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Gather Intel, Save Money!

If you’re a serious gym rat who feverishly chases the latest and greatest in nutritional augmentation — from amino acids to ZMA and everything in between — you know such dedication can be costly. A monthly supplement bill can easily run into the hundreds of dollars, in fact.

You may just shrug and say it’s a necessity of the iron game. To provide your body every morsel it needs to grow, you have to lay out the cash, even if it means skimping on other essentials, or so the typical reasoning goes. (Who needs electricity, anyway?)

If that sounds familiar, read on. We’re here to help, with five thrifty tips that can help you slice the cost of your supps bill. The goal is to save you $50 or more a month … hopefully leaving enough spare change to keep the lights on, at least.

Rule No. 1: Shop with a plan

As you’ve probably experienced, it’s expensive to hit the grocery store without a list and on an empty stomach. All of a sudden, your cart is filled with impulse purchases, and a $30 trip explodes into a $100 splurge.

The same lack of preplanning can also derail a trip to the supplement store. Set an eager lifter hungry for muscle loose among aisles of powders, pills and protein in every form imaginable, and he’ll hit the register with armfuls of product he didn’t originally plan on.

Instead, do your research and create your list before you buy anything, setting your sights on the supps you really need. “It sounds so basic, but it’s one of the biggest mistakes people make,” says Christine Frietchen, editor-in-chief of, a popular website devoted to educating shoppers on the best way to spend their money on thousands of products and services. “Going in without a plan is pretty much a guarantee you’ll end up not only spending more than you wanted, but you’ll end up with regrettable purchases triggered by slick packaging and in-store marketing.” Instead, with a specific tally of targets in hand, your shopping expeditions are much more focused — and affordable.

Rule No. 2: Gather intelligence

You may wonder how some supplement chains stay in business, considering their pricing is sky-high compared to discount outlets and online retailers. The answer: There’s a never-ending, steady stream of newbies and individuals who blindly make purchases without doing a lick of research.

You can avoid that fate. Resolve to never, ever pay retail for your supplements again. To do that, you need to be aware of all your options. “Sign up to receive emails from every reputable supplement retailer you know, both online and brick and mortar,” says Frietchen. “You’ll get a lot of emails, and you (and your inbox) can easily become overwhelmed, but the idea is to learn to scan them quickly and watch for key dates and sales regarding the products on your wish list. Only save the emails with the relevant deals and mark your calendar with the sale dates.”

Some top online supplement retailers include,,,, and And don’t count out the major supplement chains. Those customer loyalty programs, such as Vitamin Shoppe’s Healthy Awards Program and Vitamin World’s Savings Passport Program, can pay off. Even local mom and pop stores may offer their own version of a discount card. Sign up for all the free ones you can, being sure to provide your email address.

Be warned: Not all customer loyalty programs are easy to use. For instance, major retailer GNC’s Gold Card program costs $15 a year, and for you to reap any financial benefit you need to be ready to buy during certain weeks of the month. If you join, just take a close look at the fine print first.

Rule No. 3: Want a deal? Ask for it

A recent report out of Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, NC) points out that, in this economy, you should be assertive when shopping for just about everything. “As a consumer in today’s economy, people need to ask themselves, ‘Am I about to spend some money?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ negotiating is almost always appropriate,” says Charles Lankau, a business professor at the university and an expert in negotiation.

The tactic may be especially useful at smaller non-chain stores, especially if you’re dealing directly with an owner or principal, since an employee at a larger franchise will likely feel he or she doesn’t have the leeway to bargain.

Outside of that, often the biggest factor stopping someone from negotiating is a fear of doing so. Because of the typical model of retail stores — they price it, we pay what they ask — we just aren’t practiced in the art of bartering.

To overcome the hesitation, Lankau suggests consciously giving yourself permission to negotiate, and to focus on the result, not on any misplaced embarrassment for asking. If you’re successful, he adds, it’s a win-win situation because the seller will likely still be making a profit.

Rule No. 4: Stock up … within reason

When you find a great price on something you use often, such as protein powder, take advantage. If you’re on a strict budget, buying multiples of a product will obviously cost you more up front, but it’ll pay off in the long run by cutting your costs over time. “You don’t want to be a hoarder, especially with something that has an expiration date like supplements, but a solid guideline many couponers follow is the ‘rule of three,’” Frietchen explains. “That is, when you’re stocking up, don’t buy any more than three — unless it’s some sort of two-for-one deal, in which case you can stretch that to four.”

Rule No. 5: Be a scavenger

If you’ve attended any fitness trade shows, such as the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus, Ohio, or the Olympia Weekend in Las Vegas, you know the expos are pure bliss for the bodybuilding fanatic. Star sightings, sensory overload and, of course, lots of freebie giveaways. But there’s something even better for the savvy shoppers who stick around for the final hour on the last day when the booth babes have packed it in and the banners are being taken down.

At that point, it may pay off to stop by your favorite manufacturers and see what product they have left on hand. Why? If they haven’t sold everything they brought to stock their displays, they may be very willing to sell it to you for a discount rather than shipping it back to their warehouse.

Of course, if you flew to the event, you may end up short of space in your suitcase, but wearing six shirts and four pairs of underwear on the plane is a small price to pay for an amazing deal on your favorite supplements, isn’t it?

Discount Programs Face Off

Retailer: GNC

– Gold Card
– Save 20% the first week of each month
Fees: $15 per year

Retailer: The Vitamin Shoppe

– Healthy Rewards
– Earn one point for every dollar spent, redeemable for free merchandise
Fees: Free

Retailer: Vitamin World -Savings Passport

-Earn points for every purchase over $10, and 20%–50% off merchandise
Fees: Free with first online purchase

Priorities, Priorities

To help those new to bodybuilding sort through the admittedly overwhelming array of supplements, here’s a primer on what supps are considered the basics, and which would serve as the next level to try.

Starter Package

Protein Powder
Meal Replacement Bars and Powders
Branched-Chain Amino Acids
Glucosamine and chondroitin

The Next Level

Arginine/Nitric-Oxide Boosters
Thermogenics (if weight loss is the goal)
Testosterone Boosters
Weight-Gain Powders

The Case for Brand Loyalty

When shopping for supplements, while you want to find great deals, you don’t necessarily want to compromise on quality. In other words, don’t just go for the cheapest jug of protein powder on the shelf — there’s a huge difference between concentrate and isolate.

If you find a certain brand that puts out quality products and that you’ve learned to trust, it pays to be faithful. “Find a brand you feel works best for your body,” says Risa Sheppard, a Master Pilates Teacher and owner of The Sheppard Method studios in Los Angeles. “Not all brands are good, so it’s a waste of money to save on less than quality supplements. When you find a brand you like, contact the company and check out their website. If you’re going to buy in bulk, contact them and ask if they’ll discount for you by buying direct.”