like hummus. Not bad actually. I can’t attest to any gains. The dog food kick was short lived. I prefer fried liver – pure protein. Wolves will engorge themselves with fresh kill until they can eat no more and then the pack will go and sleep it off for awhile. Obviously eating before bedtime is ok for wolves.

  5. Dr OZ is so pussywhipped-he believes in vaccines but his wife doesn’t. So naturally his kids arent immunized. Would you trust a man like that with your health?

  6. Most supplements, vitamins etc. in whatever form are just recipes for expensive urine. The body can only absorb so much anyway. Healthy food, healthy exercise, healthy mind = healthy life.

    1. This is interesting because any supplementation in a healthy person’s diet would simply be meeting a slight nutrition deficiency. In a person who consumes the dirt of the human dietary continuum, vitamins, fish oil and others would have a profound effect towards health because it adds in a factor of actually filling the body’s needs for specific chemicals.

  7. My source of mirth has been watching fellows take “free testosterone” supplements to get those abs and while constantly looking down at their abs they don’t notice it’s making them bald.
    What they fail at is that we produce testosterone from estrogen and we make plenty of that too in proportions based on physical need. If you lift, you need more T to heal damaged muscle tissue.
    What I have observed over the years is that the muscleheads who did their homework will eat foods that are more comparable to that of which a menopausal woman would eat to avoid their hot flashes and saggy boobs and all that. What are these a bunch of homos? Nope – they did their homework and are not responding to flashy adds. A healthy diet with lots of “estrogenic” food actually promotes estrogen production but as before, we convert that. The reduction in testosterone that occurs as we age is a result of the overall drop and ratio drop correlation with aging. The body will keep the balance so you won’t go growing tits and watching reruns of Oprah.
    And if you did that would indicate something broke enzyme-wise and you have a medical condition needing some attention.
    (and if you have tits already you might put the beer down, chubby)
    The most important thing about this is that the body will not overproduce testosterone because extra combined with stress is what creates the DHT from free testosterone and that’s where the pattern baldness fairy pays a visit. Unless you can look good pulling a Bruce Willis or Jason Statham thing, you don’t want to bring that on earlier than it should. And believe me I see a lot of fellows getting thin upstairs way too young, more so than it used to be and I think those supplements are the cause of it.

    1. An over-production of testosterone is actually a thing and it leads to some pretty gnar stuff. If you think of Test like a right-shifted bell curve you might get the real intel.

      1. Right. It’s always up to the endocrine system though (unless there is a medical condition). Your body will never make too much of it, but can lack the materials to make it. That’s the key to maintaining health past 35 without having to take supplement. I’m 44 and pass for 30.

    2. so an estrogenic food like soy is good for men? just curious, your statement runs counter to everything Ive read before.

    3. we produce testosterone from estrogen

      Where did you hear that? I have heard of test converting to estrogen but not the other way round.

      I see a lot of fellows getting thin upstairs way too young, more so than it used to be

      Come on mate, enough of the unscientific anecdotes.

  8. spot on article. I would like to mention maca. its a super food. you want to buy red maca, its exellent for your prostate and it increases testosterone, and gives u the dick of an 18 year old.

  9. If you want any kind of serious gains, you have to use HGH or steroids. There is no determination or protein shake that will make you look like your idols. They use roids/HGH. Accept that now, or waste a lot of time (and risk injury) attempting the impossible. You can look impressive to the average joe, but you wont get big even if genetics are on your side you’re more likely to fuck your joints and tendons up. Roids increase your free testosterone by upwards of 300%.

    1. Or, you could step back and realize that if your “idols” are so due to roids, it’s perhaps time for a bit of introspection and recalibration….. Just a suggestion….

  10. #4 has become a problem in recent years. My mother and I were both using a product called Slim Xtreme a few years ago before it was found to be laced with a recalled diet aid. (Meridia, I believe.) It served its purpose well, though – it gave you a good buzz and killed your appetite for a good 14 hours or so.

  11. All supplements are a scam. Hell, the fitness industry is a scam. You plateau building natural muscle 6 months to two years max after you begin weight training, and two years is someone with EXCELLENT genetics. After that, if synthetic hormones aren’t in the mix you’re done. You can get pharmaceutical grade testosterone on the black market for a fraction of what you would spend on supplements. No brainer here.

  12. Two caffeine pills and a glass of orange juice (or tomato juice). Thats what I’ve been taking for my workouts since I hit the wall at age 35. Before then I never took anything except a bottle of water. It worked for me. Gatorade and energy drınks are just sugar, and I have NEVER trusted any of those thıngs (whey, creatine, whatever) flyıng off the shelves of GNC, etc. I know some guys ın thıer late 40’s that now have problems wıth thier kidneys, bladders and other issues and they all religıously drank those mıxes ın thıer 20’s & 30’s. No thanks. I avoid foods known to deplete testosterone (soy milk), lift heavy (wıthın reason) and just try to be as organıcally healthy as possible. Why would you want that other stuff??

    1. BTW, some days you just CAN’T lift as well as you want. Some days you just have BAD WORKOUTS and you will feel weak, crappy and pissed off about it. It happens! And a week later, you wıll feel like you can lift the entire gym and run 100 mıles afterwards. Yın and yang. No one ıs consıstently awesome everyday. Thats lıfe!

      1. You’re right Scott…I remember the bio-rhythm thing back in the 80’s…I think there’s something to that. Some days you’re ‘off’ no matter how you try, some days it’s all near effortless…go figure.

    2. I thought only women “hit the wall”? Not sure what you mean by this?
      I know you avoid Gatorade but you are aware that orange juice is “just sugar”?

    3. caffeine pills to constrict your blood vessels? you ever try 4 Loco (caffeine plus malt liquor) before a work out?

  13. Here’s the diet fellas:
    Supplements: ZMA, kelp, multi-vitamins, a powerful digestive aid. It should ideally contain ox bile and pancreatin.
    Plain water
    Dairy (limited, ideally raw)
    No fruits (Avoid all fruit juice.)
    Cooked vegetables
    Soft-cooked eggs
    Nuts (limited)
    Avoid most fish, and all seafood and shellfish due to toxic metal contamination.
    Proteins to avoid. Pork, ham and all pig products may contain parasitic infections, even if well-cooked.
    Avoid wheat and spelt in all forms.
    Always cook grains thoroughly. Grains are best eaten freshly cooked, if possible.
    Avoid coconut oil and palm oil.
    Also avoid all sugars, if possible.
    Use sea salt with your cooking. However, do not drink water with sea salt in it. Strictly avoid table salt, a very poor quality product.
    Avoid or use sparingly all medicinal herbs, especially those imported from Asia or Latin America.
    Cooking. Preferably steam your food to cook it.
    Eating Habits. Do not skip meals. Preferably, eat a meal every few hours if you have hypoglycemia. However, do not eat or snack all the time. Rest a few minutes before eating. Then sit down in a quiet place to eat. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. Relax at least 10 minutes after eating before leaving the table or returning to your activities. Rotate your diet, eating the same food no more than every other day, if possible.

    1. That “a” diet.
      Why a powerful digestive aid?
      No fruit?
      I would avoid all grains
      Why avoid coconut oil?
      Why not drink water with sea salt in it.
      What do you mean by not skipping meals

      1. That’s MAN’S DIET.
        1. Most people do not digest food well, especially meat
        2. Fruit nowadays is hybridised and it’s full of sugar
        3. Blue corn maze is very nutritious food
        4. Coconut oil is very yin and it’s foreign to European people
        5. The salt prevents proper hydration
        6. Many people skip breakfast and dinner. It slows their metabolism.

        1. 1. I think I would only take this if I had digestive problems.
          2. Fruit has been modified for millenia. “Full of sugar” is a bit of an exaggeration. A slice of melon has significantly less “sugar” than an equal weight of bread. Not only that, the fibre in fruit reduces the glucose absorbtion (meaning less circulating glucose and insulin) and fruits are “full of vital nutrients”.
          3. Can’t speak to this but grains in general are “full of sugar”.
          4. We are not all Europeans here :-). Regardless, this doesn’t seem like a reason not to eat it.
          5. My understanding is “real” sea salt promotes fluid retention and hydration and is a vital electrolyte that is rapidly lost during intense training.
          6. I never eat breakfast and dinner. It doesn’t matter if you metabolism slows. It will speed back up when you eat.

        2. 2. Fruit is too Yin and for that reason, women’s food.
          3. In blue corn maze there’s a highly bioavailable form of selenium.
          4. Coconut is a tropical fruit. Too yin.
          6. Your body’s metabolism is like maintaining fire, you need to keep it going or it dies out. If you don’t eat breakfast and dinner it means your fire is out for too long.

      1. How about using them to address mineral deficiencies? I never considered them for gains but they seem to help with the cramps after intense exercise.

        1. As I mentioned in the article, it’s fine to use magnesium (citrate is probably the best) and a a little zinc. Just don’t overdo the zinc and don’t pay for some special zma formula.

    2. You got orthorexia, bro.
      Just eat normal. A lot of articles about neurotic women apply to guys as well these days.

  14. What about:
    The last two are hard to get from food these days due to industrial farming techniques that have caused yields to skyrocket over the last 60 yrs at the expense of actual nutrition in food. And arginine is good for your chubby (women should take this as well).

  15. Excellent and helpful article. I do wish you elaborated more. I feel, from your writing, you have a lot more to say on this issue and from what is here I think it will be accurate and well written. May I suggest a follow up?
    Some suggestions might be the difference between quality and shitty whey. The scam of Casein: Just buy some low fat cottage cheese, Stop taking CLA–you don’t even know what the hell it is, the useful and useless ways to use glutamine, how to use BCAAs and a detailed examination of preworkout suppz.
    Between this and your steroid article I feel you are the right person to go after this very important issue.

  16. Stopping smoking also helps you get much better gains. I have heard that smoking takes up as much as 20 percent of your calorie intake. Since I have stopped I have put on 14 lbs and it’s mostly muscle

    1. Good job. I never understand why people smoke. Its like voluntarily contracting a fatal disease with painful symptom.

      1. For many people. On the other hand you’ll find men who live to their 90’s who smoke several cigars a day. I strongly suspect genetics plays more of a role in what kind of things make us die early than the actual things themselves, within the scope of things that don’t kill us immediately (hemlock, for example). Nothing scientific to go on, just a hunch.

        1. Certainly genetics plays a role but I would say you live to 90 in spite of smoking. Smoking is an easy win though. We can directly observe the effects of smoking on your arteries, organs and athletic ability. Not only that, your life expectancy is sharply reduced. This is shown by actuarial study. If you are smoking please stop. It is virtually guaranteed to kill you.

        2. I smoked pipe in the military in the mid 80’s mostly to annoy people (seriously, it’s why I did it). Today I’ll take a cigar once or twice a year, tops. So in effect, no, I really don’t smoke.
          People say the same thing about alcohol, but those 103 year old Russian men who chug a litre of vodka a day probably wouldn’t live much longer if they hadn’t drank.
          Yes, I know genetics is risky to bet your life on, I just happen to think it plays a bit more of a role to susceptibility to falling prone to bad effects of certain bad behaviors than most would credit it. God that was an unwieldy sentence, but I’m going to let it stand, heh.

  17. I got a buddy who works in the Supplement industry and the average person who buys supplement he says is an idiot. The Dr OZ thing is true as soon as he mentions some sort of vitamin/supplement companies stock up on it and that supplement sells through the roof. Never mind that most studies on supplements like Garcina Cambogia/Green Coffee Extract have been shown to be placebo’s. People especially over the age of 30 don’t do they research and belive anything that clown(Dr Oz) says
    Do your research people!!!!

  18. Maybe it’s time for me to submit an essay on prostate supplements.
    In a couple of words : baking soda.

  19. How about trying this shit: Black Widow Ephedra-Extreme Fat Burner. I don’t even think it is legal in many countries.

  20. How about trying this shit: Black Widow Ephedra-Extreme Fat Burner. I don’t even think it is legal in many countries.
    Contains: ephedra, Cocoa, theine, yohimbe, guarana, caffeine and ginger, among other stuff. Might as well take MDMA with red bull before your routine.

  21. Guys need to learn how to cook. Since chicks lost that skill, we need to help ourselves. How about an article on cooking?
    BTW it’s an almost entirely male profession, cause its smeeelly, hooot and streeeessful!

  22. If you have ever taken Hyde Black, you can tell that shit is on a whole different level. I am curious whether it would qualify as a ‘spiked’ supplement.

  23. I’m a competitive bodybuilder. I know that doctors do not know shit about what is good for physical appearances. I eat 2-3 pounds of meat a day, 100g of whey a day, 2-300 grams of carbs per day… take creatine, caffeine, ephedrine, etc. I have had no health issues in years and years. I heal quick, I can out-lift, out-run, and out-think 90% of the population. what you put in you will be. I eat to be strong, I eat fairly clean, and i have results to show for it.

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