By Michael Martin
The mission for LADDER's team of scientists is simple: Choose effective ingredients in the optimal amounts to create supplements that will do what they say they'll do — enhance athletic performance.
Far from anonymous white coats in an underground lab, the Scientific Affairs team is composed of highly experienced, seriously credentialed researchers renowned in the field.
We want to introduce you to some of them, their priorities for sports nutrition, common mistakes you might be making, and their locations on the jock/nerd continuum.
We spoke with:
Abbie Smith-Ryan, Ph.D., CSCS*D, FNSCA, FACSM, FISSN
Nutrition and Science Adviser
One of the top leaders in sports nutrition, Abbie developed love for the human body, how it works, and how you can manipulate it with exercise, diet, or sleep. She is an associate professor and director of the Applied Physiology Laboratory at UNC. She has a bachelor's and master's degree in health and exercise science and a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and nutrition.
Emily Fritz, Ph.D., MBA, ACSM-EP
Executive Director of Scientific Affairs
Emily's interest in the science behind physical activity stemmed from track and field competitions in high school and college. As an assistant professor of exercise science at Simpson College, she taught courses on exercise physiology, research methods, and nutrition. She has a bachelor's degree in physical education, a master's in exercise science, and a Ph.D. in exercise, nutrition, and food science.
Paul Falcone, MS, NASM-CPT, CISSN
Paul is interested in answering tough questions and enjoys the rigorous methods science uses to solve problems. With over 10 years of experience in the supplement industry, he's worked with collegiate and professional athletes from the MLB, NFL, NBA, UFC, and Olympics. He has a bachelor's degree in psychology and master's in nutrition.
We care about our products the way you care about your body. Get rigorously tested, high-quality supplements you can trust with LADDER.
LADDER: Do you remember the very first supplement or formulation that you worked on?
Abbie: A lot of my early research involved beta-alanine. We were one of the first labs in the United States to evaluate this popular ingredient, and that was 15 to 20 years ago. A lot of the work used to put beta-alanine in formulas is based on some of my initial work.
Emily: From a formulation perspective, probably our performance line before LADDER came into the picture. But my familiarity and awareness of sports nutrition and my use of sports nutrition supplements started in college.
Paul: It would've been my first job out of school. After I finished my graduate work, I went to work at MusclePharm. I started with their pre-workout, which was called Assault.
How is the majority of your workday spent?
Abbie: It's a mix between collecting data in the lab, writing papers/grants, teaching, and working with master's and Ph.D. students aspiring to be scientists, helping them write and create protocols. I'm also a mom; I have little kids. And I fit in some daily exercise. Every day looks a little different.
Emily: Every day is different. I work with our product development team, thinking of new ideas and exploring other interesting ingredients that can provide benefits, and reading the science about those ingredients.
I spend a lot of time working with our marketing team to think about claims and how to educate consumers about the benefits of the products we're currently making and selling or the products that we hope to create and sell.
I also get to rub elbows with a lot of other wicked smart people. We are working on clinical studies. We do a lot of collaboration with outside experts to learn more.
Paul: It can vary quite a bit. We have a ton of different projects going on all the time. Much of my work revolves around making sure products do what they say they can do, then helping to translate that information so that people can easily understand it and see how it applies to them.
We serve a variety of customers with a wide range of understanding levels — the elite athlete vs. a regular gymgoer vs. people who are just getting into an exercise routine. Those differences mean that we have to educate customers in a way that is clear, regardless of experience level, while also being specific to individuals' needs and goals.
What do you find that the average person least understands about performance nutrition and supplementation?
Abbie: I think some of the misunderstandings relate to nutrient timing and what to eat around exercise because it's kind of counterintuitive. For example, "Why would I eat around exercise if my goal is to lose body fat?"
I used to think that there was no need for dietary supplements, that you could get everything through food. And that really is misinformation. No matter how perfect our diet is, most of us can't eat enough and get all the right ingredients. So dietary supplements absolutely play a role in human performance and overall health and well-being.
Emily: I don't think it's one thing. As I did when I was teaching, I think of it like this: Our bodies are very complicated — just at rest, without any complication from exercise. But, overlay a training regimen, and they become even more complex.
Foundationally, few people know how their bodies work and how their needs change during exercise training — for example, how bodies recover and rebuild after exercise. And if you don't know that, how can you decide what you need from a dietary supplement?
Paul: Many of the ingredients in pre-workout work best with continued use. Some individuals might use pre-workout out only for their hardest lift days, or some might only go to the gym a couple of days a week.
Many of the ingredients, specifically creatine and beta-alanine, get stored in the body. So they work better if you're taking them multiple days a week. It's just a lot easier for the body to increase those stores so they can be most effective.
Is there a LADDER product you're proudest to have worked on?
Abbie: So many of them. To me, the coolest thing about LADDER products is that they are all evidence-based with the appropriate ingredients, they're third-party tested, they work, and they taste good. They're very complete.
Emily: I think all of the new and improved LADDER products, honestly. They're phenomenal products. The thing I'm probably most excited about is the pre-workout. We took the great existing product, and we made some tweaks to drive it to the next level. I think people are going to experience a lot of benefits from them.
I also really love our protein products. I am a loyal consumer of them.
Viewing things through the athletic performance brand lens, would you describe yourself as more of a jock or a nerd?
Abbie: Both. I joke that I'm a meathead, but I'm a nerdy meathead. You have to practice what you preach on the evidence side and in the weight room. I don't have much time to exercise, so I do interval training and heavy weights. I just ran a half marathon. So, I do a little bit of everything.
Emily: I would love to think that I'm a jock, but I'm more nerd. I'm more nerd/wannabe jock or has-been jock/now-nerd. Either of those are probably better descriptions, but certainly heavy on the nerd.
Paul: I didn't study sports nutrition; I studied nutrition in general. So up until the moment that I entered the workforce in sports supplementation, I would've definitely described myself as a nerd. I mean, I'm in the gym pretty frequently. But I was a nerd for way too long. I think that happens in high school — you've got to make a choice. That's where I'm stuck, no matter how jacked I get.
What would you like the average person to know about science, in general, or the science that you do in particular?
Abbie: I think it's important to understand that science takes a really long time and a lot of effort. There's a lot of benefit from social media, in that people will share a paper they found. But that paper maybe took me, as a scientist, five years in the making. It's a very cumulative and slow process, and you have to collate it all. You can't just take one paper and use those findings. What does the body of work show?
You don't have to have a degree to do that necessarily. But I'm trained to synthesize all of that and share that recommendation, as opposed to cherry-picking a few studies. So much goes into getting high-quality, ethical data. I always say science is not for the faint of heart.
Emily: Science is so much more approachable than people give it credit for. Read about things, try things, and learn what works best for you. At the end of the day, we look at the scientific evidence behind tried-and-true ingredients like protein, creatine, beta-alanine, and caffeine, and the science confirms that they work on a large scale. But I think the next wave of science may be more personalized. So, look at how these things work best for you.
Paul: I think what's important to understand about science is that it's, in fact, really simple. We ask a question about something. Then we agree on a way to answer that question based on a methodology that allows us to measure the outcome we're interested in.
It's a straightforward method that allows us to get answers, then build on those answers, ask better questions and get more answers. It's something that everyone can learn more about to gain some new knowledge if you are really interested in the topic.