It often seems like every other podcast, Instagram ad in your feed, and banner ad on the side of a webpage has a spot for some sort of greens powder.
From Athletic Greens to Bloom, we seem to be flooded with calls to action to buy a do-it-all elixir in the form of some magical mix of greens, veggies, fruit extracts, algae, and superfood blends.
All of the ads and testimonials about Athletic Greens, Bloom, and other greens powders seem overwhelmingly positive, touting all sorts of potentially amazing benefits.
But, do these greens powders actually do anything?
Does Athletic Greens work?
Is there any evidence, or is the popularity and seemingly rave reviews all a matter of fantastic marketing and groupthink hype?
In this article, we will try to examine what is in Athletic Greens and other “superfoods” greens supplements – and whether there is actually any scientific evidence demonstrating that greens powders work, ultimately answering your question, does Athletic Greens work?
We will cover the following:
- What Is a Greens Powder?
- What Is In Athletic Greens and Other Greens Powders?
- Potential Benefits of Greens Powders
- Potential Drawbacks of Greens Powders
- Does Athletic Greens Work?
- Biased Reviews? The Agency Problem
- How Green Powders Have Grown Through Aggressive Affiliate Marketing
Let’s jump in!
What Is a Greens Powder?
The term “greens powder“ or “superfood green juice powder“ is an umbrella term that describes a class of dietary supplements that is made from a mix of different green vegetables and algae such as spinach powder, spirulina powder, chlorella powder, kale powder, broccoli powder, and wheat grass powder.
Some of the greens powders also include other vegetables, fruit powders like cranberry and pomegranate powder, grains like buckwheat and quinoa, grasses, and other sea veggies.
The powders are formed by dehydrating the fruits, vegetables, greens, grasses, seeds, mushrooms, etc., and then pulverizing them into a fine powder.
There may also be “superfood powders and extracts“ such as adaptogens like lion’s mane mushroom and Chaga mushroom powder added to a greens powder, along with additional plant extracts, fibers, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and probiotics.
What Is In Athletic Greens and Other Greens Powders?
In order to effectively gauge whether greens powders like Athletic Greens actually work or does what it claims to do, we need to look at the ingredients and the nutrition facts.
Ultimately, given the wide variety of the specific ingredients that may be found in any of these green juice powders, it’s difficult to ascribe specific greens powder nutrition facts that will apply to every product on the market.
Further complicating the ability to accurately assess the benefits of Athletic Greens and other superfood greens drinks, touted as the “best greens powders,“ is that many of these products include “proprietary blends.”
“Proprietary Blend” = No Clear Ingredient List
A proprietary blend is a collection of ingredients unique to the manufacturing company but is often not labeled with the individual ingredients nor the amounts or concentrations of these ingredients.
A throughline that you will see with many of the health food greens powders is a lack of transparency in the labeling and the online marketing materials.
For example, Athletic Greens cornerstone formulation, also known as AG1, is said to contain 75 unique plant-based ingredients and nutrients, but it is nearly impossible to find the complete list of ingredients on the website without contacting the company.
Even once you hold the product in your hand after purchase, you will find that the different ingredients are grouped into categories such as “Adaptogens Blend“ and “Superfoods Blend” on the nutrition facts panel and ingredients label.
Although each of these different blends is said to confer a specific health benefit, without listing the specific ingredients and the total number of milligrams of the blend, there is no way to tell how much of each of the many ingredients that fall under the umbrella of that particular blend is contained within the product.
In other words, we don’t know how much spirulina powder is in the greens powder or how much lion’s mane mushroom powder you are actually getting.
It is entirely unclear how each of the ingredients is distributed within those blends in terms of concentration. This makes it impossible to really know exactly what you are putting in your body.
Also, you will be unable to make a reasonable estimation as to the amount of a particular antioxidant, polyphenol, or functional ingredient you are getting per serving of Athletic Greens powder (or many other competitors in the greens juice powder market).
It also means that the ‘Proprietary Blend’ recipe could change over time, and the consumer wouldn’t know what they’re ingesting has changed.
Potential Benefits of Greens Powders
The manufacturers may make claims about the potential benefits of greens powder supplements, and the video reels that pop up on your Instagram feed and podcast ad spots certainly paint some of these products as a nutritional panacea.
Despite a lack of evidence that can conclusively back some of these claims about greens powders’ benefits (which admittedly is highly problematic and potentially very misleading to consumers), many of these products do likely offer some health benefits, in theory.
However, when there is a lack of transparency in the labeling of greens powders, it is impossible to conclusively determine the specific health benefits of greens juice powders.
Here are some of the potential benefits of taking a greens superfood powder supplement (links are to supporting studies):
- Providing antioxidants and polyphenols.
- Increasing levels of vitamin C and vitamin E in the body (two potent antioxidants).
- Improving markers of inflammation and oxidative stress, such as decreasing tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-ɑ) and oxidized low-density lipoprotein (LDL).
- Increasing the bioavailability of certain nutrients, such as carotenoids, lycopene, and lutein, along with vitamins such as C, E, and folate, due to the powdered form rather than whole vegetable form.
- Improving blood glucose control and improving insulin sensitivity, which can be helpful for those with type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes.
- Providing vitamins and minerals.
Potential Drawbacks of Greens Powders
We tend to think that all herbal compounds and natural supplements are healthy, but there is a lack of research capping safe limits or demonstrating effectiveness and safety for every herb that is used.
Even greens powders that undergo highly-regulated testing for purity and quality, such as Athletic Greens, are not necessarily effective.
Purity and clean manufacturing processes do not guarantee effectiveness.
Furthermore, the more ingredients your greens powder supplement includes, the more likely there will be drug interactions with other medications you may be taking.
Latest Studies Suggest Limited Benefits – And Potential Issues For Some Consumers
Overall, a trend with the most popular greens powders is that the product descriptions and marketing ads tend to overpromise and – according to the latest studies – seem to under-deliver on the benefits.
And introduce some new risks to some consumers.
#1: Minimal To No Improvement In Antioxidant Levels
For example, while certain antioxidant levels (such as vitamin C and vitamin E) have been shown to improve with powdered vegetable and fruit supplements, plenty of studies have found that there is no improvement in antioxidant levels between the treatment group taking a greens powder or vegetable powder supplement relative to the placebo group.
Furthermore, studies have found that there is rarely if ever, an improvement in total antioxidant capacity from greens powders.
This is important because your total antioxidant load has more significant real-life functional implications for your ability to protect against oxidative damage, lipid oxidation, and DNA oxidation.
#2: Limited Improvement In Gut Health
One purported benefit of greens powders is improved digestive health and regularity.
Many of the most popular greens powders include digestive enzymes and probiotics and are thus marketed as supporting gut health.
There is very limited evidence about the effectiveness of taking digestive enzymes to aid digestion aside from lactase for individuals with lactose intolerance.
Furthermore, the efficacy of probiotic supplements is almost entirely dependent on the particular strains of bacteria used and the coating on the supplement.
Many probiotics are ineffective because the live bacteria are unable to survive the harsh digestive process and acidic environment of the stomach to actually be viable in your gut.
It is unlikely that greens powders with probiotics actually do anything in terms of populating your gut with healthy bacteria because the powdered form of the supplement leaves the fragile bacteria completely vulnerable to degradation before reaching your gut.
Probiotic studies have found that in most cases, probiotics need to be enterically-coated in order for the beneficial bacteria to survive the acidic environment of your stomach to reach the small intestines where they would take effect.
#3: Little Impact on Athletic Performance and Recovery
A large review of studies that investigated the effects of polyphenol-rich foods, juices, and concentrates (such as greens powders) on workout recovery and muscle damage found that these superfood supplements did not yield any notable impact on biomarkers of inflammation or muscle damage.
However, the authors of this meta-analysis noted that almost all of the studies were of poor quality with significant bias in the research methods (vested interest in demonstrating positive findings, poor study design, etc.).
Another review looking at the effect of greens powders and smaller polyphenol supplements found that there was no evidence to suggest the greens powders would improve athletic performance.
The conclusion in the discussion was that there is no benefit in recommending greens powders as performance or health aids to athletes.
#4: Prescription Drug Interactions
While you could say that it is undoubtedly a financial risk to buy expensive greens supplements that are really not offering much, if any, health benefits, there is the more serious potential risk of greens powders, which is interactions with prescription drugs.
It is estimated that 20 to 25% of adults in the United States take at least one prescription medication.
There is a plethora of scientific evidence that has found that certain herbs and “natural supplements“ interfere with the bioactivity, absorption, or excretion of prescription drugs.
It is imperative that you speak with your doctor and pharmacist before taking a greens powder supplement if you are indeed on medications for a health condition to prevent serious drug interactions.
Biased Reviews? The Agency Problem
“Never ask a barber if you need a haircut,” goes the adage that sums up the Agency problem.
“Never ask an online personality if you need a daily green powder,” may be a useful misquote to bear in mind.
The marketing strategies for greens powders are aggressive.
Athletic Greens relies heavily on podcast ad spots for marketing, flooding the podcast space, particularly with sports, health and fitness, and society and culture podcasts.
For example, according to Inside Radio, AG1 spent more than $2.7 million in March 2022 alone, spending more on podcasts than every company other than Better Help.
According to the Social Standard, Athletic Greens partners with some of the most popular podcasts – some shows have a reach of 11 million listeners per episode.
The company also appears regularly on self-improvement podcasts; shows whose audiences are hooked on finding the next optimization tool or smart drug.
The marketing strategy for AG1 seems to be all about high volume.
The more shows the green powder brand can sponsor, and the more frequently the ads are run, the more interactions potential customers will have, whether consciously or subconsciously, with the brand, which will ultimately translate (hopefully) to conversions.
For example, in December 2022, Athletic Greens advertised on 352 different podcasts in a single month, many times repeating ads on each episode of the show.
In fact, the company behind Athletic Greens discovered that the new marketing dollars invested into partnering with podcast sponsorships were so profitable that they launched their own podcast, Inspiring Lives, which focuses on performance mindset, entrepreneurship, fitness, and nutrition.
Growth Through Aggressive Affiliate Marketing
The important thing to keep in mind with Athletic Greens’ influencers and affiliates is that these partnerships offer something for the influencer or podcaster on the other side.
Athletic Greens affiliate programs offer a 30% commission on sales for their publishing and influencer partners.
This is much higher than typical affiliate commissions, which may provide additional motivation for some brands to prioritise AG1 over similar products.
This is to say that most of the other greens powders are offering 5, 10, or even 15% commission (which is still considered good rates in the affiliate world).
Plus, Athletic Greens has a premium price point, higher than some of the other top greens powders like the viral TikTok green powder Bloom.
A quick look at the math: with a hefty $79-per-month subscription fee for Athletic Greens, a referring affiliate makes $23.70 per month per customer.
In preparing this piece, we crawled through dozens of “Athletic Greens Review” articles and videos, and while they all recommend you to try the product (and usually offer an enticing affiliate link), most will shy away from actually stating objective benefits.
Does Athletic Greens Work?
None of this is to say that greens powders are all entirely hype and cannot provide any benefits to your health.
The real takeaway here is to be a mindful consumer with realistic expectations for the benefits of greens powders, the potential drawbacks, and the lack of transparency both on the product side in terms of labeling and on the reviewer side in terms of any potential financial incentives.
Again, the specific health benefits of the specific powder are contingent upon the ingredients in the product and the concentration and dosage of said ingredients.
My Experience With Athletic Greens
In full disclosure, I have personally tried Athletic Greens, and I must admit that compared to the 3 or 4 other greens powders I have tried, I do find that this product is more palatable in terms of taste.
I was a subscriber from January to April this year, and I actually enjoyed having it upon waking and found it thirst-quenching and refreshing – more so than my regular glass of water.
But did it have any further tangible benefits?
None that I can confidently state.
There was something psychologically-pleasing about having a health drink first thing in the morning – it made me feel like a healthy person who had good habits.
And spending close to 100 Euros each month on something definitely makes it feel like ‘it must be doing something’.
(I’ve since learned that there’s a well-known psychological placebo effect where the more expensive a drug is, the more effective a patient reports it to have been).
However, pleasant placebos aside,I still have reservations about the price point, lack of clarity on the ingredients list, and the fact that these products often seem touted as an elixir for nutritional gaps or health problems when in reality, you can’t outdrink a poor diet with one expensive serving of greens powders per day.
What do you think? Do you think Athletic Greens works?
Are the rave reviews largely financially-incentivized, or are these influencers actually experiencing tangible health benefits from these products?
Or, is it all a big groupthink exercise – where enough big names endorse it, so it must be effective?
And if you are looking to eat healthier in general, take a look at our healthy diet guides here.