Rowan Minnion: Dealing with Influencers PLUS How to Recover Better for Strength

Rowan Minnion is an athlete and researcher best known as the founder and force behind Blonyx. He’s especially passionate about improving athletic recovery and explains actionable — and some honestly surprising — tips about the science behind performance. (How do you optimize sleep? What’s the “right” way to take a rest day, and why aren’t more athletes doing it?) Rowan also shares his own ups and downs working with fitness influencers online, from successful promo to “pay to play” negotiations and getting ghosted by digital ambassadors. 

In this episode of the BarBend Podcast, host David Thomas Tao talks to Rowan Minnion about:

  • Rowan’s perspective on the CrossFit market and big changes to come (2:10)
  • As a business owner, how do you build your brand in niche sports and markets? (4:10)
  • The challenges of working with “influencers” online (7:30)
  • How do you recruit athletes to represent your brand? (9:40)
  • Influencer “pay to play” (12:00)
  • When your brand gets ghosted online (15:00)
  • Rowan’s unlikely background in a research lab (18:50)
  • When supplement brands cut corners (21:20)
  • What almost all athletes get wrong about sleep and recovery — including a shocking statistic about growth hormone (23:10)
  • Should you get a sleep study done? (24:30)
  • Additional aspects of recovery we can all focus on, including the biggest misconception about recovery days (27:14)

Relevant links and further reading:


Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

There’s an energy level that you need with your athletes. To maintain that, the primary thing is a relationship with them. It’s about checking in with them, seeing how they’re doing, how their day is going, how their training’s going, what support they need from us, etc.


If you do not do that on a regular basis, then how connected they are with your brand will start to dissipate until they will find another brand or you’ll get that email that says, “Hey, it’s not really working for me. I want to move away from this kind of thing.”

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. This podcast is presented by


Today, I’m talking to Rowan Minion, a former research scientist turned entrepreneur who today serves as the founder and CEO of supplement company Blonyx. In our conversation, Rowan gives me the insides scoop on what he learned about supplements while working in a university lab.


Along with what he calls the single most underrated tool for recovery and performance across sports. We also talk about how supplements and fitness itself as marketed online and where consumers should look to cut through the fluff both online and in person. Also, I wanted to take a second to say we’re incredibly thankful that you listen to podcast.


If you haven’t already, be sure to leave a rating and review of the BarBend podcast in your app of choice. Now let’s get to it. Rowan, thanks so much for joining us today. We’re recording this at the end of 2019, looking forward to 2020. I know the CrossFit space has been an arena you and your company have been very big on for the past few years.


What do you think of a lot of the changes that occurred in 2019 in CrossFit, in the CrossFit Games, and what are you looking forward to in that space heading into 2020?


Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

Yeah, David, thanks for having first of all. Great question. I think CrossFit in 2019 has gone through a lot of changes. Greg Glassman coming in, and especially on the competitive side with the CrossFit Games has really shaken things up with the Open, and the way people can qualify for the CrossFit Games.


I think a lot of people would be looking in this next year about where that settles and what happens. I know us as a company, as you said being really focused on the CrossFit space and CrossFit athletes, we are really interested in where that’s going to go, what that means for the competitive side of it. There are a lot of athletes that we work with who…


Games athletes of the future and current etc., they want to know what happens with them and their careers too. I think a lot of people, including affiliate owners, athletes, at any level, and obviously businesses that are in that space, they’re really going to be looking to see where this all settles.

David TaoDavid Tao


As a supplement company that’s focused a lot on the CrossFit community and CrossFit athletes as brand ambassadors and a target market, is this something that has made you reevaluate where your focus is and the audience and communities you’re focusing on marketing your products to and selling your products to?

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

It has. Whether it’s a case of the changes being made has caused that or where we are as a company, it’s a bit of both.


In terms of those changes, with uncertainty in the market, and especially being a niche-focused company, as we are, when you see your niche going through some changes and uncertainty, you definitely need to start thinking about the alternatives in that. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing.


Our focus right now has been on looking at other athletic markets and how our supplements and sports nutrition products fit in that space.

David TaoDavid Tao


Not to pry too much into anything that’s proprietary or secret knowledge right now, but outside the CrossFit community, what are some of these other spaces, groups, potentially passionate athletic audiences that you’d like to focus a little bit more on?

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

To take it back a bit, maybe a question of how do you actually transition for such a niche? This is a really interesting topic for me is if you start in the niche market like the CrossFit market, how do you then, when the time comes, expand out of that? You can really embed yourself in a market.


The first thing we needed to start thinking about is how do we build our relationship with these other markets. I’ll give you an example. Road cycling is one of these markets that’s a very quickly growing market. A lot of people say it’s the modern age equivalent of golf with aging athletes etc.


How do we communicate and build relationships with market when we’re so ingrained with the CrossFit market? The first thing that we did is start to look at what commonalities there are. In these other sports markets, not just road cycling. One thing about CrossFit and the CrossFit market is this real drive for an athlete. Having an athletic ambition. It’s very well-tuned in for that.


If you’re a CrossFit athlete, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at, you have some form of ambition. Whether that’s doing a muscle up or even squatting below parallel is when people tend to start up doing CrossFit.

David TaoDavid Tao


Or when they’ve been doing it for a while like yours, truly, and the mobility just isn’t there.

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

Absolutely. Yeah, exactly. We always will have our goats on that kind of stuff, I think. It’s having that athletic ambition is very much in CrossFit. We even start to think about, “How do we translate that into other sports?” and then start to talk in that language that transcends the different sport types.


David TaoDavid Tao


What are some of the challenges that you think businesses in the CrossFit space are facing right now with the changes in regional structure in CrossFit game structure, and a pulling back of resources from CrossFit HQ as far as raw, you can call it manpower resources invested in CrossFit games media?

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

That’s an interesting one. Let’s talk about the media side first. I think that is going to change who the influences are, and that’s a big one. Influencer marketing is something that has risen to the top in the CrossFit world. The personalities of today have much bigger sway with their market audiences.


If you look at Brooke Ence and Brooke Wells are too great athletes for that. Where back when we started in 2012, ’13 and we worked for some of the top-level athletes at the time, and they just didn’t have that traction because CrossFit wasn’t as well known. That will be a big one challenge for where that influence is.


As a brand, we start to think, “If these athletes aren’t as visible, how valuable are they to us or the ones that figure out other ways to be visible?” Obviously, the CrossFit media channel, social media especially, that was a great avenue for these guys to build their profiles on that side.


In terms of the other question you had about the challenge that companies like ours, we face with all of these changes. The biggest one is the CrossFit games are such a routine, a promotional platform for us and a lot of other brands.


We knew how it worked. We knew what the Open would do and how to manage things like social media and interaction with the community around the Open. Then the Regional structure, you saw the same brands at Regionals and we have the same format and the same way we approached it, that kind of thing.


Then into the Games as well, that won’t change too much around the Games. Definitely, having the Sanctional events, it’s renegotiating the contracts on and value and how you manage them is there’s a lot of uncertainty around the format of the events. Figuring that stuff out is definitely a big one.


I think that that’s the primary thing. It’s more the structure way and how our promotion works within the event structure now.

David TaoDavid Tao

 I want to talk about influencer marketing for a second. This is something that you’ll hear a lot about on every financial-journalism talk show and podcast, but I want to keep it specific to the fitness industry. I know you’re someone with a lot of interests.


Even outside of the fitness industry, we’ve talked about some of this off-camera, so to speak, or off the mic specifically in the fitness industry because it seems to be its own beast, influencer marketing. Working with influencers to leverage their reach, especially on social media to advertise products. That’s what it boils down to.


It’s oftentimes a little more nuanced than that, especially when brands are approaching influencers in this space. Blonyx is a known quantity in the CrossFit space, but it’s not the largest supplement company in the world. You know what I mean? It’s not a household name to necessarily every single person.


When you’re approaching an influencer, how do you negotiate with them to get them on board to give it, some of your products are worth promoting? Are you negotiating with agents? Are you negotiating with them directly? What does that process look like?


A lot of folks at home aren’t even necessarily aware of how some of these deals get done. How does the sausage gets made there?

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

That’s a great question. I can only speak from us as a brand, Blonyx. The primary thing is it comes down to your strategy for approaching. I’ve seen a lot of different strategies in ways to acquire ambassadors, and also the types of ambassadors that you go after. For us we’re very key to our core, to our marketing and our approach.


One of our pillars if you like, as a brand, is integrity. To do that, the first thing we do is we tend to approach people who already use our products. We look at our existing community, people who know our products, know the brand, and have a true and honest love for our products and what we do. We focus primarily on them.


It’s interesting because we had a lot of top level athletes in our roster. A lot of those athletes, we brought them on because of who they were and their following, etc., and started to work with them. It took a bit of time to build a relationship and I feel that is actually the best way to do it is firstly to understand where they are in your ecosystem.


If they are people who already use your products, that’s definitely the first…I think that’s the first people you should go with. They already know your brand, they tried your product, they have a real idea for what you stand for and that will be much truer. It’d be a real true endorsement, which I think a lot of people pick up on nowadays.


I actually think because of the success of influencer marketing, how people view influencer marketing is changing slightly. There’s a lot of people…You were asking about agents before and how you go about negotiating with influencers.


The top-level influencers that have big followings, you’re talking half a million plus followers on say Instagram as a benchmark there. Likelihood is that you will go through an agent and it will very much be paid to play. They will come up with a figure, you meet with them, build a bit of a superficial relationship with them.


It’s more around a contract. Then you go from there and they’ll promote your brand out there and that’s the way it’s going. A lot of people they’re creating great careers out of that space, in the influencer space.


A lot of brands, and this is something we actually learned from lululemon, a local company. They have a really interesting approach to influencer marketing, and it’s something we learned from them. They have a policy of not paying any athletes to simply promote their brand. They only pay athletes to be a part of their brand.


If they’re out there representing them maybe at a TED Talk or something like that, and they would bring them on and involve them in that, and that’s how they would use that person there. They use very grass root ambassadors and people who are out there in the fitness community, and having this very small sphere of influence.


They found real traction in that. I believe Vega, another supplement brand, a very successful supplement brand has also used that. I’m much more a believer in that. It’s about knowing your immediate community and building that community, and then basically empowering them to really influence.


I think that grass level influences much. Personally, I think it’s much more valuable. It’s also more fun and better to manage in my experience too.

David TaoDavid Tao

You mentioned athletes who are already using your products are your primary focus, or I should say your top-level focus when it comes to recruiting brand ambassadors. How do you figure out if an athlete’s already using your product, if they’re not actively promoting it? Are you like snooping and expanding in on Instagram photos to see in like the back of someone’s kitchen or in their gym bag?


Like out of focus, just to the side of the frame. If you see like a Blonyx container or something like that? [laughs] What’s that process like?

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

Absolutely. That’s actually a big part of it. When the brand and our team spent actually a lot of time out there on social media and emailing and also just looking at our order lists that come through, and looking for people and seeing who they are. We actually on a regular basis try and reach out to our customers and just say, “Hey, how are things going? What do you think of our products?”


You can get a dialogue going and then you think these people are really interesting and cool. They got really interesting story, and then we build on it that way. It brings people a lot closer to your brand. They have a natural personality to work with on the brand side of it. You really get to vet them and understand what they’re about before you start working with them on the influencer side.


I actually think that protects your brand, especially if you really want to hold your reputation as you go out there. You can pick and choose the right people.

David TaoDavid Tao


Would you call this the date before you marry strategy of influencer marketing? [laughs]

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

Absolutely. Yeah. It is very much like a dating process, the whole thing in my opinion. You should treat it that way. You really should get to know the influencers that you use.


They’re out there effectively part of your marketing team, and if you do it correctly, really get to know them, have a successful date as it were, then the promotion that you get will be fantastic and do really well for your brand.

David TaoDavid Tao


All right. To continue the dating analogy, which may be the worst decision I’ve made on this podcast, have you ever been ghosted by an influencer and also, have you ever had to break up acrimoniously with an influencer?

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

Yeah, absolutely. It happens relatively frequently and it has done throughout the whole lifetime of Blonyx, the last nine years now. It’s the case of people change, people go through different scenarios and situations in their life. We have various reasons for it in terms of people…especially people who are good athletes.


If they get injured, or they lose interest in this sport or they’re not doing very well, they tend to recede a bit, and often that comes with ghosting of your sponsors, because you’re not sure what to say to them or you think you’re letting them down effectively. We see that at top level as well as a Red Bull for example, there was a great documentary, Mark McMorris is a fantastic snowboarder. I’m a big fan of his.


He had a horrific injury and was out for almost a year. Red Bull athlete and Red Bull stuck with him through that process where he thought they wouldn’t. I think that’s the classic example of something that happens with an athlete when they don’t feel like they’re performing that well.


Also, there’s another one and you have to be taking on the chin for yourself if you don’t manage your athletes correctly and maintain your relationship with them, then things will start to deteriorate over time. There’s an energy level that you need with your athletes, and to maintain that, the primary thing is a relationship with them.


It’s about checking in with them, seeing how they’re doing, how their day is going, how their training’s going, what support they need from us, etc.


If you do not do that on a regular basis, then how connected they are with your brand will start to dissipate until they will find another brand. Or you’ll get that email that says, “Hey, it’s not really working for me. I want to move away from this kind of thing.”


So that’s something that we’ve actually learned the hard way on that, is it’s not just, “Here’s some product, here’s some support,” and post about us on social media and then let them go and they’ll work wonders for you. It has to be a continual two-way communication. Otherwise you do get ghosted on that dating scene.

David TaoDavid Tao

I wanted to change the subject a bit here because in addition to running a supplement company, you have a pretty significant background in sports, science, and supplementation research. Look, anyone listening to this podcast has seen a supplement ad before. We get bombarded with a lot of them, and it can be difficult to choose between supplements on the market.


Instead of asking you the question that I think I’ve asked too often in the past of people in the industry, like, “Oh, what are your favorite supplements?”, etc., I want to learn a little bit more about your background and experiences on the other side of the industry, actually formulating and researching supplements.


It’s something that I’m always interested in learning more about, and something that a lot of even very active athletes and supplement purchasers and supplement consumers don’t necessarily know.


The research that goes into the supplements, finding out what’s actually effective, finding out what probably isn’t that effective. How did you get involved in that aspect of the industry pre-Blonyx? Then I have some more specific questions about your experiences there.

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

It’s actually a really interesting story. I kind of fell into it. I was in Glasgow in Scotland studying exercise physiology at the time. It was a purely an interest thing. I was an athlete at the time. I was a soccer player at the university there.


I managed to get a work placement out in the US at Iowa State University. My real plan was to go out there and play for the soccer team for a year. I managed to get a job. I didn’t actually know what it was doing. I knew it was with a research department. It was actually an animal science department there.


I got out there and was picked up in a big Lexus SUV by this crazy white head science-looking guy, who really had no idea why I was there, at least when he got me pretty much from the airport. He said, “I don’t really remember signing up for this work placement here, but we’ll figure out some things for you to do.”


He whisked me out to his research lab. They’re actually on the research park at the university. What I didn’t realize at the time is he was the crazy scientist who had discovered HMB, which is one of the main ingredients that we sell, but it was a huge supplement back in the…This is the very late ’90s. It was up there with creatine at the time. He sat me down. He said, “We’ve just made a lot of money from selling this HMB supplement.”


“What we’re going to do now is we’re going to regulate the market. We’re going to start testing all of these big brands that sell our products without ingredient in it and make sure that they’re actually doing correctly.” One of the jobs that I had there was to run testing on these products. It was EAS and Twinlab at the time.


Huge, behemoth companies that had grown out of pretty much nothing on the back of creatine primarily. We started looking at the supplements and the objective was to make sure that the quality of HMB out there was maintained. The first thing we found is a lot of these companies were cutting corners. It was really interesting to see.


The dosage wasn’t quite what they said on label in a lot of cases, which was a really interesting thing. In some cases, they actually wouldn’t even put HMB in there. We had to go through the courts to try and change that situation to protect or brand. That was how I fell into it. The years after that, what I realized is firstly, it’s a very expensive thing to do.


To run studies on dietary supplements. There’s a lot of ethical considerations because you’re doing studies by feeding humans. There’s a lot of paperwork to do there. It’s a lot money involved in that.


At the same time, I start to realize that the value of doing supplements, especially for companies who would fund them, was actually going down and down because marketing was becoming such a big thing in the supplement space.


From then, did all that work in regulatory work there for a few years. I moved away from it a little bit. I went from there. I went and finished my degree in exercise physiology. I went into sleep medicine after that. Then I got to manage sleep labs and ran again human studies on supplementation in sleep and things like that. It was pretty interesting.

David TaoDavid Tao

I want to talk about sleep for a second. This is not something I was expecting to talk about on this podcast. It comes up on a lot of podcasts when I talk to people who are in the research space or involved in the research space of human performance. Sleep, we all sleep. Literally, everyone sleeps. It’s necessary for life. It’s just so underrated.


It’s something that I think a lot of athletes will go there entire performance career without spending a lot of time thinking about. What do you think are the most underrated components of getting a good night’s sleep as it pertains to athletic performance?


What are some of the things you learned from your time in a sleep lab that might surprise a lot of athletes who are looking to utilize sleep for performance?

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

I think the primary thing is you need to keep your sleep very regular. That is the absolute primary thing that I learned through working in a sleep lab.


Firstly, the importance of it in recovery. The biggest thing, if I can say one message to people about sleep in athletic performance, 50 percent of your growth hormone, which is the best recovery hormone in your body will cause most of your recovery to activate and happen.


Most of that, at least, 50 percent of it, is released through the first half of your sleep duration so the first four hours as you go into deep sleep through the night. If you’re not getting that sleep, you are simply not going to recover as well. It is the most important thing all athletes should know. How do you make sure you get good quality sleep?


That comes down to keeping it regular. They call it sleep hygiene. There’s a lot more to it than this, but the primary thing is going to bed at exactly the same time and waking up exactly the same time every single night. It will really regulate your sleep cycle and then your hormone cycles, especially with the growth hormone.

David TaoDavid Tao


What are some other tips that maybe you personally as an athlete and someone I know who’s still very much trying to tune in your own performance, what are some other things you might do to improve your rest and recovery? Could be related to sleep, could be more general.

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

Let’s continue on sleep very briefly. One thing with sleep as well, and this is continuing on sleep hygiene front there, is make sure that you don’t have any sleep issues. They are the hardest things to diagnose, especially with athletes. Let’s say sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is the number one cause of disrupted sleep in the whole of North America. It’s a big issue.


Sleep apnea, cause primarily by people who are obese and carry that extra bodyweight that weighs down their airways and closes their airways. Athletes also have that issue because they have extra muscle tissue. You’ll find that a lot of athletes actually do have snoring issues and sleep apnea issues.


The suggestion I have with anybody is if they’re having a hard time sleeping and don’t really feel sleep enough, even though they’re getting the hours in as an athlete is to start looking at getting a study done. They’re not too difficult to get done and they can definitely benefit you.


It’s definitely worth getting one done and making sure there’s no issue with obstructively in your airways before you sleep. Again, continuing on, just to make sure you are getting that recovery through sleep, and there’s no issues there, definitely worth your time to get a quick sleep study done on that.

David TaoDavid Tao


I will say it can be definitely be difficult to notice these sleep issues. Maybe if you don’t sleep with a partner, or if you’re a partner’s a very deep sleeper, sleep issues are going to be tough to diagnose because you’re not conscious during the period where you would notice these things. You have to make some inferences and it can be very difficult to self-diagnose.

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

Absolutely. It’s the biggest issue in modern medicine now. We’re living longer. We’re getting older, and there’s a lot more obesity. It’s these secondary things like sleep apnea that have actually started to really impact people. Cardiovascular disease is still the number one cause of death and massive risk factor of that is sleep problems.


I think it’s very difficult, like you said. Even if you have a partner, they are going to be sleep most of the time, and it’s very easy to sleep through snoring for a lot of people so you don’t even get that diagnosis.

David TaoDavid Tao

What about maybe moving…Those are fantastic points by the way. I’m really glad we dove into this a little bit because sleep is something that’s very important. If you were listening to this for takeaways about the secret world of research supplementation, and you leave us some great sleep tips, well, I’ll call that a win.


Beyond sleep, and maybe beyond supplementation, what are some other aspects of recovery that you like to encourage people to focus on or maybe focus on specifically yourself?

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

This comes from being an athlete for most of my life to the point where I would train myself to sickness on a regular basis. I know there’s a lot of people who do over train. I suffered it a lot. I would have two-hour training sessions every day playing soccer, and then weight training, and all these other things. The biggest one is know how to take proper down time.


I think this is a really huge one in the CrossFit market where downtime for a lot of people means active recovery. They go out and they’ll have a light 1K row. They go for a couple K run or something like that and see that as a recovery day. It’s not a recovery day. You need to let your whole body recover by complete inactivity.


Even stretching etc., you need to give your tissues time to actually go through that recovery process. Think of an injury. You don’t actively recover from an injury until you’re ready to actively recover from it. You need to take that same approach to that. Be aware of the signs of over training is another big one.


If you are feeling run down, you’re not sleeping properly, you’re getting more colds, etc., than normal, anything like that, then you do need to dial back your training. It can be seasonal. Here’s a great example. We studied this back in Glasgow.


If you have high stress at work, it will actually carry over into your training and your stress hormones will be high, which means it’s very likely that you’ll over train. I think that is a tip. People don’t realize the stress they have a work even though it’s completely mental. It’s nothing to do with your physical performance, really does carry over into your exercise performance.


Dial that back. It’s being mindful of the stress that you have in your life elsewhere and what that can lead to in terms of overtraining.

David TaoDavid Tao

Very interesting. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask what is coming up for you and for Blonyx. Any new exciting areas of research that you think might result in products and supplements that you could get excited in the near future? Maybe the research isn’t quite there yet or it’s something that’s going to take a little bit of time to his the market?


Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion

Great question. I’m glad because I can now shoehorn a little bit of a product plug and then I’ll talk more about a few things that I think are coming into the market. I think we’re placing a bet on egg white protein making a bit of a comeback here.


The whole market in terms of nutrition is moving away from highly processed foods yet the protein market currently is in a space where it’s going to have a hard time getting away from processed products. Whey protein is very highly processed. The plant proteins that are popular right now are also…There’s a lot of a chemical processing that goes on in that.


I think we’re making a play towards the cleaner proteins. The egg white proteins is one of them. I think the technology is starting to come into the market to improve the quality of egg white proteins now. One that we use is filtering technology that takes the sulfur out of the eggs so it gets rid of the eggy taste of it for example. I think there’s a move there.


The protein market is about to shift a little bit. We’re seeing that change there. The other one is just a real food play. This is something that we’re doing as a company where traditionally a supplement company. The way we see ourselves is much more a company that supports athletes with everything outside of their three meals a day.


That’s our job and our focus, and it means that our product development isn’t restricted. Something that we have in up right now, which I’m really excited about, is bringing out snack packs. You talk about dried fruit, nuts, and even meat, like a jerky-type meat in there. We really going to focus on building the products for different athlete types based on macros.


We have one which is a higher protein and lower on the carbohydrate. That would be much more for a power athlete. Another one which is higher on the carbohydrate side of things which would be much more for an endurance athlete. I feel like the food that the sports nutrition market is going shift a little bit towards that more catered approach, depending on what type of athlete that you are.

David TaoDavid Tao


Excellent. Rowan, where is the best place for people to keep up to date with you personally, and the work you do across the fitness space?

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion


Absolutely. Our website is You can look me up on LinkedIn is probably the best way to check in to us and our business offerings.

We tend to post a lot of our business news and what we do there. You can look up Blonyx you’ll see me attached to the company as one of the employees to that.

David TaoDavid Tao


Fantastic. I really do appreciate you taking the time. It’s always a pleasure to chat and I hope we get to again in the near future.

Rowan MinnionRowan Minnion


Appreciate it. I had fun.