Survival of the Fittest

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

If you go to clubs, you're familiar with that guy. Now imagine hundreds of them, together at last, and you'll have an inkling of the scene inside the RumJungle dance club in the Mandalay Bay Hotel during Olympia weekend.

The club is packed. Everybody is crushed against a stranger, every motion causing a compression wave through the crowd, with still dozens more waiting outside to pay the $20 cover.

The scene inside RumJungle is worth the wait. Along the walls, massive sheets of water-covered Plexiglas extend from floor to ceiling, creating a hallucinatory waterfall effect punctuated by gas flames. Overhead, go-go dancers in neon bikinis slam against the bars of suspended cages. On stage, three live drummers flail wildly to keep time with the techno dance beats. And every so often, a nearly naked girl will fly through the club, twirling, suspended on a wire.

Jeff Everson
Denise Truscello
Jeff Everson
Planet Muscle publisher Jeff Everson is admired by some for his tougher standards.
Denise Truscello
Planet Muscle publisher Jeff Everson is admired by some for his tougher standards.

It's like the Ninth Circle of Techno. Warehouse-party energy fused with decadent Vegas showmanship. Despite calculated trendiness and $6-beer snobbery, RumJungle has tremendous body-moving energy.

Except hardly any of the Olympia crowd dances. The club is packed with a forest of tree-trunk men. The expansive dance floor is fairly empty, with groups of girls dancing alone.

Everson notes that when he first started weight training in the 1960s, bodybuilding was something a person did to become better at another activity.

"Over those years, things have changed to where, primarily because of Weider Publications, bodybuilding became an end in and of itself," he says. "Guys wanted bigger muscles whether they competed in other sports, competed in bodybuilding events or not."

In other words, many do not bodybuild to play a sport, to be more active or, for that matter, to dance till 4 a.m.. They build muscles to build more muscles.

It comes down to the oldest debate in bodybuilding: fitness vs. muscle. Are you working out to be healthy or just to look good? And at what point do the drugs erode the very reason humans find a well-defined body attractive -- that an admirable physique indicates health and vitality and strength?

The RumJungle DJ puts on a track by DJ FeelGood called "Use Your Body":

You got the bod

You got the bod

You got the body

Now you gotta use it!

The tree trunks pay no attention.

While the dot-com world crashed, the supplement industry was quietly booming. It still is

When talking to supplement-company representatives, one gets a sense of imperious momentum, an attitude of "sell now, worry later." Unlike with FDA-approved drugs, for which a product's effectiveness and risks must be documented prior to release, a supplement company is responsible for its own product testing. Company representatives claim that this is an incentive to be more responsible.

"The bigger the company gets, the more concerned they are about making it real," says Vincent Andrich, senior director of sports nutrition for EAS. "One of the reasons there will always be small companies in this business is because they'll be more nimble, they'll be quicker to market on initial science than the bigger guys. So the bigger companies are slower, but they tend to do more homework because they've got better legal departments, better attorneys and better science resources. You don't get a yes from anybody real quick."

After Bill Phillips left MET-Rx in 1994, he helped make EAS one of the biggest supplement companies in the world, posting a reported 350 percent revenue increase between 1994 and 1998 and signing sponsors such as John Elway and former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe. The televised product placements became so overwhelming that the NFL told the Broncos to quit wearing clothing and accessories bearing the EAS name.

At the company's Olympia booth, Andrich and a fleet of models sporting perfectly rippled abdominals give EAS product information and gift bags to hordes of weight trainers. Andrich has a straightforward, if nonchalant, attitude about his company's push for bigger and better chemicals.

"Sometimes when research is exciting and looks good, if there's really an aggressive marketing group, [a company] can stretch product claims too much," he says. "Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't."

Though bodybuilders complain about the glut of ineffective products, many appreciate this freedom of experimentation. It harks back to the idea of bodybuilders as fitness pioneers. The benefits of weight training, high-protein diets and eating small but frequent meals were championed by bodybuilders years before they were embraced by the general public.

"Bodybuilders tend to be more experimental in their approach to use different performance-enhancing substances and training programs," Andrich adds.

And sometimes when a new type of product is released, competitors will launch their own version without hesitation. "That happens a lot," Andrich says. "The business emanates from categories. There's a lot of things that can happen, because it's capitalism."

Asked about Planet Muscle, Andrich says that Everson "does speak the truth as he knows it." But he notes that the publisher has his own biases and product preferences, just like everybody else.

A close look at Planet Muscle reveals that Andrich is right.

In one article about sex-drive enhancement products, there's an enlarged box of text that reads "Doctor's Liquid Libido is currently almost impossible to get, so far, and we are trying to get the good Doctors to actually advertise in Planet Muscle. But until then, call for updated information, to see if we hope to have some available."

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