The Supplement Industry
As consumers, we expect supplements to speed up recovery, burn fat, build muscle, and increase testosterone. The industry has seized on these high expectations and routinely make promises they are unable to keep. They have plenty of ways to market ineffective products to consumers seeking quick solutions. One of their favorite tricks: proprietary blends.
What are Proprietary Blends?
Manufacturers are generally required to list amounts of ingredients in their products. Like many rules, there are loopholes which allow companies to obscure the ingredient makeup of their products. Companies use proprietary blends to keep information away from consumers.
A proprietary blend is simply a mix of ingredients. Companies, for example, can mix creatine, lemon extract, and caffeine and name it “Swole Pump Activator.” There’s nothing special about a proprietary blend other than the ingredients it’s made of, and often, the mix is not remotely unique to that product.
According to the FDA, manufacturers must list ingredients AND amounts on nutrition labels. Unfortunately, there’s an exception the supplement industry takes advantage of. Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations 101.36 states that labels only need to list amounts for ingredients which have an established reference daily intake (RDI) or daily reference value (DRV). Most ingredients found in supplement products do not have either1,2.
The same rule also states that if a product contains a proprietary blend, the manufacturer does not need to list the individual amounts of each ingredient, only the total weight of the proprietary blend. These blends allow a company to make a blend (our example from above: creatine, lemon extract, and caffeine) loaded with cheap, ineffective ingredients, while hiding how much of the pricier, effective ingredient the product contains1,2.
In our Swole Pump Activator proprietary blend, we loaded up on lemon extract, an ingredient that has little if any research justification, while limiting the amount of ingredients that actually work such as caffeine or creatine. The point of all this? To save money. We can buy a lot of cheap ingredients, mix them with very small, insignificant amounts of more expensive ingredients, hide this cheap mix in a very effective sounding proprietary blend, and finally, profit!
Nutrition Label Examples
The following examples illustrate at how proprietary blends show up on nutrition labels. The examples have nothing to do with how well these products work, only how well a nutrition label delivers the information a consumer should have before making a purchasing decision.
In the first example, we see exactly what proprietary blends are made to do. This label comes from Animal Pump by Animal. Vitamin C, magnesium, and selenium are all listed with amounts because they all have established RDIs and DRVs. Per FDA guidance, these ingredients must be listed with amounts. As we move down the label, we start running into proprietary blends. Animal pump uses five of these blends: Foundational Creatine Matrix with CreaPure and Creatine MagnaPower, NO Blast Complex, Energy Rush Complex, Antioxidant Complex, Pump Transport Complex with Cinnulin PF and Bioperine3.
None of these great sounding names mean anything. Next to each blend name, we can see the total amount of the blend contained in the product. For example, there is 3,000 milligrams of Foundational Creatine Matrix with CreaPure and Creatine MagnaPower. Within this blend, there are five ingredients. We don’t know how much of each of those ingredients is contained in the product. All we know is the amount of all five ingredients is 3,000mg3.
This tactic is not limited to this product or company. This strategy is widely used by many in the supplement industry.
The second label comes from AlphaBurn by MuscleSport. This label is much better than the previous one. All ingredients are listed with amounts allowing the consumer to make a much more educated decision. This issue with this label is that it still contains proprietary blends. These names are marketing gimmicks designed to make the consumer feel as if the product is more effective than it really is. Energy & Focus Matrix and Thermogenic Diaphoretic Matrix mean absolutely nothing to the effectiveness of this product. There is a level of deceit when manufacturers include these titles, even when listing amounts. Again, this example is better than the previous one, but we still have room for improvement4.
The final example comes from Arsyn by Condemned Labz. This label is what all labels should look like. All ingredients are shown with their respective amounts. There are no proprietary blends to either hide ingredient information or attempt to sway a purchasing decision with meaningless phrases such as “Pump Activator5.”
The Bottom Line – Recommendations When Buying Supplements
Avoid products with proprietary blends. At best, these blends allow you to see ingredient amounts while giving you a false sense that the product may do something it’s not capable of. At worst, they keep valuable information from you in order to boost profits. Either way, the use of proprietary blends are sinister in nature, even when ingredient amounts are listed.
When picking supplement products, ensure every ingredient is listed with an amount. Definitely be wary of products that hide ingredient amounts. You should also view products that use proprietary blends negatively, even if all ingredient amounts are listed. There is a certain amount of deception involved in misleading consumers about product effectiveness through the use of proprietary blend names.
Lastly, proprietary blends are a symptom of a bigger problem. There are very few supplement ingredients that have sufficient evidence to back their use. Simply including an ingredient amount does not negate that fact that the vast majority of ingredients don’t live up to their hype. Ingredient amounts should be listed on nutrition labels, however, their presence does not guarantee the product will deliver solid results.
Use the Supplement Product Filter to check out hundreds of products’ nutrition label transparency scores.
- CFR – Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?fr=101.36
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Dietary Supplement Labeling Guide: Chapter IV. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/dietary-supplements-guidance-documents-regulatory-information/dietary-supplement-labeling-guide-chapter-iv-nutrition-labeling#4-34
- Animal Pump. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.animalpak.com/animal-pump
- AlphaBurn. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://musclesport.com/products/alphaburn
- Arsyn. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://condemnedlabz.com/products/arsyn