This is the third article I’ve contributed to this site and the feedback has further reinforced my ever-growing sense that our industry needs a resource for truth. The explanation I provided of the "low-carb" craze received not only praise for shining a light upon some elusive realities, but also elicited horror stores from trainers who had unfortunate incidents due to flawed information regarding the supposed virtues of low-carb fat loss.
Many of you read and responded to my article about "boundaries." Should a Professional Trainer be held liable for recommending an over the counter supplement that proves hazardous? Your feedback was welcome and ran across the board. In my opinion, the heart of the issue comes down, not as much to trainer liability, as to a desperate need for those who wear the label "professional" to gain access to truth. Fitness Professionals need access to valid information backed by actual science. Credible science.
I’m privileged to have access to inside information as well as resources, such as this one, to share that information. I don’t take that privilege lightly, and while I am bound to a promise of confidentiality in many cases, I’ll share both marketing advice and inside information that will empower you to grow all facets of your noble career.
While much of the deception I’ve come across in the fitness and weight loss arena has been disconcerting, all that I witness and learn allows me to better understand why you, the trainer, even with the best of intentions, struggle to sort our valid information from hype. It’s almost intentional. You’re good for the supplement industry as long as you’re confused, and as a group you’re potentially devastating if you learn all there is to know.
Much as pharmaceutical companies know it’s in their best interest to market glowing information about their newest weight loss "miracles to medical professionals," supplement manufacturers know that their advertising power can be supercharged or eclipsed by word of mouth. That word of mouth power is far more powerful than actual results! If a product finds its way into the industry as a "new steroid alternative" or "thermogenic fat burner," all the ads have to do is stimulate interest. When that interest leads to recommendations, a product’s popularity can shoot through the roof, even if it isn’t at all efficacious. If trainers, anxious to be up on the newest information, begin recommending these products, the snowball effect in sales volume can nothing short of astronomical.
Many of you, and most certainly most of your clients, had never even heard of androstene or androstenedione prior to the Mark McGwire rumour. Within days, every bottle of andro was harvested from health food store shelves and supplement manufacturers kicked production into high gear. Andro and its cousins, the 19-nors and assorted testosterone precursors, became top sellers. Here’s the interesting part. There has never been a conclusive study showing definitive muscle or strength gain from any of these products. As a matter of fact, in a recent study conducted at James H. Quillen College of Medicine in Johnson City, Tennessee, results indicated an increase in estrogen related hormone levels and a decrease in testosterone! The "success" of the precursors was fuelled almost entirely by rumor! If the trainers of the world are calling a new product "good," or "the newest secret" you can rest assured their will be a substantial climb in sales.
There’s a reason I’ve chosen the two topics I selected for my first two articles for this site. Where I used to meet hordes of semi-starved diet victims in search of the next commercial diet program, and masses of wannabe bodybuilders buying into the promises of amino acids and muscle gain formulas, I now regularly encounter two new groups. Carb avoiders and . . . drug addicts! Literally.
The new breed of fat burners, the ephedrine and caffeine combinations that have found their way into every walk of life, are combinations of addictive drugs. Read the labels of Xenadrine, Hyroxycut, Ripped Fuel, Thermadrene, and all of the top selling thermogenics. They're combinations of caffeine and ephedrine, usually in herbal form. Sure they’re legal, and sure they can be extracted from herbs, but that doesn’t lessen the addictive properties of these formulas.
Truck drivers buy them by the bottle at truck stops to stay awake. As a result, many truck drivers now "need" them to stay awake. Students take them to study. It isn’t long before many of those students begin upping the dosage as natural energy production declines.
I recently conducted a seminar for police officers. When the topic of supplements came up, questions about the thermogenics took center stage. It wasn’t long before a few confessions revealed that these cops were having trouble functioning without their three-time-a-day "fix."
Worst of all, those who are most likely to buy these as proposed fat burning miracles are those who are at the greatest risk. The overweight and obese who are also prone to hypertension and thyroid issues, both contraindications for any ephedrine product.
Are these dangerous? Potentially they are. Some of you know Dan Duchaine by reputation. I knew him personally. He died at the age of 48. He was known as the steroid guru and was admittedly a human guinea pig. Interestingly, when I interviewed Dan from his prison cell where he was doing time for smuggling clenbuterol across the border, he expressed that he felt far more secure, from a health standpoint, using many of the illegal drugs than he did using the over counter products. Prior to that prison sentence, Dan had suffered a stroke attributed to ephedrine. Dan should not be held up as a role model to trainers, but I share this to drive home the point that "legal" supplements can be every bit as dangerous as some drugs that have been classified as against the law.
My e-mail box is filled with questions and confessions from trainers and athletes who used to use these "boosters" for an occasional leg day, and now can’t train without them. At this rate, the Betty Ford clinic will soon have a waiting list filled with names of those who sought energy and weight loss in an over the counter bottle.
I’m about to share with you some reality behind the popularity of these products. Some reality that might shock you a bit. What shouldn't shock you, however, is the fact that the supplement industry is money driven, and trainers are just as often victims as they are the messengers of skewed information. I will not tell you that these thermogenics are bad, nor will I tell you not to use them. I will, however, emphasize that they can easily be overused, and since standards of "abuse" have not been set, it’s important that you maintain responsibility for your clients’ health and well being. Not at the expense of results, but in the quest of long-term results they truly seek.
If something comes along that promises to be the new fat burning miracle, I’d encourage you to find a picture of Jack La Lanne from the 1960’s (I had an opportunity to spend some time with Jack in June of this year and at 85 he’s still amazing!). He had an enviable physique, not at all overshadowed by today’s physique desires, and back then there weren’t any thermogenic formulas. That should illustrate a simple point. We've had the technology of developing lean bodies for quite some time. We don’t need new miracles to bring about results in our clients. We need to remain true to the technologies that – based upon a preponderance of the evidence – we know to be safe, effective, and healthful.
Sure you can read the ads, but resist the temptation to buy wholeheartedly into any new product, especially as one you pass along to your trusting clientele, until you have access to enough information to make a qualified decision. That’s what professionals do. They learn, they make careful choices based upon the expertise they possess, and they take full responsibility for their actions, including their recommendations. In our industry, nobody regulates "professionalism" so I’ll urge you to maintain the highest standards you can, to remain self-regulated, ethical, and to strive to become and remain a resource for truth. You don’t have to know everything about every new product to be Professional. You simply have to remain true to that which you know serves your clients best. I promised you some shocking reality. It’s directly related to the ephedrine issue and should illustrate how and why we cannot fully trust the powers that be to make decisions that ensure efficacy and safety. This is strictly factual and should not be taken as any political affront or criticism of any individuals. I believe you’ll agree that the solution is not to find fault in other’s actions as much as to recognize that it is a system run out of control that brings us our "truth" challenges. We, as Professional Trainers, don’t have to "fix" the problem as much as realize it exists and chart our own courses accordingly. Realize, also, that the incident I’ve select is simply a random example of a great many illustrative episodes I could have selected. OK. Here goes.
A few years ago, the state of Texas banned the sale of ephedrine. Well . . . they were about to anyway. Supplement manufacturers pulled some political and financial moves and all of a sudden Texas backed off. Ephedrine sales in Texas continue. Let me give you a closer look at that event.
It was 1997. Texas Governor George W. Bush (a man who may be running the entire country in the very near future) appointed a new health commissioner, Reyn Archer. After several ephedrine related deaths and over 1,000 reported health problems tied to this substance, Archer moved to restrict sales of supplements containing ephedrine. A few months after the "firm" decision to pull this hot seller from the shelves, Archer met behind closed doors with some supplement manufacturers. It seemed, out of the clear blue sky, he was suddenly wide open to implementing new rules which gave pretty close to free reign to ephedrine sellers.
Archer is a physician, and appeared to be taking a bold stance fuelled by health issues. Isn't it odd that he all of a sudden became an ally of those who sell that substance he was protecting his public from?
The publicly released "rumour" was that the ephedrine industry threatened legal action and they had some evidence to support its safety. The public was not made aware of an odd coincidence. Prepare to be enlightened.
You've seen Metabolife by now. It's everywhere. You've probably seen the stores or the kiosks in the shopping malls. The President of Metabolife is a 46 year old San Diego businessman by the name of Michael Ellis. Thanks to aggressive marketing, he built his ephedrine-based empire into a company that did $600 million in sales last year! Stop for a moment and think about that. $600 million! Selling an addictive stimulant! Are you starting to get a sense that Reyn Archer's flip in policy might have had something to do with . . . not safety . . . but . . . money? Then we're on the same track. This gets even better.
10 years ago Ellis was making money. No, not $600 million, but quite a nice amount. He was arrested in the process of generating this money. You see, his path to wealth, at the time, was the operation of a methamphetamine lab! He was manufacturing and selling a highly addictive illegal stimulant . . . using . . . guess what . . . as the raw material. Did you guess . . . ephedrine? Ding! (That's the sound of the "you're correct" bell.)
So, here's the actual sequence of events. Archer makes his anti-ephedrine decision public. Ellis spends some money to retain some lawyers who are pretty well connected in Texas government and some lobbyists who contribute a good amount of money to Bush's campaign fund. Would it surprise you if I told you that Michael Ellis is now a significant Bush contributor? Would it surprise you if I told you that Ellis, the lawyers, and the lobbyists all now stand to gain significantly by the sale of ephedrine, that they, en masse were responsible for over $40,000 being funnelled to G.W. Bush, and that shortly after, ephedrine got the AOK from the Texas health commissioner who was sternly opposed to its sale?
Point of story . . . just because it's legal doesn't mean it's safe or efficacious.
These stories don't surprise me anymore. I've learned. I was once naive enough to believe that I could combat the corruption. I now know better. It's too big. There's too much money. Too much politics. The web of corruption runs so deep that the lawmakers are connected to the felons. I chose a different path. I decided that if I could educate 10 people, just 10, enough so they would no longer be victims, so they could no longer be manipulated by the corrupt powers that have infiltrated the industry we have a true passion for, then I will have done some good. Thankfully, it didn't take long before I educated 10. I set out after another ten, and then one hundred, and then a thousand, and thankfully, today, I know I've made a significant difference in empowering a whole lot of people. I know if each one of you decides to empower ten people . . . this education and empowerment snowball will grow exponentially and massively. We are the good guys. The empowerers. The educators. The professional and ethical fitness elite.
What should we educate these people in? In understanding that while some supplements might have validity, might play a role in facilitating fat loss or muscle gain, they are only going to act as "the addition to." In fact, that’s the definition of supplement. "The addition to." As soon as a trainer or client believes that a supplement will act as a solution, that individual is letting go of that vital foundation of understanding that must be in place for physical improvement to manifest. The understanding that a beneficial program MUST involve supportive nutrition, some aerobic exercise, and a concern for muscle is crucial for both results and protection. I believe our primary role must involve education, and the only way we can pull diet and supplement victims back to a place where they feel good about themselves, where they can witness progress and anticipate potential, is to reinforce that vital synergy between food and exercise. Supplements can be most valuable if viewed as an alternative source of getting nutrients when food is not accessible. I encourage you to take the "magic" out of the supplement ads, to take responsibility for your ten people, and with a commitment to truth and education, to allow your career to flourish, ethically, immune to the newest trends and product hype.
There are many in our field who have a different attitude. They operate under the paradigm of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em." In other words, while they know some of the products are not legit, and others are dangerous, they figure that if the laws allow for their sale, and people will spend money, why shouldn't they capitalize. They sell the products they know are worthless or dangerous and justify their actions by hanging on the crutch "everyone else does it, why shouldn't I?" I believe, if you are in a position where people look to you for health and fitness advice, that's a pitiful way to do business. To disguise yourself as a "health" or "fitness" professional, and participate in the massive rip off is deplorable. It’s also a poor strategy in quest of financial security.
Those who accumulate $600 million are few and far between. The others are simply contributing to someone else’s fortune and resting their income potential upon products that will prove in the long term disappointing and perhaps vanish from sight. I can, with all the confidence in the world, guarantee that whatever those who drive the technology machine bring our way, they will not find a substitute for sound eating and exercise to deliver the benefits we know we are capable of delivering. Stay true to that which has served you, market your business ethically and aggressively, and you’ll find ongoing and increasing gratitude for a career that serves you physically, financially, and emotionally.
In the following months I’ll contribute a mix of marketing information and "fitness truth." Keep me posted on the information you feel would best serve you in your quest for Professionalism and A Secure Fitness Future.