The supplement industry is huge. Aisles are filled with brands you may, and may not have, heard about. Here's a list of things you should know before buying supplements, and the dangers to be aware of.

Nutritional Supplements - The Upsale Downside

Written by Tim Santoro.

I have studied nutritional supplements for close to ten years. The subject is extremely broad so I'd never consider myself an expert, but I can say with a sincere and humble honesty I have a better than good knowledge on the subject. With this in mind, when I walk into a supplement store I know why I am there and what I am buying. There are things I notice though. These are things I have discovered overhearing the retail staff, and even having worked for one once upon a time.

You can find 101 great products at these stores. You can also find 102 questionable products. That is just the nature of the industry. What you as a consumer need to be cautious about though is the UPSELL.

One national retail leader in the industry who will remain nameless encourages its employees to sell specific items. In fact the regional and district managers call each store throughout the day to ask for sales stats on these target products. In some cases the hourly employees can also earn commission for selling product XYZ over product ABC. Ironically, only some products come with commissions and they are usually the most expensive. It reminds me of a restaurant I know of where the average plate is $15.00 but the owner's recommended dishes are all $30.00.

I will not fault businesses for doing this. They are just practices of the retail game. However, you need to be an informed shopper too. Next time you go to your local supplement/health food retailer, use these guidelines.

  • Buy what you need. Beware when the clerk starts suggesting a bunch of products to you and suggests you need them for whatever benefit. He/she doesn't know you or what you need; they just met you two minutes ago.
  • Don't allow the clerk to talk health. While a good majority are versed on supplements, it's not a requirement of the job. Sometimes they read a short informational handbook and their manager signs off. And that is the extent of their knowledge. They can suggest what may be good for your health and such, but they are far from trained clinicians.
  • If you like and have used a product with success, don't be swayed. I've been told that things I go in to buy are not good products. It is fine for them to suggest, but they should never talk negative about any product. The ironic part is no business should bad mouth a product they carry when the customer before them could really be an undercover representative from the manufacturer. Manufacturers routinely go to retail establishments to examine how their products are being sold.
  • Beware of the unknown brand. A new trend is for the big retailers, and now even the independent guys, to manufacturer or partner with a manufacturer. They'll tell you that this other unknown brand is cheaper and better. The truth is that this brand is either their own, or gives them royalties on each sale.
  • Watch your wallet. If you are just getting into working out don't be convinced to buy a dozen different things and spend several hundred dollars.
  • If asked to name just the necessary supplements I'd name: a multivitamin, Omega 3 fish oil, and maybe a protein powder depending on what you are doing in the gym.
  • Finally, this is to all the parents. Be careful of what your kid's coaches recommend for them. When I worked in the supplement business I'd have on average four parents a month come in and say "my son's coach says he needs..." The truth is your son's coach has no right suggesting your child use any type of supplement. Furthermore, some supplements can be harmful to still developing bodies like those in kids up to the age of 18.

These are just some recommendations to help you be a smarter shopper. I am not attempting to "expose" the evils of the industry. The reality is I love the supplement industry. At the same time, that love and my years of learning have shown me that there are cautions to be yielded. If you have even 1% of doubt, DO NOT BUY.

Tim Santoro

About Tim Santoro

Tim Santoro serves as a fitness consultant and freelance fitness writer having earned certifications in Fitness Training and Fitness Nutrition. He has over eighteen years experience developing film and television projects. Tim Santoro is the founder and president of Terminal CLE, a media development company.

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