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Mike Matthews: What You Don’t Know About Supplements

Mike Matthews is the CEO of Legion Athletics and bestselling writer of numerous fitness books. He’s also a no-BS kind of guy who isn’t afraid to call out what he thinks are shortcomings in the supplement industry. Mike joins us for a candid conversation that touches on beginner gains, marketing falsehoods, and the limits of natural performance. 

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

  • David thinks Mike is the “Swiss Army Knife” of fitness (1:45)
  • Levels of attractiveness and physical perception/aspirations in fitness (4:45)
  • Making gym friends and why fitness brings folks out of their shells (6:50)
  • Mike’s early (and very under-optimized) days of training (9:00)
  • Early days of sorting through the fluff in online fitness (13:20)
  • Applying human-conceived notions to biology (15:34)
  • The limits of training volume for natural athletes (18:00)
  • Mike’s thoughts on performance enhancing drugs and strength athletics (21:45)
  • Mike talks about his thoughts on the limits of natural performance (26:30)
  • What non-banned supplements can and CANNOT do for performance (28:25)
  • The cost of supplement formulation and production (31:30)
  • The products Mike and Legion haven’t been able to make work (34:20)
  • David’s less-than-feasible idea to fix Mike’s formulation problems (36:00)
  • Finding great people in evidence-based fitness (41:00)
  • Reformulating supplements (43:00)

Relevant links and further reading:

Transcription

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

That was an epiphany, when you’re like, “God, it’s that easy? That’s it?” I was doing a little bit of cardio, but I was not doing much. I was mostly just lifting and I was controlling my calories, controlling my macros. I was like, “That was the easiest thing ever. I can’t believe that’s actually all it takes to get super-lean and stay lean.”

David TaoDavid Tao

Welcome to the BarBend Podcast, where we talk to the smartest athletes, coaches, and minds from around the world of strength. I’m your host, David Thomas Tao, and this podcast is presented by barbend.com.

Today, I’m talking to fitness author, podcaster, and Legion Athletics founder, Mike Matthews. Mike’s been referred to as a Swiss army knife of the fitness industry and that description has a lot of merit. He’s explored almost every facet of strength training and nutrition, and he takes a super evidence-based approach to everything he does, whether it’s programming workouts or formulating supplements.

Mike is someone who is constantly exploring and expanding his own considerable knowledge of everything from strength, fitness, and nutrition. We dive deep on issues and misconceptions in the supplement industry, along with controversies of performance-enhancing drugs, and what the average person can do to safely enhance their exercise recovery.

Also, I just want to say that we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to this podcast, so if you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend podcast in your app of choice. Every month, we give a box full of BarBend swag to one of our listeners who leaves a rating and review.

Today on the BarBend podcast, I’m sitting down with the Swiss Army Knife of fitness, as I like to refer to him. A man who has…

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Somebody else called me that yesterday. I was on another podcast and that’s who they referred to me. Is that a thing? [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s creepy, and you might have some precognition there, Mike. That Swiss Army Knife, and apparently I’m not the only one to think that, that’s Mike Matthews. Mike, [laughs] thanks so much for joining us today.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

I’ll start adding that to my own bios, “‘Mike The Swiss Army Knife Matthews.” Like my wresting name or is that my porn name? I don’t know.

David TaoDavid Tao

Interesting. I don’t want to think about that one too much, but I have to ask if you were referred to that. I thought I came up with that, like completely on my own. I didn’t talk to anyone about that. In what context did that come up on a recording yesterday?

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Exactly the same. I was on someone else’s podcast. They were introducing me, and they introduced me as “The Swiss Army Knife.” It was in the context of they were talking about content production. Because I’ve written and recorded a lot of stuff, at least as far as the podcast goes. I’ve also done some video. I don’t do too much video at the moment.

David TaoDavid Tao

That’s interesting because you’re not…you can call it a Renaissance Man. That was the one I was thinking in my head, and I was like, “No, no, no. He’s…”

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

 [inaudible 3:12] more pretentious, yes. [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

I was like, “He’s been called a Renaissance Man before. I’ve got to get more specific. Swiss Army Knife.”

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Thank you for doing that. It’s less pretentious, it’s more practical. Anyone who calls themselves a Renaissance man or woman, or a polymath is probably an arrogant prick.

David TaoDavid Tao

OK, I have a question. Were you in Boy Scouts or anything growing up? Do you have experience with multi-tools and Swiss army knives?

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Nope. I don’t even know…Have I used a Swiss army knife before? Maybe. I don’t think so.

David TaoDavid Tao

Maybe to give [laughs] some context to listeners about how I — apparently not independently — came to that new nickname. Give us a little background on Mike Matthews, and maybe your early journey through fitness. Later on in the broadcast we’ll talk more about what you’re doing today and the multifaceted nature of your week-to-week work.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Sure. I got into weightlifting like many guys, because I liked girls. I was 17 and girls like muscles.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Or at least we tell ourselves that. Guys like to think that girls like muscles some times.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

I think the distinction there is guys like to think that girls like muscles more than they do, and like a lot of muscle more than they do. It’s biological, essentially at this point that women are attracted to a bit of muscularity. A show of some physicality and strength.

There’s research on this, you probably know that if you take the average physique that a guy will aspire to, like the people on Instagram or the pictures that he has bookmarked. You show those to the average girl, and she’s going to say, “No. That’s too much.”

You probably all experienced…I experienced that personally. My aspirations are more or less where I’m at now. I know the reality is I’m not going to get much further than I’m at right now. Even stuff where I’ve seen that it would require drugs for me to get there, but it looks pretty cool. My wife is like, “No, that looks terrible. It looks way too much.”

It’s true. There’s definitely a disconnect between what we think, what most guys think women are going to be attracted to and what they’re actually attracted to. It’s actually good news for guys.

What really comes down to that is for most guys, they’re going to get to it if they’re driven primarily by the need to be more attracted to women. They’ll get there probably in the first year. You gain your 20-ish pounds or so in your first year of muscle if you’re a good responder. Maybe a bit less if you’re not or compliance soft, or whatever.

Once you go from normal to like 20 or 25 pounds of muscle in the eyes of most women, you have a great body. I know you might look in the mirror be like, “I look like I don’t even lift.” You go look on Instagram like, “I literally look like shit.” That was a tangential way to say that. That is why I got into weightlifting though. I grew up playing sports.

I played a fair amount of hockey growing up. When I stopped playing hockey, I wanted to still do something with my body. I want to stay active. I like doing something with my friends where I can be like, gather up a few guys and we can go work out together instead of playing hockey together, and be more attractive to girls. Sure, let’s do that. That’s why I started and how I started.

David TaoDavid Tao

 It’s interesting to me because I was going to interject before your last bit there about getting a group of friends together to go to the gym because there was a meme that went around a couple years ago. It was a visual component but basically was guys start lifting to attract girls or to attract whomever they’re interested in romantically.

What happens is, instead of just attracting a bunch of people who might be romantically interested in you, you start lifting and you just attract a bunch of really great bros or really great training partners. You make a lot of friends. You’re looking for a girlfriend or a boyfriend but you just end up with a bunch of bros.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Yeah, that’s true. You start going to any gym regularly and eventually, you come out of your shell. You start talking to people. You realize that even people who — and this is maybe more so for women — who you thought were…they seem like they’re complete assholes because they never talked. Turns out, they’re working out and not really paying attention.

Whether you bring people or not, you end up with your little circle of friends and you get to see every day. I think that there’s value in a little bit of a social element in it. Of course, if you’re sitting there talking too much then you’re just going to be dragging out your workouts and actually become counterproductive.

That’s something also that I’ve experienced in a number of times having worked out a number of gyms over the years. A fun part of the process is getting a feel for the regulars. For me, I’ve always tended to work out at the same time, so you have your crowd of people. There’s also definitely a social component to it. It’s valuable.

David TaoDavid Tao

You come for the game, you stay for the friendship, so to speak. Mike, when did fitness turn from something that you were doing with friends, doing to attract some members of the opposite sex to your profession? What was that growth and journey like?

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

In the beginning, I just grabbed some bodybuilding magazines and started doing whatever was in there. At the time, the most popular workouts were body parts splits, broad splits. You do a bunch of volume for one major muscle group per day, rinse, repeat, which is actually not a terrible way of going about it. It’s not optimal for somebody who’s new, but you certainly can make progress.

If you’re in the gym doing enough hard work, you will make progress. Especially in the beginning because your body responds so well. I knew though that I didn’t really know what I was doing beyond, it was something. I ended up training that way.

There was a period where I worked with a number of trainers. I was then exposed to some different types of training splits and training techniques. It was a bit random for probably seven years or so.

I was consistent but I was consistently random in terms of what I would train and when, and the exercises I would do, and rep schemes, and intensity, and so forth. For a while, it didn’t bother me because I guess I looked at it more as maybe exercise than training.

I wasn’t so much concerned with progress, as funny as that sounds, as just I liked the activity. There was also a period where I didn’t really even realize that I could do quite a bit more with my physique and I wasn’t too focused on that. It wasn’t a big thing for me. I liked working out and I liked the people I was working out with.

Eventually, I decided that if I’m going to be putting the time and the effort in, I might as well try to get more out of it. I might as well actually educate myself and try to apply myself in terms of understanding how this really works. Up until then, I hadn’t even heard energy balance, for example, or progressive overload.

I heard a lot of things about how you’re supposed to lose fat or what you’re supposed to do to lose fat or types of things you’re supposed to do to gain muscle, but I hadn’t heard those yet. At that point I decided to start educating myself properly which was a pretty straight-forward process.

It was just a grind, like it is with anything when you start out in something and start diving into the details and start trying to sort the weak from the chaffe so to think. Chaff?

David TaoDavid Tao

I think it’s chaff but I know what you mean.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

It’s probably chaff. C-H-A-F-F probably chaff, there’s no E there. Yeah, at that point I started to…On the diet side of things, fortunately, we’ve understood or at least the scientific community has understood, how our metabolism fundamentally works for a long time now.

The scientific literature was actually pretty accessible for diet because there were…That’s even more true now. There are a number of, for example, good reviews. There’s one in particular written by Eric Helms and I think Alan Aragon as well, and a few others that give some great…

It’s a great summary of nutrition for bodybuilding but at the time that paper wasn’t published. There was some similarly just…They were thorough and extensive, but also because they were reviews they’re also written in a conversational style, pretty easy to understand.

So, that’s how I learned about energy balance, and it made sense. There are these things where you read about it and you’re like “Oh yeah, I guess that does make sense.” You learn why calories matter, why macros matter. From that I felt I didn’t have to sort through too much bullshit. It was just ignore all the fad stuff, ignore all the popular diets that come and go and stick to these fundamentals.

I remember, as you remember as probably anybody listening remembers, the first time when I saw it work for myself, which I was at that time I was also buddies with a bodybuilder and a power lifter and he was preparing for a show when I first met him. He was already pretty lean, this is a few weeks out. He helped me work out my calories and my macros the first time.

When I did that, and I got pretty lean for the first time probably like I don’t know, eight percent body fat so you have abs and vascularity and muscle definition everywhere. That was like an epiphany. When you’re like “God, it’s that easy. That’s it.”

I was doing a little bit of cardio but not doing much I was mostly just lifting and controlling my calories and controlling my macros. I was like, “That was the easiest thing ever, I can’t believe that’s actually all it takes to get super-lean and stay lean.”

The training side of things is a bit more complex and especially then, I think since then there’s been a considerable amount of advancement that has occurred on the scientific side where we have a better understanding now of what the primary driving factors are of muscle gain but back then it was less so.

However, I did find my ways to Mark Rippetoe, I found myself to starting strength and practical programming. I found my way to Lyle McDonald and his stuff. I found some good sources of information early on, and again learned about some basics — mechanical tension, progressive overload and how important that is.

How it’s more important than muscle manage and metabolic stress and even more import than volume. Although we know now, that volume is probably…It’s a bit more important than we once thought and it’s certainly more important than frequency for example which back then, I remember when I was looking into this frequency was very much a thing.

A lot of people were saying that if you were not training every major muscle group at least two or three times a week you were an idiot, you’re not going to make any progress.

David TaoDavid Tao

I remember those days when it was always frequency of training sessions for muscle groups within a week. Which was so interesting to me and remember thinking…I mean this was a long time ago, this was over a decade ago. I do remember thinking to myself your body, we operate in this week-to-week calendar as humans, these seven-day cycles and that’s just how our calendar works.

Your body doesn’t necessarily operate on those exact seven-day cycles. My nervous system and my muscles doesn’t know that exactly seven-days have necessarily passed. That always seemed like a very…Even when that was the thing du jour that seemed like a very artificial way of applying a human-driven concept to biology as opposed to vice versa.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Yeah, looking through it at that lens definitely raises a red flag. For me, there was also, I remember at the time one of the major reasons why it was being said that you should be essentially training each major muscle group every couple days is that research had — at the time — research suggests that muscle protein synthesis rates only remain elevated for 12 or 24 hours after a workout.

Now, we know a little bit more now, for example, yes, that’s the case in more highly resistance trained people. In newbies, for example, they can remain elevated for three or four days after. We also know that there’s a bit more that needs to go into recovery than just muscle protein synthesis rates.

Yes, if we could, I guess if we could go, regardless of our split, do a fair amount of volume or enough volume to maximize muscle protein synthesis for the next 24 hours and then go and do it again and keep on doing that over and over that theoretically would be optimal, but unless you’re on a shit load of drugs yeah good luck trying to make that happen.

If you look at how much volume that would equal per week, you’re looking at like 30 or 40 hard sets per major muscle group per week. Good luck. Nobody can survive that naturally for…I don’t care.

Ironically, someone who works here with me here — he’s 23 and he has good genetics for Kabaddi and for lifting. Not on drugs and he was doing one of Greg Knuckles’s crazy, it’s like the most ridiculously bulky program you could ever imagine, essentially.

It was like 30 to 40 hard sets for the major muscles — for the big ones, not for your biceps and your shoulders — but for your back, your legs, for your pressing per week.

You were bench pressing and leg pressing every day, for example. That’s how you started every single workout, and then doing a bunch of squatting and dead lifting and everything else on top of that.

Also, he was eating close to 5000 calories a day, keeping his fat at 50 and 60 grams a day. He was eating 1000-plus grams of carbs a day with 60 grams of fat. Think about that.

David TaoDavid Tao

This is an immense amount of dialing in everything and just throwing everything you have at the wall.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Everything, yeah. Think about that though. That meant he was eating like for example loaf of bread every day because you got to keep your fat low to minimize backing. Anyways, so he was able to survive it for…he want to do eight weeks and he just call it quits at six weeks because he’s like “Everything hurts.”

Like “Every joint hurts.” [laughs] It was fun and in the end when he cut the fat that he gained which was not as much as you would think eating that much food. He was also working out during two days also, so he was working out like three hours a day, but in the end he gained probably around four pounds muscle in six weeks and it’s training age was…

When he started that, I want to say he had probably a year and a half of good lifting under his belt, maybe two years. I mean that’s pretty good. He had to work tremendously hard for it.

Anyways, my point is that with frequency there’s a theoretical optimum but then there’s reality that you can’t do enough work and recover from enough work, you just keep muscle proteins synthesis rates maximized all the time. You do have to let them come down your place [inaudible 20:02] to recover.

David TaoDavid Tao

I come from a weightlifting background and the thing that was becoming popular about 10 years ago in American weightlifting. Now this was before weightlifting in America had had a Renaissance largely due to…a lot of people attributed it to cross fit differences in governance for the sport in US.

Around that time, around 2009, everyone said, “The reason America isn’t succeeding on the international stage is our training frequency is too low. We need to train like the Bulgarians do and go to maximum three or four times a day and have 21-25 sessions a week.

We’re maxing out our [inaudible 20:39] and we’re maxing out our snatches and we’re maxing out our front squats and back squats every session and we’re eating candy all day just to have enough simple carbohydrates, just to have enough glucose in order to maintain that volume.” No one can do that drug-free.

So many people I knew were into that, were taking time off of school to do that because you’re literally living in the gym. They were all getting injured and ramming their heads into the ground proverbially because doing that kind of frequency drug-free, I don’t care if you’re a powerlifter or you’re a weightlifter or you’re a bodybuilder. You’re going to hit a wall really quickly and you just can’t power through it.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Absolutely. It’s even [inaudible 21:29] , if you’re actually truly drug-free, to try to make it in competitive weightlifting naturally is stupid, I think. Why would you even bother? At the top, everyone is on drugs, everyone. You think Icarus, you think that whole thing was just them? Are you fucking kidding me?

Look, you have people who are on drugs doing certain things, putting up certain numbers, depending on what sport we’re talking about. Then you have these other people…We find out those people are on a shitload of drugs to do that. What you have is you have the best genetics you could ever want, that’s why they got that far as well.

You have the work ethic, you have everything, plus you have a shitload of drugs, and then you have these other people over here who are beating them, supposedly naturally. Oh, OK. I love it when people, they’ll speak out of both sides of their mouth.

They’ll say, on one hand, how big of a difference drugs truly do make, and if we’re talking about weightlifting, anybody who would say otherwise, I would just not even respond to it if they were to say. “Anabolics don’t make that big of a difference. They don’t help you really get that much stronger.” Uh, yeah. Literally I have nothing to say other than, “OK.”

The evidence is overwhelmingly clear that yes, they do. They help majorly with muscle and strength gain. They’ll say that, and then they’ll also say that, “Oh yeah, it makes perfect sense that somebody can naturally do what somebody else who has equally great genetics has to take a shitload of drugs to do.”

In the end, and this would be a different conversation, but drug tests of any kind, every single day, Olympic drug tests get beat. You have someone in the Olympics getting busted for drugs, “Oh, OK, fuck him, fuck him, or her,” and then what about all the people, though, that even beat them?

You think they’re not on drugs? I think it’s silly if somebody’s getting into a sport where at the top, the vast majority of your competitors, if not literally all of them, are going to be on a lot of drugs and you’re not willing to do that, why are you wasting your time?

David TaoDavid Tao

Interestingly, and I don’t want to go too far down this particular rabbit hole, I agree with your statement that performance-enhancing drugs, anabolics, make a massive difference in weightlifting. A lot of people will say, “That’s a powerlifting thing.” No, no, no. It certainly does give…

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

A lot of people all say the other thing. They’ll say, “Oh no, it’s a bodybuilding thing.” [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

t certainly does give an advantage. When I was making that statement about the Bulgarian system, I do think, and this is talking to a lot of folks who trained under that system back even in the Soviet Union, it’s just not tenable for the drug-free lifter. I will say, I do think and I do truly believe there are drug-free weightlifters who do have success on the international stage.

I don’t know for sure exactly. I am not [inaudible 24:35] , I’m not [inaudible 24:36], and I’m not those lifters. You need to have perfect information from all three to know exactly who is lifting clean and who’s not. I do believe, however naive this is, I do believe that there are great lifters who have success on the international stage who are doing it drug-free today.

I wasn’t around in the 80s, [laughs] I wouldn’t necessarily say that then across the board, but…

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

I’m sure today’s numbers are only probably better than the 80s, right?

David TaoDavid Tao

Depends on the weight class, a lot aren’t. The bodyweight classes have changed a lot. They’ve restructured the bodyweight classes a significant number of times. Many of the highest Sinclair totals of all time in weightlifting were set in the 80s and early 90s.

There was a long period of time in the early 2000s, especially, where people weren’t even coming close to a lot of those old numbers, from a lot of the Bulgarian system, the Soviet system, things like that. Not true for every single weight class, but I will say, I think that performance-enhancing drugs can make a huge difference across any strength sport.

I don’t think any strength sport is the exception there. Any strength sport that thinks it’s entirely 100 percent clean is wrong. I don’t think any athlete from any sport can claim that everyone in the sport’s 100 percent clean. I think it’s incredibly naive.

The day of this recording, we had an article go up on BarBend today about how five members of the Egyptian national team in weightlifting just tested positive. There were several countries that weren’t competing at the Rio Olympics of weightlifting because of positive drug tests. It’s certainly something that was not just a problem in the 80s and we fixed.

I think, to your point, people are still finding ways to beat the tests across strength sports. That was maybe a bit of a tangent we got off on, but there’s no perfect argument for either side and I think that it’s constantly something where at least some athletes and drug-testing authorities are always going to be in tension.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

It’s a cat and mouse game. Yeah. To that point, you certainly know a lot more about competitive weightlifting than I do, and I guess I should qualify everything I said with, I was thinking more with the best in the game. I was thinking more of the minority of lifters who are enjoying the majority of success.

I think it’s certainly reasonable to say that if you have the genetics and you have the time and the inclination, you’re willing to put in the work and it all can come together, that you can have some success in a sport like weightlifting without drugs. Maybe I’m too cynical and maybe I’m wrong, but this is how I look at it personally.

I don’t have the genetics for strength, I was never a very strong person, but let’s say I did and I was considering it seriously. I would think it naive for me to think that I can reach the top of this sport natural. To me, that’s naive. Now, if my goal was just I want to be able to show up.

I want to be, even if I’m bottom of the pack, if I’m 25th percentile or something, I’m happy. One, I know I’m natural, so I have a big disadvantage here. Two, taking it in context, I never expect to set any records or make a big splash. That would make sense to me, but to think that I could go all the way naturally is, I think, that would be naiveté.

David TaoDavid Tao

Well, that’s actually a pretty good segue, because so much of what you do and…I first came across some of the content you were producing as the founder of Legion Athletics and producing supplements in that realm.

A lot of what you do is targeted, and the content you produce and really your whole brand ethos, it’s targeted at the person who’s trying to optimize their performance whether that’s looking a certain way, lifting a certain amount, doing so naturally or doing so without the use of banned performance enhancers.

How does that ethos of you have chosen to do, to train a certain way and to have a certain approach to health and fitness, how has that carried over into the company you’ve built, do you think?

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

I guess our focus has been on, for example, the fact that we don’t use any artificial sweeteners or food dyes or flavors, not because those chemicals are as bad as some people would have you believe. The alarmists would say that just a serving or two of sucralose a day is going to destroy your gut.

No. No, it won’t, but 10 to 15 servings a day, every day for months or even years on end, might not actually be good for your gut, which can impact many different physiological symptoms in our systems and the symptoms can be hard to diagnose, because it can manifest in different ways.

Then again, just something I believe in personally, am I afraid of chewing some artificially sweetened gum? No. Am I afraid of having some Splenda in…I guess I don’t really have Splenda in anything, but if it were in something I was going to be eating or whatever? No.

I do think it’s smart to minimize my intake of these chemicals. Early on, that was a decision, though, that maybe someone listening can be, like, “Yeah, that makes sense. Sure. Make your supplements all-natural.”

When I started Legion, a big part was scratching my own itch and making this stuff I wished other people would make. I knew I was going to be taking quite a few different supplements per day. I was going to have a pre-workout, I was going to have a post-workout. I was going to have a greens supplement.

I was going to have, probably, two or three scoops of protein powder per day and possibly other things as well. When you started adding all that up — if all that were to be sweetened — it would add up to a fair number of servings every day.

One thing that many people don’t know is, to do that, actually, is quite expensive. For example, the flavor system, of which there are several of our products include the sweetening, it cost up to five dollars per bottle. That’s the cost to do it naturally.

If I were using artificial chemicals, it could be as low as 50 cents.

[crosstalk]

David TaoDavid Tao

So that’s a 10 x mark-up that you, as the producer of the supplement, have to incur.

 

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Just eat, and people may be willing to pay a little bit more for 100 percent natural products. Truly not every ingredient in it is natural, and no chemicals, and the sweeteners, and the flavoring and the food dyes.

Even natural food dyes that are, let’s say beets or something, if you want some red, that stuff is expensive. I pay a pretty big premium as the producer of the products to do that, and you add that on top of formulations that are expensive as well but I believe in it.

I believe in it personally. It’s the smart thing to do for myself and therefore, I think it’s the smart thing to do for others. It’s, in a way, how I would want to be treated as a consumer, basically.

As I am probably my best consumer of my stuff, it works in that way of, I don’t know if I would say, “philosophical ideas,” not in a sense of, “what does existence mean.” I have certain lenses that I view my training and my diet and my life and lifestyle through. Those definitely carry over to the stuff in the brand. That’s one way.

The other way I mentioned would be spending a lot on the formulations themselves and in working with people who know a lot more about the supplementation than I do and giving them real budgets to work with. That has allowed us to produce really high-quality products at the expense of profits though.

My cost of goods hovers around 50 to 60 percent of revenue. By business standards, that’s bad. Just a business person who doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the ins and outs of what I’m talking about would be like, “You’re stupid. You can’t…That needs to be 30 or 40 percent.”

That’s business standard, but the problem is if you make supplements, you can’t have great products and great margins. You can just pick one, and I choose to have great products and not-so-great margins. There are various reasons for that, and I’ll stop here and see where you want to go next, but those are a couple of examples how my personality overlays on Legion.

David TaoDavid Tao

Mike, where that takes my mind, and the question I will ask is, what is a product that may be you’ve wanted to produce via Legion that you haven’t been able to make work? It could be on a cost-basis, it’s just not economically feasible. We can’t sell this for what people would pay for it based on our cost as well.

Also, it could be for just product availability. May be you can’t product something that you really want to produce, and you really like at scale, in order to roll it out to a wide market. Is there any product that is may be possible to produce, but you haven’t been able to make it work from a business standpoint for either of those reasons?

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Yeah, I’d say there are certain ingredients we’ve run into. I have a greens product and we wanted to put anthocyanins in, the pigment in blueberries. To get a good dose, it was going to cost $30 a bottle for that one ingredient.

Right, the anthocyanins are out. Now, what many supplement companies would do, though, is they would put literally one milligram of them — prop blend — and just call it out on the marketing, “It has anthocyanins, anti-cancer properties. These things are so neat.”

We don’t do that, so it’s either an effective dose or nothing. That’s how we approach ingredients and so we had to cut that out.

PQQ is another great molecule that we would love to put in. The best place would probably be our multivitamin, but it’s too expensive. What we may end up doing is selling it as a stand-alone ingredient. At least that would work.

It’s just, to get a good dose, it would add…I don’t remember off the top of my head — I want to say it was upward of seven dollars a bottle or eight dollars a bottle for 1 ingredient in a product that has currently 14 ingredients in addition to all the vitamins and minerals. Everything’s a trade-off, and so we have to consider that with ingredients.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’m going to solve your business problem here. What you do is you send folks two cartons of refrigerated blueberries with each order. That’s probably not going to be more than, at scale, more than a 12-dollar cost. I just saved you $18 on that product.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Jeez.

David TaoDavid Tao

I’ve done it.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Then people are going to complain about the calories. They’re going to say, “I don’t want to waste a hundred calories on blueberries.” [laughs]

David TaoDavid Tao

Then peel them. Maybe include the world’s tiniest blueberry, like proprietarily designed blueberry peeler. Just so they can get the skins and then a mortar and pestle, so that after they dry them, they can grind them down, process, and go.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

30 years of genetically engineering blueberries to create the ultimate anthocyanin supplement.

David TaoDavid Tao

It’s a DIY project. People love that. People will pay a premium for that. You can increase the margins, it’s perfect.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

We’ve had an issue with ingredients. As far as products go, I would say a hormone booster or optimizer would be nice because there’s a lot of demand for it but there’s nothing natural that we feel strongly about that makes us want to actually do a product.

We wouldn’t be able to stand behind it like we do the rest of our products, individual ingredients. To anyone listening, if you want to see what I’m talking about, go to legionathletics.com and check out any of the sales pages, you’ll see that they’re very in depth.

I’m actually going through a whole process of updating them right now, so they’re going to be available, start with a one-page summary of a product. If that’s all you want to read and if you’re already pretty much sold and just want to know quickly what this thing is, fine.

If you keep going, there’s a lot of information, in terms of each ingredient, what that ingredient is, what it does in the body, why we chose to include it in the product. What is the clinically affected dose, how much is in every serving of the product, and so forth.

I guess that’s more of a marketing thing. As far as a hormone booster goes, “What do we have?” We have D-aspartic acid, which maybe does a little bit of something for two weeks, and we have several ingredients that just do nothing. Tribulus, horny goat weed, and the stuff that you normally find in hormone-boosting supplements do absolutely nothing.

That also applies to estrogen-blocking supplements where sure, if you take estrogen-blocking drugs, they work really well, but there is no natural equivalent that works well enough that we are willing to stand behind it and sell it.

BCAA, the same thing. I get asked every week to make BCAAs, even from people who say…because I’ve written about BCAAs. I’ve spoken about them.

I’m like, “They’re worthless. You don’t need them, period. They’re not going to help you gain muscle faster. They’re not going to help you get stronger faster. They’re not going to help you recover better from your workouts. Just don’t waste your money on them.”

Every week, we hear from people who [laughs] basically say, “I know what you have to say about BCAAs. I don’t even disagree. I think that the evidence also is pretty clear, at this point, but I just like them. I just like drinking them. It makes my water tasty. “Can you please make BCAA [laughs] so I can just give you my money instead of giving it to this other company that lies about them to sell them?”

Unfortunately, that’s also not a great sales pitch. “This is actually a useless product, other than it makes your water tasty. This is if you don’t want…” What are those little drops? [laughs] “If you don’t want to put fruit in your water or use those little flavor drops, here. This is an alternative.”

Those are a couple examples of ingredients that we’ve liked to use in products that hey, I wish, because there’s a lot of demand for them, but that’s not what drives my business decisions. It’s not just about, “Can I make money?”

David TaoDavid Tao

Are there any products or ingredients, maybe, is the better level of specificity here, that have surprised you in that maybe you thought they were particularly effective, or maybe you initially thought they were ineffective, and more research has indicated to you that your initial preconceptions or that your preconceived notions were maybe not super correct?

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

That’s a good question. It’s good timing for that question, too, because we are going through a whole round of reformulation. This is your [inaudible 40:38] , and there have been some tweaks and updates but not a real stem-to-stern…

I wouldn’t say overhaul but review of each product, looking at again now because in some cases more research has come out. In other cases, the people again who I work with, and the person who drives that whole process, his name is Curtis. He is the co-founder. He’s the former lead researcher and writer over examine.com.

Anybody who’s familiar with examine.com, all that technical stuff on the website and all the 40,000 plus citations, that was Curtis.

David TaoDavid Tao

Curtis Frank is in many ways a legend in supplement research circles online.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Rightfully so. He is the Gandalf of supplementation, right? I really enjoy working with him because he’s truly an expert and truly a professional in that regard. A funny dude though. He’s a fun person. I have had him on my podcast. It’ll be like half weird jokes and half talking about serious stuff.

Anyways, Curtis is driving that. Also, he oversees the advisory board which includes guys like Menno Henselmans, James Krieger, our accountants, and other respected people in the [inaudible 41:56] space. We’re going through reformulating stuff right now. I would say most of it is not that much is changing.

There are some ingredients that — I’m going to give Curtis more of the credit here than me — he believed in because of what we understood at the time in terms of the mechanistic properties. Even if it was preliminary animal research, we would explain that in the copy.

We would say, “Animal research suggests that this could do this. We’re not saying this is a primary ingredient like Hordenine is in one of our fat-loss products, Fenix. That’s one example. There is an example called rutaecarpine. It’s a molecule called rutaecarpine. It’s like a little berry from a plant. It’s in our sleep supplement. It’s there to help the body reach the idea.

It’s explained why we believe, or why Curtis believes that this probably does work. It can help your body get rid of caffeine quicker by just increasing the activity of an enzyme that helps break it down. Now, he’s taking that out. The reason he’s taking it out though is not because he believes it doesn’t work.

Even though there hasn’t been more research on it, it’s a pretty obscure thing. The research that is there is rat research. It should raise a red flag for people who are reading through something, and you’re actually checking citations. It’s rat research — because we’re not just big rats — but shouldn’t also just be immediately thrown out.

You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. It doesn’t mean that there’s something misleading about it. It depends how this is being presented. In the case with the rutaecarpine, we’re saying, “Hey, this is what we know about it. There is also some other research that is outside. It isn’t your caffeine metabolism.

“We do understand some of the mechanisms here. It would make sense because it does up-regulate this enzyme. This is the enzyme that processes caffeine, gets it out of the body by up-regulating you are going to help with that.

“He’s taking it out because now — as he has continued to research and expand his understanding of not just supplementation but biology — he’s just like, “You know, I don’t like that the research hasn’t progressed at all on this molecule and I don’t actually really like the idea of if people are going to be taking this supplement every day.

“I don’t like the idea of taking this enzyme up every day because it does have some other physiological mechanisms that come into play. I want to remove it and I’m going to replace it with something else that I think would be more beneficial.”

I would say because I started working with Curtis from the beginning, we started with a really good foundation. From there, it’s been more about just tweaking things. One other example, quickly, is ornithine. Ornithine amino acid evolved from the Krebs cycle generation of energy was in Pulse because there is some evidence that it can be good for longer endurance activities.

We took it out eventually because the effect was not all that significant. Again, this was a throw-in because it’s not very expensive. There is some evidence for people who are doing longer endurance heavy activities. It may help them a little bit, but the effect is not huge and it was a little bit redundant physiologically because of the [inaudible 45:51] .

That’s something that, OK, that came out. I can’t think of an instance, honestly, where there’s an ingredient where we’re like, “This is it.” Remember when HMB…

Actually, it probably still is being promoted, maybe not as mainstream because a lot of the big brands run the HMB train hard, as of just a few years ago, really. Saying, “This is essentially the next creatine. This is really going to boost muscle and strength gain.”

Now we know it does not, the evidence is clear it absolutely does not. We have had HMB in one of our products, not for the purpose of muscle and strength gain, but simply for anti-catabolic purposes because it’s in a product that’s meant to be taken when you’re doing fasted training.

There’s yohimbine, which drives fat loss, and then HMB is also included in the product because if you’re training in a fasted state, protein breakdown rates are going to be a bit higher, and especially after you work out depending on when you eat.

It was something that we thought was not crucial, but it was a neat inclusion and a warranted inclusion in a product that’s specifically meant for fasted training. There haven’t been any major flops that I can think of, more just incremental improvements as…

Again, I’m going to give Curtis and the Science Advisory Board the credit there, as their understanding, and very much to Curtis’ credit, as his understanding of the world of supplementation has continued to evolve, he comes and says, “Hey, what do you think about these ideas?” It’s a fun process to go through because he’s very good at it.

David TaoDavid Tao

Mike, I referred to you as Swiss Army Knife earlier in the broadcast, and I’m actually still upset that I wasn’t the first one…

 …even the first one this week to refer to you as that on a podcast, but where is the best place for folks to stay up to date with both what’s going on with Legion Athletics and also what you’re doing and the content you individually are driving out?

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Legionathletics.com is really the hub now, so that’s where all of Legion’s products are. We also have a coaching service, we have meal plans, we have more than just supplements.

We have a blog where there’s probably close to a thousand long-form articles now that I’ve written, and most of them written by me, anything that’s published under my name was written by me.

We also have a few writers now these days who work with me, but that’s published under their names. Probably about a thousand articles there, covering pretty much everything you could want to know about improving your body composition.

I couldn’t say everything you want to know about improving your health because that’s so vast, but we have a lot of health-related stuff, too.

I have a podcast called “Muscle for Life,” which you can find wherever you like to find podcasts to listen to, but also we have all the episodes up at legionathletics.com.

I’m kind of active on Instagram, I don’t really like social media so I don’t give it too much of my time, but I can be found and contacted there as well.

 

David TaoDavid Tao

Excellent. Mike, thanks so much for joining us today, and looking forward to hearing your voice on many podcasts to come over at “Muscle for Life.”

If you’re just listening now and you’re a subscriber to the BarBend podcast, make sure to give “Muscle for Life” your subscribe and your listen as well. Mike, thanks so much for joining us.

Mike MatthewsMike Matthews

Yes sir, thank you.

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