The Significance of Branded Ingredients vs. Generic Ingredients in Sports Dietary Supplements
By Chris Walden, QA for Dietary Supplement Manufacturing
Through proper exercise, diet, and quality supplementation, such as Creatine, L-Carnitine, Beta-Alanine, Vasodilations, BCAA’s, and other numerous ingredients, that aid in the improving of your physique and performance, is there a difference between the generic ingredients (using only the generic given name) and the Branded Ingredients (using a Trademark name)? Is there really a difference in benefits and claimed results of the ingredient?
Yes, and in some cases, No.
For example, Creapure® is manufactured and produced in a facility in Germany. This is 100% German Creatine Monohydrate. Most all the current double-blind studies that are published in many journals use this form of Creatine. This is considered the Premium Brand not just because it improves Strength and aids in Muscle growth, this Branded ingredient is known for its Purity and Consistency. The amount of research and funding into just this ingredient is in the millions over the past 20 years.
Generic Creatine is produced all over the world, but mostly in China. Regulations, cleanliness, and cross contamination is always a concern at these facilities. Purity, along with consistency, are also questionable, when this generic form is used in many of the products you are taking. China had a massive pollution problem in 2018. The Chinese Government shut down many ingredient making facilities due to poor air quality. Poor air means contaminants are floating in the air at these facilities. Which means the Creatine Powder may or may not have contaminants within the powder.
We received samples of 200 mesh Creatine (generic) from 2 different major ingredient distributors. They were from 2 different facilities in China. The color was slightly different when in a side by side visual comparison. Even though it was 200 mesh, one was more like powder sugar, and the other one was normal, and in line with what was expected. The question is, do you still get the claim benefits. The proper way is to wait a few weeks and let the Creapure® clear my system, and then take the Generic Creatine. But I did not go that route because immediately upon doing the R&D with the exact same flavor profile, on both Generic Creatine’s there was a slight change in the flavor. Now common sense would tell you since it is Creatine, and at least on paper by the Specs and Certificate of Analysis, that everything should be exactly alike, and the flavor, or taste, should not change. But it did change. With Creapure®, there is never a variation or consistency issues. No matter what lot number, or when the batch was made. When we use Creapure®, the flavor and taste does not vary or even a hint of change. With Generics, you take a chance on getting a good batch one round, the second or 3rd round, not as good. This is just an example, of one of the factors, of why the consumer, buys a Supplement, then start to see and feel the results the first time, then maybe the second or third time, you don’t show any improvement in your overall performance or physique.
Many Brand Owners are not aware of these differences. Once the agreement is made with the Contract Manufacturer, the Brand Owner’s then leave it in the hands of the facility to make their products. When a new Client comes into the Supplement Industry, they know the Generic names of the ingredients, and that is what they ask for. It is hard to know how good an ingredient is, or even if the ingredient works as it design to do, with a just a simple taste test of one serving. Even if the Brand Owner purchased the ingredients on their own from a retailer or on-line, in order to do their own trial or experiment, there is no way of knowing where that brand bought their Generic ingredients from. Then the Brand owner mixes their own formula at home, and takes the idea to a Contract Manufacturer, talks to their R&D, and the process starts. Once the Brand owner gives the approval for flavor if there is one, then production starts. Then in many cases, R&D and the Brand Owner are unaware that some ingredients are not synergistic, or do not compliment each other in benefits, instead they cross each other out in terms of full benefits. For instance, this is what is rampant around the industry, especially concerning high caffeine per serving, and other stimulants. The higher the caffeine amount, the more you blood vessels constrict. So how does your body assimilate all the other ingredients when your blood vessels are almost closed? But it has a Pump Matrix with Citrulline, or other forms of pump ingredients. Do you want your blood vessels to open or close? Do you want a pump, or do you want your Central Nervous System on high alert? This is the environment that creates no muscle growth. If the Formulation is synergistic, whether it is a Generic or Branded Ingredient, many of the ingredients take time to accumulate in the body before you can feel and visually see any results. On the day of the Formula testing, a Brand name ingredient could be used for testing in the lab, or a Generic that is available in the R&D room. After approval of the formulation, the actual purchasing of the material that the client tried could change, or the Contract Manufacturer uses whatever ingredient they have in inventory. If not in inventory, the Purchasing Department then price shops an ingredient, it’s possible the price may be too high, and the purchasing department then must find the ingredient at an acceptable cost. And to keep cost down, ingredients are purchased in Bulk, so it could be used for other brands present and future. This could be over several facilities and distributors of ingredients. Now, not all generics are bad, but it only takes one or two bad generics in a formulation, to ruin the whole serving of benefits. For example, if you have a high- performance engine in your car, and it requires premium gas for your engine to reach its full potential and what it was design to do, would you put 87 Octane in your engine? What if you put some 87 Octane and mix some Premium 93 Octane (91 in California)? Would that combination still be good? There’s no way you are mixing the grade of gasoline. You work too hard to purchase your level of performance. You know the long-term effects if you put in a lower octane or mediocre quality gasoline. So why would you do that to your own body, something that is certainly more valuable than your car. The bottom line is unless the Brand Owner specifically ask for a Branded Ingredient, your ingredients are at the mercy of the Contract Manufacturer’s choosing. Trust me, there are many Contract Manufacturers that find the cheapest form of generics and could care less where it comes from.
Many Generics used “borrowed science”. Which means, the product or ingredient, uses science that was done and published by the Branded Ingredients and their rightful Patent Owner. In truth, you are not consuming the actual ingredient that was studied, but a copycat, a generic. This is not like a Generic Pharmaceutical say Tylenol verses Walgreens. The Pharmaceutical Industry has much tighter controls over their industry, compared to the Dietary Supplement Industry. Another problem unfortunately is some generics have documents by third party labs that don’t really exist from across seas. Forged, copy and pasted. Hopefully the Contract Manufacturer are on top of these documents and are protecting the consumer, and the Brand Owner. The Branded ingredients are the heart and soul of that Company’s Profile. Their reputation is at stake. For example, Lonza. One of their major Branded ingredients is Carnipure®. Carnipure® is worldwide. This is a very popular form of L-Carnitine. Many Millions of dollars and research is behind this Brand. The Generic form is simply L-Carnitine. But L-Carnitine can be made by many different facilities throughout China. How the cGMP practice and purity of the L-Carnitine, along with the consistency can be question with good cause, for many reasons. Much of the science used in Carnipure® are used to back up generic L-Carnitine. Are there certain Generic L-Carnitine that is good, of course. There also are low quality one’s too. You are at the mercy of the decision making of the Contract Manufacturer. But if you purchase Carnipure®, you are getting a high-quality ingredient, without the question of purity and consistency. And you take the power of choice away from the Contract Manufacturer, and put that power in your hands, the consumer.
Over 90% of the Brands you see on the store shelf don’t make their own product. Many are done at Contract Manufacturing facilities throughout the United States. If the owner of the Brand doesn’t specifically ask for a Branded ingredient from the Contract Manufacturer, then the Contract Manufacturer will have the purchasing department find the lowest cost generic ingredient they can find to put into that product. This helps keep cost down and margins up. Many of the Brand owners never think to ask, “where does the ingredient come from, and who made it.”
There are Generics that are good. A good Contract Manufacturer will have to search for them if the bottom line isn’t cost. There are reputable ingredient houses, but there are also questionable ones with a history of selling poor quality ingredients. There are many ingredients that do not have a Brand name or Patent. Some Amino Acids, or some Plant base ingredients, and Botanicals. For an ingredient to be Branded or Trademarked, extra steps are taken, and a higher standard must be used in the processing of an ingredient. The Quality is above standard, and they are independently studied, and in most cases, become published in numerous journals. The companies that provide Brand Ingredients put many years of studies and investment into making their ingredient top quality. The Company reputation is based on the Brand and Trademark they provide. In most cases, they are only made at one or two facilities where there is tight control on the process.
At the end of the day, it is up to the consumer to be as knowledgeable as possible. Really pay attention to the marketing and what they are not saying. Be careful of claims of “we have the best ingredients” when you have no idea where they come from. Also, don’t let the taste fool you, many products taste good, but does absolutely nothing for you. Pay close attention to the Supplement Label or Nutrition Label. Read carefully and pay close attention to the dosages. If a product, such as a Pre-Workout is under 10g, more than likely it will not help you achieve the improvement you’re looking for beyond being mentally jacked up. If so, then your diet better be completely on point. Most important pay close attention to the combination of ingredients. High Caffeine and Stimulants that are along side a Pump Blood Volume Ingredient means Zero. If you have a fast-acting Whey Protein Isolate, but it is combined with Gums with Creamers (from milk solids) and other additives, do you really think it is still fast-acting? Or you can take Vitamin K2 or Vitamin D3 alone, but for better benefits, take them together for better absorption of both Vitamins. This is true in Branded or Generics. There are good generics on the market, but you can take the second guessing out with a Branded Trademark Ingredient when it is possible. The Consumer then has control of what ingredient is going into their body, and the knowledge of the true company that made it. Do your homework before purchasing your next Supplement.
**Writer Chris Walden has been in Quality & Operations in Aerospace, Automotive, and the DOD. The last 4 years he has been in Quality/Formulation for the Dietary Supplement Industry.