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5 Rules of Choosing the Right Supplement


The use of supplements is on the rise as many fitness-minded folks try to get the most out of their workouts. But supplements can be tricky, and it's important to know what you're consuming. With so many different supplements on the market, how do you know if you're opting for a safe and effective one?

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Here are my five rules about how to choose the right supplement:

Rule 1: Watch out for a "proprietary blend" in the ingredients.
Read the ingredients, not just the display or the nutritional information. Just like I tell my clients with all packaged foods, you need to read each ingredient to make sure you know what you are consuming.

Many supplements will list a "proprietary blend" as one of their ingredients. This is a group of ingredients that are part of a formula specific to a manufacturer. The FDA doesn't require companies to list the amounts of each ingredient in these blends. Because of this, the safety of the product can sometimes be questionable because it may contain high doses of a stimulant or harmful substances like dimethylamylamine, which can generate toxic byproducts.

Rule 2: Look for BCAAs, or branch-chain amino acids.
BCAAs have been proven to help decrease exercise-induced muscle damage and promote muscle-protein synthesis. Without these BCAAs in your supplement, it will take you longer to recover from your workouts -- and it will take you longer to see the results.

Rule 3: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
It's important to remember that there is no magic pill you can take. Nothing beats a good diet and hard work in the gym.

Supplements can only help you so much, so be wary of a product that promotes quick fixes, claims to cure diseases and has no third-party verification label like US Pharmacopeia, NSF International, Informed Choice, HFL Sport Science, or Banned Substances Control Group, for example.

Rule 4: Don't over-caffeinate.
High doses of caffeine in a supplement may be appealing, but it can be damaging to the body. Too much caffeine is not only addicting, but in excess, it can put extra stress on your kidneys and liver. In general, caffeine consumption shouldn't be more than 300 milligrams per day.

Rule 5: Male and female athletes can use the same supplement.
Any supplement that specifically targets one sex over the other is likely either using misleading advertising or has unsafe doses of hormones in the ingredients.

For the most part, male and female athletes don't need different supplements, but it's important for female athletes to be aware of their calcium and iron intake. Low calcium intake can lead to stress fractures in female athletes, and iron is needed for enhancing endurance performance.

Supplements can help, but I can't say it enough: Nothing is more important than proper eating and hard work at the gym.


Readers -- Do you take or have you ever taken supplements? Did or didn't they help you get more out of your workout? Do you routinely read the ingredient labels on the foods and supplements that you buy? Was this article helpful to you? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Brooke Alpert is a registered dietitian and founder of B Nutrition, a private nutrition-counseling practice in New York. She is a former equestrian and triathlete, current lover of mud runs, and a nutrition consultant for Smoothie King.

Connect with Brooke on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.


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