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How to Read Supplement Facts

Supplement Facts Label

How To: How to Read A Label

Reading a supplement label can be a confusing experience.  Unfortunately, many companies that manufacture nutritional supplements have made it very difficult for the consumer to gather critical information about the product.  There are many ways to convey information about a product, some of these ways provide accurate information in a manner that makes the product appear better than it is.  In this section we will discuss some tricks to look out for as well as vital information that needs to be readily available to the consumer or health care practitioner.

Look at the serving size - This is perhaps the most common error made by consumers in picking a nutritional supplement.  Each label must provide the ingredients included in a set serving.  The serving size can be 1 capsule, 2 capsules, 6 capsules, etc.  You can not assume that the serving size is one capsule... to the contrary, it is most commonly otherwise.

Look at the number of servings offered from one bottle.  If the serving size is 6 capsules and the bottle contains 30 capsules you only have a five day supply.  This may put the 50% off price tag into perspective... it would take 5 bottles for a month supply.

Look at the dose provided being sure to put it into context of the serving size.  If a product contains 500 mg of an herb, but the serving size is 2 capsules then the actual per capsule dose is 250 mg.

Look for natural products.  An example of this is vitamin E. The synthetic form of vitamin E, also called dl-alpha tocopherol or all-racemic alpha tocopherol, has approximately 1/3 the antioxidant activity of natural vitamin E, known as d-alpha tocopherol.  Thus you will need up to three times as many capsules of a synthetic vitamin to equal one capsule of natural vitamin E.

Look at the potency of the herb or nutritional supplement.  This is perhaps one of the most complex issues to address.  In analyzing a product you often times need a scientific understanding of the vitamin or herb in question.  Contrary to popular belief, standardization does not mean concentrating the active ingredient.  It simply means that we are concentrating an herb to a certain level of one or more ingredients, thus assuming that all other important constituents will also be concentrated or standardized. To illustrate this point lets look at some examples:

Below we have listed popular nutritional supplements and their appropriate standardizations:

Herb Common Standardization Common Dosage
Bilberry Extract 25% Anthocyanidins 60 - 120 mg per Cap
Boswelia serrata 60% boswellic acids 250-500 mg per Cap
Garlic 5,000 mcg Allicin Enteric Coated Tab
Ginger 5% gingerols 500 mg per Cap
Ginkgo Biloba 24% flavonglycosides; 6% terpene lactones;0.8% Ginkgolide B 60-120 mg per Cap
Hawthorn 2 % vitexin-4'-rhamnoside 500mg per Cap
Kava Kava 30% Kavalactones 250 mg per Cap
Milk Thistle 80% Silymarin 175 mg per Cap
Olive leaf Extract 10-22% Oleuropein 500 mg per Cap
St. Johns Wort 0.3% Hypericin 300 mg per Cap
Tumeric 95% Curcuminoids 250 mg - 500 mg per Cap

Other Supplements:

i. Fish oil - Each Capsule should contain 300 mg EPA and 200 mg DHA.  The product should be tested for heavy metal content such as mercury.

ii. SAMe - This product can be easily confused.  SAMe is bound to to tosylate disulfate in order to stabilize the normally unstable product.  Many companies will make a product that contains 200 mg of SAMe-tosylate disulfate and label it as 200 mg SAMe.  This is misleading because the product contains only 100 mg SAMe.  A product labeled as 200 mg of SAMe should contain 400 mg or SAMe Tosylate disulfate.

iii. Glucosamine Sulfate is another product that is easily mislabeled.  In order to stabilize glucosamine sulfate you must bind it with a salt such as KCl or HCl.  The ending product will weigh more than glucosamine sulfate alone.  Thus you will need 2000 mg of glucosamine sulfate*KCl to get 1500 mg of glucosamine sulfate.  

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