BioSteel and the Placebo Effect



Luke Schenn wants you to drink Bio Steel.

Bio Steel has released a line of supplements because, in the words of Dwight Schrute: “You need to fuel like a winner!” Their High Performance Sports Drink promises to:

  • Improve your power and endurance
  • Increase your energy and focus without the use of harmful stimulants
  • Enhance your body composition with decreased body fat and increased lean muscle mass

Sounds pretty good right? But does this sugar water* actually do anything? Well, that depends on your expectations.

The Power of the Placebo Effect 

A study demonstrated the presence of a placebo effect in the ability of energy drinks to increase performance in a series of mental and physical exercises. Researchers Baba  Shiv, Ziv Carmon, and Dan Ariely wanted to know whether “consuming an energy drink that is purchased at a discount lead not only to judgments of lower quality or to a less favorable consumption experience but also to diminished performance in, for example, a cardiovascular workout or a puzzle-solving task?” They took their clipboards and some energy drinks to a local gym to find out.

The study included 38 people who exercised regularly, at least three times a week. The participants consumed Twinlab Ultra Fuel before and during a workout session. Before they did, “participants were shown the list of its ingredients”. They wanted to see whether the price paid for the drink would affect its ability to improve performance. So, “one group of participants was told that we purchased the drink at the regular price of $2.89; another group was told that the regular price of the drink was $2.89 but that we had purchased it at a discounted price of $.89”. They were asked to rate “the intensity of their workout on a scale that ranged from –3(“not at all intense”) to +3 (“very intense”) and how fatigued they felt on a scale that ranged from 1 (“not at all”) to 7 (“very”).” So, did the price paid for the Twinlab influence the perceived intensity of the workouts?

According to the study, “participants in the reduced-price condition rated their workout intensity as lower than did those in the regular-price condition, and participants in the reduced-price condition indicated that they were more fatigued than did those in the regular-price condition.” Incredibly, our expectations of a product, based on the price, can influence its perceived effectiveness.

So the fact that NHL Players endorse this product would influence consumer’s subjective evaluation of the product and may actually increase its effectiveness.    

  1. Placebo Effects of Marketing Actions: Consumers May Get What They Pay For

    * I have been informed that Bio Steel contains no sugar. 


  • RexLibris

    While I fully recognize and understand the concept of the placebo effect, there is one exception to that phenomenon that always strikes me as being odd: that is, the price of arena beer relative to it’s oft-cited weakness and bad taste. An example of an inverted effect of the experiment you just mentioned might be hockey tickets: when leaving a game, no matter the outcome, the free tickets always seem like a better deal. Especially for a Leafs, Sens, or Oilers fan like myself.