Survival of the Fittest

Planet Muscle publisher Jeff Everson isn't afraid to tackle the truth about bodybuilding supplements. Sort of.

The 1994 DSHEA bill was chiefly sponsored by Utah senator Orrin Hatch, whose state is the nation's leading producer of dietary supplements. The act reclassified dietary supplements as "food" rather than FDA-regulated drugs, which meant safety testing was no longer required for their release. Since then, the supplement industry has rocketed into a powerful lobbying force whose annual profit is estimated at $1.5 billion per year. Creatine sales alone jumped from $30 million in 1995 to $230 million in 1999. Products are pushed into the marketplace with the barest of scientific research and advertisements claiming fantastic results -- with the following disclaimer: "These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA."

One controversial offender is androstenedione (aka "andro," made unintentionally famous by Mark McGwire during his record-setting year in 1998). Andro is a legal steroid that is so similar to its illegal cousins that it is widely believed to have the same negative long-term effects. Another red-flag product is the fat-burning/energy-enhancement chemical ephedra, which has been linked to more than eighty deaths by the FDA and is the target of several class-action lawsuits.

More troubling is a recent study showing that teens who use sports supplements are more likely to use illegal steroids. They "tend to think of steroids as less harmful, more helpful, and have a greater intent to use them," says Dr. Linn Goldberg of the Oregon Health and Science University.

Participants in the Olympia contest know that less is more.
Micah Armbruster
Participants in the Olympia contest know that less is more.
Muscle mania: Representatives of Golden-based EAS  play their part at the Las Vegas Olympia competition and Expo.
Denise Truscello
Muscle mania: Representatives of Golden-based EAS play their part at the Las Vegas Olympia competition and Expo.

And in "the industry" -- both the supplement and muscle-mag branches -- all of these products, both safe and dangerous, heavily researched and newly developed, are marketed together using hyped-up claims and mouthfuls of pseudo-science by bodybuilding professionals who appear to have been inflated by a cartoon Acme air hose.

That's one reason Everson says he started a magazine.

"I was getting fed up about misinformation about nutrition and training," he says. "It's not accurate information for the young kids that are the greatest market for these magazines: the fourteen-, fifteen-year-old boy who wants to build muscles."

In Planet Muscle, Everson denounces sports drinks ("drinking regular water is better than a soft or sports drink"), elaborate home gyms ("regardless of space or budget limitations, you can work out your entire body with a set of dumbbells and a good bench") and, most of all, supplement advertising ("the more exclamatory an ad is, chances are the more useless the product is").

The two-year-old magazine's motto is "Muscling in on Bodybuilding Truth." It is a download of Everson's opinions about bodybuilding and his taste for cheesecake photos of the rear ends of thong-wearing fitness models ("I'm a glute man," he admits). Distributed at Gold's Gym, Power House Gym and GNC stores nationwide, the magazine claims a circulation of 150,000. Though the publication is based in the Denver area, Everson lives in California, where he hosts a fitness show (also called Planet Muscle) for the E! cable network. The show is one of those early-morning affairs on which models lift weights in front of a breezy scenic vista -- actually Everson's house. He commutes to Denver every couple of months to help assemble the magazine, which is based in Littleton, because his business partner, Wally Smith, lives in Highlands Ranch. His handful of local staffers say Everson is ferociously protective of the magazine's contents, to the point of sacrificing advertising to maintain a degree of credibility.

"We don't sell ads to companies or products that Jeff doesn't believe in," says Planet Muscle's marketing director, Christa Patterson.

Concurs Paul L. Burton, founder of Gen-Mag, an online magazine and supplement company: "He is the only person actually turning down ad revenue. Jeff is putting his money where his mouth is, and nobody else is doing that."

Everson, though, is not entirely averse to the art of pushing product. He used to be a supplement huckster himself. Some claim he still is.

Everson was a strength coach at the University of Wisconsin when he began dating Cory Kneuer, a beautiful track star. He thought she would make a fantastic bodybuilder and told her so. Cory, initially reluctant to lift weights, took some persuading, Everson says. But eventually she was convinced. Pumping iron together, they won couples-bodybuilding tournaments and were married in 1982.

In 1984, the Los Angeles-based Muscle & Fitness magazine noticed Everson's freelance articles and hired him as an associate editor.

The Eversons moved to California, where both of their careers zoomed -- although one of them shot much higher than the other. Everson became a writer for M&F, the world's most popular bodybuilding magazine. Known as the "bodybuilder's bible," M&F was created by Joe Weider and has existed under various names since the 1940s. In the 1980s, Ben and Joe Weider used M&F as a platform to promote protein powders and vitamin supplements. Their synergistic marketing formula was so successful it became a model for other muscle magazines to follow: Align with a supplement- or equipment-manufacturing company, then subtly push product through articles; blatantly push more product through advertorials; and holler about products in traditional advertisements.

Muscle magazines are typically published by bodybuilders for bodybuilders, and the traditional journalistic separation of editorial and advertising has never been a high priority. In a recent M&F issue, more than two-thirds of the advertisements were for supplement companies, including several "special six-page ad reports" that used a format similar to regular articles. It is not uncommon for an employee of a supplement company to contribute an article to a muscle magazine. While Joe Weider no longer permits contributors to plug specific brand names, the editorial content still promotes the broad goals of their advertisers: maintaining an illusion of necessity for the latest chemical compounds. Read the fine print in the front of the magazine, though, and you'll see this warning: "Reader discretion is advised." (The editor of Muscle & Fitness and a spokesperson for Weider Publications declined to comment for this story.)

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