Snake Oil & Honesty Hour

by | Jun 11, 2021

My mom is one of those people who will see a TV commercial for the latest diet pill or a potion that gives you elephant memory and be all over it before the commercial even ends.

In the past, the scenario would unfold something like this:  I would roll my eyes and go into a long explanation about how these types of products usually don’t work.  I’d explain how the ‘regular’ people shown in these commercials who tell their before and after stories are being guided towards framing the product in a positive light.

The product itself is almost always suspect and the money-back guarantees rely on most people not bothering to invoke it.  If they do, it usually results in the buyer being thrown into a discouraging cycle of small-print policy and poor customer service.  All of this based on past experience.

Yet all of my rational explanations about how these magic solutions are quackery still fell on deaf ears.

As a newer solution to this challenge, every time another pill that will make life perfect is excitedly announced, my go-to has become online reviews.  Once they too have been vetted of course.  What a world we live in, huh?

As you could have guessed, legitimate reviews eventually point out that most of the advertised items are of negligible use at best and downright harmful if care isn’t taken.  Thankfully, this is an effective deterrent for my mom.  For now.

In all the years that this back and forth has existed between us, there has only been one heavily advertised remedy that was actually legit and stood up to reviews.  It’s something that helps with Osteoarthritis and it actually works for her.

However, not one other product has ever truly ‘checked out’.

Why do millions of people fall for these seemingly magical potions and lotions?

Some noticeable patterns emerge when we look at it closely.  When science hasn’t found a solution to a problem yet, unscrupulous people will sniff out an opportunity to make money at the expense of the gullible and desperate.

But there is another very powerful thing at work here.  I don’t care how hard-working or determined you are, the fact remains that we will all have moments of ‘weakness’.

These moments are where we hand the snake oil peddlers immense power.  At a basic level everyone likes to feel good about themselves, so if there is a product that can offer some sort of shortcut to whatever it is we want it to do, well that sounds like we’ve hit the jackpot!

In these moments, when seemingly nothing is going our way, the flashy promises of an easy solution can be too hard to resist – even for the mental giants among us.

Unfortunately, the truth remains as it has always been since the advent of snake oil: these products only function to extract money from you and very little else.

Weight loss, muscle building, hormone manipulation and other wonderful things are being promised by supplements manufacturers in the same way as any of the other, shiny products in your social media.  Only unlike those shorts that supposedly bestow Reality star buttocks to the wearer, these products go inside your body.

If you take a moment to look past the shine and find some legitimate research results about any given supplement, you will also find the sometimes-disheartening truth that they work minimally at best.

And when I say ‘minimally’, I mean these products may give you a 1-2% boost (if you’re lucky).  Think of supplements that ‘work’ as perhaps giving you a tiny edge when you’ve reached the point of having done everything else.  The manufacturer’s marketing team will take this small possibility and via the magic of words and visuals turn it into a promise of life-altering results.

Let’s step back into reality for a moment.

In order to get a full grasp of how badly these products miss the mark, it’s important to first understand that your body doesn’t actually want you to be lean, muscular, stronger and all the other stuff we value visually.

Your body’s only goal is survival.

It’s not that the products don’t work.  They technically do, but only at a tiny fraction of what is presented to you; especially when your very nature essentially works against you in this case.

A product that is so powerful that it would override your body’s one-track purpose of survival and focus in on your appearance is simply not realistic.  An exception to this would be the use of anabolic steroids.  However, it is well-documented that their side effects are unacceptable to anyone who even gives a second thought to their long-term health.

There’s also the small problem of the overall illegality of said product.

Well then, is there anything that can give us a reasonable edge?

The good news is that it is entirely possible to manipulate our bodies’ functions to our desired goals.  With an educated understanding of supplement limits and health impacts of course.

We’ve never before had this much access to scientific knowledge with regards to what can realistically and actually get us to our desired physical condition and shape.

Outside of a select few pills and powders, the one thing science always comes back to is food.  Simple as that.  High-quality nutrition will beat any supplementation regimen on the planet hands down, every time.

In fact, if you were to create a pie chart for fitness success, nutrition would take up 80% of this pie.  Exercise would be the bulk of the remaining components with supplementation being given a sliver.

That said, the products that can give you a small boost when the results slow down (which happens to everyone) can play a role in getting you ahead a little bit.  I stress that these are not crucial by any means, but they can provide a small ‘push’.  If you want to spend the money on them, it won’t be a waste.

In my own experience and from that of people who have been role models for my physical well-being and better shape, there are 6 supplements that actually help.

I provide these below along with some general descriptions.  If you want more detailed information, there is a wealth of it online and I invite you to do your own research to your satisfaction.

Make sure you consult a health care professional before taking anything other than food into your body.  It’s worth taking the time for this step.


The Big 6


Creatine (Builds Muscle)

Creatine is a substance that is found naturally in muscle cells. It helps your muscles produce energy during heavy lifting or high-intensity exercise.  This helps your body produce a molecule know as ATP which in turn allows for more volume during heavy lifting workouts.

I prefer to take mine in the form of creatine monohydrate because there is less likelihood of kidney issues arising from its use.  You may notice that the marketers for this product will claim that unlike its predecessor – good old creatine itself – creatine monohydrate doesn’t need to be cycled off and can be taken indefinitely.  I still use it only for 3 months at a time, then take a month off, etc.  You can never be too safe with your body.


Arginine (heals muscle cells when they have been damaged during weight lifting)

Another amino acid. It creates nitric oxide, which widens and relaxes arteries and blood vessels, improving blood flow.  It also helps heal injuries, aids kidneys in removing waste and boosts immune system function.

I like to take one scoop of Arginine along with my bedtime Glutamine only during heavy lifting (mass building) cycles.  It works well to heal muscle breakdown.

Side note: Arginine is absolutely disgusting.  Dreadful stuff.  But hey, there are benefits and sometimes you have to suffer a bit for what you really want, right?


BCAAs (Helps retain muscle during fat loss cycles)

Branched-chain amino acids are a group of three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. They are essential, meaning they can’t be produced by your body and must be obtained from food. BCAA supplements have been shown to build muscle, decrease muscle fatigue and alleviate muscle soreness.

As a side note, the companies that produce and sell BCAAs make this product so damn delicious that it’s tough to not drink it all.  Please resist.


Glutamine (Helps retain muscle – especially as we age)

Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid in the body. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. It has many benefits, but the important ones for me are:

  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Protecting against muscle loss

As we get older and we start losing muscle, Glutamine becomes an especially good supplement to have.  I take one scoop post-workout and one every night at bedtime.


Alpha-Lipoic Acid (helps with fat loss)

Also known as R+ALA, this is an organic compound that works as an antioxidant. It’s made in the mitochondria of cells but also found in foods and supplements.

One of its desired effects is help with weight loss.  During leaning phases, taking a couple of these capsules before each main meal along with Green Tea Extract makes a great combination to squeeze more fat out of the body.


Green Tea Extract (helps with fat loss)

Thanks to its high antioxidant content, green tea extract has been shown to help improve health and body composition.

Solid research has shown that it can promote weight loss, blood sugar regulation and exercise recovery.

It can also help keep your skin and liver healthy, reduce blood fat levels, regulate blood pressure, and improve brain health.

The weight loss effect happens by increasing the number of calories your body burns through thermogenesis; however, if you’re a regular coffee drinker (3 cups or more per day), save your money and skip this one.  You will most likely get the same effect from your daily Joe.


And there it is.  The complete list of 6 simple supplements that actually work.

Please keep in mind that none of them are absolutely crucial.  They serve to give you a slight boost or edge, but their addition may very well help when introduced at latter stages of your physical development.  If you’ve been lifting weights for some time and gains are slow, they could provide that ‘kick’ back into gear.

The same goes for leaning down.  If you’ve been on a longer leaning phase and trying to get those last few pounds of fat off the bod, it probably won’t hurt to add some of the thermogenic products mentioned above.

Also, every 3 months, take a month off from all supplements to allow your body to clear them.  This is always a good idea as you want to avoid any buildup.

I hope you find this information useful and that you view any new miracle pill or ‘must-have’ supplements with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Always do your research and try to find legitimate reviews from trusted publications.  There really is a ‘too good to be true’ – whether my mom believes it or not.

Do you have any experience with the supplements mentioned in this post?  Have you tried other things that worked for you?  Drop me a note in the ‘Comments’ section below.  I always love to learn more.

Until next time.

To your good health!


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