In simple terms, synergy means ‘working together’, derived from Greek. There’s a subtle difference when we refer to synergy and just working together though.
It means that the subject being described as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That means the individual constituents improve each other.
This concept is at the root of supplement manufacture – or at least it should be. The word ‘stack’ is used a lot when referring to supplements, and it refers to the combination of ingredients to achieve a synergistic effect. When you use stacks, you are trying to increase the value of each component.
When used with the right partner ingredients, even the relatively common caffeine can open up and become a much more effective supplement. Weight loss, muscle building and nootropic (cognitive function enhancers) compounds can all possess synergistic properties.
We talk about stacking and synergy a lot on this site, so it makes sense to expand on the subject.
Part II of this article discusses the multi-functional qualities of some ingredients, where a fat-burner might also improve your concentration or mood…or where a muscle-builder might also improve your sex drive!
Greater Than The Sum of Parts
Anyone can throw a bunch of ingredients together and call it a recipe, in the kitchen, or in the case of supplements, in the lab.
The skill of product design and formulation comes from combining the ones which will work together to not only fulfill their own roles – i.e. have their effect on the user – but also boost one another’s effects.
This skillful combining of ingredients is especially important when manufacturers turn their hand to making capsule form (or pill form) products. Inside the capsule’s shell – which dissolves once inside the user’s lower intestine to release it’s contents – there is not a lot of space for ingredients.
So, it is of paramount importance that the inclusions they do put in the pills have maximum power to weight ratio.
That being said, many companies are pretty profit-over-quality driven and don’t care too much as to whether their supplement is any good at all. Although they could fit a few thousand milligrams in the pills, they still decide to leave a lot of room or pack it with worthless filler ingredients.
Sometimes – if the ingredients are really potent – it is by necessity that they don’t fill the pills because all the power required is there in a small amount.
Another reason the formulators can get it wrong is if they include compounds which compete with each other at receptor sites in the human body. You can put two very good inclusions in the blend, but if they compete for beta-2 receptors (for example) then they are pointless.
To be synergistic, they need to compliment each other by hitting different receptors at the same time, or have some other augmentative effect within the chemical/enzymatic chain.
Examples of Synergistic Ingredients
White Willow Bark, Synephrine and Caffeine
This is a take on the classic ECA stack (Ephedrine, Caffeine, Apsirin) except synephrine is safer than ephedrine and white willow doesn’t hurt your stomach like aspirin can.
Caffeine + L-Theanine
A simple but very effective cognitive enhancer. Caffeine and other stimulants can be smoothed out by the alpha-waves that L-Theanine brings to the party. What’s even better is the cognitive benefits of said stimulants are improved in the process. In return, the stimulant helps to increase the mood-lifting effects of l-theanine as they are known to heighten feelings of euphoria.
Citrulline Malate + Branched Chain Amino Acids (Leucine, Isoleucine and Valine)
Here you have a pretty good muscle and strength partnership where Citrulline Malate increases the amount of arginine in the blood which thereby increases the amount of nitric oxide and thus widens the blood vessels via vasodilation.
This in itself can assist muscle strength and growth. When you add BCAAs to the mix, they will be shuttled to the muscles quicker because of the Citrulline’s vasodilating effect.
BCAAs are different to other essential amino acids in that they can be metabolized for energy directly within the muscle to be used as fuel for them to work harder and longer.
There is a lot more knowledge of supplements floating around the social networks than there used to be, which is a good thing.
People are less easily drawn in by hype and clever marketing and understand a bit more about what they are finding ing these products.
We have reviewed many different fat burners and even muscle supplements on this site and can attest to the fact that the ratio of good to bad products is unfortunately quite low.
The examples below are products which we think have good recipes and are taking a step in the right direction to where this industry should be heading. Follow any of the links and you will find our full review of the product.
Also, synergy is not the only way that ingredients can comprehensively boost the efficacy of the blend. There’s also the multi-functionality of the individuals themselves. Part 2 of this article talks about that in more depth.