Adam Bornstein: The Mastermind Behind Lebron & Arnold’s Supplements

Adam Bornstein is a New York Times bestselling author, former Fitness Editor for Men’s Health, and advisor to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Today, he spends much of his time as the Chief of Nutrition for Ladder, a supplement company founded by Arnold and Lebron James. We dive deep on issues in the supplement industry, how Adam approaches formulation, and the toughest part about making products tested by Lebron James. 

In this episode of The BarBend Podcast, guest Adam Bornstein and host David Thomas Tao discuss:

  • How Adam got started in fitness (and why he hates talking about himself) (3:23)
  • Ladder’s founding, and the story behind Lebron James’ and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s partnership (5:20)
  • The first time Lebron James EVER tried a nutritional supplement (7:45)
  • The challenge of making a supplement for the NBA’s biggest name (10:27)
  • How Adam approaches supplement formulation — and what he tries to avoid (13:05)
  • The surprising revelations Adam found between whey protein concentrate and isolate (14:30)
  • Challenges formulating vegan/vegetarian proteins, and how Adam solved the problem for Ladder (17:50)
  • Misconceptions about grass-fed whey (20:20)
  • Adam’s job isn’t to be right; it’s to GET it right (23:35)
  • The surprising difficulty in making a greens powder (it’s all about the metals) (25:00)
  • Testing for purity (27:00)
  • Proper dosing in making supplements (32:00)
  • Cutting through the news in the influencer space (35:00)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

The project that I would say has been 20 years in the making is what I’m focused on right now, which is Ladder. Which is a nutrition supplement brand that was really founded by LeBron James with help from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I’m just the lucky guy who gets to be a part of something that’s really an accidental business. This was not supposed to be a business. This was just a quiet project that I was lucky enough to be a part of. It’s become something so much more.

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the BarBend Podcast where we talk to the smartest minds in strength from around the world. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao.

Today I’m talking to an old friend of mine from the fitness industry, Adam Bornstein. Adam’s resume goes on and on.

He’s the author of seven books, including three fitness best sellers, was a columnist for “Muscle and Fitness” and “Men’s Fitness.” He is a fitness advisor for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Previously, Adam was the fitness editor of “Men’s Health” magazine and the editorial director of LiveStrong.com.

These days Adam spends a lot of his time as the Chief of Nutrition and Head of Content for the supplement company Ladder. The company was co-founded by Schwarzenegger and LeBron James as well as other celebrities in the fitness and wellness space.

Adam walks us through why he was tapped to lead so much of the company’s development, especially on the formulation side. We also chat on what consumers need to know to make better decisions when it comes to nutritional supplements, along with surprising misconceptions that still permeate that industry.

If you are enjoying the BarBend podcast, I’d love it if you would leave a quick rating and review in your podcast app. That goes a long way in helping us grow the show. It’s also the best way to let us know who you would like to see as a guest on future episodes.

Adam Bornstein, thanks so much for joining us here in the BarBend office in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Did you find the place OK? Did you have to weave in and out of the hordes of tourists to get up here?

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

My Uber driver dropped me off definitely not close to where I was supposed to be. He’s like “is this where you’re supposed to be?” I was like “I don’t know. I’ve never been here.” I did walk a little bit. I found it eventually.

David TaoDavid Tao

This is the tourism heart of New York. When I moved to New York it wasn’t but now it is and that’s strictly due to Instagram. That’s 100 percent due to Instagram ruining this part of town for people that live and work here. I’m glad you were able to find it.

 

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

I now feel a little bit better because I was the guy who was looking at my phone trying to be like, “Where am I.” People probably thought I was another IG influencer, trying to set up my shot or looking at my feet or doing something along those lines.

David TaoDavid Tao

At least you weren’t blocking an active street. That’s a pet peeve of mine, but that’s separate from what we’re talking about today, on the BarBend podcast. Adam, for those of you listening who might not be familiar with your career, you’ve worked with every fitness publication under the sun.

You’re at Ladder now. You have a very, very wide-ranging background. I’d say you’re a “New York Times” bestselling author. I’m really butchering your bio. Give us the elevator pitch. The Adam Bornstein elevator pitch if you don’t mind.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

The Adam Bornstein elevator pitch is I hate talking about myself. I was really hoping that we would just roll with that. The elevator pitch is I am a former university researcher, turned Men’s Health editor, turns editorial director of Live Strong, turn best-selling author, turn media consultant for every publication under the sun.

Turn entrepreneur on a few different businesses. Born Fitness consulting company and events company. The one that is the project that I would say has been 20 years in the making is what I’m focused on right now, which is Ladder. Which is a nutrition supplement brand that was founded by LeBron James with help from Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I’m just the lucky guy who gets to be a part of something that’s was really an accidental business. This was not supposed to be a business. This was just like a quiet project that I was lucky enough to be a part of. It’s become something so much more.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

I definitely want to hear about the genesis of Ladder. When you and I last touch base, when we last saw each other in person, I think it was in 2013. It was at a book release that you were hosting in New York.

We talked to each other online a few times, but mostly you were in Colorado. You were consulting, you were starting a family, things seemed to be going objectively well. Then suddenly I hear about this Ladder thing. Don’t know you’re attached to it at all.

I see oh, it’s LeBron James, it’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, it’s Lindsey Vonn. All these great athletes starting this supplement company. Then I look at the about page, and I see Adam Bornstein’s name and I just go, “Son of a gun. What is he doing now?”

How did you get involved, and at what stage in Ladder’s creation were you looped in? Or did you become involved, tell us about that?

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

I made a career out of trying to be invisible. Even my consulting agency Pen Name, it’s named Pen Name for a reason. Pen Name being a ghost writer. If you look at the logo, there’s a little ghost in the P. It’s just because I just didn’t want people to know what I was involved with because it wasn’t really about me, it was about what we’re creating, what we’re putting out.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some amazing people. Really, it’s one of those things where I look back to some of the things that I’ve done and I even question like, “How in the world did this happen?” It just comes down to ideally doing great work and helping a lot of people.

One of the things I’ve been able to help them work with is Arnold Schwarzenegger. If you were to go back to 2016, I get a call from Arnold one day and it’s basically come to my office for a meeting.

David TaoDavid Tao

You don’t say no to that.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

You don’t say no. What the meeting was, was with LeBron James’ trainer, Mike Mancias. So, 2015 LeBron James cramps the NBA Finals. Not probably his highest moment. He was the best athlete in the world by most people’s standards, just having a moment of weakness is the wrong way to put it but a moment where his body gave out. LeBron like any great competitor just isn’t going to be OK with that.

He goes to Mike and he’s just like, we got to step it up this offseason, training, nutrition, supplementation, everything, no stone unturned. Mike tells these great stories about LeBron, where Mike gets pitched on things all the time by people.

He also said that like he gets something from a psychic and he’ll tell LeBron be like, “Man, could you believe this that a psychic is reaching out to me saying he can help you.” They’ll laugh about it and he says LeBron will get really serious then looking at me he’s like, “You should look into it.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Yes, dig into that, just make sure.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

“You should look into that.” That’s kind of the mentality of they just go to a different level. LeBron wanted to go to a different level and to this point, LeBron had never touched a supplement in his life. Anything. He sends Mike out to go and see what he can find.

Mike’s his guide. You got to understand Mike’s like this unicorn trainer where before he worked with LeBron James, he worked with Michael Jordan before he retired for good with the Wizards. Mike Mancias is the only guy who can say “I’ve trained Michael Jordan and LeBron James.” It’s pretty good resume.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’d call that batting 1000 right now.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

Whenever LeBron is finally done, Mike should just be like, “You know what? I’m good. I’m good.”

I’m just don’t even do anything in basketball anymore. Whatever you do next, just that is like, I don’t believe in perfection, but that’s about as close as you get to perfection in terms of who he gets to train with.

Michael is out there and comes back to LeBron. He’s like, “One, I don’t really trust the majority of the supplements out there from a safety standpoint and besides from a safety standpoint, the effectiveness is, it’s a big issue.”

Most people don’t realize that while supplements are governed by the FDA, regulation is really light. It’s just a byproduct of the FDA being completely overloaded. If you were to go on Amazon alone, you’re going to find 130,000 supplement brands. That’s a lot.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s not supplements, that’s brands.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

Brands. We’re not even talking about skews. That’s a lot, so trying to manage that.

Like the example I gave is that if you wanted to go home tonight and mix up a little supplement concoction. Your supplement concoction could just be some chocolate powder that you put on a pretty looking box and put it on Amazon and say, “I’ve got the world’s greatest protein powder.” There’s nothing stopping you from doing that and there’s nothing stopping you from saying there’s 30 grams of protein in this if there’s not a single gram.

Unless someone files a complaint and sends it in the FDA, no one would be any of the wiser to know that that’s made up, and that’s what the supplement industry is. The right supplements got someone that’s going to help people but knowing what to trust and then making sure the right amount of the right ingredients are in there is really, really difficult. There’s a big education problem. It’s hard for people to know.

Mike did his homework and he’s just like “LeBron, there’s nothing to take.” LeBron reaches out to some people who he knows and one of them being Arnold and essentially tasked Mike with getting information for how he could create his own.

That’s when I was brought in, known Arnold and worked with him for a while, so it’s like, let’s help make a supplement for LeBron James. Just for the sake of making a supplement for LeBron James, not to build a business, not to turn something out.

It was just like LeBron wanted to upgrade and it started just for the protein. That’s where this whole thing began. Once we went through the process of formulating, manufacturing, and him taking it. Then eventually down the road after LeBron used for a while, I get another call and it’s like, “Hey, do we have something here?”

If this is a problem for LeBron, a guy who has access to whatever he wants. One, how many other athletes have the same problem? But more importantly, isn’t this a problem for everyone? For everyone being able to take a supplement that they can trust and has the right ingredients and the right amount backed by science.

We worked with some amazing scientists and formulators, and lead science advisors, Abbie Smith-Ryan, University of North Carolina. Head of exercise physiology, brilliant and really specialize in performance enhancing supplements. Just like trying to get the most out of performance in natural ways. It was just like, yeah, there is something here. Let’s look into it.

Before Ladder was even Ladder, before it had a name or a business, this was just a project to at first, create something for LeBron as part of his off-season redemption of doing a better job of taking care of himself overall. It’s not like taking a supplement in of itself is going to prevent cramping.

That’s not what the message here, the message is that look, here’s a guy, he realized that there was more he could do to help prevent his body from breaking down. One component of that was going to be supplementation because it was something he hasn’t done, or it was something he could do to help out.

That was really the genesis. That’s where I came in to help from a formulation standpoint, from a science standpoint, my background is on the science side of things. It’s fun, but it’s crazy to see where it is now from where it started.

David TaoDavid Tao

What were some of the issues that you wanted to tackle early on in formulations? Just to set some context, I’m of the opinion that there are a ton of bad supplements out there. I’m also of the opinion, and this is coming from years of trying stuff myself and getting to know the supplement industry a bit and working in it that there are some good ones out there.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

There are some.

David TaoDavid Tao

There are some brands that I personally really like and trust and would recommend to my mother or someone in my family, which I have. I would call them often the minority in the space. I very much agree with you that it’s pretty easy to start a supplement company and it’s pretty difficult to call people out on things if they’re cutting some corners.

How did you start approaching it and what were some of those initial learnings you had in formulating? I guess you started with the protein powder in creating a supplement. What was for LeBron and what was missing from the market that went into or influenced the first Ladder, call it 1.0 or 0.0 before it was even a company?

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

You look at it from when you’re creating a supplement, what are you trying to accomplish with that product? When it starts from the protein powder, protein is the foundation of every cell really in your body. It’s your hair, it’s your skin, it’s your nail, it’s your muscles. It’s so important.

If you want to do that, you want to make sure that you’re not only getting a good source of protein, you’re getting a quality protein, you’re getting enough protein that you can absorb and that what you see is on the label is actually in the product.

I consider myself very well versed in nutrition. It was even eye-opening going through the supplementation process when you work with manufacturers to see where they source it.

What you see on the label isn’t always necessarily what you put in your body. A great example is on paper whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate are very similar. There is nothing wrong per se with the whey protein concentrate. You’ll get a little bit more carbohydrates, a little bit more fat. If you’re sensitive to lactose, there’s a little bit more lactose than an isolate.

What I didn’t realize is that there are certain regulations on what qualifies as a whey protein concentrate compared to a whey protein isolate. If you are a whey protein concentrate, it means as a percentage of weight, it can be anywhere from 30 to 80 per cent protein. You on your label could see that you have 20 grams of whey protein concentrate, which in theory is great, but if it’s a 30 per cent concentration, it’s possible you really only have like eight usable grams of protein in there, and that’s a real issue.

You start understanding from a sourcing standpoint, from how you want to label things and then even other considerations. Are there other ways to maximize absorption of proteins? How well do we understand proteins?

Most people just think of protein is protein, but protein is really a byproduct of the amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.

Well, how do amino acids work? Well, when you eat protein, your body breaks down those proteins into all the individual amino acids. You have nine essential ones, and it goes into what’s essentially a pool, an amino acid pool where all these amino acids are floating around but if you don’t have all of the essential amino acids, your body can’t release all of them to put them to use.

This amino acid pool refreshes essentially every four to six hours. When you start thinking like, man, you could take a protein, but if it’s not a complete protein, your body isn’t releasing all of it. If you have a limiting amino acid and essential amino acids, your body isn’t getting what you want. It starts to get really technical.

It’s like you take a step back and you’re like, all right, people need a protein. They need it to be from a good source. They need to know that the amount of protein that is on the label is actually what they’re putting in their body. We need to make sure there’s enough amino acids in there. We need to make sure that all the different things that would allow it to be absorbed are there. One of those things to me, which was surprisingly enough, is probiotics.

Probiotics is one of those areas that we’re going to know so much more about them in 10 years. We are way too early on probiotics, but there are a few areas where you’re seeing a little bit of reliability. Science is based on reliability and validity. Reliability being like when you test something over and over again, does it show the same results? Validity is like does this shit actually work.

We’re seeing that certain probiotics help with the absorption of protein to make sure that you’re taking advantage of the stuff you put in your body. It’s just like if you’re spending money on something with the intent that it’s going to make a difference. Let’s make the most of it.

You start breaking it down of how much do you need? What source should it be from? How do you absorb it? How do you make sure it doesn’t have any of the negative side effects like stomach disruption. Most of that is usually due either to the sourcing or the sweetener that people will use.

Most artificial sweeteners, especially anything that ends in -tol. Think about a maltitol, a sorbitol, an erythritol, xylitol is more likely to create GI distress. Let’s eliminate that. Let’s try and make it taste good but using natural flavors because we just want to minimize again any sourcing issues.

That was just for the whey alone. Then when you get into plant-based proteins, plant-based proteins have way more issues with not being a complete protein. Most plants are incomplete which means that they don’t have the essential amino acids.

You can combine plants together but then most plants are really low in leucine. Leucine is one of the BCAs, one of the branch chain amino acids. Super important for muscle recovery, muscle growth, assuming that all the other essential amino acids are there.

Then you can look at rice and hemp and chickpea but all of them are really low in leucine. What’s the one that’s highest in leucine? That’s what makes whey so popular. It’s like, “It’s pea.”

Then most peas are only 60 percent protein by weight. It’s like, “Man.” If we have a whey protein isolate that is 90 percent minimum protein by weight. That’s the difference between an isolate and a concentrate. Isolate has to be 90 percent. How close can we get it to that?

You start looking from the sourcing and you find the pea protein isolate is way better. If you remove the hemp or the rice you don’t get things that are likely to cause GI distress as well. If you add in some digestive enzymes and some probiotics again you have suddenly a plant-based protein that is very similar to whey.

For us it was just give the right amount, so at least 20 grams. Give it from sources which are going to be higher in amino acids, help it be digested, make sure it doesn’t cause GI distress and make sure it tastes good. When you go through that process it took about two years to get there where all right, we got a product we can work with.

David TaoDavid Tao

Where are you all sourcing? This is something that we get asked a lot on BarBend when we try protein powders. We just did a tasting test video that I don’t even think is released yet, but we tried the weirdest protein powder flavors. People love learning about protein powder. We’ve got content on isolate vs. concentrate vs. hydrolyzed whey and things like that.

The question we always get asked is where does this manufacturer source their whey. Literally, where are the cals is a question we get a lot of times. For Ladder, where did you start sourcing your whey from? Has that changed as the company has grown and you’ve had to build scale.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

It hasn’t changed, the whey. It’s funny but I think New Zealand has the market of “We provide grass fed cows that can give you your whey.” It’s great in terms of being able to source. We made sure the supply chain was set up in a way that wasn’t going to be an issue.

Much of the benefits of grass fed is really more from a sustainability or if you look at the environment from that standpoint or the way that they treat animals. Just because when you go through the process of creating whey, part of what makes something special from a grass-fed standpoint is lost through that microfiltration process.

David TaoDavid Tao

Right, the fats. You’re removing the fats.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

Right, and the nutrients. There are nutrients that you get from having grass versus corn that can be in there, and the actual finished product is going to be different, but you don’t have to worry about what the cows were being fed.

People want to know how are they being treated and some people are like well, “There’s no difference between a grass fed.” There isn’t, but if you’re looking at source again, and if that’s what you really care about, we’re trying to make sure we’re getting it from a good source.

The harder thing from sourcing, when it comes to protein, without a doubt is plants. You have these trace toxins and metals. What most people don’t understand is that anything that comes from the earth is going to have some trace toxins and metals because the Earth’s crust is made up of heavy metals.

If it grows in the ground, you’re going to have some metals but, there are different areas in this world where there are a lot more or a lot less metals. Ground water plays a big impact, so sourcing is really, really big with anything plant based. That’s where that NSF certification comes in. That’s where we talk about finding something that’s safe, so we talk about that 130,000 brands.

NSF Certified for Sport is this governing body, and not NSF, it’s the Certified for Sport that there are a couple things it will [inaudible 21:52] . One is that your labels are accurate. Which as we said since anyone can put anything on a label, this is a big deal. To send this over and literally down to the microgram of, is this accurate? That’s pretty big. You want to know that what they say is on the label is actually in the product.

Two, no dangerous toxins and metals if you are having anything plant based. Greens, powder, a plant-based protein, really important because this is where you have a sign that is healthy become unhealthy because small amounts of these heavy metals is not an issue.

David TaoDavid Tao

Potentially, unintentionally.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

Oh, completely unintentionally.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s just to clarify and provide context. It’s not like someone who is creating a plant-based supplement. It’s not like they have a Simon Legree mustache and they’re chuckling, “I’m going to feed the public toxins.” No, it’s something that can accrue over and compound across many different ingredients that it might be a fantastic supplement otherwise but something that could have unintentional additives, ingredients, heavy metals, etc.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

As we always say, the poison is in the dose, right? You can have someone who has the best intentions but if they’re not investing in doing that third-party testing, they don’t even know. They don’t even know the level of toxic metal. It’s innocent but it’s not because you have to spend and it’s not cheap doing the NSF for Sports Certification, it’s not. But you find out. At every point in my career, I do believe there’s a social responsibility.

When I was an editor there’s a social responsibility to create good content and prevent bad content. There’s a social responsibility that if you make a mistake, if you fuck it up, you explain how you were wrong.

My job isn’t to be right. My job is to get it right. Sometimes that means getting it wrong. There’s been a lot of things throughout my career where I was just flat out wrong. If I’ve gotten anywhere it’s because my job is to be a seeker of truth, to translate, to find out what is going to help people.

Science is always changing. Science you just get it wrong, and that’s OK as long as you eventually get it right and take responsibility for any information you shared where you might have been misguided.

Aa lot of people, they’re putting all the right things in there, but they see the surface level and they don’t see what’s underneath. If someone is taking them plant-based products every single day and incurring these heavy metals it can be an issue. You want to make sure there’s a really, really low percentage of it which then gets back to that sourcing or potentially spending more money on the sourcing. That’s what we are militant about in creating Ladder.

Not only did it have to work with science to make sure, again, right about, right dose, efficacious. It can all be based in science but then let’s make sure the source is good so people take this routinely which is what they want, they’re not going to find themselves inadvertently creating other health problems because they were taking healthy products which just happened to accumulate and cause health issues.

That from the sourcing standpoint was making sure that where we were sourcing was really, really low because it’s so easy to build up these toxins in metals. Even thinking about something like we have real chocolate in our chocolate flavored powders, our proteins. Chocolate is cocoa, cocoa comes from a plant, That means that anything chocolate is automatically going to start with some of those trace levels of metal and then you start adding in pea, and you start adding in pumpkin, and it can accrue very easily.

It’s why most grain’s powder, it took us a long time to get a grain powder certified for sport because we were essentially trying to create the equivalent of an athlete multivitamin. Not every single multivitamin, just the vitamins and minerals and electrolytes that are most essential that your body needs to perform when you’re more depleted. Things like magnesium or zinc, vitamin D.

You start trying to do this from natural sources again, the metals can build up very quickly. NSF is saying, “We have thresholds for toxins and metals. On the surface everything is great, you have a wonderful product, but we can’t hit that threshold.”

Being cognizant of that, and that was one of those processes of creating a supplement which was just that it takes a while to source it and be patient. Realize that you think you’ve got this formula locked. Then they come back and they’re going to have an issue with this test. Let’s reformulate it, let’s adjust, let’s not ruin the integrity of the product and still make sure we hit all of these standards.

Like we said, these were originally created for an athlete, LeBron. They were originally created for all athletes. The idea is that essentially, they have higher standards because there’s more at risk. They can’t fail a drug test.

The average person doesn’t have to be drug tested for what they do for a day to day living but when you think about it, you should feel pretty confident about what you’re putting into your body. It shouldn’t be that just because it’s on a shelf you put it in, and you just assume it’s OK. That’s how things go bad.

Those same standards that I believe are held for the highest-level athletes, even if you don’t perform that way, are the same standards that you should expect for food. That it should be safe, that it should be effective, and that there should be nothing mysterious lurking in there.

The third part of NSF is making sure there are no banned substances, and they make sure there are no unknown substances. In a world of chemically engineered drugs where those who make things to aid performances are always going to be a little bit ahead of science. You want to make sure that not only is what we know is bad for you in there, but something that we don’t know is in there is also in there.

We go the extra mile to make sure every single batch is tested. It’s not a quarterly test, it’s not an annual test, it’s literally if we’re going to mix product together, we’re going to test it so there’s not a spec of powder that is out there that we have to question or worry about. That’s the peace of mind.

As you said, there’s a lot of supplements out there that can help people, but the hard part of the supplement game is, can I trust this?

There’s the part of you that’s almost like the angel-devil situation. The angel is like, “Take this, it’s going to help you perform better. Do this you’re trying to be healthy.”, and you got the devil being like, “Man do you know what’s in this? Is this safe for you to take?” We want to kill the devil.

If you’re taking this, that’s why you have such a minimalist approach. Supplements are so many ingredients that work. Only so many products that work, and we just wanted to create something where you had peace of mind, that what you’re taking was safe and was going to work.

David TaoDavid Tao

Changing tactics a little bit here. Ladder is known for having big-name athlete ambassadors, LeBron James, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Just two names we’ve talked about and there are more. What role do these…Do you call them co-founding athletes? What is the term you use there? I’m trying to think back to the initial Ladder press releases and information.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

They were founders. A lot of people will look at and see as spokespeople, but this is their business. You have people who saw a pain point that they experienced. Lindsey Vonn was a great example of not being able to take supplements for so long. Olympians are tested more than anything.

It was trying to take something that for most people felt exclusive. A supplement that works. A supplement with trusted agreement. Access to the Mike Mancias and Abbie-Smith-Ryan’s of the world, and just make it available for all people. The idea is like a better fuel. You’re just trying to like provide people with better fuel.

If you’re looking for that extra 10 percent which, to me, is really what a supplement is about. Your habits and behaviors, your exercise and nutrition, that’s your bread and butter, that’s the foundation.

If you want that little extra boost, if you want to make sure that you’re doing all that you can to take care of yourself or fill gaps that you might have in your diet. Or make it more convenient for you to get in enough protein, or greens. Or make sure that if you’re working out, you get a little extra boost to help fight off fatigue, have more energy. That you have products that you can go ahead and trust.

It was what was spoke to me in the first place that these were people who were essentially putting their money where their mouth is. They wanted to go ahead and create a company that solved the problem that they had dealt with directly and do things the right way. I’ve been advanced by many people over the last 10-15 years who wanted me involved from a supplement standpoint.

No one was really ever willing to put in the time. If we talk about this, Ladder launched in December of 2018. I started talking in January of 2016, or whatever it was, it was early in 2016. This was some was almost a three-year process to go from, “Here’s an idea. What can we make?” to “Here’s something that we’re bringing to the market.”

David TaoDavid Tao

What role do the founders play in the business today? What role are you playing in the business today? Maybe not day-to-day operations. Let’s call it week-to-week operations.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

I would say the founders play the role of wanting to know what products we’re creating. They love testing this stuff, and seeing how it works, and see what they think.

Obviously, with LeBron, it’s one of things, we got to make sure that we go through all the NSF testing before we can give him anything. That’s in the product timeline. Again, there can’t be any risk. We look at it in terms of what are we creating, why are we creating and who are we trying to help.

I think the goal of the business is we’re trying to fuel better performance, trying to stay true to that mission, and create products that a lot of different people can use and get a benefit out of. That’s where we get a lot of impact from LeBron and Arnold, and really understanding their vantage point of it.

There are two main hats that I wear, one is JoFin Nutrition, which is just putting together a great team. My job is — as a researcher — to read everything in the industry and understand where trends are going, but then not overreact.

The biggest feedback I get about Ladder products is “There’s nothing new in here.” I’m like, “Yeah, that’s by design, because with science being so fluid, I don’t want something new. I want something proven.”

My goal is to make sure that I’m not going to create a product and then a month later a study comes out that can essentially undercut the entire thesis of what we’re trying to create. I want this stuff that we know works, which takes a lot of time reading through a lot of research, talking to a lot of different people to making sure that not only we know this works, but at what dose is this going to be effective.

A great example is our Pre-Workout product, which is most popular because people can feel it. There’s a lot of questions about the different ingredients, because we had to find the amount that, one, work, two, had no contraindications. You look at caffeine, we have less caffeine in there, but that’s for several reasons.

The reason we put caffeine in there specifically was to blunt the perception of fatigue, and the perception of fatigue is blunted at about 100 milligrams, but we only did 100 milligrams, because we also know that you can burn out the receptor that allows you to respond to caffeine the more and more you take of it.

I don’t think people are just taking Pre-Workout is their only source of caffeine during the day. People are coffee drinkers. People are tea drinkers.

You start becoming aware that if you create a pre-workout product with 200-300 milligrams of caffeine, it might be great in that moment, but if you take another cup or two of coffee during the course of the day or a couple of cups of tea, you’re going to burn out your caffeine receptors. 200-300 milligrams of caffeine you’re suddenly are completely not have the same effect from the strength standpoint.

Not to mention, you’re going to have the crash. you’re going to the jitters, you’re going to have an upset stomach, you’re going to build intolerance. The best way to get more out of the caffeine is to actually use less. They added Beta-Alanine. Beta-Alanine buffers fatigue by removing carnosine from the muscle.

Some people get the tingles, and some people don’t, so you could have like seven grams in there. Why do you guys have 3.2? Because not everyone likes the tingles. 3.2 is the amount, literally that we see repeatedly in research that will still give you the benefits of it, but it’s less of a likelihood to create a side effect. It’s completely safe, but some people just don’t like.

That’s the type of stuff where you just try to boil down, so I do it from a nutrition standpoint of helping work with the teams to formulate products, read through research and make sure that we’re doing this the right way and testing and focus groups and making sure it tastes good. I’m chief of content and that’s where the education part comes in.

That’s where we talked about. I don’t have to be right, I got to get it right. Working with great people to educate people for free on fitness and nutrition topics. The type of stuff that I’ve really been doing for about 20 years now, which is what I love more than anything which is just helping people better understand fitness nutrition because it’s confusing.

It is really confusing, and the Internet is like the best thing in the world, but in the world of fitness, it’s the worst thing. You google a question and on page one alone, you’ve got six different articles now telling you six different things, and you’re like, “What the fuck do I believe?”

It’s frustrating and then you go on Instagram and you’re like, “Oh man, I really follow this one IG influencer and he tells me that I need to eat breakfast every day. But I follow this other IG influencer and he tells me that I got to intermittent fast. And then I follow this other person who tells me gluten is the devil, and this other one says that I can eat gluten every single day. This other person says I can’t eat after 7:00 PM. This other person says that if I eat at night, I’m actually going to lose more fat.”

People are just like, “What am I supposed to believe?” I know you’ve seen this. You’ve been witness to it in the same exact way that I have. The hard part for most people is that all of these answers in some way, shape, or form can be correct.

That’s hard for people. You try to position it in a way that you can educate so you understand different behaviors and different lifestyle factors that you can make decisions that kind of remove that stress.

They kind of dull out the noise, I would say. Let’s cut through the teeth of all this noise to let you know what you need to know and just try to bang that drum really loud so that people can be educated and be empowered. They can feel more in control of their health.

David TaoDavid Tao

Adam Bornstein, where can people keep in touch and follow along with what you’re doing these days?

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

Everything with the Ladder stuff, that’s going to be weareladder.com or @weareladder on all the social channels. Me personally, it’s the name that I think got me into the industry in the first place.

It’s Born Fitness so @bornfitness. I do a Sunday Q & A every Sunday. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. If you don’t like kids though, I warn you, I always answer them with my two little men.

They chime in but I think they’re cute and adorable. I love them so I’m not going to stop doing it with them.

David TaoDavid Tao

Thanks so much for joining us Adam. It’s been a pleasure.

Adam BornsteinAdam Bornstein

Thanks so much buddy.

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