Supplements promising to make you put on obscene amounts of muscle or get a pre workout boost like no other pop up all over the place. A common theme with many of these supplements is that they’re able to deliver results that defy information physiology textbooks tell us about things like hypertrophy and endurance because of their proprietary blends. What exactly are proprietary blends and why might a supplement company use them?
Let’s start with what they are: manufacturers are required by the FDA to list ingredients on a product’s label along with the amount. If these ingredients are part of a proprietary blend, then only the total amount needs to be listed and not the individual amount of each ingredient.
Why might a company want to use a proprietary blend?
The typical response that these companies give you is that they have a specially designed formula that separates their product from any other product out on the market. They argue that they have an edge on the competition with a certain proprietary blend and don’t want anyone to copy their formula. But when you begin to dig deeper you start seeing some flaws in this logic.
- If a company or anyone with access to a college chemistry lab wanted to find out what’s in a supplement’s formula, they can do a quantitative analysis of the product. Quantitative analysis are lab tests that let you know the relative concentrations of one (or more) substances in a sample.
- There are no real secrets in sports nutrition, the most effective chemicals for hypertrophy, stamina, fat loss, etc. are pretty well known. What’s more with the most effective and researched ones like creatine, beta-alanine, caffeine, etc. there’s a substantial amount of literature on minimum effective doses (and maximum as well). These “top secret blends” companies use have to be working within these effective dosage ranges for their products to be useful, in essence there are no secrets because the science is out there on what works and how much.
Typically, these companies use a proprietary blend as a cost cutting trick to use inferior ingredients. An easy way to maximize profits while minimizing expenses for supplement companies is in the ingredients they use. With proprietary blends since the individual amount of each ingredient used isn’t listed, a company can easily use more inexpensive materials that may not be as proven while limiting the pricier but more effective ingredients. With a proprietary blend the label only needs to tell you the total amount of ingredients in the blend, not of each individual ingredient. This is a common tactic used with protein supplements as an example where companies utilize a deceptive technique called nitrogen spiking.