Today’s post-slash-rant was also inspired by a question from a Whole9 reader, and also involves a popular supplement company marketed heavily to CrossFitters. Honestly, our intention wasn’t to join the Rant Parade down Supplement Street this month, but when something this good (translation: so ridiculous, it makes us think we’ve been huffing paint) comes rolling on by, we just have to jump on it.
Today’s post started with an email from April, an avid Whole9 reader and recent workshop attendee. She’s not your average CrossFitter – April is a savvy nutrition consumer and no stranger to Paleo or the Whole30. So when she received a questionable sales pitch from a popular supplement company, she contacted us for our thoughts. We replied to her individually, but we’re also going to share them here with our readers, because again… it’s just. That. Good.
April writes, in part:
“I’m an admitted Whole9 blog stalker, and attended your Nutrition workshop at Crossfit Austin in June. I have since stuck to high quality (real) food, fish oil and magnesium, thinking simplicity is best. But there are a lot of CrossFitters who recommend AdvoCare supplements, and I’d love to separate the truth from the hype from a Whole30 perspective.
The following items were recommended for me by an AdvoCare representative, as a supplement to my Whole30. I’m not completely savvy on all the scientific names they come up with for ingredients, but I know there’s sugar and whey protein in two of the three recommendations…which I would think is a no-no. Can you give me your take on the below?”
Below are the actual recommendations made to April by the AdvoCare specialist (emphasis added). We couldn’t make this up, kids.
“With the Whole30 diet restrictions, the best products for you are the following, to help you lean out and stay off of sugar. The first product is the MNS C or MNS E. This will be your complete dietary supplement system. C will control your cravings for sweets, carbs and fats (!!!) and E will do the same, plus give you maximum energy if you have issues with energy.
The second product that I would recommend is Catalyst. Catalyst is an amino acid dietary supplement (protein) that puts a protective coating around your muscle so when your body goes to get energy, it cannot go to the lean muscle tissue that you are building, instead it will have to go to the stored fat. This is like a potato peeler. It trims off that fat around muscle so it trims you up in all the right places.
The third product is Muscle Strength. The key benefits are as follows: Enhances muscle growth in conjunction with strength training, helps decrease recovery time between periods of intense workout, promotes muscle strength and endurance, aids in maintaining lean muscle mass, encourages repair of body tissues.”
Oh, boy. Dallas straight-up grabbed the reins on this one, and immediately began crafting his response to April. I’ll turn the post over to him in a minute, but first, I have one thing to say. The entire point of the Whole30 is to eat real food. Avoid processed foods, avoid foods with garbage ingredients, avoid consuming anything you can’t pronounce or don’t recognize. So for someone to recommend ARTIFICIALLY SUPPLEMENTING the Whole30 program is, in the biggest understatement of the century, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT MISSING OUR BUS.
Now that I’ve said my piece, here’s how Dallas responded to April’s question.
“April, your question on supplementation is a good one. There is so much information out there about various supplements – the good, the bad, and the straight-up ugly. You’ve already mentioned some of the good – things like fish oil and magnesium, both things that we use regularly. As for the bad and straight-up ugly… well, there’s far more of that. Products with artificial sweeteners, colours, and flavours, “proprietary formulas” that contains untested or laboratory-created substances, and supplements that make unfounded claims and inflated promises (and demand plenty of your hard-earned money in exchange).
All in all, the giant supplement industry is just that – industry. So I take claims about products with a serious grain of salt, especially if it comes from someone who sells the stuff. I’ve looked closely at the AdvoCare supplements you inquired about, and honestly, I don’t have much good to say.
For one, AdvoCare provides incomplete information about their products’ ingredients on their website. I’d all but guarantee that there are soy, corn, and/or wheat-derived ingredients in most of your recommended AdvoCare supplements… but, of course, they don’t tell you that. They list a few “key ingredients”, but don’t tell you how much of each “key ingredient” is included, nor do they tell you what else is in there. And I have a serious problem with that lack of disclosure. Since supplements aren’t regulated, companies can say just about anything about what their supplement does, and what it contains. So if the company won’t tell you how much of the active ingredients it supposedly contains, or give you a 100% complete list of all ingredients before you purchase it, I say (yell!) “BUYER BEWARE.”
There are some other concerns about some of these supplements too – not the least of which is the cost. I took a quick peek at the cost of a 30-day supply of the three recommended products, and with my rudimentary math skills, totaled it up to $160. One-hundred-and-sixty dollars! That’s, like, a whole week’s worth of fresh, real, Whole30 food. How sustainable is this level of supplementation? Do you plan on giving the Advocare people thousands of dollars a year… forever?
Finally, it’s obvious from the email you received that your AdvoCare salesman is only interested in selling his products – and clearly NOT educated about the Whole30’s goal and implementation. The idea of someone recommending you take pills to help you manage your Whole30 is ironic, at best. (Plus, I can’t resist – claiming any product will “trim off that fat around muscle so it trims you up in all the right places” is straight up B.S. It’s like a potato peeler? For real?)
All in all, your suspicions that it’s “garbage, garbage, and more garbage” are 100% spot-on correct. Your plan of eating 100% Whole30 food plus a few (entirely optional) supplements of compounds that are already found in your body or naturally occurring in real, fresh food remains by far your best option. Stick with that plan, and you’ll 1) save a ton of money, 2) avoid the inadvertent side effects of who-knows-what ingredients, and 3) continue to “practice” sustainable nutrition habits that will lead to optimal health for the rest of your life. Steer clear of what people sell you (unless Broccoli, Inc. comes a-knocking), and you’ll be the healthiest you you can be.”
Back to Melissa now… to our readers, please understand we’re taking a hard line on this particular topic because we’re fired up about the aggressive sales pitch and inflated claims some of these companies use in an attempt to line their pockets at the expense of your health. I don’t need to get my amino acids from a bottle – I eat high quality meat, fish and eggs. A pill won’t help me curb my sugar cravings – but stepping away from the candy dish for 30 days sure as heck will. As for building muscle mass and effectively recovering from exercise… I’ll just pick up something heavy and follow it up with some egg whites and sweet potato, thanks. And then I’ll spend the $160 I just saved on a fall CSA share, ten pounds of frozen grass-fed ground beef or a new pair of Olympic lifting shoes.
We understand how confusing it can be to wade through the marketing campaigns of some of these popular supplements, especially when there are a lot of well known fitness names hawking products we wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. So stay tuned next week for an additional two-part series on supplementation – the Whole9 supplement evaluation checklist, and a list of items that make the cut for our own shopping cart. But for now, an always-reliable rule of thumb… When in doubt, keep it simple and eat real food, just as our smart girl April is doing.
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