Cheap Supplements — Are They Worth the Price? | Learn: Your Fitness Business Resource

Cheap Supplements — Are They Worth the Price?

Tyler Spraul is the director of UX and the head trainer for He has his Bachelor of Science degree in pre-medicine and is an NSCA-certified strength and conditioning specialist. He is a former All-American soccer player and still coaches soccer today. In his free time, he enjoys reading, learning, and living the dad life. He has been featured in Shape, Healthline, HuffPost, Women's...

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UPDATED: Aug 25, 2020

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Get the Basics...
  • People tend to buy cheap supplements in bulk more out of convenience than research or effectiveness.
  • Supplements — whether cheap or expensive — are big business in the United States.
  • Not all supplements are equal, so it’s worth your time and money to research and know how your supplements are made and how they are distributed.
Cheap supplements? Can any product sold with a 300 percent average retail markup truly be considered cheap?

Check out this expose graphic of what supplements really cost. Be sure to do your homework and compare the prices of supplements from many different merchants side by side (GNC,, Amazon, etc.)


Being healthy is important. Everyone wants to live longer, feel healthier, and look better. Health is almost an obsession in the US, which is ironic considering the epidemic levels of obesity affecting Americans.

The surest path to good health is through proper diet, exercise, and rest (sleep and time off). However, people want, and sometimes need, a little help every now and then when it comes to trying to achieve their goals.

One way many people are trying to get healthy is to get a little advantage through supplements.

But one must also remember that supplements are not enough to live a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is also important. Go PRO today for access to certified personal trainers, workout plans, and more.

Who’s Taking Supplements?

87 percent of Americans are on some kind of supplement. Of those, almost half  — 43 percent — buy them at Walmart.

Walmart’s huge selection and lower-than-average prices, as well as the fact that many stores carry everything a person needs, probably contributes to why so many people buy their supplements at Walmart. You run in for some cold medicine or to get a prescription filled, and you pass by the displays of cheap supplements. Convenience is a powerful motivator.

Walmart isn’t the only major retailer of supplements. 18 percent of respondents report that they buy their supplements at warehouse stores like Sam’s Club or BJ’s.

The bulk buying aspect of these businesses, and again, the fact that many different types of products are available in the same place, probably accounts for this buying behavior. Indeed, 17 percent of supplement users get them from other big box stores like K-Mart or Target.

The divide in supplement users isn’t only where people buy their products, but also where those people live.

The overwhelming majority of supplement users live in urban environments — 67 percent vs. the 33 percent of users who live in more rural areas. There are many possible reasons why this could be.

For starters, people living in major population centers have access to a wider variety of products. Advertising is also more prevalent in cities vs. the country.

City-dwellers are exposed to billboards, posters, and advertisements stuck to buses and taxis. Both groups are subject to TV, print, and online advertising.

There is a perception that people living in cities might tend to be more well-informed, or at least have a higher chance at following health sources and publications that might advocate (or advertise) the use of supplements for good health, vs. the country where such ideas might be less visible.

Where’s the Money?

Health is a big business. Gyms, trainers, nutritionists, and other health, fitness, and medical professionals related to helping people lose weight and feeling and looking better create a billion dollar industry in the US. Supplements alone are worth over sixty billion dollars per year.

Multivitamins are the second most popular supplement shoppers use, with fish oil being the most popular.

  • 76 percent use fish oil
  • 70 percent use multivitamins
  • 56 percent use Vitamin D supplement
  • 55 percent use calcium and coenzyme Q10

B vitamin complexes, vitamin C (an old classic!), Glucosamine and Chondroitin (two powerful substances often used to promote joint health in older, active people), and meal replacement supplements and shakes were some other close contenders.

Some other extremely popular sports nutrition supplements include protein powders, amino acids, and creatine. These substances are often used by weightlifters before, during, and after training in order to maximize muscle growth and speed up bodily repairs and eliminate fatigue and soreness.

Hydration and energy drinks are used by all types of amateur athletes and other people engaging in strenuous physical activities like long-distance running, hiking, and biking. These groups may also use sports nutrition bars for more long-lasting energy.

Thermogenic supplements are the last category of popular supplements. They operate on the idea that they are boosting fat burning potential, but, for the most part, their claims are difficult to prove and results are random and unpredictable at best.

And all supplements are definitely not equal, as this video discusses:

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Supplement Production and Distribution

While there are tons of different supplement companies, all producing roughly similar items and claiming theirs are unique, only 3% of all these companies actually manufacture their own products. The rest are simply relabeling and distributing products manufactured by another company.

The top ten supplement manufacturers are:

  • EAS
  • Twinlab
  • Pharmaton
  • Puritan’s Pride
  • Bayer
  • Rexall Sundown
  • Ultimate Nutrition
  • Prolab
  • Wyeth
  • GNC

Many different industries profit from the supplement business. Of all the money that makes up the ecosystem of the supplement world, about $30 billion of that goes to supplement retailers.

At least $5 billion goes into the pockets of raw materials providers who start the system. Just over $14 billion goes to the manufacturers, with just over $16 billion in the pockets of distributors.

Once those products actually make it to market there’s a whole new breakdown in terms of how many retail outlets there are out there selling the different types of supplements.

There are at least 100,000 grocery outlets retailing supplements alongside their other products, and 30,000 supermarket locations (distinct from grocery outlets).

Last up are Vitamin/Mineral/Supplement stores which almost tie natural food stores at 7,840 vs. 7,200 retail locations.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do I have to take supplements?

Unless your doctor has instructed you to take certain supplements, you do not have to take them.

Are supplements safe?

Whether or not dietary supplements are safe to take depends on a number of factors. Learn more about the safety of supplements here.

What supplements do I need to take?

No one can answer that aside from your doctor. To learn more about the various supplements that doctors commonly recommend, check out this article.

Once you find the right supplement for you, at the right price, don’t forget that’s just the beginning! Make sure you’re staying on track by going PRO today for access to certified personal trainers, workout plans, goal trackers, and more!

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