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Sports Nutrition Supplements and Misleading Marketing Tactics

As a professional in the nutrition industry and an expert in Functional Nutrition and Medical Nutrition Therapy, I am constantly seeing nutrition marketing tactics that promote products most people don’t need. When you’re trying to feel the best in your body, or trying to improve or meet your personal health and performance goals, there’s an emotional impact. Marketing departments know this and use tactics that hit on the pain points of potential customers. This is especially rampant in the sports nutrition supplement industry. The advantage these companies have over you is they know that you aren’t an expert in what they’re trying to sell you…but WE are.

In our last article on marketing tactics, we shared some of the misleading marketing tactics out there regarding common diets and dietary patterns, including keto, natural, vegan or plant based, and gluten-free. 

We’ll continue the topic by delving a little more into problematic marketing tactics you might find when purchasing products that may or may not enhance your sports performance.

The Problem with Sports Nutrition Products

There are many problems with sports nutrition supplements and products. Let’s just address the big ones:

  1. First goes for all dietary supplements: the industry is not well regulated so in most cases, there is no way to tell if what a product contains is what is on the nutrition label. Companies that are highly regarded will use a professional line of supplements and seek out third-party certification and auditing so you can trust what’s in the product. 
  2. Second, it’s not so much that these products don’t work (some of them don’t), it’s that for most sports supplements, you’re looking at gaining the last 0.5-3% improvement in your performance. 

The vast majority of improvement comes from:
A. Diet
B. Doing the correct training and workouts
Proper rest and recovery (including managing stress and sleep)

So utilizing a supplement or the “next big thing” being marketed to you by a company or athlete influencer is actually the last thing you should be doing after improving your diet through whole foods, optimizing training, and getting proper recovery.  In fact, a favorite quote of mine from a sports nutrition scientist that I like to keep in mind is: 

“Fix your diet, fix your sleep, fix your training and exercise, and then we can talk about supplements.” 


Common “Influencer” Marketed Supplements 

For a moment, let’s review a list of common sports supplements that are marketed by athletes and other sports and fitness related influencers: 

Ketones – Research currently shows no benefit when used during training and competition; there are not enough favorable studies to be prescriptive regarding recovery benefits.
Magnesium – Type of magnesium, quality, and dose matters
Medicinal Mushrooms – Quality and intended purpose, as well as dose matters
Ashwagandha and other Herbal Adaptogens – Quality, intended purpose, and dose matters; there may be contraindications with medications, etc.
Greens Powders – Quality and intended purpose matters
Collagen – Quality and intended purpose matters
Gut Health “Enhancers” – Quality, intended purpose, and amount needed matters; whether it works or is the right product for your situation is highly individual and can only be truly known via proper functional testing. For instance, you may use a plethora of gut health supplements but without addressing the root cause, which we at Hopewella do through testing, you may never actually get to the bottom of the issue and solve it.
Probiotics – Quality, types, and amount of bacterial strains matter; whether it works or is the right product for your situation is highly individual.
Athletic (Alcohol-Free) Beer – Generally a decent alternative for those that enjoy beer but don’t want the negative recovery results that come with it.
Nitric Oxide and other performance enhancers – Quality and intended purpose matters, may be contraindications with medications, etc. Whether it works or is the right product for your situation is highly individual. 

If you’ve read through that list, you’ll see that these variables matter a lot:

Quality and form of the ingredient, as well as fillers and other ingredients
Intended Purpose and whether it is the right product for YOU. Part of this might include nutritional genetic testing (called nutrigenomics), to address challenges you specifically have that have a genetic basis. A common example in sports nutrition is knowing whether you are a fast or slow metabolizer of caffeine, which would dictate whether you use caffeine to help with performance or whether you’re better off steering clear of it altogether.
Amount used: In most cases, products that in theory would be beneficial do not contain enough of an ingredient to have any benefit- and more isn’t necessarily better in other cases.
Potential for contraindications with prescription medications
Whether it is legal (for elite and professional athletes)
Whether it is safe
Whether there’s any research to back up the claims for its use


Beyond the Marketing Masterminds

Let’s remind ourselves that reasons to choose any product to improve health and performance are individual and may vary by person, and are usually only going to help with the last 0.5-3% towards reaching your goals. That’s the fine print to what these companies, and athletes or influencers they sponsor, are selling you.

If you’d like to visit some of our previous articles on misleading marketing tactics, see Part I, Part II and Part III here.

And if you’re tired of the food confusion and want help finally figuring out the best way of eating for you, reach out to us and set up a free Discovery Call, and we’ll help you make the right dietary choices for you.

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Rebecca Fallihee hails from Eugene, Oregon. She is a Certified Nutrition Specialist and also is a Licensed Dietician Nutritionist in the state of Illinois. Rebecca graduated from Maryland University of Integrative Health with a MS degree in Nutrition. She has over a decade of teaching public health nutrition, and specializes in many areas of health and nutrition including digestive optimization, metabolic health, sports nutrition, nutritional genetics and autoimmune health among other conditions.

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