This means: “we can put in whatever the hell we want without telling you the actual amounts”.
Newsflash: every drug manufacturer is supposed to list all ingredients, therefore you should be able to tell me what is in the bottle. If you cannot do so, it means you are using the low cost ingredients in greater number to make up for quality deficiencies.
It gets particularly tricky with stimulants. I for one would like to know if I am consuming 60 or 600 mg of caffeine, as this could mean the difference between a good workout and a heart attack. Also, in the past, there have been cases where companies have hidden actual amphetamines or steroids within their proprietary mix. Those supplements worked very well, but at the expense of the health of the consumer.
2. Too many ingredients
There is only so much room in a pill or a scoop, so if your pre-workout contains Glutamine, Creatine, Agmantine, Caffeine, Yohimbine, and 325 cool Chinese herbs, you are not getting a meaningful dose of any of them.
Either stick with a quality brand that contains three to four of the above in sufficient numbers, or buy all ingredients separately and make your own.
3. Lack of amino acid profile
This goes for protein powders obviously. There are two classifications of amino acids that you should look for when buying a protein product: BCAA and EAA. BCAA stands for Branch Chain Amino Acids, and EAA stands for Essential Amino Acids (meaning the body cannot produce them on its own).
Branch Chain Amino Acids act as nitrogen carriers, which assist muscles in synthesizing other amino acids required for an anabolic effect. They also stimulate production of insulin that allows circulating blood sugar to be taken up by the muscle cells and used as an energy source, making them a good intra workout fuel.
Further, during a fat loss cycle, Essential Amino Acids function in an anti-catabolic manner, thus helping the body to spare lean muscle tissue. Essential Amino Acids include Tryptophan, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Valine, Isoleucine, and Leucine, the last three also being BCAAs.
A good protein powder brand will have an amino acid profile ,with detailed amounts of each AA. .If they do not, run for the hills!
“Net carbs” is a clever little semantic gem the food industry cooked up. A loophole in the FDA code allows companies to label maltitol as non-sugars since they do not affect the blood sugar levels; therefore, they miraculously lose their caloric value. Again, if you are not a diabetic, this has no bearing for you.
The only grey zone is fiber, but even that has about one calorie per gram so, if you are eating a box of Quest bars a day (who would ever do that?), it adds up.
5. Outrageous claims
That one should be rather self explanatory, but anything that promises “steroid-like gains” or “20 lbs of muscle in 10 days”, should be avoided like the plague.
Also, pay close attention to those cool graphics that are being used to sell. Usually, companies use two bars, one of the control group, the other one of the supplement group. The supplement group tends to be darker aka more visible and twice as big. But if you look at the actual numbers, it turns out that the supplement group may have gained two pounds of muscle versus one lbs, over the course of eight weeks. Math is definitely not my strong subject but even I know that that small of a difference is not statistically significant!
As always, buyer beware!