The Secrets of High-Quality Supplements: What You Need to Know (From an Industry Insider)

September 27, 2023 by
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If you participate in any level of CrossFit, there is a high chance that you are taking some form of a supplement. Whether it is a daily vitamin, a pre-workout, or protein after you train, the majority of athletes are not getting 100% of their nutrition from foods alone. 

And just as we take our time selecting what food we put in our body, we should put the same care into our supplements. Unfortunately, we cannot squeeze that canister of pre-workout and see if it is fresh and banned substance-free, similar to squeezing that peach at Trader Joe’s to see if it’s ripe.

Dr. Justine Luchini, co-creator of the sleep product Thirdzy, explains the importance of the ingredients and quality process that go into every kind of supplement

Formulation first – which ingredients and how much?

When starting her supplement company Dr. Luchini was an expert in biochemistry and nutrition, but was new to the supplement industry and was shocked by the pressures to cut corners early on when creating her product.

  • “Early on in the creation process, there’s a lot of pressure to either go cheaper with ingredients, use less of the expensive ingredients, or use the compounds that potential supply chain partners already have in stock.”

She discovered that the emphasis in the industry – from experts and consultants, to other brand founders that she spoke to – was often more about creating products that use trendy ingredients and appeared to be good products, but were not necessarily the best or most effective supplements.

While there were some exceptions (people and brands working to make great products) the general trend was worrying to Dr. Luchini, who has been using supplements and trusting that she’s been buying good products for many years. 

What about quality control?

Once you get past the formulation phase, then there is the quality process that includes sourcing, manufacturing and (hopefully) testing before products make it onto shelves.

Luchini explains further:

  • “Companies are supposed to use Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified manufacturing partners. The first level of testing with that is facilities-level testing – what are the standards of operation that they hold themselves to in terms of cleanliness, purity, and making sure there is no contamination? As a supplement brand, you need to know how often any vendors in your supply chain are audited by the FDA. Companies should be transparent around sharing that with you.” 

Next up is the product testing.  

Basic testing is supposed to be done on every ingredient before the product is made, and then again on the final product. These tests are to confirm that the ingredients are what they say they are and that the final product contains no microbes or heavy metals. But, unfortunately this basic level of testing is not always followed.

One important thing to note is that confirming that an ingredient or supplement contains what it says it contains is not the same thing as confirming that it does not also contain anything else. 

That is where things get tricky, especially for athletes that are competing at high levels and need their supplements to be high quality and clean. 

Banned substance testing is a completely different level of testing, explains Dr. Luchini. 

  • “Unfortunately, there are very few labs that have the equipment to do specialized testing on specifically banned substances. And depending on the studies you look at, it’s somewhere between 10% – 28% of sports supplements that are estimated to have contamination.”

If that seems like a frighteningly high number – we agree, it was a surprise to us too. 

Since testing for other substances is not required and is an additional time and financial burden on supplement companies, most products that make it to consumers and athletes are never analyzed for contaminants. 

The only way to be confident that the ingredients you’ve paid for are in the end product and that there are no contaminants is to buy products that have a 3rd Party Testing Certification. Specifically, you want to look for Informed Sport Certification or NSF Certified for Sport. 

Luchini explains:

  • Informed Sport test for over 250 different banned substances. That includes anything that gets tested at the NCAA level, the IOC, CrossFit, and pretty much anything that is tested for in any competitive sport. It is extremely rigorous testing, and Informed Sport has been around for a very long time. They started off doing the sport testing for NSF before NSF had their own lab capabilities. And they have never had one of their products be implicated in, or tested positive for banned substances.”

It may seem like an incredible amount of testing and verifying that has to be done to make sure supplements are of the highest quality, but if it is something you are consistently putting in your body, you want this to be done. 

If you have created a product, you want meticulous testing protocols, or you will lose the trust of your customers. Luchini certainly does. 

She relies on thorough testing at each step in the manufacturing process so she can confidently offer her product, Thirdzy PM Recovery Collagen, to the masses, including high-level competitive athletes.

  • “The level of testing is both for us and our customers. We have some high-level athletes who take our product: Games athletes, Ironman participants, and professional athletes in many sports. Wouldn’t it be the worst thing in the world for something in our product to be tainted? And we wouldn’t even know it was in there – that’s my worst nightmare!”

Luchini takes one additional step to add to the quality of Thirdzy – they only include what is necessary for their product to get the desired effect.

  • “The base of our product is collagen, because those amino acids are important for rebuilding your connective tissue, helping muscle and joint recovery. It’s also anti-inflammatory and it’s good for your gut, which can be a contributor to helping your body to relax for sleep.”
  • “Then we have just 3 other active ingredients – dosed in the right amounts according to research – to help with calming, relaxing, and counteracting anxiety and over-activation of those neural pathways that tend to keep you up.

Sweetened with stevia, colored with beet root powder, and flavored with natural extracts for a mild strawberry lemonade flavor, there are no fillers, sugars, artificial colors or preservatives.

Dr. Luchini stands behind her product – the combination of quality ingredients and high-level testing is something that she is proud of and hopes to see more of across the supplement landscape. 

It’s certainly a buyer beware market. We hope that getting this insider scoop will help you better navigate the supplement market and make purchases that help you get better products and better results.

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