Doing Science (2) Sports supplement index.

In my last post I said I have science to do. That may have been a little misleading, because this is about to be another example of why some science simply hasn’t been done. I’ve been into my fitness for a while now, including on-and-off use of protein supplements (and creatine, but never for long). Nearly all of the premium (i.e. expensive) supplements claim to be scientifically demonstrate to improve performance or muscle size. However, none of them claim to be better than others. One of them must be best, and the best one must be interested in proving it. And there are ways to do that.

The necessary step is to have a standard experiment that you run with a numerical result. Then those numbers are comparable so comparisons can be made; there would be a comparative index. Then, as a customer I can decide between cost and efficiency (as measured by this index).

In theory, the ideal way to measure the this would be to have a reasonable number of people with a controlled diet and exercise over 6 weeks. Confine 300 people to a complex and give them a strict regime of food and exercise. 150 of those people would would take the supplement on top and the other 150 do not. Then, all 300 people are measured for their metric (strength gains, athletic performance or something). Then, the supplement-takers can be said to have made gains in percentage terms, relative to the control group. In an experiment like this, 300 people will probably be enough because so many variables are being carefully controlled. But, for ethical and practical reasons you probably can’t do this experiment or make these controls.

You can’t really confine people to a complex for 6 weeks. And because of that, you can’t really control people’s exercise regime or diet. If you can’t control those things, your sample size needs to do something very impressive: it has to be big enough to statistically balance variation in diet, exercise, sleep and other variables. Now we are talking about needing thousands of people in each group attending pre- and post-trial athletic performances. Not just once, either. This experiment would have to happen for every product for every brand before it has any meaning.

And, because this experiment has never been done, before anyone invests in this study they are going to question whether they really come off well… But this is a thing that is essentially knowable. Some supplements are better than others to the population at large. (This experiment doesn’t look at whether different supplements are better for different individuals.) As this investigation is unlikely ever to be done, it does raise an interesting philosophical question (in my next post).

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6 thoughts on “Doing Science (2) Sports supplement index.”

  1. Science, like the economy is best driven by profit, i.e. its ability to create wealth.

    And in the fullness of time, people like you live in a society that is so wealthy that money is no longer an obstacle and anyone can study anything they like.

    The fastest way to impoverish science and society at large is to put science and wealth-creation under government control.

    1. I agree.
      However, your vaguely and tangentially related comment might belong on your own blog. No one is talking of big government, government control, wealth or the economy here. And i like to have one conversation at a time.

      1. Alla,

        Sorry about that.

        I thought you were angling for government control of science so as to oblige society to study those things you felt were important.

        I was trying to offer the optimistic and encouraging thought that in the just society wealth abounds.

        1. I agree that giving the government control of science allows it to control what gets published, and that of freedom is against how science works.
          But, as i say near the start, all I’m trying to do is explain why some science hasn’t been done…

  2. Please realize that it is not in the best interests of companies to try to prove they are best. They can simply claim to be the best but if they actually try to prove it, they will incur the wrath of their competitors. The attempt at proof has no guarantee that one’s product will come out on top and those products which do not come out on top will suffer. So, the competitiors will see any such attempt as an attack against them. By mutual agreement, they do not try to prove which is best. Leave well enough alone and take your share of the market and shut up; that’s it.

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