By Charlie Bausman
In the last few years, several new supplement companies have marketed their products specifically for mountain sports – backcountry hunting,
climbing, etc. . We were curious to see if anything, other than marketing, differentiated these brands and their products from the rest of the
crowded supplement industry.
The fitness demands of mountain sports are significantly different than those sports and activities (crossfit, team sports, body-building or image
fitness, pure endurance) most supplements are marketed to. It follows that the companies marketing their supplements to mountain athletes
would sell products somewhat different than the EAS, Muscle Pharm, CNC and other supplement manufacturers.
The Supplement Industry
overwhelmingly negative insight into the industry at large, showing example after example of poor manufacturing practices.
The science behind supplements is often lacking. This infographic by informationisbeautiful.net shows the validity of a wide range of supplements
based on scientifically founded studies. It’s worth a look for those of you spending $100 or more on supplements monthly.
The industry is also booming, with the global market at $82 billion as of 2013 with continued growth of 5-6% annually.
Entry into the industry as a distributor and/or retailer is simple. A person may establish themselves as a business, and reach out to the non-
branded supplement manufacturers. The new business owner has two options in making supplements to sell:
- Private Labeling – This is the practice of picking a formula which the manufacturer already makes, and slapping your own label on it. Thiscaninclude powders, pills, or pill packs. There is nothing original about the formula, and two different brands next to each other on a shelfmaybe the exact same.
- Custom Formula – Ingredients that the distributor wants combined into a powder or pill from the list of available ingredients whichthemanufacturer carries.
The barrier to custom formula’s is the cost and initial purchases. Most supplement manufacturers require a minimum order, usually between
5,000-10,000 pills or a similar total volume for powder. This comes with a high initial cost. Private labeling on the other hand has very low
minimum order, allowing a start-up supplement company to start selling without a major financial investment in product. Unless a supplement
company has significant financial backing, they’re likely to start with privately labeled supplements.
MtnOps, Wilderness Athlete, and Gnarly
The athletes we train with are the collective market which MtnOps, Wilderness Athlete, and Gnarly focus on. The physical demands of these
athletes are certainly extreme, and the nutrition they require reflects those demands. How do these companies products compare and
differentiate from products marketed to your everyday gym rat?
For the sake of comparison, we chose the protein powder supplement from each company along with a protein from EAS, a widely recognized
|Mtn Ops Magnum Protein Chocoloate – $44.95 2lbs||1 Scoop = 31g, 29 servings per container||Wilderness Athlete Protein Plus Chocolate – $39.95 1 lbs||1 Scoop = 30g, 30 servings per container||Gnarly Whey – $59.99 2lbs||40 Servings
|EAS Myoplex Protein Blend – $29.99 2lbs||1 Scoop = 38g 24 Servings per Container|
|Calories from fat||10||Calories from fat||16||Calories from fat||–||Calories||130|
|Total fat||1g||Total fat||1.5g||Total fat||2g||Calories from Fat||15|
|Saturated Fat||.5g||Saturated Fat||0||Saturated Fat||1g||Total Fat||1.5g|
|Trans Fat||0||Trans Fat||0||Trans Fat||0||Saturated Fat||0g|
|Total Carbohydrate||4g||Total Carbohydrate||5g||Total Carbohydrate||5g||Cholesterol||10mg|
|Dietary Fiber||<1g||Dietary Fiber||1g||Dietary Fiber||2g||Sodium||170mg|
|Calcium||338mg||Calcium||36%||“Gnarly Absorption Blend”||30mg: Black pepper extract, amylase, bromelain, celluslase, lactase, lapase, papain, protease||Dietary Fiber||1g|
|Iron||.31mg||Iron||8%||Bacillus Coagaulans (Lactospore)||16.5mg||Sugars||1g|
|Phosphorus||186mg||Phosphorus||20%||Lithothamnion Clacareum (Aquamin S)||
|Magnesium||23mg||Magnesium||12%||Calcium HMB (ß-hydroxy ß-methylbutyrate monohydrate)||1.5g|
|Chromium||4mcg||Vitamin A||less than 2%||L-Leucine||500mg|
|Pyridoxine (B-6)||Riboflavin 65%|
As you can see, there is little variation between MtnOps, Wilderness Athlete, and EAS. Gnarly stands out as it’s the only protein “Derived purely
from antibiotic-free, non-rBGH grass-fed cow’s milk” according to their website, as well containing a probiotic formula. It should be noted that the
advertised nutritional values per serving (25g protein, 5.5g BCAA, 4g glutamine) do not match the nutrition fact label (12.5g protein, no BCAA, no
glutamine) on the website’s product page.
We attempted to reach out to all three manufacturers regarding their manufacturing processes, as well as what makes their supplements
specifically suited for those in the outdoor sport arena. By the time of printing, Gnarly was the only company to respond. Here’s what they had to
- What makes your supplements better or different? Any specific ingredients you’d like to highlight?
Gnarly Nutrition began with the desire to create high quality, delicious and natural products for athletes of
all disciplines. Our roots are in the mountains – we are climbers, skiers, trail runners and mountain bikers,
but it is in the common athletic experience of wanting to better ourselves and the commitment to do more
to reach those goals that we see overlap between all athletic pursuits. We make products that support
these pursuits and we create a culture that inspires them. Our goal is to help individuals get where they
want to be no matter what their dietary preferences may be, so we include both dairy-based and vegan
products in our line and we leave out potential gut irritants, like soy and gluten, that may cause digestive
issues for some folks. We also include probiotics and digestive enzymes in all of our proteins to improve
assimilation and promote overall gut health. The whey protein concentrate in all of our dairy-based
products is sourced from New Zealand grass-fed cows, both because it guarantees that our product is
GMO-free, antibiotic-free and hormone-free and because it is the method of dairy farming we believe is
best for the environment. We choose to include vegan branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) in our
products (most other BCAAs are sourced from duck feathers) despite the higher cost because they go
into solution better and taste better leading to a more efficacious product that all of our customers can
both enjoy and feel good about sourcing.
- What nutritional supplementation do you believe outdoor athletes need, that others do not?
It truly depends on the athletic goals and lifestyle of the individual. In general, athletes need increased
carbohydrates and protein (amounts vary based on endurance vs. strength athletes) to fuel their pursuits,
recover quickly and physiologically adapt to the stressors they’re putting on their body. Is it possible to meet
these increased needs through diet alone? Yes. With busy lifestyles are most of us actually able to do that?
No. This is where Gnarly Nutrition comes in. We make high quality products that mix well and taste great; our
protein shakes are a convenient alternative when you don’t have the time or energy to whip up a full meal
following a long day in the hills but are still committed to giving your body what it needs to recover properly.
After increased protein and carbohydrates the needs of an athlete and how they use supplementation can get
very sport-specific. Proper hydration is key for endurance athletes and longer efforts, so electrolytes are a
must. More research is showing that both endurance and strength athletes can benefit from BCAA
supplementation through decreased delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and improved recovery. Creatine
has a proven track record for increasing power for strength athletes and outdoor power athletes, like
boulderers, may benefit from dosing with creatine, although for some, water weight gain may be a concern.
- What manufacturer do you use for your product?
We are based in Utah and use local manufacturers that pass our own quality standards as well as those of 3rd
party quality auditors like NSF. The manufacturers of Gnarly products are NSF and NSF-for sport certified for
cGMPs. Manufacturers that carry NSF certification are audited bi-annually for cGMPs which includes, among
many other quality measures, product testing for label claims and contaminants. NSF-for sport certification
takes an additional step to ensure that none of the 200+ banned substances are present in manufactured
In addition to choosing manufacturers that are third-party cGMP certified, Gnarly Nutrition performs regular
quality audits of our manufacturers. These audits include site visits to evaluate cGMP compliance, reviews of
quality paperwork including ingredient documentation, manufacturing records and standard operating
procedures, and finally, random product testing to validate CoAs and specifically ensure that label claims and
standards for purity (we use those of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP)) are met.
- Are your supplements privately designed, or private label from a manufacturer?
As this example shows, there is no significant nutritional difference between supplement brands – even between those who market to backcountry
hunters like MtnOps, and football players like EAS.
Gnarly product nutritional data is similiar that of the other brands, but the company has taken a “organic” marketing position with
milk whey from grass fed milk cows and easier to digest ingredients. Food ethics aside, the nutritional benefit is similar.
MTI in general does not support nutritional supplement use. As Greg Glassman, founder of Crossfit, stated in 2012
“Let’s leave the supplements and the power bars and the apparel as a critical part of your revenue, let’s leave that to a different gym model….Now
I’m not going to tell you not to do those things. I’m just telling you I’d never do them. Never, ever, ever.” We feel is just not necessary. The cost is
significant and athletes get the nutrition needed from a healthy “clean” diet. Don’t get tricked by the hype and marketing. There is no short cut.
Save your money, eat real food, and train hard.