The 1% Rule: A Case For (Some) Supplements

Adam Bornstein

I have to admit, I was pretty excited to see WIRED cover the nature of the supplement business. They nailed many of the biggest issues, ranging from a lack of regulation to poor quality products, deceiving labels, and snake oil sales strategies.

Those reasons are why Arnold Schwarzenegger and LeBron James decided to start Ladder, a supplement brand determined to right the wrongs of a questionable industry. And it’s why I decided to join the mission to create higher quality products after more than 10 years of avoiding the call (and lucrative offers) of many of the biggest brands.

Unfortunately, while I’m happy they put a spotlight on supplements, WIRED missed their opportunity to take a step in a different direction and put an end to an industry built on fear, misinformation, and pseudoscience.

We started Ladder to give people the clarity and quality they deserve. Ladder supplements are not designed to turn you into an NBA star like LeBron or pack on muscles like Arnold. That happens only by the rare mix of grit, thousands of hours of work, and a little bit of genetic luck.

Ladder was built on what everyone has in common: a need for better ingredients and better results to help you make the most out of your natural abilities. It’s why we take an anti-supplement approach to our products. You don’t see any 4-week claims or promises of how much muscle you’ll gain or fat you’ll lose.

We made the decision not to sell magic pills (no fat loss or testosterone boosting products here), stick to proven ingredients (we don’t care if it’s new; we only use what’s repeatedly proven by science), and why every product must be NSF Certified for Sport®. That last one is a big deal and it isn’t cheap.

The WIRED story makes many claims about not being able to know what’s in supplements — that’s true for more than 99% of supplements online or at your local vitamin and supplement shop. At Ladder, we are part of the 1%. The rare supplement brand that invests in health and safety first, so much that we have a third-party test every single batch of every product to guarantee that not a spec of protein, pre-workout, or greens contains any banned substances or dangerous levels of toxins or metals, and we guarantee label accuracy.

You might not be a pro athlete or an Olympian, but we believe that you deserve the same safety guarantees, which is why we have the certification that’s backed by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).

Almost as important, it’s the peace of mind that you get what you pay for. The supplement industry is famous for sleight-of-hand labeling, where 20 grams of protein on the label is actually 6 grams. Congrats, you just got ripped off. When you are “NSF Certified For Sport,” you know that what you’re getting what your body needs because a third party confirmed it.

In order to continue the education WIRED started, I’d like to address a few inaccuracies in their piece.

LeBron Did Not Start A Supplement Company After Cramping

WIRED: “That fateful cramp took him out of the game, but it also thrust the entrepreneurial James into a new venture — the wild world of sports supplements.”

LeBron worked with his trainer, Mike Mancias, to formulate products for him following the 2014 season. He used those products privately for years and then decided to make them accessible to others because of his emphasis on quality and safety. At that time (around 2016), he met with Arnold, and they put together the team that would test and develop products for Ladder. The cramping was never the motivation to start a supplement company; it was a motivation to find better fuel and create better, safer supplements for himself. Later, he realized that his pain was shared by other athletes and those dedicated to high performance, and decided to work with Arnold to do something about it.

Supplement Science Is Real Science

WIRED: “The science behind much of the supplement industry is inconclusive”

This is a half-truth. The science behind many ingredients in certain products is inconclusive. On the other hand, you have many other individual ingredients — such as creatine monohydrate or protein — which have hundreds upon hundreds of studies proving its effectiveness and safety. Science, inherently, is based on questions (every study starts with a hypothesis). Just because we have questions does not mean we don’t have answers. Every ingredient in Ladder is backed-up by dozens — if not hundreds — of studies. And it has been reviewed by scientific advisors. If an ingredient doesn’t have research, then it isn’t included in any Ladder products.

There Is A Way To Know If Your Supplement Is Safe

WIRED: “Those special mixtures of amino acids and protein powders could have varying dosages and results. Blends are also frequently spiked with extra caffeine, sugars, steroids, or other ingredients that haven’t been tested at all. “

Hidden ingredients in supplements are a big problem — but not for Ladder. If a product is NSF Certified for Sport®, it means a third-party has reviewed the label to make sure nothing is hiding in your product. At its core, NSF Certified for Sport confirms supplement content, purity and compliance, and by assessing public safety and environmental concerns on products.

It’s a way to ensure that you’re never guessing about what’s in your products.

Too much caffeine? Ladder’s Pre-workout only has as much caffeine as 1 cup of coffee. Sugar? Everything is between 0 to 4 grams, and no artificial sweeteners, flavors, or colors are used.

Steroids? Not here. Not now. Not ever. Again, every single batch is tested to ensure quality and safety.

Beta-Alanine Does Work (If You Know Why to Take It)

WIRED: Ladder’s Pre-Workout pack, for instance, includes beta-alanine, an amino acid that is supposed to help keep lactic acid from building up in your muscles. But studies of this popular supplement ingredient show “very, very inconsistent” results, says Thomas.

The claim about beta-alanine is inaccurate and ignores the past 10 years of research. There are more than 20 published studies that show the effectiveness of beta-alanine. Does it work for every situation? Of course not, but for specific uses, it’s been effective. According to, the leading unbiased authority on supplement nutrition:

When ingested, [beta-alanine] delays muscle fatigue. Essentially, beta-alanine supplementation can improve endurance. Beta-alanine only helps with intense exercise, in which lactic acid kicks in after about a minute. Imagine running a fast lap around the track or doing a volume set of squats that feels like the longest sixty seconds of your life.

Moreover, the International Olympic Committee — in research published by the BMJ — identified beta-alanine as one of the 6 supplements that have evidence of direct benefits to improving sports performance.

Beta-Alanine Is Not Dangerous (And It Does Work)

WIRED: [Still in reference to beta-alanine] “Not only is it just may be useful, but studies of its safety are limited.”

This is extremely deceiving and false. There is tons of research to suggest that beta-alanine is not dangerous(more than 100 published studies).

In fact, there is not one study that shows any safety concerns for beta-alanine. Not one.

On the other hand, there are many studies asserting its safety, so much so that the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) published a meta-analysis of more than 100 studies on beta-alanine and concluded that current research shows that it’s safe. More importantly, they declare, “due to the non-essential nature of this constituent (i.e., beta-alanine is produced endogenously), the likelihood of safety concerns are low.”

You can read the entire ISSN position stand here.

Creatine Is Safe (And Works)

WIRED: With many supplement ingredients, Thomas adds, “the responses are very individualistic.” Some people respond really well to creatine, for example, while others respond just a bit or not at all. “Sometimes they actually can decrease your performance,”

Creatine is one of the best supplements you can find. The research is fascinating in so many ways, and there are early findings that creatine could help with traumatic brain injury and fighting depression. But, it’s the findings on performance, such as increasing energy and boosting strength, that interest most.

Some people are “non-responders” because they naturally produce more creatine (yes, creatine is naturally produced in your body and found in meat and dairy products). Therefore, non-responders do not see a drop in performance, rather it just doesn’t lead to more strength or power (see review here).

And, in case you were curious, according to a review on creatine, it’s safe too: “Despite several unproven allegations, liver (enzymes, urea) and kidneys (glomerular filtration urea and albumin excretion rates) show no change in functionality in healthy subjects supplemented with creatine, even during several months, in both young and older populations.”

Creatine Is Hydrating (And Does NOT Dehydrate)

WIRED: Creatine can be great for high-intensity lifting, for example, but it won’t help you run a marathon or finish a triathlon. “In fact, because it causes you to retain some water, it will probably act as a detriment,” says Thomas.

Creatine does not affect hydration status and it doesn’t alter fluid distribution, which is what causes dehydration. Even when tested on dehydrated men, creatine did not enhance dehydration. This is because creatine actually increases hydration by helping your muscle cells maintain more water in the cell.

Protein Does Not Damage Your Kidneys

WIRED: You also need to be careful about dosage: More isn’t necessarily better. Too much whey protein can cause kidney stones.

Protein has been scientifically proven — repeatedly — to be completely safe and does not cause kidney stones or issues for healthy individuals.

Research published in The Journal of Nutrition in November of 2018 made this clear in a big way.

To summarize: Researchers analyzed data from 28 papers dating from 1975 to 2016, examining more than 1300 participants, including those who were healthy, obese, or had type 2 diabetes and/or high blood pressure. The research classified high-protein diets as either 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight per day, at least 20% of total caloric intake coming from protein, or at least 100 grams of protein per day.

The findings were silencing:

“There is simply no evidence linking a high-protein diet to kidney disease in healthy individuals or those who are at risk of kidney disease due to conditions such as obesity, hypertension or even type 2 diabetes,” says co-author Michaela Devries-Aboud.

According to co-author Stuart Phillips, Ph.D, “Protein causing kidney damage just lacks any support. I think we can put this concept to rest.”

Where do we go from here? The same direction since we started Ladder; clear up the misinformation and continue our pursuit of creating a better future for the supplement industry.

Adam Bornstein

Written by

NYT Best Selling Author. Chief of Nutrition @ Ladder. Founder of Born Fitness, Pen Name Consulting, and two12. Former Fitness Editor @ Men's Health.

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