Thoughts on Prop Blends?

Thoughts on Prop Blends?
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I know this is a highly polarizing and contentious topic in the supplement industry, both for companies, formulators, and consumers.

I’m curious to know what everyone’s thoughts are on prop blends here.

It seems like, while there has been a trend to move towards full-disclosure and away from proprietary blends in recent years, there have been a few/several products/companies, including some highly lauded ones, that have employed proprietary blends in at least some of their products. It appears that, even among people who are not fans of prop blends in general, these few companies are getting a pass because people trust the formulator/company (I’d assume this trust extends not only to their knowledge, but also to their integrity and the integrity of the company/formulator not to play around with the formula from one run/batch/etc. to the next) to use effective doses of ingredients.

While I’m not saying I don’t think the people formulating these products are very smart and know their s**t, I’m sure they do, or that I don’t trust them, only that I don’t think this is inherently a solid argument, as there will always be SOMEONE who will say they trust “Company/Formulator X,” and now we end up trying to defend the character/knowledge of a person/company instead of a product.

That said, if we’re talking about purely subjective effects, like a stimulant/energy blend, then one can argue that “full disclosure” may not be as necessary, as you either enjoy the feeling of the product when you use it, or you don’t. Yes, you can have a better idea before buying/trying it with a fully-disclosed blend, but there’s still some level of variability, and it’s fairly easy/fast to see if you enjoy a given product. That said, I still think it’s inexcusable to not at least disclose the caffeine content of a product that contains caffeine. This is very rare not to do, and with good reason; a consumer should know if they’re about to have half a cup of coffee worth of caffeine, or four cups of coffee worth of caffeine.

However, I think proprietary blends become more inexcusable in products that are intended to be used daily, or that have more subtle effects. Objective effects on things like muscle mass or strength that are not only harder to gauge than acute/subjective energy, but also take weeks to even start to be able to observe. Or for supplement intended to improve memory, which itself can be subtle thing, and hard to gauge in a very short period of time.

Some examples:

Stimulant-Based PWO “X”:

Prop Blend: 2500mg
Taurine, L-Tyrosine, Caffeine (300mg), Dynamine, Theacrine, Huperzine, Yohimbine

So, the above blend is clearly geared to provide acute energy and focus. Only the caffeine content is disclosed, as it almost always is (and should be). While I’d certainly like to know the doses of everything, I still have a decent idea what to expect from the above blend, and how strong it should be, within reason I suppose. And I’ll know within one or two uses of the product if I like the subjective feelings, since subjective feelings are ALL I’m going for here really (well, that and the acute power-output enhancing effects of caffeine, and some endurance benefits from taurine, but I digress).

At the end of the day, while I may not like this approach, and would opt for an open label, all other variables equal, I suppose I can live with this. I probably won’t buy it unless it has/does something an open-label doesn’t, but it’s at least not the worst thing ever IMO. Big praise, I know.

However, if I now try to diversify a blend more, to go from purely a focus on acute energy and focus to, say, a nootropic product designed to provide acute energy and focus but ALSO improve memory and cognitive function:

Nootropic Blend “Y”

Proprietary Blend: 3885mg
Taurine, Tyrosine, Lion’s Mane Extract, Caffeine (300mg), Bacopa Extract, CDP-Choline, Sceletium Extract, Huperzine-A (1%)

So, with this formula, assuming the caffeine is disclosed, we can figure out very little about the product. If the caffeine isn’t disclosed, we can figure out almost nothing.

Now, it can be dosed pretty well. We can have 1g each of taurine, tyrosine, and lion’s mane, with 300mg caffiene, 300mg Bacopa (Bacognize), 250mg CDP-Choline, 100-200mcg Huperzine-A, and 25mg Sceletium(KannaEase or Zembrin). This would be a pretty solid formula. I can look at it and know it’s pretty well-dosed. I can also look at it and know that the dose of Bacopa is solid, which I should know, since bacopa needs to be taken daily for several weeks to really improve memory. I’m not going to be able to determine how well it works from just trying it once or twice. Same with lion’s mane. And, while cholinergics have acute benefits, even they really shine with daily/consistent use, and memory is really hard to gauge from one or two days/servings.

But the above formula can just as easily be (give or take a few hundred milligrams of taurine; I didn’t do all the math exactly here): 2g taurine, 300mg tyrosine, 300mg tyrosine, 300mg lion’s mane, 300mg caffeine, 100mg bacopa, 100mg CDP-Choline, 100mcg Huperzine, and 10mg Sceletium.

Now I’m getting solid doses ONLY of taurine, caffeine, and huperzine (companies usually dose huperzine well). But the label is otherwise IDENTICAL.

Since I’m looking not only for subjective acute effects/benefits, the “just try it and see if you like it” isn’t quite as easy or solid IMO, as I’m taking it daily, and some benefits take weeks to kick in, and likely also take weeks of testing and observation to even be able to attempt to gauge the magnitude of benefits when using it.

But this still isn’t the worst potential offender. The worst offender would be a proprietary blend for a product that has NO acute/subjective effects and ONLY, or at least predominantly, objective benefits on things like body composition and strength that take several weeks to reach any observable level of significance, and are often subtle even at that point.

Ergogen Product “Z”

Proprietary Blend: 15g
Creatine Monohydrate, Beta Alanine, Betaine Anhydrous, LCLT, HICA

Now, this can be really well dosed. 5g creatine, 4g beta alanine, 2.5g beaine, 2g LCLT, and 1.5g HICA.

Or we can bump up the creatine by 2.5g and cut the LCLT and HICA from 2g and 1.5g to 0.5g each. So I just gained nothing in terms of efficacy by bumping up the creatine dose, but I just lost pretty much all the benefits from LCLT and HICA; going from the studied doses of 2g and 1.5g down to small fractions of those doses at 500mg each.

But you would never know looking at the label, and it’d probably take weeks of daily use to tell the difference in terms of progression and gains.

I see no justification for the use of a prop blend in an instance like this last one.

Anyway, that’s my rant. I’m curious what everyone else thinks about prop blends? Hate them? Don’t care abut them either way? Think they’re fine as long as you trust the company? Etc.

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So, if I may give a specific example, let’s discuss the Guerilla Chemist. He’s a smart dude, there’s no denying that. He has industry experience, a relevant formal education, etc. That much we know. But that doesn’t mean everything he does is beyond reproach by merit of who he is.

His Chemix PWO is partially open-label and partially prop-blend. The dose of PeakO2 is disclosed, which is good, since that’s something that we KNOW the effective dose from in studies. There’s no solid justification for hiding that, so he didn’t. Good job.

What he did include in the prop blend is an energy blend, which is really something that you want purely for acute, subjective effects. So you’ll know pretty quickly if you like it or not. It’s not something with cumulative effects, or things that take weeks of close objective observation to try to see if it’s working. He can argue that he has a balance of stimulants and things that provides a unique subjective acute feel, and I actually can’t tell him that he doesn’t have a point there. The caffeine isn’t listed on the label form what I can see (maybe it’s listed somewhere on the label, just not in the supplement facts?) but it’s been disclosed at 350mg/serving, so at least that’s known, so we can get a basic gauge of how strong we expect it to be.

TL;DR: I may not agree with the use of a prop blend here, but I can at least sort of understand why he says he’s doing it, even if it’s not going to actually be a huge deterrent to a large company that wanted to replicate it, as PricePlow mentioned in their old article on Prop Blends.

However, I’ll show below that it’s also not inherently assume that, since he’s a smart, experienced, educated dude, that EVERYTHING, every product, every ingredient and dose, he puts in EVERY product ever will be properly dosed, and we can just trust that it will be and be fine with prop blends for ergogenic ingredients that take weeks to notice subtle effects for.

Take his Chemix Intra-Workout product. Now, it’s completely open label, and I still think it’s a lackluster profile with a few questionable inclusions/doses, which just goes to show that open label doesn’t always mean good, and prop blend doesn’t always mean bad.

It has 500mg HICA per serving. We know this looking at the label, but, since some people seem to say that they’d inherently trust him with a prop blend, he could easily have hidden this dose. Now, the studied dose of HICA is 1.5g/day. It was split into 3 500mg doses, which is I think how he tried to justify this low dose in his product, but none of his other products have HICA, and he never even attempted to argue that he believes just the 500mg in this product, without any additional HICA intake, will have any benefits. And he didn’t attempt to explain if/why he thinks a single bolus dose of 1.5g wouldn’t work. Cooper, when he was with PES/Ergonine seemed to think it was a fine way to dose it, and I respect the hell out of Cooper.

There’s also a similar issue with using a split dose of d-ribose in studies, and then only using one of those doses in your product and referencing the studies as if you’re using the full dose.

So, my point, after much rambling and meandering, is that even very smart, experienced, and educated companies/people/formulators can make some “questionable” decisions, and if we just inherently assume that we can trust them to dose everything properly/well in prop blends, I think we may be making a mistake, at least for products that are intended to do more than just provide acute, subjective effects.

At least with an open label, we can try to do our own research and see if we agree with the philosophy/conclusions of the company/formulator, not just take them at their word that it’s good.

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I completely understand the anti-prop blend movement and ideal. I also don’t like to give in to the game of why prop blend labels are being used in whichever scenario.

We are label readers. What does it say? What does it not say? What kind of rough math can we do based on what it does and doesn’t say?

My example: Gaspari Superpump MAX
You get 1.3g of creatine mono per scoop and an unknown amount of magnesium creatine. My fondness for round numbers leads me to think that there’s only 200mg of magnesium creatine based on the amount of yielded magnesium… So with every two scoops, you get 3g total creatine across both forms.

Those the kind of holes you can fill throughout a label, at least for the important ingredients. I’d like to not have to do that but brand reputation, formulation patterns, marketing tactics, etc play into what choice I make.

Those are my pennies and my approach to the topic… As weird as it may be.

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Thanks for the input. It’s especially crazy for creatine. There’s no secret dose of creatine. We know how much you need to achieve saturation. At least they can have some level of an argument for stimulants, but here? That’s a good example. And yeah, I’d assume there’s either 200mg MCC per serving, bringing it up to 3g creatine per 2 scoops, or 1.2g MCC per scoop, bringing it up to 5g creatine per 2 scoops. But it could very well be neither of those.

Looking at that label, you gave a great example. It has prop blends within prop blends! It’s prop-blend-ception!

On the topic of playing games with what we’re given, we can actually figure out the dose of Sustamine alanylglutamine. They list 40mg magnesium, and that’s coming from di-magnesium malate. Since it’s listed ahead of Sustamine on the label, we know there’s less Sustamine than di-magnesium malate. So we just have to determine what percent of di-magnesium malate is magnesium, and we can figure out the max dose of Sustamine per serving.

Considering it appears that DMM is 20% magnesium (source for this at end of post):

The proposed use levels in food supplements indicated by the applicant are intended to provide from 75 to 375 mg/day of supplemental magnesium, corresponding to an intended intake of 375–1,875 mg/day of DMM from the use in food supplements.

That means there’s 200mg DMM perving. So there’s less than 200mg Sustamine per serving. Real useful.

https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.2903/j.efsa.2018.5292

Edit: there’s actually even less, since I didn’t account of the magnesium from MCC. So there may be even less.

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I remember one guy that PricePlow interviewed defended his prop blend by saying something to the effect that the “mystery” of the prop blend should draw consumers into trying the supp.

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Oh God. Yeah, I remember that. If I want a mystery I’ll watch Scooby Doo. I’m pretty sure James is the one who defended GC’s using prop blends because “trust him, he’s a chemist.” But remember, according to GC himself, apparently “the difference between 1 vs 2% of an extract is minimal and only comes into play when you are taking 1-2 grams of material.” That’s perhaps one of the most asinine things I’ve heard about extract standardization. The discussion was about rhodiola in particular, so when the ingredient is only standardized for 1% salidroside, 1% vs 2% is literally double/half the primary active in the material. Yeah, no big deal if you’re getting half or twice as much as you expect, right? Hey, MORE MYSTERY! That’s what the consumer wants from supplements; mystery. God, I really hope the FDA doesn’t hear that gem about mystery.

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I’ll play Devil’s Advocate here vis a vis “mystery.”

I do kinda miss the excitement of not knowing shit about supplements and thus having no idea how what I was about to take (pre-workouts and noots basically, though I don’t think “nootropic” had caught on as a term at the time) would feel, the focus aspect, the pumps and vascularity, etc. That wonder is fun. “Woah, AMPIberry?? I’ve never seen that before, I wonder how crazy it gets you!!” It was a lot like getting a new Transformer or Legos as a kid; part of the fun is not knowing how it works, and discovering it through trial.

That said, as an older and more informed consumer, I generally agree with the OP. Stim-only blends are walking thin ice, but as long as caffeine content is disclosed, I’ll tolerate it. (That said, I’ve also seen that Chem-X is 300mg, not 350; and anecdotally, a “full” serving felt a whole lot like 500-600mg, so if it is 300mg, that may be “per scoop” and not “per serving.” Yet another reason to truly disclose and not just hand out information over IG DMs).

However, getting into ergogenics, like you said, there’s no reason not to disclose creatine content, or PeakO2 content, or LCLT. I also love seeing “standardized” herbal extracts without the actual standardizations listed, i.e. “Standardized Rhodiola Rosea extract - 400mg.” Cool. What uh, what are those standardizations, friend?

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Off-topic a bit @muscleupcrohn, but you’ve been mentioning bacopa frequently lately; would enjoy a writeup of it from you, especially with your preferred extracts/sources.

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Thanks for the input!

I mean, companies could still throw in some BS new/novel ingredient and hype it up so people are excited for the “mystery” of it. Hell, I’ve seen several companies do this in stimulant blends recently, with a few mg of some plant that no one’s ever heard of. And they ALMOST ALL contain yohimbine and/or yohimbine alkaloids. Gee, I wonder what it actually is haha. But seeing some new/unknown extract attracts people more than just seeing another product with yohimbine.

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Thanks, I’m glad to see people get something out of my writeups. I’d assumed I’d already have done one on baopa, but I guess not. Maybe I need more bacopa to help my memory.

Edit (I’ll move this to its own thread eventually): Bacognize and Synapsa/KeenMind/CDRI-08 (these 3 are the same thing) are the two “premium” bacopa extracts, with most of the promsing human studies being done on them. Dosing is most often 300mg/day, and it takes several weeks of daily use for its benefits on memory to reach maximal effectiveness.

One study in medical students noted cognitive enhancement benefits with 6 weeks of daily use (300mg/day Bacognize), while a different study in healthy subjects (aged 18-60) noted benefits at 12 weeks of daily use (300mg/day KeenMind), but not at 5 weeks, so I think it’s probably safe to expect benefits to really start to kick in with 6 weeks of daily use, give or take.

Research on acute effects are mixed, with one study showing some benefits, and one study showing none, but this is an ingredient that’s best taken daily for weeks, not something for acute/subjective effects.

As for non-standardized extracts, one study used 300-450mg/day of a 20:1 extract in healthy subjects (aged 40-65) for 3 months, and noted benefits, but, given the availability of standardized extracts and the fact that they’re pretty affordable, I see no reason not to use a standardized extract.

I’ve seen studies claim KeenMind is a 20:1 or 25:1 extract, and it’s standardized for 55% bacosides (based on spectrophotometry).

Bacognize is standardized for 45% bacosides (using a UV spectrometer), and a study found it had 11.38% of the four bacosides using HPLC (HPLC has much lower readings than UV, but is considered to be more truly accurate).

Elsewhere, in a different study with a non-Bacognize or KeenMind extract, the 10:1 extract was found to have 5% bacosides (HPLC), which makes enough sense, that 10:1 would be ~5% HPLC, and 20:1 would be ~10%.

So if HPLC is ~1/4 of UV (based on Bacognize’s numbers), then the 55% from CDRI would be roughly 13% HPLC, give or take. And if that’s a 20-25:1 extract, that means you have roughly 0.5-0.65% bacosides in the dried herb. Compare that to the 10:1 extract with 5% HPLC, and you get 0.5% in the dried herb, which checks out.

So this seems logical, that all three extracts (Bacognize, CDRI, and the third studied extract) are all rather similar.

TL;DR:
-Will move to own thread soon
-Full effects on memory/cognition take ~6 weeks to manifest
-May or may not have some acute effects at doses at/upwards of 300mg (conflicting information here)
-300mg/day of Bacognize or Synapsa/KeenMind/CDRI-08 is a common studied dose
-These extracts seem to be roughly 20:1, so roughly equivalent to 6g of powder
-Bacognize is cheap enough, so I see no compelling reason not to opt for a standardized extract

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Funnily enough, PricePlow said this in their old write-up on bacopa:

"Non-standardized forms of bacopa are used in many of the “popular”, mainstream nootropic supplements, but there are two things to remember:

  1. If they don’t disclose the exact standardization, you might not be getting anywhere near the effective amount of bacosides, and;
  2. A supplement brand can change the product from batch to batch and you wouldn’t even know… until you didn’t feel it “working” as well!"

Edit: and I AGREE with them completely!

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I do recall something that @Mike had said a long time ago. The issue with prop blends is the ability for the company to change up the formula from time to time or batch to batch thus the effectiveness or experience you had the first time you tried a supplement may be completely different the 2nd time around with essentially the same label.

After having been on the Message Board here, I pause at any Prop Blends - yes there are some that do work for me - but if it’s a new product, I have a tendency to look elsewhere.

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@SteelerBill13 got a good point in. This happens often. This also leads into another discussion on how prop blends save money for the manufacturer- you only have to test for label claim, and if there isn’t any label claim…

The BS in this industry goes much deeper than many of you are seeing/theorizing.

I am against prop blends as a whole. I prefer not to take them. Sometimes that’s out of my hands when I want to try something new or am reviewing something in the industry.

I also have less of a problem (insert Witcher meme about lesser of evils…) when the prop blend is a small part of a formula, protecting a specific ratio of new ingredients or stims that have been dosed together for a specific effect. I also only apply this logic when someone experienced and educated is creating something. Not just because a new cool kid wants to be edgy with their blends.

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i look forward to PP’s reviews of Insane Labz

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I’ll just upload a 5 minute image of their lab testing for everyone

“Psychotic Blend”

i’ll add… the fact they (insane labz) sells so well to the masses, is a strong showing that prop blends don’t matter to most.

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I’ll add too-
the fact that they do so well shows high caffeine is absolutely safe and people prefer it

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what’s their top 2 ingredients? BA and caffeine (maybe creatine) so you “feel it”

as far as caffeine you are getting as much of it in a lot RTDs (which are all prop blends) as there are in a PWO, so yeah there’s that.

Oh that doesn’t surprise me at all. I followed a guy out of the gym the other day that immediately started smoking…

i believe there was around a gram of caffeine, ~750mg pure when you remove the malic and citrate

been a little bit, but those numbers are standing out to me.

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