Bodybuilding Supplements: Are You The Sucker?


Those of us vigorously pursuing fitness goals tend to be easy marks for bodybuilding supplements that are heavy on hype but light on substance. We work hard at the gym, we pay attention to everything that goes into our bodies. We are determined to lose or gain the weight and build the muscle that our goals demand. Still, the results from all our dedication can often be slow to appear.

Then, on a trip to the supplement store, we see the newest bodybuilding supplement “XYZ.” The box’s headline tells us that XYZ “will revolutionize the future of bodybuilding nutrition.” We’re hooked. We have to read on.

“May increase testosterone by 50%.”

“A recent study produced a 75% strength gain in individuals taking XYZ.”

“Rats taking XYZ dropped 50% fat and gained 50% muscle.”

“Steroid-like gains are now safely possible.”

Sounds incredible. Our imagination takes off. Visions appear in our heads of achieving our goals ahead of schedule, of missing a workout or two without guilt – as a serving of XYZ makes up the difference.

Hopefully, before we hit the checkout stand, a rational moment will sweep over us. Yes, XYZ may increase testosterone by 50%. Of course, it may not. Cardboard may also increase testosterone (to my knowledge, cardboard has never been disproved for testosterone enhancement). Sure, those people may have increased their strength by 75%. But was that because of or in spite of XYZ? Who did the study? And whoever saw a rat with six-pack abs? Is that really a relevant statistic?

If there ever is a way to safely and legally achieve steroid-like results, you probably won’t learn about it for the first time on a bodybuilding supplement box. Rather, something like that would make the nightly news. Or, perhaps you would get curious when you started mistaking an awful lot of men for governors.

With an objective eye, it isn’t that difficult to spot the hype. The key is making sure you stay objective. George Bernard Shaw said, “The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it.” Take heed and make sure you maintain rationality when considering bodybuilding supplements.

Many people have a false sense of security that the government is watching, that it has people in place ready to pounce on any half-truth a supplement company can dream up. This simply isn’t true.

Bodybuilding supplements in the United States are covered by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994. Prior to this act, supplements were held to the same standards as food and were the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

DSHEA was passed in response to concerns that the FDA was unnecessarily restrictive in its regulation of dietary supplements. The act essentially created a special food category for dietary supplements that took the responsibilities for their labeling and manufacturing processes from the FDA and placed it with the manufacturers.

There are guidelines they must follow. While labels can’t suggest the supplement can prevent, treat or cure a disease, they can make claims that it has effects on the structure or function of the body (with a disclaimer that the statements haven’t been evaluated by the FDA). The guidelines go further to state that label claims must be truthful and not misleading, that all claims must be adequately substantiated.

This leaves some wiggle room for even the most conservative supplement advertisers (if such a species exists). Supplement companies hire writers not to educate their consumers but to move product.

The FDA polices the label claims made by supplement companies and gets help from the FTC for advertisements away from the point-of-purchase. Other federal agencies act in support roles and state-by-state laws can come into play.

In the end though, these regulations and their enforcement should provide little peace of mind for prospective supplement purchasers. It isn’t hard to find many products seemingly ignoring the guidelines and just hoping they don’t get caught.

With literally thousands of companies marketing tens of thousands of dietary supplements, the FDA simply doesn’t have enough resources to pursue all offenders. Instead, it must concentrate its efforts on those it deems the most grievous. It’s like charging a couple of cats with controlling New York City’s rat population. They will catch a few, but you are still going to see rats.

Don’t mistake this to be an anti-supplement or even anti-DSHEA article. In most cases, the protection we give up is well worth the freedom we gain to make educated and intelligent choices regarding those supplements we feel may be able to help our health and fitness goals.

There are many bodybuilding supplements that can greatly aid muscle-building programs. Applying a little common sense when evaluating your options will help you see through a label’s hype and keep the role the supplement can play in perspective.

In the end, the success or failure of your body-changing quest will always be most attributable to your training and dieting. Don’t let bodybuilding supplement hype distract you from placing and keeping your emphasis on these areas.