5 Supplements Not Worth Taking (And Why!)

Supplements Keeping up with the supplement market isn’t easy, especially with new products popping up every day- each one promising less body fat or muscle growth, among other health claims.

Researchers have examined many of these supplements, but conflicting scientific evidence doesn’t stop marketing. Supplement companies often latch onto promising early research on a supplement while ignoring follow-up studies that suggest their product is ineffective. Knowing what supplements are just media and marketing hype will save you time and money in the long run.

These five supplements have been shown to be ineffective, yet they’re still quite popular.

Glutamine

Glutamine plays a vital role in muscle cells during muscle contraction. Early studies found that adding glutamine to a muscle cell causes a dose-dependent increase in muscle protein synthesis, the process through which muscle cells are rebuilt after exercise.

Later, it was discovered that this effect doesn’t provide any benefits for an adult engaging in regular exercise.

Glutamine supplementation results in the glutamine being sequestered by the liver and intestines and released to the body on an as-needed basis. Since the supplemental glutamine spike never reaches the muscles, the increased muscle protein synthesis effect associated with glutamine never actually occurs in people after supplementation.

Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)

BCAAs are a group of three amino acids often supplemented to improve muscle protein synthesis. Research suggests the amino acid leucine is predominantly responsible for this effect.

BCAA supplementation does improve muscle protein synthesis, in the same way that protein does. Instead of adding BCAAs to your protein shake, just throw in another scoop of protein. It’ll taste better and have the same effect.

People that prefer to go to the gym before eating, or while fasted, can supplement BCAAs to take advantage of the improved muscle protein synthesis effect without breaking their fast by consuming too many calories. Otherwise, BCAA supplementation is unnecessary if you’re already getting enough protein.

L-Arginine

L-Arginine was the first supplement in the nitric oxide booster category. Studies show that elevated levels of nitric oxide in the body could be beneficial during exercise by improving blood flow, which results in better recovery and improved aerobic and anaerobic endurance.

A nitric oxide molecule is produced as part of the reaction that converts L-arginine to L-citrulline, but increasing the amount of L-arginine available to the body doesn’t result in increased nitric oxide levels.

Instead, most people experience diarrhea.

Other nitric oxide boosters include L-citrulline and agmatine, neither of which have solid evidence to suggest they improve nitric oxide levels after supplementation. However, dietary nitrates, which are found in leafy greens and beets, have been found to improve exercise performance due to increased nitric oxide levels if eaten before a workout.

Betaine

Recent studies on betaine, also known as trimethylglycine, suggest that betaine supplementation can improve power output and physical endurance. However, researchers note that this effect is unreliable.

Betaine does provide benefits for physical performance after supplementation. It causes cellular swelling and improves methylation status. Cellular swelling stresses the muscle cell and causes it to grow, while improved methylation status increases the synthesis of S-adenosylmethionine and creatine, resulting in improved physical performance.

The reason betaine is on this list is because creatine and choline also induce cellular swelling and improve methylation status, respectively. Both of these supplements are more effective and reliable than betaine. Eating at least four egg yolks a day can also render choline supplementation unnecessary.

Bottom line: though betaine does have an effect on physical performance, other supplements are both cheaper and more effective while serving the same purpose.

Beta-Hydroxy-Beta-Methylbutyrate (HMB)

HMB is a metabolite of leucine, which means that it’s a product of leucine metabolism. HMB supplementation is claimed to improve physical performance and muscle protein synthesis.

Unfortunately, research suggests that HMB is not an effective ergogenic aid because its effects are weak and unreliable. HMB supplementation also fails to outperform placebo when it comes to improved muscle protein synthesis.

In one recent study, athletes using a free acid form of HMB showed dramatic improvement in muscle growth. Can these results be taken as conclusive evidence?

Maybe not.

The only difference between the more common calcium salt HMB and the tested free acid HMB are their absorption rates, and a faster absorption speed typically doesn’t turn a placebo into a steroid. Before HMB can be called a wonder supplement, the experiment should be replicated to verify the findings.

HMB supplementation is sometimes recommended during weight loss, since HMB may prevent muscle protein breakdown, but much more research is needed to confirm this effect.

Save Your Money, Don’t Believe the Hype

It’s easy to get caught up in shortcuts and marketing buzzwords.

Media hype about individual studies and celebrity endorsements of new supplements fill the airwaves, making it difficult to ignore new products.

When supplement companies claim their products stand up to scientific scrutiny by pointing to outdated studies, it becomes even harder to separate fact from exaggeration.

Don’t let marketing fool you into believing you need the newest, latest, best supplement.

Learn to identify misleading statements, and read beyond the abstract of studies. This will help protect your wallet and your health.

About the Author

KP - shot2Kamal Patel is the director of Examine.com. He’s a nutrition researcher with an MPH and MBA from Johns Hopkins University, and is on hiatus from a PhD in nutrition in which he researched the link between diet and chronic pain.

He has published peer-reviewed articles on vitamin D and calcium as well as a variety of clinical research topics. Kamal has also been involved in research on fructose and liver health, mindfulness meditation, and nutrition in low income areas.

41 Comments

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  1. Dr Ronda Patrick a Ph.D in biomedical science would disagree on the amino acid selection. While true we most likely we get enough from current high protein levels,
    it is and new science proves it is highly critical to many previous unknown body requirements.

      • It is excellent for growth and maintenance of muscles. I don’t know where you get your false information, but it couldn’t be any more incorrect.

          • Well, I can show you in depth clinical study after clinical study indicating what you have posted here is just dead wrong. Whatever “journals” you are referencing are not accurate at all in their assessment of these supplements, with the exception of HMB being way overblown. Every single one of the other have definitive biological bodybuilding benefits. Not only the mountains of clinical studies that exist on the subject, but real world experience from literally millions of men and women who use them prove you wrong here. I’m sorry, you simply have posted bad information on this one!

          • Does this prat work for the BBC or CNN? Cause it’s all FAKE shit. Why would someone put that on the net.
            The guy is a complete nut job

    • … agreed! The only thing that should be on this list is HMB which is marginally effective at best and not cost effective for the small benefits it provides.

      • Nah, arginine and citrulline should be on here too, i bought both and had no results.. Eating beets and spinach did it for me!! So stop hating on the guy faggot

        • Sorry, I strongly disagree. There are mountains of clinical studies proving vast benefit to both. Right off the top of my head is the extensive research done by Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw… amongst tons and tons of other clinical studies. There are literally thousands of accredited studies proving the effectiveness of these supplements. You must have had bad product, or used insufficient amounts of them or been doing something wrong if you failed to see positive results because the overwhelming proof is all there proving the effectiveness of these supplements!

        • Well, the guy above got it wrong sort of. Citrulline by passes the liver and therefore can be absorbed better and guess what , it is converted by the body into L arginine and produces the NO molecule. L arginine is less well absorbed because it passes through the liver. Thats why you see most products having a 2 to 1 ratio of A to C. There is no doubt and the research proves both of these are effective in producing the NO molecule. You can eat a bunch of the veggies and get some of this but you need to eat a lot of it…. How do you determine something works or not? Do you have a way to measure your NO levels? Can you gauge when your vessels have relaxed to allow more blood flow? By all means, you think it doesnt work, don’t do it…But neither of these should be on this list….

  2. Mike, with this latest series of posts, it appears that you are promoting a rigorously honest and sober examination of supplements and their efficacy. This is to your credit.

    Any chance you could further enlist Sol Orwell, and perhaps Alan Aragon, etc. for an independent review of Biotest’s supplement lines?

    This would be highly informative and perhaps illuminating.

    • Derrick – I don’t want the focus of my site to shift to nutrition/supplementation. Rather, this week was put out there to shine a light on these topics, and how they can aid the performance of athletes.

      For something more in-depth, you’d have to ask Sol or Alan directly to do something like that.

      Beyond just Biotest, I’d be interested to see almost any supplement companies products rigorously tested and analyzed. I think it would bring a lot of clarity, and hopefully transparency, to the supplement industry.

    • This post is 100% incorrect, so what the heck are you saying? .. you like to listen to false information? Because that’s exactly what he’s posted here!

  3. I strongly disagree with BCAA being on the list. I believe that author even disproves his title of the article related to BCAA supplementatiin with, “…People that prefer to go to the gym before eating, or while fasted, can supplement BCAAs to take advantage of the improved muscle protein synthesis effect without breaking their fast by consuming too many calories…”

    So in actuality this could be of huge worth! Not only in a fasting state but also in state where our energy/macro requirements are balanced through proper pre-workout nutrition specific to the individual and to the activity at hand. I think this has been advocated by numerous elite trainers, nutritional advisors, and Joe’s and Joanna’s in the trenches.

    Although I value the authors opinion, this article seems to have a strong platform of science obviously. However, I feel like it lacks the practical pillars that holds up most speculation related to nutrition and training.

    Sir, I hope you practice, study, and then preach.

  4. What an irresponsible post! We can measure these things! We can measure the level of amino acids in the blood and also there’s plenty of research on the benefits of glutamine, show me the research to back this blog

  5. All is needed is the condition or conditions that will be improved by the taking of amino acids. Experience the wonderful benefits first hand..then bleat on about how pointless it all is…you won’t be able to…

  6. Sorry my friend but this article tells BULLSHIT…Glutamine & BCAA play A VITAL ROLE IN muscular recovery and growth!
    That’s all folks! I don’t think that this person “Kamal Patel” has ever been working out at all..as i see from his picture.
    So, IF YOU HAVE NO RESEARCHED THIS SUPPLEMENTS ON YOURSELF..DO NOT WRITE SUCH ARTICLES!

    • he is wrong about most but glutamine and bcaa have absolutely no performance benefits and no amount of protein or leucine will cause faster muscle growth, when you supplement high dosed whey, leucine, bcaa then MPS goes up. after 2 hours or so it falls to zero and taking any amount of aminos will not be able to get it back up until the quick anabolism that was caused has been compensated by catabolism.
      this is homeostasis and why increasing mtor does nothing for muscle growth while increasing ampk, which decreases mtor, actually makes one lose fat and gain muscle on high carbs when done right.
      steroids are strongly anticatabolic but only mildly proteinanabolic, rather glycogenanabolic. this means that actually on steroids the body needs less protein and 1g/kg or 3g/kg made no difference ever, natural or not, whey, leucine etc or not.
      however insulin sensitivity and carbs are a significant subject.

      results? 1.82m, 85kg, 5%bf (leaner than most competitors), 5000kcal/day, daily full body workouts, stronger on back exercises than any bodybuilder, second only to matt kroc who can do 100kg dumbell rows for 25, i only managed 18 reps.

      agmatine is a great supplement, it is not only a nutrient partitioner, it also potentiates stimulants and opioids and reduces tolerance. on top it has analgesic and mood improving effects and is neuroprotective.

      supplementation has surpassed whey, bcaa, creatine and fish oil a while ago but not many have noticed too much.

  7. Here’s 5 and why?? I could have written this article. How about offering some input on what to use? There’s conflicting “evidence” for any supplement out on the market including “organic” supplements. This article has no benefit to anything. Can’t believe I fell for the bait.

  8. I’m no doctor but I call BS on the arginine. I am on a ketogenic diet and go on multiple day fasts from time to time and have tested out supplements on myself with calesthenic training. When I’m in a <2 day fasted state, arginine can increase my repetitions up to 10 and while I'm in an overnight fasted state, arginine can increase my repetitions up to 20. I know I'm in ketosis so running long distance is extremely easy on the muscles but I find it that much easier to run with arginine. I do not feel any change with Vo2 max. I take 3g 40 minutes before workouts/runs in the morning, 1g mid day, and 1g before bed or 3g before 1 hour before sex.

  9. This article while not overly specific in detail does actually provide some insight. While I do take a few of the supplements in this list I am not offended by his labeling them as not worth it. In the BCAA section you’ll see he mentions that they are useful under a fasted state, not a contradiction to the rest of the material as he also states they are not necessary for someone eating a protein sufficient diet. If you go to his website examine.com, which comes highly recommended by many in the health and wellness industry, you can find a body of research that supports his stance;in some cases it goes the other way, he does not hide anything as his website is a great database for research on pretty much all supplements on the market.

  10. Has there been any updates since this article (2015) on Betaine? My son (16 years old) is taking a Betaine Nitrate supplement for enhancing his weight lifting/muscle development.

  11. My problem is that this article doesn’t cite any sources. Moreover, some terms they use are useless in making the argument. For example, if glutamine is “released to the body on an as-needed basis”, well… wouldn’t the whole point of supplementation be that since you are in an intense workout program, your needs increase anyway, suggesting supplementation may be useful? It’s not making a good argument and needs sources.

  12. lotta bro science in these comments – it works because I see it working. Bullshit…what you eat that day has way more of an impact than any of these supplements. Post-workout, take 5g of leucine, wait 30 mins and then take a whey protein shake that doesn’t have any added glutamine. Glutamine will counter the effects of the Leucine by blocking the mTor receptor.

  13. L-arginine definitely works – as a laxative. I’m blowing a beautiful day on the shitter after ingesting 3g of that rubbish mixed with L-citrulline.
    At least I know now what to take for constipation.

  14. Glutamine has been part of my nightly routine since I was thirty. I have been taking 5 to 10kmg per night three hours after eating. I used it for Gh secretion as it converts to arginine and stimulates the hypothalamus and pituitary to release your own growth hormone. Im now 50 and sleep like a rock, have a full head of dark hair with 0 grey, and I still lift heavy heavy weights with no joint pain. (500lb dead lift, 315 bench, 405 squat in smith machine)
    I contribute my large glutamine intake to my youthfulness and recovery. You can buy 1000grams of this stuff for $25 on amazon. That’s 2.2 lbs!!! It’s an INCREDIBLE amino . Try 10000mg at night 3 hours after you eat. You’ll see!

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