This article was first published on 14 March 2004
The supplement industry is one of the most lucrative industries in the world! [US$18 billion dollars a year according to the New York Times. Ed.] They try to sell us dreams at the drop of a hat with aggressive marketing schemes and a nice helping of complete bull! So Newbies and Old Schoolers beware: the bullshit stops here.
It all started with Bill and Ben, oh sorry, I mean Joe and Ben Weider the â€œseenyoucominâ€ men. They tried to fool us with names like â€˜The Trainer of Championsâ€™ and â€˜The MasterBlasterâ€™. Crap, Mr. Han Man! The only thing that got master blasted was Joe and Benâ€™s bank account, two very shrewd operators if you ask me. In the early days very few people had the foresight to see where the industry was heading or how big it would become but Joseph and Benjamin had it all worked out and they had a very nice little monopoly. They kept their athletes under strict contracts offering little reward for their great efforts, and where else could they go? Nobody was offering any kind of money for professional bodybuilders: who wanted to see Tom Platzsâ€™ legs on a cereal box or Bertil Fox on a milk carton! Your granny would have a heart attack every time she pulled the milk out of the fridge.
Athletes under Weider contracts couldnâ€™t even compete in other shows to make money so they had to rely on working in gyms or less honorable pursuits â€œ I was a male stripper in a go-go barâ€ ring any bells? Oh and the most prestigious competition of them all â€” the Mr Olympia â€” I wonder who organised that!! Yes youâ€™ve guessed it â€” Joe and Ben.
Weiderâ€™s number one priority has always been to sell supplements. Clothes and magazines are number two. Magazine sales alone were US$150 million last year. The well-being and lifestyle of their athletes really didnâ€™t enter into the scheme of things! And if anybody mentioned steroids Ben and Joe would laugh and say none of their athletes take those mind-bending drugs. Yeah! Yeah! As we all rush to buy our Weider supplements that will give us biceps like Arnold and calves like Dorian Yates. They would love us to believe that Arnold didnâ€™t take enough Dianabol to kill a donkey or that Dorian blew away the bodybuilding world using Weider free-form amino acids! You all may laugh but millions believe it every single day.
As time moved on â€” the end of the 1980s â€” Joe and Ben always seem to be smiling. I wonder why? Yes theyâ€™re making bloody millions from us. Other people noticed that this fitness thing may not have been a passing phase and, the gold rush we call the supplement industry began. Big companies began to notice the same thing the Weiders did years ago â€” a fool and his money are easily parted and people still havenâ€™t learnt all that glitters isnâ€™t muscle!
The first company to come along and challenge the Weiders reign of supremacy was Met Rx engineered nutrition WOW! It seems scientific so it must be goodâ€¦Duuuhh. The founder and brains behind this company was Dr Scott Connelley, his second in command was Bill Phillips and last but not least was James Bradshaw a marketing guru who coined the phrase â€˜Aggressive Marketing.â€™ The fact that he used to be the largest steroid dealer on the west coast of America didnâ€™t seem to matter to anybody or that heâ€™d learnt all his marketing tricks whilst doing a stint in prison. Even one of the men behind Designer Protein did time for steroid dealing, Hmmm. Anything funny here or is it just me?
Met Rx also had the bright idea of using sports stars and film stars. Even Princess Diana admitted using Met Rx supplements on T.V and so the whole idea of using celebrities to sell nutritional products was born.
Even before Met Rx a much better marketing strategy had been used, the before and after photos by Cybergenics. Anybody who was interested in bodybuilding in the 80s will remember these photo scams. They were very believable â€” I must admit that if I could have afforded Cybergenics at the time I would have probably bought a course. All they contained was a few vitamins and minerals and a bit of protein priced high so that everybody thought, â€œThese are expensive so they must work!â€ Even steroid users were repeat customers.
And as all things do, what goes around comes around. Muscletech must be one of the biggest supplement selling companies in the world. You canâ€™t open a fitness magazine without some huge guy or some fitness model saying â€œI got my awesome abs by using Hydroxycutsâ€ or â€œI never leave home without my Mesotech barâ€. God, has the world really come to this! If Cell-tech really is that good how come one of its biggest sponsored athletes Dexter Jackson competed at nearly the same weight as he did six months ago. Hhmm!! Maybe he didnâ€™t use the Nitro-tech, Cell-tech stackâ€¦yeah right. I wouldnâ€™t say that supplement companies donâ€™t sell some perfectly good supplements, but some of the claims are getting outrageous. [In the US the FTC agrees and several states are also suing a number of supplement companies for making excessive claims. Ed.]
Muscletech claims Nitro-tech is 24 times better than ordinary whey! A top NFL player has recently filed a very large law suit against Muscletech because he tested positive twice for metabolites of the steroid nandrolone. This has cost him over US$5 million in contracts and the Nitrotech he had taken was found to be â€˜contaminatedâ€™ with norandrostenedione and androstenediol. [Naturally, Muscletech denies these claims on its website. Ed]. I donâ€™t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing. It could mean supplements may finally be getting up to providing steroid-like results. Itâ€™s obvious that supplement companies aim their massive advertising campaigns at young trainees but is this the type of product that beginners should be taking? I donâ€™t think so.
So donâ€™t be drawn in by this dubious marketing. The only thing thatâ€™s changed is the local drug dealer now wears a suit and drives a new model BMW! Bodybuilding success doesnâ€™t come in a can or a packet it comes from years of hardwork and dedication. There is a place for supplements in our fitness diets but thatâ€™s what it is â€” just a place, not the be all and end all of nutrition. Good food is still the most anabolic substance that we can place in our bodies.
So eat well, train well, sleep well and most importantly live well.