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.
Table of Contents
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.
What Supplement to Take Instead
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…
- Synephrine. This increases both basal metabolic rate and lipolysis, inhibits the activity of certain fat cell receptors that prevent fat mobilization, and increases the thermic effect of food (the “energy cost” of metabolizing food).
- Naringin. This stimulates the production of a hormone called adiponectin, which is involved in the breakdown of fat cells, and that it activates a type of receptor in fat cells that regulates fat mobilization (the PPARα receptor).
Through these mechanisms, naringin also works synergistically with synephrine and hesperidin to further accelerate the basal metabolic rate.
- Hesperidin. Like naringin, this also stimulates the production of adiponectin and activates the PPARa receptor. It also improves blood flow and reduces the inflammation of blood vessels.
- Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG). This inhibits the activity of a different enzyme also responsible for breaking down neurotransmitters that induce lipolysis. It has also been shown to reduce abdominal fat in particular.
- Forskolin. This increases blood plasma and intracellular levels of a molecule known as cAMP. When cAMP is high, it signifies a lack of ATP (the most basic form of cellular energy in the body) and thus initiates a process to make more ATP by burning through energy reserves (body fat).
- And more…
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:
- Deer velvet antler doesn’t increase testosterone levels
- Nor does it increase growth hormone levels
- Nor does it increase muscle strength or growth
What Supplements to Take Instead
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:
- 5 grams of creatine monohydrate.
- 2100 milligrams of L-carnitine L-tartrate.
- 10.8 milligrams of corosolic acid.
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.
What Supplements to Take Instead
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:
- A study conducted by Massey University found that HMB supplementation improved lower-body strength, but had negligible effects on body composition in resistance trained men.
- A study conducted by the Singapore Sports Council found that HMB supplementation had no effect on strength or body composition in resistance trained men.
- A study conducted by the University of Memphis found that HMB supplementation did not reduce catabolism or affect training-induced changes in body composition and strength in experienced resistance-trained males.
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…
- HMB. β-Hydroxy β-Methylbutyrate (also known as HMB) is a substance formed when your body metabolizes the amino acid leucine.
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.
- Yohimbine. Research shows that yohimbine enables your body to reduce fat stores faster, and it’s particularly useful as you get leaner and are battling with stubborn fat holdouts.
- Citicoline. CDP-choline (also known as citicoline) is a chemical that occurs naturally in the brain that increases levels of another chemical called phosphatidylcholine, which is vital for brain function.Research shows that supplementation with CDP-choline improves attentional focus, and I included this in FORGE because most people find fasted training more mentally draining than fed training and CDP-choline can help counteract this.
The bottom line is FORGE helps you lose fat–and “stubborn” fat in particular–faster, preserve muscle, and maintain training intensity and mental sharpness.
What Supplement to Take Instead
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.
What Supplement to Take Instead
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.
What Supplement to Take Instead
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:
- Get a good liquid zinc supplement, like this. Keep it in the fridge.
- Remove it from the fridge and let sit for two hours at room temperature.
- Refrain from eating or smoking for an hour, and then take a sip of it (5 – 10 ml) and swirl it around in your mouth for 10 seconds.
- Assess your zinc levels as follows:
1. Very Deficient: If it tastes like plain water for all 10 seconds, you’re severely deficient and should supplement with about 150 mg of zinc per day to correct, and retest after a week.
2. Quite Deficient: If it first tastes like water and then, within the ten seconds of the test, it tastes dry or metallic, this indicates a moderate deficiency. Supplement with about 100 mg of zinc per day to correct, and retest after a week.
3. Slightly Deficient: If you immediately notice a slight dry, metallic taste, and it increases with time over the ten second period, this indicates a minor deficiency. Supplement with about 50 mg per day to correct, and retest after a week.
4. Adequate: If the dry, metallic taste is immediate, strong, and unpleasant, this indicates no deficiency is present. It’s likely that your diet is providing sufficient zinc. You can retest every couple of weeks to ensure you haven’t developed a deficiency.
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:
- Three studies with small sample sizes reported statistically significant, albeit small, decreases in fat mass over the placebo groups.
(In case you were wondering, the best result was 1.3 kg more weight lost than placebo group over a 3-month period.)
- Two studies found no difference in weight loss between the garcinia cambogia and placebo groups, including the largest and most rigorous study reviewed.
- The results of the remaining studies reviewed were marred by serious design and/or execution flaws.
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.
What Supplements to Take Instead
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:
- Animal research can not be used as proof of human effectiveness. The human and rat body just isn’t similar enough, and this is especially true when talking about metabolic functions.
- One of the rat studies was in vitro research. This means parts of living rats were removed to be studied in isolation, as opposed to research done with living, intact organisms (in vivoresearch).
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.
- The in vivo rat study that demonstrated weight gain prevention used an absolutelymassive oral dose: up to 20 g/kg of body weight, or 4761 times greater than the average human intake.
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.