If you’re familiar with my work, you know what I think of the supplement industry: it’s under-regulated and overflowing with worthless garbage or worse, and should be viewed with a very skeptical eye and tight-fisted budget.
And although certain supplements can help you achieve your health and fitness goals, they are by no means necessary. They can only supplement your progress at best, not dramatically affect it.
So, in this article, I’m going to talk about 9 popular supplements that actually suck, and what you can take instead to achieve the desired effects.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I want you to know that the supplements I recommend in this article are not just what I personally use but they are from my supplement line, LEGION.
As you probably know, the supplement industry is notorious for its lies and shenanigans. The truth is the majority of the supplements you see in the magazines and on the shelves aren’t going to help you reach your goals faster.
That’s why I decided to create the products I myself have always wanted: science-based formulations, clinically effective dosages of all ingredients, no fillers or unnecessary junk, and natural sweetening and flavoring.
And if you like what you see and decide to support my work…you’re awesome. 🙂 It’s because of people like you that I get to spend my time writing articles like this that help others get into the best shape of their lives.
Hoodia is a small plant that looks like a cactus, and has long been used by South African bushmen to suppress the appetite.
The gordonii species is a garden plant and is sold as a weight loss aid, but research has shown that it is ineffective as an appetite suppressant and may be toxic in dosages often recommended.
Many people like to include an appetite suppressant when dieting to lose weight because it helps with compliance.
Before you do this, however, I would recommend you make sure you’re not restricting your calories too heavily and that you utilize other dietary strategies to reduce hunger. These methods are often effective enough to prevent the need for any supplements.
That said, if you’re keeping yourself in a mild calorie deficit and doing everything you can to minimize hunger through your diet and meal planning, then you can take a supplement called 5-HTP.
5-HTP is a precursor to serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that induces feelings of happiness, and which has been proven to increase satiety (fullness) when ingested with meals.
You can buy 5-HTP as a standalone supplement, but you can also find it in my fat burner PHOENIX, which contains 7 other ingredients scientifically proven to accelerate fat loss, including…
Through these mechanisms, naringin also works synergistically with synephrine and hesperidin to further accelerate the basal metabolic rate.
Typical dosages are 300 – 500 mg per day, and should be taken with meals. Don’t supplement with 5-HTP if you’re taking any drugs for depression or cognitive performance, as the interaction can be dangerous (especially true in the case of SSRIs).
Deer velvet antler is crushed deer antlers (not just the velvety material that grows on them), and it’s used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for various preventative health purposes.
It’s also sold as a bodybuilding supplement with claims of increasing testosterone and growth hormone levels and improving physical performance, but the research says otherwise:
Let’s address each of the deer velvet antler’s selling points separately, starting with increasing testosterone levels.
The Truth About Testosterone Supplements
While there are things you can do to naturally increase testosterone levels, if you’re trying to increase muscle size or strength, you’ll be disappointed.
As I discuss in this article, fluctuations of testosterone levels within normal physiological ranges, up or down, doesn’t much affect how much muscle and strength you gain from weightlifting.
To really notice a difference, testosterone levels must exceed normal physiological ranges and no dietary methods or supplements will accomplish this (only steroids can).
That said, research has shown that varying levels of testosterone within physiological normal ranges does have significant effects on body fat percentage.
Although the exact mechanisms behind this aren’t fully understood just yet, research has show that testosterone directly inhibits the creation of fat cells and that low testosterone is a contributing factor to obesity.
Furthermore, natural-level variations in testosterone can also affect the libido in men.
So, if you’re looking to raise testosterone levels to build more muscle, natural methods won’t help you. But if you’re looking to stay leaner and improve your libido, you have natural options. I talk about them here.
The Truth About Human Growth Hormone Supplements
Like testosterone boosters, there are all kinds of products out there that claim to be able to boost growth hormone levels, but they’re completely bogus.
They usually include a variety of amino acids that have never been proven to increase growth hormone levels, along with other strange-sounding ingredients that have absolutely no human research behind them whatsoever.
One very common ingredient that deserves a quick blurbis gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA. Research has shown that supplementation with GABA elevates resting and postexercise growth hormone levels, but the forms of growth hormone increased have not been proven to contribute to muscle growth (there are over 100 forms of growth hormone in your body, and all perform different functions).
The bottom line is as of now, there are no natural substances known to significantly increase growth hormone levels, so save your money by avoiding these types of products.
The Truth About Muscle Building Supplements
When it comes down to it, there really is only one supplement that can reliably accelerate your muscle growth: creatine.
Creatine is an amino-acid-like substance found in foods like red meat, and hundreds of clinical studies have definitively proven its effectiveness as a muscle-building supplement.
There are many forms of creatine available, however, such as monohydrate, citrate, ethyl ester, nitrate, and others. Which is best?
Well, as I discuss in my article on which form of creatine is most effective, good old monohydrate is all you need, and 5 grams per day is enough to reap its benefits.
Here’s my creatine product from my line of workout supplements:
RECHARGE gives you the proven strength, size, and recovery benefits of creatine monohydrate plus the muscle repair and insulin sensitivity benefits of L-carnitine L-tartrate and corosolic acid.
Each serving of RECHARGE contains:
Furthermore, RECHARGE is naturally sweetened with stevia, and naturally flavored, and it contains no junk fillers or artificial food dyes.
Chitosan is derived from chitin, a substance obtained by treating the shells of shellfish such as shrimp, lobster, and crabs.
As the story goes, chitosan helps you lose weight by blocking the absorption of dietary fats, thus effectively reducing the total amount of calories available for use by the body.
What does the research say, though? Well, I’ll just quote the conclusion of this 2008 meta-analysis of 15 chitosan clinical trials of chitoson:
“Results obtained from high quality trials indicate that the effect of chitosan on body weight is minimal and unlikely to be of clinical significance.”
That is, it doesn’t work. Don’t bother with it.
I’ve never liked the idea of taking something that blocks the absorption of nutrients because it’s much easier to just create and follow a proper meal plan and exercise routine, and utilize clinically effective weight loss supplements like caffeine, yohimbine, and green tea extract.
HMB (beta-Hydroxy beta-methylbutyric acid–a mouthful indeed) is a metabolite of the amino acid leucine, and it has been growing in popularity thanks to a handful of studies that indicate it helps with strength and muscle growth, such as this and this.
These studies are controversial, however, because they were conducted by Steven Nissen, the inventor of HMB and owner of the patent.
When you look at unbiased research on HMB, which has also been conducted with resistance-trained men and not the elderly, it’s much less effective than Nissen has reported. For instance:
Researchers from Massey University also conducted a literature review on the subject of HMB supplementation, and their conclusion was very simple (emphasis added):
“Supplementation with HMB during resistance training incurs small but clear overall and leg strength gains in previously untrained men, but effects in trained lifters are trivial.The HMB effect on body composition is inconsequential.”
Save your money if you’re trying to build muscle.
There is one benefit of HMB that’s well established, however: it’s an extremely effective anti-catabolic agent.
That is, it’s very good at preventing muscle breakdown, which means you will recover faster from your workouts and experience less muscle soreness (and the free acid form shows the most promise in this regard).
This makes HMB perfect for use with fasted training.
Its powerful anti-catabolic effects and non-existent insulin effects means you reap all the fat loss benefits of training fasted without any of the problems relating to muscle loss or insulin secretion.
And that’s why you’ll find it in my pre-workout fat burner FORGE, which was made specifically for fasted training.
FORGE is a fat burner made specifically for use with fasted training and it contains clinically effective dosages of…
As you now know, research shows that HMB is an extremely effective anti-catabolic agent, which helps you recover faster from your workouts and experience less muscle soreness.
The bottom line is FORGE helps you lose fat–and “stubborn” fat in particular–faster, preserve muscle, and maintain training intensity and mental sharpness.
Again, creatine is the only supplement that can reliably deliver the types of results that HMB marketers claim.
Tribulus terrestris is an herb commonly sold as a supplement for enhancing the libido and boosting testosterone levels. Check any testosterone supplement on the market and chances are it will contain Tribulus terrestris.
While it appears to improve libido and fertility, multiple studies have proven that supplementation with Tribulus terrestris has no effect ontestosterone levels, body composition, or exercise performance.
As discussed earlier, if you’re looking to increase testosterone levels, one supplement that can actually help is D-aspartic acid.
ZMA is a combination of zinc, magnesium, and vitamin B6, and it’s often sold as a testosterone booster and recovery agent.
Research has shown that a zinc deficiency can lower testosterone levels, and thus supplementation can help under these circumstances. If you’re not deficient, however, ZMA won’t boost your testosterone levels.
Supplementing with zinc is a good idea if you’re deficient, but you have to determine that first. An easy way to do this is the zinc taste test. It works like this:
If you do the above test and discover you’re deficient in zinc, I recommend you pick up some zinc gluconate and supplement accordingly.
If you find and handle a deficiency, you can prevent it from recurring by getting anywhere from 15 – 150 mg of zinc per day, based on your body’s needs. You can obtain this through food or supplementation.
Garcinia cambogia is a small fruit often used in Indian and Asian cuisine to impart a sour flavor. It’s a good natural source of hydroxycitric acid, and has received a lot of media attention recently as a weight loss aid.
These claims are unfounded, however. Like many fad supplements, garcinia cambogia has some animal research on its side, but human research is contradictory and hard to interpret.
A couple rat studies, such as this one, have demonstrated that garcinia cambogia can reduce weight gain during a period of overfeeding. The mechanism by which it accomplished this is the suppression of fatty acid synthesis in the liver (it reduced the amount of fat the body could make from the excess calories).
The human research bursts that bubble, though. A meta analysis of 12 randomized clinical trials of garcinia cambogia found the following:
(In case you were wondering, the best result was 1.3 kg more weight lost than placebo group over a 3-month period.)
The research currently available says that garcinia cambogia probably won’t help you lose weight, but if it did, the best you could hope for is a very small boost.
As discussed in the chitoson section, healthy weight loss requires proper meal planning and workouts, but there are a few supplements that speed up the weight loss process. Namely caffeine, yohimbine, and green tea extract.
Raspberry ketones are the primary aroma compound of the red raspberry (it gives the raspberry its smell), and it’s also found in other fruits like the blackberry and cranberry.
How did such a seemingly random compound find its way into weight loss products? Well, it started with a couple animal studies. One demonstrated that raspberry ketone supplementation prevented weight gain by increasing lipolysis and fat oxidation, and the other backed up this mechanism.
That might be promising if it weren’t for a few little details:
In vitro research is less definitive than in vivo because living organisms are incredibly complex, and sometimes in vitro findings just don’t pan out in vivo.
There is one human trial I know of that is commonly cited as evidence of raspberry ketone’s effectiveness for weight loss.
The problem with this study, however, is the compound was paired with caffeine, capsaicin, garlic, ginger, and citrus aurantium as a source of synephrine. It’s impossible to know if the raspberry ketone did anything or not.
The bottom line is there’s just insufficient evidence to support the use of low oral doses of raspberry ketone for weight loss purposes.