How to Sniff a Supplement Scam a Mile Away

Kate Davis MS, RD, CSSD, LDN

It seems that everyone is selling supplements: health professionals, fitness professionals, coaches, the stay-at-home mom down the street. Suddenly everyone is an “expert” when it comes to powders, pills and shakes. Short of actually meeting with a supplement expert (such as a sports RD), how do you know if a product being pushed is actually legit? Here are a few ways to sniff out a scam and save yourself some dough.

1. The product is not certified as clean and safe
Products that are truly good products go through the expense and time of bringing in a 3rd-party company to certify that what is in the supplement is actually on the label in clear amounts listed and that no other ingredient is being casually slipped in. As a sports RD who works with many high-level college and professional athletes, this is the first thing I look for. If the product isn’t certified, I don’t bother with it. Without the certification, athletes run too high a risk of getting a positive drug test. Plus, plenty of supplements are certified, so I don’t need to take chances on the ones that aren’t. Don’t think you’ll get tested? Most of the time, the extra ingredients casually slipped in are steroids that are detrimental to growth and overall health. So you don’t want to mess with that. What certification should you look for? The product should be certified by NSF International (, Informed Choice ( or US Pharmacopoeia or USP ( Don’t see any of those three plainly printed on the label in an easy-to-find location? Forget the supplement. Go to each of those certification’s website for a list of safe and certified products. Remember, however, that no supplement can ever be guaranteed 100% safe 100% of the time. You always takes pill and powders at your own risk.

2. The product is part of a multi-level marketing scheme
Are all multi-level marketing companies selling bad products? Maybe not, but the reason I don’t like them is it creates an underlying reason why the seller truly wants you to buy (and probably also become a distributor). These products are huge money-makers, which can turn even the most calm person into a ruthless salesman. Most multi-level marketing companies I have evaluated have some good and some bad products, but generally every product is overpriced and offers nothing over less expensive, high-quality counterparts.

3. The product website has no PDF articles of scientific studies to back up claims
Another way to find the scams is to do a quick search on the product website. The good products will have an easily identifiable list of scientific journal articles that ACTUALLY EVALUATE THE PRODUCT for efficacy and proof of claims made. If you can’t find these, can only find “poster presentations”, or only find articles studying general ideas such as carbohydrate or caffeine loading, don’t bother with the product. More than likely the claims they madk are unproven.

4. The product itself is “flashy” or is endorsed by the stars
While of course not every flashy product with an athlete on the container is a bad product, it is another red flag to look out for. Most of these products have never even been taken by the star endorsing them. The star doesn’t really care about the product…he/she just wants to get paid. Flashy or shiny containers catch the eye and make athletes feel like the product is more impressive. Again, the good products don’t need all of that noise; a good product can stand on its own two feet.

If the product in question passes the above evaluations, it still doesn’t mean that it is effective, safe or legal for YOU to take for your age, sport or level of competition. To figure that out, meet with a sports RD who can provide expert guidance. This will save you from wasting time, energy and money.

Note: RDKate does not sell, represent or endorse any supplement companies or products. This allows RDKate Sports Nutrition to provide independent, evidenced-based advice that is effective for each athlete. Learn more and schedule an appointment at

Be Extraordinary,


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