The unofficial history of sports supplements in the USA - Part II
Originally published by Testosterone.net (2001)
By Garrison Kane
In Part I of this series, we traced the development of how supplements were designed and marketed. Since their very conception, supplements have always provided a pseudo panacea for virtually every health-related problem. Fatigue, slow muscle growth, even impotence can supposedly be cured with natural substances attempting to simulate the effects of drugs through "natural" pathways. Although it's true that various nutrients and herbal compounds have been proven to be quite effective, there was a period circa the early 1990s when the distinction between "natural" and "chemical" became blurred.
Is it wired, or is it Met-Rx?
In many ways, the supplement industry can be divided into two eras. There was the time before Met-Rx, and the time afterward. Strange that a simple protein shake could cause such a stir. Interesting, also, is that drinks of this sort are referred to as MRPs (meal replacement powders). Yet, in the wake of some people getting sick from attempting weight loss by living solely on similar "meals in a can" like SlimFast (a company that Scott Connelly had allegedly worked for, coincidentally), supplement manufacturers were mandated to post a disclaimer on their products which stated that "this product should not be used for weight reduction." Pretty silly, since that was most often the "purpose" of the product.
What was it about Met-Rx that made it so popular? Well, brilliant (and aggressive) marketing, for one thing. But if you talk to some people who remember Met-Rx when it came in two separate canisters, there's a common thread among those who experimented with that esoteric concoction. The consensus may best be summed up by nutritional expert and author Jerry Brainum:
"I don't know what it was about that first batch of Met-Rx. I can't prove or disprove it, but when I started taking it, I was losing fat like crazy. I developed insomnia. My appetite went way down. I've never done an analysis on it, so I can't tell you what was in it, but I never got that same kick once they went to the current packaging."
Jerry isn't alone. Dozens of bodybuilders who tried the original Met-Rx concur. A rumor began circulating that a small dose of Clenbuterol was added to those original canisters. It's even been said that the president of one of the large supplement companies has a yellowing lab report hidden in his files — one proving that Met-Rx did, indeed, contain a little extra surprise.
Selling ice to the Eskimos
One of the men behind the marketing of Met-Rx was James Bradshaw, and he disagrees with that alleged lab report:
"It wouldn't make sense to add Clen. Anavar would be a better choice. I know stuff like that's been done, but you're asking for jail time when you try that."
Bradshaw, in many ways, was the "brains" behind the promotion of Met-Rx and, later, EAS products. As he puts it:
"I wrote virtually every piece of copy for the Met-Rx and early EAS ads."
It was Bradshaw who convinced Bill Phillips to tout Met-Rx in the "Natural Supplement Review" as the greatest discovery since the invention of the light bulb. He then suggested to Phillips to forget about selling the book and to just "give" it away to readers of Muscle Media 2000 (complete with ready-to-mail order forms). In this way, the consumer feels "privileged" while, simultaneously, tremendous advertising for Met-Rx was achieved. It also provided the company with addresses of potential buyers. The plan could not have worked any better. Sales soared through the roof! Bradshaw had reinvented the art of marketing, and he, along with original investors Bill Phillips, Jeff Everson, and Scott Connelly, got very, very rich.
A "solitary" perspective
What's especially interesting is where Bradshaw studied and honed his salesmanship skills: in prison. James Bradshaw was, at one time, one of the most successful steroid dealers on the West Coast. At its peak, he had a mail-order business that was grossing $400,000 a month! Not bad for a kid barely out of college. Nevertheless, Bradshaw's escapades landed him in a Louisiana jail cell for four years. He used the time shrewdly. While he was incarcerated, he read everything he could get his hands on concerning business management, merchandising, and marketing. It paid off nicely.
Bradshaw now heads the advertising department for the SoCal product line that's featured in Pump magazine. Anyone who's familiar with Pump will attest to the fact that Bradshaw's selling tactics haven't mellowed. The promotion is so "over the top" in terms of shoving the pitches down the readers' throats that it appears to be almost a parody of the "hard sell." Yet, to newcomers of the sport, it's all new to them and, thus, quite effective. Bradshaw knows what he's doing. Dan Duchaine describes the Bradshaw style thusly:
"James worked briefly at Ironman, but they thought his advertising methods were completely reprehensible. What's funny is that now Ironman is using those very same methods, and it turned the magazine around. Ironman used to have scruples, but they abandoned them, and now they're doing very well thanks to what James Bradshaw and John Cribbs [Bradshaw's business partner at SoCal] taught them. The new designers over at Ironman even went as far as to claim that Muscle-Linc protein was the same as the original BLAIR protein, but they were forced to stop making that claim. Bradshaw is a guy who knows how to reach certain people. He writes in a very unsophisticated way — almost 'cartoonish.' But it appeals to the gym-rat type."
There's a whole new generation of would-be bodybuilders to which Bradshaw's tactics are being geared. And they're working. James Bradshaw now makes comparable money to what he made when he was selling steroids, only now he's selling supplements. Dan Duchaine addressed that point, as well:
"It makes sense that so many drug dealers would make good supplement manufacturers. Running steroids was a business, and it required great business skills. They also knew their market. We never thought we'd make even more money selling legal supplements than we did selling black market drugs!"
Not faster than a speeding police car
Bradshaw isn't the only supplement manufacturer with a tainted past. Olympic track star and silver medal winner David Jenkins, who now heads Next Nutrition (makers of Designer Protein), also spent a year in jail on steroid-related charges. The people at Next Nutrition refused to discuss the events leading to Jenkins' incarceration. I wouldn't be surprised if most of the staff is unaware of it.
Editor's note: Being an ex-steroid dealer isn't, in itself, tantamount to being an immoral businessman. Despite his prior conviction, Jenkins appears to run his business on the up-and-up.
A "boner" fide reaction
Another product that has been shrouded in mystique is the original EndoPro, developed by a research and development engineer by the name of Fred Worthy for a small company called Atlas Labs. Most bodybuilders familiar with the original EndoPro will attest that it had something in it that wasn't listed on the label. Many people thought that it was either clomid or cyclofenil, since it had a very noticeable testosterone- and libido-enhancing effect. Dan Duchaine agrees with the cyclofenil theory:
"Fred Worthy was a big steroid dealer with a lot of connections in Mexico, which is where he developed the original EndoPro."
In recent years, Worthy has suggested that EndoPro still has a "magic" ingredient. He has gone on record as saying that EndoPro does contain a "drug," but he would not say what the drug was. Of course, EndoPro does, indeed, contain a drug. It's called aspirin. None of the "newer" bottles have tested positive for anything else but. Of course, the "surge" that was felt when using the original prototype is gone, as well.
One may ask:
"Why add an illicit substance to a supplement just to remove it?"
The reason is simple. Adding a "kicker" to a new product will often start a "word of mouth" endorsement of it. Once the product is established, it can live off of its popularity long enough for all parties involved to make a handsome profit.
Deca, dianabol, and death threats
Although most Testosterone readers are well aware that much of the bodybuilding world is far from the squeaky clean image that the commercial muscle magazines have tried to portray of late, it's a terrible shame that something so magnificent has to foster its share of deviants, drug abusers, and general lowlifes. Unscrupulous manufacturers may permeate the industry, but there are other individuals involved who are far more menacing. There have been cases where the "major players" in the field have associated with some extremely unsavory characters. Few people are more aware of this on a firsthand basis than Greg Zulak. Greg is one of staff writers for MuscleMag International. He spoke to us about why so many ex-felons went on to be supplement dealers:
"The drug dealers were the ones who had enough money to start these supplement companies. They were all amateur chemists, too, so they had a better understanding of what would be an effective product — more so than most doctors or dieticians. Each of the 'players' were assigned a territory. It was like an organized crime mob designating who can do business and where. Things started getting pretty nasty after a while. Guys were getting nabbed. Some were ratting others out...one guy wound up with a bullet in his head. Back in '89, I wrote some articles about this and mentioned names — only first names, but that was enough. I had four guys pay me a visit and tell me, 'You're a dead man, Zulak. We won't get you this week, but we'll get you!' I heard through the grapevine that there was an ongoing contract out on my life. I was afraid to leave the house or start my car. I couldn't eat or sleep. That entire year of my life was a nightmare."
Whether Zulie's experiences are true or not is anybody's guess. Regardless, Zulie goes on to say:
"I understand that Christina Robella was doing an expos? for the TV show 'Nightline' about [a certain major supplement manufacturer's] past. There were accusations that he had been involved in that scene, but it's never been proven. He not only was involved in selling drugs, but he was one of the first suppliers to sell 'fakes.' He did it in order to make enough money to set himself up in business. I don't know what happened with that story, but it never ran."
Every man for himself
So what became of the famed alliance between entrepreneur extraordinaire Bill Phillips and the creator of Met-Rx, ex-anesthesiologist Scott Connelly? One would think, since their mutual prosperity would not have been possible without the other, that there should be no reason for animosity. But, as James Bradshaw himself puts it:
"When the company started out, none of us had any inkling of how successful it would be. When a company is young, everybody is friendly. Then the money starts coming in, and the arguments start."
Phillips and Connelly had an agreement that, in order for Met-Rx to remain "exclusive" and in an effort to control its distribution, they would not sell it to retail outlets. It isn't certain who reneged on that agreement, but within a matter of months, Met-Rx was available everywhere and anywhere — from supermarkets to K-Marts, thus devaluing its worth. After all, if an athlete can pick up a product at K-Mart, it's no longer very exclusive, and it's certainly no longer a "secret weapon."
Phillips and Connelly went their separate ways, and Phillips was legally bound never to mention the product by name. Apparently, this divergence was no great loss to Phillips. The Met-Rx "mania" had run its course, and Phillips' line of EAS meal replacements still enjoy popularity, waning though it might be.
I am not a crook!
The infamous statement "I feel like I'm on Deca!" was penned by EAS mogul Bill Phillips in an effort to describe the effects of HMB. It's become somewhat of a "catch phrase" to describe all claims concerning ineffective supplements. If it were possible to pinpoint a moment when Muscle Media 2000 went from being the forerunner of bodybuilding's future to a shameless scam, far worse than the Weiders or the Hoffmans ever concocted, it would be when Phillips allowed that statement to go to print. What made those words especially egregious was the fact that all the loyal devotees to Bill, EAS, and MM2K wholeheartedly believed it. Bill was our guy — a beacon of light among the dim mire of the supplement industry's shady precedent. There couldn't possibly be any reason for Phillips to use deception. After all, he had become a wealthy man by exposing deception!
When HMB proved to be completely worthless as an anabolic agent, the bodybuilding community expected Phillips to admit his mistake and make retribution. But none came. Much like Bill Clinton pointing his finger at the nation and declaring his innocence, Bill Phillips adamantly stood by his claim of HMB's effectiveness, even though everyone knew that he was lying. And he knew that everyone knew he was lying — everyone who knew better, that is. The writing was on the wall. Bill Phillips committed the cardinal sin of capitalism. He abandoned the very same people who brought him his success. He was going for the broader, more mainstream client base, and it looked as if he'd do and say whatever was necessary in order to get it.
It was the end of an era — and the beginning of a more fervent skepticism towards supplement manufacturers. In some ways, this was a good thing. But even the highest-quality products produced by legitimate manufacturers were being accused of being rip-offs by a disgusted bodybuilding public that had been betrayed one too many times. Manufacturers were going to great lengths to prove the effectiveness of their products to a new breed of cynical consumers who were anxious to dismiss a supplement without even trying it. For other manufacturers, the scrutiny was more trouble than it was worth. It's easier to just do what's worked so well in the past: target the newcomer audience, make outrageous claims, take the money...and run.
That's where it stands today. In many ways, most of today's supplement hucksters are no different than the snake oil salesmen of the 19th century. It's all about pizzazz, promise, and presentation. We may think that we're sophisticated enough to see through the chicanery, but the supplement companies are always a step ahead. They know that today's public is far too educated to be suckered in by "buzz words" like "metabolic optimizers" or "anabolic activators." Instead, they use science, or what's perceived as science by an unsuspecting public. A case in point is the therapeutic index ratio of one protein to another. How many people really understand this? In the end, what does it really matter? It's just a high-tech way of saying "new and improved" when, in reality, it's the same old stuff dressed up in a spiffy new package.
It's sometimes difficult to determine the quality of a supplement. Price isn't always a factor. Bruce Kneller believes that some companies "overcharge" to give their product line prestige. L. Scott Chinery, the mastermind behind the Cybergenics line, knew all too well how effective that tactic could be. Cybergenics products costing up to $200 for what was little more than an inconsequential dosage of vitamins and minerals — with a few herbs thrown in as "window dressing" — sold in the thousands:
"Those 'before and after' shots in the old Cybergenics ads were totally bogus, but the company made millions selling that crap to an unsuspecting public. Even steroid users were repeat customers. They were convinced that the stuff must be good because it cost so much."
The supplements of a new millennium
After reading this report, some of you may begin to wonder if all supplements are little more than empty promises. The exact opposite is true. Testosterone elevation, increased mental acuity, enhanced immunity and recuperation from illness, accelerated fat loss, hormone manipulation, improved athletic performance, greater strength and speed, better overall health and, yes, the possibility of a longer life are all doubtlessly conceivable with the proper application of quality supplements. Only a fool would ignore the endless benefits that can be gained through proper supplementation. The key is to know which work and which are worthless.
This was a crucial factor in the development of Testosterone magazine. As bodybuilders, we want to stay abreast of every advance in nutrition. Bodybuilders have always been at the forefront of nutritional science. We're well aware that what we put in our bodies will have a vital impact on the way we look and feel. If you've been a regular reader of T, you know that our recommended options for effective supplementation are very select. The Biotest line offers very few products, and with good reason. Very few products work. What makes matters worse, many other companies sell similar products, but the quality is so poor that you'll be (literally) pissing your money down the drain. When choosing a supplement, always go with a reputable company. That bargain you think you're getting from the generic brand may wind up costing you more in the long run because you'll either need more of it (due to a lower potency) or you may disregard it thinking that it's ineffective. You might as well get the "good stuff" the first time. As with the purchasing of most any product, when you buy cheap, you buy twice.
It may still be some time before supplements have the ability to achieve what can currently only be achieved with drugs, but we're closing in. More and more advances are being made all the time. Yet, just as deception and misinformation have littered the supplements industries past, it'll forever remain a problem in the future. There will always be some sharp businessman with a new sales pitch scheme. There will always be an impetuous youth looking for an easy answer or, at least, a better way. The thing is, there is a better way. But it isn't easy. It requires staying abreast of the latest information and advancements. It also requires a commitment. Supplementation is like training — it's necessary to stick with it in order to see results.
Hopefully, this report has alerted you to the dubious integrity of some of the people at the helm of major supplement companies. Maybe it will make you think twice about where you decide to spend your money.
I doubt that the day will ever come when advertising pitchmen cease to bend, twist, and exaggerate the truth. Until then — and as always — be wary and choose wisely. It's pretty ugly out there.