Proprietary blends still prevalent in pre-workout products, but consumer demand for transparency is increasing

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / GeorgeRudy
© Getty Images / GeorgeRudy
Almost 60% of all multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements use proprietary blends of ingredients, says a new survey of top selling products. But the times are changing and transparency is on the up for the category, according to experts.

Data published in Nutrients​ showed that 58 of the top 100 commercially available pre-workout products included at least one proprietary blend with 14 different ingredients.

“The high prevalence of proprietary blends within the sample (58% of all [multi-ingredient pre-workout supplement] products) has significant implications for consumers, as each proprietary blend contained 14.0 ± 9.2 ingredients (63.8 ± 24.4% of all listed ingredients) on average,”​ reported Andrew Jagim from the Mayo Clinic Health System, Patrick Harty from Lindenwood University, and Clayton Camic from Northern Illinois University

“[W]hile FDA regulations mandate that all ingredients in a blend be listed in descending order of predominance by weight, it is difficult to determine whether individual ingredients in a proprietary blend are included in doses sufficient to elicit ergogenic effects.”

Study details

The analysis by Jagim, Harty, and Camic revealed that the most prevalent ingredients used in the pre-workout supplements analyzed were beta-alanine (87% of all products, with the average dose of 2.0 g), caffeine (86% of products with an average dose of 254 mg), citrulline (71% of products, average dose of 4.0 g), tyrosine (63%, average dose of 348 mg), taurine (51%, 1.3 g average dose), and creatine (49%, with an average dose of 2.1 g).

“It is worth noting that the average amounts of certain ingredients do not appear to align with the clinically-supported dosing recommendations for beta-alanine, caffeine, citrulline, creatine, or arginine,”​ stated the researchers.

“Because pre-workout supplements provide a variety of ingredients to the consumer in a single formulation, it is vital that ingredients be included at efficacious doses as this ultimately determines the long-term ergogenic potential.”

In response to this “underdosing” comment, David Sandler, COO of ProSupps USA, told us that this may be correct on a “single ingredient” basis, but there are “plenty of studies on the common ingredients with lower doses that I could refute some of the numbers presented in this study.

“Regardless, we often formulate with the intention of hitting various physiological aspects through different pathways. For example, rather than a single clinically researched dose of creatine or beta alanine as individual products, we hit both the need for additional cellular energy (creatine), while prolonging exercise by reducing fatigue (beta alanine).

“And while specific data may not exist, we feel a synergistic activity of several well-dosed ingredients that act on multiple pathways for cellular energy, improved MPS activity, better recovery, mental alertness, focus, anaerobic and aerobic power, etc is a better way to approach a workout.

“To that end, if people are looking for improvement in specific aspects, then certainly they should add additional supplementation or simply use products that are specific to their needs,” ​added Sandler.  

Proprietary blends

Jagim, Harty, and Camic also reported that 44% of all ingredients were included in products as part of a proprietary blend with undisclosed amounts of each ingredient, and that, overall, 58 of the top 100 commercially available pre-workout products included at least one proprietary blend.

“It may be in the best interest of the consumer to select a MIPS product that discloses all ingredient amounts and contains appropriate dosages of each ingredient,” ​they wrote.

“Consumers may also want to pay close attention to specific ingredients that may be under-dosed (beta-alanine and creatine in particular), as they may want to supplement with other products in order to optimize the associated benefits.

“Further, it is advisable to reduce ingestion of other caffeine or niacin containing products to minimize the risk of any adverse events from consuming excess amounts.”

ProSupps USA COO: “I think transparency is the future”

DavidSandler-306
David Sandler, ProSupps USA

ProSupps USA’s Sandler said that transparent labels are certainly becoming more common in the category. “A few years ago, I would expect that proprietary formula products would have been 70-80%,”​ he said. “I believe the transparent movement is partially in response to the fact that a) consumers are demanding it, b) we formulators have less to hide, but more so, c) because we are confident in our formulas and are not afraid that we are under-dosing.

“By having transparent labels, consumers can become educated, make their own choices, but also understand everything in the product, so if they have specific ‘wants’, concerns, doctor’s orders, and/or allergies, they can also ensure they know what they are getting as well as ensure their own safety (for the most part, I don’t think safety is as big an issue, since all ingredients and allergens must be disclosed).

“I think transparency is the future – the more everyone knows what is going on, the better the industry will be.”

Bodybuilding.com: “We routinely recommends to brand owners that they move away from proprietary blends”

Jagim, Harty, and Camic used bodybuilding.com to select the top 100 commercially available multi-ingredient pre-workout supplements (October 2018), and the online retailer sent NutraIngredients-USA the following statement in response to the study’s findings: “Bodybuilding.com is the world’s most trusted online fitness solution featuring Bodybuilding.com’s Signature sports nutrition line, over 10,000 third-party products, industry leading training programs, thousands of recipes and in-depth articles. Bodybuilding.com’s Legal and Compliance teams vet third-party and Signature brand products to ensure customer safety, quality, truthfulness, accuracy and compliance with applicable regulations.

“Consumer interest in product transparency is growing and we see the industry trending away from proprietary blends.  Bodybuilding.com routinely recommends to brand owners that they move away from proprietary blends.  Bodybuilding.com works with Dr. Jim Stoppani (owner of the JYM sport nutrition line) to educate consumers about label transparency​. 

“And Bodybuilding.com is leading by example. The Signature line (including the pre-workout) and the JYM line disclose all ingredients and contain no proprietary blends. Our science team mandates the presence of key ingredients at efficacious per dose levels. And if a third party brand includes a proprietary blend that makes disease claims, the product is either denied or the claim is removed.”

Source: Nutrients
2019, 11​(2), 254; doi:10.3390/nu11020254
“Common Ingredient Profiles of Multi-Ingredient Pre-Workout Supplements”
Authors: A.R. Jagim, P.S. Harty, C.L. Camic

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