Special edition: Sports nutrition

Former steroids seller finds scant integrity in supplements marketplace

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

ESPG Labs' branched chain amino acid product calls out specific levels for all four BCAAs.
ESPG Labs' branched chain amino acid product calls out specific levels for all four BCAAs.
Kirk Radomski came through the fire of the performance enhancing drug scandal of Major League Baseball to a new life as the founder of a supplement company specializing in sports nutrition. The experience has given him a unique perspective on the business, and it hasn’t always left a good taste in his mouth.

Radomski was a bat boy and club house attendant with the New York Mets in the early ‘90s.  He was a workout enthusiast himself (one of his clubhouse cohorts once described him as “huge”) and was no stranger to how steroids can help build muscle mass and endurance. As players started to approach Radomski for training and nutrition advice, an underground business developed, and he ended up supplying steroids and human growth hormone to players across the league for 10 years.

Radomski ended up pleading guilty in 2007 to one count of selling illegal anabolic steroids and one count of money laundering. He served as a prime source for Sen. George Mitchell’s investigation into steroids in baseball and served as a witness in the trial of former star pitcher Roger Clemens in his trial in which he was accused of lying to Congress (Clemens was later acquitted).

Taking responsibility

Radomksi was a small fish fished out of a big pond. The steroids scandal in baseball included multiple millionaire athletes such as Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds. It also included the purported collusion of sports agents, who reportedly were urging their clients to consider taking the steroids route in an era in which players who would have once been thought to be well past their primes (like McGwire and Bonds) were breaking home run records almost every year. The scandal also featured a lackluster performance by league officials who came very late to a posture of effective enforcement.

Radomski ended up being one of the few that paid an actual price. While the injustice of that situation isn’t lost on Radomski, he doesn’t shy away from his responsibility.

“Look, I did what I did.  But people knew what they were doing and they knew what were getting,”​ Radomski said.

After several years on the sidelines, Radomski launched a sports nutrition company with a partner called EPSG (energy, performance, strength, growth) Labs, making several products for muscle growth, testosterone support and weight loss.  The experience of delving into the supplements marketplace has left him with the view that there may have been more integrity in his own little underground market in baseball clubhouses than what he has observed in the dietary supplements trade.

“People always ask me, why did (the ballplayers) keep coming to you?  Because I cared about the quality of what I gave them,”​ Radomski said. “After that people would ask me what supplements to take and it was hard for me to recommend anything. Companies change hands so fast and the formulas almost always change after that.”

Cutthroat competition

So Radomksi decided to strike out on his own, in an effort to, in his words, “do it right.”​  It hasn’t been easy to compete in a marketplace where some products contain what is printed on the labels, while some may not.

“I went into one place where the buyer told me that another company was going to sell them a beef protein product that they said was powdered filet mignon. How are you going to turn filet mignon at $12 a pound into a powder and turn around and sell it for $3 a pound? And they call me a criminal,”​ he said.

Radomski said the cutthroat competition on price has led him to suspect the contents of many products on the market.  Discounting is so rampant that either many products are grossly overpriced to begin with or are littered with substandard ingredients.

“I hear from buyers all the time that some other company wants to give them a ‘buy 12, get 4’ type of a deal. It’s like this: You give me $20 and I tell you I’m going to give you 20 gallons of gas. How is that gonna work? Some people don’t want you to know what’s in the product because they don’t want you to know you are paying $60 for a bottle that cost them $3 to produce,” ​Radomski said.

Amounts on labels

Radomski said his company, which so far has limited distribution in the Northeast, was founded on a principle that only the highest quality ingredients would be used.  In his preworkout supplement that features branched chain amino acids, for example, Radomksi’s label calls out the specific levels that include 5000 mg of leucine, which he said is the most important and costliest of the four. Radomski said many of his competitors only specify an amount for an entire BCAA blend. And he said the company has never used trendy but potentially problematic ingredients like DMAA.

“I want people to understand what they are taking and why they are taking it. I want people to understand that sports nutrition is a long term thing. If you are getting immediate results, there is probably something in there that shouldn’t be in there or is not on the label​,”​ he said.

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