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Common Ingredients in Supplements – All You Need to Know

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There are currently 1,000 of ingredients out there that claim to help you lose fat while gaining muscle. Some of them work. Some of them don’t. Some of them are just downright dangerous.

So how can you tell the hype from the facts? Follow this simple guide to help evaluate the ingredients of your supplement and you’ll be on your way to a healthier you in no time at all. So let’s cut through the lies and get straight to the truth.


There are so many cleanses out there. Many people opt for juices, which are wildly unhealthy and laden with sugar most of the time. Others come in the form of a pill. Many pills contain a plethora of crazy ingredients most of us can’t even pronounce. The facts? You don’t need a cleanse- ever. Your liver and kidney are constantly cleansing your body all day, every day. If you have impaired function of either, you especially don’t want to do a cleanse as many ingredients are irritating to both organs. So what’s in them that’s so bad?

First, there’s usually some form of laxative. Going to the bathroom regularly can help you feel great and even like you’ve lost weight. However, there are side-effects that come along with it. The most detrimental negative is losing control of your bowel movements- need we say more? Also, if you take non-prescribed laxatives, your body can build up a tolerance for when you do need them and you can become deficient in vitamins and minerals.

cleanse juice

Save yourself the trouble and get a fiber supplement if you’re truly looking to increase your regularity. Also, probiotics found in yogurts come in supplement form if you aren’t fond of the diary product. These two options will give you the feeling of a cleanse without the downsides.

Diet Pills

Diet pills are still all the rage, and they’ve been around a lot longer. Many contain “calorie-blockers”. Anytime you see that word, just translate into “ingredients that loosen your stool” because that’s about all they do. Aside from prescriptions (and some monitored forms of over-the-counter drugs that contain smaller quantities of the prescribed active ingredients), there are no supplements that will keep you from absorbing anything that you eat[5].

And that’s a good thing. It would be very difficult to monitor to assure that you aren’t inadvertently developing an eating disorder (absorbing less than 1,200 calories per day). Unless your doctor prescribes it, opt for a safer supplement choice that works.

Again, this is not to say that there aren’t a few ingredients out there that can give your diet a boost. The most effective ones for weight loss are described below in Fat Burners. However, there are ingredients like chromium that have been found to increase lean muscle mass. This ingredient only has a minimal impact on your body, but as long as you stick to the recommended dosage it has very few potential side-effects[4].

So if you have some extra cash you want to throw around and want to add a little muscle to your frame, then by all means go for it. It can really help you get through a plateau in your workout regimen and extra muscle mass can help you to burn calories.


Fat Burners

Believe it or not, there are over-the-counter ingredients that can help you to lose fat. Stimulants like green tea and coffee (basically, caffeine) are the most studied and have the most evidence. They come with relatively few risks (however, if you have anxiety or are susceptible to urinary tract infections or dehydration, you’ll probably want to avoid it). But don’t worry. There are plenty of other ingredients out there that may work for you if you aren’t fond of the jittery effects of a stimulants.

For example, conjugated linoleic acid has been shown to help eliminate adipose tissue[4]. The biggest risk you run with this ingredient is abdominal discomfort. Overall, it’s not a bad choice. Pyruvate is another potential option with few safety risks[4]. Sadly, that pretty much ends the list of safe and decently effective options. However, you’ll still find hundreds of other ingredients claiming that they can give you the results you want. Don’t fall for the lies.

One of the biggest ones out there are ketones. Now the effects of ingested, non-naturally occurring ketones have not been studied extensively; however, it’s important that you understand what they are. When your body doesn’t have enough carbs for metabolism, it will partially break down fats for energy (this is not the same thing as creating a caloric deficit; this is eating a no-carb diet).

The fragments of fat stay in your body until you reach ketoacidosis and potentially die. So sure, when you have ketones in your body it probably means you’re losing weight, but it also means that you’re putting your body at risk. Until these supplements are studied further, don’t risk your health. Stick to the ingredients that are known to work and you’ll see just as many results.


There is a bit of a debate about thermogenics. This is because the ingredients in these types of supplements are found in fat burners (like caffeine). It has been difficult to decipher if stimulants like coffee and tea just cause fat burn or cause fat burn and thermogenesis. Regardless, it does seem that the stimulant ingredients work best for those who are already lean and just want to lose a few extra pounds. So if you’re looking for significant weight loss, start with a diet plan first. Then you can boost your results with the right ingredients.

It is also important to note that stimulants like caffeine can be addictive. Watch how much you are taking and combat its diuretic effects by drinking an extra 8 ounces of water for every 95mg of caffeine you take. Just remember that there are other effective weight loss ingredients out there. This isn’t your only option.

Sadly, to continue the lists of warnings, you may come across ephedra or ma huang. Do not walk- run away if you see this. These ingredients may have a stronger impact than most ingredients; however, they are banned for a reason (but people will still try to sell them to the desperate). They can cause anything from seizures to heart attacks and even death[4]. Never let yourself get to a point where taking illegal substances for weight loss seems like a good idea. If you are, you may be at risk for developing an eating disorder. Please, go and talk to someone. Weight loss is about being healthy- that means physically and mentally.

Appetite Suppressants

Let’s continue to get the bad news out of the way, but I promise some really great news is coming. First, most appetite suppressant pills are dangerous- even some of the prescription ones have been taken off the market. Also, yes, I acknowledge that nicotine is an appetite suppressant. However, it hardens your arteries and actually decreases your insulin sensitivity (which happens when you have type-2 diabetes). Don’t fall for the gimmicks. There are plenty of other ways to suppress your appetite and one is pretty fantastic.

Two words: dark chocolate. Yes, my friends, you read correctly. Studies have found that eating small quantities of dark chocolate can help to suppress your appetite[2]. If you don’t enjoy the taste, smelling it has also been shown to have a similar effect. Although the exact mechanism isn’t known, this is great news. It may be unlikely that you’ll find a supplement with the delicious stuff, but you may want to chase any supplement you’re taking with a small bite of the bitter goodness. The opportunities really are endless.


Taking a multivitamin is always a good idea. Just be sure to take it with food that contains a little bit of fat so you can absorb all those wonderful fat-soluble vitamins along with the water-soluble ones. However, if you do choose a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, you may be more prone to specific vitamin deficiencies.

For instance, non-animal product diets tend to lack omega-3 (typically found in fish), vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B-12[1].
Luckily, you can easily supplement for this. You should get about 500mg of omega-3 per day, but be aware that supplements don’t provide the anti-inflammatory benefits the way eating actual fish does (although, they are thinking eating avocados might have a similar effect).

It is typically recommended that you get about 2,000IU of vitamin D per day. If you live in areas with less sunlight where you can’t naturally get your daily dose of vitamin D, a supplement could be a good choice for you. With calcium, you need about 1,000mg per day to keep your bones healthy. Zinc is important for hormone production and you need about 8-10mg per day. Vitamin B-12 is 2.4micrograms per day, although this is water-soluble and easy for your body to eliminate if you get too much. There are some specific supplements out there for vegans and vegetarians specifically so you can use this guide to help you pick one that is good for you.


Pre-workouts have typically been shown to have few negative side-effects; however, this is only found for supplements that opt to go through voluntary screening to prove that they are safe[3]. Pre-workouts are not regulated by the FDA. In fact, many companies will sneak in ingredients that act like steroids and cycle them in and out of their product. Needless to say, they can have some pretty nasty side-effects. Some users even report feeling that they have a bipolar disorder due to the fluctuations in the ingredients. If you’re going to use a pre-workout take a hard look at the company before you even consider the product.

So what do pre-workouts usually have? Vitamins and minerals are always nice. They really won’t boost your performance unless you had a deficiency going in, but if you don’t want to take vitamins otherwise it could be a nice bonus. They also have caffeine. As explained above, caffeine has a lot of benefits. The only concern with exercise is that caffeine already causes you to excrete some of your water, add on sweating and you can become dangerously dehydrated. If you still enjoy the energy boost of your pre-workout, just make sure you drink plenty of water before and after to compensate.

Another common ingredient is creatine. No, it’s not necessarily bad. It just depends on your age. If you are under the age of 50, you will never have a creatine deficiency that requires supplementation. After the age of 50, a supplement can actually help you out. Now, I know it’s hard to picture your parents or your grandparents opening up a can of powder decorated with body builders, but it is true- this product is for them. In fact, people over 50 should be participating in load-bearing high-intensity workouts, too (permitting that their health allows for it). It’s not that low-intensity endurance activity isn’t good, it’s just that more intense exercise is better for their bones and naturally atrophying muscles. A pre-workout can really help give a boost to get this type of workout underway.

Nitro is another that is commonly seen in pre-workouts. This ingredient is thought to help dilate blood vessels. Of course, the prescription stuff does; the shelf stuff, not so much. It has a really short half-life and doesn’t remain active in powder very long. You can waste your money, but ultimately it’s not worth your time.


Some research has suggested that creatine is best taken immediately after exercise. There’s really no study that has overwhelming evidence for either, so do whatever fits best into your schedule. Also, it is important to note that there really isn’t scientific evidence for an “anabolic window of opportunity” for taking protein immediately after exercise. In fact, for fat loss exercise of low-intensity, long-duration, you actually want to wait as long as possible before eating to truly embrace the benefits.

Overall, there are a few good ingredients out there that can help you on your journey to health. Luckily, that’s all you need. You don’t need hundreds of options and crazy concoctions to get you to your goal. Health should be simple because the climb to get there is already hard enough. Don’t give up!

1. Craig, W. J. (2009). Health effects of vegan diets. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89(5), 16275-16335. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736N
2. Greenwood, B. (2015). The best medically proven appetite suppressants. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/432664-the-best-medically-proven-appetite-suppressants/
3. Joy, J. M., et al. (2015). A multi-ingredient, pre-workout supplement is apparently safe in males and females. Food and Nutrition, 59. Retrieved from http://www.foodandnutritionresearch.net/index.php.fnr/article/view/27470
4. Klampe, M. (2012). Study: Most weight loss supplements are not effective. Retrieved from http://www.oregonstate.edu/ua/ncs/archives/2012/mar/study
5. Zhong, L., Furne, J. K., Levitt, M., D. (2006). An extract of black, green, and mulberry teas causes malabsorption of carbohydrate but not of triacylglycerol in healthy volunteers. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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