Survival of the Fittest

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

"We use muscle mags to show kids what a joke it is," says OHSU's Dr. Goldberg. "We ask them, 'Why do you think they have ads for acne creams, breast-reduction surgery and hair transplants when their target audience is young people?' Those are all side effects of steroids."

During Everson's tenure at M&F, his articles mixed a frank, sarcastic style with a clear presentation of technical information. He worked his way up to editor-in-chief.

While Jeff was busy writing, Cory won six consecutive Ms. Olympia competitions -- from 1984 to 1989 -- and was featured with Jean-Claude Van Damme in Double Impact. She became a popular pinup girl, getting endorsement and books deals while her husband remained her supportive coach. Articles frequently referred to Jeff as "Everson's coach" or, simply, "Everson's husband."

It's the big dogs who are really pumped up over fitness products.
Micah Armbruster
It's the big dogs who are really pumped up over fitness products.

In 1991, Everson interviewed Dr. Scott Connelly for M&F.

Connelly was a former anesthesiologist who had researched the use of proteins to help patients recover from a loss of muscle mass. He had developed a new product called the Original Drink Mix, a protein-and-carbohydrate powder that was designed to grow muscle when used in conjunction with a weight-training regimen.

At the time, many bodybuilding supplements were either macronutrients, such as egg protein, or basic dietary pills like amino acids or vitamins. So this was a revolutionary idea: a medical doctor -- the pro-bodybuilder's ideological nemesis -- creating a product specifically designed to help bodybuilders meet their goals while supplying a full range of nutritional needs.

Connelly didn't even call his product a supplement. He called it "engineered nutrition" -- a full-fledged meal replacement.

Everson stepped down from his role as M&F's editor-in-chief. He joined Connelly and another well-known bodybuilder, Bill Phillips, in forming a distribution company for the new product. Everson's job was to use his straight-shooting reputation among M&F readers to promote Connelly's company to the bodybuilding community. He would pump iron to return to peak condition, win contests and write articles for muscle magazines. M&F's former editor would be their "before-and-after" guy.

Connelly's company was called MET-Rx. Everson publicly predicted it would change bodybuilding forever.

Unfortunately, he was right.

MET-Rx was phenomenally successful. The products were demonstrated to be effective not only in clinical tests, but in everyday weight trainers as well. MET-Rx "went from $0 to $55 million in three years," says Everson.

Then, in 1994 -- the same year Congress effectively unleashed the supplement industry -- Phillips and Connelly had a "major battle of the egos," as Everson puts it. Different versions of the fight have been reported, but all agree that part of the disagreement was about marketing. MET-Rx was later cited by the Federal Trade Commission for using misleading ads during Phillips's marketing tenure.

The trio split, and the three industry stars hurtled off to form their own distinctive new galaxies in the bodybuilding universe: Phillips bought the California-based supplement company Experimental and Applied Sciences (EAS) and relocated the company to Golden; Everson started Planet Muscle; Connelly retained ownership of MET-Rx until he sold the company to Rexall last year.

Connelly is sitting at his Olympia Expo booth signing copies of his new fitness book, Body Rx. He regards some members of the crowd with disdain, watching the supersized humans walk by in skin-tight bodysuits.

"This is like an intergalactic-planetary experience," Connelly says, "and it gets worse every year. This is going to flame out if this movement toward the extreme doesn't stop. The drug use just keeps getting worse."

Connelly says he wants to develop nutritious products for the general population rather than niche supplements for bodybuilders. He was "vehemently against" the DSHEA bill and has since watched companies use flimsy medical-research studies to sell their products. And now, with all the weariness of a doctor responsible for a million Frankensteins, Connelly says the industry he helped create has gone too far.

"What's happened is this mess," Connelly says, nodding toward the Expo. "Some of the concepts I've introduced have been overblown, overstated, at times deliberately falsified in order to keep the chain of product going. When you walk out there, you get this indistinguishable mass of stuff. This industry doesn't care [about proven effectiveness]; they care about something that sounds really space-aged. There's products out there you'll see that contain methoxy-isoflavones because they found a Romanian journal that says when the stuff was fed to chickens, they got bigger. Instead of offering people methoxy-isoflavones, they should be offering food products that meet their general goal to be fit."

The muscle magazines, he says, only make the problem worse.

"It's a blatant, gross, saturation-bombing of bullshit," Connelly declares. "They're magalogues -- part magazine, part catalogue. Here's the formula: You write something that hints about some new discovery, and it's very rare and hard to get ahold of. And then two pages later, there's a thing about how we were lucky enough to get ahold of a bunch of this stuff, and you can get some of it before it goes away."

When asked if the super-sized people at the Expo are healthy, Connelly responds: "I would say most that are taking the drugs are manifestly unhealthy. And if they go off the stuff for even a short period of time, they have such a catabolic wasting event that they disappear before your eyes. So the consequence is that almost no one out there who is super-sized ever goes off the drugs."

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