How effective is Shakeology?
As soon as I watched this video at Beachbody's Coach Summit 2014, my eyebrow was raised. This video, or should I say "trial", just reeked of marketing to me. Now for anyone who follows me or has been on my website, you should know that I am a Team Beachbody Coach. I have been since October 2012. Not only that, but I have been an avid Shakeology user for close to 2 years now, and have even had my wife on it for the past few months.
So, before some of you decide to get mad about what I have to say about this video, realize that I am an objective person. I always have been, I always will be, as is my wife. We are both what you would consider "scientists," although my wife definitely takes that title more than I do. I have my B.Sc. in Biochemistry along with my CSCS certification. My wife has her Ph.D in Molecular Genetics. Naturally, whenever a health or fitness-related science "study" piques my/our interest, I always present it to my wife so that we can have a good old fashioned science debate at the ol' Robbins' house...I know, we're lively!
Anyways, so why do we take Shakeology? Well, I started taking it because I couldn't find any worthwhile studies relating to whether or not it worked. Since starting, I have found that I really enjoy taking it. Although not everyone is a fan of the taste, I love the chocolate Shakeology, and consider it my daily "treat." There is a good dose of protein in each shake (more when I mix it with milk). I love the pre and pro biotics in it, especially in the past 6 months or so. I have had a few bouts of strep throat where I have needed to use antibiotics. Antibiotics kill bacteria, even those good ones in your intestines, but I have found that I have had absolutely no problems while drinking my shakes. I enjoy using them as a meal replacement (breakfast). I honestly do feel like I get an energy boost from drinking them (which is handy when you have young kids in your house!).
My wife has been taking the Shakeology for a few months now since our second son was born. She too enjoys using it as a meal replacement (breakfast) because it keeps her feeling full until lunch. She has been consistently losing weight. She likes the taste of the shakes. She also finds that she gets a boost in energy from them. And like me, her tummy has been happy like mine!
So...even though we both drink Shakeology, why the problem with the video? Well, let's break things down. Check out the video for yourself first:
Ok, let's dive right in. Beachbody went and hired Medicus Research to conduct their clinical trial. Clinical trials can be effective, but oftentimes, results or findings can be biased based on the sponsor paying for the trial. In this case, Beachbody themselves hired this company to conduct this study. I believe that this increases the chance of bias or conflict of interest.
Not only that, but I can't seem to find any publication or summary of the trial that was conducted (if anyone can find something, please let me know). It would be nice to read the breakdown and procedure of the trial rather than just getting a quick summary in a 3-minute video that spits out numbers so that we can examine exactly what is taking place in this study.
Instead, I would like to see a peer reviewed study on Shakeology. For those of you who are unaware, peer review is effective because other equally qualified individuals can examine and critique a study, and decide whether or not the results support the conclusions.
Anyways, back to the video:
0:33 - 50 individuals were selected through a "rigorous selection process." 50 participants in this study is a decent sample size, although it voids some validity of the study due to the findings (will explain later). Here is a prime case of wishing there was some sort of publication for this study. If the participants of the study were rigorously selected, it would be nice to know what the criteria were for those selected. Were they smokers? Were they overweight? Were they obese? Were they on medication? Do they exercise? There are far too many variables here to list.
On top of that, effective scientific studies have what's known as "control" participants. In other words, you need a group of participants who don't take Shakeology at all, and study them in the same way for the 90 days to see what their health changes are (if any). You can then compare the Shakeology users to the control participants to prove/disprove Shakeology's health claims.
0:54 - All participants were required to drink Shakeology for breakfast and lunch for 90 days. No other diet or exercise changes were required. Ok, but Beachbody markets Shakeology as a 1-shake-a-day health supplement. Not only that, but results from this study could be skewed based on what the participants ate besides just their shakes. For example, what if they ate ice cream for dinner, with a side of bacon, and topped off with a litre of cola? Or what if they didn't eat anything else at all? Again, it would be nice to have a publication in order to understand the parameters of this study.
Also, I think most people would agree that healthy living requires a two-tiered approach with both diet and exercise being equally important in maintaining a healthy weight and living a healthy lifestyle. I don't understand why exercise was not included in this study, after all, Beachbody is a company that markets and sells both nutritional supplements and fitness programs (good ones too!).
I am not sure if the trial organizers wanted to prevent "muddied waters" by just focusing on Shakeology, but I think that if a pretty standard, moderate exercise program could add to the findings.
1:27 - Okay, here is where things start to get interesting. Fact time! Facts are good right? Well, not if you actually take the time to think about what is being presented to us. First of all, let's take a look at the weight loss stats.
So the weight loss stats aren't too bad, but things get more interesting later, especially when we look at the cholesterol stats. So what this graph is telling us is that the average weight loss among the 50 participants is 9.3 lbs. However, the "high" weight loss was 24 lbs. If you remember back to math class, you know that the average is calculated by summing all of the results, and dividing by the number of participants. In this case, we would add up the weight lost (or gained) from all 50 participants, and divide by 50.
There are a couple different scenarios as to how we came to a 9.3 lbs. average weight loss. First of all, a "high" value of 24 can really pull an average in that particular direction. So, either:
- Majority of the weight loss was in the couple pounds lost range, and the 24 lbs. lost "pulled" the average lower. In this case, the 24 lbs. lost could be considered the "outlier" or anomaly, and therefore becomes less significant because most of the data points fell within a similar range.
- On the other hand, there may have been lots of data points between the average and the high, possibly with weight loss values of 12, 13, 14, 15, etc. However, to balance that out and maintain a 9.3 lbs. average, that means that there would have to be a slew of data points "north" of the average, and some potentially even on the weight gained side of the study.
How can an "outlier" data point be insignificant? Well, if you were to conduct a trial, and say, 95% of your participants got very similar results. In this case, let's just assume around a couple pounds weight loss in a 90 day study. However, you then have 1 person in the group that has a 24 pound weight loss. From a scientific standpoint, you could then hypothesize that something was quite different for that one participant. Maybe they starved themselves outside of drinking Shakeology. Maybe they exercised every day. Maybe they completely overhauled their diet since they knew they were taking part in a trial. All of the above are fine scenarios (except for the starving themselves) except for the fact that in a trial such as this, you goal is to try and eliminate all factors that may skew results, unless of course you are looking for specific results.
Once again, it would be interesting to see the published study to see all of the data points and where how all of the participants fared along with their diets, daily lifestyles, etc. rather than just the highlights for marketing purposes.
1:52 - Think of all of the points I presented above regarding the weight loss data points and consider them for the data presented for the reduction in cholesterol. Again, the average reduction in Total Cholesterol is 7% (will get to that later), and the high data point is a 50% reduction. That is a wide data spread, also raising eyebrows to where all of the data points fall. Just by staring at this graph, it is entirely possible for one to assume or believe that participants in the study actually raised their cholesterol. How you say? Again, if the average is 7%, and the high is 50%, then there has to be data points that balance out the average, making it possible for some participants to be on the gain side of the equation.
A couple other pieces of information that I would like to know about this study.
- What were the participants numbers coming into this trial? We already know that they were selected chosen through a rigorous selection process, does this mean that they all had total cholesterol levels of 240+, making them prime for lowering their cholesterol? Also consider this: if a participant with total cholesterol levels at 260, placing them in the "high risk" category for heart disease loses the average in this study (7%), they still fall within the "high risk" category.
- Also, you may have heard that there are two main types of cholesterol. Your LDL, or "bad" cholesterol as well as your HDL, or "good" cholesterol. All this study told us is that participants Total cholesterol fell by an average of 7%. Many studies have shown that having higher LDL isn't necessarily a bad thing, assuming your HDL is also high. So, I would like to think that my HDL wasn't falling from taking Shakeology either. This trial needs further clarification.
2:21 - More data, same as above. Quite a high data spread. Once again, I actually personally think that Shakeology would be extremely beneficial in regulating blood sugar. The protein found in the shakes alone helps stabilize blood sugar. Unfortunately, the data from this study is just presented poorly.
So what does this mean for this clinical trial? Again, I know Shakeology helps people lose weight. I have seen many examples of it, including my wife. I believe it may even be possible for Shakeology to lower blood sugar over an extended period of time as well as lower cholesterol, assuming the participant also exercises and consumes a well-balanced diet beyond their Shakeology.
There are absolutely no magic pills to make you healthy in this world. Go back and read that again. A healthy lifestyle is achieved by exercising regularly, eating a sensible diet most of the time, not smoking, not drinking too much, and maintaining a healthy weight - which is usually accomplished by following the previous actions.
Shakeology can be a tool to help you get there. As I said before, both my wife and I use it, and feel that it helps improve our health in a positive way. Having said that, I don't believe that I can just not exercise or eat whatever I want and think that Shakeology will just magically make everything better (as this trial somehow is implying).
I think this is yet another example of looking into something beyond just reading a headline, or watching a 3 minute video and spouting off about how great Shakeology is. I have already seen countless Beachbody Coaches pumping this video saying, "See, see, Shakeology works, its proven!"
I will say it again, I pride myself in trying to stay as objective as possible and do my best not to sound like a pitchy salesperson. I think there are far too many individuals in the fitness world acting as a salesperson sharing or telling you information that they clearly have no idea what they're talking about.
Do I think Shakeology is a good product. Honestly, I do. But I don't think this video does anything to prove that case. In fact, I feel bad that it will actually "cheapen" the feeling towards it for many who may have been on the fence in the first place.
If you have been considering it, give it a shot. Purchase a bag, take it for 30 days and see how you feel. If you want to take things even further, do the full enchilada and have your doc run blood work for you before you begin and run your own trial. Along with taking Shakeology, however, make sure you exercise regularly and eat a balanced diet beyond just your shakes.