Frequently Asked Questions: Supplement Ingredients

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Supplement Ingredients

Supplement ingredients are rated based on conclusions from scientific research articles. Each ingredient receives an overall effectiveness rating, a claim specific effectiveness rating, an overall research rating, and a claim specific research rating. Effectiveness ratings describe how well an ingredient works. Research ratings describe how much evidence is available. Read more: How does the database rate supplement ingredients?

Supplement ingredients are rated based on conclusions found in peer-reviewed research articles. These studies typically test an ingredient against a specific claim, for example: does whey protein help speed up recovery, or, does drinking a certain carbohydrate improve sprinting performance? The studies generally come to one of three conclusions: 1) the ingredient did not lead to any improvement, or, 2) the ingredient led to some improvement, or, 3) the ingredient led to a significant improvement. Each study provides one grade (1, 2, or 3) to an ingredient for a specific claim. These numbers are added up and averaged to paint a picture of a supplement's overall effectiveness. For example, if there are two studies on creatine monohydrate, one concluding it showed significant improvement (3), the other showing moderate improvement (2), the overall effectiveness rating would be a 2.5. Ingredients with ratings equal to or greater than 2.5 are considered extremely effective, ratings greater or equal to 1.5 and less than 2.5 are moderately effective, ratings less than 1.5 are considered ineffective.

The effectiveness rating describes how well an ingredient works. If you find one study saying an ingredient increases muscle mass, should you believe it? Probably not. Unfortunately, many manufacturers do just this; they justify selling a certain ingredient even though there is very little evidence showing its effectiveness. Generally, you want to find multiple studies showing the effectiveness of an ingredient before deciding to use it. The research rating is a measure of how much evidence is available on an ingredient. A high effectiveness rating is useless if it only comes from one study. Research ratings are assigned to each ingredient and each claim. For example, there may be a lot of evidence on creatine monohydrate's ability to increase strength, but very little on its ability to improve endurance. The research rating for increasing strength would be high, however, it would be low for improving endurance. Each ingredient also has an overall research rating. A research rating greater than or equal to 60 is a good sign there is enough evidence to decide for or against using a specific ingredient.

The effectiveness rating deals with how well a supplement ingredient works. The research rating tells you whether or not the effectiveness rating is valid. If the effectiveness rating is high but only comes from one study, it's difficult to make any concrete conclusions until more research is found. Ideally, you should only make determinations about an ingredient's worthiness when the research rating is high; a score above 60. Read more: What’s the difference between effectiveness and research ratings?

Each ingredient has both an overall effectiveness rating and a claim specific effectiveness rating. Studies are performed on an ingredient's ability to improve a specific claim (increase muscle mass, increase strength, or improve endurance). Often, an ingredient is good at one claim, but horrible at others. The ingredient's overall effectiveness rating does not give you much information on how it performs on individual claims. Creatine monohydrate, for example, is great at increasing strength, but not so great at improving endurance. You wouldn't be able to tell only by looking at its overall effectiveness rating.

Just as ingredients have overall and claim specific effectiveness ratings (see the previous question), they also have overall and claim specific research ratings. For example, the research rating for creatine monohydrate increasing muscle mass is very high, meaning there are a lot of studies in the database on this topic. The research rating for creatine monohydrate's ability to improve running performance is, however, low, meaning there are not a lot of studies in the database on the topic. You would not be able to see this only by looking at creatine monohydrate's overall research rating.

When researchers conduct studies on supplement ingredients, they test a specific claim with a specific dose (sometimes multiple doses). The conclusions of these studies state how well each dose worked at improving the claim. The database takes these doses and conclusions and displays them on the dosing page. A specific dose is rated as either ineffective, moderately effective, or extremely effective. Only doses found as either moderately or extremely effective are displayed on the ingredient's dosing page. Read more: Supplement Ingredient Dosing