Making Simple Seem Difficult: A Rant About Supplements, Exercise, and Mass Media

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Here’s a Facebook message I received the other day from a friend regarding training that spurred this post.

First off, I’ve been taking GNC pro performance amp wheybolic extreme 60, which I was told hand in hand with the ripped vitapak would help me gain more muscle definition and slight muscle mass and lose fat (with cardio involved as well of course). Now, I got to the point where I’m looking to focus more on gaining muscle mass, and I know for the most part how to adjust my workouts to do that, but I’m not sure if the new product that was suggested to me (amplified mass xxx) is the right one. I want to gain muscle mass, not gain the fat I lost back. The nutritional values just had me worried a little. Do you suggest something else? Or am I reading too much into this?

As you can imagine, this answer is a little more in-depth than just a simple “yes” or “no”. But, outside of the actual question, I was a little bit perturbed by the fact that this individual was essentially being manipulated and sold to by the lovely folks at GNC. I was also a bit humored by the supplement names – AMP Wheybolic Extreme 60? That sure does sound intense. Supplement names have always brought me a little chuckle. It’s almost a competition to figure out who can come up with the most intense sounding adjectives on the market.

I feel like a loser when I take simple “Whey Protein”. Apparently, the AMP stands for Advanced Muscle Performance, which I’m surely missing out on. One of the claims on the website is “Increase Strength & Stamina with Half the Sets”. Half the work/all the results? Gimme, gimme, gimme!

Back to the topic at hand.

This guy came to me looking for advice. Essentially, he was looking for direction on supplement choice and how to direct his training program to gain a little more muscle mass. His last sentence really stuck out to me as one that a lot of young lifters are asking themselves, “Am I reading too much into this?”

The answer is yes.

Simple Answer to a Complex Question

On a scientific level, the question “How can I best gain muscle mass?” can be a complex one at best. In the real world, it actually isn’t that hard at all. Almost every good personal trainer will tell you something along the lines of the following:

  1. Eat more than you burn.
  2. Consume a ton of protein (recommendations vary but somewhere around a 0.75g-1g would do the trick)
  3. Perform some kind of carb cycling. The timing of your macros is important, but don’t be afraid of carbs if you’re trying to gain weight.
  4. Drink more water than you think you need.
  5. Lift heavy, multi-joint exercises with a few isolations thrown in.
  6. Limit aerobic cardio.
  7. Lay off the booze.
  8. Train hard and rest harder.
  9. Sleep at least 8 hours a night.
  10. Eat bacon. (okay this one isn’t real…or maybe it is)

No where in there does it call for the use of XYZ SuperFantasticAbShredder Protein Powder (patented) to get you to your goals. But, we as trainers love to make things complicated. So we bicker back and forth about reps, rest, time under tension, exercise choice, body part split, should squat, shouldn’t squat, creatine, glutamine, Jack3d, and all of the other controversies that surround working out.

We’re confusing the mass public into thinking this is harder than it really is (to read more on this, Jon Goodman had a great post here). Sure, protein powder makes it easier to get in the protein you need, but I’ve met a ton of jacked dudes that have never taken N.O. Explode or any other N.O. supplement in their lifetime.

In my opinion, the role of a personal trainer is to simplify working out. Make it as simple as possible so people can follow along, to steer clients in the right direction at the crossroads of their path to a six-pack. That directly competes with the job of many others in the fitness biz which is…

To sell stuff.

Supplement Companies Make Money

The bottom line is anytime you walk into a GNC, the store clerks are licking their chops to sell you a supplement. No matter your goal, they have something for you. In my opinion, part of the plot to get you to buy is to make the store look as confusing as possible. They have rows upon rows of every supplement under the sun.

All of this confusion and I-can’t-find-one-simple-thing, leads you to ask a store clerk which is almost synonymous with handing them your wallet and buying something. Inevitably, they’re going to ask you what your goals are then mention all of these fancy words while talking to you. Chances are, they’ll through in words like muscle pump, jacked, definition, cut, and shredded to get you all jazzed up on your new supplement routine.

I’m not saying that all supplement reps are dirty crooks that are out to take your money, but they are employed to sell stuff. It’s in their best interest to get you to buy.

And we’re buying a lot of it. The supplement industry is absolutely huge. Billions of dollars are being thrown their way for these crazy-named supplements.

And we’re asking for it.

The Mass Media Tells You What You Want to Hear

Working out is difficult. There’s no doubt that getting the body you want requires some effort and yes, some sweat. So, you’re relieved when you hear that this new supplement on the market promises to be the magic pill when it comes to weight loss.

To our minds, a magic pill sounds a lot better than, “Stop being lazy you sissy and go do some work”.

We’ve created a demand, and they are filling it.

You can’t get mad at them for marketing to our current mindset. However, you are perfectly justified in getting pissed off at a bunch of erroneous claims that aren’t actually backed by research.

Until there is no demand for the quick fix or the magic pill (never), companies will continue to spend millions of dollars on advertising, research, and development to make billions of dollars off of us, the consumers.

Simplify Your Training

Often times, the best answer to your fitness questions is the good ‘ol KISS method of keep it simple stupid. I’m a huge fan of getting really good at the big lifts and eating a ton of whole food.

If you’re looking for an awesome lifting guide that takes advantage of simple concepts to get maximum results, I’d recommend this guide by JC Deen and Jordan Syatt. Although it says beginner, I’ve followed it for a few months with great results.

No where in the bible of shreddedness does it say that you have to take in protein powder to get the body you want. In fact, I’d rather you take in real food.

But, the fact remains that eating seven chicken breasts during the day can be quite nauseating and time consuming. So, that’s where supplements are actually useful – to provide a convenient source of macronutrients. When it comes to chasing down the best protein powder available, I look for the shortest, simplest ingredient list for a whey protein that tastes decent. Don’t worry about the crazy adjectives in front of the label. They likely won’t do anything different, unless you want to argue the placebo effect.

The harsh truth is getting the body you want requires a lot of work and some sacrifice along the way.

Ending Notes

There’s a lot of misleading information out there. Use reasoning to help you sift through the pretenders.

Isolate a few of your favorite sources and only read from them. Reading everything will leave you more confused.

Take your training as a serious undertaking. That means limiting alcohol consumption and late weekend nights.

Track your progress and change something that isn’t working. Keep it up for at least four weeks before trashing it in favor of something else.

Enjoy the process, not just the end result.

Thoughts? Comments? What’s worked for you in the past? Do you take AMP Wheybolic Extreme? Am I missing out? Let me know in the comments below!

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