Choosing supplements can be far more difficult than choosing a healthy foods. Apply the guidelines here and you can stop wasting money on ineffective products.

Right now you can clearly discern two groups of members at CFW, those taking branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) and those who are not.  I wish I could say you can tell who takes them by the way they look or the loads and times on the board, but that isn’t neccessarily true.  While everyone of our top performers take BCAAs, our smartest newcomers are too.  But the easiest, and most obvious way to tell which person is taking BCAAs, is that they have the container of them with them on the gym floor.  Not sure what I mean?  All those Extend, Modern BCAA, and Poliquin bottles you see everyone with… those are BCAAs. Branched chained amino acids are essential amino acids.  Your body cannot make them and they must be gained from the diet.  The benefits of BCAAs are well documented and have been proven in both strength and endurance sports for well over twenty years.  They provide increases in growth hormone, prevent post workout decrease in testosterone, foster an improved testosterone to cortisol ratio, reduce fatigue while training, decrease body fat, and reduce muscle wasting.  I’ll spare you the physio nerd details…  basically BCAAs help you recover better than any other sport or training supplement in short, because they are metabolized very quickly and are absorbed directly by muscle cells.

Use this and look like her. If it were so simple. The young lady in the pic above didn’t get her body comp from Progenex alone. No workout and definitely no supplement can undo a bad diet.

It is very well known that BCAAs aid in the strength sports.  Their benefits are less known in the endurance world.  Their fatigue reducing capabilities translate into to better performance over time.  Your body can convert BCAAs and use them for energy, making them the most overlooked supplement in endurance sports.  15-20 grams per hour will keep you going faster, longer.

I get many questions about BCAAs and which type I recommend.  With supplements (and pretty much everything else) I do a cost vs. effectiveness analysis (CEA), or “bang for my buck” analysis to aid in my decision or whether to take a certain one or not.  A CEA not only accounts for the cost of something (that would be a cost vs. benefit analysis where the cost of money is the primary consideration), it considers the effects of at least two other components in relation to costs.

With a supplement, I first define what I am actually shopping for.  For example, when shopping for EPA/DHA, I am NOT

Fish Oil or EPA/DHA? You get what you pay for.

shopping for fish oil, I am shopping for reduced systemic inflammation.  If I were shopping for fish oil I could head to the fish market, purchase a few pounds of bait fish, hold each of them over head and open wide while I squeeze all the oil from their back ends.  I would get plenty of “oil”, but not any anti-inflammatory help.  Wal-Mart / CostCo fish oils come to mind. So if I am in the market for better recovery, I have to decide which supplement is best for recovery.

You probably guessed it, but BCAAs are the easy choice.  So now that I’ve decided I need BCAAs  I need to figure, with a cost – effectiveness analysis, which BCAA product is best for me.  In direct relation to the cost, I consider quality, purity, and quantity.  It ensures I get the best bang for my buck.

Considering the whole product, not just the price of a container of it, will aid you in purchasing high quality supplements that actually supplement your diet.

Quality can mean quite a few things.  But I consider a company’s reputation for making products that measure up.  Does the company submit its products to independent lab testing for content?  Since the FDA doesn’t require it, many supplement labels amount to nothing more than lies.  I also avoid companies that place sales pitches, extraordinary claims, or misleading language in their product’s advertisement.  Quality from that perspective can be derived by results.  Another part of quality, the most often overlooked part with supplements, is the active ingredient(s).  I want the most bioavailable ingredients I can get.  Taking a supplement that never makes it into my body, but passes straight into the sewer is obviously a waste of money.  Many supplements, vitamins and minerals especially, can be found in different forms.  Some are more effective than others.  Some are not effective at all.

Take calcium for an example.  Calcium carbonate (found in antacids) the most sold form of calcium supplements.  The

Not only does Calcuim Carbonate (CoCa3) not help bone health, it inhibits nutrient uptake by the gut. 9 of 10 calcium supplements sold in the US are of the carbonate type.

problem is, calcium carbonate isn’t absorbed by the gut very well, if at all.  If you are simply shopping for calcium, you did just fine. However, since most people who purchase calcium are actually shopping for bone health, calcium carbonate is a horrible choice.  It does nothing to improve deterioration of bone in those with Osteoporosis or Osteopenia.  There are forms of calcium that actually work. It is too bad the supplement manufacturers can market a cheap product  to the elderly population that is proven not to improve bone health (what does the FDA do again?).

Luckily, BCAAs are fairly cut and dry.  An ingredient label on a BCAA product should have only three things… the three branched chain aminos.  They are valine, leucine, and isoleucine.  Purity and quality are very closely linked, yet purity deserves its own mention.  The amounts of preservatives, chemicals, colors, and all the other “artificial” things we subject ourselves to each day is astounding.  A supplement should increase your health and wellness, not contribute to your demise.  Any supplement with added artificial flavors and/or sweeteners gets axed from the selection immediately.  So all those flavored BCAA mixes do not even make it through the first screening.

Any BCAA supplement that mixes in water AND tastes good contains added flavors and sweeteners. BCAAs inherently taste horrible.

Stalin coined the saying “Quantity has its own quality”.  It’s true with many things, but not necessarily with supplements.  First you need to know what an minimum effective dose is.  Better yet, I want to know my optimum dose.  With BCAAs, 20 grams is the minimum effective dose.  If you aren’t able to get that on board, don’t bother.  You can figure your optimum dose by multiplying your bodyweight by .25.  That’s how many grams you need each day.  Taken pre, during, and post workout, this is the dose that will yield the best results. Now you know how much you need to take.  Next you need to know how many servings of your product you will need to take to get that dose.  For the sake of easy math, I’ll use the 20 gram min effective dose and three of the popular BCAAs products used by CFW and WSC members.  I’ll go ahead and disclose one is the Poliquin brand that we sell.  It is also the one I take and have been for a few years now.

  1. BCAA Excellence –  20 grams = 29 caps /500 caps per bottle – 17 servings per $52 bottle $3 per serving
  2. Extend –  20 grams = 3 scoops (39 grams by weight) – 10 servings per $35 – $41 container – $4.10 per serving.
  3. USP Labs Modern BCAAs – 20 grams = 4 scoops (24 grams by weight) – 17  servings per $38- 45 container – $2.65 per serving

If the price were the only consideration (cost – benefit analysis), the Modern wins out and the Extend is undoubtedly the big loser.  But there are couple of things left to consider.  The Extend and the Modern contain artificial sweeteners, colors, and flavors.  The Modern isn’t too bad at 10 grams of BCAAs to 12 grams of weight.  The Extend is horrible.  Only 7 grams of the 13 gram scoop is BCAAs.  So almost half of what you’re putting into your body is filler and artificials.

The Poliquin brand has no artificial anything.  It does have one addition to the three BCAAs, the amino acid L-Lysine. Lysine has been shown to increase the effectiveness of branched chains by eliciting a greater growth hormone response during exercise.  As of now, there are no other products combining lysine with BCAAs (that I know of).  The lysine definitely tips the scale.

Hopefully this will help you shop for and purchase supplements that fulfill their intended purpose.  It’s easy to get pulled in by a product’s hype.  In the CrossFit community, Progenex comes to mind.

There are many BCAA products, both capsule and powder, that are just as cost effective as the Poliquin.  You just have to shop for them…  and now you know how to.  More importantly, you know how to avoid the less effective products.

Ryan, presently in WeightLifting Course, develops explosiveness with speed squats + chains.

Crossfit – Day4/ Week 3

Deadlift 3r x 6s (4,0,x,0) – 2 minutes rest b/t sets

5 Rounds for time…
5 Thrusters (165/105)
50 Double Unders

Olympic Weightlifting

Class at 6:30 pm

14 thoughts on “Supplements – Why Cheap Products are Costly

  1. Noelle says:

    t. – how did you find out what the minimum dose effect was for BCAAs? Does Poliquin have articles that explain the amount of dosage for certain supplements? Of course – the manufacturer recommendations are bogus – and it sucks trying to figure out how much to take of what. We’ve been taking far too low of a dosage based on what we read and researched from the paleo “gods.”

  2. Meagan says:

    Ryan-great job on your squat my man! I wanna be like you when I grow up 🙂

    Sad day for CFW-today was Mike Cullen’s last day. We will miss you and your family. I know you and Kaden will keep beasting Crossfit WOD’s. I am happy for your new adventure, but you will truly be missed. Best of luck and keep in touch!

    6 AM crew: Nice work. Thank you for pushing yourselves today and adding the weight….even if it sucked. You all did a SUPER job!

  3. Gene says:

    Cullen, good luck. Thanks for the motivation and the push over the last two years. See you in Chicago.

  4. Sensei says:

    Cullen! Sorry to see you go, Happy to know that you are doing good things and what is right for you and your family. You will crush it wherever you are!

    Always love your attitude and hard work.

    Thank you for your inspiration!

  5. Amanda W says:

    Cullen, I can’t help but think of our intro group when I see your success. You have accomplished a great deal in a little time at CFW. You will undoubtedly be schooling some fools in Chicago on how to crossfit. Thank you for your constant encouragement and best of luck in your new endeavor!

  6. Gregg says:


    Best of luck to you and your family in Chicago. I always was excited when I walked in the gym and saw you were there. Your numbers gave me something to strive for. Keep killing it up north.

  7. t. says:

    Mike – so long Brother. We’ll see you when we see you again. Enjoy your move and touch base every now and again.

    Noelle – There’s lots of info out there on BCAA. Quite a bit of it says 5-10grams is plenty. Like with training, I look to the experts. Most of the paleo “gods” have been at this game only a few years. Not many more than ten years. Abd let’s face it, it only takes a few minutes to understand the complexities of the paleo diet. Performance dieting and supplementation is something else. Most paleo purveyors diet recommendations are too low in the protein dept. and their supplement recommendations are always under what the strength guys recommend.

    Poliquin has many articles on BCAAs. Run a Google search and read all the view points. Try different amounts and see if how you feel. Experiment on runs, lifting, and Crossfit to see if different amounts work better for you with the different workouts.

    In addition to the lifting and CF sessions, I use BCAAs on the longs runs and the 10 mile ruck runs we do up at MARSOC and the recovery is notable.

  8. Phillip says:

    that’s nice and all but where can we pick up the “real CFW supplements”…the kind that may not necessarily be favored by this year’s CF Games urinalysis???

  9. Aaron B says:

    Phillip, please find something constructive to do with your time…..

    I am a fairly new member here at CFW(less than 2 months) and I will say that after being a member for a few weeks, I was introduced to BCAA’s. My recovery from WOD’s was greatly decreased, soreness was decreased to almost none, and I have been able to push harder through the workouts. I haven’t received a bit of advice from CFW that hasn’t been good or helped me out in one way or another. This is by far the best facility I have ever been a part of, and hope to be for many years to come.

    Thank you Tony and all of your wonderful staff

  10. Cody says:

    Cullen – Thanks for your push and encouragement this past year. You have been a positive influence on me since I have known you. Best of luck in Chicago

  11. Tanner says:

    Cullen, it’s been a pleasure working with you here at CFW. Your presence in the a.m. classes will be missed. Your’e always welcome back any time you find yourself in town.

    A quick word about BCAA’s. They are the only supplement that has been studied and shown to decrease the occurrence and intensity of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), the soreness you feel after a hard workout. The biggest thing you’ll notice upon starting BCAA’s is that you aren’t as sore the next day.

  12. Albert Steed says:

    Cullen – Good luck man. Best of luck to you and the family. Would have said goodbye this morning but, had no idea today was the day. 🙂

  13. taylor says:

    Mike! I had no idea you were moving. I remember when I would see you at Enterprise and you would always as about ‘that crossfit place’. I knew you would love it, but had no idea you would KILL IT here! All the best luck to you and your family. I love Chicago!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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