Athletic Greens Review: Are Green Powders a Waste of Money?
Athletic Greens, now called “AG1”, is a greens powder supplement that has been advertised as the “healthiest drink on the planet.” But does Athletic Greens live up to its promises? Or are greens powders a waste of money? In this Athletic Greens review, I’ll go through the (supposed) benefits of Athletic Greens and greens powders in general to help you decide if they are or not.
What is Athletic Greens?
First things first: what is Athletic Greens exactly?
Athletic Greens and other greens powders are daily supplements that contain a blend of dried and powdered ingredients. The exact ingredients vary greatly by brand, but they often include vegetable and fruit powders, probiotics and digestive enzymes, and added vitamins and minerals. For Athletic Greens specifically, you’re instructed to mix this green powder with cold water and drink it every morning, on an empty stomach to “boost your day.”
Athletic Greens Nutrition Facts
One serving (one scoop) of Athletic Greens provides 50 calories, 6 grams total carbohydrate, 2 grams fiber, and 2 grams protein. This is similar to the nutrition facts of other greens powders on the market.
Athletic Greens Ingredients
Athletic Greens is unique in that it boasts a whopping 75 ingredients, at least double that of many other greens powders on the market (although some do come pretty close). These ingredients include fruit and vegetable powders and extracts, herbs and adaptogens, and probiotics and digestive enzymes, which they’ve divided into four groups:
- Alkaline, Nutrient-Dense Raw Superfood Complex
- Nutrient Dense Extracts, Herbs & Antioxidants
- Digestive Enzyme & Super Mushroom Complex
- Dairy Free Probiotics
And although the food powders provide some amount of various vitamins and minerals on their own, Athletic Greens has also added nearly 30 vitamins and minerals to their supplement.
At first glance, Athletic Greens seems to be the ultimate package. It offers quite a lot for very little calories, and words used to describe their ingredient blends, like “alkalizing”, “antioxidants” and “super mushroom”, are pretty intriguing.
Although Athletic Greens promotes their 75 ingredient formula as a good thing, I’m of the belief that less is more when it comes to greens powders. It’s probably more beneficial and effective to get higher doses of fewer ingredients than teeny tiny, non-efficacious doses of numerous things.
And since many of the ingredients in Athletic Greens are grouped on the nutrition facts label in those four groups or “complexes” (sneaky way of saying proprietary blends), we don’t know how much of each ingredient you’re actually getting.
For example, some research, although limited, suggests that spirulina—a blue-green algae that is listed as an ingredient under the “Alkaline, Nutrient-Dense Raw Superfood Complex”—could have favorable effects on blood lipids (i.e. cholesterol and triglycerides) when supplemented at 2 to 8 grams per day. Are you getting a dose of spirulina within that range in one serving of Athletic Greens? I can’t say for certain, but if one serving (one scoop) weighs 12 grams total and there are 75 ingredients in this product, I’m thinking it’s unlikely.
As a registered dietitian, I am all about enjoying the foods and drinks that support optimal health and make you feel your best. That said, I consider it my job to prevent you from falling victim to the latest and greatest food and nutrition fads. So, is Athletic Greens worth it or too good to be true?
In order to provide you with the most comprehensive Athletic Greens review, let’s dive into the science (or lack thereof) on Athletic Greens and greens powder in general.
Are There Benefits of Athletic Greens?
The website states the (supposed) benefits of Athletic Greens include boosting energy, helping recovery, aiding digestion, and supporting immunity. Many other greens powders promote similar benefits, in addition to also “alkalizing” and “detoxifying” the body and supporting weight loss.
Here’s the thing, there isn’t much research on greens powders, and, of the little research there is, most of the studies are small and/or poorly conducted and are funded by the manufacturer of the greens powder being studied (like this study, this study, and this study). So, take their positive results with a grain of salt.
There are no studies on the Athletic Greens product. The benefits mentioned on their website are based on science pertaining to individual ingredients included in the formula (e.g., vitamin C is one of their ingredients and is well known for its role in immune health) and anecdotal evidence from customers. Keep this in mind I as I discuss each “benefit”.
Is Athletic Greens “Alkalizing”?
The whole concept of an “alkaline diet” is based on an unsubstantiated theory that consuming acid-forming foods can tip the body’s pH level out of balance and lead to disease.
Your body has mechanisms in place that tightly regulate blood pH levels. So, no, drinking that greens powders with its “alkaline superfood complex” won’t affect your blood pH… nor should you want it to!
Does Athletic Greens Support Immunity?
Some greens powders, like Athletic Greens, contain added vitamins and minerals associated with supporting a healthy immune system, like vitamin C, zinc, and selenium.
While I’m not against including an immune-supporting supplement in your routine during cold and flu season (in fact, I do so myself), greens powders aren’t your best or only (or cheapest) option here.
And although Athletic Greens does add nearly 30 vitamins and minerals to their greens powder, this doesn’t include one of the key vitamins in immune health, vitamin D!
Want to learn more about vitamin D? Check out Vitamin D 101 – Your Mini Guide to Vitamin D for the full scoop.
Will Taking Athletic Greens Aid Digestion and Improve Bloat?
Let me start by saying that for some individuals with digestive issues, drinking Athletic Greens or other greens powders can make symptoms like bloating worse (see Athletic Greens side effects section below).
For the customers who do report improved digestion and feeling less bloated while consuming a greens powder, it’s likely due to a combination of factors. Remember, many greens powders, like Athletic Greens, add probiotics and digestive enzymes, which may aid digestion and improve symptoms like bloat, at least temporarily. (This is more of a bandaid than a cure for your digestive woes, and has little to do with the actual “greens” part of the green powder.)
But could this digestive benefit also have something to do with the fact that customers may be replacing their standard American diet-style, sugar- and/or fat-heavy breakfast with a serving of this mixed into a tall glass of H2O every day? No wonder they feel a little less bloated!
Ultimately, one of the most effective things you can do to support a healthy and well-functioning digestive system and gut microbiome is to get adequate fiber intake. Unfortunately, these powders provide little fiber, even when they add fiber sources back in. Certainly, nowhere near what the 2 to 5+ servings of fruits and vegetables some of these greens powders claim to provide would contain.
Psst… If you’re looking for easy ways to up your fiber intake without a supplement, check out my 10 Easy Ways to Sneak Fiber Into Your Diet post!
Can Athletic Greens Help You Lose Weight?
Athletic Greens is a low-calorie drink mix at 50 calories per serving. So, safe to say it probably won’t make you gain weight or prevent you from losing weight.
But there’s no evidence to support that Athletic Greens, or any greens powder for that matter, will help you shed pounds. Unless, of course, you replace your usual bacon, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich with a glass of greens powder and don’t make up for those calories later on…
Will Athletic Greens Give You a Boost of Energy?
Some greens powders, like Athletic Greens, contain added vitamins necessary for energy production on the cellular level. For example, B vitamins are well-known for their role in energy metabolism. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get a significant energy boost from supplementing with these vitamins, unless you’re deficient in them.
What else might explain the plethora of “gave me an energy boost” reviews on greens powder products on Amazon? Well, I hate to sound like a broken record here, but maybe customers are substituting greens powder for their typical energy-zapping breakfast?
Are you seeing the pattern? I’m not denying that the ingredients in these greens powders can produce noticeable, positive health effects, especially when you first start taking them. But could these effects also have to do with what the greens powder displaced in the diet? And could this one habit that makes you feel like you’re starting your day on a healthy note cause you to subconsciously make other health-promoting changes throughout your day? Like say, drink more water, exercise, enjoy a balanced lunch, etc? And wouldn’t all of that contribute to increased energy, as well as improved digestion, and even weight loss. Just a few thoughts this dietitian thinks you should consider…
Can Green Powders Replace Vegetables?
One of the claims that Athletic Greens makes is that their product provides the same antioxidant power as 12 servings of fruits and vegetables. Similarly, the Amazing Grass Greens Blend claims it provides 2 servings of fruits and veggies per scoop. I’ll get right to it. Unfortunately, greens powders are not a replacement for whole fruits and veggies, plain and simple.
These statements are essentially meaningless, especially when referring to “antioxidant power”. Although I’m not even sure how Athletic Greens measured the “antioxidant power” of their formula and came up with this statement, consider that more is not always more in nutrition. Consuming antioxidants in excess in the form of supplements can be harmful.
Plus, whole fruits and veggies contain more than just antioxidants; they contain fiber and other important micronutrients often lost in the processing of these powders. For example, one serving of Athletic Greens provides less fiber than just one serving of most fruits and vegetables. Put simply, a serving of Athletic Greens will not provide the nutritional benefits of 12 servings of real fruits and vegetables.
Athletic Greens Side Effects
Here are some of the negative side effects from taking greens powders that have been reported.
Although not super common, some folks who’ve tried greens powders, including Athletic Greens, have reported worsening digestive issues, including bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and stomachaches.
Heavy Metal Contamination
It’s important to note that the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements. Therefore, a big concern with these greens powders is potential contamination with heavy metals, like lead and arsenic. A review of greens powders done by ConsumerLab.com found that of the 10 greens powders they tested, one exceeded the limit for lead.
A big selling point for Athletic Greens is that they are NSF Certified, which means that an independent third party (NSF International) tests the product to ensure there are no unsafe levels of heavy metals and other contaminants. So, I will say kudos to Athletic Greens for incurring good manufacturing practices for their product.
Should You Take a Greens Powder?
Are greens powders worth it and should you invest in one? My answer is probably pretty obvious at this point. For most people, the answer is no. But look, I am by no means anti-supplement and even though greens powders cannot replace real fruits and vegetables, they’re also not devoid of good-for-you stuff, including some vitamins and minerals you might be missing.
So, if you’re going through one of those stressful, on-the-go, don’t-have-a-free-minute-to-myself periods (we’ve all been there) and despite your best efforts you feel you’re falling short on produce aka the real deal, incorporating a greens powder into your routine for some peace of mind (especially given the current climate) probably won’t hurt.
But don’t let it lull you into some false sense of security, leading you to believe it’s okay to skip the real stuff. You still have veggies to eat, and supplements are meant to supplement the diet, not replace food.
Athletic Greens Review: Bottom Line
On the one hand, greens powders are not a replacement for fruits and vegetables and are not a cure-all for your digestive woes, weight struggles, or any other health struggles. Any noticeable, albeit most likely temporary, improvements in bloat and energy levels are likely due to a combination of factors, some of which have little to do with the actual “greens” part of these greens powders.
On the other hand, third-party tested greens powders, like Athletic Greens, probably aren’t harmful. So, if you’re looking to supplement your diet for some peace of mind with the full intention of getting real fruits and veggies into the diet, I won’t stop you (although your wallet eventually will).
And I’ll leave you with this. We don’t have quality evidence to support the benefits (or lack thereof) of consuming greens powders. But you know what we do have? A HUGE body of evidence to support the plethora of health benefits that come from adequate and regular consumption of good ol’ ‘real’ fruits and veggies.
So, if you’re looking for easy, delicious, and affordable ways to get more fruits and veggies into your diet, please check out my book, The Plant-Forward Solution: Reboot Your Diet, Lose Weight & Build Lifelong Health by Eating More Plants & Less Meat. While I am not supposed to play favorites, the Glowing Green Soup recipe is not to be missed!