But when a friend of mine starting using and selling Advocare I had absolutely no interest. Firstly, I wasn’t a big fan of multi-level-marketing (also called “referral based marketing” or “direct sales.”) If you have been unwillingly added to a Facebook group for false eyelashes or Jamberry nails you know what these are. They are also why I held off on trying essential oils, which have been co-opted as the new Tupperware party. But when I actually liked essential oils, I was forced to become a link in the sales chain to get them at a reasonable price.
Then my friend showed me her six-pack. And her biceps. Defined without making any changes to her relatively mild workout routine.
Look – I like my body. And I work out hard to look and feel fit. But I have to admit, my belly bothers me. I have birthed two children and I rarely turn down ice cream. I can’t wear an empire waist without being asked when I am due. Maybe I did need some amino acids in my life?
I had been toying with the idea of increasing my protein intake and incorporating some shakes into my diet, so it didn’t seem too crazy to buy $150 worth of pills. I was also hopped up on Spark at the time.
Spark is hallmark of Advocare, a drink that I would describe as a cocktail of Red Bull, Adderall, and Kool-Aid. It will make you want to organize your closets and pull a truck down the street with your teeth.
That said, I was not willing to add it to my diet. It contains sucralose (aka Splenda), artificial flavoring, and a shit ton of caffeine. (Update 2018: They now have a stevia version of Spark without the artificial colors and flavors. It doesn’t taste as good but it makes me feel less guilty).
I will not be replacing black coffee with Spark, but I will sneak one once in a blue moon when I need to stay up past 10.
What was I willing to do?
The initial 10-day-cleanse includes Catalyst (amino-acid supplements), a probiotic and herbal cleanse, a fiber drink, Omega-3 fatty acids, and Muscle Gain protein powder. The plan recommends incorporating much more protein into your diet and cutting significantly back on carbohydrates, as well as eating every 2-3 hours. These suggestions were not completely foreign so I was willing to give them a try – within reason.
I take a before selfie in the mirror wearing only underwear and sext it to my friend. I also use some kind of electric bodyfat monitor at my gym, which tells me I am 31.9% bodyfat – one/tenth of a point away from “obese.” I’m not buying the accuracy on this thing, but at least I can use it as some kind of baseline.
As I mentioned, I was not willing to replace coffee with Spark. So black coffee was still on the table for me. The downside of no Spark was drinking the fiber with nothing but water, which wasn’t my favorite thing. But once I tried simply adding it to my protein shake, it was fine.
I try the Muscle Gain protein powder and immediately my mouth began to tingle and my throat felt itchy. I had never experienced an allergic reaction to food before apart from one month prior when I ate a whey protein bar. I quickly realize I likely have a random whey allergy, and replace Muscle Gain with Orgain Organic Plant-Based Protein Powder.
For the rest of the day I eat a tremendous amount of turkey and vegetables, which is not problematic. I was hesitant to take the Herbal Cleanse pills before bed, insisting that I was not interested in a laxative, but my friend insisted that it would be “gentle and uneventful.”
I wake suddenly at 12:30 a.m. with severe abdominal cramps and lay awake half the night in the fetal position. My friend insists that this is not a bad thing – my body is simply ridding itself of toxins. I go through a pound of organic hemp seeds a week and should by stock in kale. How toxic could I possibly be?
I will no longer be taking Herbal Cleanse.
I continue with the plan on the second day, forcing down the fiber drink. I continue to feel low level nausea, stomach cramps, and general malaise throughout the day.
I go to dinner with friends who all order dessert and actually don’t feel particularly tempted, which I suppose is a good thing.
By day eight I am actually starting to see a difference. My belly feels a bit flatter, the scale has gone down a bit, and, most importantly, I finally feel some increase in my strength at the gym. Maybe I’m just having a good day, but I feel like I am killing those wall balls and double unders.
I believe I am finally getting results from my change in diet and supplements – as I should. Adding protein and decreasing sugar and carbs is not revolutionary – it’s a time-tested weight loss and muscle gain program. In fact, I really should have tried it sooner and will credit Advocare (and my friend who sells it) for giving me the kick in the ass I needed. But Advocare did not invent the core ideas of this program – it just monetized and promoted them. Which is good and bad.
I thought I was finished after the ten-day-cleanse but my friend informs me that I have actually moved on to level two – the “Max Phase,” which sounds frightening. But it’s pretty much just vitamins and supplements that don’t cause me any adverse effects. Many people continue to use these as their daily multivitamins – but it is a lot of pills.
I continue to explore the Advocare product line and I’m bothered by some of the product ingredient profiles. CitriZinc is an immune system booster similar to Cold-EEZE (and its more natural counterparts). For $21-$35, depending on your place in the pyramid, you get 60 Starbursts laced with vitamin C. Think I’m kidding? The first three ingredients are sugar, corn syrup, and palm oil.
Stuff like “LeptiLean” and “Fibo-Trim” which promise to control appetite and limit fat absorption just seem wrong. I’m not a fan of anything that promises “block fat” or fill you up by making you bloated on crustacean shells. It’s just too close to something I’d see in an infomercial, like Lipozene. There are no clinical studies to say these things work, and I would be shocked if they didn’t reek havoc on your digestive system.
As for the supplements I like, they can be found at equal or better quality and lower prices. The OmegaPlex capsules are basically fish oil capsules, which you can buy significantly cheaper just about anywhere.
Advocare Catalyst costs $31.50 retail for 30 servings of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA). If you are an Advocare distributor, you can get from 20-25% off so that is $23.70. If you are superstar seller (advisor) and get at least 10 friends buying Advocare, you get 40% off, so that’s $18.90 at the absolute best.
NOW Foods Amino Complete Supplements are $19.35 on Amazon (less if you “Subscribe and Save”) and contain 90 servings (360 pills with a 4 pill serving). So even at Advocare’s best possible price, you are spending 3 times more on quality BCAA alone.
Look, I am all for anything that helps people to get in better shape. And Advocare may be a great program for people who need a kick start. The basic principals of cutting back on sugar, carbs, and alcohol; adding lean protein; incorporating omegas and BCAA, and making fitness a priority are something anyone can and should embrace.
I believe Advocare’s supplements are better than some on the market – but not the best. There is simply too much artificial junk and filler for me to fully support the brand.
NOTE: I cheated a handful of times – one vodka drink, three slices of pizza, a couple mini cupcakes, a scoop of gelato, and a handful of granola here and there. I probably stayed true to about 95% of the diet.
Weight: I go from 142.6 to 141.2 – a one pound, four ounce difference. This is unremarkable, but I realize I am building muscle and the scale is an unreliable measurement.
Fat Monitor: The handheld monitor drops from 31.9 to 31.3. Again, doesn’t seem like a lot and still does not paint me as a woman who does CrossFit and its psycho hybrid “Intensity” 4-5 days a week. But at least it didn’t go up.
The Visuals: In the name of science, here are some photos of me in my underwear. Here is where we actually see some evidence that I was doing something right:
My tan may be fading but I am definitely articulating my abdominal muscles – and I am not even sucking in. There will forever be evidence that I birthed two children and have reached the metabolism tipping point, but I would feel much more confident in a bikini. Which is great timing – only 8 months til Memorial Day!
Would I recommend Advocare to a friend? Maybe. If someone is looking for a jumpstart to a healthy lifestyle it can be a good prescriptive routine. But if you understand the basic principles, you can probably get better quality products at a cheaper price. My plan is to stick to the principals of the diet and continue to drink protein shakes and take Branched Chain Amino Acids and Omega supplements. Still want to try Advocare? Contact my friend – she is a great coach!
p.s. Here are a few great products I’ve found as high protein, lower carb substitutes:
Stonyfield Organic Protein Smoothee – a great sub for a protein shake on the go. But you might have to fight your kids for them.
Nutritional Yeast: Subs well for parmesan cheese. I said “well” not “amazing.”
thinkThin Protein Nut Bar: These are not organic but they are non-GMO. The best high protein/low sugar snack bars I have found. Also great when kept in the freezer.
Zucchini Noodles made with a spiralizer – Subs well, for, um, noodles
Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts: I love these high protein suckers and use them in everything, from smoothies to oatmeal.
Note: I am not a doctor or a certified nutritionist. As always, I am just giving my honest opinion. No one paid me to write this or gave me anything for free. However, I have included Amazon affiliate links within to products I would personally recommend. Read my full disclosure here.