First I want to start with multivitamins, because I know many of you are on the multivitamin train.
To be exact, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, 33% of the US population takes a multivitamin regularly. (1)
And I know your doctor might’ve told you that they can help, and I’m just a guy on YouTube. But at least consider the evidence that your multivitamin supplement might just be completely useless.
Of course, it does depend on your situation. But everyone should know that multiple meta-analyses find no evidence that taking a multivitamin supplement will increase life expectancy. (2)
Moreover, most well-known multivitamin brands contain ingredients with very low bioavailability. This is the case for magnesium oxide, for instance, which has a very poor absorption rate. This means that it won’t do much.
Most of these vitamin supplements are also made up of nutrients that are already easy to get from your diet. You’re just taking in extra, for no reason.
Not only is this useless, but over-supplementation can actually be harmful. That’s because many vitamins and minerals interact with each other.
Overconsumption of one can cause deficiency of another, even if you’re taking the so-called adequate intake. (3)
Also, the irony of all of this is that the micronutrients that many people are actually deficient in (like vitamin D, vitamin K, and Iodine) are either not present, or present in very small amounts within multivitamins.
This is because consuming too much of these can cause toxicity. And no multivitamin manufacturer wants to deal with a lawsuit.
So if you’re thinking about taking a multivitamin, don’t take a shotgun approach. Figure out which micronutrients you are actually deficient in, if any, and then fix those.
If a blood test shows that you’re deficient in a certain nutrient, then supplement with that one nutrient. Or even better, find real food that you can eat to take in more of that nutrient.
Real food is typically a better option because, as far as we’ve come with nutrition science, we truly don’t know if there are still many essential nutrients within fruits, vegetables, and whole foods in general that we haven’t yet discovered.
How would any supplement company be able to put nutrients that we haven’t even discovered yet, into a man-made multivitamin?
#2 Positive publication bias
Another thing that you probably don’t know about supplement research is that it’s highly effected by “Positive Publication Bias.”
This means that scientific journals have a bias towards publishing research with positive outcomes.
The reason for this is that the studies with positive results tend to draw more attention than studies that debunk useless supplements.
Also, it’s almost impossible to scientifically prove a negative result. That’s why research that finds that a supplement doesn’t do anything, often doesn’t even get published.
So to put this into perspective, let’s say that one supplement goes through two trials. And let’s say that one trial shows that it benefits muscle growth, while the other finds that it has no effect.
Due to “positive publication bias”, the study with a positive outcome is way more likely to be submitted for publication.
This can give a false impression that a supplement works, even though not all evidence shows that to be true.
For example, there are websites like examine.com that happen to be great resources for this. They cover hundreds of supplements, backed by what looks like a large amount of scientific research.
However, it’s very important to keep in mind that sites like this are not necessarily immune to positive publication bias. They may not be aware of this, despite their best instentions.
Many times, they may promote supplements that don’t have enough evidence about efficacy. The research behind them may be based on animal and in vitro data.
This data doesn’t necessarily translate over to humans.
#3 Creatine and… hair loss?!
Next is this idea that creatine is going to cause hair loss. Even though there is some evidence for this theory, it’s probably untrue.
The theory behind it is that creatine can increase DHT and other male hormones that contribute to male pattern baldness.
Effectively, there is actual research that shows that creatine might increase DHT. Specifically, there was a study that had 20 college-aged rugby players volunteer in a trial where they either received creatine or a placebo. (4)
The results of the study showed that testosterone levels didn’t change in either group. However, the group that took creatine experienced a 56 percent increase in DHT, and it remained 40 percent above baseline even 14 days later. (5; 6)
Because of this many people, including myself, started questioning if creatine could cause hair loss. And even though it is possible, it’s also unlikely.
The reason is that ten randomized controlled trials found that creatine supplementation had no effect on testosterone. (7)
That’s an important finding because testosterone – more specifically, free testosterone – is a precursor of DHT.
Free testosterone is what actually gets converted into DHT. Without more free testosterone, you can’t produce more DHT.
Moreover, in the rugby players’ study, despite the rise in DHT, the levels still remained well within the normal range.
Therefore, even if creatine increases DHT, it might still not cause greater hair loss than what’s dictated by your genetics.
#4 Too many ingredients in your supplement? Not worth it.
Another thing nobody tells you is that if a supplement has a ton of ingredients, it’s probably not worth buying. Many times, the absolute best supplements consist of only one ingredient.
There are of course some exceptions. But in general, it’s better to buy products containing only one ingredient, or just a few ingredients. There are two reasons for this.
First, is that more often one-ingredient supplements are simply cheaper. Second, is that multi-ingredient supplements often contain ingredients that are not supposed to be there.
For example, according to a large-scale study, 13 percent of multi-ingredient supplements contained dope. This was in the form of banned athletic performance-enhancing drugs.
According to another study, the issue actually concerns as much as 15 percent of multi-ingredient supplements. (8)
This can potentially harm your health. But it might also cause issues if you’re a natural athlete getting tested for illicit performance-enhancing drugs.
On top of all that, another review concluded that “90 percent of all sports supplements contain trace amounts of estrogenic endocrine disruptors, with 25 percent of them having a higher estrogenic activity than acceptable.” (9)
So, my recommendation is to stick with supplements that are proven and don’t contain a ton of hidden ingredients and secret formulas.
Similar to the positive publication bias, supplement research is also affected by “Personal Bias.”
When you see a supplement with claims that are supposedly “backed by research,” you don’t think that the research is funded by a supplement manufacturer, or by someone with a vested interest in the supplement that’s being sold.
But unfortunately, in the supplement world this happens all the time. And it gives scientists the incentive to squeeze out positive results.
A lot of times this bias is subtle and happens at a subconscious level. However, there are more supplement research scandals and frauds than you probably imagine.
For example, it’s easy to change the data in such a way that it becomes more skewed towards a favorable result.
Researchers might simply remove an “outlier” from the data that didn’t perform the way they wanted. Or they’ll shift around certain statistical parameters to better fit a positive narrative.
For example, let’s say you’re researching a supplement to find out whether it benefits muscle growth or not.
And the study you’re looking at happens to be funded by a big supplement company with a vested interest.
To get a positive outcome, researchers paid by this supplement company might purposely put specific participants into a given arm of the study.
The ones that they believe are more prone to the placebo effect will end up in the intervention group. The hard gainers will go in the control group.
With the placebo effect, you can take a sugar pill and because you believe in the supplement, you work out harder and see results.
Meanwhile, the hard gainers are prone to not see muscle growth. This is a flawed setup that happens all the time.
To find out whether there’s a conflict of interest within a given paper/study, you can look at the acknowledgment section at the end of it.
Also, the evidence from multiple studies is much more reliable than that from just one study.
#6 Caffeine and placebo effect
You’ve probably never been told that even though caffeine can improve energy levels, focus, and athletic performance, most of those effects are due to the placebo effect.
For example, in a small study, cyclists were informed that they would each receive either a placebo, a moderate dose of caffeine, or a high dose of caffeine.
However, instead of giving the participants any caffeine, the researchers only gave out placebos.
The results showed that when the participants thought they took a placebo, they produced, on average, 1.4 percent less power.
Conversely, they produced more power (+1.3 percent) when they believed they took the moderate dose of caffeine.
And finally, they produced 3.1 percent more power when they thought they took the higher dose of caffeine. (10)
This wasn’t the only study that found these kinds of results. Another study found that believing you’re on caffeine improves performance more than actually consuming 6 milligrams of caffeine per kilogram. This equals to around five cups of coffee. (11)
#7 Zinc supplements and hunger
Another thing that most people don’t know is that supplementing with zinc can increase hunger.
Keep in mind zinc is an important micronutrient, not only for your health but also for your body composition.
For example, research indicates that a zinc deficiency causes lean body mass loss, and those losses can be quickly restored by taking in zinc. (12)
Research also indicates that being zinc deficient can lower your metabolism and testosterone levels. (13)
Worst of all, it’s estimated that 17.3 percent of the world population is deficient in zinc.
The number is likely even higher among athletes. That’s because they need to replenish zinc more often since it gets lost through sweat.
So, zinc supplementation can really benefit an athlete. But there’s one thing almost nobody realizes about zinc supplementation, and that’s the fact that it can significantly increase appetite. (14)
This might not be an issue if you’re bulking. But it might make it harder to control your caloric intake on a weight loss diet.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t supplement with zinc if you’re an athlete or you don’t take in enough of it.
However, once again it might be better if you can source zinc through your diet. That’s because natural dietary zinc seems not to increase appetite.
Examples of foods that score high in zinc are shellfish, organ meats, red meat, seeds, nuts, dairy, eggs, and whole grains. Specifically, shellfish like oysters, red meat, and organ meat are fantastic sources of zinc.
These options are better when compared to plant-based zinc sources. That’s because plant-based foods often contain phytic acid, which decreases the bioavailability of zinc by around 20 percent. (15)
Finally, I bet you didn’t know that whey is actually not the best protein supplement for muscle growth.
Whey is one of the world’s best sources of leucine which is a very important amino acid for muscle growth.
However, there’s really nothing extra magical about whey when compared to other protein sources in regard to muscle growth.
For example, one study found that 40 grams of daily whey supplementation did not produce more muscle growth or anabolic signaling than consuming the same amount of protein in the form of milk. (16)
And you might be thinking that’s because of the natural whey protein content found in milk. But milk also contains casein.
And surprisingly, research shows that casein might actually be superior for muscle growth when compared to whey.
This is because casein is at least decent at reducing protein breakdown rates. Meanwhile, whey isn’t very effective in that regard at all. (17)
A study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism further concluded that casein is better suited for gaining strength and muscle compared to whey. (18)
In either case, the difference isn’t going to be huge. But it’s worth noting that there’s still confusion even when it comes to staple supplements like protein.
So those are 8 little-known things about supplements that are really good to know.
Keep in mind, even though supplements like protein and creatine can help, no supplement will replace hard work in the gym, combined with a solid meal plan.
Ultimately, supplements will make up less than 5 percent of your results. This is a fact that a lot of people don’t know either.
The other 95 percent or more of your results come from your diet and training regiment.
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We have everything from workout plans designed to build muscle, to recipe books that’ll help you burn fat. And even one-on-one coaching, for those that need more help with their specific goals.
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- “Multivitamin-multimineral use was the most frequently reported dietary supplement (33%).”
- There is no evidence that taking a multivitamin will increase life expectancy, as shown by multiple meta-analyses.
- Over-supplementation can be harmful because many vitamins and minerals interact and overconsumption of one can cause deficiency of the other even in the presence of adequate intake.
- A 2009 study had 20 college-aged rugby players volunteer in a study where they either received creatine or a placebo. Found that creatine may increase DHT.
- “Subjects loaded with creatine (25 g/day creatine with 25 g/day glucose) or placebo (50 g/day glucose) for 7 days followed by 14 days of maintenance (5 g/day creatine with 25 g/day glucose or 30 g/day glucose placebo)”
- “DHT increased 56% after 7 days of creatine loading and remained 40% above baseline after 14 days maintenance.”
- There are ten randomized controlled trials that found that creatine supplementation had no effect on testosterone.
- According to a large-scale study, 13% of multi-ingredient supplements contained doping, and according to another, it is 15%.
- “90% of sports supplements contain trace of estrogenic endocrine disruptors, with 25% of them having a higher estrogenic activity than acceptable.”
- Six well-trained male cyclists undertook two baseline and three experimental 10-km time trials. The results showed that when the participants thought they took a placebo, they produced less power than when they believed they took either the moderate or high dose of caffeine.
- Another study found that believing you’re on caffeine improves performance more than actually consuming 6mg/kg, which equals around five cups of coffee.
- A zinc deficiency causes lean body mass loss, which gets restored by zinc consumption.
- Being deficient in zinc can lower metabolism and testosterone.
- Zinc supplementation can significantly increase appetite.
- Animal-based zinc sources like oysters and organ meats are superior to plant-based zinc sources because plant-based foods often contain phytic acid, which decreases the bioavailability of zinc by around 20%.
- Forty grams of daily whey supplementation did not produce more muscle growth or anabolic signaling than consuming the same amount of protein in the form of milk.
- Casein is decent at reducing protein breakdown while whey isn’t effective in that regard.
- Casein is superior for gaining strength and muscle compared to whey, as found by a study published in the Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism.