Why Nutritional Supplements Don’t Work

Today I want to tackle the most confusing part of any body transformation program – nutritional supplements. Specifically to this post, I want to address whether popular nutritional supplements actually work and if they are even necessary for your needs. This is important to know because there is no subsection of the fitness industry more notorious for breaching ethical standards than the food supplement industry. Marketing methods ripe with controversy, misapplied research and falsehoods that are perpetuated by outright scam artists make it nearly impossible to find the truth anymore.

Pinocchio lying

At some point however, while on an exercise program, you’ll be confronted with whether or not to use dietary supplements. Maybe you’ll need an edge. Maybe you don’t want to exercise and hope that a nutritional supplement will give you the results you desire. Maybe you think you need it because your favorite fitness magazine has drilled it into your head that you need it if you want to look like their muscle models. The reasons are endless.

The thing that people miss is that these “health products” are in fact supplements to your diet. Think of them as the extras that your car dealer offered you when you bought your car. You don’t need them but they can help the overall product in the long run.

Ok, so maybe I don’t really need them but do dietary supplements really work? Well yes and no. Let first take a look at why they may not work for you and I’ll explain.


Nutritional Supplements Don’t Work ?

This is most often true because  the needs of the individual are rarely considered. It is almost impossible to offer universal dosage parameters since dietary supplementation must be used in accordance to how well or poorly your diet, exercise program and  life is organized. In addition, people tend to respond differently to the effects of certain foods and supplementation. This is especially true when considering gender specificity.

Almost every study I’ve ever read on nutrition and supplements, involved depleted athletes and/or marathon training schedules ( lasting 2 hours at 5-6 days?week). This type of schedule would eventually do harm to the subject which is why in most instances, the individual was found to be deficient in something .

The point I’m trying to make is that if you are deficient in Vitamin B, consumption of Vitamin B will improve your health. Otherwise mega- dosing, although may not be harmful, will do little to help you since your body’s requirements are already being met. If you fill a bucket with water to the rim, will adding more water to the bucket result in any more water? Of course not, but this is exactly what many of us do with supplementation. You can think of the access water spilling over the edge as your money  . . . spilling over and right down the drain.

To make things worse many supplement manufacturers include additional ingredients to make their ingredient list look more extensive and beneficial. However, often the ingredients are in such low dosages that they offer no benefit or are incapable to produce a health or performance benefit. That, after all, is what athletes are after – a noticeable and perceivable benefit. Otherwise, why take supplements?


Nutritional Supplements Do Work …..

When used during periods of increased exercise demands or when a possible deficiency is suspected. Now, if a person trains PROPERLY, he should never approach overtraining and will never require the dosages that studies suggest endurance athletes need to battle chronic fatigue, and to meet energy demands. With short bouts of high intensity training (i.e., physique transformations and advanced peak conditioning) supplements can definitely provide an edge in recovery and to build lean mass, but only at those times and not year round.

In the end, each person must determine what supplements are worth taking based on their perceived effectiveness, safety, and ethical and legal consequences (e.g., most sports organizations have banned ephedrine). Effectiveness is relative to the Principle of Diminishing Returns; how much can one increase the dosage of a supplement before further benefit is no longer perceived. This is a factor that must be considered in both exercise and nutrition – how much is necessary to get the job done (to obtain a goal), and where is the cutoff point where further stimulation/nutrition produces no further result?

Lastly there is the issue of who to trust and what to believe. It is difficult for me to endorse many supplements, regardless of what users contend (that includes bogus studies that do not account for some test subjects’ genetics and motivation to produce superior results than in other test subjects), and in light of so much conflicting data. Try supplements at your own risk and do not forget to speak with your pharmacist to make certain the supplements to be used do not contraindicate medication or health concerns. I’ve paid my dietary supplement tax for many years and would personally love to have that money back.


The best advice I can give about nutritional supplementation or the latest miracle health food is:

Use supplements to gain an edge in recovery ability and performance. Do not expect them to be the reason that good gains are produced. Physique transformation and enhancement is 95% sound exercise and nutrition. However, the remaining 5% ‘supplemental’ can make a noticeable difference, particularly the leaner someone becomes and the more muscle they display.

If you enjoyed this article, please quickly do me a favor and share with others and comment below.


Craig Simms

Craig Simms

Craig Simms is a personal trainer and weight loss coach in Vancouver, B.C. Craig has been a fitness leader for over 21 years and has amassed over 25,000 hours of personal training experience in that span. He specializes in personalized weight management programs.
Craig Simms
Craig Simms

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