At the 2016 Mr. Olympia, Hints of Bro Food Science to Come
Ketogenic diet foods and revamped, gender-neutral packaging offer a taste of where the fitness nutrition industry is headed.
Image: Oliver Lee Bateman/Motherboard
Last weekend, tens of thousands of musclebound meatheads descended on Las Vegas to sample the latest bro science. On display at the Olympia Fitness & Performance Expo was the state of the art in bro technology: humongous bodybuilding athletes and a multitude of nutrition companies selling the pills, powders, and creams that ostensibly helped these superhumans achieve their impressive physiques.
Nevertheless, change was in the air. As documented by former Paris Review editor Daniel Kunitz in his recent book Lift: Fitness Culture, from Naked Greeks and Acrobats to Jazzercise and Ninja Warriors, excellence at exercise has become a goal pursued by a much broader segment of the general population than ever before. Cognizant of this shift, many nutrition companies have deemphasized male-oriented product names and packaging in the hope of attracting a wider audience.
"Of course these companies know that the fitness demographics are changing: take a look at the slick new Dymatize logo versus what they were using before," filmmaker Chris Bell told Motherboard. Bell, who shot to fame by scrutinizing the unscrupulous practices of the fitness and nutrition industries in his documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster*, then noted that most of the vendors at the Olympia Expo were trying to deliver decent-quality products to the marketplace.
Markus Kaulius, the president of Magnum Nutraceuticals, explained that the biggest difficulty for any reputable nutrition company consists of anticipating consumer demand while also steering clear of using any ingredients likely to be banned or regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. "We have scientists approaching us with any number of projects they're trying to sell, sometimes crazy stuff and sometimes very interesting stuff, and it's up to our management team to figure out what is safe, effective, likely to resonate with our customer base, and able to be produced at a reasonable price," he said.
Both Kaulius and representatives from iSatori, a nutrition company that built its product lines around charismatic YouTube fitness celebrity C.T. Fletcher, acknowledged that they were employing clean, professional-looking packaging to reach consumers who might be turned off by old-school, hyper-macho products like "Animal Stak" (tagline: "unleash the beast").
Quest Nutrition co-founders Ron Penna and Tom Bilyeu laid out an even loftier goal for their brand, claiming that they wished to follow in the footsteps of ambitious futurists like Elon Musk by "doing something amazing, which in our case would be curing metabolic disease."
Bilyeu, who has developed a substantial following through his Inside Quest podcasts and YouTube videos, said that the company would be investing heavily in ketogenic foods—high-fat, moderate-protein, low-carbohydrate foods that can cause the body to burn its fat reserves before depleting protein stored in the muscles.
When asked by Motherboard whether these foods would be sold at a low cost in order to reach enough people to achieve a significant reduction in obesity-related diseases, Penna responded, "Calories in this country are already too cheap, with junk foods costing almost nothing and people eating way too much of them, so one of my goals is to raise the cost per calorie to starve our consumers—in the best possible way, of course."
Penna then added that a low-calorie diet has been positively correlated with extreme longevity, and that foods high in fat but low in calories are able to maintain a state of satiety much longer than high-carbohydrate foods with an equivalent number of calories.
Chris Bell, who has been studying the nutrition industry for well over a decade, takes all of these developments in stride. "If a drug or food additive truly works, like the herbal supplement kratom that assisted with my opiate withdrawal, then the FDA will almost certainly take steps to ban it or control its distribution. Knowledge is power, and as long as certain things are kept out of the hands of consumers, we'll consume whatever big pharma drugs we're prescribed and we'll never learn what products are actually best for us to use."
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