What Are Proprietary Blends and Why Should You Avoid Them?

What Are Proprietary Blends and Why Should You Avoid Them?

It’s time to choose a new pre workout. You’ve researched your ingredients and you’ve got a good idea of which ingredients you’re after.

But one term keeps popping up on your search – proprietary blends.

What are they and why are they so popular in pre workout supplements?

In this article we tell you exactly why this type of supplement should set off the alarm bells and why you should stay well clear.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • What are proprietary blends?
  • Are they legal?
  • Are they safe and effective?
  • Is there a better option?

What Are Proprietary Blends?

If you know what’s good for you you’ll always choose a pre workout based on the strength of ingredients, not just because a particular fitness models says you should.

And whilst the best supplements are always completely transparent about which ingredients and exactly how much of each make up their product, others aren’t.

A proprietary blend is a manufacturer short cut. It is where the pharmaceutical company that are responsible for making it hide their contents behind a ‘brand name’. That way they don’t disclose how much of each nutrient you’re getting, only which ones are in there.

For example, a supplement company decide to call their blend ‘Mutant XL‘. And in that blend they decide to put a total of 10 g of different ingredients in a serving.

You’ll find a list of which ingredients make up Mutant XL, but not exactly how much of each.

Is this legal?

Unfortunately, yes.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that regulates sports supplements, state that all pharmaceutical companies are ‘open and honest’ about which ingredients they place in their products; as well as how much of each.


it’s a proprietary blend.

That’s right, brand your ingredients with a made up name and you don’t have to disclose how much of each nutrient is in there.

The FDA state that any mix of ingredients has to be branded as a ‘proprietary blend’ on the product label. But they can decide to use an “appropriately descriptive terms or fanciful name” instead if they want to.

On top of that, the only quantity that needs to added to the label from a legal perspective is the overall product weight. So in terms of Mutant XL for example, the 10 g total weight is what you’ll find. So are you getting 200 mg of theanine or only 1 mg? You’ll never know.

It’s pretty much a licence to call the supplement whatever the company wants to, add in as little of the better, more expensive ingredients as possible and use the FDA loophole to misguide you as the consumer.

It doesn’t exactly fill you with confidence does it?

Pink pre workout powder on a wooden table

Why Develop a Proprietary Blend in the First Place?

Here’s where it gets interesting. Because the ‘off the shelf’ answer you’ll find from the manufacturers of proprietary blends is that by hiding their ‘exclusive’ or ‘state of the art’ mix of ingredients, it stops rival companies from stealing their ideas.

They suggest that their product is so out in front of the science and so cutting edge that other companies would do anything to get a hold of it. It’s like when Mr Slugworth tries to worm his way into Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory to steal the formula for the everlasting gobstopper.

Any truth in that kind of answer from supplement makers?

It really is very doubtful. It’s more likely that by hiding specific quantities of individual nutrients, manufacturers are able to skimp on quantities.

We know that 150 mg of caffeine or 6,000 mg of citrulline malate will power you through your workout; but how do you know there’s that much in a blend if it’s not stated?

The short answer is you just don’t.

The problem with ‘label decoration’

The chances are that your proprietary blend is under-dosed in key bioactive ingredients. So what might appear as an attractive, potentially brilliant supplement is little more than an expensive but worthless powder in a nice looking tub.

So called ‘label decoration’ refers to adding in absolute minimal amounts of well-researched, beneficial nutrients just to have it center stage on the ingredients list, when in reality there just isn’t enough to make a difference to your workouts.

Are proprietary blends limited to pre workouts?

Although there’s a big market for proprietary blends in pre workouts, you’ll also find them in fat burners, testosterone boosters and some protein powders too.

Young, athletic woman running on a beach wearing a heart rate monitor

Proprietary Blends: Exactly How Safe is Your Pre Workout?

An interesting study published in American Journal of Health-system Pharmacy [1] found that proprietary blends often resulted in adverse effects. These included:

  • Gastrointestinal symptoms
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Blood pressure increases
  • Potential effects on lipids and blood glucose

The research team went on to say that “While some dietary supplement labels instruct consumers to seek the advice of a health care professional before using the products, the labels usually do not disclose all ingredients or their precise amounts, and evidence to support the purported performance-enhancing benefits is generally lacking”. 

The chances are it won’t work…

We’ve already said that the chances of key bioactive ingredients being under-dosed in proprietary blends is quite high. And this study perfectly illustrates that point.

Published in the prestigious journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise [2], 17 competitive cyclists were asked to take part in two cycling tests – the latter after ingesting a herbal proprietary blend supplement (800 mg of various ingredients).

The result?

There was no difference in peak oxygen levels, time to exhaustion, power output or heart rate between the two tests – even after taking the mysterious pre workout.

The supplement made absolutely no difference to the workout whatsoever. 

…and your proprietary blend might be contaminated

There’s a real chance that a proprietary blend can be contaminated with fake ingredients and even banned performance-enhancing substances such as ephedrine and steroids.

A large review study published in the Journal of Mass Spectrometry [2] reported that in a collection of over 630 nutritional supplements, a massive 15% of them were contaminated with prohormones and anabolic-androgenic steroids. 


Proprietary blends are supplements that hide the quantity of each of their ingredients – they are the lucky dip of pre workouts, only the chances are you’re not going to be lucky.

By choosing one of these products you’ll not know what you’re getting. Your supplement could be under-dosed, contain inadequate levels of key ingredients, or even contain banned substances.

We strongly advise you avoid proprietary blends and choose something from a more trustworthy manufacturer that is happy to be transparent with their ingredients.

4 Gauge

4 Gauge is an open, honest and effective pre workout with the power to blow the doors off of your workout.

Containing a tour-de-force of energy-boosting nutrients, 4 Gauge has the power to:

  • Ramp up muscle pumps – improve muscularity and blood flow
  • Boost strength – stimulate your nervous system and tune in
  • Extend stamina – work harder for longer and improve your productivity

With absolutely no artificial sweeteners, 4 Gauge will help you work harder in the gym than you’ve ever worked before. Faster progress, amazing results and a better physique are only one supplement away.

– Learn more about 4 Gauge here –


  1. Eudy, AE et al. Efficacy and safety of ingredients found in preworkout supplements. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2013; 70(7): 577-88
  2. Earnest, CP et al. Effects of a Commercial Herbal-Based Formula on Exercise Performance in Cyclists. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004; 36(3): 504-509
  3. Geyer, H et al. Nutritional supplements cross-contaminated and faked with doping substances. J Mass Spectrometry. 2008; 43: 892-902

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